Hotel Review – Suva

My next stop after Beachouse was Fiji’s capital, Suva. I caught a shuttle service all the way there which dropped me off right in front of my hotel. I was staying at Novotel Suva Lami Bay. I’ve stayed at a Novotel before and was familiar with the company/brand. The price was reasonable and it looked really nice online. The lobby area was gorgeous and all of the staff was extremely accommodating and nice. The rooms were a little run down, but comfortable enough to sleep and relax. My room also had a private balcony.

There was a small gym onsite and a pool overlooking a lake. The anticipation of COVID-19 was spreading and it wasn’t advised to actually use the pool. When I was there it seemed as if there were only a few other guests and I’m not sure if that was typical or because of COVID (note at that point there hadn’t been any reported cases in the country, but many travelers had begun to head home).

The restaurant at the hotel overlooked the water and the food was surprisingly really good.

I spent most of my time in Suva at the hotel, but did venture out one day. I wasn’t very impressed with Suva and I personally think it should be skipped during your Fiji vacation. If you are planning on traveling onward to an island off the east coast you can usually time your arrival to Suva and going onward the same day. That’s what I would recommend and only stopping in Suva if absolutely necessary. Another note, the country is fairly religious and many stores are closed on Sundays.

Hotel Review – Nadi

One thing I will admit is that planning a holiday in Fiji isn’t the easiest thing to do. Mostly because there are so many options, but not that much information. Also, Apple Maps is pretty much useless in Fiji and Google Maps is only slightly better. It’s hard understanding distances and getting directions (Apple Maps doesn’t even have the option to route things outifit can even find what you’re looking for).  The only way to really know what to do is talk to other people who have been to Fiji or travel agents (who are most definitely trying to get commission from you).  

My friend and I didn’t know much and were planning our trip based on three things: 1. Snippets of information we got from others (me from travel buddies I’ve met in NZ and my friend from her coworkers). 2. Saving money and being savvy. 3. My friend had never stayed in a dorm and she was willing to try, but didn’t want to be in a dorm the entire trip (understandable). To avoid a dorm and be economical we decided to stay at an Airbnb in Nadi for two nights, but then we realized it was kind of isolated and maybe not the best choice. When my friend and I met up we noticed there were hotels right by the port (this would have been so much more convenient). They also were about $200 AUD a night so splitting that cost it would have been a price I was more than willing to pay for the convenience and touch of luxury. That was my plan when I got back to Nadi after island hopping. 

Waiting until the last minute, naturally, I booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Resort. I was once again blown away by the staff’s professionalism and kindness. The resort was gorgeous, breathtaking really with a very open and green/jungle/topical look. I was “upgraded” to a suite upon checking in. My room was massive with a kitchenette, enormous bathroom with a bathtub and washer/dryer, a proper separate lounge area, and a magnificent, clean bed. I’m not hinting that the other places weren’t clean, but I think they were “island standard” clean not “resort crisp.”

The resort had a spa, several pools including an adults only pool, five restaurants/bars on property, a mini market where you could by snacks, water, or even some groceries, a fitness center, and more. It was also located right on the beach so you could go swimming or have a go at the water sports. Honestly, this was a vacation location and I didn’t want to leave – I extended my stay an additional night. 

I really loved the Radisson and may stay there again when back in Nadi at the tail end of my trip. That being said it didn’t completely outrank island hoping – so go to the islands and then treat yourself to a couple of nights here before flying out. 

Hotel Review – Melbourne 2

I love using HotelTonight to book hotels, but sometimes I’m put off by how many options there are. That was the case looking for a hotel in Melbourne for my mom’s last stop. After some deliberating and putting booking off a while we landed on Zagame’s House

Elevator Art

The pictures looked great (but don’t they always), reviews were positive, location was central, and their Instragam was on point. I’m happy to say we were not disappointed. All the small details that went into Zagame’s was incredible. The lounge/reception area was well decorated and created a great atmosphere for the whole stay. All the staff members were fantastic and it was a pleasure interacting with them. 

