A Kiwi Roadtrip - Part 1

I cannot help but be head over heels in love with New Zealand. With so much to see and do, it's a wonder I saw as much as I did in 10 fun-filled, high-energy, activity packed days! I had the unique opportunity to see it with a home-grown kiwi girl herself, and she spoiled me with a great adventure! Below I'll delve into just the first 4 areas of the North Island we visited.

{ 1 } Auckland

+ Viaduct Harbour

Auckland is a great city with a really cool, young vibe. I especially liked walking the Viaduct - a pathway along a working harbour in downtown Auckland with lots of trendy restaurants and bars. There's also Silo Park near the harbour where old silos that used to hold cement that went toward building the city still stand. They've now become part of a group of art features that add a unique flare to the city and where special events, like an outdoor movie projected onto Silo 7, and markets take place during the summertime. It's neat to check out and grab a few snapshots, dinner and drinks. It's also a great opportunity to catch the famous Sky Tower and city skyline behind you with the harbour. 

|| Kiwi speak: Tip for going to a bar, when Kiwis say "lemonade" they're referring to the soda 7 Up –not quite what Americans would consider a traditional lemonade, like Minute-Maid, to be. They might also refer to 7 Up as "lemon-lime."

An interesting thing to remember when visiting NZ is the seasons are flipped according to what an Northern American would be accustomed. For example, summertime is from about late November to early April. I was there in November and I felt that it was more like spring-time weather, fluctuating between warm and chilly days, but the weather was generally starting to warm up.

Also, geographically we would consider northern areas to be colder and southern areas to be warmer -- in New Zealand it is the exact opposite! The North Island will have warmer temperatures year-round and the further south you travel, the colder the average temperature will become. Crazy, right?


The Silos



+ Maungawhau (Mt. Eden)

Aliens? Asteroid? Volcano?

Mt Eden Crater

New York

New York, 12,197 KM = 7,578.86 MI

If you guessed volcano, ding ding! It is, of course, currently dormant, but the best part is it's a free activity to drive up to see. Secondly, it offers really great views of the city. If you want a little more activity in the day, I also saw a lot of people walking/hiking up to it. There is also a really unique feature at the top of the summit of a giant wheel that will point you in the direction of different cities around the world and tell you the distance in km. 

|| Kiwi speak: Have you ever wondered where these long or complex names for places in NZ come from? They can be almost impossible to say, but New Zealanders all around will get a real tickle out of hearing you try to pronounce them.

New Zealand's indigenous population, the Maori, inhabited the island long before the arrival of the "white people" and their culture is still very present in modern day. If you've ever seen the infamous Haka -- a war dance the All Blacks perform before every rugby match -- you've then seen evidence of the strong presence of the Maori culture today. You'll even pass under a giant tiki arch in the airport as you exit the terminal (be sure to look for it!).

You'll see a lot of their symbology in shops, like tikis, masks and jewelry. It's worth getting yourself acquainted with the meaning of them. They even have Maori village experiences -- like the Tamaki village -- where you can have a traditional hangi meal, which is cooked underground, learn about wood carvings and face tattoos, and learn a poi dance or the Haka!

{ 2 } Waiheke Island


You would be absolutely mad not to hop on a ferry to spend a day at Waiheke Island during your stay in Auckland. This experience is the sole reason my goal in life is to settle on an island, owning my own vineyard, making and drinking wine all day. The land here, the views, are just unreal. The vineyards sit on gorgeous acres of green hills and valleys. It is one of my favorite places I've ever been; it was a pocket of paradise.

HOW TO GET THERE | The ferry is a super easy option to hop on and off and it was only a short 40 min ride from port to port. Fullers and Sealink are the two major ferry companies that will take you from Auckland to Waiheke. A round-trip ferry will probably cost you ~$25 USD. Direct Ferries can also pull up a comparison rate between the two companies so you can select the best time and price. Don't forget to select that you'll be a "foot passenger" meaning you're traveling without a car. Note: there will be bathrooms and a little cafe for coffee and snacks on the ferry!


    Waiheke Port 



    WHERE TO GO | The girls and I opted to do a winery + lunch tour. However if you are into having a more active day, they have everything from zip lining to horseback riding and paddle boarding, etc. We visited the following wineries and one olive oil press: 

    This vineyard was surrounded by those epic New Zealand green hills and where we had the most amazing lunch!

    stonyridge vineyard

    Where we sampled fresh pressed olive oil (yum) and learned the process behind how the oil was made.


