Scotland 2017: Exploring the Highlands

Our second day in Scotland involved lots of driving, several waterfalls, one particularly rainy hike, and a few drams of whisky (naturally).

We headed north out of Inverness along the A835 to Rogie Falls. It was a short hike to the powerful cascades with a child-friendly interpretive sign about the life cycle of salmon.

hike to Rogie Falls  Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls

While driving along, we saw a parking area near another falls that wasn’t on our list, but Blackwater Falls and the pretty roadside falls around the corner were a nice photo stop.

Black Water Falls  falls off A835

The Falls Of Mesach are located in Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. The large parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived (yeah!) and there was a food truck selling burgers and other snacks near the first entry gate. The gorge itself was surprisingly steep and the view from the limited-person bridge was breath-taking (or terrifying depending how you feel about heights or swaying bridges).

swinging bridge capacity

Corrieshalloch Gorge  Corrieshalloch Gorge

selfie w/ Falls Of Mesach

A little further up the road is this spectacular view of the Scottish highlands…

peekaboo view of Loch Broom

Our next stop was the Lael Forest and although we weren’t entirely sure we had the correct parking lot, we decided to go exploring. Thankfully the cows didn’t seem to mind.

hello cows!

After about a mile, we found a small waterfall next to a water-driven hydro station.

Lael Forest Falls

Feeling hungry, we stopped at the Arch Hotel in Ullapool for lunch. I had the blue cheese tart while Leandra opted for the (traditionally Scottish) Cullen Skink (cream-based soup with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions). Everything was tasty.

downtown Ullapool

On our way out of town, we took a quick detour to the Rhue Lighthouse and then continued on to Knockan Crag. The views from the top were spectacular but the drizzle that changed into rain halfway through the hike was not so great.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

panoramic views

Given the weather we decided to begin our return back to Inverness along A837. In Invercassley we stopped at a small turnout for Achness Falls, which we had all to ourselves.

Achness Falls

Further down the road are the Falls of Shin, which appear to be recently developed with a parking lot and a new ramp and viewing platform. Unfortunately, the view is of top of falls, so it is not a great photo spot – hopefully they will complete a second viewing platform a little further downstream that will provide a much better vantage soon.

Falls of Shin

Given the time we decided to have dinner at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, which is known to have a nice whisky selection. Leandra had the mussels and I had the (very light and fluffy) goat cheese fritter salad (which was larger than expected, and quite tasty). Leandra had a few mistakes happen during dinner, including the wrong wine delivered to the table and leaving off the toasted bread on the mussels, but thankfully, everything was fixed quickly.

Dornoch Castle  mussels @ Dornoch Castle

After dinner we were lucky to snag a couch in the Whisky Bar while we perused the whisky list. Leandra tried a Clynelish 15 year cask in her long-standing challenge to identify a whisky like her beloved Benrinnes. Eric started with a local, Glenmorangie 12 year port finish, then went for a Laphroaig Scotch Malt Whisky Society‎ 29.175 16yr. This was lovely, with chocolate, burnt marshmallows, light fruit, nice smokiness.

scotch by candlelight @ Dornoch Castle

All in all, a long but satisfying day exploring Scotland.

Scotland 2017: Loch Ness

Upon landing and waiting for the rental car, the weather changed multiple times… sunny, pouring rain, cloudy, back to sun, etc. So, welcome to Scotland! We were waiting behind a couple who were having a few prepayment issues but once we got to the front it was smooth sailing and we were on our way in a brand new car.

Hungry, we made our first stop in Drumnadrochit, home of the Loch Ness Monster. Fiddler’s Restaurant is a laid back, typical Scottish pub but the food was even better than expected.  I had forgotten that the Scots cook their hamburgers to death so I opted for the cured meats instead. Everything was tasty, but the venison terrine was outstanding. Eric went with a cheddar burger and a bottled Black Isle Scottish wee heavy aged in an Ardbeg barrel. It was two years old and funky with a hint of sour, yum. I got a half pint of the local stout, also good. We might have had a dram after lunch as well…

absolutely tasty meat plate @ Fiddler's  a dram with Nessie


Although we really wanted to see Dog Falls, I vetoed the hike due to time constraints and my energy level. Plodda Falls wound up being a good choice, it was a short and easy hike to several cascades and viewpoints and once a French family cleared out we had the place to ourselves.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

Plodda Falls  Plodda Falls

On the drive back we stopped to photograph a roadside falls for a creek that feeds the larger Abhainn Deabhag.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

We also passed through the village of Tomich, which we learned is the area Lord Tweedmouth created the golden retriever dog breed. So there you go.

