Sydney, Day 1

Sydney, Day 1

5:50 AM wake ups don’t seem too bad when you are jet lagged and your body wants to get up at that time naturally. Within 15 minutes, we were dressed, had the rest of our PB&Js for breakfast, and were walking down to the car to head to the Auckland airport for our flight to Sydney. We had to fill up the gas tank and couldn’t find a station until we got to the airport. We paid for that $2.18 a liter which is like $5.36 per gallon! After we got over the sticker shock, it was back in the car to the rental drop off, onto a shuttle to the airport, and through security to our gate. We grabbed some yummy banana bread while we waited for the plane and were on and ready for take off in no time. I ended up watching The Kingsman on the 2.5 hour flight to Sydney and we celebrated with some champagne (its 5 o’clock somewhere right?!) and had an AMAZING view of the city from the plane.

Customs in the Sydney airport was the quickest and easiest we had ever experiences. We used the electronic portal which took our picture and printed out a form that we gave to the customs person. He gave us the “Go!” in under a minute and we picked up our bags, went through one last security check, and were done in probably 15 minutes. Most of that time was spent walking! We exited the airport and took a cab to my sister’s extended stay apartment in Surry Hills.

Little did we know, the extended stay place was an old hospital and was converted into a hotel and my mom was actually born where we were staying! My sister came out and we had a big hug reunion! I was so happy to see her – it had been 5 months and we are insanely close. Getting to spend a week with her in our mother’s homeland was so special.

We went up to her place to unload and then took off to Sydney Harbor to meet my friend from college, Monique, who was also living in Sydney. The plan was to take the ferry over to our favorite fish & chip / calamari place called Doyles on The Beach. We had tons to catch up on during the ferry ride over to Doyles in Watsons Bay and the weather was perfect for the ride there.

Growing up, my family would go to Doyles every time we visited Australia to see my mom’s side of the family. My sister and I have so many good (and tastey) memories there. We even saw Elton John there once (leave it to me to be within 5 feet of such a legend and not realize it until he left)! With all of that history, I had to introduce my husband to Doyles.

We decided to order a few things to share so we could taste a varriety of dishes. We got some of the most buttery oysters I’ve ever had, barramundi (an Australian fish), salmon, fish & chips, steamed veggies, and some Doyles wine to top it off. It was so light and delicious!

You can walk from the Doyles’ beach up to the cliffs that separate the harbor from the ocean so we decided to do a little trek to walk off lunch. Both Ryan and I were still sore from our 6 hour Tongaririo Crossing hike, but we somehow made it up the hill to the views.


We also had a great view of Sydney harbor on the way back down!

After we were done fiddling around, it was back on the ferry and back over to Sydney harbor. We decided to grab a drink at Opera Bar, a bar literally under the Sydney Opera House that overlooks the harbor bridge. It was a great spot for people watching and seeing all of the very aggressive seagulls attempt to steal food!

After that, it was back over to Crown Street in Surry Hills for another drink and a little pizza. We ended up at The Dolphin Hotel, which looks small form outside but opens up to a two story bar and restuant inside. It was filled with graffiti and so cool. We learned that bars are actually called “hotels” in Australia because, up until 1980, all bars had to provide hotel rooms for those who over indulged. I had no idea!

With such an early morning, were fading quickly, so we said goodbye to Monique and headed over to a grocery store to get fresh eggs, bread, and fruit for breakfast. I definitely loaded up on passion fruit (my favorite fruit that are far too small and expensive in the States). After we were stocked up, we went back to the hotel and watched an episode of Black Mirror before heading to bed.

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Rotorua to Tongariro

Rotorua to Tongariro

5:45 AM and I was awake. After a great night at the Mari village, I thought I would at least sleep until 7 but, nope! I needed to catch up on blogging so I typed away while Ryan made coffee and toast for breakfast. We tried to watch the sunrise over lake Taupo but it was in the wrong direction – ooops!

Before we knew it, we were packed up and ready to head to the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley for our volcanic activity experience! There are two other famous and big volcanic areas you can go in Rotorua, but all of the reviews I read said they were super packed and touristy. We passed both of the other places on our way to Waimangu and they looked more like amusement parks than nature reserves. We were the only car in the parking lot for our Valley walk! Waimangu is a national park with trails through the volcanic valley with no lines or tourist expectations!

We checked in, grabbed a map that outlined the various points of interest along the trail, and took off on our two-hour walk. The trail was hilly but not hard by any means, and we were full of anticipation that kept growing as we saw more and more steam coming out of the forest!

