Sunday, January 17, 2016

New Zealand Trip Overview

We've been back from our whirlwind trip to New Zealand for exactly a week. I may or may not already be looking for tickets back as we speak. Seriously, saying I'm in love is a huge understatement. And it's not just me. It seemed to be the consensus of every traveler we met along the way. Stop what you are doing right now and book a trip. I promise, you absolutely won't regret it.

Anyway, I will stop my daydream of quitting my job and moving to New Zealand and get down to the details of our trip. I've got tons of other posts of our travels and life from the past year that need to be posted, but I think this trip definitely takes priority. I've been asked for our itinerary by multiple people so I thought I would start by sharing an overview of our trip. I am not a New Zealand expert by any means, especially since there is so much to see and do there, but I would love to answer any questions you have! Many posts to come on each of our New Zealand adventures.

Here is our itinerary:

Day 1 and 2: Travel from Okinawa through Shanghai to Auckland. Travel tip: avoid Shanghai airport at all cost. (Stay in Auckland at Rendezvous Hotel)

Day 3: Explore Auckland (Stay in Auckland at Rendezvous Hotel)

Day 4: Drive to Coromandel. Walk to Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, Drive to Matamata, Hobbiton Tour, drive to Hamilton (Stay in Hamilton at YHA Hamilton)

Day 5: Drive to Waitomo, Waitomo Caves (Stay in Waitomo at YHA Waitomo)

Day 6: Drive to Napier (Stay in Havelock at Craggy Range)

Day 6: Winery Tours (Stay in Havelock at Craggy Range)

Day 7: Drive to Wellington (Stay at Novotel Hotel in Wellington)

Day 8: Ferry from Picton to Wellington, Drive to Blenheim (Stay in Blenheim at St. Leonards)

Day 9: Winery Tours (Stay in Blenheim at St. Leonards)

Day 10: Drive the Great Coast Road to  Franz Josef (Stay in Franz Josef at YHA Franz Josef)

Day 11: Drive through Wanaka and Arrowtown to Queenstown (Stay at St. Moritz Queenstown)

Day 12: Explore Queenstown (Stay at St. Moritz Queenstown)

Day 13: Drive through Tekapo to Christchurch (Stay in Christchurch at Lilac Rose)

Day 14: Explore Christchurch/Rest (Stay in Christchurch at Lilac Rose)

Day 15: Fly out of Christchurch

Day 16 and 17: Fly through Sydney and Shanghai (brutal 9 hour layover) back to Okinawa

Here is what our trip looked like:

We stayed at a combination of hotels, hostels, and B&Bs/boutiques. Many travelers in New Zealand stick to hostels, but that isn't really our style. If you are traveling on a tight budget, hostels are the way to go. New Zealand has a really great hostel system and it is lots of fun to stay at them. We really enjoyed the three hostels we stayed at, but we also enjoyed the other very nice accommodations we stayed at. 

After every trip you think about what you loved and what you would have done differently. I questioned along the way as we came across many travelers who were only doing the South Island if we should have done that too. After many hours in the car I also questioned whether we should have driven so much. But, as I look back now, I don't think I would have changed anything for our first visit to New Zealand. I absolutely loved the North Island and am so glad we got to see it. Yes, there is much more to do on the South Island and it is much more rugged, but the feel of the North Island and the different scenery definitely made it worth it. I also think that driving was my favorite part, even though we spent a significant amount of time in the car. I don't think we would have been able to fully appreciate or understand New Zealand without seeing all that we were able to through driving. I was in awe at the scenery during every drove we made. I am sad we missed a few places, but it is almost impossible to see everything in such a short amount of time. Next trip we make, because it is happening, we want to spend some time in Abel Tasman, visit the Milford Sound, go all the way south, go up the east coast through Dunedin, Akaroa, and Kaikoura, actually stand on top of Franz Josef, and go to Rotorua and the Bay of Island on the North Island. Whew, sounds like I've got some planning to do. In the meantime, I'll look back at pictures and pretend I'm still there. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Friends Trip to Hong Kong

We had been wanting to spend a weekend off island with a group of friends. Hong Kong is a skip and hop to the west of us, so we thought it would be the perfect trip for Columbus day weekend. We went with two other couples and has a blast. We absolutely loved Hong Kong and want to go back soon. It was such a different city than many we have been to in SE Asia. We loved how international it was. Many cultures are represented and there is every kind of restaurant you could ever imagine. We liked that you could feel like you were in a western city one minute and China the next. We also loved how it was set up, right along the bay on two different land masses. It made for very pretty views. We didn't get to see as many sights as we planned, but we enjoyed taking in the city and the company of our friends.

The best travel buddies

Hong Kong is a port city. It was crazy to see all of the shipping containers as we drove into the city. 

I loved these giant incense rings in a shrine we found as we were walking around. 

Jade market. Lots of price haggling going on. 

Temple Street Market. I kind of have a thing for weird Asian markets. They are always so interesting.

Avenue of Stars, Kowloon

The weather wasn't that great, but it was still interesting to see. 

Victoria Peak

To Stay:  There is a debate whether to stay on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. We stayed on HK island, but would have stayed in Kowloon as well. Hong Kong is so easy to get around, especially since the metro is easy to navigate. It doesn't take long to get between the two areas. There is also lots to see, do, and eat both places. All of the super nice hotels are in Kowloon, but we particularly liked the Lan Kwai Fong area on HK island. We stayed at the Harbour Grand (HK side) and enjoyed our stay, but it was a bit out of the way.

