What’s a Detour or Two?

31 12 2016

With 40 hours left in New Zealand and over 230 miles left to drive to catch our flight home, somehow it just made sense that we should add an extra 7o miles to our trip and a couple of unexpected detours.  Because….when are we going to be back in New Zealand, on this type of a road trip…besides we can sleep on the plane, right?

So we were on the road early, still feeling the high from our glacier hike and feeling relaxed from our soak at the glacier hot pools the day before.

The forecast said rain, but we seemed to have gotten on the road before the clouds rolled in, and although they chased us and eventually caught up to us, we had a great (although long) drive for our last full day in New Zealand, zipping along the West Coast of the South Island, and winding through the Southern Alps as we headed to Christchurch.

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Views from the Road

I can’t remember who told us to make a side trip to Hokitika Gorge – but it was one of those places that is so far off the beaten path as you drive towards it, you start to question whether or not you are still going in the right direction….did you go too far….did you make the right turn….should you turn back…and then you find the parking lot, and realize that a lot of people have made the same pilgrimage that you have, only somehow you found yourself driving on an empty road for the last hour…

Hokitika Gorge is also one of those places that you can’t believe it actually looks like that, and when you look at your photos afterwards, you can’t quite believe that you were there, and the water was truly that colour.

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Hokitika Gorge

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It also made me wish that this wasn’t a drive through type stop for us because the water looked soooo inviting, but alas, the road trip must go on!

We stopped in at Hokitika for lunch, and also to take the obligatory tourist photo of their driftwood sign at the beach.

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The day was half over….but we still had one more photo detour and 230 miles of driving before we could rest our heads (and feet) for the night.

Because you can’t leave the South Island in New Zealand without seeing the Pancake Rocks…right?  Right? Well, that’s the idea I had in my head, so on we went to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.

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Limestone formations that look surprisingly like huge stacks of pancakes.  Weird.  But also a nice place to take a stroll and stretch our legs, grab a flat white and check it off the list before we started the last leg of our journey for the day and for our trip.

Only another 4ish hours (more like 6) to go and the width of the South Island to go before we could check into our last hotel, pack up for the last time, and enjoy our last true flat white.

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We drove through the Southern Alps and had an opportunity to enjoy the views with just the perfect lighting as the sun started to set behind us.

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We found a cute little honey stand which had a sign that made me laugh.  Seriously the cheapest honey that we came across.  I think the souvenir shops were selling them for $20 – $30+ per small jar.

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As we wound through the Alps, the rain finally caught up with us and the clouds turned the sky dark well before its time, and as grey clouds turned into black night, we found ourselves rolling into Christchurch.

We knew that Christchurch was known for its English heritage but also that it had experienced some devastating earthquakes in the last 5-6 years that had destroyed a lot of its historical stone buildings and had effected much of its landscape.

Knowing that Christchurch had earthquake damage was way different than seeing it with our own eyes.

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We spent our last morning in New Zealand wandering the streets of Christchurch, taking in both the sights of earthquake wreckage and public art installations and murals that created a landscape of contrast.

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And so with a last glimpse at destruction and art, we headed to the airport to complete our 10 day road trip in New Zealand.  Still buzzing from the adrenaline rush of our sea kayaking tour, black water rafting, bungy jumping, glacier trekking adventures and feeling amazed at the beauty of the natural landscape, we settled in for our very very long flight home.

But New Zealand had one more surprise in store for us.  Air New Zealand gave out Hokey Pokey ice cream as their dessert!!  What?  Ice cream on the plane.  Kind of in love.

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Until next time New Zealand. Stay beautiful.

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Life’s a Beach

2 02 2016

Throughout the entire drive along the Coromandel Peninsula I felt torn. I didn’t know if I should be looking straight ahead out the windshield, to the side through my passenger side window, or if I should actually be hanging out the window and looking back at where we had just come. 360 degrees of absolute, stunning scenery.

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It was this indecisiveness about where to look that probably contributed to that woozy feeling I battled as well.

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You may have been one of the few who has seen my four page trip itinerary. Well, today’s trip was supposed to take the morning and the afternoon, but really, probably 4 – 5 hours. An hour and a half to Thames, another 160 km drive around the coast and low and behold, we’re rolling into our hotel in late afternoon for check in.

Well, as all of you who have been to New Zealand know, the drives are beautiful and they are so windy, that everything takes longer.

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Plus, I did not account for a 5 minute conversation with Phil (from The Langham Hotel Auckland). And when he heard that we were heading to the Coromandel Peninsula, he said, ‘You have to go to New Chums Beach. It is paradise. It is like treasure island. But you’ve got to work for it – to the end of the beach, over the rocks, through the trail – and then you will be rewarded with paradise’.

I mean, who can pass up an endorsement like that??!!

And so, we left Auckland around 10AM, cruised through Thames, marveled at the coastal water views directly on our left and wondered what type of fish everyone was catching out on the rocks.

