New Zealand was my first big, international birding expedition. I was working as a contractor at the time, and had lined up a long-term contract to begin in January. I had already decided to go somewhere between Christmas and New Year, and as December grew closer, and as I was running out of work to do, I decided to leave a little early and go somewhere exotic for three full weeks.
The question was: where to go? Preferably, it would be warm in December. It would have to be somewhere I (as a single woman) felt safe driving around alone. Several people had recommended New Zealand to me, and the biggest raves came from a guy who had even gone there by himself for a month.
New Zealand seemed the ideal destination. It was home to many unique (endemic) species, including the bizarre Kiwi, the Kakapo, a flightless, nocturnal parrot, and the Wrybill, the only bird whose beak is pointed horizontally to one side. I was aware of these birds because years before, I had a penpal in Christchurch, and she had once sent me a bird book as a present (bless her heart!!)
I approached a travel agency that specialized in travel to those places, and spoke with a travel agent who specialized in New Zealand. She suggested that I fly into Aukland, rent a car, and slowly make my way to Christchurch. That was what she had done, and had all sorts of pictures of all the neat places along the way. She didn't mention birds, but I took it for granted that there would be lots of them.
I flew to LAX, then had a three hour layover for the Aukland flight. During the fourteen hour flight, we stopped in Tahiti at around 3am. I'm not sure what Tahiti is like, but based on my one hour at the airport, it smells wonderful! Stepping off the plane, I was hit with a blast of tropical fragrance so powerful, I couldn't even smell the jet fuel.