Tag Archives: Auckland

Postcard from Pukekohe Park Raceway

Though I didn’t get to marshal at Pukekohe Park Raceway on this visit, I was lucky enough to stop by at the circuit and do a few laps around with Anna Scott behind the wheel showing me all the changes since the last time I marshaled there.

There were cars on track the day of my visit, some of them race cars while others just souped up street cars, so I’ll go ahead and include a post about this experience here. Why not?

The Sunday of my visit was a private track rental by what looked to be a Nissan enthusiast group with plenty of great looking Skyline GT-R’s, Sylvia’s and other Japanese cars in attendance.

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Judging by the burned paint on the bumper I’m going to guess this car means business!

Naturally I was most interested to see some souped up MX-5’s at this track rental, but it was definitely a different crowd. We did spot one red GT PRHT in attendance and I rushed over to say hello. The owner, a member of the MX-5 Club of ¬†New Zealand turned out to be the father of one of the Skyline racers there. Nice to see family supporting their kid’s participation in Motorsport. And more importantly instead of having them hoon on the street, they actually join their son doing it the correct way, racing around a race track.

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A great car indeed ūüôā

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Anna was kind enough to give me a tour of the facilities which have really grown since my last visit. Race Control had moved from a little shack like structure to a proper building. The track is now lined with barriers plucked directly from the Hamilton street circuit where Australian V8’s used to race, and in general this little horse racing track looks like a world class facility. Shame I didn’t get a chance to actually marshal there this time…

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A few days earlier, while my Aussie friend Ian was dropping me off at Anna’s house, we made a drive by past Pukekohe and sure enough we spotted another MX-5 entering the track. Much like Australia the MX-5’s are right in their element in New Zealand, the country has a perfect weather for owning a Roadster!

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Pro Photos Marshaling at Hampton Downs Thanks to Alison Hogg from Media77

Way to make me feel like a celebrity Alison Hogg!

I’m really grateful to have a professional photographer friend who was willing to take a few action shots of me marshaling at Hampton Downs for the Auckland Car Club raceday.

Check them out:

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Check out Media77 facebook page: www.facebook.com/Media77nz

If only I had a private photographer taking pictures of me at various race tracks I would have never gotten in trouble for doing it myself.

Thank you Alison!

Postcard from Auckland Car Club Racing at Hampton Downs

You can’t volunteer an event in Australia without coming over and marshaling in New Zealand. So since I was in the neighborhood I decided to pop up for one of the Kiwi racedays at Hampton Downs.

I have been planning to come back to New Zealand for ages, and I’m really glad this opportunity presented itself. Anna Scott the flag chief for the Motorsport Club of NZ invited me to spend the weekend with her family and I couldn’t be in better hands on my visit. It was a bit sad to see fewer marshals at the track than the last time I was there. Even the race day itself was shorter than usual, instead of the full weekend of racing Auckland Car Club crammed all of their practices and races into one Saturday. But the action was still there and thanks to an awesome post assignment I was having a hell of a good time.

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I was paired to work with Peter for the weekend who was really great and welcoming to a “newbie” which made my day. We were pretty lucky to have a few incidents including minor spins, cars coming to a stop suffering mechanical failures as well as a side to side metal to metal impact resulting in a spin which I had to write a report on. All in all we were kept busy the whole day.

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I asked Tom and Anna to make a pit stop on the way to the track so I can get some of my favorite track food to go: the Kiwi Meat Pies, which were especially delicious once I worked up some appetite working trackside.

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Once lunch came around, Peter and I were picked up by the Porsche Cheyenne Course Car and brought into the paddock area where I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the race cars and all the improvements done to the track since my last visit. The garages have really been build up, adding a second level. Race control was completed. And one of the most visible additions was the actual expansion of the track adding quite a few more corners for Anna to staff once the track is fully finished.

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I was really happy to see a few MX-5’s racing with the other Japanese cars in their class. Mazda’s are very popular in New Zealand although in the past it was the RX-7’s and RX-8’s that dominated the car scene. Still nice to see Miatas race everywhere I go to marshal.

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Happy to also be served L&P – my favorite Kiwi drink at the end of day party for the marshals.

