Australia to the Netherlands (via Cook Islands & Japan)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Mattg, Jun 30, 2018.

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  1. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

    Aug 21, 2011
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    I'm currently on my way to the Netherlands, where I'll be living for the next year. But, employing the AFF philosophy of "why fly direct, when you can connect", I'm doing the trip over approximately 3 weeks.

    I've done the trip from Australia to Europe quite a few times now. The first time, I flew direct on QF5 and arrived in Frankfurt exhausted. These days I try to break up the trip with a few stops and visit some interesting places along the way.

    This time I'm travelling from Sydney to Amsterdam via the Cook Islands and Japan. Why, you might ask? Well, I found a loophole in United's award chart that makes it very cheap to fly from the Pacific Islands to anywhere in Japan - even though the flights all route via New Zealand and/or Australia.

    At the time I made the booking, it cost only 12,500 United miles + $116 in taxes to fly from Rarotonga to Hiroshima in Economy (via Auckland, Sydney and Tokyo). I bought those miles during a sale for around $300. (The price has since increased to 15,000 miles... still a bargain.) Business class would have also been a good deal but there was no award availability around the date I wanted. Considering I paid ~$400 all-up, I was happy enough to fly Y.

    I'd always wanted to visit Rarotonga, and took the opportunity to bring my grandmother along as well for a short holiday together before I move overseas. She lives in Auckland so I just dropped her home on my way back.

    The plan was to then spend 6 days in Japan before continuing to Europe.

    Here's the full routing:

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  2. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    I had to first get to Rarotonga, so I paid for positioning flights from Sydney. There’s one direct SYD-RAR flight per week, but it’s a horrible redeye (and was quite expensive) so I booked via AKL instead. I had a night in Auckland with my grandmother between flights, and we continued from there to Rarotonga together.

    Flight 1: QF143 Sydney - Auckland
    Airbus A330-200
    Departure time: 09:55
    Arrival time: 15:00

    The trip started out with a routine Qantas flight across the ditch. I won’t go into too much detail about this flight as it was pretty standard. The QF J lounge was overcrowded but the flight was very pleasant with good service. It sure is nice to have the A330s back across the Tasman!

    This was my pumpkin tortellini for lunch in Y:
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    The view over the Tasman:
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  3. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

    Aug 21, 2011
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    #3 Mattg, Jun 30, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
    Flight 2: VA91 Auckland - Rarotonga
    Boeing 737-800
    Departure time: 16:30
    Arrival time: 22:15 (-1 day)

    We booked business class for this flight as it wasn’t that much more expensive than economy.

    We were told at check-in that there was no lounge access available in AKL for J passengers flying VA to Pacific Island destinations. This was incorrect and we were welcomed into the Strata Lounge, as advertised on the VA website. The Strata Lounge was quite spacious and had some reasonable food and drink options as well as showers. It’s not as fancy as the Emirates Lounge across the hall but quite adequate.

    We had great service on the flight from Candice, who offered pre-departure drinks and took our meal orders shortly after take-off.

    Nuts and olives were served before dinner:
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    This was followed by the main course - beef with roast vegetables, which was delicious. The other option was a salad.

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    We had a nice view of the sunset at the start of the flight.

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    After another pleasant flight we arrived in Rarotonga right behind an Air New Zealand 777. Now, RAR is a small airport and it didn’t cope well with the arrival of two international flights simultaneously. The queues for immigration stretched right out onto the tarmac!

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    When we eventually made it to the baggage carousel we were greeted by “Papa” Jake Numaga playing a ukelele. This man apparently meets every single international flight arriving in Rarotonga - and has been doing so since the 1980s! That’s quite a feat considering all the flights that arrive in the middle of the night.

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  4. kermatu

    kermatu Established Member

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    Signing on for this. And perhaps another potential catch-up in Europe...?
     
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  5. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    We had a really lovely few days in the Cook Islands. It was full of tourists from New Zealand, but I can see why the Kiwis like coming here! The weather was warm, it has great beaches and there’s lots for people of all ages to do.

    The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands, of which Rarotonga is the largest. That said, you can easily drive around the whole island in under an hour - and the maximum speed limit is 50 km/h.

