Puerto Rico

Snorkeling at Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

To be honest, it was hard writing this post.

A few days before Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and Florida, my husband and spent a long weekend in Puerto Rico.

We weren’t affected by the hurricane (made it back home safely before landfall) and Puerto Rico didn’t suffer widespread catastrophic damage like St Thomas or St Martin and other nearby islands. However, the news coverage is still so unsettling about how many people are struggling.

This makes me feel uncomfortable writing about the trip. But I hope I can share what we appreciated this lovely part of the world.

Ocean Park Beach outside of San Juan

We stayed in an AirBnB in a neighborhood called Ocean Park. It had a relaxed local feel, and our stay was absolutely delightful.

The owner of the Airbnb created several beautiful spaces in her own home, and you can see from the sign outside her house, her warm positive outlook on life. 

I loved the eclectic decor which combined modern and classic Spanish influences, collected from vintage stores and flea markets.

Our room was built as a sort of tree house attached to the top of the house, and this was our very narrow spiral staircase leading to it.

The most notable aspect of our room was the outdoor shower. There is something so relaxing about taking a shower outdoors in the early evening, listening to the birds and crickets in the trees around us.

Of course, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you’re- you know- outside without any clothes on. But once you do, it’s cool.

This outdoor shower ended up being one of my favorite things are the trip (my husband not so much!) He kept thinking people could spy on us, even though there were pretty high barriers around the shower.

Breakfast at the outdoor communal kitchen

Each morning, we’d stumble down our spiral staircase to have breakfast with the other guests in the garden. This AirBnb had an outdoor communal kitchen, and each morning, she’d place bread, nut butters, fresh jams, granola, hot coffee, coconut water, and homemade beet juice.

It was such a fun way to interact with the other guests.

Perhaps the absolute best thing about this location was the beach, which was literally across the street!

There’s lots more to share about Puerto Rico coming up, including a wonderful dinner we had one night, all the tasty local dishes we tried on a food tour, our day spent in Old San Juan, and our snorkeling trip. 

How do you feel about the outdoor shower? Would you be comfortable with it?

A Day and Night in Rotorua

From neon green lakes during the day to pool tables at night

So, this is my VERY LAST POST about New Zealand. I’m kind of sad about it, but you’re probably thinking Finally!

We spent our last day in Rotorua.

Rotorua is a rather interesting place. It’s what I imagine Earth must have been like during Dinosaur times.

Pockets of steams rising all over the place, volcanic craters, molten hot springs, neon green bodies of water, and a noticeable sulphur smell.

In fact, you can visit the Waitopo Geothermal Park park to see a concentration of all these ancient wonders in one place.

Walking around the park, you are greeted by many scenes of this…

It was hard to get a good shot of this lake which would do it justice.

The wind kept blowing steam into the picture. So, I’ll just describe it to you.

A two tone pool. A body of emerald green water surrounded by a bright orange ring, colored by the minerals in the water around the rim.

It wasn’t all just sulphur and steam though. The park also has beautiful walking trails through trees like this.

My favorite place in this park though was this bright neon green lake. Yes, it really is that color. Did you ever guess that hue existed in nature?

After walking around and contemplating prehistoric environment, we headed to our very special resting place for the night, the Hamurana Springs Lodge.

When researching this inn, I didn’t pay too much attention to the description. It just sounded like a decent place to stay.

But it ended up being my favorite stay of the entire trip.

This lodge was a bit out of town in the country side, sitting on its own estate surrounded by fields of horses. Once you turn into the road leading to the inn, you see the lodge perched up on a hill.

Then you drive down this wonderfully long path to the inn

Finally, you reach this cute old inn.

Once you’re inside, you’re greeted with all kinds of lovely views of the countryside

as well as portraits of local Maori tribespeople on the walls

Being there on a Thursday night, we had the random luck of being the only guests.

Not only did we have the run of the place, but we got so much specialized attention from the staff.

In fact, we joked that we felt like we were in an episode of Downtown Abbey. The staff tended to our every need, building a fire for us and stoking it through the evening, offering nice drinks, and so on.

We took advantage of all the lodge’s amenities including this beautiful fire place in a sitting room where we read books and drank wine for a few cozy hours. They piped in old fashioned jazz music and we felt like we had gone back in time to a different era.

Though I’m not skilled at pool at all, we also enjoyed playing a few games

That night, we slept so well, probably the best I slept the entire trip.

And the next morning, we went down to the dining room and were greeted with this nice breakfast. Fresh croissants. Cheeses and meats. Berries with yogurt.

