As many of you know, during the last year or so I’ve been
carefully planning obsessing over a trip to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia (see my post on costs breakdown). In reality, the idea was hatched in my brain decades ago. It just took awhile to finally pull it off. Yay to miles and points gods for smiling upon me and opening award availability on all the routes!
So, was it worth it? Yes, without a doubt. If I had three words to describe the trip, they would be fancy/exhilarating/insane. We squeezed in a ton of sightseeing and basically felt like collapsing from exhaustion by the end of it.
My husband never wants to fly again. I don’t blame him. Me? I’m already planning our next trip. That’s not to say that everything went smoothly. Far from it. Still, it definitely was an adventure of a lifetime.
I plan to review all the stops separately, but today I wanted to provide few insights for those of you contemplating doing something similar. Keep in mind, I’m only stating my personal opinions. Here we go.
Bora Bora vs. Moorea vs. Hawaii
Bora Bora was our first destination after leaving Los Angeles and it was the highlight of the trip, hands down. If you are flying all the way to Tahiti, do whatever it takes to get to that island.
Skip going to Disney World one year, cancel your trip to Europe, eat ramen noodles for few months if that’s what it takes. Yes, it stinks to add that extra $450/per person in airfare when you can take a ferry to Moorea for a mere $30. But! In my opinion, Bora Bora is worth it.
There are many beautiful tropical islands, but only one has a lagoon to die for. Bora Bora is not called the “Pearl of the Pacific” for nothing.
And if you are going all the way to Bora Bora, you really should stay on a motu (island) to truly appreciate it. And of course, only an overwater bungalow will do! 🙂 Now we are talking some serious bucks, people. We ended up spending $2k out-of-pocket over the two-week period, and almost half of it went to Bora Bora portion. That should tell you something.
Ok, here is a little bit of good news. If you are fortunate and/or tenacious, you may be able to redeem points like I did. Getting an overwater bungalow in Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Spa for only 54k IHG points per night (factoring in 10% rebate) was my “magnum opus” redemption. I don’t think I’ll ever top that one.
That’s me enjoying infinity pool at my Bora Bora resort, not another soul in sight. Trust me, it looks even better in person.
Don’t get me wrong, Moorea is also a spectacular island. It reminded me of Kauai, but more rural and French. If you can break up a trip to New Zealand or Australia and take a ferry to Moorea for a night or two, go for it. You won’t regret it.
Snorkeling isn’t too shabby either.
But it’s the type of landscape you can see in Hawaii. In fact to me, Kauai is actually more impressive than Moorea. Many will disagree, and that’s fine. Still, I urge you not to skip Bora Bora if at all possible.
A word of warning. If stellar hotel service is important to you, French Polynesia may disappoint. I’m not a fussy guest, but was taken aback by some of the attitudes. Many workers we’ve encountered were genuinely friendly, but some were downright rude. Few hated my guts and weren’t afraid to show it. I’ll have more on it later on, but suffice to say, I craved “customer first” US approach by the time we left.
This isn’t a deal breaker to me, and I hope to be back to French Polynesia someday. In fact, I’m debating on whether to take the kids to Hawaii or Tahiti in a few years. Between higher rate of award redemptions, plus all the other costs, the latter will cost us about double. Yet I’m still tempted to give it a go. And yes, we are including Bora Bora. Of course!
Both my husband and I really enjoyed New Zealand. We only had two nights in Auckland, so I decided to book an all-day tour. It was one exhausting day, but totally worth it. Some of you may remember that I wasn’t too sure on whether to add Hobbition. I’m so glad that I did. It was a fun (if a bit cheesy) tour, set against a background of beautiful green rolling hills.
We also got to see geysers in Rotorua and marveled at glowworms in Waitomo caves before finally wrapping up the day in Auckland.
Speaking of Auckland, I feel it’s a highly underrated city. It has a neat waterfront area with boats, ferries (and occasional cruise ships) coming and going all day long. Thanks to an upgrade at Hilton Auckland, we got to enjoy the front row seat to all the action.
