Across The Ditch – A 3-Hour Journey That Took 2 Years
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
It’s time to move on.
When I first arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand on February 21, 2020, I intended to whip around the south island, get up to Auckland, and then fly to Sydney, Australia mid-March to see my wonderful friend Bec. Fate, however, had other plans for me. Almost two years later, I finally made the trip!
Getting to Australia was a lot harder than it would have been in past. This was my first flight in two years. When I took my last flight, the one to New Zealand, the world was “normal” apart from a horrible virus where I had to confirm I had not been to China in order to board my flight. I was already sad to leave New Zealand, and felt alone and a blend of sad, and also excited, to fly and travel again.
In order to get to this point, I had to complete a declaration of travel to the Australian government, and get a negative PCR test, which only cost $200 USD. And, the fates had to align for me – Sydney decided to open it’s borders and reinstate quarantine free travel from New Zealand as of November 1st. I am really lucky. Luckily, I also booked my flight a month ago, based on flights actually becoming available, even though I wasn’t sure quarantine-free travel would be. It all worked out!
Inside the airplane bathroom, rather genius.
A lovely friend, Dorys, from my Latin Fit community in Kerikeri, who moved to Auckland, drove me to the airport. Security blocked my entrance to the airport, like bouncers at a nightclub. That was new. They asked to see my boarding pass. I had an electronic one via the Air New Zealand app, and it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t have my name on it. The guard didn’t want to admit me to the airport because of that issue.
I was stunned, and scrambled to think what to do as I had no printer which I could have used. I had received an email inviting me to check in online, the day prior, but wasn’t permitted to do it (probably due to Covid check-in policies). Then it occurred to me to show the security agent that email which had my name on it. Phew. Problem solved.
Once inside, I was shocked to find the airport empty. This was the Auckland international airport. I was very early for my flight, but still thought there would be more people. To check in for my flight I had to show both my vaccination card, and the letter from the New Zeland government proving my vaccination. The woman checking me in proceeded to call Australia. I’m not sure who she called, but apparently I had to be added to a list of people who should be admitted to the country.
Once my bags were checked, I headed up to the security screening area. Hardly anyone was there. In duty free, the only open shop was the one with alcohol and cosmetics. The only way to buy anything was from the counter, at the entrance to the shop, and there was way too much to choose from, so I passed it by. I had presumed I’d buy a parting souvenir at the airport since all the Auckland city shops were shut, but that didn’t work out.
Everyone at the airport was masked up. I got a bottle of water, and a few hours later, arrived at my gate to board my flight. It was smooth boarding. My seat mate was Reese, from New Zealand. I was a little nervous that he wore a sort of bandana tied around his face, which constantly slipped beneath his nose. Slightly paranoid, eh? Reese is a sheep shearer who has traveled the world, and now spends six months in Oz and six in New Zealand. Rather a cool life! We had some great conversations and he seemed a very pleasant person.
Our plane was a 787, with those wonderful window shades created by pushing a button and darkening the window color, instead of a sliding shade. I used the airpoints I had acquired from shopping at New World supermarket in New Zealand to purchase movies and a snack, thank you New Zealand! The flight was smooth, and once we landed in Sydney, I wondered, will they let me in?
I deplaned, and then walked through the airport, after a change of mask which was provided in-flight. My bags were last off the plane, so by the time I got to the immigration/customs line, they seemed eager to get us out of the airport. I practically begged the agent to let me show them all the items I had brought that might be an issue (kawakawa leaves in a vacuum sealed bag, some tea..) but they wanted none of it, pointing me to the exit.
Once released from customs and immigration, I thought, “Holy shit, I’m in Sydney!” I purchased a SIM card, headed to the train, and went out into Australia to meet my wonderful friend Bec. We’ve been speaking on Zoom every week for the past two years. It was so wonderful to be in the same space. After a hug, I had to poke her to be sure there wasn’t a screen between us.
Now acclimating to Australia, my first awareness is how different the trees and birds are. As a New York City native, I chuckle, realizing how connected to nature I became in New Zealand. Going for a walk my first day, I head into town and am shocked to see all the stores are open, people are out socializing and shopping, a very different scene than in Auckland.
Now that I’m traveling again, I just want to keep going! So happy to finally be back out in the world, even though I also miss New Zealand.