Leaving Dallas, we flew pretty much straight west, and then turned southwest once we flew over the Pacific, making a roughly-straight line for Auckland. The sixteen-hour flight was one of the longest, if not the longest, flights I’ve ever been on. Fortunately, it was entirely uneventful, with no significant turbulence or detours.
I had plenty of leg room, but my seat was extremely uncomfortable. Fortunately, I got an aisle seat, which let me regularly get up and stretch. As expected, the “food” was all terrible, save for bits and pieces that were actually very good: a raspberry sorbet, a fig bar, and a (literally) vanilla yoghurt.
Being in an aisle seat, I couldn’t see much of anything out the windows — not that there was anything to see for most of the flight. The first eleven hours were in darkness, and the rest was over the ocean, until we got near New Zealand.
Flying over Hauraki Gulf, just to the northwest of Auckland, the plane banked dramatically as it turned to fly over the city, providing a dramatic view of the lush green Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands visible even from where I was sitting, signaling that we were almost there. Rangitoto and Motutapu are the two closest islands to Auckland, both dormant volcanoes. CareFree and I summited both islands earlier this year when I visited.
After flying over the city and looping around, my flight landed at Auckland Airport, located south of the city center, on Manukau Harbour. (On its way out of Auckland, the TA passes by the entrance to the airport.) A smaller airport, it didn’t take long from touchdown to arriving at the terminal, and I quickly disembarked. Fortunately, the terminal was not very busy, and the line through passport control was very quick — or at least, it seemed that way because I’d gotten a seat towards the front of the plane, and so was in front of the majority of the rest of the passengers. I hustled to the baggage claim; from prior experience, I knew that it was possible for the line through biosecurity to back up all the way through baggage claim, and while it would be pure random chance how long I’d have to wait for my bag to make it off the plane and onto the carousel, the sooner I could make it there, the better chance I’d have of getting my suitcase more quickly.
While I was waiting for the baggage carousel to start, I saw someone who appeared to be a hiker. After mulling over whether or not to talk to them for a few minutes, I decided to say hi. I was correct: he was a hiker. Hayden, from Texas, was here to hike the TA. Inspired by some former TA hikers while in Iceland in 2019, this would be his first long hike. He starts tomorrow, so it’s unlikely we’ll meet on the trail, at least for a while.
We wrapped up our chat after he picked up the bag he was waiting for, and just as my bag came out of the carousel. As I went over to pick mine up, I noticed that a pair of New Zealand biosecurity officers had gone up to him to talk. Later, when I’d very nearly made it through biosecurity — the officer was satisfied and just about to let me through — they came up to intercept me.
They’d learned from Hayden that I was supposedly hiking the TA, and to them, I looked very much not like a hiker, what with a small backpack and two suitcases, and so they decided I needed to be screened, which involved taking me to a separate area and unpacking everything for inspection. (Good thing I didn’t have anything to hide!) They’d told me that they’ve recently had a problem with people smuggling in meth, and also that nearly everyone coming in from the US and Canada was bringing in marijuana. (Marijuana for medicinal use is legal in New Zealand, but not recreational use.) They asked me when, not if, I smoked, and seemed a little surprised when I said I didn’t.
They were quite friendly through the whole process — far more than I’d ever expect from the US TSA — even getting me some water to drink a couple of times.
Anyway, there was nothing for them to find, and so of course, they found nothing. After a half-hour delay, I finally made it out of the secure area into CareFree’s waiting arms.