The room was small, but well designed and decorated that i would prefer to be in this small room than a massive lackluster room. They really thought of everything and had a full list of extra amenities you could access if you forgot something. The bathroom was right off the room with a sliding door to separate the two, but the toilet had it’s own door and you could still find privacy. I loved the waterfall shower head, but my favorite part of the bathroom was the mirror. It was so cool and I would want one in my future house. They also didn’t have small sized toiletries so it’s a little more eco friendly. 

There’s a bar/cafe downstairs off the lobby, a gym, and a free laundry room for guests. Beyond that the Lord Nelson is a wine bar and restaurant also attached to the building. 

Located about a 15 min walk from the CBD and Fitzroy this was a good location to be in. Carlton is like a little Italy and there’s so many food options in a short walking distance. 

I will definitely be back at Zagame’s House as a guest and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Melbourne looking for a hotel. 

Hotel Review – Perth Take 2

Oh boy coming from Rottnest Island we decided to pick a hotel closer to the airport to make our drive there the next morning shorter. We booked into International on the Water for our last night in Perth. Online the hotel looked great, but isn’t that always the case? When we were driving up it seemed as if we were in a residential neighborhood, but then we turned into the hotel property seemingly out of nowhere. It looked really nice from the outside, but when you walk into the lobby your eyes are kind of assaulted by all the gaudy things you can look at – velvet, leather, chandeliers, horse statues, etc. 

All of the superficial riches are quickly dissolved with the rudeness and lack of professionalism of the reception staff. We then had to cart our own luggage up a hill putting the risk of scratching other guests’ cars. Again the hallways were so lavish and overdone with eccentric décor. The room and the bathroom were large, but the beds were actual twin beds, each with one pillow and towel. Then in the bathroom there wasn’t a shower gel and they only had a combined shampoo/conditioner, but don’t worry there was a wine fridge. You also couldn’t dead bolt your door, but there was an annoying alarm on each door that started when opened. 

It seemed like whoever decorated this hotel went a little crazy in trying to make the hotel looknice and they forgot about what guests would actually care about to make their stay more enjoyable. 

Their fitness center was also haphazardly done. Even though the maintenance wasn’t there, the pool area was nice and you could actually see the water mentioned in their name. 

Would I recommend this hotel? No. First of all, the receptionist who checked us in turned me off so much from the property I couldn’t even find the energy to even approach her. Secondly, the extreme, over the top gaudiness of the place is so superficial I would rather stay in a basic, no frills hotel. If you want something close the airport there are cheaper options and this is nowhere near the city to be convenient if you wanted to explore Perth. 

Hotel Review – Perth

Our first stop out of the Outback was Fraser Suites in Perth. After the full on desert experience this was a shock. The lobby was huge and modern and our room was on the 16th floor. I don’t think they have buildings that tall in all of the Northern Territory. The room was really nice with lots of light and a very comfortable bed. Sidenote: my mom was very impressed by the crisp sheets everywhere we stayed. The fitness center and pool were also above normal hotel standards. There was also a little kitchette in the the room equipped with a microwave, sink, refrigerator, etc. Our first night in Perth we ate at the bar onsite. The food was good and you can get the full restaurant menu at the bar for a more casual setting. 

Location was very convenient as you could walk easily into the bustling areas or take a bus. We booked our stay via HotelTonight and got a pretty good deal. Our one and only negative was the bed’s positioning to the air conditioning. It was too hot not to have the A/C on, but when it was on it blasted on you directly making it really freezing. 

I would recommend the Fraser Suites for anyone traveling to Perth. 

Hotel Review – The Outback

Staying at Uluru is a very special experience and although there’s only one company, Ayers Rock Resort, in the area there are different properties within the resort priced at different price points. It makes visiting accessible for anyone. 

On our trip to the Outback my mom and I stayed at Sails in the Desert. Within Ayers Rock Resort, Sails was located near the town center so it was an easy five-minute walk to shopping, food options, etc. The property was beautiful; I would describe it as a desert oasis. 

