I woke up at 5:50 a.m. this morning and my very first thought: What is the tour route?
I knew it was going to start in Yorkshire, England and I heard hints about London. The start date is July 5 and the final stage will finish in Paris on July 27. Now I know there are three stages (of 21) in England: Leeds to Harrowgate, York to Sheffield, Cambridge! to London. Then the route returns to France and, on the anniversary of World War I, visits many of the famous battlefields of France: Lille, Ypres, Reims. There are three mountain ranges. This will be the most serious challenge to following the Tour in 2014 as the access to starts and finishes is limited and hotel rooms in small resort towns will be scarce. There is only one time trial, no team time trial, and two rest days.
The 2014 Tour de France route will be announced tomorrow October 23rd. I anticipate an adventure following it, so I bought a lightweight and small foldable chair to take on my trip. It will provide a comfortable place to sit while I hold my preferred spot at the start or finish of a stage.
The photos show the highly portable chair ($69.00 US) next to typical soccer chair from Target ($9.99 US) to give perspective. I also compared the amount of time it takes to set up.
The Target chair takes 3 seconds to unfold. The REI chair takes about 3 minutes and I was able to only after consulting instructions. Both are comfortable. The REI chair is obviously much lighter and more compact.
It is another step in preparation for a splendid adventure.
There are six reasons to do the Wellington Botanic Garden: 1) you can arrive by cable car to the top of the garden and walk down (brilliant!); 2) you can marvel at the long established plantings on steep hillsides; 3) you can chat with the staff in the Visitor’s Centre; 4) you can get a toastie and a coffee in the Picnic Cafe in the Begonia House; 5) you can see a lot in a short amount of time or you can meander all day; and 6) you can enter from any point in the garden–there is no admission charge!!! (Thank you City of Wellington.)
The cliche, windy Wellington, played out. Hurricane force gusts of wind buffeted us as we walked home from dining out. However, Wellington is not so easily dismissed. As the capital city, it has many paradoxes–just like New Zealand. They celebrate Katherine Mansfield for largely inventing the modern short story–something she did while living in Europe.
Wellington hosts some wildly creative people, including WETA studios and the World of Wearable Art–and the national government. They have a beautiful botanical garden with a lush history of plants–and a freeway that rips right through the heart of the city. It makes for a stimulating place to visit. There is no shortage of great coffee and restaurants. Just be sure to carry a waterproof jacket. And best not to watch your plane land in the airport (eyes shut tight!).
Do you remember the ad, “Coo coo for Coco Puffs.” I could not help but think of that when I listened to my reaction to the penguin exhibit at Kelly Tarlton’s in Mission Bay, Auckland.
Maybe it was too many days of squinting to see penguins in the wild. Maybe it was the penguins’ joy in swimming. I was a little kid again.
The five months I lived in St Heliers Bay I must have passed Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium 5 times a week and I never visited. People gave me mixed signals. On the one hand, people were proud of Mr. Tarlton’s inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit building a unique facility ahead of its time. On the other hand, people suggested it was a little cheesy. And then there is the whole objection of zoos or aquariums in general keeping animals in captivity.
I enjoy a good zoo. Sometimes it is the only way we can observe species and appreciate the tremendous variety in creation. While I hope to get to Antarctica someday, it may be awhile before I can see gentoo and emperor penguins in their native habitat. What a thrill to observe them here.
The admission price is reasonable ($36 NZ per adult; discounts on-line and with coupons) and there is much more to see than my funny penguins.
I met Diana at the entrance. She is studying in NZ on a scholarship and we were introduced through our mutual friend Deb. We bonded over this curious gentoo penguin who seemed genuinely interested in us. We giggled and ooohed and ahhhed through the rest of the aquarium exhibits, and lingered longest with the penguins.
There is a great deal of useful information offered in each exhibit, and plenty of interactive displays for those with short attention spans. You experience the main aquarium by either walking “through” it or riding the conveyor belt around–always surrounded by the aquarium. The sharks are menacing. (How is it that even those of us land-locked all of our life have an almost innate fear of sharks?)
We both were drawn to the stingrays. They are graceful and exude calm. Yet, like so many paradoxes in the sea, they still have the ability to seriously hurt or kill you.
There is a great tidal pool exhibit and a window where you can look out directly into the bay. The entire aquarium is like a giant optical illusion as it is built below the parking lot and you are below sea level the whole time.