To Do: We enjoyed the markets in Kowloon (Jade and Temple). I wished we could have gone to the other ones (bird, flower, etc.). Also on Kowloon is the Avenue of Stars. We walked the avenue during the day and night, which I would recommend. On HK island we took the tram up to Victoria Peak. It was well worth it. The line wasn't long when we went, but I hear it can get a bit out of control. We also did a lot of eating and walking around. There are lots of parks, shops, and shrines to see as you walk around. We did not get to the big buddha or Nyong Ping Gondola, which I was sad about. It is on the island where the airport is(Lantau Island), so bit out of the way. The line for the gondola is rumored to be long so we did not make the trip out there. We would also like to take a ferry Macau next time we visit.

To Eat: There are so many restaurants and such a variety! Everything we tried was pretty good. We did not eat as many places as I would have liked, but we did get to try the dumpling place Tim Ho Wan. It was not as good as our favorite Taipai dumpling place, Din Tai Fung. There are lots of great restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong. We tried Cecconi's Italian and Wilbers, which were both average. We tend to try places we come across as we are walking, so I don't have many exciting recommendations.

Hong Kong, we will be back!

Monday, November 2, 2015


The best thing about our little island is that even though it is small, it is not short on adventures. We can hop in the car and see something interesting or beautiful a few minutes down the road. Our lives are extremely busy, so we don't get to explore as much as we want to, but we are glad we have awesome things to see when we do get the opportunity. Last Sunday we woke up and decided to grab Lexie, our emo hammocks, and our favorite Yeti cooler and hop in the car. We stopped by the grocery store to grab sandwiches and drinks and headed towards our favorite adventure spot. There are tiny little island surrounding Okinawa and we are lucky to live right around the corner from quite a few of them. When we got to the bridge headed to a 4 of our favorite islands, we saw that it was low tide and the kite surfers were out. We thought the tide pools would be great for Lexie because she loves water and running on the beach but isn't a huge fan of waves. We were right! She loved splashing through the tide pools and running on the miles of flat beach. Even after two years living on this island, the blue skies and turquoise water still takes our breath away. 

After Lexie got her running in, we headed across the bridge and over to Hamahiga island, an island over a second bridge from the first island. Miyagi, the second in a chain of 3, is our usual go to. We drove around a bit and found a nice beach with a lot going on. Their was a boat out with jet skiers and  water skiers. Jake had been dying to use our hammocks we bought in the states, so we found some trees right next to the beach and put them up. It was the perfect place to eat our sandwiches and hangout. It was the most beautiful day and a super relaxing time sitting in our hammocks people watching. We will definitely be going back soon, possibly to camp!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Girls trip to Seoul

It is fairly common for my friend's husbands and mine to be gone at the same time. It's just part of military life, but it is nice to have friends who are in the same boat as you. Last year, my friend Hannah and I were treated to a girls trip by our husbands to Ishigaki island. This year they decided to send us on a shopping trip to Seoul, South Korea for President's Day weekend. Both of our husbands had already been there for business, so it was a perfect spot for a girls trip. It was a super quick trip and it was freezing cold, but we ended up having a really great time. We loved Seoul and the young, hip vibe and we definitely did some damage shopping.

When we got to our hotel, we were immediately impressed. The hotel was so nice and it had a huge luxury mall underneath. When we arrived we were greeted with macaroons. Apparently, there was a strawberry festival going on, so they had a tea time complete with a strawberry fountain, macaroon tower, every kind of strawberry dessert, and strawberry decor.

After freshening up in our room, we set out for some shopping. We started in the mall at our hotel, but quickly realized we were out of our league with the high end shops. So we found ourselves wandering around the incredible food market on the lower level of the mall. I've learned that asian malls always have incredible high end food markets and it makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop. 

pickled everything

We had lunch at a Korean place and had wonderful chicken and bulgogi. Then, we headed out on the subway to find something more in our price range. While we were trying to navigate the subway system, we discovered an underground shopping area that was a bit more in our price range. We soon discovered that most of it as knock-offs from the mall above us. We headed to Itaewon, the hip area of Seoul. We walked around, had a wonderful Turkish dinner, and shopped at some of the boutiques. It was such a cool area, full of every type of restaurant and lively nightlife. It was such a fun night!

The next morning we decided to take a break from shopping to do some sightseeing. We headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace. We were paired with a free tour guide, which ended up being great because we got to learn so much about the history of South Korea.

Our tour guide! #selfiestick

We then headed to Insadong area to walk around and eat some yummy dumplings. 

 We were ready for some serious shopping, so we headed to Myeongdong where the shopping did not disappoint. We shopped in every boutique, Forever 21, H&M, Zara; essentially we shopped until we dropped.

Whenever I go somewhere new, I try to eat a few meals that are found in that location, so we went to a traditional Korean restaurant. Let's just say, Korean food is not on the top of my Asian food list.

Feeling unsatisfied after our dinner, we headed back to our hotel and went to the gourmet market to pick up lots of goodies. We went to to incredible spa at our hotel and went into the jacuzzi and sauna to help our tired feet. The next morning, as we headed to the airport, I wasn't quite ready to leave. Our time was so short and I felt like there was still more to see, do, and eat! I would definitely go back again!