Tag Archives: Beach

Travel Guide: New Zealand Road Trip – South Island

After a week on the North Island of New Zealand, which included Auckland, a few days on the road, and a final stop in Wellington, my friend Sharon and I arrived in Picton, a tiny town with a ferry terminal.

We picked up our new car, a red Toyota Corolla that I immediately named Roxanne, and then had a good meal, walked the one commercial street, and went to a phenomenal bakery for breakfast. And then off we went!

Our next stop was Nelson, which was really exciting because a friend and former colleague was living there! Along with another school family, we had plans to meet her upon arrival in Nelson, which was really nice. Nelson reminded me of a larger version of the town where I grew up. Cute streets to walk down, a pretty church, benches by the river. Nelson also had really beautiful flowers.

The primary reason for our stop in Nelson was to visit Abel Tasman National Park, which was an absolutely magical day. The weather was phenomenal for sea kayaking, hiking, and a dip in the sea. We even saw seals lounging on the rocks! Each lookout from the cliffs was more beautiful than the last and the views took my breath away again and again.

Abel Tasman remained a highlight of the trip for me and it also stands out as something I’d do differently next time. I’d pack differently, plan differently, and camp for a night. That would allow for a longer kayak trip as well as a longer hike. The stars throughout New Zealand were the biggest and brightest I’ve ever seen and I can only imagine what it would have felt like to see them there.

Next, we headed to Punakaiki to spend New Year’s Eve on the beach. The drive was beautiful . . .

. . . and left us very excited for our night on the beach. We ate cheese, crackers, and fruit and drank wine sitting on the rocks. It grew cold as the night deepened and we greeted 2019 under the Milky Way.

As our first activity of the new year, we decided to hike a 12km loop through a rainforest with streams, up a cliff, and onto a working farm with horses. We met very few people along the way and were glad to start the day in a beautiful place with our bodies moving.

On the way back to the car we took a quick detour to see the pancake rocks and blow holes that Punakaiki is known for.

That afternoon we drove to Franz Josef Glacier, which was my bucket list item for our trip. I first learned of Franz Josef when I was living in Malaysia and planned a trip then, which I didn’t take because I couldn’t afford it. It was really special to see that dream through, but the weather did not cooperate at all. It was pouring when we hiked the glacier the next morning and our guide, Lisa of Glacier Valley Eco Tours, could not have been happier. This was a very typical West Coast day, she assured us, and we’d be able to see the waterfalls that are only visible in the rain.

As we walked, Lisa told us more about plants than I’d ever heard and it was a real joy to learn from her. Though it would have been nice to be able to see the glacier a little more clearly, I was just so happy to be there. Getting soaked to the skin was less joyful but I learned an important lesson – when a tour company asks if you’d like to rent wet gear, you say yes.

The sun came out in the afternoon and we couldn’t resist going back out for another hike. We didn’t go back to the glacier but everything looked completely different!

The next morning we picked up a pair of hitchhiking German siblings and brought them as far as Lake Matheson. This was the only lake that we visited that was small enough to actually walk all the way around, which we were more than happy to do.

The landscape completely changed as we continued on our drive to Lake Hawea. What had been glaciers became mountains and deserts; rainforest gave way to tougher plants and grasses.

I’d read that Mount Iron in nearby Wanaka was a good place for a hike, so we drove a bit further in that direction. As promised, it afforded beautiful views of the mountains that were everywhere.

The next morning before getting back in the car we hiked along Lake Hawea itself. The day grew hot quickly and we were glad to be out and about early.

We stopped for on the road for yet another picture of mountains . . .

. . . and then in quaint Arrowtown for lunch on our way to Queenstown. I’ll take you around Queenstown and Milford Sound in a separate post so bear with me while we skip ahead three days. . . .

And then we arrived in Lake Tekapo! Lake Tekapo was our last short stay and our last real road trip stop. The landscape grew more desolate as we drove.

We were excited to learn that Lake Tekapo is located in an International Dark Sky Reserve. I spent some time walking on the beach when we arrived late in the afternoon.