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Phil pretty much said, ‘don’t even think about stopping at a beach on the West side – a waste of time’.  Hard not to stop for sights like these….

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NZ Christmas Tree!

We were tempted by the 25 green lipped mussel limit posted on the beach, and figured that would have stopped my dad right there – he would be out there on the beach trying to figure out who he needed to recruit to increase his shell fish limit.

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And after a quick lunch with NZ specialties L & P and ‘chocolate fish’ at Coromandel Town…

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We found ourselves walking past a beautiful white sand beach to find an even more beautiful white sand beach.  Maybe Phil was right…

We walked towards the end of Whangapoua Beach, to scale over rocks, to use rope handrails to climb up tree root-studded embankments and descend down into paradise.

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Whangapoua Beach

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I have to say it….New Chums Beach may have wrecked me for all other beaches.

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New Chums Beach

Sparkling, smooth white sand (with no rocky bits or drying seaweed). Clear blue and turquoise water. Cliffs filled with greenery surrounding a protected bay. Pointed, greenery covered islands in the distance.  And enough empty beach that it felt like you had it almost all to yourself.

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And so, with the help of Phil, breathtaking NZ scenery, a need to stop and take photos, and twisting roads, we rolled up to our hotel just after 7PM. 9 Hours Later.

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38 Hours Later

2 02 2016

Twenty-two hours after we arrived at SeaTac airport, we landed in Auckland, New Zealand. During that time, we visited 2 Centurion Airport Lounges, spent 14 hours in the air, watched 1 documentary, ¾ of a movie and had 4 meals. I slept for a cumulative 3 hours, and Nathan, maybe an hour all together. For as much as he praised the Air New Zealand Sky Couch – he also cursed it – because as I could curl up and have a pretty nice sleeping nest, a 6+ foot man, cannot curl himself up and create a comfy nest. Even the allure of a ‘cuddle belt’ did not provide a comfortable sleeping position for Nathan. And so, sleep deprived, and with a crick in his neck, we began our adventures in New Zealand!

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Driving on the opposite side of the road and on the opposite side of the car…it took a little while to get used to. We may have hit a temporary construction sign. Maybe. Armed with some paper maps, some printed directions and a little assistance from my phone, we adventured our way through Auckland for the next 12 hours.

We headed straight through the Waitakere Ranges to the West Coast full of its iron sand beaches, cliffs and big surf. I figured since we were strolling into town at 6AM (before the sun was even up), we had time to head to the West Coast and see what that was all about.

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Perhaps, I should have checked the weather before doing that, as we muddled our way through driving on the opposite side of the road, getting turned around and lost in the forest and driving deeper and deeper into descending fog and misty rain.

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But we made it! We scrambled into our rain jackets and ran along the black sand beaches, explored the rocky face of Lion Rock, tried to coax crabs out of rocks and tide pools and dipped our toes in the, surprising not as cold as I thought it would be, water.

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By 8AM we were tucked into the Piha Café for our first taste of NZ atmosphere: barefoot surfers, foul-mouthed rugged English guys on a motorbike trek across NZ and our first Flat Whites.

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By 10AM we were on the east side of Auckland, picking seashells off the beach at Mission Bay, as we looked beyond to Rangitoto Island.

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By 12:30PM we were tucking into a platter of steamed green lipped mussels. Huge mussels, very tasty, and Nathan even got an extra bite of protein (he realized later after looking at the photo……that he did indeed eat the crab that was in the mussel, and thought the crunch was normal – yuck!).

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By 2:00PM we were rolling up to the hotel.

By 4:00PM I was giggling like a school girl and oohing and aahing over the fantastic desserts at Milse. (Thank you Natalie for the recommendation!)

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The verdict:
Bombe Alaska: Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelato, enrobed in white chocolate and covered in a torched meringue

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62% Satilia: Cherry & hazelnut (I can’t remember the rest but there was a chocolate cookie crumble and some other good stuff).

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36% Caramelia: Salted Almond and Caramel masterpiece (apparently I stopped listening after hearing about the Bombe Alaska!)

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And after strolling along the Viaduct Harbor, taking in drinks and snacks on a patio, we were getting ready for bed by 8:00PM. But after going strong for 38 hours, I don’t feel bad for being asleep by 9PM. Not even a little bit.





With Views Like These…

28 01 2016

Nathan told me Greece or New Zealand.

Who would have thought that within 6 months, he would get to check both of these destinations off of his list.

And so, off we go to New Zealand.  And after a couple of months of planning and mapping and researching and googling, I put together an itinerary that I was pretty happy with.  That is, until we got to 2 days away from our trip, and I started doing more research, and as much reasoning as I had for staying 1 night here, and 2 nights there, stopping at this place instead of that place and visiting here and driving past there and doing this instead of that….well, all of a sudden, there are SO MANY THINGS I WANT TO DO that are not on our itinerary.  I guess that means that this is NOT a Once in a Lifetime Trip.  Because we are going to have to go back and do a whole bunch of other things some day.

