Dec 042014
 

Fortunately, due to my late arrival the night before, I managed to sleep in a bit the next morning. After a bit of Starbucks to attempt to wake up my brain, I went for a bit of a stroll around Auckland. I was considering a haircut, but decided asking for a “little off the top” might be interpreted the wrong way at this place:

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I was just in relaxation mode and wandered around the city just seeing what I might see. Found a delicious lasagna for lunch, and a new beer which Untappd informed me was the 500th unique beer I’ve tried. Hah!

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It’s Christmas in Auckland!

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After an afternoon of walking, and as the sun was setting, I found a place right by the cruise ship terminal serving craft beer samplers. Major props to them for a super creative holder!

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It was getting really cold out at this point, and the wind was kicking up. Temp dropped to maybe 15C with a wind, and it was time to find some food and get in teh warms. I was craving Thai food after being away form home so long, and one of the highest recommended restaurants in Auckland on TripAdvisor was Thai, so I decided to go for it. Plus, it gave me another chance to figure out the busses. The inner loop bus served me well, and soon I was at Blue Elephant Thai, where the footprints on the ground led you down the alley to find it:

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Delicious chicken satay starter:

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Tasty penang duck curry…ordered mainly because I’ve never seen anyone offer duck before. It was quite tasty, but not really a traditional penang curry. Regardless, it was tasty.

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I somehow resisted the mango and sticky rice for desert, because for the past week I’d been thinking of the delicious gelato I’d had previously at Giapo. Headed back there after thai for a little dessert before bed, and once again wasn’t disappointed. One of the flavours was “Hokey Pokey” which they described as the “national flavour of New Zealand.” It was vanilla ice cream with honeycomb toffee in it, and in true Giapo fashion they topped it off with some caramel piping, crumbled chocolate cookies, and some more honeycomb crisps. Absolutely amazing.

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It was a reasonable walk from Giapo back to my hotel, and as I approached the hotel there were police everywhere, and swarms of people. Clearly something was up. The closer I got, the thicker the police and people got:

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Noting all the Chinese flag, and that most of the people looked Chinese, I asked one of the police what was up. “We have a VIP guest.” Based on the level of security, my DC-radar told me it could only be a head of state, and most likely President Xi was about to show up at my hotel.

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The strange thing was, the police could have cared less about my keycard, and anyone could walk into the hotel without showing ID. I’m not sure what the point of hundreds of police was if they weren’t checking people going into the hotel, but there you have it.

When I got up to my room, checked the news online, and confirmed that President Xi was indeed arriving in Auckland that evening and it appeared likely he was staying in my hotel. That would explain the unexpected upgrade…most likely he didn’t want to be in a corner room with so many exposed windows.

Crashed the minute my head hit the pillow…it was going to be an early morning flight to Tokyo!

Nov 282014
 

The flight wasn’t too early, so I was able to have a nice relaxing start to the morning in Auckland. When I finally did check out and head to the airport bus, I encountered the Aquarium bus on the way. Every city needs a shark bus!

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Check-in area was rather packed but Air New Zealand’s premium check-in is rather nice. Of course, it didn’t want to check me in at the kiosks, but with a little help from an agent I was checked in and on my way in five minutes. The nicest part of the premium check-in area is the private elevator up to immigration and security. It feeds into a private immigration line, and then into common security, but appeared to save several minutes.

I’d gotten to the airport several hours before the flight to catch up on a bit of work, so I was quite hungry for lunch by the time I arrived.¬†Another reasonably good Mac’s beer and some tasty stew to start:

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Finished off with a MOA IPA which was quite delicious, and some sweets and cheese for dessert:

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Wifi in the lounge was quite good and I managed to get a good amount of work done, and about 45 minutes before the flight I headed down to the gate area, which was jam packed and standing room only.

Air New Zealand flight 274
Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) to Nuku’alofa, Tonga (TBU)
Depart 16:15, Arrive 19:10, Flight Time 2:55
Boeing 767-300, Registration ZK-NCK, Manufactured 1997, Seat 2A

Boarding began right on time, and bubbly was offered. The load was incredibly light in business today, since the plane had been switched from an all-economy A320 to a 767 about a week before the flight. More bubbles for me! Coach, however, appeared to be packed.

