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Travel Guide: Wellington

After a weekend in Auckland and a few days on the road, my friend Sharon and I spent a couple nights in Wellington to conclude the North Island part of our trip to New Zealand. As in Auckland, the waterfront is a huge part of life in New Zealand’s capital.

We’d also read that we were supposed to check out Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants, shops, and bars.

It didn’t disappoint, but my favorite spot on the street by far was a used bookshop. I spent far too long in there one evening and, as always happens when I enter a used or independent bookstore, I bought a book. I justified it because it was a book of poems by a Kiwi poet. Not only do I not typically read poetry, but I’ve also never purposely read something by a Kiwi author. And now I have done both of those things!

We only had one full day in Wellington and we spent it, unsurprisingly, hiking and by the water. We climbed Mount Victoria, which was really just a hill. It provided beautiful views of the city . . .

. . . and the walk itself was lovely, as usual.

We passed charming gardens on our way back to the harbor . . .

. . . and then we saw the most wonderful idea! The library sponsors a book bike to ride around and let people take (to keep!) books for free. These are books that are out of date, like old travel guides, too worn to remain on shelves, or yet another donated copy of books the library already has. How wonderful!

Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, is located in Wellington and of course we went for a visit. It was fascinating to learn about the country’s history, particularly since we were somewhat familiar with Maori culture by this point. The history of native people and colonial settlers is much the same the world over and it’s painful everywhere. We also got really lucky at Te Papa because there was an exhibit on the Terracotta Army on view. I’d love to see the real site but Te Papa’s exhibit was amazing.

Another main attraction in Wellington is the cable car, which took us up the hills overlooking the harbor to the Botanic Gardens. The walk down through the gardens was calm and peaceful and the gardens ended in a cemetery as we returned to the city.

The following day, we took the Bluebridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton, the tiny town with the ferry terminal at the tip of the South Island. The ride was about three and a half hours and it was wonderful to stand outside and feel the wind and smell the water.

We sat next to a lovely older couple who told us about the geography of the Cook Strait and gave us suggestions of what to do with our South Island itinerary. Everyone we met, honestly everyone, was so friendly and helpful.

And then just like that, it was time to spend two weeks on the South Island!

Travel Guide: Auckland and Waiheke Island

Everything they say about New Zealand is true. It is magical and beautiful and has more sheep than people. It has trees and flowers I’ve never seen, as well as mountains, lakes, and deserts. It is, after all, Middle Earth. And it’s also the land of the dinosaurs, but more about that in a later post. For now, let’s visit New Zealand’s largest city and a neighboring island. (I didn’t know it before I visited, but there are lots of neighboring islands!)

For three weeks I explored New Zealand with Sharon, who was one of my travel partners in Greece earlier this year. We landed in Auckland in the afternoon and headed to Queen Street, a popular shopping area. We got our bearings and took ourselves through Viaduct Harbor. It’s a great place to walk, eat, drink, people watch, and admire boats. I was particularly excited about the last part, but my first beer from New Zealand in New Zealand was great, too.

We spent the evening at the Viaduct and were glad for the sunshine that woke us the next morning after the clouds of the first day. We went out in the opposite direction towards Mount Eden, from which we’d been promised the best views of the city. (We soon learned that New Zealand’s best views only get better.) We explored Symonds Street Cemetery on the way.

The hike up Mount Eden, the first of many hikes that largely characterized our three weeks, was beautiful and a lovely welcome to New Zealand. The sun was shining and we could see so much of Auckland and its environs.

We took a taxi back towards the Viaduct from the Mount Eden neighborhood, intending to take a ferry to one of the beaches. It wasn’t warm enough to swim but it was certainly warm enough to take a walk on the sand. Instead, though, the driver suggested we visit Waiheke Island and go wine tasting. We didn’t need much convincing and I loved everything about it from the start.

The ferry ride was beautiful . . .

. . . and so were the flowers, vineyards, and walking trails.

We visited Wild Estate, Te Motu, Stonyridge, and Cable Bay and I have only good things to say about all of them. We watched the sunset from Cable Bay, too.

We had a bit of an adventure getting back, for which we can only blame ourselves. The lady at the ticket counter said they ferry departed every half-hour and we neglected to verify that even though we were carrying the timetable. Turns out that as the day grows later, the ferry leaves every 45 minutes . . . and then every 90 minutes . . . and so we were stuck at the Waiheke Island ferry terminal from 9:40pm-11pm. Oops.

The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Auckland pick up our car, a white Toyota Yaris that I named Sylvia, and begin our North Island road trip! Stay tuned!

Upstate Hiking

My family has always loved hiking and we used to do a lot of state park camping when we were growing up. I have fond memories of weekends spent in Stony Brook, Watkins Glen, and Letchworth, all of which are just a couple hours’ drive from Rochester. Last summer, we spent a week in the Adirondacks hiking, boating, and spending time without cell phone service in beautiful scenery. This year, for the first time ever, we had a proper staycation in the Rochester area and spent the week doing a variety of Fun Family Activities, which ranged from hiking and wine tasting to board games and bar trivia. We chose Letchworth State Park for our hike because the park is huge and we knew it would be easy terrain for the dog.

I love the gorges at Letchworth . . .

 

. . . the trees . . .

 

. . . and everything that grows and lives along the trails. . . .

 

Pretty, right? I highly recommend a visit. Need a buddy? Happy to go with you if I’m in the area! If camping isn’t your thing, there’s the beautiful Glen Iris Inn in the park, too, and the best view of the gorge is just beyond.

But one hike was not enough, so my sister and I spent a day at her newest local find, Grimes Glen, which has now topped the list of my favorite Rochester area hikes. It’s also probably the most challenging hike I’ve done around here and perhaps the only hike that my sister and I have done just the two of us. And we had such a great time.

Grimes Glen is basically a walk up Grimes Creek that takes you in the creek itself . . .

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I sorely missed my Tevas, sitting unhelpfully outside the door of my apartment in Singapore.

. . . scaling ropes tethered to trees and rocks to get up the banks and waterfalls . . .

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. . . and picking your way through trees, waterways, and shale walls that basically become a playground!

 

There are three major waterfalls at Grimes Glen and we spent a few hours sitting on the ledge of the third fall. It was tricky to get to and we saw exactly three groups of people in the entire time we were there. The noise of the water echoed off the shale and our vantage point from the top of the waterfall let us see all the way to the bend in the creek. It was so unexpectedly private!

 

Once the sun reached the highest point in the sky, we were ready for a swim. I find counting to three very motivating and my sister was kind enough to indulge me until I was (briefly) completely submerged in the frigid water. I couldn’t bring myself to join her in the fall itself, though, not once I came up shrieking because of the cold. My last swimming in a waterfall experience was in Laos a couple years ago where it was much, much warmer!

And the privacy I mentioned? We climbed back up to our ledge and spent a few minutes topless to dry off, enjoying the sun after our dip. And why not, really?


Upstate New York may be older, emptier, and more downtrodden than I remembered, but it’s as beautiful as ever.

Go exploring. Spend some time outside; it’s lovely there.