Emerald Inn: Auckland NZ

We were up in Auckland for a weekend to watch A New World: Final Fantasy concert. Taylor Swift was also in town but we skipped her banging performance and opted to nerd out instead. Haha.

We normally just stay with friends whenever we fly up to the big city, but for this trip I suggested we book a room instead to make it feel like a “mini getaway”.

We chose to stay at the Emerald Inn as it looked quite good on the photos and it was just a 2 min walk from Bruce Mason Centre, where the concert was being held.

What we loved about this place:

  • Very near to Bruce Mason Centre where the concert was being held.
  • Very near to all the shops and restaurants in Takapuna
  • Just right beside Takapuna Beach
  • Own parking space
  • Well maintained room
  • Room had a small kitchen area (if you chose not to eat out)
  • Comfortable bed and pillows and soft sheets
  • Iron and ironing board included in the room (because it’s so much nicer when your clothes are not all wrinkled when you go out)
  • The overall tropical resort feel of the place — still felt pretty secluded and peaceful despite its very central location

Church Road Winery: Behind The Scenes Tour

On the way back home to Wellington while on a recent roadtrip up north, we passed by the Hawke’s Bay region — known for it’s beaches, warm weather and many wineries. We were there for the wine, as it was already the last few days of autumn and the cold had already set in even if winter hadn’t officially started yet, which meant no beaching and basking in nice balmy weather.

We booked ourselves to do a short wine tour at Church Road winery. We were lucky as we were able to make a last minute booking on the same day we wanted to do the tour… maybe because it was off season and there were lesser visitors. I’m not sure if that would have been possible during the summer time when there would be more people coming into the region.

We started at the cellar door — the wine tasting room where you can sample the winery’s range and discuss the different wines with one of the knowledgeable staff. In Church Road, the cellar door was also where the restaurant was located.

*The oak barrels in the restaurant was a nice touch and added a nice rustic feel to the place.

Our guide, Rebecca, handed each of us a wine glass before we began, then we followed her out the main doors and into the sunshine to commence the tour.

We stood by a wide open grass field just in front of the building, which we were told, was once where the grapes were planted but because the soil wasn’t very good, they were then moved to different locations and the area now serves as a perfect setting for outdoor events and concerts.

In the above photo: My close friend’s Aunt Stella who was visiting NZ all the way from the Philippines.

Rebecca talked about the history of Church Road; about it’s original founder/owner Bartholomew Steinmetz who later on returned to his native Luxembourg to marry, leaving his winery in the hands of the 19 year old Tom McDonald who had been working for him since his early teens and who later on bought the winery and proceeded to make the first quality red wines in NZ. She also talked about the changes in ownership the boutique winery has gone through over the years…the latest owner being Pernot Ricard, producers of well known products such as Absolut vodka and Kahlua.

After the brief history talk, we were then shown around different areas of the winery while Rebecca explained to us the technicalities involved in the wine making process. We also had a sample of two of the wines (one red and one white) straight from the tanks.

*The Cuve Room: Juice from pressed grapes get transferred into the big oak barrels. Yeast is then added and the fermentation process begins.

*Wooden stairs leading to the top of the oak barrels. Maintaining accurate temperature is key during this process and so workers regularly do their checks while the wine is fermenting.

*Cabernet Merlot Sauvignon straight from the tank!

*The wine is put into oak barrels to age. Church Road normally uses French Oak for their chardonnay. They normally cost at least $800/barrel but can go up to $3,000 depending on quality.

We were also brought down to their wine museum (the only one in NZ we were told) located underground in what used to be concrete vats — where wine was fermented in the olden days. The only reminder of it’s past usage is the faint sparkling left behind in the walls from the tartaric acid of the wine and a small hole on top of the ceiling that has now been covered, where the workers used to go in to check the wine while it was fermenting.

We walked around the small space, viewing the exhibit on offer with Rebecca telling us facts and information about wine making in the olden days as well as relating it to the process of making wine today.

Once we were done with the museum tour, we headed back to the Tom Mcdonald cellar for the last part of our tour… food and wine pairing!

We were each given a glass of champagne to start off and then we got to taste six wines in total… three reds and three whites, paired with bite sized food offerings with Rebecca facilitating and providing information in between our sampling.

*Our two favorites were the McDonald series Pinot Gris 2017 and the Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.

*You can buy a bottle (or two) from the wines on display inside the Tom Mcdonald cellar, just to right from the entrance.

All in all a very wonderful experience and we had such a great time! Cannot wait for summer when we can do more winery tastings paired with some nice warm sunny weather!

Tongariro Crossing: Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs

I have decided to break down my Tongariro Crossing post so that I can get into more detail without making things too long and too dragging. There’s a total of six parts coming up, each post discussing one major section of the hiking track.

