How Does Hawaiian Airlines Measure Up?

best passenger planes
Hawaiian Airlines has solid 767s still flying. But they’re making way for Airbus A330s.

If you ask me whether I like something, I can give you a definite answer. Do I like black licorice? Oh, hell, no. Do I like a nice big bowl of tonkatsu ramen? You betcha. Do I like Hawaiian Airlines?

Hmmm. OK. I’ve just flown four long legs on Hawaiian Airlines, and I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. You’d think it’s a simple question -- but it’s hard to evaluate the sum of the parts versus the individual parts themselves. Let’s break it down into pieces so you can see whether Hawaiian Airlines is right for you.

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Where I Flew
Phoenix, Ariz. to Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand
Return
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Let’s Start with the Schedule and Airports

One of the reasons I chose Hawaiian Airlines was to avoid Los Angeles International Airport, both outbound and inbound. Hawaiian’s flight from Phoenix gave me a great morning flight on Thursday as opposed to a late-night flight.

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330
A Hawaiian A330. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

Hawaiian also connects via Honolulu to all sorts of destinations in Asia, and our future travel plans include South Korea and Japan (both on our list). So if they passed this test, they’d be a perfect airline for future trips.

Oh, and Honolulu International Airport? It’s wonderful for a layover on the way to Auckland Airport. The little garden area and semi-outdoor corridors give it the nicest vibe of any US airport. Unfortunately, its customs, immigration and baggage areas are an absolute morass. I’d take LAX any day, and that’s saying a lot.

How was the Hawaiian Airlines Staff?

Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents -- no matter what their role at Hawaiian Airlines, they were all far nicer than your typical North American Airlines. Here are a few examples.

Hawaiian Airlines 767 Iwa
Heading out to Honolulu on Iwa, a Hawaiian Airlines 767.

I slept through the initial snack/meal service on my flight out of Auckland. I went back into the galley and asked if they had anything left. I got a nice little sandwich, some fruit and a cookie. And no disgruntled attitude about why I missed the flight attendant’s pass through the cabin.

On my flight from Phoenix to Honolulu, I drained my 24-ounce collapsible water bottle and was feeling the thirst. I took the empty bottle back to the galley and asked if I could get a bit of water. Well, the flight attendant kindly filled it all the way up.

Small stuff, right? But it adds up.

Speaking of Food ….

The meal services on the flights were fairly nondescript sandwiches and chicken/rice dishes. They were still considerably better than most meal options I’ve had on long-haul flights with US legacy airlines, though considerably short of the fare on Asiana or All Nippon Airlines (with Asiana being downright tasty).

On the flight into Honolulu from Phoenix, they also served some fun flavors of the islands: sweet onion potato chips and some sort of rum punch that was plenty tasty.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 Nahiku
This Hawaiian Airlines A330 was delayed for three hours.

Da Planes, Da Planes!
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Tail Numbers and Aircraft Names
PHX-HNL: Boeing 767 with Sky Interior (N588HA, Iwa)
HNL to AKL and Back: Airbus A330 (N388HA, Nahiku; N389HA, Keali’iokonaikalewa)
HNL to PHX: Boeing 767, old interior (N581HA, Manu o Ku)
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This is where Hawaiian Airlines has some problems. I really liked our first 767, even though it didn’t have AVOD (on-demand entertainment) at each seat, which is pretty much the standard for long-haul flights on other airlines. It’s the old-school drop-down screens. But I didn’t really care since the Hawaiian Airlines flights were about $1,000 cheaper for my party collectively than competing airlines. Plus, I had a Kindle loaded with some great books. I also like the 2-3-2 seating configuration on the 767, which also gave me ample legroom (6’2 with a 32-inch inseam).

The 767 from HNL to Phoenix was older, and had the earlier, dingier interior. Still, the legroom was perfect.

Hawaiian Airlines Keali'iokonaikalewa
We’re both happier than we look – I just have a horrible fake camera smile, so I just go neutral (and this was before the delay).

