The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

The longest day

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 2nd, 2009

People say I must be off my rocker to do the entire journey from the UK to New Zealand – just about the longest of long hauls – in one go, and after the last 24 hours, I’m sure they’re probably right!

Fortunately there were no problems with my Emirates booking, although I did somehow lose one of my boarding passes within seconds of them giving it to me! Fortunately they called me back and it was sorted immediately with the only embarrassment being having my name called out over the tannoy for the entire airport to hear!

I found Birmingham airport a pleasant place to fly from, much lower key and more sedate than the bedlam that is Heathrow. The first leg, 7 hours to Dubai was relatively comfortable. It was on a Boeing 777 with plenty of leg room and I had an empty seat next to me which always helps. The in-flight entertainment system on Emirates was superb… I was a happy, happy chappy when I discovered they now have front and downward cameras on the aircraft so you can watch the views outside as you fly! As this was an overnight flight, all I could see was darkness, but never mind! As usual I was only able to doze (I joked with myself that I must have had a “NASA power nap”, the 23 minute doze the astronauts used to do on missions) but it must have worked as it got me through the flight.

I was looking forward to hopefully seeing some spectacular sights in Dubai on the way down, or at least from the airport. No such luck. As far as the eye could see the air was a murky brown – fog/smog – so I couldn’t see a thing!. After a long, long and uncomfortable drive to the terminal (it seemed to take about 50 years to get there!) we were unloaded into the transit area. I expected something really spectacular from Dubai airport, and while it is that, I came away disappointed. The duty free stuff is laid out along a lengthy concourse. It was a long walk, there wasn’t much to see and, most annoyingly, there was nowhere to sit down! In the end I just went to my gate. I had a nice chat over text with my friend Jas from work who’s also in Dubai at the moment and couldn’t believe I’d got in touch!

Then it was onto the next flight. This time we were on an Airbus A340. At 18 hours in total, with a stop at Melbourne, this was going to be a real endurance test. I’ve done longer than that in one go before, but never with a stop involved. On the plus side, the cabin service from Emirates was outstanding; they are certainly among my top preferred carriers now. On this flight I also had the company of a guy who is a police detective in Dubai and was very interesting to talk to; we swapped email addresses so it’s good to know if I’m ever in Dubai I’ll have police protection! Unfortunately this was where the good aspects ended.

The A340 is not really suitable for a flight of this duration I feel; leg room was very cramped and the seat wasn’t comfortable either upright or reclined. Great I thought, 18 hours of this. Then the in-flight entertainment system failed (damn them, I wanted to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine!) which took hours to fix. It was odd being on the user end of an IT problem for a change! Then I realised I was sitting near to the flight’s complainer, a curmudgeonly old man who was repeatedly rude and unreasonable to the cabin crew about the most trivial of things. I was quite amused when one of the flight attendants spilled a drink on his trousers towards the end – good for her! I couldn’t have slept if I’d tried, there was just no way I could get comfortable in the seat. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased and relieved to land in my life!

At Melbourne all us transit passengers were made to disembark, effectively walk around in a circle back to where we’d been before and go through three security checkpoints on the way for our trouble. Totally pointless. Then the flight was delayed several times while the plane was prepared. While I waited I texted my mate Matt Melbourne with “Hi from Melbourne!” Some things you’ve just got to do…

Then it was finally time for the last push to Auckland. I was so tired by now that my eyes were streaming, although I did doze off for about an hour which helped. I awaited the first sighting of NZ on the front camera as we crossed the Tasman. Approaching Auckland, we dipped below the cloud level and I saw RAIN! Torrential rain. Oh well, I’ve picked a nice day for it I thought. It is my second home but I wasn’t expecting quite such a literal reminder of home! Some drama on the way down. There was obvious turbulence and low down they had to abort, power up and go around again. The second attempt was clearly a struggle for them as well as the plane was veering all over the place on the runway, but we did eventually reach terra firma safely.

