6 am was the time decided for departure to the airport. By the time the luggage was loaded and the keys dropped in the box it was a quarter hour later. I had chosen the ‘full to full’ fuel contract with Hertz, which meant that the car would be handed over to the hirer with a full tank of fuel and that the hirer would return the car with a full tank of fuel. In case, one fails to fill up the fuel before returning the car the charge for fuel would be three times the normal rate! Keeping this in mind I tanked up in the first fuel station I saw on the way. Traffic was light and in less than a half hour we were in the airport complex. Close to the airport the aircrafts flew so low that we felt as if it was just above our heads. It was that low. Route and the lanes for return of rental cars were marked clearly and unambiguously. Without any hassle I reached the Hertz Car Rental location from where I had taken the car out on 2 March. On the 38th day I was returning her to its rightful owner. The car had been trouble free, smooth and value for money. The good mileage saved me some money too. As I parked at the car rental a young guy came out with a machine and, I think, he scanned the car, checked if fuel was full and approved the return transaction. The entire transaction took less than 5 minutes! I recognized the guy as Dinesh, who I had met at the time of hiring the car. He provided me with a final receipt for the car rental which included all charges contracted for and nothing extra, after I handed over the key of the car.
Before the car was handed over to Dinesh all the luggage was taken out. Hetal and Mrs Shukla got a couple of trolleys and we took the short walk to the departure area. The Qantas check in was through a kiosk and there were no counters for them. I checked all four of us in but the machine, after allocating seats said that a management staff would soon meet us. The young man came and verified our visas. Once that was done the tickets were printed along with eight baggage tags. With that we moved to the automated baggage drop belt. Each bag with straps had to be placed in a tub and kept on the belt. The bag was weighed and approved for weight. After eight pieces were dropped and tags placed on them the baggage summary was printed along with receipt.
The immigration and security checks took very little time. The photo page of the passport had to be scanned in a slot for the purpose and then one had to move into a small enclosure to be photographed. With that the immigration formality was over. No stamping, no questions. The security check was not intrusive at all. However, Shukla had some explaining to do as he had undergone knee replacement and the machine beeped quite strongly. We had a lot of time on hand as the formalities did not take as long as we anticipated them to. We spent some time in the Duty Free section in the airport, mostly window shopping. I was indeed tempted by the combo offer for the twin liquors, Krakken and Monkey Shoulder. Maybe, I will pick them up on the return in Brisbane, if they have the offer there. We found ourselves comfortable chairs and a table to have our breakfast. We have been carrying a lot of food. That which we thought would not be permitted into New Zealand, we said, we would feast on in the airport.
The flight to Auckland was delayed by about 20 minutes despite the right time boarding. Air traffic congestion was the reason announced. An elaborate arrival declaration form was distributed, which I found a bit too complex and sometimes confusing. It was clear that the country was paranoid about biodiversity risks. On board lunch was served, which consisted of a stuffed bun, meat salad, ice cream and mango twin and coffee. We were quickly through immigration and baggage retrieval. But, the baggage and arrival form checks took forever. In between all this I had called up Apex Car Rentals, with who I had contracted to rent a Toyota RAV4. They told me to get in touch once I was through with all the formalities. I am sure they knew how long the baggage checks would take!
Once we wheeled the luggage to where rental companies pick up their guests I informed Apex about my position and they duly sent a van for us to go to their office. The Apex rental pick up center was not far from the arrival area and we were soon there with all our luggage. A black RAV4 that had done more than 192,000 km was placed at my disposal. It seemed to be in decent shape and the boot space was adequate too. I completed the documentation after paying in full for the rental, which included full protection and on-road assistance.
Archana Kaul, Shukla and I have been railway batch mates since 1981. She has been located in New Zealand since 2004 and had taken voluntary retirement from service in 2008. Her husband, Kapil Kaul, had been in the armed forces and was serving in DLF before moving over to New Zealand. It was to their house that we drove to. She had offered hospitality for the four of us and what a terrific stay it turned out to be with the excellent couple. Their house is just a ten minute drive from the airport. We were made to feel completely at home from the time we stepped out of the car on to the steps of their lovely house, which was located almost on the crest of an erstwhile volcano. The whole house was aesthetically done up and well maintained. It soon became time for sundowners once the baggage was shifted into the rooms that we were to occupy for three days.
Kapil offered a range of single malts and choice drinks. I requested a dark rum and he produced what he said was the best he has had so far – Krakken. He was spot on in his assessment of the rum. The spiced dark rum was superb; it made me go over the normal number that I am used to. The smooth drinks, excellent company and lively conversation made the evening a most pleasant experience. Dinner was a combined effort of Archana and Kapil, the former being a non-veg expert and the latter a connoisseur of veg foods. Kapil amazed and surprised all of us with his ‘quick hands’ in the kitchen. The speed with which he dished up stuff was something I had never seen before. Archana had prepared her trademark Butter Chicken and Dal Makhni. Kapil had made Palak Paneer, Kashmir style. With chapatti and rice the dishes were wolfed down; all of us overate. Kapil suggested a drive across the Harbor Bridge to Devonport. The air had become nippy by the time we reached the Esplanade hotel near the ferry at Devonport. Kapil was great company, supplying us with information about the country, life there and suggestions about what to see and do while we were in the country.