How Trek Travel Surpasses Expectations

Complimentary photo book of Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire

Complimentary photo book from Trek Travel

I picked my mail up from the post office and what did I find? A surprise from Trek Travel. They put together a beautiful photobook of our Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire. It was very satisfying to go through the photos and see pictures of all of us riding our Trek bikes, meeting our favorite riders, standing on the podium in London, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, of course.

I loved my Trek Travel experience and this is just another example of how they surpassed my expectations.

P.S. Trek Travel has also added Jens Voigt to their team. He will be joining a handful of trips in 2015!

P.S.S. Read more about my Tour de France adventure–from Leeds to Paris–in my earlier posts.

Is it worth it to pay $200 or more for a hotel night?

Maybe your headline would say $100 or maybe your threshold is $300 or $400 a night. I thought about this a lot on my most recent trip to New Zealand because I splurged on a few nights at special venues.

When my Aunt and I travelled to Iowa we stayed at a Hampton Inn in West Des Moines. The staff was super friendly and provided great service. The room and beds were comfortable. The bathroom was extra clean and toiletries were provided. There was a mini fridge where we could store our leftovers from dinner and then forget them. All for a bargain price (thanks AARP and AAA) of about $100 a night. What more do you need? And is it worth paying for?

Sorry. You have to decide for yourself. Is it worth spending an additional $200 a night to have more space (a small apartment) at The Rees overlooking Lake Wakitipu? For my Mom and her friends. Hella yes!

When I was planning my most recent New Zealand trip I had Friday to Friday to plan on South Island. I started with a super ambitious agenda that included Christchurch. My Kiwi friends helped me get some perspective, yet I still bit off a little too much. (I will share what I will do next time at the end).

Wilderness LodgeI finally landed in Queenstown, which is the closest airport to Haast and yet it is still a 3-3.5 hour drive to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki. As you can tell by my Christmas post on the Fiordland Crested Penguins, I do not begrudge any of the time invested. It was a fantastic experience. It was (gulp) $499 NZ ($387 US) a night for a room that included dinner and breakfast. My room was very comfortable and had a super view of the river. The was the most expensive room I had ever booked and I only stayed one night in part because I had a hard time justifying the expense–even for penguins. Now I realize part of the room rate is because Gerry and Anne McSweeney invest so much in the habitat surrounding the lodge and in providing lodging in as sustainable a way as possible. If I had that trip to do over I would stay at least 2 nights.

I left about 1:00 p.m. to drive about 6 hours to Invercargill in the hopes of visiting Stewart Island. Then I turned around the next day, disappointed and tired without getting to the Island. My neck was torked from driving. I decided to return to Queenstown as quick as I could to enjoy my next splurge: The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel. In February a taxi driver pointed out the hotel and said it was consistently ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor. I was intrigued. The proprietors have taken an old “Dairy” or corner market and several other buildings and converted it to a first class hotel. I called ahead and asked Matt if he could arrange a massage for me in town. It was a Sunday so I thought it might not be possible. He made an appointment for me at the Body Sanctum spa just a few blocks into town from the hotel with Juliana. After the ill-fated massage in the Pyrenees I was hesitant. Wow–best massage I have had since my favorite masseuse Jackie moved away.

The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.

The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.

I arrived at the Dairy Hotel in time for afternoon tea. It was a very proper and delicious tea with cream scones and fruit (all prepared in their kitchen). The public rooms in the hotel are so comfortable I actually did make use of them. Other guests also read in front of the fire in the evening. My bed was super comfortable. The bathroom was well appointed except that I could not figure out the bath fixtures which made for a bit of contortion washing my hair. When I mentioned it to Paul he explained that I needed to push the button to start the shower before I turned the water on. Oh well. I only wish I could have stayed longer. Even at $465.00 NZ a night. Just to have Matt’s exquisite omelette again at breakfast. And to be referred to as Madame.

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

The thing about spending more on a hotel night is that it then makes the $290 NZ spent on Larnach Castle accommodation seem like a bargain. Again I justified it with the proximity to penguins. It is only 20-30 minutes from the Royal Albatross Centre–depending on your nerves driving on a windy road where one moment of daydreaming will have you swimming in the bay. The rooms are not in the Castle, which is a historic restored mansion open for tours. The hotel rooms are in specially built buildings and in the retrofitted stables. This price includes full breakfast the next morning but not dinner in the Castle. I pulled out my wallet for the $65 NZ for a 3 course meal with other guests. It includes ghost stories.

