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My first ever trip report - Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Oh My!

My first ever trip report - Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Oh My!

Old May 4, 15, 1:58 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
Smile My first ever trip report - Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Oh My!

I've been reading FT for a while so thought it was about time I actually contributed instead of leeching everyone's knowledge! My recent trip to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong seemed a perfect opportunity for my first ever trip report.

The plan looked like this:
SYD - AYQ Jetstar Y
AYQ - CNS Qantas Y
CNS - SYD Qantas Y
SYD - AKL Qantas Y
ZQN - AKL Qantas Y

There was also an awful lot of driving, particularly in New Zealand where we drove from AKL down to Queenstown (via the Ferry) over the course of a week.

You can see larger images in the imgur album or on flickr where you can see photos from my other trips including Japan and Iceland.

So here goes...

Bristol to LHR
After running the numbers we decided to hire a car to take from Bristol to LHR. Even including fuel, this worked out to be substantially cheaper than driving my own car an parking it there. Not to mention that last time we left the country for this period of time we had a frustrating two hour wait for the RAC in Heathrow long stay car parking as the car’s battery had died. So the day before, the friendly Avis delivery driver dropped off a Vauxhall Astra Coupe GTC. This was allegedly an upgrade from the Ford Focus I’d booked as a result of my Avid preferred gold status.

[photo of car]

There was a substantial scratch down the side that I made sure they noted.

[photo of scratch]

It’s a nice enough looking car, but pretty terrible to drive. Sluggish (although my daily driver is a bit of a monster to I may not be the best judge), loose steering and a baffling speedometer which seems to put emphasis on the speeds that don’t correlate to the limits on British roads (most common speed limits are 30, 50, 60 and 70). That made driving through the notorious M4 average speed check area more than a little stressful.

[photo of speedometer]

This lack of attention to detail is why, after owning two Vauxhalls previously, I don’t anymore.

LHR to SYD via SIN, BA J Boeing 777
We arrived at LHR T5 in good time, returned the car to the Avis desk and headed to check in. I’ve always found T5 check in to be a breeze, and so it proved this time as well. We were also straight through Fast Track Security and in to the Galleries Lounge. There are enough posts covering Galleries, so I won’t go in to too much detail but it was really quite bad this time. For some reason, someone had gone through and rearranged the seating for what was presumably a large group, which just caused chaos. Furthermore, the food selection was worse than ever. There weren’t even any sandwiches available! So we settled for a light snack.

[photo of lounge food]

Departures board indicated flight was on time so we headed to the gate. Unfortunately, it was clear upon arrival that it wasn’t going to be on time as the crew hadn’t boarded. Boarding itself was chaos. We were waiting for the J pax to board when I overheard one of the gate crew say that “Everyone’s boarding whenever they want, so there’s no point having priority boarding”. Sorry, but isn’t it your job to prevent that from happening?

Drinks were served promptly before departure.

[photo of champagne]

No menus available today due to a printing issue, so no photos of the menu. Orders were taken shortly after take off and I went for the prawn cake to start. It was actually pretty good with a salad as unimaginative as usual. There was supposed to be wasabi with the prawn cake, but I couldn’t find it.

[photo of prawn cake]

I seem to recall everything other than the beef containing mushrooms, which I’m not a fan of. So beef it was.

[photo of beef]

Pretty standard fare for a BA J meal. Acceptable, especially having not eaten due to the galleries catering situation. The highlight was the desert. Chocolate brownie cake which both the Mrs and I loved.

[photo of desert]

Time to try out my new headphones, the Parrot Zik 2.0s I picked up around Christmas. Wow. Excellent sound quality and the best noise cancelling I’ve come across, including Bose’s offering. Only down side is that they are too large to really lounge in as you have to keep your head facing perfectly straight forward. I rarely sleep on flights, so this wasn’t a huge issue for me. Highly recommend these headphones, even with the usability quirks they are astonishing.

I got through a couple of movies (Nightcrawler, which I really enjoyed and something which I now forget) and tried in vain to sleep, forgetting that I rarely sleep on planes. A couple of hours out of SIN breakfast was served, and I went for a light breakfast of fruit and a croissant.

[photo of breakfast]

There was also a pretty spectacular view of the shipping lanes coming in to SIN. Hundreds of cargo ships for as far as the eye can see.

[photo of ships]

We landed in SIN just over 30 minutes late. This meant the turnaround was much shorter than expected. We literally left the plane, wandered in to a shop, turned around, and got back on the plane. We still departed around 25 minutes late from SIN.

Now there aren’t any photos of the second leg for two reasons. The first is that I actually managed to get some sleep, which is a minor miracle. The second is that there was no menu again and the food options were identical.

