Party in the USA – Itinerary Planning

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My first voyage to USA took place last December, where it was a trip to make up for my honeymoon since our Perth trip was only 5 days since D had to head back to army for reservist.

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I was quite adamant on not travelling during Winter because of the short days, but my cousin in Vancouver was getting married and D was able to take leave during this period.. So we booked our tickets on ANA, which we thought the price was relatively decent considering we booked it 1.5 months before our trip.

Our trip route was a little strange since we had to cater for a stopover in Vancouver for the wedding:

Singapore – Los Angeles – Vancouver – Seattle – San Francisco – Yosemite – Los Angeles – Las Vegas – Los Angeles – Singapore

But otherwise, it was a pretty straightforward route. Heading up to Seattle, and slowly making our way down the West Coast.

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Only thing was – we headed to Yosemite by coach, and had trouble finding a route out as we wanted to head down to Los Angeles instead of going back to San Francisco which was where we came from.

Buses or trains from Yosemite to Los Angeles would have taken forever, and flights were scarce in terms of suitable timings. We eventually decided to take a bus out of the valley to Fresno Airport where we caught a flight to Los Angeles.

I wasn’t sure why it didn’t occur to me then, to check for tickets from Fresno to Las Vegas directly . That could have saved us a one-way flight ticket! But then again, timings were so limited they might not have been any to Las Vegas.

But we had the most fabulous ride which took us from Los Angeles to Las Vegas – so I would like to think that things happen for a reason.

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Will get down to detailing the trip – slowly, but surely!

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Tekapo Across Three Seasons

IMG_5120 IMG_5174 IMG_5187 Hands down if anyone were to ask where’s my favourite place in New Zealand, it can only be Tekapo. It definitely helped that the weather was fantastic all three times I was there. Yep, you heard me right. Three times.

IMG_5216 IMG_5221 IMG_5113First encounter with Tekapo was in Summer, in fact it was the very last day. It was a near-cloudless day, and the waters mirrored the clear blue skies. A great way to celebrate the final day of my favourite season.

Tekapo is a small town, and one of the key attractions is the Church of Good Shepherd. Situated next to Lake Tekapo, this is definitely one of my favourite spots. We didn’t manage stay the night, but it’s known that many photographers would camp overnight to take photos of the church against a bright starry night.

IMG_4939 IMG_4960 IMG_4972IMG_5019 IMG_5066But the best vantage point to take the scenery in is Mount John. Go during the day and have a cup of coffee at Astro Cafe. It’s gonna be the best view you’re ever going to have with a cuppa.

There are two ways of getting there – if you’re (ahem) lazy like us, it’s a short drive up the hill from the town centre. Otherwise, there’s always the option of walking up the trek which apparently ranked rather low on the difficulty scale.

IMG_3438 IMG_3450 IMG_3468Our second visit was in Autumn (again, it was the very last day of the season!). It was the starting point of our campervan trip and we spent a night there. But not before heading up Mount John a second time.

The hues of Autumn were slightly warmer, but the winds were definitely colder. We managed to take a short walk to the other end of the peak, but the view from the cafe was definitely better.

IMG_3845 IMG_3852 IMG_3853 IMG_3855Third time back was in Winter. It was a quick bus stopover from Queenstown to Christchurch. Although it was the shortest time spent, by far it’s the best I’ve seen Tekapo in – the snowcapped mountains were a stark contrast to the clear blue waters with mirror-like reflections.

Sitting by the lake, I recall being so overwhelmed by what was before me. The feeling of leaving New Zealand in just three days finally hit me, and I knew this was the view I was going to miss the most.

Back in Tekapo three times, each time a different season. And each time I knew, Tekepo is my favouritest place.

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Froth

If you’re a fan of taro and waffles, chances are you probably have heard about Froth. IMG_3981
Located at the basement of Big Hotel, the cafe offers an extensive fusion menu and aims to attract both locals and tourists alike. 

It wasn’t difficult to find a seat despite lunch hour, and we promptly ordered ourselves some starters and mains before making our way to the supposed highlight of our meal – dessert! 

Food service was quick, and our first dish arrived within the first 10 minutes of ordering. 

IMG_3971Grilled Portobello was up first, and we were pleasantly surprised at the presentation of the dish. Unfortunately, the taste didn’t quite meet up to its appearance. The truffle mushroom purée was served lukewarm at best, and the white asparagus was a tad too raw for our liking. Things were not getting off to a good start..

IMG_3968 IMG_3983Then came the arrival of the fries, and our expectations rose with both dishes served piping hot and fried to perfection.

The truffle fries were served with a healthy dose of parmesan and were throughly tossed to ensure the fries at the bottom were not neglected. Similarly, the sweet potato fries were coated evenly with their house seasoning, and was equally flavourful even without a dipping sauce.  

IMG_3979 IMG_3984We were making our way to the finale of the meal, but not before tasting two of the mains.

On the first bite, we weren’t quite sure if we would like the seafood tom yum risotto. But it quickly got addictive with the balance of sweet, sour and (not too) spicy – all in one mouth! 