After eating seconds and drinking a few cups of coffee, we spent a little time in our room just enjoying the view and feeling grateful that our trip to New Zealand ended on such a high note.

A Few More Scenes from Nelson

Enjoying an afternoon at Neudorf Vineyard

I already gushed about the Abel Tasman National Park and lamented the fact that many New Zealand visitors don’t seem to make it to Nelson.

Well, here’s another reason to spend some time here.

The wine!

Nelson is home to so many great wineries that you could visit a different one every day for three weeks and still not hit them all.

We paid a visit to Neudorf Vineyards on a sunny warm Wednesday afternoon and had the place to ourselves. I loved the comfortable ambiance of the winery, and my glass of the Moutere Chardonnay was so delicious.  They even ship their wines worldwide. 

After a few hours here, we were hungry and headed to the Grape Escape on the way back to our AirBnB in Nelson.

We just made it before closing in late afternoon, and while they weren’t serving lunch anymore, we did snag a delicious piece of hazelnut and kahlua merengue cake.

This cottage cafe was so charming. I’m always taken in when greeted by a lazy cat sunning itself on the front steps!

Favorite Meals in New Zealand

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Afghan cookie and cornflake ice cream from Giapo in Auckland

I know, I know. I’ve been retracing each step of my New Zealand trip in excruciating detail.

There’s still a few more sightseeing posts to share, but today, I’m taking a break from that and instead talking about the yummy food in New Zealand.

You know me, I usually like to do a complete travel food diary (breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-each-day), but there were just too many tasty things. So, today I’ll just showcase the ones that stand out.

I already did a whole post on our wine tasting day at Waiheke Island, including the wine country lunch at the Shed. Now that we’re heading into fall, I’m craving their sweet potato deconstructed “cheesecake.”

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A fun quick breakfast from the Auckland area was this egg salad and bacon bagel from Best Ugly Bagels. The name is strange, right? But ugly is fine by me when the bagels are so tasty. 

Perhaps the most indulgent things we ate in Auckland were the creative ice creams from Giapo (the Afghan cookie version is pictured above). This one below is hazelnut and toasted merengue.  The selection changes every few months and I’d love to see what new versions are concocted each season. IMG_0064

Moving on to Queenstown, we loved the burgers there including the famous Fergburger and Devil Burger, both of which I recommend.

However, everybody goes to those places, so I want to highlight two other great meals we had. The first was this giant steak and fries platter with herbed garlic butter from Atlas Beer Cafe. Yes, that slab of butter melts all over the meat and fries… and it’s a bargain for less than $20 New Zealand dollars. (NZ beef ain’t cheap, ya’ll).

The other was this halloumi cheese avocado toast and ice milk from Vudu Cafe and Larder. The ice milk has all the components of a milk shake,  but it’s not blended.

Everything is plopped put in a glass and then time works it wonder, gradually melting the ice cream into the milk and chocolate syrup.

I already talked about our wonderful road trip day through Otago region and our stop at the Cardrona Hotel. This garlic knot was recommended by some people we met and it came out of the oven piping hot and salty and buttery.

In Christchurch, I already gushed about how we stuffed ourselves at the Farmer’s Market. However, other favorites were Pedro’s House of Lamb. (Try it if you’re in the area- one serving feeds a small family!)  and we stopped at Dmitri’s Greek Food for falafel. Guys, this falafel rivaled the best we had in Greece last summer…

Nelson, New Zealand was home to some of our best dishes on our trip. First up was this giant turkish food platter at Paasha. We thought there’d be no way we could finish this much food. Um… it was inhaled in about 10 minutes.  

I also discovered hazelnut merengue cake with kailua frosting from the Grape Escape.  Turns out these merengue style desserts are popular in Australia and New Zealand, so there’s lots of great recipes for them online. I’ve since researched how to make this exact version at home. 

Finally, in Rotorua, we visited the Wednesday night Night Market and enjoyed a whole range of things including this pita with venison, couscous, greens, and spicy sauce.

Our last special meal of the trip was our breakfast at the Hamurana Lodge. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Warm croissants. Charcuterie. Cheeses. Fresh berries with cream.

Incidentally, we were the only people at the inn on this day and we got such fun service and attention. There’s a lot more to say about this place, so stay tuned for my upcoming Rotorua post. 

Rocky Beaches, Seals, and Overcast Skies in Kaikoura

I recently read an article about the benefits of spending money on travel, rather than say, material things.

The research shows that even if you have a less than perfect time, we tend to remember it in a more positive light as time goes on, making us feel that our money was well-spent. Our brains look back on that experience fondly unlike a material thing we bought, which quickly bores or disillusions us.

