This week the travel world is blogging about New Zealand, as a way to promote tourism in the wake of February’s earthquake in Christchurch. Although my own trip was to Auckland on the North Island, not Christchurch on the South, I still wanted to participate. I’ve spent the past few days thinking about where I visited and what to write, but what keeps coming to mind isn’t the sites I saw – it’s the people I met. I know it’s a generalization to say an entire city or country is full of nice people, but from what I experienced, New Zealand is completely worthy of that generalization.
I wasn’t able to spend nearly as much time in New Zealand as I would have liked to. I was only there on a three-day stopover in 2005 while en route to a friend’s wedding in Sydney, so my sightseeing was limited to local Auckland sites. Yet, despite the short stay, it was enough time to realize that New Zealand is one of the loveliest places on earth – and not just because of the scenery. Sure, it’s known for its beautiful geography, and I saw some of it in the Auckland area while I was there, like KiteKite Falls, Piha beach, and the ancient Lion Rock formation. But what really sticks in my memory, years after my trip, is how nicely I was treated by the people.
Niceness at 10,000 kilometres away
My first taste of it came even before I had landed in New Zealand.
My video camera was stolen at LAX, as I was waiting for my flight to Auckland. Admittedly it was my own fault. I had grabbed a late dinner at one of the airport restaurants, where I stupidly forgot my camera bag beneath the table (in my defence, I was still nursing a hangover from my previous night in Los Angeles, so my brain wasn’t functioning at full capacity). When I returned shortly afterward with the frantic realization of what I had done, the restaurant was closed and I could see through the window that my bag was gone. I had hoped (in my eternal naivety that people are inherently good) that someone had seen it and turned it into a lost-and-found department, so I set off to find someone within the giant expanse that is LAX Departures who could help me.
Sure, I found an info desk, but the girl said she couldn’t help, and I found an info line to call, but no one answered. I found lots of people who I tried to ask, but who then also looked at me like I was an idiot. (And yes, maybe I was an idiot for not only losing my camera, but also thinking someone might have returned it.) Not a single person could tell me if it had been turned in or even if there was a lost-and-found in the first place.
Defeated, I slinked back to my departure gate, where the Air Zealand staff kindly asked me why I seemed so distraught.
And then, it was like kindness rained down on me. The staff began discussing amongst one another how to find my camera. They began making phone calls on my behalf to different LAX departments. They told me I should sit and wait while they did the hunting for me. I’ve never experienced such caring customer service in all my life, especially given that they were helping me with a problem that had nothing to do with their airline.
In the end, I didn’t find my camera (somewhere, someone has raw footage of me touring Beverly Hills and Hollywood), but the Air New Zealand staff made it feel okay.
Home is where you’re allowed to use the phone
A long flight later, I settled into my Auckland hotel and tried – unsuccesfully – to use a calling card I had bought back in North America. I wanted to phone my mother and let her know I had landed safely (to this day, my mother makes me call every time I touch down in a new country). The card seemed to be useless, so I ventured down to the front desk, where I asked the clerk for help. Without so much as a pause, she told me to come back into her office with her, sat me down, handed me a phone, and told me to call home.
“But it’s to Canada,” I said.
“How much should I pay you for this?” I asked, thinking of the outrageous long-distance fees hotels back home charge.
She shook her head, told me to chat as long as I wanted, and ducked out of the room.
I practically swooned from her kindness. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Just good customer service, some might say. But at the time, for a jetlagged girl who had just flown around the world, who had just lost her camera loaded with memories, and who just wanted to call home, it was comfort.
Over the years and throughout my travels, I’ve flown a lot of airlines and stayed in a lot of hotels. And many of them have been wonderful, of course. But few have charmed me the way New Zealand’s did.