During my trip visiting New Zealand and the east coast of Melbourne, I thought I’d share some reviews & info of who I flew with, where I stayed, how I travelled to & from the airport, tours or attractions I attended, and maybe some tips or good shopping spots (for guys not that I’m a fashion expert).
I flew Air NZ which was an excellent experience with comfortable seats and leg room, friendly staff, ample entertainment and delicious food. Air NZ was one of the few airlines that flew direct from Perth to Auckland. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of turbulence approaching Auckland but that’s what you get with flying. I flew Air NZ from Auckland – Wellington, Wellington – Christchurch, and Christchurch – Melbourne (with a stop over in Auckland). The service and experience was the same as I enjoyed on my first flight. Great to see consistency. I’d have no hesitation in flying Air NZ again.
Travelling To & From The Airport
I booked a NZ$28 return ticket online for the AirBus which is a 24hr, all year round, bus service that runs between Auckland city and Auckland Airport. Services run every 10 minutes on weekdays (7am – 7pm), 15 minutes on weekends (6am – 7pm), or 20 – 30 minutes otherwise. Buying tickets online was pretty easy and this is an excellent value option. Once at the airport, I just followed the signs to where the buses are and to the left is a blue kiosk where you can buy tickets and is where the bus turns up. Hopped aboard, stored my luggage in the racks, took a seat and enjoyed the 40 odd minute drive. The staff were helpful and told me which stop to get off on Queen St. I was just a short walk away to my hotel. Just opposite the road is the stop for the return journey to the airport. I like the Auckland bus system. There are several stops but you can easily tell which one to go to and the electronic signs tell you how long the next bus will be. Easy. Check their site for details.
After catching the Airbus from Auckland Airport, the bus stops within walking distance to the hotel. The hotel staff took some time to find my booking and assumed it was for today and didn’t look at yesterday’s bookings even though I arrived before 6am. But after that I was booked in and was able enjoy a good sleep. Room is nice and clean, nice facilities. The rooms are like a mini apartment with a kitchenette, microwave, some cutlery and plates, and a bar fridge. There’s also an iron and ironing board and they offer luggage storage. The ironing board was wet so I asked for a replacement and in a short time that was provided. There’s also a Countdown (Woolworths) supermarket and a convenience store next door. A short walk to all the retail along Queen Street, close to Britomart (more retail and restaurants), close to the quay to catch a ferry, close to Viaduct Harbour for waterside restaurants, and close to SkyCity if you like the casino’s. The tour bus company (InterCity) is also near by SkyCity. Opposite the road is this reverse bungy thing for the adventurous.
There are a couple of choices: Telecom NZ or 2degrees which had low cost SIM card packs. Unfortunately the staff at Telecom NZ at the airport told me my phone didn’t take their service and told me to try Vodafone. So I did and spent too much for additional data in the end but I wasn’t to know that I wouldn’t need as much. The service was excellent. No issues with making calls, excellent quality. The internet was also excellent on my phone or even using it as a Wi-Fi hotspot and accessing the internet through my laptop. Very fast all through the 3 cities I travelled to in NZ. Can’t say the same for Optus in Australia which had real issues at certain times accessing the internet and was considerably slower.
3hr Auckland City Highlights tour ($53) through Viator
This was a good way to see a new city and get a feel of what Auckland has to offer. The bus company offering the tour has it’s office near SkyCity. When I had booked they do ask if you want a hotel pickup so I put my hotel down at the time, but they also say to confirm pick up within 24hrs of the tour which I did not. However, the bus did go to my hotel except I was at their offices! Bit of a miscommunication but I got on the tour. Our tour driver, Ron, was a real character full of humour and certainly not politically correct but that’s what made him interesting. As he took us around the different parts of Auckland we learnt more about the city, some history, and were certainly entertained. There are other tours for nearly double the price or more, but I thought this tour was great value. Comfortable buses, nice pace, we stopped on several occasions for photos and breaks. The tour ran overtime but I wasn’t bothered. It’s a good thing my restaurant booking was much later. We got dropped close to our hotels. Big thanks to Ron for keeping is entertained. Certainly not a boring start to my time in Auckland!