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After lunch it was back to the office at Post 2. My favorite tool to use was the Hampton Downs lighting system. A very simple controller tethered to the Light Panel via a cable. The functionality is simple and intuitive. You push and hold the switch into the direction of the flag you wish to display and it stays on while you’re holding the switch. Upon release the light turns off. Yellow flag up, Double yellow down. Blue flag up and White flag down. Using Yellow forces a Green at the next post automatically. Debris flag can be switched on and left to display, though the way it shows on the pane is by alternating flashing lights of Yellow and Red which some drivers apparently found rather confusing. For a few incidents where the track was more than 50% blocked I found it a bit clumsy to try to wave a both yellow flags and hold the double yellow button simultaneously. But I would imagine as simple as this system is it would cost a fraction of what the F1 light system cost, and I have a feeling this one is far more efficient.

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One of the coolest things I saw on this visit was during a recovery. The tow truck driver that had already freed one car from the gravel trap, pulled up to the second disabled car by our post and hooked it to the bumper of the first car. He then proceeded to drive the train of stricken cars back to the paddock. I thought that was rather efficient making due with what they have and not wasting time waiting for another tow truck to free up to do the recovery.

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As the day was getting hotter and marshals were getting tired, the Motorsport Club did an ice cream run to cool us off. And it really worked wonders. Tip Top the kiwi ice cream brand is actually quite creamy and milky, much better than the water based ice creams we typically get in the US.

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And so another wonderful weekend spend at a race track was in the books. I was super happy to have had this opportunity to marshal even if just for one day. It totally made my visit to NZ worthwhile!

My next trip to New Zealand will hopefully involve a visit to a new circuit down on the South Island – Highlands Motorsport Park.

Mazda MX-5: Fish & Chips Run with MX-5 Club of New Zealand Members from Auckland CBD towards Coromandel

back to: South Pacific MX-5 Miata Road Trip Overview

f-australiaMX-5 Shopping in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

f-australiaMX-5 Road Trip from Kirribilli to Balmoral, NSW, Australia

MX-5 Road Trip from Papakura towards Coromandel, NZ

MX-5 Hire Cars on Holiday in Rarotonga, Cook Islands


No sooner was one MX-5 Fish & Chips run over in Aussie another one was underway with the Kiwi Roadster owners in New Zealand.

I got incredibly lucky once again¬†finding a local NZ MX-5 owner willing to show me around on a weekday upon my arrival. Lloyd offered to take me on a 300+ km Road Trip around the North Island. We were hoping a few other MX-5 Club of New Zealand owners would chime in but it was the middle of the week ¬†and many were busy with everyday life. The initial plan was to go around the Coromandel Peninsula, a trip that could have taken all day based on the Auckland traffic, so instead we compromised a little and Lloyd surprised me with an awesome end to the trip: a sunset dinner cruise on¬†a fellow MX-5 owner’s boat. It was pretty incredible!

As I was flying over from Australia Lloyd e-mailed me that another fella with an MX-5 would be picking me up in the morning: Ralph. Now we had two cars for our little adventure and every time we stopped to take pictures I’d swap cars, getting plenty of seat time in two JDM imported NC’s while chatting the ears off of their drivers. ¬†These were the first two proper “Roadsters” I got to experience, Ralph’s was fairly stock while Lloyd’s had the Mazdaspeed treatment complete with a full body kit, exhaust and some other goodies hiding underneath… I call the cars Roadsters because they are in fact legitimate Japanese Domestic Market – JDM Roadsters that were imported to New Zealand second hand, as many often do. That was a little added caveat to my experience.

But enough talking, here’s some photos (of which I took a million):

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Based on the GPS geo-tagging function on my phone/photos I believe the route we took included the following coordinates: Auckland CBD > Papakura > Waiuku > Tuakau > Les Batkin Reserve > Waikato River > Pukekawa > Churchill > Lake Whangape > Rangiriri West > Rangiriri > Te Kauwhata  > Maramarua > Miranda > Kaiaua > Whakatiwai > Orere Point > Tapapakanga Regional Park > Kawakawa Bay > Kawakawa-Orere Road Reserve > Papakura

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Yes, it’s an actual Eunos Roadster when that was a thing in Japan.

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I’m so grateful to Lloyd and Ralph for hanging out with me for a day and putting so many k’s on their cars to show me a good time. Thanks guys!

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After posing for all these pictures and sorting stuff to upload to Facebook, Lloyd and Debbie loaded me up into their other car and headed back up towards Auckland for our 7pm launch. Where another MX-5 owner was waiting for us with his family to share a nice sunset dinner cruise out in the Auckland harbour. What a way to end an already awesome day? Really an amazing experience.

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Huge thanks to the always hospitable Kiwis for making my journey to New Zealand an incredible one. I am forever grateful!

