One of the challenges for freelancers is balancing the cost/benefit equation when it comes to travel. Sometimes, you just have to go where the story is (like my friend Alison). I was in that position recently. In my new role as Chief Editor of SearchCIO I decided that the best place to research disaster recovery and business continuity planning was New Zealand following the recent earthquakes in Christchurch.
I’ll be writing an extended feature on that soon but, for this post, I wanted to share my experiences of travelling to New Zealand.
Travel between the east coast of Australia and New Zealand are quite cheap. I shopped around and booked a return trip for about $360AU. My outbound flight from Melbourne was on PacificBlue (part of the Virgin Australia group). For the return I booked with Jetstar (the budget arm of QANTAS).
My outbound flight was delayed by two hours due to fog in Auckland. I know that’s unavoidable but I didn’t receive any notification even though I’m signed up to receive SMS warnings of schedule changes. Worse still, when I checked the Virgin website 90 minutes after the scheduled departure, it still said the plane was scheduled to depart on time.
For my inconvenience, the airline gave me a $6 meal voucher that I chose to use on the flight.
On the way back, I flew on budget carrier Jetstar. I was at Auckland airport a little earlier than expected as my last interview finished early but didn’t leave me quite enough time to squeeze anything else into the day. I checked in as soon as they opened the counter and was offered a seat in the emergency exit row.
Leg room in that seat was very generous – it felt at least as roomy as a business class seat on a full-service carrier. Also, it’s the last row that’s filled typically so there were only two passengers with three seats of space making the return flight as comfortable as I could expect in economy class.
Take off was about 20 minutes late – there was no explanation given at the gate. Arrival was about 15 minutes later than scheduled – so a few minutes were made up in the air – but we were then left on the tarmac for about 30 minutes due to a technical problem with the air-bridge. All told, I was off the plane and 50 minutes later than I hoped.
Although I was based in Auckland I did have one other trip – to Christchurch. This was funded by NZICT who organised a series of meetings and interviews for me. The flight was with local carrier Air New Zealand. The flight was on time and the service was fine. The one thing that stood out was the safety demonstration.
Most carriers have a very serious video to accompany the flight attendant demonstration of seatbelts, life jackets and evacuation procedures. Air New Zealand’s morning demonstration was accompanied by a quite humorous presentation by 1980s fitness guru Richard Simmons. For the return, the video was done by a number of famous rugby personalities.
As I was travelling on a budget I was looking for an inexpensive hotel in a central location (aren’t we all!). Each year, my family buys the Entertainment Book. It’s filled with discount vouchers for hundreds of restaurants and other places. However, it is also linked with a discount accommodation booking service.
I stayed for three nights at a place called Bianco off Queen. It’s not a hotel but a serviced apartment complex. Although the room was small, it had a nice bathroom (that was recently updated by the look of it), a kitchenette, washing machine and, of course, a bed. For a business traveller looking to keep costs down, it worked well.
There were some issues with the room layout. The small table, wired internet connection and power points were nowhere near each other. I took the liberty of rearranging things a little so that the table was closer to power. The wired internet connection was of no se to me as neither my iPad or MacBook Air have ethernet ports but it could be annoying for others.
The in-room Internet charges were not dissimilar to other hotels I’ve been to with a charge of $30NZD per day with a 750MB limit.
When I arrived at Auckland airport I went straight to the Vodafone shop at the exit from customs.
I bought a 3G USB modem for $79NZD that is pre-activated with 2GB of traffic. There’s no need to provide any ID. I just paid, plugged and played.
I managed to find some free WiFi in some buildings but it’s nowhere near ubiquitous.
For much of my stay, the weather was terrible. My plan was to walk between meetings where the Google Maps estimated journey was short enough to make it between meetings. However, the heavy rain had me catching a few more cabs than planned.
Cab fares in New Zealand vary significantly between companies – there are no set tariffs. For example, my first cab from the airport to the hotel cost about $75NZD. Another company, I discovered later, does the same trip for $35NZD. However, the cheaper fare requires a booking with a specific company that is only allowed to pick up passengers that have made a booking.
The system is not very user friendly for tourists or occasional visitors.
As I was fully-self funded I was looking for the best value (OK… cheapest) trip I could manage without compromising comfort and convenience. I think I achieved that although I suspect that next time I’ll hire a car rather than catch taxis and look for a slightly quieter hotel.