The resort has a shuttle service from the airport, which is really convenient and only about 20 minutes, but it also means that everyone else who flew in around the same time will arrive at the resort with you. Naturally, a bit of a queue formed and whilst waiting they passed out cool towels. This was the first sign that we were about to be pampered during our time here. Our room was spacious, clean, decorated with an outback-inspired color palette, and had a huge terrace. The beds were also very comfortable. 

The hotel had some other great amenities including a laundry room, pool, free buffet breakfasts, and spa. There were three different restaurants/bars in the hotel and you could also eat at any of the other hotels on property. Another highlight of the property was the exceptional staff working from reception to the restaurant staff. Everyone was very nice and professional – they knew what they were doing. The flies were really awful during our stay, but the housekeeping staff did a great job keeping the bugs out of the rooms. Coming into the room after a tour or being outside was a total relief. 

I really loved Sails in the Desert. It was the perfect stay and a bit of luxury in an unexpected part of Australia. 

Guide to the Australian Outback

The Outback is quintessential Australia, but probably one of the lesser visited areas of the country. In the states we even have the popular chain restaurant with the infamous blooming onion. That being said most people neglect to visit the Outback and stay on the East Coast of the country. During my mom’s visit we were determined to make it out to the Outback.

The Outback is also known as the Red Center. It is located in the Northern Territory, which is a massive and vast state of Australia. Looking at a map it is between Queensland and Western Australia – directly in the center of the country and north towards Darwin, and thus it is aptly named. The overall population of the state is less than a quarter of a million, but approximately 30% of this population is of Aboriginal descent. This number is significant because Australia’s other states Aboriginal population is typically under 4%. 

By land size it’s third largest state, however the entire state is pretty much desert and therefore remote. Naturally, the climate is significantly different than the other states as well. We were coming during summer and pretty much got the worst of it. This was a very dry heat too. I don’t mind the heat and would much rather be in hot than cold weather. The heat was ruthless, but the worst part was the flies by far. You can visit at any point of the year and will have temperate weather during the day. I think a good rule of thumb, if you could swing it with other travel plans, would be to avoid visiting the area between December – April. That being said this time period would be when you could get the best deals. I’ll repeat it again and then drop it – the heat did not bother me, but the pesky flies could actually drive you mad; I would avoid February in particular because it seemed like that was when the flies were at their peak. 

Things to Do

The most well known site/attraction in the Northern Territory is Uluru, or Ayers Rock. The picturesque rock formation is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The park has been deemed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and natural significance. Until October 2019, visitors were able to climb on Uluru. It is now officially banned given that it was not only extremely dangerous, disrespectful to the Aboriginal people and traditional owners of the land, and harming the surrounding landscape and animals. There are photo lookout points around the area, and you really can’t miss Uluru as it seems to have been dropped out of thin air in the middle of the flat surroundings. However, to actually get a closer look, walk around, or take a tour you have to purchase a pass. The pass is $25 and lasts for 3 days with unlimited entries to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Make sure you don’t lose you pass and it’s a good idea to write your name/where you are staying and maybe even a number just in case you misplace it. Having a car would be helpful to have more freedom to come and go at your leisure. If you’re like us and without a car there were some tour options to optimize your visit – including fully guided or more of a shuttle like service. 

Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is the other, less known rock formation in the National Park. Coming here for the sunrise and then hike is the perfect start to a day out here. There’s an hour-long hike through the Walpa Gorgeor approximately a three-hour hike through the Valley of the Winds. The early start helps you beat the heat. 

In the area there are many different types of tours and experiences based on budget and preferences. You can ride a camel or in a helicopter or scenic plane; once in a lifetime dining experiences outdoors; star gazing either on your own or guided; a spectacular light/art installation; bike/Segway/motorcycle tours; and many chances to learn about Aboriginal history and culture. 

Three hours by car from Uluru will get you to Watarrka National Park and the location of Kings Canyon. This could technically be done as day trip, but it would be an extremely long day, and better off done as a little detour on the route from Uluru to Alice Springs (or vice versa). 

