Hiking Waiheke

Up, down and all around Waiheke Island we went this week and everywhere we looked were amazing South Pacific views and surprises along the way.  Sometimes we just got lost and wandered into private driveways, hugged the narrow side of the roads with no sidewalks in sight or took the “tramping track” on beaches and through forests.  What fun AND great exercise!

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Stunning views from the cliffs

Of course there were moments when I didn’t think I could go another step or climb another hill.  Yes, Waiheke Island is one rolling hill after another and there are stunning views from the cliffs as a result but the journey can be challenging no doubt.  Thom would break into singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to work we go, we’re lost again oh no..” as we hoped that the journey would end before we passed out from exhaustion and hunger.  Note to self-pack food 0n these excursions because we always get lost and several hours later stumble upon civilization starving.

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The “double finger salute” after we got lost and had to climb yet another hill

First, we hiked a steep trail along the water by the wharf but then decided to veer off onto what looked like a country road though we soon found out at the top of the hill that it was a private driveway for the stunning homes overlooking the bay.  Oops!  Out onto the road, we stumbled upon WWII bunkers and observations compounds.  Though they never needed to take any action, the islanders were ready just in case of invasion.  I hope #45 doesn’t start another world war but Waiheke will be ready just in case.

On other days, we walked the width of the island from Shelley Beach to Palm Beach which is about 3 miles.  It always looks closer on the maps but once we start out, we are pretty committed to finish the walk. When we walked to the wineries though, and I had completed several tastings of excellent island vino, I insisted we take the bus home because the fitbit was already showing 5 miles logged for the day.  I’ll actually come home from vacation feeling fit and losing weight from all our excursions.

Today was the best walk of all-we took on Te Ara Hura.  This walkway runs along the northside of the island from Oneroa to Palm Beach.  We started on the beach at Oneroa and lost the trail so we double backed to the street section and found our way through woods with LOTS of steps up the hillside hugging the coastline.  Thankfully at Little Oneroa Bay there were facilities and a snack store to get the best popsicle in the world-some lemon, orange, coconut creation that made me swoon.  Off again, up and down we went for miles until finally, as my energy was flagging, we hit the down trail to Little Palm Beach.  This “clothing optional” beach has sand so fine and water so warm and clear it makes you never want to leave.  The cool waters were a wonderful respite from the heat and sweat from the five mile walk.  Ahhhh……another day in paradise!

Wild for Wineries on Waiheke

I picked New Zealand for Thom’s birthday trip based on Bruce Springsteen’s tour schedule. A bonus was that the beach cottage I selected to be our home for the week was on Waiheke Island, the so-called “Island of Wine”.  Score!  Small boutique wineries abound, a total of 20+ on a gorgeous South Pacific island with only 8,000 residents but lots of wine-loving tourists.  The unique warm micro-climate here is perfect for producing grapes that transform into gentle Rose, fruity Merlot and expressive Syrahs.

Right next door to our cottage was Goldie Estate.  How convenient!   A popular place for island destination weddings, you can see why when you climb through their vineyard to the top of the hill by the spreading tree overlooking the bay, which has surely been the backdrop of many a wedding photo.  This was our first stop and I was taken aback by the boldness of the tastings. This is some serious kick ass wine. Only 4 short nips and I was ready for a nap afterward.  What is in the fertile soil of this island that packs such a punch?  Damn.

Next up, we spent an afternoon walking several miles uphill to three wineries conveniently located in a cluster so you can stumble from one to another.  We were good and ready for a rest when we arrived at Wild on Waiheke.  A destination for tour groups, this winery was like a playland for winos, offering laser skeet shooting, archery (always a good idea when drinking) and lawn chess.  We spurned all activity after our hike and sprawled in the always present and now my favorite furniture in the world-lawn bean bags.  Under a tiki umbrella, we rested in the shade and I tasted their Merlot and Syrah while Thom sipped a non-alcoholic ginger beer made locally.  I don’t care for ginger beer-it tastes like Airborne but that’s just me I guess.

Because the wineries are mostly only open from 11-4 p.m., we reluctantly rolled out of the bean bags and off we went racing across the nearby field to Te Motu Vineyard, which overlooks the Onetangi Valley.  I went for a trifecta tasting of their Rose, Merlot and Syrah.  Not having eaten lunch, I ordered a basket of bread and olive oil (locally made) to soak up the alcohol and Thom enjoyed a  Pear and Basil organic soda.  Very interesting and refreshing.  Their Syrah blew me away-the peppery kick to it that comes natural here plus fruity overtones was devine.  A bottle to take home and savor was safely tucked away in the backpack and off we ran once again through the vineyards to the next winery, Stonyridge Vineyard.

