IT was almost the perfect mini-break. We'd flown to Melbourne two days before New Year. We booked ourselves a lovely room in a lovely hotel right in the centre of town. And we had a simple plan: we would spend five days and five nights eating very well indeed at the best restaurants in town, with intermissions involving lying down in our flash, air-conditioned room (the mercury hit 40 degrees the day before we left) in between the furious feasting.
Our timing couldn't have been better. It turns out that, like Auckland, central Melbourne goes a bit sleepy over the Christmas period, so we were able to eat in almost every flash joint we'd heard of or read about. On our last night, over a plate of oysters, we agreed that it was a mission utterly and satisfyingly accomplished.
And then, the following morning, we caught a cab to begin our journey home.
It is true that we arrived at Melbourne's airport rather less relaxed than we had been feeling when we left the hotel. This was mainly due to the taxi driver spending the 30-minute trip shouting loudly into his cellphone while occasionally picking his nose.
However, whatever was left of the bliss brought on by five days of great food, excellent wine and some well-earned lying down was completely gone by the time we stepped aboard our Air New Zealand flight.
Our early arrival - nearly two and a half hours before flying time so we might relax and have something to eat - was completely blown by the check-in.
The first problem was major. The baggage conveyer system at the check-in desk was on the fritz, so that for up to 15 minutes at a time, the desks could not process passengers.
Fixing it or sorting an alternative didn't seem a priority so, despite there being only 20 or so people in front of us, it took nearly an hour for us to get to a desk.
But it was what happened next that really did for our good mood. Our one case was overweight by a few kilos and we had one extra item (a small, light pouffe we'd bought) to check-in. Total cost, $80, which seemed excessive, but what are you going to do? Pay up, of course.
Only it wasn't that simple. This bit of highway robbery came with a sadistic twist. The money couldn't be paid at the Air NZ desk. No, I had to walk to the domestic terminal next door, queue again at the Qantas counter, get a receipt then walk back to Air NZ (though this time go straight to the desk) before they'd give me my boarding pass.
This took more than 15 minutes and, after quickly buying something to eat, we only just made the opening of the gate.
After all that, we felt like a drink. Pity it took 90 minutes into a three-and-half-hour flight to get the staff to sell us a glass of wine.