Departure lounge diversions

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 08:00 11/05/2014
Changi Airport
Terence Ong via Wikimedia Commons

CHANGI AIRPORT: Singapore's airport offers extensive retail and food options, showers, a transit hotel and even a rooftop pool.

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A lengthy layover can sap all of the pent-up excitement of a trip away. Once the tour of the food court and duty free shops is over, you'll end up pre-empting your 12-hour flight with a few more hours of thumb-twiddling.

This is especially true if you are not one of the chosen Gold-Platinum-Elite-Royal-Diamond class of your airline loyalty programme, with access to their premium lounges. But there is fun and relaxation on offer just minutes from these hubs. In some cases escaping the transit lounge is the hardest part.

AUCKLAND

One of two airports, along with Christchurch, which provincial passengers will pass through to fly longhaul. Once you leave the domestic terminal and have more than six hours to kill, it could be worthwhile to grab a $28 return Airbus into downtown Auckland for a look around the waterfront. The airport i-Site offers lockers from $15 a day, so there's no need to lug luggage around Queen St.

CHRISTCHURCH

Christchurch's city centre is equally accessible from its airport, but a closer attraction would be the International Antarctic Centre right across the road, especially if you're travelling with kids. Luggage can be stored at the airport for $12-15.

SYDNEY

SmartGate technology makes legally entering Australia easy, as does the train into Sydney (A$17). Cheap activities include visiting the Sydney Opera House or the botanical gardens. A Qantas representative said if your luggage is checked right through to your final destination, you can still leave without it - but don't miss check in for your second leg, or your bags will not make it onto the flight (along with you).

SINGAPORE

Singapore's Changi airport offers extensive retail and food options, showers, a transit hotel and even a rooftop pool. If your layover is more than 12 hours you have to legally enter Singapore, although New Zealand citizens don't need visas. If your bags are checked right through to your final destination you don't need to process them through Singapore authorities. The airport runs free two-hour city highlight tours. Going solo? A train into town takes 35 minutes, $1.50 each way, and you'll discover Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay and the Raffles Hotel.

HONG KONG

Touring the bustling city suburbs or riding the escalators to the Midlevels can break up jetlag. A cable car ride to The Peak offers great views across the city. If your layover is less than 24 hours and your luggage is checked through to your final destination you do not need to drag it around with you, it can stay in the plane's hull. Kiwis don't need visas, so clearing customs and immigration is efficient. The frequent airport to downtown train takes about 24 minutes, and costs NZ$15 each way.

LOS ANGELES

Not known for its user-friendly processing, LAX requires patience. If you are flying straight through, to London for example with Air New Zealand, it pays to stay put in the transit lounge. You will need an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) ordered before you leave home, even if you're entering the US for a few hours. It costs around $25. Most Kiwi travellers can get the 90-day tourist visa waiver. An LAX representative said you will need to take your checked luggage through customs and immigration posts, even for a layover excursion, and then check them in for your connecting flight. If you're then flying domestically you will have to do this anyway, so you might as well explore LA.

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Nearby free attractions include Venice Beach and the Getty Museum. Short shuttle tours to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other Tinseltown attractions cost around $50. LA traffic is notoriously bad, so allow plenty of travel time when venturing out.

- Sunday Star Times

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