Journey to the Real Middle-earth

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Monday, August 31, 2015

After many months of planning, all condensed into one red binder stuffed full of confirmation sheets, emails, brochures, maps—which we fondly called the Red Book of Westmarch—the day to go to New Zealand finally arrived.

We woke up to dense fog the morning of our departure. After double- and triple-checking our luggage and packing lists the night before, we were well prepared to wake up, eat a little breakfast, and head to the airport.

We departed from Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids at approximately 9:30 in the morning. Our route to New Zealand would take us from Grand Rapids, through Denver, Los Angeles, and Auckland, onto our final destination of Queenstown, approximately 8,870 miles as the crow flies.

Our first two flights through Denver and Los Angeles were with United Airlines. We had a 4-hour layover in Denver that went by pretty quickly. We enjoyed watching the sparrows flitting about the terminal while we ate small pizzas and breadsticks from Pizza Hut Express.

We made it into glittering Los Angeles around 3:30 California time. LAX is sprawling and confusing, so we were actually somewhat glad to have the 6-hour layover, so we would not feel too stressed getting to our terminal; plus, we thought it would be useful to get to know the airport layout so that we would know where to go on our return journey, since then we would only have a 2-hour layover. So we leisurely walked to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which required going outside into the busy, hot and hazy California weather for a bit, finally settling near our gate.

Air New Zealand was our way over the Pacific Ocean to Auckland. We were greeted by our seat screens that said “Kia Ora, William!” and “Kia Ora, Philip!” (unfortunately, Jessica’s did not say her name personally because we figured that you had to have signed up for Air New Zealand’s Airpoints early enough in advance).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The flight from Los Angeles over the Pacific Ocean to Auckland is 12 hours long. 12 hours is a long time to be in a metal tube hurtling through the clouds, and it really makes you appreciate how massive, utterly massive, the Pacific Ocean is. We didn’t really do much but rest and eat on this flight, even though we did each have the personal entertainment screen. After all, by the time we had boarded this flight, it was well after midnight at home. We had already had a full day’s worth of traveling under our belt and were about to have another full day’s worth before any real rest. Our rest was off-and-on, but the cabin was kept mostly dark for except for the first two hours and meal (dinner) and the last two hours (breakfast). We attempted to watch a few shows and movies, but quit early on; the flight tracker screen seemed more interesting when we did check out our screens.

We didn’t really have a Tuesday, September 1. Due the extreme time zone change and the fact that sometime in the 12-hour flight we passed over the International Dateline.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Auckland Airport is one of the most organized airports we’ve ever been to; we were really impressed with it, but maybe that reaction was affected by our negative impression of LAX—and the fact that we just came off a 12-hour flight! We arrived before sunrise, and after collecting our luggage, to divert it to our domestic flight, and going through customs, we were just happy to walk outside for a bit from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, a helpful green line to lead the way. Though it was a bit cold, the air was crisp and fresh. It felt so good to be on the ground again, and kind of funny that we were finally in New Zealand—and that we would have to return here, to Auckland, but by campervan—the whole journey lying ahead of us.

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