Another glorious morning beckoned and I started to wander down to the beach via a cut through path of the next door forest of Nikau and Ponga. I walked down Marine Drive admiring the view.
Hardly anyone was about at 8am although someone set off the tsunami siren as I walked by the fire station, sending me three or four inches up into the air. Not a tsunami I’m pleased to report, although it was the same siren used, only this time indicating a fire or some other emergency. Having finished googling “siren Onetangi 8am” and reading about the likelihood of a tidal wave engulfing me being quite low, I decided it was safe enough to proceed down hill to sea level and walk along the almost deserted beach.
A profusion of shells told me that the marine environment was a pure as can be around here and I was soon scanning the shore for shells, spotting a lovely Austrofusus Glans almost with my first glance. I never saw another one in the whole time here, despite looking quite intently, although I did see a number of lovely scallop shells.
Once at the end of the beautiful beach, the water demanded that I waded in, scaring the oyster catchers on the way, but confirming what the toes had tested the day before, which was that it was lovely and warm – I would estimate 20 degrees of clear, inviting, fish inhabited, shell strewn, hazard free sea.
I spent 15 minutes bobbing about, thinking to myself that a beach like this in the UK would be so crowded that you wouldn’t be able to see the sand for pink, sticky bodies. And here I had the place to myself. I walked down the length of the beach to opposite Charlies and Three Seven Two. Charlies was doing a roaring trade in breakfast. I had another swim, although this time there were two other people in the water – how very dare they!
As I made my way back to the apartment to see if I could stir the somnambulant Heather ahead of our meeting up with Penny, Martin and Faye, I was surprised by the boat driving down the middle of the road towards me, as if it was on wheels. That’s exactly what it was, like some sort of modern day Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Called “Sealegs” this brilliant idea allows the boats to drive from their houses, along the road and straight into the water. Fantastic! Martin told me later that there are loads of them on the island and they are the idea of a company in Auckland. Sadly he thought they were not doing so well financially, which is a shame as it is a really clever way of getting more out of your boating.
Back uphill to the apartment to discover Heather happily drinking tea. I fortified myself with a couple of slices of rye bread and the local Marmite, to line the stomach for the wine tasting ahead.
A side note here. We bought a large pot of local Marmite early in the trip and I noticed it was quite different to the UK variety, which was also on the shelves, but marketed as “My Mate” or “Your Mate”. Yeast extract, a by-product of brewing beer, was invented by a german scientist Justus von Liebig. In 1902 Marmite as we know it was started to be produced in Burton-on-Trent by the Marmite Food Extract Company and in 1908 the Sanitarium Health Food Company acquired the rights to sole distribution in New Zealand and Australia. They then produced the product under licence in Christchurch in 1919 although with a different recipe, which included caramel and and sugar and with a higher level of potassium. It does taste quite different, and I prefer it.
We had planned to set off to the Matiatia Ferry terminal at about 10am to give ourselves a chance to mooch around, so when we got the message from Penny that they were all on the earlier ferry and would be arriving at about 10.30 that worked our really well.
We squeezed everyone in to the Jucy. It was lovely to meet Martin and Faye and great to see Penny again.
Martin was in charge of tour guiding and we set off around the coastal roads, marvelling at the beauty of the beaches unsullied by many humans…
Still, thirsty work this sight seeing and we were soon at Obsidian where Martin was a member and was treated as royalty by the Canadian wine student who hosted us so well.
A great selection of wines, favouring the red varieties, so after a really enjoyable and comprehensive tasting and a quick phone call to the Cable Bay Vineyard to postpone our booking by 15 minutes, we bid Obsidian farewell and headed back towards lunch.
Lunch was a treat with a smorgasbord of good food provided on tasting dishes that Faye cleverly combined for us into a selection that suited all our various palates. We had a lamb Hangi, Salmon, prawns in a charcoal jacket, tomato salad with stracciatelli cheese (don’t tell Martin) and a crushed potato thingy whose name I’ve forgotten. A large party next door added to the atmosphere and kept our conversation at high decibels. What an amazing setting.
After a cheese platter to finish the meal (Martin had chocolate) we quaffed the rest of our wine and decided we were ready for our next tasting, scooting back across the island to Te Motu, understandably one of Penny’s favourite vineyards.