We arrived in to SYD at 07:16AM, 16 minutes later than planned.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:01 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
Sydney no1

Sydney, Australia
We had a lot planned for the two weeks in Australia. Sydney for 3 nights, Uluru for 2 nights, Cairns for 4 nights then back to Sydney for 4 nights with a lot crammed in.

Arriving at SYD was chaos. We had priority tickets for immigration as J PAX but the priority line wasn’t operating. I raised this with one of the staff and they said it’s basically down to the airport who open or close as they see fit. Considering three international flights all arrived in close proximity, it seems this would have been a prudent time to open it, but apparently not. You also have to get your passport pre-checked via machines that are dotted around the security area. Unfortunately, there are no signs indicating you have to use these before queuing at the immigration checks, so there were a lot of people joining the wrong queue and general chaos. It’s easily the most disorganised immigration I’ve every experienced. Easily. As a result it took an inordinate amount of time to pass through.

We’d booked the hotel car to pick us up from the Airport and take us to the Intercontinental. It was about a 45 minute drive through traffic in the hotel’s Audi A8L with a local, knowledgeable driver. No water in the car though, which is disappointing, but there was a newspaper for us to catch up on the news from the day we lost.

The Mrs had purchased the Gold Ambassador status and used the free night. On arriving we were told that they had prioritised our room and despite it only being 8:30 it would be ready within an hour. They’d also upgraded us to a room on a high floor with a view of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Free bottles of water were welcome at the check in desk.

I went up to the gym to clean up and then we went for a stroll around the harbour, with the Sydney Opera House being only a ten minute walk away. Seeing the harbour bridge and Opera House is really one of those “yes we’ve really arrived!" moments.

[photo of opera house & bridge]

[Opera House]

[Harbour Bridge]

We stopped for breakfast at the Guylian Cafe. I had a delicious Hot Chocolate and a mediocre Ham and Cheese Croissant (this would become my go to breakfast choice).

We returned to the hotel shortly before 11 and checked in. The room was pretty small, but it didn’t really matter as the view was spectacular.

[view of Sydney Opera House]

[view of Bridge and Opera House]

[view at sunrise]

Sydney Sunrise by essjayt, on Flickr


And the welcome gift.

[photo of wine and fruit]

Our first spell in Sydney was pretty relaxed, with not a lot planned in. We strolled around the botanical gardens, the aquarium and ate a lot. We also visited Manly beach, where it rained really rather heavily for a short period.

[photos of aquarium, view from botanical gardens and manly]


The first night we were pretty exhausted to just went to the hotel restaurant for overpriced steak at the Meat and Wine Co. We also had a few drinks in the Cortile (the hotel bar) that was remarkably lacking in atmosphere and poorly stocked. Lovely setting though.

We ate at Manta and Kingsley’s Steak & Crabhouse on Finger Wharf, which was very conveniently placed. Just a pleasant 15 minute walk from the hotel. Both were overpriced for only slightly above average food. Manta was the pick with their fish of the day being particularly nice (the Carpaccio was just ok). The wagyu at Kingsley’s was again, just ok. Not a patch on the wagyu you get in Japan.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:04 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
Uluru, Yulara and Ayer's Rock

Australia, Uluru
We had a 10:30 Jetstar flight in to AYQ (Uluru, Connellan Airport). No lounge access so I ended up grabbing a ham and cheese croissant and boarding. Pretty uneventful flight although unlike European flight we were given an individual safety briefing because we had exit rows. The only other notable thing was that they were hiring out tablets for entertainment. I had my iPad so didn’t bother. Someone sitting close by had one and it looked pretty poor.

AYQ is one of the smallest airports I’ve come across, and very low tech. There was a long taxi after landing to the terminal building, which is a generous description of the building.

[photo of AYQ]

There were some amusing warnings in the airport about dingos (no mention of babies though!).

One thing that you’ll notice about Uluru is that it’s warm and dry like few other places. During our time there is topped out at 42 degrees celsius and it’s a vey dry heat.

We’d booked a car with Hertz. They’d upgraded us to a Toyota FJ cruiser due to my Gold status. Nice to have a capable off road vehicle given the location.

[photos of FJ cruiser]

We picked up the car and headed to the Sails in the Desert resort. We stayed in Yulara, which is a resort that’s part of the Accor group. There are several different types of accommodation available in the same resort, beginning with a campground moving up to the five star Sails in the Desert, which is where we were staying.

As an Accor Le Club Platinum member I headed to the priority check in area. A large tour group had just turned up so there was a significant queue in the non priority area, and only one family in the priority lane. Unfortunately, the family were incredibly high maintenance and needed everything explained to them in excruciating detail. The non priority queue would have been faster. It was disappointing that no other members of staff came to assist as the priority queue was now growing.

[photo of reception area]

This is where things started to go wrong.