Continuing to retrace our path back toward Loch Ness, we tried to get a look at Urquart Castle but due to trees and a carefully placed parking lot, there wasn’t much to see from road, so we continued on. Our next stop was Invermoriston when we both spotted a small ‘waterfall’ sign near a parking area. A quick u-turn lead to Invermoriston Falls (lovely, but really a set of cascades…)

falls in Invermoriston

We rounded the south end of Loch Ness and started heading north again, stopping at the Suidhe Viewpoint. And, well, wow. The top of the hill gives you 360 degree views and it is stunning.

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

We had one more waterfall to see before we headed back to Inverness to check in and grab dinner, and the Falls of Foyer did not disappoint.

Falls of Foyers

Parking and check in at the B&B went smoothly and we decided on the nearby Rocpools for dinner. Really, any restaurant in town was within walking distance as the Eskdale Guest House was in a great location.

Greig St Bridge, Inverness
Greig St Bridge, Inverness

We split a pork belly appetizer (nuttier and more meaty than NC pork belly), then Eric had the pumpkin sage gnocchi and I had the beef cheek. Both were great and paired nicely with a Provence rose wine. At least four staff members stopped by the table to refill our wine glasses and chat – definitely my kind of place! :)

Not quite tired yet, we strolled across the river to Black Isle for a beer and a whisky. I had the Ardbeg barrel oatmeal stout with a dram of the Dalmore 12. Loved both! Eric went for the Rauschan marzen and the Old Pulteney 21 – nice smokiness to the beer and a complex orange and honey on the whisky. Reminded him of a Bruichladdich. Lovely way to end our first evening in Scotland.

Inverness @ night

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.

Nelson: kayak trip to Abel Tasman

Our big adventure for the day was the “Heart of the Park Explorer” hike and kayak trip with Kaiteriteri Kayaks in Abel Tasman Park.

We were picked up at the hotel at 7:25am. I was a bit worried when the shuttle was 15 minutes late but we called and the woman assured us that were on the pick-up list, and they eventually arrived. After an hour bus ride to Kaiteriteri we were quickly loaded onto a sea taxi to take us to Onetahuti Beach where we started our 5.5km hike to Bark Beach.

Abel Tasman National Park


Two small penguins were on the beach by the rocks as we landed too!

starting the hike

The hike took us about 1:45 with pauses for some uphill and photogenic sections.

Abel Tasman National Park  South Island Weka

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

As we neared the Bark Bay Estuary, we choose the longer high tide path along the beach so we could see the swinging bridge and a small waterfall.

waterfall near Bark Bay  bridge over estuaryBark Bay Estuary

Our guide met us at the beach at noon with a prepared lunch of roast beef sandwiches, apples, cookies and muffins. I even had beach coffee! We did a thorough safety briefing about the kayaks and hopped in the water for our paddle south to Anchorage Beach.

The day was getting quite warm, so we were quite grateful to be on the water in the afternoon. Among the beautiful scenery we saw cormorants and other sea birds, and the paddling wasn’t difficult. It was a bit tricky to get photos while on the water but with my waterproof camera bag, I was able to capture a few good shots.

Abel Tasman National Park  our kayak guide

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

On the boat ride back we saw a pod of dolphins that swam right under and past our boat. We also spotted some seals sunning themselves on the rocks and got an up close look at the famous “Split Apple Rock.”



Split Apple Rock

The bus dropped us off at our hotel just before 6pm. We poured a glass of white wine each and sat out on our patio looking at the day’s photos and eventually booking a very good deal to both Inverness, Scotland and London!

