Posts Tagged With: New Zealand

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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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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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

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

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