Aggy's Shack

30 December 2014

For our first meal in Queenstown, we headed straight to Aggy's. Luckily for us, we arrived at around 2 PM so the lunch crowd had already left and we were able to get a table (they only have three).


Fish & Chips (NZD 12)

Earl and I both enjoyed this dish as it was not too oily and it didn't have a fishy aftertaste.


Hotdog & Chips (NZD 9)

Aside from the Fish & Chips, I also wanted to order the Battered Muscle Meal (NZD 14), but Earl had other plans. As he's not too fond of seafood, he ordered the hotdog instead and we agreed it's not worth the money we paid for it.

All in all, with Aggy's Shack overlooking the lake, it's a nice outdoor spot for a quick meal (or a leisurely one - up to you).

Queenstown: Part III

25 December 2014

We went on yet another Lord of the Rings (LOTR) tour, but this time with Nomad Safaris exploring the Wakatipu Basin area. It started out well - our guide was friendly, but unfortunately more intent on cracking jokes than giving information on LOTR.

He only pointed out two movie locations and totally skipped where the loss of the One Ring at Gladden Fields was filmed while we were at Arrowtown and the Ford of Bruinen filming site. Needless to say we were very disappointed. We came all the way from Singapore so it’s not like we can easily go back anytime soon.


WARNING FOR PREGNANT WOMEN: Before booking this tour, I called their office a few months ago to check how safe it would be considering I’d be six months pregnant. They told me that it should be fine and that we would just be crossing a river.

I thought it would be a short and slow one to two minute crossing like the one pictured on their website where you just cross to get to the other side. Turns out, we went up and down the river (even went in circles for the fun of it) going over large rocks. That it was bumpy was an understatement (roller coaster rides are smoother) and half the tour was on rough roads. It would be best to check with your doctor before going on this trip.


Also, the afternoon tea provided by Pure Glenorchy was much better than the one we had on this tour (which was more expensive). Nomad Safaris served an assortment of cookies and hot drinks (coffee, tea and hot chocolate) while the other tour provider had those along with sandwiches, pastries, canned drinks and bottled water.

The one good thing though is that even if you're not a fan of the trilogy, you can still enjoy this off-road adventure as you'll get to see the local scenery just outside of Queenstown. You'll even get to try your luck at gold panning.


Above left is the filming location for the Argonath or the Pillars of the Kings and basically across the street, you'll find the Kawarau Bungy Centre (above right), where commercial bungy jumping first started.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Queenstown: Part II

20 December 2014


For our first full day in Queenstown, we went on a four hour tour with Pure Glenorchy visiting some of the filming locations for Lord of the Rings (LOTR). The areas covered were Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien Forest, the Misty Mountains and Ithilien. We also stopped by the spot where Beorn’s House was located (from The Hobbit movie) along with locations from X-men Origins: Wolverine.

Tea is provided on this tour and our guide served hot drinks, soda, pastries, and sandwiches (which according to Earl was really good and filling). We both really had fun on this excursion and would recommend it to all LOTR fans.


Area where Sam and Frodo were captured by Faramir


Lothlorien Forest

Queenstown: Part I

15 December 2014

We LOVED Queenstown!!! It was such a relaxing place to be in - even when you're in the middle of town.

When we told people that our plan was just to spend three days there (inclusive of the days we fly in and out), they all advised us to extend. They were so right! It's the perfect environment to just chill, but still have plenty of outdoor activities to choose from (e.g. ride the luge, go jet boating, see glaciers, etc.).


A charming town with a lot small shops (no tall buildings here) and home to one of the cutest candy stores I've ever seen. Put it this way, my sister described The Remarkable Sweet Shop as coming straight out of an Enid Blyton story.



We bought their Creme Brulee Fudge and Chocolate Hazelnut Nougat - loved both so much that I am planning to buy some online and have it shipped to Singapore. Earl says though that I can only do this once the baby is born as she's getting quite big already (he's trying to limit my sugar intake).


Another wonderful shop is Patagonia Chocolates. Great place for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, but what we ordered instead was a scoop of their Vanilla and Cookies ice cream despite the temperature being 8 °C outside. It won the gold during the 2013 New Zealand Ice Cream Awards so we had to try it.



Earl and I would definitely love to come back, but probably when our daughter is a little bit older - or maybe we'll leave her with Grandma...

