Australia

100 days to go

100 days to go, 100 days to dream. Time is seeming to fly super fast now. I have dreams regularly about our trip. I have a few smaller trips between now and then which will really make the time go by fast.

What is left to do? Well, most everything is paid for already in regards to lodging. The only places that are not fully paid for yet are our place in Nelson and our place in Auckland. I plan to pay for Nelson on May 1 and Auckland on June 1.  We also have one hotel room that we have not paid for yet. Other than that, all hotels/apartments have been paid for so we won’t have that expense when we return. That is usually the biggest travel expense and it has been nice to spread it out over the last few months.

Airfare – fully paid for. We bought our tickets over to Australia/New Zealand using frequent flyer miles so those were relatively cheap. But I had to buy flights within Australia and New Zealand. I bought those in the fall once I knew our itinerary.

In regards to car rentals – one has been prepaid and two I was not able to prepay. And honestly I can’t find a better rate than what I booked so those probably won’t be prepaid before we go. I can deal with that though.

Activities are mostly all booked and paid for. This month I can book our Alcatraz tickets (yes we are spending a day in San Fran before we go) and our Sydney Observatory tickets. Our lodging in Sydney is right next to the Observatory so we will do that one night. I have two excursions booked but I cannot pay for them yet as they could be cancelled if the weather does not cooperate. I call those excursions the Pandy Excursions. Pandy was my great aunt that passed away in November but she taught me that you only live once and sometimes in life you need to splurge. So those two excursions, if they happen, I will dedicate to her since they will be our splurges. In fact, my motto on our trip will be “What would Pandy do?”.

I still can’t believe we have reached the 100 day milestone. It seemed so far away when I booked our first plane ticket at 330 days away. My brother gets married in 33 days and then the kids get out for the summer in 71 days. Those two countdowns will make the countdown to our trip fly.

Categories: Auckland, Nelson, San Francisco, Sydney | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Next research project: cell phone/gps service in New Zealand

I’m not really concerned about cell phone/gps service in Australia.  There we will pretty much be in populated areas.  However, I am concerned with New Zealand.  There we plan to go off the beaten path to explore.  So I want to make sure we don’t get lost.  I keep going back-and-forth with what we need.  Part of me thinks we don’t need anything additional than the maps we have – afterall – that is how people USED to travel.  Another part of me thinks maybe I should just research this.

I’ve been considering several options.  One is buying the Australia/New Zealand map for my GPS.  One disadvantage there is that then I have to bring my GPS with us.  Another option is buying a cheap GPS in Australia/New Zealand.  Question there is can I find one under $100 and will it work in the middle-of-nowhere in NZ? Additionally, we could rent a GPS from the car rental agencies.  But the cost of that rental exceeds the cost of just buying a GPS.  Another option is just using our cell phones for GPS coverage.  With that both my husband and I each have an AT&T phone, and I also have a Verizon cell phone.  So – what sort of coverage does that translate when in Australia/New Zealand?  Does it make sense to invest in a SIM card once we land in Australia that will equate to better cell/GPS coverage in Australia and New Zealand?  I’m used to buying SIM cards in the countries we visit as data rates are much better than US provider’s “International Coverage” rates.

In the end, I think we’ll opt NOT to get a new GPS or purchase  the AUS/NZ maps for my current 2009 GPS.  Even though GPS make traveling pretty easy, I will most likely remind myself that both my husband and I are good navigators and it will all work out in the end. I actually love maps and sometimes miss the days when people used paper maps more often.

Categories: Australia, Data abroad, New Zealand | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Keeping Track of it All

How have I been keeping track of everything for our trip? I created a binder.  The binder starts with our itinerary on the first page, and behind that page is our travel insurance policy.



 I debated organizing it in date order but ultimately I decided to organize by category. I have five different categories: Flights, Apartments, Hotels, Cars, and Activities. As soon as I make a reservation I print it out and stick it in the binder. This has worked great at keeping me organized. When our flights to and from the South Pacific were cancelled I could easily grab our original flight info when I was speaking with a customer service agent. If something changes I print out the new item and keep the original behind it.