I’d been warned about the changes to Auckland airport, but it is bewilderingly different which really threw me. I joked with the guy at the duty free shop that I couldn’t find anything any more! Then, visitor’s permit issued and suitcase safely collected, it was out through the final security check to see Chris waiting for me in the arrivals hall – a very welcome sight!

Chris was amused having witnessed our aborted landing and some of the others coming in hoping they’d actually manage to find the runway. In typical Chris style he got stuck in helping some of my fellow arrivals from Dubai with a flat tyre they’d had after they asked to borrow a wheel brace in the car park. They were as unimpressed with the Dubai to Auckland experience as I was!

It’s been a long time coming but it feels great to be back in New Zealand.

The day of departure…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 30th, 2009

The suitcases are packed, lists all ticked off and I’m starting to feel less stressed about planning the trip which means I must be ready to go!

It’s all gone pretty smoothly – the only hitch was Emirates’ web site didn’t let me complete the advance online check-in procedure, tersely telling me “Your transaction could not be completed. Please report to the airport and contact a member of airline staff”. Gulp. If I’m back posting here tonight, you’ll know they’ve decided not to take me!

Quite a lot is different this time – it’ll be my first time transiting through Dubai and Melbourne plus the 28 hour 25 minute flight is evenly split into three legs which should hopefully make it more bearable. It’s already been a big improvement being able to fly from Birmingham as I’d normally be chugging along on a coach on the way down to Heathrow right now, rather than relaxing at home with a nice cup of tea!

Four days to go…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 27th, 2009

It’s difficult to believe that at the end of this week I’ll be on the other side of the planet! That thought always leaves me in awe…

Steve has been in touch after I asked advice about how best to approach New Zealand in winter, which will be a totally new experience for me this time:

“Pack for cool/cold Auckland and bloody cold/freezing South Island. For South Island think Scotland.”

Looks like I’ll be needing those thermal socks Mom bought after all!

A week to go…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 23rd, 2009

My sixth trip to New Zealand will take place from Thursday 30th July to Tuesday 25th August 2009.

My itinerary is: Auckland -> Coromandel -> Auckland -> Dunedin -> Lake Tekapo -> Lake Pukaki -> Timaru -> Christchurch -> Southern Alps -> Greymouth -> Southern Alps -> Christchurch -> Kaikoura -> Christchurch -> Auckland.

Reassuringly, after five previous trips almost everything this time will be entirely new to me. Apart from Auckland which is always my base, I’ve only previously been to Christchurch and that was a few years ago now; I was also on foot so stayed largely in the city, whereas this time I’ll have a car. I was struggling to find a new angle for this trip when Chris (who I’ll be staying with this time) suggested taking the TranzAlpine train, a brilliant idea which caused everything else to fall into place.

It’ll be winter in the southern hemisphere which isn’t ideal, but I’m being positive and thinking of it as seeing the country in a different light – a whole new experience. Plus I imagine the Southern Alps will look beautiful in winter. The timing’s also significant for another reason – it’s exactly ten years since Steve and Cherie emigrated; I was their first visitor then and now a shade off a decade on I’m back!

I used to go to New Zealand for a month every year, but there has been quite a gap. I was last there in February 2005, so a return is very long overdue. I’m flying with Emirates for the first time, and that’ll also mean I can go from Birmingham which should make the epic journey somewhat easier. The long coach ride down to Heathrow always made me feel like I’d already been travelling for a day before even taking off, so it’ll be great to lose that not least because it also means I won’t have to suffer the indignities of travelling with National Express. Last time, on the way back after a 12,000 mile journey, their coach broke down 30 miles from home. “It’s a good job we don’t run an airline” they said. I didn’t laugh…

This trip became possible at terrifyingly short notice – only four weeks in advance, so I’m quite reassured how prepared I am. In fact this is the most I’ve sorted out beforehand for any of my trips despite feeling a bit “rusty” due to not having done any major travelling for a while. The internal flights and car hires are booked so there’s only accommodation to go and I’ll do that in the first week after I arrive.

So now I’ve just got to concentrate on sorting everything out so I can actually get there!