Category: featured

A first timer’s guide to Tahiti

Tahiti is a place that is synonymous with desktop backgrounds and bucket lists. When my partner and I were deciding where to take a trip last fall, we settled on Tahiti and its islands for its exotic nature and proximity to Hawaii. Plus, who WOULDN’T want to travel to a remote island chain in the South Pacific? We were ready to go!

Just one of Tahiti’s gorgeous waterfalls.

Our trip spanned 7 days, and we split our time between Tahiti (the largest island in French Polynesia), and Moorea, a less-inhabited, more unspoiled island just a ferry ride away from Tahiti.

French Polynesia is breathtakingly beautiful and worthy of all those desktop backgrounds you’ve ever lusted over. When you first land in this far-away island chain, you’ll certainly feel like you’ve landed in another world. The air is warm and dank. The smell is sweet and fragrant. And upon landing at Papeete airport, you’ll be greeted by a live Tahitian band playing island music in a foreign tongue, dressed vibrantly, welcoming you to the vacation you’ve always dreamed about and certainly deserve.

Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia and the main business district. It’s worth mentioning that Tahiti is just one island, and French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls. Some of the most famous islands in French Polynesia include Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa.

Since the first leg of our trip was spent on Tahiti, let me recount the best things to do in Tahiti:

Rent a car
Renting a car is essential during your trip to Tahiti. It’s the preferred way to get around if you want to explore. Rental cars are much cheaper if you rent a manual transmission. If you do rent an automatic, be sure to get one ahead of time and double and triple check your reservation. We witnessed one poor couple ordering an automatic car at the car rental agency at the airport and they had to pay hundreds more for their last minute rental.

Stock up on some local island goodies
The night we landed, we went straight to our Airbnb in Papeete. We worried about not having an exact address to follow, and most directions in Tahiti are given by landmark or cross street. Luckily, we found our apartment and our host was gracious enough to put some local beer in the fridge. Score!

Our view of Papeete from our Airbnb.

The next morning, Sunday, famished, we headed into town looking for a bite to eat. It’s critical to understand that in Tahiti things close sometimes all day or for several hours during the afternoon. Trying to find somewhere to eat on a Sunday morning was difficult. We resigned to McDonald’s, which was reliable and filled us up before embarking on our road trip. The staff spoke English and the price was right! After that, we stopped at the gas station for some famous baguette, cheese and charcuterie for the road.

Visit Point Venus
There’s a lot of speculation about whether or not it’s beast to traverse the island going east or west from Papeete. We opted to head east, and one of our first stops was Point Venus, a beach park where Captain Cook landed in 1769 and established an observatory.

Today, Venus Point is a black sand beach park home to picnic tables, concessions and an overall chill vibe. We enjoyed sprawling out on the black sand beach and watching beach-goers swim and soak up the sun.
(Click image for full size)

Explore side-of-the-road waterfalls
Living in Hawaii, we see our fair share of waterfalls, but getting to them involves a forest hike of a mile or two. The best thing about Tahiti is that many of the waterfalls are either at or just near the side of the road. There’s no arduous hike, just payoff views all the way.

Rounding our way around Tahiti Iti (the upper portion of Tahiti island), we were spoiled with gorgeous twin falls. We saw a local family there praying, and after they left, we had the area to ourselves!

Twin Falls was one of several we enjoyed in Tahiti.

Enjoy the most famous surf break in Tahiti
One of the most famous surf breaks in the world is called Teahupo’o located in Tahiti Nui on Tahiti’s southeastern shore. Unlike Hawaii, the wave breaks far off-shore, around a 15 minute paddle out, or a boat ride away for spectators.

Surfers have been flocking to Tahiti to surf this giant wave, which can reach upwards of 25 feet, and call it the “heaviest wave in the world.” In fact, Teahupo’o translates to “to sever the head” or “place of skulls” in English. It’s one of the world’s most dangerous waves, and it’s certainly on every surfer’s to do list!

Ehren and I enjoyed spectating from the shore. The beach park has a lazy, chill vibe, and there’s plenty of gorgeous foliage to enjoy in between watching the waves break.
(Click image for full size)

Dine water side
One of our guidebooks recommended we eat at a restaurant called La Plage de Maui (Maui’s Beach). This was one of the highlights of our stay in Tahiti! It’s about 40 minutes south of Papeete, but dining next to a crystal clear Lagoon makes this worth the trip!

Enter a French-speaking, true toes-in-the-sand experience. Our table was right next to the water where we observed coral reef, fish and even some snorkelers! Our table was decked out with tropical flowers and handmade table numbers on rocks. The thatched roof rustled above our head as we took in the sights and smells of our oceanside table.

In Tahiti, it’s common to feed food scraps to the sea life. In fact, we observed the chef coming out from the kitchen to throw diners’ leftovers to the fish more than once! I suppose it keeps the fish coming around and the diners happy. We even saw a giant eel swim up to our table during our stay, which we took as a good omen, as Ehren’s aumakua (Hawaiian family god) is an eel.

An eel came for a visit!
The view from our toes-in-sand table
A delicious meal indeed of Tahitian Shrimp in a coconut curry sauce.

Visit ancient Marae
A marae is an ancient Polynesian temple or meeting place, and Marae Arahurahu on Tahiti is the only one that has been completely restored in all of Polynesia.

Stone pens near the entrance used to house pigs that would later be sacrificed to the gods. The celebrated tiki statue is apparent, as well as a rectangular marae with various stones and a raised altar. This site was host to many gatherings, ceremonies, weddings and other special occasions. According to legend, the Marae even changed names after a battle between warriors!

Raised altar at Marae Arahurahu.

Go pearl shopping at Papeete Market
Walk into Papeete Market and your senses go wild with the sprawling bazaar offering everything from fresh fruits and veggies, to woven baskets, sarongs and made-to-order food. During our visit, we were treated to live Tahitian dancing.

Papeete Market is a place you can literally run your fingers through a dish of black pearls to take home. Prices range from a few bucks for the ugly/nicked pearls to several thousands for the gorgeous, perfect pearls, mostly found in the shops upstairs. I scored my first pair of real black pearl Tahitian earrings and a gorgeous Tahitian Pearl ring! (The ring was a steal at $20…I wish I had bought more!)
(Click image for full size)

Grab lunch from one of the stalls or from somewhere else downtown. If you go on Sunday, be sure to get there between 3 a.m.-9 a.m., otherwise it will be closed.

Tahitian dancing at the Papeete Market

Tahiti is worthy of any vacationer’s bucket list. Treat yourself to a true taste of the exotic life with a trip to French Polynesia!

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.

19961477_10104633621447579_131486169925290721_n
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.

Katie's Salon Party
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.

19958897_10104633627485479_8019328250855772335_n
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.

19990199_10104637773451929_5635580048237710727_n
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).

IMG_7622
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.

IMG_7633
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.

IMG_7685
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.

20031878_10104641960356339_8575075584546871053_n
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!

IMG_7755
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!

Katie's Salon Party (1)
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.

IMG_7737
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!”)
_____________________________________

TOPS:

(1) Light cargo jacket

20031680_10104641959063929_5018862387639128842_n
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)

20106267_10104645627557239_8750500681672828791_n
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*)

20106377_10104645627247859_3510073837313325893_n
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)

19989462_1595231610507944_383261278155234160_n
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!