For dinner, we headed to Sprig & Fern. Eric got a Scotch Ale and I got a small Porter – both were very drinkable. We split a beef, bacon and beer pie with fries and tried to guess answers to the weekly trivia.

I wanted to try another beer place so we stopped into The Vic Mac’s Brew Bar. We really liked Eric’s cider (fizzy and lemonade-like) but the porter had a weird aftertaste that was off-putting. We tried to sit outside but the flies were too annoying. Funnily enough there was UNC basketball (vs Oklahoma State in Maui) on the TV.

Wellington: botanical gardens & coastal views

Since breakfast was good the day before, we returned to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen. Eric got scrambled eggs on toast and I got a flat white with an order of beignets and the breakfast burrito. Service was pretty slow as I finished my first coffee way before the beignets came out and then they were somewhat burnt. Everything else was fine and as always, the people watching was great. Same waiter, very nice.

First stop of the day was the Wellington Botanical Gardens. Amazingly, we found a 120 minute parking spot right across from the rose garden. The garden is built on a hillside, so all the trails were rather vertical. Our favorite sections were the Japanese maples, rock garden, and swordtail fish in the main greenhouse lily pond area.

rose garden @ Wellington Botanic Gardens

Wellington Botanic Gardens

Wellington Botanic Gardens  Wellington Botanic Gardens

cable car @ Wellington Botanic Gardens

New Zealand parrot (KaKa)  Wellington Botanic Gardens

Afterwards we headed back to Lower Hutt for our retry on Percy Falls. This time we had no problem finding the trail from the parking area at the start of our hike, and we even had the falls to ourselves.

Percy Falls

At this point we headed back through Wellington to the Mount Victoria lookout. Gorgeous panoramic views of the whole area! From there we wound our way to Oriental Beach, then the entire way around the Miramar Peninsula enjoying the lovely scenery in Scorching Bay and Tarakena Bay in particular.

view from Mount Victoria Lookout

view from Mount Victoria Lookout

Evans Bay Parade

Wellington sign

Scorching Bay

Tarakena Bay

We had a couple hours before our late afternoon flight so we stopped in to the Spruce Goose on the west side of the airport for a late lunch before dropping the car off and getting a shuttle back to the airport. This is where we realized that local restaurants are using secondary labels for listing wines. The ‘Lake Hayes’ pinot gris from Otago was actually from Amisfield, one of our favorite wineries from the last trip!

We had a tiny plane for our flight to Nelson and it was the first time we can remember flying anywhere without passing through any security screening.  Our seats were in the very back of the plane but the 35 minute flight was fine with some nice views on our approach.

flying in to Nelson
on approach into Nelson

We picked up our bags in front of the airport off a cart and headed to the Main Parking area to find our rental car. An airport worker noticed we looked a bit lost so he helped us locate the car, gave us advice on what to do for the next week, and helped us with the automated machines to get the car out of the lot.

Finding the hotel was uneventful (thank goodness), so we checked-in and then headed to the grocery store to pick up breakfast supplies in preparation for our kayaking trip the next morning. Not terribly hungry after our big lunch, we stayed in and finished the cheese from C’Est Cheese and enjoyed a glass of one of the wines we purchased in Martinborough, an Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc.

Wellington: day trip to Martinborough

After a great night’s sleep and feeling a mild aftershock while laying in bed, Eric got up to work out and I caught up on computer stuff. For breakfast we walked over to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen where Eric opted for the scrambled eggs on toast with a side of potato hash and I got the poached egg on baguette with creamed spinach. I forgot how orange the yolks are here! Before hitting the road, we stopped into the local grocery to purchase some chocolate bars and snacks.

Highway 2 out of Wellington is a beautiful drive that takes you through the Pakuratahi Forest mountain pass.

view from Rimutaka Hill

Our first stop was C’Est Cheese in Featherston – a little cheese shop with lots of NZ options. After trying a few items we choose an aged gouda and a tasty blue. Unfortunately the local bakery is closed on Mon/Tues so we had to wait to get bread at a grocery store in Martinborough.

