Magic is the word that I would use to describe Sunday, January 15, 2017. However, it wasn’t really magic, it was the kindness of strangers that guided Beth and I from Australia to New Zealand.
Our plan: To leave Port Douglas at 8AM and drive to Cairns for a 11:25AM flight to Sydney. With a three hour layover in Sydney we could plan an itinerary for New Zealand. From Sydney, we were to land in Wellington, the capital of NZ at 11:35PM. Beth and I prepared for a full travel day.
Upon our 9:05AM arrival in Cairns I opted for food. Beth was focused on getting to the airport. In the end, we went for breakfast in town. After returning the car hire, we were at the airport by 10AM. There was virtually no line at the Virgin Australia counter. A priority check-in agent encouraged us to her station. Susan welcomed us and started the check-in. Susan looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said, “I need your exit confirmation or your visa for New Zealand.”
Nearly in unison Beth and I said, “We don’t have one.” Part of this trip was to do things that felt good to us, to stay in places that appealed to us, and to leave those that did not. Prior to leaving we checked on visas and such. Both of us recalled that it wasn’t necessary for NZ.
Susan simply looked at us and stated, “Well then, I can’t allow you on this flight.” Beth and I were stunned. It was 12 minutes past 10.
I looked at Susan and said, “What do we do?”
She smiled at me and said, “Do you have a mobile phone?”
“You need to book a flight to exit NZ now.”
I countered, “Can’t we get on the flight to Sydney? We have 3 hours there to figure this out.”
“Unfortunately, you are booked through to Wellington so I can’t let you on this flight without an exit confirmation. You have time, go book a flight.”
In the states I would say, “We’re doomed.” Without having entered security yet, and with only an hour to spare, having to book a return flight and check-in, all would be lost. But, this was Australia and things are very different here. After thanking Susan, we walked away. Slightly panicked, I threw my bag down, sat on it and opened my phone. Within minutes, I had flights to America lighting up my screen. Retrieving my glasses I told myself, “You can do this.” I quickly scanned our options. Beth and I had put things at home on hold until the end of February. When she returned from the WC I told here our options. “Book it,” was all she said. We returned to Susan’s station and completed our check-in.
As I approached security an elderly couple was filling bins. I stepped around them and went to the front of the line. Hesitantly, Beth followed. Once we were placing our items in bins the security officer asked, “Are you running late for a flight? Did you ask those people if you could get around them?”
“Yes and No.”
“Well, you should apologize to them.”
Beth and I turned to the woman and apologized. She smiled and we moved on. Beth felt like a third grader being reprimanded. I simply proceeded appreciating Australian customs. In Australia, domestic security is like going back in time. However, the elder couple approached it as if they were in the USA, stripping down to the bare essentials.
The gate agent told us they were not ready to board when we arrived and that we should have a seat. Beth and I looked at each other with a sigh of relief and laughed. We have no clue how that all worked out, but we were grateful. Beth said, “That was the fastest booking you’ve ever done.” True enough.
The three hour layover in Sydney flew past. The next thing we knew, we boarded Air New Zealand #842. When dinner was being served a male flight attendant asked, “Will you be having the chicken tonight?”
Beth and I both looked at each other and responded, “No, I don’t think we ordered food.”
He smiled and said, “Let’s have a look at your boarding pass.” Beth handed him our paperwork and he replied, “Yeah, you have the works. Even the bar is open to you,” and he pointed to the next cart filled with bottles of wine and drinks. “I’ll be back.” Well, what do you know, we were eligible for the works. When he returned with our food he asked, “Where you from?”
“Ah, a long way from home. Why are you going to Wellington? I wouldn’t go to Wellington except my wife lives there.” Before we had a chance to answer the bar was being rolled in our direction. NZ wine was in the air and our flight attendant was gone.
After food and drink service the gentleman returned. He sat in the empty seat next to Beth. Before him was a plain white bag. On it he started noting a small map of Wellington and things to see and do. He asked, “How are you getting to your hotel?”
“I’d be happy to give you a lift. I live up in the hills. I go right past your hotel. If you’re ok with that, meet me at the front of the plane when we land. I’m Andre.” Written in the corner of the white bag was Andre C.
Andre walked away. Beth and I looked at each other and laughed. What in the world was going on? A flight attendant just offered us a ride after serving us a meal AND wine. Of course we took him up on it. My sister Kathy told me how friendly Kiwis were, but this was incredible.
As we were disembarking Andre said, “Ok?” Meaning do you want the lift?
Beth said, “Yes, please.”
“Just step off to the side and we’ll go after we close things here.” Beth and I did as instructed. Andre repeated, “Kia Ora” which means “be well” and “Have a good night,” as our fellow passengers departed. A few things were completed and the plane was to put to sleep. Andre said, “Follow me.” Obediently, Beth and I did as requested.
The line of passengers going through Customs was to the left. Andre guided us to the right with the crew. We stopped at the red line. Again we waited. The rest of the crew was trying to get past us. I moved aside for the pilot wondering what “Twilight Zone” episode I had just entered. Andre waved us forward to a private Customs agent. After he inspected our exit, he stamped our passports and welcomed us to New Zealand. Andre thanked him and we moved on. At immigration, the officer talked to us about our declaration as Andre stood by. Once we were through that, we were officially a part of Kiwi-land.
At the baggage carousel Andre stepped away. Beth went for our bags. I stood and watched Andre retrieve a cart. When he returned I was dumbfounded. What stumbled out of my mouth was, “You’re a very kind man.”
Andre replied, “A Vietnamese woman once said to me, good things happen to good people. I must have done good things in my life because I have a good life. When my wife and I were lost on the streets in Los Angeles a man drove us to our hotel. I believe most people are kind.” I couldn’t agree more.
Bags in hand, Andre said, “Follow me,” so we did. Andre took us outside where we boarded a van filled with the entire flight crew. I was beside myself. A female flight attendant, coiffed in a pillbox hat with a navy shoulder jacket complimenting her purple and navy dress, asked about our trip; what I liked best in Australia, how long we were staying in NZ, if we were going to the South Island? I could hear Andre yucking it up with the crew in the back of the van where he squeezed in so Beth and I could have a seat. The van arrived at an old hangar where the crew’s vehicles were parked. Once again, Andre had us follow him; inside the hangar we went. Andre’s bright red shiny Mazda 6 was parked in the first space. A N D R E C license plate displayed. Filling his trunk, Andre placed his bag on the backseat. The crew commented on how light we traveled, but we have several small bags which take space. Engine ON and we were OFF.
Beth commented, “You seem to have a lot of fun with your crew.”
Andre said, “Most people see us smiling and serving them but we do a lot of safety training together. It’s a small group so we know each other very well. We just came off three days away from home so everyone is happy. They call me Papa Smurf.” Andre did resemble the character minus the blue skin and red hat. He was handsomely dressed in a suit, vest, and tie with spit polished shoes. But, from that moment on, he was Papa Smurf.
On the drive to our hotel Andre took the scenic route. At midnight, we toured Wellington as Andre drove the waterfront. Pointing out specific sights, Andre certainly provided The Works.
Andre C was correct, the world is full of kind people. Beth and I are still amazed at our exit from Australia and our entry into New Zealand. It taught us once again to be kind to a stranger. Kia Ora… Nancy T