Posts tagged “New Zealand

East vs west: routes to New Zealand compared

I’m just back from my latest trip to New Zealand and this time took a different route, flying west from London to Los Angeles and then on to Auckland instead of the easterly route I followed before which took me via Singapore. Both flights were on a Boeing 777 but how do the routes compare and which do I recommend?


West: via Los Angeles

I was tempted by an excellent Black Friday deal offered by Air New Zealand. By signing up to email alerts with Secret Flying (you might remember their tip off saw me travel business class from London to New York for under £350), I learned of a special offer. Fifty flights were on offer for just £399, which is exceptional value for a trip that takes 26 hours in the air westbound and 24 coming back. I went online and uploaded my details to the Air New Zealand site in preparation for the offer to go live, saving valuable minutes and ensuring I was one of the lucky recipients.


In practice, one of the downsides to travelling in this direction is of course having to go through the US immigration process. An ESTA is required for UK passport holders even if they are only in transit; this costs about £10 but is valid for up to 2 years. I’ve just renewed mine and incidentally, it’s a more detailed form than before. On the outbound leg, passengers transiting on NZ1 were fast-tracked to some empty kiosks and desks which saved a fair bit of time on the regular queues. This wasn’t the case on the inbound leg, NZ2, when we were all directed to the main queue, adding about fifteen minutes to the process.

Though it isn’t necessary to fill out a customs form or clear customs, there’s still the requirement to queue through security. This took about fifteen minutes on both legs. NZ1 and NZ2 use the same plane for both legs, with suitcases remaining in the hold. Passengers must alight and take all hand luggage with them while the plane is cleaned and restocked. Some passengers only fly one of the legs. I found that the London to LA (and vice versa) part of the flight was considerably less full than the LA to Auckland segment.


I had hoped to be seated in a Skycouch row. Air New Zealand’s trio seats on either side of the plane are fitted with pull out, sturdy padded footrests which can be converted into a couch. You have to pay extra for this and not all reports are good, with some travellers saying it’s hard for a couple to get comfortable enough to sleep. For a comprehensive review of Skycouch, why not take a look at this excellent review from etrip.tips?


As a solo traveller, to be able to guarantee the use of one of these would have signifcantly increased my fare. On the inbound LA to London leg, the Skycouch adjacent to my centre section aisle seat was vacant. Cabin crew did not permit me to use it, however. Instead they moved a mother and baby there which is fair enough as they were more in need of the space than me. However, this kindness resulted in the family being split on opposite sides of the aircraft. Throughout the flight they came and went, knocking my seat and making sleep difficult for me. The baby slept soundly like, well, a baby.


The outbound leg was quicker than scheduled, taking 10 hours 30 minutes from London to LA, followed by a layover of 2 hours 5 minutes and then an onward flight of around 12 hours 30 minutes. Auckland Airport was very busy when we touched down around 5.15am and I wasn’t on the bus out of the airport until well after 7am. However, I was fortunate that my hotel room was available and after showering, enjoyed a pleasant day’s sightseeing without the need for a nap. Julia 1 Jetlag 0. Now I’m home, I can report to have been very tired for a few days but not very jetlagged as I was going to bed and waking at normal times.



Though transiting the USA wasn’t an issue and there was no danger of missing the second leg of the journey as it used the same aircraft, the short layover wasn’t enough to stretch my legs properly, take a shower or have a sleep in a proper bed. The food and entertainment were both above average, yet over such a long time in the air I found the time dragged, particularly on the second half of the journey. Also, so many seats required additional payment (for extra legroom, priority boarding or of course the Skycouch option) it meant that the availablity of my preferred aisle seat was very limited. I checked in online immediately the systems opened but even so, only three aisle seats were showing as available and no window seats.

East: via Singapore

I’d call this the classic route for Brits travelling to Australia or New Zealand. Asian stopovers are a popular choice, and especially Singapore as Changi Airport has such a stellar reputation. I used Singapore Airlines in 2013 and wasn’t disappointed.


