My new passport has arrived. It’s stiff and clean and shiny. It’s my sixth passport, and suddenly I feel like I’ve never been anywhere before!
As I add my cancelled one to the pile of old ones, carefully tied together with ribbon and tucked away in a drawer, I realise that these little books with their worn and faded covers hold a big part of the story of my life. My first passport does not not, however, hold a record of my first international trip – from New Zealand to Norfolk Island – in the days when a passport was not needed to travel between New Zealand and Australia (Norfolk Island is administered by Australia).
The young woman in that first passport photo looks very young. I was 20, heading off to England for a two-year working holiday. That first-ever visa was a square of pink and blue, stamped and signed and opening up the world to me. The pages filled up with stamps as I travelled around Europe: France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Yugoslavia (a country that doesn’t exist any more!). Lots of stamps in and out of the UK at Heathrow and Dover. The observations page at the front of the the passport also records my change of name, when I got married in London. And then there are visas to the USA (for the honeymoon) and a resident’s visa for Canada (stamped “Husband’s” as my only right to live there was because my Australian bridegroom had a work permit).
In those days, a New Zealand passport was valid for 10 years. But I got a new one within that decade, a “temporary” two-year passport which would allow me to live and work (yes, courtesy of my husband’s job) in Saudi Arabia – to foil any questions arising from Israeli stamps in my original passport (souvenir of a three-month stint volunteering on a kibbutz during my single days). Things seemed to be easier back then, the passport office very accommodating!
As well as the exotic Saudi Arabian visas and stamps, that short-life passport (later extended to three years) also holds the record of some wonderful holidays: France, Holland, Cyprus, Spain, India, Nepal, the track of our three-month overland trip to London after leaving Saudi, and trips back to Australia and New Zealand (via, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok).
My third passport had an unhappy beginning. When it was issued – just days before I was to travel to New Zealand for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary celebrations – my short cropped hairstyle had obviously confused the passport officer. Sex: Male, it said. Phone calls, a quick trip to the Consulate and the mortifying mistake was fixed. I still don’t think the photo is THAT bad. But things got better. Using this third passport, I started my travel writing career with trips to Hong Kong and Macau, and Malaysia. My children were small…it’s the emptiest of all my passports!
Number 4 was a new-look passport. Smaller, with a strong nod to New Zealand’s Maori culture, giving it the dual name of Passport/Uruwhenua and traditional motifs throughout. It’s lovely. Where did I go in that decade? Back to Norfolk Island a couple of times for work, and to the US and Canada. I also began to discover Asia and the Pacific – Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Sri Lanka, Korea, China, Malaysia (with some “Borneo babes”), Singapore, and India. It records my (still) only trip to Africa (Kenya) and my first trip to South America (Peru and Chile). The stamps are jumbled all over the place, overlapping, a chaotic record of destinations deeply etched in my memory.
By the time I applied for passport #5 in 2008, New Zealand passports were for five years only (or four-and-a-half taking into account the requirement of validity for six months before entering some countries). By then passports also had been fitted with electronic chips allowing me to whizz in and out of Australia and New Zealand without the need for a stamp. But even so, it’s pretty full, with colourful full-page visas for Papua New Guinea (twice), China, Vietnam (twice), Laos, Cambodia and India taking up space. Another full-page stamp is one I’m not likely to get again – Isla Hornos, Chile, Lat 55 58 S Long 67 17 W – the proof that I’ve rounded Cape Horn and gone ashore there. I still pinch myself when I look at that one!
There are other memories too: Vanuatu, the Cook Islands (a fun stamp from One Foot Island, shaped like…you guessed it), Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia.
It’s the only passport without the top right-hand corner cut off and the word “cancelled” stamped in it. Technology means I didn’t even have to send it back when applying for the replacement.
And so my brand-spanking-new never-been-anywhere passport sits on my desk. The face in it is much older now, and has seen a lot. There’s a bright new silver fern motif on the cover that none of the old ones have, along with the words “Uruwhenua Aotearoa”.
I’ll be using it soon to travel to New Zealand for two happy occasions: my niece’s wedding and my sister and brother-in-law’s 40th wedding anniversary. After that, there’s my first trip to Taiwan to look forward to. And who knows what adventures the future holds for me and my new passport?