Next to a vine-covered brick building, Stonyridge has olive groves and vineyards that surround a large deck with comfy couches.  Best of all, large pillows were strewn all over the hillside with umbrellas inviting you to lie back, enjoy the wine and gaze at the grapes ready to be harvested soon.  Alas, I was at my capacity for the afternoon and I didn’t partake of a tasting there but perhaps another day.  So much wine, so little time.  Cheers!

Life on Waiheke Island is good & different

What we love about travelling is learning about new countries, soaking in how the locals live and the uniqueness of every place we visit.  Sure, we also shop, dine and wine along the way but mostly we just try to get lost wandering around and getting off the beaten track.  Here are some of our observations from experiencing Waiheke Island, New Zealand:

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Sailboats are docked in every bay waiting to be sailed off into the sunset.  No docks anywhere on the island.  We saw one guy walk out to his boat during low tide from our beach and it was fairly far out.  Walk or swim are apparently the options to get out to your boat. The low tide/high tide ritual is amazing. We saw some very large fish trapped in a shallow pool of water by the road and I thought Thom was going to jump in and hand wrestle one but that wouldn’t be good sport now would it?

Public art can be found along the roadways and in the small villages that dot the coastline.

Butterflies are plentiful but only the orange/black monarchs.  I notice because the butterfly is my spirit animal-always flying on to new places we are.

Water is precious and only procured by collecting rain water in cisterns.  This means short showers and no ice.  Glad there are 20 wineries on the island as margaritas would be hard to do without ice.

Ham, venison and lamb are the popular meats with seafood not as plentiful as you would think for an island in the South Pacific.  Butcher shops outnumber seafood markets 3 to 1.

Lots of birds but haven’t seen a ground animal creeping anywhere.  The birds are good for insect control.  There is never a still moment of absolute quietness due to the constant humming of insects 24/7.  So, birds are necessary but the wineries have to net their vines to prevent birds from feasting on the grapes.

While you hear the insects, you don’t see so many until dark when the mosquitos come out.  Not sure why but none of the houses have screens on any windows/doors.  You can open the windows during the day for sea breezes but not at night cause the mosquitos will invade and bite you.  We even have a plug-in auto diffuser of repellent in our cottage which scared us when it went off.  We thought it was smoking but it was misting toxic shit to keep us safe and unbitten.  Thinking “oh we don’t need that” we unplugged it and proceeded to be midnight snacks for the invaders while we slept.  Now the toxic mist is looking less lethal and more necessary.

The homes here are very modest but extremely expensive with a 2 bedroom fixer upper costing close to a million dollars.  Damn great views though!  Most houses that we saw had the doors standing wide open and you get the sense they don’t lock their doors even when out on their boats.  Trusting fools.

Eggs are not refrigerated, crumpets are the breakfast carb and delicious, it’s “streaky bacon” here and takes forever to crisp up.  Tea is the hot beverage of choice.  There is no coffee maker in our cottage and no Starbucks on the island.  WTF!  But we do have a lovely teapot and hot water kettle we are using daily.

Outdoor bean bags are everywhere and quite costly running about $700 each but boy are they comfy.  Only negative is that after consuming the local wines it may be hard to stand up after reclining and relaxing.  After a few awkward attempts, you learn to roll, kneel and stand up without falling.  Got to get me some of these for our Boise cottage!

Sidewalks are different here.  Not on both sides of any road but rather they alternate sides.  First left then right but never at the same time.  No crosswalks to cross over when they switch.  Be quick and nimble and remember they drive on the “wrong” side of the road here so look in the correct direction or die.

Beaches have sections that are clothing “optional”.  Who knew?  Well, we learned quickly when  we started seeing naked bums and private parts being burned by the sun on Little Palm Beach which is next to the more traditional Palm Beach where bathing suits are worn.  Oh my!

No chain restaurants here.  Local restaurants ranging from Irish to Thai to Italian with some seafood thrown in.  Don’t expect shops to be open past 6 p.m. and wineries are only open from 11-4 p.m. so plan your days here around the afternoon sips that will knock you on your ass.  Naps afterward are highly recommended as the wine seems to have an extra bite going down and kicks in quicker than on the mainland.

Here’s to getting out into the world, appreciating diversity and savoring the journey.  May we always take the road less travelled and discover new experiences along the way.  Cheers!

Another day in paradise!

“It’s only a little further.”  Thom’s famous words as we literally walked the entire width of Waiheke Island from Shelley Beach to Palm Beach.  Take a bus?  No way not when we can traipse along for miles on the narrow sidewalk up and down hills exploring by foot.  Along the way we saw beautiful flowers, towering ferns, and a glimpse into local New Zealand life.  One of my favorite memories of our time in China was walking down the hill from the Great Wall.  Not such a happy memory for our son James who was with us and couldn’t understand the whole walking vs. taking the free bus ride.  He thinks we’re crazy.  Probably right but hey we enjoy the journey.

