Beginners guides

How to get to New Zealand

I’m going to enjoy writing this one. It’s a story I have told to so many people I can’t even count. I have yet to tell it to someone without getting a little teary at the end of the telling. You’ll know I am from New Zealand, if you’ve had a look about my blog you’ll know I don’t live there so I have to travel across the world to go home.

Many people, well all the people, I meet want to know about New Zealand. They all say they would love to visit. Many are just being polite but some actually would like to go. They also all say that they would visit if it wasn’t so far. From England it is very far indeed, go any further and you are coming home again. All the English people who head ‘down under’ go to Australia. This is the wrong place to go because New Zealand is better. I’ll leave it at that as you can choose for yourself which destination you prefer. A beautiful and safe country full of amazing sights you can drive about in easily. or a massive desert with some trees on the east coast, full of aggressive and deadly creatures and flies. You decide.

Let’s assume you would go to New Zealand if it wasn’t for the length of the flight. Go! This is how to go about it.

I’m also assuming you are going spring/summer in NZ as it’s the best time to go, this is my story so I get to decide when is best.

If you have money, pay for the front seats, even if you have to stretch the budget.


First things first. You fly Air New Zealand. Do not make the mistake of choosing the cheapest fare as that will be the worst money you will ever save. Air New Zealand has the only direct flight to New Zealand from London. Amazingly there is no British Airways direct flight to NZ. It’s a code share with Qantas most likely. So you will either end up on a BA 747 with the smallest seat pitch in long haul travel or on a giant Qantas Airbus, which also has tiny seats. Whichever, the aeroplane is also headed for Australia first. It’s the wrong plane to be on.

There are two direct flights to New Zealand on Air NZ. By direct I mean they of course have to stop for petrol. One via Hong Kong and one via Los Angeles. There are other Air NZ flights in the direction of New Zealand but you want the direct one on the route via Los Angeles. The Plane is called NZ1. It’s best name for a flight.

You walk on to NZ1 at Heathrow. You feel like the holiday has started when you get on the plane. You are surrounded by people traversing the globe to go home or to have a ‘life’s biggest adventure’. The Auckland bound NZ1 via LA leaves at a very civilised mid afternoon every day.

Get an iPod or MP3 player and load 12 hours of your favourite tunes, carry a portable charger.

The big decision and choice making process is the seating. This is the most important thing about the flight. Get it wrong and you are sitting next to a fat person who smells of garlic and sweat for what will feel like eternity. Get it right the journey is long, but you’ll survive.

If you haven’t been able to afford the good seats at the front of the plane, your first choice seats, if you can, are the side seats near the back of the plane. You could try and ask for the exit row seats but these are like gold dust. Also there is always a cool breeze about your feet there. Back to the side seats at the back of the plane. These are two abreast where the plane narrows rather than three. You have extra space and no third person smelling of sweat and garlic, Book the seats furthest forward from the loo. If you can’t get these and are travelling in a pair. Book the two seats together at the aisle of the four abreast row in the centre of the plane. So you don’t have a stranger climbing over you during the flight which you will have if you have two of the three seats near the windows. That fat person smelling of sweat and garlic will either be between you and the aisle, or will have to climb over you to get out. Neither is pleasant and the journey is long.

Once in the air you fly north towards Iceland and Greenland. You can see the amazing icebergs out the window. You approach North America from Canada across Hudson Bay, then over the mid USA. Have frequent looks out the exit seat window or your own window, there is a lot to look at and don’t try and sleep on the first leg. You come in low over Los Angeles, you get a good look at it. The flight lands late afternoon if you go peak or shoulder season as I mentioned earlier about spring or summer. You go downstairs and do the customs thing where the Americans will ask you about the purpose of your visit to their country. Do not make any sarcastic comments or jokes as the American customs people do not have a sense of humour and would very much like to put you in prison for landing in America. At least this is the impression I have always had from them. After that formality you get sent back up to a transit lounge. Stretch your legs, charge the iPod. An hour later you are back in your own seat, for the long flight in to New Zealand.

If you are an American reading this, this is where you catch the AirNZ flight to New Zealand. I’d be surprised if there is another flight from USA to New Zealand actually, given that so few Americans are aware of New Zealand’s existence. When you get on the plane don’t pull faces at all the tired people who have already done half the journey. Please learn the expression ‘silence is golden’. I know it’s an alien concept to the generally talkative and friendly Americans, but this is the perfect time to learn and embrace it, please.