Crowne Plaza Queenstown

10 December 2014

Hotels abound in Queenstown, but many are either an uphill climb (literally) or expensive. A happy medium is the Crowne Plaza. It has a great location and you won't be huffing and puffing just to get there.



Pros:

- The room is clean and the bed is comfortable.
- Gift shops and restaurants are all a very short walk from the hotel (some are across the street).
- There's a convenience store next door. More expensive than the supermarket (which is 10 minutes by foot), but great in an emergency.
- Free wi-fi (just sign up for membership which is also free).
- There's a laundry room - cost is NZD 3 per machine. Total washing and drying fee is NZD 6 for one load.


Cons:

- It was hard to get a hold of housekeeping - it seemed like only the number for the reception desk worked.
- In the three days we were there, the breakfast buffet never changed and the options were mediocre at best. Basically, it's just so that you have something to eat without having to walk out in really cold weather.
- The temperature in our room was either cool or cold as the thermostat had no heater option (either that or it wasn't working).
- The in-room safe was located at the bottom of the closet - good thing my husband was around as it's hard to bend down when you're pregnant.
- The laundry room was very musty and needed airing. They provide free detergent, but the machine will only dispense about a tablespoon of liquid soap. We ended up buying our own as I could not imagine how such a tiny amount of detergent could clean a large load of dirty clothes.


For the location alone, I wouldn't mind staying here again, but I'd also be willing to try out some place new if our budget permits.

Hobbiton

05 December 2014
Before we were even married, Earl had this tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition) every December during his holiday break. He has also read all the books. Thus, there was no question as to where we were going for our next vacation.


After much research and given our time constraints, we decided to go with Bush and Beach's Hobbiton Express Tour. At the rate of NZD 280 per person, it's not cheap - Earl even wanted to skip the tour, but I insisted. Was it worth it? Put it this way, my husband was so glad I didn't listen to him!




Technically this place is about a two hour drive from Auckland, but it's an easy day trip from the city. They will pick you up from your hotel, give a running commentary along the way and drop you off at a cafe for a quick break (both ways). The lunch was buffet style and pretty good - you could go back for seconds (and thirds) if you so wished. At the end of the tour, each guest is given a NZD 10 voucher to use at the gift shop.

As to the drop off, it will depend on where your hotel is located. Our driver decided to have people get down at common areas. We were lucky that our hotel was along the main road so we got off across the street while the others had to walk a bit. Those staying in Ponsonby were told that they would be dropped off at the central business district and they would have to find their own way back.


Bag End


Samwise Gamgee's House


Party Field

All in all, this tour is definitely worth the money if want to see the Shire and get back to the city as soon as possible.

Crowne Plaza Auckland

30 November 2014

For those into aesthetics, this hotel is not for you. Earl and I agreed that the Crowne Plaza Auckland was very generic looking - no style, just a place to crash for the night. But if you want a room that's clean, very conveniently located, and comes with free wi-fi, then this hotel is hard to beat. Aside from which, the room rate is lower than the others in the same area.


I cannot stress enough just how convenient its location is! First, it's attached to a small mall with a food court at the basement, Countdown Supermarket is just a few steps away, across the street is Smith & Caughey's (which we used as a shortcut to Queen Street), it's next door to the Elliott Stables, and a lot of other dining options are all within a short walk from the hotel (thus, no need to pay extra for the breakfast buffet).



Actually, Earl liked this place better compared to CityLife Auckland (hotel review to follow) which is ranked higher in TripAdvisor. I must say I agree with him since our room here was more spacious and again comes with free wi-fi (very important) - you just need to sign up for membership which is free.


Above is the view from our room. The hotel is parallel to Queen Street which has fast food options such as Wendy's and a 24-hour McDonald's.

One list I found useful is The 100 Best Cheap Eats in Auckland 2013 as many of them are located in the central business district (that's how I found out about the NZD 5 pizza slices at Sal's Authentic New York Pizza which is just around the corner from the hotel). There's a 2014 version of the list which you can view here.

One of the few cons I can think of during our visit was the concierge. We booked a tour through them and they quoted a rate of NZD 275 per person. When we went on the tour, it turns out the correct rate was higher at NZD 280. I told the concierge about it right away and they sent an email explaining the situation a few days later. I was thinking that had this been another country, we would have been refunded the difference.

Also, I asked housekeeping for a copy of the mini-bar menu and I never got it in the three days we stayed there. But these incidents are minor in the greater scheme of things.

