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

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.

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.

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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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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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

Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport

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 had booked our trips from the US to New Zealand and back from Australia before we had worked out our exact plans for what to do in between those dates. As it turned out we’d have been better served to go straight to Christchurch but since we had our flights into Auckland, we didn’t want to immediately jump on a flight to Christchurch in case one of our bags went missing or there were other travel delays. So I looked for an airport-area hotel for us for one night.

I tried and failed to find us a hotel room near the airport that had three beds. But since I had a free night with my IHG credit card and would get a second one a few months before we left, I was able to book two rooms at no charge.

I don’t think of Auckland as particularly tropical yet the area near the airport had palm trees and the hotel grounds were quite lush. The yellow shuttle bus (more on that below) dropped us off right at the front door.

Holiday Inn Auckland Airport Front Entrance

Holiday Inn Auckland Airport Main Entry

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

Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney

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 arrived into Sydney about 0620 and followed the signs for transit security. It seemed a little strange that we had to go through that again when we’d never left a sterile area. I thought perhaps I could bring the water bottle given to us on the plane but, nope, that had to go into the recycle bin. The vast majority of passengers on our flight were not transiting and the line was quite short so it didn’t take long at all to clear it. That completed we took the escalator up to the main floor of the airport.

From there we took a second escalator up to the next level where we passed by the Qantas First Class lounge and entered the Qantas Business Class Lounge.

We were greeted warmly and efficiently. At that early hour the lounge was quite empty which was nice after being on a plane with a lot of people for 14 hours! We were also fortunate that it was a sunny day and we had nice views outside. We could have taken an earlier flight to Auckland but our friend who was joining us from LA wouldn’t have been able to catch that flight, so we ended up with a 5+ hour layover in total. Our friend was arriving about two hours after us, so we probably spent about 2.5 hours in the lounge since she didn’t have access.

The lounge is quite large and stretches in both directions from the entrance. There’s loads of seating in many different forms. It was a bit surprising that not all seats had electrical outlets. I assume next time there’s a refresh that will be rectified.

Qantas Business Class Lounge Seating

Qantas Business Class Lounge Seating

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Categories: Airline Clubs, Australia, Oceania, OneWorld, Qantas | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Flight Review: Qantas A300-300 Sydney – 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

We finally arrived in Auckland on Qantas flight from Sydney. Normally I wouldn’t review a 3-hour trip but our A330-300 was in an international configuration with lie-flat seats so I thought I’d include a brief overview.

Qantas 145 SYD-AKL
Airbus A330-300
Seat: 4E (Business Class, Aisle, Center Section)
Scheduled Departure: 1135 (Actual: 1150)
Scheduled Arrival: 1640 (Actual: 1647)
Flight time: 3h 7m (Actual: 2h 57m)

We boarded through door 2L. We’d originally had two seats in the center section, but as on the previous leg, when my friend changed the first leg of her journey from an American flight to one with Alaska Airlines, her seat assignment was lost. Fortunately she was just across the aisle.

We were offered our choice of pre-departure beverage: champagne, still water or sparkling water. As I didn’t select it, I’m not sure if the champagne was the Duval-Leroy Brut or the Jacquart Brut Mosaique.

The cabin felt so fresh compared to the one we’d just flown on the 747, but that’s to be expected. I imagine the daylight helped the cabin to feel much airier as well.

QF145 A330-300 Business Class Cabin

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Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney

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

For the first leg of this adventure I exchanged 80,000 American AAdvantage miles and $28.20 in taxes for 10,676 miles of flying. If you value those 80K AA miles at 1.4 cents each, that’s just under $1150 in value when you add in the taxes. Compare that to the $4800+ that American wants for similar flights next October and I think that’s a pretty good deal!

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, we’d found our return flights first and about two weeks later we found two business class seats on Qantas from San Francisco to Auckland via Sydney. From Memphis the only flights American made available in business class were on the regional jet via Phoenix. My friend flying from Chicago could not even get a business class (domestic First) ticket on a non-stop to San Francisco so she paid for an extra legroom seat.

Initially AA had me leaving Memphis around 2:30 PM and arriving around 6:30 PM before the Qantas flight left around 9:30 PM. In September, SFO airport was re-paving runways which meant closures and delays. Though I knew they were supposed to be done well before my trip, it made me nervous. Couple that with how often fog causes delays into SFO and I decided to take advantage of American’s generous change policy on award tickets: as long as the origin and destination remain the same, you can change the routing or the dates. So I left home about 7:30 AM and made it to Phoenix on time, a little after 8:30 AM. And there the delay kicked in. SFO ATC would not let us take off due to fog in the area so we were 49 minutes late leaving Phoenix and we arrived 39 minutes late. While a delay of that length would not have made a difference should I have kept my original flight times, I felt my decision to go earlier was validated because there might have been a lengthier delay later in the evening.

Another factor in making the switch was that my friend flying from Chicago could change to a domestic First class seat on the Alaska Air non-stop. It cost $100 to make the change to the award ticket since Alaska is not part of oneworld but they refunded her extra legroom seat and it was definitely worth it to her for the four hour flight as she’s tall and is much more comfortable in the larger seats, just like I am.

The early arrival meant we had a lot of time to kill at SFO and we even kicked around the idea of going out to a movie but ultimately decided just to wander a bit, have a decent early dinner and get to the lounge as soon as was reasonable. This was our first time connecting to an international flight at SFO and we were disappointed to learn we’d have to re-clear security. At least the line was far less crowded than it was two years earlier when I was departing on my China trip. Since we didn’t have to wait for the Qantas counter to open so we could check our bag, we weren’t in the security line with dozens of others at the same time.

Qantas flyers can use both the Air France/KLM lounge and the Cathay Pacific lounge. We spent a little time in each and, perhaps due to the times their flights depart, the Cathay lounge was a lot less crowded.

Qantas B747-400
(image courtesy qantas.com)

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