Hotel Review – Darling Harbour (Sydney)

Darling Harbour is the “other harbour” in Sydney the main one being where the sort of famous bridge and drying plates or sails building (aka the Sydney Opera House) is. Darling Harbour is typically less crowded with tourists and has more of the business/convention crowds, given the close proximity to the Sydney Convention Center. On Fridays, they have fireworks, although all fireworks have been put on hold since last year because of the bush fires. This Friday’s fireworks (the 8th) have not been cancelled yet. Darling Harbour is in a prime location because it’s an easy walk into the CBD, but not directly in it. The new Light Rail/tram makes it easier than ever to travel west from Central Station. 

My mom is visiting me in Australia as of Monday and there was no way she would do the hostel life so I went on a search for hotels. Our first hotel on her trip is Novotel Sydney Darling Harbour. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I haven’t stayed at a Novotel before, but I was blown away with the lobby once inside. It was spacious with high ceilings and beautifully decorated. The check in and check out process was smooth with the front desk staff being super friendly and accommodating. 

The room itself wasn’t show-stopping and smelled a little musty/muggy until you turned on the AC to circulate air throughout. It was a decent sized, clean, and we had two beds. The TV was enormous, but there were two main highlights of the room: first being blackout curtains that wow really worked wonders and the second being was the bed. The bed/pillows were so comfortable. I would stay here just for the amazing night’s sleep. 

There was also a little gym, tennis court, and outdoor pool on property. Happy Hour ran around the lobby level bar from 4-6pm each day with $6 beer, wine, and spirits. They also had pretty amazing chips “fries” for a little nibble. 

My mom wants me to make sure I note the great service we received. She had dropped something down the drain and the engineer/maintenance worker came so quickly to retrieve it. She was shocked by how quick and efficient they were and not expecting a tip, but just doing their job. 

I had three sort of negatives with the hotel, but they wouldn’t deter me from staying here again or recommending this property. The first and main one was I tried ordering room service Sunday night. When calling I asked if a specific dish was vegan and was assured it was. When it was delivered it had a side of mayo (okay I don’t have to use that), but then it was covered in cheese. I called back and she said they would remake it vegan. When it came to be delivered the second time I was greeted to no mayo or cheese, but the attendee told me the chef had said it wasn’t prepared vegan. That was an eye roll moment especially as they didn’t have any other vegan options on the menu except fries. At that point on a Sunday night it was too late to have anything else delivered either. The second negative, was that our room wasn’t turned over after the first night. We had placed the sign to make up the room, but it must have been misread as do not disturb. Not a big deal, but then when they did make up the room after the second day they left an extra sheet around the room. The attention to detail just wasn’t there. Finally, the third con isn’t directly related to the hotel, the light rail stop was directly below the hotel, but it was so hard to get to and signage was so poor. I’ve found that this is kind of the light rails thing, not being able to find it or make it easy for riders, but as a hotel guest it should be easier to know how to get to the light rail and harbour side. Not spending a chunk of time roaming a garage.

This is definitely a hotel you would want to stay at on a business trip to the city, but I also think it’s a good option if you want to get out of the center of the CBD. The value was great and the night’s sleep was awesome.

Paihia

Paihia is a beautiful area in the northern part of the North Island in New Zealand. It is part of the Bay of Islands. This is an area known for its beaches and many locals vacation in this section of the island. This is where I was advised to spend Christmas. I made my way up here on Christmas Eve from Auckland arriving fairly early in the afternoon. We had all day to explore. The main town is small and walk-able, but it’s quaint. I could have easily spent a few more days here just on the beaches catching some sun.

There were a lot of nice restaurants for the families and non-backpackers who also vacation here. The treat yo’ self meal we had in Paihia was at Zane Grey’s. This was right on the water with gorgeous views. I actually was planning on also coming here for breakfast the next day and they ended up having a special Christmas buffet for $25. Score! It was a really nice spot. Not for a backpackers budget, but I always admit to being a bad backpacker. There were a lot of places I also wanted to try out, but I had so little time here unfortunately.

I would say the main attraction and thing to do is to go all the way up the coast to the most northern part of the island, Cape Reinga. There’s a bunch of tours that go up there and different ways of going. You can go via helicopter, boat, or bus. Doing the bus tour was included in my travel pass, but it is through a third party company, GreatSights. It was a lovely tour, albeit a long time on the bus, but our driver was fantastic. Keep in mind this was on Christmas Day and his spirit and energy never faltered. In hindsight though, this is not how I would have or should have spent Christmas Day – it wasn’t my ideal use of time on this special day. I think that any other day the tour would have been more enjoyable. I liked the tour I did, but if you are looking a tour I would recommend going by boat rather than by bus. You may not hop off at as many stops, but you make full use of the ocean and getting a different vantage point.

Base Backpackers Paihia

I always hear that Base hostels are hit or miss and usually more of a miss. They are known as the party hostels. Honestly, I have had good experiences with them so far. This hostel had more of a beach vibe with different sections around the property – all separate buildings. The room was an 8 person dorm, but I think we only had three people including myself maximum either night I was there. There was an ensuite bathroom in the room and a small kitchen area. They also had Christmas dinner options, which was a nice touch. It did get pretty rowdy at night, but from I heard that is pretty typical for Paihia. It makes sense though, because for many travelers this is the first stop on the North Island from Auckland and usually the start of the trip. Christmas to me isn’t about partying so I wasn’t in that mindset. I did like this Base hostel and would recommend it, but I didn’t stay at any other hostels. Besides hostels there were a lot of motel options in the area. I think that would be a fun way to travel if you had a small group.

My final call on Paihia? It was too rushed and I wish I could have stayed longer. Well I guess I can always go back.