As the capital of the Outback, Alice Springs is also a popular and historic stop when in the Northern Territory. It is located directly between Darwin and Adelaide, communicating between the two cities via telegraphs was the reason the town was originally established in 1871. You can visit the historic telegraph station while in Alice Springs. Another awesome activity for your stay in Alice Springs is a sunrise hot air balloon ride. 

How long do you need? 

I think a week in the Outback would be a generous amount of time. We spread our stay to three nights in Uluru (Ayers Rock) and one in Alice Springs. If I had to plan the trip again I would have done two nights in Uluru, one night in Kings Canyon, and one night in Alice Springs with a late flight – if a late flight wasn’t available then stay in Alice Springs for an additional night before traveling onward. So I think your first trip to the Outback can be done in around 5 nights. Obviously, you can pad your trip more in Uluru if you wanted a more relaxing/laid back scheduling. 

How do you get there? 

The quickest and most direct method of getting to the Outback would be via flying. Uluru does have an airport, Ayers Rock Airport, which you can fly directly into. We did this from Sydney and it was a pretty painless flight despite my prior experiences with Jetstar. Our flight price to Ayers Rock was also pretty reasonable at $222 for two people (not including luggage or seat selection). If you want to focus your holiday just in Uluru and surrounding area/day trips you can easily fly back the way you came. When we looked at flights these were a lot more expensive – think over $300 for the one way for one person. This is a pretty significant difference from the flight price to fly in. 

The other option is to fly in or out Ayers Rock one way and the other in/out of Alice Springs. This route will give you more ground to cover and see and maybe get a better deal on the flight. Keep in mind you will have to get between the two locations and this is about a 7-hour drive (with some stops) with zero reception. A bus transfer is a safe option, but will cost you around $150-$180 per person. 

A crazier way of traveling would be to drive on your own. I say this is crazy because the desert is no joke. The terrain is massive and different then what I’m sure you have driven through before. I really was serious that on the road from Uluru to Alice there was zero cell phone service (a.k.a. no way of calling for help). If you want the independence of driving at your own time just be safe and do your research. Also, printing out directions MapQuest style would be useful on your trip. 

To tour or not to tour? 

There are many multi-day and stop tours in the Outback. If I was traveling solo, I would have definitely done one of the tours. The Rock Tour is most well known, but I was also recommended WAYOUTBACK and Groovy Grape Tours.

On my trip we went more at our own relaxed pace rather than a ridged schedule. It was the perfect way for us because we had the freedom and independence to spend our days how we pleased. This is a vacation for my mom after all. 

The Ayers Rock Property 

A monopoly is the correct definition of the accommodation near Uluru/Ayers Rock. However, it is a fair, reasonable, and well-run “monopoly,” and that usually isn’t the case. Everything in the surrounding area of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is one property – Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. Within the resort you have different types of accommodation – there are campgrounds, apartments, hotel, ultra luxury, etc. 

Lots of options, but they all fall under the one Voyages umbrella. This is helpful because they make it easy to travel around the property with a resort shuttle running every 20 minutes. You aren’t confined to one resort and it’s dining options for example and can explore easily without a car. There’s also a town center on the route. The town center has a few stores, restaurants, a grocery store, and post office. The camel farm is also on the shuttle route and on property. Everything is basically in one circular route and it is convenient. The resort also offers complimentary airport transfers. 

The town center also has a visitors section with all of the tour companies represented. The main company was AATKings. They seemed like the main transport provider and we were happy with all our interactions with their staff (airport transfer, first night dinner experience, tour of Uluru, and transfer to Alice Springs).  

Full list of properties at the resort: 

My Personal Tips

Buy a fly net. Buying one beforehand will leave you looking prepared and less annoyed than everyone else upon arrival. In the town center thankfully the fly nets were a reasonable price at $10 for one or two for $15. They definitely could have charged more and people would have paid out of desperation. I haven’t checked online, but I’m sure Amazon has them. 

Water bottle. Water is the most important while you are in the Outback. They recommend a liter of water per hour. Carry a reusable water bottle around with you at all times and refill throughout the day. At any day tour they make sure to have coolers of water to refill. 

