March 17, 2004, 19:20: Christchurch, New Zealand - Base Backpackers
I don't quite know what to make of New Zealand yet. I'm sitting in my room right now, listening to the bad drunken Irish band playing through the window. It's St Patrick's Day, and I happen to be staying just a few meters from the outdoor stage this band is playing on. I took off this morning from Lyn's place around 6:30 and rushed to get to the airport. Lyn drove me to the bus station, where I was to catch a shuttle to the airport. I got there, saw the bus, ran to the driver, and told him I was just collecting my bags and I'd be right there. He said he would be there for another minute, and when I got to him, he refused to sell me a ticket (unlike any other bus ride I've taken here), and directed me to the kiosk. He then took off, which made me pretty angry, as it was 7:15 by this point, and it was advised to be at the airport and checked in by 7:30. I purchased a ticket with some cash, as my visa wasn't accepting any transactions (more on that later). I waited around another 15 minutes, and was finally off to the airport. I arrived about 7:50 am, and rushed to the check in. This is where the fun line-ups began. I waited about 45 minutes in customs line-ups showing the same documentation over and over again through multiple checkpoints, and got to the plane at about 8:40, just on time, as it took off right at 9am.
After a 3 hour flight, I arrived in New Zealand, to wait in line-up again. I had just a little difficulty with the customs agent trying to prove that I had a ticket out of the country, as the airline I'm flying with doesn't use tickets - it's all done electronically after you show a piece of ID. I provided her with a confirmation number that I had on an itinerary that I wrote up (thank goodness) and subjected my baggage to even further x-rays. I even got smelled by a dog in the long line-ups. Awesome. For two countries that are supposed to be especially close, this seemed a bit excessive.
I got into the hotel, and went straight to the pay phone, to call up visa and give them flack. Apparently they were blocking transactions due to all this weird activity in Australia that my account had been having as of late. I explained that I was on vacation, and the string of transactions over the past few months in Australia might be an indication of this. They confirmed that I wasn't over my credit limit, and indicated that they had "placed notes" on my file allowing further transactions. I asked if the deposit had been refunded - apparently despite going through yesterday, they said it could take up to 5 business days for them to unlock the funds that had never come out of my account. What a bunch of jerks. This is really bad, because I'm supposed to rent another bike tomorrow with another $1500 deposit, and it would look really bad to have to call up visa at the shop to get an exception for that transaction. Ugh.
Sufficiently soured, I went to check in, and I needed to give a deposit for the room key. I didn't have any New Zealand money, only Australian, and this was a no-no, and I was pointed back out the door to a currency exchange center. This was getting ridiculous, it's only a $5 deposit, and surely they have Australians that come and stay here. I went and got the money, and returned, and was able to successfully check in. Woohoo.
I was able to venture out to the square directly outside where I'm staying, which is apparently the heart of Christchurch. They have a large chess set they put out for the public to use. I got a bit of food, and walked around for a short while. Today, it was overcast and 12 degrees. Maybe it's just the combination of leaving one of my favourite places in Australia with the friends I have there, the customs line-ups, bad weather and money hassles, but I'm not as excited as I should be to be in New Zealand. Hopefully tomorrow will have nice weather and I can blow off some steam on the bike.