Sunday, 29 January 2012
Off to NZ: the flights
On Tuesday I hit the road early, headed for the train station for the first leg of my voyage. I took the train up to Hounslow, located five miles from Heathrow, both as a way to get a sense of adventure and to avoid the extortionate price of a Heathrow Express ticket. Rain was on the agenda however, so it was a bit of a miserable ride, until I pulled up alongside one of the Heathrow runways. First I experienced the brutal thrust of a 747-400 taking off, followed closely by an Airbus A380, a serene experience by comparison.
After drying off, I prepared my bike for air travel, removing the pedals, turning the handlebars sideways, and then putting the bike directly in a CTC plastic bag, then wrapping with FRAGILE tape. I had of course not deflated the tyres, as this was not necessary. Whilst waiting in the check in queue, I was however rudely informed that I should deflate my tyres, and that I was in fact wrong. Whatever happened to "the customer is right" or at least a normal conversation. The necessity to deflate tyres has also been refuted by Jobst Brandt, cycle guru. I was also later to discover that as a result of deflating my tyres, my rear tube had a pinch flat (2 holes). Great! Anyhow, the rest of the process was rather painless, after a burger and an hour flight delay, I was on the first flight of my airborne sector.
The flight itself was quite relaxing, flying in a brand new Air New Zealand 777-300ER in an all black livery, rather a special sight from the tarmac (yes, we had to take the bus out to the boarding point, felt like were were back in NZ already). We were quickly ushered past the sumptuous leather business class seats, the smell following us into economy. The seats back there were actually very good, enough leg/knee room, and good support. The in-flight entertainment was top notch too, with dozens of films and TV series to watch. I'd planned to forego sleep and food on this leg in order to aid in the resetting of my clock to NZT, 13 hours ahead in time. Toward the end of the flight, this became very difficult, but I pulled through to LAX without a wink.
The stopover in LAX was a non-event, just over an hour in a transfer lounge eating crisps and drinking water, and it was time to board the second leg to Auckland. The plan was to eat then sleep on this flight, the former not a problem, but I found the sleep was hard to come by. Some more TV watching later, I arrived in Auckland, at 7am, to glorious sunshine. My bike had the quick once over from MAF (biosecurity) and after prizing off my rusty SPD cleats and scrubbing them clean, I was on my way to the domestic terminal. I transferred my bike which looked to be in good condition aside from some new holes in the bag. I lounged around in the sun for another hour before boarding the flight to Queenstown, a scenic 2 hour direct flight. Flying over the Alps and the rugged high country of Central Otago, my mind was set alight with the possibilities that the country must offer. Stock tracks, farm roads and wide river valleys dividing the mountains, I was imagining spending weeks exploring some pretty remote wilderness. While the weather was perfect, the winds were swirling around the Wakatipu basin resulting in an unsettled descent into Queenstown, I suspect this would not be too pleasant on a "bad" day. I spotted my parents waiting in the arrivals hall, happy to see me back in Queenstown after a 3 year absence.