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Oceania the long way and 787 Tour | SEA-SFO-SYD-AKL-NRT-SEA | UA/NZ/NH J

Oceania the long way and 787 Tour | SEA-SFO-SYD-AKL-NRT-SEA | UA/NZ/NH J

Old Jul 23, 17, 11:03 pm
  #16  
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Originally Posted by cavemanzk View Post
Australian Customs doesn't accept digital board passes, for any airline ex Australia.

Think comes down to an outdated law in Australia, that prevents the use of an cellphone in an customs controlled area.

It becomes rather annoying when at all other NZ ports, you can use your mobile board passes at every stage upto boarding.
Ah, interesting cavemanzk! This is the kind of background that I love learning about. I guess it makes sense. UA made some extensive announcements about not using cellphones in the customs processing area, but I don't think the staff had time to pay attention.

As another note, I couldn't get boarding passes for AKL-[NZ]-NRT-[NH]-SEA either. But I'm sure there's a different reasoning for that.

Originally Posted by TPJ View Post
Great report!

But BTW there is also a SQ lounge at SYD airport, so *A travelers have 2 lounges to choose from (or they can use both ).
I just dropped down to UA Silver so unfortunately no *A Gold for me. The Silverkris lounge and Air NZ lounge are literally right next to each other so I'm sure if you had the time (or were curious) you could check out both. Good tip TPJ.

Originally Posted by 757 View Post
Wow, incredible report so far. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks 757!
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Old Jul 23, 17, 11:54 pm
  #17  
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The Langham, Auckland

The Langham, Auckland
Number of nights: 2
Elite Tier: None
Cost: N/A
Cash Cost: $358 NZD
Redemption Value: N/Z
Booking Channel: American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

I had originally planned to stay at the Hilton Auckland since it seemed like one of the best points-focused options in the city, but the Hilton wanted something like $400 NZD/night for the 2 nights I was there (and the points redemption value was also extraordinary) so I had to find another option.

After clicking around, the Langham Auckland surfaced, and I realized it was an AMEX FHR property. Clicking through, the rate for my two nights was an amazing $358 NZD total (including tax!). This is roughly $266 USD for two nights... Very good value IMO. I'd also receive a $100 USD ($131 NZD) property credit, and free breakfast every morning. Who needs loyalty programs?

Hopping off the SkyBus from AKL airport (keep in mind there are two different routes... Bus 01 and Bus 03... supposedly with #01 you don't have to walk up a massive hill) at one of the first stops (the driver announced "Langham" hotel..."), I realized I should have stayed on the bus until it made its loop around the city. I now had to walk up a short (but STEEP) hill and entered the Langham via the back entrance.

As another note, on the bus I wasn't really paying attention to the drive (it didn't seem too interesting) since I was too busy trying to book a day trip tour for the next day.

Anyways, the Langham is actually located outside of central Auckland (not far) in a small neighborhood called Grafton. It's also on top of a hill, so if you are walking you will always need to come back up some sort of hill to get to the Langham.

A friendly (but rather stiff and nervous-sounding) checked me in an explained the AMEX FHR benefits: a complimentary room upgrade, $100 USD property credit (which is valid... and I quote "on anything except the room"), daily buffet breakfast at 8, free internet, etc.

I've only booked through AMEX FHR a few times (most recently at the W/A Shanghai with a 4th night free), and have always had good experiences. Getting a $100 property credit on top of a two night stay that totaled $266 is outsized value as well, if I do say so myself. Perks of staying in the low season.

Anyways -- I was issued my keys and up to my room on the 7th floor at the very end of the hallway.

Wow -- what a blast from the past. This property is regarded as one of the best hotels in Auckland and I understand why, but it seriously could use some updating.



I think this is the 2nd tier room (one category upgrade from the basic room). I didn't do much research into the room categories here since my trip was so last minute, but the size was fine and it was nicely furnished (though dated).





The bathroom had a nice large countertop which was great for spreading out thing (stark contrast from the Hilton Sydney).



Water pressure here was also excellent, and water hot. However there is only one shower curtain so... It's hard to explain this, but there is so much hot water that it heats up the air (which then rises) and leads to cold air from the bathroom coming under the shower curtain, effectively blowing the shower curtain against you while you are showering. If you understand the physics between the cause of wind at beaches, then you may know what I'm talking about here.



Toiletries were Chuan Spa branded. A recent TPG review has different branded toiletries, so not sure if different room categories receive different bath amenities.



Bottles of complimentary water.





Apparently I am missing pictures of anything else in this hotel (forgive me!), but I will attempt to describe them.

Spa/Gym
I took a peek at the gym and it was tiny. Definitely falls into the "fitness room" category. I did not use it.

I had actually intended to use my $100 USD credit to get a service at Chuan Spa, but there were no timeslots that fit my schedule (rather, there was only one timeslot left and it was smack dab in the middle of my day tour the next day).

