Author Archives: 2btravel

About 2btravel

I love traveling and go where I can when I can. I prefer to use points & miles as payment! This site will concentrate on trip reports and how I used points to accomplish it. Happy to help others 2B Traveling with points too!

Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

After spending a few days on the Sunshine Coast we needed an overnight stay in Brisbane so that we didn’t have to leave Mooloolaba at a very early hour to be at the airport by 8 AM. I had an unused Marriott category 1-5 certificate from my credit card (either the Chase Marriott Visa or the Amex Marriott Bonvoy) so we booked the Marriott Brisbane. We knew that with three adults in a room with only two beds someone was going to be uncomfortable but since it was for only one night we weren’t concerned.

The hotel does not have a large footprint but is about 25 stories high. In front there’s only a place to drop off/pick up passengers so if you need to park, circle behind the building where the valet can help you.

Brisbane Marriott

We arrived in the early afternoon and our room was not quite ready though we had only a very short wait until we could check in. Continue reading

Categories: Australia, Hotel, Lodging Review, Marriott, Oceania | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Time on the Sunshine Coast

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

Though we weren’t nearly as tired as we expected to be after 1.5 weeks of travel, it was still nice to get to the beach town of Mooloolaba to relax. As it turned out, late October was a wonderful time to visit the Sunshine Coast. The weather was warm – upper 70s to low 80s for the high – but not hot.

The day we arrived we enjoyed just walking along the beach south of our condo. We kept on the beach as long as we could and on the way back we walked along the path above the beach. There were lots of folks running and walking for exercise and there were picnic spots in several places.

These rocks were just across the esplanade from our condo. Bad for swimming but cool for looks!

Lots of beautiful beaches in the area. Be sure to swim between the flags only!

The next day we spent time at the beach and in the water. The ocean was cool but warm enough to swim in, even if it was a bit bumpy, I assume as a result of a thunderstorm the night before. We spent the rest of the day cruising the shops along the Esplanade and sampling the cuisine.

Australia Zoo

The next day I took an Uber to see Australia Zoo, home of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. I loved the original shows and had been at the Great Barrier Reef just a couple of months before Irwin’s untimely death. I’d kind of lost track of what all was going on with the family until seeing that his daughter Bindi got engaged over the summer of 2019. It was hard for me to believe how the kids had grown up so quickly. My travel companions didn’t care anything about coming so I left them to do their own adventure while I took an Uber to the zoo.

One of my first impressions was that if you didn’t know Steve Irwin was dead, you’d expect him to pop out at any moment. His likeness is everywhere and the big monitor at the Crocoseum (the arena where the crocodile demonstrations are held) constantly plays videos of his shows and interviews. In my reading since returning I’ve learned that he and his wife Terri had set up a 10-year plan before he died and they’ve been diligently working on that ever since. The zoo is truly impressive and I had a blast spending the day there. I considered taking one of the behind-the-scenes tours but was concerned I wouldn’t get to spend enough time at exhibits that I wanted to see. However, if I ever get back that’s something I will definitely do. All money from the tours and animal encounters goes to the non-profit Wildlife Warriors fund which directly impacts wildlife and does not go for overhead costs at all. There are several wildlife reserves supported by these funds as well as the Wildlife Animal Hospital located on the zoo grounds. To date the hospital has treated over 90,000 patients and with the recent wildfires in the country, more animals than ever are being sent to the hospital for rehabilitation. It’s a great work they do there and I’m thankful there are facilities like this.

Here are a few of the animals I saw on my visit.

Rhinoceros Iguanas enjoying brunch

American Alligators are less aggressive than their saltwater crocodile cousins

An Aldabran Tortise. Tortoises have more block-like feet while turtles have feet more like flippers. Aldabrans can live over 100 years and grow up to one meter tall.

A blue-tongued skink

One of the staff with a wedge-tailed hawk

River otters sunning for just a moment

A Perentie goanna, one of the largest monitor lizards

Binturongs have prehensile tails but are carnivores.

Brolgas love to dance as part of their mating ritual.