We spent the night in a cabin on a campground and though I had to wrap myself in all of my layers and a blanket to stay outside, I was determined to see the stars come out. It was silent and dark and I greeted the Milky Way again. Such a perfect way to conclude our road trip around New Zealand’s South Island.

In our two weeks on the South Island, we spent much of our time on the road but stopped for a few days in Queenstown and Christchurch. Posts on both places are in the works. Stay tuned!

Travel Guide: New Zealand Road Trip – North Island

After a weekend in and around Auckland (which was sweet as!) my friend Sharon and I picked up our North Island road trip vehicle, a white Toyota Yaris that I promptly named Sylvia. I can’t help it; cars speak to me.

We headed first for Rotorua where we spent two nights. This was also the part of our trip where it began to rain. It rained quite a bit during our travels but we didn’t let it stop us from seeing what we wanted to see. Our drive took us through farms and rolling hills and mountains that faded in and out of blues and greens. We drove with the windows down, enjoying air that was fresh, clean, and cool. We saw more cows, sheep, and horses than anything else, which was a theme throughout the trip. Even more than the animals, though, I noticed the trees. Part tropical palms, part enormous ferns, and part overgrown forest, the juxtaposition with cleared farmland was striking.

The climate of New Zealand reminded us of California and it wasn’t long before we realized how similar they actually are. Our first stop in Rotorua was the redwood forest that shares trees with California. Our walk through the woods was beautiful in and of itself . . .

. . . and the redwoods took my breath away. I sat for a time and meditated, listening to the wind.

When it got dark, which happens quite late in New Zealand in the summer and only later as you travel further south, we climbed the trees. The Rortorua Treewalk consists of 28 suspension bridges linking to 27 trees. I haven’t spent much time 20 meters up looking down to the forest floor and it was so cool. Oh, and there are giant wooden lanterns lighting the way. It was beautiful and felt like being in a fairytale.

The next day we went to Kuirau Park to check out the bubbling mud pools and hot springs. I expected a dinosaur to wander by at any moment. While sitting in the rain with our feet in the pools we chatted to travellers from Germany, South Africa, Belgium, the US, and elsewhere in New Zealand.

I love how much of New Zealand is just conservation land and public parks. There’s a unique feel to it, a sense that it is both important and expected that people spend time together as well as in nature. That afternoon we took a walk through Rotorua Park, which smelled more strongly of sulfur than Kuirau. It didn’t take us long to figure out why.

For Christmas Eve we’d planned a visit to Mitai Maori Village. I haven’t celebrated very many Christmas Eves but this was a darn good one! In addition to dinner, we were treated to a cultural performance which included entry by water . . .

. . . a walk through the village . . .

. . . and a cultural performance of songs, dances, and, of course, the haka.

Once it got dark, we went on a short walk to see the glowworms, which are famous in Rotorua, and to Rainbow Springs Nature Park to see the kiwi birds! Kiwis, we learned, are very rarely seen in the wild and they’re nocturnal, which doesn’t help make them easy to spot. Our very helpful guides had no trouble, however.

The next day we were back on the road heading to Napier for Christmas Day. On the way we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, which call itself a thermal wonderland. That was pretty spot on. We were just in time to see the daily eruption of Lady Knox Geyser . . .

. . . and then followed the walking trails. The sun came out as we explored and it was a unique place indeed! While I took pictures, Sharon read aloud from the map about each of the natural wonders that we passed.

We’d heard that Lake Taupo was pretty (note: everything in New Zealand is pretty) so we stopped there for lunch and a walk. I thought we might walk around the lake but that was before I learned that Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake; we walked along it instead.

When we arrived in Napier, the town was quiet and empty. Napier is designed in an Art Deco style that makes it feel like going back in time. It wasn’t until the next morning that we saw many people at all, and the emptiness and shuttered stores gave it the feel of an old film set.

The point of visiting Napier was to spend the evening on the black stone beach, which is exactly what we did. We watched the sun set and the stars appear; we listened to the wind and smelled the sea.

We shared a bottle of wine and had a beautiful evening.

After a night in Napier, we headed for Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Post coming soon!

