Traveling while Black: Detained in New Zealand

New Zealand started off with a bang!

A few years ago, I met a lovely guy in Santorini who insisted I add New Zealand to my list of places to visit. He raved about the beauty, rolling hills, and majestic landscape. Told me how wonderful the people were. I should have gotten his contact information as it would have been handy.

As a solo female traveler, I finally made the long-haul to Oceania on my vacation to Bali, Australia, and New Zealand.

The trouble in paradise started well before my trip began with an earthquake devastating Christchurch. Therefore, crossing this town off my list this go round.

Delays on departure from Australia further added to what now felt like warning signs.

A friend met me for part of my trip even though he only had a few more days to spare. While I’m a solo traveler, I don’t mind having company on the road here and there. I never expected his short-stay would alert authorities in New Zealand and cause a downward spiral of events that cast a dark shadow over my travel journey in Auckland.

In Australia, the counter agent was not transparent about why my friend was not being issued the ticket he paid for months in advance. His sneaky behavior sparked my curiosity. After more than an hour of back and forth, and nearly missing the flight, my friend was given his airline ticket with some resistance and total lack of explanation.

New Zealand officials had authorized the Australian ticket agent to issue the ticket. They’d handle it upon arrival. And boy did they try it!

I had an uneasy feeling. I’m a sign person. We still trekked forward with some concern.

On arrival in New Zealand

Initially, I cleared customs in a flash and waited for my friend who was on a separate flight arriving a few minutes behind me. Upon arrival, he was immediately flagged and detained. They were waiting to interrogate him about his “business” in New Zealand.

Thinking this would be quick as we have nothing to hide, the ordeal turned into several hours. I sat patiently with our luggage. Oblivious as to what they were doing to him.

When they realized he’d left his luggage behind with me, it was my turn to join in on the action.

It wasn’t until I questioned what was going on and why it was taking so long that they provided any insight into the delay. Now, they want to review my passport too which they confiscated to fact-check his “story”.

We don’t look like drug smugglers. We don’t look like criminals. Even with our full itinerary of prepaid excursions, they treated us with suspicion. Asked about our financials and business in New Zealand for no other reason than being shades of black.

Visiting New Zealand for a short-stay? Forget about it!

Having every plan to make it to Middle Earth before nightfall was no longer an option.

Questions, Questions, and more Questions!

  • Why are you in New Zealand?
  • Why are you only here for a few days?
  • What do you do for a living? How long have you done that?
  • How much money is in your bank account?
  • Let me see proof of said bank account statements? (Yes, they asked him to log into his mobile banking to show account balances).
  • How much money are you carrying?
  • Where’d you get so much money from?
  • Why were you in Australia?
  • Who are you traveling with?
  • Why are you with her?
  • Are you two having sex?
  • Are you sure you aren’t intimate with her? Yes, seriously they asked.
  • How long have you known her?
  • Oh, where’d you go to high school?
  • How did you meet in school?
  • Oh, you’re sure about not having sex? Ever?
  • Well, why would you visit New Zealand for such a short time?
  • What’s in your bags? Where are those bags? (With me of course).
  • What did you do in Bali?
  • Where’d you stay in Bali?
  • How did you afford to stay there?
  • What did you say you did again?
  • What does she do?
  • Who organized the trip?

The list went on…

Three hours later

Kept my attitude in check even though I wanted to lose my cool. Voice my frustration over the racial profiling, detainment, and invasive questions. I didn’t want to hand over my passport for inspection. I cleared customs and was not under surveillance. It was my association with a 6’5” black male that resulted in my subsequent interrogation.

With an itinerary for New Zealand that spanned two weeks, the official was not at all ready for my cockiness and clear lack of interest for the shenanigans.

My friend needed to get back to work so planned to spend three more days with me in the country known for beautiful rolling hills, gorgeous creeks, and dreamland for backpackers and adventure travelers.

I was angry.

My friend locked away for hours in a small room. Practicing restraint while being picked at and spoken to in a condescending manner while onlookers watched behind a two-way mirror.

