2016 Travel Overview

Previous years-in-review – 201520142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Some of our travel stats for the year:

  • 82k total air miles on 11 airlines: American Airlines, Southwest, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Air New Zealand, Vietnam Airlines, Etihad, Qatar, Icelandair, and Jetblue.
  • 11 countries visited: we returned to the UK, New Zealand, and Spain, plus we added several new-to-us: Oman, UAE (Abu Dhabi), Vietnam, and Iceland (marking our 40th country visited!)
  • Domestically, we made return trips to San Diego, Chicago, New York, Portland, Florida and Asheville.

2016_travelmap

And, of course, our 2016 end of year video featuring “Search Party” by Sam Bruno. Enjoy!

Auckland: Winter Gardens and heading home

Because breakfast at Dear Jervois the previous morning was a bit of a disappointment, I picked a new place for dinner this morning, Mary’s. Closer to the hotel and located in a completely nondescript building (the sign simply says ‘Mary’s’ with cafe hours, no hint about what is inside), the inside is a charming open space and the breakfast was simple and delicious. Eric had scrambled eggs on toast with a rich mashed potato cake while I got the toasted plain (but really poppyseed) bagel with salmon, cream cheese and capers. Eric’s hot chocolate came with two homemade marshmallows and my flat white(s) were also tasty.

Wanting to kill some time before dropping the rental car off, we stopped at the Auckland Domain Wintergardens. This modest garden area near the Auckland War Memorial Museum was a great way to spend some time. The Cool House, Tropical House and Fernz Fernery were all beautiful and although crowded with schoolchildren, still totally worth the stop.

bloom @ Domain Wintergardens  hot house @ Domain Wintergardens

hot house @ Domain Wintergardens

fern gully @ Domain Wintergardens

ginger flower @ Domain Wintergardens

We dropped the car off at noon and then waited for a few minutes for the AA desks to open so we could check our bags and head to a lounge. We decided to try the Qantas lounge first and for some reason the front desk person let us into the First Class area! :) The champagne was lovely but the food was just okay – we enjoyed the blue cheese and the mini cupcakes but the blue cheese broccoli soup was bland. Next, we skipped over to the Priority Pass lounge to see if we could both get in as promised with the membership from Eric’s new Chase card — all went well. This lounge had more food choices but the wine wasn’t as good.

Arrived at the gate just as they were announcing platinum folks could board – perfect! We were on our way home after a lovely second trip to New Zealand.

Auckland: waterfalls and parks

Since we had stayed in the Ponsonby neighborhood on a previous trip, we already had restaurants in mind and decided to return to our favorite breakfast place, Cafe Jervois. I ordered the smashed avocado on toast with a side of salmon and Eric had the gluten-free waffles with bananas and bacon. Both dishes looked nice but only tasted average, a bit disappointing frankly. My eggs were underdone and the toast was too hard but the ginger latte was a highlight, very spicy.

 

We packed up the backpack for the day then headed to Hertz on foot to pick up the 24-hour car rental we had reserved the night before. No problems at all – plus the car was much nicer than what we had been used to so far with Apex Car Rentals.

We headed north to the Whangaparaoa area and Shakespear Regional Park (yes, it is spelled that way). Enroute we stopped at a New World Supermarket where we finally found more of the Tom & Luke cranberry and cashew snackaballs we fell in love with from Wellington. Twenty or so bags may have been purchased…

Once in the park we took the small trail to Gully Falls, which had a rather low waterflow this day. Further into the park we found a large picnic site where we had lunch with quite a few feathered friends, including some large peahens that scared some young park visitors by being overly friendly. There was no chasing any of of the birds away, as soon as I sat down with our bread and cheese, we were surrounded! One little bird even took small pieces of bread right from my hand.

Waterfall Gully  Shakespear Regional Park

peahen @ Shakespear Regional Park

Rejuvenated after our picnic, we headed west across the island to Makarau for Omeru and Waitangi Falls, located near another charming picnic area. The creekside trails were quite lush with foliage and many shades of green. We saw at least four separate falls here but most were unmarked and discovered by sticking close to the creek along worn footpaths.

waterfall @ Omeru Reserve

waterfall @ Omeru Reserve

Omeru Falls  Waitangi Falls

Despite our GPS’ best efforts to get us lost, we stopped in for a quick beer at Hallerbrau on our way back to the city. Eric had the black currant berliner weisse and I had the Nitro porter. Both were tasty, Eric thought the porter was very floral. The menu looked pretty good (I was tempted by the oysters) but I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner.

