Friday, 30 January 2015

Life in the slow lane: Welcome to New Zealand!

We are standing in the slow queue at Auckland airport. We inch forward and stop.

Kiwis are lovely people but can't they count? Six customs officers are checking quarantine declaration forms. There are four for the line to our left and two for us!


We inch forward and stop! A tour guide with a bundle of passports and forms pushes to the front of our queue. She approaches one of the desks. There is a problem. One officer stops serving our long, long line and disappears with the tour operator. Now there is only one inspector for us.

We inch forward and stop! We fantasise about ducking under the tape and joining the lucky travellers in the lane to our left - but with 72.5 kilos of luggage including two almost unmanageable mountain bike bags this is not a fantasy we can play out. Besides no-one else changes lanes. Maybe you're not allowed. Maybe the others, looking equally tired and frustrated know something we don't about what happens if you try to change lines.

We inch forward and stop! We landed half an hour ago. We don't know it yet but it will be another two hours and thirty minutes before we escape the quarantine line and the car hire queue which replaces it. We are grateful we have no tight connections to make.

The pace of life is slower here.


We inch forward and stop - again! Nine hours from home in Sydney to rental car in Auckland. It is only a three hour flight. I think I could swim it in less time.

  • Three hours from walking out of our front door to boarding the plane. 
  • Three hours from take-off to touchdown.
  • Another three hours from touchdown to clearing customs and quarantine and collecting our rental car.

The first six hours of our journey were fair enough.  With two mountain bikes to dismantle and pack-up in the airport carpark we left home in plenty of time. In the difficult and stressful world of flying bicycles this was our smoothest journey ever. No unexpected traffic on the way to the airport. No last minute panic while we struggled to squeeze the bikes into their bags. No problems at check-in and best of all, no apparent damage when we arrived. 

You can't really expect much time shaved off the take-off to touchdown part. If it takes three hours to fly then it takes three hours to fly - but THREE hours to exit Auckland airport - you have got to be kidding.

Our 'undamaged' bikes, by one of Auckland's Bays


We inch forward. It is our turn at last. The quarantine officer glances at our declaration form and then looks at our bike bags.

"Road bikes or mountain bikes," she asks.

We know this game. The clever answer is 'road bikes'.  In her world, road bikes don't collect dirt - 'bio-hazardous material' in the technical vernacular. I am tempted to answer 'road bikes' just to see what will happen. Will she let us through without directing us to yet another interminable queue.

"Mountain bikes," David cuts in - he has had a sixth sense of my impending criminal intent.

"Gate No.2," she replies.

We move to join another long, slow, queue. We inch forward and stop. Everyone else in this line also has sporting equipment except the couple in front of us. I pass the time trying to imagine what 'bio-hazardous' nightmares they might be trying to import. When it is their turn to be inspected they point to their shoes. They don't even open their bags. They look like perfectly ordinary shoes to me.

I am disappointed that I will never solve the mystery of the shoes. I need not be. Later we will have a long, friendly conversation while we all wait together in the car rental queue.


Looking back on the city from around the Bay


Our turn at last.

"I need to see the tyres," says the inspector.

These are the world's cleanest bikes. We know the drill. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours hosing and scrubbing every last micron of Australian dirt off them.  Kiwis don't want Australian dirt in their country. The fact that New Zealand's farmlands get  top-dressed with Australian soil blown across the Tasman every time there is a strong wind seems to have completely escaped them.  No matter; the inspector is appreciative of my bike cleaning efforts. We open the bags. She glances at the tyres and waves us through.  We know the rules of this game and we have won.

We escape into the arrivals hall - only to be confronted with a crowd six deep at the rental car desk. D got a good deal from Thrifty - so it seems did everyone else. The other car hire desks are deserted. Next time we are hiring the most expensive car we can find and skipping the queues.

We inch forward and stop - again! It feels like we left home a week ago. We are tired, we are hungry and we are thirsty.  Once we get our car we still have to re-assemble the bikes and fit our portable bike rack to the car boot.  I'm reminded why my third rule of packing is ' never fly with bikes' - I'm struggling to remember why it isn't my first rule.

........................................................

And the couple with the shoes - it turns out that he is a horse trainer and they had walked through the stables before leaving home that morning. They don't want to chance bringing bio-hazardous material into the country. The Kiwis have one of the world's most beautiful and pristine environments - and they want to keep it that way.

Welcome to New Zealand!

54 comments:

  1. Lyn! This post cracked me up! I can answer the shoes...hiking boots = bad dirt! Same as the tires. We've been there. We understand. I love your thought process...wouldn't we all love to change lanes sometimes?! And I always envy those that have the "wherewithall" to do it, because I don't! Happy Weekend Travel Inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Corinne. Whether it is supermarkets or airports we always seem to be in the slow queue - oh well - the story of our lives - lol.

      Delete
  2. I can just sense your frustration, and I sympathise as I always choose the slowest queue! But 3 hours to get through an airport is excrutiatingly slow and not the best of welcomes. #wkendtravelinspiration

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Phoebe. It was worth it though. New Zealand is a great place to travel and we are having a ball.

