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.

Why Helpx Still Excites Me 4 Years Later

It’s been 4 years since I’ve traveled full-time using Helpx.net, but after curiously poking around on their site again, it looks like things have only grown and gotten better and better for them – and for the travelers who use their site.

You might remember this throwback post: Workaway vs. Helpx: Which do you use when planning a working holiday?  This post is actually my most popular to date, and it’s easy to imagine why: Who wouldn’t want to live in and work in paradise (From Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Austria, France, the U.S. and more) for a nice family/farm in exchange for somewhere to stay…all while having the time and money to explore?

 

 

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Check out all of these thousands of listings in Australia.

 

 

I’ve used Helpx twice and had the best experiences of my life.

In Australia, I stayed with a family in Ipswich, Queensland, not a far train ride from Brisbane. For two weeks, I had my own room, was fed gourmet meals (the dad was a chef!), was taken to locals-only swimming holes, parks, and beaches. I had the time of my life. All I did was work 4 hours a day/a few days a week, and I had the richest, most local experience ever. I remember one day, while relaxing on their outdoor porch, seeing a flock of wild cockatoos fly by. I’ll never forget it!

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This is one of my favorite shots taken near the Gold Coast in Australia. Who took me there? You guessed it: My host family!

Then there was Hawaii, a Helpx experience I loved so much, I still live in the state 4 years later! I lived and worked at a eco-hostel on the Big Island. I picked fruit, built trails, planted trees, but best of all, made amazing lifelong friendships and one-of-a-kind memories. I had free WiFi, and it was under the thatched roof my dwelling I published some of my first travel stories. My time at Hedonisia Hawaii will go down as some of my best memories to date.

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Wild tropical flowers foraged from around the property – perfect for Ikebana! Look at those rare orchids! (Left)

If anyone is on the fence about a Helpx experience, I highly recommend you go for it. Pay the membership fee: it’s totally worth it. Weigh the following options:

  • Proximity to a city
  • Transportation
  • Accommodations (Plenty of places offer private rooms and even private bathrooms!)
  • Are meals included? My stay in Australia had meals included, but I was on my own in Hawaii. There were always plenty of shared meals, though.
  • Responsiveness/helpfulness of host
  • Will there be other travelers there to meet?
  • Is there WiFi? Many places have it.
  • How long are they looking for you to stay? Many hosts actually prefer longer guests.

With all the talk nowadays of being a digital nomad, Helpx is certainly a viable way to achieve that. If my lifestyle hadn’t shifted and I was still on the road, I’d do Helpx again in a heartbeat. Please use it and travel deeply!

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This post was not sponsored, nor am I getting compensated for it. I really just love Helpx and the memories it helped me create.

 

29 Things I learned in my 20s

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I’m in the last week of my 20s, and the impending 3-0 has been on my mind constantly. In between dreading leaving part of my youth behind, I’ve been contemplating what my 20s were all about. Some days I’m filled with regret and sorrow, but most days, I feel proud and accomplished.

In my 20s, I earned a college degree, had numerous relationships, got my heart badly broken, and admittedly broke a few hearts; I traveled the world and the country extensively and became a travel journalist; I moved to Hawaii, and I’m beginning to settle down. It’s amazing what can happen in a decade. Here’s just 29 lessons I learned from my 20s:

