One Last Stop

I’ve been home for a few days now.  All unpacked, laundry is all done, slowly catching up on sleep, and some friends and family have already been made to look at my 650+ photos.  But, I wanted to tell you about the last stop on the big tour, Los Angeles.

Let me start by talking about Air New Zealand.  Really enjoyed their hospitality for my flight from Auckland to Los Angeles.  The flight attendants were lovely, the plane was new, the movie selection had over 50 movies from “When Harry met Sally” to “My Week with Marilyn” and one of the best things of all, they played music in the toilets.  It’s amazing how such a little thing could mean so much to me.  It made the whole experience very relaxing and the washrooms were spacious (for a plane) and decorated nicely.  One had wallpaper with a chandelier on it.  Really made you feel like you were not being rushed, like I normally do.  Thanks for the little things Air New Zealand.

But, on to the last stop of my journey.  Let me just say, I like the word journey more than vacation or trip.  Because that’s what it was, a journey.

Los Angeles, like always, was an interesting place.  It was made so much better this time with a few good friends to travel with, Joe and Stephanie.  Thanks so much for joining me.

As I’m a creature of habit, stayed in the same Holiday Inn Express (free breakfast – it’s the little things that are important) and rented the car from the same Budget.  If you’re happy with the service and experience, why change it when it’s such a short trip.  After luckily getting to check in early, it was off to Hollywood and Highland and the walk of fame.  Had to leave Stephanie there, while I headed off to a meeting.  But, quickly returned and checked out a few things.  Included purchasing a very yummy cupcake from Crumbs Bakery.  That wouldn’t be the only one I enjoyed on my short visit to LA.

After Joe’s arrival, very early Tuesday morning, and some sleep, we were off on our day of studios and tv shows.  We enjoyed a tour of the Warner Bros Studios in the morning.  I had been sad that my favourite show, “The Big Bang Theory” was on hiatus that week, so I couldn’t get tickets to a taping, but luckily we were at least able to go and check out the set.  Also, the set of “Mike and Molly” since they were also off.  All in all a great tour.

We had to then kill some time before going to “The Ellen Degeneres Show”.  Interesting though, we almost missed it.  Let me tell you the story.  We received a call on Monday night saying that the time we needed to be at the show to check in had moved from 2pm to 3:30pm.  So we showed up at 3:25pm, thinking we would be early, but not the case.  The waiting area was already full.  We headed over to a security guard, they told us we were early for our show taping and that we were in the second taping of the day, so to just sit over there and wait for this group to leave.  We did what we were told.

The “other” group was getting their numbers etc.  Luckily, Stephanie decided to go and check.  After being yelled at by another security guard for not doing what he had told everyone to do by getting in line for numbers, we rushed over and got the last 3 guaranteed seating numbers.  We explained to the girl what happened and she told us that the security and the show don’t work together, so they don’t know what the security is saying.  Okay, a little confused.  The only people were saw or were able to speak to when we arrived were the many security guards, no show staff.  Might be a good idea for them to all be on the same page, especially for them to know that there is only one show taping that day.  But, I still wonder why I received a call to say come at 3:30pm, when it looked like others had been there for hours before us.

Oh well, we got to see the show and the guests were great this time around.  Jonah Hill was there talking about the new movie he wrote and stars in, 21 Jump Street.  Additionally we had a guy from “X-Factor” and this amazing guy who taps on the NYC Subway to make money for his Penn State education.  Good show!

Did I mention that all this was on my big birthday.  Awesome day.  We topped the day off with a great dinner at Il Cielo in Beverly Hills.  Check out the decor.

Il Cielo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a lovely meal with great company, it was time to call it a day on the actual birthday, but don’t worry like usual my birthday will continue for at least a few months or a full year this year.  We all deserve nice long birthdays.

Our next day was all about being tourists, doing the hop on and off bus tour.  We got down to Santa Monica where I got to stand on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.  Pretty cool to stand on so many sides of the Pacific Ocean on one trip.  Plus a few dips into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily we went to Santa Monica, because we got to see our fill of C and D list stars.  Started with Kevin Sorbo shooting some movie.  Might have been this one, The Whole Banana . And then a major highlight, we saw the one and only, The Hoff.  Yes, David Hasselholf and he didn’t seem drunk or anything.  Just wearing some bad long, white socks.  We continued to hope and dream that we would see at least one A or at least B list actor, but nothing.  We do think though that we saw this guy at The Grove.

