When I was a young girl, I would accompany my parents to Bulawayo Airport in Zimbabwe once a year. The reason was to say goodbye to my grandparents as they left for their annual holiday in Durban, South Africa. I loved the airport and was desperate to fly somewhere myself. As we stood on the viewing deck, I would imagine what the planes looked like inside; what secrets were hidden behind their small windows. We were privileged enough to have an annual holiday ourselves but always travelled by train or car.
When I started work, I had one goal in mind. To save enough money so I could fly to Durban myself. It took me a mere four months and my family came with me. The anticipation as the plane roared down the runway was immense ... and then we were in the air. I knew straight away that it was the start of a lifelong passion.
Over the years, I flew whenever I had a chance but it was only after moving to New Zealand that my travel genes activated fully. Here I was in a beautiful country with such diverse scenery ... and no hijackers or murderers lurking in the background. Psalm 37:4 comes to mind: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. I soon found part-time work as a mystery shopper and as I worked my way up, the opportunities increased. For two years I flew around New Zealand for free in exchange for assessing the service and standards on the aircraft. By the time the airline pulled out of the NZ domestic market, I had learnt how to travel for next to nothing. The company I work for pays me a travel allowance and sends me out every month to small towns and villages around NZ. How I get there is up to me. So I drive, relocate free rental cars that often come with a free tank of petrol, ride buses, trains and ferries, and of course I fly.
On average, I fly to four destinations a month and I treasure those moments. Many flights only cost me $1 and the longer they are the better. 90% of the time I get a row to myself and the aeroplane then becomes my office. I open my tray table, spread out my writing and get to work. Many of my best stories have been written in the skies as there are no distractions, a fantastic view ... and I get waited on hand and foot ... what more could you ask for?
Travelling around New Zealand has become a lifestyle and I love it. It has enriched my life and the people I’ve met along the way are inspiring, interesting and quirky. I think in particular of these:
• The lady I chatted to at Papakura Station near Auckland. She struggled with learning problems as a child and became a teacher aid so she could help children with similar needs. When I met her, she was doing a year course to qualify her further to work with these children. She said that academically she was finding it a struggle, but had passed all her tests and was so excited about her future.
• The man on a train to Porirua near Wellington who was obsessed with the rail system and had incredible knowledge about it. (I suspect he may have had Asperger’s syndrome) He spent the whole journey chatting to the conductor about the trains, routes, drivers and technical aspects of driving. The conductor interacted so well with him and showed interest and respect rather than impatience and irritation.
• The young man who did not look wealthy but dropped a $20 note into a homeless man’s hat in Wellington central.
• The farmer I sat next to on a flight to Invercargill. It turned out he had visited Zimbabwe and South Africa and was so interested in my background. At the end of the flight, he gave me his card and invited me to bring my family to visit his sheep farm for a guided tour.
• The flight attendant on Air New Zealand who showed such compassion when I almost fainted before take-off. (One of the most embarrassing experiences of my life!)
As I write this, I’m sitting in Hamilton about to go and start work. Two days ago I was in New Plymouth and next week I fly to Queenstown and Wellington. I picked up some more cheap flights last week. One set was to visit Palmerston North. It’s approximately 80 minutes flying time from Christchurch and I have just three hours in the city. My family say, “Why would you do that?” My response is, “Why would you not do that?”