The Hunter Valley – Day 1

The Hunter Valley – Day 1

We had an early start to the day so we could walk to the Pullman Hotel in Sydney to pick up our Europcar rental for our drive to the Hunter Valley. It was weird picking the car up from a luxury hotel lobby, but Europcar had a kiosk there. I picked the cheapest, tiniest car to save some money and the rental guy tried for far to annoyingly long to upgrade our car to a Mercedes for an extra $30 a day. He finally gave us the keys and we headed down 7 levels UNDER ground to our car park. The hotel was 30 stories and 7 of those went below ground – so crazy to think about the engineering that goes into such a structure!

We drove the car around and around and around the 7 floors back up to street level and took off on our journey. One of my uncles and his wife live in an Crate & Barrel magazine worthy house about half way to the Hunter, and they invited us over for coffee and lunch. We had a blast catching up with them, playing with their dogs, and getting a quick tour of their gardens that grow almost everything! The list we got was passion fruit, pumpkins, asparagus, bananas, apples, limes, macadamia nuts, and they even have chickens for fresh eggs! I am so jealous they could grow so many fruits and veggies on their property.

They also treated us to a delicious lunch with the most amazing view of the ocean. I had some lamb and mint tacos and Ryan had the southwestern ones. The tacos were much bigger than expected and we were stuffed!

We had a great time talking about Iron Man races (my uncle has run several!), working out, our family, and our many travels. My uncle and aunt are also avid travelers – the apple didn’t fall far from the tree! Time flew and, before we knew it, we had to take off for our 1.5 hour drive to the Hunter Valley.

The drive was windy and scenic. We were surprised that the speed limits were so slow on the highways – most of it was only 80 KPH (50 MPH) with max speeds of 110 KPH (68 MPH). My lead foot was not impressed!

We finally arrived around 3:30 and I was so happy that we chose to stay at the Kirkton Hotel. It was so charming! It was an older but totally remodeled complex and our room, again, looked like something from a Z Gallery magazine. We had a stunning view as well.

We had a quick change raced over to Tempus Two Cellar for some wine tasting. My family and I went to Tempus Two when I was young and my mom must have shipped 20 bottles of their dessert wine to us in the USA. Since then, every holiday dinner was celebrated with a small glass of it for everyone, including my sister and I when we were like 12. The wine brings back so many good memories of happy holiday times I had to go and get more.

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We sampled a variety of wines and didn’t taste one we didn’t like. When we got to the dessert wine, Ryan totally and finally understood “the hype” and we bought two bottles, one for us and one to share with my parents when we got home (maybe…..).

Tempus Two closed at 5 PM and there was a Thai / Japanese restaurant in the same complex next store that was recommended for dinner. It opened at 5:30 so we decided to enjoy a bottle of wine on the patio until then. We were looking for kangaroos since they were supposed to come out at dusk, but only saw magpies and cars. The wine was great and it was very relaxing.

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At 5:30, the restaurant opened and we walked over to find out that their grill was broken and only 1/3 of their menu was available. Both Ryan and I had our heart set on Pad Thai so we Googled the closest Thai place and went their instead. Ryan got the Pad Thai and I had some super tasty Panang curry!

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After dinner, we went back to the hotel and decided to explore a bit. The hotel had a heated indoor pool and hot tub. It smelled too heavily of chlorine so we opted skipped that. We also heard that there was a barn with two week old piglets on the property but it was too dark to find them so we ended up going back to the room and promptly fell asleep.

Continue on this adventure…

 

Sydney, Day 4

We got up around 8 and, after a yummy breakfast or Weetabix (an Aussie staple), my aunt was nice enough to drive us to the Taronga Park Zoo! On the way, we stopped at where my mom and her family grew up in the cove right next to the zoo. My aunt showed us their old house / stomping grounds. It was really cool to see. Apparently, they used to walk over to the zoo and hop the fence to get in! The view from their house was not bad either…

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We got to the zoo relatively early so there were not a ton of people. It is right in the harbor across from the Sydney Opera House and all of the animals have an amazing view!

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We got to hang out with Kangaroos, wallabies, cuddly koalas…

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…red pandas, and other of my favorite animals. The Zoo overall is very well done with great exhibits awesome plant life! I highly recommend a visit!