My view was impeccable. The windows run the length of the room including the bathroom. There is a short deck too. I could have stayed on the deck and enjoyed the view of Dunedin longer but the gardens were calling. I wandered around the various “rooms” of the garden until it was time to change for dinner. You do not have to dress for dinner. They said “come as you are.” I had packed some nicer clothes and I wanted to mark the occasion of the last night of a very special visit to New Zealand.

View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.

View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.

I still want to visit Stewart Island. And I have heard enough about the Catlins that I want to explore there as well. So driving from Dunedin to Invercargill is probably the best strategy. I do not recommend trying to squeeze Invercargill in as it takes some time to get there and then some flexibility needs to be built in on account of weather.

I have seen so much of New Zealand. Just when I think I have seen everything I learn about something else. Plus I have not done a Great Walk yet. I am looking forward to my next visit already. It helps to keep the “I’m not In New Zealand blues” away.

Hiking Rangitoto in Auckland

I stared at Rangitoto too many times to count from a bench in St Heliers in the east bays of Auckland. Finally I was able to take the ferry and hike to the top.

Rangitoto is the most recent volcano to erupt in the Auckland area. It was over 600 years ago, which is like yesterday in geologic time. The Auckland Museum has a terrific volcano exhibit including a lounge in St Heliers where you can experience what it might be like if a similar volcanic eruption occurred (right next to Rangitoto). Warning: it does unnerve. http://vimeo.com/29927106

You can leave from either Devonport or the Ferry Building on Quay Street at the end of Queen Street in Auckland. Fuller Ferries will sell a round trip ticket. It was extra to stop at Devonport on our return. In an attempt to control the rodent population in favor of native birds, take care and check your bags for any critters including ants and your shoes for excessive dirt or seeds. (It sounds crazy, I know. Just check. Who wants to be the jerk that brings something harmful onto Rangitoto?)

The cost of the ferry from Auckland or Devonport to Rangitoto is $30NZ round trip for an adult and $15NZ for a child.

The cost of the ferry from Auckland or Devonport to Rangitoto is $30NZ round trip for an adult and $15NZ
for a child.

We rose early, packed a bag with cameras, water and a snack and headed to catch the 9:15 ferry. We found parking at a garage across Quay Street from the Ferry Building. Our plan was to hike to the top of Rangitoto and then take the 12:30 ferry to Devonport for lunch. There are bathrooms on the island but no other facilities. The ferry does offer food and beverages on the boat, including tea or coffee.

Baches along shoreline of Rangitoto.

Baches along shoreline of Rangitoto.

Rangitoto trailThe day was overcast. We slathered on sunscreen just in case the sun made an appearance. It did not. I am glad as it would have been intensely hot and made the hike more challenging, although the photos would have been better.

There are a few “baches” (simple holiday houses) remaining on the island as historical landmarks, though no one can spend the night any longer. The trails are well marked and their is a tour company that will take you part of the way on a tram. We followed the signs up the trail to the summit. We ignored the offered side routes–another time. The Fullers brochure does recommend sturdy walking shoes and a torch if you want to explore lava caves.

View from Rangitoto includes nearby Motutapu.

View from Rangitoto includes nearby Motutapu.

It is more fascinating than beautiful to hike through volcanic fields of aa (dried lava flows). In some places soil has accumulated and vegetation grows. Where vegetation grows there are birds, mainly my favorite tui.

It is an arduous climb as it unrelentingly goes up. After we returned to Auckland a friend told me that she has hiked Rangitoto twice–the second time with her 80 year old mother. She told her story with humor and her mother sounds very game but she said never again! If you give yourself enough time, I believe most people, including children and those out of shape, could make it to the top. There are a series of long stairs at the very top, so it is not accessible to strollers or wheelchairs. The morning we hiked we were eclipsed at the top by a group of students from a boys college racing to the top.

Near the top of Rangitoto

The trail is well marked by the Department of Conservation.

There is a deck for viewing the dormant volcano’s cone, as well as a deck for appreciating the views. Like many other places around Auckland Bays, there are watch bunkers from World War II. The trail is well marked and there are numerous informational signs provided by the Department of Conservation. I used these to stop and catch my breath and take a few photos.

