New Zealand. I have to blog about my trip to New Zealand, even though it was two months ago. My memory seems to be diminishing with each passing day of this pregnancy, so it’s imperative I document this trip now. You know, so when I make our travel scrapbook 10 years from now I’ll actually have a record of where we went and what we did.
You guys, New Zealand is stunning. Gorgeous beyond belief. I knew NZ was one of those places Damon and I had to visit while we were living in Japan, but I wasn’t all that sure why. Because it’s pretty? Because Lord of the Rings was filmed there? I mean, a lot of places are pretty, and I don’t really care about Lord of the Rings. But still, for no particular reason other than vague praise from fellow travelers, NZ was on our travel bucket-list. And thank goodness it was.
Perhaps we didn’t really know what to expect from our trip because it’s probably hard for most people – including myself – to articulate how incredible this place is. Damon, Elisabeth, and I flew into Christchurch and spent 11 days traveling the South Island by car, spending one or two nights in a town before moving on to our next destination. Even with 11 days, we only traversed the southern half of the South Island, but every day brought a different experience. By no means am I a nature girl, yet I was rendered speechless by each beach, lake, mountain, glacier, waterfall, what-have-you we saw. It was all magnificent.
We’d be driving along, admiring one landscape – say, rolling green hills dotted with sheep – turn a corner and be struck by a completely different, but equally stunning view, perhaps a glassy lake in the most brilliant turquoise color you’ve ever seen, or snow-capped mountains against a perfectly blue sky. Even when it rained (which it did, a lot) it was still crazy beautiful.
We took our trip in early January, summer in NZ and therefore the tourism high season, yet there were no people anywhere. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But really, we would drive for hours without passing another car. Coming from Japan, it was a little Twilight-Zoneish, actually. But it explains why the country feels so untouched.
I could just post a bunch of pictures proving to you that this country is one of the most beautiful on the planet, but instead I’m going to make this trip a little more relatable before the deluge of pictures.
I just said NZ feels untouched. That makes sense, because it’s near impossible to get to. The reason we went this year is because we figured we should travel when we were “close” in Japan instead of back in the states. “Close” still required an almost 12-hour flight. So Damon, Elisabeth and I hunkered down for the long red-eye flight, and of course my dear, sweet child decided to sleep a mere three hours of the flight. Three measly hours. The personal TV on the seat back in front of her was far too exciting to waste time sleeping! Upon arriving in Christchurch, we de-planed bleary-eyed and cranky. We were immediately inundated with signs of threatening fruit and vegetables warning us to DECLARE YOUR GOODS OR ELSE YOU WILL BE PUNISHED WITH ETERNAL HELLFIRE AND DAMNATION. Or something like that. Did you know fruit could be threatening? It can be in New Zealand.
They take their customs process very seriously, to say the least. I get it, that’s why their country is so unspoiled. Damon extracted an apple from his backpack. “I’ll just declare it on our customs form,” he said. “Might as well throw it away here,” I reasoned, as I trashed the rest of our perishable snacks we had brought on board with us from Japan. We got to customs, where the agent inspected our shoes and inquired about the food we were bringing into the country.
“We have some nuts and dried fruit, crackers and toddler-snacks…” All good there.
“Any fresh fruit?” she asked.
“We did have some, but we threw it all away.” Still all good. We passed through.
Next we had to put all our carry-ons through another screening. As I was gathering up our bags, I saw an FEA (Fruit Enforcement Agent), as I named her, holding up Elisabeth’s snack box.
“Did you have any fruit in here earlier?” she asked cheerily. (Everybody is cheery in New Zealand!)
“Yup! But we threw it away,” I answered, equally cheery.
“Is it okay if I just check inside?” she responded.
“Of course!” I answered. As if I would be careless enough to leave something illegal in my bag.
I went back to collecting our stuff (we had a lot of stuff) and turned around to see the FEA holding up a… banana.
My stomach dropped. No, no, no, no! I did NOT leave a banana in our carry-on! I turned to Damon who shaking his head in shame and then back to the agent, a look of disappointment sprawled across her face. You know, the look parents give their children to make them feel really guilty instead of yelling?
I began apologizing profusely. “I am so sorry! I can’t believe I forgot that banana! I thought we had thrown away all our fruit!”
The formerly friendly agent approached us. “Who claims responsibility for this banana?”
“I do,” Damon and I responded in unison.