Hallertau taps

When I tried to make online reservations at The Cav Gastropub, their system said there was nothing available, so I emailed the restaurant directly and was happily told that 7pm was no problem. Lesson learned – don’t always trust automated systems! The rose wines (both from Marlborough) were a bit disappointing but Eric liked his ‘Roaring Meg’ Pinot Gris and the food was also very tasty. Eric had the venison and mushroom hot pot that came stew-like in a planter pot covered by a massive puff pastry cap and a side of mashed potatoes. I had the house-named pork sticky-buns that were sweet and tangy with a side salad of cucumber, mango and sprouts tossed with chilis and a sesame vinaigrette. Definitely need to make that at home!

After dinner, we stopped in again at Dida’s for a glass of wine each from Jules Taylor, a Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc – both solid.

Auckland: rental car debacle

Unfortunately, the good vibes we had been feeling on the South Island left us after landing in Auckland.

We had a pre-paid reservation for a ‘meet and greet’ agreement so I was hoping to see someone holding a sign in the terminal when we exited. Nothing.

While we were waiting for our checked bags, I realized that I had accidentally booked an 8pm pickup and it was only 7pm, so we connected to the airport wi-fi and called the number listed on the reservation. This went straight to voicemail, so I left a message stating that we had arrived and to please send someone as soon as possible. We waited until about 7:30pm and then I used a pay phone to call the number collect. Still no answer.

After wandering the domestic terminal looking for a sign with my name on it, at 8:15pm (after someone should have originally met us), I called the number again and finally got a human who told me the airport rental office closed at 7pm and they don’t do pickups after that.

Excuse me?

Never mind that I had a PAID reservation for 8pm; no one was ever planning to come get us?

Semi-furious, we walked over to the domestic terminal rental car facilities to see if we could hunt down a rental. The best Thrifty could do for us was $235 for essentially a 40-hour rental. Undeterred we tried booking a cheaper rate online through Orbitz. For some reason the Orbitz reservation was not showing up in their system, so we also booked direct through their website. We waited a while for it to show up in their system and still no luck. After nearly an hour, it became clear this was not going to work, so at 9:30pm we decided to take an Uber to the hotel and try to pick up a car in the city the next day.

While waiting I had called the hotel to let them know not to give up on us, and thankfully someone was waiting with our key when we arrived. We were assigned the exact same room as our last visit 20 months ago (pretty cool)! After dropping off our luggage we walked across the street to Dida’s Wine bar where we got a glass of wine each and the bartender took pity on our dejected moods by giving us an on-the-house bowl of their tasty spiced nut/seed mix. Very nice.

After returning to the States, I got in touch of GotRentalCars.com, the rental car reseller, who refunded our money after a brief investigation. I would NEVER rent from Right Rental Cars in Auckland. Ever.

Marlborough: mussels and Cable Bay

After checking out of the hotel at 10am and packing up the car, we walked into town to do a little shopping at the local souvenir shop.

On our way out of town we stopped at one last winery before beginning our trek back to Nelson, Huia.  The small tasting room was staffed by a woman from Portland, Valerie, who was living overseas and working at the winery to pay for her time in a shared house in Marlborough. We tried most of the range, including wines from their cheaper label, Hunky Dory, over the course of 1.5 hours. In general, the wines were pleasant enough, the ’11 Organic Pinot Noir and ’16 Organic Sauvignon Blanc were the standouts.

One place we HAD to stop was The Mussel Pot in Havelock. The mussels were enormous! One kilo per order was more than enough for me and some of them could have been cut in half. I choose the cream, basil and garlic broth (chef’s fave according to our waiter) which was very nice and even better with a bit of bread dunked in (ordered separately). While the mussels were great, I could have easily split the serving size and this was the only place that charged us a $1 for ‘extra’ ketchup for Eric’s fries. A bit stingy really.

The Mussel Pot Restaurant 

We had some time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so Eric routed us up north of Nelson to Cable Bay for some scenic views. The drive was lovely and we enjoyed the vistas from the beach spit between the mainland and Pepin Island, joined by a tidal sandbar.

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

heart rock @ Cable Bay

After filling up the car with gas, we stopped in for a quick half pint at another location of Sprig & Fern. I had the Scottish Ale and Eric ordered the seasonal pilsner which was light and crisp.

We dropped off the car and caught the shuttle to the airport, checked our bags without incident and waited about 30 minutes to board our short flight to Auckland. Once again, since it was a small domestic flight we had no security screening, which meant we were able to bring our half-finished bottle of wine up to the North Island in the main cabin. I imagine this is going to change in the future, but it was nice to not have to dump half a bottle of wine or slam the smoothie drink I hadn’t gotten around to enjoying yet!

Marlborough: wine tasting, day 2

The weather today was quite random – sunny and calm one minute, windy and raining the next. A good day for indoor wine tasting!

