“Bill Leslie! What are you doing here?”
That's the first thing I heard when I stepped off the plane in Auckland, New Zealand recently.
Michael and Katie Bartiss, of Pinehurst, were also vacationing in Kiwi country, and they noticed me as I stood in the customs line following a 20-hour flight from North Carolina.
In my 30 years of working for Capitol Broadcasting Co., I’ve learned that WRAL-TV has friends all over the world.
My wife, Cindy and I, left Raleigh-Durham International Airport the morning after UNC won the national championship in men’s basketball. It was a cloud-nine trip all the way to my first extended vacation in a dozen years.
We flew from RDU to Dallas to Los Angeles to Auckland, and on the way back, from Auckland to Tahiti to L.A., where we spent the night. The following day we flew to Miami and then on to RDU.
I’d never flown 20-plus hours on a plane before, so I invested in a few carry-on items to ease the strain of the marathon journey.
My noise reduction headphones provided more than 20 hours of comfort and listening pleasure on a single charge.
Plus, I carried a backup battery for the headphones. I went with the Bose headphones and, though expensive, served me quite well.
I also bought a “Power Monkey,” a small and portable device with different adapters to recharge my iPod, cell phone and small digital camera. The Power Monkey worked perfectly.
Master storyteller Jeffrey Archer entertained me with his novel Sons of Fortune. I also tried an inflatable sleep pillow and sleep mask and they worked to perfection.
It wasn’t a perfect trip. There were screaming babies and parents scrambling for airsickness bags. There were aromatic surfers bound for Tahiti on the way back.
Plus, our luggage didn’t make the final connection in Miami, and we had to wait almost a whole day to get our bags back from American Airlines on our return to Cary.
We flew three different airlines: American, Qantas and Air Tahiti Nui. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Qantas because of the free food, adequate leg room and cheerful staff.
We encountered no major delays coming or going. We flew through Papeete in Tahiti on the way back. I loved the musical greeting at the airport.
The trip was not a budget buster, thanks in part to WRAL News colleague Monica Laliberte. Her advice several years ago to acquire a credit card that accumulates airline miles was solid. We flew economy class to Auckland and back, and it didn’t cost us a dime. It would have been great to fly first-class but we just didn’t have the miles or the money.
We did have to pay for shuttle flights within the country. I was irritated by a major flight change at the end of our vacation, which forced me to re-work bookings for hotels, rental car and the trip back to Auckland.
Our New Zealand hotels were not expensive. A major part of our trip was to Fiordland, where we stayed in hiker huts. I'll have more on that part of the journey later.
Food prices were on par with North Carolina. Fuel for our rental car was more expensive but not exorbitant. Plus, tipping is not expected in New Zealand. That was a nice surprise, though I found it difficult not to ante up a little extra at the end of our meals.
On Tuesday, I’ll talk more about what I did in New Zealand and what I brought home from the trip.