We had a most enjoyable day – very memorable. We took the others back to the ferry terminal with our heads full of great suggestions for places to visit on our trip ahead, our stomachs full of great food and wine and our hearts full of the glow of great company, laughter and fellowship.
We retired to the apartment to half a kilogram of lasagna, a glass or two of wine and the sounds of our Columbian neighbours prepping for another big night next door.
Up at sparrows to clean the apartment, walk down to the marina at 7am to get some orange juice and get ready for our ferry trip to the nearby Waiheke Island, constantly votes one of the top islands in the world and the number 5 place to visit anywhere by Lonely Planet in 2016.
We were sure this would be a highlight of the trip, especially as we were getting the chance to catch up with Penny and meet Martin and Faye, all of whom had been so helpful when planning our adventure.
We had enjoyed our stay at the Half Moon Bay Apartment and Laura looked after us well. So we left it in good shape and headed down to the Marina in the car, well in time for the 11.00am sailing.
Another glorious day weather wise and the water was like glass. A short 50 minutes later we were getting back in the car and winding our way across Waiheke to Onetangi and the Onetangi Peaceful Bush Retreat where we were met by the lovely Ginny. We stopped briefly in the supermarket for emergency wine supplies, and stocked up on a bit of food too – frozen meals and salad and breakfast thingies.
After a good old chat with Ginny (she and husband Phil moved here a couple of years ago from another smaller island and it was a bit like moving to the city for them) and unloading our things into the fridge etc. we set off to take the short downhill walk to the beach area in search of lunch.
Three Seven Two was heaving on a Friday afternoon with the trendy and a smart selection of ladies that lunch. And we made up the numbers on a shady table in a great location. Fabulous food followed washed down with the aforementioned bottle of Kureu Chardy. Battered fried cabbage? Sounds odd, but was a triumph. As was the ceviche of freshly sliced local fish. I did ask the name of it, twice, but forgot.
We walked along the glorious beach afterwards in relative isolation and then headed back up hill to take up a commanding position on the sun deck where the rest of the afternoon sort of disappeared, along with the setting sun….
Our bedroom looks out onto quite dense semi tropical forest, with Nikau palms and Ponga ferns everywhere. It feels magical and with the clear starry sky and sounds of the insects we could open and close our eyes and imagine ourselves in the jungle.
I spotted another one of those multi-coloured birds I had seen in Auckland, but didn’t have the time to photograph it as it flew off fast. I see from the bird book in the apartment its called and Eastern Rosella.
Penny’s friend Laurie, while helping us with our itinerary, had offered to drive us round some of his favourite spots outside of the city but within easy driving reach of Auckland. We leapt at the chance. And it was great that he could rearrange to be available again after we had to reschedule the earlier trip.
A very civilised 10am start and Laurie kindly picked us up and off we sped – first stop Musik Point, at the end of the peninsula we were staying on, past Bucklands Beach where we would be staying at the end of our trip. This stop was suggested by Penny and we saw why she likes it – great scenery beyond the hilly golf course and a lovely disused art deco building at the promontory of the point, that we agreed with Laurie would make a great boutique hotel or upmarket restaurant. For now though it was unspoiled and tranquil and a great spot to see the SeaLink ferries en route for Waiheke – our planned passage for the following day.
Musik Point was about a ten minute drive from where we were staying and a decent walk from Bucklands Bay. So making a mental note to come back and walk this area again a bit more on our return to Auckland, we headed off back through the city and then west towards Titirangi.
There is a scenic drive that starts here and winds through the Waitekere mountain range and it is well worth a visit. We stopped off at the Arataki Visitor Centre, and saw our first Pou Whenua – a carved Māori post representing the relationship between the people and the land.
Stunning views unfolded from the balconies outside the centre.
From Arataki we wound our way further along the scenic drive, admiring the semi-tropical vegetation and lovely properties nestling within the dense bush and passed through the centre of Waitakere and found ourselves in Kumeu. Actually we were just nearby on the road to Riverhead where we stopped at the Blossoms Cafe and had Mince on Toast in my case, a vegetable slice for Heather, and a chicken sandwich for Laurie. We never got to drive through Kumeu itself as there were roadworks and we detoured around to the north to avoid them. We therefore never saw the Kumeu vineyard although we did enjoy a bottle of their Chardonnay the next day in Waiheke.
After lunch we took the continuation of route 16 to Waimauku, and then on to Muriwai, where our target destination was the gannet colony. I’ll spare you the hundreds of photos taken (luckily no scratch and sniff available) and just offer up a few.