As you can see, right now I am using clear plastic sheets for everything. This lets me change things if needed. Right before our trip I plan to take everything out of the sleeves, make copies, and then get everything bound at a copy store. I plan to keep a copy at home for the memories, and obviously bring one on our trip. However after we do an activity or take a flight I plan to rip that part out of the notebook. By the end of the trip I should have nothing.


I am also using the binder to put local area information. I may need to make another section for that…for example this weekend I printed out local maps of the Mossman Gorge area.

The binder also helps me with my excitement for the trip. There is just something fun about printing something and filing it in the binder.

Categories: Australia, New Zealand | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Bangarra Dance Theatre

In the last week my daughter has been looking through a Pocket Sydney guide and listing places she wants to go to. Those sites include a prison museum, aquarium, zoo, and a temple…to name some things. She also asked me if we could see a show put on by the Bangarra Dance Theatre company. I quickly googled them and learned it is an indigenous Australian dance company which has received numerous awards.

Thus, I looked to see if they had any shows for their Bennelong show when we were in town (held at the Sydney Opera House). Unfortunately their last performance is July 22. We arrive two days later. However I noticed that they had a school performance show on Wednesday, July 26. I sent them an email and asked if we could purchase tickets even though we are not a school group – you have to buy tickets through the Opera House’s Creative Learning office.

I received confirmation today that they were fine with me ordering tickets. As a bonus, they also offered a tour of the Opera House either before or after the show. Thus I added that onto our tickets. For a family of four we are paying $105 USD total and that includes four tickets to the show and four Opera House tours. Priced separately, Opera House tours cost around $75 USD for a family of four.

One reason I am super excited about this show is that it a great learning experience for the kids. It will teach the kids about Australian history, and it will also be held in one of the most famous buildings in the world. The show description is:  

In a tumultuous time of Australia’s history, Woollarawarre Bennelong (a senior man of the Eora from the Port Jackson area in Sydney) and his community left us with a legacy that transcended ‘first contact’. Inspired by true events, this theatrical dance work highlights the extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy that led an Aboriginal community to survive a clash of cultures; contributing to the establishment of positive relationships between the Eora and the British.

Featuring a unique Australian dance language and some of the country’s most acclaimed dancers, Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrates the continuation of life and culture through the power, artistry, passion and physicality of dance. Students will love this brand new contemporary dance work that will leave them in awe of Australia’s history, choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Page.

I guess to balance the Aboriginal culture of Australia I need to find something in New Zealand to introduce them to Maori culture too. Perhaps on the flight home I should ask the kids to compare and contrast the two 🙂

Categories: Australia, Sydney, Theatre | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Second Crisis Averted

This morning the airline agent told me our flight from Auckland (AKL) to San Francisco (SFO) was fine….at the end of my workday today I finally took the time to read the Flyertalk thread my brother had sent me on United’s New Zealand flights. Reading through the thread I noticed several people had a problem with their AKL to SFO flights as being cancelled. I took a look at our reservation and realized that our flight had also been cancelled.

Thus, I quickly stopped everything and texted my husband that he needed to bring home dinner. Two hours later I was still on the phone with United. It took me five calls to get everything fixed.

Things were more complicated than typical passengers as we were flying on award tickets. And the flight was discontinued, not just one flight cancelled. So United could not just put us on their next flight. They also could not force another airline to grant us award tickets.

During my many waits on hold I researched alternatives. My ideal situation was flying from AKL to Houston and then catching a flight from Houston to our home. But that flight is on Air New Zealand and they could not get us on it. Thus, I figured we could maybe connect in Sydney and fly home that way. 

Thankfully the agent was once again able to get us overrided onto that flight so we could use our points even though business saver tickets were not available. We come back to the US through SFO. The one positive of this is that we are now in first class from SFO to the East Coast. Before we were just in coach.

So, crisis number two has been averted as well. Thank goodness it is Friday. Today has been very stressful.

Categories: Airplanes, Australia, New Zealand | Tags: , | 1 Comment

First Crisis Averted

When I originally booked our tickets to Sydney (SYD), we could only get award flights with a connecting flight in Auckland (AKL).   Unfortunately the flights from AKL to SYD were in coach class as Air New Zealand had not released availability at that point.  Daily I had been checking flights from AKL to SYD to see if business class (J) seats had opened up.  In mid-December I noticed two seats available in J.  Thus I called and was able to have our ticket split and had the girl and I placed in J while the boys remained in coach.