In-Room Dining
I availed myself of some green smoothies off the in-room dining menu the night I arrived in attempt to get some nutrition and to use up the $100 credit. In-room dining orders consisting of only beverages do not incur a service/tray charge, so something to keep in mind.

The Langham Club
As I understand it, there is a club lounge at this property but I was not offered an upgrade to a room type that conferred access. I also did not mind as I wouldn't have used it really either.

Dining @ Eight Restaurant
Eight is the Langham's main dining venue. There are is a buffet option (I believe at all times of day) as well as a la carte options. Eight derives its name from the 8 main dining stations setup buffet style.

I dined at the buffet for breakfast both mornings and once for dinner ($99 NZD... not cheap but I had the credit to use up!).

Here are some pictures from breakfast (not as varied as dinner time but it definitely has everything you need).



The fruit is what I was really after





Carbs, carbs for everyone!



Quite empty at 6:30am



The options are quite good. Anything you want, you will find at 8. One of the most impressive international buffets I've been to, though it's up to you whether you'd want to pay $99NZD for the dinner buffet (personally I would not). Breakfast is a more reasonable $40 NZD, IIRC.

Here are some pictures from the dinner buffet.

Cheese selection.



Plentiful oyster selection and haute-cuisine appetizers. The green creamsicle looking dish is actually a broccoli concoction.



The ice cream cone looking object was actually seared beef tips in a sesame waffle cone in some sort of sesame dressing. Quite nice, though unfortunately since these sit out, the waffle cones become soggy with the moisture from the beef.



Massive chilled seafood selection. Any shellfish you could ever dream of. If you exclusively ate from this station you may be able to get close to breaking even.



Large parmesan wheel for your salads.



Dessert selections. The color on the macaron looked sickly fake so I stayed away.





And this.............. This was also at breakfast.... If someone has stayed the Langham Auckland recently please do let me know what this orange fountain consists of... I had a taste and my best guess was mango white chocolate?



During dinner Eight has a pasta station, cheese station, salad station, grill station, seafood station, sushi station, dessert station, hot prepared food station, and all the usual accompaniments.

You can also order a la carte dining -- though note the Palm Court (essentially the lobby lounge) and the 8 probably share a kitchen as their a la carte dining options are exactly the same (and are the same as the in-room dining menu). So no need to venture out from your room to see what the options are.

Overall, the property is nice. Definitely could use some updating in terms of room furnishings, but generally well up-kept.

The staff are nice and well-intentioned as well, but cannot compare to some other international 5-star hotels. I distinctly remember stays at the Regent Taipei (used to be a Four Seasons property) where housekeeping learned we had requested ice one evening and then consequently delivered it every other night we were there. At the W/A Shanghai our language preferences were apparently communicated to staff who interacted with us.

I have a feeling low season is when new associates come on for training, as I noticed quite a higher ratio of training associates to normal associates (as indicated by name tag) than I would have expected.

However -- I cannot nit pick too much since the price paid was definitely good value in terms of what I received.

Sights of Auckland
After checking into the hotel on my first evening, I went out for a brief stroll (which turned into 3 hours) around Auckland. Impressions are that Auckland is fine-- essentially just another metropolitan city in a developed country. I do wish, however, there was some sort of subway/train system but I would understand if the population density is not there to support it.

I also did visit the famed "Food Alley," an Asian foodcourt located in the CBD -- and was severely disappointed. Nothing like the hawker centres in SG or nightmarkets in other parts of Asia.

Then again -- you do not come to NZ to see cities. I was very glad I had booked a day trip to go out of the city for the next day. Auckland is pleasant, but just a business hub that dies after 5pm. There are some nice parts (Wynyrd Quarter and Viaduct Harbour) that are worth a look but don't come to NZ to only stay in Auckland.

Edit: information about Auckland's rail expansion:

Originally Posted by cavemanzk View Post
They currently are building an subway known as the CRL, it has been on/off for the since around the 1940s.

https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/

From the 1950s to early 1990s Auckland, did everything possible to to remove it's public transport system, and prevent anything new including removing Auckland's tram network. Pretty much all the public funding went into building roads, motorways and carparks.

Even now they will spend billions on building more roads, and very little on public transport.
On the above note, I did notice extensive construction in the city center when walking around. I can now attribute this to something

Next up: Ziplining, Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Tasting on Waiheke Island

Last edited by bj27; Jul 26, 17 at 9:12 am
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Old Jul 24, 17, 4:26 am
  #18  
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Wow, very nice buffet!
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Old Jul 24, 17, 4:12 pm
  #19  
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Originally Posted by offerendum View Post
Wow, very nice buffet!
The dinner buffet was actually quite impressive. Again, you are paying quite a high price for it ($99 NZD), but then again many of our meals a la carte in Sydney and Auckland came close to that figure per head when you factor in appetizers, wine, etc.
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Old Jul 25, 17, 12:40 am
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After checking into the hotel on my first evening, I went out for a brief stroll (which turned into 3 hours) around Auckland. Impressions are that Auckland is fine-- essentially just another metropolitan city in a developed country. I do wish, however, there was some sort of subway/train system but I would understand if the population density is not there to support it.
They currently are building an subway known as the CRL, it has been on/off for the since around the 1940s.

https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/

From the 1950s to early 1990s Auckland, did everything possible to to remove it's public transport system, and prevent anything new including removing Auckland's tram network. Pretty much all the public funding went into building roads, motorways and carparks.