What can I tell you about the gannets? Well there are about 1200 pairs and they’ve moved on to the mainland as they’ve overcrowded the local Ouia island and then also the remarkable sea stack of Mototura Island. which was formed by the eventual erosion of two sea caves on a collision course with each other. Some mate for life (gannets not caves) and most come back to the same spot every three to five years, migrating to Australia in between.
To the north we could see the black sand, good surf and fisherman’s ledge. Very scenic and good for the olphactory senses.
Back to our apartment via the city and the stunning coastal bays of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. Need to save up if one is going to buy here. Like Clifton in Cape Town but with less bling.
We had a glass of wine on the terrace of our apartment and then after a shower and change met Laurie at the nearby Grangers (at the Marina) for dinner, where he was great company despite having shut his thumb in the car door earlier, which must have been so painful. We had some sharing plates and a bottle of wine and a very pleasant evening.
Having taken Laurie’s advice to try and stay up to a normal bedtime the night before, I woke refreshed at just before 6am. After breakfast and Heather doing a load of washing, we walked down to the Marina just in time to hop on the 9.15 ferry from Half Moon Bay to Auckland CBD. What a brilliant way to see the city for the first time – from the water, on what was a stunningly beautiful day weather-wise. 26 degrees and a clear sunny sky.
We walked up to the Domain, about 35 minutes, another great Laurie suggestion and after some steepish climbs over dormant volcanic hills including through the Albert Park and the campus of the Auckland University, where we saw students undertaking an induction tour, we enjoyed an iced coffee on arrival in the Winter Garden cafe. We then visited the nearby fern garden cold house and the facing hot house – both amazingly stuffed full of all sorts of different exotic plants, including a massive fly catcher and the largest aubergines we’d ever seen.
We decided against visiting the museum itself although we enjoyed admiring the building from close by. We had read great things about the museum and although the 25 dollar charge for international visitors was slightly off-putting, it was more that the weather was so fantastic, that it seemed a travesty to spend it indoors. Having said that of course, we went to the pub after walking back to the waterfront through what looked like a trendy neighbourhood – Parnell.
The Brew on the Quay refreshed us with an IPA and a glass of chardy, but we didn’t stay to eat as the fare looked substantial and it was a warm day. We moved on to the Cafe Hanoi near the Britomart, where we shared a Pho, a chicken and papaya salad and some spicy beef parcels. Again washed down with a beer and a chardy. The asian blokes next to us talked non stop – well one of them did, while the other did the eating and hoped his ears wouldn’t start bleeding. They were talking English, but so quickly and with such a strong asian accent that we couldn’t make them out.
We paid and left – still not yet used to the idea of walking to the exit and paying the bill there. We had our first “so you are going to visit the South Island, eh?” conversation of the trip, and I suspect one of many.
I never thought I’d see a man drying his penis in the hand dryer of the gents. But I have now in Auckland. I can’t say I enjoyed it. He didn’t seem to cause any concern to the other visitors to the public toilet though, so maybe it’s a regular thing here? Slightly discombobulated by the whole episode, and definitely not taking any pictures, we left for the ferry terminal where we bought our return tickets to visit Devonport – a strong recommendation from Penny earlier in the day.
We did enjoy this sleepy and historic village, with its great views of the city, ten minutes commute by ferry and properties priced in the multiple millions. We walked the area including down to the nearby Chelsfield beach, although not along it, and headed back to the ferry terminal after procuring a chilly bin (well more of a chilly bag really) and some ice packs to help us with the onwards transportation of breakfast products and emergency wine.
A quick happy hour beer and glass of wine and we were just in time for the 3.45pm ferry – which arrived unusually late (everything seems to work perfectly here) at 4pm, putting in jeopardy the onward connection at 4.15 to Half Moon Bay, which would have meant a delay of an hour until 5.15. No one announced however that we were actually already on the ferry that was going on to Half Moon, and as it was signposted for Auckland we made our way off the ferry on arrival there only to join the queue again to board it again immediately. We needed the exercise and will know for next time…
We had a fabulous day altogether. What a beautiful city this is – it’s easy to see why it has such mass appeal, especially on a day when the weather gods were beaming down on us. We stopped off for some supplies not buying the bag of ice that was the size of a sack of coal, and having established our movements for tomorrow and indeed Saturday, had a sandwich and a quiet glass of wine. A budget-busting $423 today but we can amortise the cost of the chilly bag over the remainder of the trip.