An Emu blending in quite well with the foliage

A koala takes a nap. They can sleep for up to 20 hours a day!

Roo Heaven is an open area where kangaroos and wallabies run freely and guests can pet and feed them.

Mick giving Mossman some food. Mossman is 12.8 feet long and 1100 pounds!

Toby’s turn to feed Mossman

Mossman comes out of the water for food

One of the laughing kookaburras

Bubbles and Cuddles the macaws

One of the ring-tailed lemurs in a rare quiet moment

A meerkat plays sentry in their exhibit

Little lizards run wild in the zoo!

One of the Sumatran Tigers in the Tiger Temple exhibit

Rhino mom Caballe with her baby Carrie

One of the wombats, possibly Poa, takes a nap

Spartacus and Lucas, the Zebras

The giraffe family

There’s no cheetah exhibit but the zoo has several boys who walk around for meet ‘n greets.

Camel rides are available for an extra cost. This camel waits in the shade for his turn to give a ride.

In the end

Mooloolaba was a great ending to the main portion of our trip. It’s definitely a resort town but late October was a great time to visit as it wasn’t crowded at all yet was perfect weather. If you stay here and plan to return to the US from Brisbane you’ll either need to head there VERY early in the morning or, as we did, go the night before. If you’re returning from Sydney to LAX, all the flights seem to be in the 11 AM – 12 PM hour so you’d need one of the early morning flights out of the Sunshine Coast (MCY) airport there too. If you’re flying from Sydney to San Francisco, Vancouver or Dallas/Ft. Worth you’ll have a little more time. Even though we were spending the night in Brisbane, we were able to take a shuttle bus from our condo to the Brisbane airport and from there we took an Uber to our hotel. I loved visiting the Sunshine Coast and hope to return again one day.

Categories: Australia, Award Travel, Oceania | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

We flew to the Sunshine Coast airport (MCY) from Auckland via Sydney. There is a non-stop on Air New Zealand but we arrived much earlier in the day on a Virgin Australia connecting flight. From there we took a shuttle to Oceans Mooloolaba, which is about a 15-20 minute drive. Although the address is the Mooloolaba Esplanade, you’re much better off entering from the First Avenue side as there will be no stairs to deal with and the street is much less busy than the Esplanade.

The first order of business is learning how to pronounce Mooloolaba. When discussing our trip ahead of time we guessed that the pronunciation was moo-loo-LA-bah but we were wrong. It’s actually muh-LOO-luh-buh. I had to keep drilling that into my head each time I saw the word printed.

The Area

At any rate, this is a resort town with lots of condos, many overlooking the water. They’re mostly individually owned but are managed by resort groups. These complexes are stacked one after the other on the Esplanade, which runs along the beach. The benefit of this is that the ground floors of each of these buildings is filled with retail shops and restaurants so you never have to venture too far away for anything you might need. Though the grocery store isn’t on the Esplanade itself, if you go out the First Avenue entrance of Oceans you can see the grocery’s parking garage from there so it’s an easy walk.

Oceans Mooloolaba Exterior
photo credit: sunshinecoast.com

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Categories: Australia, Condos, Lodging Review, Oceania | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Time in Auckland

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

I feel like we didn’t get to fully enjoy Auckland due to poor planning on our part. When we began planning this trip, we hadn’t fully decided how to spend our time in New Zealand when the Qantas award space opened up. As detailed earlier we ultimately decided to start with Christchurch and Queenstown before ending up in Auckland and heading to Australia. We (I) also got confused as to which airport we’d be flying into for the Australia portion of our trip and all of that led to us having less time to explore Auckland than it deserves.

If I had to do it over again we’d have flown Qantas through Sydney and directly to Christchurch before moving on to Queenstown and Auckland. That would have given us another day in the most populous city.  We had only a day and a half in Auckland. The day we arrived it was extremely windy and rained off and on so we stuck close to the hotel. Before leaving home we’d booked a day tour that took us outside the city for biking, hiking and beach viewing. While we’d received confirmation from Viator we never got confirmation from the tour operator. Only the persistence of the concierge at the Hilton Queenstown enabled us to learn that the tour operator had gone out of business. To their credit, Viator did refund our booking promptly but we were dismayed to learn the tour was still being offered on their site!

