Discovering Oahu’s Dole Plantation

Are you planning a trip to Hawaii? If you’re anything like me, you’re enthralled with Hawaiian pineapple. If so, a visit to Dole Plantation in the north-central region of Oahu is a must!

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A rare coolish day in Hawaii was the perfect time to put on my hat, boots, and take a nice car ride up to the almost-north shore of Oahu to Dole Plantation for the day. Located in Wahiawa, Dole Plantation started as a fruit stand in 1950, selling fresh, Hawaiian-grown pineapple, and has since evolved into a pineapple-lover’s theme park of sorts.

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Picture yourself in a pineapple! One of Dole Plantation’s photo opps.

Visitors are able to enjoy an array of activities, from touring their lush botanical and agriculture garden, to getting lost, then found again, in the pineapple maze. Our favorite attraction, of course, was riding the Pineapple Express!

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All aboard!

A roughly 20-minute train ride through the farmland was a chance to see firsthand the pineapple crops growing in the field. The red volcanic soil and elevation are the perfect combination for pineapple growing.

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The author and her boyfriend Ehren aboard the Pineapple Express.

Not only does Dole Plantation grow pineapple, but also, Cacao (chocolate), avocado, bananas, and a variety of other plants and fruits.

 

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Do you see the baby pineapple sprouting from the crown? It takes around 18 months for a pineapple to grow until it’s ready to harvest.

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After taking the train ride, you can enjoy some pineapple soft serve at the gift shop, or enjoy other fun photo opps from around the property.

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Lots of gorgeous rainbow eucalyptus trees are around the property.
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A fun place to grab a picture, especially if you’ve ever been to any of these places.

A trip to Dole Plantation is a peaceful and fun respite from the hustle and bustle of the city and is worth the drive to learn something new about Hawaiian agriculture while having fun while doing so!

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Exploring Rotoura’s Geothermal Wonderland

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The author braving herself to cross a boardwalk full of stinky, hot, sulfurous steam.

Traveling to New Zealand provided ample opportunity to enjoy ethereal landscapes. Part of my draw to visiting the North Island was the geothermal activity present there. After living on Big Island and in Yellowstone National Park, I guess you could say I’m drawn to places with active volcanoes!

New Zealand’s north island is brimming with active volcanic activity! Once we set foot in Rotoura, roughly 3 hours south of Auckland, that old, familiar smell infiltrated our noses: sulfur. Sulfur smells like rotten eggs, and is part of the gasses given off by the volcanic activity in the region.

We decided to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotoura to get up close and personal with some otherworldly geothermal landscapes. It was a rainy day indeed, but it didn’t stop us from marveling at the region’s clouds of steam, rock formations, waterfalls, and lakes the park is known for.

Here are some photo highlights of the diverse volcanic area:

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One of well over a dozen volcanic craters on the property. Craters can be up to 20 meters deep.
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Sulfur vents and bubbling pools are typical in this park.
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A bubbling mud pool.
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 A steaming pond. The water is so hot, it could burn the skin right off you.
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Ehren marveling at steam emitting from a geothermal pool.
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We were surprised to witness steam coming out of the ground!
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The park’s famous Artist’s Palette. The orange color is due to trace mineral deposits which are distributed by the direction of the wind. Orange is Atimony/Arsenic.
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A lookout provided a nice view of the surrounding area.
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Our payoff view after hiking nearly 2 miles in the pouring rain. We loved the waterfall and the color of the pool. This blueish hue is Alkalai-chloride.
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One of the last otherworldly geothermal pools. The green/yellow is said to be Sulphur/Arsenic.

We were happy to experience the Geothermal Wonderful of Wai-O-Tapu. Next time, we’ll be sure to come back to witness the famous Lady Knox Geyser, whose eruption can reach up to 20 meters!

Daytripping to Oahu’s North Shore

After 3 years of living on Oahu without a car, something magical happened on Christmas Eve: I got a car!

I didn’t get just any old car. I got a Subaru Forester, my (second) dream car. My first dream car I was lucky enough to get when I was 16 – a VW Beetle. From there, I sold it in 2012 to travel the world extensively. And travel I did.

Now that I’m settled in Honolulu and my credit card debt has been paid down to a balance of $0, it was time for a car hunt.

Behold: My new (used) Subaru Forester – my new adventure-mobile!

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My new (used) 2007 Subaru Forester.

While my boyfriend has been gracious enough to take me anywhere my heart desired in his truck, there’s just nothing like the feeling of being behind the wheel of my own car, windows down, music blaring, discovering – and rediscovering – why I love living in Hawaii so much.