The hotel couldn’t find my reservation. I had the email confirmation, which I showed them, but they couldn’t find it on their system. After much discussion, and about 20 minutes of mild panicking (the hotel was pretty full and you’re quite literally in the middle of nowhere) they discovered that, because I was a platinum member I’d been pre-checked in and my details reserved so the manager could greet me personally. Nice thought, but what a shambles. I couldn’t quite figure out whether this was standard for platinum (in which case, why didn’t the guy on the checkin desk know what to do) or if it was different for me (in which case, why?). The guy also made a big deal about this being the five star part of the resort, the best part of the resort.

And it gets worse.

I’d read that the excursions can be pretty busy so you needed to book in advance, so I did. I’d booked the Sound of Silence Dinner for the night we arrived (this is where you travel on camel back in to the outback for dinner under the stars) and the sunset helicopter tour over Uluru and Kata Tjuta for the second night. A day before arriving I’d received an email from the hotel saying they’d cancelled the excursions because I hadn’t provided payment information, even though I had. The manager confirmed that this was an error in the Sydney booking office but our chosen excursions were unavailable. The Sounds of Silence was fully booked. I set them the challenge of rebooking us on something equivalent with the priority being the sunset helicopter trip. We then headed to the room.

Given that Uluru and Yulara are so hot, you’d expect the air conditioning to be top notch. It’s not. The room was set to 10 degrees but the actual temperature in the room was closer to 25. The air conditioning was like and ant blowing out a candle. Highly ineffective.

The rooms were also some way away from the hotel’s five star status.

[photos of hotel room]

The doors to the balcony were especially odd as the carpet makes it look like a dead body has been dragged in from the outside leaving a trail of blood.

[photos of carpet]

The room was in places quite dirty and poorly put together. I can understand it given the location, but don’t try and sell a five star service if you can’t live up to it. The hotel reminded me of a place I stayed in in Magaluf on a lad’s holiday. The outside walkways were filthy dirty, and not just with the dust you’d expect, but rubbish.

The front desk called and advised that they’d booked us on the Uluru BBQ that night and confirmed our sunset helicopter trip for the following evening. They also sent a bottle of wine and desert by way of an apology.

[photo of gift]

So that night we jumped on one of coaches to go and see Ayer’s Rock at sunset, to be followed by a moonlight BBQ. I found the Ayer’s Rock sunset experience somewhat perverse. You basically go to a car park with hundreds of other tourists to try and catch a glimpse of Ayer’s rock. Considering how barren the area is, it seems odd to cram everyone together. The view is undoubtedly superb, but it all feels very fake and touristy.

[photo of Ayer’s rock at sunset]

Ayer's Rock at Sunset by essjayt, on Flickr

[photos of the crowds and coaches]

The BBQ dinner was probably preferable to the Sound of Silence dinner. We met some interesting people and ate some good BBQd food, including Wallaby. People who had done both excursions preferred the BBQ. After dinner there was an interesting talk on the stars visible. It really is one of the best places to view the solar system from, especially on a dry, clear night as it was here.

The next morning we headed to a different vantage point to see sunrise. Again, it was packed with people and tour groups even though it was pre 7am. We also took a drive to Kata Tjuta, which is both bigger and taller than Ayer’s Rock. I walked for about an hour around Kata Tjuta and it was tough. Not only was it unbelievably hot, but the flies were incredibly aggressive. I went from laughing at people wearing hats and nets to being incredibly envious very very quickly.

We booked dinner in the hotel restaurant and jumped on the shuttle bus to take us to the airport for our helicopter ride.

Suffice to say this was a really special experience. The wait on the ground was a little too long for my liking, especially given the goldfish bowl-esque design of the helicopter and the heat turning it in to an over, but once in the air, it’s spectacular.

[photos from helicopter]

Uluru from the air by essjayt, on Flickr

Kata Tjuta ? at sunset by essjayt, on Flickr

We headed back to the hotel for dinner. They call it an interactive buffet which, as far as I can tell, it just another name for a carvery. The food was incredibly poor. Tasteless, over cooked, undercooked, dry. Ugh. Everything bad you think of when you think of a carvery. There were only minimal a la carte options, of which the Mrs went for the steak which was, by all accounts pretty good. But you still had to get your sides from the buffet and they were universally awful. There were also mice running around the dining area. Apparently these are endangered so there’s not a lot the hotel can do about it. It doesn’t make for a fantastic dining experience.

The next day we checked out, had a light lunch (burger in the hotel restaurant, which was ok) and headed to the airport. Suffice to say, if you’re visiting this area I’d recommend staying in Longitude 131 (also run by Accor) and not Sails in the Desert. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise Longitude 131 existed when we booked, but it looks far superior.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:06 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
Daintree and Thala Beach

Cairns (AYQ to CNS Qantas) Boeing 717
I wasn’t sad to leave Sails in the Desert, nor Uluru. The hotel wasn’t pleasant and as someone who’s not a fan of the heat, it was too hot for me. In my defence, we booked a time of year when it was supposed to be much cooler and it just happened to be unseasonably hot, a good 10 degrees above the average for that time of year.

