New Zealand: Intro
Air New Zealand currently operate the only same plane flights from London to Auckland, the main transport hub in New Zealand. The airline’s service between London and Auckland via Los Angeles (flight NZ001) is currently the longest scheduled route in the world (11,390 miles or 18,331 km), and naturally on any flight of this distance, comfort is paramount.
What’s the trip like…
Actually, not too bad, but you do need to get the mindset right, and a few extra inches of legroom really help. New Zealand Air are accommodating on the space given; with some of the best leg room in the air. The service is good too, with the best food I’ve had on a plane for a while.
First leg completes with arrival in Los Angeles, ‘land of the free’. US customs continue to plumb new depths in the quest for the worst welcome on the planet award, fortunately I was at the front of the queue; so it only took me an hour to get through…
Mr J Rotton was just behind but then jumped into the residents queue – which was a bit faster.
Then comes a series of corridors with what seem like random security checks – bit chaotic but one of them spotted my birthday and wished me a happy one.
Next and final leg is a 12 hour jaunt across the Pacific; in the dark mostly, but there’s not much to see anyway. Managed to sleep on this sector and don’t feel too bad considering that before this I had been awake for almost 24 hours.
With just under 4 hours to Auckland the map tells me that it will be dawn soon. When it breaks the islands just below us right now will be in the 3rd March, but just before we touch down this plane will fly into the 4th March. Must be weird if you live near the line – but I guess that’s the point not many people do.
New Zealand first thoughts
The setting for Auckland really is spectacular – there is water everywhere which makes for great views in all directions. The suburbs seem to ramble on for miles (actually this is 4 cities in one), but are very low rise with chalet style houses all set in lots of greenery.
The low density makes everywhere seem calm – at least to someone coming from the somewhat more crowded UK.
Devonport just across the bay from downtown – 10 minutes by ferry – best sums this calmness up; not many cars, beautiful houses and many with sea views.
Trips and Travel
Some of the day trips offered in NZ are staggeringly expensive – I have no idea why…
Help is at hand: the Naked Bus Company offer some very competitive rates on travel around the country and on the more popular day trips (Milford Sound for example). On the Milford Sound trip they were $50 per person cheaper than the next priced operator – and they were acting as an agency so we ended up on the same coach anyway…
So, what’s it like really?
Many people say that New Zealand is a bit like England used to be about 30 years ago in terms of the manners, and that the scenery was a bit like an extreme England – perhaps the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales…
Well, both are sort of right and at the same time wrong… There are a lot of similarities with an imagined England of yesteryear; people are generally very polite and take time to stop and enquire that you are OK (not in an American style way). Everywhere is clean and everything works, trains and buses run on time, are reasonably priced and give change.
There are some things that reminded me of the past: there is a near obsession with clingfilm, cafes must get through yards of the stuff, tightly wrapping up sandwiches and cakes – something we in the UK have now decided is a bad idea as it makes the contents all wet and limp.
In most cafes there are vast quantities of old style cakes on offer (fairy cakes in all colours of the rainbow and all manner of chocolate cakes, slices and muffins) – something we don’t seem to see at home any more – probably because they are time consuming to make and are not considered healthy.
Another remider of the past was the style of cafe that has stuff on shelves, behind plastic flaps that you have to lift up to get your choice – remember those?
They used to have a lot of these in motorway service stations… I had completely forgotten about them.
Food is generally good rather than exceptional, and portions are generous but not American gross. There is a charming no nonsense’ attitude to a lot of food, I have just bought a lollo rosso lettuce, which along with some other varieties, was just labeled ‘fancy’.
This directness does not extend to the wine, which is often described in florid terms and has staggeringly high prices seeing as its local.
There are few familiar shop names (supermarkets etc), but most of the contents you would recognise immediately. External shop naming is low key, often hand painted, supermarkets tend to have a brand colour and a name, but that’s it. The big name product brands use the same advertising materials we see – this strikes quite a contast and I guess is a measure of how sophisticated and all pervading the branding on our big shops is.
In NZ high streets are different from each other – which is not something the UK can claim anymore. The food chains are all here (McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut) but don’t seem so pervasive as at home.
The scenery is sometimes like an extreme England, but its very different in parts – the whole country is born of volcanic activity and this has given it a unique look.
Most of the areas I saw are very green – even at the end of Summer.
The southern alps on South Island are exactly that – alps, and bear no relation to anything in the UK, if anything the resorts and areas I visited in the south were pre alpine, a bit like northern Italy – if we must have a comparison.
In Queenstown I overheard an American comparing the area to Jackson; I suppose there is a tendency to compare places new to what is familiar, but in reality NZ is unique.
The scenery a product of its comparatively recent volcanic past and temperate climate; its people a product of the situation and their multicultural backgrounds.
So if it has to be like anywhere; then its like New Zealand…
Its a long way, but well worth the trip. Try it, you will like it…