But for now, I am perfectly content to spend some time in New Zealand, when I can enjoy views like these…and all within 8 hours of landing in the country…

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Lion Rock at Piha Beach

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Rolling Hills north of Auckland

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Mission Bay Beach

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Auckland Skyline





It’s All in the Eyes

9 01 2016

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We spent some time in Las Vegas over the holidays, and even though we didn’t spend a cent in the casinos, I felt like we made the most of what Las Vegas had to offer.

For the first time in a long time we stayed at a hotel on the strip, we found what I think was the only empty bar in Las Vegas (which was weird), we wined and dined on a four course meal and became best friends with our server Sam – who treated us to a delicious nutella creme brûlée.  And the very highlight of our trip, the one thing that I had wanted to do for a long time was visit the big cats at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage.

Yes, on the surface, the experience can seem like you’re just watching lions and tigers in enclosures through fencing pace back and forth…and it did make me a little sad when they would just pace back and forth.  But, once I started taking photos with our zoom lens, and I could capture a glimpse of these beautiful creatures without the grid fencing, it was magical.

This was a rare case when the photos after the fact, became so much more than the real experience – a chance to relive watching 4 month old sister tiger cubs play and pounce with each other, to revel in the details of their big paws and pink noses and to look into their watchful eyes.

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And because I chose the right guy for me, he knew that no casino, chocolate shop, bar or show would give me more pleasure than making a second visit to see the big cats.

And because my guy chose the right girl, the next day, we spent the day watching football at a Sports Bar.

And that ends our perfect 24 hours in Las Vegas.





Meteora: Suspended in the Air

12 09 2015

Spent a morning being amazed by the six monasteries that are built on top of natural sandstone pillars in Meteora.

We wound our way through the mountain roads and I kept craning my neck to look up….and up….and up to see the sandstone pillars.  I frantically took photos while we were on the bus, not sure if we would see these sights again.  I should have known better: 1. Of course we were going to visit viewpoints with amazing vistas.  2.  Only 1% of photos taken from a moving bus actually look good.

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Finger of God

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Cave of St. George Madilas: “Saint George with the Scarves” – the most popular cave, located in one of the steepest slopes outside of Kastraki. Every year believers hang colourful scarves near the cave’s entrance.

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Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas

Somehow our timing was perfect, and our group had many of these viewpoints all to ourselves.

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I thought we were jumping….probably smart that we didn’t jump at the same time

Originally there were over 20 monasteries built on these pillars, there are 6 remaining.  We visited 2 monasteries during our tour.  The interiors were full of detailed and intricate paintings  all over the walls and ceilings.  The courtyards were beautiful and peaceful, but the true feeling of wonder came from the fact that these monasteries were built in the 14th/15th centuries, in impossible conditions – with no roads, and all supplies and manpower hoisted up the 1200+ foot cliffs.

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Courtyard views at Holy Monastery of St. Stephen

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Private courtyard of the Monks at the Holy Monastery of Varlaam

Although there are some stairs required, the original entrances to these monasteries were deliberately difficult with access only by ladders lashed together or a net used to haul both goods and people up the cliffs.  A true act of faith.

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The pulley and winch is still used today to hoist items, although now it has a little help rather than just man power

We finished our tour around noon and eased our way back down to the village of Kalambaka.  Lunch was a unique experience at the Restaurant Meteora in Mama’s kitchen.  We entered the kitchen with dishes bubbling on the stove as Mama described what she had made for lunch: meatballs, lamb with eggplant, chicken, and many more dishes.  Mama made sure we had large portions of her delicious food as we circled around the kitchen.

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Lunch, some sticky greek honey soaked sweets, a cafe frappe and we were back on the bus for our 4+ hour ride back to Athens.

Although we did have a little detour since there was a girl on our bus who had coordinated a stop along the way to meet a long lost relative – an aunt she had never met, and who brought traditional greek sweets for all of us to enjoy!!

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Overall, just a beautiful trip through these mountains to experience a landscape like no other.

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Panoramic views of Meteora





I Miss You Vancouver!

12 05 2014

When you catch it from its good side, it’s hard not to fall in love with Vancouver, and really hard not to reminisce on the great times you’ve had there and think about all the summer patio moments you’re going to miss.  But again, you have it catch it from its good side.  The previous times we’ve visited this year it’s been grey, rainy and made you want to get home and curl up under the blankets (even if those blankets are 3 hours away).  But Vancouver when it’s sunny?

Ohhhh…  It’s hard to drag yourself away.

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Spring goslings

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Brother & Sister Time!

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Spring Buttercups

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Nesting Trumpeter Swan

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Balancing Turtles

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Vancouver Skyline from Lost Lagoon

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Second Beach Views

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Nature’s Art Gallery

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Balancing Rocks