There is nothing now to see all the way to New Zealand. The plane takes off on a very flat trajectory from Los Angeles, over the beaches and into the void, at dusk. It’s an amazing feeling taking off so flat after the sharp climb from Heathrow. This is where you zone out. Whatever relaxes you, music, meditate, yoga, trance, whatever. Take no stimulation, shut your eyes, It’s now 12 hours to New Zealand in the dark, over the Pacific Ocean.

You will be woken about 3 hours out from NZ. Out the window the world is becoming light. You see black below, a line of orange on top of it and dark blue above. Get to the loo and freshen up. Have a breakfast. You’ll be surprised how quickly it gets light as you approach New Zealand. When you arrive above New Zealand waters, the blue is incredible. Once you cross the coast you are quite low, coming in to Auckland from the north. You will be amazed how much water you can see. The light is brighter than you are used to. You are now about to enjoy one of the world’s greatest arrivals. For Kiwi’s, it’s home.

That is where I get emotional in the telling.

For the visitor, it’s the end of the longest plane ride you can take. You had lost the will to live during the night but the excitement of what you can see out the window evaporates this.

When you leave the plane you will be surprised by two things. The smallness of the Airport and the starkness of the light. Take high quality sunglasses because the light and shadows in New Zealand are like nowhere else on earth.

You may also be surprised by the first people you meet, customs and immigration, they are different to the last ones you met in LA. On my last visit, the customs bloke looked at my passport, looked at me and said “you’ve been away a long time mate, welcome home”. I don’t think you’d get that anywhere else in the world

When you leave the airport you will now be surprised by how low rise everything is and how clean the air is, by how tidy the place is. The starkness of the light will still have you squinting. It’s about 7.30am in Auckland and you will not feel any jet lag, that kicks in when you get back home. So the long haul flight to New Zealand is all about the seat choice. Get the right seat and the journey is long but you’ll survive intact. Get the wrong seat, it’s the longest trip in the world and it feels like it. Simple

There is no better journey to take though. If you are on the fence because of the length of the flight, it’s long alright but what you get at the end of it is amazing. It’s worth it, Go.

Air New Zealand were also pretty good to me when I needed them most

Air NZ customer service experience

This is not a paid promotion of Air New Zealand. It’s just my own personal experience.

Finally, if you are going to go all that way, you’ll want to know what to do when you get there. I’ve covered that as well

A quick trip down New Zealand

NB. If you enjoy my blogs or even if you don’t, please take the time to give some feedback or comments. Signing in only takes a moment and you get asked for an email address but that’s just to weed out spammers of which blogs get loads. No-one can see your email address but me. You aren’t registering for anything but to make a comment or two on wordpress, so go on, have your say on what I’ve said! Thanks!

9 replies »

  1. The bit about USA customs made me laugh, a trip to NY my friend was very sarcastic in her response to the purpose of her visit, I thought they were going to lock her up! so good advice Sandy. I follow @christaylor on twitter who is a fellow NZ he posts the most amazing photo’s of your homeland.

  2. Its quite bizarre that you chose to write this now Sandy. Hubby and I have spent a week gathering quotes for flying to NZ in January. Your piece is quite appropriate. You are absolutely right about the US Customs, I dare not even say good morning to them!! Loved the bit about landing and you getting emotional, there is NO place like home. Perhaps you will return one day? Anyway, have always flown economy, longest flight I have done is LA about 13 hours, not pleasant but bearable. However, with a 28 hour flight in mind I have put my foot down and insisted that we fly business class. I do not enjoy perfect health and I simply have to be in a bed. Its not about being snobbish, I dont care about the food, or movies, etc I just want to be able to lay down. The idea of spending that amount of time upright, terrifies me. Apart from that, I am soooo excited about the trip, my husbands son and his family live in Auckland but we intend to drive around. Thanks so much for this piece I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  3. Flying in the good seats to NZ makes a world of difference Sheila. You’ll have an amazing time, NZ is all about the driving around. New Zealand is about what you see out the windscreen on the move. I’m happy to give you the works on things to see. You can get me on my FB page for more info.

  4. Interesting to read your opinion about Air NZ. Having just had 😦 on British Airways, Air NZ sounds OK. I’m afraid we always choose Business on long haul, although not all Business is the same.

    A trip to NZ is on the cards….


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