Mazda MX-5: 500+ Photo Road Trip – South Pacific Visiting MX-5 Owners in Australia, New Zealand & Cook Islands

Another year and another massive MX-5 Road Trip… this time to the South Pacific. I had the pleasure and privilege to visit the Mazda Roadster community¬†¬†in Australia, New Zealand and kinda sorta in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands.

In this post I will share my experience from this trip including the contact info for the local clubs in each country as well as a few rental facilities that have MX-5’s to rent (or hire) on your next trip to paradise that is the Cook Islands. As with my Southeast Asia MX-5 Road Trip last year I will break down this post into individual threads that cover each experience separately:

South Pacific Miata Road Trip Overview

f-australiaMX-5 Shopping in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

f-australiaMX-5 Road Trip from Kirribilli to Balmoral, NSW, Australia

MX-5 Road Trip from Papakura towards Coromandel, NZ

MX-5 Hire Cars on Holiday in Rarotonga, Cook Islands


 

There’s no way I could possibly share all 500+ photos from this adventure but many of them are available for viewing on my facebook page. Some of the best shots are shared here with my commentary. I had such a blast on this trip I am extremely eager to start planning the next one.

So how did I go about arranging all the meets and events?

Simple. I researched the individual MX-5 groups and clubs through the Miata.net forum and Facebook.

In Australia I reached out to the MX-5 Club of New South Wales and specifically the Sydney Chapter which is a very active community of owners that meet up regularly for various club activities from dinners, cruises, racing and skidpads/drifting as well as major events like 50+ car meets and cruises around the country.

I met Jean Cook on my first day in Australia while traveling to Bathurst and just a few days later she embarked on a rather long journey down to Tasmania for a National MX-5 meet there that featured over 100 cars.

Special thanks to Jean Cook for giving me the opportunity to take some photos of her beautiful ND MX-5:

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The next thanks I want to give is to Cameron from Blue Mountains Mazda who sold Jean her ND. Cameron was nice enough to show me around the dealership on my way back to Sydney from Bathurst, I even brought an Aussie spec brochure back home from this visit:

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Huge thanks to Guy Cole for organizing the MX-5 cruise from Kirribilli to Balmoral where I got to meet the owners of at least 20 MX-5’s that showed up to this event. What a great experience that was. By the same token I would like to thank Chris Stacey for giving me a ride during the cruise in his beautiful red ND MX-5.

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In New Zealand I reached out to the MX-5 Club of New Zealand through the Miata.net forum and facebook. Their club also has major events around the North and South Islands. The last get together at the Auckland area Mazda dealer saw over 50 MX-5’s show up.

For my little event only two owners came along for the ride: Ralph and Lloyd, with Lloyd organizing the whole trip for me including a nice sunset dinner cruise with a fellow MX-5 owner from the Auckland harbour.

Thank you Ralph and Lloyd!

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In Rarotonga, Cook Islands I didn’t get a chance to actualy chat with any Miata owners. But I did source out a few places to rent one. Avis in Avarua apparently had a Green NC to rent but they wouldn’t let me see it before forking out $80/day to rent it. Too bad!

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This was definitely a trip of a lifetime and I’m totally looking forward to more trips like this in the future…

Fun in the South Pacific: the Debrief – Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Another trip of a lifetime is in the books! Although I shouldn’t call it “lifetime” because I know sooner or later I’ll be departing on other one. In fact with an amazing trip of a lifetime just a few months ago to Southeast Asia, I would call this the trip of the year, or at the very least trip of the month: February 2016!

This post will be a brief overview: a debrief, of the trip overall followed by a number of specific posts about the individual events I’ve marshaled, the experiences I had hanging out with the local MX5 clubs and catching some sun in some very exotic places as part of the vacation that tied this trip together. I had such a blast!

To start, I flew to Australia via Hawai’i. And unlike my first visit there a few years ago after Korean Grand Prix, I decided to get off the plane at Honolulu and actually spend the night in Waikiki Beach. The Polynesian theme for the rest of the trip truly began there. Besides enjoying an amazing sunset that I shared with a few folks at home via Facetime, I got to experience some of the local cuisine just outside of the touristy area. I loved it!

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A traditional meal from Ono Hawaiian Foods just minutes walking distance from Waikiki Beach… the dish featured some pork wrapped in taro leaves and poi poi along with dried fish and all the fixing’s.

Of course an overnight stay in Paradise wasn’t enough, at all! But it was just a start to my South Pacific adventure. I’m kind of glad I broke the trip in half because some of these longer flights of 10+ hours have started getting to me, tiring me out completely. This time I was travelling with an extra handicap I hadn’t encountered on previous trips. I had a flare up of Gout Arthritis just a few days before leaving and my right foot was in terrible pain, something akin to walking on glass. The pain wouldn’t really go away for the entire trip but since I couldn’t do much about it I just learned to live with it.