“No, I do,” I insisted, figuring it would be easier for a pregnant, tired mom to get out of this than an active duty U.S. Naval officer. “I packed the bag. I’m so sorry. I have total pregnancy brain!”
“Oh, you’re pregnant?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
Subtext: Yes, I’m pregnant and just traveled 12 sleepless hours with a two year old. My mental faculties are obviously impaired. Take pity on me.
“We might be able to help you then.”
Thank the good Lord. All those threatening fruit signs had scared the bejeezus out of me. Because while the New Zealanders don’t actually banish you to Hell for smuggling fruit into their sacred land, they do put some scary notation in your passport that probably prohibits you from traveling anywhere fabulous ever again. And they fine you $400. Now, I completely understand and respect the stringency of NZ’s customs policies. But I also believe that unless it’s encrusted with diamonds, no banana should ever cost $400.
The first FEA brought over a second FEA who pored over my declarations form. I helpfully pointed out that I had indeed declared fresh fruit, but had innocently forgotten the lone banana in my daughter’s bag.
Subtext: It is one freaking banana. ONE. I am not an eco-terrorist intending to wreak havoc on New Zealand’s ecosystem with a single, trafficked banana. I am innocent. Stupid, but innocent.
The agent eyed me suspiciously and walked away, I imagine to consult with other Fruit Enforcement Agents about my fate. She returned a few minutes later and handed me some forms.
“We’re going to let you go this time, but here is a written warning. If this happens again and you claim “pregnancy brain”, we’re going to know something’s up.”
Yes, ma’am! I will never travel pregnant to New Zealand again!
I thanked the agent and hurried out of the airport, lest these customs agent changed their minds. Needless to say, a near-deportation is not the way we had wanted to start our trip. I was a bit shaken. (I hate getting in trouble. Even with people I don’t know and will never see again. Even when what I did was an accident, and ultimately harmless. I am just too much a goody-goody to get reprimanded by agents of any sort at the airport and walk away emotionally unscathed.) But things could only get better from there, right?
Once we had settled into our hotel and recovered from Bananagate, Damon and I began to freshen up. While we were brushing our teeth, a pants-less Elisabeth ran into the bathroom, hands outstretched, repeating, “Poop! Poop!”
Damon was confused, but I knew exactly what was going on. This was a code-red diaper disaster.
“Damon, grab the baby! Make sure she doesn’t get poop anywhere!” I screeched as I rushed into the bedroom to examine the damage. Thankfully, the poopy diaper was contained. Another near-miss on what could have been a very messy situation.
After a very comical cleaning of the baby (for those of you without children, cleaning a poopy toddler who has already displaced her diaper is actually quite challenging), we were ready to head out. We elected to drive about an hour outside Christchurch to a charming little seaside village called Akaroa. The drive was just what we needed after the eventful morning. Beautiful views, relaxing, and a cheese shop en route! What more could you want? Oh, it was also quite windy.
Just as we were pulling into the town, Elisabeth threw up. Not just a little throw-up, but major projectile vomit all over herself and the car seat. Never a dull moment, I tell you.
We pulled into the first parking space we could find and went to cleaning. Actually, Damon went to cleaning because the sight and smell almost rendered me sick as well. Elisabeth was fine and wandered naked around a park while Damon attempted to scrub out a goodly amount of vomit from the car seat with the few paper towels and a bottle of water we had on hand. He did his best, but the smell certainly lingered… Meanwhile I gingerly wrapped up Elisabeth’s soiled clothes in a plastic bag and prayed that would contain the odor until we could do laundry. Thankfully I had an extra outfit packed for Elisabeth, and after an hour of scrubbing we were FINALLY ready to being our vacation.
Akaroa was lovely. Unfortunately we had squelched much of our time cleaning up puke, but we were able to enjoy a pleasant walk and nice dinner overlooking the water. I would definitely go back, next time armed with an arsenal of disinfectants and Febreeze in case my daughter is prone to carsickness.
So that was the beginning of our trip to New Zealand: A rogue banana that caused us to be detained at the airport, poop problems and vomit. Lots of vomit. That this all happened in New Zealand lessened the trauma of it all, and the trip did improve enormously from there. Except for the time we got attacked by bees, everything else was splendid. But I’ll save the rest of the recap for another post.
I’d love to hear your travel traumas. Anyone else ever almost get arrested over a piece of fruit? Or something comparable?