A Travellerspoint blog

Goin' Home

Manhattan Beach, California

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While leaving NZ was difficult, It was time to return to Southern California and re-join my family and friends. I started my departure with a flight from Wellington to Sidney, from Sidney to Seoul, and from Seoul to Los Angeles. Fortunately I flew on Asiana, voted the best airline of the year in 2012. Let me just say they deserve their excellent reputation. I would fly them again just for the meals!

During the six months, I hadn't looked back but now on re-entry I was anxious to be home. Here is the first indication that I arrived...
And the other, my daughter, making it a happy reunion.

Manhattan Beach, was just as beautiful as when I left.
And out in front of our house at the end of the day....
and in nearby Marina Del Rey, enjoying a happy hour with my friends...

In fact MB in itself is a destination. Located on the Pacific Ocean a few miles from LAX, it has a thriving downtown with charming boutiques and excellent restaurants. A couple years ago *CNN Money named Manhattan Beach #1 as the "2011 Best Places For the Rich and Single". Before that, *The Travel Channel named Manhattan Beach the 9th sexiest beach on EARTH for its 2008 "21 Sexiest Beaches" show. Admittedly different demographics! Instead we figured that if it was good enough for Hawaii, why not us? You see much of the sand on Waikīkī Beach was purchased from Manhattan Beach by Hawaiʻian developers in the late 1920s. The developers negotiated a deal with the Kuhn Brothers Construction Company to ship the city's sand across the Pacific Ocean from Manhattan Beach to Waikiki Beach over a 10 year period.

So now back in this lovely part of the world, I plan to enjoy it as though I am a traveler. And to reflect on all the things I saw, experienced, and learned during this RTW trip. After all, traveling is about getting answers to questions you never thought to ask.

Posted by Dayts 16:36 Archived in USA Comments (3)

New Zealand South Island: Picton, Marlborough, Nelson

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The first person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander (1953). Not that I was planning to do the same, but it made me think that must have had some good experience hiking in his home country. I had been advised that the South Island was especially good for exploring and even more beautiful than the North Island. In addition it accounts for only 25% of the country's population, so it wouldn't be too crowded. My buddies at iSite in Wellington told me to go by ferry and booked my tickets, accommodations in Picton and Nelson. and a wine tour. So I was off and running with a handfull of vouchers.

There are two ferrys that provide service from Wellington to Picton. I went over on the InterIslander, which was the nicer of the two. It is about a three hour trip and worth it even if you don't disembark. In fact Wine Spectator called it "one of the most spectacular ferry rides in the world." (Thank heavens they have never been know for using hyperbole). It provides great views of the Wellington Harbor, travels across Cook Strait, through the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound, and into the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Unfortunately, most of my pics, especially the most beautiful, didn't come out. (Note to myself...don't use iPad camera for high quality photography). Here are the only two...
Upon arrival i found Lynne, the owner of Tombstone Backpackers, waiting to drive me the ten blocks to the hostel. It is located on a hill...
large_180_D76AD0F12219AC6817E66306E0C1D147.jpg and its' neighbors are close by...
Darn but it was time for lunch. From Tombstone it was a 10 minute walk to "downtown" and Le Cafe. Green lipped mussels, farmed in the nearby town of Havelock, are the specialty of the area. I felt it was unjust to eat a dish of them without the accompaniment of another local specialty, Sauvignon Blanc
large_180_D77AFA852219AC68171E0DEE618B2AE8.jpg And this is what I had to look at during the meal...
Should I have asked the owner of the white car to move?

Picton has a charming harbor. One one of my walks up into the hills, there was a good perspective of Picton's port.

The downtown is quite small with a population less than 3000. (Compare this to Manhattan Beach with a population of 35,000)! Even so, it has a number of very good restaurants and pubs. I know because I tried most of them with the best being Escape to Picton. The dining out convention is to order your food/drink at the cashier and when finished, pay at the cashier (with a credit card). Tipping is almost non-existent...now I know why. And all restarurants and bars are smoke-free. Smoking has been banned, including indoor workplaces, since 2004. They were the third country in the world to do so.

The people are friendly and approachable. Their accent sounds more british than the Australians. I had an easier time undersanding them but they had some difficulty understanding my accent! One of my favorite conversations was with Ivan Kerr. He likes to answer his telephone with "I care" because that is how his Scottish surname is pronounced. He was cleaning undergrowth in the woods when I walked by on the Tohanga trail. I thanked him for keeping the trails so well tended but in fact he was maintaining his own property. I'm guessing he was at the least a septuagenarian. He was one of the most charming people I met on the trip. He guessed where I came from based on my accent, "California by way of the East Coast?" We talked about traveling and he had been everywhere in the US. I mean EVERYWHERE.

