And so to Napier. Napier is famous for having been totally destroyed in an earthquake in 1931, the city was then rebuilt entirely in the Art Deco style and is lovely to behold, perched on the edge of the rolling pacific, nestled between hills (most of NZ is).
My flight in a SAAB 340 was an early bugger; 06:25 check-in and take off at 06:55. I left at early o’ clock to avoid the congestion caused by the road works in Whangaparaoa and the other congestion caused by Auckland being Auckland in the rush hour.
My routine for these sort of trips is always the same, pack everything and leave my clothes in the right order so I can dress without actually waking up or switching on the light and incurring the wrath of Mrs W who regards my work to be Satan’s plan to prevent me being her butler and bringing her breakfast in bed, even at 04:45!!
Auckland wasn’t quite deserted as taxi drivers never sleep, they have a secret wire that leads from the car’s alternator to their brains so they can remain stimulated without having to buy coffee and with NZ 1 imminent the herds of Ford Fairlanes were osmosing out to Mangere ready for a hard day of getting lost and carving up the boy-racers.
I parked in my usual spot and as luck would have it, there were trollies on the upper deck!! Yay!
I checked in and demanded a window seat with a petulant toss of my head and a sensitively arched eyebrow, in a 340 this gets you some elbow room as they are 1-2 across, or to be more accurate ¾ - 1 ½ and I am not small.
Breakfast was the usual Bacon & Egg Muffin (not, I hasten to add a “Mc” muffin, Mc Donald’s exists outside any known food groups, except of course for whatever microbes eat sawdust) and a cup of Earl Grey.
I have a few rituals, Mrs W claims this is evidence of me being OCD but apart from always using the same parking spot, always having a window seat, always sitting as near the tail as possible, always using the loo before going to departure, never throwing my flight tags away anywhere other than in my office bin (either at home or in WLG), always using the same suitcase, invariably travelling in cross-trainers, (so I can lead everyone to safety if we have a forced landing) and never wearing my suit to fly in, I reckon I am pretty normal and chilled about the F-word.
The 8421 was called, I emerged into the corrugated iron rat run that leads to the SAAB gates.
After fighting down a sudden urge to turn on my heel and go home I mastered the fear and followed the signs for gate 36.
Which meant I very nearly ended up in New Plymouth by boarding at gate 36 instead of 46. Hmmm, an early morning bout of muppet overdrive. I thought the a/c looked a bit quiet with no-one to do smiling as I trekked along the blue lines, the FA looked a bit surprised but was very kind to me.
We took off and I missed one of my other rituals which involves looking to see if the 744 ZK-NBU is at the International Terminal as I was too busy trying to find pages 30 – 37 in the in-flight magazine and I felt cheated to note that someone had nicked them, the pages were an article on Canal holidays in the UK, I was most disappointed as I thought it said “Carnal Holidays”…bugger!
We scrambled aloft and I realised that this would be my first flight since I started uploading trip reports onto a.net and I started hoping that this flight would be too dull to write about as most of my reports involve dodgy NZ landings or random nutters, one doesn’t want to talk things up you know.
The FA seemed a trifle surly (be kind, she must have been up since 4am), she wandered up with the coffee pot and bellowed “COFFEE?” I woke up with a start and wondered at her forthright approach but noted she was wearing ear plugs and was clearly suffering from “Speaking with headphones on” syndrome, so I forgave her.
Outside it was all very early and cloudy, I caught glimpses of sodden looking farmland and what looked like an old railway line heading to the middle of nowhere, I felt sorry for the people in the Bay of Plenty who had been trying to stop their houses floating away for the past 24 hours.
The sun rose and bathed the sky with golden light.
I felt like a poet must feel in those snatches of life when everything seems totally groovy for once and you are sure that an epiphany is occurring and one shall retain this beatific state forever, smiling benignly at the poor, flitting through life on a surge of dopamine…hmmm, no wonder poets tend to be Absinthe addled, syphilitic and suicidal.
The big clouds on the eastern horizon soon doused the sun and all hopes of an epiphany were swathed in damp looking clouds, I observed how the flat light on a grim day makes the metal outside look a bit old and manky, like a rotting oxygen cylinder on the South Col of Everest.
Inside the a/c a large man in front of me just wouldn’t keep still, he was bigger than me and I think the seat had become lodged up his arse as he was gyrating around in a peculiar way as if something was not detaching itself, he nearly spilt my coffee a few times but I was far too bleary to care, I tried to take some pics but it appears the Hormones (Teenage daughter) had pinched one of the batteries for her tamagotchi.
All the pics here were taken on the return journey..
I returned to my disjointed musings and felt us start the descent.
The Captain spoke:
“Hi everybody Captain Acton Parsifal here (not his real name), we are now on our descent to Napier, I have put the seatbelt sign on (ping) as we are liable to experience CAT on the descent path.”
We soon descend into a total whiteout and the promised CAT didn’t materialise, I sighted a large plateau through a gap in the clouds, it had bush growing up the sides, I was expecting to see dinosaurs and the lovely Tea Leonie running for her life from Jurassic Park but it all went white again.
El Capitan then gave us the hard word.
“Good morning again, we are now commencing our approach to Napier, due to low cloud this will be an instrument approach, conditions on the ground at Napier, again due to low cloud, are very poor, if we miss our approach we will have to go around and try again so don’t be alarmed if you hear the engines come back up, we have enough fuel for three attempts and if we don’t get it third time we will divert to Palmerston North which is wide open, sorry for any inconvenience this may cause…”
Bugger, that would mean grabbing a hire car and driving to Napier which would make me 5 hours late for my first meeting (if I didn’t get stopped for speeding), hmmmm, not good even on Island Time.
I started to feel a bit vulnerable, I do like flying but when things are less than 100% I do get a bit jittery and start wanting to be somewhere really boring and beige for once.
We dived into what I felt was the valley beside the plateau and I tried to forget the menacing cliffs I had seen, we couldn’t see the ground, UP, DOWN and SIDEWAYS were merely concepts for several minutes and a couple of hard banking turns until we emerged from the cloud about twelve feet above the sea……..shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!!!!
I have been further from the water in a friggin’ Kayak!! We continued what were undoubtedly sound tactics in a Spitfire in 1942 but this was the Hawkes Bay in 2005 I’ll have you know Mr Pilot.
Even at this height the sea was slightly obscured by wispy fog and the swell had that oily sluggish look to it that is used to such good effect as a portent of imminent disaster in bad movies.
We stormed low over the beach, visibility was still shite and fortunately there was no-one casting a rod or we may have ended our days in a tangled mass of nylon line and dangly squiddy bits.
Through the murk between me and the planet I glimpsed a marsh of the sort that would swallow a 744 and still gloop back into shape seconds later, the grass was red (not uncommon in NZ), there were lichen covered fence posts and then……. a glimpse of red lights, a flash of tarmac and we were over the runway, facing the right direction, almost in the middle but a trifle high, I held my breath, my phone, my bollocks and my Air NZ biscuit, we started to lose height with more vigour, the terminal buildings came and went, then a big splashy thud and we were down, the props went to full………..whatever they go to at moments like this (don’t you just love the noise they make as the prop pitch changes, delicious and fruity)…… Captain Parsifal stamped on the brakes like his life depended on it (it did actually)……….. we came to a halt and as I uncrossed my fingers, prised my eyes open and felt the pain return to my nuts I saw the end of the runway…a mere fifty feet away!
I looked around, low cloud??? No shit, it was dragging its arse on the runway!!
Phew! Nice one God (and Capt Parsifal), thanks mate(s)! Cheers! ……beers on me if we ever meet!