Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 7 - And so it begins…

June 7 - And so it begins…

As we landed in Sydney we weren’t really sure where to go so we asked some of the workers at the airport. We also weren’t sure if we needed to get our bags or if they would be transferred for us. Sri waited with us just in case we needed to go to the same place she was to get our bags. They said we needed to go upstairs and go to the international terminal desk. They would know what to do.

I said goodbye to Sri and had her give me her contact information on the plane so I can email her when I got a chance. We went upstairs and walked half way across the airport to the place we were directed to go. I asked one of the ladies at the desk about getting our visa to Australia and how we could do that. She said it was very simple and could be done online. She gave me a few internet addresses that should help get that completed.

When we got to the counter we were told that we needed to go around the corner to the Emirates terminal. We were flying on Emirates and they do their booking and boarding passes directly. So we basically stood in line for 15 minutes for nothing. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry and had nothing else to do.

We eventually got our boarding passes and then proceeded to wait for about an hour and a half until we were scheduled to begin boarding. We walked around a few of the airport shops and looked at boomerangs, didgeridoos, artwork, and other items for sale. The boomerangs were reasonably priced around $15-$20 for the kind I would like to buy. The didgeridoos were outrageous. Most were around $300 or more. Hopefully I can find one cheaper when I go back. The artwork done by aboriginal people was also quite expensive. Some of the things were paintings on a tapestry and were priced around $1,600 or more. Not really in my budget. Some of the more complex ones were $3,200. I wonder if all of Australia is going to be this expensive, I kind of think it is.

We went and sat back down and I took a brief nap since I had little sleep the night before. A short while longer and we were on our last of three flights. We were almost to New Zealand. We left around 10 AM. With this flight being on Emirates I was hoping for a private T.V. and good food. When we stepped on board I immediately saw that the seats had their own T.V. so I was happy.

There wasn’t a lot of leg room, but like the previous flight it was half empty. The lady sitting on our row got up after take off and sat in the middle isle by herself. I had a window seat and Andy sat in the middle seat. During the flight I watched “The Office,” listened to music and played chess. I could never beat the computer though. I was probably too tired to concentrate.

I was hoping that because it was an early enough flight that they would feed us something. New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia, so even though it was only a 2 ½ hour flight it was actually going to be after 2 PM when we got there. They fed us lunch. We had an option of chicken or lamb. I chose the lamb. It was actually very good. It was a big meal and actually tasted like normal food. It included salmon, potato salad, mashed potatoes, lamb, key lime pie, crackers, and a piece of chocolate. To drink I chose apple juice.

As we flew over New Zealand you could see the mountains below. We came across the western coast and over the northern part of the southern island. There had just been a big snow storm so all of the mountains were covered. I was able to get some really good video and photos. Everything completed deserted with no sign of towns, roads, or people of any kind. Later in the trip we will be visiting this region.

Christchurch was even hit by the snow. From what I read it doesn’t snow very often there so it was unusual for them, especially since last year was a very warm winter. We landed, got our bags, went through customs very quickly, and began our trip in New Zealand. I was able to go through very fast, but Andy had to have his boots and the tent inspected. They are very strict about bringing in foreign plants into their country so they want to make sure camping equipment is properly cleaned.

I waited for about 10 minutes before he followed along. Once he showed up I took money out of the first and only ATM we saw. I took out $500 New Zealand Dollars, which is about $390 U.S. dollars. We decided we would try to take the bus to the hostel since it would be cheaper. We followed the signs outside, took a few pictures of the airport and snow along the way and waited at the bus stop.

We couldn’t figure out which bus to take first because we weren’t really sure where we were going. Eventually we figured it out. We sat there for about 30 minutes with a handful of other people. A bus finally got there, but it wasn’t the one we were waiting for. We asked the driver if he knew where the place was and what bus to take. He said bus 3 is what we wanted, just like we thought, but said that the buses weren’t running past 6 PM and he didn’t know if bus 3 would be coming by anymore today. We suggested taking his bus to the city center and then trying to get the correct bus from there. We had no other option so we decided we would do what he said.