We were in the zoo for about 4.5 hours before it was time to take the Skyrail down to the harbor side exit.

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We hopped on the ferry to get over to the Sydney Opera House. It was such a beautiful day too – we got very lucky.

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Once docked, we grabbed some very expensive but average gelato. It made our stroll much more enjoyable and we found the perfect spot on the steps of the House to take it all in ( a good view makes everything better!). After that, we walked through the botanical gardens behind the Sydney Opera House and back to the hotel for a refresh before dinner at PhoMo right on the waterside.

We hopped on the train to get to Barangaroo area in downtown where there are strings of restaurants along the harbor. We were meeting my sister and her friends for dinner at PhoMo so we grabbed a few glasses of wine while we waited. It was the perfect temperature out and all of the patios were “chockablock” with people! Once our party of 8 arrived, we moved to the table and ordered some delicious soft shell crab spring rolls and rare beef pho. A few of the girls had never had pho soup before and they quickly fell in love with it – seriously the best!

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My sister’s friends were from all over the world and were all temporarily living in Sydney. It was awesome to hear their stories of how they got to Aussie and how they met my sister. I was pretty proud of my husband, Ryan, for being the only guy at the table and making the most of it. We were planning to get drinks after dinner so we let Ryan head back to the train station to go home and relax.

We talked for about 30 minutes longer and, since it was a Tuesday night with a work day for everyone except me, the party disbanded. My sister and I ended up taking a cab and beat Ryan back from the train station! He had taken the train in the wrong direction and was having quite a time getting back. Even though he left 30 minutes prior, he got in a good 10 minutes after us and was so peeved (in a funny way) that we took a cab and beat him back. I have to say, this trip has been an adventure for the both of us!

Continue on this adventure…

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

I opened up my computer one day in July and read the best email I had ever received. It was from my sister, Julia, who requested a long-weekend sister trip to one of three national parks! I couldn’t be happier to respond “YESSSS!!!” We decided to take a long weekend in October to hike around Mt. Rainier which is outside of Seattle, Washington.

Thursday  –

We flew in from different cities but landed within minutes of each other and had quite the exciting, hug-filled reunion in the Seattle airport. We gabbed as we walked to the Uber pick-up area and got lucky that we did not have to split our Uber-Pool Prius with another 3 people – that would have been so cramped!

It only took 20 minutes or so get to the Marriott Seattle Waterfront hotel that had the most beautiful view! The check-in guy asked us if we were twins which made my day since I am 5 years older! I am not sure how my sister feels about the mix-up but I think she lets it slide for my sake.

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We got up to the room to clean up before heading out for dinner. We opted for sushi since the seafood in Seattle is so darn fresh and delicious! We opted to try Umi Sake House since it was only a few mintue walk from the hotel. We cheersed to our reunion with some cocktails and split seaweed salad, edamame, and two of the best rolls I’ve ever had in my life! (Unfortunately, I Snapped and didn’t actually save my food-porn worthy photo evidence.. ugh!)

Totally stuffed, we walked back to our room and chatted until late in the night. You’ve got to love an old fashion sister sleepover (except when you get touched by cold feet)!

Friday –

My sister mentioned she had to work a tiny bit when we first planned the trip but the “tiny” turned into 1/2 the day, so I made some solo plans. I had been wanting to try out an out Orange Theory class and there happened to be one about 10 minutes from our hotel! I booked a 10 AM class and my sister and I grabbed a yummy continental breakfast before I started the walk to Orange Theory. The directions had me go up this awesome bridge with a beautiful view of the water way. I then turned into the city for a short tour before arriving at the studio. Unfortunately for my body, it was “National Burpee Day” and the class totally kicked my butt! Maybe wasn’t the best idea with a big hike coming up the next day… (Oh, foreshadowing!)

The day was glorious – 60 degrees and sunny – and I loved walking through the city. Once I got back to the hotel, I freshened up while my sister finished her conference call. Our stomachs were rumbling so we took off to check out Pike Place Market and find a spot for lunch.

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Pike Place Market was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we had a great time sampling the different products for sale, like questionable moisturizer, and smelling all of the flowers. It took me back to the last time I was in Seattle for our Alaskan cruise.