The other weekend, I picked up my friend Kaylee for an epic cruise in my new Subaru.

We started the day driving up to do a hike just above Sunset Beach. We picked the Ehukai Pillbox hike for it’s short duration and relatively easy terrain.

There were some patches of the hike that had ropes to hold onto to assist you in moving up and down the mountain with ease, which came in handy, as the terrain was a bit muddy.

After a heart pumping ascension, we made it to the Pillbox! The view was gorgeous.

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View from atop the Pillbox hike.
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The author enjoying a scenic view.
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Author and her friend Kaylee.

After our hike, we braved the bad north shore traffic back to Haleiwa town for a bite to eat. Lunch was at Cholo’s, a local Mexican restaurant. We grabbed a table for two outside and enjoyed some cervezas and Mexican cuisine. I ordered the two taco plate with braised beef tacos, rice, and beans. The price was more than fair, and the guacamole on the side was creamy and delicious. Calories well spent!

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Cervezas are always a welcome treat!

Looking for a peaceful end to the day, I wanted to take Kaylee somewhere a little more “off-the-beaten” path for sunset. To my surprise, upon arriving to Kaena Point, there were lots of cars, and even tourists! It’s a protected bird sanctuary area, and there’s opportunity to do off-roading – IF you have a county key to the gate, which we didn’t.

Alas, sitting on the beach, enjoying the sun on our skin, and talking story while the waves crashed over the shore was a relaxing end to our adventurous day.

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A relaxing way to end the north shore day trip.

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Camping on Oahu’s North Shore

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The author and her beau enjoyed luscious shoreline views during a recent camping trip.

A weekend getaway is much-needed when you live and work somewhere like “town.” Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital and largest city bustles day in and day out with traffic and congestion, making a chance to get out to the country feel like a staycation.

Recently, my boyfriend and I had the chance to get away, for one night only, to go camping on Oahu’s north east shore in Kuhuku. We chose a private campground, Malaekahana, for its serenity, privacy, and safety. We had to book early, and spots are usually taken.

We chose a tent site near the end of the park so as to enjoy a little peace and quiet. We were lucky to make camp next to gentle, kind, and, considerate families looking for some similar rest and relaxation from their everyday grind.

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Our lovely home for the evening.

After setting up our tent, which we borrowed from a generous friend, we were able to sit back, relax, and listen to the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the shore underneath the palms.

Before making dinner, we opted for a walk on the beach. On the far end, the beach was deserted and we enjoyed some private time with beautiful shoreline views.

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Loving our time away from the city.

Before long, the sun began hanging low in the sky. We fired up our camping grill, which had a hard time staying lit due to the high winds. After sheltering the grill from the direct wind, we were able to prepare a delicious dinner of homemade hamburgers, fire-roasted hot dogs, grilled veggies, and potato salad.

The best part of the evening was building a campfire from kiawe wood that we picked up at nearby Ace Hardware. Making bonfires on beaches in Hawaii is illegal, but Malaekahana allows for campfires in contained fire pits. We burned a fire for a few hours, talking story, watching the stars, and of course, roasting marshmallows for ‘Smores.

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The author enjoying her freshly roasted marshmallow.

An evening in the tent was a windy and noisy affair. I was happy to have brought along earplugs and a sleeping mask. My companion didn’t fare as well, but was finally able to catch some rest on our luxurious inflatable mattress. I guess you could say we went “glamping!”

Sunrise woke me around 7 a.m. I was treated to an epic sunrise and enjoyed a solo sunrise walk on the beach. It felt like heaven on earth, and it was surely a welcome moment of solitude.

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I enjoyed waking up to this view.

Happily, checkout wasn’t until noon, so we had plenty of time to build a yummy hot breakfast of potatoes, Portuguese sausage, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit before packing up and heading back to life in the big city.

What to eat and drink in New Zealand

Travel is wonderful, because unlike looking at photographs or hearing someone’s travel tales, actually being there engages all of your senses. You’re able to stand atop a mountain, feeling the breeze across your cheek; you can delight in hearing small village children laughing; you can taste the lusciousness of handcrafted local cuisine.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about any trip to somewhere exotic is the eating. Whether or not every single meal is enjoyable, one thing is for sure: every meal will be memorable with all of your senses heightened.

Our recent trip to New Zealand was a foray into exotic cuisine.

Normally, I rely on Yelp in Hawaii to help me find the best places to dine. Unfortunately, Yelp is not reliable or utilized fully in New Zealand.