Bug spray. This will also be a lifesaver. I was reading that the Bushman products are a miracle worker so stock up on some before you head out.  

Sunscreen. Wear it. The sun is brutal and you feel it so make sure to protect your skin. In that regards I also think a hatis very useful. Not only do you get extra shade/protection you can use it as a fly swatter when they get really unruly. You can purchase an Outback looking hat in the town center as well. 

Layers. Temperatures can vary significantly from day to evening so if you are planning on staying out make sure to have something warmer. The reverse advice also goes for sunrisers. If you are taking on the three-hour hike in Kata Tjuta make sure you can easily shed some layers, which were originally necessary for the 4:30am wake up call. 

Bookings. With the recent bush fires and overalls tourism down at the moment you can find some really good flight/accommodation deals to travel here. The resort is also very timely and with it so they usually offer deals around holidays. I booked our trip during an Australia Day sale. We went during the middle of the summer and although typically a popular time to travel I don’t think this is the area’s peak tourism time. Be aware of when that is when you book. We had the luxury of being pretty relaxed with our bookings and could even call the day of/a couple of hours in advance to book. During peak season things may sell out or need more notice. 

I’m really glad that I was able to experience the Australian Outback. This was a once in a lifetime trip and I absolutely loved it! If you want something totally different and a unique experience you should really consider traveling out here yourself!

Hotel Review – The Rocks

Location, location, location. Is it really the only thing that matters? If you’re not in a good location you notice, but if you are in a great location you often take it for granted. When we got back to Sydney we wanted to be closer to the Opera House and nearby attractions. So finding a hotel at the Rocks was perfect. Yes, it’s a touristy area, but hey we are acting like tourists this week anyway. My mom wanted to be as close to the Opera House as possible, but found that this was hard to find. Even the super high end hotels weren’t “that close.” So we searched and Google mapped to no avail that satisfied my mom. She finally settled on “a short walking distance,” but with a view of the Opera House/Bridge.

My mom somehow stumbled upon the Rydges Sydney Harbour. Hmm the pool rooftop views looked too good to be true and distance-wise it was as close as you can get. So why was it so affordable and how was it not sold out? Doing a little research we found that this property was very recently just bought by the Rydges and was previously a Holiday Inn. The new ownership and changing of hands must have something to do with this. Well we thought it would be silly not to take advantage of it being that in a few months when it’s fully functioning as a Rydges property the rate would be a lot higher. 

First, I’ll go over the good. The best part of this stay was by far the staff. They were highly trained, super nice, and professional. Everyone we encountered from check in to check out was pleasant, even in not so pleasant conditions. They made it work, or at least were trying to. The small touches were great – they had a luggage scale, durable umbrellas to use in inclement weather, a map showing where guests are from, ice tea and water in the lobby, etc. When the hotel is fully operational these small touches are really what will set them apart, but for the time being they were the highlights. The rooftop pool, although smaller than pictured, is also really great especially for the area. You can some sunshine with a great view of the harbour. 

Now the bad, the interior is so outdated. It reminded me of the depression style buildings from back in the day that were just put up as quickly as possible without any style. It was pretty dark and quiet throughout the day. It didn’t seem like a lot of people were staying there the first two nights and there was a lack of life and bustle that you usually find in the lobby areas of hotels. Lack of people and a lack of sound (not even background music) created a very odd vibe. 

The rooms were shabby to say the least. When Rydges took over I think they tried to do a very cosmetic/superficial fix straight away with painting the rooms. However, a fresh coat of paint doesn’t help the underlying problems. My biggest issue was the furniture – it was all out of sorts and the desk chair didn’t fit under the desk; this made a small room feel even smaller and cluttered. Two it was just plain old dirty. I went to move the nightstand to plug in my phone and touched gum underneath. My mom smelt a musky/urine small from the bed. When inspecting the mattress they were brand new (and I should mention super comfortable so that’s actually a major plus) and realized the smell was coming from the carpet. Whether the trace was human or from an animal one will never know (animals are not permitted under current ownership). We asked for the carpet and nightstand to be cleaned, but they weren’t. The housekeeping manager wasn’t satisfied and moved us to a new room. No smell in the new room, but it was still pretty dingy and the chair again didn’t fit under the desk, which for some reason really bothered me. The room had TV problems – the remote didn’t connect; the resolution we were given was to hit the remote and stand close to use.