Twice a day I check for availability in J for the AKL to SYD flight. This morning I noticed that there were two more seats available in J.  So, what I had hoped to be a quick call to get the boys into J class turned into a potential nightmare.  The agent I spoke to told me the flight from SFO to AKL had been cancelled by United (I was not yet aware of this)…..she said if I was flexible with dates she could get me on another flight.

I told her our whole trip had been planned around these flights.  At this point I went to my computer and started looking at options.  I knew there were J seats available on SFO to SYD, however there were not any “saver fare” seats available.  She initially told me that because of that I could not get onto that flight.  I asked her very nicely if she could check with a supervisor because I was showing there were plenty of J seats available and our original flight had been cancelled.  I was put on hold, and she came back and confirmed she could do that.

Thus, I went through a series of holds.  I know booking these international flights can be quite complicated, and I’ve also experienced being on hold with people and then the line going dead.  About ten minutes later I receive an email with an updated reservation for the boys that they are now on the SFO to SYD flight, and then five minutes after that I receive one for the girls.  Until I received those emails, I was very nervous.  What if our reservation got cancelled, the phone call got dropped, and we ended up getting screwed?

So, this morning’s crisis has now been averted.  I am slightly disappointed that I won’t be able to fly in J on Air New Zealand, but I am excited that now we do have a direct flight to SYD.  That flight is also 15 hours, but lands in SYD at 6:40AM….I know we won’t be able to check into our lodging that early, I am hoping there is somewhere in the SYD airport I may be able to take a shower after landing.  However, while the flight is 15 hours I know I can enjoy all of the benefits of the flight.  I can sleep, I can eat, I can watch movies.  I will surely get my money’s worth.

Also – now I can stop checking United daily for availability from SFO to SYD or AKL to SYD.  Now I just need to check to see if First Class opens up from SFO to our hometown, but I think that is doubtful.  (I also check twice a day to see if any of our Southwest flights have gone down in price 🙂 ).

Categories: Airplanes, Australia | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Thank you Southwest Airlines!

In January I opened a Southwest (SW) Ink credit card as they had a 50,000 point offer going on. In late October I opened a SW Premier credit card as that one had a 50,000 point offer. Because of the two cards and the spending (new floors for bedroom helped get us to the spending goal faster ) I put on the cards I was able to accumulate over 110,000 points in a calendar year. This gave me a free Companion pass that expires in December 2017.

I have put my SW points to good use this year. First, my younger brother is getting married in the LA area in the spring. This was an unexpected trip for us. Typically we would have made that trip our only “big” trip this year and not worry about the cost, but this year we had already planned on Australia and New Zealand. So, in order to save us $1600 in unexpected travel costs I used some of my SW points to book three tickets to CA. I only needed to book three as my daughter flies free as my companion. Now the only expense we need to worry about is lodging.

Second, the only airline portion of our Australia/New Zealand that is not booked is our flight that gets us to San Francisco. I had been hoping that a flight would open up for frequent flier miles and we could just change our tickets for that, but I also did not want to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast and then to the South Pacific in one day. Flights for the South Pacific leave around 10:30 at night and I also have no desire to be on Rast Coast time and also need to wait for a 10:30 flight. I kind of want to fly out a day early and show the kids SF as that is where my husband and I got married.

To complicate things, there is a specialized summer camp my daughter wants to attend in MN the week before our big trip. I have tons of family in MN so lodging is not a problem. My husband and I are not 100% positive that she will attend this camp, but I wanted to make plane reservations at the cheapest rate I could. So for now I have three tickets to fly the kids and I to MN the week before our trip and then after my daughter’s camp we will fly to SF on a Friday and meet my husband out there.

The great thing about SW and booking tickets using points is we have 100% flexibility with our flights. Plus I have only had to pay for the $5.40 per person in taxes for each ticket. Now the only ticket we actually need to buy for our trip is to get my husband from the East Coast to the West Coast.

So, I would like to thank SW for allowing me to make all of these tentative reservations (for free), and not need to worry about change fees, and also not need to worry about checked luggage fees. I hate having to make a connection, but I do heart Southwest.