    We hired a car on the first day and did just that, stopping off at lots of places along the way.

    A43E6A06-A751-4F55-8B3F-1C45F83561BA.jpeg

    Here are a few photos from around the island...

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  6. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    #6 Mattg, Jun 30, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
    I liked the laid-back culture and found the locals extemely friendly. I think these Cook Islands “business shirts” from a shop in Avarua sum up the lifestyle pretty well!

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    Avarua is the main town centre.

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    There are two buse routes on the island - clockwise and anti-clockwise. These buses are supposed to run hourly in each direction, but they run more on island time than to the actual timetable. Fares are NZD5 per trip.

    On our first night we went to a cultural dinner and show.

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  7. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    #7 Mattg, Jun 30, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
    Pretty much everything was closed on Sunday so we did a lagoon cruise on a glass-bottom boat. This included about an hour for snorkelling, which was great as the water was so clear and there were plenty of fish. We then had a BBQ lunch on a small island within the lagoon.

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    There was a show and a lesson in climbing coconut trees to finish off.

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    The local cuisine seemed to be based heavily around fish. These were two of my favourite dishes - sashimi and ika mata:

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    On our last night we did a “progressive dinner”, where you join a tour group and visit 3 locals’ homes for entrees, dinner and dessert respectively. Each of our hosts had prepared some delicious local food and were up for a good chat. This was the first stop at John’s house:

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    I had a nice time in Rarotonga and would gladly return.
     
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  8. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    Flight 3: NZ745 Rarotonga - Auckland
    Airbus A320
    Departure time: 15:55
    Arrival time: 18:30 (+1 day)

    The Cook Islands are on the other side of the international date line, so you gain a day going over and lose one coming back. One of the Kiwis staying at my hotel was caught out by this and thought their flight home was a day later than it actually was. He only realised his mistake a couple of hours before his booked flight was supposed to leave, but had just been scuba diving so couldn’t fly anyway. That was an expensive mistake for him!

    Anyway... NZ745 was the first flight on my United award ticket to Hiroshima. As it happened, the flight was completely full - so full in fact that Air NZ had stopped selling seats on it two weeks before the flight!

    I recently got a United Gold status match so was able to use the Air New Zealand lounge. It’s very much a regional lounge but had just enough of everything you needed (a shower, hot and cold food, drinks, wifi, printers etc.) - plus a great view.

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    Selection of lounge food:
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    View from the Rarotonga Koru Club:
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    Our aircraft arriving...
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    I don’t often sit in a middle seat by choice, but my grandmother wanted the window so I settled into 8E for the 5-hour trip to Auckland. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, to be honest.

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    The flight was around half an hour longer than scheduled due to strong headwinds. This, combined with the full flight, meant that Air NZ had to offload 31 bags. Of course, they didn’t tell us that though until the end of the flight! Luckily my bag wasn’t removed.

    Air New Zealand runs a low-cost model on trans-Tasman and Pacific island flights where you have to pay extra for pretty much everything. Luckily my award ticket was considered a “The Works” fare which included baggage, seat selection, movies and a hot meal. I can’t say I was impressed with the soggy roast chicken served, however.

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    You could use the in-flight entertainment system to buy additional food and snacks, but pretty much all the hot food sold out early in the flight. You could request extra drinks for no charge, although some “premium” drinks did cost extra. I can’t say I’m a fan of this service model and it’s a big reason I usually avoid Air New Zealand across the Tasman.

    That said, the crew were all great and the in-flight entertainment range was good. The seat was also reasonably comfortable, as far as A320 economy seats go.
     
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  9. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    Flight 4: NZ103 Auckland - Sydney
    Boeing 777-200
    Departure time: 09:00
    Arrival time: 10:35

    That’s our plane at gate 6 wearing the old Air NZ livery:
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    I spent a night in Auckland and headed back to the airport the next morning for my next flight to Sydney.

