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Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

After a day packed with adventure in Milford Sound, we drove off over the mountain and through the tunnel to the other side just as the sun was going down. Turns out that spending dead turkey day in the southern hemisphere is a good thing!

Leaving Milford Sound

The drive to Knobs Flat is around 45 minutes. Though the cabins are rustic, they are perfectly suited to the environment. We cooked a very late dinner at 10pm (which included a fake Thanksgiving turkey).

Unconsumed, but present

The great people at HQ allowed us to stash groceries purchased in Te Anau for a day while we stayed at Milford Sound. We stopped in on our way to Milford Sound. This was a very good plan.

Headquarters

A morning hike to the waterfall is recommended. The trail itself is wild with a log creek crossing, lots of moss, notched trees, and drippy bushes.

Cabin 1 on the left

Sadly, we did not snap any pictures inside the cabin. So the shower and the little kitchen will go undocumented. Such are the hazards of a high adventure day.

The drive to and from Te Anau is gorgeous.

We stopped by Te Anau for a fantastic super fun jet boat ride and some delicious Indian food at Radhas.

NPS highly recommends the Knobs Flat cabins. Four showerheads and a waterfall hike!

Milford Sound is an incredible place to be on the planet. Lots of outdoors things to do. SCUBA diving with black coral. Sea kayaking down the sound (with sailing of you’re lucky). Hiking. Just wow.

Sadly, there is only one place to stay in Milford Sound. What we can say for Milford Sound Lodge is that they are taking advantage of their monopoly status. Not our cup of tea, especially when it comes to dining. (A better bet is to stay in the cabins in the national park on the other side of the tunnel.)

We were assigned room 13 (which we booked WAY in advance and overpaid for). The internet did not work.

Little cabins in paradise

The bedroom

At least the shower was not plostic!

However, the toilet was

On our way in, we did the Key Summit walk. A great hike.

Key summit reflection

panorama from key summit

Anyway, skip the Milford Lodge and just do all of the things. We recommend SCUBA with Descend and Sea Kayaking with Rosco’s.

SCUBA with descend diving in Milford Sound

Kayak with Rosco’s Kayaks in Milford Sound

More about high adventure fun at Milford Sound on apothecaryshed.

Two showerheads and some dinner service that works for Milford Sound Lodge. And maybe a staff with some training? Just camp.

What a difference a day makes. It rained like crazy in Dunedin almost the entire time we were there. The rain was so intense that major highways were flooding and bridges were impassable.

After lunch on our way up to Queenstown, we barely made it past an important bridge. New Zealand is small enough that there are really not that many alternative routes available. Even the big roads are, well, two laners with the occasional one lane bridge.

We drive by Lake Wakatipu on the way to Queenstown. The lookout at Devil’s Staircase was blustery and wet.

We checked in to Villa del Lago in the rain (about which more in a second). By the next morning, the rain was replaced by a spectacular view.

And of course, the lookout at Devil’s Staircase on Lake Wakatipu was a completely different scene.

So that’s the difference a day can make. Now on to Villa del Lago. Basically, Queenstown is a major tourist destination for skiing, hiking, and general partying. Villa del Lago has a very much ski chalet feel. Nice, but slightly abused and just a little declasse.

Our apartment complex had several rooms. We were in number four.

The living area features great windows

The kitchen remained unused

Pretend fireplace

The Boy’s room

Master bedroom view

The washer and dryer came in handy after our time in San Francisco.

The all important bathroom was of the Euro variety with a nice shower—not plastic.

The non-plastic shower

Ivy and Lola’s is a very good restaurant indeed. Great lamb in interesting combinations. And a decent negroni to boot!

Ivy and Lola’s

The Bunker is a very good cocktail location. Excellent skills and interesting drinks.

The Bunker

Corpse Reviver #2

Smoke

The Villa del Lago earns three showerheads. Time to clean those stained bedspreads and spruce things up a notch to match the scenery!

NPS is on a 25 day adventure that includes San Francisco as a first stop. Loyal readers know that means Japantown, and Japantown these days means the Kabuki.

The lobby is a great place to hang out and get some work done. And the bar is pretty good to boot.

And there is now espresso on the property.

It was hazy in San Francisco every day due to the fires in California. In fact, the air quality was the worst on the planet on Thursday.

This trip we’re on the top floor (16) in 1602. The rooms are well appointed.

1602

1602 has two large windows overlooking the city

The bathroom is sizable, but the room is cold. The poor heater can’t keep up with nights that drop into the upper ’40s. That means the bathroom is chilly in the morning. Fortunately, the shower door in 1602 seals pretty well and does not let tons of cold air in. But the old sliding doors (still) need to be replaced with more modern glass that insulates better.

The shower is a room of its own with two shower heads and a large bench.

Bathroom accoutrements

Of course, San Francisco is a great place to visit when it comes to food and beverages. A cocktail or two at PCH is highly recommended, especially if your friend Jacques Bezuidenhout shows up with time to spare on his visa and a bottle of Amer Picon. Much fun was had.

Dinner at State Bird Provisions is outstanding as always. Incredible flavors put together in remarkable ways. NPS just walked right in on a Tuesday night with no reservation.

For an interesting diner-like breakfast, try out Sweet Maple.

Ramen at Iza Ramen is very good indeed.

Hard water has a top notch bourbon and rye collection (though Jack Rose in DC has it beat). Hirsch 74. Sazarac 18. Stagg 11.

The Mymy cafe is a great place for breakfast. Creative delicious options and espresso that does not suck. Recommended.

Dinner at Prarie is very good, though noisy and crowded.

Skip ABV and go straight to Churchill for a nightcap. Fewer hipsters and no bullshit at the door.

Have a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros.
It helps if you know someone who is in their club. https://twitter.com/noplasticshower/status/1063957983468474369

Four showerheads, clean air, and some warmer nights for the Hotel Kabuki. We’ll be back. Next up, New Zealand!

Two years ago, we experienced some four showerhead luxury on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida. We’re back for another corporate event (the BSIMM Community Conference), once again with no spare time.

This time United upgraded both legs in and out. Global Services privileges are a good thing.

Great news about the Ritz-Carlton is that they’ve added a much better bar since we were here last. Better selection, and more importantly, bartenders who know what they’re doing.

Sadly, NPS was demoted from 832 (the huge Presidential Suite) to 432 for this visit. The 2018 room had a nice ocean balcony and was a very nice room in its own right. It just was not palacial.

432 has a long double balcony overlooking the Atlantic

Bedroom

Sitting room

Like last time, we were greeted on arrival on the property (in the hotel car service) by the staff. Really fun! Champagne and treats. Woo hoo!

Honey from the very local hives

Goodies included a cocktail book and a jigger made of salt

Sparkling water because someone pays attention

The 432 suite has two bathrooms.

Entrance hallway with a small bathroom

The bathroom itself is nicely appointed. Showers are not plastic.

The anteway entrance to the main bathroom has plenty of room

This is very likely the last Amelia Island corporate visit for NPS. Four showerheads again, and kudos for the bar upgrade. If you are into the luxurious big giant conference hotel thing, this is a strong iteration.