Lawson’s Dry Hills – Our first stop of the day, we just beat a large group to start our tasting. Julia was friendly and full of knowledge about the wines. Most of these we can get in the USA but we wanted to see if we liked any since we were so close. Most of the whites ate $20-25 which is pretty good for the area, but all the wines tasted watered-down to us. Nothing stood out as exceptional given the competition in the area.

wine lineup @ Lawson's Dry Hills

Hunter’s Wines – Overall a good place for a tasting and lunch. I found the wines just fine, nothing super memorable save for the dessert wine (which we bought a bottle of). We figured they would be good with food, so we stayed for lunch – I had the venison and pinot noir meat pie with fries and a glass of Pinot Noir and Eric had the ham and cheese panini with the Gewurtztraminer. The food took a while to come out but we were in no rush.

Hunter's Wines

Moa Brewing – We stopped in for a tasting but it was a bit crowded and the only things on offer were IPAs and pales. $5 for a tasting flight but nothing looked appealing so we skipped it.

Our next winery stop, Fromm, had a nice mix of whites and reds available for tasting. Rebecca was a good hostess and we really liked the wines here. The Syrah Reserve was particularly good and different from a lot of reds I had tasted in the valley, so I picked up a bottle. Eric liked the La Strada Sauvignon Blanc and the German-style Riesling Spatlese. They are also a biodynamic winery for those that care about that sort of thing.

Bladen – Our last stop of the day, this small tasting room (the smallest in Marlborough!) was very quaint and the vineyard’s Irish Setter, Vinnie, was adorable. We found the Gewurtz, Rose, and Pinot Noir to be very good and the owner himself, a former Wellingtonian, was pouring the wines.

Bladen Winery

Eric spotted a road going into the southern hills on the map, so we drove a bit to see what was down there. Nice views!

Marlborough

Marlborough

We parked the car for a bit and took a walk along the riverfront, downtown was pretty dead on a Sunday evening.

For dinner we drove to Dodson’s Street Beer Garden where we both opted for the pizza and pint special – a personal pizza and 1/2 L of beer each for $23, quite the solid deal in NZ. Given the value, and that it was one of the only places open on Sunday, it was very busy. Picking a beer was a bit odd as you ordered at your table and the waitress gave us a beercap token to get out beers at the bar area on the complete other side of the restaurant. There is also no draught or wine menu so I took photos of the 20+ taps and ten-ish wine choices and brought my phone back to the table so we could choose. Food was fine but I couldn’t finish my beer — too much liquid already that day!

Marlborough: Picton and Queen Charlotte Drive

Awoke to a morning shower, so we were in no hurry and waited out the rain. Eventually, we headed north out of town to Picton and after scaling the viewpoint near Bob’s Bay we drove north along the Waikawa Road as far as Whatamango Bay. The views were wonderful.

Picton

Grove Arm

boats

sheep

We made our way back into town and stopped at Picton Village Bakkerij for seeded ciabatta rolls and an almond/dark cherry pastry.

From Picton we started our drive along Queen Charlotte Drive. There were several pull-outs and even some places to have a snack on a park bench between Governors Bay and Barks Bay.

selfie/lunch break  overlooking Grove Arm

Ngakuta Bay

Shortly afterwards, we saw our first real road damage from the earthquake two weeks before.

earthquake damage to Queen Charlotte Drive

At Linkwater, we took Kenepuru Road northeast for views of the Mahau Sound and Kenepuru Sound. We made it as far as Portage before we turned around. Unfortunately much of the view is blocked by large bushes and the pull-outs are few. We did get some nice shots of the farm fields and a flowering passionflower vine.

Kenepuru Rd views  Kenepuru Rd bloom

Back on Queen Charlotte Drive I spotted a pottery gallery sign and pulled off to explore. Valerie (of Valerie’s Gallery) was very nice and we picked up a few of her designs, all the while chatting about travel and politics. We even added a push-pin to her visitor map. :)

Our next stop was Cullen Point Lookout which offered nice views of Havelock and Mahau Sound.

Mahakipawa Arm

Mahakipawa Arm

Havelock in black & white

From Havelock we took the highway back our room in Blenheim to enjoy a Moa Tripel in our room. For dinner we walked to the Scotch Bar. I ordered two appetizer portions of the pork and coriander dumplings with a chilli salsa and a (massive) plate of grilled asparagus with whipped cranky goat cheese. Eric opted for the ox cheek pappardelle with parmigiano reggiano, very filling and tasty. They had several wines available by the half-glass, glass and bottle.  I ordered the Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir and Eric had a Two Rivers L’ile de Beauté Rosé, both were very drinkable and it made me want to visit Fromm the next day.

In search of New Zealand-themed gifts, we walked over the the Warehouse but, unfortunately, it was mostly cheap crap.