To the interviewers surprise, my answers to the absurd questions were nearly identical to my friend. He attempted to delve into our twenty-five year friendship. I wasn’t having it. And, I sure as hell wasn’t providing any access to my financial statements when he asked how I could afford to travel for so long.

My mood soured. Injustice and racial profiling has that effect. At this point, I didn’t care if I saw Auckland. Every answer from here on out laced with satirical and arrogant response. It didn’t matter if that meant immediately boarding another flight out of there. I quickly began to miss Australia. Wished I’d spent more time there instead.

As if we hadn’t endured enough, they also checked his name against the terror-watch list.

Middle Earth to the rescue!

Frodo wasn’t home. I got to check out his hobbit hole which was a joy.

The rolling green hills in Hobbitown are gorgeous, peaceful, and serene. It was fun to visit the movie set as a fan of the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit.

Walking around trails, popping in Hobbit holes, and looking at the miniature homes was priceless but not enough to make me forget the hassle on arrival.

I wanted to do more, see more, become one with nature while in New Zealand but tired. This was my fourth country in less than thirty days. And, cramming to accommodate my friend’s tight schedule left me short of exhausted.

Hobbitown was definitely the highlight of Auckland and the only positive experience.

Reflections

I won’t visit New Zealand again even though one day I planned to see Christchurch. While the landscape is beautiful, there was nothing remarkable. It felt familiar. We have beautiful rolling hills in the United States. Plus, too many people were prejudice and not very friendly. Found this interesting as most are aboriginal.

Watch my short travel video Solo Female Travel in New Zealand – Next stop: Middle Earth, Hobbitown

4 COMMENTS

  1. Kia Ora, Cultured Black Pearl!
    I recently spent two weeks in Australia and New Zealand, and came away with the opposite impression of both countries. While no one in Australia was overtly rude or appreciably racist (toward me), people in Sydney, namely in and around the city center, weren’t at all warm or friendly when it came to casual interaction. Normally, that sort of thing doesn’t bother me, as I prefer to go unnoticed and unbothered. But being such a visual anomaly yet garnering zero attention/acknowledgement proved very disconcerting. For a minute, I thought maybe it was just me. Then I met two melanin-rich Indian guys on a zip-lining tour on Waiheke who, on hearing I’d spent the previous week in Sydney, asked if I’d also felt completely ignored.
    I did, with one exception: Punchbowl.
    The people there were genuinely warm and welcoming, and showed curiosity without being obtrusive. I absolutely loved the diversity of landscape and experiences Sydney and its surroundings had to offer. But Punchbowl and Manly were the only places within the city itself that gave off a good vibe and left me wishing I had another day or two to explore.

    New Zealand, on the other hand, has become a real expat possibility. The country itself was absolutely gorgeous (what of it I saw on my excursions on the north island) and I found the people to be some of the nicest I’ve met, if not a bit reserved. Unlike Sydney, I got second glances and quite a few stares. But never did I feel as if my blackness was seen as anything except a point of benign interest or something to be admired (despite being southern and sensitive to that sort of thing). With only a few exceptions (individual and situational), Kiwis didn’t show themselves the type to approach a random stranger and strike up a conversation. But those who did find reason to interact were open and very pleasant, especially Polynesians. If I, myself, wasn’t so reserved, I’m pretty sure I would have walked away from my time there with a ton of new friends…if not a husband or two ; )
    Maybe next time. I’m planning a road trip across the north and south island with my peoples in the next year or so. I love and miss it that much, but understand why you want no parts.

    • Hi there, thanks for stopping by my blog and Happy Holidays! I loved Sydney. I can’t wait to return to Australia. I found most to be overly social, nice, and fun to hang out with. I also enjoyed the landscape. It felt like home. New Zealand is definitely beautiful and a hub for expats but it wasn’t enough to flip a horrible start. I’m glad you had an awesome experience. I know it’s possible as I’ve heard so many wonderful things. It just wasn’t my experience and it’s too far away for me to chance it again. Thanks for sharing. Keep in touch!

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