Final Honeymoon Details

Today is the last day of Andrews take over on the blog! It's been so much fun having him here and if you guys like it please be sure to email/DM. I'd love to hear feedback and possibly talk Andrew into doing more for the blog :)

If you're new here, be sure to read the other posts in this series like PT 1: Choosing our Honeymoon DestinationPT 2: Booking Flights + Locking in Dates, and PT 3: Booking Our Accommodations! It's the first half of a four-part series Andrew has so graciously written for the blog. Today he's sharing how (and where) we booked our accommodations while abroad!  

With our rings and vows exchanged and the wedding behind us, I refocused on honeymoon plans. Of course, we also had a Disney World trip coming up in late October, which I planned in full, so my focus was split.

My next step was to book a car for our road trip in New Zealand. I knew that I still had to book our internal flights between destinations within Australia, but if we didn’t have a rental car in New Zealand, we were totally screwed. With so many things to do over a spread out area, we had to have a method of transportation. Knowing that the week we planned to be there was their peak visitor week, I had to book the car next. 

Fortunately for me, I conducted a search on Priceline and found an available vehicle in one of their secret fare searches on the site. Unlike with airlines, we have no loyalty to any car rental company, and I find their reward programs to be largely useless. We also don’t rent cars often. As a result, we are low-cost renters and use Priceline to help us find the best rates. This particular vehicle was available for the week at a rate of about $400 USD. That’s pretty expensive, especially for New Zealand, but again we had to have the car. I booked and prepaid in full to lock in the cost. With that, I was able to breathe a little.

For our next step, I wanted to book our internal flights in Australia and from Australia to New Zealand. I had waited until later in the year to do this for a few reasons. First, there tends not to be an advantage to booking airfare more than two months out. Prices fluctuate up until about two weeks before a flight when they rise and stay generally high. Second, I knew Qantas was a partner of American Airlines, where I have Platinum Pro status and earn a fair amount of miles over the course of the year. 

In June, I had some work travel to and from London and would be earning a nice chunk of miles from that trip. We also earned miles from our usual travels to Krista’s parents in Chicago, her sister in Atlanta, and some other trips we had planned. Lastly, I signed up for the American Airlines Aadvantage Mastercard during the winter and had been accruing bonus miles for several months. This all added up to about 100,000 Aadvantage miles that could be used at a one-to-one ratio to book flights on Qantas.

The world of rewards points and searching for the best value of those points can be wildly confusing and intimidating. I have some experience with it, so I’ve learned a few tricks that made it easier. Booking the flights within Australia happened to be the easiest part of all the planning. Three days after booking our rental car, I had all of our flights booked, and they cost us nothing more than processing fees. 

We had just enough points to book both of us on flights from Sydney to Hamilton Island, from Hamilton Island to Melbourne, and from Melbourne to Queenstown. If that wasn’t nice enough, my status on American Airlines equated to status on Qantas, meaning we got additional checked bags for free on all our flights. Throughout the trip, we never paid for any checked bags, even though one of them would be considered too heavy here in the United States.

We considered this a huge win. Now two weeks after the wedding, we had the rest of our flights locked in and rental car booked. At this point, nearly everything was done. All that was left was charting our road trip between Queenstown and Christchurch, booking accommodations throughout New Zealand, planning some tours and excursions in both countries, and booking flights to and from Los Angeles and New York.

For our flight to Los Angeles, I had some leftover JetBlue points that I planned to use. Considering we would be flying on a Wednesday (generally the cheapest day of the week to fly), I had enough to get both Krista and I out there for free. I booked the flights, and then had to find a way to spend a day in LA since our flight to Australia was late the following night. This was a pretty easy decision. Obviously, we would be going to Disneyland. 

I paid out of pocket for a Fairfield Inn directly across the street from the front gates for one night. Later in November, I used a Black Friday deal on Priceline to book a rental car for the day, coming out to $50, which was less than the cost of a one way Uber from LAX to Disneyland. I also bought us one-day tickets to the park. This was all pretty easy, as planning for Disney has become second nature to me. Reach out if you need help :)

I figured the honeymoon excursions would be the most fun to plan, so I attacked that next. We were going to be away for a long time, but I was conscious of not filling every minute of our calendar with places to be at certain times. We wanted to have time at leisure. After all, this was a honeymoon, and part of the reason we didn’t book the entire thing with a tour group was that we wanted to move at our own pace. 

We knew that we had to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I began researching these options first. Hamilton Island offered a number of options, and qualia were able to book these for us. I chose a full-day (eight hours) snorkel with Explore, and qualia locked it in for us. It wasn’t cheap, coming in at around $200 USD per person, but this was a must-do. 

I then shifted my attention to Queenstown. I was learning that while New Zealand wasn’t huge, there was arguably more to do and see than in Australia. Choosing an adventure was difficult. I used Viator to help me narrow our search for a good tour. I learned about Viator during one of my phone calls with American Express earlier in the year. The customer service representative recommended it after she had used it with great success during a trip she had taken to the region recently. I obliged and found the site to be easy to use and reliable. After some searching, I decided that we needed to see Milford Sound. 