Now let’s talk about those A330s. They’re the future for Hawaiian Airlines as the 767 gets phased out. The A330 in and of itself isn’t a problem: How Hawaiian Airlines chooses to configure them, though, is a big-time pain for tall travelers. I slid into my seat, and my knees immediately contacted the seat in front of me. So I did what all smart travelers do: I pitched all the reading material in the seat pocket onto the floor in front of me. It opened up some space, but not enough to separate me from the seat. It’s odd that seatguru.com lists the pitch at 31 inches; I’ve flown on plenty of planes with 31 inches of pitch that gave me a little room between seats. The seat cushions were pretty bad, with my left buttock aching about an hour after takeoff.

Also, the Airbus cabins were Yukon cold on both flights. They did have AVOD, but most content would cost. Again, not a big deal for the price break. But factoring in the tight spacing, this becomes more of an issue.

I will definitely avoid any Hawaiian Airlines A330 in the future until they decide to provide some extra space, regardless of price or convenience. There’s just too much competition out there.

Hawaiian Airlines Keali'iokonaikalewa A330
That’s Hawaiian Airlines Keali’iokonaikalewa in the background … and before we loaded aboard, got settled, then deplaned for the mechanical problem.

Another Little Hitch

Our flight to Auckland was delayed a full three hours by a mechanical problem. That put us at the gate in Auckland just short of 2 a.m., which is pretty rough. Our scheduled 22:25 arrival was already late for travelers craving rest in a real bed.

But things happen, and I get that. Still, Hawaiian Airlines could’ve scored some points by setting passengers up somehow for the delay. Maybe by providing meal vouchers for the delay, or waiving the in-flight entertainment charge. Unfortunately, they missed that chance to make a better situation of a long delay.

What’s the Bottom Line?

I really wanted to love Hawaiian Airlines. I still want to, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. That’s a bummer, because the actual on-the-line employees got it right. The corporate suits, unfortunately, have handed them either aging or cramped aircraft that are well short of the standards being set by other airlines. They’re addressing the aging planes, but they’re replacing them with cramped sardine cans. This is a huge disservice to their pilots, cabin staff and ground staff who do so well.

Fortunately, it’s also reversible. The suits could make some adjustments to the aircraft coming into the fleet, and heed my very good advice when it comes time to refresh the cabins of the A330s currently on hand.

Here’s the good news: If you’re of a shorter stature, the seat pitch won’t matter as much to you. My wife, who is 5’7, had no problem catching Zs on the 767 and A330. Obviously, my 2-year-old wasn’t bothered by the seat pitch!

But since we come as a package and I’m the guy who gets to book the flights, I don’t see Hawaiian Airlines being my go-to airline for future flights unless they’re on a 767 or the A330s get a bit more room for us tall guys.

Hawaiian Airlines Flight Deals to Asia from Phoenix

Hawaiian Airlines flights deals

The latest Hawaiian Airlines flight deals could motivate some of my fellow Phoenix residents to travel further afield. For years, Hawaiian Airlines has quietly offered travelers from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport a gateway to Asia and the South Pacific.

With just one nonstop intercontinental flight from Phoenix (the daily British Airways flight to London Heathrow), most Phoenix travelers have to get to a major intercontinental hub like Los Angeles, O’Hare or John F. Kennedy if they’re headed to a far-flung destination. But Hawaiian Airlines lets locals skip that by flying direct from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Honolulu, where they connect to a broad variety of cities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more. And really, who wouldn’t want to skip LAX?

Hawaiian Airlines flight deals
Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor can be your first link to Auckland or Taipei.(Photo credit: Tim Patterson)

I’ve called Hawaiian Airlines Sky Harbor’s best-kept secret for intercontinental travel without the stop at LAX. And it seems they’re making a better effort to spill the beans – I just got a newsletter about Hawaiian Airlines flight deals from Phoenix to Auckland and Taipei. The flights start at $1080 if you book before Aug. 26. The travel dates are limited.

Here’s the thing, though: This seems to be an unadvertised special. I got it by signing up for the Hawaiian Airlines eNewsletter. If you want to find about Hawaiian airlines flight deals, you should sign up at the Special Offers page.

