Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Saturday (as well as supper) disappears between San Francisco and Norfolk Island

I am sad to be leaving the Bay area. Although I first visited it more than forty years ago, it is only in the past couple of years that I have begun to really understand why, for so many people, it is a very special part of the world.
It is handy that the BART yellow line takes me from Moraga directly to the airport, a trip that takes almost exactly an hour.

Unusually for Air New Zealand, the check in is a shambles, with a problem at the single Business-Class check in desk causing delays for premium passengers. It doesn't help that the same line is being used for Premium Economy.

If that was unsatisfactory, the VIP lounge is a disgrace. With only one flight a day, Air New Zealand has a contract to use the Eva Air facilities. But, more than ninety minutes before boarding, the food has all gone, with not even a peanut or crisp available. People are drinking wine and beer out of coffee cups and my gin and tonic, without a slice of lemon, is in a wine glass. The place is packed with hardly a seat available, nobody is tidying up used crockery and the wi-fi is impossibly slow.
When Diane, the on-board Concierge arrives to greet her overnight passengers, she has a queue of people wanting to see her. She agrees that the situation is less than satisfactory and will put it in her report.
On board, I am disappointed that the jumbo-jet upper-deck has a very strange configuration of 10 Business-Class and 23 Premium-Economy seats, with no separation between the two. There are only two toilets for everyone, which is far less than you would expect. I get the impression that a lot of little Business Class touches in the facilities have been removed.

But the seat (only Air NZ and Virgin use them), the food and the service is the best I think you can get and I sleep solidly in my full-length bed for well over seven hours.
Disembarkation is slow, because there is no way for Business Class to be taken off before Premium Economy.
So, lesson learned. The Upper Deck in Air New Zealand's two 747's is much less satisfactory than the splendid configuration in the front cabin of their five Boeing 777-300ER's.

I left San Francisco on Friday evening, but it's now early on Sunday morning. Last year, flying in the opposite direction, I had a Saturday in New Zealand and another one in Los Angeles, so I suppose it has evened itself out. But it still feels weird that, having flown for only 13 hours, Saturday has simply vanished from my life.
International transfer at Auckland is very speedy, although I am surprised of the need to have another security check.
The Koru Lounge in Air New Zealand's Auckland International terminal is splendid, with a barista making all sorts of fresh coffee, another member of staff making light fluffy pancakes and there is as good a selection of breakfast fare as you will find anywhere.

But, more importantly, a really nice modern and spacious shower facility which gives me the opportunity to freshen up after the long Trans-Pacific flight.

Being the only 'Works-Deluxe' passenger on board my connecting flight, I have the first two rows of the Airbus to myself, so can sit on the right-hand side as folk are boarding, so they won't tread on my toes, moving to the left hand of the aircraft just before take off. Just before landing on Norfolk Island after the 90 minute flight, the pilot tells us that the best views will be had from the other side, so I move back again!
Just like last year, the local baggage handlers have no concept about unloading priority-tagged luggage first, so one of my bags is virtually the last off the plane. Luckily, the customs and immigration line moves quickly and within twenty minutes of landing, I am being greeted by my host for the week, Mike Collings.
Mike, who I first met on Lord Howe Island, is the boss at the Island's Bureau of Meteorology. He is working later in the afternoon, but there is plenty of time to have a splendid lunch and spend some time down at the wonderful Emily Beach where I swim and he walks, saying that it is FAR too cold at this time of year.

The island is every bit as wonderful as I had remembered. I was slightly apprehensive that a second visit would perhaps be a bit of a disappointment, but not at all. This five by eight km. drop in the vast south Pacific Ocean is an absolute delight. Nobody locks their cars or homes, the pace of life is so laid back it is almost horizontal and the island abound with wonderful fresh produce. Except potatoes. They have run out until the next supply ship arrives later this week.
Adan and Ruby, Chris and Sorrell's children from next door, arrive to invite Mike and I round for drinks, but, with Mike working, I am the only acceptance.
We are joined by Don, who teaches Science at the 300-pupil Island School and his wife, Sue. The kids are about to have a day off school for ANZAC day (having been back after the holidays for just one day), so I explain to nine year old Ruby what the acronym means. The parents soon put me right after I confuse the tripartite ANZUK force of the early 1970's with the abbreviated form of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps of the Gallipoli Landings of World War 1.
Despite excellent food, wine and company, my jet-lag means that I struggle to stay awake. Adan wants to 'verse' me at ping pong, which turns out to be an Aussie word for challenge. He's improved a lot in the past twelve months and races into a 10 point lead before I find my game and manage to secure a narrow victory. But I fear my winning days against him will not last for much longer.
At 2130, I collapse into bed and am rocking the rafters almost before my head hits the proverbial pillow.
It doesn't take long to settle into the island pace of life. I had intended to potter and, my word, this place is conducive for it. The REO Cafe in Kingston for coffee, the Golden Orb in Burnt Pines for lunch, Emily Bay for a swim. It really is a tough life on Norfolk Island. Mike later shows me the amazing web of a Golden Orb spider, with the large female in the centre and the much smaller male playing a bit part.

ANZAC Day is marked with a daybreak service. Hence, at 0540, Mike and I join about a third of the Island's 1100 population at the war memorial in Kingston. With the waves crashing against the nearby shore, the pitch-black area lit only the flickering flames of a small fire and the occasional flash of a torch, it is a very poignant ceremony as the Last Post is sounded. I am surprised that it all ends with a lusty rendition of God Save the Queen rather than Advance Australia Fair or some-such, but am reminded that the ANZAC contingent were all part of Her Majesty's Forces.

I return later for the mid-morning service, but it has nothing like the pathos of the earlier event.

Photos at: https://picasaweb.google.com/113030621059953130627/AroundTheWorldIn60DaysBackwardsAustraliaAndTheFarEastToTheUK?authuser=0&feat=directlink