It’s been a day of birds too – cheeky sparrows at the Brew on the Quay, flying inside the pub to pick up crumbs, large gulls and geese near the Domain museum and two parrots that landed in the tree just outside our apartment deck and of course scarpered once I went to get the camera….
Hard to see why one wouldn’t live in Auckland – if you can afford to.
“It would be a bit tricky sitting next to those two on the plane”, I remarked rather unkindly about the very large couple waiting like us in the lounge at Bangkok international airport for our Thai air flight to Auckland.
I deserved it I suppose. Once the seatbelt sign was switched off, I extracted my already numb from a lack of circulation right leg from under the leg of my corpulent neighbour in row 33. “I don’t want to cause any embarrassment, but can you please find me another seat?” I implored the air steward. “I’m only able to sit in half of mine” I explained.
Apparently the empty row directly in front of us wasn’t available without paying another £100 for the privilege. But he did find me a seat in the second to last row at the back of the plane.
Leaving Heather in charge of the duty free, I apologised to my previous neighbour but that I was going to have to leave him and hoped he didn’t mind. Didn’t mind? The smile on his face was as large as the rest of him – he was delighted as now he and his partner could share three seats between the two of them as perhaps nature, if not the airline, had intended…
We had caught the early flight up from Krabi and after a screaming child infested two hours in the Miracle First Class lounge picked by mistake from the choices available (it was a Miracle I didn’t throttle one of the children, and it certainly wasn’t first class) I then made another error of judgement and we had a couple of glasses of wine in the British style pub which were almost as expensive as the flight tickets themselves. It would certainly have been cheaper to go to another lounge…
8 hours after we had arrived, we were pleased to be on board and ready for take off. The flight, apart from the crushing disappointment of my neighbours, was good and I was able to stretch out across three seats at the back where I enjoyed a wine fuelled snooze for an hour or so before being woken to allow a Thai lady to come and sit in the same row, but with the middle seat between us free, I still slept ok until about 3.30am. 9.30 am NZ time of course. This time difference will take some getting used to!
Australia is huge. I appreciate, dear reader, you already know this. But it’s only when you fly over it for hour after hour that it really sinks in.
We flew over the Bay of Islands which looked beautiful from the air and landed in 26 degrees of warm sunshine and a cloudless sky. Having declared our walking (tramping) boots we were put in a line to have our bags x-rayed, and the boots were sterilised and returned to us. Everybody we dealt with was utterly civil and borderline friendly as well as being efficient.
We were here! After our false start it was as much a relief as anything to be on the other side of the world, togs packed and jandals on.
The Thai lady greeted us again outside the airport building. I had already helped her filling in her landing form, finding the reading light and through immigration and now she was concerned that her shuttle to the Great Western hadn’t arrived. Our Jucy driver we had just missed when we called to be picked up assured her she was in the right place once he arrived back from the depot.
At the Jucy office we got introduced to our 190k km veteran car, a Suzuki Swift. It would have been easier to indicate where there weren’t any scratches or damage to the car rather than using the form to show where they were. Anyhow it is a comfortable and easy to drive little car and we were soon winging our way through numerous industrial parks which reminded me a bit of Chessington, but without the World of Adventures.
No adventures on the 35 minute drive I was happy about and we were soon being shown in to the tidy and clean Half Moon Bay apartment by Laura the owner.
After a shower we wandered down to the Marina, a short six minute walk away. We opted for good old Chish and Fips at Grangers by the side of the boat laden marina – a lovely setting and enough food for six hungry people which we sadly couldn’t do justice to. Washed down with a couple of small glasses of pink each we settled the bill for $96 without leaving a tip, which felt a little mean but was the firm advice received from the resident expert, and made our way to the supermarket knowing we had to be careful not to go over the spend budget on our very first day.
With a conservative shop we spent just over $80. We are going to have to watch the spending carefully this trip it seems – it’s not the cheapest place to visit.
But first impressions are so important and all mine about NZ were really positive. As I listened to the South African accents in conversation on the table next to us I was already starting to understand how this country would appeal so much to my former countrymen and women.
“I’m sorry Mr Lawson, but you won’t be able to fly.”