I’d really like to see Phoenix travelers jump on deals like this. I’ve heard from local travel agents that the lack of intercontinental flights frustrates them (and their clients), and I’ve ranted about this more than a few times. This is a good way to show demand and encourage more airlines and routes from Sky Harbor.

Travel Writing – Can You Trust It?

travel writing
Auckland – much maligned by locals. Don’t believe them.

Kiwis hate Auckland – and I can’t figure out why. It’s scenic, relatively laid-back, full of stuff to do. So why the hate from everyone outside its city limits – and even many residents?

This makes me question my travel writing. Every single day, I think about how much I liked the cities I’ve visited. And I wonder if it’s just because it’s different. Is Reykjavik that cool, or is it just the unfamiliarity? (To be fair, Icelanders seem to love it, too). Is Sydney just another sprawling metropolis of worker bees and cubicle drones, or is it truly a world-class collective of all that’s cool?

It’s easy to fall in the trap of being just so done with your homebase – especially if it’s like Phoenix … a young city trying to establish itself, all while dealing with a good four months of scorching-hot, sap-your-soul, make-you-crazy heat. Of course Wellington will seem like Paradise. Of course I’ll want to move to Monteverde, Costa Rica. And yes, Portland starts looking better and better.

Another perfect example comes from a comment in my Phoenix Espresso News post: “True espresso in [sic] only in Naples.” That’s such closed-minded thinking. I’ll hear similar lofty proclamations from a lot of American travelers, especially college kids who recently wound up backpacking across Europe. Invariably, they’re just sucked into the glamor of drinking espresso in Italy versus, say, Flagstaff. They’re tasting the stamp on the passport, not the espresso.

Travel writers are also highly susceptible – we got lured into the unfamiliar. Some get so roped in that they’ll extol the virtues of even the most unlovable parts of their destinations (I now read the word “vibrant” as “ramshackle, crowded and dirty” thanks to travel writing cliches). And we want to say something that grabs your attention.

So how can anyone avoid the hyperbole? Like this: Figure out the specifics. What did you see that you wish you could bring home with you? What’s an innovation that goes unnoticed and unconsidered back home? Put the details in your writing. Be specific. It’s a lot better than just calling it great, amazing or beautiful and moving on.

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What Would You Do With $3,000?

travel to new zealand
With trails like this, why wouldn’t you want to ride in Rotorua, NZ? (Credit: www.flowmountainbike.com)

A few weeks ago, I paged through the latest Mountain Flyer magazine and saw a review of the Foundry Broadaxe mountain bike.The base-level Broadaxe will set you back $2,950. That’s a hefty chunk of change. The Mountain Flyer writer describes the Broadaxe as "more capable than I would have imagined."

Look, if I drop $3,000 on a bike, I expect its biggest limitation to be me. I’d be appalled by a $3K bike that isn’t excellent. And it made me think of how a bike can be the smallest part of the mountain bike experience.

I started to think about what I’d do if someone handed me $3,000 with the condition that I spend it on something bike-related. Here’s my answer … and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

travel to new zealand
Check out the trails near Auckland.

The last thing I’d spend my money on is another bike. I have two great bikes. And great as they are, they’re not the endgame. They’re the means to the endgame of great experiences. So I’d seek a great experience -- I’d travel to New Zealand and ride the trails near Auckland and Rotorua, which has great scenery and riding. I’d love to include Queenstown, but that would eat away at my budget and time.

travel to New Zealand
You can now grab a flight to New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines. (Photo by Dylan Ashe)

First step: Find a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This overgrown regional airport has one intercontinental flight per day. But Hawaiian Airlines recently started service from Honolulu to Auckland -- and Hawaiian flies direct from Sky Harbor to Honolulu. I can skip the Los Angeles International Airport chaos and still travel to New Zealand. And I’d get to spend about a day hanging out in Honolulu before my connecting flight to Auckland on the outbound flight. Some people might like to split the trip into two flights, but I love long flights. A bonus – I’d finally get to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which has a reputation as one of the best U.S. carriers. But I’d be deprived of a flight on the Air New Zealand 777, which is one nice airplane. The Hawaiian Airlines bottom line is too attractive to pass, though: $1,212 for a round trip leaving Dec. 4 and returning Dec. 17.

travel to new zealand
You can rent a Yeti 575 in New Zealand – not a bad ride!

