I #BrakeForPie in Los Angeles

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The Apple Pan’s Banana Cream Pie

It all started with my friend Cameon mailing me the People Magazine article on the 50 best pies in the United States with one pie place listed for each state. She knows I #brakeforpie. I was already going to Los Angeles for work, and for a visit with friends, so I was intrigued that the best pie in California was at The Apple Pan, according to this author.

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It turned out that my schedule determined that I’d need to arrive at Burbank airport, pick up my rental car and make a bee line to the Apple Pan for a late lunch. I arrived about 2 p.m., and even after the lunch rush, the counter was almost full. I did score a parking spot in the lot behind (with about 6 spaces).

They only take cash so they invited me to place my order and then go to the ATM 42 steps away. My friend Jen said the steak burger is good, so I ordered one with a side of fries with a diet coke. The sodas come in cans with a paper cone with ice in an old fashioned holder–very odd and I prefer fountain soda. Next time I’ll drink water and order coffee with the pie. The food is very good quality and even though it is a Los Angeles institution, the prices were in line with other diners.

IMG-0318The woman sitting next to me ordered an amazing looking egg salad sandwich. I asked if I could take a picture of it. This led to a lovely conversation. She drops in for lunch whenever she is in this part of West Los Angeles.

IMG_0317 I had dug through my travel files to find my issue of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine Winter 2016 issue that focuses on Los Angeles. As I read it more carefully on the Southwest flight to Burbank, I kept running across mentions of The Apple Pan. Sammy Harkham calls the Apple Pan his personal favorite. He focuses on the burger: “The burger is, hands down, the best fucking burger in the world.”

Kim Gordon also calls out the pie: “Besides the amazing burgers and hefty tuna sandwiches, the pies at the Apple Pan parade through my mind like old friends: cherry, boysenberry, especially strawberry cream, with that barely sweet whipped-cream top.” The strawberry cream pie is available May-September, the banana cream pie is always on the menu. You’ll have to try it for yourself.

The Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

 

 

The Nuggets are Zen

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Isn’t it weird how on a hike you can get a view of a place that looks like you used a drone, when it is just the way the trail goes…

I’d seen photos of The Nuggets on-line as I planned my visit to the Caitlins. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the region, but I knew that I wanted to walk out to this lighthouse and the rocks that go by the name of The Nuggets, or Nugget Point or Kaka Point.

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Feeling like I was at the “end of the world” my thoughts turned to the climate crisis, the whaling genocide of last century, and inspired a collage…

The parking lot at 11:00 a.m. contained a handful of cars. Along the trail I encountered only about two dozen other people in small groups over the 3 miles roundtrip. There were times along the walk that I felt a beautiful solitude. Noise also played tricksy as I was sheltered from the sound of wind and surf by the ridge, until I stepped out (almost to the lighthouse) and it returned with a roar.

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Product placement: The path to the lighthouse was very easy terrain and my Allbirds did the job!

I truly enjoyed the experience and could have stayed longer at points along the way. It would be a great picnic spot with some advance planning.

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Whoopsie National Geographic Traveler! This is not Cape Reina, it is Nugget Point. Only at the complete opposite end of the country. This is the second time I’ve caught America’s geographer out. The other time was with the parent magazine when they asked UC Davis to review an article on The Great Central Valley and their map showed Gilroy in the San Joaquin Valley.

 

Quintessential eNZed in the Caitlins

IMG_9769The Caitlins are not as frequently visited by foreign tourists as other parts of New Zealand. There are not many motels and restaurants are Mom & Pop places. This adds to the Caitlins’ charms. You can drive for miles through villages, farmland and wildlands, with occasional beach sitings, but nothing very commercial in sight. This is what people think of when they imagine New Zealand.

It is not hard to reach. If you fly to Auckland you can catch one of the frequent daily flights to Dunedin and within an hour you are in the heart of the Caitlins. This area is just off of Highway 1, the main route from Dunedin to Invercargill.

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After an excellent day of albatross and penguin, I stayed at a motel in Mosgiel, a suburb community closer to the Dunedin airport than downtown. This provided a full day of fun in the Caitlins. You could easily spend two days in the area if you like to hike or want to spend more time on one of the beaches.

My goal for the day was the lighthouse at the Nuggets. (wait for next post!) I toodled around following local signs and stopping to admire views along the way. It was a lovely, lovely day.

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Penguin Place At Last!

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I saw my first Yellow-eyed penguin from the hide at Bushy Point, but I was at least a hundred meters above the beach and even with binoculars it was hard to appreciate their unique size and markings. Several times I tried going on a Penguin Place tour and couldn’t fit it in with the Little Blue Penguin experience at the Royal Albatross Centre. I was determined to make it work this time!

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Two Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho recovering from injury at Penguin Place. Hoiho do not do well in captivity and these two males will be released when ready.

Located on a private sheep farm on the Dunedin peninsula, Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation and welfare of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho. Their efforts to restablish habitat and educate the public also benefits Little Blue penguins. I went in the winter months (April-September) so they only offer one tour a day at 3:45 p.m. In the summer months (October-March) there are 90 minute tours running from 10:15 a.m. to 6:16 p.m.

One advantage of going in the winter is the tour group is more likely to be small. There were just a half dozen of us as we bumped in the bus, through the sheep ranch, and toward the trails that lead to the network of hides.

