Archive for the 'New Zealand' category

New Zealand Hotels Review

| June 18, 2006 8:01 pm

As promised, I’ve written a brief review of the hotels/apartments we stayed in during our New Zealand trip. I’ve included some photos when we took some. As far as prices, they fluctuate greatly during high season or low season so I’ve included a link to the hotels so you can check for the latest prices.

Auckland – Hyatt Regency

Hyatt Regency Auckland

Photos: Pictured above is a “Suite” which feature seperate living room and bedroom. Good view of the city from our room.

Location: Excellent! This hotel was right across the street from Albert Park and the University of Auckland. We frequently walked to downtown to dine or shop. The Sky City Tower is about a 10 minute walk. There Hotel is located on the top side of a hill so if you have difficulty walking this may not be the best place to stay.

Staff: The staff were friendly and helpful and some showed enthusiasm for their job (this was rare in New Zealand).

Anemities: This is where Hyatt failed us. Their website promised an indoor heated pool. While there is a pool, it felt ice cold to the kids and us. There is a fairly large jacuzzi but it was closed for maintenance during our initial stay and we only got to use it once on our second stay. Gym, Dry Sauna, Wet Sauna, Spa service were all decent. Internet service was available but expensive. I think it was $10 to $15 NZD for 30 minutes.
Dining: While the food was good and the service was exceptional, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for the food & service. Breakfast for four cost $80 NZD. Dinner cost $150 NZD for four.

Parking: The hotel doesn’t have any parking although they do have a partnership with a garage to provide parking. Self parking is $15 NZD/day and valet parking is $25 NZD/day.

Perks: We got fresh fruit delivered to our room everyday (no charge) and turn down service was available daily.

Rating: We’ll give this hotel B+ because the pool wasn’t heated as advertised and jacuzzi was broken.

Lake Taupo – Wairakei Resort
Wairakei Resort

Photos: Pictured above is the kitchenette of our “Executive Suite.”

Location: Good. This hotel was close to major attractions. The city center was about 5 km away (not really walking distance) but was close to many other sites: The Beehive, The Craters of the Moon, Huka Falls, and Lake Taupo.

Staff: The staff were friendly and helpful. The massuse service was good.
Anemities: We were pleased with this hotel. We had a private bedroom while the kids had the option of sleeping in a sofa bed in the living room or a day bed adjacent to the master bedroom. Our room could theoretically could sleep 6. We had a kitchenette. The spa service was good, gym, and heated pools were available. We had access to two large heated pools and two large jacuzzis. We spent most of our time in the jacuzzi while Marge got massage. I believe there is also a golf course nearby.
Dining: Oddly enough, we did not dine in the restaurants here. With our kitchenette, we cooked some fish that I had caught and we had purchased some breakfast items (eggs, bacon, ham, toast, etc) so we either ate in our room or went out to dinner. Dining facilities did appear lavish on the premises.

Parking: The hotel offers free parking to guests.
Perks: The 30 minute massage only cost $45 NZD. This is significantly cheaper than most other places charged for massages. We also had our own washer/dryer to do our laundry. Great plus!

Rating: We’ll give this hotel A-. The hotel provided great service and good anemities. The room did lack bathrobes which were essential because of the location of the pools and jacuzzi from our rooms during the cold winter evenings.

Wellington –
Bolton Hotel

Bolton Hotel Bedrooms

Bolton Hotel Bathrooms

Bolton Hotel Living room & Kitchen

Photos: Pictured above are the bedrooms, bathroom and full kitchen of the “Bolton Suite.” By far, this hotel was the most neo-modern we’ve stayed in. Everything in here was sleek with a lot of stainless steel decor.

Location: Excellent. Although we had a car, we hardly used it. This hotel is right at the center of many, many attractions. We walked the Botanical Gardens, Carter Observatory, the Queens Wharf, Tram, downtown Wellington, shopping, dining, and so much more.
Staff: The staff were professional and robotic. In every other hotel we had stayed in, the staff always offered to help with any type of tourism activities we’d like to see. When WE inquired, we were directed at a kiosk with some brochures and a computer with internet access. The staff here were fairly stoic.

Anemities: We were extremely pleased with this hotel. We had a private master bedroom while the kids had their own room with twin beds. We had a private bath with shower and tub while the kids had their own bathroom with shower. Unfortunately this hotel lacked many anemities. While there was a pool on the third floor, it was ice cold. There was a single jacuzzi on the 3rd floor as well as a dry sauna. The gym was fairly small and had little equipment. The number of anemities available for the volume & capacity of hotel is totally inadequate. High Speed internet service is availble in each room but only one terminal is provided (if you didn’t bring your own) to guests.

