Monday, October 26, 2009

With Air New Zealand to Auckland

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - I hadn't flown Air New Zealand in a decade and I had never visited New Zealand - until today, when ANZ flight 7 from San Francisco touched down just before dawn under weepy skies at Auckland International Airport.

I'm glad I rectified the oversight. The Kiwi carrier is the first of eight airlines I'll be taking on Star Alliance member carriers over the next 27 days. I'm on a round the world trip booked at Star (details coming in my next post on good ways to use that site.)

Air New Zealand was real good: friendly, efficient staff, flat-bed seats in business class that were actually flat and actually comfortable (not a given with many airlines), modernity everywhere. Even the food was good, the equal of what you could find on the ground in a good restaurant. That's very hard to pull off at 37,000 feet in a cramped compartment, but ANZ did it well. My dinner was chicken breast stuffed with pumpkin, designed by celebrity New Zealand chef Peter Gordon. It was preceded by a sushi sampler and followed by a cheese course, all accompanied by a nicely structured New Zealand Pinot Noir. New Zealand is best known in my part of the world - North America - for its Sauvignon Blancs, refreshing whites that can nonetheless come on a bit too lemony and grapefruity for my taste. This was a welcome change of pace. It was an overnight flight. I managed to sleep a bit - rare for me - and caught up on some reading. Between reading and snoozing and eating, I didn't set aside much time to sample the in-flight entertainment offerings, but the choice of videos, music, games, et. al looked extensive and well-chosen.

The 13-hour, overnight flight had a few weather-related bumps over the Pacific but nothing really untoward. Mostly, the flight was uneventful - and that's good. We touched down at Auckland's bright, modern, clean and well-organized international airport 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Unlike some airports I have been in during off-peak hours - we landed at 5 a.m. - the international terminal was jammed, and most airport businesses were open. At such moments, I could almost ask myself "What recession?'' Though that would be silly, as we've all felt the effects of it, and the travel biz has taken its share of hits.

The Airbus, which runs between the airport and downtown Auckland, costs just NZ$23 return, departs every 15 minutes, and takes 45-50 minutes to reach downtown. From the stop I got off at downtown, it was a short and pleasant walk around the edges of gorgeous Albert Park to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where I am staying.

I'll be blogging daily about all aspects of this trip in the weeks ahead. Tomorrow: How to use the booking feature on the Star Alliance Web site, should you want to take a similar round-the-world journey, customized to your interests, schedule and budget.

And more soon about the city of Auckland. From what I have seen at first glance, it is pretty, big enough to be interesting but small enough to get your arms around, defined by its relationship to the water and a love of fun with a derring-do edge. There is a big bungee jumping place right downtown - two jumping places if you include the controlled dives off the landmark Sky Tower, which soars above the city and serves as a landmark on the skyline.

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