Even now they will spend billions on building more roads, and very little on public transport.
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Old Jul 26, 17, 9:11 am
  #21  
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Originally Posted by cavemanzk View Post
They currently are building an subway known as the CRL, it has been on/off for the since around the 1940s.

https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/

From the 1950s to early 1990s Auckland, did everything possible to to remove it's public transport system, and prevent anything new including removing Auckland's tram network. Pretty much all the public funding went into building roads, motorways and carparks.

Even now they will spend billions on building more roads, and very little on public transport.
Interesting. Good to note -- thanks for providing some background. It seems like Auckland is decently connected via rail except specifically for the city center (notably between Britomart and Mt. Eden) right now.

On the other hand, Seattle has just one light rail line (as well as 2 street car lines, buses, a monorail, all of which are difficult to connect between), but at least it does go to the airport. The lightrail is being expanded (with a completion date of 2040)-- though conventional wisdom is skeptical on whether Seattle will even need light rail at that time.
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Old Jul 26, 17, 10:36 am
  #22  
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Ziplining, Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Tasting on Waiheke Island

Ziplining, Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Tasting on Waiheke Island

Booking

I had furiously booked a day tour for my only full day in Auckland the day before while on the SkyBus from the airport after I realized I didn't have any solid plans, and I should get out to see the sights rather than spend the day in Auckland.

After doing some browsing on the interwebs (sheepishly from my phone while on a rattling bus), I decide that doing a full day combo tour from Auckland would be the best idea. Generally in the past I've preferred a self-planned and self-guided tours, but as you get older and you have less time (and supposedly more money but that is yet to be seen ), you would rather have someone else do the busy work/driving and perhaps learn a thing or two along the way.

I settled on a ziplining, wine tasting, and olive oil tasting day tour departing from the Auckland ferry terminal. While not an inexpensive day tour (around $200 USD all-in), at least I had the peace of mind that I'd get to see quite a few highly-rated sights, taste some NZ wine, and do something to get the adrenaline going. My thought is that if you only have one day somewhere, you might has well try and get as much in as possible, and sometimes it's difficult to do this on your own.

After confirming my details, a friendly agent at EcoZip Adventures (highly recommend them) sent me a confirmation email -- I used this email to pick up my ferry tickets at the Fuller's desk at the ferry ports the evening before as I was already on my stroll around town.

One note -- EcoZip handles the ziplining excursion portion, while Fuller's handles the rest of the day. You can also opt not to do the ziplining portion and instead purchase the olive oil/wine tasting portion only from Fuller's. Hopefully I am making sense here.

My initial hesitation to book this as a solo-traveller was quickly overcome by the realization that my cost to actually be here was quite high in terms of time and money, and that I better make the best experience out of it even though I was solo in Auckland.

For anyone who ever travels solo: be thankful for this amazing experience and don't hesitate to do things you would do if you had a companion. Don't hesitate to dine alone or book a tour alone -- most of your inhibitions are probably self-inflicted, and this is one of the many humps you will get over. You will most likely always end up not regretting it, and I would argue being solo gives you an opportunity to meet fascinating people.

Ziplining High Above New Zealand
We really lucked out on the weather. I boarded the 8:15am ferry from Pier 2 in Auckland bound for Waiheke Island. The ferry was pretty much deserted today, except for perhaps 10 other people.

Pulling into Waiheke Island and disembarking, a friendly EcoZip driver named Josh greeted myself and another couple. We picked up 2 more pairs of zipliners and continued our way up one of Waiheke's small mountains. EcoZip is located on the 2nd highest point of Waiheke.

Apologies I have little pictures of ziplining (no phones!), but to give an idea.





Again, we really lucked out on the weather as it was forecasted to be gray and rainy the entire day. But instead it was sunny but still cool.

Our lovely guides Cici, Gabi, and Rene accompanied us on the 3-line tour to the bottom of the mountain. Great views.

As a note, you can also hire a GoPro for $39 NZD (which I did take advantage of) and EcoZip will give you your own 8GB microSIM with all your content to take home. I normally wouldn't have done this, but given I had forsaken my GoPro at home, I decided to splurge (does anyone recall my comment about having less time and even less money as you get older? this is probably the root cause).

EcoZip's system is a dream -- some ziplines require you to slow yourself down with gloves or some other braking mechanism. EcoZip's lines have a system of magnets that automatically slow you down at the bottom, so essentially all you have do it sit there.

After we reached the bottom we did a nice bushwalk back up to the main building.



An awe-inspiring "white basket cage" fungus growing on the rainforest floor. Absolutely incredible. Apparently these are the common, pedestrian fungi and there are even more incredible ones if you search hard enough.