Outbound, I opted for an 8.30pm departure with Singapore Airlines, an overnight flight which reached Singapore at 4.30pm the following day. As my second leg flight didn’t depart until after 9pm, there was plenty of time to enjoy an unhurried dinner, a shower in the airport hotel and a stroll around the airport’s orchid garden. I could have visited Changi’s cinema to catch a movie, but figured there’d be plenty of opportunity for that on the flight itself.


The inbound flight departed Auckland at 12 noon, arriving in the Asian hub at about 7pm. I chose to extend the layover to facilitate a night in a nearby hotel. My second leg thrrefore left Singapore at 9am the following day, reaching London by about 3.30pm that afternoon. This didn’t come at any extra cost, and the chance to stretch out in a full length bed with decent bed linen was very much appreciated. I came back to the airport the following morning considerably more refreshed than I did arriving from LAX.


On both legs, I was easily able to secure my preferred aisle seat and would have been able to get a window seat if I’d have wished. Meals were good and the inflight entertainment system as good as you’d expect from an airline which regularly secures high approval ratings from travellers.

Where this option falls short, however, is the increased risk of jet lag affecting the first few days of your holiday. Some people swear by a stopover to give them time to adjust. Personally I think that just means you need to put your body clock through two changes in just a few days which isn’t ideal. However, it’s a good way of seeing a bit of Asia if you haven’t visited before. As well as Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are conveniently located. Hubbing through Dubai is possible but the two legs are pretty uneven and it is hard to psyche yourself up for that second leg from Dubai to the Antipodes as you’ve barely covered a third of your total journey time at that point.



I found the overnight layover with a hotel stay made the Singapore option considerably less arduous. The lengthy outbound layover was also helpful. I’d done something similar with Malaysian Airlines to Sydney, hubbing through KL. That time, however, the jetlag was fierce and I remember stumbling around Sydney as if drunk on the first day before crashing and sleeping it off. I’ve read that for every hour’s difference in the time zones travelled, your body needs a day to recover. In practice, if you keep hydrated and try to sleep on the plane it can be considerably less than that. Arriving in Auckland from Singapore, I expected the jetlag to kick in, but in fact enjoyed a pleasant day pottering about Ponsonby before heading off to bed about 8pm.


So would I choose east or west next time?

Price would be a deciding factor but unless I got an especially good deal I’d pay a little extra to fly eastbound and a bit more on top to be able to have a night’s sleep en route. As I get older, I really need the rest, though as a twenty something, getting to NZ as fast as possible would rank higher in the list of priorities. I was lucky not to have to suffer a middle seat with Air New Zealand so I’d look for an airline which permitted seat allocations at the time of booking, something which is increasingly being phased out as airlines seek to raise income. What I would say is that the US immigration and security procedures and staff which tend to put a lot of travellers off transiting via an American airport really shouldn’t. I’ve noticed in the last few years that staff attitudes have improved immensely and the norm is now a polite and friendly welcome.

Have you flown from London to Australia or New Zealand? Did you do it in one go? Which route gets your vote?

If it’s geysers you’re after…

If it’s geysers you’re after, then here’s where you need to be heading.



Strokkur on the verge of blowing

The original, in name at least, can be found a short distance from the country’s capital Reykjavik. The original geyser, Geysir, has decided it’s had enough, but Strokkur puts on a show every few minutes delighting those who visit.  It’s easily accessible as part of the Golden Circle tour, or if you prefer to go it alone, then download my Unanchor Kindle guide from the UK Amazon site here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Iceland-Unanchor-Travel-Guide-self-drive-ebook/dp/B017SDBNE8/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452095658&sr=1-8.

It’s also available on the US site here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017SDBNE8/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=152KPS2974X3G9P0D5RQ&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop

New Zealand


Pohutu, Rotorua

For a small country, New Zealand packs in a lot of geothermal sights, from other-worldly Craters of the Moon to photogenic Orakei Korako.  But for sheer wow factor, then join the crowds watching Pohutu, located in the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley on the outskirts of Rotorua to see the jet of boiling water shoot high into the sky.



