2. Fly to New Zealand (Part 2)

Small rain cells drift across the tarmack as we board flight FJ413 with service from Nadi to Auckland departing at 6:10pm local time. This flight is on a smaller plane and I sit closer to the front in a seat with more leg room making the flight more comfortable.

The meal service is the same so I have the opportunity to try the chicken option. It is much better than the vegetarian option but still just ok. The total flight time is about 3 hours and 30 minutes and I manage to get some sleep.

Note: Jet lag doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue. Despite crossing the international date line the time change is effectively only 3 hours. YMMV.

Customs is quick but my hiking gear sends me, or more specifically my tent, to biological security. Even this process is quick, taking only fifteen minutes. I imagine on a day other than Sunday at a time earlier than 9:40pm things might be different.

TIP: Declare it. If you’re not sure then ask. Customs is polite and will help you figure it out. Lying or failing to claim something could cost you 400NZD with their stated “Instant Fine” and that is just the beginning of the trouble.

The next two hours are less enjoyable. The budget hotel near the airport is booked and with a flight to the south island tomorrow I don’t want to stray too far. The comfort inn 10 minutes away is closed so I end up at the gateway hotel across the street. The Gateway cost me 150NZD and has clean rooms, basic amenities and a few flaws which I won’t get into. The staff is friendly but uncompromising and breakfast is not included. The continental will run you 10NZD or you can pay 18NZD for access to the buffet. They do run a shuttle to and from the airport. WiFi is free but you are limited to 200mb every 24 hours.

Bottom line, if you need a place to stay, this is a place to stay and I do get a full night of sleep. The following morning is back to the airport and a two leg flight to Invercargill on the south island. The domestic terminal is busy but security is a breeze (less than 5 minutes to get through).

Note: Air New Zealand has a 7kg weight limit for carry on bags. Checking a bag costs 60NZD at the counter.

The best part of these long airport trips is that I have time to write these blog posts a close second is the people watching. Plus these Air New Zealand planes have nice paint jobs!

The New Zealand domestic departures area (post security) have water bottle friendly fountains. They also have showers available (B.Y.O.T.) which is something I also encountered in Nadi but have not seen in a United States airport.

Auckland domestic also has free WiFi which is limited to 1gb or 45 minutes.

Two more flights, the second in a propeller plane, and I’ve gone from sun and heat to overcast and gusty. I am in Invercargill. The town center is about 15 minutes on foot and there are two hostels available. I am staying at the Southern Comfort Backpackers Lodge. Tomorrow is a day for running errands, final preparations and to find a ride to Bluff.

1. Fly to New Zealand (Part 1)

Fiji Airways flight 811 departs Los Angeles on 12/8 at 9:30 (check exact time) PM PST. I arrive in Nadi Fiji and am through customs on 12/10 at 6:45 AM local time. The flight is uneventful. I sleep almost the entire time with maybe two hours as bookends for meals and watching TV over the shoulders of strangers.

The meals in Economy are not very good. Adequate and, with the exception that the cheese on the pasta turning out to be squash, unsurprising fit. Include crackers, cheese, roll with butter, rice and a glass of red wine to complete the meal. Coffee service soon after.

The seat itself is fine but the cushions on this particular feel like they may be at the end of their life and the fabric of the seat is slightly scratchy on bare legs. Luckily, folding the provided blanket several times and then sitting on it fixes both of these problems. The staff is very friendly and professional, willing to help with nearly any request.

TIP: Airport concession prices are high and once you are through security you are a captive audience. Meals on flights are at prescribed times with a little leeway so purchase snacks at grocery store to bring on your flight. You can also bring an empty water bottle through security and then fill it up at a water fountain. These two things will help you claim your diet independence onboard the aircraft.

Nadi airport is clean and bright. The sun rises as I stand in the customs line. A quick interview and I descend to the baggage claim to see my my backpack waiting for me on the conveyer belt. Then it’s quickly outside and around the corner to departures where my attempt to move to an earlier flight is unsuccessful since the 9:45 to Auckland is full.

Fresh Papaya, Watermelon, Orange slices, apple slices and Pineapple (16NZD) and an Iced Americano served in a fountain glass (5NZD) from the airport cafe Still at the airport and with 10 hours remaining until the check in counter opens I decide to spend a little time actually prepping for this trip. I buy a ticket for tomorrow (12/11) from Auckland to Invercargill (350NZD). That flight puts me within an hour (transport willing) of Bluff and the southern terminus of the Te Araroa. Then I will need to find a place to stay and a place to buy groceries and fuel.

Note: Buying tickets in advance of your trip (more than a day in advance) can save you money. In this case around 200NZD if I had bought when I purchased my Los Angeles to Auckland ticket.

Thuroughly done with planning for the moment I contemplate spending some time exploring the Island of Fiji. The airport Burger King sells a large Coca-Cola for 6NZD and while they do not offer refills, it is a good pick me up while I debate internally wether I should leave the airport and explore with only 9 hours until my flight. A police officer sits down across from me to read the paper and eat an ice cream cone and for a moment I am worried that he has seen me eating the combos I brought from Los Angeles. Seeing that he has no interest in my food I decided to ask him for advice on wether I should leave the airport. He suggested a couple of spots that are very close to the airport and when I thank him and rise to leave. He rises too and offers to walk with me to find a taxi.

TIP: Not all taxis are metered here. The yellow cabs are metered and (according to the police officer) more expensive than the eclectic cabs (which may or may not be metered). If you take an unmetered cab, negotiate the price of the trip beforehand.

We stand near the entrance to the airport (out by the main road) until a suitable taxi swings by. This one is a black boxy Mercedes with a role playing games worth of fuzzy dice suctioned to the front window. I throw my pack in the back seat and we are off to “smugglers cove” and “bamboo resort” which are a comfortable 15 minutes from the airport.

The resorts are really hostels and are stacked next to each other like homes in certain LA neighborhoods. They are simple and relatively inexpensive to stay at. They have pools and beach facing bars and restaurants. There are kayaks, paddle boards, horses and more available for guests. The resorts also offer tour packages that leave multiple times a day for destinations all over the various islands. The airport itself is nice but not designed for long layovers so getting to the beach is entirely worth the ~25NZD round trip. Grab a beer and a book and sit by the ocean for a while. It’s a nice break between long flights.