    A really relaxed winery where you can sit on the lawn amongst the beautiful vines and even practice your archery skills if you're up for it!


    Last, but certainly not least...

    A hilly winery tour with amazing hilltop views of the water. There is also a restaurant I'd be keen to try. You. Can't. Miss. This.


    || Kiwi speak: If you're going to take your own car around the island, kiwis will use the word "boot" to reference what Americans would call the trunk of the car. "We should put the wine in the boot, eh"

    "Eh" pronounced like "A" is also used fondly at the end of many sentences. 



    { 3 } Coromandel Coast

    + Hot water Beach

    When trekking across the Coromandel coast, you must give your full due to Hot Water Beach. Even if it's just a quick hour or two stop in the morning, it's one of those unique places that even to experience it for a short while is once in a lifetime.


    WHAT TO BRING | Your swimsuit, towels, and shovels! If you aren't staying in the area and will just be passing through, a change of clothes would also be a great idea (especially if you plan to sit in the wet sand like me). They also have shovels you can rent locally if you don't want to buy or bring any.


    WHERE TO GO | The beach spreads for miles, but simply follow the signs to park and once you are actually on the beach, just look for all the people gathered in sand holes. It really isn't more complicated than that. And when they say hot water beach, they really mean HOT. This natural spring is BOILING which is why you will want your hole to have the proper mix of spring water and ocean waves to cool it to the perfect temperature.

    BEST TIME TO GO | You'll want to do your best to arrive within the 2 hrs before or after low tide. Luckily, there's an easy way to figure this out: thecoromandel.com has this handy dandy calendar than will tell you high and low tide times up to TWO years in advance! Magic or science? Well, it is New Zealand. So magic, duh.

    You can also check out the weather in the area through wunderground. Also managed by local wizardry folk.

    || Kiwi speak:  Shovels = Spades, Bikini/Bathing suit = Togs

    + Cathedral Cove

    I was not prepared for this "walk" to the cove. Kiwis call these "walking tracks" down to the cove, and I'm genuinely laughing aloud looking at the informational website that calls it an "easy walking track." Maybe I'm just the typical American that thinks they are in shape until they actually get out of the gym. Heck, it was up and down around winding, uneven trails, tripping over dirt, rocks, tree roots, steep stairs and my own two feet. But don't let this deter you! It was worth every effort. The trail and the views were gorgeous. I would do it again! But with different shoes.


    "Easy" Walking Track


    WHAT TO BRING | If you're going to walk, come prepared with decent shoes *cough* not flip flops. It takes maybe a little over an hour to walk it, depending on how aggressively you go at it. A picnic lunch is also a great idea to have with you. I was starving by the time we got down there! However you can also kayak to the cove or take a boat with a guide. Taking the boat route, there will be companies that offer snorkeling or diving in the cove too. Lots of ways to explore the area!

    cathedral cove

    BEST TIME TO GO | I'd say get started early and plan to spend the majority of your day here. There's lots to enjoy. 

    || Kiwi speak: Flip flops = Thongs. Because that makes sense! Also will use the term Jandals.

    { 5 } Matamata

    + The Journey to Middle Earth

    A journey sounds so fancy doesn't it? But as you are driving through the middle of nowhere past acres of farms on typical winding, hilly New Zealand roads, you'll understand why. If you are an LOTR fan, the Hobbiton Tour is a fantastical world of wonder. It's not overhyped. It really is awesome. Even if you aren't a super fan - I think you can still wildly enjoy it. A guide will walk you around the grounds giving you lots of fun movie set facts and you'll end your tour at the Green Dragon with an included cider or soda. Lots of opportunities to take pics in front of hobbit doors and feel really cool for the day.

    WHAT TO BRING | Your camera to make all your friends back home jealous and your giddy fan-girl/boy attitude. 

    || Kiwi speak: Sunglasses = Sunnies

    2015-11-25 12.00.56.jpg
    2015-11-25 12.54.19.jpg


    I couldn't fit ALL THE FUN into one post, so stay tuned for Part 2. The Kiwi adventure continues where you'll see how we hiked mountains, zipped through the trees 220 meters (722 ft!) off the ground, tubed in pitch black glow worm caves, and more! :D 



    7 reasons to book it to budapest

    So, you want to visit Budapest. Or maybe you've heard about its lure but aren't quite convinced yet. Well, let me put your doubts aside. If I don't have you convinced by the end of this article that you should book a ticket to Budapest today, then I've done my Hungarian friends an injury and I should just quit this writing gig while I'm ahead.

