Guys, I found my piece of heavens in this part of NZ. Could God's creation be any more beautiful than this? Surely there is, but at that point of time, I was just deeply, madly in love with Canterbury region:

'OK, next I need to find Legolas somewhere in Middle Earth...'

After driving for almost one whole day, we finally arrived at Lake Tekapo. Straightaway we went searching for our rented studio apartment. The name itself is catchy enough to us - Simply Stunning:

I am going back here someday. I promise you this.

If there is something I love other than the beautiful scenery in NZ, that is their rented accommodation. Most of the ones that we stayed have been renovated and decorated with modern furniture and tasteful design. Our accommodation at Lake Tekapo was amongst the most charming that we stayed in during our road trip:

The small studio apartment is thoughtfully designed to appear spacious without sacrificing the functionality of the space

Apart from a queen-sized bed overlooking a gorgeous view outside, there is also a bunk-bed, each equipped with its own flat TV at the foot of the bed
Although everything is tiny, the house is quite comfortable for four pax

The hosts are kind enough to stock complimentary beverages including this delicious hot chocolate to drink during the cold weather at night
Don't be fooled by this small kitchen - it comes complete with electric stove, microwave, dishwasher, cutleries, plates, fridge etc.
The view we get to enjoy whilst on the bed overlooking the snow-covered mountains that is the heavenly backdrop of Lake Tekapo
Although we were pretty tired after the long drive from Christchurch, we didn't want to waste time resting. Instead, we had a quick prayer, then prepared a quick lunch before we set out to explore the lake's surrounding.

The sisterhood of Lake Tekapo

Although our apartment is slightly far from Lake Tekapo, it is still within walking distance. On our way down, we encountered wild hares that scampered away into the bushes / their holes as soon as we approached them. 

Tips: Wear appropriate footwear if you are going down to the lake as the shore is full of rocks.
Rocks everywhere

Posing in front of the majestic view of clear turquoise lake against snow-capped mountain backdrop

Lake Tekapo is also famous for one activity - stargazing. Being part of UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, it is the perfect spot to gaze at the stars and trying to figure out the Milky Way from Earth. Unfortunately, we were not able to book a tour to the observatory where it is said where the Earth Meets Sky.

We did however make the time (and effort!) to walk along the lake to visit Church of the Good Shepherd, the most photographed building in NZ:

After a  long drive, stretching my legs along NZ's road in the chilly weather seemed like a good idea

Us against the Church of the Good Shepherd in the background

A good spot for photographers

We then took a long way back to go back to our studio. Although we were exhausted, we couldn't help admiring the beautiful architecture and interior of the houses in the neighbourhood that we passed (some houses had floor to ceiling glass windows to perhaps showcase their beautiful home). 

Once we reached our place, we were chilled to the bones and had hot chocolate before retiring to bed.

Trying our hand to catch a glimpse of the stars using the telescope

The next day, we were up early to go to our next destination. We did stop to take photos at Lake Pukaki, which is another stunning lake within those area:

Lake Pukaki

Whoever did this is probably a talented artist.

Will cover more on Lake Pukaki in my next entry =) Stay tuned!
After we have stocked up our food ration, we set off on the 7-hour journey to Lake Tekapo, our first pit stop. We decided to embark on a scenic adventure and took the longer route through Darfield on State Highway No. 77.

Road trip journey begins...

Although it was a long journey, we hardly felt the time passed by as we simply couldn't stop gushing and admiring the breathtaking scenery along the way! We stopped several times to capture our memories here and enjoyed the crisp fresh air by the roadside:

Yup, we just started the trip but we've already captured by the view of the snow-capped mountain in the far distance

The snow-capped mountain is perfectly captured in my background here

Sisters in shades

The view is extremely beautiful along the way

This is how I imagined Heidi lived 


Tips: Speed limit in NZ is 50km/h (cities) and 100km/h (open road). Occasionally drivers will come across bridges, and depending on the signage, one party will have to give way to the other as the bridges normally allow for only one way crossing.

Along the way we also stopped by Rakaia Gorge to admire the gorgeous turquoise blue river which is a photographer's dream comes true.

Subhanallah! The view is magnificent!

One more with the snow-capped mountain

From here onwards, we passed by wide open grasslands with unrestricted views of the magnificent Southern Alps.

It was extremely windy but we loved it anyway

Will continue in my next posting on our accommodation at Lake Tekapo and the Lake Tekapo itself :)
We had to wake up really early the next day since we had to catch an early morning flight to Christchurch. Our choice of airline was Air New Zealand, that introduced us to the most delicious cookies that they served on board.

Can't help taking loads of selfies once we hit the road because NZ is such a beautiful country!

It is not easy to locate a prayer room at the domestic terminal in Auckland Airport as it is really remote that even some staff had no clue of its whereabout. Eventually we managed to find the place to perform our Subuh prayer before we boarded our flight to Christchurch, phew!

The prayer area is just a small enclosure with no separate section for men and women so it's advisable to go there in a group

Alhamdulillah for the nikmat to perform prayers in a comfortable and private place
Tips: The prayer area is located just across the baggage drop off on the first floor. Walk past the public shower and then turn left until you reach the end of the corridor 

My sisters taking advantage of the free but limited airport WiFi to check on our travel arrangement once we reach Christchurch

While waiting for our flight to take off, we managed to cam-whore LOL!