There’s always the worry of the cream being too rich when ordering carbonara, but this definitely wasn’t the case. In fact, the broth came slightly diluted and thickened upon mixing in the poached egg. With a generous serving of bacon bits, this was definitely one of our favourite dishes.

IMG_3989We ended the meal with the anticipated taro waffles – one of the key reasons why we came here! 

Each serving of waffle came with a scoop of ice cream, and we chose ours to have with earl grey – which was rich and creamy, but unfortunately masked the taste of the taro. 

Waffles by itself had a winning texture – where it was moist, slightly chewy on the inside, but still with a crunch when you bit into it! Overall it was a great dish, though yam lovers would probably be craving for more taro oomph.

There were some hit and misses on the menu, but there are definitely some dishes which will have me return again. And the next time round, I’ll be giving the waffles another shot but with a different ice cream choice! 

Froth
200 Middle Road
Singapore 188980
63361228

Opening Hours:
Breakfast – 7.00am to 10.30am daily
Lunch & Dinner – 11.30am to 10.00pm (closed on every first Monday of the month)

Whangarei – More Than Just a Pitstop

Whangarei may not be just a mere pitstop for most people – it makes a good landing point to explore the nearby attractions – but for us it was a stopover point before driving further up North from Raglan, and then again when making our way back down to Auckland.

But the place will have a special place in my heart, and it’s all because of the Airbnb we stayed in. Naomi and Brent were simply the best hosts, and we spent a lot of our time chatting with them in their cosy house – from hearing about their travel plans to looking at photos taken by Brent at weddings and family gatherings.

It’s one of those Airbnb gems where you get so much more than just a night’s stay. Even memories of them offering us grapes from their neighbour’s which I call life-changing, and their amused looks at my amazement at how sweet they were, still brings back a smile to my face.

We arrived on a Wednesday on our first night, and they recommended for us to head to Rynoz where they had a one-for-one stone grill for that night. To ensure we had seats despite no reservations, we reached the restaurant at 6pm. The place filled up real quick and we saw them turning away walk-ins. Phew!

IMG_2572IMG_2573 IMG_2576We headed off the next morning after a restful sleep, and continued up North. But not before making a stop at Kawakawa to visit the Hundertwasser Toilet. Not your usual conventional attraction, but the public toilet was designed by a Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and is now the most photographed toilet in New Zealand.

IMG_2577 IMG_2578 IMG_2580 IMG_2581 IMG_2585After the pee stop (hehe), we continued on to Paihia which is more of a place to explore the Bay of Islands, so the town itself didn’t really have much to do for us. We wandered around the city centre aimlessly and eventually settled down at the esplanade area to have our snack – Cookie Time! – and enjoy the afternoon sun.

IMG_2590 IMG_2595 IMG_2596 IMG_2598 IMG_2608 IMG_2609Right.. I guess I kind of conflicted myself there, we didn’t explore Whangarei in its entirety, but it was Naomi and Brent’s hospitality which made it more than just a pitstop – it felt like a home away from home.

Of Beaches & Falls, Raglan

IMG_2048 IMG_2051IMG_2416 IMG_2458IMG_2568IMG_2564We first heard of Raglan through a fellow backpacker in Tauranga where he shared it was one of the better towns for nightlife, though also cautioning it might be more suitable for those who surfed. We didn’t, but we were desperate for some form of nightlife after a month away from home.

Though we stayed in an Airbnb with a welcoming host who opened up his house to us, we weren’t crazy over the state of cleanliness of the house. It was located right in town though, so it was really convenient.

Arriving just after lunch, we walked down to town for a meal and settled down at The Shack. I love anything corn, so it wasn’t hard choosing the chickpea & corn fritters as my main!

IMG_2000 IMG_1999 IMG_2001Raglan actually reminded me a little of Bali, with its hipster cafes and surf shops. I decided a cup of flat white was in order when I spotted Raglan Roast tucked away in a corner. Pity it wasn’t the prettiest cup of coffee, but the friendly barista made up for it and she even offered to take a photo for us without us asking.

IMG_2002IMG_2003IMG_2005We took a 15min drive to Bridal Falls after lunch, one of the best waterfalls we’ve seen in New Zealand so far. Getting down to the base took 261 steps, but it was worth it.

IMG_2017 IMG_2024 IMG_2030 IMG_2036 IMG_2042We stayed for two nights, and while the skies were overcast the first day, we had the perfect beach weather the next. First stop was Ngarunui Beach which was probably more for surfers than sun-worshipers like us. But that didn’t stop us from plonking down our beach mats and dozing off under the blanket of warm sunlight, with the occasional glance at surfer dudes.

IMG_2465 IMG_2467 IMG_2470 IMG_2474After two hours, we decided it was time to move to the next destination – Manu Bay. It gained popularity after being featured in the movie ‘Endless Summer’, which we obviously didn’t watch else we would have known it was really just meant for surfing. So no sun worshipping here, just a lot of ogling at the surfers doing their thing.

