Becketwood Cooperative
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Foreign Travel Without a Passport

Foreign travel without a passport or how not to start a vacation

Dorothy Johnson, Becketwood Member

Friday evening: D Day is Sunday and it’s time to take stock. Clothes are partially packed, Radio gear is ready. Everything is set – international driver’s license, airplane tickets, passports. Passports?!?  Impossible, they can’t be… ah, but they are safe. Safe in the safe deposit box at the bank.

Friday night, 11 PM: A quick call to the V.P. of Central Northwestern National Bank to confirm what I was afraid of – time lock and no possible way to get to the passports until Monday morning. But on Saturday morning we can call Air New Zealand and fly one day later. And so to sleep – well, try to sleep

Saturday: Air New Zealand reports that the next available space to New Zealand is in two weeks. We will forfeit 25% of the Apex fare already paid, and pay full fare on a rescheduled flight. Passports must be presented before boarding the airplane. Have you ever tried to contact a state official on a Saturday? Senator, Governor, Mayor, Representative, Vice President – no answer. Even the newspaper and TV offices don’t have access to a number that gets answered.

Sunday: Finally, a dedicated Durenburger aide, Bob Martinka, answers the phone at the Washington office. Thanks to his efforts and the New Zealand ambassador, we are cleared to travel without passports. Special thanks to Sam at Central N.W. Bank. He came to our house while we were waiting for word from Washington, picked up our safe deposit keys and written authorization to enter the box and remove the passports.

Monday: Sam takes the passports out to the airport and turns them over to the pilot at Norwest Orient Airlines. The passports arrive in New Zealand 24 hours after our arrival. When we land in Auckland and are going through customs the agents laugh and pass us through right away. “We heard all about you.”

Monday night: You might think that after a start like that, nothing else could go wrong. Don’t bet on it. First night out after arrival of passports Cliff unloads the luggage at the motel, then goes into the office to order breakfast for the next day. I close car windows and lock the car. Of course, Cliff would never leave the keys in the car. You guessed it. The keys are still in the ignition!  Small town, no Toyota dealer (rented car), no locksmith.

Tuesday morning: The local gas station mechanic comes over to the motel. After 45 minutes Millie (the better half of the couple we were traveling with) suggests attaching a fish hook to a wire. It caught the lock button  and pulled it up. Total cost – one silver dollar and a thank you.

The people of New Zealand are delightful. They seemed genuinely glad to meet American tourists. They went out of their way to see that we enjoyed our time there. We did have an advantage with the amateur radio. We visited with ham operators in almost every town where we spent a night. The locals entertained us in their homes, drove us to see the local sights, helped us locate motels, helped repair the radio, fed us and in general endeared themselves to us by their sense of humor and generous personalities.

New Zealand is two islands approximately 1,000 miles long and 250 to 300 miles wide. We drove 2,958 miles and saw incomparable scenery. In that small area there are mountains, volcanos, glaciers, fjords, desert, thermal area, forests, beaches, lakes and rolling green hills framed by hedgerows of bush, stone and trees. The air is crystal clear and the colors are vibrant. Lakes and streams are so clear you can see to great depths.

Dairy farms and sheep seem to be the main industry. The grass grows so fast that sheep and cattle can graze in the same fields. Dairy products abound. Milk is delivered like the newspaper. The milk wagon pulls up in the neighborhood, young boys load up their push carts and deliver the milk. Even in the country there are bottles of milk sitting at road intersections. Roadside stands with fresh produce are along the roads.

Driving on the wrong side of the road soon didn’t seem too strange. The Auto Association installed and maintained all road signs, including city street signs. Most of the highways were paved. Most of the bridges on the South Island are single lane. Only once did we have to wait for oncoming traffic. Motels were excellent and reasonably priced. We rented furnished units with kitchens. We fixed our own breakfast, packed a lunch in the “Chilly Bin” cooler  and ate dinner at a restaurant. In general the food was excellent, inexpensive and served by cheerful wait staff. No tipping in New Zealand.

New Zealand was without a doubt the greatest vacation I ever had. We visited three more times – with passports in hand. We were able to reciprocate the hospitality four times with three different sets of New Zealanders visiting us. This adventure was thirty-two years ago. Traveling without passports would be impossible today. We would never have been allowed to board the plane.

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  • John Teisberg February 5, 2013, 6:13 pm

    Great story and it makes us want to visit New Zealand.