I looked at the Thai Air ground staff supervisor with an open mouthed look of incredulity. These were not the words I wanted to hear with Heather already seated on the plane to Bangkok, the gateway to our 90 day New Zealand adventure.
“I’m afraid that your passport is damaged and you will be sent back on the next flight and we will get a fine of €2500 dollars.” she added.
It’s true that my photo page of my fairly new passport, only used once before recently on our return trip to Cape Town, had a small hole in it. Luggage receipt tags attached to the reverse of the page by check-in staff at Gatwick had made a small tear in the page when removed on the plane later. This tear was then aggravated by the immigration official at Cape Town airport wiggling his pencil tip around in it and creating a small hole. I suppose I was lucky he let me through. But I didn’t really think about it much, given that the hole was in a place that didn’t obscure or affect any of the critical information, sullen likeness of me included.
With hindsight of course I should have got it changed when we were back in London for the fortnight between trips. Easy with hindsight.
“Would you like us to fetch Mrs Lawson or will she travel to Bangkok?” the rule following risk avoider asked me. I made the right choice. Heather would be upset, very upset at having to delay our departure, but I figured that she would be more upset if she had to fly on her own to Thailand, without knowing if or when I might be able to join her.
“Don’t be upset,” said one of the other ground staff to Heather as she emerged, confused looking, from the comfort of the plane. Luckily there were no sharp objects nearby as it became instantly apparent from Heather’s resulting expression why you weren’t allowed such objects in your hand luggage. Blood would have been spilt.
An Uber home after going back through immigration where the sympathetic official nodded sagely when I explained what had happened. “Yes, we see a lot of this these days. How did you get back in from Cape Town?” he asked. Apparently I was lucky to have got entry through the electronic channel (I didn’t even think about it) as had he or one of his colleagues seen my perforated passport they would have had to send me back to Cape Town. As it happens, that might have been easier. Nicer weather and the ability to get an emergency travel document from the embassy in Cape Town and enough time to get a new passport back in the UK once I got back home.
Talking to the pleasant but stickler-for-the-rules man in Belfast at the passport office as soon as it opened the following morning, he confirmed that the hole in the passport is treated as damage even though by the government definition on their website, it doesn’t refer to a hole, only that the critical information shouldn’t be affected. And yes, lots of damages occur these days, around 60,000 a year he told me.
So I need a new passport, which if I was renewing an old one, would take 4 hours. Not for a damaged one. A minimum of a week in the fast track process. Unless I was travelling on important government business or the death of a relative. Impossible to conjure up a dead Thai relative at short notice and I never fancied being a civil servant so a week it was then.
And I needed accredited photos, an application form from the post office also signed by the same accrediting party and an appointment at the passport office in London, along with £154 for the fast track process. And the quickest I could expect to get it was 7 days after the appointment. When I’d looked the previous evening, the first free slots available were next Monday (today was Wednesday) unless I flew to Glasgow or Belfast at extra expense.
Luckily there were now two free appointments in Victoria on Thursday afternoon (there must have been cancellations) and I grabbed the later of those and set off to Oxted to get the form and some passport photos.
I won’t bore you with all the details, of the 20 minutes waiting for the Chinese woman in the photo booth to work out how to use it, the duplicating of forms filled in case there was an error in one, the asking parents of their passport numbers, their birth dates I should have known and their wedding date they should have known but had perhaps chosen to forget.
Now where can I find an accountant, nurse, or company director locally? Strange that your GP can’t accredit your application, but your dentist can. Mary came to mind, an ex-nurse. Pippa next door of course. Mick the accountant, if our paths crossed. I could go up to OfficeTeam but would rather avoid it. Mary was happy to help. As was Charles. Both available to help at short notice and thanks go to them both.
I rang Thai Air to see if I could rearrange the flights and to let them know there was no chance of us catching the onward flight from Bangkok to Auckland. You need to contact your travel agent they told me.
I spent 40 minutes on the phone waiting for TravelUp to answer. Then when they finally did they curtly told me to send an email and rang off before I could say anything. They are Travelup Ltd, trading as TravelUp, TravelUp.co.uk, bargain flight desk, airbookers, holiday genie, magic holidays, bravo travel and bookable holidays. They are all useless as far as I’m concerned.
They eventually email a reply to mine about a day later. The airline policy is what they quote me, which is that in an event of a no show, which is what we were being treated as, even though Heather had even got on the plane, all the subsequent flight bookings with the airline on the same itinerary were cancelled and not valid. So according to them we had lost all our four flights, including crucially the return ones. This could be very expensive…..