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We came across a little cheese and wine shop and sampled some cheeses. We ended up buying two cheeses and a nice bottle of red to take back to the hotel for snacking later. We also found an Italian place and split a scrumptious pasta dish. (Mmm, carbs!)

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Another meeting popped up on my sister’s schedule so we decided to grab some coffee and head down to the wharf. Talk about an amazing view to take a call from, especially since happy hour with wine and oysters at Elliot’s Oyster House was to follow.

Feeling good after our wine, we went back to the Marriott to get ready for our exciting comedic evening. We were going to dinner at Local 360 before seeing Iliza Shlesinger live! I watched her Netflix special, “Elder Millennial”, a few months before our trip and could not believe she was premiering in Seattle the night we were there! I was beyond excited.

Dinner was probably an 7 out of 10. We split a weird goat cheese and beet salad, but a delicious squash soup with so, so, so much bread. My hand-made, pesto pasta dish was very good and my sister had a veggie medley over thick-cut toast.

We were so stuffed that we were glad for the walk to the Moore Theater. We had every intention of finding a bar to hang at before the 10:30 show, however, while passing by we noticed that the theater was really dark. It looked like there was a big metal gate and that the doors were closed. We walked up and, to my completed sock, we saw the below:

The sign for our canceled show - bummer!

I was SO sad that we could not see Iliza. Instead of going to a bar, we decided to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep since we had an early morning to Mt. Rainier the next day.

Saturday:

We woke up bright and early to check out of the hotel and head to Mt. Rainier! Even though it is a 2 hour drive from the city, you could actually see the mountain from the wharf in Seattle. The drive was absolutely beautiful as all of the trees were changing to the most vibrant colors for fall!

The drive to Mt. Rainier in Washington

We took a pit stop at a grocery store on the way to grab some food for our hike. I was looking for something quick, prepackaged, and easy to eat and found the perfect lunch – Pizza Lunchables! My 5 year-old self would have been so proud.

We finally started the accent to Mt. Rainier. The mountain kept getting bigger and bolder as we drew closer and we were in awe. We took a quick stop to take some photos at a lookout point and finally made it to the hike area. The weather was perfect and the trail was up, up, and more up. Oh, my butt was burning from those burpees!

Hiking Mt. Rainier in Washington

The views and the hike got us talking about everything – wanting to move from Texas so I could hike more, previous hikes with our parents (like when we accidentally hiked through a nudist beach *cringe*), quirky family songs that we used to sing when we hiked with family, dating and relationships, and how we were going to make these sister trips an annual tradition. I have to say, I am so incredibly lucky to have Julia as my sister and built-in best friend / travel buddy. We are quite the quirky pair:

The view from the top of the hike made all of the climb worth it. We decided to post up on an out cropping for some relaxation and Lunchables.

Eventually, we had to make the trek down the path back to the car. It was pretty steep with shale rock everywhere. It was a bitter-sweet decent as I could have stayed by the mountain for ages.

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Our spirits were lifted though as we were staying the night in a tiny cabin! It was only 800 or so square feet and the bed was in a lofted area up-stairs. We were so excited!

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We were going to celebrate our day with the wine and cheese we bought in Seattle, but someone left the cheese in the hotel fridge (I finally forgive you Jules) so we “nommed” on some chocolate and went to watch the sunset in the National Park. Unfortunately, the trees were too tall and we couldn’t get a great sunset view. We were starving so we decided to try out the local Sherpa-Himalayan Cuisine at the Wildberry restaurant. It was beyond our expectations and so good!

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With full bellies and very tired bodies, we went back to our little cabin in the woods to sleep.

Sunday:

Another early morning for our last day in Washington. We made some toast for breakfast, packed our bags, and drove the 2 hours to Seattle. We had a few hours before our flights, so we parked the car with our bags hidden and took off around the city. The first stop was a Vietnamese restaurant called Green Leaf with the best vermicelli and pork I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (and I’ve eaten A LOT of vermicelli). I would go back there in a heart beat!

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After lunch, we walked through the park under the Space Needle  to the Museum of Pop Culture. I had been there once before and had to share it with my sister. It has awesome exhibits all about various artists and movie genres. If you are in Seattle, I highly recommend a stop.

