BNE to AKL via Emirates + NZ touring

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Mal, Dec 27, 2006.

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  1. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    #1 Mal, Dec 27, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2006
    While I take notes of most of my international travels (with plans to post a trip report), I never seem to actually post them... So this time I decided I should actually post one of my trips... So here goes.

    Apologies to the Emirates experts if I appear to be telling you what you already know! Apologies also for the many mistakes I'm set to make in my recollections, and the rambling that may occur!

    Several months ago, I booked a First Class ticket BNE-AKL with Emirates. These tickets are pretty cheap compared to Qantas J tickets, and the Emirates J tickets are even cheaper. So I decided to give Emirates a try instead of flying Qantas.

    One of the great advantages of these fares is the free chauffeur transfers to and from the airport in each direction. That's a $150+ saving for me I reckon based on normal cab fares in Brisbane and Auckland.

    BNE-AKL

    The day before my travel, I received a call checking my transfer details. I confirmed that I wanted to be picked up at 5:35am and my transfer was booked.

    That night, I checked online and realised that my flight was delayed around 90 minutes due to late departure from Dubai. I wasn't worried about changing my transfer at that point, although the extra sleep would have been nice. I checked in online and moved myself to the last row in First (Row 3).

    I woke up bright and early as I tend to do before morning flights. Didn't want to go back to sleep, so I spent time watching TV and final preperations before the trip. Morning TV is horrendous!

    My chauffeur arrived a few minutes early. It was a fairly new Holden Statesman. We had good conversation on the way to the airport and the journey was quick.

    Checkin was quick and simple through the F checkin line. The queue was empty. I received a lounge invitation and a personalised letter from the BNE Emirates manager advising me about the flight crew and my flight. Quite a nice touch. I was advised of the delay to the incoming service, and the new estimated departure time.

    Outbound immigration was painless at that time of the morning, so it only took a couple of minutes and I went straight to the lounge.

    The Brisbane Emirates Lounge is very nice. Upon entering, the lounge attendant welcomed me, advised me again that my plane was delayed, and asked if I had been there before. When I said no, I got a quick tour of the place. The lounge is bigger than the Qantas international lounge in Brisbane. It's also much nicer. It probably has around 50 seats and a small dining area. There is a food buffet set up at one end and a business centre and tv down the other. There are approximately 10 computers and a shared printer, although I feel that the computers are too "open" and everyone can easily see what you're up to. At least the QP computers are a little more private.

    The EK lounge has no outside views at the moment due to the construction being done at the Brisbane International airport. All windows are blocked out. The lounge has nice locally themed artwork of Brisbane landmarks and is well presented.

    Breakfast in the lounge was a hot and cold buffet. Much nicer than the Qantas fare at that time of the morning. There were 6 hot items and a rotunda of cold items. Items included:
    Vegetable fritatas, scrambled eggs w/bacon in pastry cases, sautéed mushrooms, spinach and ricotta shells, veal sausages, fried corn and herb puffs, cold cuts, yoghurt, breads, cereals, cheese platter, fruit salad etc.

    The drinks selection was also nice. A partial list includes:
    (Juices) (Fresh) Orange, Guava, (bottled) several others.
    (Beer) Heineken, Crown, Boags light, James Squire, Guiness, Stella
    (spirits) many including Bundaberg Distiller's #3, Bacardi, Smirnoff, Bombay Sapphire, Johnny Walker Black, Jack Daniels, Captain Morgans, Baileys etc.
    Wine and Champagne were available, but I didn't note the names. The Champagne was a french Champagne, but not Dom/Moet etc which are the two I recognise instantly.

    Oh and for vegemite fans, they have 40g bottles of Vegemite with the other spreads. First time I've seen that size bottle in any lounge.

    Eventually boarding time came around, and a first call made. I left soon after that first call, but there was another one due about 10 minutes later.
     

  2. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    #2 Mal, Dec 27, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2006
    We ended up having to go to gate 87 for boarding. This gate is a fairly long walk down the terminal, followed by going down stairs, a tarmac walk and stairs onto the plane. I heard several people grumbling about the "third world conditions" :shock: While it was inconvenient, obviously some people havn't been to certain other airports around the world!

