Friday, March 14, 2014

Traveling to New Zealand, Days 1 to 3

We left home about 11:00 in yet another snowstorm. Maybe it will be the last one for this winter in northern Indiana. We can only hope spring comes soon! It was a slow drive to Michigan City, but we didn’t have any real trouble. In fact, the further west we went, the nearer we were to the end of the storm. The bus leaves from a new location just a mile or so from the old one. Instead of a hotel parking lot, it is in a shopping center with space allowed for long-term parking at no cost. We arrived just a half hour before the bus was due, enough time to go into Applebee’s and have a quick bite to eat. Once we were on the bus, it got stuck trying to pull out of the parking lot into the street. After much wheel-spinning and patient (or not) waiting, it began to move. Everything was behind schedule because of the storm that had come through Chicago earlier. When we arrived at the United check-in area, there were many people milling around trying to talk to an agent. It seems that many flights out of O’Hare had been cancelled that morning and people had been waiting around for some time. We couldn’t check in via a kiosk, as our tickets were from Air New Zealand and not recognized by United’s system. Eventually we got to the front of the line and got our boarding passes. After another 10-15 minutes my wheelchair arrived. From there we had a very easy time, being taking right through security and delivered to our gate area. We only had about an hour to wait; we were glad we had left much earlier than planned and caught an earlier bus.

We were disappointed to be assigned a middle and a window seat. The plane was not quite full, and the young woman assigned our aisle seat moved to sit with her friends. So in the end we had an empty middle seat between us. That is luxury in economy.

We were met at Los Angeles by another wheelchair. But this time we had to change terminals, which involved a long distance to the baggage area and the outdoor transportation area. At that point we were put into a special mobility bus that took us to the international terminal, quite a distance away. There was another chair waiting for us, and we were taken directly to the Air New Zealand Premier Lounge. We had found out just a few days earlier that our Premium Economy seats had been upgraded to Business Class. We felt like quite the yokels in the lounge, having seen these places so often and never been allowed inside! The chairs were very comfortable and there was an array of food and drink available. At last we were taken to the plane, where we were the first on board. It was so amazing to us to be there. We have traveled to and from India many times, as well as to South Africa and Thailand, but we had never “turned left” when entering the plane. (Fans of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” may remember that was an important thing to the unhappy woman who left India to return home.) By this time (11:00 PM, 2 AM at home) we were ready to get some sleep. Dinner was on offer, but neither of us wanted it. As soon as possible after takeoff, we fixed up our beds on the seat, which automatically laid out flat. There was a nice mattress that fit it perfectly, two nice pillows, and a quilt-like blanket. Both Dan and I were asleep within minutes. It was very comfortable and we both slept a good long time — at least seven hours.

Morning tea was available in nice porcelain mugs. We could order whatever breakfast we wanted, cooked to order. I had Eggs Benedict with spinach. The entertainment system was extensive, although I didn’t even look at it until morning. I was thrilled to watch “Philomena,” a Judi Dench movie that I’ve been wanting to see. There were many other choices as well.

Deplaning and going through immigration and baggage was again made easy by my wheelchair assistant. Our car rental agency required a shuttle bus ride and we were soon there. We brought our Garmin GPS system with us, including the Australia/New Zealand SD card. We plugged in the address of our motel and took off. It was about a three-hour drive to Waitomo, an area with many caves. We had hoped to tour at least one, but Dan and I are both having some mobility issues that make walking difficult, so we will do something else tomorrow.

Our very basic motel, the Glowworm (at least one of the caves is lit up by them), is only a few miles from the town of Otorohanga. After getting checked in, we went into town for lunch and to pick up a few groceries for supper and breakfast. We will spend the rest of the day relaxing and trying not to sleep too early! And, yes, we left on Wednesday the 12th, but arrived here on Friday the 14th, having crossed the International Date Line. At the end, we will fly from Sydney through Auckland back to LA and Chicago all in one day.

Tomorrow I promise to have some photos!

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