We dropped the car off at the airport and passed through the minimal security.

The first class lounge

Great view of the tarmac, decent air conditioning and a fascinatingly manual on ground process actually made for an enjoyable wait.

For the past few days, Cairns and North Eastern Australia in general was being battered by Cyclone Nathan so we’d been keeping a very close eye on the weather reports. Everything was on time and it looked like Nathan was passing North, so we looked good to go.

This was a Qantas flight which actually departed and arrived early. The view on the way to Cairns was pretty spectacular. A fairly bumpy flight though and no exit row, so my six foot three frame found it rather uncomfortable. It was a full, single class plane through, so not a lot could be done. I sucked it up and watched movies on my iPad the entire way passing on the disgusting looking food.

We again had a car booked in Cairns and were again upgraded by Hertz. Unfortunately they’d upgraded us to an estate, a Hyundai estate.

[photo of Hyundai]

A really generic car that left much to be desired in terms of driving dynamics and interior quality.

We had two nights booked just north of Cairns at Thala Beach resort. This is an eco resort built on a conservation area. The owners bought the land from a sugar cane company and planted thousands of indigenous plants and trees to restore it. They then built a resort in a sympathetic style. We had one of the ocean view villas, which had a spectacular view.

[thala beach view]

The villa was built on a hill and supported by stilts. Decent sized villa for a couple, and appointed very appropriately for the resort.

[thala beach villa]

Having arrived quite late we opted to eat in the hotel. A very limited menu, but well done and pretty good. I went for the steak (again). The setting makes it, as you’re eating in a raised building that’s open to the elements. This was made particularly special by a rather large cricket jumping down the Mrs’ top.

After a good night’s sleep we headed to the rainforest near Daintree on Cape Tribulation.

[photos from rainforest]

It was a bit meh to be honest, and at this point the tail of Nathan was nearing, so were were getting very wet and more than a little nervous. We headed back to the resort via Hartley’s Creek Crocodile park and Port Douglass.

[photos of Port Douglass and Hartley’s Creek]
[port douglas]

[Hartley’s Creek]

Honestly, these aren’t the sort of places we would normally visit on a trip, but the weather was limiting out options. The crocodile tour and show were entertaining, but left a sour taste in the month. Still, there are not many places where you can see a cassowary up close.

[photo of cassowary]

We headed back to the hotel and ate there again in the evening.

And boy, was it an interesting evening. Nathan was closing in and being in a villa on the side of a mountain is not the best place to experience such a thing. It was quite a nervous night. Thankfully Nathan headed north so we only caught the tail end but there was still very heavy rain and high winds. The hotel coped excellently though, locking everything down and posting frequent updates to guests. They even managed to continue serving food and drinks throughout, with only a slight change of plans for breakfast (a la carte only, fine by me!).

The next day we headed down to Cairns for a stay in the Pullman Reef Casino. We were welcomed by the Assistant Manager and upgraded to a junior suite as part of the Accor Le Club Platinum benefit and a welcome drink.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:07 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48

The next day we headed down to Cairns for a stay in the Pullman Reef Casino. We were welcomed by the Assistant Manager and upgraded to a junior suite as part of the Accor Le Club Platinum benefit and a welcome drink.

[photos of the pullman casino]

That night we ate at the Tamarind Restaurant, attached to the hotel. It was fantastic. I had the pork and it was the best meal I had in Australia, wonderful fusion of Asian and Australian tastes. At that point we hit the casino to waste some money.

The next day we visited Kuranda via the Sky Rail, which is a gondola that travels over the rainforest. We paid a bit extra for a glass bottomed gondola to get a full view of the trees below.

[photos from gondola]

Kuranda village is very touristy and we made the mistake of eating lunch in one of the restaurants there. To be perfectly honest, we picked the restaurant purely because it said it had air conditioning, which it only had at the entrance. I can’t even remember the name of the place to tell you to avoid it!

The evening was really interesting. I’m Welsh and a big rugby fan. I’d spent the last few days trying to figure out where I could watch the final matches in the Six Nations, which was going down to the wire. My research led m again to the casino’s sports bar which had a large screen and seating area for sporting events. Surprisingly, quite a few Welsh fans turned up to watch Wales hammer Italy but ultimately fall short. It was a good night nonetheless.

The next morning we headed back to Cairns Airport for our flight back to Sydney. Cairns was, for me, a little touristy. We had booked a tour of the reef but given the weather only the big ones were operating which wasn’t for us, so we passed. We were also told that because of the cyclone you couldn’t see anything out on the reef (because the sediment had been stirred up) and that the sea was very rough indeed, with people having to be helicoptered back to land due to extreme sea sickness.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:10 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
Sydney No2

CNS to SYD Boeing 737-800
Another uneventful Qantas flight with exit row seating only notable for the really rather horrific in flight meal. I think this was supposed to be beef.

