I debated a lot with myself about if I wanted to write about the rest of my trip. I initially wanted to talk only about the amazing time I had and I didn’t want to spoil this diary with COVID. Whoever maybe some of you guys might found something interesting and helpful so I decided to write a recap with only the key event on how we got stranded in New Zealand and how we made our way back home. So get a cup of tea and let’s dive into it.
Day 15 was the day we drove back from Te Anau to Queenstown and where everything went downhill.
As I mentioned in my previous post that Emirates had cancelled our flight back to Gatwick on the 28th and rebooked us on a flight to Heathrow on the 28th instead. So at this point, we felt quite confident that everything was under control. Silly us…
So we arrived at our hotel where we found a note with and an envelope and the key in it. It felt a little weird but it was also a national holiday so we didn’t think too much of it. We then when for lunch were, as I was browsing the new on my phone, I find out that the country will go into lockdown level 3 this night. Wich meant all businesses close unless it’s essential businesses and all travel will be restricted to essential travel only. So we went to the supermarket and bought some food to get by for the next 3 days went our fight back to Auckland was scheduled.
In the evening as a was browsing Emirates site to make sure everything is still ok I saw an announcement that the government had shut down all Emirates flight effective immediately.
At this point, we panicked and we immediately search for another fight. We book the first flight that we found which was a very expensive Singapour Flight on the 29th.
Only after book, this ticket did I though to look at the IATA (International Air Transport Association) to check what is going on with airline in general and other countries. And this is where I discover that Singapour had just announced that they were closing their airport for transits. Which mean we were not allowed to transit via Singapour so the booking couldn’t get us home.
At this point, my partner called Singapour to get our booking cancelled and get our money back since we really needed the money. He got a hold of them and they confirm that we could fight we them and transit from Singapour and that they’ll put a refund request and that someone will call us back to get the request and refund back.
So we looked again for another flight. And this is when we realise that all transit hub that airlines use when flights from and to New Zealand were close to transits or close altogether and that basically there was no way home…
So we start calling our embassies. We first called the UK embassy that turned out to be closed because of the lockdown. Then we called the Foreign affairs office in London and we explain that we were Permanent resident in the UK to which re respondent that since we are not British citizens we are not their problems.
Then I called the French embassy where they told me that there was nothing they could do form me and to just find a place to spend the next 4 weeks and sit tight… They also told that even if we arrange repatriation flight my partner couldn’t come with me because he has a Greek and not French passport. So useless…
Then we called the Greek consulate which was actually the only person that when our of his way to help us. He said that he was talking with the German embassy to try to arrange some fights but again unfortunately only my partner would be allowed to get in one of those flight (if they managed to get repatriation flights) because I had a French passport and not a Greek one…
At this point, there was nothing else we could do but go to sleep ad hope for the best.
Day 16 started in a panic mode. We woke up to a message from the hotel telling us that they will be closing on the 25 and that we’ll have to leave by then (our flight to Auckland was on the 26). My partner ran to the reception then to explain that we had our fight on the 26 and if something could be done. Thankfully the manager/owner was amazing and told us that it’s ok if we stay one more day but when we leave we’ll have to throughout towel in the bin because they can come back to clean the place. That was a relief.
But…At this point, I also discover that on the night of the 25 the lockdown we’ll go into lever 4 which mean that not travel whatsoever would be allowed. So I called Air New Zealand to asked them if we will be allowed to fly on the 26 to go to Auckland and they said probably no. So I ask to change our flight to the 25 but obviously, there were no available flights. However, they told me to keep checking their site as they’ll try to add more flight and seat to allow people to flight back home. So I spent the rest of my morning refreshing the search flight on their site until an available flight appeared! I rush to book it but when I got to the payment I was told that the seat was not available anymore. So I keep refreshing until a second flight was made available and this time I got it!
So now we had a way to Auckland to be close to the airport that could take us home but that was about it. Until the Greek Consulate sent us an email which a message from Qatar saying that they’ll keep operating to try to get people back home and a link to their site to look for fights. The first fight (within a reasonable price) was on the 10th of April and we booked it.