Sometimes the walk downhill can be harder than the hike uphill. Rangitoto’s trail is not too challenging on the way down. There are a few spots where you have to slow down and place your feet carefully.

We returned to the ferry dock in plenty of time to relax a bit before the ride to Devonport. The weather was not improving. When the ferry docked I was a bit surprised to see some people arriving. They would have just enough time to walk an hour to the summit and return before the last ferry of the day left.

Tevis, Sarah and Marcos mooching around in Devonport.

Tevis, Sarah and Marcos mooching around in Devonport.

Wild and Wooly

We stopped at Devonport and ate lunch at one of the many restaurants just a few blocks from the ferry building. My kids mooched around town while I shopped at my favorite wool shop. Then we hopped on the ferry back to Auckland CBD. Those leave every half hour. It was $7.50 a person for the short hop (takes less than 15 minutes).

I always love the view of Auckland from the ferry. It is a beautiful city and full of good times and great memories. Especially of the Rugby World Cup. I hope one day Auckland will be able to host the America’s Cup again.

Best Penguin Adventure Yet

symbol of New ZealandrainforestI sat on a rock on beach nestled near the rainforest. The rain was dripping down my nose and onto a towel protecting my camera. We hiked down from the road through thick rainforest and across streams. It was near the end of the penguin nesting season, so my guide Dr. Gerry McSweeney did not guarantee we would see a penguin. I was the only guest on the guided hike and yet because of Gerry’s great enthusiasm to share these rare birds he did not hesitate to take me on my own. We waited patiently for our reward.

Fiordland Crested PenguinsThe Fiordland Crested Penguin nest in the rainforest and go to and fro all day to feed themselves and their chicks. At last we saw a shy fellow peek out of the foliage on a steep trail down to the beach. The trail looked like a slip and slide and it was hard to believe the ungainly penguin could navigate it. He/she saw us as I moved closer to get a better view I spooked her and he retreated. After more patient waiting we were rewarded with two penguins.  All together we saw 15 penguins throughout the morning, plus starfish and sea urchins, a gorgeous coastline and a rare orchid in the forest.

penguinsThey emerged from the forest moved down the bank and onto the rocky beach. They are ungainly on land and yet completely charming when hopping from rock to beach. They slipped into the water and displayed their true grace.  coastline

penguinI have enjoyed many adventures to view penguins in New Zealand, and this was the best yet. There are three types of penguins living in New Zealand. The little blue penguin can be found almost along every coastline on North and South Islands. The yellow-eyed penguin can only found along the southernmost coastline of South Island. And the rarest of the three, the Fiordland Crested penguin, lives along the west coast of South Island.

Dr. Gerry McSweeney, guide and host at Wilderness Lodge. Also keeper of the habitat along this stretch of coastline.

Dr. Gerry McSweeney, guide and host at Wilderness Lodge. Also keeper of the habitat along this stretch of coastline.

Penguin viewing is seasonal–beginning in December the penguins begin to go to sea for long months of swimming and eating. They return again in July and August to raise their chicks in a creche. I was able to arrange a guided penguin viewing on November 29 at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki.

starfishTo get there I flew into Queenstown and rented a car, then drove 3.5 hard miles to 30 miles north of Haast on the coast. I arrived just in time for a wonderful dinner at the Lodge. Staying at the Lodge includes dinner and breakfast. The guided penguin experience is an additional NZ$160.00 and totally worth it! The Lodge provides adventurers boots and raincoats, and hot tea and biscuits.

It was so thrilling to watch them in their habitat being penguins. I just look at the pictures and it takes me back. As in the best adventures, I want to do it again.penguin

Exploring Auckland’s Central Business District

We arrived in Auckland very early one morning. Our Air New Zealand flight arrived ahead of schedule and customs are a breeze in Auckland International. We rented our car from A2B, drove to St Heliers, ate breakfast at Kahve, freshened up at a friends and then drove to Auckland’s central business district (CBD).

Tevis and Sarah Harriet on way to St. Heliers.

Tevis and Sarah Harriet on way to St. Heliers.

We dropped our car with the valet at Britomart (between the shopping center and transit center), and walked around Britomart and into Milse for exquisite dessert.

