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.


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)