AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND — Today’s the day we left the United States. We gave our shoes and boots a final cleaning and then caught our 7am shuttle to the Honolulu airport. The checkin line there was pretty long, but we had to get our boarding passes from an attendant, because we didn’t book a round-trip ticket. New Zealand really wants to make sure we weren’t overstaying our welcome! So we had to provide details for our flight from Christchurch to Melbourne, luckily also on Air New Zealand.

We weren’t sure whether there would be food on the flight, so we grabbed a Denver breakfast pizza from the food court and filled our water bottles for the flight. Well, about an hour into our flight, we found out that Air New Zealand actually does provide a lunch: A choice of Chicken with rice and vegetables (Torsten’s choice), or beef on pasta (Beth’s choice). Both came with a pasta salad and Lilikoi sorbet for dessert and a selection of New Zealand wines, juices, beer or water, all at no charge. Nice!

About an hour and a half before landing in Auckland, they provided another meal, this time a ham/cheese sandwich with fruit and chocolate chip cookies. This felt like flying in the old days, before airlines started to nickel-and-dime passengers, which was a really great way to start off this next leg of the trip. Thanks Air New Zealand.

Next up was the beagle-test, or so we thought. From friends and other reports we knew New Zealand is rightly concerned about travelers carrying in seeds, animals or other biological contaminants which would affect their ecosystem. One way, we were told, was the use of beagles smelling people’s luggage. We never saw them, maybe because we declared our camping gear and were pulled aside to a special area where they visually inspected our boots and where we had to hand over our tent, stakes, poles etc. to a lab. Not declaring used camping gear would have carried a $400 fine, and they do X-ray everything!

When after 20 minutes we got the results of the lab test (they just found a bit of dirt), we were off to pick up our car. It was an ancient Nissan Sunny with 175,000km on it, and it was an automatic. At first, I was disappointed, but after a short while behind the wheel I was glad I didn’t have to worry about driving on the left side AND shifting. We missed our exit and drove through Auckland on city streets, which was an adventure: Left was the new right, and I more than once activated the windshield wipers when I meant to signal a lane change — classic!

Our AirBnb host, Gill, was very nice, and we chatted a bit in the spacious kitchen over wine and tea. The conversation eventually turned to the man with the big ego who shall go nameless and perceptions of various cultures abroad as well as the effect or the booming tourism industry New Zealanders. It was an interesting, if a bit depressing conversation.

Either way, we arrived in New Zealand ready to explore… and without jet lag.