Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 

Queenstown. NZ

I’m excited to share with you our time in Queenstown, New Zealand.

In recent months whenever I mentioned this trip to friends and colleagues, they always said, “You have to go to Queenstown!”

Mountains. Fresh air. Beautiful views. Outdoor adventures.

And I’m so glad we followed their advice. This mountain village has it all.

We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside with views facing Lake Wakatipu. All this beauty was literally steps away.

The first afternoon we spent leisurely walking around the lake and soaking up the beautiful winter sun. Queenstown is on the southwestern side of the South Island, so it was quite a bit cooler here than Auckland. It was bright and sunny, but a down coat was definitely needed!queenstown-5

The next morning, we took the gondola up to the peak overlooking the city. We were lucky that the clouds lifted and we were able to get these panoramic views looking down on Queenstown.

It was still early in the season, so no skiing was available yet. But year-round, you can all do all sorts of other activities from there including hiking, paragliding, and the luge!

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Zip down the side of the mountain and take in the views as you go. Not bad, right?

After spending a few hours at the peak, we decided to hike down instead of taking the gondola again.

It only took us about one hour and we appreciated getting the fresh air to stave off the jet lag. 
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We spent 4 days in Queenstown, so it became our home base for lots of other outings and adventures including day trips to the famous Milford Sound, Lake Wakana, and Otagu region wineries.

We thought the natural scenery couldn’t get much better than here, but we were wrong. I’ll be sharing so much more soon!

Sundays at the Winery

With weather in the 80s the last few days, it already feels like summertime here in the DC region. And I’m not complaining!

Last Sunday, we took advantage of a pleasant morning before the afternoon heatwave to visit Barrel Oak Winery in Northern Virginia.

This is one of our favorite wineries ever. The pastoral farm setting is so peaceful, the wines are nice, and best of all, it’s dog friendly!

We timed it so we could enjoy their Sunday morning special which includes a breakfast champagne cocktail, bagel, newspaper, open space, and all the green you can take in for miles.

One of the things I really love about this area is that roads are sign and billboard free, meaning there’s just nature to appreciate. And what could be more peaceful on a lazy Sunday morning than that?

This winery can get crazy crowded on the weekends, but the morning hours had the  perfect amount of folks for people-watching and interacting with other dog-owners. We were able to snag a picnic table with umbrella next to the fields.

There are so many wineries in this area and we always vow we’re going to branch out and try something different. but in the end, we gravitate back here though because the setting is so pretty.

It’s safe to say, I’m sure we’ll be making lots of trips back here over the next few months. How about you? Do you have a favorite nature setting in your area?

*My dress is from Brooks Brothers .

 

 

December in Northern Virginia

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Late fall and early winter in the DC area makes for great outdoor time!

While temps are chilly in the morning and evening, the days are pretty mild. (Update: today we got our first winter arctic blast!)

Recently, my husband and I headed to Great Falls, Maryland to hike the Billy Goat Trail. The sky and scenery was beautiful, and I’m so glad we got to experience it before our proper winter arrives (which apparently it has!)

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For the hike, I threw on this zip high neck sweater from Zara, my Lysee denim leggings from Nordstrom, and comfy Vasque Talus Treks. Both the sweater and leggings are still available! The sweater is so cozy and I like how it’s sporty but could be versatile for other looks too. These leggings are so flattering- the denim material is thick and offers a lot of coverage so you don’t feel like you’re wearing gym leggings out somewhere. They are offered in different colors too.hiking-outfit view zara-sweater vasque-boots

How’s the weather where you are? I already see snow storms and blizzards on the news!

Feast in the Forest

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A few weeks ago, we attended Feast in the Forest, an annual fall harvest dinner at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. It takes place in the most beautiful location, a family owned farm out in the Virginia countryside.

All the food is locally sourced and some of it even comes from the forest trees… more to say about that later.

See our pictures from a similar farm dinner event we attended last year.

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The meal starts late afternoon with cocktail in the garden at the main house of the restaurant farm. The sweeping views of the valley looking out from there aren’t too bad, right?alice-and-olivia-dress

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After mingling with some of your new friends/dinner companions, you walk together down a long forest path to the dining area in the middle of the forest.

You sit at the long table next to people you’ve just met and share a family style meal. Usually, this is my favorite thing about events like this … you  always end up next to the most friendly and interesting folks.path-to-dinner-tableimg_1580lantern

The path through the forest is lined with these charming lanterns. By the time the evening is over, it’s almost dark and the lanterns give off the prettiest glow.

Now, on to the food.

Once the meal starts, the dishes start coming out fast and furious. I managed to get photos of a few plates, but when you’re sharing with others, it’s not all that polite to say, “Wait while I take a picture!”

The full menu is below. I had some really delicious things I’ve never eaten before, and as mentioned above, much of it was harvested from that very forest.

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These plates are the farro risotto (on the left, my favorite dish of the whole night) and the wood ear rice (on the right). Wood ear is a type of mushroom grown in that forest.first-courseBelow is the broccoli with frost grape and fresh chevre. This was pretty fantastic… I don’t know how to describe the frost grape sauce except it was like a plum flavored puree. The plate on the right side is crabapple bread with whipped cheddar and walnuts in the middle. second-course

Throughout the whole meal, I was keeping a list of my favorite dishes, but that went out the window when we got to desserts- chestnut macarons, the crabapple bread, and Paw Paw pie.

This pie was so delicious. It tasted like a cross between banana and mango pie with a drizzle of the caramel over it.dessert-plate

Never heard of Paw Paw before? Me neither.

It actually grows in long pods in trees. In fact, the chef harvested them from the very trees above our table in the forest.img_1595

Yes, we did some damage…

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The whole event was really lovely, but the real special part happened at the end.

When we got back to our car, we found we had a flat tire (drove over a nail on the path up to the farm).

But not to worry. So many people offered us help changing the tire, even the chef of the restaurant.

And while we weren’t paying attention, someone left us an entire to-go container of those chestnut macarons!

Bomber Jacket and Silk Dress

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The bomber jacket craze is going strong this fall, and it’s been SO fun to see all of YOUR variations- sequined, metallic, sporty, and oversized!

I, too, have fallen for the bomber jacket trend. In late summer during the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale, I picked up this tonal satin bomber version.(still available and a great buy under $100)

When choosing this jacket, I tried to be strategic. I wanted a more fitted silhouette made from a fabric that would translate to many outfits and situations.

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For brunch in DC recently, I wore it paired with a bright green midi dress and Converse sneakers at one of my favorite places, Dascha Biergarten.

This outdoor restaurant is inspired by German biergartens and offers so many delicious drinks (crisp pear cider) and food. As you can see, I just couldn’t resist the skillet of creamy mac and cheese, the breakfast sausage bagels, and fingerling fries.

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I’ve got lots more plans for this jacket, and thankfully, the weather has been unseasonably warm this fall.

Like I said, there’s so much great inspiration about how to wear bombers lately. How have you been wearing yours?