Parking: The hotel has valet parking. I believe the cost was included in the hotel room.
Perks: Having a full kitchen (oven too!) was a great plus. The hotel offers guest free umbrellas to use while staying there. Those came in handy during the rainy weather! Internet service at kiosk, when available, was always free.
Rating: We’ll give this hotel A-. The hotel provided great room at a decent price but the anemities were lacking greatly. Although professional, the staff were to stoic and robotic.

Christchurch – Holiday Inn on Avon

Photos: Sorry, none available.
Location: Good. The hotel was close to many attractions but unfortunately there is a strange winding road way of getting to this hotel and it was difficult to locate and navigate towards it when driving about.

Staff: The hotel appeared to be understaffed. There was usually one person at the front desk to handle many guests seeking information, check in or check out. The dining staff were pleasant and helpful although one of our orders for pancakes during breakfast got “lost” because of their “new” computer system.
Anemities: No spa services were available and through some poor planning, our room ended up being a simple room with one queen bed and two twin beds. We had booked a “suite” and thought that had included a kitchenette and apartment like room (which were available) but it did not. The hotel did have a “heated” pool but it was mostly luke-warm than actually warm and nowhere near hot.
Parking: The hotel has free guest parking.
Perks: There is laundry facility on the premises but it wasn’t free. Kids eat free at holiday inn so it save some money but beware that breakfast can cost $40 NZD.
Rating: We’ll give this hotel B-. The hotel was the least favorite of all the hotels we stayed in New Zealand. It was functional and basic. The hotel also needs some renovation as many of the facilities (gym, pool, rooms) are a bit dated.
Holiday Inn on Avon

Queenstown – Villa Del Lago

Villa Del Lago Bedrooms

Villa Del Lago Kitchen Living Room

Villa Del Lago Suite 13 View

Photos: Villa Del Lago in Queenstown New Zealand. The bedrooms, Kitchen, Living and Dining Room, and View from patios.
Location: Good. Queenstown is a fairly small town. Although this apartment is about 20 minutes walking distance to downtown with a great view walkway, we always drove to our destination. It is right next to the lake so easy access to the lake is readily available.
Staff: I must say that this location provided the absolute best service we’ve ever received from a lodging. Erica provided us with a tour of the apartment along with suggestions and offers to book or inquire about any type of attractions or visits we’d like to make. Erica frequently called on our behalf various tour operators to get information or make reservations.
Anemities: While there is no gym nor spa services we did have daily service to our apartment and you can request a massuse to come to your apartment. What the apartment lacked in anemities they were made up by the excellent service from the staff. We also felt we were at home away from home. We had complete kitchen, laundry, living & dining rooms and seperate bedrooms.
Parking: The apartment has free guest parking. Please note, the location is on a steep incline down on a single car road.
Perks: Great service from staff!
Rating: We’ll give this apartment A+. This was our favorite lodging. The view was absolutely spectacular (Suite 13). The bedrooms downstairs had their own patios with great views and the dining, kitchen, living rooms upstairs also provided a great view of the lake and mountians. Close to many attractions and airport. On the lake!

Wednesday – We’re Home!

| June 14, 2006 11:49 pm

We got home safe and sound. Air New Zealand’s flight was 40 minutes late leaving Auckland and we were worried we’d miss our connecting flight in LAX due to having to go through customs but we whizzed right by and the airport was oddly empty. We made it home around 10:40 p.m. and the drive home to another 45 minutes but we’re glad to be home. Hotel Reviews, Commentary and all the pictures should be up by late next week!

Wednesday – Auckland then home!

| 3:00 pm

Well it’s our last day in Auckland. I’m writing this summary from the airport. There is actual working internet terminals here unlike the other airports.

We spent the morning at the Sky City Tower.4800 We had purchased a voucher pack and had tickets left to this attraction and Rainbow’s End. After one last long look at the Auckland sky & sea we headed over to Rainbow’s End.

Upon arriving at Rainbow’s End, I had some trepidations from our previous experience here: half the rides were closed for maintenance. This time though, everything was fully operational. It is odd though because we were one of very few people in the park so we essentially had the park to ourselves. We would ask the attendant (usually one or two per area) to turn on the ride and we rode whatever the kids wanted to ride. In retrospect it was much better than waiting in line endlessly to board a ride. We rode Go-Carts, Electric-Cars, Gold Rush roller coaster, Bumber boats, Dragon Coaster, and saw a couple of features in the new simulated motion rides. The kids also had fun at the CastleLand: moonwalks, and various rides for smaller kids.


After spending most of the day we headed for dinner a “Catch Restaurant.” The food here was quite good as I wolfed down a New York Strip Steak and Marge had Spinach Chicken.