[photo of meal]

We took a taxi from SYD to the Pullman Quay Grand hotel (oddly, the taxi driver had never heard of it, so it took a bit of explaining). No special welcome or upgrade but we did get a gift, so opted for the cheese board and wine.

The Quay Grand isn’t a traditional hotel. It’s recently been converted from an apartment building and the rooms are still set up as apartments with full kitchens (being two weeks in to a five week break, the washing machine came as a welcome addition). The room had a spectacular view of the harbour bridge.

[photo of harbour bridge at night]

Sydney Harbour at night by essjayt, on Flickr

And was fairly big. It was, however, a little tired and dated. It also wasn’t as clean as it could have been.

[photos of room]

If you’re looking for a hotel like experience though, this may not be the place for you. We were given vouchers for a welcome drink on arrival so dropped our stuff at the room and went to the bar. It was in the process of closing. This was at 9pm. The next night we planned to eat in the well reviewed restaurant only to find out that it’s closed on Sundays. These are frustrating decisions in a city centre hotel.

We crammed a fair bit in to our second Sydney visit. We climbed the Harbour Bridge at sunset. You’ll have to forgive the completely unflattering boiler suits!

[photo of bridge climb]

and visited Sydney Opera House to see Madama Butterfly

[photo of opera house interior]

On our last day in Sydney we took a full day tour to the Blue Mountains with Dingo Tours. They’re a small tour operator and there were about 10 people on our small tour bus. We had a private tour of a small zoo including a chance to meet the koalas and feed the wallabies.

[zoo photos]

A visit to an aboriginal visitor centre with private performance

[photos of aboriginal performance]

and a tour around the mountains themselves

[photos of blue mountains]

Our guide, Menashe did a good job of keeping us away from the larger tour groups and taking us to areas with few other people. He timed the entire thing perfectly. The zoo and aboriginal experience were a little touristy for my liking and we’re not the sort of couple that regularly goes on tours. Unfortunately, given the amount of time we had in the area it was either this or not see the Blue Mountains at all. If you’re going to do it, definitely pick one of the smaller companies, and I can recommend Dingo Tours if you’re looking for that sort of thing.

Next day we were off to New Zealand!
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:11 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
New Zealand South Island

NZ North Island
SYD to AKL on Boeing 737-800
Another short Qantas Flight after waiting in the reasonably nice Amex lounge in SYD with a nice view of the tarmac.

[photo from Amex lounge]

The lounge was pretty full but we managed to grab a window seat. There was a pretty spartan selection of food and drinks available, but probably what you’d expect for a lounge this size. The toilets were bizarre though. They had electrically operated doors that were frosted glass. You could definitely see the outline of people using the facilities. The lounge had the easily recognisable plant wall that seems to be in all the Amex lounges.

We had a frustrating issue with Qantas on this flight. The night before we OLCI'd and selected exit row seats when there was a technical error. Upon calling the service centre (after 40 minutes in a queue) we were told that something had gone wrong and we’d been assigned two seats but not in the exit row. We were told that exit row seats were still available, but we couldn’t change our seat selection because we were within 24 hours of the flight(!). But not to worry, we could do it at the airport in the morning. Of course, by the time we got to the airport, all the exit row seats had gone so I had to fold myself in to a normal seat.

I passed on the meal after the last Qantas experience.

We were planning on driving a lot in New Zealand so had pre booked a hire car with Hertz. Ford Falcom XR6. We picked this up from Auckland airport (no upgrade) and there was a little confusion. first i confirmed that I was dropping the car off at a different location (Queenstown), which was fine. I then enquired about the Ferry. I’d read online that the hire car companies will penalise you for taking a hire car on the Interislander Ferry. So when I queried this I was told that I should just drop the car off at Wellington Ferry terminal and pick up a replacement at Picton, and that all this was arranged. Fine. He handed us the keys and off we went. Well, not before the guy came running after us telling us he’d given us the wrong keys (this is after he got the bay number of the car wrong). This should have been a warning of what was to come.

The next week was spent in the Hawke’s Bay and Lake Taupo areas. We were predominantly there for a wedding which took place at the Black Barn Vineyard. Lovely setting. As family of the groom, we were staying in the Black Barn Vineyard buildings, which were spectacular.

[photos of black barn]

After a few days we headed down to Lake Taupo and a stay in a lake front hotel, The Millennium Hotel, with very nice views. Pretty basic hotel and a little dated (sorry, only got photos of the view) but fine for a night.

