Termites
Termites
(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45
(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45

Map showing our routing across the Pacific.

After I returned to the States in early June, I had no specific plans as to where to go next.  The volunteer opportunity I had pursued in Africa all but fell apart so I really didn’t have a specific reason to head in that direction – at least not yet.  I spent hours combing through airline award charts and award seat availabilities.

The Republic of Palau, a small group of islands in Pacific, looked to be an awesome destination.  It’s an island paradise with all sorts of natural wonders to explore.  Continental operates its “island hopper” flight which makes stops at cool places like Truk, Kosrae and Kwajalein as it plies the Pacific from Honolulu to Guam.  I’ve heard that the flight is quite interesting but award availability was extremely scarce for the dates we wanted to travel.

Eventually, I came upon some nice availability for travel to the Cook Islands.  The Cooks are a popular destination for Kiwis and Aussies but are relatively unknown to North Americans.  Surprisingly enough it is possible to fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Rarotonga (the priciple island in the Cooks) once a week with Air New Zealand.  But why fly nonstop when you can go by way of Auckland (a 2000+ mile detour) on one of Air New Zealand’s brand new planes for the same price?!

Air New Zealand recently took delivery of Boeing’s latest addition to its 777 series, the 777-300ER, and made headlines in aviation circles with their innovative seat designs.  They have a “Sky Couch” product in economy, some very comfy looking “Spaceseats” in premium economy and a revamped lie-flat seat design in Business Premier.  As luck would have it, award space was available on NZ1, the flight operated by the new plane, so I snapped those up as fast as I could.  Using my United miles, business class tickets to the Cooks came to 60,000 miles and $2.50 in taxes.

Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback

After a bit more searching around I was able to piece together an exit plan for getting off the Cooks.  We would fly to Malaysia Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) by way of Sydney and Seoul with a stopover in the latter.  I know it sounds a bit roundabout but it is the most direct routing available using Star Alliance carriers.  Even so, it took a supervisor at British Midland to authorize the long routing.  The total worked out to 18,750 miles and $401 in taxes and fees for the business class booking.  Oh, and if anyone is wondering the total flown mileage on these two tickets is about 19,025 miles.  The Pacific is one huge ocean!

Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway

So…on to the flights.  Air New Zealand Flight 1 from LAX to AKL was incredible.  The new seats were easily the best business class seats I have flown and I would say they compete nicely with many carriers first class products.  In particular, the quality of the cushioning when the seat is in “bed mode” is superb.  The back of the seat actually folds forward to reveal a separate matress for the bed.  In most lay-flat seat designs the seat itself just goes flat and isn’t a true matress.  Another nice feature of the plane is the fact that the galleys are equipped differently so that the crew can actually cook (as opposed to reheat) food on the aircraft.  I had some great waffles for breakfast just prior to landing in AKL!

Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast

After some showers in the Koru Club we boarded one of Air NZ’s older 767 aircraft.  Nothing too exciting in terms of the seats or in-flight entertainment but the service was exceptional as it always seems to be on Air New Zealand.  The load was light that day (5 of 24 seats occupied in business) so it did feel a little like a private jet.

Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga

Arrival into Rarotonga was a nice firm landing runway 8.  I guess pilots don’t like to waste precious runway…especially then it comes to landing a widebody on a 7,500ft runway!  Much like Easter Island there are no jetways so everyone takes the stairs and immediately gets to soak in some of the great island weather.  A local band was playing in the baggage claim area and before we knew it we were through customs to meet the representative from our guesthouse.

Across the Pacific
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
Air NZ's new generation of herringbone suites.
Air NZ’s new generation of herringbone suites.
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
The chef's selection plate as a light main.
The chef’s selection plate as a light main.
Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway
Time for bed.
Time for bed.
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ's Koru Club
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ’s Koru Club
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Climb out from AKL
Climb out from AKL
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
I love it when there is no jetway!
I love it when there is no jetway!

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