Vineyard Lunch and Wine Tasting: Stonyridge

After our bushwalk, EcoZip dropped our group off at Stonyridge Vineyards where 3 of us would be continuing on Fuller's Taste of New Zealand tour.



Nice, smaller property. Patio lunch area.



Their deck which converts into a morning "yoga deck."



No grapes or leaves being the middle of winter.



Corner of the tasting lounge. The owner is heavily influenced by Asian culture as he is a master yogi.



Here's the vineyard lunch, which consisted of a chicken quiche, green salad, and some bread/cheese.



I was less than impressed, but at least the quiche was hot. One downside about being in a tour group with meals included is that the meals tend to be of that variety -- off-menu items that are catered for large portions (and usually lower quality) unless you have specifically booked a food tour.

Alas, I could not find a combo foodie tour + ziplining + wine tasting + olive oil tasting, so I will settle for 3 out of 4.

One last look out on their dining area.



Olive Oil Tasting at Rangihoua Estate

I had really been looking forward to this after sampling The Village Press olive oil from Hawkes Bay on my previous Air New Zealand flight.

Rangihoua Estate apparently has won quite a few accolades (including best in class in 2016) since spinning up their olive oil production. Fun fact is that Stonyridge (the winery above) also grows olives on their property but sends them to Rangihoua for processing.

You can definitely tell it's low season -- no buzz here; we were really the only group.



House cat -- Ollie? Living the life here.



Olive oil tasting.



Personal care olive items being sold.



The herb spread we did sample (in the middle) and it was delightful. It's simply olive oil, herbs, and salt. That's it!



I really enjoyed the olive oil and the whole olive oil process was explained to us as well, as well as a quick tour of their facilities. Again, we were on a tour so it seemed like everything had been customized specifically for tour groups as us, which seemed to detract ever so slightly from the authenticity of the experience (as sometimes you sort of wonder how many of these schpiels they do a day), but nonetheless it was still enjoyable getting to see the Waiheke Island olive oil production.

I almost purchased a 100ml bottle to take home with me, but then the logical side of my brain argued against my heart, and won with the argument that my quart-sized baggy was already full, and if I wanted anymore than 100ml I would need to check my bag

Food and Wine Tasting at Casita Miro

Next stop was one of the smallest wineries on Waiheke: Casita Miro. Their vineyard is on one of the steepest slopes of Waiheke and this is actually an advantage, we learned, since the direct morning sunlight helps the grapes ripen well.

Still a family-run business, son George led us up to their Gaudi-inspired tasting area above the main glass pavilioned-restaurant (which is beautiful, by the way, and I'd love to return for a proper meal).

There, wine and food tastings were waiting for us.









We sampled:
  • A 2015 dry rose paired with housemade bread and housemade red pepper pesto (fantastic)
  • A 2016 Sauvignon Blanc with grana padano
  • A 2014 blend of Syrah and Viognier with red wine kalamata olives
  • A 2009 fortified red (similar to a Port) with walnuts glazed with the same

Overall, a nice experience (though I still am not a fan of fortified wines) with an excellent host (George) who definitely weaved in his own personal story from growing up in his dad's business to helping run it now. Again, the cynical side of me wondered how long the food and wine had been sitting there in the sun, but my heart told me to just enjoy

Again... this is "winter."



Tasting at Mudbrick

Last stop of the day: Mudbrick. This is a gorgeously-manicured hilltop property with sweeping views of Waiheke and some seriously great staff.







Cafe and restaurant (how they started, apparently).





By this point I was slightly inebriated already so my commentary here will be short. I did however, recall my self-made mental note to return here in the future and try the restaurant -- I hear it's excellent. And oh -- the views were stunning.

We did not have a lot of time here as we had a schedule to stick to (one of my other nitpicky criticisms of tours, sometimes you can feel rushed) in order to make the ferry sailing back to Auckland.

Luckily the drive down to the port was a short one, where we boarded the ferry back to the mainland.

Nice views upon reaching Auckland during golden hour (my favorite time of day).



The Hilton Auckland, right on one of the piers.



Overall, a wonderful experience. Of course, keeping in mind that this is an organized tour so some parts have been streamlined or specially customized for this purpose. I would definitely like to return and independently explore at some other point and spend a little more time at each spot. I would like take a stroll through a few of the small towns on Waiheke and immerse myself in the island culture just a little bit more. The people are friendly and the scenery just gorgeous.

The combination of perfect weather (and probably some of the wine as well) really made Waiheke shine. Again like I mentioned in previous posts, you don't really come to New Zealand to see the cities, you come to see the beautiful landscape that kiwis are keen on preserving (and thankfully so!). I loved the laidback vibe and friendly attitude of everyone I met here. I would go as far to say that I much enjoyed Waiheke over such places like Napa and Sonoma -- those have become slightly too commercial and uptight as of late, and no longer maintain the chilled, family-owned affair that is many Waiheke wineries. I really hope it stays this way here, but the creeping allure of tourism dollars does seem to put down its roots already -- a blessing and a curse as I'm sure I would not have been able to experience this without that!