[photo of Taupo view]

A couple of days later and we’re off to the South Island.We drop the car off at Wellington Ferry terminal, drop the keys in the box and take the sat nav unit with us. There were no instructions for Hertz customers at Wellington terminal, just for Avis and the counters were closed.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:14 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 48
New Zealand South Island

NZ South Island
The Interislander Ferry is surely one of the most spectacular Ferry journeys in the world. We’ve taken this journey twice before and the scenery is stunning. This time, we were crossing at sunset, which made it very different. I’d probably recommend doing it in the day if you want to see the stunning scenery.

[photos of ferry crossing]

The ferry itself is pretty old (I believe they’re old cross channel ferries from the UK and France) and in need of updating. There is a lounge but having had a look at it, I decided against it and just hung around new the bar trying not to be sea sick.

Three ish hours later we arrive in Picton and go to collect our car. Upon arriving at the Hertz desk I’m informed that they have no record of my booking, even after giving them the reference number. They may not even have a car available for me! And to make matter worse, they’d be charging a NZ$50 charge because it’s outside normal office hours and they’re only open because another passenger had requested it.

After a bit of back and forth I manage to secure a car (a Ford Mondeo, ugh) and get the fee refunded. Apparently the Hertz office in Auckland didn’t update the system with my plans and also didn’t give me the required paperwork, including a leaflet explaining exactly what to do when using the ferry (including not taking the sat nav with you!). It was blind luck that someone else had requested the office be open at that time, else it wouldn’t be. Quite why they don’t align their opening hours with the ferry crossings is beyond me.

I took the car just to make sure I had something, and headed to the motel for the night.

We stayed in the Harbour View motel for the night, which had nice views of the harbour but was otherwise pretty basic and dated.

[photos of harbour view motel]

In the morning I contacted Hertz New Zealand to explain the situation. They didn’t have another vehicle available. I did find out that the still planned on charging me for the higher class of vehicle even though they could supply it. Shocking, so I got that refunded. I’m going to put a complaint in to Hertz UK when I get the chance.

The day was spent mostly on the road, travelling down past Greymouth to Kapitea Lodge on the West Coast. There was some spectacular scenery along the way.

[photos of drive to grey mouth]

Is it me, or does this look like a dinosaur??

We stopped at Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki) on the way.

[photos of pancake rocks]

Kapitea lodge is perched on top of a hill overlooking the coast with some spectacular views. It’s more like a B&B with a handful of small rooms and food served in what would have been the main part of the house. There was one other couple there the night we stayed, and we ate dinner together. It was very pleasant, and a break from the norm. We decided staying in Greymouth itself because, quite frankly, none of the accommodation options looked to be our taste.

[view from kapitea]

The host, Pete, was very welcoming and an excellent cook.

Another day of driving to get down to Franz Josef Glacier where we were hoping to take a helicopter up to a glacier. Some more spectacular scenery along the way. And as you can see, we’re dealing with some very changeable weather.

[photos from drive]

We made a brief stop at Hokitika which is known for its beach art constructed from driftwood.

[photos of hokitika]

Once at Franz Josef we checked in to our hotel for the night, Te Waonui Forest Retreat. And wow, what a wonderful hotel. Set away from the busy Franz Josef road and town, in the forest, and wonderfully designed. The weather had turned by this point so our helicopter trip had been postponed until the morning. Oh well, guess we’ll just have to hit the bar!

[photos of the waonui bar]

After a drink or five, we headed to the restaurant for the seven course degustation meal. Fantastic apart from the desert! The venison was especially good. Breakfast in the hotel was also probably the best we had in the entire trip.

The weather had become even worse by morning, so our rescheduled helicopter trip was off as we had to be in Queenstown that day. Getting to Queenstown from Franz Josef involves driving through the Haast Pass and along the shores of Lake Wanaka. Again, more amazing scenery.

[Haast Pass and Lake Wanaka]

essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:17 pm
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Our hotel for our first stay in Queenstown was the St Moritz. It really was a toss up between here and the Sofitel. We chose wrong. The room was dark and tiny. It was a lake view room but with tiny windows (who on earth things that’s a good design choice?!?). There was also work being completed on our floor. We were on the top floor in a lake view room, so no upgrade, but we did get a welcome drink voucher for the bar.

[photos of the st moritz]

First order of business was trying to book a helicopter trip to the glaciers (different glaciers to Franz Josef, but still glaciers). A quick chat to the concierge and we were booked for the morning with the advice that the concierge would let us know the situation first thing as the weather was unpredictable. :|

We headed out and ate at Pier 19 on the waterfront. I’d eaten there before, about 18 months earlier but for breakfast. I had the pork, which was really nice. There were only outside seats left and it was pretty cold, but blankets were provided which actually made it feel a little special (although other diners did leave because it was too cold).

The next morning and, predictably, the helicopter flight is off. The concierge said he’d work to get us on the first available flight. So we went for a stroll in to the town. About 11am my phone range asking if I could be back at the hotel in 15 minutes as a flight was on. Why yes, of course I can! So one jog back to the hotel later and we’re on the shuttle bus to the airport!

