Hahei

Hahei

My mom is from, as the locals say, “Down Under”. While I was growing up, my family and I used to go to Australia to visit my relatives and explore! I am pretty sure those trips were the ones on which I got bitten by the travel bug!  My husband and I have been together for a little over 4 years and he still had not been to see and meet my heritage so, when the opportunity came up in May for some time to get away, we hopped on it!

While I’ve been to Australia a handful of times, I have never been to New Zealand. I wanted to make this trip somewhat new for both of us, so we planned to do a week in New Zealand and a week in Sydney. I figured a week in each would be plenty of time and bought the tickets – little did I know, just a week in NZ is pushing it! The best way to explore New Zealand is to do a giant road trip of either the North or South Islands (or both!). You need a solid few weeks to do all of the attractions in both. Knowing we were going to be jet-lagged upon arrival and we only had 6 full days in NZ, we opted to do a route around the North Island.

We flew out of Houston on Air New Zealand. While our check-in guy told us that our big plane was swapped with a smaller one last-minute, making my 6’2 husband a little nervous for leg space, we ended up scoring the airplane jackpot with an entire row to ourselves! We slept most of the 15 hour flight and I caught up on 4 different movies. While we were delayed about an hour and landed around 7:30 AM in Auckland, customs was a breeze and we were on the shuttle to our rental car in no time.

While I looked into getting a camper van for the trip, the rental, gas, and camp site fees were actually a few hundred dollars more than booking the hotels I looked into. Granted, I was looking at vans with toilets so they were more expensive than the just-bed versions, but still! We ended up going to hotel route and renting a tiny little, beat up Nissan Tilda to scoot us around. It was perfect on the narrow roads and already had so many marks on it we were scratch-stress free. Not only that, but I requested a car with a trunk instead of a hatchback so we could have our luggage in the car while we were in between hotels without anyone knowing (just in case).

Our first stop on our road trip was Hot Water Beach in Hahei. We had about a 2.5 hour drive from Auckland to the coast. The drive was absolutely beautiful with so many hills, sheep and cows, and immensely thick brush, but it was all hard to see considering my eyes were on the windy roads and I was focused on driving on the wrong side of the road!

We pulled up to the Top Ten Hotel Hot Water Beach and were so excited. We were staying in a little bungalow and it was so cute! It had a great porch for relaxing, amazing wake up view, and was only a ten minute walk from Hot Water Beach!

We relaxed for a few minutes and decided it was time for some lunch and exploring. The hotel recommended Hot Waves Café which was hidden in the woods. It was a cute café and we were expecting pretty average food but, boy, were we wrong! I got a lamb burger with capsicum salad and tzatziki and it was probably one of the best burgers of my life! It also had yummy potato cakes. Ryan actually got a sweet potato cake dish with bacon and, again, it was scrumptious!

We filled up quick and decided to walk to Hot Water beach. The beach is named for its underground volcanic streams that empty out into the ocean. You can dig a hole in the beach to access the stream water and create a sand hot tub! You are supposed to dig around low tide for easier access to the steaming water and, though low tide started at 4, people were already digging around 2! Their holes were at least 5 feet deep and we were a little put off by the effort of digging that far down!

We headed back to the hotel, changed into our swim suits, rented a shovel from the hotel, and walked back to the beach and it was even more packed! We decided to start digging a bit over from the crowds. Even though our dig site was the same level as the others with steam coming out of them, our water was not hot! You could be just a few inches away from the stream output and the water temperature was 20-30 degrees different! Some of the water was so hot you could not even step in it! We found that the best strategy was to dig on the edge of the hot stream to get a mix of cool and hot water and make the perfect temp. There was another couple that asked if they could dig with us and we ended up hanging out in our pool and trying not to boil for about an hour. It was such a fun experience!

We ended up heading back to the hotel to change and get dinner around 5. At this point, we had been up for about 15 hours and it was wearing on us. The hotel had a “Fish & Chip” stand so we grabbed that for dinner. It was delicious but there were sooo many fries. Good thing I shoveled so much sand as a work out!

With the jet lag hitting us strong, we went back to the room and were fast asleep by 6:30 PM!

Continue this adventure to Waitomo, New Zealand…

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Split, Day 2

Split, Day 2

My breakfast this morning consisted of Apple Pie! Apple pie, freshly shaven prosciutto, delicious cheese, fruit filled warm croissants, almost a fried fish, and an assortment of other amazingly scrumptious things. The breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel is probably one of the best I’ve ever had, only rivaling that in the SoSofitel Hotel in Thailand.

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After totally stuffing ourselves, we grabbed our travel bag and met the rental car guy in the lobby to get our car for today’s adventure – Krka Falls. I basically signed my life and life’s savings away for the car and the deposit, so I was pretty terrified to drive it. After successfully navigating outside of the tiny car park at the hotel, we were on the road and my driving confidence slowly came back.

It was about a 50 minute, super scenic drive through the mountains, tunnels, and towns to get to Krka. The little car we had had some trouble getting up to the speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour, so it was pedal-to-the-metal to keep up with the other cars. It was only on the way back that Ryan told me to use cruise control! That made things so much easier!