    I hopped onboard and was welcomed and asked to turn left. The plane was a 777-300 (old configuration) so it didn't have the nice new First beds. Instead the first seats were more like the Cathay Pacific J business class seats. I think the only real differences between the J and F seats were slightly better legroom, 2x2x2 layout rather than 2x3x2 and more buttons on the seat control (lumbar support I believe). There are probably more differences, but I didn't notice them in my quick look at the J seats.

    The F seat (2x2x2 configuration) was comfy for a day trip, but not sure how comfy it would be for a long overnight trip.

    Flight crew were friendly (4 in F cabin for 18 pax). Straight away Dom (1996) was served. and the crew went around with a pecan date snack, newspapers and very strong coffee. The Emirates flight crew were friendly and professional. The purser actually works in the F cabin (which is unusual from my experience).

    The F cabin was completely full. I suspect several Op-Ups had occurred due to there being quite a few spare seats the night before when I checked in online.

    After the long safety video, we shuttled down the runway and into the air. Emirates uses the "landing gear camera" and you can watch the take-off and landing on the big projected screen. This later changed to the flight map for the flight. (similar to what I've seen on JAL and a couple of other airlines).

    After take-off, Hot towels were passed out, and a juice/drink service occurred. I ended up with the wrong juice (Was supposed to be apple, but was grapefruit I think). Still nice though.

    Slippers and eye masks were also given out. Video tapes were available on request, or you could watch the set entertainment on your personal screens. Noise cancelling earphones were supplied.

    There was quite a bit of early turbulence, but this settled.

    Breakfast was served around an hour into the flight. It was a choice of several items - lamb cutlets, scrambled eggs in pastry shells, chicken sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, omelettes, etc. You basically chose what you wanted and it was served to your plate. The food was quite nice and good portion size.

    I consumed quite a few more glasses of Dom (as did lots of other pax). Eventually though their supply ran out, and they started serving the J class champagne. It was the same one as in the lounge, but the name escapes me right now.

    The wine list looked good, but I'm no wine expert, so can't comment on the quality of the wines.

    I flicked through some of the "radio" channels, but didn't immediately find any that I liked. Instead I spent the time chatting to another passenger and learning all about her life. It's amazing what some people will tell you when you're seated near them on a plane for a few hours!!

    Before arriving there was another hot towel service.

    There didn't seem to be much holding back of economy passengers when we arrived. As the F cabin had to pass through part of the J cabin to get to the door, this delayed all F pax in getting out.

    There were no arrivals cards on the plane. So when we arrived, we were handed them as we disembarked. There was a frantic rush by pax to try and fill them out.

    I had no worries with filling out the card. and was through customs fairly quickly after a couple of questions about both the shortness of my trip and why I was over there.

    I met my chauffeur and was straight off to my hotel - the Hilton Auckland. This time it was a Mercedes (didn't see the model), and it was a few years old but still respectable.
     
  3. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    Around 30 mins later I arrived at the Hilton and checked in. As a HH Gold, I was upgraded to a harbour view room on floor 7, told about the continental breakfast available each morning and given a drink voucher. The room was quite nice and had a good harbour and city view.

    The staff are friendly enough. I didn't visit the gym nor the bar or restaurant while I was there, so can't fully give reviews on everything.

    My general feelings on the hotel is that it is nice, but way overpriced for what it provides. I see it as being geared towards American tourists (especially ones about to embark on cruises). I think there are better hotels in Auckland and although I may stay there again it would have to be a pretty good rate.

    Even the minibar items seem overpriced compared to other Hiltons.

    I rested for a while, then went out and had food, visited a few bars and the casino and eventually got back to the hotel.

    Bright and early the next morning, I collected my rental car. It was a Ford Focus manual with around 60Km on the clock when I collected it. It still had that nice new car smell and drove quite well.

    I had a full day planned visiting the Northland. My aim was to visit Cape Reinga, but I knew that would be pretty hard to fit into one day due to the distance/road conditions. It was still a possibility, and I was going to reassess whether I could fit it in later that day.

    There are some very nice sights up that way, although it is a hefty drive to do in one day. I passed on going to Cape Reinga as it would have been another 3 hours return, but still spent time around some of the towns up there. A couple of highlights would have been seeing the Bay of Islands and the giant Kauri tree (Tane Mahuta). Truly a massive tree!

    The trip back to Auckland was long, and I arrive around 8pm at night. I dropped the car off at the hotel ($25 overnight parking) and once again headed out for food and visiting a few bars.

