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
It started with a message from my sister, 'We are going to NZ in October next year. Would you like to tag along?' Without thinking, I replied, 'Yes!'

10 months later, here I was on this mother/sisters trip. I badly needed a break-away from routine after a rough start to 2017 (taking care of my husband after his open-heart surgery, managing major change at work, etc.) and I was happy that I made that decision (although I felt really sorry leaving my husband and two girls behind, but made up my mind to return to NZ with them next time).

Tips: Planning singles-trip can be a headache especially when each of us live in different towns (and in my sister's case, country). Thankfully we had TripIt apps to help us coordinate our planning and consolidated all our bookings in an easy-to-refer-to itinerary. This way, we can see which day we have not booked / planned anything yet.

All of us consolidated our itinerary in a single trip by emailing our bookings to TripIt

Preparation to NZ was quite minimal since I've already bought warm clothes from our Osaka trip last year. Although it was spring season, weather at night was chilly so I packed a pair of thermal inner clothing, windbreaker, fleece jacket and a sweater for outer-layer. I also brought NZD700 cash for food, souvenir and emergency cash.

We agreed that each of us was responsible to bring different items for the trip. I was tasked to bring pharmacy medicines, wet tissues and the likes, while my sisters bought instant rice (my sister bought the rice in Japan which required no water and just needed to be heated up in a microwave) and Brahim's instant food. We also did some grocery shopping when we reached NZ as it was easy to find halal food at the supermarket there.

We took AirAsia flight with a short layover at Gold Coast. Unfortunately, despite joining a 5km run the day before, sleeping late to pack my bag and waking up early to travel to Miri to catch our flight to KL, I couldn't sleep for the most part of the 8+ hours journey. Eventually I did doze off towards dawn only to wake up 1 hour later.

Upon reaching Australia, it was a rush to queue up for a quick immigration check, then a dash to the restroom for a quick relief before queuing up at the airline's counter to board the flight again. This time, I was upgraded to the quiet zone since my sister checked us in separately, and the airline wanted to accommodate a family request to sit together.

At Gold Coast Airport, Australia for a quick layover

The journey from Gold Coast Australia to Auckland took another 5 hours. When we reached Auckland, we had to take a shuttle bus to the terminal and then started the long queue at the customs. NZ's biggest export is their farm produce (milk, fruits, vegetable you name it), so the government is very strict about fresh food items that goes through their border. They even require us to declare if our shoes have been used in sports activities outdoors!

Tips: To speed up the process, prepare a list of food that you are bringing in (with translation if the food packaging is in local language) and only bring in food that are permitted (cooked / processed food like Brahim's instant chicken rendang that are sold in supermarkets are allowed if it is in its original packaging) and have the list ready for the customs officer to inspect. You may be lucky enough that they won't check the luggage if you have the list prepared ahead.

After 6 hours we finally reached Auckland

So the first thing we did when we reached Auckland Airport was to look for a prayer room to perform our Zohor & Asar prayers. I was impressed that Auckland International Airport is Muslim-friendly and there is a musalla on the first floor of the Arrival Hall (entrance next to McDonald's). Then we went to buy a local SIM card (we decided to get Vodafone SIM card) so we could contact Auckland Airport Lodge where we were staying for the night before our early morning flight to Christchurch. Besides being in close proximity to the airport, the lodge also provided free shuttle service to and fro the airport and the lodge so it was really convenient to us. 

Tips: Auckland International Airpot does have accommodation adjacent to the airport, the Novotel Auckland Airport. There is also a budget hotel within walking distance to the hotel i.e. Ibis Budget Auckland Airport.

Our first night - Auckland Airport Lodge. Clean & comfortable

While waiting for our shuttle van to arrive, we bought sandwiches (and chocolates, my favourite Whittaker's chocolate is really cheap in NZ!) for dinner at the airport. The journey to the lodge took about 10 minutes and upon arrival, we immediately checked in and was given our key. While it is no fancy stay, we really liked the lodge. Our studio unit is just a few metres away from the office and located on ground floor so no climbing required. The room is really spacious and easily accommodated the four of us. It is also super clean and after a long journey, the bed easily felt like the most comfortable bed we've ever laid on!

Next entry, our NZ adventure began!