We pulled up at the parking lot of the Park, bought our tickets, and searched for sun screen. Let me tell you, Ryan and I are convinced that Croatians do not believe in sun screen. I scoured all of the markets / pharmacies in the Split the day before, checked with the hotel, and even went to the shops around the falls, but all of the shop attendants looked at us funny when we asked it they sold sun screen. We brought some with us, but one of our bottles disappeared, so we were totally out of luck! I highly recommend bringing as much as you can from the US if you visit Croatia because its like a treasure hunt for the stuff when you get here. When we did find it, it was around $20 for a 3 oz. bottle!

We opted to walk off our huge breakfast by journeying the 15 minute hike down the gravel path to the falls instead of taking the bus. The walk was beautiful and you could hear the falls as we got closer and closer! They were huge and there were so many! ‘

There is a wooden bridge-way that goes through the forest on-top of the falls / waterways (see map above). You literally walk over all of the streams and can watch fish swim under you and down the falls. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The walk around to falls takes about an hour and is so worth it! There were so many views and it was so relaxing to be out in such a beautiful place.

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We were a little peckish by the time we got to the base of the falls and Ryan couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a hot dog stand. I swear, the man loves hot dogs more than anything else in this world. His eyes light up like an anime kids eyes do in cartoons when they see candy! While he was enjoying his hot dog, this lady walked up behind him and took a photo. She then offered me money for the photo. It was a very strange encounter but I have to imagine that photo is hanging in a great place of honor in her household now?

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After making Ryan’s dreams come true by buying a hot dog and turning down the cash from the little lady, I got some pistachio gelato and we sat by the falls, people watching and taking it all in.

Unlike the Plitvice Lakes National Park outside of Zagreb, you can swim at the base of one of the waterfalls in Krka. I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in the perfect temperature water.

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After relaxing by the falls for a while, we had to hike back up. We stopped by the 2nd hydroelectric plant ever made in the world which happens to be located at he base of the falls. The first plant was made in Niagara Falls and opened only 2 days before the one at Krka.

Ryan was getting annoyed at me because I stopped at every vista point, but I just love waterfalls apparently!

We took a quick hike to the boat area that takes motors to a few other waterfalls, an island, and some caves. The boat ride was 4 hours long and we needed to get back to Split to drop the car off, so we passed on the excursion. After that, it was back to the car. We had to walk back up the massive hill that we easily hiked down. It was so steep and we couldn’t stop walking for fear that we couldn’t start back up again!

Huffing and puffing, we got back to our car and it was on the road again back to Split. We had to get some gas to fill up the rental before heading to the hotel and was shocked that the cost to half-way fill-up our little rental car was the same cost as a full tank for my Toyota Yaris! So crazy!

We got back to the hotel in Split, showered off, and decided to walk the town. It was only 4 PM but, with such a light lunch, we decided to grab an early dinner. All I really wanted was a good charcuterie board and we heard that Bokeria was the place to go for such fare. A waiter came and gave us menus but never came back to our table. Even though the restaurant was not busy, we sat for a good 25 minutes with no attention or waters, so we decided to leave. With such rave reviews, I was OK with waiting a little longer, but Ryan’s hanger wouldn’t stand for it!

We walked through a few squares before coming across another place that had a big picture of a charcuterie board in front of it and decent prices, so we grabbed a table. We ordered the meat and cheese board and a pizza for us to share and, even though we said we weren’t going to drink, the $3 house wine ended up on our table.

The meat and cheese board arrived but it only had cheese and bread on it. I alerted the waiter, who replied “Nema problema!”, and came out with a huge second board of delicious prosciutto. We definitely did not need that much but it was so yummy. Another round of heavily poured wine later, our pizza came out and it was cheese overload, but that is never a bad thing. I swear I am going to gain 20 pounds on this trip…

After dinner, we gallivanted through the streets and “accidentally” bought some more gelato. We wondered back to the hotel and grabbed one of the bottles of wine we bought in Hvar. The plan was to drink it on the rooftop patio / bar at the hotel, but one of the bartenders in the elevator up to the top informed us we could not bring it upstairs. At this point, we were quite tipsy, and we decided to be rebels and finish ½ our wine in the lobby of the hotel and then sneak the rest up to the top patio. The sunset view of the port from the roof of the hotel was amazing and we decided to top off the night with a glass of desert wine.

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The bartender didn’t have any port upstairs but he ran down to grab some from the restaurant for us. That should have been my first indication that it was going to be a pricy glass of wine, however, it was delicious and the rooftop was so romantic I didn’t care to ask and we eventually just bought the bottle….

All of a sudden, a Rat Pack song came on and Ryan and I danced. He spun me a few times and, when we finished, a group at the end of the patio gave us a round of applause. They eventually came up to us to chat and we realized that one couple’s kids live up the street from us! Small world, huh?

Once we were done with our wine, our elevator friend / waiter told us that we could use one of the rooftop hot tubs for free. The hotel opened their spa 3 weeks before our stay at and installed 3 private hot tubs on the rooftop that overlooked the palace and the harbor. Typically, you have to reserve and pay to use the hot tubs, but I guess our waiter decided to give us a treat!  We ran to our room to change and the spa was the perfect temperature by the time we got back. Talk about a romantic night! We enjoyed every second and I honestly didn’t want the night to end.