Next stop: Sydney! The flight arrived in the early evening and after a quick clearance at Immigration I headed to the CBD to get some sleep before heading out for Bathurst early the next morning. Like Waikiki I decided to stay in a hostel near Central station for convenience and it worked out really well for me.

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First order of business while in Australia: meeting an MX-5 owner from the Club of NSW, Sydney Chapter. What an incredible experience!

In the morning I managed to arrange a lift with someone from the MX-5 community in Sydney. It’s really nice to see how close the Miata community is to Motorsport and specifically marshaling. The lady who’s car I got to check out on my first day in Australia volunteers as a Steward while her son is a flag marshal, who was kind enough to let me tag along for the two hour drive to Mount Panorama. While I could have taken the train all the way to town, I found it far more interesting to have some company along the way. It was especially interesting when we were on the hunt for Meat Pies for lunch while passing through Lithgow. That’s where I spotted something I really wanted to see on my trip, a Miata trailer. The owner drove past us as we parked up near the bakery and while he was stopped on a red light I tried to snap a fuzzy shot of his car.

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one of Paul Byers creations… an MX-5 trailer made from the rear quarters of an actual MX-5… looks bloody awesome!

I will talk about my experiences at Bathurst 12 hour and Mount Panorama in a separate post but suffice to say it was an interesting experience. While it wasn’t my first visit there, it was definitely a little different from before. For the first time I camped right at the track. A fellow Aussie marshal Paul from Victoria was kind enough to supply me with a comfortable tent, some pillows and a sleeping bag, which helped a lot so I didn’t have to drag all that stuff with me. Not only that he was our designated driver taking a whole group of us out to dinner in town every night, which was fantastic. It was the first time I consistently stuffed my face with proper Australian food including roast lamb and a variety of other local pub dishes.

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Paul Kelly driving us around every night after the end of track activities.
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Australia’s finest pub food in Bathurst.
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Every year there’s a team promoting tourism NSW and Australia, this year there was a Terra Australis Audi complete with an aboriginal photo shoot that we stumbled upon in pit lane.

After the event I headed back to Sydney for a few more nights in a CBD hostel. I had a few things planned but the stay was way too short. Luckily I did manage to squeeze in a lunch at Bondi Beach which I was really looking forward to as well as a nice MX-5 cruise from Kirribilli to Balmoral Beach with a meeting spot just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was pretty spectacular. So many cars showed up! I was pleasantly surprised and very humbled to see so many owners give up their weeknight for a little cruise along the Northern Sydney suburbs for some fish and chips. Again I will write more about it later but I can’t express my gratitude enough to have had this opportunity!

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Tuesday night Fish & Chips run from Kirribilli to Balmoral Beach, with a meeting spot under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney CBD and Opera House in the background.

Next stop: Auckland! A short hop and skip over the ditch (as they refer to the Tasman Sea) and I was in New Zealand. The flight arrived after midnight and I was off to my hostel in the CBD. Early next morning another MX-5 meetup awaited me, and after a short 4 hour sleep I was in a beautiful JDM-import Roadster heading to Papakura for my next adventure which I’ll describe in it’s own post. In a way it was another Fish & Chips run but this one lasted for over 300km visiting some scenic and twisty roads across the entire Northern Island from West (Waihu) to East (Coromandel Peninsula).

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MX-5 Club of New Zealand MX-5 members Lloyd and Ralph took me around on a day trip showing me the twisty parts of the North Island heading towards Coromandel for fish & chips.

As if this incredible two car road trip (as I jumped out from one car to the other at every stop we made), couldn’t get any better – it did! The day ended on a boat in Auckland Harbour where we had a nice dinner joining another MX-5 owner while he and his family celebrated the mum’s birthday. This was my first time on the water on the North Island something I was putting away until later while living in Auckland and never actually following through with, until now. It was really amazing.

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A sunset dinner cruise with a bunch of MX-5 owners celebrating a birthday. What a way to end my Kiwi MX-5 road trip!

Believe it or not I actually got to marshal while in New Zealand. It was only a one day meeting for Auckland Car Club at Hampton Downs but I certainly got my money’s worth with plenty of spins and spills on Turn 2 where I was lucky enough to work. It was such a good pleasure to catch up with a bunch of people whom I started my marshaling with while living in New Zealand a few years ago. And it was nice to see the improvements done and are currently ongoing to Hampton Downs under Tony Quinn’s ownership.

