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





You Want to What?

26 01 2016

What do you do when a 16 year old, who has had his driver’s license for 3 months, wants to do some off-roading in the Arizona/California desert?

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You get in the back seat…

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Of another car!!!  I definitely did not need a front row seat this time.  An experience best left to Dad and Grandpa.

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And followed at a safe distance away…

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I did however enjoy the great rock art created in the desert (by some fellow Canadians!).

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And quite enjoyed the new friends we made.

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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.





Check Santorini off the List (at least Oia)

22 10 2015

It hasn’t escaped me that I haven’t showcased the iconic Santorini photos in my previous posts.  I said that I had only scheduled one of our days in Santorini, but that doesn’t mean that all of the other days weren’t packed full with wandering the streets of Oia scouting out photo locations.

Yes, we were those people.  The ones that did a trial run to the top of the remains of Oia Castle to figure out the best place to set up the tripod so we didn’t have to guess at sunset when the hoards of people would make a run for the wall, the ledge, any available seating surface and bake in the setting sun, taking selfies and drinking and finally applauding the sun for a gorgeous setting.

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These people. We didn’t want to battle with these people.

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Perfect viewpoint to capture the Oia cliffside

In fact, we didn’t elbow our way through the crowds at all, instead we enjoyed the sunset from the comfort of our own Oia cliffside hotel, before we made the trip to the castle to catch that magic hour after the sunset.

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We spent our days peeking down alleyways to discover the secrets hidden in the back.

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Yes! We found cats. Lots of cats!

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We trekked our way back down to Ammoudi Bay and this time in the heat of the day.

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One of many many asian couples that take their pre-wedding photos in Santorini. I felt for those women hiking up their wedding dresses in the hot sun

And we trekked our way back up….for thank goodness our last time.

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And we found those 3 blue domed churches.  Yes….those blue domed churches.

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And of course we ate, and managed to fit in a few more (2…4…maybe 6) visits to Lolita’s for gelato.

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Grilled (squeaky) halloumi cheese with fig reduction

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Local specialty: white eggplant

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The tastiest and freshest greek salad with locally grown veggies

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Pomegranate and Chocolate Sorbet (eaten but not shown: stracciatella, pistachio, kiwi, cuban lover, peach, strawberry, coconut, melon…)

After a couple of days of meandering through alleys snapping hundreds (possibly thousands…) of photos, trekking up and down steps, eating our way through the village, beating a path back and forth to Lolita’s for more gelato, and cooling off at the pool, we were finally ready to say goodbye to Santorini when we captured our iconic Santorini Sunset photo. 

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Busy from Morning to Night

3 10 2015

I promised Nathan that I would make plans for only 1 day while we were visiting Santorini.  The rest of the time we compromised on how to spend our time: Drink beer by the pool.  Make twice daily pilgrimages for gelato.  You can guess whose choice was whose.

And so, for our first (and only planned) day on the Greek island of Santorini I had Nathan up and out the door by 8:30AM and we staggered back around 1AM.

Our morning adventures had us meeting up with Olaf Reinen of Shotz Tours for a one-on-one morning of photography and an opportunity to explore an area of Santorini that we wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

He made us realize that no one is ever going to weep at our photos and ask us if they were shot in manual mode, but that the important thing to remember is to get the shot.  Get the shot.  The point was made very clear when he asked what I would do if I was taking a photo of the water at a scenic viewpoint and all of a sudden, behind me, there was a donkey with a monkey on top, and the monkey was juggling fire sticks.  Well, it was clear that of course I would want to get a photo of this crazy sight, because, really, who would believe me otherwise.  And it was also clear, that if I was in manual mode, there was absolutely no way I could react fast enough to get that photo.

And so, with a new perspective, and the additional teachings of using the exposure compensation and histogram functions on the camera, we set off to Emborio, the traditional trade center of Santorini, and the largest village on the island, where we stopped every few steps to take photos because every few steps was something new and beautiful we wanted to capture and remember.

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Locally grown pomegranates

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Around every corner there was another brightly-coloured door, aged corridor, blue-domed church, or vibrant bougainvillea draped over bright white buildings.  We could have spent all day with Olaf taking photos, showing him our histograms like students looking for approval from their teacher, which I guess we were.  But alas…I had plans for the rest of our day.  Only 4 hours of our day were allotted for photography! 

And so we rushed back to our hotel for a quick wardrobe change before we were climbing back up the 100 steps to the main village of Oia to start our next adventure.

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We boarded a 45ft luxury catamaran with 11 other passengers and enjoyed one of the highlights of our trip!

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Six hour sailing tour with Santorini Sailing, with a fantastic crew that took us to swim at Red Beach,  the Hot Springs, cooked us a gourmet meal onboard, plied us with beer and wine, and sailed us into the perfect position to watch the sunset.

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Bronzed from the sun, happy from the wine and sleepy from the salty air, we made our way back to our hotel.  The full moon was casting a glow on the water and lighting our way.

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And then I turned and out of nowhere, a man riding a donkey comes around the corner.  Surprise! I got the shot!

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So maybe it wasn’t a monkey riding a donkey juggling fire sticks…but, I still got the shot!








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