      Delete
  3. grrr! I hate these zealots! Just reading to what you have been subjected at the customs makes me never want to go to New Zealand. That is not to say that it not and incredibly beautiful country, but having to go through that will definitely cut the joy of traveling there. Thanks for linking-up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anda. I don't have any complaint about the quarantine officers doing their job. Like Australia, where I live, New Zealand was isolated from the rest of the world until a few hundred years ago. Introduced pests can wreak terrible havoc on the environment. There is a great poster at Sydney airport showing a traveller with a huge slug-like creature under his arm. The caption says "If it was this obvious no-one would do it". Without careful quarantine inspections the environment of both countries would suffer. My only real whinge was the fact that people in the fast queue were going at about four times the speed as people in our queue and there should not have been that difference.

      Don't let me put you off coming to New Zealand. It is a stunning country.

      Delete
  4. we really want to go there at some point, when I see the landscapes there it makes me feel that it has a lot in common with some of the landscapes here in Chile too...
    greetings from www.bayessence.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Francisco. Now that I think about it you are right. I am sitting in a hotel room right now at Lake Taupo, Nth Island, New Zealand. Looking across the lake I can see a snow capped volcano which I think is Mount Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom if you are a Lord of the Rings fan). It is an almost perfect replica of the Volcano Osorno in Chile and just as beautiful.

      Delete
  5. Boo to the slow lane!! I too am always stuck in one, especially at the airport!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The thing I don't understand is who are all the people who get the fast lanes. Everyone I've ever spoken to always gets stuck in the slow lanes - lol.

      Delete
  6. Good grief and I thought getting into Israel and Malta were hard. In Israel because of the terrorism they HAND check every piece of baggage. That said there have the military there going through your bags even before you enter the airport. You get off the bus pick a line and wait, it takes with hundreds in line about 20 minutes. They have it down, and trust me they can unpack and pack a bag FAST, and they go through EVERYTHING....... This line that you were in CRAZY!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi BritishMum - Israel is on our list but a bit worried about the safety. It doesn't surprise me that the Israeli military are efficient - lol.

      Delete
  7. I laugh because it's hilarious to read, but I'm sure it wasn't at the time! Why are they so scared of dirt?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marie, Honestly it wasn't that bad. It would have been awful at the end of a long flight. Coming from Australia I understand their paranoia. Like Oz, New Zealand was isolated from the rest of the world until a few hundred years ago which means that there are a lot of pests which don't exist there - they can do a huge amount of damage to the local fauna. I live in Sydney and right now the quarantine guys are battling an invasion of fire ants - hoping they can stop the ants before they become established.
      You definitely got the point of my story though which was to try to make people laugh.

      Delete
  8. I hate the mental dance that happens when I get a slow lane anywhere. If you move will that cause the other line to speed up in your absence, so do you stick it out etc. I know those dirt quarantine checks well, when I moved to australia I had to inventory all my belongings and they wanted to inspect every pair of shoes I shipped out which were unfortunately in 6 different t boxes since I spread them out. Giant pain in the butt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Deb. I don't think there is a person on the planet who can't identify with being stuck in the slow queue. It seems to happen to us all the time - I want to know who the people are who get to join the fast queue.

      Delete
  9. Ahh there's nothing worse than having a long wait at customs when you've arrived after a long journey. Very hard to keep your cool. I'm sure the wait was worth it though. New Zealand is one of my favourite places in the world. I hope you have a lovely time there. #teamIBOT

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Renee. Thanks. New Zealand is stunning and well worth the wait.

      Delete
  10. Amusing post, although I can imagine your frustration. I never realized that the dirt on bike tires or shoes would be such an issue getting into new Zealand. Each country has its own worries about stuff getting across their borders. As a Canadian, I've driven into the U.S. numerous times. One of the things the border officials there are most concerned about is bringing fruit across the border. They don't want to import any fruit diseases or bugs. We also had an issue one year with dog food and learned that only certain types are allowed across the border and they must be in their original unopened bag.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Donna, Australia and New Zealand are very careful about letting fruit in. Any type of food has to be declared. There are even places within Australia where you aren't allowed to take fruit and vegetables from one area to another - it's to try to stop the spread of fruit fly and phylloxera (a disease which attacks grapes). I have seen the same thing in parts of Argentina.

      We are coming to Canada later in the year and then driving into the US so I'll keep in mind the no fruit thing - thanks.

      Delete
  11. Oh wow. What an experience. I hope New Zealand is worth all this trouble.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! New Zealand is stunning. We knew that of course. We only live next door in Oz so we've been here a few times before.

      Delete
  12. You have more patience then I do - as soon as I touch down in a place I want to get out and start seeing things! But it's good that they're careful about what can get in, even down to checking shoes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jess. I agree. I would hate to be the one who brought in some exotic pest. I don't think the Kiwis have forgiven us for the possum yet.

      Delete
  13. I hate lining up, especially when there seems to be stupidity holding me up. And I love that the other people were thoughtful enough tot get their shoes checked, not many people would do that. I remember trying to get through customs with my hiking boots after travelling around Africa. Apparently we went to a lot of "naughty" places and our shoes had to be spotless.