Besides Hampton Downs, Anna Scott – who hosted me for the weekend, took me to Pukekohe Raceway Park and showed me the improvements done there after Aussie V8 Supercars moved to their event there from the streets of Hamilton. I had such an incredible time I’ll have to write more about it in another post.

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Anna Scott the flag chief for the Motorsport Club of NZ taking me on a private tour of the upgraded Pukekohe Raceway Park including a visit to Race Control and a few laps around the circuit.

Although I had already spent two weeks on the road which seemed to have gone by in a flash, I still had one more exotic stop on this incredible journey: Rarotonga in the Cook Islands! I was really looking forward to this visit because it was something I planned to do while living in New Zealand back in 2012. Now the dream came true. I didn’t know what to expect but the reality surprised me in a very pleasant way. The tiny island of Rarotonga was very clean, friendly and welcoming for my visit. The resort I booked (my first stay in a proper hotel on this trip after all the hostels in Hawaii, Sydney and Auckland I decided to splurge and pamper myself) was fantastic. I got to tour the island, sample some delicious Polynesian food and completely relax on the pristine beaches with baby blue water crashing over the corals just off shore. What an experience!

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Kia Orana Cook Islands! I arrived on a rainy day in a cyclone season thinking that my trip would be rained out but the weather was perfect during my stay on Rarotonga.
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I was very impressed at how clean and organized Rarotonga was, it was very exotic!
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The beaches were amazing! The water crystal clear. I had such a great time relaxing.
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Of course I managed to spot a bunch of MX-5’s, mostly NA and NB’s.

The trip home at the end of this vacation took me back through Auckland where I was a total zombie while shopping for souvenirs to take home. Luckily I was able to meet up with friends for lunch and dinner and that kept me awake long enough for some much needed sleep on my 11 hour flight back to LAX.

Huge thanks to all the people that helped me along on this trip. I couldn’t have done this without you!

Mazda MX-5: Hey Sydney & NSW Miata Owners! Come Join Us for a Fish & Chips Run from Kirribilli to Balmoral

Dear friends in Australia, New South Wales, Sydney Area… ¬†come join me and the MX-5 Club Sydney Chapter on a little fish & chips run from under the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Kirribilli to Balmoral.

The meet and greet was the idea of one of the Sydney MX-5 owners from the club, but I wanted to extend the invitation to anyone else finding this blog post on Google or whatever search engine you use. If you’re in Sydney and FREE Tuesday afternoon February 9th at 6pm you should totally come out and enjoy a beautiful sight of a bunch of Miatas and an American guy running around with his phone taking a million pictures.

Check out this link on facebook for details: https://www.facebook.com/events/204635939879450/

Apparently the Aussie MX-5 owners do this quite frequently, which makes me incredibly jealous because Miata meets in New Jersey are few and far between. But oh well…

I’d also like this opportunity to remind folks that I’ll be in Bathurst from February 4th to the 8th and I’m sure there will be a few MX-5 owners there, possibly doing a parade lap around the famous circuit.

I’m also a little slow on organizing a meet-up in Auckland, New Zealand so if anyone is interested from my Kiwi readers please get in touch and we’ll organize a nice get together in the CBD or one of the suburbs.

In addition to that I have had little success finding MX-5 owners in the Cook Islands, as I’ll be visiting Rarotonga for a few days at the end of my trip. Again… interested? Get in touch!

I’m so looking forward to this trip!!!

kirribilli australia sydney

The Worst Frequent Flyer Program Nominee

I love the challenge of optimizing my frequent flyer mile and point redemptions to travel around the world. It’s the only way I could afford to travel, really. The US is very lucky with airlines offering some of the best loyalty programs out there even when foreign carriers offer superior aircraft¬†and service products. But it amazes me how bad some foreign loyalty programs really are. The worst I’ve had to deal with is Airpoints from Air New Zealand, and I’ll explain why giving examples from my upcoming trip to the Pacific.

So my goal is to use my New Zealand based Airpoints to book a one way trip between Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. I say NZ based because Air New Zealand treats Australian Airpoints and American Airpoints very different from New Zealand Airpoints. 1 Airpoint equals $1 of the currency where you first registered your program. So 1 Australian Airpoint is NOT equal 1 New Zealand Airpoints because $1 AUD does not equal $1 NZD. And this little nugget has been the cause of much of my frustration trying to burn the damn NZ Airpoints I’ve accumulated for something more useful then letting them expire.