Next up: AKL – NRT in Air New Zealand J on the B787, ANA Business Class Lounge NRT

Last edited by bj27; Jul 26, 17 at 11:38 am
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Old Jul 29, 17, 9:40 pm
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On United I see a red starter. It looks like raw fish? Is that correct?
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Old Jul 30, 17, 12:24 am
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Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
On United I see a red starter. It looks like raw fish? Is that correct?
Yes, it's a nori-wrapped smoked salmon. It's raw.

PS--the last two installments are coming. Work has been quite busy.
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Old Jul 30, 17, 5:53 am
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[QUOTE=bj27;28610469]Ziplining, Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Tasting on Waiheke Island

Booking

I had furiously booked a day tour for my only full day in Auckland the day before while on the SkyBus from the airport after I realized I didn't have any solid plans, and I should get out to see the sights rather than spend the day in Auckland.


Very nice trip report ! I flew Melbourne- AKL then AKL to HND (Tokyo-Haneda) on Air NZ last week (seems a week after you!), and hope you had as nice trip as I did on the AKL to Japan flight in Business Class. Air New Zealand is nice, but the Qantas flights into AU I think a like better for the better business seats on the A330's (Domestic as well International), and although both are friendly I found on the Qantas flights that chat more to me, and everyone it seems. On this trip it was CTS-HND/NRT-BNE-Perth-Sydney (All on Qantas) then drive to Newcastle to MEL (Virgin-AU). I stayed in the Hilton in Sydney as well AKL and Perth, all were good but a kinda like the Marriott in SYD better for location to the Harbor (and to the offices I visited there , but Hilton has a better lounge). The AKL buffet looks good but expensive, I did have some good food around the AKL Hilton on the harborside, but I still for me Melbourne has best food culture so flying in from MEL made us feel food was not good as hoped for in New Zealand(a bit more expensive than I thought).
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Old Jul 30, 17, 7:19 am
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It is a pity that Stonyridge, Waiheke, was not too exciting. They produce one of the most impressive Bordeaux style reds (and impressively expensive too) in the whole of New Zealand. I have three bottles here in London and keep them for ultra special occasions. I guess they put out something more ordinaire for rushed group visits.
If you ever get back to Auckland there is some fabulous eating and tasting to be had on Waiheke.
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Old Jul 30, 17, 12:53 pm
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Impressive report, thanks for sharing with us.
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Old Jul 30, 17, 10:28 pm
  #28  
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Originally Posted by Taipei View Post

Very nice trip report ! I flew Melbourne- AKL then AKL to HND (Tokyo-Haneda) on Air NZ last week (seems a week after you!), and hope you had as nice trip as I did on the AKL to Japan flight in Business Class. Air New Zealand is nice, but the Qantas flights into AU I think a like better for the better business seats on the A330's (Domestic as well International), and although both are friendly I found on the Qantas flights that chat more to me, and everyone it seems. On this trip it was CTS-HND/NRT-BNE-Perth-Sydney (All on Qantas) then drive to Newcastle to MEL (Virgin-AU). I stayed in the Hilton in Sydney as well AKL and Perth, all were good but a kinda like the Marriott in SYD better for location to the Harbor (and to the offices I visited there , but Hilton has a better lounge). The AKL buffet looks good but expensive, I did have some good food around the AKL Hilton on the harborside, but I still for me Melbourne has best food culture so flying in from MEL made us feel food was not good as hoped for in New Zealand(a bit more expensive than I thought).
Thanks, Taipei. By the way, I like your username. What an amazing city (my parents are from there) -- shame that people are just discovering it now; or is that a good thing since we've had it to ourselves for so long?

I really would have like to try Qantas' J product as I have heard and seen good things on the interwebs. However, Qantas has even less award inventory it seems, than Air New Zealand. Plus, the cost, I believe, is a little higher than using my UA miles. Glad you have that perspective to encourage me to seek out QF later

The Marriott in SYD (at Circular Quay I presume) has a good location fo the immediate area, but I actually find it a little too busy for my preference compared to the Hilton and Sheraton.

I'm glad you liked Melbourne. I traveled with my parents to Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney last year over Christmas holidays. Hobart is incomparable, but we really, really loved Melbourne as well.

Originally Posted by gbs1112 View Post
It is a pity that Stonyridge, Waiheke, was not too exciting. They produce one of the most impressive Bordeaux style reds (and impressively expensive too) in the whole of New Zealand. I have three bottles here in London and keep them for ultra special occasions. I guess they put out something more ordinaire for rushed group visits.
If you ever get back to Auckland there is some fabulous eating and tasting to be had on Waiheke.
Good to know, gbs1112. I really must get back and spend longer in New Zealand. Waiheke was incredible, and I really would have loved to try the restaurant at Mudbrick.

