May 28, 2016
Early morning flights are the worst. For the most part we’ve been avoiding early morning flights for that very reason. Today, our flight to Auckland was at 7:50am from Sydney, which meant we had to wake up around 5:00am and leave the hotel around 5:30am (to be safe) and walk to Central Station to catch the train to the airport so we could get to the airport around 6:10am. Sydney’s Airport train line is really easy and efficient from the city. It took around 15 minutes from Central Station and it cost $13.96 AUD, a couple of dollars cheaper than leaving the airport for the city (Tim: not sure if the cheaper fare was because of direction, or time of day).
It was our first time traveling with Emirates so we were excited to see what it would be like. Tim booked this flight specifically because it was an Airbus A380 (world’s largest passenger plane). The flight was coming in from Dubai and stopped in Sydney (likely dropping off a lot of passengers) en route to Auckland. Part of the Sydney International Terminal looked like a fancy mall with a lot of high end stores. We also noticed that at many of the duty free and souvenir shops they had loads of instant milk powder for sale. Apparently Chinese tourists have been hoarding instant milk powder from Australia and bringing it back home.
We boarded the plane and were quite excited about this flight. The ceilings were a lot higher than they are normally and there was even more leg room in economy (not like I need more given my short legs). However, I didn’t think the service was that great. They were fine but weren’t as friendly/warm as Singapore Airlines.
The flight was about 2.5 hours and was very smooth. They served us breakfast, which was tasty. I had a vegetable frittata and Tim had more of a traditional scrambled eggs breakfast. We landed in Auckland at 1pm local time and it was 19°C and sunny. As soon as we walked out of the plane, we looked out the window and all we saw was green. We overheard some Aussies saying they haven’t seen so much green before and they don’t have to worry about poisonous insects in New Zealand!
After we crossed customs and got our bags, all passengers had to go through another screening to make sure you weren’t bringing any prohibited foods into New Zealand. You have to show your customs form to another officer who asks you questions and then you have to put your luggage through a scanner. While we were waiting for our checked luggage, I’ve never seen so many customs officers with dogs sniffing around. Since they are a small island nation, I can see why this would be very important to screen. When we flew into Australia, they weren’t as strict and didn’t have mandatory secondary screening.
We had about 3 hours to kill while waiting for Jess and Robin’s flight to get in from Melbourne. They also had an early morning as they had to fly to Melbourne from Adelaide to connect to Auckland. We found a seat upstairs in the departures food court and had lunch. The Auckland Airport only gives you 30 minutes of internet per day for each device. This wasn’t ideal since we were there for so long so we rationed the internet over our 5 devices. While looking around at the people waiting for family members to arrive. There were a lot of Polynesian-looking families and it felt like we were in Hawaii for a little bit (Kia Ora is like their “Aloha” in Maori). New Zealand’s population is mainly of European decent but they have a large population of Pacific Islanders (2/3rd of all Pacific Islanders live in New Zealand), Asians, and Maori (their Aboriginal population).
At around 4:20pm, Jess and Robin finally arrived. Their flight was a bit delayed but we were happy to see them in Auckland! We picked up our rental car, which they upgraded to a SUV (good for leg room and space but probably not ideal for gas) and made our way to Jess and Robin’s friend’s house which is in a suburb of Auckland called Epsom (5km south of the CBD).
When we got to the house, Jess and Robin’s med school friend’s brother, Howard, was home to greet us. He was very hospitable and made us feel like we were at home. Howard is also Taiwanese and grew up in Auckland, so he was great for telling us more of where the locals would go and eat. We settled into our rooms and then headed out for dinner. Howard gave us a few suggestions and we picked the New Zealand comfort food chain restaurant Lone Star.
Howard drove us to an area close by called Newmarket, which is south east of Auckland’s CBD. The area we parked had a lot of Asian stores and restaurants and then on the main shopping street they had a lot of branded stores and a Westfield (mall). We got to Lone Star and they said it would be about a 45 minute wait for a table so we walked around the neighbourhood. All the stores by this time were closed, but Howard said during the day the Newmarket area is quite busy. Even at night it seemed like a nice area to walk around.
Howard treated us to a really delicious and filling meal. Tim and I shared a really large plate of ribs. We didn’t know it would be that large, so luckily we shared!
After dinner, Howard drove us to Dominion Street, which has a long strip of Asian restaurants and businesses. Driving around Auckland, we thought it actually felt a lot like Vancouver. The trees and landscape were more similar than they were in Australia, and maybe it was the fact that it was starting to rain out that reminded us of home. We went to a Taiwanese dessert place that is popular in Taiwan but now has locations in Australia and New Zealand. The restaurant is called “Meet Fresh” and specializes in desserts with red bean, taro, and tofu pudding.
At this point we were all pretty tired and very full from all the food. We headed back to the house, showered, and went to sleep. We haven’t seen much of Auckland but got to experience more of where locals would go and all four of us Canadians agreed that New Zealand definitely feels like Canada (even more so than Australia). I was told by someone from Auckland that it is like Vancouver and Hawaii mixed together and I could definitely see that. Maybe more so when it’s a bit warmer.