Last week Air New Zealand announced a 24 hour Australia sale.

The Auckland to Sydney route was advertised at $159 NZD outbound and $206 NZD on the reverse trip, on the Kiwi web site. The Sydney to Auckland route on the Aussie web site was advertised at $179 AUD for the leg that I was interested in booking. However, when I tried to use my NZ Airpoints for this booking the Aussie web site booted me to the Kiwi web site, where the route re-priced at $317 NZD without any sale in sight even though it was clearly coming up through both web sites separately. The global web site, or the American web site as I like to call it because the prices come up in American dollars, was quoting the same trip at $250 USD. So you got three Air New Zealand sites quoting four very different prices for the same exact trip:

$179 AUD = $133 USD (Australian sale price o/w purchase)

$206 NZD = $139 USD (Kiwi sale price based on r/t purchase)

$317 NZD = $214 USD (Kiwi regular price, based on o/w purchase)

$250 USD (American regular price, based on one way purchase)

Now, Air New Zealand is not the only carrier out there that publishes different pricing based on the country of origin. But when it comes to redeeming frequent flyer miles or points, it is generally a common practice to have the¬†¬†value of airline’s miles or points not change from country to country, there’s some predictable consistency… the airline’s frequent flyer miles or points are the currency of that airline independent of the currencies of the countries where that airline operates. Air NZ has to be the only one that doesn’t follow this model, and it’s totally one sided. I’m sure it benefits Air NZ greatly, but me as a consumer: not so much.

The other unfair practice is the redemption of the Airpoints towards the purchase of the flight. I recently booked Auckland to Rarotonga using one of Air NZ’s sales. The price was advertised at $209 NZD one way, and I booked it using my Airpoints, where only 177 Airpoints ¬†were applied to the purchase and the rest I had to pay in cash. Try doing that the other way around. Say I would accept the ridiculous $317 NZD price for a $133 AUD sale ticket, and I wanted to pay partially with Airpoints and the rest with cash, you are not allowed to do it. Air New Zealand will not take my 100 or 200 Airpoints as credit towards partial payment for a ticket if I don’t have enough to cover the air ticket portion of the price, the tax they collect in cash. Not cool at all.

Saying all this, Air New Zealand is actually a great airline to fly and I have a number of flights booked with them on this trip already using their Star Alliance partner United Airlines. I am very much looking forward to the All Black planes and the outstanding service on board. But I’m frustrated to no end about their sneaky loyalty program operation that does not allow me as a consumer to burn off the Airpoints I had collected because of all the damn restrictions.

So shame on you Air New Zealand!

 

Frequent Flyer programs theoretically are meant to reward loyalty not punish customers by making it impossible to use the points or miles. I will have to get creative with my redemption though… considering it’s possible to book the SYD-AKL trip outright for less than $130 USD using third party sites like Expedia or Orbitz (and even less when one of those American sites announce a sale). And then maybe dump the remainder of my Airpoints on a round trip flight within New Zealand… I’ve never been to Queenstown, Dunedin or Invercargill on the southern tip of the South Island… I wouldn’t mind going there for FREE… the only deficit I have at this point is the limited time I am spending in New Zealand overall…. ¬† ¬†so the challenge for the most exotic road trip continues!

kiwi all blacks air new zealand

The Logistics Behind Planning a Trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Very excited to say that the 2016 Grand Prix Road Trip of a lifetime has been booked! This post is a follow up to the previous two posts I made on the subject while planning the trip, and it’s nice to see the evolution of the plan over a period of time. Have a look at the previous post at the start of the planning stage here:¬†“the logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand,”¬†and a follow up here when I discovered it’s cheaper to fly home from the Cook Islands via New Zealand than directly from New Zealand:¬†“booked a flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.”

the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper
the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

The planning process went from a mock-up above to the actual route depicted below on this beautiful Great Circle Mapper image. The difference being the addition of Hawai’i stopover on the way to SYD.

dream trip to exotic pacific cook islands australia new zealand
the trip will actually look like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

