Posts Tagged With: Australia

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

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

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under

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

Each year my friends and I try to take a two week vacation in the fall. We have a system that whoever had the birthday ending in 5 or 0 that year gets to pick the location. That’s served us well and covers 6 years out of any decade. This year the birthday girl decided on spending most of our time exploring New Zealand with a few days on the end on the beaches of Australia.

That decision was made late in 2018 so our first task was finding business class award space on the longhaul segments for two of us (one doesn’t mind flying coach). We were fine buying our positioning flights as long as we could lock in business class for those 14 hour flights!

I was looking for award space on American, Qantas and United as well as keeping an eye out for space on Air New Zealand. I knew that American was pretty stingy on longhaul award space in premium cabins but they look positively generous compared to what Air New Zealand typically opens up. As luck would have it I found three business class award seats from Brisbane (near the Australian beaches we wanted to visit) back to Los Angeles for the last Wednesday in October. That was perfect so we snagged those even though we didn’t have our outbound tickets yet. I used my miles for the birthday girl’s return ticket which cost 80,000 American AAdvantage miles + $81.83 for each ticket. However, thanks to my Citibank AAdvantage MasterCard I get a rebate of up to 10,000 miles each year so the net cost was 150K miles. I considered using 55,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles per ticket instead but our friend who lives in Chicago was using her AA miles to get one of the tickets and I know that sometimes Alaska has access to one less award ticket than oneworld alliance airlines and I just wanted to make things easier by having the two of us on a single PNR. I bought a United domestic flight from LA to Denver to Memphis for my return flight and my Chicago friend bought a United ticket home as well. However, when United made the fall schedule adjustments, I would land in Denver too late to catch the afternoon flight back to Memphis so they re-routed me through Chicago. While I was stuck on a one-cabin plane for the Chicago-Memphis leg, at least I got to fly back with my friend as far as Chicago.

After buying the return flights we sweated for a couple of weeks until Qantas opened up two business class seats on their 747 from San Francisco to Sydney. The seats were available two weeks and one day before the return flight. That couldn’t have worked out any better for us. My friend from Chicago and I were even able to include positioning flights with the cost of our tickets: 80,000 American AAdvantage miles + $28.20 in fees

Long haul flights: the green line indicates my outbound flight while the blue is my return flight.

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Categories: Award Travel, Hilton, Hotel, IHG, New Zealand, Oceania, OneWorld, Other Hotels, Qantas | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SPB Around Melbourne

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Melbourne as its sites are not as famous as, say, Sydney’s Opera House or Harbour Bridge. We did learn there’s a hop-on/hop-off bus and a free trolley system so we grabbed tourist maps from the front desk and walked to the closest stop.

The bus stop was diagonally opposite the Victoria Train Station, which I thought was just a beautiful building. Not wanting to miss our bus we didn’t go inside to explore but I sorta wish we had.

Victoria Station, Melbourne

Victoria Station, Melbourne

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Categories: Australia, Oceania, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

Our flight landed mid-afternoon in Melbourne and while we’d expected it to be cooler than Uluru, it was a good bit cooler than Sydney too. Not cold, but long sleeves and a light jacket felt good in the evenings with the wind.

We took the Sunbus Melbourne from the airport to the Park Hyatt. Their representative showed up near baggage claim very shortly after we got our bags, which was great timing. We then had to traipse over to the international terminal to find the remaining passengers for our van and then we all played “follow the leader” out to our shuttle.

Naturally we were one of the last groups to be let off at our hotel but we were warmly greeted by the bellman at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. He took our big bags as we went inside to check in. The front desk is located to the right of the main entrance and is staffed by delightful, helpful folks. They confirmed our club room and that we would have breakfast included and gave us our keys.

Park Hyatt Melbourne From The Street

Park Hyatt Melbourne From The Street

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Categories: Australia, Hotel, Hyatt, Lodging Review | Tags: , | 2 Comments

SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

When planning this trip I wanted to include Sydney as a stop since one of my travel companions had never been and I was happy to go back as I really enjoy it. But I also wanted to include places I hadn’t been. One of the great icons of Australia is its Red Centre and the large rock formation known as Uluru. Until I started researching the area I wasn’t aware there’s another formation nearby known as Kata Tjuta. In case you need a pronunciation guide, Uluru is pronounced OO-loo-roo and Kata Tjuta is KHAT-ah JU-tah

We arrived in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon during the third week of October and it was HOT. I cannot even imagine how it feels in the middle of the summer. My advice: stick to visiting in mid-April to mid-October (Autumn through Spring) and skip the summer months.