Next, hotels!

This is late spring/early summer in New Zealand – peak season! My standby, Anns Volcanic, was booked for weeks around my proposed date. But the YHA Rotorua website shows all sorts of options. A room with double beds and a private bathroom ("ensuite" in the local parlance) is $44 NZ. I should be able to match that rate at a similar hostel in Auckland, which also has great trails. That’s $550 NZ. And with the exchange rate? That turns into $465 US. Tack on $100 for a basic hotel in Hawaii during the layover, and that’s $565 US.

That leaves bike rental -- or bike hire, as it’s called in New Zealand. Hardtails are around $60 NZ a day, with dualies as high as $150 NZ. There’s a place that rents Yeti 575s from $75 a day. Factor in a price break for multi-day rental, the occasional day off the trails and I came up with a conservative budget of $541 US in bike rentals. That’s based on eight days of rental out of 11 full days on the ground. The days off are for other fun stuff like hiking, loafing and local flavors of adventure sports like the Zorb and Schweeb at The Agrodome, one of my favorite places ever.

Total? $2,318 US – with cash left over for meals, transportation and visits to places like the Agrodome.

To me, this beats the pants off a new bike, even something as cool as a Foundry Broadaxe (and make no mistake, it’s pretty sweet). Every bike wears out or gets less cool as new products roll out. But awesome days of adventure? They live forever.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

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Sky Harbor – 5 Reasons to Step up for Air New Zealand

An Air New Zealand 777 in Shanghai, where the air looks like Phoenix during a summer haboob. (Follash, via Wikimedia Commons)

Air New Zealand wants more flights to the U.S. Denver and Houston appear to have inside track, according to Aviation Week.

Keep in mind, United Airlines pulled the plug on flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. And Denver has done a nice job of snagging intercontinental travel.

What we have here is an opportunity. Air New Zealand – the flag carrier of a country that loves leisure travel – is telling airlines “come and get us … we’re ready, even before we get our new 787s.” And let’s remember: Phoenix Sky Harbor doesn’t need to fill an Air New Zealand 777 with Phoenicians to succeed – it needs to draw enough people from the region … an entirely feasible goal.

This is another opportunity for an airport like Phoenix Sky Harbor International to step up. Air New Zealand is confident that flights from cities from other than Los Angeles and San Francisco are viable. Sky Harbor should step into the void – especially since Denver told Aviation Week “We haven’t talked to Air New Zealand.”

You see, Sky Harbor has a few benefits that Denver and Houston don’t. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Better Weather

Phoenix Sky Harbor has better flying weather than either. The only time Phoenix has much potential for weather-related delays is in the very narrow scope of the summer monsoon season. So you have a better chance of on-time flights. These benevolent weather conditions are also good for flights that would connect flyers from the region to flights bound for New Zealand.

And let’s remember: Winter here is summer in New Zealand. So Americans will take the chance to escape winter weather and bask in the super-mild New Zealand summer. An airport like Denver means de-icing, which means increased costs and flight delays. Ever seen an aircraft de-ice in Phoenix?

Queenstown would be just two flights away if Air New Zealand and Phoenix could team up.

2. Convenience

Sky Harbor’s footprint is relatively small, and it will only shrink when the new Sky Train opens in early 2013. So no matter what airline brings New Zealand-bound travelers, they will be able to get to their Air New Zealand flight easily.

3. Lower Operating Costs

If you’ve been to Los Angeles International Airport, you’ve probably noticed the fancy-fication of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Somebody has to pay for that – often, that means airlines as part of a charge to use the facility. Brett Snyder, aka Cranky Flier, writes that “costs per enplanement at the airport will rise from $12 today to ‘only’ $17 somewhere around 2016.” Sky Harbor’s own website boasts that its enplanement costs rank in the bottom 20 percent of the nation’s airports: “Airline costs will increase an average of 5 percent per year over 10 years resulting in the cost per enplaned passenger increasing from almost $5 now to between $7 and $8 by 2016.” These figures are per passenger.

