Business travel to New Zealand – tips

Looking for a way to do business travel in New Zealand on the cheap? Here’s what I learned on a recent trip.

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.

Flights

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.

Accommodation

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.

Internet Access

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.

Taxis

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.

Summary

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.

The iPad as your only computer

Recently, I attended Tech Ed – Microsoft’s major technical education event for IT professionals. I attended as a member of the media at Microsoft’s expense (just laying out the appropriate disclaimers before I start). I was away for four days on the conference, having left home on a Tuesday and returning on Friday afternoon. For the first time, I travelled with the iPad as my only computing device – no notebook, no cheating by using one of the many machines that are around for attendees – just the iPad.

The Kit

In order to use the iPad as a primary computer for the best part of a week, I needed a few accessories. I was going to take a stand but decided to pack light and took a PADACs Executive Leather Case. This offers great protection in my satchel (a Crumpler “The Quarfie”) and doubles up as a stand. That props it up so I can either use the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard I brought or the on-screen keyboard comfortably.

Fortunately, Microsoft provided WiFi access to conference delegates so Internet connectivity was easy – a big consideration as I only have a WiFi iPad and not a 3G model. In the hotel however, it was a little trickier as in-room access is only via an Ethernet cable. For that, I used the Huawei E5830 I picked up on eBay so that I have ready access to Internet.

Obviously, the iPad’s battery was never going to make it through four days so I have the charger with me. I used the same charger for my iPhone so that made my travel load even lighter – one brick to charge them all!

Reality Check

So, can the iPad make it as a primary computing device? In a nutshell – yes but not forever.

Data entry in the conference sessions and during interviews was easy. The iPad’s instant on capability meant that I was up and running way before most of the other folks using netbooks or sub-notebooks.

Plenty of people have already written about the iPad’s hardware so I’m going to mention one app that I’m road testing (there a full review in Australian Macworld) is Office 2 HD. This is yet another productivity suite for the iPad. At this stage it only support word processing and spreadsheets and I’ve only worked with the word processor as that’s a key application for me.

The big attraction of Office2 HD is that it plays nicely with DropBox. That means I can open and save documents to my DropBox account so I don’t have to worry about backing my work up while traveling.

For the writers out there, Office2 HD includes all the usual formatting options like bold, underline, italics, bullets, numbering and text alignment. It also includes a word count – a must for journalists.

The biggest issue with the iPad as a notebook or netbook replacement is the lack of USB connectivity for transferring content to and from a memory stick. For a journalist, this is critical as many press kits are distributed this way.

Camera Shy

I know this has been addressed by just about every iPad critic on the planet – and some of the fans. But the lack of a front-facing camera is a real problem. It’s almost a certainty that iPad 2 will have a camera now that FaceTime is part of the Apple landscape. But for now, not having a camera is a show-stopper for me. Being able to video-conference home and colleagues when traveling is important – particularly on longer trips.

One More Thing

It’s funny how experience is the only way to really find a serious deficiency with a device. I’ve started a contract job as the IT manager of a school. Like most other businesses, my employer uses Microsoft Exchange – a platform I’m warming to after 15 years or so of working with Lotus Notes.

I use GMail as my main email service and I access that via Google’s support for the ActiveSync/Exchange protocols (I know it’s more complex than that but you know what I mean). On my iPad I can access several email accounts so I can keep in touch with all my clients easily.

So, there you have it. One man’s experience of using the iPad as his one and only computer. Lots of wins and some losses but the iPad is good enough – for a limited time.

Do you have an iPad? What apps are essential for you? Let me know through the comments.