The park is about a 10-minute ride from the Ayers Rock Resort and entry is at a single ranger station. Each person in the vehicle must have a park pass so if you get behind several cars where people do not have passes, the line can back up. Park passes start at $25 AUD for a 3-day pass which should be all you need. If by chance you’ll make more than one trip to Uluru during a year’s time, opt for the annual pass at $32.50 AUD.

Uluru itself is about a 10-15 minute drive from the park entrance. As we were driving towards it we could occasionally catch glimpses of it in the distance and then we came around a bend and there it was. Pictures really don’t do it justice and I wanted to pull the car over right there and then and start taking photos. Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea because there were “No Stopping” signs all over the place! Well, at least I was in good company with my idea.

Uluru Farewell

Hello Uluru

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Categories: Australia, Oceania, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

SPB Emu Walk Apartments

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

We arrived at the tiny Ayers Rock (AYQ) airport on time and were happy to get inside the terminal to wait in air conditioned comfort for our bags. There is only one terminal at AYQ with two gates (if I recall correctly) and one belt in baggage claim. No way to get lost here! We picked up our rental car and began the drive to the resort. It was my first effort at driving on the “wrong” side of the road and I was very happy that we were out in the middle of nowhere so I’d have plenty of notice of approaching vehicles and since we had a small SUV, we could even pull off the road entirely if needed. Fortunately I managed to keep it on the road in the correct lane for our time there.

When booking lodging in the Uluru area, there’s one company that handles all requests. The Ayers Rock Resort has lots of different types of lodging from the rustic Outback Pioneer Hotel to the luxurious Sails in the Desert. Since we were paying for this stay (albeit with a discount thanks to Barclays ArrivalPlus points) we chose the Emu Walk Apartments, which is a step or two down, luxury-wise, from the Sails in the Desert but definitely above the Outback Pioneer Lodge. We chose a two-bedroom unit which would give us room to spread out as well as a breakfast area. The second bedroom was supposed to have twin beds though in the end it did not. Fortunately the sofa was relatively comfortable as a third bed since we were only staying two nights.

Our travel dates were during the third week of October, so well into Springtime. Temperatures were very warm during our stay, in the mid-90sF/mid-30sC and our air conditioner managed to keep pace, though it ran very steadily during the day. At night the desert cools off quite a bit which helps keep things cool enough to sleep.

Our particular apartment was a split-level: there were no stairs to the front door and immediately upon entering the kitchen was to the right and the second bedroom to the left.
Just beyond that, the dining area was on the right and the bathroom was to the left. Down a set of 4-5 steps was the living area and the master bedroom to the left.

Dining table seats six

Dining table seats six

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

SPB Flying to/from Uluru

SPB Trip Planning
SPB Qantas First Class to Sydney
SPB Park Hyatt Sydney
SPB Sydney Opera House
SPB Around Sydney
SPB Flying to/from Uluru
SPB Emu Walk Apartments
SPB Uluru and Kata Tjuta
SPB Park Hyatt Melbourne
SPB Around Melbourne
SPB Flying to Fiji
SPB Hilton Fiji
SPB Snorkeling Trip
SPB Fiji Air Business Class to Los Angeles
SPB Hyatt Regency DFW

Our next stop was Uluru, the giant red rock practically in the center of the continent. I think many of us, myself included, forget how large the continent of Australia is and misjudge the distance between cities. For comparison purposes, the distance between Sydney and the Ayers Rock airports is almost exactly the same distance as between Washington Dulles and Amarillo, Texas – just over 1360 miles!

GC Map to Uluru

When doing our original trip planning, I was hoping to leave the US on a Friday or Saturday to minimize the amount of vacation time we’d take off but the availability of the DFW-SYD flight mid-week changed that plan. Now I’m glad it worked out that way because if we’d left the US on the weekend, we’d be flying to Uluru the following weekend and as I found out, Qantas doesn’t seem to release many (any?) award seats to Uluru on the weekends. We’d have been fine flying in economy but booking 11 months in advance the only award seats we found were in business class (equivalent to US domestic first class). Not only that but I only found two seats from Sydney and two from Melbourne. Fortunately there were plenty of SYD-MEL seats available. So my friends got to sleep in a bit while I got up for an early morning trip to Melbourne. We all met in Alice Springs at its cute little airport and took the last leg together.

I did stop in the Qantas lounges in Sydney and Melbourne and had a bite to eat. They were quite busy so I didn’t take any photos. But both offered hot and cold foods and had quite a large selection.

Since we were in business class we also had food on the plane so I didn’t have to worry about going hungry at all.

GC Map to Melbourne

On our flight back to Melbourne, there were only two business class seats available so one of my friends bit the bullet and paid cash for a ticket. Fortunately it wasn’t too expensive and for a relatively short flight she said it was fine.

So that’s how we got around the country. Next up, our visit to the Red Centre!

Categories: Australia, Oceania, Qantas | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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