So now we have a way to Auckland and a way home even if it’s two weeks from our original return date. At least it looked like we didn’t have to stay at least 4 weeks locked in New Zealand. Since we had a return date we also looked for AirBnBs that were still willing to rent which at this point, was also a difficult task since so many tourists were returning to Auckland but also it would be illegal to move places and people didn’t want to risk renting their properties. But we found a tiny studio in the centre of Auckland that would to the job for the next two weeks…
Day 17 was the day we fight to Auckland. So here is the most crucial part of this story. We woke up in the morning and we both had a voice mail from Air Singapour telling us that they were calling us to cancel the fight and do the refund. But because we were exhausted we had both put our phones to not disturb which mean we never heard or picked up the phone. Since were where in a hurry to get ready and get to the airport we said that we will call them and deal with that later.
We arrived at Queenstown airport gave our luggage and boarded the plane. It was a relief, to be honest. We arrived in Auckland we took the bus and arrived at our place. We then when to do some shopping and prepared ourself to be stuck there for at least another two weeks. To be honest we were in a much better situation than many other people that were caught in the lockdown. There was a what’s group that I had joined about British Standard in New Zealand and some people didn’t have were to stay and how to get to Auckland. It was scary to see that.
During the day I received an email from the UK embassy (I had registered to a list for British stranded in New Zealand. Yes, I didn’t have a UK passport but I’m still a permanent resident that pay taxes the bare minimum they can do is to send me new about what us happening). The email stated that they were trying to negotiate a ONE-OFF flight with Singapore. Now, remember how we didn’t pick up the phone when they called to cancel? That meant that we still had a Singapour ticket.
So I called Air Singapour to ask them if they knew anything about it. They told me that they weren’t aware of anything like that and that I wasn’t allowed to transit from Singapour and that I should cancel our tickets. I told them to NOT cancel it and that I’ll call them the day before if indeed they rumours were not true.
During those two days nothing much happened. I kept an eye on the new and the chat and twitter but nothing new came up. There were a lot of talks about this one-off fight with Singapour but no one knew what was happening exactly.
Here some photo of Auckland from the only day we were brave enough to go out to get some air.
Day 20 was the day hope came alive. I woke up to an email from Singapour telling me that the details of my flight had changed. What had changed? The initial Auckland -Singapour fight was being operated by Air New Zealand while the Singapour-London was being operated by Singapour Air Line. Now both parts were operated by Singapour Airline and the departure was one hour later. Hope!
I then saw on Twitter that one lady had had a call from Singapour to tell her she had a place on the one-off Singapour fight. Many people including me asked her what was the fight number. And lo and behold the fight number is the same as our tickets!
At this point, we are over the moon! At this point, we call Air New Zealand to double-check and they tell us they have no idea what we are talking about and that we should cancel and ask for a refund. To which I answer “do you dare touch this booking!”
We then call Air Singapour and they tell as exactly the same thing and I told them no to change the booking and also that we can’t find out booking using their app. So they looked and find our booking and basically created a new booking that could be used on there app. And it worked. I could see my booking and they fight number and everything. I again ask them not to cancel and that I’ll see the next morning if indeed we can fight or not.
At this point, we packed our stuff and try to find a taxi company that still operates which wasn’t easy. I was generally looking at how long it would take us to walk to the airport if we couldn’t find a taxi. Just for reference, it said it would be around 4,5 hours… But we did found a company that was still operating thank goodness!
The taxi came in the morning to pick us up. We had made sure that we will get very early at the airport to be able to handle any unexpected event. We did a detour to let the key for the Airbnb and we were on our way to the airport.
We stood in line for the Singapour counter and through the wait, I was feeling so stressed! But everything was fine! Our booking and tickets were valid and this was the one-off fight that will stop to Singapour to refuel (no one was allowed to get off the plan but the Sigpourian passages) and then will fight to London.
So we sat 26 hours on the plane and I never felt so lucky in my life! They only reason why we were on this flight, was because we had our phones on “Do not disturb” and we never picked up the phone to cancel! I truly believe that we had more chance to win the lottery than getting onto the flight.
So this post marks the end of the retelling of my dream travel to New Zealand. Even though we lost 1/3 of our planned trip I’m still so grateful that I got to travel there. It is an amazing country with amazing people and it’s worth the 24+ hours fights to visit it!
Now that we are back both my partner and I decided that we have unfinished business with New Zealand and we are planning to go back around Christmas 2021 to finish what we started!
I hope you enjoyed this blog and that you’ll stick around for part 2 in the future!