Segue Tour run by Magic Broomstick Segue Tours (NZ$120 but other tours available at different prices)
You probably will need a ferry to get to Devonport so check out http://www.fullers.co.nz/ where you can purchase a return ticket online for NZ$11. When I got to Devonport the shop hadn’t opened so I called and they’re shut due to Good Friday despite stating the date I was interested in. Fortunately, Andreis decided to do the tour if I waited about 45 minutes so I gladly took him up on the offer. I’ve never ridden a segue so I was looking forward to this. We started with some training and it isn’t that hard to get the hang of things. After that we were off seeing the sights of Devonport, including the very top of Mt Victoria which provides 360° views of Auckland which are amazing. Devonport is a sleepy seaside town and the old houses have a distinctly English flavour. The segue tour was fantastic and my guide Andreis was excellent too providing a bit of history along the way. A fun experience. Wish I could have taken the segue for the rest of my travels. Beats walking.
Flights: Air NZ
See Auckland experience
Travelling To & From The Airport
I took the Airport Flyer (#91) bus service which is just NZ$9 for a trip to the city or for the reverse journey. See their site for more info. Just like the Airbus at Auckland, a similar type service running every 20 minutes or so. When I arrived at the Wellington Airport and grabbed my luggage, head towards the southern end of the airport terminal, level 0 (exit from baggage claim doors on level 0 and turn right). The bus stop was right there and a bus pulled up in a few minutes. Paid the driver and stored my luggage in the racks and took a seat. The trip is about 20 minutes. You need to know what stop you’re getting off and ring the bell as the bus doesn’t stop at each stop announced unless someone is getting off. A bit hard in the dark, I missed my stop but the bus driver was kind enough to drop me off as close as he could. The return journey was easy. The stop wasn’t far from my hotel on Lambton Quay and I made sure I was there with plenty of time and boarded the bus. Excellent value, cheap, and easy.
Accommodation: Novotel Wellington on TripAdvisor
If you caught the bus from the airport like I did and get dropped off on Lambton Quay, there is direct elevator access (business hours) to the Novotel – just ask them about the actual arcade as I can’t locate it on Google Street view (it might be Capital Quay opposite a bus stop, and there are escalators to the above floors). This makes it easier to access the CBD. When I arrived they didn’t have any record of my booking but saw my email from Expedia who obviously didn’t inform the Novotel. It took a bit of time to get sorted but they manually forced a booking through and gave me complimentary internet access. The room is huge, clean, had all the facilities one could want. Superb. The staff were friendly and more than willing to help. They also have luggage storage available and assisted in getting internet access when my work laptop refused to connect. Excellent location to Lambton Quay which has plenty of shopping and one can easily walk to Te Papa Museum and to Cuba St which has heaps of restaurants and more shopping. 5 Star experience.
Te Papa Museum for a guided 1 hr tour – NZ$14 purchased online
Our guide was excellent and we moved through at a nice pace. It was really interesting and we got a taste for what several of the floors offer, history, and some insights into the Maori culture. I was also intrigued by the earthquake section and surprised to learn New Zealand experiences over 10,000 earthquakes a year. Just outside they also show how buildings like the museum can reduce the impact of damage from an earthquake. The buildings are built on rubber, steel and lead absorbers. A pretty good way to get some exposure to a little of NZ’s history and Maori culture. They have free baggage storage available.
Carter Observatory and Cable Car
The cable car is caught from Lambton Quay and costs just NZ$7 for a return journey. It runs every 10 minutes and the ride isn’t much longer. Just check their site for details. A few minutes away from the last stop at the top is Carter Observatory so I popped in for the 3pm show and saw the 1 hour presentation (NZ$12.50) before wondering about the observatory. They have hourly shows running. I’ve never been to an observatory before so getting a taste of what’s out there in space was really interesting. The guide took us through at a nice pace. We went into a theatre and the seats go back so you are comfortably seated but looking upwards. They then use the dome on the ceiling to illustrate the milky way, stars, constellations etc. The guide has a laser pointer and points at spots on the dome to draw attention to what he’s talking about. This made it easy to follow and understand more about space. After the show is an exhibition to walk through at your own pace. On a cold wintery day this was an excellent way to holiday, enjoy something new and interesting, and be shielded from the outside elements. Really enjoyable.