So how did we get by? Just like any traveler, by asking the locals! We relied on our Airbnb hosts’ recommendations, asked the barefoot hippie bookstore proprietor, and yes, took some chances on some side of the road establishments.

Here’s some of the best things we ate:

Turkish Eggs at Queenies

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Breakfast at Queenie’s included Turkish Eggs and a Prawn Omelette.

The first day in New Zealand, waking up hungry, we walked to a local cafe recommended by our Airbnb host. A funky, artist-type retreat played host to a very memorable and tasty meal.

The Turkish Eggs are Queenies were a trip around the world in its own right: 2 poached eggs atop baba ganoush, yogurt, hot chili butter, and toasted pide. I enjoyed slathering all of the rich flavors over my bread, pausing only  momentarily to enjoy my perfectly brewed hot black – an espresso type coffee.

Fish and Chips at Piha PHA

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Piha PHA is a no-frills VFW Hall or Moose Lodge-type restaurant serving up delicious pub food. We both had the fish and chips which were battered and fried to perfection. My boyfriend added on the fried squid which was light and tasty. I washed mine down with a local red ale which was a great complement to the tartar sauce.

Seafood Chowder at Corelli’s

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By far the best meal we had while in New Zealand was at Corelli’s in the Devonport, a suburb of Auckland. We came here on the recommendation of the barefoot, hippie bookstore proprietor down the street.

Their standout was the rich and creamy Seafood Chowder, which admittedly, was a meal in itself. The chowder was loaded with goodies like shrimp, scallops, squid, clams, and mussels. The New Zealand Cabernet was a great addition to my lamb bangers and mash with onion gravy, as well. We also indulged in their raspberry cheesecake served with a side of cream for dessert.

Blue Cheese at Kai Mai Cheese Company

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If there’s one thing New Zealand does well, it’s dairy. On our way from Auckland to Rotoura, we stopped on the side of the road at Kaimai Cheese Company for lunch. The interior of Kaimai Cheese Company had a production factory inside, a small restaurant, and a retail area for customers.

We ordered lunch from the counter and waited for it to be delivered, but in the meantime, I purchased a block of Blue Cheese and some crackers to snack on. The cheese was salty, pungent, and hit the spot as far as Blue Cheese goes. I slathered it all over my bacon and tomato omelet, as well. I loved it so much, I packaged it up and took it with me to eat during meals on the remainder of my trip!

Lamb Shanks at Fat Dog

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Photo by Ehren Meinecke

On our Airbnb host’s recommendation, we ventured to the casual, funky Fat Dog in downtown Rotoura. My boyfriend ordered the lamb shanks, which were huge and delicious. Served over a bed of hot mashed potatoes and gravy and fresh veggies, the lamb was so tender, it fell off the bone. The icing on top was enjoying the succulent bone marrow from the shanks afterwards.

Wine flight at John Hill Estate

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Photo by Ehren Meinecke

You can’t visit New Zealand without sampling some of its world class wines. The north island is brimming with vineyards and tasting rooms, and John Hill Estate was no exception. While many tasting rooms are very commercial in nature, John Hill Estate is tucked in the mountains just southeast of Auckland. This family-run estate was empty when we arrived, giving us prime seating to enjoy unobstructed views of the vineyard and rolling hills.

They offer wine flights for a very reasonable price tag. We ordered their Pinot Gris, Rose, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet. The standout? The Merlot! This was the perfect ending to a wonderful, and unexpected, culinary journey in New Zealand.

72 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand

 

by julia owensAuckland is the most populous city in New Zealand, with nearly 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area. This versatile city lends itself well to various interests: In a short period of time, one can peruse museums, discover world-class shopping and dining, and even explore Auckland’s rugged west coast beaches. Three days in Auckland is a great jumping off point to realize New Zealand’s awesome potential as a stylish and adventurous getaway.

Day 1
After landing at Auckland International Airport, make sure you hire a vehicle – Auckland and its surrounding areas is best explored by car. This will maximize the time you’re able to spend in the area.

Morning:
Breakfast is at Queenie’s, a relaxed neighborhood cafe in the Freeman’s Bay district, whose confines are brimming with creativity – from the Pixies playing over the speakers, to the beautiful Aotearoa (New Zealand in Maori) mural on the wall. Order the Prawn Omelet and Turkish Eggs – a flavorful and exotic way to start your morning.

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Breakfast at Queenie’s included Turkish Eggs and a Prawn Omelette.

A brisk walk through Victoria Park gives you the chance to digest and watch the local rugby match happening on the grassy knolls.