  1. Wash your face every night before bed – No longer can I abuse my face by going to bed with it caked on with makeup. I can tell the difference between my skin now and then. Now I have a whole skincare routine which includes wearing SPF 50 on my face every day and of course, removing my makeup every night before bed.
  1. Some people really are crazy – That’s okay. A writing mentor once told me that back in the 60s and 70s, it was more acceptable to be crazy in an insane world. Do with them what you will. I usually tent to ignore politely.
  1. Don’t let crazy people ruin the good within you – Sometimes you fall in love with, or are really close friends with, what turn out to be crazy people. That’s okay. The best thing about crazy people is that they are often filled with wild, fun ideas and have a great sense of humor. When they start challenging your core values or legitimately don’t want to help themselves, know when to walk.
  1. Talk to the stranger next to you – Life’s too short not to make friends with the everyday people walking this Earth with you. Whether you’re in line at the bank, on a bus on the way to Bondi Beach in Australia, or having a drink at the bar, lean over and get to know your neighbor.
  1. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams – The time is now, not when you’re old, beat up, or saddled down by a career and family. Chase that dream even if it takes you the edges of the world and back. You’ll never regret going there. You’ll only regret NOT going there.
  1. You don’t always have to be the life of the party – This was a hard lesson for me to learn. The first, say, seven years of my 20s was exactly that: a big party. I was moving from place to place, drinking, doing other questionable things…until I realized, I didn’t ALWAYS have to be the life of the party. The party would always be there when and if I want it. It doesn’t need to be a lifestyle (Thank God! It’s exhausting!)
  1. Make the best out of any situation you’re in – Man, I found myself in some hairy situations in my 20s. Perhaps the time I mistakenly took a ride from a local drunk on the Big Island is a good example. Or the time, while living in a camper, we blew out a tire in the middle of nowhere when it was 100 degrees. These shitty situations happen. Make the most of them. They’re not forever (and thank you, guardian angels for never letting anything bad happen to me in the thick of it!)
  1. Dream big – Even if you don’t accomplish all of your dreams, if you don’t set the bar high, you’ll never get there. Make a list, buy a ticket, and make it happen. Sign up for that class. Go on that date. Just say yes.
  1. Trust in the inherent good in people – Remember those strangers you end up meeting? 99% of the time, they’re the ones giving you a ride to the airport, giving you a place to sleep, offering you tidbits of insider information, taking you the doctor when you fall ill. Even those crazy people, in their crazy ways, want good in life, believe it or not. Please don’t believe the media. Yes, rotten people and scary people exist, but good people outnumber them exponentially.
  1. Take care of your body – Women especially. Please don’t fall for ever suitor and every temptation. You will likely pay for it later. Stop drinking so much. Drink plenty of water and exercise. Don’t have unprotected sex unless you’re in a long-term, trusting relationship. Take care of your temple.
  1. Money isn’t everything – but it helps. I’ve had the most amazing memories when I wasn’t working or didn’t have much money at all. What I realized, though, is that those times don’t last. Find something you love doing, a job where you can be utilized to do those things you love doing (even if it’s not your dream job), and make money. Work. Travel. Volunteer. Save. You’ll be happier by the end of your 20s when you have a little money in the bank.
  1. Don’t settle for less than you deserve – It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Don’t settle for wondering if someone is thinking about you. Don’t settle for missing someone without having a plan to see them. Never be someone’s plan B. You’ll suffer, but if you must settle for something less than you deserve (as we all do at some point), learn the valuable lessons from it so you can spot really good when it comes at you later. At that point, you’ll be able to fully, wholly, lusciously appreciate it.
  1. Live with less – Repurpose old things into new things. Don’t buy new clothes for 2 years. Live with 3 pairs of shoes for a while. Live out of a backpack. Own less. See how it changes your world.
  1. Listen to your parents – Their advice is usually right. It might not always be right for that exact moment that they give it to you, but it’s right. Write it down and make it a goal later. They want what’s best for you and they love you. You’re lucky to have them.
  1. Learn to forgive – Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Forgive others for hurting you. In forgiveness, you’ll find peace and happiness. It won’t be easy, but you’ll get there.
  1. Learn to say goodbye – Get good at letting people come and go in and out of your life. Friendships, lovers, family members, etc. It will make you strong to meet many people, and it will make you stronger still to know when to say goodbye and “I’ll see you later.” You’ll learn to survive the next storm.
  1. Do what the locals do – Whether you’re a traveler or not, just DO IT. Hear about a new restaurant opening? A festival? Farmer’s Market? Just go. Do it. Bonus points if you’re a stranger in a strange land and you do what the local’s recommend. You’ll have a more rich experience.
  1. Keep your friends close – Your close friends might change over the years. That’s okay. It’s normal and healthy for people to grow close to others and further from others. Keep a handful of tried and true best friends you can call in the middle of the night when you’re sick, depressed, dumped. Make sure you have people you can rely on in this life. Make sure you love them deeply and they know it.
  1. Exclaim when things are good – When something is delicious, moan with pleasure! Tell your significant other how much you love them regularly. Jump in and out of rain puddles with friends while exclaiming, “This is really living!” Let life invigorate you.
  1. Work with your hands – There’s something extremely gratifying about working with your hands. Don’t do it forever if you can help it, but the lessons you learn will get you very far in any career down the line. After all, who else could say they planted a banana tree, took care of 35 customers at once, or built a lava rock trail in volcanic crater? Make those memories.
  1. Find time to believe in something and practice it – Whether it’s organized religion, prayer, intentions, yoga, mindfulness – find something that regularly connects you to positivity and the divine and practice it.
  1. You always have a choice – If you feel trapped, lonely, bored, abused, etc. Remember: you always have a choice. “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”
  1. Things will work out – I’ve been in situations where a lot of odds seemed stacked up against me: where I was worried about my journey, paying bills, and other general crazy things that come at you at life. Somehow, though, it always seemed to work out.
  1. Trust your intuition – It’s never wrong. And when you find out news you’ve been dreading and you’re in the position to get out, be brave enough, and strong enough, to do it.
  1. Protect yourself – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s good to have a giving personality to those in need, but think twice before you lend out your big heart to those you hardly know and those who may not deserve you.
  1. Learn from your mistakes – You’ll undoubtedly make mistakes in your 20s. I did, and I’m trying not to beat myself up from them as I approach 30. I’m making peace with the crazy shit I’ve done, and I’ve also learned my lessons, as you see them listed out here. The point is this: I can’t say don’t make mistakes, because you absolutely will. Somehow, what seemed like a good or fun idea at the time turns out to be a stupid thing you’ve done. That’s fine, we’ve all been there. The real work is not repeating that stupid mistake. Learn from it. Grow. Now you’ll be better equipped to make wiser decisions in the future.
  1. Find ways to love yourself – Exude confidence. Love your body. Love your mind. Find little ways to pamper yourself and to build yourself up. This is an extremely useful way to not only enjoy your life, but to excel in it.
  1. Cherish the bittersweet transitional moment from youth to adult – It might not be an exact moment like mine, but you’ll likely have a moment where you feel a shift from feeble kid to responsible adult. For me, it was when my grandmother passed away and I was a pallbearer at her funeral. My whole life as a kid, I thought the world was such a mystery and adults had a magical power to orchestrate and understand the world. Then, at 27, I realized the roles had shifted and life was simple. My grandmother, who helped raise me, now needed help from me being laid to rest. She trusted me with that gargantuan and touching act. When I walked her down the aisle of the church, I knew the mystery was solved: there was nothing more to being an adult than taking care of someone else when they needed it.
  1. Set limits and be grateful for what you have – In your 20s, the sky’s the limit, and you’ll try to get there. Maybe you will. By the time your late 20s roll around, if you’re like me, you’ll crave a little normalcy. Set limits on the things you want to become in your life, but still have goals. Be grateful for what you have. And show loving compassion for the life you’ve worked to create.
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Hipmunk Hotels: California Dreaming in Half Moon Bay, Venice, Pismo Beach, and more

