Auckland is the main hub for international transport to and from New Zealand. And so it should be as it is by far the largest city here. Our flight to Argentina was to depart from Auckland.
The destruction of Christchurch meant that we could not possibly spend time there so rather than sit in a hostel in the outlying towns we decided to return to Auckland 3 days early and do some of the tourist activities we didn’t do 6 weeks ago.
We chose a hostel near to the city centre and to save money opted for dorm beds, which are always an interesting experience. I actually quite enjoy them as they can be quite entertaining in a weird way but Claire is less keen (this is her second time round experiencing dorms).
Another plus point to visiting Auckland again is that we could meet up with our old work friend Jeremy. I failed to track him down last time, mainly because I thought he lived in Christchurch.
On our first evening we strolled to Ponsenby where we ate at the finest inernational food mall we have found so far. These places deserve some coverage so apologies if this is a bit dull.
They are basically cooperative premises where a few international caterers prepare their various foods. The pricing is all streamlined and at this one most dishes were NZ$10…about £4.80. On offer at this food court was Thai, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Laos, Hong Kong, Mexican and Turkish. The choices at each food stand are vast. Most importantly the quality of the food is brilliant and portion sizes are pretty big. To a budget traveller in NZ these places are perfect.
I had Pad Thai from the Thai Stall and Claire had a Snapper Fish from the Laos stand. Both were great and way better and cheaper than one could expect from a UK Food Court. The UK really could do better when it comes to cheap fast food.
The next morning we strolled into the city to meet Jeremy. He relocated to New Zealand a few years prior having spent a couple of years telling me how much he wanted to live elsewhere in the world. That said he may have had enough of the UK after working next to me for 3 years. Our approach to work in the early 21st century differed somewhat!
We arranged an evening meal with him which was a superb Thai. It was like being back on Kho Lanta almost. Jeremy seems to be living a fantastic life out here. He married Meesh, a lovely kiwi girl last year and they live on the beach. The next evening, after an afternoon at Devonport, we met up again and got to witness frst hand what beach front utopia looks like. We strolled along said beach to another excellent restaurant and had a great evening.
The next day we were due to depart for Buenos Aires so we got up relatively early to seek out an internet cafe to check our flight was not delayed. We checked online first but could find no trace of the flight. So we called the airport who also had no record of the flight. As the Airline themselves would not answer their phones we stomped purposely into the city centre to track down their offices.
We soon discovered that the flight had been cancelled in 2010 and our travel agent had “forgot” to tell us, despite their terms and conditions saying they must inform us of any flight changes. Our replacement flight had departed the day before, around about the time we were strolling down the beach.
The Airline were great however and put us on standby for the next flight 2 days later. But they made it clear there was no guarantee we would get on the plane as it was fully booked and we would need to keep returning to the airport every few days until we did.
So that night we desperately called around the hostels of Auckland to find somewhere to stay. This proved to be hard as many people have relocated following the earthquake. The only beds we could find were in a large dorm in one of the larger hostels. We had avoided this chain of hostels due to it being clearly aimed at travellers much younger than us.
We arrived at the immense hostel and our day looked to be going from worse to worse as the girl on reception told us our booking had not gone through. But then she offered us a double ensuite room for the same price and we bit her arm off in the politest way possible.
To give you some idea as to what this place was like, a speaker in the hall outside our room from time to time delivered messages in a northern English accent along the following lines :
“Stop using Facebook or Skype. Those people don’t care that you went travelling. Come down to our bar and meet some people who actually want to talk to you! Stop fiddling with yourself. Wash your hands and come and have some fun in our speed pool competition etc.”
Late in the evening the front entrance was heaving with drunk people, some hurling road furniture around and others crying. So Base Backpackers in Auckland gets a special mention. We were clearly too old for them but their customer service was good and it looks like great fun if you are 21.
(The view from outside Base Auckland at night, without the merry travellers)
We escaped the mayhem by seeing some film starring Liam Neeson at the cinema. It was rubbish. The next day we did nothing of note as it was raining all day. Aside from seeing Conviction at the cinema. It was very good.
And we also tracked down another excellent food court. One can’t sniff at 3 curries and rice for less than £4 served by a genuine Indian Man! I made 2 visits…to the food court that is.
The day after that for a bit of variety we didn’t go to the cinema and then headed off to the airport in the late afternoon.
Upon arrival we immediately headed for the airline office. Which was located in a weird area of the airport which people like us clearly aren’t meant to see. Drunk pilots were staggering along the corridors……no not really, but it was a strange network of maze like passages. We somehow got our trolley plus bags up to the first floor even though we barely fit through the doorways!
The Airline, Aerolineas Argentinas were again great but it soon became apparent that we weren’t the only people on standby. I gave my most polite performance to Pablo, though I was mindful that I was about to hand him our British passports.
We were instructed to wait in the business class line and after a while we were called forward and given tickets with no seat number and told to return at 6:30 and stand at the side lines.
After our final New Zealand cafe food (risotto cake and spinach and feta pie if you are now only reading for the food) we stood where we had been instructed…along with 2 other people. Half an hour of glaring at each other and posturing was eventually followed by introductions and we discovered that Diego from Brasil was in a similar situation to us, as was the girl from Argentina. In fact they seemed to be more deserving of the flight than we were. Then Claire discovered that 3 other people were also on standby and one woman was crying having been waiting for a week to fly!
The odds of 7 people failing to turn up for such an expensive flight seemed non existent. Our hopes were dashed and we resigned ourselves to more time in Auckland. Diego was refusing to give up without a fight though and hassled the airline staff mercilessly, even resorting to queuing up with the last remaining passengers in the hope they would just give him a seat by mistake.
Once the queue had gone we all stood like idiots trying to guage the staff reactions. One check in guy nodded to Diego…the crying woman didn’t seem to be crying…the Argentine girl was speaking very quickly to Pablo in Spanish (sadly they weren’t counting to 30, asking where the loo was or arranging a hotel room so I didn’t understand)…some other woman had already been given a seat. Then the shouty shouty Argentine woman who scared us in the office earlier called us over. We readied ourselves for bad news and she gave us………SEATS ON THE PLANE!
Then all hell broke loose. All 7 of us had amazingly got seats but the plane was due to leave shortly. Our bags were hastily tagged and a young girl ran off with them on a trolley. The check in guy who had nodded at Diego rounded 4 of us up and we began to move very quickly through the airport.
We did check in to the gate in no more than 7 minutes. And this takes into account Diego changing some currency, losing his passport, running back through security to the check in desks to find it, then running back. The poor bloke was almost in tears.
As the four of us neared the plane we exchanged high fives and then undertook the walk of shame. Clearly it looked like we turned up late and held the flight up. Not that we cared. We were onboard and away! Goodbye New Zealand…Hola Argentina!