2017 New Zealand – The Journey

The journey of 8,000 miles begins with a few missed steps

Getting ready to leave for vacation is never fun.  There are lots of last minute chores to get the house ready, bills to be paid, animals that need care, etc.  There never seems to be enough time, but I had planned an extra day off prior to leaving to help get some of these things taken care of.  It was a busy way to spend my birthday, but it paid off in that we were able to leave the house in a pretty decent state, assured that fish feeders would work and that the dogs would have everything they needed.

On departure day, we got up, finished up the last minute tasks, and got on the way to St. Louis with plenty of time to get checked in for our flight.  On the way there, we were stopping for coffee at the new Starbucks in Rolla when I got a text notification that our first flight to San Francisco was delayed by two hours.  A large enough margin that we would miss our connection to Aukland.  A quick call to Jan, our travel agent, and she was on the case to find us an alternative.  The result was to reschedule on a different route that had us connecting through Sydney to Queenstown a few hours after our Aukland flight.

The saying goes, “Time to spare? Go by Air!”, and in our case, that was definitely in effect!  We discovered once we got to the airport that the delay was due to low visibility in San Francisco due to the fires going on in Sonoma County.  The two-hour delay grew to 3.5, making the backup plan appear very unlikely.

We landed in San Francisco just 30 minutes before our flight was scheduled and made the mad dash to the gate to discover our plane still at the gate, but the jet bridge pulled away.  We did not make the flight.  The only alternative for us was to catch the San Francisco to Aukland flight the next evening, 24 hours delayed from our original plan.  Fortunately, I had planned us an extra day to adjust to the time zone and recover from the long flight, before we started the photography clinic.  The new itinerary would get us to Queenstown in the morning before the clinic started with enough time to get a little rest before we started.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and this little disturbance had a couple.  First, if there one city that Erica would pick to be stranded in, it would probably be San Francisco.  We spent several hours in the Haight Ashbury area taking photos before heading over to the airport.  Erica took hundreds of pictures of the city and graffiti.

The second silver lining was that the change in flights meant that one of the other attendees of the clinic, Fred Newman, would be on the same flight.  We had gotten to know Fred a little bit through social media before the trip, so we decided to meet at the airport to visit before getting on the flight.  Fred is an incredible man with a deep interest, love, and knowledge of photography.  The travel delays gifted us the opportunity to get to know Fred and form a friendship with him.  Totally worth it.

The flight from San Francisco to Aukland was 14 hours, and since we had been rescheduled, the premium seating I had arranged was no longer available.  Erica and I were crammed into an aisle and window seat beside a large man.  Air New Zealand is an excellent airline, with small seats.  There is no way to make a long flight comfortable.  You just have to embrace that you will be uncomfortable, and find ways to make it more tolerable.  In my experience, the best way to get through a long flight is to find a way to sleep and get your body on the new schedule.  For me, the secret to getting sleep is to carry a sleep mask and earplugs.  With those two things, you can get rid of the light and drown out the crying baby and other noises that prevent you from getting into a deeper (not deep) sleep.  I was able to get about 7 hours of sleep on the flight, which was really good.  Erica didn’t fare as well, but she was able to sleep.

We arrived in Aukland and transferred our streak of missed flight connections to Fred by missing the connection to Queenstown.  That particular connection should never be scheduled, as there were only 45 minutes between arrival and departure.  By the time you deplane and transfer from the international to the domestic terminal, there is no way you could make it.  Air New Zealand easily rescheduled us for the next flight a couple of hours later.

Fred was attending the workshop as the winner of a photo contest sponsored by Air New Zealand and Stuck in Customs.  As part of the reward, his transfer to the hotel was arranged, and he had been kind enough to call ahead and ask if we could ride with him since we were traveling together.  That made the process of getting to the hotel much easier.

We got checked into the room and started unpacking and resting up to get ready for the meet and greet for the clinic in a few hours….