There’s nothing like a trip to California: dreamy coastlines, amazingly fresh produce, and a laid-back vibe. To get the most out of your stay in the Golden State, consider a stay at hotels in the following locations.

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Half Moon Bay via Flickr by mtch3l

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is located 30 miles south of San Francisco and offers some of the best sweeping coastline views in all of California. Once a place where “rum runners” smuggled alcohol to nearby inns during Prohibition, taking advantage of the area’s coves and dense fog, Half Moon Bay today thrives with a small-town coastal charm — and some of those inns are thriving restaurants today.

A historic downtown district has plenty of shops, restaurants, and galleries to peruse during your visit. You won’t be disappointed in the fresh seafood at area restaurants, either.

Venice

There’s never a lack of things to do in Venice Beach, a gathering place for hippies, beatniks, and artists. Try walking up and down the boardwalk, close to your stay at the conveniently located Venice on the Beach Hotel, eating street tacos and falling for a salesman’s latest push. Street performers abound, and this “Coney Island of the Pacific” tempts visitors with amusement attractions, specialty shops, fortune tellers, a drum circle, and more. Don’t forget to gawk at hard bodies at the world-famous “Muscle Beach,” an outdoor workout area.

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Venice Beach Boardwalk via Flickr by young grasshopper

 

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, located in Central coastal California, is along the famous Highway 101 and is the midway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Known for its “Classic California” vibe, Pismo Beach offers visitors activities like fishing from its 1200-foot pier, wine-tasting, ATV sand dune riding, surfing, and more.