The property’s biggest issue was that it was actually falling apart. When we checked in we were told that there had been some leaking from the rain in some of the upper levels. Okay not a huge issue. By the end of our stay it seemed like there was a lot of leaking everywhere including the lobby with rugs needing to be pulled back and buckets on the ground. I know the building and area in general is old/historic, that is part of the beauty, but is it really fit for people to be staying in at any price point? I’m not sure.

Major renovations need to be done, but then it will be top notch. As it stands now it’s not worth even a budget price point and personally I would have gathered stayed at the Sydney Harbour YHA. I even have to check myself to see if I’m being too harsh and I don’t think I am. The staff here really made a rundown place run smoothly and nicely doing the best that they could with what they were given. I therefore wouldn’t say it was a bad experience, despite all the negatives, because most things were out of the staff’s control. Post-reno I’m going to bet that I would recommend this hotel. At the moment? Only if you get a good deal and want to be in this location and when there’s good weather in Sydney. 

Hotel Review – Hunter Valley

In true Sylwia fashion I waited to the last minute to book our Hunter Valley trip. In my defense I was waiting for the weather and thought that since we were going on a weekday there wouldn’t be any issues. I was in contact with one hotel, but never actually made the reservation. When we finally decided to book, our first choice actually ended up being sold out so we had to go for a plan b. That took form as the Crown Plaza Hunter Valley. Not really sure what to expect we were blown away when driving up to the property. It was huge! Even including a golf course, two onsite restaurants, a fitness center, two pools, and more. The property itself was gorgeous. 

We were booked into a standard room, but were upgraded to a villa. However, this was a bit too much space for two people for one night (and it was also away from the main building and its amenities) so we opted for a normal room instead. The room was spacious and clean. The bed was super comfortable and they also provided a deep sleep pillow spray – what a cute little touch! 

Both on-site restaurants were yummy and our dinner at Redsalt was fantastic! Lovedale is a slightly more casual and has a sports bar feel, this is where we had lunch the next day and again it was delicious. They even had the option of making a pizza with vegan cheese and/or a cauliflower base. Two thumbs up for the food. 

I utilized the gym, but with the weather I wasn’t able to make the most of the onsite pools. There was also a spa and on weekends they have a brewery tour. If we stayed longer we would have made use of everything available. 

The amenities were nice, food was great, room was above average – what else could you ask for? Well the staff and all the workers were so professional and we were impressed by how friendly and efficient the reception staff was. They really were the icing on the cake for the entire experience. 

I would highly recommend the Crown Plaza in Hunter Valley if you were to stay in the area overnight. 

Hotel Review – Tekapo

In true treat yo’ self fashion for my stop at Tekapo I stayed at Peppers Bluewater Resort. I’ve never stayed at a Peppers property, but I really liked the overall experience. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The property itself was very well taken care of and it seemed to be fairly new. Rather than an enclosed space like a typical hotel this layout consisted of various blocks of little houses or villas. It reminded me a lot of the apartment complexes in Orlando. Tekapo is a very small town so you really can’t have a bad location. Peppers was located right across the street from the lake and strip of restaurants. Then it was about a 20 minute walk to Tekapo Springs and the base of Mount John.

The room was gorgeous. I was happy it was on the ground level because of my suitcases. The staff brought and picked up my suitcases which is a luxury you forget about when you’re living in hostels. The bathroom was massive and had a bathtub, shower, heated towel rack, etc. The king sized bed was super comfy and I wish I could have slept in longer or stayed for a couple of nights. My room also had a balcony where you could see Lake Tekapo poking out in the distance. The day I was leaving they also dropped me and my luggage off at the bus pick up area.

I would highly recommend this hotel if you wanted a bit of luxury in Tekapo. The experience was so positive that I will look out for Peppers properties for future trips.