I’ll phone my insurance company I thought, we must be covered for this.
Insure and Go did answer the phone after fifteen minutes of waiting. “No, you aren’t able to claim as one of our exclusions is that if you don’t have a valid passport, you aren’t covered,” they told me. “Is there anything else we can do for you this afternoon?” he asked sweetly. I won’t repeat my response.
Having been through three of the recognised stages of mourning about our trip at the airport – denial,anger,bargaining,depressionandacceptance, I found myself in the depression phase as a black cloud hung over the house.
“I’ll go up and see Thai Air in their offices in London”, I said to Heather. “I can see them ahead of my appointment at the passport office on Thursday. ”
And so, the following day, clutching my two accredited application forms and a copy of the flight itinerary from TravelUp (did I mention they were useless?), I jumped on the bus to Oxted and went on to London by train.
Pierre had suggested showing Thai Air my angry South African trained side in a display of curt and direct aggression. But thinking of their largely Buddhist and gentle natures I decided I would deal with the discussions with a zen like calm and patient persistence. And that worked.
Eventually in the plush Mayfair surroundings the librarian-like Thai customer service official was prepared to reinstate our other flights, charging us a £100 fee each in doing so, and waiving the no show fine which he could have imposed but decided against once he saw me turning an apoplectic shade of green the Incredible Hulk would have been proud of.
The only trouble was the lack of flights. So the earliest he could get us to Bangkok was leaving on the Monday evening the 10th Feb. Ten days time. Enough to breathe easy about the timely arrival of the new passport then, provided the application later went ok.
The onward flights were also a problem. The earliest being the 24th Feb. So either two weeks in Thailand or going backwards and forwards to the airport a few days after arrival to see if we could go on standby, which if successful, and there was no guarantee, would cost an extra £100 per ticket to secure. That had similar appeal to sitting next to a man from Wuhan with a nasty cough, so after a short call to Heather we plumped for the fortnight in Thailand and guaranteed flights. No hardship I hear you cry? Absolutely not.
On to the passport office and a short wait to be buzzed in to the cubicle where I was assured by the kind bureaucrat that my application was likely to be a success. He should know – he deals with 30-40 applications a day in an office that copes with 2000 applicants a day – very efficiently it turned out.
He also confirmed the high number of current damages being experienced and while not much of a consolation showed I was by no means the only numpty affected.
Back home again I started the arduous task of cancelling and rebooking the 70 or so days accommodation I had got reserved, luckily I had mostly reserved these with free cancellation, and only lost a few days which I couldn’t rebook.
Given it had taken me roughly an hour for each reservation to scan the options available and read the reviews on Tripadvisor etc., I resolved to be a bit quicker this time.
I rejigged the NZ itinerary, now down from 90 days to 70 and ran it past Heather and our godsend chief advisor Laurie, with supporting help from Martin and Penny, and all gave it the thumbs up.
The consensus was that although we could have condensed the 90 days into 70 and seen both islands to their extremes, I was uncomfortable with all the driving and opted for an even more leisurely pace around the North Island, with a short sojourn to the top of the South Island over 15 of the 70 days. So we now had 45 days in the North – what a treat!
I was able to rebook the Waiheke ferry for a small fee and Laurie kindly offered us a new date for his introductory tour of Auckland. It also looked like the new timings were ok for seeing Penny and possibly Martin and Faye in Waiheke or Auckland.
Steve H was sympathetic and we rejigged our date to meet up with him and his wife Sarah and new baby Elijah.
And with a bit of extra time available I thought: “I wonder if I can track down my old shipmate Roger?” I did, and that’s another story.
I found all the New Zealanders an absolute pleasure to deal with – they went out of their way to be helpful and accommodating.
I mention specifically here Jucy the car company who allowed us to carry on with our car contract (it would have been a lot more expensive to book again even with the shorter period) and Wendy from Waiheke in her AirBnB and many others.
I spoke to Jucy cars by phone in Auckland (it was worth the cost) and was starting to appreciate the time differences involved in communications across the world.
Gradually it all took shape and acceptance arrived and excitement returned. I was able to start retreading the pages through the three guide books (1 is never enough!)
In fact we had 4 as I had bought the Rough Guide twice by accident – one copy purchased a few years ago when the trip was just a pipe dream.