It’s been a great experience visiting New Zealand. We were however disappointed with the NZ Government by hitting us with a $50 NZD “departure” tax. What a scam. The Air New Zealand Airflight people at the Auckland airport here were rude as well. Especially an older woman named SUE that works the Air New Zealand counter. I would have gotten her full name but she hid her tag under her suit the whole time. We’ll definitely avoid Air New Zealand and fly Qantas or some other airline if we ever return to NZ.

One final note: We’ve seen more rainbows in NZ in the past 18 days than I’ve seen my entire life. This is a remarkable place.

Tuesday – Auckland

| June 13, 2006 10:46 pm

As I write this it is Tuesday evening around 5:45 p.m. We fly back home tomorrow night. We flew from Queenstown this morning back to Auckland. The bad weather the previous night delayed many flights and cancelled a few. We arrived in Auckland around 1:00 p.m. and got our car rental. We planned on taking the kids to Rainbows End but as we headed there it started to rain pretty badly. We instead checked into our hotel and then headed to downtown Auckland to eat lunch and do some more shopping. 4874

We’ll try to do Rainbow’s End tomorrow with another visit to the Sky City Tower here tomorrow. Our flight leaves late at night so we’ll try to do some last minute sight seeing before we depart from home.

It’s been a great journey. I have hundred of photos to post along with the review of hotels and some commentary on the culture here in New Zealand. This may be my last post for a few days as I return to the real world and take care of real world issues. Thanks for reading!

Monday – Queenstown

| June 12, 2006 9:20 pm

We got off to a late start. Our Milford Sound trip got cancelled again due to weather. The tour operator offered to fly us there but couldn’t guarantee the cruise would run because of choppy water in the sound. Not wanting to spend $1000 NZD on just a fly around, we opted to take a two hour cruise of Lake Wakatipu. We saw large areas of Lake Wakatipu and the water here is crystal blue.7216

The landscape is truly pristene and majestic. After our cruise we headed for lunch at a Chinese Restaurant called “Lakeview Chinese.” The food was decent and had flavor to it so we were happy. It was a quick lunch because our next stop was a ride on fast moving jetboat across the lake and up one of the rivers. Bart and I took a Shotover jetboat complete with 360 degree extreme turns. The boat travels up to 60 mph and the cold temperature outside made our faces feel like icicles. There are areas of the river where you can see 10ft below in the lake bottom; the water is so amazing clear!


After our boat cruise and jetboat adventure we headed back to the town centre to load up on shopping. We bought a great deal of stuff and headed back to our hotel to pack. Our flight for Auckland is around noon tomorrow. After Auckland we’ll fly back home.

Sunday – Queenstown

| 8:28 pm

Rained out! We had planned to do our Milford Sound trip but the rain & cold kept us at bay. We spent the day with a trip to the town centre. We did some wine tasting at a place called “Wine Tasting.” This place features wines produced all over the central Otago region. We sampled 13 great wines and ended up buying 3 for the return trip home. We had originally planned on driving to the vineyards but the icy weather made us think twice. Many of the mountain roads don’t have any railing so you can easily and literally fall off a cliff here.


At the town centre we had the best food we’ve had since we’ve been in New Zealand at a place called Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza. The pizza was the best; it had a “California Pizza Kitchen” feel to it but the food was much better. After lunch, the pouring rain and bitter cold kept us indoors and Bart was dying to see X-Men 3 so we went to the cinema to check it out. The “cinema” is quite an experience here. Aside from it being a place for babysitting pre-teens, the rooms themselves hold only about 60 people max and the screen is rather small. After the movie, the rain kept pouring so we headed back to the apartment to take some much needed rest.

Saturday – Queenstown

| June 10, 2006 3:58 pm

Our day began with ambitious plans; we were going to hire a private plane to fly us to Milford Sound then get on a boat cruise. Unfortunately, the pilot called to tell us that the weather was to rainy in Milford to make the trip. We switched to plan B and started the day with a drive to Deer Park Heights. This park is where Lord of the Rings filmed some scenes for the second movie: the Two Towers. Of course, there were amazing spectacular views of the mountains, lakes and city nestled below.6781

This park also features feeding stations where you can buy tins of food to feed to the various animals: horses, llamas, goats, sheep, deer, yaks, chickens, etc. The kids had a great time watching dad feed the animals; they were too scared to come out and pet them 🙁

Our second stop was the Queenstown Gondola. Once again, the view was marvelous. We took some snapshots. Bart refused to ride the luge, once again, so we headed back down to head off to our next stop.