Mom also want a photo of her boarding Air New Zealand flight

Vomit is vomit, no matter how you say it.

Landed at Christchurch Airport to be greeted by this really nice lighting that mimics starlights (coz stargazing is one of the things you must do in NZ)

Welcome to Christchurch!

In my brand new leather jacket, bought specifically for this adventure!

Another family photo outside Christchurch Airport

Selfie again while waiting for our shuttle van to Apex Car Rental. Loved the weather even though it's a bit chilly

When we reached Christchurch, we called the car rental company to pick us up at the airport. For our road trip in NZ, we decided to rent a sedan car (Toyota Corolla) from Apex Car Rentals. It was easy dealing with the car rental staff as they were all friendly and very helpful (they even changed our GPS navigation because it was lagging).
Useful info: For 8 days hire period in South Island only, the total cost is NZ$527.20 inclusive of GPS Navigation ($55.68), which includes Zero Excess, Unlimited KMs, Roadside Cover and 3 extra drivers for free. Minimum age of drivers is 21 years old. Drivers are not required to have international driving license but driving license issued by country must have English translation.
Before we hit the road, we stopped by PAK'nSAVE supermarket at Hornby to buy some food rations as we intended to prepare our own food (partly to save cost, and partly because we didn't know if we will come across halal eateries along the way).

Can't help getting ga-ga over fresh fruit and veggies in NZ (and they are cheap too!)

More fresh vegetables...

We went crazy and bought, like 3 packs of these strawberries and the chocolate dipping sauce. It was the best snack during our long car trip

Tips: There are a few brands selling halal chicken meat like Tegel, Brinks and Best Bird. Do browse their website to find out more. We tried Tegel chicken during our stay in NZ.

Will blog more about our road trip on our 2nd day in a second entry. Stay tuned!
During my last business trip to KL, I decided to find check in a hotel which is in close proximity to KL Sentral as I had an early morning flight to catch on my last day of the trip. My friend recommended me to try Aloft KL Sentral, which is part of the Starwood brand. The hotel is situated across the street from KLIA Express departure entrance, which is super convenient for early morning travellers.

I was looking forward to try out SPG Keyless feature which is available at Aloft KL Sentral. Instead of access card, guests can use their smartphone to unlock their door.

Checking in took some time due to long queue of people checking in / checking out. I noted that the reception desk's circular layout was not very systematic and something the hotel management could look into.

There were some hiccups at the reception counter i.e. registering my mobile device as the access card which took some time for the staff to do so. Similarly, when I decided to settle my bill the night before I checked out so that I could leave early in the morning, I found myself locked out of my room and had to approach the counter again to get my keys re-activated. Hope the hotel management could look into smoothing the entire customer experience during my next visit.

Going back to the access card, as soon as I reached my room, I wasted no time to test the apps to unlock my room. Perhaps I was not familiar with it, or genuinely due to technical inefficiency, the system could not recognize my iPhone and I had to unlock using the access card given to me. However when I tried it several hours later, I was able to unlock my door using my phone only to find that it didn't work the next time I tried. So it was a hit-and-miss experience for me.

I was assigned a 355-square feet Loft Twin Room, which featured urban and casual contemporary design. Sassy Lat-inspired art depicting Malaysian character adorned the wall, while natural lighting is a-plenty in the room thanks to an extra-large window on one side of the room. I spent some time gazing down at the wide road below my room, at the bustling traffic and hurried people going about their lives not knowing a stranger watching them from their room.

To summarize, these are the plus points of the hotel from my own experience:

1. The location - very close to KL Sentral, save the hassle of waking up too early unnecessarily to catch the first ERL train to KLIA.
2. Non-smoking room policy - since the hotel is family-friendly, all the rooms are smoking-free.
3. Breakfast - They have menu to cater to even the fussiest little eater. I was sorry my kids were not travelling with me to enjoy their buffet spread.
4. Kids' amenities - They do provide things like baby bathtub, Camp Aloft (Ikea tent) and other things to cater to the young guests.
5. Wifi - Internet connection is excellent.

The not-so-good experiences which I felt that the hotel management could easily resolve through proper training / developing standard operating procedures:
1. Housekeeping - Shampoo / shower gel does not come in those tiny bottles, but in those wall-mounted container. However, body shampoo was not re-stocked after the last guest left so I was forced to use shampoo instead :(
2. Reception - could be faster.
3. Laundry services - they returned my laundry quite late that I had to call to check the status.

As for the rest, you could refer to the captions beneath the photos that I took of the hotel room that I stayed in:

The room can accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids but it would be a bit cramp at full capacity.

The room decor is ultra-urban, with only practical fittings furnished. 

Guests can stock up on their snacks of choice from re:fuel station at ground floor (no, it's not free).

Don't fret if you forgot to bring your phone / power bank charger. You can borrow from the hotel, but a deposit is required which will be returned to you upon checking out.

Thankfully, we are not required to go downstairs to get a cup of coffee / tea

The spacious bathroom with separate shower / toilet on one side, and the cloth cabinet on the other side

Guests are encouraged to sing in the shower (love the purple tiles on the wall)

The cabinet's mirror sliding door hides amenities such as a mini-safe, hairdryer and towels

Standard toiletries are provided in the room

The sink has plenty of space to put your own toiletries / makeup kits

Rating: 7/10