This was supposed to be a relaxing road trip between two brothers, starting in Auckland and spending a week traversing south towards Wellington. Being children of the 90s, my younger brother, Erich, and I were fully immersed in the world of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - naturally bringing us to New Zealand.
Unbeknownst to us, trolls lay in wait early in our Middle-Earth adventure...
Melbourne, Australia - July 14 - 19:55
Three and a half hours. That's how long we've been waiting at Melbourne Airport. After numerous delays and waiting for our aircraft to de-ice, the gate to our modern miracle machine was finally open.
START RANT // Before we go further, can we reflect on the whole 'de-icing' situation? We're in Melbourne, a city where the temperature has been above 24°C since - oh I don't know - forever? A place where having snow is so momentous that it's newsworthy? If you can explain how a plane that's been sitting under the Australian sun for an hour requires 'de-icing', please reach out at: email@example.com with the words 'De-Ice Dilemma Debunked' in the subject line. // END RANT
Middle-Earth here we come!
Auckland, New Zealand - July 15 - 1:30
Our claustrophobic Airbus A320 touches down at Auckland Airport, skidding to a hesitant stop. Tired and hungry, Erich and I wipe off a layer of face-oil caused by dry airplane A/C and recycled flatulence.
Plan is straightforward: disembark, luggage, customs, rental car, find hostel, sleep. Ah, but we will soon learn that 'straightforward' is not synonymous with 'simple'.
Customs and Border Protection - July 15 - 02:00
The officer stares at my passport for an inordinate amount of time. Eyebrows furrow as his gaze slowly turns to me, then back to the government ID. I don't recall any phallic passport doodles, so what's capturing his concentration? He breaks the silence,
"Just the backpack?"
"Yup," I reply.
We re-enter a monastic silence. Looks at his blank computer screen, at me, then exhales,
"You've been randomly selected for secondary screening," handing back my passport and motioning his head leftwards, he continues, "down the hallway. Follow that fellow."
Looking over I see that this 'fellow' is Erich - apparently he was also randomly selected. We enter the long hallway, knowing that our adventure is about to get interesting...
Undisclosed Location - July 15 - 02:05
Walking into a large room lined with five rows of glistening stainless-steel tables, I am first taken aback by how impossibly bright it is. The space is frighteningly clean and organized... like a dental clinic - I'm in my element. From the glow emerges a large, uniformed man - definitely a former rugby player. It spoke:
"Travelling together?" bellowed André (we're calling him this due to obvious physical attributes), "follow this agent to Table 1."
Out of nowhere jumps a pale, young, and noticeably less intimidating officer. It was Morty* in the flesh (see reference photo below). He was probably hiding behind the giant this whole time, and pulling this Jack-in-the-box routine was customs' way of keeping things interesting.
"Why only one bag?" croaked Officer Morty, motioning towards the Chang brothers' single suitcase.
Erich and I lock eyes, silently agreeing that this is an odd first question. Probably a baseline to size us up and determine language comprehension.
"We're only in New Zealand for a week," I respond in my finest Canadian English, "not to mention... we're guys."
Nodding in agreement, Officer Morty hauls our suitcase onto the gleaming table. Producing a pair of black gloves from his breast pocket, he starts reciting a well-rehearsed spiel on why we're at secondary screening, keeping New Zealand safe, what to expect, our rights... blah blah blah. His voice melting into background noise, my eyes begin to wander. Every row now has travellers being similarly interrogated - and miraculously, every Asian on our flight was randomly selected. Feels like Chinese New Year at the Auckland Airport.
The audible SNAP of Morty's latex-free glove redirects my attention back to our battered suitcase, now open and exposed. Slowly and methodically, he unpacks the contents. Like an albino Indiana Jones marvelling at the holy grail, Officer Morty holds each item to the light... rotating and inspecting... inspecting and rotating... looking for something our mortal eyes would clearly miss. Voice still struggling against the losing battle of puberty, he squeaks,
"And what is THIS for?!" The question is repeated for every item.
Now on his toes, with palms on the table, our fearless man in blue leans forward,
"What do you do for a living?" he questions, "How is this trip being financed?"
"I'm a dentist-"
"-Prove it!" interjects the now surprisingly confident officer.
"How would I..." I'm caught off guard. Taking a moment to recompose, "...do you want an oral exam?"
It would have made my week if Officer Morty responded with, "No! Cavity searches are MY job!" Alas, life's not a sit-com, and he replies with the much less interesting,
"Nah, I believe you."
For the next hour, Erich and I are cross-examined on:
- every detail of our road trip with supporting documents (receipts, itineraries, etc)
- any past convictions (calm down, there are none)
- every country visited in the last 3 years
- occupations and sources of income
- intentions in New Zealand
- proof of return flights
- the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow**
Finally, Officer Morty gives his blessing, "You're good to go, boys. Welcome to New Zealand."
Relief was momentary.
Looking down 12 feet of table lay waste the entire contents of our suitcase and backpacks. Clothing and toiletries strewn in all manner of longitude and latitude: my tighty-wighties hanging timidly off one edge, while Erich's technicolor briefs bask under customs' fluorescent glow. This was our kiwi initiation.
Now we know the true reason Frodo and Sam cut through the Dead Marshes: bypass secondary screening at Auckland Airport.
"Welcome to New Zealand" indeed - things will only go up from here!