Flights: Air NZ
See Auckland experience
Travelling To & From The Airport
I once again decided on a cheaper option than the taxi and caught bus 29. It took me a while to figure out where I should be so I asked one of the airport staff who directed me. Follow the signs that tell you where the bus services are and when you exit the terminal head in a 45 degree direction on your left. There may be coach services there but the red buses you need to catch are on the other side (left) of the bus shelter. Another service (also a red bus) happens to operate and the bus driver gave me a helpful tip if you are value conscious. Normally the fare for the 29 is NZ$8 one way (or NZ$14 return). However, since the bus pays airport taxes, the fare is higher. You can walk about 400 metres and catch the same bus just outside the airport for NZ$3.50. The route is on the sign of that bus stop if you’re not sure. If you watch the traffic entering and exiting the airport you will see a big roundabout. The bus goes left and the bus stop is right there. There is also a bus stop approximately opposite the road for the reverse journey but I paid the full fare and got dropped off at the airport because I couldn’t locate this bus stop on the other side when I first headed to the city.
Accommodation: The Grange Guesthouse & Motel on TripAdvisor
Discovered this place by accident and since it met my budget and it was in a central location I jumped at it. From the moment I walked in I was made to feel welcome, shown my room and it’s a nice size, had everything I needed, clean and comparable to a hotel. I’d asked if they have an iron and ironing board and that was provided and I also asked for a taxi to booked and it was done. I had breakfast included and the cafe is lovely. I had the delicious pancakes with maple syrup and cinnamon on two occasions and thoroughly enjoyed them. The staff are friendly and I chatted to them about my travels thus far. It’s only a few blocks from Re:Start Container Mall on Cashel St and close by to the Canterbury Museum, bus to the airport, tour pick up locations. Excellent.
Welcome Aboard Grand Tour. NZ$119 (10% discount if booked online and 7 days in advance)
A pretty good tour that includes several activities: Punting on the Avon, Caterpillar Gardens Tour, Christchurch Gondola, Sumner & Redcliffe Seaside Villages, Christchruch Tram.
It was a cold and raining day so better to be inside the bus than on the streets. We took a short drive around the city till we reached the Antigua Boat sheds which was our next part of the tour – Punting on the Avon. The tour provided umbrellas so we wouldn’t get wet but I didn’t particularly fancy riding along the river in the rain. Fortunately the providers of this event give you an umbrella and a waterproof blanket. So after hopping into the canoe type craft, umbrellas open, snug under the blankets, the guy at the end started paddling and we were off at a tranquil pace. Along the way we got a bit of history and we cruised at a very peaceful pace and took in the sights as well as the many ducks, some of which didn’t seem happy that we were in their area, others just watched us drift by.
Next up we went to the botanic gardens and hopped into a little buggy where the guy took us around and explained the various trees and plants at the gardens. It was cold and wet so we were snug under blankets again. During a clear day it must be lovely to walk through here. Nice and peaceful, lots of colour.
After that, we headed back to the bus and took a trip through more of the city before heading towards the seaside town of Sumner. It reminds me a lot of the sleepy little towns I had seen along the west coast of the US during our drive through the Big Sur from LA to San Francisco. After that it was through the hills and steep cliff faces. Along some sides are a line of shipping containers stacked two containers high, filled with concrete, as protection against the steep cliffs which have produced rock falls and mud slides. Artists have painted some of the containers into interesting pieces to lessen the impact on the eye.
Next we arrived at the foot of a mountain where we took a gondola up the side of the mountain to the very top. Very misty, you couldn’t see the top. You could see big rocks that had rolled down, leaving large divets in the ground. Along the way, sheep grazed along the steep banks, not sure how they’re standing. When I got off at the top and turned around, it was just white, as if I had stepped out of some parallel universe. Later it cleared and you could see out into Christchurch and Lyttelton harbour. We had lunch at the Red Rock Café (fish and chips) (nothing else around), browsed the gift shop, and then headed back down.