One of the many yummy desserts at Milse in Auckland CBD at Britomart (the shopping center, not the transit center).

One of the many yummy desserts at Milse in Auckland CBD at Britomart (the shopping center, not the transit center).

Marcos and Sarah Harriet enjoying frozen desserts at Milse.

Marcos and Sarah Harriet enjoying frozen desserts at Milse.

Afterward we walked up Queen Street and High Street stopping at shops along the way–always Unity bookstore. Then over to Sky Tower. We paused to watch some brave/crazy souls ride a slingshot kind of bungee (except Sarah who could not bear it). Then we walked round to the Auckland Art Gallery and stopped for a cup of tea at the cafe. After seeing the Goldie Maori portraits and then back toward the Quay.

Bicycle sculpture at Queen and Quay Streets.

Bicycle sculpture at Queen and Quay Streets.

Rock archway leading to Queen Victoria Park.

Rock archway leading to Queen Victoria Park.

Our day was fun, relaxing and a great way to ease into a new time zone. One of the great things about visiting New Zealand at the end of November is the long days of light.

 

 

 

 

Bluff, NZ: End of the World?

IMG_5113Well, obviously no. Stewart Island is visible and the South Pole is 4,810 kilometers away. Once upon a time, if you were traveling on a ship from Scotland, Ireland or England, it felt like the end of the world.

One morning around 10 a.m. I enjoyed a coffee and piece of cake at Land’s End restaurant and inn at Stirling Point, at the southernmost tip of South Island, New Zealand. Cake and my own thoughts at Lands End

At the moment the sea is rough and a shower just passed through. Last night in nearby Invercargill it hailed–laying a temporary white carpet  on the parking lot. Now I am second guessing myself. Am I being sensible or a wuss for not getting on a small plane and spending the day on Stewart Island? (I do not even consider the ferry. Read Trip Advisor–it is all compliments for the crew putting up with passengers vomiting all round.) I tell myself, given I will be cycling 27 miles the next day, I cannot afford to get seasick or airsick. And the helicopter service relocated to Stewart Island and I could not reach them via the website.

So I sit by the window and enjoy a flat white and watch as a procession of people drive up to Stirling Point and take selfies with the sign. What pose shall I strike?

In the 2014 edition of The Best American Travel Writing, editor Paul Theroux sneers, “…in general what they call travel is in most cases a superior and safe holiday.” As I gaze at the sea and its white caps, the “open” sign flapping the in the wind, I am tormenting myself. Am I on a safe holiday or am I an adventurer?  The previous morning I was sitting on a drenched beach with the rain dripping off my nose onto my camera, patiently waiting for a Fiordland penguin to emerge from the rainforest. The following day I plan to set off from Clyde to mountain bike 150 kilometers to Middlemarch (over 4 days). Today I choose to conserve financial and physical resources and have a second flat white and slice of lemon cake.

The people who are posing at the end of the world: are they tourists or travelers? I prefer not to judge. Instead I smile at their choice of pose.

Bluff, the tip of South Island, New Zealand

Kiwi Ingenuity, Part II: World of Wearable Art

This is the detail of the Grand Award winner from 2014 WOW.

This is the detail of the Grand Award winner from 2014 WOW.

I love, love, love the World of Wearable Art. It is a show, an inspiration, a collection of amazing “garments” and more. A year ago I traveled with my friend UK Sarah to see the show in Wellington. On this visit to Auckland I was able to share the amazing craft that is WOW with my adult children at the Auckland War Memorial and Museum’s exhibit.

The catwalk at the WOW exhibit allows you to see some of the best designs from various years.

The catwalk at the WOW exhibit allows you to see some of the best designs from various years.

You can take any one of the amazing dresses or bras or other creations and marvel at the design, construction and whimsey for a long time. This exhibit allows you to linger as long as you want AND to get up close and personal (without touching).

Or you can create your own WOW inspired paper doll and add it to the wall in the exhibit. Sarah Harriet making her paper doll

The Auckland Museum is located in the Domain near Parnell in Auckland. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $25 per adult and $10 per child. The WOW exhibit is included with admission. Also worth checking out: the Maori Experience (musical performances), the cafe, and the gift shop for quality gifts made in New Zealand.

The backside of a crayfish dress.

The backside of a crayfish dress.