After all of our touristy stuff, it was time to pack up and head back to reality and home to see my family and other friends, plus sleep in my own bed again!  I had a wonderful home coming with my family and some friends.  Thanks for the great Arrivals welcome from my favourite girls, my sister and my two nieces.   Always, dreamed of one of those.  It is after all the happiest place on Earth, according to Hugh Grant in the movie “Love Actually”.

Will probably do one more blog post about the trip to share some interesting observations about other travelers and general over all thoughts.  Keep an eye out for that one.

 

Last days in NZ

My last days in New Zealand have been great. Things have been slowing down a bit. Not any huge adventures, but still great fun.

Because I have not treated myself enough, on Thursday I went for an aqua massage and a soak in the thermal pools at the Polynesian spa in Rotorua. That was great. I don’t think my skin has ever been so smooth. But I don’t think I will be getting the sulphur smell out of my swimsuit any time soon. Time to buy a new one.

After some more relaxing, it was off to an exciting evening with the the Maori people for a traditional Hangi. Well as traditional as you can get with about 200+ of your closest strangers. Check out the awesome food we got to eat.

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Plus so much more. They also explained the Maori culture and history to us a bit. Very interesting. Following that had a bit of Kiwi (bird) experience. They are pretty cool birds and NZ is doing so much to protect them. Impressive.

After my last bus ride it was time for my last days to be spent in Auckland. Started my trip in a big city, Sydney, and ending in a big city, Auckland. It’s a nice city and I’ve been staying with a great girl through Airbnb. Spent time just enjoying the city and the only aquarium of my trip. The Kelly Tarlton Underwater Adventure. It was filled with some beautiful and interested aquatic life. Centered mostly on penguins. Here are some pics.

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Sunday, I spent at Waiheke Island visiting another winery, Stonyridge. Impressive place and they have to be one of the coolest wineries, bringing DJs from around the world for great outdoor parties. Need to come back for one of those.

Otherwise, I’ve just been enjoying Auckland and slowing down a bit. Today I’m on the search to find something to wear to the taping of the Ellen Degeneres show on Tuesday, which coincides with the same day of my big birthday. Awesome.

Wheels up later today for LAX. Thanks so much New Zealand. See you again soon!

Can’t even describe today…but I’ll try.

Before I get to today, let me catch up a bit. After leaving rainy Wellington, I went to sunny Hastings to meet up with another winery. This time it was the awesome team at Trinity Hill. They were a great bunch and their wines are fantastic. Have to try some more when I get home.

Included in that stop in Hastings was a great home cooked meal from my new friends, Tessa, Stuart and Larissa, my good friend Brett’s sister. Had a great night with them and made a new special little friend in Larissa. Thanks!

It was then time to say good bye to Hastings and head off to Rotorua for my next big adventure, and boy what an adventure it was.

Today was my day to go Black Water Rafting in the caves of Waitomo. It was incredible to say the least. This was a true test of me pushing my limits. Once we had our wetsuits, helmets with lights and the rest of the gear on, we made our way to our start/entry point. Thanks to my niece I went for the more adventurous of the trips, which included abseiling, zip lining and climbing out of the caves through waterfalls.

We were not able to take cameras with us which made for a better day, so the photos I have on for the leaders and on a CD, so I will share those later.

But, here is the day. First we started with a 12 storey abseil down a black hole. That was the first thing of the day that I’ve never done before. With my fear of heights and other various fears, I was amazed how easy it ended up being. Once the whole group was done, it was time for a little zip lining in the cave in the pitch black. It was AWESOME! One of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

After our hard work, it was break time as our feet dangled over the edge of the ledge to the 3m drop to the water. A little hot chocolate and a snack.

Did I mention we were doing this to see glow worms? The most beautiful site. They just light up the caves with the glowing poop. Yes, that’s what glows. Their poop.

With break time over, time for the next fun challenge. Grab an inner tube, stand on the ledge, turn off all headlamps and jump. INCREDIBLE!

As we made our way down the caves while pulling of the rope, the glow worms were a site to behold. Such unique clusters of them. Like looking at clouds, you could make out shapes of the clusters. We also saw some other amazing formations.

Our way back down with the current, we linked feet under arms of the person in front of you, turned off the headlamps and relaxed through the sites of the glow worms.

After all that, the adventure was not over. Now it was time to get out of the caves. So why not do it by climbing through waterfalls. Put you foot here, then your hand there, then pull up. Oh ya and the water is falling over your feet, face etc. And also, crawl through small tunnels etc. you know something that you do everything Wednesday afternoon in the corporate world….