Afternoon:
Spend the afternoon at Auckland War Memorial Museum, a great start to familiarizing yourself with the kiwi way of life. Here you’ll be able to walk into a wharenui, or Maori meeting house, that is intricately carved with Maori faces and inscriptions. You can explore native flora and fauna, including New Zealand’s famous and nocturnal Kiwi bird, art, war canoes, and New Zealand’s military history.

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Clockwise from top left: Maori war canoe, ancient Polynesian sailing vessel, a wharenui being restored, the nation’s symbol, the Kiwi Bird.

Evening:
Because gambling is legal in New Zealand, take an Uber to SkyCity Casino. This casino has many of the typical offerings of a casino, from Blackjack and Roulette, but also offers some fun electronic slots and even a high rollers area upstairs. Dining options abound, but the buffet was fully booked when we arrived. Plan ahead.

Across from SkyCity Casino is Federal Delicatessen, a kiwi rendition of the NYC Jewish diner. Americans will quickly recognize the employees’ uniforms as uniquely American – from their soda-jerk like shirts, to the paper deli hats. The name of the game here is Pastrami, which is home made and house smoked. Order their seafood chowder which has pastrami and mussels. I enjoyed a really fabulous glass of Marlborough County Sauvignon Blanc at $14/glass.

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There’s nothing like a fabulous glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Day 1 Tips:

  • Drivers in New Zealand drive on the left side of the road. Obey all traffic lays, and go slow in those tricky, and surprisingly efficient,  roundabouts!
  • New Zealand restaurants do not deliver your bill to your table. Simple go to the front register to pay. Tipping is not customary. If service is exemplary, a 10% tip is sufficient, left in the tip jar near the register.
  • Before entering the wharenui, please remove your shoes and show respect while inside.
  • Ditch the car for inner-city excursions. Parking is extremely expensive, and Ubers are cheap and efficient.

Day 2
Start your day early, because outdoor adventure awaits exploring the Waitakere National Ranges. Located just 30 minutes from the Central Business District (CBD) in Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges has endless hiking trails, and a host of world-class beaches.

Morning:
Begin by a stop at the Arataki Visitor’s Center. Stunning views surround the center and are the payoff for the long, winding, road up. Inside the center, you’ll learn more about native birds and creatures, find a small, well-equipped gift shop, and encounter staff who can point you in the right direction of your next stop.

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Arataki Visitor’s Center – your journey in the Waitakere Ranges begins here.

A  theater downstairs shows a 10-minute film of the Waitakere Ranges and impresses upon you the awesomeness of this reserve.

Afternoon:
We chose to hike the Mercer Bay Loop coastal hike, about 20 minutes west of the Arataki Visitor’s Center. Park in the lot off Log Race Road and take the loop, 1.4 kilometers, or about 1 mile. Allow for roughly 2 hours to finish the loop (the recommended time is 1 hour, but we took lots of photos along the stunning, sunny coast).

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A coastal view along the Mercer Bay Loop trek.

After the hike, drive about 2 more kilometers west to Piha for a late lunch. We opted for the Piha RSA, a members-only club (ask politely to dine in as a guest, and the cheerful bartender will find someone nearby to sponsor you) with a fabulous outdoor deck overlooking Piha Beach to enjoy your fish and chips.

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Your lunchtime view. Lion Rock, located in the distance, separates North and South Piha Beaches.

Drive just around the bend and park to explore the wild and moody Piha beach. This long stretch of beach features, most famously, Lion Rock, of which the brave can hike and the spectators can marvel. This black sand beach extending into the Tasman Sea was the setting for several family pickup games of rugby and happy off-leash dogs.

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The author marveling at Piha Beach. South Piha beach is to the left of Lion Rock, and North Piha beach is to the right.

 

Evening:
After driving back to Auckland from Piha, a roughly 50 minute drive, take a breather, then head to Burger Burger in Ponsonby. Located within an alley chock-full of trendy restaurants and bars (many of the patios staying open even during the throws of winter), Burger Burger excels at one thing: burgers! We ordered the classic with all the fixin’s including a house-made tomato jam.

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The author’s boyfriend Ehren enjoying the funky interior decor at Burger Burger.

Day 2 Tips:

  • Be careful driving around the Waitakere Ranges – the roads run one way each direction and twist and turn wildly through mountainous terrain.
  • Bring plenty of water for your hike. Another recommended hike is the Kitekite Falls.
  • If using GPS, bring your USB phone charger. The roughly 50 minute drive back to Auckland (on top of a day of navigating) nearly zapped all of our remaining cell phone power.