I slightly regretted now the cancellation of our Thailand trip with eBookers, who had been good to deal with, if lengthy. Cancellation of the two flights and our hotel took a patient hour on the phone, but at least they were thorough and helpful, unlike TravelUp. (Did I mention they were useless?).
It might have been possible to rebook our flights and accommodation now we had our tickets to Thailand sorted, but in my haste to let people know I couldn’t make the internal flights I might have cancelled a little prematurely. Although we lost £570 worth of travel as a result, the hotel we ended up in was a much better option.
We were due to stay in the 8 Icon Krabi hotel for the original 6 days. We considered going to more than one location for our now two week trip but opted for roughly the same sort of formula, onward flights from BKK international airport to Krabi 3.5 hours after arrival and thus avoiding going in to Bangkok or changing airports.
As the Icon hadn’t been able or didn’t want to offer any concession on our cancellation, and we did try, twice, we decided we would stay in Ao Nang for the whole two weeks but go for a different and hopefully slightly better hotel.
That worked brilliantly and I write this poolside at the wonderful Sea Seeker hotel 10 days in to our visit. The hotel has been fantastic and is thoroughly recommended.
So all’s well that ends well.
The new passport arrived good as gold six days after the interview. We got excited in a false alarm after waiting in for 5 days by the premature arrival by courier of the damaged passport, further damaged now by having a corner cut off it. One for the archive.
The new one duly arrived a day later and with a flourish I put the long unused Aspinal of London leather cover on to it, a kind gift from the OfficeTeam marketing department for my fiftieth birthday which I had thought much too nice to get dirty.
“Don’t touch it!”, Heather urged as I fingered the photo page. I was checking to see whether it was all fine and with the words “even a drop of water or discolouration is enough to cause problems these days” from the Belfast office ringing in my ears I noticed with horror not one but five circular discoloured patches on the photo page of my brand new passport. The language was choice and as suggested by Heather I was quickly on the phone in a panic to the passport office.
“Oh, don’t worry” said the calm voice on the other line with a smile. “Those are skylights, they are a security feature. And yes, we get loads of calls like yours about them.” With my blood pressure subsiding I muttered, “Well it might be a sensible idea to let people know about them before giving us a cardiac arrest” and rang off.
Sure enough once we looked online we were able to find details of these skylights and it was one of these that had caused the problem with my previous passport as the paper is so thin where they are positioned. I had been cursing the French company Gemalto who I knew had won the contract to produce the British passport from UK company De La Rue recently with a loss of 170 jobs in Gateshead. Can you imagine a scenario in which French passports would ever be made by a British firm? Pah!
But I couldn’t blame the French as the stupid idea of putting these skylights in the British passport was a trademarked invention of De La Rue. And while I couldn’t fall in love with the idea of British passports being made in Poland by a French Dutch company, I guess the new ones when they do get produced by Gemalto won’t have this ridiculously easy to damage so called security feature in them. And they did create 70 new jobs so the net job loss is 100 not 170. But they will be blue, and were supposed to be appearing from October 2019 and then again from January 2020 and now from mid 2020. I expect we are using up old De La Rue stock.
So while mine is still vulnerable to damage, at least it is red. I’m proud to be European, proud to have been in the EU while we were and you can keep your blue passport and 50 pence Brexit coin. I see both as symbols of insularity at best, racism at worst. Rant over.
Ironically it will be another 11.5 years before British firms can bid again to make the passport. I hope the government hasn’t made any mistakes in the management of this…
So the moral of this story, if there is one, is to look after your passport as even the slightest amount of damage will cause huge issues when trying to fly to countries like Thailand, Kuwait, Qatar, New Zealand and many others. It cost us around £1000 to have those luggage receipts stuck on the back of the identity page and quite a lot of aggro besides.
But all part of life’s rich pageant. And there were some upsides. I managed to track down Roger and Doug, have a bit of time to research options for Abel, get over my cold, and change my old pound coins at the post office (18 of them), a service I only realised they offered after researching passport photos.
And it’s been very cathartic writing this and I feel much better as a result. If you’ve stayed here long enough to reach this point – well done and thanks for being a shoulder to cry on.
Two weeks in Thailand have meant no hardships. None at all. We are so lucky to have the time available and the savings to enjoy it.
Now if New Zealand let us in after the concerns of the Corona virus, we will be completely fine!