The following morning, as sunlight ushered in a bright, calm and beautiful morning, we caught up with the rest of the calls/ emails. Mr. JJ called Jetstar and made changes to our itinerary. We had lost a whole day in NZ, but the new itinerary allowed for an earlier landing allowing us to reach Queenstown by afternoon. We could salvage at least an afternoon. All wasn’t lost yet!
Go Rentals came through with flying colors, smoothly moving our reservation to the following day and asking us to not worry about any changes. We called United to check on the vegetarian meal options and the lady nearly reserved four wheel(chairs) instead of four meals! Luckily, we were able to fix that little change and were assured a veggie meal while on board.
Mr. JJ then called AA baggage and was asked to talk to the United baggage to ensure a smooth transition of our luggage. I called the United number and was transferred to a call center in India where the gentleman assured me that he had talked to the United agent (after putting me on hold) and that our luggage would be transferred. I somehow did not get the feeling that this matter had been squared away but there was little we could do other than show up at the airport and see for ourselves.
Back at the airport after a quick breakfast, we printed boarding passes for the SFO-IAH flight. The system wouldn’t let us print one for the second leg. The agent we checked with said there was no way he could help us with that as it was a partner airline. He did, however, direct us to the luggage handling dept on a lower level.
The lady at the luggage handling patiently listened to our story, checked the online system and told us no requests had been made to transfer our luggage from AA. She then proceeded to do so, putting in details of the types and colors of the luggage. Her efficiency gave us a glimmer of hope that our luggage would find its way to Auckland.
After a quick lunch, we boarded the Dreamliner 787, a big consolation for me! The flight was indeed more spacious but beyond that I was too worried to care. Once we landed in Houston, we quickly made our way to the Air New Zealand gate, arriving early enough to get our boarding passes printed. We found out that we had no veggie meals but they did have four wheelchairs ready for our use!! Thanks, but no thanks.
The Air New Zealand 777 flight was a pleasant experience. Service was well done, efficient and quick. We were assigned the Skycouch seats where the footrest slides all the way up to become an extension of the seat allowing for much-needed extra space. Indeed, for the first time in our many long haul flights, the kids slept well (nearly 11 hrs) with their legs crisscrossed. I enjoyed their various programs on NZ road rules, national parks, etc.
What I enjoyed the most was the toilets. They were definitely more spacious, covered on one side in funky wall paper, had organic, all natural hand soaps that smelled wonderful. And with piped music! There was a water faucet just outside the toilets to grab a drink and a trash bin to throw refuse. Little things that made a long journey more bearable.
The steward was kind enough to locate four veggie meals for us, which we greatly appreciated. After a good night’s rest and a breakfast of fruits, we eagerly anticipated our touchdown. It was a beautiful day in Auckland when we arrived.
After clearing immigration, we headed down to baggage claim with our guts churning. We had an onward flight to Queenstown and couldn’t afford a delay in even one of our suitcases. The tide worked in our favor and we were able to retrieve them all. After ensuring that all food items were discarded, we headed to customs where they looked through the arrival cards but did not question us on the medications. We had to pass the suitcases through the scanner again and then were free to go.
It was an exciting feeling walking out into the arrivals hall of the airport. It had taken us a while to get there but we made it! And with our luggage, to boot!
After a quick freshen up, we grabbed a heavenly cup of flat white and hot chocolates. We then boarded the connecting bus to the domestic terminal to catch our Jetstar flight. While the agent helped us check in, he recommended using their weighing scale to ensure our luggage was within their limits. Two of them were about half a kilo more but the staff assured us a leeway of just under a kilo. With checked in done, we made our way to the food court to grab a quick meal of hotcakes and coffee at a ubiquitous McDonald’s. Then past security once again and onto the boarding area to await our next flight.
The Jetstar experience itself was nothing much to speak of. What stood out was the turbulence in the latter part of the trip that left us a little nauseated. But more importantly, the approach to Queenstown was so beautiful. I have never seen another airport surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains, the plane buffeted gently by the winds, the verdant valley gleaming in the noon sunshine. We couldn’t wait to see what rest of Queenstown and New Zealand had to offer.
Retrieving our luggage, we made our way to the Go Rentals pick up area. We got a ride to the rentals office, where we prepaid for the gas and after settling the finances, watched a short video on how to drive safely and road rules in NZ.
Heading out, we quickly discovered that the blue Toyota Corolla was too small to pack four people and three large suitcases. To our dismay, with the busy tourist season, the staff couldn’t find a bigger car. And that’s how we ended up with one of our suitcases becoming the fifth passenger on our trip across NZ. Yep, she travelled in the back seat with us whereas her two mates had to grunt and groan in the trunk.
The first half an hour after collecting the car were anxious moments as Mr. JJ acclimatised himself to driving on the left side of the road. He had some experience from driving in Sydney in 2013 but it was the roundabouts that needed more re-learning. We kept missing the second or the third exits and going around in circles. We were hungry, tired, and felt very much like Chevy Chase in that National Lampoon vacation movie driving in circles!! Of course, unlike dear Chevy, we got out after the second time! And made our way to the Queenstown town center.