Air New Zealand Pacific Economy 777-300ER cabin
The nice-looking interior of an Air New Zealand Triple 7.
For the record, Denver is more than $12 per enplaned passenger.

4. Shorter Lines

Again, travelers used to LAX will smile and nod here: Customs at LAX is a miserable snaking line of humanity. It’s an unwelcome “welcome home”. And imagine being a visiting Kiwi who encounters this after a flight from laid-back New Zealand; you’ll be ready to get back on the Air New Zealand flight that brought you. The far-more-homey Sky Harbor can do better. It already does.

5. Teaming up for Visiting Tourists

A flight from Sky Harbor to New Zealand is a chance to bring Kiwis to Phoenix, too. And they are avid travelers. It’s a great opportunity to create some itineraries and deals to get Kiwis to see the best of the Southwest.

And it would be a great experience for the Arizona Office of Tourism. As a country, New Zealand does a magnificent job of making travel easy for visitors. Its network of “iSites” are a great resource for visitors – for first-hand local advice and booking in equal amounts. An exchange of ideas could benefit Arizona with an influx of concepts that could make our state more welcoming for foreign visitors.

This adds up to opportunity. If Phoenix has the foresight and fortitude, it could be on the shortlist for flights from Air New Zealand. And it can start acting like the big city that it is.

Special thanks to my man Chris in Denver for the heads-up on this news. He was lookin’ out for me while I was in Scandinavia.

Great Ideas for Urban Planning – The Scramble Crosswalk

I’m on the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Ariz. It’s summer. Most of the students from Arizona State University have flocked home, so it’s relatively quiet.

But it’s not so sleepy that’s it’s easy for a car to turn onto Mill. Even with a green light, a steady flow of pedestrians makes it maddening.

This makes me think back to an even busier intersection in Auckland, New Zealand. But planners there figured out a way to get pedestrians and drivers to interact in harmony: Instead of "Walk" signals that correspond to the traffic signals, all vehicle traffic stops for the "Walk" signal. And you can cross on the diagonal to save a step. When the cars stop, it’s a pedestrian free-for-all in any direction. Apparently, this is called a Scramble or Diagonal crossing. See the videos below to watch the dance in action.

And when it’s car time, you don’t have pedestrians horning in. It’s all-clear for the cars.

This is one of many reasons why travel is such a great thing: You see new ideas and interesting solutions to old problems. In retrospect, this is an obvious way to get traffic moving better.

Here’s something funny: Los Angeles once had it (straight from the video) in the 1950s. It pulled the plug a few years later, and has brought a few back. But I’d never heard of it until my visit to Auckland. It’s a great idea, and needs to be in widespread use.

My Top 5 Flights – Plus, a Site for Flight Geeks

The rise of Facebook as a great time-waster is pretty well-documented, and now aviation geeks have their own way to flush hours down the lavatory: Let me introduce FlightMemory.com, a Web site that lets you input all your commercial flights. It then tracks your time and mileage and plots it on a map. You can even order a poster based on your flight paths. (Thanks to Things in the Sky for the discovery.)

What’s kind of useful is that you can choose to enter the bare-minimum of details, or delve into

Creaky old airplane got you down? Have your say on FlightMemory.com!
Creaky old airplane got you down? Have your say on FlightMemory.com!

excruciating detail about every single thing the airline, TSA and airport employees did wrong – or you can praise them for those times when “customer service” isn’t a punchline.

I’m still working on getting my flights in, but I’ve made some headway. It’s quite a lot of fun, especially since it appears to be of German origin and translated by members of The Scorpions while they were on tour with Van Halen circa 1985 (“We can now offer you some new thingies for your pleasure – introducing the FlightMemory shop!” … tell me you couldn’t hear Klaus Meine saying that!).