For those that didn’t read the previous planning posts I’ll explain the process of selecting the routes based on the frequent flyer programs I used. Initially my plan was to burn some Virgin America frequent flyer points I had accumulated on a redemption on Virgin Australia to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve determined that that was a poor use of those points, so instead I’ll save them for next year to fly on Singapore Airlines A380 between NYC and Frankfurt for one of the European events. Instead, I used American AAdvantage program to book the trip. My dilemma was that I had already used up 8,000 miles in rebates from booking this year’s European trips, and that 1,750 miles would be wasted as I would only get 2,000 back with the 10% rebate that AA offers for AA credit card holders (10,000 max/year). But in the grand scheme of things I’d rather waste 1,750 AA miles which I could earn back relatively quickly (use one of the many AA video promos or dining promos that give 1,000 bonus) instead of paying money on a connecting flight between NY and LA to position myself for the Virgin Australia alternative that I had dismissed earlier. The two options with AAdvantage were to fly Qantas from JFK-LAX-SYD or Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-SYD. And while I was very much looking forward to another flight on Qantas on one of their soon to be retired Boeing 747’s, I chose the stopover in Honolulu instead. I’ve flown Hawaiian before on the way back from the Korean Grand Prix (ICN-HNL-LAX) and always wanted to step out of the Honolulu airport to see a little bit of the island, and now I’ll finally have that chance… I’ll spend the night in Honolulu arriving at 4pm and departing 12pm noon the next day.

kirribilli australia sydney
G’day Australia! Sydney Opera House from Kirribilli

The trip back home is just as convoluted as on the way over. I’ve blogged before that I booked a $21 USD flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and that was done for positioning purposes. You see, to fly from Auckland to New York requires 40,000 Mileage Plus miles to fly Air New Zealand, a United partner in the Star Alliance. Whereas it only takes 35,000 miles to do the same trip from Rarotonga to NYC. So it seems like a no-brainer, Kia Orana Rarotonga! The caveat is to fly home from the Cook Islands you actually fly via New Zealand, and a further caveat it is possible to spend the entire day in Auckland before heading home (with a 5am arrival and a 10:45pm departure). So I was absolutely sold on that deal. But since I didn’t have enough Mileage Plus miles in my own account, I asked mom for help. Signed her up for a new United credit card, spent very little time charging all the house renovation expenses on her card, and in a month I had the mileage at my disposal with enough miles left over in her account to book a round trip flight within the US. Great deal all around.

I have yet to book a flight between Australia and New Zealand mainly because the flights are quite pricey right now ($300+ with AirNZ direct or $149+ with AirNZ through a third party like Expedia). I will wait closer to the travel dates to book that leg of the trip hoping to use the remainder of my soon to expire AirNZ Airpoints. Luckily they’re spoiled for choice with connecting flights between the two countries, so if SYD-AKL doesn’t work out I can do SYD-WLG, MEL-AKL, MEL-WLG, etc.

auckland skyline new zealand nz
Kia Ora Aotearoa! Auckland Skyline from Westhaven Marina

So, compared to the previous trips I took to Oceania/Pacific with my numerous flights to Australia and New Zealand, I think this will be by far the most exotic one I’ve ever done. I’ve read great things about the Cook Islands and look forward to that being the highlight of my trip. But I’m also very excited to see my Aussie and Kiwi friends on their turf. Bathurst 12h is going to be an amazing event. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do the NZ V8 Supertourers (or just V8 Touring Cars since competing NZ V8 Supertourers and NZV8’s series merged), but I’m sure there will be a club event I could attend at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs while on the North Islands.

It’s going to be awesome!

For anyone needing help planning their next trip using a combination of frequent flyer miles and other cheap flights, please get in touch… I love a challenge.

 

Some stats on this trip, total mileage flown: 24,098 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper.¬† Honolulu is almost exactly half way from New York to Sydney, JFK-HNL 4,983 miles vs. HNL-SYD 5,066 miles. I will depart Auckland at 10am on a Monday morning and arrive the Cook Islands at 4pm Sunday afternoon, the day before! (giving me an extra day to spend on the island). Caveat: I will celebrate two Valentine’s Days one in Auckland and one in Rarotonga…

The logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand

2016 is going to be a great year. To start I’d like to do a couple of international events that I haven’t done in a long time. Bathurst 12h is perhaps the biggest one of them all. ¬†But getting to Australia and New Zealand is a bit of a challenge. For one it’s on the other side of the world, and it literally takes days to get there. Which means I need more time off from work. But it’s also costly even when redeeming frequent flyer miles to pay for the trip.

The purpose of this post is to collect information on what my options are, and to seek advice from other frequent flyers to optimize my redemptions and get the best deal possible.