After exploring Shelley Beach in front of our cottage this morning, we set off on foot for the north side of the island where the beaches were known to be sandy and long.  Palm Beach was gorgeous.  Worth the walk. Families enjoyed the surf as Thom and I walked into the waters of the South Pacific together.  Oh my what a moment.  Strolling down the beach over a rocky section we entered what we quickly realized was the “clothing optional” part.  Goodness, naked bums everywhere!  Mostly older  folks but also some millennials strumming guitars in the altogether.  Walking between two naked groups while trying not to stare at not-so-private parts on full display, we found a path the led us straight up the steep hill for a most spectacular view.  I had read about the history of Waiheke Island as an “alternative” community for hippies that featured naked beaches so I wasn’t surprised.  Researching online when we returned home, I found many references to Little Palm Beach.  About Travel site advised “Remember to use common sense when stripping off at a beach. Only select secluded areas where there are either other naked people or no one at all.” Good advice.  In other words, nudism is tolerated but be discreet.

A kind tour guide who was shepherding rich tourists in a motor coach at the top of the hill shared where we could find the nearest bus stop and off we went to the local village for some fish and chips and shopping.  Most people would never just walk across an island and favor public transportation vs. renting their own car like we do.  What we saved in transportation costs though, I gladly spent on shopping.  One shop had local crafts and I picked up another pillow cover, adding to my large collection from around the world, as well as gifts and a gorgeous silver ring for myself.

We asked the shopkeeper for food recommendations which led us to The Local,  with fish and chips made to order and truly delicious.  Dessert was a deep fried pineapple ring coated in cinnamon sugar.  Decadent!  After lunch, Thom started wandering to find our bus home.  I made him stop for directions (men!) so we quickly found our stop and home we went to do a little sea kayaking and relaxing.  Another day in paradise!

 

Seattle to New Zealand-our 24 hour odyssey

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The view from our ferry as we leave Auckland for Waiheke Island

You only turn 60 once so off to the South Pacific we went to celebrate Thom’s birthday.  And while New Zealand is a dreamy once-in-a-lifetime trip for sure, seeing Bruce Springsteen play the last concert on his Summer Tour in Auckland will make it even more memorable.  Friday night our trip began heading off halfway round the world to see THE BOSS.

Monday at 1 p.m. our luggage finally caught up with us.  Oh Air Canada!  You are friendly, polite folk but damn it don’t make me start my vacation without a toothbrush.  I joked with the Air Canada dude at the airport when we checked in that it would be a miracle if our bags actually stayed with us through 3 flights from the US to Canada to Sydney to Auckland.  And they didn’t.  Thom says it’s my fault.  I jinxed it.  Oops.  No more joking about luggage.  More prayers and good karma next time.  I’ve already decided to carry-on only to India and Germany next month when I travel for business.  It’s not cool to go to meetings and be a rumpled smelly mess.

Overall the flights didn’t suck too badly and we got to catch up on our movie watching.  I finally got to see Bridget Jones’ Baby which had me laughing out loud on the plane. I noticed the gal next to me also watched it and was laughing too so I didn’t feel so bad.  I also finally had time to check out Jane The Virgin and it was quite funny as well.  Thom took a different path and watched all the dark, violent shows I would never watch with him.  The airplane food was not good as expected but when you are captive for 18+ hours, you get hungry so even the mystery meat sandwich goes down with some free hooch, though I did take the barf bag with me as I exited the plane because you just never know when what goes down comes back up.

Auckland's landmark reminds me of our Space Needle
Auckland’s landmark reminds me of our Space Needle

After spending quality time with baggage customer service to track down our missing bags that decided they liked Australia and didn’t want to make the next flight to NZ, we hopped onto the bus to Auckland to get our ferry to Waiheke Island.  As we neared our destination and were the only passengers left on the bus, our driver asked us, “Did you vote for Trump?”  Spontaneously without hesitation I yelled, “OH. HELL.NO.”  He laughed and asked us how on earth did Americans elect this “nut”.  Thom tried to explain to him about the uninformed, racist, disengaged voters who supported Trump but basically we apologized for the embarrassment of our country to the world.  Well, that didn’t take long!  We’re on vacation running away from the political chaos  at home and we are asked to justify it.  Temporary insanity and suspension of all things right and good by millions of people but not the majority of citizens?  Yep, pretty much.

Thom celebrating his birthday relaxing in a beanbag on the beach
Thom celebrating his birthday relaxing in a beanbag on the beach

The luggage finally arrived at our arbnb beach cottage after multiple calls to the airline.  We refreshed and made ourselves  presentable to walk, yes walk, to the winery next door.  Conveniently, we are staying on Waiheke Island or the “Isle of Wine” as it is now called because, on this tiny rock outcropping an hour by boat from Auckland with 8,000 residents, there are 20 wineries.  So much wine, so little time.  Cheers!