(this post will provide a overview of my trip to New Zealand and Australia)
In April 2016, I read on The Points Guy about an insane air fare deal between Los Angeles and Auckland, New Zealand. I immediately purchased the ticket for a little less than $300! I was in the middle of moving so I pushed the trip to the end of November (which happens to be spring in New Zealand). I decided to take a few days to visit Sydney, Australia, as well as, Queenstown, New Zealand.
I arrived at LAX a few hours before the flight which gave me the opportunity to visit the Korean Air lounge. The lounge is located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on the level above check-in. DO NOT use this terminal to check-in for international flights if you can help it. The terminal does not have TSA Precheck (The fee is waived through the Citi Prestige card and American Express Platinum card, to name a few. TSA Precheck is free for active military personnel.) which causes the queue to check-in quite long. I received access to this lounge through Priority Pass that is a benefit of my Citi Prestige card.
I was in the lounge in a matter of minutes. The main seating area of the lounge is shaped like an upside down L. There are shower rooms right past the check-in desks. Immediately, past that is the buffet area that contains finger sandwiches, sushi, chips, etc. There is beer and soda cooler as well. Unfortunately, Budweiser was the only beer in stock on this night. There is a liquor/wine bar directly behind this area. As I made the right out of the buffet area, I was treated to beautiful views of the international terminal. After making another right, I was in the liquor/wine bar.
About 45 minutes before boarding, I went to the check-in desk to request a shower room. I gave the agent my boarding pass so that I could get a key. The shower room was the best part of the lounge, in my opinion. It was clean, quiet, and had a wide range of toiletries.
A few things stood out to me in this lounge. The furniture was old and in most cases, had food or drink stains. The wi-fi was free but I had no luck connecting. Lastly, when I tried to charge my phone using the USB at the seat, my phone behaved as it was possessed.
Airline: Qantas Airways (operated by American Airlines)
Duration: 13hr 05min
Airline: Qantas Airways (operated by American Airlines)
Flight: AA 3225
Duration: 12hr 00min
Having paid a domestic round trip fare for this international flight, I decided to pay for a Main Cabin Extra seat. I assigned myself to seat 20H in both directions. I liked the seat because it is a bulkhead and aisle seat. Climbing over a seat mate to get to the restroom is not something I like. According to Seat Guru, the seat has 36 inches of pitch and is approximately 17 inches wide. There are 55 Main Cabin Extra, 143 Economy, and 28 Business seats. The flight was not memorable.
I booked one way ticket from Auckland to Sydney. After arriving in Sydney, I took a 30 minute Uber ride to the Holiday Inn-Darling Harbour. I stayed at the property for two nights, one night was paid for by redeeming points and the other was paid in cash ($200 AUD) which I paid using my Chase Sapphire card. The hotel is located in Chinatown. There are many restaurants choices within a few minutes walk from the hotel. If for some reason, you wanted to stay at the hotel for dinner, there is a restaurant located on the ground floor.
To get to Queenstown, New Zealand, I booked a one-way Air New Zealand flight. After an uneventful flight, I had some issues clearing immigration. The questions from the officers began when they noticed that I listed military as my occupation.
Officer: Why are you in New Zealand?
Officer: But why did you come all the way to Queenstown?
Me: I heard it is beautiful here.
Officer: Why is the United States’ government sending military to New Zealand?
Me: Excuse me?
Officer: Do you have weapons?
Me: (laughs) Of course not.
After about 20 minutes of additional screening, I was allowed to pass immigration. There was not an Uber or Lyft in Queenstown during my visit, so I reluctantly used one of the prepositioned shuttles to the Hotel. It cost me about $40 to use a shared van for a 15-minute ride. The town is gorgeous. It is a place that I could see myself retiring. To that point, there are many celebrities that own property on the lake.
I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Queenstown which I booked using points (IHG and Hilton are the ONLY major hotel chains in New Zealand). The property is located near the ‘downtown’ section of Queenstown. It is a wonderful location with tons of views.
I found some time to enjoy some excursions in the town.
The main one being the Thunder Jet, jet boat tours. They were relatively cheap, approximately $60 per person and lasted 20-30 minutes. Here are some videos:
After one more Air New Zealand flight, I was in Auckland. I immediately regretted not staying in Queenstown. The level of noise and number of people, was shocking. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza – Auckland. The hotel is in the heart of the city, minutes from the Auckland Ferry Terminal. The city was not memorable for me. However, the hotel staff did a great job of coordinating with the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown to ship my friend’s forgotten passport overnight. Taking ferries to Devonport and Waiheke Island proved to be highlights.
Devonport is a suburb of Auckland. The village is beautiful. There are a lot of gift shops and restaurants located on the main road. North Head, one of the two peaks in Devonport, was used as a military base to provide defense of Auckland port.
Waiheke Island is about a 20-minute ferry ride from Auckland. The island is the second largest island in New Zealand and has almost 6,000 residents. There are many sights to see on the island, to include beaches, farms, and wineries.
Did someone say wine?
I never imagined being able to visit New Zealand. The culture, people, and the views impressed me. I cannot wait to travel there again. If you get the chance, please visit New Zealand, you do are missing out!