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Today’s dinner menu:

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This was my first flight with Air New Zealand, and I had high expectations based on what I’d heard from others. I mean, how can you not like an airline that shows Monty Python:

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Dinner started out with more bubbly, and a small bowl of nuts:

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Due to the light load, it was suggested I have multiple appetizers, both of which were quite good:

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The main was also pretty good as well, especially for a 2.5 hour flight:

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Plus, cheese and desert. Amazing service for such a short flight:

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Flight went very quickly, and soon we were on approach to Tonga. The crew had been excellent and friendly, although it was hard to tell how much of that was due to the extremely light load in business and how much was the usual excellent service. Either way, it was a fantastic flight despite the rather poor hard product for a 767.

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Tonga was taking Ebola extremely seriously, and a group of 10+ nurses in old-school white nurse uniforms met the passengers just inside the terminal and asked questions and distributed information cards:

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Immigration moved on island time and took over 30 minutes, but it was no big deal because all the fellow passengers were super chatty and friendly. It was great meeting a few people who’d been on the flight and they were all really excited that someone would come all the way around the world to visit Tonga.

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Nov 252014
 

Immigration was a piece of cake, and headed outside to look for the bus into the city. First impression: it’s COLD in Auckland. Granted, they were going through a bit of a cold snap, but coming from Brisbane where it was 30-33 degrees to Auckland where the high was 10 degrees and windy…I pretty much froze. Bus was really easy to figure out, the agent selling tickets was very helpful explaining the stops, etc, and about 45 minutes later we were at the last stop which was near my hotel.

I’d booked the Hilton Auckland with points for the one night I was there. I wasn’t thrilled with the location all the way down on the harbour, but for nice and free I wasn’t going to complain. When I had to shuffle things around due to the Fiji and Solomon Islands trade war, I ended up with a second night in Auckland. There was a problem, however. 90% of hotels were completely sold out (including the Hilton) and the other 10% were only selling rooms at last-minute prices of $400+. Ouch.

When I checked in, I mentioned my predicament to the agent (I still didn’t have a room for the second night at this point) and she said she’d see what she could do. About 15 minutes after I got to my room. She’d spoken to the GM, and they did have one room free for the second night. Since I was a Hilton Diamond member, the GM was willing to make me an offer. I’d pay full price for a standard room (ouch) but would get a room which had “just become available due to a change in plans from a VIP guest in town for a concert.” It was the largest suite in the hotel, and he assured me I would be thrilled with it. I bit the bullet. It avoided moving my bags, and I couldn’t resist.

Later that day, I found out the VIP in town was none other than Mariah Carey. Hah, I wonder if it was her room I was getting, or someone else’s.

By this point it was early evening, and since the hotel didn’t have an executive lounge, they gave me two vouchers good for drinks at the lobby bar. It was a nice social environment, and I got to try Mac’s Black beer. Rather tasty stuff! After my recent Brisbane public transport successes, I bought a transport card for Auckland and headed out to brave the busses. I was headed to SPQR for dinner, which I’d been to many years prior in my first visit to Auckland. It was tasty as I’d remembered, although also a bit more pretentious than I remembered from the previous visit. My waiter was an Italian, and the table next to me was Italian tourists, and he seemed far more interested in chatting with them than paying any attention to me. When I asked for a wine recommendation he instantly recommended the most expensive by-the-glass on the menu, which was definitely tasty, but always leaves a bad impression that they’re recommending based on price.

Decided to walk the 2.5 km back to my hotel since it was a nice evening:

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Great view looking back at the city from in front of the Hilton:

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Slept nearly 10 hours which felt absolutely wonderful, and then headed out to find caffeine. Starbucks. Predictable caffeine. Just one small problem…it was drizzling.

Great, so now in addiction to being windy and cold, it’s wet. About 500m into the walk, the skies opened up…and then I was saved. A company was handing out FREE umbrellas as advertisement! Can’t be a cheap promotion, but it was awesome!

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