Our third stop was a 1/2 hour drive to Arrowhead. This tiny town at the base of the valley features few shops but one unique bakery. We had an order of gingerbread cookies, carrot cake and custard with the most delicious hot chocolate over at the Arrohead bakery. We stopped by an old Chinese Settlement and saw how the chinese gold miners lived in relatively poor conditions. After Arrowhead, the kids took a rest back at the apartment while I went to take some more snapshots of the landscape. I must say that we’ve seen the most unusual skies here in Queenstown. Sunrise and Sunsets turn the sky, lake and mountains pink and purple with a beautiful variances in between. I took some long exposures and I hope the colors are captured well.

6895 6924

After the kids rested up, we headed to a bar called Celsius -5. It is a bar made entirely of ice that features some rather tasty drinks. The kids had a blast touching the various ice sculptures and tasting the fruity drinks. We finished the evening by heading for dinner at a “mexican” restaurant called Sombreros. The food was “different”. I didn’t think it was possible to remove flavor from rice, but the Kiwis here managed to do just that. The “fajitas” I ordered tasted more like carne guisada than fajitas. The “chips” are what we would consider Sam’s Club round chip big box special. The only “true” tasting mexican food here was a giant tortilla smothered in garlic butter. Dinner cost around $70 NZD + tip so we were somewhat disappointed. We are planning on taking our Milford sound flight tomorrow but it looks like we might get rained out here in Queenstown. Hopefully it will snow tomorrow or Monday as well.


Friday – Fly to Queenstown

| June 9, 2006 6:41 pm

We dropped off our car rental at the Christchurch airport and boarded our flight to Queenstown. We ran into the same flight attendents we’d had in our other flights so it’s a small world here in NZ. After we picked up our car in Queenstown we headed over to our hotel/apartment. I must say that the view from our room is spectacular! I must also say this is by far the best place we’ve stayed during our trip. I’m planning on posting a hotel review after our trip so you’ll learn more later…

After getting settled, we headed down to the Queenstown town centre. Queenstown is a small alpine-like village with a population of 16,000. The shops in downtown primarily consist of cafe’s, booking agencies, restaurants and touristy things. The most amazing thing is that the center is right next to the bay with features a beautiful lake enclosed by mountain ranges.6883

At the town centre, we picked up some groceries to try to make some home cooked meals. Eating out here is expensive and too often tasteless…..

We had a pretty good spagetti dinner accompanied by two tantilizing bottles of wine from Canterbury House. A merlot and a sauvingon. Delicious!

Thursday – Christchurch

| June 8, 2006 7:34 pm

Our first stop this morning after breakfast was the Science Alive museum. Primarily geared towards kids, the museum features a large sized chess board where Bart and I duelled it out for dominance. Lisa had fun with the science exhibits as Bart tackled the rock climbing wall.

5796 The musuem also was featuring hubble telescope photos so that was pretty cool. Our second stop was the International Antartic Centre.  We had a great time riding the fast moving snowmobile and seeing the exhibits. We sat in a real life snow room and experienced an antartic blizzard for five minutes. It was literally a blast!


After a quick lunch at Mickey D’s and a quick stop over at the hotel for some rest we headed out to the Willobank Reserve to watch Ko Tane – a traditional Maori performance. The Maori culture has very unique song, dance and facial expressions. The show engages the audience so Marge, Bart and I took turns dancing, singing and making facial expressions. We headed back to our hotel for our last day in Christchurch. We fly to Queenstown tomorrow.

Wednesday – Hamner Springs

| June 7, 2006 6:37 pm

We darted off our hotel with the intention of having some fun for us and the kids. We headed straight for Hamner Springs. Known for their geothermally heated pools, we drove up there as fast as we could. The drive took about 2 hours but was well worth it. We had a quick breakfast at a charming little cafe. The charming price tag was about $54 NZD for breakfast! We then sprinted into the hot springs. The place is marvelous. We started with a private pool (very hot) for ourselves and the kids to unwind. After our 1/2 hour was up we headed to some of the other pools. Very hot pools, stinky (sulfur) pools, small pools, kids waterslide and playland pools, and such.7373

Everyone had a great time. While the kids played, I snuck away for a quick 1/2 massage at the spa. After spending most of the day here, we picked up some souveniers and headed back to Christchurch. Along the drive back, we stopped at a couple of vineyards and sampled some wine. We stopped at Canterbury House Winery and Pegasus Way Vineyard. We picked up four bottles (two at each) of some very tasty wine. We ended the day with dinner at a place called Vic & Whales. The food was ok (nothing spectacular) but that’s how most of the food here has been. Everything is quite expensive. Dinner for four tonight was $100 NZD.7339