IMG_2517 IMG_2547 IMG_2556 IMG_2529 IMG_2541 IMG_2549And that basically summed up our trip to Raglan. As you can probably tell, we had no nightlife whatsoever, perhaps because we were there during the weekdays instead. Though we felt slightly cheated, us non-surfers still enjoyed ourselves with the town’s beaches and falls!

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Glow Worms in Waitomo

When people head to Waitomo, it usually for – no surprises there – glow worms!

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We honestly thought there would be more things to do than just glow worms, but we knew we were wrong the moment we reached the town.

And calling it a town is actually a stretch. Because there were probably only 5 restaurants, a couple of accommodation, and it takes less than 5 mins to whizz past. There are no supermarkets around, so if you’re staying the night do ensure you stock up else you’ll end up driving to the nearest Countdown located 15mins away like us.

We stayed at Juno Hall Hostel which was really convenient for us as the company we did Black Water Rafting with was located across the road. It was one of the more rustic hostels we’ve stayed in, and it was almost like staying on a farm with all the animals they rear. But what really got my attention were the three little pigs. Are they adorable or what!

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We chose to do the Black Labyrinth Tour with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co, and had the most amazing experience with them.

First step was getting wet – the water was cold but bearable. We drifted through the underground river in our tubes, leapt down two waterfalls, and finally reached the part where we were all waiting for – a ceiling filled with glow worms, glittering like stars in the galaxy.

There we floated along on our backs, taking in the breathtaking sight of the glow worms, with the guide singing as he pushed us along. And we just remained simply in awe.

IMG_8324 IMG_8322We didn’t purchase the official photos taken by our guide, but managed to get some photos in our snazzy wetsuits. Okay I kid, but it did keep us warm.

I reckon anyone heading to North Island could do with just a day trip to see the glow worms. It’s definitely an experience I wouldn’t forget in a hurry!

New Plymouth on a Shoestring

We meant to drop by New Plymouth as a pitstop as we made our way up North after the drive down Forgotten World Highway. But we quickly found out the town had so much more to offer and on hindsight, we should have spent more than 2 nights there.

The Airbnb we stayed in made it even harder to leave with Judy’s fantastic hospitality and comfortable beds; we even got to experience picking avocados for the first time! And also embarrassingly found out how lacking in bio knowledge we were when we asked why are male avocado trees grown when their fruit weren’t sought after..

IMG_1845IMG_1822 IMG_1821 IMG_1833Being in a coastal town, we ran into days with strong gusts of wind. That didn’t stop us from exploring the town, especially with Judy extending her hospitality to bring us and her Woofer around town.

IMG_1846 IMG_1850 IMG_1853 IMG_1856First stop was Pukekura Park, an expansive garden area located in the heart of the city. We covered the areas around the lake fairly quickly, and was feeling rather skeptical of the garden.

Then we came across Bowl of Brooklands, an outdoor venue with a grassy amphitheatre.  It wasn’t the impressive stage which caught my eye though, my eyes lit up when I saw ducks racing across the pond to a man feeding them with bread. If you can’t tell, I have an obsession with ducks..

IMG_1858 IMG_1859 IMG_1860 IMG_1862 IMG_1863 IMG_1878Judy also recommended popping by The Fernery in the park where we found more variety of plants sheltered under the glasshouse. Don’t be fooled by the exterior – the space was much bigger than it looked and we took more time than expected to explore the place.

IMG_1897 IMG_1900 IMG_1901 IMG_1907One of the beauty of staying in an Airbnb is when you’re lucky enough to meet a fantastic host who not only shares hidden gems in their backyard, but brings you to it. Located along the town’s famous 10km Coastal Walkway is Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, and we definitely wouldn’t have made our way here without Judy.

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Back to the Coastal Walkway – during our research on things to do in New Plymouth, the walkway was heavily featured and was marketed as an award-winning path. I had my doubts then, but having been there, it’s definitely one of my favourite part of town.

IMG_1943 IMG_1946 IMG_1945Climbing Mount Taranaki, or also known as Mount Egmont, is probably one of the top things to do when in New Plymouth. I was rather unwillingly to climb another mountain after the Tongariro experience, but Judy recommended us to climb up midpoint where we could get a view of the peak.

It started out as a sunny day, and we were hopeful that we would get to see the snow-capped peak, but as always, you can never predict Mother Nature and the peak remained shrouded in clouds the entire time we were there.

IMG_1955 IMG_1960 IMG_1967 IMG_1993We managed to explore New Plymouth on a shoestring budget, having spent nothing on the activities mentioned above. The only meal we indulged in was at Mayfair, where we were seduced in by their live music (only to have it end slightly after we sat down). But all’s good when the food’s good.

IMG_1954 IMG_1952 IMG_1950 IMG_1948I doubt we would ever make it back to New Plymouth, but I’ll never forget the warm hospitality we received at Judy’s and the thrill of picking our own avocados for the first time. Being on New Plymouth on a shoestring didn’t mean we got anything less of an experience, in fact we got a whole lot more than we bargained for.

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