Day 3
Your third day in Auckland is well-spent in Devonport, a harbor-side suburb of Auckland. While many opt to take the ferry over to this northeastern surburb, a short 15-minute drive over the bridge gives you freedom to explore both ends of the peninsula and everything in between.

Morning:
Your fist stop in Devonport is Takarunga, or Mt. Victoria, the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore. Here you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor and the surrounding Hauraki Gulf. Bring your camera – the views do not disappoint!

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The author and her boyfriend enjoying 360-degree views of Auckland from atop Mt. Victoria.

Devonport’s shops are best explored by foot and offer a variety that will keep you busy through the afternoon – from antique shops, to funky bookstores (Paradox Books is highly recommended – the eclectic selection by the bohemian husband/wife proprietors is extraordinary), make sure to spend some time ducking in and out of the boutique shops.

Afternoon:
On a recommendation of the bare-footed, bohemian-spirited, extra-friendly proprietor of Paradox Books, lunch is at Corelli’s, an upscale cafe whose food is divine. The standout dish was the seafood chowder – a rich chowder full of scallops, prawns, salmon, calamari, and more. The lamb bangers and mash was also delicious, especially with a glass of New Zealand Cabernet. Save room for their raspberry cheesecake!

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A divine lunch at Corelli’s!

Evening:
Before heading back to Auckland, take the short drive from the shops to Maungauika, or North Head, at the other end of Devonport (Mt. Victoria its counterpart). Here you’ll discover even more sweeping views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. You can sit on a bench and watch the world slowly go by admiring the sunset, the few passing boats, and views of Rangitoto Island.

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The view from North Head, with Rangitoto Island in the background, right.

Day 3 Tips:

  • Parking in the shopping district of Devonport is limited to 1 hour. For more flexibility, simply drive a street or two up into the residential neighborhood and park there. We found a 120-minute time allowance.
  • Traffic may be a little heavy returning into Auckland after sundown. Do not let it deter you: sunset from North Head is not to be missed.

Auckland is a great getaway at any time of year. There’s always something to see, do, and discover. Do yourself a favor: book the ticket, and take the trip.

What to pack for a trip to New Zealand in the winter

ESSENTIAL PACKING GUIDE

A trip to New Zealand has been on my bucket list ever since I began traveling internationally in 2012. I dreamed of visiting this Pacific Island nation and looked forward to exploring its gorgeous landscapes and learning more about the people and culture.

Finally, my dreams came true. My boyfriend Ehren and I were able to plan a trip to New Zealand during our summer: July. Things became a bit tricky upon learning July is New Zealand’s winter. Luckily, the north island’s winter is more temperate and rarely sees snow. The best comparison I could think of is Portland in January, maybe a bit warmer.

This is a packing list for the North Island of New Zealand during winter. Our trip was 9 nights, 10 days, and would feature a variety of activities:

  • Museums, shopping
  • Hiking, exploring
  • Dining out
  • Chilling, casual

The weather ranged from sunny to windy and rainy. Weather in New Zealand can change dramatically day by day. The average temperature was mid 50s. 50s and sunny felt different than 50 and rainy, so my best advice is to pack warm clothing and options for layering.

Here’s a list of what I packed (asterisk items are what I call “life-savers!”)
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TOPS:

(1) Light cargo jacket

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My cargo jacket was perfect over some layers. And the brown boots were lifesavers!

(1) Rain jacket* (Recommendation: don’t go cheap here! Thicker is better, something with a hood, and something that will cover the top of your legs as well if possible)
(1) Zip up fleece* (Great for layering and extra warmth)
(4) Knit sweaters (One included for sleeping/lying around the house in the evenings)
(1) Turtleneck
(1) Cardigan
(1) Jean jacket* (Perfect for casual chic, boutique shopping, museums)

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Loving the versatility of my jean jacket, cargo pants and satchel purse.

(2) Tank top blouses
(7) T-shirts* (great for layering!)
(3) T-shirts for sleeping
(1) sleep shorts
(1) Dress

BOTTOMS:

(1) pair of black cargo pants
(1) pair of jeans
(2) pairs of leggings* (One thick one for cold weather. These were lifesavers!)
(1) pair of black pants (Good for dressier days out)
(1) pair of black tights

SHOES/SOCKS:

(1) pair of flats (good for plane, but sadly, nothing else)
(1) pair of ankle boots* (Waterproof is key if you can!)
(1) pair of gym shoes (Something you can use hiking/walking)
(2) pairs of warm socks* (These are essential to keeping your feet warm. The more you pack, the better!)
Miscellaneous other socks
Undergarments

OTHER ACCESSORIES:

(1) Belt (for cinching the dress)
(2) hats (One a Britxon safari hat, one a knit beanie*)

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The Brixton hat is the perfect travel companion.