    1. The Architecture

    Hungarian Parliament Building

    There are so many intricate architectural styles in the city that build Budapest into a unique collective but I find the Hungarian Parliament building, built in a Gothic revival style, to be one of my favorite. 

    Would you believe the interior of the parliament building was built with about 88 pounds (40kg) of solid gold? Way to be badass, Hungary.

    Hungarians also wanted this majestic symbol of the city to remain unobstructed by view and so there's a law that no other building can be built taller than 96 meters (about 315 feet). The only other building in Budapest that matches its height is St. Stephen's Basilica. To give you some visual comparison of this city's skyline, the Empire State Building in New York City stands at 1,250 feet (381m) - around 4x its size.

    But hey, what is it they say, it isn't about size?

    2. That Famous Bridge

    Chain Bridge

    Did you know Budapest was once two cities - Buda and Pest, respectively - only to be united by this bridge in 1849? It was the first bridge to span across the Danube River connecting Buda on the west and Pest on the east. With its lion adorned entrance and great views the city I recommend taking a walk across this meaningful symbol once during the day and once at night when the city lights up. 

    On the Buda (west) side of the bridge you'll be close to Buda Castle and on the Pest (east) side you'll find the Gresham Palace and the Danube Promenade. Wondering which side of the city is the best? Ask any local and you'll be sure to begin a very heated discussion.

    PoP insider tip: The correct pronunciation of Budapest is making the "s" sound more like a "sh" so: Buda-pesht

    3. Castles & Cathedrals

    Buda Castle

    I'm a big sucker for castles. I can't get enough of the history living and breathing within every stone. And so I could not avoid becoming an avid admirer of the towering Royal Palace in Buda. Dating back to the 13th century, its built directly into the hillside of Buda and overlooks the city, giving you a full view of the river, its multiple bridges, and the parliament building. The castle itself now holds the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Library. You can reach it by furuncular or simply following the walking paths. We hoofed it, as that always seems to be the best way to me to really explore an area and see the little nooks and crannies you might otherwise miss.  

    My two favorite Hungarians on the planet <3 <3

    These views, though.

    St. Stephen's Basilica 

    This Neoclassical structure was built in honor of Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen, who converted the first nomadic Hungarian tribes to Christianity. In fact, you are able to see his mummified right hand (The Holy Right Hand) in a small chapel off to the side of the main altar. (It's not like that's creepy at all, guys.)

    History also tells us it took 5 decades and 3 architects to finish the basilica as there were several unfortunate events that delayed progress including the death of the first two architects and the collapsing of the dome. 

    Best part: it won't cost you a penny to get inside Budapest's largest church (unless you want to pay for a guided tour). 

    The inside of St. Stephen's Basiica

    PoP insider tip: You'll want to take full advantage of making your way up the cupola to see the panoramic city views!

    In front of the basilica you'll happen across a bronze statue of a policeman with a protruding tummy that's been polished bright by many visitor's shameless rubs (mine included). There are a few rumors surrounding the tradition of rubbing his tummy. Some say you'll be lucky in love (or in the sack) or just plain lucky! I'll take all three.

    Views from the cupola at St. Stephen's Basilica

    Views from the cupola at St. Stephen's Basilica

    Views from the cupola at St. Stephen's Basilica

    Rubbing the fat lucky tummy of the bronze policeman

    Rubbing the fat lucky tummy of the bronze policeman

    4. The Market

    Budapest Great Market Hall

    If you like markets (and I sure do) you absolutely must visit the Great Market Hall on the Pest side (east) of the city. This market I find to be truly unique, not just from the architecture on the outside, but from the fact that locals enjoy shopping at the market as much as the tourists do. You'll find everything from small local treasures, trinkets, and do-dads (great for bringing home souvies to the fam and friends), to local goods like paprika and fresh hanging meats and cheeses. There are also a few restaurants and several quick stop food stalls on the upper level perfect for grabbing some Hungarian grub. Take heart, the market is enormous with 3 different levels, I recommend having a game plan if you get separated from your group (like we didn't), as it may take a miracle to find each other again amongst all the paprika and embroidery!