This helicopter flight is a must do in Queenstown. It’s not only spectacular but the pilots are insane. At times, it was like a rollercoaster!

[photos from helicopter]

Path through the mountains by essjayt, on Flickr

Queenstown and Frankton from the air by essjayt, on Flickr

Shotover from above by essjayt, on Flickr

An amazing experience, especially for the Mrs who’s got a degree in geography and loves glaciers.

Lunch was at he famous Ferg Burger. When we visited Queenstown a couple of years ago Ferg Burger was popular and we had to queue for about 15 minutes to get served. This time was completely different and it appears to have jumped the shark. At times the queue was over an hour. There were tour groups going there and the queue was almost the length of the street. We happened to walk past at a quiet time to stop for lunch.

[photo of Ferg Burger]

The burgers are pretty good, but I’ve had better. I think they’ve actually gone down hill since my last visit.

In the afternoon we took a trip on the famous Shotover Jet. Quite an exhilarating ride and a crazy sky!

[photos from Shotover Jet]

It’s a very professional setup they run, and you can buy some professional photos and videos after the trip is complete.

Dinner was with the Mrs’ family at Prime Restaurant and Bar for some mediocre steak.

The next day we checked out and headed towards Milford, stopping at Te Anau on the way.

But one last activity in Queenstown, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump. I’ve never done a bunny jump before, so what better way to start than with the world’s first! It’s a very strange sensation, feeling completely helpless as you fall, hoping everything works. A hell of a buzz and I can see why people keep going back. Similar to the Shooter Jet, it’s incredibly professional and you can pick up photos and videos afterwards, which of course I did!

[photos of bungy]
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:19 pm
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Milford Sound

Onwards to Milford and our next stop, the lovely Fiordland Luxury Lodge just outside Te Anau. We had a wooden chalet all to ourselves. It sleeps five, three single beds on the upper floor and a double on the ground floor. There was a gas fire in the living room and some nice sofas. Very rustic even though the entire place is quite new.

The drive to get there:

[photos of fiordland lodge]

Dinner was back in the main building and it was wonderful. The best steak I had in New Zealand (and I had a lot) and a spectacular fireplace, allegedly the largest in the southern hemisphere.

[photo of fiordland fireplace]

The next day we were off to Milford Sound, one of the most amazing places on earth.

We’d visited before and Kayaked around the sound (technically not a sound but rather a Fiord) with Rosco’s, highly recommended. It took about four hours and was an amazing experience. The draw back was that it was very tiring and impossible to take photos of. This time we decided to take one of the cruises.

We went with Cruise Milford, one of the smaller operators with a smaller boat. This was a wise choice as you could freely move around and take all the photos you wanted to. Some of the larger cruise operators had packed boats. Milford Sound was in fine form after the storms of the past few days. The waterfalls were out in full force.

[photos of Milford]
The drive to get there

Mountain Pass by essjayt, on Flickr

Milford itself

Overcast Milford Sound by essjayt, on Flickr

Cloudy, Misty Milford Sound by essjayt, on Flickr

Waterfalls at Milford Sound by essjayt, on Flickr

Milford Sound III by essjayt, on Flickr

Milford Sound II by essjayt, on Flickr

Milford Sound I by essjayt, on Flickr

The water was incredibly rough when we were there, with huge waves tipping the boat from side to side.

We also visited the underwater observatory. It’s a floating building that has a tube that drops deep beneath the surface with thick glass that allows you to view the sea life underneath. They describe this as a reverse aquarium as you’re the ones trapped where the sea life can come and go as they please. The negative to this is that they can’t guarantee anything interesting will be there when you are, and when we were there it wasn’t particularly interesting.

After this, there was just the long drive back to Queenstown.

[photo of sunset heading to Queenstown]

Sunset drive along Lake Wakatipu by essjayt, on Flickr

The hotel for our second stay in Queenstown was the lovely Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel. Small, but well formed. The only criticism is that it’s not particularly central. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos, I think we were both too exhausted by this point having driven all the way back from Milford Sound.

This was our las night on the South Island and the morning after we headed to Frankton/Queenstown Airport for a short flight up to Auckland.

The flight out of Queenstown is spectacular, skiing across the Remarkables and heading north.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 2:22 pm
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AKL - HKG & Hong Kong

ZQN - AKL on ANZ Airbus A320 100
A very short flight at just over 90 minutes with a fair but of turbulence. The inflight snack was absurd. Have a look at the cheese to cracker ratio!

[Photo of cheese and crackers]

We arrived at AKL and jumped in a taxi heading to the Sofitel. Pretty standard Sofitel design, clean, modern and slightly cold. We had a marina view room, which predominantly looked in to someone else’s apartment. No upgrade, but we did get the Accor welcome drink voucher.