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Rating Hotels in New Zealand

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You’re not supposed to feed him, but he’s hard to resist. Woodlyn Park    From nz2

Booking a hotel on the other side of the planet is a lot easier thanks to the Internet. But really, you still don’t know what you’re going to get until you step inside a room. And Lonely Planet guidebooks can only tell you so much. So I’m rating hotels in New Zealand to give you some real ideas.

These are the hotels I stayed at during my two weeks in New Zealand, so you’re getting the straight stuff. Each selection varies – if you must have a huge plasma screen in your room, some of these won’t make you happy. But at all points of the price spectrum, they were great deals, especially with the U.S. dollar stacking up so strong against the New Zealand dollar. In fact, I will say that you will not find hotels anywhere near this nice for an equivalent price in the U.S., not even in the bleakest depths of the off-seasons.

Parnell City Lodge
– I had originally booked a room at the Parnell Inn. Shortly before our trip, I got an e-mail from the Parnell Inn staff saying they’d overbooked. Rather than leaving us on our own, they arranged a similar room at the nearby Parnell City Lodge. Rather nice of them, really.

From nz3

Our flight from Los Angeles arrived at 6 a.m., which put us at the Parnell City Lodge way before check-in time. But the staff provided us a safe place to stash our bags while we wandered the city. The office may look a bit run-down, but the rest of the hotel is in top shape. It was clean, comfortable and really close to the LINK bus line (look for the bright green bus) that runs in a loop throughout the area, including stops at the Britomart transportation hub and close to the Sky City bus terminal, which we’d need the next day to get to Rotorua.

Parnell is also a really nice neighborhood, with lots of great restaurants and a very nice park area nearby. It’s a 20-minute walk to the water. If you balk at that, just grab the LINK bus for a 5-minute ride to Britomart – that puts you near the water, where you can grab a ferry out to Rangitoto or other surrounding islands for a bit of fun. About $90 NZ per night.

Ann’s Volcanic Rotorua Motel and Serviced Apartments – This is a really friendly and well-kept hotel a bit off Rotorua’s main drag. It’s very quiet, and the staff seems to be composed strictly of Ann and her family. Son Luke check us into a very comfortable and well-equipped room that included a small fridge, a kitchen sink and utensils. He also made a few recommendations on where to go and what to do. The rooms are bright and airy, and you’re not constantly hearing your next door neighbor’s TV. It’s a very short walk to a grocery store and some local pubs. Walkers like me are well within range of the downtown area, the lake and the free and very awesome Kairua Park, a thermal area right in the middle of town.

Cat lovers will enjoy meeting Stripes, Luke’s cat. Bonus! The Budget Studio was $99 NZ per night.

The Skotel                                                                                                   From nz1

Skotel – Staying at the Skotel was not in our plans. We were hoping to be able to rent some camping gear in Whakapapa. D’oh! There’s almost nothing in Whakapapa Village – certainly not an outdoor store. So we were ill-equipped to stay at the huts in Tongariro National Park. We scooted to the Skotel Alpine Resort, which only had a few backpacker rooms left. That means – cue ominous music – shared bathrooms!

Doin’ it Ricky and Lucy style – in seperate twin beds!                               From nz3

But no worries here – those shared bathrooms are modern and immaculate. The rooms themselves? Ours was a cozy job with a homey wood interior and a trio of beds, two in bunk configuration. And odd configuration for a married couple, but what can you do? Bottom line? Warm (a big plus in Tongariro National Park, which turns into a ski area in winter), quiet and comfortable. If you didn’t bring a computer, there’s also reasonably priced Internet access. If you thought to do some grocery shopping in Taupo, there’s a well-equipped kitchen. Or you can opt for the excellent Skotel restaurant – try the pan-fried blue nose if it’s available.

The price? Get this … $49 NZ for two people. Seriously, anyplace at that price in the United States is going to come surrounded by crack houses and infested with cockroaches, not wrapped in the scenery of Middle Earth.

Woodlyn Park – I decided to splurge at Woodlyn Park for about $160 NZ a night. What kind of room does that get you? Well, in this case, a 1950s-vintage British Bristol cargo plane that’s been turned into a two-room hotel block; each room has a bathroom, two beds (at least) and a kitchenette. We were assigned to the cockpit.

