19 February 1999
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research - NIWA
Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand

First Day in New Zealand

Sitting here in an office that overlooks Evans Bay, watching the whitecaps dance across the waters driven on by a steady wind, it is hard to believe that all this is real. Granted, the trip was enough of an ordeal to erase any doubt from my mind that I had just spent the past 30 hours travelling nearly 15,000km across land and sea to reach this place, but when you travel by airplane, the journey rarely eases you gracefully into your destination. Travel by train or car makes your transition a far more gradual one. Small changes in landscape, road signs and architecture all tell you that you are approaching your destination. When travelling by air, you walk into a sealed tube at one end, eat food that tastes pretty much the same no matter where in the world you might be, and then step out of the tube at your destination with all the shock of that first icy blast of winter on a cold, December day.

What greeted me as I stepped off the plane in Auckland, New Zealand was a marvelously carved entrance gate in the arrivals terminal that was covered in Maori designs. It was a truly remarkable piece of work and certainly something completely unexpected. Immigration and customs were not a problem although I did notice the Immigration agent's eyes open a little more widely than usual as he read the work visa that had been pasted to the inside of my passport. It reads "The holder may work as a Smithsonian Project Participant for New Zealand Giant Squid Expedition at any location". Somehow, I don't think that he gets too many passports that cross his desk that say something like that!

Walking the kilometer from the International Arrivals terminal over to the Domestic flights terminal, even though it was still dark, I could tell that the trees and bushes that lined the walkway were mostly tropical in nature. Also, the air was filled with that moist, warm, sweet feeling that I so characterize the tropical Pacific.

The flight from Auckland south across the North Island towards Wellington was marked by one fairly interesting experience. Soon after leaving Auckland, we passed through a layer of clouds that all but completely masked the ground below. This seemingly unbroken blanket suddenly developed a large opening, through which soared the flanks of what I later learned was the very large active volcano called Mt. Ruapehu. In the summer months it is possible to take guided tours up to visit the Crater Lake, while in winter you can dine in New Zealand's highest restaurant - the Knoll Ridge Cafe - overlooking the top of the volcano. As we descended for our landing into Wellington, beneath the right-hand wing I could make out what I believed must have been the ferry that crosses Cook Straight over to the South Island.....the same ferry that we will be taking in a few days to begin our expedition to Kaikoura Canyon.

Just as I gathered my bags and made my way outside the terminal, Steve O'Shea and Clyde pulled up. Clyde jumped out of the car (thankfully he waited until it stopped) and made me feel so incredibly welcome that the tiredness of the journey just melted away. I hopped in the car and Steve took off towards the NIWA lab. I have to admit that there was more than one time during that trip, particularly when Steve had to make a turn, that my heart stopped for a moment until I realized that he was supposed to be driving on the left-hand side of the road. Thankfully I have no intention of driving a car or bicycle for that matter while I am down here so I can relax and leave those life and death choices up to people who are comfortable with it. It was great to see Ingrid again and we spent a while getting caught up on what had been going on both here in New Zealand and back in Washington. With the help of a little telephone adapter and power cord that fit perfectly into the wall outlet, I was back online in minutes without the slightest problem. A quick e-mail to let everyone back home know that I had made it safely and we were off for a tour of the NIWA facility and for my first face to face (or should I say face to tentacle) meeting with the giant squid.

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