First up is Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs. We woke up early Saturday morning and drove from our motel in Taupo to Mangatepopo carpark, which was the end point of the hike — ( took about an hour ).

We were to be picked up by a shuttle, which we organized beforehand, to bring us from the end point all the way to the start of the trail. We arrived at about 0700 and were supposed to be picked up by 0720 but due to some mix up with our shuttle company, it wasn’t until around 0820 when we actually went on our merry way. We “officially” started our walk at around 0900.

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We were lucky that the weather turned out to be really good during our trip — it was all gloomy and wet days prior to this, and back to raining quite heavily again now as I am writing this post.

With the sun shining high in the sky that day it wasn’t long before all the layers at the start of the walk (see first photo above of us wearing our puffer jackets) got shed off one by one… Down to a thermal on the above photo and then down further to my tank top on the photo below in just a few minutes. Haha.

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The first part of the trek was fairly easy — mostly flat ground with proper walkways and some walking boards over the damp areas. This was the least challenging and tiring out of all the sections (Average time to complete it is about 1-1.5 hours ). If you do the hike in the future, savor your time here… things will only get harder, I tell you. Haha.

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By the time we arrived at Soda Springs, we were still feeling pumped and full energy.

From the main track, Soda Springs Falls can be seen. We initially debated whether we do the side track going to it or just carry on to the next section of the track. As it was only 10 minutes away from where we were, we decided to just explore the waterfall area anyway. There was no proper pathway going to the falls and the ground got more wet, and muddy the nearer we got and we had to climb up onto rocks as well. Three in our group, who were just wearing normal sneakers, decided to stop at a certain distance while two of us who were wearing hiking shoes were able to to go all the way.

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After some photos, we then went back to the main track where we had a quick water and toilet break — Just a bit further along was the last set of toilets which we would come across in the next few hours so we thought we’d make use of it. After that… we then went on to the next section: Soda Springs to the South Crater, where the infamous Devil’s Staircase was awaiting us.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Tick ✔

 

WE DID IT! Conquered this 8.5 hour trek (19.4 km) comprised of some really steep climbs and gravelly downhill slopes — Mt.Ngauruhoe (photo below), which is one of the features of this hike, is also known for being a film location for the Lord of the Rings movie! Our bodies and feet are now very sore but I’d say it was all worth it. Tongariro Alpine Crossing ✔✔✔

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Punting at the Avon: Christchurch NZ

When we visited Christchurch as part of our road trip down the South Island back in 2014, one of the activities that we did while we were there was Punting on the Avon.

Punting refers to boating in a punt —  a flat-bottomed boat, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water with a punter generally propelling the punt by pushing against the river bed with a pole.

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There’s two departure sites for this  punting activity in Christchurch. There’s the CITY one and one at the PARK. Ours was the one at Hagley Park, starting off from the historical Antigua boating sheds. Price is 28 NZD for an adult and 12 NZD for a child.

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Each boat can sit a maximum of about 10 people. As we were the first ones to arrive for this batch, we had more of a choice on where we we were going to sit. I loved where I was seated! — At the very back and just a little above everyone else, right in front of the punter.

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We had a leisurely ride down the river with the Botanic Gardens around us. The overall mood all calm, peaceful and very relaxing.

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Belmont Regional Park NZ 🌍

Because my #journeyto30 includes trying to be more fit and healthy (as well as hiking the Tongariro Crossing and Running in the Waitomo Marathon), I did some walking/jogging with a friend today at Belmont National Park.

There are a couple of walks that you can do within the park… each varying in difficulty level and in the amount of time needed to do them.

Our favorite one is the Korokoro Dam Loop — an easy grade walk that only takes an hour. It’s perfect for those days where you’re wanting some activity or exercise outdoors but not really looking for something strenuous.

Calm, quiet, peaceful and away from the crowds… it’s also good for the days you want to unplug from the hustle and bustle of everyday life (or social media as there’s no cellular service within the park).

HOW TO GET THERE: ( Information taken from the Greater Wellington Regional Council Website)

Via State Highway 2:

  • Cornish St – a 10-minute walk south-west from the Petone Railway Station via the pedestrian overbridge and Pito-One Road. Or take the Korokoro exit from SH2 and follow Pito-One Road to the park entrance.
  • Oakleigh St via Dowse Drive or take a No. 150 bus from Petone Railway Station or Lower Hutt
  • Stratton St via Dowse Drive. The park entrance is at the end of Stratton St
  • Hill Rd via Grounsell Crescent or take a No. 145 bus from Melling Railway Station (peak hours Mon-Fri)
  • Kaitangata Crescent, Kelson or take a No 150 bus from Lower Hutt or Waterloo Interchange to the top of Major Drive
  • Dry Creek via Hebden Crescent, near the SH2 and SH 58 (Haywards Hill) intersection. The park entrance is a 10 minute walk from Manor Park Station

Via State Highway 1:

  • Cannons Creek via Mungavin Ave and the Cannons Creek Lakes Reserve. Enter from the Cannons Creek Shopping Centre car park. Take a No.61 bus (Mon-Sun), 63 bus (Mon-Sat) or 64 bus (Mon-Fri) from Porirua Railway Station to Cannons Creek
  • Takapu Road, Grenada North. Trains from Wellington stop at Takapu Road station

For all other information, visit the Greater Wellington Regional site for Belmont Regional Park here: http://www.gw.govt.nz/belmont/.