Atmospheric El Tatio

El Tatio geyser field might not have the dramatic gushers of Iceland or New Zealand, but it has atmosphere in spades.  It’s essential to crawl out of bed in the middle of the night (don’t overdo it on the pisco the night before like I did) but watching the sunrise illuminate the steaming geysers is well worth the effort.



Old Faithful

I couldn’t blog about geysers and leave out Old Faithful.  It’s been drawing the crowds at Yellowstone National Park for as long as the park’s been in existence and has had its name since 1870.  It erupts on average 50 metres into the air about every 90 minutes or so; check the ranger’s board on arrival to see when the next show is expected.

And finally, one on the wish list…



Kamchatka by Einar Fredriksen via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Kamchatka’s Valley of Geysers has the second largest concentration of geysers in the world after Yellowstone, packing over ninety of them into a 6km long valley.  It’s difficult to reach, and therefore expensive, but it’s a trip that’s on my ever-growing bucket list.  You too?

Blog roundup

See the Northern Lights in Russia this year

Sharper Northern Lights picture

Northern Lights over the hills surrounding Tromso

Seeing the Northern Lights was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen. Like many, I opted for Scandinavia, being lucky enough to see them four nights running in Norway a few years ago and then once more in Iceland on the eve of my wedding. What few people realise, however, is that it’s also possible to view them in Russia, so here’s my post for Just Go Russia which has all the details:

Visit Arrowtown’s Chinese Settlement


Arrowtown’s Chinese settlement by Michael Button via Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Migrants have often had it tough, and the Cantonese immigrants trying to scratch a living gold panning in New Zealand were no exception. These men suffered great hardship and intolerance from many of the existing community; you’ll be shocked to find out what a former Prime Minister once said about them. Today, though, the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown is a fascinating place for an excursion and you can even pan for gold yourself afterwards. Find out more here in my post for Go4Travel:

Exploring Bangkok using the Chao Phraya River ferries

Thailand Bangkok skyline

The Bangkok cityscape

I’ve been fortunate to have visited Thailand’s capital several times and I have to be honest, the ferries are what keeps me sane in all that horrendous traffic.  It’s so straightforward to hop on and hop off, and lots of the city’s major tourist attractions are within a short stroll of the piers.  My guide for Flight of the Gibbon contains everything you need to know.  You can read it here:

Blog news

No updates as yet on The Itin’s launch date, though you’ll read it here when they’re ready Stateside.  In the meantime, can I tempt you wine lovers with this, my latest blog on New Zealand?  I have bunches of grapes ripening on my own back garden vines as I write, but they’ve got nothing on this: http://www.go4travelblog.com/explore-wairarapa-new-Zealand/

Lake Wairarapa, near to the wineries of Martinborough  Photo by K1w1m0nk1e CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Wairarapa, near to the wineries of Martinborough Photo by K1w1m0nk1e CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Blog post live: the Kapiti coast of New Zealand

I’ve been blogging for Go4Travel about the Kapiti coast this week. You can read my suggestions on what to do in the area here:

Sunset at Porirua Harbour by Karora (Public domain)

Sunset at Porirua Harbour by Karora (Public domain)

The bus drivers of New Zealand

So often, it’s the people that make a place memorable more than the sights themselves. To really engage with a place, there needs to be a connection, and it’s the human interactions that facilitate that. I’ve been thinking about which places have the warmest and most welcoming locals, and I have to say New Zealand comes high up the list. I spent a week in South Island using the reliable bus system to see the main sights, but didn’t realise just how much I’d enjoy the journeys between those places. Here’s a piece I wrote for myWanderlust not long after I returned.

Inside the man there was a scruffy boy itching to get out.