(2) Scarves (One for keeping warm*, one for fashion)
(1) Pair of gloves*

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • Makeup
  • Jewelry
  • Hair straightener
  • (3) books to read
  • Journal
  • Earplugs* (Perfect for planes and for noisy mornings in the city)
  • Headphones
  • Pens
  • Passport
  • IDs/Credit Cards/Cash
  • Copies of all bookings/travel documents, credit cards
  • Phone charger
  • International adapter
  • Bluetooth speaker (fully charged, as it was not compliant with New Zealand outlets)
  • Toiletries
  • Digital camera
  • Columbia backpack* (Great carry on and wonderful for hiking/outdoor adventuring)
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A backpack was essential for this trip.
  • Satchel purse

ITEMS NOT NEEDED:

  • Hair straightener (New Zealand is a casual country and high fashion didn’t seem important)
  • (2) books – one was enough
  • Dress – I wore it one night out to dinner with the tights, but could have done without it
  • Digital camera – I just used my iPhone the whole time
  • Belt

ITEMS I NEEDED BUT DIDN’T BRING:

  • Sweatpants (Luckily, my boyfriend packed an extra pair and I was able to use them the entire trip for sleeping/relaxing around the house)

Overall, I felt very well prepared and knew that if I forgot anything that I would be able to purchase it abroad.

Have you ever been to the north island of New Zealand in winter? If so, do you have any must have items?

I hope you find this list useful. My number one piece of advice is layers, layers, layers, followed by: bring a pair of sweat pants or two!

Exploring the Big Island of Hawaii

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Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting the Island of Hawaii? Also known as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, falling south easternmost in the chain.

Not to be confused with Oahu (where the state capitol Honolulu is located), Big Island is far from metropolitan – in fact, you can’t even drive around the island in one day.

Big Island is my favorite Hawaiian Island due to its sheer enormity. Its varied landscapes are home to not only 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Moana Loa, but also a myriad of enchanting, unspoiled places. Word to the wise: Rent a 4×4 vehicle if you ever visit.

Just returning from a 3-day trip, my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of exploring the east side of Hawaii, or Hilo side. Hilo is a city on the bay and a jumping-off point for pleasures ranging from exploring the active volcano, hot springs, black sand beaches, a beautiful coastal drive and more.

Here are some highlights from our recent trip:

Exploring Volcanoes National Park:

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Kilauea Caldera. Do you see the lava in the crater’s rim?

This National Park is not to be missed. Have you ever seen a live, active volcano? Kilauea is actively erupting, and luckily enough for us, a trip to the visitor’s center was enough to see the active lava spurting from the Earth.

Usually, a trip to see the lava flow is an 8 mile round-trip hike through treacherous lava fields, but the day we visited was our lucky day: The lava was spewing from Kilauea Caldera, nearby the visitor’s Center!

After getting our fill of watching red hot lava, we exploring a cavernous lava tube and basked in the mists of volcanic steam vents around the park.

Tips: Stop in the visitor’s center to find out pro tips from the park rangers, and pack a raincoat…it always rains on the east side!

Traversing Lower Puna (including Volcanic Hot Springs):

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Ahalanui’s volcanic hot springs are tucked alongside Puna’s rugged coast. Photo courtesy: Ehren Meinecke

Puna district is southeast of Kilauea volcano, and its proximity to an active volcano can be felt in all senses of the word: Wild, untouched rain forest, volcanic hot springs, funky people, and plenty of room to play.

For a relaxing afternoon, we visited Ahalanui Beach Park, a volcanic hot spring which is about 88 degrees. It’s perfect for taking a relaxing swim and enjoying the rugged coastline it’s nestled up against.

Tips: Bring your snorkeling mask! There’s plenty of fish to observe in the warm pond. Also, stay out if you have any open cuts – a staph infection could easily ruin your trip.

Finding a hidden black sand beach and hunting for opihi:

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These opihi were plucked from a very dicey-looking coastline.

Some places are just meant to be kept for the locals, and Secret Beach is one of them. We were lucky enough to meet up with my friend Matt who showed us an incredible secluded black sand beach.

