When you travel for 36 hours, there are plenty of opportunities for the best and worst adventure has to offer. The 36 hours we traveled from Indianapolis to Paihia, New Zealand brought us both kinds of adventure, but, in the end, what it really brought us was an opportunity to see that people can make all the difference in any experience.
As far as trips are concerned, this one started out pretty smoothly. We met up with Mom and Dad in Houston, just happening upon each other in the terminal. After dinner and watching a bit of the UK game, we boarded our long-haul flight to Auckland. Mom and Dad used OneUp and ended up flying in Economy Premium, while Tim and I were with the rest of the rabble in economy. Having flown on quite a few airlines internationally, Tim and I feel like we can speak with a little authority when we say that Air New Zealand has, quite possibly, the worst economy seating on a long-haul flight of any airline. Had it not been for our exit row seats, the fifteen hours to Auckland could have been even more miserable. The seats were extremely narrow and not very deep. Tim had only a finger’s width between his hips and the arm rests (which says a lot for a guy with a 30-inch waist), and he said he felt as though his rear was the only thing actually in the seat. The cushion was practically non-existent–I sat on a pillow the entire flight with little relief, and Tim’s poor spine was bruised upon arrival. Air New Zealand’s seats definitely get an F in our book.
The people, on the other hand, get an A. The flight attendants in our section went out of their way to be kind and helpful. The flight attendant in the jump seat next to us for take off and landing spent both opportunities making suggestions of places we should see and food we should try while in New Zealand. She even went so far as to write out lists of stops on the north island and the south island, and a checklist of foods. Kristen’s time and attention did not go unnoticed by us. She made my general feelings on that flight quite different than they could have been.
We arrived in a rain-soaked Auckland at 5:55 a.m., whipped right through customs, and had an hour before our next flight to check in and get situated. Upon arrival to the desk to recheck our bags, however, we learned that our flight to Kerikeri had been canceled due to inclement weather. Our only option to arrive in Kerikeri and our first stop of the trip today was a three and a half hour bus ride on a coach Air New Zealand would provide. The bus was set to leave at the same time our flight had been scheduled.
After an hour delay, we were off toward Kerikeri with 30 other passengers. Our bus driver, Dave, was quite a character. He told us stories about the red light district in Auckland during the ’70s and ’80s, and served as an impromptu tour guide, pointing out new housing developments and points of interest along the way. As we got further out of Auckland, he shared some of his own colorful history, including experiences boxing while detained in a Mexican jail, overstaying his welcome in Hawaii, and his experiences as a professional rugby player.
At about the three-hour point, we realized that the woman from Air New Zealand was wrong about the three-and-a-half hour bus trip. We seemed nowhere near our destination. Our bus, which the bus driver admitted was not in the best shape, was struggling as we climbed up and down “misty mountains” and through prehistoric-looking forests.
At one point, the driver struggled to get the bus into first gear, jerking the gear shift about as if in an angry arm wrestling match with it. Tim almost got up to help the guy muscle it into place. The bus brought traffic behind it to a stop, and we all waited for the long minutes it took him to finally bring the bus into motion again. The bus continued to lumber along, and we watched as the forests gave way to open fields with grazing cows and sheep. And then the left windshield wiper, which had been serving no purpose other than to hover slightly off the windshield for most of the trip, gave up. It slumped to the side and flopped a bit before falling forward, completely away from the bus. The driver pulled off the side of the road and attempted to repair the wiper. This was humorous, as he had neglected to turn the wipers off before exiting the bus, and the dying wiper blade continued to flop back and forth in its death-throws. After ten minutes, the driver gave up and said he could just drive, in the rain, without wipers. Nice.
As we ticked closer to four and a half hours, one of the passengers who happened to be a tour guide for the majority of the other passengers, asked the bus driver if he could drop them off at a bus station twenty minutes from the airport instead, as they had already missed part of their scheduled tour for the day. They were hoping to recover part of the day and still get to some of their destinations. He agreed, and we barreled along to the bus station.
We arrived at the bus station, got the tour group and their suitcases offloaded, and the remaining ten of us prepared for the last twenty minutes to the airport. We were so close, we could almost feel that warm shower waiting for us. As the driver backed out of the bus lot, he nearly backed into another bus. We all laughed at the near miss and began making jokes that if any further disasters were to befall our old bus, this was the place for it to happen. Jokes, folks, that turned not funny a few moments later. As the bus turned right out into traffic, the bus driver began to curse and the bus came to a full stop. I thought he was playing a prank on us after the jokes we’d all just made. But as cars began honking, and the bus driver’s frustration increased, we realized this was no prank. “The clutch is like steel!” the driver kept barking. Try as he might, he could not get the clutch to activate. It became clear the only option was to push the bus back down the drive into the bus lot we had just gleefully left. The driver decided he would push the bus, if Tim would be responsible for engaging and disengaging the air break. “You know how to use an air break, right?” he asked Tim. “Yeah, sure!” Tim confidently responded. As the driver pushed with all his might, it became clear that Tim did not actually know how to use an air break. He finally figured it out, and the bus began to move backward.
The bus driver started shouting, and trying to navigate Tim down the narrow drive. After a few moments, he and Tim switched places, and my dad went out to help Tim in his efforts to push the bus out of the way of impatient drivers on the main road.
The driver told us there was nothing he could do. This bus was not continuing on to the airport. Some of the remaining small group began calling friends for rides as the driver contacted one person after another at “the main office” trying to figure out what to do. The bus station attendant informed us that, while they would love to help, all their mechanics were out on jobs, and someone would have to contact them if we were to take one of their buses the rest of the way. Who that someone was, we never found out. After thirty minutes pacing in the rain, our group started to dwindle as the contacted friends started arriving. One American on the bus, Jim, had two friends come, and they offered to take us the rest of the way to the airport, which we gratefully accepted.
We finally made it to Paihia six hours after we were supposed to arrive. We all took showers, had a nice dinner on the waterfront (that would have been nicer had it not been raining), and all went to bed as early as we thought was reasonable.
We’re grateful to the folks who helped us, entertained us, and welcomed us so warmly on the longest day we’ve had in a while!