The commentary as we edged down South Island’s west coast may have been aimed at adults, but tales of Australians landing planes upside down in the swamp came right out of Boys Own. With his untamed mop of greasy ginger hair, Dave was one of those people where you could still vividly imagine what he’d have looked like as a lad, scraped knees and all. Heading south from Greymouth into country country, everyone got a cheery wave, but then Dave knew most people. When it came to the drop off, he flicked the rolled up newspaper expertly through the window hatch as he once had from his push bike, slowing only slightly before checking his wing mirror to smugly inform us it had landed accurately.

“Yup, that’ll do ya. That paper’s printed at midday. If I didn’t run it through, they wouldn’t get it until tomorrow. No point in old news, is there?”

Bridge between Greymouth and Hokitika as navigated by Dave the bus driver

Bridge between Greymouth and Hokitika as navigated by Dave the bus driver

Dave told us he had the best job in the country but salt and pepper haired George disagreed. Picking up the baton from Franz Josef, he made sure everyone had visited the glaciers, threatening to leave us behind if we couldn’t tell him enough about what he insisted we should have seen.

Yes, I passed the test! Proof I visited Franz Josef glacier.

Yes, I passed the test! Proof I visited Franz Josef glacier.

He wound us expertly round impossibly tight turns to deposit us at viewpoints framed with the ubiquitous but elegant tree fern, fronds shimmying like a Twenties flapper. Jovial when on the move, he was quick to chastise anyone who dared hold up the coach. At breakfast, out of serendipitous necessity swapping a motorway service station for a salmon farm deep in the forest, he joined me at my table. The conversation flitted back and forth as George downed his second cup of tea. Gruff George, it turned out, was a gentle man underneath; having lost his wife to cancer, he confided that meeting people on his bus had helped him through the tough times.

Wheezy Pete, with a capacious belly nurtured over many years supping good beer, shook our hands as we returned from a roadside hike to a waterfall. George introduced his replacement and pointed to the bus parked on the opposite side of the road.

Awesome NZ just about sums it up!

Awesome NZ just about sums it up!

“You lot are hard work,” he chuckled, “there are only four on that other bus, I’m off back to Franz for a quiet life.”

And so the thirteen of us headed for Queenstown, encroaching steadily on snow-capped mountains as we edged alongside Lake Wanaka. Pete pointed out the world’s oldest bungee jump, offering a free ride to anyone who took up the challenge.

A few days passed before I met Dione. Dione was different, the first driver under forty, with a baseball cap and an exceptionally good knowledge of sheep. When not talking farming, he spoke incessantly of the weather.

“We have two hundred days of rain down here, bringing seven metres of water every year. For you folks that measure in millimetres, that’s a lot of rain!”

But he had the most spectacular drive, through the mountains down to Milford Sound. Skirt folds of Rimu trees parted to reveal the tiniest slivers of silvery petticoat cascading into puddles that blurred onto the water below. Our day was sunny, the deep azure of the sky framing the sheer cliffs of the fjord and diamonds pricking the water.

“Jeez, you guys are lucky. Even the keas are behaving today – yesterday those bloody parrots flew into the bus and shat all over the dash.”

Kea inspecting the bus for Dione

Kea inspecting the bus for Dione

Wiry Tom knew he had the rough end of the deal, for it was he who would remove us from the crisp air of the mountains and carry us across the Canterbury Plain in all its sheep-strewn monotony. He tried his best with Mount Cook, but our wonder at the beauty of New Zealand’s highest peak was tainted by the knowledge of what was to come. I passed the time trying to figure out which Hollywood movie actor he reminded me of; a cop, no, the President? It was a twelve hour ride and I reached Christchurch none the wiser.

The road to Mount Cook

The road to Mount Cook

Yes, Dione was indeed different. He was the only one who wasn’t a scheduled bus driver, our driver-guide on a coach tour to one of the country’s best known attractions. In New Zealand, buses aren’t just there to take their passengers from point to point. To be a bus driver on South Island you needed a sense of humour and a good head for facts. I’d say a good aim and experience as a paper boy got you a long way too.