The deal with my employer was that I could stay in New Zealand until vaccinated: according to the NZ government’s projections I’d be able to be fully vaccinated in early November and proposed a return date of mid-to-late November.
Time continues to pass and it is now late November, so it got to be time to return to Canada, much as I would have preferred to stay for the Christmas holidays. I get to trade early summer for early North American winter with temperatures just below freezing (and soon -20 wind chill!). More temperature extremes than I’ve felt for a while.
I previously wrote about getting COVID testing before leaving. I also had several get-togethers in COVID-free Wellington in the weekend before leaving, as well as visiting the Mount Vic lookout and taking the cable car one last time. We had some of our favourite food as well: Mr. Go’s and The Ramen Shop.
On Monday, November 29, Auckland was still at level 3 step 2, with a scheduled move to the traffic lights system that Friday. This was still a lockdown, though outdoor gatherings, stores, and even hairdressers were permitted to open (hairdressers as a beta test of vaccine passes). In particular, it didn’t include Koru lounges or other indoor spaces I might want to go to. But really, maybe there was nowhere I might want to go to, as there was more COVID in Auckland than Ontario last I checked. (I checked on 5 December 2021 and the 7-day averages were pretty much identical at about 6 per 100k; Québec has a bit more than twice as much, at 14 per 100k).
It turns out that there were only 2 daily flights from Wellington to Auckland under level 3: travel is still restricted until December 15. (There are 12 daily flights scheduled for December 15 right now). An AvSec guy queried me about my purpose for travel. Unusually for NZ flights, he even checked my ID. As usual in NZ, there was still no boarding ID check.
I did manage to optimize a bit, though, changing my 10:45 flight to 13:10. (International flights are currently fully flexible, including the linked domestic segments). What am I going to do with an extra 2 hours in locked-down Auckland? I checked in my 60kg of checked baggage (3pc) early, took the bus back downtown, hung out at the Concorde cafe on Lambton Quay (a last-minute discovery: good pies and pretty cheap, though the croissants are not sufficiently flaky; they almost never are in NZ). Then I got back to the airport, went through domestic security (they inspected my nose-hair trimmer), visited the Koru Lounge, and went back through security at the international gates where WLG-AKL was operating from (no international flights for now). Security lines were super efficient as always in NZ.
The flight was uneventful. I was on the wrong side of the plane to see Taranaki, regrettably. They redeployed trans-Tasman A321s to domestic service, which came with wi-fi and in-flight entertainment.
Outdoor picnics are allowed but I failed to arrange any: people I knew there were busy. It was a beautiful day, though, sunny with a high of 24. I actually was regretting wearing jeans, and could totally have worn shorts or lighter pants. My light pants aren’t really suitable for public wear anymore. They need repair.
The airport is in South Auckland. This has historically been where Auckland outbreaks have started. I guess it’s proximity to the airport combined with socioeconomic issues. These days COVID is supposed to be evenly distributed throughout Auckland, though the race stats show that a significant fraction of cases are Maori and some Pasifika, correlating with non-vaccination rates. Anyway, good reason to stay outside.
I left my heavier daypack in a locker for a modest fee ($12). Well worth it to not carry 10kg around town.
Google Maps says I walked 20km, first to David Lange Park and then to Mangere Mountain and back to the airport. In principle the walk or bike ride from the airport should almost all be on multi-use trail. Almost, though: the first 20m out of the airport was somehow impassable on sidewalk (footpath if you’re from NZ). And there was ongoing construction of intersections which made for some sketchy situations, but that’s nothing new for me.
There were a bunch of free-range kids in David Lange park as well as young people playing volleyball in the park. It’s a good park, though harder to leave than I’d expected, with a quite serious fence on some sides. Mangere Mountain is also an old volcano. We’d visited that mountain earlier and I thought I’d drop by again for the worthy view.
I got back to the airport an hour early, asked the staff what was the latest possible time to go through security, and enjoyed my last NZ sunset for 2021 outside the international terminal.
Having checked in already, I just had to go through border control, security (third time for the day: once at WLG for the domestic lounge, and once for the international gates), and the almost entirely closed international terminal (the only open store that I could see was duty-free). I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I was thinking “Yup, I’m still good at travelling” while waiting behind the infrequent travellers working their way through international-level security*. I got through in 25 minutes; the line at security was 18 minutes of that.
- NZ flights on aircraft with fewer than 70 seats don’t require security. Bigger aircraft are subject to some security, but it’s sensible: water is allowed, for instance.
In any case, I still arrived at the departure gate 30 minutes before actually boarding. I have been to the AKL international Koru lounge, but that wasn’t possible on this day; gate lounge it was. I don’t know exactly what the load factor on the plane was, but it was far from empty.