We came across the first big site within minutes. A massive lake with bubbling water and steam everywhere! Frying Pan Lake’s temperature averages 131 degrees fahrenheit! Wouldn’t want to go for a swim in there…

The sulfur smell was almost non-existent, but you could feel the heat from the steam. There was even steam coming out of small holes in the rock formations along the path.

We were totally in awe of the natural formations, spouts, and water colors from the volcanic activity and were loving every second of the unique area.

Apparently, none of this existed before 1886. That year, Mount Tarawera erupted and created huge craters in the ground that, over time, filled with water and became the volcanic lakes we see today. We ended up taking the “extended” trail that led up, up, and away to some awesome views of the lake.

We only ran into one other group the entire time we were on the trail. The secluded nature of our hike made it that much more special.

Eventually, we got to the end of the trail and had to wait 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. We snacked on Quest Bars and apples to refuel and watched the black swans dive to get food in the lake. They were so funny because they only dove with their heads, so their butts and legs flailed above the water while they were submerged. So funny to watch!

The bus finally came and we were back to the reception area and into the car in no time. We had about 40 minutes of driving to do before we hit our next stop, Huka Falls. After Marokopa Falls in the day prior and our experience at Krkra Falls in Croatia, we were anticipating a great sight since Huka Falls is so much more well-known. We were slightly disappointed. Huka Falls were really more like really blue rapids. The force of the rapids was pretty astonishing, but it was crowded and we like Marokopa much more.

Huka Falls, New Zealand

It took about 10 minutes to see Huka Falls, so we jumped back in the car and sought out a lake-side lunch spot on Lake Topau. We found a cute little place with a great patio and enjoyed some fish and chips and a lamb salad. Little did we know that we were actually visiting over Anzac Day so all of the patios were packed on the national holiday. Anzac day is Australia and New Zealand’s version of Veteran’s Day in the States. We saw a ton of people in their military / service uniforms.

Lunch by Lake Taupo in New Zealand

After we filled up on lunch, we had another hour and a bit drive to the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks. The drive was beautiful and went by quickly. I even made friends with some sheep!

Sheep in New Zealand

We were in the middle of no where and almost missed the hotel since it’s street was so off the beaten path. Once we pulled up, we knew we made the right choice! The Suites used to be a cow paddock and a fantastically nice couple turned it into a luxury resort with about 5 suites. It is all solar power operated and totally luxurious down to the tiniest detail! Because the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing hike starts so early, The Suites already had the breakfast buffet set up in our room!

The beds had heating pads, the bathroom was super luxurious with heat lamps for extra warmth and the owner even made a Canadian hot tub from cedar wood for the guests to recover in. The list of amenities and thought put into this place goes on and on and we couldn’t get over our view of the moon rising over the mountain peaks….

The owner recommended a restaurant called The Cyprus Tree for a tasty dinner within a quick drive. You would think, in such a remote area, the food would be average, but you would also be thinking wrong! We split a delicious beet, balsamic, and goat cheese ball salad, lamb sliders (that were to-die for), and cranberry walnut stuffed chicken with risotto. YUM!

After we got over our shock at how good the food was and scarfed it all down, we walked across the road to get a bottle of wine and extra water for our hike the next day. We went back to the hotel, grabbed the warm, fuzzy blankets provided in our room, poured two glasses of wine, turned all of the lights out, and sat on our patio to watch shooting stars and look at the amazing array of constellations visible. It was incredible.

 

Taos Day 3

2017 arrived with excitement as we looked forward to our final day of skiing. After another early breakfast and drive to Taos Ski Valley, we hit the basically empty ski slopes as the other skiers (presumably) were recovering from their NYE festivities. Not only were the slopes empty, but they were full of fresh snow from the storm that started the night prior and lingered into the morning. Thank gosh for that fresh snow – it felt like a pillow as I crash landed from my new ski confidence’s drive to try a jump or two. Day three was much more about having fun and play around more than anything else. We even tried a black slope and didn’t die!

We took a few snack and water breaks throughout the day, and eventually called it quits around 2. I couldn’t believe out ski time in Taos went by so quickly! I was so sad to return my gear to Cottam’s Ski Shop, since it meant we were done for this trip, but was still elated from the day’s runs.

