Getting To New Zealand: Niece Project 5.0

April 17, 2022   2 Comments »

We drove to the airport as the snow came down heavier and heavier with each minute that ticked by. I watched the fat snowflakes land on the windshield and melt and thought about the number 5. It’s shocking to me that this is my 5th Niece Project trip. And even more surprising – this is the last one with my sister’s daughters. How could that be? I remember when I started this with Bethany 4 years ago in Italy. I was nervous about traveling with her; it was my first time I had to be responsible for someone. After 4 of these, I still get nervous, but it’s for a shorter time as I get more comfortable each time with the responsibility. And today with 3 plane flights/connections and 30 hours of flying ahead of us, my nerves are at attention for different reasons. Snow.

My phone suddenly vibrated and brought me back to snowy present. I looked at my screen at the Delta message – delayed. Damn. All morning I had been a bundle of stress as a big winter storm approached Minneapolis and was poised to hit 3 hours before we were taking off. This was the first Niece Project trip I ever embarked on in the winter, so this was new territory.

Lindsey and I sat at the gate in Minneapolis as the snow poured down from the sky and we watched a train of about 25 snow plows try to keep up with the snow on the runway. Planes were being de-iced in front of us and even though our plane was here, our pilots weren’t. So we waited.

Plane de-icing
The outlook wasn’t good

While I was calculating all of the implications of this initial delay and possibility of not making our LA connection, Lindsey happily watched Netflix. In these situations I love traveling with someone, it make me less fixated on the flight delays and helps me be more patient than if I were alone.

Lindsey was calm, after all as she was just excited to be going on a long plane flight. For me I was worried about getting there, while she was simply excited to be on the plane. Earlier she told me,

“I love plane rides. It reminds me of when we lived in Singapore. Whenever I get on a plane to go somewhere and it’s long I just know I’m going somewhere special on the other side. It’s like you get on a magical spaceship and you get off and you’re somewhere different.”

It was the first lesson this Niece Project taught me – it’s about the journey. There were many, many more lessons to come.

Missing a Flight: The First Domino Falls

Once one thing goes wrong on a long itinerary like this, it’s like dominoes. We actually did make it out of Minneapolis that night in the middle of a giant storm. It was probably the worst conditions I’ve ever taken off in. And on the plus side Lindsey learned all about what de-icing is. We left a couple of hours late out of Minneapolis, but things were still sort of do-able since we had a 3-hour layover in LA originally. We landed with just enough time to catch our next flight, but then we were hit with the next big set of bad news. The captain’s voice came over the speaker, “Since we are late in arriving, I’m sorry to tell you that we don’t have a gate right now to park at, so we’ll have to wait a while until one opens up.”

There we sat, trapped, only about 500 feet from our other plane to Syndey, but we couldn’t get on it as we couldn’t park. We missed that flight and then it all snowballed from there.

After much argument and run around from both Delta and Virgin Australia (I have a special hatred for code share flights btw), we had exhausted every possibility; we wouldn’t be able to get out of LA for a full 24 hours.

The Dominoes are falling rapidly now.

This meant we would miss our Intrepid tour group departure in Auckland the next day and would need to catch up with them 2 days late. I had to book additional nights in hotels in Auckland, and contact Intrepid to try to sort out the details.

We made the best of our time in LA, Lindsey had never been there before, so we took a little cheesy tour of Hollywood and Venice Beach. I was reminded of how much I hate LA, and Lindsey realized that Hollywood wasn’t as cool as she thought it was going to be – it was just a bunch of tourist gift shops. But it didn’t matter where we were, this was the beginning of our trip and the beginning of us really figuring each other out and getting to ‘know’ each other outside of simple family gatherings.

This is also when I learned of Lindsey’s addiction to candy…which I benefited from quite frequently on this trip.  We spent more time in the candy store in Hollywood than looking at the sidewalk stars.

We took off from LA on time the next day and were back in motion. From there the flights then all went smoothly. As we were getting ready to land in Auckland I had Lindsey fill out her own customs form. I know this is weird, but I get really excited when they have to do this type of typical travel stuff – like fill out their customs and immigration forms – all by themselves. Lindsey signed her name and I bubbled over with excitement as I looked it over for mistakes. This journey was really happening now, we were about to get stamped into a new country!

Customs Form

Lost Baggage

And then my baggage didn’t show up. More crashing dominoes.

It’s never fun when you are the last person at the luggage carousel. Luckily there were two other poor luggage-less souls with me, the same two people who also did the flight from LA to Sydney to Auckland. Clearly our luggage never made the transfer in Sydney. Maybe the fact that we now had 2 unplanned days in Auckland until we could meet up with our group was now a blessing. Surely they could get my luggage to me in 36 hours. All I can say is that I was eventually reunited with my luggage – but it nearly took 35 hours and a load of calls to the lost luggage service for Virgin Australia.

Some trips everything just goes wrong. And this was one of them for sure. By day 4 I was still dealing with customer service agents and yelling at people. No one wants to yell at people on vacation for 4 days – it’s exhausting. However, upon finally receiving my luggage and being united with our group, the dominos were finally done. It was supposed to be a 30-hour journey and it turned into a 57-hour journey.

Planning a Trip to New Zealand? Don’t leave home without these things in your suitcase! New Zealand Packing Essentials

On the Brighter Side – Extra Time in Auckland

One positive of this travel mess was that it gave us a few extra days in Auckland, a city I had spent very little time in before. The night we arrived I started to put my extensive travel connections (10 years of travel is good for something!) into action and contacted my old friends Craig and Linda from Indie Travel Podcast. Linda and Craig took us out for fish and chips by the sea. It was a great introduction into New Zealand hospitality and local experience. The fish and chips were served up in newspaper. We spread it out on the picnic table and ate with our hands in the park. I can’t tell you how wonderful that fresh air dinner was after so much time in a plane and airports! They continued to tour us around Auckland at sunset and we collapsed in a puddle of jetlag that night at our hotel.

We filled our next day with meeting more friends and a ferry trip to Devonport. Lindsey and I went for a nice walk to the bunkers and gunnery on the high hill. Not only were there beautiful views but also fun historic tunnel system to walk through and explore. We enjoyed being suddenly transported to summer so much that we even napped in the sun on the grass.

The next morning we were united with my luggage and our Intrepid group, finally starting our small group tour 2 days late. As we rode in the bus and left Auckland I thought about how our real start was back in Minneapolis, watching them de-ice the plane together, and taking our first selfie together before taking off.

Despite all of the hiccups, Lindsey sailed through it all, upbeat, happy, and always patient. She was a good traveler – taking it all in stride. All she really cared about was getting to that “somewhere special on the other side”. In fact, she made a really shitty travel situation bearable for me. I knew we’d do just fine for the remaining 10 days, I loved her as a travel partner already.

For the 3rd year the Niece Project is working with Intrepid Travel! Check out their great family travel opportunities. Family doesn’t always have to mean the conventional family, it is also for aunts and uncles!
I was a guest of Intrepid Travel on this tour However all opinions are my own.

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