Travel Guide: San Francisco

This trip to San Francisco was my second time in California and, like the first time, I left wondering why we all don’t live in California. (“Cost of living” likely answers this question for many.)

I landed at SFO Wednesday night and, marvelling all the while at the difference in weather between San Francisco and Singapore, spent most of Thursday just walking around the city to vanquish the jet lag (a failed pursuit) and enjoy time outside in non-humid air. I headed first to the Embarcadero where I took in the sights of the city from one of the many docks. I love water and was happy to be so often in sight of it.

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The Ferry Building was only a short walk away and I enjoyed the indoor upscale food and merchandise stalls . . .

. . . as well as the outdoor farmers’ market. . . .

Jet lag from Singapore had made it a very early day, so it was only late morning when I began my walk along the Embarcadero. I stopped at Pier 39 to admire the boats . . .

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. . . take in the carnival-like atmosphere complete with boardwalk sweets and treats . . .

. . . and get an unexpected peek at some lounging sea lions!

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From there, I was pretty close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit that much of the hype and excitement were lost on me because I don’t eat seafood, but I enjoyed looking around and watching people enjoy themselves.

From there I walked to Ghirardelli Square, which I revisited the next day to sample the beer at San Francisco Brewing Company. We have a few microbreweries in Singapore but it’s nothing like what’s in the US.

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After that, I decided it would be fun to walk up a whole lot of hills to Lombard Street. I can’t say the walk itself was what one typically thinks of as fun, but we don’t really have hills in Singapore and the views were well worth it.

Later that afternoon, I went to Alamo Square to see the famous painted ladies. I was very tired and very jet lagged by that point but again, pretty views!

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A very old friend from high school flew up from Long Beach to hang out with me for the rest of the weekend and really I could have been anywhere in the world. Catching up and hanging out was the highlight of my San Francisco experience, but we did some cool things on the side. We started our adventure Friday morning with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I was really excited about. It was so windy up there but the expanse of blue sky was extraordinary.

After walking back along the bridge, we followed the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I really love all the flowers in California because they’re different from anything I’m used to seeing. I also really love long walks without sweating!

The beach path took us to the Palace of Fine Arts, which neither of us had known existed. There were young women and their families taking quinceañera pictures and it was easy to see why. The Palace of Fine Arts, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, seemed a strange architectural choice for northern California but is really beautiful.

We decided we’d done enough walking for one day and saved the rest of our energy to celebrate San Francisco Pride in the Castro, San Francisco’s historic gay neighborhood and therefore the perfect place to be! It also had some great street art, which I love.

We returned to the Castro the next day to check out the festivities in Dolores Park . . .

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. . . and join another old friend and his new girlfriend for brunch! They drove up from Palo Alto to hang out with us, which was really special. The longer I’m away from home, the more I appreciate when people make the effort to spend time with me. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with some of my friend’s relatives and their adorable dogs. Naturally, we walked them to Kite Hill, a beautiful park with sweeping views of the city. It was very windy up there, too!

After a couple very busy days and much jet lag, we decided it was time to relax. The Palo Alto friends headed home and my Long Beach friend and I stopped at a couple more Castro spots to continue our celebration of SF Pride. He left before the parade the next morning and though the parade was great fun, I couldn’t see over anyone’s heads enough to take a decent picture.

Insert time warp here!

After a week in Berkeley (more on that in my next post) for the conference that prompted the trip to San Francisco in the first place, I spent a final afternoon with a new friend in the Haight-Ashbury district, made famous by the 1967 Summer of Love.

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The whole area was an interesting mix of hippie counterculture and gentrified boutiques, which seems to embody the feel of much of San Francisco. My favorite part was the street art . . . and how it extended to cars and houses!

When I first told my principal that I was going to northern California, he told me I wouldn’t want to leave. He wasn’t wrong, but I was also very excited to go home to Rochester to visit my family. That’s where I am now and it’s taken two days to write this post because I keep getting distracted by the laughter and activities of the people around me. I am so lucky to have them! When I get a quiet moment, I’ll share the photos of my rural and urban hikes around Berkeley.

Delicious food, good friends, and diverse neighborhoods to explore – thanks, San Francisco!