Everything went smoothly on the first leg of our trip. We had a minor delay out of Cedar Rapids and that caused us to hurry a bit to the next gate in Chicago. Then an equipment change in Chicago caused seat reassignment but not a big problem. The 4-1/2 hour flight to LA also went smoothly. Because we were flying from the Midwest in winter we had specifically set up our itinerary with a lot of extra time in LA, to give us some wiggle room if there were weather delays. As it worked out we got to LA on time and so had quite a long wait before leaving for Auckland.
We used the extra time to make some last minute calls to friends and family and have a late lunch/early dinner. One disadvantage to having a long layover like this is that it gave me time to worry about all our preparations. Will the cat be okay? Did I remember to turn down the thermostat? Does our friend watching the house have all the information she needs?
Jan and I plan on doing a lot more traveling, now that she is also retired, so this trip is sort of a test of how well we cope. (Jan corrects that to "How well Tom copes.")
Since we flew business class we were able to hang out in the Quantas VIP lounge in LAX while waiting for our flight. They had drinks and snacks available, nice chairs plus peace and quiet. I must admit to some guilt about flying business class - it is unfortunate that the only way to be treated like a real person when flying is to pay for it. Sitting in the regular waiting area for a while did a lot to cure me of that feeling. I can only take so many crying babies, young kids running and yelling and insensitive adults who have no consideration for others. How did the world get into this state?
Our flight time from LA to Auckland was 12-1/2 hours. In general, it went smoothly but it was LONG! We were surprised that, leaving at 10pm LA time, they still served us dinner on the flight. And after eating at the airport, I still managed to eat most of the in-flight meal too (OINK). Once dinner was over they cut the lights (in stages) and nearly everyone tried to sleep.
Considering that we had started over 12 hours earlier, sleep seemed to be a good idea. Unfortunately, somewhere on the plane there was a baby having fits. Every time I would start to doze off the baby would start screaming again. I doubt anyone got much sleep in his/her vicinity. There was also enough turbulence to make sleeping difficult. I think I might have managed 4 hours or so but, even in business class, it was not extremely comfortable. Jan, on the other hand, was able to sleep for nearly seven hours.
Day 2 (NZ)
They woke us up (via turning on the lights) about 3 hours before arrival. It was cool to be able to watch the first hints of sunrise over the Pacific. We never did get to see the actual sunrise because we descended into clouds to land at Auckland. Getting through customs and immigration was a pretty easy job and our luggage was ready before we were.
Next we found the desk for our rental car. Here we hit the first snag in the trip. We had been told that we would have to drop the car in Wellington and pick up another in Picton after crossing the Cook Strait. It turned out this was not the case. In addition we had been told that all of our travel information, vouchers and such would be waiting for us at our "first stop" Later we discovered that there were other problems. Since it was just after 6am in NZ we were unable to reach anyone at the travel agency. Luckily the guy at Maui rental cars was really great and got it worked out for us so we could go on our way.
Since I had not slept well on the plane we started out with Jan driving and me navigating. She did pretty well adjusting to driving on the left. We had a couple of close calls but other drivers must be used to North American drivers. We wandered around, Jan learning about roundabouts and other traffic rule differences. It was too early to check into our hotel so we decided to go to the Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. At first glance this seemed to be a typical tourist attraction but turned out to be a lot more interesting and different. They had a full sized replica of Scott's Antarctic hut from his 1911 expedition. I was particularly surprised to see that they actually carried a piano with them! Another part I enjoyed the was the penguins. I had never had the opportunity to be that close to them before but here they were just inches away behind a transparent wall.
Once we left there we decided to find our hotel and see if we could check in early. We drove, getting semi-lost for a while before finding the road back to the center city of Auckland. Then we wandered more until finding our hotel, The Ascot Metropolis. They took pity on us an allowed early check-in which we greatly appreciated. We went to the room and discovered it was a suite with bedroom, living room, small kitchen with laundry, and bath. After drinking some mini-bar wine and getting cleaned up I tried to used the TV web browser to send an email. I wanted to let people know we got here safely but the system was very slow and cumbersome and not useful for messages longer than a few words!
About 2pm we went out for lunch at the Sky Tower Orbits restaurant. That allowed us to look over the city and get a little more oriented. On the way back we passed an internet cafe where we were able to read and send real email easily and cheaply - $1NZ. Then we picked up a bottle of NZ wine and returned to our room for a nearly 2 hour nap which felt great.
Next we headed out for some more exploration and a stop at the internet cafe again. We strolled around the Queen street area and found a neat place called Tony's, with live jazz and great food. Had a leisurely dinner and then hiked back to the room. I finished the last of the wine as I typed the notes about our first day in New Zealand. We slept like tired kittens.