    One thing that is important when driving in NZ is to not under-estimate the times it takes to travel anywhere. I've noticed that before and have got better, but still manage to try and fit too much travelling into single days!!

    Next day was another day of touring, this time down south through Hamilton, Rotorua through to Taupo and back with a few stops and detours along the way. Highlight would have been the Cascading falls near Taupo and the beautiful scenery throughout. For the plane buffs, you can't miss the McDonalds DC-3 which is part of the Taupo McDonalds!

    The final day was a bit of shopping, relaxing, dropping off the rental car and waiting until 1pm when my car was due.

    I arranged a late checkout, then checked out at 1pm. My car was waiting, and the trip to the airport was fairly quick. It was another Mercedes, but much newer this time.

    ...tbc...
     
  4. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    #4 Mal, Dec 27, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2006
    AKL-BNE

    When I got to the airport, I'd expected the Emirates check-in to be open but it wasn't. Emirates check-in didn't open until 2pm for the Sydney flight and 3pm for the Melbourne and Brisbane flights! So I had some spare time to wander around Akl airport.

    Just before 2pm the Check-in desks opened and I was allowed to Check-in. It was very painless, and I paid my NZ$25 departure tax at the check-in desk (cash only). I went to the customs officer and had pre-clearance granted and headed upstairs for the express outward immigration queue. Immigration was quick and painless and after doing some duty free shopping went to the Emirates lounge.

    I was warmly welcomed into the lounge, asked if I had been there before (no) and given quick directions.

    This lounge is smaller than Brisbane's, but is still nice. There are renevations occuring at the moment in the bathrooms, and currently the toilets are unisex. Unusual for a lounge, but not unheard of.

    Around 5 computers in the business area and like Brisbane very open.

    When I arrived, no hot food was available (actually the lounge was empty, and I was the first pax there). Cold food was already set up. The Hot food arrived about 15 minutes later and five hot items were available.

    Some of the foods available:

    (Hot) Mini Lamb Kebabs, Lemongrass Prawn satay sticks, Onion Dahl, smoked chicken cakes, Empedios (Not sure of the spelling. A little like Samosas)
    (Cold) Antipasto items, cheese platter, lamb sandwiches, cold garlic bread slices, salmon nori, pavlova, scones etc.

    Some of the drinks:

    Moet and 4 different wines (once again didn't take notes on the wine types)
    (spirits) Kahlua, Glenlivet, Bacardi etc.
    (beers) Crown lager, Steinlager, Stella, Guiness, Light Amstel, Heineken.
    Juices
    Tea, Coffee, bottles of still and sparking water, softdrinks etc.

    The staff were attentive and empty plates removed fairly quickly.

    Like the Brisbane lounge, local Auckland artwork was around the lounge. This lounge also didn't have a view.

    After a little while in the lounge, I decided to head upstairs and pop into the Qantas lounge. I head up the escalators and enter. It was quite funny to hand over my Emirates boarding pass for entry to the Qantas lounge, but a boarding pass was required to enter according to the staffer as well as my Plat card.

    I went into the F lounge. Stark comparison with the Emirates lounge. The only hot food was small party pies. Much less drinks selection, although Qantas did have some more local beers (eg Macs).

    I used the computers for a little while and had a Mac Gold, then went back down to the Emirates lounge.

    Boarding was on time, and once again there was 2 pages for boarding in the lounge. I left soon after the first page.

    Upon boarding, I settled into my row 1 seat. I was quickly offered a glass of Dom. I wasn't even asked if I wanted a refill... it just kept getting refilled!

    The F cabin was pretty much empty. Just 5 people in the cabin. This meant we all got good service throughout the flight.

    The coffee and date snack were served before takeoff. Hot towels were again handed out.

    We took off and once again experienced turbulence for a little while, but not for too long. Drinks orders were taken (I chose a Penfolds Red) and drinks were served.

    The FA then came around with a trolley of appetizers and you chose what you wanted and were served them. Items such as salmon Empedios (spelling again!), lamb kebabs etc. They were similar, but not identical items to the hot items in the lounge.

    I was actually pretty full at this point, so not really wanting dinner. I did manage to have the starter soup (which was very nice) and make a start on the roast duck option (there were four dinner options I believe), but pretty soon I was full, sleepy and ready for a snooze.

    I slept most of this flight and woke up a few minutes before landing.

    Immigration cards were handed out and we landed.