Australia reminded me of US. It is a diverse country with many climates and landscapes. We spent three nights in Melbourne and two in Sydney, so it wasn’t a lot of time to truly appreciate it.
Everything we did in Melbourne area involved a ton of driving, which left us exhausted by the end of the day. Still, if you have time, definitely add the city to your itinerary.
Two things that are “must do” are Great Ocean Road drive and watching the penguin parade on Phillip island. If you can only pick one, I would do the penguins. It’s a unique spectacle unlike anything I’ve seen in my life.
Witnessing those tiny penguins coming out of the ocean and forming a line will put a smile on the face of the most surliest/jaded of individuals. You’ll forget all about Chase 5/24 rule and latest negative hobby developments, I guarantee it.
While driving to Phillip island to see the penguins, we spotted a kangaroo hopping on a side of the road. Everyone in the van screamed in delight. We are not in Kansas anymore!
After Melbourne it was time to pack up our bags (again) and head to Sydney. I was very excited to check out Park Hyatt Sydney, the super-duper fancy hotel that goes for $1k per night. I’ll have a detailed review on it later, but here is a short summary. The hotel is a fun treat, but it’s overrated, overengineered and overpriced.
I would never burn 30k UR points to stay here, not even for one night. If you get a suite and free breakfast due to Hyatt Globalist status, then maybe. But even then it would be a tough sell if we are talking multiple nights. But yes, the view is nice, though you can enjoy it by simply strolling the waterfront area in front of the hotel (for free).
The best laid plans of mice and men…
I wish I could say that the trip went without a hitch, but it would be a lie. Unfortunately, the day we left New Zealand, my husband got sick with upper respiratory infection. As a result, he missed the penguin parade and the kangaroo sighting.
Soon, I got sick too, but refused to skip the drive along the Great Ocean road. Did I mention that it was freezing cold in Melbourne, with winds blowing from Antarctica? So most of our time in Sydney was spent recuperating in the room, while enjoying a partial view of the Opera House. In fact, we were both still sick during our 13-hour flight to San Francisco.
We also had a major hiccup with a home rental near Melbourne. Apparently, my sister-in-law booked it seven months ago and prepaid in full. She contacted the host the day of the arrival only to find out that the house is damaged. Oops!
The guy never contacted her and even had the nerve to claim that she didn’t actually send him any money. Since the rental was reserved through Booking.com, they intervened and pressured him to issue a refund. In the meantime, we were all heading to the airport with no place to stay on the other end. I quickly did some research and was ready to redeem points on Hyatt Place near Melbourne airport should the need arise.
Fortunately, Booking.com agent was able to find us a place at the last minute. The whole thing was yet another reminder on dangers of dealing with the individual owners. In majority of cases everything will be just fine. But when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.
It was also heart-wrenching to say goodbye to the kids at LAX airport. We talked to them ahead of time and knew it would be hard. Still, it tugged at my heart when my 7-year old son started crying and saying that he decided to come with us instead of my in-laws. He was clinging to my husband and wouldn’t let go. I cried all the way to Tahiti.
On the other hand, he seemed totally fine when we said goodbye in Melbourne, probably because my in-laws were heading to koala sanctuary after dropping us off at the airport. Overall, the kids had been having the time of their lives.
Petting kangaroos, doing snuba (that’s a cross between scuba and snorkeling) in the Great Barrier reef… I hope they remember everything.
It was very nice to spend time alone with my husband. We were reminded of our BC (before children) days, which was fun.
Still, we are never doing this type of a trip again. We go together as a family.
Adjusting to normal life at home
Well, it’s not totally normal yet because the kids won’t be back till Saturday. I’m counting the days, I miss those rascals terribly. The transition for me has been a difficult one, but it’s good to be home.
Did I mention that there were six kittens waiting for me? We got a cat last December (a stray in the park I couldn’t say no to), and she ended up giving birth the day before we got home from the trip. One of the kittens died in front of me, though I’m not telling the kids untill they get back.
So here I am, going from an Instagram-worthy, “fancy pants” traveler to a cat lady in a blink of an eye. Boom.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.