Stonyridge did have a tasting for us, but it was a middle-of-the-road viognier and quite forgettable. I think if you are rushed for time, the tours provide a way to "check off" these locations but you don't really get to savour and enjoy the authenticity of these locations. I will definitely be back.

Originally Posted by milesaddict View Post
Impressive report, thanks for sharing with us.
Thank you for the kind words, milesaddict. Almost done writing this -- it's more work than I had envisioned!
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Old Jul 30, 17, 11:57 pm
  #29  
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AKL – NRT in Air New Zealand J on the B787, ANA Business Class Lounge NRT

Arriving at Chaotic Auckland Airport

I started my morning with an early wakeup at the Langham after a long (and amazing) day of Waiheke. The night before, the Air NZ app wasn’t even letting me check in – I’m not sure why here. My hypothesis was a United-ticketed journey with a combo of both NZ and NH was too complicated for their app to handle? Unfortunately, even their website wouldn’t even let me check in. Both kept saying that the flight was not open yet for check-in, even though clearly I was inside the 24-hour window. Oh well.

I tweeted @flyairNZ with my issue and they were unhelpful: something like “maybe this is a tech issue, we’ve forwarded your issue to the web team, and our airport staff will help you out tomorrow.” I absolutely hate checking in in-person since I hate giving up sleep time to wait at the airport, so my typical routine involves 0 carry-on bags, mobile check-in the night before, and normally I can show up at the airport 1 hour pre-departure. Ah, I guess this time I would need to be a normal person.

For those of you who are frequent business travelers may understand that it’s always a delicate balance of “how late can I arrive at the airport before I miss my flight?”

Fortunately, for some reason the next morning I was actually able to check in online so that took a little pressure off (for once, I had to look up Air NZ’s check-in cut-off times and had tailored my schedule as such). However, I still wasn’t able to get a boarding pass. So I was half way there….

First person down at Eight for breakfast. Apparently the Christmas in July theme is strong here.





Now… I walked outside down the street around 6:40am to catch the 6:55am Skybus. And, the Skybus was late.




The Skybus was about 15 minutes late (my quibble with ground transport anywhere is that it’s generally less reliable), and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to print my boarding pass if I arrived later than one hour prior to departure… Commence the nerves! Traffic didn’t look hot either. Looking at the map I thought we would arrive at the international terminal first…. But we went domestic first and then international. I arrived at 7:45am and had approximately 10 minutes before check-in cutoff. Again, I had checked in online already but wasn’t sure if the machines/people would be able to print a boarding pass for me inside this window. Normally in US airports (and Canadian I believe), at T-1 hour the flight goes to gate control which means agents who are not at the gate cannot even print a boarding pass.

I headed over to Air NZ’s “premium check-in” area (sorry, no pics… was in a RUSH!) which was mobbed with people – to be fair, general check-in was even busier. I thought a Wednesday morning would have been more chilled. Thankfully Air New Zealand’s kiosk printed both boarding passes (first to NRT and then to SEA), both on Air New Zealand boarding pass stock. We’ll see if this works in Japan!

Air NZ’s premium check-in has a direct elevator to a separate passport control line… Which is a blessing and a curse as there is only one machine to process all travelers going in this direction, and the only one elevator to bring you up. So of course there was a wait. Eventually the line got so long the agent upstairs had to disable the elevator temporarily because the area before the passport control machine was so packed. She also eventually began having families go into the general processing area.

Anyways – I looked up my gate (16), which I found out was in a forlorn corner of AKL international terminal… AND a bus gate. I got lucky today! :rollesyes:

My flight’s departure was 8:55am and by the time I had completed my own departure procedures, it was 8:15am and I had no time for the AKL Air NZ Lounge. Sorry folks! I booked it over to 16 and boarded a bus to take us to a remote stand. PS – if you are at this gate (and I think 17)… Make sure you leave time. The walk is far.

AKL – NRT in Air New Zealand J on the B787-9
Flight #: NZ 99
Departing: AKL 8:55am (actual 9:20am)
Arriving: NRT 4:50pm
Booking Class: I Class
Equipment: B787-9
Seat: 4A

I had had a very rushed morning so was glad to settle into my seat. Air New Zealand’s 787’s are arranged 1-1-1 in business class in a herringbone configuration, with the A-side seats facing a wall and being much more private. I lucked out and got seat 4A even booking so late.

[img]http://preview.ibb.co/kpQS0Q/Photo_Jul_11_1_36_02_PM.jpg/[img]

Lovely cream colored seats after the new refresh.



If you get the chance to fly up front on one of Air New Zealand’s 787s, make sure to pick on the A-side. These seats are much more private and tend to have better service since FAs only need to serve one side. The cabin was completely full today, with mostly Japanese businessmen and a few families seemingly on holiday.

