Sunday, 8 March 2009

Day 655 - Christchurch (New Zealand)

My last day in Australia was spent cruising around Adelaide. It has a lovely layout, a grid sectioned Central Business District surrounded by a green belt, rather like a moat. To the north of this grid lies another 3 smaller grids, also separated by moats. On a map it looks just great, though in reality it has a different feel to it, though it maintains its green city charm. Most of the points of interest lie along the northern road of the CBD and it was here that I took in the South Australia Art Gallery. It wasn’t a bad gallery, but I was just tired. I sat down to rest my weary legs and fell asleep for half an hour. I was vaguely aware of a curator that kept passing me, probably trying to decide what to do with this dozing tramp that he had suddenly acquired. I cooked for Sophie, Tobi and Bernie on the last night, a good sociable evening around the table trying to organise a party for Bernie’s family and friends the following week. I was convinced I would see everybody the following morning, a big mistake, I was only able to say goodbye and thank you in person to Tobi. The previous night Sophie’s unsociable cat Nikki seemed to have taken a shine to me, she came over and slept on the bed next to me for the whole night, how sweet! I assumed she would do the same on the last night. She came over, puked on the floor beside me and walked off, her way of saying “If you think I am that easy to win over, think again”.

So I departed for the airport having said only one third of my farewells, it felt strange creeping out trying not to wake anybody up. The route to the airport was so easy, things could only get worse, they did…rapidly. Flying and checking in is hardly exciting, in fact when you cycle everywhere they are just a real nuisance. Little did I realise I was heading for the worst check-in experience I have ever had. Having sorted all my stuff out and still having 3 bags to check in rather than the one allowed, I made my way to the desk. “Oh, that bike needs to go into a box, you can get them over there for $22” I was told. I rather expected them to say that, but it was going to be a bit of a problem as I only had $20 as Christine’s had only cost $15, so I used my usual tactics of “Well I have never had to use a bike box on any flight, ever”. That’s true, but I backed it up with another fact that they didn’t seem to realise, “and besides, there is nothing on your website that states I need to pack it in a box”. After a few minutes checking they came back and said “Ok, you can send it without a box, but it goes at your own risk”. “So if I have a box, does that mean that you cover the costs if there is any damage?” I asked, “No, you still take all the risk yourself” they told me, “In which case I will take the risk which is $22 cheaper thank you”. Good, it should be easy now, but next came “You baggage looks way over the limit”. They weighed it, it came to 38kg with the bike. I was told “You are 15kg over, the limit is 23kg”. Again, I could tell them something they didn’t know “According to your website there is another 10kg free if you take a bike”, so after more discussion and another wait I was told that I was only 5kg over weight and they wouldn’t charge me the $40 required for that, they also ignored the fact that I had too many bags, things were going well. “Do you have an onward ticket from New Zealand?”, “Yes, here it is”. Christine had told me she had got through without being asked about that at any time, but I was thankful I had sorted out an onward ticket to Fiji. A couple of minutes passed and they came back to me “It’s only one way”, “Yeah, I know, that’s because I am not returning to New Zealand”, “But you need an onward ticket from Nadi to your homes destination”, “But I am not going home, I am heading for America”, “Then you need one for the USA, as well as a visa, it states that clearly on the website and it is your responsibility to have the correct documentation”. “It states I need the correct documentation for my next destination, I have that, no visa is required for Fiji”, “But you also need one for the destination after that as they require an onward ticket in Fiji too”, “Then your website is unclear, it just states the next destination”. “Well, you can’t get on this flight with the ticket you have, you will have to buy another back to the UK as well”, “That’s ridiculous, I am not going there” I argued, but the conversation started to go around in circles. I had been the first at the check-in desk, queues came and went but I wasn’t getting anywhere. “When you are travelling around the world you need to be one step ahead of you next destination” I was told, “I am, I have all the documentation for Fiji, it seems you want me to be 3 steps ahead”. I still wasn’t getting anywhere, they told me “You should do what everybody else does and have a connecting ticket with all your flights on, it is much easier”, “But I don’t like to travel like that, I have no idea what will happen on the road ahead and what diversions I may take, I don’t want to be tied down to fixed flights and dates”. It was no use, I knew it wouldn’t be and they eventually told me “You can buy a fully refundable ticket to the UK for about $1000”. “I will take one back to Australia, the cheapest you get give me”, “You can’t do that, you don’t have a visa”, “Yes I do” and they eventually came up with a ticket for $546. I told them I wanted a total refund on the Fiji ticket as their website was misleading, the refused. They called the ticket office and explained my circumstances, I talked to them, told them I wanted the cheapest flight available and wanted a refund on the Fiji ticket, I still wasn’t getting anywhere, the conversation was going around in circles again. “Hold the line a minute” I was told. When they came back I was amazed, they said “Due to the circumstances you can have a normal economy ticket that you can fully refund whenever you like, it will cost $188, we will also fully refund the ticket to Fiji”, I guess they had checked the website on that one too and decided it was misleading. That seemed like a good deal to me. But this situation is totally crazy. Whilst in NZ I can get a full refund less $20 at any time, I then have no ticket and I am free to travel as I please, just what I wanted anyway, but people travelling without an onward ticket is also exactly what immigration don’t want, what a farce! I passed through immigration, the guy was so friendly, it was just what I needed. The immigration check in NZ were fine too, they weren’t interested in an onward ticket at all, they were interested in my tent though, I had to wait about 20 minutes whilst they went through it, they didn’t even repair the broken zip on it! I then had to check everything back in for the flight to Christchurch and take a walk in the fresh air to the domestic terminal. The flight was a short one, I sat next to Rachael who had been on a business trip to Auckland and was returning home, she was very friendly, good to talk to, it was just what I needed. Arriving at Christchurch was dead easy, Christine had even cycled out to meet me and show me the way back, it couldn’t have been easier. She had bought me a pressie too, White Chocolate Spread, wow! What a great invention.