As we drove through Christchurch I noticed how narrow the streets were. For a big city everything was two lanes, and sometimes only one lane, going each way of course. Along most of the streets we took were houses. They were really cool. All wooden homes and pretty small, although there were some larger ones.

At the city center everyone still on the bus got off. The driver must have been on a schedule because he basically parked and didn’t go anywhere. I was thinking the city center would have a large bus station, but this was basically four small bus stops you would see on the side of any road. A bench with an overhang. There were a lot of people there and buses coming every few minutes. We were looking for bus 3. It took about 15 minutes before it showed up.

We asked the driver if this was the correct bus and he seemed to think it was. None of the bus stops are announced or identified so I don’t know how we planned to know when to get off. I was just looking at street signs. We rode for about 20 minutes maybe. It seemed like the road matched with the map we had. We thought about getting off at one point, but weren’t really sure. We began to turn in a direction that was past where we needed to be. A woman on the bus asked where we wanted to go and she said it was way back from where we now were. She went up and told the bus driver to let us off so we could start heading back.

We got out and started back tracking. Immediately a guy in a car stopped and asked if he could help. We told him where we wanted to go and he said to follow the road and then turn right across the nearby bridge. Eventually we would get there. He made it sound like it wasn’t very far at all. I thought he was going to offer us a ride, but it didn’t seem like it was necessary.

It was about 4 PM at this point and around 30 degrees. At least that’s what we were thinking based on what the pilot said when we arrived. I had on shorts, but I felt completely fine. We crossed the bridge and followed the road around to the right. The street wasn’t clearly marked so we weren’t sure it was the exact one that we wanted. Based on the map though it seemed correct. The problem was the street we were eventually trying to get to wasn’t on the map. However, we did know that eventually they would intersect.

After about 15 minutes of walking another passerby stopped. This time it was a lady. It was obvious she was stopping for us because she started to go in reverse in our direction. She immediately asked where we were going and said we were nuts to be out in this weather in that part of the town. It wasn’t a bad area, just not the type of place tourists would be going carrying big bags. We showed her our map and directions and asked if she knew where it was. She didn’t exactly know, but she knew the street at least.

She said we headed in the right direction for where we needed to be, but she would take us there anyway. It gets dark around 5:30 and with the sun going down we figured it would be best to take advantage. We drove down the road a little ways until we got to the street we were looking for. The directions weren’t very clear so we turned the wrong direction a few times until I spotted a small sign that said “Haka Lodge” on a fence. We pulled into a side street and she dropped us off.

Finally! More than 32 hours after we left the airport in Dallas we were finally at our first destination. The lady running the place gave us a brief tour and some ideas of things to see before taking us to our room. There are three stories in this hostel. The first has a living room, kitchen, and dining room. Plus a stairway to something. We didn’t go up it so I don’t know what it is exactly, probably more rooms. Then a separate stairway that leads to three private rooms and two shared bathrooms. The third floor consisted of one large dorm room.

We are staying in a dorm. I expected it to be one large room full of bunk beds like we have had in other places. However, this place is a little different. When you first walk into the room there are two beds on one side and a row of lockers built into the wall on the other. There is a wall behind the beds, but an opening on the right side that appears as though it would have a door separating the next section, except there is no door.

The next part has two more beds again with lockers on the side. Finally there is one more “room” with no door. This is where we stayed. There were three beds in this part. It was really nice to be on the end because people aren’t walking in and out while you are trying to sleep. It gave it more privacy.

It was about 5 PM by the time we got settled in. I wrote down my expenses for the day, completed a few journal entries and then turned off my computer. I fell asleep around 6:30 PM. Tomorrow is our first real day in New Zealand and Christchurch, so it should be lots of fun.  

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