Back in the bus and back to the city center where the tour ended at a tram stop. We were provided with tickets for use today and some of tomorrow allowing unlimited use of the tram. The tram line is partially operational. It normally loops around the city but due to the earthquake, it only goes back and forth.
Pretty good value given the number of activities and helps to take in different parts of Christchurch. Our bus driver and each of the people we dealt with provided excellent service.
Just NZ$10 to see an exhibition on the two earthquakes which hit Christchurch in the past few years. Our tour operator on the Grand Tour had mentioned earlier that 1200 buildings have been pulled down and 90,000 houses demolished with still more structures to go. A full rebuild will take 20 years. The exhibition was very interesting and an eye opener. They have free baggage storage available.
Flights: Air NZ
See Auckland experience
Travelling To & From The Airport
Like Auckland, Melbourne also has a 24 hr bus service that runs around every 20 minutes – check out the SkyBus website for details. It costs $18 one way or $30 return so I bought a ticket online. The great thing about the service is that once it makes the 20 minute journey it stops at Southern Cross Station. From there you can take a train, bus, or a taxi for your next journey. However, they also offer a free shuttle to selected hotels and mine was on the list so I got dropped off with another passenger and was just a stone’s throw away from my hotel. For the reverse journey, the free shuttle only operates from certain hours so I had to take a taxi to the SkyBus terminal at the Southern Cross Station so I would get to the airport on time. There was a long line there and a bus was filled but another bus came. On both journeys it was pleasant and easy. The free shuttle to my hotel is a great addition to the service. Unfortunately Perth doesn’t offer anything like this.
Travelling around the CBD is easy with a Myki card which allows you to use the train, tram or bus services with a simple tap of your card. Unfortunately, tram rides are fixed regardless if you travel 1 stop or 10 stops. Walking around the CBD is the other option for shorter trips which is easy when Melbourne is pretty compact.
Accomodation: Tune Hotel Melbourne on TripAdvisor
Caught the SkyBus to Southern Cross and they offer a free shuttle to selected hotels, including Tune Hotel. I was dropped off just around the corner with another passenger. Easy check in, electronic cards to swipe in, lovely clean modern room. Excellent value and you pay extra for additional stuff that you want but I was happy to get internet thrown in and toiletries too. The tram is just a stone’s throw away and it’s an easy relaxing walk into the CBD if you want to give the trams a miss. Easy walk to Lygon Street, Queen Victoria Markets, slightly longer walk to Fitzroy / Collingwood but the location is excellent to get to all things in Melbourne. I like the Tune Hotel concept of paying a base price and extra’s for stuff you want rather than a room rate for stuff you might not want. Great system.
Discount / Outlet Shopping
There are several options but I visited a couple and got some great buys and saved heaps.
Bridge Road in Richmond: Catch Eastbound tram 48 or 75 from Flinders Street Station, to stop 16 – http://www.bridgerd.com.au/. Walk along the streets and there are shops galore. Thought they were mainly women’s shops till I saw a couple of men’s shops which were great. Special mention to Batsanis if you want mens shoes and excellent friendly service.
Smith Street in Collingwood: Filled with heaps of cafes and restaurants, as you walk north you will see old red brick buildings which has plenty of well known brands selling stuff at discount prices. Managed to pick up some good bargains.
The other options which I haven’t been to are DFO at the South Wharf of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. The other is somewhere in Essendon which will require quite a drive. However, Bridge Road, Smith Street and DFO are all close to the CBD.
First time I flew Jetstar and it does the job. It’s only a short journey to Sydney from Melbourne so there’s not much to say. There is no airwalk into the plane, you have to cross the tarmac and go up the steps with your carry on. No biggie for me. Food and drink are available for purchase. In comparison, Air NZ generally gave you free cup of water and small snacks to munch on but I guess you’re paying for it.