    The BNE airport was relatively empty, We must have been the only flight arriving at the time. I popped into Duty free for a final item and then proceeded through immigration (only one person in the queue in front of me).

    Bags took absolutely ages to arrive. I believe over 30 minutes. The delay was due to "a quarantine issue" but no further details were given.

    I collected my bag and went to the customs officer directing the queue. While most people were going straight out without x-ray I was directed to Secondary screening.

    Quite a fun experience. In summary, my short trips and weird travel plans aroused Custom's suspicions and I was selected for a search and a grilling over my previous travel, reasons for travelling, employment details etc. At least one other person was also getting a grilling, so I wasn't the only one.

    My notebook was read through (including notes for this trip report and previous trips). I was asked why I write rego numbers down and take notes etc. A quick search was done of my bags and wallet.

    Now I realise why I prefer Syd's customs over BNE. The only 2 times I've entered through BNE in the last 2 years I've had issues...

    Once that was done, I left and met my driver who wasn't overly happy at waiting for an hour but understood what happened.

    A quick trip home and I'm already planning my next trip away!
     
  5. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    So in summary:

    Emirates really impressed me with this trip. Their Trans-Tasman J/F options blow away Qantas on price and service.

    Their lounges are much nicer (at least in Brisbane and Auckland), the in-flight service is better, the car transfers are very handy.

    Will be keeping Emirates in mind for future trips as well!
     
  6. kyle

    kyle Active Member

    Mar 8, 2006
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    Great trip report.

    Last time I returned from AKL, I got a search and grilling too, but at MEL airport. I was travelling alone. Like you, the officer flipped thru my papers, folders, etc etc.

    I think that's the only intl flight at the time, so maybe the customs had nothing to do :confused: :confused: :confused:
     
  7. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

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    #7 Kiwi Flyer, Dec 28, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2006
    Thanks for the excellent report Mal

    The EK BNE lounge is good, just watch out you don't get locked in like I did. I don't know why they seem to get assigned gates way down the other end of the terminal. NZ is the same but reversed lounge and gate positions.

    From airport to Hilton in 30 minutes is extremely good time, I'm guessing you arrived on a Saturday or Sunday?

    Yup - for a day trip to Cape Reinga you need to leave very early. Northland roads for the most part are not that good. 1 day to see Northland is a bit of a whirlwind, there are plenty of nice spots that I bet you never saw.

    The waterfall near Taupo is called Huka Falls on the Waikato River. More of a big rapid than a true waterfall, but still impressive volume and flow of water through the chasm. There is a very nice (and expensive) lodge nearby called Huka Lodge (naturally). Did you visit the geothermal areas while there?

    The EK AKL lounge is nice but tends to be overcrowded. It is good having the option to escape to the QF lounge upstairs if needed.

    Getting secondary on arrival home is never fun and doesn't get any easier with time. The last trip I was sure I was going to get secondary when the immigration officer was having troubles processing me - I thought it was just a stall tactic to get the "guys" into position (the other lane seemed to be going just fine) although a bit over the top being 15 minutes to process me whereas normal stall tactic takes just 1 minute. Fortunately it turned out to be just a computer glitch. I'm sure the quarantine folk were looking at me strangely as I got my breathing back under control.

    Agree that EK trans-tasman is much better than QF and NZ, except 2 aspects - (1) EK not member of alliance so status & mileage benefits rather limited, and (2) ex-NZ the schedule is wrong for me most times - NZ & QF much better. IMHO best trans-tasman trip is AKL-MEL-AKL on the A345 (so the good F). Also the chaffeur transfers save over $200!
     
  8. serfty

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    #8 serfty, Dec 28, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2006
    One point about the AKL Qantas F lounge is that there are No Qantas and few oneWORLD F flights to/from AKL so it really is more of a WP/CL/Emerald Lounge.

    So what you have is a mid tier lounge which generally has better catering than the QF AKL J lounge, but perhaps not up to what you would maybe expect in an F lounge.

    IIRC, it's the same with QF in BNE in that regard.
     
  9. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

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    pssst serfty LA still has F on SCL-AKL-SYD vv route (now 6 days a week).
     
  10. serfty

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    True; 5 seats each flight.
     
  11. Mal

    Mal Enthusiast

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    Yep Sat afternoon. Very little traffic and a straight run through.