I know I have described my experience, but the feelings of joy and achievement are almost impossible to describe.

This day is definitely one of the highlights of this entire journey.

Pics will following as soon as I can. Thank you universe for this kind of beauty and these kind of days.

Goodbye south. Hello north.

I wrapped up my time on the south island yesterday. But not before I did a bit of work and met with a few wineries for my vblog that I’m doing for a wine website. I met with the great husband and wife team at Staete Landt Winery and Jane Hunter and team over at Hunter’s Wine. I won’t go into too much detail, as the vblog will come out after I return home. They were all lovely though.

I must also say that my accommodations in Blenheim, through Airbnb.com was great. The couple were awesome. He’s an ex-rower, so lots to chat about and they were both lovely. Plus the most comfortable bed of my entire trip. Blenheim is a funny town though as it shuts down at 4pm. So funny.

My ferry ride from Picton to Wellington was good. It was cloudy, but still gorgeous going through the sound.

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That’s me leaving the south island, which I loved. And here I am arriving at the north island. Which hope to love also.

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Luckily that was yesterday, as a big storm has blown over from Australia and there are no ferries today. The wind gusts are getting up to 150km/h. Crazy. But since this is my only day in Wellington, the weather couldn’t stop me.

I started my day at the Te Papa Museum. Probably my only museum stop on this trip. It was interesting and a great place to wait out the storm for a few hours. They have a house that our can stand in that simulates an earthquake and also have an enormous squid on display. Plus much more.

By the time I was done there, the weather had calmed down a bit, so time to rush and get on the funicular up for a view of Wellington. Even with the bad weather, it wasn’t too bad. What do your think?

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Decided to chance the weather and walk down through the botanical gardens. It was worth it and the rain didn’t return until I was almost back down.

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That’s the day so far. Just chilling for a bit now and then sushi for dinner on a recommendation from my new friends in Blenheim.

One more thing, do you think I would look good in these shoes?

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A bit of decadence in Marlborough.

After the big kayaking adventure, we toned things down a bit for a few days. Deb and I continued to head north on the south island, trying to get to the end. Pretty much did, as we almost reached Farewell Spit. We had gotten such an early start to the day, we were having trouble finding somewhere open for brekkie. To kill some time a walk on the empty beach was needed. Gorgeous.

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After this it was time to get serious about this breakfast thing. Hadn’t really recharged after the kayaking and things were getting out of hand on the hunger level. So off to the little town of Takaka which was coming alive by that time. Thank goodness as we needed to get ready for the crazy drive on the Takaka Road. One of the craziest roads I’ve ever been on.

But I will not bore you with the road details. Our day progressed pretty uneventfully. We, or I, decided that I was much more interested in spending some time in the wine region then planning another active day, so we heading for the Marlborough region.

Luckily for me, on my Deb’s bucket list was going for a wine pairing meal at a winery called Hans Herzog. So with a stop there to make a reservation and to get some help finding accommodation, we were all set for a night of decadence with a meal and a real hotel, The Marlborough Vitners Hotel. What a treat to stay in a real hotel with a great shower. Felt like I was finally able to have a really good shower, after 20 or so days of not so great ones.

Our dinner was called the degustation, which is when each dish is paired with the right wines. We opted for the 3 courses meal and I couldn’t of eaten another bite.

Here are some pics of my main and my dessert (one of the best I’ve had in my life).

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Sorry to make your mouth water. It was lovely and it was my first birthday celebration event. So let the month/year of my birthday begin.

Today, went to some interesting wineries that had very strong European influences, Johanneshof, Clos Henri and to a kiwi winery, Seresin.

Tomorrow I’m off to start my vblog on NZ wineries and will be meeting with Hunter’s and Staete Landt. Should be a great experience.

20km at Abel Tasman

It’s been a great couple of days with my friends Deb and Dean in Christchurch. Always great times with them. Plus got to meet some new people that I can now call my friends.

After a few days in Christchurch, Deb and I left Dean behind and headed out on a road trip. Fun, girls road trip. We were heading to the north part of the south island of NZ. We made our way up to Nelson and beyond. We knew that our plan was to make it to Kaiteriteri so that we could book a kayaking trip out to Abel Tasman National Park. Made it to our destination and were able to book an all day kayaking trip. Maybe a little more than I was ready for, since my kayaking experience is about 2 hours on then Humber River. But it’s all about trying something new.