The weather was perfect and we spent the rest of our time on the lawn of the Museum watching kids play in giant bubbles being carried by the wind. It was the perfect end to our trip before our journey home.

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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As soon as we decided to go to New Zealand, I knew a good hike was in our future. New Zealand’s landscape is so diverse between its beaches, rolling, hills, and volcanic mountains and, thankfully, there are trails everywhere to get you to some amazing views!

About to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand!

Initially, when we started looking at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I was worried about a few things:

  • It looks like a really intense hike for the pros – of which I am not
  • It was hard to judge the temperature of the hike, especially in May when the weather is turning cold and snow can cap the mountain peek
  • I wasn’t sure what to bring or pack
  • I am clumsy and didn’t want to fall to my death…

All of these things initially make me wary of the trail, however, I can tell you that I am alive and it was one of the most amazing hikes of my life! If you are physically active and are OK with long walks, you should not have a problem. The up-hill parts were very steep but, if you take it one step at a time and break when you need to, it is a great hike. Plus, you won’t want to power through the views!

With all of that said, let me walk you through the Tongariro hike and the best way to approach it so you can experience a view like this in real life #nofiltersneeded:

The lakes at the top of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

First off: Weather – When looking at the potential weather for our hike, it ranged from 50 degrees fahrenheit at the base to a potential low of 30! Theoretically, the mountain gets colder as you hike up but, for us, it got warmer as the sun came out and we got hot from hiking such a steep climb. I took off more and more clothes as we gained altitude, but was happy I had all of they layering options. If you are not going in April / May, research temps beforehand and keep in mind it will vary throughout your hike. What I wore is below:

  • Hat & sunnies: A must have! It is so sunny and you will burn your face). I also brought a beanie but did not end up wearing it.
  • Gloves for the cool morning
  • Upper layers: Sweat wicking tee shirt, Lululemon fitted jacket, puffer jacket with hood, and, on top of all that, a rain jacket
  • Pants: under leggings and then a looser, warm top legging. I probably could have just warn the warm leggings and would have been fine. See fancy leggings below:All of my pant layers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike in New Zealand
  • Hiking boots with sweat wicking hiking socks – a total must! At the peek of the hike, the mountain top is all gravel and is very slick. It can also get into your shoes. High socks that prevent blisters and hiking boots with ankle support will give you the best grip and lessen the chance of rolling and ankle. I loooove my Lowa boots and wore them the majority of my New Zealand trip:My saviors during the 12 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, New Zealand

I also brought a packable backpack on the hike to carry all of my excess layers and other must-haves:

  • Packable backpacks fold into themselves so you can easily bring them in your luggage without taking up too much room. I cannot tell you how much they come in handy when going on hikes or to the beach. I bring my on every trip I take.
  • Food: We bought bread and PB/J to make sandwiches for our lunches in New Zealand. We made a few for lunch on our hike and also packed some nuts from our hotel for snacks. I always bring Quest Bars with me on trips too for a healthy protein snack too and we ate those about 1.5 hours into the hike. The thing we didn’t bring, which we regretted, were bananas. Ryan got really bad cramps half-way up to the summit and bananas would have helped with that.Snack time on the Tongariro Hike in New Zealand
  • Liquids: Bring at least 2-3 bottles of water. Your hike can be up to 6 hours and you will need it. If you are questioning if you have enough, go ahead and grab more. You will thank me!
  • Misc.: AKA, Chapstick because, obviously. Extra hair tie, lots of sun screen, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (because the porta potties WILL run out), bandaids, and moisturizer.

Now that we have gone through prepping for the hike, there is something else we should cover – lodging and transport!

Lodging; You can stay in the National Park town which is where most of the transports for the hike start from. There are a bunch of little hotels and a few restaurants, but the town itself is pretty sparse. If you want a much better option (in my opinion), stay at the Tongiraro Suites @ The Rocks. It is about 15 minutes south of the town and the best little hotel I have ever stayed at! We watched the moon rise over the mountain top from our bed (view from our room is featured below). With views like that, freshly baked, warm croissants delivered to our door every morning for breakfast, a luxurious wooden spa, fuzzy blankets to use outside to watch shooting stars, and more, the Suites made our sleep the night before resfult and hike recovery so easy! They even had warming racks to dry our sweaty boots after the hike. The owners literally thought of everything and I would give this place a 15 out of 10 if I could. Read more about our stay here.