There was a cute little town about half-way back to downtown Taos. We decided to make a pit stop and peruse some of the shops there. There was a pottery gallery with some amazing pieces that we stopped in. The girl working there was very nice and showed us the back room where the owner and some of the artists made the work shown in the gallery. In our typical tradition of buying art or something useful on our trips, instead a cheesy trinket that gets thrown in the “stuff pile”, we decided to buy some pottery from the gallery. We got a large serving bowl and two small bowls to match for a very reasonable price.

With our purchase in-hand and no walkable lunch places in sight, we jumped in the car to head to a Mexican restaurant called Orlando’s for a bite to eat. Orlando’s had been recommended to us by 4 -5 different people in the past few days and we quickly found out why. The resultant was well decorated, quick, friendly, and had great food. I had a tasty chicken taco salad and Ryan had a sampling of three types of enchiladas. We sat in front of the kitchen and watched the quick and efficient way the staff was pumping our orders – it was very impressive considering the small space that they were working in.

After lunch, we drove into town to the main square to walk the galleries and shops. The square was small and the garden area was packed with fences, trees, and tents that did not make it very attractive. The trees were lined with twinkle lights which were nice but the colors were random so it was not very clean-looking. We went into quite a few Taos-themed gift shops, galleries, and clothes places. It was hard not to compare the town square to that of Santa Fe’s which I preferred. Santa Fe’s square was cleaner, more planned out, and had many more unique stores organized around a square block so it was easy to find the next place to explore. Taos was more spread out and you had to walk down random alleyways to find new areas of shops to explore. Also, the restaurants and bars in Taos were spread along the main road in downtown, so there were not as many walkable options from the square. We explored for about an hour before deciding to go back to the hotel, hang out with Dakota, and power-nap before heading back out for the evening.

Everywhere I looked said that same thing – the best resultant in Taos is Love Apple. I tried get a reservation but Love Apple was totally booked Friday and Saturday night and only had 9:30 PM or waiting list spots on Sunday. Since we had a big late lunch, 9:30 PM didn’t sound so bad for dinner, so we decided to wait it out. After our nap, we went to the Taos Mesa Brewery’s tap room for a drink before dinner. It was about a mile up the road from our hotel and was in a really cool building with both indoor and outside seating. We sat at the bar and chatted with the bartenders about beer, football, and Taos skiing. The Taos Mesa Brewery was actually located a quick drive outside of Taos so we were at their downtown bar, but the quality of the beer was amazing. Ryan loved it so much he bought a growler of beer and it was so much cheaper than beer in Dallas.

Ryan was getting really hungry and kept hinting that he wanted the pizza at the brewery over going to Love Apple. Fortunately, I held off from succumbing to that temptation just long enough for Love Apple to call and tell us our table was ready an hour early! We quickly finished our drinks and drove over to the white pueblo styled building which housed Love Apple. We walked into a small entry way, through some dramatic curtains, past the kitchen, and into the dining room. Walking through the curtains, seeing the bustle of the kitchen, and then through another set of curtains into the candle lite dining room immediately put you into a romantic, secret garden, type of mood. The dining room itself was mainly lit by candle and twinkle lights which were further reflected by mirrors along the walls, setting the romantic mood in full swing. We sat at a little table and couldn’t help but know the meal to come was going to be an amazing experience.

We started our dinner with two flavors of cornbread muffins, traditional and blue corn. My were they fluffy, moist and delicious, especially with the two flavored butter options to spread across each delicious bite! Yum, yum, yum!

Up next was a pomegranate, walnut, and locally sourced goat cheese salad. The vinaigrette went perfectly with the other ingredients. The salad was the perfect size to split since we were already somewhat filed by the muffins.

As soon as our salads we done, our main entrées hit the table. Ryan swears that his trout was one of the best things he has even eaten – a very bold statement considering all of our culinary adventures, but I would have to agree that the meal was top-notch! I greatly enjoyed a perfectly cooked quail with feta and pomegranate quinoa. The quail was crispy, delicious, and the perfect size.

We were not originally going to splurge for desert, but considering the caliber of our meal so far and the fact that the apple cobbler sounded irresistible, we went all in. The cobbler had caramelized apple, a crispy and buttery crust, and was topped with cinnamon ice cream. My taste buds were in heaven and my stomach was about to burst, but it was worth every bite!

I highly recommend checking out Love Apple if you go to Taos. The only suggestion I would make is that you order your courses as each previous course comes out or ask your waiter to take it slow. Our food came out at very rapid rate, so we rushed through our dinner. Taking it slow will ensure you can relax and savor each course and make your fabulous night last a little longer.

Highly satisfied from dinner, we drove back to the Inn, lit the fire in our room, and listened to its crackle as we fell asleep.