    Thanks for joining in my #wednesdaywanderlust travel link party

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Malinda, I know we will go through the same rigmarole when we arrive back in Australia. I understand the need for it but just wish it was a bit more efficient. At least in Auckland the quarantine people were pleasant. Last time we arrived in Sydney with our bikes after a trip to the U.S one of the guys herding the queue was downright rude. He kept insisting that we turn the bike bags on their ends so they would fit in the queue lanes but doing that can damage them. In the end we had no choice even though on previous occasions we've been let through without having to do it.

      Delete
  14. Lyn how frustrating, but at least you didnt have hiking boots on! Thanks for linking on mum-bo-monday! have a great week

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jennifer, I'm not sure what happens if you do have dirt attached to outdoor gear. A friend brought a landrover in years ago with dirt underneath it - he had paid to have it cleaned but they did a lousy job - it cost him quite a lot of money to have quarantine re-do the cleaning.

      Delete
  15. Wow, this is hilarious! I could feel your every thought process through the whole thing. I never knew that New Zealand was so strict about foreign biohazardous material. I'll be sure to stay away from any kind of dirt when headed there! I'm glad in the end it all worked out for you guys but definitely 3 hours to go through customs is a bit excessive!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Adelina, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. New Zealand is worth it though. It is a fantastic country to visit.

      Delete
  16. Lol, I also usually choose the slow lane. If you see me in line, best pick the other lane. Bringing bicycles to New Zealand sounds like a great idea to me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Shelley, Flying with bikes is a huge hassle but worth it in the end. I suppose it isn't surprising that the slow lane thing has resonated with so many people - I think we have all been there - lol.

      Delete
  17. Oh I didn't think there could be a slower airport than Perth. But it looks like you found it. It really puts a dampener on the start of your holiday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sally-Ann, Remind me never to try to bring bikes into Perth. The cycle from Perth to Fremantle is just great though. We did it with our boys about 10 years ago - I'd love to go back and do it again.

      Delete
  18. Wow nine hours is an insanely long time! I didn't even know you could take bikes on a plane, not that I had ever really thought about it to be honest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jess. Cycling revolutionized holidays for us. Before we started taking our bikes with us we just sat in the car all day and got unfit and fat. Now we take the bikes and a car bike carrier and seek out cycle trails. New Zealand has great ones. We go to the US a lot as well but we found that the bikes get damaged when they go through LA so we just hit Walmart and buy cheap bikes when we arrive. Hiring bikes for more than a day or two is just too expensive.

      Delete
  19. Oh, but once you are in, it is a lovely land to explore!

    ReplyDelete
  20. This post is so about the travel I never write about and rarely read about. It was thoroughly enjoyable to read your excellent post, but also to know I am not alone when I find myself "inch forward and stop!!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marilyn. Thanks. We've all been there and some of us have even come out the other end with our sanity intact - lol.

      Delete
  21. The more hassle, the better the trip! Hope you appreciate the better part~

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Irene. Thanks - we had a wonderful trip.

      Delete
  22. Laughing and cringing at the same time: this brings back memories. We took hiking boots and camping gear, luckily, like you, we knew the drill and everything was either new or pristine. No so when we left the country after 45 days of rain and most of our walks being in mud. :-)
    Hope you have/ had a great time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Monika, It does help when you know the drill. We came back to Sydney on the same plane as the Wellingon Phoenix football team. They all had their boots out, sparkling clean and ready for inspection. Their mothers would have been proud of them.

      Delete
  23. I've never traveled with bikes but I'm sure it was worth all the trouble!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi bettyl, Absolutely. Renting bikes is sooooo expensive if you want them for more than a day or two and having bikes with you on holiday is great.

      Delete
  24. Kelly from Mumbo Jumbo says

    And here I was thinking that here in Western Australia we take our time! Haha, great post. Thanks for linking up to Mum-bo Monday, this post received the most clicks and will be featured this week. - 9 February 2015

    I have copied this comment to remove a broken link.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kelly. I'm glad you enjoyed the post - what is travel without a few hassles - lol.

      Delete
  25. In February Steve said -

    What a rigmarole, though I can understand why. New Zealand looks a beautiful country.

    Note: I have copied the comment to remove a broken link.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Steve. New Zealand is definitely worth the effort. There is so much to do if you like being outside.

      Delete
  26. I too have felt the pinch of the slow moving lines at Auckland Airport. It is all worth it in the end but.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. It is absolutely worth it in the end. I wrote this post hoping to be amusing and entertaining, I understand how important bio-security is to island nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

      Delete
    2. Absolutely. Auckland has nothing on Nadi in Fiji. It's not just a long wait it's also hot and humid. Thankfully most of the other ports into NZ aren't as busy as Auckland.

      Delete
    3. We have flown into Queenstown a few times and it has always been fairly easy. My biggest grip is that we often fly with bicycles and the quarantine lanes are not wide enough for a bike bag. We have to turn them on their end which is awkward and perilous. One day someone will get hurt by a bike box toppling over. I find it staggering that in an area which bills itself as a great mountain biking destination no one has thought to fix the issue.

      Delete