We had plenty of time to ask our questions as we waited in the hide and looked out at the beach waiting for a Yellow-eyed penguin to return. A large sea lion was hanging out on the beach probably sending “stay away” vibes to penguins. We were not disappointed though. There were two Yellow-eyed penguins who stayed on land all day. One was just a few feet from the hide and another was some distance below the hide but away from the beach and visible to us. We also saw several single and pairs of Little Blue Penguins in their wooden hutches along the trail.

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Female hoiho stayed home to prepare her nest.

All of the money from the penguin tourism goes back into rehabilitating penguins in the hospital and conserving the breeding grounds. In spite of the extensive efforts by people and the NZ Department of Conservation, the numbers are shrinking. When I first took an interest in hoiho there were 400-600 breeding pairs on the NZ mainland, and now there are just 266 breeding pairs. There is also a sex imbalance with three males for every female. It is hard to state with certainty what is causing the decline but it is likely warming oceans and changing food supply. Participating in this guided tour is a small way to do your part for the species. And we need to all make changes to address the climate crisis.

In Awe of the Albatross

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This is my third visit to the Royal Albatross Centre and the first time I’ve been able to be a part of a tour as my focus has been on the Little Blue Penguins.

Before I visited the Royal Albatross Centre I thought of the Albatross as a super big gull. They are so much more AWE-some. They are super big with wings that fold twice. They spend most of the lives flying at sea. The young take a year to mature and when they are ready to attempt flight they just step off a cliff without any training or practice! These are just a few of the wonderful albatross facts I learned on the tour.

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Through the blind we could view three different birds almost ready to start their solitary lives at sea.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. She said that if we were lucky we would see an adult coming back to feed their chick.

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Against the backdrop of the ocean the gliding albatross looks like a boat in the water. The adult made several passes before dropping out of site and landing. It is hard to describe how thrilling it is to watch this bird soar.

The Centre does a marvelous job of educating people about the unique grandeur of the Royal Albatross. Both the Centre and the bird deserve the adjective “Royal.” They provide many different ways to communicate the size and majesty of this bird. You can see the folding 3 meter wing span in the skeleton, and the stuffed albatross are weighted to approximate an actual bird’s likely weight. One of my favorite fun facts is the full grown chick actually is too heavy to fly, so the parent begins to force them to walk to dinner to get them to lose some of the baby fat.

There are a variety of tours, with the most basic hour long tour at the top of an hour, starting for $52NZ per adult. It is a steep climb up to the glassed in viewing platform or hide. Along the way there are a variety of gulls nesting on the hillside and sheep mowing the grass. I did see people with some mobility challenges making the trek and taking their time. The visitor centre also has a gift shop and cafe. There is  ample parking but it is located at the very end of the peninsula, so allow 45 minutes to an hour to get there on the narrow, windy road with traffic stops for roadwork. It is worth the effort.

 

 

 

Delicious Dining with a Dunedin View

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One of my favorite places in New Zealand: Dunedin Peninsula

As I planned my day in Dunedin I read about a restaurant and garden Glenfollach. I went online and made a reservation without realizing that it was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand. I requested a booking before noon so I could enjoy my lunch and drive on to the end of the peninsula for the Royal Albatross Centre. When I first arrived there were only a few people already enjoying coffee and the view. By the time I left the restaurant and deck were full of families celebrating fathers.

Because of Fathers Day there was also a 3 course meal option. It sounded super so I ordered it, along with a ginger ale and tonic and enjoyed the attention to details in the venue decor and table setting.

To say my meal was delicious is inadequate. Every course was very interesting and combined flavors and textures beautifully. I was so thankful to enjoy another great New Zealand meal.

There is a beautiful garden to enjoy if you do have a long wait for a table. Booking ahead is advised. Glenfollach isn’t more than 15 minutes into the Peninsula, so accessible from downtown Dunedin.

 

 

Tale of Two Botanic Gardens

My travel rule of thumb: visit a botanic garden, especially if it is free. When traveling on business a good garden makes an excellent place to get some steps in and breathe fresh air. Not all gardens are created equal. This summer I had the opportunity to go to the Missouri Botanic Garden and it is world class. And I started my NZ trip with a stay at the world class private garden, Paripuma. Alas, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is looking frumpy. It was winter and they have had their hands full with rebuilding glasshouse structures after the earthquakes; nevertheless, even before “the big one” I felt the garden was more Ode to Mother England than a celebration of New Zealand. In the photos above you see lots of lawn, some legacy trees and a lot of (yawn) planted annual beds.

Even with that critique, there is hardly a prettier downtown than Christchurch ANYWHERE in the world. Well, maybe Adelaide, Australia. They have optimized the Avon River and the parks and gardens in a way that you must make time to walk through.

The garden that I’ll be sure to visit again is in Dunedin.

This garden is built on a steep hill (much like Wellington’s) and yet maximizes the attractions with different gardens and lots of plant variety and statuary. Plus I LOVE a knot garden! I just wish there was a viewing platform for the knot garden.

They welcome children in Dunedin and design for their enjoyment: a train, free food for ducks, playground equipment, and space to make your own fun. It was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand on the day of my visit and I saw loads of families taking advantage of the garden on an almost spring day.

It seems an almost silly thing, but I found this little stick structure and ended up sitting for a little while admiring it, wondering who built it and admiring their handywork.

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The best gardens help you forget that you are in a city and take you into nature. Dunedin Botanic Garden does.

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Both gardens are free to enter. Both have cafes where you can get a coffee or tea or something more substantial to eat. Both make their cities more livable and enjoyable.