The view from our room at the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks in Tongariro, New Zealand

Lastly is transportation into the National Park to the base of the hike. There are a bunch of services on TripAdvisor that will take you to the start of the hike, but we used National Park Shuttles. Since it is not a circular trek, you have to get a shuttle to drop you off at the start of the hike and then pick you up at the end. They have different pick up times from the end, pending your hiking speed, and will ensure that you are counted as “off the mountain” at the end of the day. The ride from the town to the base is about 25 minutes and it takes about an hour from the end fo the hike to get back to town.

The peak of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

I hope this has been helpful and has persuaded you that this is a “must do!” while in the North Island of New Zealand. Let me know if you have any other questions about our experience on this amazing treck! Happy hiking!

 

Sydney, Day 3

Sydney, Day 3

Today we decided to do the Coogee to Bondi coastal / beach walk – a 2.7 mile walk along the beautiful coast of New South Wales, Australia. It was raining pretty hard when we woke up around 8 AM, so we lounged until the sun came out around 9:30 and took off to the bus station. We waited about 10 minutes for the 373 bus to drive us 25 minutes to Coogee beach. On the bus there were two barely 20-year-old looking guys trying to get this young girl in a Ponzi scheme type company that sold “lotto” tickets. It sounded super shady but listening to their “sales” pitches helped pass the time waiting to arrive at our beach destination.

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It was still a bit chilly, so my Lululemon jacket really came in handy and the sun felt great when it finally hit us. The coastal walk is a paved walk that runs for miles along the water and is full of stellar views. There is quite a bit of walking up and down hills and cliff sides and, while it wasn’t thaaat tough, we didn’t realize how sore we still were from the Tongariro Crossing a few days prior until we started going up some of the hills!

With stopping to admire some of the views and chasing our hats around as they got blown off our heads, the hike took us about two hours. We even watched a whole bunch of kids surf the turbulent waves out on the water.

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Eventually, we got to Bondi Beach, one of the most visited tourist sites in all of Australia. There were quite a few people swimming in the sea water filled baths and surfers, but the beach itself wasn’t too packed.

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We were starting to get hungry so we walked down the shops and restaurants to find a spot to eat and ended up getting some delicious Chai tea lattes while watching the waves hit the water. Ryan really wanted to try McDonald’s (or “Macca’s” in Aussie lingo) so we stopped there and he got a Big Mac and fries. It actually tasted quite different from the US version, especially since the Ketchup (or tomato sauce in Aussie) is much sweeter.

I was in the mood for a meat pie since I had yet to have one in Aussie and they are one of my favorite Aussie delicacies! I found a little place called Funky Pies on the way back to the city and got a butter chicken pie that was sooooo flaky and delicious. (As I review this blog post entry, my stomach is literally rumbling for this pie 4 months later! It was THAT yummy). Good thing we had a 1.5 hour, 3 mile walk back to our hotel to walk it off.

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After quite the walk and a bunch of hills, we finally got back to the hotel. We showered and packed up to stay at my aunt’s house for the night. We walked down to the Central Train Station, filled up our Opal cards, and hopped on the train to her stop.

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It was super easy to find the right train and the train was very clean. My aunt was waiting for us at the station and it only took a few minutes to get to her house where my cousin and uncle was waiting. We watched some football, drank wine, and snacked on some delicious cheeses and bread with olive oil, balsamic, and dukkah – my new favorite combination!

Once my sister arrived, we enjoyed some amazing conversation, roasted chicken, fresh oysters, prawns, potatoes, and a slew of other delicious things. I have to say, both my aunt and my mom are excellent cooks! The amount of fresh produce and seafood avaialbe in Sydney only makes it even better.

It seemed like we talked for hours could have gone on for a few more. It was so great to catch up, get juicy / funny stories about my mom and aunt growing up together, and reminisce about the times my sister and I visited Australia or when my family came to the US. I have to say, my Australian family is absolutely amazing and I couldn’t have been happier to see them or finally introduce them to Ryan.

Eventually, we were stuffed and tired and hit the hay to rest up for another early morning.

Continue on this adventure…