Also on board (in 4E?) was a young man who either was a travel blogger or some sort of salesman that chatted up everyone he was sitting close to, and then showed them some video on his laptop, loud enough for the whole cabin to hear. Unfortunately, it seems like he also met someone in the Air New Zealand lounge who was sitting on my side, and came over a few times to show him this music video and chat him up. I turned up the volume on my Bose noise-cancelling QC20i’s… and kept watching my movie :rollseyes:

Flight attendants were very friendly and offered pre-departure beverages. However it was soon 9:00am, and the boarding door had not been closed. The captain came on to inform us that we were awaiting passengers inbound from a Christchurch flight that had been delayed. This made me slightly nervous as I only had a 75 minute connection in NRT.

However, the captain let us know we would make up time en-route and still would arrive on-time. Phew, I hope so!

Flight attendants passed around menus after door closure.

Today’s meal format would be breakfast first, and then dinner before landing (one of the first times I’ve had this happen!).





Another shot of the wall in front of me before breakfast.



Breakfast was served from a cart – I got fresh fruit with passionfruit yogurt. The FAs were delighted with my choice and shrieked: “Phew! Glad you got that one. It’s really good!” I could tell this would be a good flight.



Sarah, one of the FAs, came around with the “bakery basket” and offered a selection of pastries. I selected a warm croissant (it was warm, flaky, and SO delicious for an airplane croissant!). I also requested strawberry jam and Vegemite.

For those of you unfamiliar with Vegemite, it’s a brown paste made from yeast extract that’s a byproduct of other food industry production processes. It’s similar to Marmite (nearly the same?) with different flavor nuances. I first had Marmite in the UK when I visited my uncle at the age of 4. I hated it. Now, older and (hopefully) wiser with a broader palate, I appreciate the rich umami meatiness of Vegemite and Marmite. It’s incredibly salty, though definitely should be used in moderation.

I had a Vegemite scroll in Sydney last time I visited and it was delightful, and I was hoping I could create some sort of similar product – sweet strawberry jam and salty Vegemite. It worked!!!

I chose the Japanese breakfast – I am always seduced by the thoughtfulness and delicateness of all things Japanese (even if it’s from an Auckland airline catering kitchen ).

Grilled ginger glazed salmon, rolled omelette with nori, Japanese rice and pickles.





The salmon was done beautifully, and like my dish on UA, hot! The Japanese breakfast was delicious – though I will note that there something decidedly more… “rustic” about this breakfast. The rice was not cooked with as much care (it was overdone) as it was on NH (following report). The pickled vegetables were missing which would have added a nice acidic refresher to the dish. Overall, however, the dish was lovely and light.

One of the neatest features of Air New Zealand’s entertainment system also made itself known. The purser sent out a text message that appeared on the screens of everyone’s video screen without interrupting the content. He just wanted to let us know that despite our late departure we would still be arriving on-time and connections were safe. This made me feel better, but of course I learned to never say I am “on-time” until I am safely on the ground in my destination, because until you are the off the plane with your bag, you are not in the clear

Air New Zealand provides a nice memory foam mattress pad for its longhaul flights, as well as TWO full-sized pillow and a duvet. Other airlines take note!



The seats do not recline to a fully-flat mode, rather you have to bring it to a full-upright position and then push a button that flips it over to reveal the bed surface. Sort of a hassle but not as big of a deal as others have made it. I also found the shoulder space was more sufficient than on other airlines (even with a reverse herringbone layout) since you can lower the armrest near the window and there is more shoulder space.

I did not sleep long, being a day-time flight, but apparently missed the mid-flight meal service of tea sandwiches and cakes. I asked an FA for some and she gladly obliged. The tea sandwiches were nothing to write home about (and not pictured) and quite mushy after sitting on the plane.

The pastries were marvelous.

Raspberry and rhubarb frangipane, and a caramel shortbread with orange and pistachio friand.



I will also note here that I forgot to take a picture of the amenity kit, but it was sufficient. Nothing mind-blowing. A grey iPad-sized zipped case made out of the faux wool material that is popular these days was embroidered with the Air New Zealand logo and fuchsia highlights. It contained the usual suspects (fun socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, eyeshades, etc.). Lip balm and hand cream were from Antipodes (though the packaging says “distributed from Air New Zealand…”, is Antipodes owned by Air New Zealand?) and were again, fine. I actually prefer the UA Cowshed products.

2 hours before landing dinner service began.

I chose the beef tataki with a seaweed salad instead of the master chicken stock.



It was delightful. Light and flavorful, but unfortunately the beef was sliced quite thickly – ah the fumbly Kiwi catering hands instead of delicate Japanese ones

I also ordered a glass of the champagne – a glass of the NV Billecart-Salmon Brut. What year? Menu didn’t say. It did say a minimum of 4 years old though. I’m not a champagne drinker (I actually dislike it as it gives me a horrendous pounding headache), but thought I might as well for the photo op. And all the travel bloggers always, without fail, have to comment on how expensive/cheap the champagne is, right? This one retails for $50 US I think. It’s fine. I still like my $3 San Pellegrino with lemon.



Having already ordered salmon for breakfast (and having it twice on UA…), I decided to go against my gut and have the peppered beef filet with fondant potato, carrots, and horopito pepper.