So, we had a day on our own in overcast Auckland. We decided just to walk around the CBD to see what we could see. We stepped out for breakfast near the Sky Tower. Built in the mid-1990s, this is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere at 1076 feet tall. Though it has a bungee-type jump (with cables to prevent you from smashing into the tower itself) we decided not to take advantage of that.

Auckland’s Sky Tower

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Categories: New Zealand, Oceania | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

When searching for somewhere to stay in Auckland, we once again struggled to find a place that allowed us to use points and also had 3 beds. We eventually decided to pay cash for a stay at the Avani Metropolis Hotel in the CBD but I redeemed Barclays ArrivalPlus points to erase the charge.

The hotel is about a 30-minute drive from the airport – during times when there’s no traffic. It was probably around 2:30 PM when we arrived and our room wasn’t quite ready yet but we only had to wait about a half-hour (or less) before it was ready for us.

The hotel seems to be more apartment-style lodging than a “regular” hotel. We were given our card keys but were warned that if we lost one it was an $80 charge to replace it. I’ve never run into that before! The lobby is all marble (whether real or fake, I don’t know) with a carpet runner down the center. Staff members were friendly and recommended the Italian restaurant that’s on one of the lower floors of the building but is not affiliated with the hotel.

We took the very fast elevators up to our 2 bedroom unit. Seriously, we were on the 29th floor and the elevators were extremely quick! From the elevator lobby we were just a couple of doors down the hall.  We stepped through the door into a fairly long entry hall.

Entry Hall. The second bathroom is on the right. I believe on the left is a utility closet but it was locked.

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Categories: Hotel, Lodging Review, New Zealand, Oceania, Other Hotels | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

In July 2006 I traveled to New Zealand with a ski group and we spent several days in Queenstown. We took a couple of day trips out to ski resorts but spent time in the cute town as well so I was excited to return. Unfortunately we did not have great weather during our visit and I’m bummed my friends did not get to enjoy the town as I did.

Despite it being spring (late October) it was still pretty chilly and rainy. The day we arrived it was quite cool and while we carried umbrellas with us, at least we didn’t need them. We spent an hour or two wandering the streets, popping into stores that struck our fancy and we booked our tour of Doubtful Sound for two days later.

Mum always told you to cross the street at the zebra crossing!

This is a Moa, which became extinct about 200 million years ago and was the largest flying animal in NZ and the tallest bird in the world.

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Categories: Historical Site, New Zealand, Oceania, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

Edited 04/22/20: added photos

When looking for accommodations in Queenstown, there aren’t a whole lot of choices with hotel points. There are hotels in the Novotel/Sofitel chain and a couple of Hiltons. And of the Hiltons, only the Queenstown Resort & Spa had rooms with three beds, so that was our obvious choice.

The hotel is just a short ride from the airport but is across the lake from Queenstown proper. There’s a water taxi that runs about once an hour for $5 NZD each way. Or you can always take a regular taxi or car service around the lake.

It’s hard to take a good photo of the front of the hotel as it faces the water

Our airport shuttle dropped us off at the covered entrance. Since it was still before noon, we weren’t surprised our room wasn’t ready. The bell captain took our bags and after a quick bite at the coffee shop we took the water taxi into Queenstown for the rest of the day. The front desk staff did a great job keeping me apprised when our room was available and our luggage was taken our room for us.

Main Entrance

Front Desk

Lobby Seating

The hotel is comprised of two buildings. The main one, where the front desk is located, contains regular hotel rooms and suites as well as conference rooms and the primary restaurant. The coffee shop is in that building but is accessed via an external entrance.

Our room, which was basically a 2 BR condo, was in the building next door, known as the Lakeside Residences. It’s worth pointing out that all the rooms in both buildings have views of Lake Wakatipu and mountains on the other side. I didn’t learn until halfway through our stay that there’s a tunnel connecting the two buildings. That was very convenient when going to breakfast each day.