Come in June to walk around the annual classic car show. You can see vehicles from yesteryear in pristine condition along a dramatic coastal backdrop. Or if seafood is your thing, make a visit in October for the annual clam festival.

Oxnard

Back down in Southern California is Oxnard, home to some of the sweetest strawberries you ever tasted. Just a short drive from Los Angeles, Oxnard will have your senses pumping at the California Strawberry Festival every summer.

In addition to its delicious produce, Oxnard is home to the Channel Islands National Park, an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Just a quick boat ride from the mainland offers ample opportunity to kayak, snorkel, and bird watch around these five islands. You can take guided wildlife tours to discover this somewhat isolated island chain.

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Fresh Oxnard Strawberries via Flickr by Kimberly Mahr

Roseville

Once a railroad town, now Roseville is a major urban city in metropolitan Sacramento. Pack a picnic and listen to live music for the Music in the Park series. Old Town’s Vernon Street is the place to be Tuesday nights in the summer for music, arts, and food vendors.

Make sure you save time for the city’s largest open market, Denio’s Farmers Market and Swap Meet, to hunt for treasures untold. During your comfortable stay at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott, take advantage of Roseville’s close proximity to the Sierra Nevada Foothills, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley.

 

 

Spacious Hotels Near NYC in Weehawken, Jersey City, White Plains, and more

This post was originally published on Tales From a Fork by Sarah Kim on June 16, 2016.

If you’re traveling to New York City but want more space and amenities than the average Manhattan hotel, try opting for these accommodations. These spacious hotels are only a quick ride away from the Big Apple.

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View of Manhattan from Weehawken via Flickr by John Cunniff

Weehawken

Weehawken is one of the best destinations if you want to see a panoramic view of New York City, from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the George Washington Bridge. Once you’re done marveling at the expansive skyline from Hamilton Park or Gregory Park, you can head to New York City via bus, ferry, or train.

For history buffs, you can visit the infamous dueling grounds site of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, which occurred on July 11, 1804. The Weehawken Water Tower is also a sight to see as it dates back from 1884, which makes it the oldest in the state, and resembles the Plaza del Vecchio in Italy.

Jersey City

Jersey City is easily accessible to both downtown and midtown Manhattan through the PATH train, ferries across the Hudson, and busses. It’s close to attractions such as the Colgate Clock, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse, and gives you more bang for your buck with hotels like the Dharma Home Suites JC, which offers a grand view of Manhattan, a fitness center, and even a kitchenette. There are multiple boat companies for aquatic enjoyment such as boat tours, waterskiing, jet skiing, and speed boat tours.

White Plains

White Plains is a fashionista’s playground with more than 150 upscale stores, such as Neiman Marcus, Burberry, Gucci, and Brooks Brothers at the Westchester Mall. For culinary travelers, there’s Blue Hill restaurant, which is a farm-to-table fine dining restaurant focused on local and sustainably grown foods. After shopping, dining, and exploring the beautiful Kykuit gardens, moving on to Manhattan is easy because it’s only half an hour away.

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Kykuit Gardens by Anne Hemond via Flickr

Rye Brook

Rye Brook is a picturesque village that’s a brisk 30-minute drive or hour train ride from Manhattan. It boasts five parks and lush greenery wherever you go. Its number one activity is the Doral Golf Course, where you can get in a full round of golf and stay at the Doral Arrowwood hotel.

This hotel sits on 114 acres of woodlands, providing an all-around haven for relaxation and fun with a nightclub, indoor and outdoor pool, three different restaurants, pub with pool tables, and tennis courts. It’s only 3 miles from the Westchester County airport and includes an airport shuttle so you don’t need to deal with the long lines at JFK or LaGuardia.

Stamford

Stamford is a thriving metropolis located just 45 minutes on the train from New York City. It’s a popular destination for business travelers, but because of it’s rising influx of great restaurants and trendy bars, this place is becoming the next hotspot for young professionals in their 20s and 30s.

If focusing purely on food and drink isn’t your thing, and your aquatic side wants to shine, head to the Cove Island Park to enjoy the beach, Cummings Park to fish, or Chelsea Piers to swim.