Fondant potatoes were fine. I didn’t finish them. I actually tend not to like most potato dishes unless they involve them being fried



The filet was cooked to a medium-well… So farther than I like, but it was still tender and flavorful. The horopito butter (what I was looking forward most to trying) was a huge letdown as it was quite flavorless. I’d like to try horopito in the future sometime on its own or in a different preparation.



I skipped both desserts, not being interested in either of them and instead went with the cheese. The red onion jam was fabulous. I wish legacy American carriers would serve some sort of compote or savory/sweet jam with their cheese plates.





Thankfully Air New Zealand provides a decent ratio of crackers to cheese. Alaska Airlines in the US, has a famous cheese platter, where you get like what, 2 crackers for the entire plate?

Pretty soon after dinner was cleared, we were landing in NRT.

On-time, phew! I would not risk a 75 minute international-international connection in many airports besides NRT, ICN, SEA, DTW, MSP, TPE, and maybe AMS?



I wished the flight attendants a lovely layover in Narita and deplaned into the jetway… Where it was 35 degrees, sweltering compared to our 14 degrees in Auckland! It was hot!

Overall, I really enjoyed my Air New Zealand experience, especially on this long-haul sector. I really wish the flight was better timed as a red-eye to maximize the time for sleep, but then I guess you miss out on some of the in-flight experience. The updated cabins with the cream-colored seats and mood-lighting are modern and new without feeling harsh.

All the FAs I met are friendly and the service is top-notch. One of the FAs even personally recommended to me their onboard blueberry chia bars (delicious!) as one of her personal favorites. I really enjoyed chatting with them (and the purser’s “please enjoy our great Kiwi service” keeps ringing through my head). While Air New Zealand might not have the absolute best business class hard-product, as a whole I think they do a really good job, worthy of their “one of the best airlines in the world” accolades (if you can believe Skytrax…).

I really can’t wait to fly Air New Zealand again! What an airline. You Kiwis should be (and are) proud of your home country airline!

ANA Business Class Lounge, NRT

Upon deplaning, I saw a sign for “NH 178 – Seattle, Please go to Gate 58A,” as well as another sign for Bangkok. Ah – the Japanese service I was hoping for!

My family and I have transited NRT many times, first with NWA and then now with DL (but infrequently now that DL is dismantling their NRT operation), however never on this *A side, but we’ve always had a good experience with the extremely friendly staff. Connections are their middle name.

Granted, DL now installs screens at their hubs that shows customers connecting destinations and gate information on a screen after you deplane, but there is a certain special feeling you get when you realize that someone looked ahead of time on the entire manifest for connections and printed a sign just for you (and whoever else is going to your destination). That is the customer experience that airlines should be trying to achieve (though I guess a screen does the same, except the feeling is different!).

Today’s SEA-bound flight was departing from 58A. Perfect…. One of the FARTHEST gates from where I was standing. How lucky was I today?!

I walked a long underground corridor after the cursory Japanese security and boarding pass check. The agent stared at my boarding pass for the longest time trying to figure out why it said “Air New Zealand” (since NZ issued it in AKL). I guess the format was unfamiliar to her—and now this made me wonder if it’s quite uncommon to transit NRT from New Zealand to get to North America. It’s not terribly out of the way, but I’m sure most people try to get to LA or SF instead of going through NRT.

Anyways, I was able to book it over to the concourse where my flight departed from, and even had a quick look inside one of the ANA Business Class lounges. Can’t remember the location was, but apparently this was the “bigger ANA J lounge” according to the agent.

Nice thing is that ANA actually publishes their lounge menu online (and they actually have a menu to start with!). Link (pdf) here:

https://www.ana.co.jp/wws/japan/e/as...ounge_1706.pdf

ANA Lounge.



I haven’t done a lot of research on ANA’s offerings. But I know they have a SUITE lounge specifically for F passengers and then apparently both the J and F lounges have some sort of specialty-chef dining service? I’m not sure as I didn’t have a lot of time to research (or stay).

Quiz time: how many of these airlines actually fly to NRT?



This ANA lounge was MASSIVE: it seemed like it never ended. There were two self-service food areas along with an a la carte window that offered noodle soup and curries made to order (or ladled to order, I guess). I did not take part since I was running low on time. I only had the chance to visit once I realized that the Japanese do not board their planes until something like 20 minutes prior to departure, with their wonderful friendly efficiency.

Fried chicken – I guess this is a take on karaage. It was actually quite delicious.



Remind me to book a longer layover to stay here longer next time. However, I was lucky that I was even able to make this connection when booking so last minute so I digress.

Next up: NRT – SEA in ANA J on the B787
bj27 is offline  
Old Jul 31, 17, 3:14 am
  #30  
 
Join Date: Apr 2014
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Really enjoying what you've written so far.

I have been reminiscing about your travels in Sydney and Auckland given I was there last year. We left from gate 16 too at AKL and yes, its a hike and a half!
nequine is offline  

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