Due to the hilly nature of the terrain where the hotel is located, the main entrance to the Lakeside Residences is actually on the 3rd floor. That was great for us as it was also the location of our room, which was the next-to-last residence on the left end of the hall. The terrain was actually quite steep in places and might be hard for mobility-challenged folks to get around. Continue reading

Categories: Hilton, Hotel, Lodging Review, New Zealand, Oceania | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Time in Christchurch

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

We’d only done minimal research on our destinations for this trip, preferring to fly by the collective seat of our pants. Our first night in town we visited Sun Dog Diner just because the day had been cool and rainy and Sun Dog was in walking distance and looked cool. Our waiter was American and was super-helpful in getting us a list of recommended activities. While we certainly wanted to sightsee, our birthday girl really wanted to find a hike and see some nature. He recommended a hike between Godley Head and Taylor’s Mistake. That turned out to be a wonderful recommendation.

Godley Head to Taylor’s Mistake Hike

We took an Uber to the Godley Head trailhead. I was glad we did the hike in this direction as the car had to make a number of switchback turns to get us up to our starting point. It seemed to be slightly more downhill in this direction though I could be mistaken. We strolled at a very leisurely pace and stopped to take photos, look at the old World War II Battery Observations posts and just to take a break at various points. Note that there are some areas close to the cliffs and the Godley Battery Compound, also right on the edge, that are closed off due to damage from the earthquake. But these don’t interfere with the hike in general. We were fortunate to have a lovely day for walking and there were lots of locals who ran back and forth between the two points. You can read more about the hike here: https://www.christchurchnz.com/walk-canterbury/christchurch-short-walks/coastal-and-waterway-walks/taylors-mistake-godley-head-walk/

Here are just a few shots of the views.

Lyttleton Harbour

Old World War II Battery Building

Taylor’s Mistake Beach

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Categories: New Zealand, Oceania | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Hampton Inn Bellevue/I-40 West

I went home to Nashville for both Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as a weekend in between when a family member was in the hospital. On each occasion I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bellevue which is right off I-40. It’s a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence winner and it’s easy to see why.

Hampton Inn Bellevue/I-40 West, Nashville, Tennessee

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Categories: Hilton, Hotel, Lodging Review | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

We left Auckland just a day after landing, flying Air New Zealand to Christchurch.  Wow, domestic travel in NZ is so much like it used to be in the US.  Nobody checked my ID.  I checked my bag myself. I did go through security but it was much less intrusive.  It was so nice!  The flight is blocked at 1h 24m but it seemed to arrive much more quickly.  The plane was a single-cabin A320 and as cheap as tickets were, this seems to be a very common way to jump between cities in NZ.

The biggest challenge I face when booking travel with two friends is that we prefer to use points for travel and we each want our own bed. I tried everything I know of to find a points-friendly hotel where we could have three beds and it just wasn’t happening. It’s hard enough to find in the US and much tougher abroad. Even suites – which would have enough room for a third bed – seem to provide only a king bed and not one that can be split apart. We could have booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) portal, the Amex Membership Rewards portal or the Citi ThankYou Points portal or even redeemed points against my Barclays ArrivalPlus but in the end we decided to use cash. That would allow the birthday girl to pay and earn UR points from her Sapphire Preferred card which would help to offset the points she used buying her plane ticket to New Zealand.  The room was less than $200/night USD all in so with each of us effectively paying for a night, the price wasn’t bad at all.

I used Trip Advisor as a starting point and narrowed the list down to about 8-10 places that fit our criteria. I then started weeding places out based on reviews before presenting a list of about 4-5 places to my friends. The birthday girl ended up choosing The Pavilions. I was a little skeptical of how this would work but things turned out quite well.

Pavilions Hotel
(photo courtesy pavilionshotel.co.nz)

The hotel is family-owned and has been around quite awhile. It was raining the day we arrived and our room was in a building behind the main one. Fortunately a staff member helped us with our bags and guided us through the correct wing of the main building to make our dash across the parking lot as short as possible.

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Categories: Award Travel, Hotel, Lodging Review, New Zealand, Oceania, Other Hotels | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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