Saturday morning was so warm, far warmer than at anytime in Adelaide. I have been to Christchurch before, about 9 years ago and unusually for me I remembered it all. We did a tour of the cycle shops to get some new cycle shorts for Christine, the hole in the back is becoming more indecent by the day. We had lunch in a veggie Indian restaurant where the staff was so friendly. Iris from Austria was working there, dressed in a sari and spent an age talking to us, we both got the impression she didn’t want to leave. Eating out is so much cheaper here that in Australia, we made the most of it by eating in a Japanese restaurant in the evening, but the day took a rapid downward turn. We had another one of our little discussions, I was pressing Christine too hard for an answer that she didn’t want to give. I was met with a barrage of aggression, the second time in about 10 minutes. I didn’t need this and what I did next I am not proud of, but sometimes you just do things in the heat of the moment, I just walked out and left her, she had to pick up the bill for the both of us. I walked back to the hostel, I was already feeling bad about what I had done, especially as in the last couple of days in Adelaide Christine had said that she didn’t think I would go to Christchurch, I would come up with an excuse not to go there. She wasn’t going to trust me no matter how I told her that I had no intention of going anywhere else, clearly my actions were not only bad, they were badly timed also. I was surprised when she returned to the hostel about 15 minutes later, I apologised straight away, I really was sorry for my actions, but once you have taken your actions you can’t roll back time. I received an emotional lecture, I knew I would get it and I suppose I deserved it. She was surprised I was at the hostel, she had assumed I would have already left, all a bit unlikely, she knows how long it takes me to get all my junk packed in the mornings.

I went ringing at the Cathedral this morning, I rang there on my last visit here, I had forgotten how good the bells are, Christine joined me, it is now easier for her to understand what I had been wobbling on about. We paid a visit to one of the museums where there was a penny farthing to have a go on, it was fixed on rollers, but at least we got a chance to feel what it would be like. After an “all you can eat” buffet back to the veggie restaurant we checked out the art gallery, the building was far more impressive than the contents. Later back at the hostel Christine proved her weight in gold, she did a couple of repairs on my tent, even replacing the broken zipper. She did it so well that I can’t even tell the difference. Oh, I should point out at some stage that she refers to my blog as the book of lies, though I shouldn’t be surprised, we still can’t agree on anything.

Tomorrow morning we have decided to head off south along the east coast to Dunedin, mainly due to the fact that there is such good weather on the east coast at the moment, it’s far worse on the west coast. Also if it all goes well we arrive bang on time for bell ringing as it will be practice night there.


Garry Broad said...

[Checking in again after a while]...

...the writing's getting pretty interesting John, keep the posts coming. I think the 'Book of Lies' could become a best seller :-)

jac said...

If you stop in Oamaru, go into the Last Post for a pint of Speights and tell them Jackie from Glasgow sent you. Maurice, a Glaswegian (who grew up in the same street as me!), lives locally and is a regular there. They'll really look after you. Give them my best if you see them!
Enjoy NZ!