It was a fun afternoon and anyone with an ounce of curiosity and a smidgeon of child’s heart will enjoy Kelly Tarlton’s.
Called the secret dessert garden, it was easy to talk my friend Diana into trying a new desserts-only restaurant, Milse, in the Pavilions of Britomart in downtown Auckland. Another friend Beverley told me about Milse while we ate lunch at another of the restauranteur’s eateries (St. Heliers Bay Cafe and Bistro) These are all new additions since I was last in Auckland JUST 10 MONTHS AGO!
The entrance to Milse is slightly hidden, just like the gate in the classic children’s book. The front entrance is filled with cases of delectable chocolate and other desserts. There is a hostess station where you can buy your dessert to go. There are people waiting to be seated at one of the 5 or 6 small tables. We went early enough that we were seated promptly.
The hostess led us past a bar where you could sit and eat divine desserts while watching the chefs create similar confections. Or you can sit in a cozy table that feels like the inside of a beehive.
We decided to go for it! We ordered four different menu items and our eyes rolled back in our heads depending on our individual tastes. For Diana it was the pecan and honey tart. For me it was, well all of them, but especially the chocolate covered ice cream bar.
Forget my pledge to eat sugar free! This is just too amazing of a dining experience to pass up.
Just saying the name of the island is a delight: Tiri Tiri Matangi. It is an inspiring example of intentional habitat restoration and a testament to the 100,000 volunteers who have transformed it from an over-grazed sheep ranch into native bush with a dozen rare NZ birds.
I read about it some time ago and finally managed to carve out the entire day you need to ferry from Auckland to enjoy this wonderful bird sanctuary. The ferry only leaves the Auckland harbor once a day at 9:00 a.m. and returns by 5:00 p.m. The cost per adult is $66 and there is no additional charge to enter the wildlife reserve.
The ferry ride is comfortable depending on the weather, and I recommend, as in all outdoor NZ adventures, wearing layers and bringing a waterproof jacket. Volunteer guides sell maps of the island for $1 NZ and the money supports the restoration work. There are signposts on the island, but come on, you can give a $1 for a good cause and a better map! The key to the success of the island as a bird sanctuary is the removal of all predators. It made me giggle to think of checking my backpack for mice, but seriously, I would not want to be the jerk who brought a pest onto the island. Similarly you’ll be asked to take every scrap of trash out with you and to bring your lunch in a plastic container as a further pest precaution.
Similarly, the volunteer guides will give you a walking tour for a $5 NZ donation to the restoration work. This is a bargain as they are very knowledgeable and passionate. Your group leader is randomly assigned (you can stay with your people) and the group selects what level of walk you want (and how long). Be aware, that in spite of the many, many hours of volunteer service to improve the trails, they are still very steep in places. If you have mobility challenges, there is a paved road that goes to the lighthouse and visitor center. Also, it should go without saying to wear appropriate shoes, yet one woman had shoes that “couldn’t get muddy.”
Almost as soon as we left the dock and headed down the trail we came to the little blue penguin nests. One of the advantages of the reserve is that it provides ample opportunity for scientific study only a 75 minute ferry ride from the largest NZ city. I learned about the island from guidebooks and from reading Jacqueline Geurts’ book, The Ecology of Little Blue Penguins. She did her research on Tiri. We were able to see a blue penguin at rest by lifting the hatch.
We continued on the hike and listened to the songs of various rare and endangered New Zealand birds. The restored bush was also lovely and it is outgrowing its “planted look”. The volunteers have set up various viewing experiences to better show off bird behavior, such as the tui feeding station near the visitor’s center. I am not an avid birder and even I caught the enthusiasm of our guides and strained to hear and see birds. Binoculars are a terrific idea.
Our guide Trish did a super job of explaining the history of Tiri. This video clip explains it best.
We finished our guided walk at the lighthouse and visitor center. There is free coffee and tea at the visitor center and picnic benches both indoor and out. By this time we had hiked a couple of hours and the wind had really kicked it up a couple of notches.
There is a gift shop and I did make some “additional donations” to the restoration effort. A kind volunteer put my name on my shopping bag and brought it to the boat launch at the end of the day (like duty free without the alcohol).
There is something so soothing and lovely about a walk in the bush. The best way to experience is through photos.