    PoP insider tip: The market is also a great place to start your shopping day as there are lots of places within walking distance. Váci Street is a popular pedestrian shopping street as well as Vörösmarty Square which has lots of cafes and restaurants.

    5. Healing Thermal Baths

    Széchenyi Thermal Baths

    This had to be my absolute favorite experience I had in Budapest.

    The natural hot springs unearthed beneath this gorgeous Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance palace - I'll use that term freely because of the grandeur of the building - is a wealth of healing minerals. It's a favorite among locals and tourists to visit these therapeutic, medicinal baths. And this is not the only thermal bath in Budapest; there happen to be several. There are still even Turkish baths standing from the 16th century. However, Széchenyi, and Gellért (to name another) baths were built in the early 20th century, making them over 100 years old today.

    There over 20 pools, including both indoor/outdoor thermal pools, cooling pools, and swimming pools all ranging in temperature. They also have saunas as well as a full service spa that offers massages, mud treatments, manicures, and even fish pedicures. (Yes, the one where the little fish nip at your feet!) Don't fret if you forget your swimmers, you can rent some there.

    I believe no trip to Budapest is complete without visiting one of these baths I've mentioned and experiencing it for yourself. It doesn't matter what time of year you visit either - we went in the dead of winter just after New Years. Granted, it was FREEZING around the outdoor pools, but running through the cold January air and then submerging yourself in the hot water was half the fun!

    PoP insider tip: Apparently they even have spa parties at the thermal baths in the evening. Sparty Time! (I swear, a Sparty is really what they call it!)

    6. Scrumptious Sweets 

    Gerbeaud Cafe

    In the hub of Budapest in Vörösmarty Square sits this 150 year old gem. I don't know what goes together better than chocolate, confectionary and coffee. Oh and ice cream! The inside feels like a step back in time with its grand chandeliers, arched ceilings and intricate woodwork. It's definitely worth a stop to indulge in some sweet treats from these artisans. I mean, after 150 years and still standing, they have to be doing something right, right?! 

    Street Vendors
    Also in the square were loads of treats on carts and stands, even in the dead of winter. Anything from artisan chocolates, marzipan bonbons, macaroons, chewy candies and so on. 

    P.s. Don't you just love the word "Bonbons"? 

    Gerbeaud Cafe

    A street vendor's fare

    A street vendor's fare

    7. The Insanely Fun Nightlife

    You should definitely be starting your night out with some Pálinkathe traditional Hungarian spirit that will put you in quite the right spirit - before heading out the door for a night on the town!

    It's a fruit based spirit (rather than a grain) so it has many natural flavor varietals such as apricot, apple, cherry, pear, plum, and grape, to name a few. And every region of Hungary is said to be known for their own speciality of Pálinka, so if you're traveling around Hungary be sure to ask for that region's speciality. The recipes for Pálinka are protected by law according to the region, that's how important the spirit and purity of the tradition is to Hungarians! In 2002 it was made a Hungaricum, meaning a high quality speciality of the country, like paprika or goulash.  

    I will delve further into exactly what places should be on your hit list for your night out in another post, for now you can watch a compelling video of me butchering the Hungarian language. 

    PoP insider tip: To properly drink Pálinka & shout out a good cheers in Hungarian is to say "Egészségére" - Yeah, try saying that five times fast. Or actually, just once. I clearly couldn't.

    HONORABLE mentions

    You should make a point to look up some of these other sights to see during your time in Budapest:

    • Millennium Underground (M1)* 
      The M1 is the oldest metro line in Budapest, and having been constructed in 1894 it's the second oldest in Europe, the first being the London underground! It's still functioning today and runs under Andrassy ut to City Park.

    • Gellért Monument

    • Heroe's Square

    • Danube Promenade

    • WWII/Holocaust Memorial Liberty Square**
      The monument in Liberty Square depicts Hungary as the archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial eagle. Just before the monument, Hungarian Holocaust survivors have placed family memorabilia including letters, pictures, documents, and personal items in tribute to their memory and to serve as a present day reminder of the millions of lives destroyed during that hideous era of humankind.

    *Millennium Underground (M1) 

    **WWII Monument in Liberty Square - Memorabilia of Holocaust victims