For a list of all the other walks you can do within the park, click here: Belmont Walking Tracks List.

Bringing life back to a city: Christchurch NZ 🌍

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— Spanish Mission Revival Style Buildings in New Regent Street refurbished post 2011 earthquake.

When we went to Christchurch (back in 2014), the city was still greatly recovering from the massive damage caused by the devastating earthquake that struck just three years prior (February 22, 2011 to be exact). Damaged buildings and a lot of empty lots could still be seen all around the CBD area.

Amidst the general feeling of gloom that can be felt while walking around the city, however, were fun and interesting things that showed that although this city was brought down to it’s knees, it was picking itself up again and starting to move on.

Local artists were painting murals on buildings, like the ones below, to help bring back some color and cheer.

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Re:Start — a “mall” made from shipping containers,  offered a unique alternative for retailers to remain open and for people to shop.

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These big green couch and chairs that serves as a Transitional Reading Room Parklet located in Gloucester Street.

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Fancy a game of chess? You and a friend can play using this extra large chess set in the cathedral square.

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The Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral put up as a temporary replacement for the damaged Christchurch cathedral, that symbolizes the resilience and ingenuity of Christchurch and it’s people.

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The Chalice Sculpture still standing tall beside Christchurch Cathedral that was badly damaged during the quake.

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To end this post, I have chosen a photo that may represent something more serious and somber (compared to the previous photos above), but it is something that is exceedingly significant and meaningful.

This is an artwork done by an artist  named Pete Majendie. These 185 white chairs are a tribute to the 185 people who lost their lives during the 2011 earthquake and the individuality of each chair paid tribute to the uniqueness of each person represented.

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The Strawberry Farm: Auckland NZ 🌍

“You can’t buy happiness… but you can buy ice cream and that is pretty much the same thing.”

Last weekend…we were up in Auckland for a wedding. On our way to the airport on Sunday (for our flight back home to Wellington), our friend Jason took us to THE STRAWBERRY FARM in Mangere to try their strawberry ice cream.

Yum! Real fruit ice cream made from fresh strawberries picked from the farm… such a good treat on a sunny summer day! Give it a try the next time you’re in the area!

Pin for later! 🙂

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Hobbiton NZ 🌍

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” J.R.R Tolkien

Binged watched both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogy movies with Jan recently and was inspired to do this post. 

Welcome to “Hobbiton” — home to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, hobbits of The Shire.

The area used as a filming location for the LOTR and The Hobbit movies is a family owned farm situated in Matamata New Zealand (In the North Island).

After filming for the last of The Hobbit movie was done, the set was left in place and is now a popular tourist destination in the Waikato Region.

(Almost three years ago) We did the movie set tour in Hobbiton. During the tour, an appointed guide took us around the site and told us fun facts about the filming process that took place as well as pointing out key things in the area that were significant to the LOTR and The Hobbit movies.

*The “Party Tree” where Bilbo did his speech during his birthday celebration prior to leaving The Shire.

*Bag End. Home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

*One of forty-four Hobbit homes left intact after filming of the movies.

*Winding pathways going around Hobbiton.

Our tour ended at the Green Dragon Inn with a complimentary drink included with the tour.

“The world is not in your books and maps… It is out there.” – Gandalf

Takapuna Beach NZ 🌍

Went up to Auckland recently to watch the coldplay concert and spend some time with good ‘ol friends (The concert was AWESOME btw). The day after the concert, we had lunch at Takapuna beach.

It was such a wonderful day… warm sunshine, warm summer breeze, good food and even better company… It was a nice way to chill after the hungover from all the fun the night before.

Ordered Iced coffee as I was in desperate need of some caffeine and was pleasantly surprised to be given this!

You get to mix the espresso and milk into vanilla ice cream instead of just ice… this was sooooooo good! Yum!

After we ate.. we went walking by the beach for a little bit as it was such a lovely day.

Of course we couldn’t resist taking photos as well!

So… next time you’re in Auckland and wanting some chill time by the beach.. you now know where to go 😉

Note: For information on how to get here, just go to this link http://www.takapunabeach.co.nz/site/webpages/discover-takapuna-beach/getting-there.