Travelling To & From The Airport
Last time I visited Sydney years ago I don’t recall there being a train service available but now there is. Terminal 2 & 3 have stations for AirportLink Train where you can buy tickets ~$17 and enjoy a quick 15 minute ride. Unfortunately, due to track works the trains were cancelled but they offered free buses to Central Station so I took that option and then took a taxi to my hotel. For the reverse journey, the trains were up and running so I found the ticket counter at Wynyard Train Station, went to platform 6 and looked out for the service running to the airport (there are other services on the same line so make sure you board the right train). I reckon it took 13 minutes to the domestic airport. There’s quite a few escalators (or lifts) from there till you emerge from the underground to the check in counters. Excellent fast easy experience.
Accommodation: City Hotel Sydney on TripAdvisor
Out of the 6 hotels / B&B I stayed at on my holiday, this was probably the worst, not that it’s horrible, just last on the list. I had arrived early but my room wasn’t ready and I had a 2 hour wait. Fortunately they were able to offer luggage storage so I went to the first floor and waited while one of the staff opened the door to the room to put my luggage in. They also told me there’s a lounge available to wait so I took my laptop and killed some time before popping out for lunch. When I had come back some hours later, my room was ready. It’s nice but very small. I didn’t have room as such to put my luggage anywhere so it was on the floor, meaning I had to hop over both suitcase without falling over. Not easy when waking up in the morning. They do have an ironing board available in the lounge and they have irons at the front desk. I’m not sure if one is supposed to iron in the lounge but I took the ironing board up to my room, except there’s no where to put it apart from the bed, but you have to bend down and hold one end while ironing. Fortunately there is a cupboard with hangers. They have a mini bar, fridge, nice facilities, but the room is cramped. Apart from that, location is great as I was close to Westfield Shopping mall on Pitt St, Chinatown is not that far away, I was close to work, and buses are along the street too. It was pretty cheap so I guess for the location and facilities, no complaints but would have appreciated a little more space, even if I’m not spending my whole day in the room.
Similar experience to my Melbourne-Sydney trip but no sight of tarmac this time at either end of the journey as we walked the airwalk form the terminal into the plane. Nice pleasant flight. Low cost airline that does the job.
Travelling To & From The Airport
Like Sydney, Brisbane also has a rail system available call the Airtrain. It doesn’t run 24hrs but covers most of the day with a single journey costing $16.50 or $31 for return (10% off if tickets are purchased online). I was a bit worried about time and did manage to get the last train at 10:04pm. The station is located directly opposite and outside the Jetstar baggage collection from the domestic terminal. Just go up the escalators or life, find the ticket office to buy or have your pre-purchased tickets scanned and board the train. They also offer free Wi-Fi onboard. Fortuitously, there was a nearby station (Roma St) close by my hotel. The return journey was also a pleasant experience.
Accommodation: Hotel George Williams on TripAdvisor
I caught the Airtrain from the airport to Roma St Station in the Brisbane CBD and a short walk from there with 2 suitcases in tow, is the hotel. I arrived late at night and the check in process was easy and when I asked them for quick options to eat, they gave me several even though most of Brisbane was shut. The room was nice and spacious, a bar fridge, nice large bathroom, desk and TV. The TV was pretty small and squarish so I didn’t get the widescreen feel and some of the picture was chopped off the edges as a result. While there were certain channels programmed like 7mate, I was surprised other free to air channels were missing like the HD channels. Weird. Apart from that, no dramas. The location is excellent with the bus station 1 block away and Queen St shopping 2 blocks away. A convenience store is close by too. The city is walkable and it’s an easy walk across Victoria Bridge to Southbank. The location is fantastic in this regard. They also had a map on the desk which made navigating easy and there’s lots of info of things to do.
Shopping & Transport
You can go all over Brisbane but within the CBD, Queen Street mall is the place to be. A pretty long road with heaps of choices. The surrounding roads also border this shopping precinct. I’d say it’s akin to Murray and Hay St Malls in Perth but on a much larger scale. I didn’t take any transport within the city apart from the free city loop which is a great option to get around, and a bus to the Southbank area which was expensive – $5.20 for a handful of stops. In Perth the same trip would be a third of the price. Needless to say I enjoyed a relaxing pleasant walk from dinner that night as I had walked to Southbank in the morning and knew where to go.
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