It’s time for us to return to Australia. We have to live in Australia for most of the year for tax purposes, and so we caught a flight from Auckland today and landed in Brisbane this evening.

This time, we left our truck closer to Auckland on a friend’s property. Another friend drove our family to the airport in our van — thanks, Jim! Being so close to Auckland means that getting to and from the airport isn’t such an ordeal.

Truck parked in the woods near Matakana, June 2012
Through the tall trees, a flash of white shows where our truck is living for a couple months.

I didn’t really start packing until this morning as we didn’t have to leave for the airport until noon. On this return to Australia, we’re taking a lot of extra luggage with us. Basically it’s excess baggage that we’ve been hauling about the countryside — clothes, books and toys.

When we return to New Zealand later this year, my resolution is that it’ll be without any books and toys. We just don’t need to bring them along with us — our Kindles and the internet provide us with enough to read, and our children manage to acquire a modest amount of toys along the way.

And as we travel more often, we get better at it. We’re at the airport earlier and check in as soon as possible. We buy fresh juices for our children and visit all the toilets in the complex. We play in the corridors, ride the escalators and watch the planes. Then we skip to the toilets again.

Children's area at Auckland airport, June 2012
Although we've been through this airport before, this is the first time our kids have explored the children's area. Accessible to passengers and the public, it's tucked away behind the food outlets on Level 2 and convenient to the toilets.

At the check-in desk, we had a nice encounter with Susie who oh-so-firmly kicked me off the plane last August, and she got to meet Elijah who was just a bump in my tummy at the time. Relationships and positive interactions with all the staff make our journeys pleasant, and it’s nice to be recognised and remembered instead of just another statistic on a busy day.

As we were going through the standard security checks and having our bags x-rayed, I remembered times when I was travelling internationally with my family in the 1980s to and from West Africa. African airports were so rudimentary that the onus for the security rested on the airline.

As a result, the cabin crew would be the ones looking through our bags for concealed weapons. We would line up in front of the captain and his first mate and slide our hand luggage along the table in front of them. They would paw through our personal belongings — usually the heaviest items we were bringing along were stowed in our backpacks. Every checked suitcase would be secured with a padlock, but this measure didn’t prevent items from disappearing. Upon arriving at the other end, it could take hours for our baggage to arrive upon the carousel, and one never could predict the condition of the suitcases.

I remember when David and I first arrived at Abidjan airport in November 1997, we waited at least an hour for our bags at the single carousel in the arrivals hall. Although we could see our bags sitting on a trolley on the tarmac, the staff sat in the shadow of the terminal eaves and enjoyed a tea break, oblivious to the tired travellers who were waiting for them to get back to work.

Finally fed up, I climbed through the dangling plastic strips at the end of the carousel and crossed the bitumen onto the runway. Several men started running after me, yelling that I was in a prohibited area. Ignoring their protests, I grabbed David’s and my duffel bags off the trolley and turned around to head back to the terminal. I shouldered my way past the staff who were now starting the manoeuvre the trolley towards the building, insisting on carrying the bags myself.

Looking up, I saw a line of other passengers who had followed my lead and were climbing through the carousel window onto the tarmac to retrieve their bags from the cart too. Finally reaching the building, I threw my bags onto the plastic conveyor belt and climbed in before handing a bag to a very startled David. I guess he hadn’t expected that as an introduction to Africa!

Our airport experiences today seem quite tame in comparison, especially as we didn’t find ourselves in the middle of a dancing flash mob like last year. So we like to spice things up by seeing if we can get away with radical measures like staying barefoot! On our way to New Zealand in March, Calista was told to don shoes before she boarded the aircraft. Why? I have no idea.

Barefoot children at the airport, June 2012
Although I kept two sets of shoes in our carry-on luggage, both Aisha and Calista were allowed on the plane without shoes. Neither wanted to wear them, and unless the airline insisted, I wasn't going to make an issue of it.

Getting home was a breeze. At Brisbane airport we caught the train to our station, and a minivan taxi was conveniently waiting in line for us. A review of the bill ($60 for the train and $12 for the taxi) make us think that a taxi directly to the airport (about $80) will be the best option for us next time.

And so we have arrived in our shed home after an uneventful international flight — with two girls still barefoot. It’s good to be back in Brisbane, it’s good to be home … for just a little while, at least!