The Trip Home, Final Thoughts
Saturday, February 27
With no more items on our itinerary, we allowed ourselves a bit of a sleep-in this Saturday - the day of our departure from New Zealand. Our flight left from the Queenstown airport mid-afternoon, so we were in no rush.
We walked into downtown and had breakfast at "The Exchange" cafe ($11 NZD for toast and egg?).
Wandering through Queenstown
Afterwards, we wandered through the streets of the downtown, soaking in our last few hours of summer in the southern hemisphere. Soon we'd be returning to a cold Canadian February. I stopped by the dock in the harbour and had a closer look at the vintage ship I had seen a few days before from the Skyline Queenstown Gondola. As it turns out, this ship is a very interesting historical artifact. Built in 1912 in the coastal town of Dunedin and shipped in pieces overland to Queenstown, the TSS Earnslaw is a true vintage Edwardian coal-fired steamship. And the ship hasn't been retrofitted with a modern engine - it still is powered by the original steam engines. In fact, a dump truck filled with coal stood by on the dock.
Used to ferry the population to and from lakeside towns before various roads were built, the TSS Earnslaw is now primarily used for tourist rides - and it was about to do so as I was watching. Soon, the venerable old lady pushed off from the dock and steamed (literally steamed, in this case) away into the choppy blue waters of Lake Wakatipu.
Out into Lake Wakatipu
Returning to the Holiday Park where we'd stayed the night before, we hopped into the rental vans for one final ride - to the Apex car rental outlet near the Queenstown Airport. There, we said our goodbyes to Lori and Brian (who were staying in NZ for another six days), then hopped onto the short shuttle ride to the airport.
Although small, the Queenstown Airport had a nice open and modern feel. Large windows permitted an airplane-watcher like myself ample opportunities for photos. I watched with a bit of a smile as our Airbus A320 came into the wrong gate, changing course at the last minute when the pilot realized his mistake.
The short flight from Queenstown to Auckland was pleasant enough, although I'd hoped for more views as we crossed over the Southern Alps, where - if the air below had been clear, we could have seen the Mt Aspiring area. It was rainy and grey as we descended into Auckland airport.
After a non-rushed layour in Auckland, we boarded our long-haul flight - the big crossing over the Pacific. We had chosen a slightly different routing for the way back, taking the 12-hour Auckland to Los Angeles flight rather than the 14-hour Auckland-Vancouver crossing we took to get to New Zealand. Our Boeing 777-300ER had an older (and buggier) version of Air New Zealand's in-flight entertainment system, but on the plus side, I managed to score some premium noise-cancelling headphones when my initial headphones developed a fault.
We had a fairly long layover in Los Angeles, and four of us (Andy, Andrea, myself and Jenn) decided to avail ourselves of the "Priority Pass" lounge benefit associated with our credit cards. This got us into the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. The airport prime lounge experience (new for me) was nicer than I expected - quite relaxing (and lots of snacks).
Next up - our flight from Los Angeles to Toronto, where our plane charted a perfect course for viewing the Grand Canyon and much of south-eastern Utah. The local time flipped rapidly forward as we flew against the rotation of the earth, and it was late in the evening by the time we arrived in Toronto.
Our final leg - the short 1-hour hop from Toronto to Ottawa - was frustratingly delayed, and only left at 1 a.m. in the morning. Fortunately, my brother George has a high degree of patience, and was waiting for us when we finally emerged with our bags into the cold, wintry night. Thanks, George!