Along those same lines of new was another new opportunity which was camping. I’ve never slept in a tent. But we were are making baby steps. Staying a tent with beds for my first experience.

But check out what I woke up to.

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We had been promised light and easy seas for a our kayak trip, but that was far from the truth. Our water taxi out to the launch beach would have almost made any one sea sick, or given you a great thrill like it did me. However, little did we understand what kayaking would be like in 4-5′ swells in the Pacific Ocean. The first 3 hours of the trip was a real white knuckle experience, but Deb and I shone through and made it.

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We don’t look too worse for where. But it was tough. Glad it calmed down. Then we could enjoy the trip as it was portrayed in the brochure. Easy going and smooth seas. It was a lovely afternoon and we can be proud of ourselves for meeting the challenge of the day.

Here we are in happier times.

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Now we are relaxing in a little cabin in a town called Collingwood, where the only thing open is the local tavern.

Tomorrow we are in search of more adventure and a few wineries. Should be great.

Had a swim with about 400 new friends today.

What a day it was. I got the pleasure of swimming with wild dolphins in their world. And there were a lot of them. About 400 of them. Awesome!

From Christchurch, I headed out for a long, but incredible day. Our small group made our way to Kaikoura under our great guide, Karen. She is a Maori and had so many great stories and much history to share with us on our journey. I didn’t know that much about the Maori, but Realize that I want to learn more and hope to have some Maori experiences up in Rotorua in a few weeks.

After spending some time in the cute town of Kaikoura, I was off for my dolphin encounter. We donned our wetsuits and heading out to sea in search of these incredible dolphins. I’m a huge lover of the dolphin and I’ve done an encounter within an enclosure in the Dominican Republic, but nothing like this.

Under the guide of the team on the boat, we found the pod about 30 minutes off shore and we were off. The first in water experience was more of adjusting to the very cold Pacific temperatures. Little bits seeping into the wetsuits. Bit of a shock.

Saw a few then, but the real fun came in our 3rd dive in. They were everywhere and so close. Check out this shot. And this was not on zoom. They were that close.

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They were swimming all around. It was surreal. It still is. Trouble believing that I did what I did.

Our 3rd of 5 dives was the best. They only allow for 5 dives in, as they don’t want to annoy the animals, as we are in their space. The Maori are very careful to ensure that this experience is preserved and not abused.

Here is another shot of just how close they got when we were swimming with them.

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As we tried to make noises and sing songs under water to get their attention, they would just swim around and by us. We sounded like idiots, but anything to get them to notice us,

After our 5 times were up it was back on the boat for a final time, but now we got to observe them as they swan around and in front of the boat. They would show off a bit and just enjoy the waves that the boat was creating. So many pictures were taken at this time.

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I could go on and on about this and there are tonnes of video and pictures to prove it. This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. And these animals are awe inspiring. Can’t wait to do it again one day, but for now these memories will keep me going for a long time to come.

Tackled some fears today and a bit of glacier.

What a cool day today was, literally. I walked on and through a glacier that is ever moving and changing. Unbelievably awesome day.

Here is my glacier, the Franz Josef Glacier.

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Look at how small the people in blue jackets are. I was a blue jacket, just not in this picture. We walked with crampons on our boots and were on some narrow, uneven, and rocky path ways. Got the chance to walk or maneuver through tunnels and crevasses. Let me tell you that these are not made for us 6’2″ people. But I made it through. Kind of proud of myself. With having a fear of heights and small spaces, I tackled both today. (I’m patting myself on the back, really I am. Right in the middle of this coffee shop).

Just in case you miss my smiling face, here it is after my glacier experience.

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This area of NZ gets about 5 metres of rain per year and yesterday they got a soaking, so that made the glacier so clean and blue and white for us today. It was a great time to see it. It’s really hard to describe how beautiful it was. But I will work on that for when I bore you all with my photos when I return.

After my bit of exercise this morning, I found it fitting and right to spend a hour or so in the thermal hot pools. Three pools ranging in temperature from 40-36C. Very important for my sore muscles. Don’t you think….

I’m finishing off my time in Franz Josef with some tea and a little time in the free wifi area so that I can update all of you. Tomorrow off to Greymouth to catch the Tranz Scenic train to Christchurch to connect with some good friends for a few days, plus some time swimming with wild dolphins on Friday. Cannot wait for that.

Let me leave you tonight with this warning.

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Falling in love with…

…New Zealand.

Had you there for a second, didn’t I. But, you would also. And all of those that have been here, know what I’m talking about.