Around dusk, we all hunted for shells and opihi: a snail delicacy found exclusively on seaside rocks in hard-to-reach places. Wild quantities are a pipe dream on Oahu, and sell for an expensive buck ($18/pound). It was such a treat to harvest and enjoy our own fresh opihi!

Tips: Respect the land. Just because you find an open road doesn’t mean you have the right to travel down it. There is a LOT of private land, much of it ancient and spiritual. When in doubt, “Kapu,” or keep out!

Visiting Hilo’s Farmers Market:

Imagine a place where 200+ vendors gather to sell farm-fresh produce, baked goods, bento lunches, Kona coffee, artisan breads, jams, and handmade jewelry, clothing, and house goods. Enter Hilo’s farmers market!

The farmers market technically takes place daily in downtown Hilo, but for a really good display of goods, we went on a Saturday. We were able to sample all sorts of local treats: from Ka’u district coffee, to taro chips, to roast pork and more, your buck goes far at  Hilo’s farmers market!

Tips: Visit on a Saturday between 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. to really enjoy the full spread of vendors. Bring cash and an open mind for sampling local goodies!

Driving the Hamakua Coast:

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Just one of the many waterfalls on Big Island’s Hamakua Coast Drive- Akaka Falls State Park

Just north of Hilo begins a drive that’s full of lush greenery, waterfalls, valleys, and scenic ocean views. We drove it roughly 40 miles west to reach Waipio Valley, our destination. In the interim, we couldn’t believe how gorgeous the views were.

This relaxing stretch of driving fed our lust for a road trip with epic eye candy all along the way.

Tips: Fill up on gas before you go, pack snacks and turn up the radio. Also: Don’t expect to be able to drive around the entire island in a single day…it’s too big!

Exploring an ancient valley of the gods:

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An incredibly steep and dangerous 4×4 road will lead you to Waipio Valley’s floor.

Waipio Valley is a glimpse into Old Hawaii. Two-thousand foot cliff walls encompass a lush, green valley with taro fields and wild horses. A black sand beach spans the entirety of the valley, and giant waterfalls cascade from the mountains’ sides. Interested yet? Read on:

A trip down to the valley floor means:

  1. A treacherous 2 mile hike down a very steep road you must share with vehicles
  2. Paying around $60/person to jump in a tour van; or
  3. Driving down the 4-wheel drive road on your own and braving the elements.

We opted for choice number 3. It was not easy! The grade is EXTREMELY steep and the road is so narrow, only one car can pass in either direction at a time. We even had to BACK UP the road along the cliff edge to let people pass!

Once at the bottom, you have to ride through several giant mud puddles. Finally on the valley floor, we were rewarded with dipping our toes in the water and observed wild horses in awe. We felt immense respect for a place that used to be only for ali’i – or Hawaiian royalty.

Tips: All visitors can enjoy the lookout for a scenic vantage point and photo opp above the valley. Brave soldiers can take a 4×4 (That means 4-wheel drive ONLY!) down, observing the local “law” of yielding to traffic going up. Take nothing in and leave nothing behind!

Overall, a trip to the Big Island is for the adventurous-at-heart. Pack your best slippahs, hiking shoes, rain coat, and bathing suit, and get ready for whatever adventure heads your way!

48 Hours in Anaheim

A two-day escape to Anaheim, California, is just what you need to unwind from the real world. Stay for just for a day or two and rediscover that feeling of being young at heart.

Day 1

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Image via Flickr by atmtx

Morning: Fly into LAX, rent a car, and drive the 30-mile stretch to Anaheim. Once you arrive in Anaheim, have breakfast at the Scratch Room, a brunch house serving up breakfast burgers on brioche, pancakes bigger than your head, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. You’ll need the fuel for your day at Disneyland.

Afternoon: Prove to yourself that you’re still a kid at heart with a visit to Disneyland, Walt Disney’s original theme park. Start with the Indiana Jones Adventure, followed by a tour through the Haunted Mansion. Take a spin on the magic teacups, and leave time for a cruise through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Be sure to stick around for the evening fireworks outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and let the magic happen.

Evening: All that Disneyland activity will surely work up your appetite. After you indulge in some theme park food, treat yourself to a glass of wine and dinner at Calivino Wine Pub. The late-night happy hour goes from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and offers $2 off select glasses of wine. You’ll also find a host of appetizer specials, such as boneless wings, bacon-wrapped dates, spinach wontons, and pork belly sliders.

Check into your room at the Anaheim Camelot Inn & Suites and enjoy a king-size bed, an outdoor heated pool, and close proximity to Disneyland. The added perk of free breakfast takes the guesswork out of your morning so you can enjoy more of Anaheim.