Milford Sound is actually a fjord, an inland waterway carved long ago by slow-moving glaciers. It resulted in beautiful blue-green water flanked by towering mountains, majestic waterfalls, and teeming wildlife. There are two options for reaching Milford Sound from Queenstown. You can drive or take a bus for five hours, explore the Sound on a cruise, then drive or ride for another five hours back to Queenstown, or you can fly. There are about a dozen flight operators from Queenstown, making the 35-minute flight daily on small propellor Cessnas. 

Through Viator, I learned about Air Milford, who offered a package that included round trip flights and the cruise of Milford Sound. The entire experience would take four hours, as opposed to the 12 it would take on the road. Of course, this convenience and level of service comes at a great expense. It would be $365 USD per person for this itinerary. I figured that we had one big, expensive adventure planned in Australia, we might as well do another one in New Zealand. After all, we probably would never make it back to this part of the world. I made the reservation for December 26 (Boxing Day) and paid in full.

As November approached, we were all but done. My last three pieces were to book accommodations in Melbourne and the two towns in New Zealand. I pinpointed on a map as good places to break up our trip to Christchurch. I chose Wanaka and Lake Tekapo for that purpose. Wanaka is a lake town with breathtaking views of Mt. Aspiring about a one hour drive from Queenstown. Lake Tekapo was another, smaller lake town about two and a half-hour drive from Wanaka and three from Christchurch. 

First, I looked at Melbourne, where there are so many Airbnb options that made life quite easy. I found a nice apartment in the CBD (Central Business District) within walking distance of all the good restaurants and cafes and booked it for roughly $90 USD per night. That was the easy part. New Zealand was proving more difficult.

Back in June, I had learned that Christmas week was the busiest time of year in New Zealand. That’s why I booked the Kiwi Chalet when I did. I should have locked in the rest of our accommodations at that point too. Looking at options in Wanaka, there were not many left, and prices were fairly high. Fearing that it would only get more difficult in the coming weeks, I booked an Airbnb five minutes from the town center in a guest house on someone’s property. The amenities were spartan, but it served us well. There was one piece left.

Lake Tekapo is a tiny community on the road from Wanaka to Christchurch, known for being a dark sky reserve and having an icy blue lake with snowy mountain views. A dark sky reserve means that it is one of the best places in the world to see the night sky. The lake is also surrounded by lupins, tall, slender flowers with vivid purple, pink, and orange buds that look like hyacinths on steroids. Most people camp when they go to Tekapo. I did not know this, but it was becoming obvious. For the dates we needed, there were no available Airbnb within 40 miles. This was the case for weeks as I scoured Airbnb during late October and November. 

Time was dwindling, and I was starting to worry. I began looking at alternatives. Maybe we could drive to Dunedin on the east coast instead, stay for a night, and then fly to Christchurch? Do we drive back to Queenstown and fly to Christchurch? Airbnb inventory was low everywhere, and I was stuck. As a passing thought, I pulled up Hotels.com and searched the Tekapo region for a hotel for one night on December 29. Lo and behold, I found one available room at the Peppers Bluewater Resort, right in the heart of the small village for $200. Without thinking, I booked it. With that, our plans were finished.

It took nine months, but our honeymoon was planned. We had all the flights, all our accommodations, our rental car, and some activities set in stone. The only other items that I booked were two meals. A dinner in Sydney at Fred’s, a restaurant that was highly rated and came recommended from a friend, and Christmas Day lunch at The Grille by Eichardt’s in Queenstown. I didn’t want to get shut out of a meal on Christmas Day.

For a trip of 19 days, you might think that we didn’t have enough planned. To some degree, that’s true. But I truly believed that the extra time and lack of plans would allow us to do as we pleased while in either country. That proved to be a good decision.

When Krista and I travel, we do so with an eye towards decompressing. We go to bed early, get up early, hardly ever drink, and don’t generally socialize. But we quickly found the people of Australia to be gracious and kind, and our itinerary filled up with suggestions from locals once we arrived.
For example, the first night we were in Sydney, we went into the Apple store to look for a Christmas gift for my sister. We asked a friendly employee about the new AirPod Pros, but they were out. One thing led to another and we began talking about how we just got to Sydney and were on our honeymoon. 

He beamed with a wide smile and immediately rattled off his favorite places in Sydney and fun things to do. We had been planning on calling it an early night, eating dinner at the hotel, and using our $150 AUD food and beverage credit. But after our conversation, we changed course, instead going on a walk to Darling Square, eating delicious, fresh bao buns at a Korean food vendor, and having some of the best gelato of my life at Messina. 

We kept this open mind throughout our trip, asking locals about their favorite things to do. Because we had built-in so much free time into our plans, we were able to make snap decisions and fill our time wisely with great recommendations from waiters, hotel staff, Apple store employees, neighbors on the bus, taxi drivers, and more.

Now that we’re home, I can say that our trip was nearly perfect. We dealt with great people. We made lifelong memories. We relaxed, explored, and experienced sites and sounds that we may never get to again. It was all worth it. I’m glad I took the time and effort to plan the trip myself as opposed to booking a two-week tour through another group. If you have the patience, I would recommend it to everyone. Take time to look for deals, learn the world of airline and hotel rewards programs, search for credit cards that will give you the best perks, and talk to locals. I hope it works as well for you as it did for us.

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