Let me backup. I took JetStar airlines from Melbourne to Queenstown and that was an experience. I will not complaint about Air Canada for a minute, as I appreciate them so much more now. Because they offer that free benefit on their flights of “free” water. Yes, JetStar won’t even give you free water. That led to a horrible migraine headache my first night in Queenstown. Nothing like a migraine when sharing a room with 4 other girls in a youth hostel. Who knew that water would become a perk on a flight. REALLY!

Enough of my bitching. Back to the awesome NZ. I was greeted at the airport by Alexa, a wonderful friend of my friend Leslie. Thanks for that great connection. She treated me to a few hours of touring before my migraine took over the evening. Off we went to the place where bungee was invented. Wasn’t tempted to try it, don’t worry. Had enough trouble even walking on the bridge.

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After a few more stops at some of the lovely wineries in the area, it was time to call it a day for my head. Luckily the hostel beds were comfy. Being on the top bunk is like being 10 years old again. Sadly my body isn’t and it’s not that easy to hoist this big frame up to the top bunk. But once there, it’s like having a sky bed. Fun!

I was as good as new on my first and only full day in Queenstown. Had an early start for my day trip to Milford Sound It was a long 12 hour day with lots of time on the bus, but it’s all about the journey not just the destination. We saw so much beauty on the way there and while on the Milford Sound boat cruise. Here are just a few pictures.

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I looked at all the breathtaking waterfalls and I was reminded of something I heard a few years ago when I was in Maui. Some one said that they didn’t want to go on a specific tour because they had seen enough waterfalls. Do you really think that is possible? I don’t. Each is so unique and beautiful. Just my opinion.

My Tuesday saw me leaving Queenstown and heading for Franz Josef. On to the bus again for me. The bus drivers here are like tour guides. Pointing out interesting sights and places. Can’t imagine our Greyhound drivers doing that. But I might be wrong. Maybe they do that on interesting drives.

The 8 hour bus ride didn’t seem that long with all there was too see. There was a lot of rain on our trip and you know what that created, more waterfalls. Kind of cool to know that a waterfall wasn’t there in the morning but was a few hours later. Like this one:

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It’s time to recharge my iPad and to take a shower before bed, so that I’m all ready to hike the Franz Josef Glacier tomorrow. Should be great fun. Hope the rain let’s up.

Great friends and The Great Ocean Road

Have to catch up a bit. Been having trouble finding free wifi. So i’ve just bought it for the next 24 hours to get caught up. Let me just finish up my time in Australia with you.

After the Great Barrier Reef, I took my burnt backside back to the south part of Australia. This time to Melbourne to visit my girls, Oja and Sarah. These girls know how to greet a person at the airport on Valentine’s day. They were standing there with a big heart shaped balloon, which I had to carry with me the rest of the day. So cute.

After that great welcome we were off to their home in the country, in Porcupine Ridge. I think of Porpoise Spit from Muriel’s Wedding. It’s nothing like it, but the name is similar. After a pint at the Farmers Arms in the small town of Daylesford, we were off home for my first Aussie BBQ or barbie. A great night of chatting, yummy food from the garden and a sky so full of stars I couldn’t believe it. Saw the milky way for the first time. Awesome!

The girls had a great couple of days planned for me. After some errands and laundry we were off to the coast and the beautiful Apollo Bay. What a wonderful and relaxing few days by the sea. Falling asleep to the waves. Not much better than that.

After a few days a pure relaxation it was time to drive the incredible Great Ocean Road. Now that is a drive that should not be missed.

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Along with the gorgeous scenery, I got to see my first koala and baby.

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At the end of the road and a ferry ride, we were in the city of Melbourne for the evening. Time to replace my watch (you will be hearing from me Timex when I get home) and enjoy a great dinner.

Got to see a wallabee on the drive home and this little guy in the garden on Saturday morning.

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Sadly, I said ‘see you later’ to Oja and Sarah and hello to my mom’s old friends Dorothy and Carl. Had a lovely day/evening with them. Most importantly I was able to fulfill a dream for my mom. She had always wanted to visit her dear friends in Australia, but never had a chance. So after holding on to and traveling with her ashes all through Australia, I was able to leave a bit of her with her friends. Scattered some of her ashes in their backyard. Now she can always be with them and let me tell you she has quite a view. That was the last of her ashes, so we have finally said goodbye to this wonderful lady and scattered her memory in many wonderful places in the world.

Goodbye to Australia and hello to New Zealand….