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Christmas Gifts, Part Two

Besides books on Australia and New Zealand, the kids also received items to be used for our trip:

Both kids received hiking shoes and hiking socks. Additionally they also got some winter clothes. These gifts really thrilled them 🙂

 Both kids also received new luggage bags that they can carry on (or check). My preference is that we do carry on only for the international flights. First – I hate having to wait for a bag after long flights. Second – I don’t want to take a chance that our luggage is left behind in San Francisco and we are waiting days to receive it. I am more willing to check luggage on our flights in Australia and New Zealand though. The bags are eBag’s TLS Motherlode Weekend Convertibles. They do not have attached wheels. I am not really a fan of those as they take up space that could be used for clothes. I did though also buy a Samsonite collapsible luggage cart because the bags will be too heavy for the kids to carry on their own. The rule is that everything you need must fit into one bag, so therefore you need to pack smartly and realize we will be doing laundry. Anyway, here are some pictures of what the bags look like:

 
The girl received a nice pair of binoculars. She has showed an interest in observing animals, so I am hoping she will use them to look more closely at animals and birds. That is also why she got books on animals and birds. Additionally she asked for a camera. Instead of buying her a digital camera, I bought her an instax camera based on the recommendation of my sister. I hope that the girl will take a couple of pictures a day so when we come back we will already have our first photo album.

The boy received a GoPro. We all need to figure out how to use it. I anticipate once it gets warmer out he will want to use it when he is riding his bike. I also think he will want to use it when we are zip lining. I tested it out the other day and I was amazed at the wide angle picture it took.

Anyway, the kids did not ask for much this Christmas, and as a result most of their Christmas gifts were trip related.

Categories: Australia, New Zealand, Packing Light | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Gifts, Part One

What do your kids get for Christmas when you have a big trip planned the following summer? Lots of items that can be used for the trip.  If I am going to buy them anyways I may as well put them under the tree as Christmas gifts.

Both kids will be getting books on Australia and New Zealand. My daughter hates to read, but she is very interested in animals. I am hoping that she may actually glimpse at these items…:


My son, on the other hand, is an avid reader. I am pretty sure he will read all the items he is getting and will have memorized everything in the books as he reads them.


I will figure out tonight if these will be stocking stuffers or if they will be wrapped and go under the tree. I think if I can fit them in the stockings they will go in there, otherwise under the tree they go. 

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Trip planning update

Well, it’s now November 20th…the trip is coming together.  I *almost* have the itinerary completed.  Just when I think it is final I think of something else.  I only have two areas to work out – the North Island stint between Wellington and Auckland (4 nights – I am looking for only two locations there) and if we fly into Invercargill or Dunedin before heading into Queenstown.

I may have reserved all of our apartment rentals at this point.  Right now for the North Island I have us booked in a hotel for three nights, but I may change that.  I’ve reserved our rental cars as well, and only have one more flight to book.  So I’m feeling like we are getting there.  I’m the type that likes to go on vacation with everything fully paid for except for meals, so for me I like having everything booked way in advanced and paid off before we go.

Places we have apartment rentals for are: Sydney, Port Douglas, Queenstown, Nelson and Auckland.  We are in hotels for Christchurch, Franz Josef, Punakaiki, and the North Island (possibly).  I have to admit that apartment rentals keep us sane when traveling as a family.  By the end of the day we all need our own space.  An apartment gives us the capability to spread out and relax on our own.  It also allows us to prepare our own meals in case we aren’t in the mood to eat out.  It also helps us pack light as we can use a washing machine in the apartment to wash our clothes every few days.

The kids are starting to become more interested in the trip as well.  The boy would like to go to Puzzling World in Wanaka, New Zealand.  The kids also want to go skiing when we are in Queenstown.  The boy has also requested a helicopter tour…we will possibly do that at the Franz Josef glacier but with it being winter there is a high probability that the ride might now happen.  And the girl may participate in the Sydney zoo’s Zookeeper for a Day program.  It looks pretty neat.  I have been telling the kids to expect clothes this Christmas since we’ll be doing some expensive outings on our big trip.  They were not too thrilled 🙂

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