    So true. I did get to see a lot of sights, but of course would have missed lots too. I did do some reading up before I went, so had an idea what to look out for. There is plenty I did up there that I didn't mention here. The thing about NZ roads (as you've posted elsewhere I think) is that unlike in Australia, highways don't tend to bypass towns. So you're stuck at 60/50/70/80 Km/Hr for quite a distance while heading through many town centres. The windy roads and steep ascents/descents also add to the slowness of journeys.

    Yep that's the one. I agree it's not a true waterfall, but it is still the fastest downhill flowing water I've seen in a very long time. I've previously been to ROT, so have already toured lots of the GeoThermal areas down there. I really wanted to go see the "Lady Knox Geyser" just outside of ROT at "Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland", but wasn't there for the 10:15am blast off. Next time... I did pop into the "Volcano Valley" (but didn't go into the attraction completely... would have been too much time), I also stopped off at the "Craters of the moon" NP and a couple of other places.

    The ROT area is beautiful, like most of NZ once you get over the smell of sulphur in the air.

    So true. My secondary really wasn't as painful as I expected it to be, but it was still annoying. For example, although my bag was searched, they didn't rip it to shreds like I expected (too much watching Border Security I think). They basically told me that I was suspected of being a drug trafficker due to my travel patterns. The funny thing was being told "I've seen your type before" (as in a frequent flyer nut), but still the important thing when going through secondary is having your witts about you and know exactly what you are saying when you say it. While I'm completely innocent, I didn't really want to be there all night and/or body searched. Maybe it's just a warning shot across my bow in case I am up to no good? (BTW, I do resent being thought of as being a drug smuggler/mule. Those people who deal/smuggle drugs are stupid. At least pin me with something else - ie maybe an assassin or art smuggler or something equally exotic!)

    Probably the thing that peeved me off the most was the customs officer reading through my notes. Not just flicking, but reading. I objected to it, but that got nowhere. :evil:

    Agree completely. I'll never get Gold or Silver in Skywards. You can push points across to Velocity Rewards which is nice, but agree there really is no FF benefit from the occasional trip.

    The transfers are especially good on such a cheap(ish) flight. The level of service overall does amaze me.
     
  12. spiggy_topes

    spiggy_topes Member

    Nov 9, 2006
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    You're right - the current F seats aren't the most comfortable for sleeping, I only got a few hours the week before last. Next time I fly Brisbane to Dubai I'm considering going through Sydney to get the A345, which goes direct - flat bed and no interrupted sleep due to refueling at Singapore.

    Was on the same flight in F a couple of weeks ago on the Singapore-Brisbane leg and chatted to the purser. I asked if there were any plans to upgrade the 777s on this route to the same seats as they have in the A345s. She told me that there weren't, as the demand for F seats on the Brisbane route was such that they wanted to keep 18 seats available (rather than the 12 they would have with the new sleeper beds). It's a business call, I guess!
     
  13. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

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    Heh - that might have been me :D

    I've learnt from experience not to have anything with me that looks suspicious or lots of writing - they tend to go through in detail. The hardest one I had to explain was 2 business cards for friends who work at an airport (for the airport rather than a shop).

    Then there was the time I was questioned/searched for a couple of hours before being allowed to enter Canada ...
     
  14. clifford

    clifford Established Member

    Jul 6, 2004
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    Hi Mal and Kiwi,

    I've also learned to have as little as possible in my carryon or on my person when returning to Oz (mailing stuff back from OS is now de rigeur for me), and also to tell a few "white lies" if needs be. I was once honest about my trip when questioned, and got the same secondary treatment. Now I know how the system works it won't happen again, and I did get a very apologetic letter back from the NSW Regional Director of Customs when I made an official complaint about the Customs officer's rudeness and stupidity, etc.

    Hi Spiggy, I was so intrigued with your handle that I googled it, and I am now a lot more informed about fictional bands.

    Have a look at Harbottle's Encyclopedia, it's very interesting if you're from that era.

    :)
     
  15. Wunala Dreaming

    Mar 14, 2006
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    Thanks for a comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable TR Mal.

    Interestingly, EK 77W A6-EBC has been operating a few EK services into BNE (then onto AKL) of late. It's a shame you couldn't have got a nice surprise and had an aircraft change.

    I have heard EK will construct a new lounge at Brisbane (much bigger in size), located directly next to one of the 2 A380 gates.

    [​IMG]

    Here's hoping next time you fly EK, they will be flying A340-500s/777-300ERs into BNE.

    Cheers
     
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