[photos of sofitel]

It was late but we didn’t have much time in Auckland so headed to the Sky Tower. Luckily it was almost completely empty and we had at least ten minutes on the top floor without anyone else there. It has spectacular views of Auckland at night.

[photos from sky tower]

A decent breakfast in the morning before heading back to AKL for our CX flight to HKG.

AKL to HKG on CX in W
This was my first flight on CX having heard a lot of good things about them. I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. The W cabin was tiny, with only four rows. On both meal services they ran out of one of the choices after only two rows and didn’t really have any alternatives. Despite this they continued to serve from the front of the cabin meaning that some people lost out twice. I also found the seats to be fairly uncomfortable with a bizarrely placed foot rest that made it uncomfortable to fit my feet under the seat in front. I think BA’s W has the edge, although I’ve only flown in W on an A380 with BA, which may account for the majority of the difference.

This was my second choice CX meal. It really wasn’t very nice at all, and I’m usually a lover of asian food.

[photos of the CX meal]

We were once again in an Intercontinental in Hong Kong and had pre-booked the Hotel’s car. We located the hotel representative in the arrivals area who took us to the limousine lounge whilst the car was brought around. This was more like it. A brand new Mercedes S Class, with drinks and wifi.

This was actually a pretty memorable check in experience. The car arrived at the front of the hotel and there was some sort of event going on. There were people everywhere and a bunch of very expensive cars parked outside (I spotted a 458 Italia, a Hurucan, a handful go 911s and a Rolls Royce Ghost). The car doors were opened and we were escorted by a member of staff straight through the crowds down the red carpet (literally) and straight in to the elevators to the room.

We’d been upgraded to a larger room with a harbour view, which was spectacular.

[photo of hotel view]

The room was fairly large and well equipped. Pretty standard for an Intercontinental though.

[photos of hotel room]

And the slightly bizarre Ambassador gift of tea.

[photo of gift]

The hotel also provided a free phone to use, with internet access, which is a fantastic idea and incredibly useful.

[photo of IC phone]

The Intercontinental isn't actually on Hong Kong island, so it's a short walk to either the Star Ferry terminal or the underground station to get across the water. Public transport in Hong Kong is crazy cheap, and most places are walkable. This is the Salisbury Rd Intercontinental not the Grand Stanford.

Most of the time we spent in Hong Kong was shopping! We also did a reasonable amount of walking. Hong Kong is a fascinating place, it’s almost as if you can see it changing before your very eyes. Walking around the city is great fun, even if it is raining heavily. Something that’s particularly stark in Hong Kong is the contrast between the rich and poor, some of which you can hopefully see in these photos.

[photos from Hong Kong]

We had booked a dinner at Nobu for one night, which is conveniently located right in the hotel. I went for the taster menu which I really enjoyed. It was too challenging for the Mrs so she ordered a la carte. I’m visiting New York in August and we’re considering going to the Nobu there where I’ll go a la carte as well, now that I have an idea of what I like.

We’d ordered a car from the hotel to take us to the airport on the last night which turned out to be a little more troublesome that we would have liked. A combination of heavy rain and an event in the hotel meant that it was incredibly busy and the car turned up late. We just made it to the airport on time but cut it so fine that there was no time to make use of the lounge.

Or at least that’s what we thought. The flight was delayed by almost an hour. Frustratingly, the gate staff knew about this well in advance but hadn’t updated the departures board, leading to gate chaos.

[photo of HKG gate]

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from the BA W flight back to LHR. It was on an A380 and as I alluded to earlier, was a better experience than CX. Having said that, I slept most of the way!

Then it was simply picking up the Avis car (Ford Focus, no upgrade despite it being an airport location and the guy at the preferred desk giving me a dirty look and asking in a really condescending voice whether I was a preferred customer) and driving back to Bristol.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve got any feedback or questions, or anything at all really, let me know! I’ll try and be a bit more complete for my upcoming trip to New York in F on BA in August!

Last edited by essjay2009; May 5, 15 at 5:18 pm Reason: Clarified which Hong Kong IC we stayed in.
essjay2009 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 3:36 pm
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Great report and pictures, thanks.

That carpet picture really does look like a blood trail, very freaky.
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Old May 4, 15, 4:20 pm
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essjay2009 What a great first TR, thank you for sharing ^ Your photos are awesome, especially the Sydney ones.
Madone59 is offline  
Old May 4, 15, 4:56 pm
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Wow, thanks for sharing. We also stayed at the Fiordland Lodge. We also rented one of the "cottages" and had a wonderful stay. Your trip has brought back memories of a wonderful trip to New Zealand. Thanks!!
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Old May 4, 15, 8:28 pm
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Nice TR and photos! Thank you for posting.

And, thank you for posting the entire TR at once. ^ ^
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