There’s a video somewhere which I filmed whilst coming into land at Auckland Airport. I watched it over and over during that marvellous and terrible first year of our new life, wondering what on earth we thought we were doing. I would hear myself say, “Oh, look, there’s New Zealand,” and then, “what am I looking for exactly?”
What kind of crazy family jump willingly on a plane with four innocent children, having sold or given away everything they own which included a rather nice house and half decent car?
This kind of crazy family.
We’d never been to New Zealand, not even on holiday, owned only the clothes we stood up in and had a suitcase each. Our baggage had an allowance of 22kg per case, but four of them needed to be pulled by an arm belonging to a body between 8 and 12 years old, so filling them to the max was never an option. The night before we left, we discovered we still owned too much and there were certain soft toys which couldn’t be left. At 2am on the day we left, my husband and I abandoned our own clothing and shoes in favour of stuffed unicorns and an ambulance containing Poorly Pets. In our exhausted state we made no note of what we left behind and consigned ourselves to the next five years of searching for ‘that blouse’ and ‘that pair of trousers.’
With no bank account yet activated on the other side of the world, we carried $1000 NZ in case we got into dire straits in our new life. Husband carried half in a pocket close to his body and I drew the short straw. We rolled and stuffed the remaining notes into a clever belt which was to fix around my waist; the most expensive accessory I am ever likely to wear. All was well until my first visit to the mile-high-toilet, when the belt in its unfastened state refused to bend enough to close. I delivered myself pink-cheeked to Husband in cattle class for help, poking out most of the raised eyeballs on my way down the aisle.
I was the driving force behind the choice to ‘go straight there’ instead of ‘stopping off for a jolly in another country.’ My reasons were sound but after 28 hours of flying, I forgot what they were. We arrived in Sydney’s air-conditioned airport in heavy coats, boots and sweaters, much to the surprise of those travellers wearing singlets and shorts and in one case which my children found hard to overlook, a supermodel type bikini.
Customs checkpoints were fascinating but also terrifying. Husband went first and me last with our four children sandwiched in between, should something go wrong at either end. We lived in permanent fear of being asked to open our cases because we knew that shutting them would be impossible. Our belongings were encased in several plastic bags which required the use of a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air when needing to be sealed again. We prayed that a kindly customs officer would make one available should the need arise but somehow doubted it. Husband had already passed out once when rescuing a wrongly-packed-favourite-toy in the last moments before leaving the airport hotel. His capacity to suck and breathe without fainting in front of a rapt and uniformed audience seemed dubious and likely to earn him the rubber glove treatment for sure.
At Sydney Airport we achieved something of celebrity status, drawing a large crowd of customs officers. My middle daughter’s rucksack was screened and x-rayed over and over so that all staff on duty could enjoy the sight of several bulging-eyed cuddlies trapped in a plastic vacuum bag looking like the occupants of a circus freak show. My daughter clutched another of her soft unicorns in white knuckled hands until her flattened furry family had been adequately humiliated. Then we caught the final flight accompanied by a three hour screaming baby complete with shusshing mother, which quashed any plans for a snooze before landing.
Our arrival at Auckland Airport for the start of our new life was probably more daunting than our departure from Birmingham. We arrived at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon and weren’t prepared for what greeted us.
The airport heaved with bodies and confusion and although our residency visas entitled us to a polite greeting of ‘welcome home,’ that was all. We searched in vain for a chapel in which to regroup and thank God for our safe journey, but nobody knew where it was.
I will never forget walking through the arrivals doors into a massive crowd comprised of eager faces, all looking for that special someone yet to arrive. That someone wasn’t us. Nobody noticed as we passed through dragging our suitcases or when we gasped at the heat which met us outside. The only people who knew we were here watched our plane land as a one-liner on the flight log and worried from 18,000 km away.
The next part of our journey began without fanfare or witnesses and would take the better part of a decade.
Part 2 coming soon. I’m interested to hear anyone else’s emigration to NZ story. We’ve helped enough people along the way to have heard just about everything that could possibly go wrong, the funny and disastrous.
But I’m open to surprises so tell all!