This certainly rings true when I think about the tiny resort town of Kaikoura (or Kai-crappa, as my husband liked to call it at the time). We stopped there on our way from Christchurch to Nelson on the south island.

For the record, I don’t think Kaikoura was crappy at all. It was just a low point during our travels.

In the warmer months, Kaikoura is packed with visitors who come for the dolphin excursions and water activities. But we arrived at the beginning of winter, so it was gray and dreary.

But the funny thing is that although the weather felt really dismal at the time, now when I look back over the photos, Kaikoura looks rather pretty to me with its muted hues of blue and gray.

We stayed at a nice bed and breakfast overlooking a walk that runs several miles along the ocean. This was the lovely view from our balcony window.

We knew the rain was coming in soon on that day, but we decided to walk along the ocean to find the seal colonies. It was cold and misty, but the terrain was nice in a stark severe sort of way. 

The best thing was that finding the seals was so easy, and because there were few people around, we got the chance to get up close and personal.

Okay, not that close- (Have you seen their teeth?), but nice to observe them without people everywhere.

Some of the seals are rather bold too, and wobble out into the road, which makes driving around them pretty exciting.

Eventually, it started sprinkling on us, but we made it back to our room without too much damage. That night, we found a strange pizza place (that’s a whole other story about how they didn’t seem to have anything on their menu) and turned in early for bed.

As mentioned, reflecting on our stay, I’m glad we stopped over in Kaikoura. In the moment, we felt disappointed with the melancholy weather, but when I look over the pictures now, I see we were actually really fortunate to be in such remote and oddly pretty place.

Crystal Blue Water at Abel Tasman

When planning my trip to New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park immediately caught my attention. Pictures of this coastal nature reserve showed hiking trails over the ocean, dense forests, and that crystal blue water!

(*Heads up: the photos below have NOT been edited. The water really does look like this!)

There are several ways to access the reserve, but the easiest for us was booking a “self-guided” tour through  Wilson’s Abel Tasman.  We chose option 6, which lasts about 6 hours. It included a boat ride to an isolated drop off point and a boat pick up from another point hours later.

If the temperature had been warmer, we would have loved to do one of the kayaking or beach options, but given the season, this worked out great.

Chilly morning boat ride to Abel Tasman
Remote and gorgeous drop off point along Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

This tour let us walk along the track at our own pace. Believe me, you will want to stop and take so many pictures along the way. I should warn you though, there are only basic facilities in the way of water and restrooms, and  you’ll need to bring in your own lunch.

We spent the day leisurely stopping at the many lookouts and even getting up close to the water. Can you believe how clear that water is?

Every once in a while, the trail veers into the vegetation and you can walk along giant fern trees and babbling streams.

There was a forest suspension bridge to walk across.

After several hours, the end of our track led us to this beautiful beach, where we happily sat and waited for our boat pick up.

It seemed when researching this trip ahead of time that Nelson, where Abel Tasman is located near, is not as popular as other New Zealand cities like Queenstown or Christchurch.

However, this day during our trip was really a highlight for us, so I encourage you not to miss it if you make to New Zealand!

Dolphins and Waterfalls at Milford Sound

If I’m honest, I’m not a boat person at all.

I have too many bad memories of motion sickness from my past. But I do make an exception for dolphins, waterfalls, and fjords, all of which are in New Zealand’s Milford Sound.

Milford Sound’s landscape is  one of the most serene places I’ve ever been to. You can explore it by hiking for several days, or by boat. There are even overnight boat tours.

From Queenstown, we hopped on the BBQ Bus which led us through winding mountain passes. There were lots of scenic stops along the way and lots of information from our tour guide (er, everything you could want to know about the kiwi bird and also some stuff about his marriage we didn’t want to know). Once we were on the boat, the guide prepared us a barbecued lunch.  

One of the nicest stops was at the Mirror Lakes above. You really could see everything reflected in that water! The other picture on the right was taken right before a hundred Chinese tourists stormed the view.

Because the weather was so overcast, I was a bit worried about rain and how the boat trip would prevail… Rocky and uncomfortable? Bad visibility?  Humid and crowded inside?

But all that anxiety was for nothing, because it was really nice.

In addition to fun talk (I’m something of a magnet for college girls) and a great lunch of lamb kebabs, we enjoyed dolphins playing RIGHT NEXT to the boat.

I was pretty excited to capture these two little guys and now I sort of wish I were a National Geographic wildlife photographer.

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Milford Sound is located on the southwest side of the New Zealand’s South Island. It was a bit of a journey to get there by bus from Queenstown, but it was so worth it.