    Check-in using Air NZ’s premium check-in area was a breeze and I was impressed with the Air New Zealand lounge, although it was crowded. I normally use the Qantas lounge in AKL but Air NZ clearly has a much better offering. There were plenty of hot breakfast choices and barista-made coffee. This was the special plate of the day:

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    The Air New Zealand ground staff presented a masterclass in priority boarding. One-by-one they called for passeners requiring assistance, then Airpoints elite members, then business class, then premium economy, then Airpoints & Star Alliance Gold, then Koru Club members, and so on. They waited until each group had a chance to board before calling the next group, and ineligible passengers were turned away and told to wait their turn. Meanwhile, regular announcements were made to update passengers arriving at the gate during boarding as to who they were up to. Qantas really should take some lessons from them!

    The flight itself was peaceful. The breakfast choices for “Works” customers were cereal with milk or scrambled egg with sausage and wedges. I chose the hot option.

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    Air NZ uses a 10-abreast economy class configuration on its 777. In my experience this can cause the seat to feel quite narrow, but I had a row to myself so there was plenty of room. The legroom wasn’t bad.

    This is a bit of a random thing, but I liked the bathrooms on the 777. They were decorated with interesting wallpaper and had music playing in them.

    Again, the NZ crew were great.

    We arrived in Sydney slightly early and I headed into the city for a few hours. I had to return later in the evening for my ovenight flight to Tokyo.
     
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  10. Major

    Major Established Member

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    Looking forward to your new adventure
     
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  11. get me outta here

    get me outta here Senior Member

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    Bon voyage Matt and thanks for the TR.
     
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  12. love_the_life

    love_the_life Established Member

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    Great to read; looking forward to the next instalment. :)
     
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  13. Eija

    Eija Member

    Onboard. Also going to AMS via NRT & HEL. Will PM you for a coffee early August ;)
     
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  14. drron

    drron Enthusiast

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    Following with interest.What a fantastic lad you are taking your grandmother like that.Good karma should come your way.
     
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  15. ozmatt

    ozmatt Member

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    Enjoying this trip already! Like Drron said - that is fantastic you traveled with your grandmother. Even better that you took the middle seat :)
     
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  16. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    Sure, why not! :)
     
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  17. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    #17 Mattg, Jul 5, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
    After a day in Sydney I headed back to the airport for my overnight ANA flight to Tokyo. I already received all of my boarding passes in Auckland so just went straight through security and to the Singapore Airlines lounge this time. (Star Alliance Gold can also use the Air New Zealand lounge but I didn’t bother.)

    The SQ lounge wasn’t busy, and it became practically deserted once they called boarding for SQ242. There was a reasonable selection of buffet food and drinks. I especially liked the mini-office booths that looked like business class seats.

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    Flight 5: NH880 Sydney-Haneda
    Boeing 787-9
    Departure time: 20:55
    Arrival time: 05:30 (+1 day)

    WOW. In many respects, the ANA service puts Qantas to shame.

    I used to be a Oneworld sheep and would have normally booked Qantas on this route. But I’ve now had a taste of the dark side (aka. Star Alliance). And I liked it. A lot.

    When I boarded the Dreamliner, I thought to myself that the first few rows of Economy must be premium seats with extra legroom. But as I continued walking down the aisle to my seat (which was shamefully close to the back of the plane in row 36), I realised that the generous legroom was standard. I’m quite tall but my knees were nowhere near the seat in front and I could stretch my legs quite comfortably. The seat pitch must have been around 34 inches. It genuinely felt like there was more legroom than Qantas has on its Dreamliners in Premium Economy!

    Unfortunately the seat was a bit narrow - like Qantas, ANA has opted for 9-abreast in economy class. But the middle seat was empty so it didn’t worry me on this occasion.

    We took off just ahead of a Qantas 747 also bound for Haneda. Sitting at the back of economy, the meal service was a little slow to get underway. But it was worth the wait! There were two meal choices, one Japanese and one Western. In true Japanese style, detailed images of each of the meal options were printed on a menu card that the crew showed to each passenger.

    I chose the Japanese meal (it would be a sin to choose the American option on a Japanese airline) and it was wonderful! A great variety of different foods, and everything was fresh and tasty. The main course was a seafood curry.

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    Tubs of cookies & cream ice cream and tea were offered after dinner. A long list of drinks were also available. The crew recommended the sake, which was lovely.