The hotel also has a laundry room and provides free detergent. The fee is NZD 2 for the use of washer and the dryer (your total laundry bill for one load would be NZD 4). Needless to say, I would definitely recommend the Crowne Plaza to anyone who plans to visit Auckland.

Auckland

25 November 2014

The view from Mount Eden. For me, the vibe in Auckland is so laid-back that it seems more like a province than a city. The central business district (CBD) has very few skyscrapers, most stores close early, and the place isn't noisy. All combined, it made for a great starting point to our last holiday as a carefree couple (our baby is due in March)!

I highly recommend staying in the CBD area as supermarkets, banks, and more importantly, tons of food options are just a short walk away.


One such option is Mrs. Higgins Oven Fresh Cookies which serves them just the way I like them - soft and chewy.

I must say that I bought their cookies for two days straight and would have gone for a third had it not been for time constraints. And at NZD 2 per cookie (NZD 3.80 if you buy two), it made walking down Queen Street even more enjoyable. I actually regret not buying in bulk - they sell 10 cookies at NZD 17. Skip the brownies though as they're rather dry.

Another cheap food fix is Sal's Authentic New York Pizza. At NZD 5 per slice, you can already have a light dinner. Earl and I shared three slices and that was more than enough for both of us.

A few steps away from the cookie and the pizza place is Giapo Haute Ice Cream. If you check TripAdvisor, they are currently ranked as number one out of 1,242 restaurants in Auckland.

It's NZD 7 per flavor, but we opted for the two flavor version at NZD 8.50. Earl chose Cookies and Cream and I ordered Kiss Kiss (chocolate with hazelnut). While it certainly looked like a work of art, I still prefer Ben & Jerry's ice cream.


For those visiting Auckland for the first time, here are a couple of pointers you may find useful:

Airport Transfer Options

1.) Airbus Express

- Rate per person: NZD $28 round-trip
*They also have a package rate for families (two adults and three children) - just check their website.

- Travel Time: 40-60 minutes

- Pros: Cheapest option and tickets can be purchased online.
- Cons: Depending on the number of passengers and where you're staying, travel time could be longer due to multiple stops. You may also need to walk the rest of way as the bus will only go to the designated stopping points.

2.) Super Shuttle

- Rate per person: NZD 70 round-trip
*This is before taxes and based on a shared ride. If there are two of you, the rate is NZD 86 for both.

- Travel Time: 45-50 minutes

- Pros: They use a smaller van so not too many stops along the way and they will drop you off directly at your hotel. You can pay for it online so no need to think about change.
- Cons: You could still end up going around the city if the shuttle is full and your hotel is the last stop on their list.

3.) Discount Taxis

- Rate for up to four (4) persons:
NZD 40 - going to the CBD area
NZD 35 - going to the airport

- Travel Time: 35 minutes

- Pros: They will go straight to your hotel and you won't have to deal with other passengers. If there are at least two of you, this is cheaper than the shuttle.
- Cons: They only accept cash payments.

4.) Regular Metered Taxis: Corporate Cabs and Auckland Co-op Taxi

- Rate for up to four (4) persons: depends on your destination, but approximately NSD 60-100 to the CBD area.

- Travel Time: 35 minutes

- Pros: They will go straight to your hotel and you won't have to deal with other passengers.
- Cons: This is the most expensive option especially if there's heavy traffic.

We chose Discount Taxis as I didn't want the hassle of figuring out the bus stop route and we get more privacy.

Foreign Exchange

If possible, have your money changed before arriving in New Zealand. The rates at both the airport and in the city are not great and the one at the airport comes with a NZD 10 commission.

Auckland Savings Bank (ASB) posts their rates online and you can use their Foreign Exchange Calculator to compare.

We were lucky that my parents had just visited Auckland a few months ago so they were able to warn us. Here's what the difference looks like:

SGD 500 = NZD 493 - changed in Singapore
SGD 500 = NZD 455 - changed in Auckland (inclusive of NZD 10 fee)


Mission San Juan Capistrano

05 October 2014

The baby isn't even born yet and it's already changing the way we do things. Earl and I were in Los Angeles last week, but we decided to make this trip as relaxing as possible so as not to stress me (and the baby) out. Basically, it was a shop and eat trip where we hardly did any sightseeing except for a few places such as this one.



Founded in 1776, it is where you can find the Serra Chapel (pictured above) which is the oldest building in California in continuous use.



The mission was quite pretty and I'm glad we went, though the best time to go might be late in the afternoon when the sun isn't too hot.

 
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