C’est Cheese selection

Our first wine stop was Poppies. The winemaker and namesake of the winery was pouring her wines and was very friendly. Our favorite was the rose (we bought two bottles) but the rest of the wines were very drinkable too. Given the nice outdoor surroundings we decided to book a table to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. Glad we did as it turns out it was the only place that we could do so in the valley due to permitting laws.

Our second stop was Martinborough Winery but they were closed. However, the cleaner there recommended Te Kairanga winery. So glad she did! We really enjoyed our tasting with Paul and chatted about politics, history and other various stories while trying several nicely valued wines. Our favorites were the Estate Pinot Gris, Reserve Chardonnay and the Runholder Pinot Noir. Interestingly, the Pinot Gris in this area seems to have a pleasant banana-bread fragrance.

Te Kairanga Winery

Ata Rangi is only open from 1-3pm during the week so we made that our next stop. We thought the wines were pretty good but their Pinot Noir was overpriced at $75. We got a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc because it was a good value at NZ$24 and we wound up drinking it later in the trip. After our tasting, we sat in the shade nearby and ate some of the cheese and bread to soak up the wine. Permitting is a bit strange here: free wine tastings are allowed but many places don’t serve food and so they can’t sell wines by the glass either.

Ata Rangi tasting room

At this point we headed back to Poppies for a glass of wine each and a lemon tart with raspberry syrup. I sat right next to a wonderful-smelling citrus tree and spent the time being lazily buzzed by bumblebees.

wines @ Poppies   ricotta cake and wines @ Poppies

On our way back to Wellington we stopped at two waterfalls and both proved to be a bit tricky to locate. The Broadwalk Waterfall was located after a very scenic drive north into the hills of the Lower Hutt area. We followed an old road straight uphill on foot for about ten minutes before I realized that we should have seen the cascade by then. We doubled back and found a faint trail to the base of the small falls.

Broadwalk Waterfall

Percy Waterfall was a bit more challenging. We found a shorter trail near a small parking area with poison warning signs but when we tried to follow the trail it became impassable as it followed the stream. We decided to call it and try again from a different parking area the next day.

For dinner we headed back into Wellington, this time to Chow. We were a bit worried we wouldn’t get a table as they do 2 for 1 mains on Mondays, but we walked in and were seated right away! I ordered a Mansion House rose from Marlborough and Eric had a Kemau River Village Pinot Gris. We split four dishes: chicken satay, pork and mushroom dumplings (our least fave), tuna sashimi (all me) and pumpkin and cashew fritters. With the special pricing it came out to $58 which is an excellent deal in NZ.

On the way back to the room we grabbed a waffle from a small corner stand. The Snickers version had chocolate sauce with salted caramel and toasted peanuts. Mmmm.

Leandra’s 40th: Silver Falls State Park

We’ve been wanting to go to Silver Falls State Park since our very first trip to Oregon, but it always fell off the list for one reason or another. This trip we set out to rectify our previous oversite, setting out early on Sunday morning. After 1.5 hours of back country roads (and a quick stop for gas) we arrived at the south station where we procured a parking pass via credit card, then headed to the smaller North Falls Trailhead lot to hike to the first two falls. Since it was early we easily snagged a parking spot and began our walk of the ~1 mile top loop.

Upper North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park
Upper North Falls, North Falls

Looking at the trail map we figured we could save our feet a mile or two if we hiked to the next set of falls from the Winter Falls Trailhead. Lucky for us, we managed to get the last spot (of about 8).

so strong!  Middle North Falls @ Silver Falls State ParkMiddle North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park  no trail

Six falls in a four mile hike is a great day for us!

On our way out of the park we stopped back at the South Falls lot, which at noon was now quite busy and filling up rapidly. As to be expected given the parking lot, South Falls itself was very busy with lots of families, strollers, and dogs. Thankfully it was still (barely) in the shade.

South Falls @ Silver Falls State Park

Since we had a wine tasting reservation that afternoon we skipped Lower South Falls in favor of a shower. Overall, Silver Falls State Park was a great day trip, with quite a dense collection of falls and views. We definitely need to get back on a future trip, perhaps at a different time of year with more water flow.