Leaving Japan was quite a chore and an adventure in public transport. We left the World Friendship Center on foot at 9:30 in the morning, walked 15 minutes to the street car stop,and took that to the train station. Two bullet trains and an airport express train later we took a shuttle to the departure gate to board our overnight flight to Sydney, Australia. We changed planes there and arrived to Auckland, New Zealand, some 30 hours after we left Hiroshima. Imagine our utter delight to be met at the airport by Esther, a friend from New Zealand whom we met when we lived in Virginia.
But before I get side-tracked with friends and delightful vacation homes, let me tell the real story of arriving into New Zealand: Biosecurity. Yes, folks, we have regular airport security, with concerns about bombs and shampoo and nail scissors, but imagine if you were trying to defend your country against potentially invasive moth larvae or genetically disfigured apple seeds. While we watied for our luggage the Biosecurity Force (not their real name) came around with bio-danger sensing dogs. Yes, these highly trained hounds sniffed the crowd, the packs, the luggage. What were they trained to sniff out? Not drugs. Food. That must be a tough sell to a pack of hungry beagles. Well, they had a field day with us. I never go anywhere without enough food to sustain my refugee family, in a dairy and gluten-free way, of course, for days on end. Knowing that I was coming into New Zealand, zealots for agricultural purity, and forewarned stridently by Esther, I had carefully ditched all produce, meat, soy products, and anything opened. We were down to one packet of rice crackers and a sesame cookie and that I had in one bag. The dogs, bless them, specially trained to hunt for food, mind, loved us. They sniff and sniffed at all our bags. Over and over. I answered questions. I showed my one bag with rice crackers. When I mentioned that we’ve been hauling salami and bananas all over Japan in different bags for 10 days, the Biosecurity Force was satisifed. Or so I thought. We went through customs, careful to declare the rice crackers and the camping gear we were bringing into the country. They took my tent and gave me a slip like you’d get at the dry cleaners and told me it would be ready in 15 minutes. A trip to NewZealand is an expensive way to get your tent cleaned, but I can say with authority that they are fast and very thorough. That went fine, the lady was very friendly and nice, asking, “Have you delcared everything?” Let’s see: I’d gone past the beagles and their handlers, signed my name to the customs card, and gone through the lane marked To Declare. I had. “Are you certain you have no more items secured in your bags?” I don’t believe so, no. “Is there anything you want to tell me?” Um, no. “Do you understand that if you voluntarily surrender contraband there is amnesty, and you will not be charged a $250 fee on the spot?” I start to think, well, who knows? For crying out loud, who can really say what’s in the bottom of any of these bags? I start to feel, well, less than fresh. Maybe even sweaty. “Yes. I mean, no. I mean, this is everything.” I answer. She looks deeply into my eyes. I try to look back, trying not to blink so I won’t look shifty, but finally my eyes start to water. The kids are 2 seconds away from breaking down and making something up, just to break the tension, ‘Mom! Just tell her mom! Yes! We have a plum pit in the red bag! The red bag, I tell you!” “Fine.” she says, “Just take your bags around the corner to the x-ray machines. All standard procedure. Thanks, and enjoy your stay in New Zealand.” I mean, really. For the love of Pete. All that, and you’re going to x-ray them anyway?
After all that (and I do totally understand about the biosecurity thing, really I get it) when we finally came through the doors, there was this wall of people waiting. Teeming humanity, I tell you, and to be honest I started to wonder if I could even pick Esther out of a crowd. So we’re creeping along with all our crap and this whoop goes forth, and Esther bursts out of the crowd and runs at us, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to wash up on foriegn soil, tired and grainy and sniffed, and be grabbed up and held tight in a huge hug, that I got teary, right there in the Auckland International arrival lounge. Esther, I’ll always owe you big for that fabulous welcome.
Off we go to the wharf, trying to catch up on 2 years of news, while Rory and Nora try to tell stories and explain about things l at the same time. It was great. We zip onto the ferry and are whisked from busy Auckland onto Waiheke. Let me say it again, Waiheke. Ahhhh… sweet name. Esther’s charming parents, and I’m not just saying that because I stayed as their guest in their fabulous home for 8 nights, have got a great place on the hill overlooking Onetangi Beach, one of the best in the world. You can see the sea from almost every point in the house, and the one or two rooms which don’t face the water look out onto a protected nature preserve and forest. Heaven. Just a tad chilly, but, still, close.
The next few days are a blur of getting to know Nelson, no longer “Baby Nelson” but now big 4yr old Nelson, and meeting Abe. We had a blast, going to the beach in the morning, coming back up to the house for lunch and quiet time. The kids would run wild in the back yard all afternoon, playing in the tree fort or on the flying fox or jumping around off the deck and the terraced garden. Our very first day at the beach 2 orcas, a mom and a baby, swam so close to shore that we could have swam out to meet them. In from the sea came 6 or 7 more. It was unbelieveable. Eveyone on the beach (all 11 of us) were watching those huge animals. They came up just enough to look out and let us see the white around their eyes, then dive back under. It was amazing. And have I mentioned the food? A family friend, Tim, kept dropping off treats like fresh oysters and smoked kingfish, and we ate like (starving) princes the whole week, finishing it off with a huge blowout meal at Te Whau, a boutique winery, just me and Esther and Steve, with Dola watching the kids. I’ll always remember that week at Waiheke as full of laughter, music, and great company. Esther. Steve, Sandy and Paul, you all have got it right. Thanks for sharing it with us.