    The lights were switched off as we flew over Cairns. Just before this, the crew handed out bags containing breakfast.

    I don’t sleep well in economy seats. But I managed to get 4 or so hours of comfortable sleep on this flight. I was tired, but the legroom did make a difference too. On most airlines, I would have spent the night trying to find a comfortable sleeping position where my knees weren’t jammed into the seat in front.

    There was a wide range of seatback IFE available. I would have perhaps liked to see more western TV shows, but there was more than enough to keep me occupied. Wifi was also available for a fee.

    The toilets were Japanese-style...

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    The crew came through the cabin an hour before landing with a drinks trolley. But there was no hot breakfast - just the bag we’d been given the night before. These were the contents:

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    On one hand, the breakfast could definitely have been more substantial. On the other hand, I was still pretty full from dinner and appreciated not being woken up 2+ hours before landing for breakfast.

    We had a lovely view of the sunrise, which this photo doesn’t really do justice to.

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    We landed in Tokyo right on time, coming in just behind the Qantas 747. (I suppose the extra engines make it fly slightly faster?)

    All in all, this was a really good flight. To top it off, the cabin crew were so polite and nothing was a hassle.

    There were many bows as we disembarked.
     
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  18. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

    Aug 21, 2011
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    I was connecting onwards to Hiroshima but had to collect my bag in Haneda to clear customs. From there it was a short walk to the domestic connections counter, where I dropped off my bag and got on a bus to Terminal 2.

    I headed up to the ANA lounge which was full of Japanese businesspeople in suits. (In fact, there were no children or obvious leisure travellers whatsoever.) I had been looking forward to a shower after the overnight flight. It was not to be as there aren’t any showers in any of the ANA domestic lounges. Never mind.

    ANA and Japan Airlines seem to have a very similar offering in their domestic lounges. Both airlines’ lounges have comfortable seating, toilets, internet, phone booths, rice cracker snacks and a range of drinks including whiskey and self-pouring beer. But none of the domestic lounges in Japan seem to have any substantial food options. I’ve gotten into the habit now when in Japan of buying food in the terminal and bringing it into the lounge with me.

    Flight 6: NH673 Haneda - Hiroshima
    Boeing 777-200
    Departure time: 08:15
    Arrival time: 09:40

    When I booked, this was listed as a Boeing 767-400 flight. So I was a little surprised to be boarding a Boeing 777.

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    The purser made an announcement to sincerely apologise for the aircraft change from the Boeing 787 that was apparently supposed to operate our flight. (Moral of the story - aircraft changes are common on domestic flights!)

    The aircraft seemed to have aged a bit but the legroom was once again fantastic:

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    Whatever the reason for the aircraft change, it wasn’t high demand. Probably 25% of the seats were filled.

    There was no in-flight entertainment on this aircraft so I had a read of the in-flight magazine...

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    ...and stared out the window for a while...

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    There was no meal service but drinks were available.

    Approaching Hiroshima, I noticed there was a Shinkansen train on the ground travelling in the same direction as us. It was actually travelling faster than our plane and overtook us!

    We landed on time despite strong crosswinds. After another pleasant flight I had finally arrived at my destination!

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  19. craven morehead

    craven morehead Established Member

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    Looked pretty stress free @Mattg. Signed up and following your latest adventure !
     
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  20. Mattg

    Mattg Senior Member

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    Travelling to Japan is always a pleasure. It’s efficient, it’s clean and everyone is just so polite!

    Unfortunately I was pretty tired for the first day after flying overnight. (I really don’t understand why some people prefer redeye flights when flying economy!) But with 4 hours to kill before I could check-in, I headed to the Hiroshima peace memorial park and museum. As you’re probably aware, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the second World War. There is a large park in the city centre with memorials, and one building has been kept in its original post-war condition as a reminder of the devastating effect of the bombing.

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    Much of the museum was actually closed for refurbishment but a small part is still currently open. I still thought it was worth a visit.

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    Nearby is the Hiroshima Castle:

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    The city centre itself is quite nice and easy to get around using the streetcars. The city is surrounded by mountains.

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    View of the city from the top of the Fukuya department store near Hiroshima Station:

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