Looking into the cargo plane’s nose/bedroom from the living room/kitchen.From nz2

It can get chilly in Waitomo at night, so host Billy Black provided a space heater that keeps things warm. You can hear the crickets chirping all night, and an incredible display of stars that comes with being out in the Wop-Wops (one of my favorite Kiwi-isms). The interior and exterior of the airplane give your stay an unforgettable vibe.

Exterior view of the Bristol freighter.                                                          From nz2

Woodlyn Park has also converted a small ship and a railroad car into hotel rooms, and built their own reproduction of Hobbit houses. Come for the glowworm cave tours, stay for the killer rooms! Woodlyn Park is about a half-mile from a crazy place where you can watch the staff shear an Angora rabbit. If you stumble a little further, you’re at the upbeat and lively Curly’s Bar.

Comfort Inn Wellington – The Comfort Inn Elliott’s Paraparaumu puts you square in the heart of Wellington. You’re steps from the quay, the fun Te Papa Museum and, of course, the Cuba District.

All this fun and frivolity come at a price: noise. If you’re there on the weekend, you’re going to hear a lot of merriment and revelry. City dwellers might not notice – those used to some quiet at night might get irritated. Still, the rooms are in good shape, if a bit dark. And you won’t lack for restaurant options – try the Rasa Malaysian & South Indian Restaurant across the street. There’s also a lot of shopping to do here.

The hotel used to be a backpacker hostel, but it’s in great shape. And it’s really kind of old-school grand, especially the huge wooden staircase. $80 to $120 NZ.

Cedar Grove Motor Lodge – In the U.S., motor lodge is code for a run-down old shack that hit its peak in 1963. Not here. Cedar Grove Motor Lodge can definitely make a case as one of the nicest hotels we visited. A well-equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a standout bathroom along with a very helpful staff. It was also quiet and modern.

If you’re a runner, lace up your shoes and take a run on the path along the nearby river. If I had someplace like that to train, I’d be twice the runner I am. When you’re done, make the short stroll into town and grab some Indian food or a kebab at Falafel Gourmet. Everything is very close to Woodlyn Park, but Nelson is too small to have the hurly-burly of Wellington.

$150 NZ a night.

Chateau Franz – I was a bit worried rolling into Chateau Franz: Sir Cedrics – BBH. It’s just not in the best shape. The walls are thin, and things are a bit worn down. It’s also a backpackers place, which can equal a lot of noise.

But guess what? The shower is an absolute monster, and the rooms are actually warm and clean. The backpackers here weren’t a wild lot – probably too focused on getting up early for the all-day glacier tours rather than dropping X and raving all night.

There’s also a well-equipped kitchen, which is a terrific way to meet other travelers. There’s a very warm vibe here, and that counts for a lot. If I visit in winter, I may choose a more solidly built place to keep the chill out. But in summer, I’ll come back. One other thing – there’s a clothing-optional spa. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink – say no more!

$60 NZ per night, backpacker room with ensuite bathroom.

An open and airy room at the A-line.                                                           From nz2

A-Line Hotel – As I’m rating hotels, the A-Line Hotel in Queenstownand Cedar Lodge will probably slug it out for the absolute nicest rooms of our visit. Again, we got a nicely equipped kitchenette and a top-notch bathroom, along with a phenomenal view of Lake Wakatipu and the amazing Remarkables Mountain Range that will blow you away, no matter how many times you see it.

Some might find walking up and down the hill into town a bit of work – but those people shouldn’t shy away from it. Harden up, as your Kiwi hosts will say! It’s also very close to the chairlift that leads to street luge, bungee jumping and paragliding. Lots of great restaurants -Halo, Agyss Shack, Patagonia and Dux de Lux, to name a few- are an easy walk away.

You may also get an audience with Oscar, the A-Line’s official cat-at-large. Seriously, how can a place lorded over by a big friendly cat be anything but awesome? (I’m always rating hotels with pets higher than the rest.) About $100 NZ per night.