Day 2

Morning: Luckily, Orange County is home to some of the prettiest beaches in the world. Take a drive to Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City, USA. Enjoy a quiet morning roaming the white sands and watching surfers catch their waves.

Afternoon: Spend a lazy afternoon exploring Center Street Anaheim, a place chock-full of funky shops, restaurants, and the city’s farmers market. Looking for eco-friendly home goods? Check out the aptly named Home Eco:Nomics, a place to pick up candles, jewelry, and more. For lunch, spice things up and dine at Pour Vida Latin Flavor. Try the blackened fish taco on top of handmade black squid ink tortillas.

Evening: Have some good, old-fashioned fun at Bowlmor Lanes at the Anaheim Garden Walk. This modern bowling alley boasts 41 backlit lanes for your enjoyment. Have dinner at the bowling alley, and order the Party Pretzel, a gigantic soft pretzel served with mustard and queso.

Check into your room at the Hilton Anaheim, where you’ll sleep like a baby in your king-size bed. You’ll dream of all the fun you had during the last 48 hours in Anaheim as well as the complimentary breakfast that awaits the next morning.

From Disneyland to great restaurants to close proximity to the beach, all of Anaheim’s fun offerings make this 48-hour foray worth every minute.

Living it up as a #YelpElite

What can I say? Living in Hawaii and being a Yelp Elite has its perks!

I first became a Yelp Elite in 2015. I slowly began attending events, but not regularly. It was more of sporadic thing for me.

Now that I’m a gung-ho Yelp Elite, I’ve been getting more active and involved in the community – and I must say, it’s really paying off!

To answer the most common question I receive, “How did you become a Yelp Elite, and how do you get to go to all of these amazing events for free?”

Easy: I write Yelp reviews! Luckily for me, our awesome community manager Emi sought me out to be a Yelp Elite. All I had to to do was fill out a brief form, and my by the grace of the Yelp gods, I was accepted into the Elite crowd!

Through my tenure as a Yelp Elite, I’ve been able to attend the movies, the opera, free dinner parties, concerts, and more. Some Yelp Elite events are extra special, though.

Here’s three extra-awesome Yelp Elite events I’ve been able to attend:

1. Dinner and cocktails at Stripsteak Waikiki: This event did not allow for a plus one, and I was better off for it. I was able to throw myself right into the mingling and get to know my fellow Yelp Elites. I didn’t realize how many interesting, fun, and wonderful people Yelp Elites were! They are all walks of life – young teachers, retired state workers, and everyone in between!

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The swanky vibe at Stripsteak Waikiki

Stripsteak Waikiki is Chef Mina’s new restaurant at the International Marketplace, and this place certainly is swanky! We were able to try some of their gourmet bites like lobster pot pie, Wagyu steak, and foie gras. The venue didn’t disappoint – the ambiance was just right: outdoor, under the stars with the nice trade winds blowing.

2. Yelp Flight Club – Pacific Aviation Museum: Anytime you’re granted access to somewhere typically off-limits usually means a recipe for a great night. The Pacific Aviation Museum’s Flight Club Party was on Ford Island, a military base that requires special clearance for entrance.

Me and my other half were able to drive around the beautiful island taking pictures of the sunset before the event. The event itself? Simply marvelous! Imagine a swanky and upbeat party in a museum gallery full of 1940’s air crafts. It was the party of dreams!

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I want that leather flight jacket!

We had pupus like tacos, garlic chicken, ahi poke, and dessert like chocolate, ice cream, and Popsicles. The open bar wasn’t a bad addition either!

We had fun exploring the gift shop- especially lusting after the authentic aviation leather jackets.

3. Day at the Beach at the Shriner’s Club in Waimanalo: So many times driving up the highway we unknowingly passed by this incredible beachfront property. You are only able to access it as a guest of a Shriner’s Club member, and luckily, fellow Yelp Eliter Victoria’s husband was able to sponsor us as guests for the day.

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Check out this view! Waterfront beach bbq day!

This event was a fun, relaxing Sunday getting to know more about the community members which make Yelp Hawaii so special. We shared lunch pot-luck style next to the ocean, played a few games of volleyball, and had lots of laughs. Thank you Victoria and Aggie for putting this Sunday Funday together!

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New friends thanks to Yelp!

Overall, I’m grateful to be a Yelp Elite. It’s helping expose me to the many wonderful places on Oahu, and more importantly, helping me to forge friendships with the beautiful people here.