Virgin Australia booked through the use of Virgin America elevate points seems to be the best deal. It would take only 40,000 points and $140 tax to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) round trip. Unfortunately I would still have to find my own way to LAX from NYC, and I don’t actually have 40,000 elevate points in my account which is currently at just 26k or so. Luckily one way redemptions start at 25,000 elevate points either LAX-SYD or SYD-LAX and $90 tax.

virgin australia using virgin america points

American Airlines AAdvantage redemption is the second best choice. It would require 75,000 miles and $114.50 in tax to fly from New York City (JFK) to Sydney (SYD) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX). A bonus of redeeming miles with American as their credit card holder I would also get 10% rebate back on the mileage spend. So it would only take 67,500 miles to fly this route. I have flown Qantas on this route before a few times, using both their Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 birds, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

qantas using american airlines milesThe downside of course is that this year I have already used up 8,000 of the 10,000 rebate allowance with my two trips to Europe for Nurburgring 24h and Spa 24h. So the most I would actually get back is the remaining 2,000, which would result in 5,500 miles wasted. So I’m not too eager to redeem my AAdvantage miles on this trip. And I haven’t even gotten to the part of visiting New Zealand yet.

United Airlines Mileage Plus is also a valid option on this routing. At this point there are a lot of redemption opportunities both on UA metal and on their partners like Asiana Airlines or Air New Zealand. And best of all there is opportunity to book open jaw flights to arrive Australia and leave from New Zealand. However availability is non-existent to arrive NZ in the heart of their summer at the end of January so the only option is to fly to Australia first and leave from New Zealand after the race at Bathurst.

My ideal redemption would be to fly to Sydney (SYD) on a partner airline like Asiana with a connection in Seoul Icheon (ICN) using 40,000 UA miles and $36.40 in tax.

asiana using united miles

Or I could fly on United metal directly from Newark, NJ (EWR) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX) with a minimal connection of 45 minutes which would definitely get me to Australia in the least amount of time and money using 40,000 UA miles and $27.40 in tax.

united mileage plus redemption to australiaOn the way back I could fly United’s partner Air New Zealand from Auckland (AKL) to Newark, NJ (EWR) with a connection in LA (LAX) and I would actually plan a trip in such a way that would give me a 13 hour layover in California so I can go do stuff in Los Angeles, have an In-n-Out burger at LAX or something. It would take 40,000 UA miles and $45.90 in tax to do this.

united mileage plus redemption from new zealand

The problem of course is I don’t have 80,000 UA miles to book this trip. I don’t even have 40,000 UA miles at this point, I’ve spent most of my savings flying Singapore Airlines in 2013 to get to Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But there was a UA credit card offer that I signed up and expect to earn the 40k necessary in the next few months.

So my real dilemma is how to mix and match the miles I have to make this trip a reality.

There is also a final option, and that is to buy the trip outright. However, at this point I’m looking at at least $1,200 to $1,400 investment, possibly more as I am dealing with arriving in Australia and traveling back through New Zealand. That’s a lot of money to spend on a Motorsport event. I remember Qantas put on a sale a few years ago offering NYC-SYD for just $700 USD. But that was back in the days of V Australia creating competition between Qantas, United and Delta AirLines which had started flying to Australia. Since then, Virgin Australia and Delta codeshare on the route eliminating some of the previous cutthroat competition. I will be keeping my eye out on The Flight Deal and similar web sites between now and the end of the year to see if any new sales or mistake fares pop up.

The sure plan though is to use frequent flyer miles. So if anyone has any suggestions or best routing tricks I could implement to make this trip a reality without breaking the bank, I would love to hear form you!

I haven’t mentioned how I’d get from Australia to New Zealand or vice-versa should things materialize that way. Since I lived in Kiwi land in 2012 I have saved up 300 AirNZ dollars that have been impossible to redeem for anything of value. They are best spent on purchasing tickets with AirNZ where 1 AirNZ dollar = $1 NZD. So my plan is to use one of the many AirNZ flights across the ditch from Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL) and paying a premium for it just to use up the points. In the past I’ve purchased a flight round trip from Australia to NZ for less than $300, but now I just don’t want them to expire, so I’ll use them as necessary. While living in NZ my goal was to use those points to fly to some place exotic like Tonga, Samoa or the Cook Islands… but just like a job that never materialized there, neither did the dreams to go to a beautiful Pacific island for vacation… Boo freaking hoo!

air new zealand flight between sydney and auckland

Ironically, $300 NZD seems to be the sweet spot for booking the flight outright so many months out from my travel dates. While using Airpoints – the AirNZ currency, only a certain amount of points can be used with the rest paid in cash, which makes this trip ridiculously overpriced. Also ironic is the partnership between Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia to compete with Qantas and their low cost carrier JetStar on the route. The sub $300 round trip I mentioned before was booked on JetStar.