New Zealand

Paralysis by Analysis

I am reconsidering our North Island itinerary – again ūüôā

Right now we fly into Wellington, then spend two nights in Tongariro National Park. Then two nights in Whakatane and then three nights in Auckland before we return home.

Now I am considering revising that so we spend three nights at Taupo and four nights in Auckland. With our current three nights in Auckland it actually only leaves us two days to sight see in that area. I would love to visit some of the islands close to Auckland via ferry, and also “see” Auckland. But with our current itinerary we only have one day to do each of those things.

Second, if we cut out Whakatane, that is one less check-in and check-out that we need to do.

Third, we could stay at an apartment instead of a hotel like we are currently booked in. I was checking out the cafe prices at the hotel we are booked and and they are taking advantage of guests with their prices – $20 for a burger….so if we were in an apartment in a town we could either cook or get a reasonably priced meal.

Fourth – with an apartment it means the most nights we will be without having access to a laundry machine is two…where as right now there are potentially four nights where we have no laundry facilities in our place.

Downside is if we switch to Taupo we have more driving to do our first day on the North Island, but we are closer to other places the days after. It would be our longest driving day of the whole trip (around five hours, not including stops).

So, I will most likely change the itinerary around – I am just waiting to find out about an apartment in Taupo that I am interested in.

*** UPDATE: I did switch our itinerary around and now I feel good about it. I just wasn’t getting a warm fuzzy feeling before, but now I am. I also went to TripAdvisor to look up Taupo and there seem to be a whole lot of things to do in that area. ***

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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.

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How I planned our NZ itinerary

Our trip to the South Pacific was originally planned as a trip to New Zealand. I am still not sure how I managed to convince my husband to let me add on Australia….

The Australia itinerary was pretty easy to plan. New Zealand though created quite a challenge to cover everything we want to see. My husband’s primary interest there is seeing suspension bridges. I actually enjoy seeing the bridges too, but I also want to see awesome things in NZ. So one thing I did was plotted out all the suspension bridges I could find (husband had this info) on a map and see if an itinerary came up that way. I knew we didn’t want to check in and out as well every night so I needed to find places we could stay for a few nights at a time.

Here is what the maps looked like (note – we are not stopping at all markers, they were just used to help me figure out routes that would line up with a majority of these markers):

North Island:


South Island:


I also knew we needed to end up in Auckland to return home. So I needed us to end up in Auckland….which meant starting our trip on the South Island.

Using the map I determined three different starting locations – Queenstown, Nelson, or Christchurch. Ultimately Christchurch won as the starting destination as it was easier to get to from Australia than the other two cities ūüôā 

It honestly took me over a month to arrive at the NZ itinerary. Hopefully it all goes well.  In NZ we are seeing a lot of stuff but we don’t have a lot of days of long driving, so there will hopefully be time to go on hikes and hit other roadside attractions. 155 days until our vacation begins and I cannot wait!

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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

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 ūüôā

 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. 

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

Itinerary Complete?

After a few months I think I have finally settled on the itinerary. ¬†The North Island was giving me some troubles, and there was one city I wasn’t sure about on the South Island. ¬†Over the weekend I finally figured it all out (for now).

One thing on my list of things to see was a Glow Worm cave on the North Island. ¬†But with as much as I wrestled with the other things I wanted to see, I could not make that work. ¬†The tours are only 45 minutes long, but the reality is to drive there, park, and do the tour means it is taking much more out of our day than 45 minutes. ¬†There are other things we could be seeing. ¬†So, I decided that the Glow Worms are not a necessity. ¬†I would rather be enjoying a hike (which is free) than in a cave seeing worms that light up. ¬†If we can make it work, great. ¬†If not, that’s okay and it is nothing to focus an itinerary off of.

So – now on the North Island the plans are to stay in Tongariro National park for two nights and Whakatane for two nights. ¬†The national park is literally in the central part of the North Island. ¬†This will allow us to pick any direction and go that way and we don’t need to decide until closer to the date. ¬†It will also allow me another day to take the kids skiing if my husband wants to go out on his own. ¬†Whakatane is about 3 hours and 45 minutes from Auckland. ¬†Again – this will allow us more options – we’ll be along the coast but we can also go towards the north east area of New Zealand.

I think with our itinerary we have a good mix of hotel stays and apartment stays.  Two apartments we will be in for 5 nights, 1 for 4 nights, and 2 for 3 nights.  With the hotel stays we will have 3 that are 2 nights, and 2 hotel stays that are only 1 night each.  The longest we will be without a washing machine is 4 nights.  So, we should be able to pack light.

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