Picton is located in the Marlborough region, which produces world renown Sauvignon Blanc. I took a one day wine tour with Highlight Wine Tours. The owner, David, adjusts each tour to address his clients interests. There were two of us and later four more. He did an outstanding job of incorporating wineries I had specified along with the other requests. There are more than 125 in total, more than even I could do in a day. We visited six...more than enough. They included Hunters Wines, Lawson's Dry Hills, Saint Clair Estate, No.1 Family Estate (for their sparkling), and two others whose sav was less impressive. Dave was full of interesting imformation and antecdotes. He even picked me up and returned me to Tombstone.

I only had several more days left to spend on the South Island and had reservations in Nelson which was about 2 hours from Picton by bus. I had read that Nelson was known for its excellent weather. It boasts of having one of the best climates in all of NZ. Its a city of about 47,000 making it the 12th most populous in NZ and the second oldest settled city in the country And is know for it's stunning scenery. in fact the bus ride alone was gorgeous. We went through lush valleys littered with white dots (sheep close up), verdant mountains, and beautiful clear blue sky.

I stayed at the Paradiso and, once again, was picked up at the bus station and taken here...
It is about a fifteen minute walk into town and time for a beer. Nelson refers to itself as the "Craft Brewing Capital" because it has over 11 craft breweries. In fact it is the only place in NZ where hops are grown commercially...in the same fields which at one time grew tobacco.they are grown in the same fields where they use it grow tobacco. I figured I better try one or Conly would never forgive me.

One of the main reasons to visit Nelson is because it is in close proximity to the most popular regional park in the country: Able Tasman. Even though it is the smallest, it is the most visited. It's ideal for hikers, kayakers, boaters, campers, walkers, bikers, etc. who want to spend a day or longer in the park. The trails provide panoramic coastal views over Tasman Bay and the Western Ranges and includes beaches all along. So, I booked a day trip that included a bus from Paradiso to a sea taxi that took me up the coast to Anchorage. From there I hiked south to Marahau, an 11.5 km trail. A the conclusion, there was a bus that took me back to Paradiso. Ironic, because that was what the whole day was about. There are lush native bush, golden sandy beaches, rocky outcrops of mostly granite, estuaries, and offshore islands in turquoise waters. Here are my best attempts to convey what I saw...
I found the survivors!

The walk was about 3.5 hours. I had read that there are NO snakes in NZ but did expect to see some wildlife. I saw very little...mostly birds and among them a kiwi which is New Zealand’s native flightless bird, not a fruit. Kiwi is also a slang term for New Zealander. Kiwis call the fruit "kiwifruit."

My last day in Nelson, i visited the World of Wearable Art (WOW) and Classic Cars museum. They come as a package but I don't know why. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had seen a special exhibit at Te Papa and loved it. Since the WOW awards show got it's start in Nelson, it seemed fitting to check out the museum. It is to museums like Cirque du Soleil is to circuses. A local sculptor, Suzie Moncrieff, came up with the idea of taking art from gallery walls to adorn the human body. The result is...well...WOW.

And on that note, I departed from New Zealand...someday to return.

Posted by Dayts 09:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

New Zealand North Island: Wellington and Martinborough

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Here are some things to know about NZ. Although it is around the size of Japan, New Zealand’s population is just over four million, making it one of the world’s least populated countries. That's not counting the sheep, however. There are around 9 sheep to every 1 human. 30% of the land is forest and nowhere in New Zealand is more than 120 km from the coast. Being close to the International dateline, it is the first country to greet the new day although I can't personally vouch for this. To be honest, I never really had much interest in visiting this country. I made the decision to go following Steve's departure from Australia. He had to get back to the US two weeks earlier than I. So with the time remaining I flew from Melbourne to Wellington, the southernmost capital city in the world. ( And I bet you thought the capital was Auckland. Actually it was before it was moved to today's location).

Wellington has a San Francisco feel to it albeit much smaller. It's at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range with about 400,00 urban residents. It is surrounded by a big harbor, beaches, and hills. A number of sections have vintage Victorian buildings and homes. It is a city where you are sure to eat well. Many of the restaurants and cafes have excellent kitchen. I know because I tried as many as I could! And like San Francisco, it experiences earthquakes and is on the same fault line, part of the Ring of Fire. It's even got a cable car. Here's a view...

On the waterfront, some art (?)

I stayed at the Downtown Backpackers, located in a "historic" Art Deco building. The "art deco" is quite fading but it served its purpose. Directly across the street from the train station, two blocks from the harbor, and three blocks from Parliament provided a great location. An aside on backpacker accommodations. In NZ they seem to be the budget accommodations of choice. BBH is the most popular network and places to stay can be found virtually anywhere. I chose this approach over hotels and was never disappointed. In each I had a private room with a bathroom ensuite and some access to wifi. Many have kitchens, travel desks, daily events, bars, hot tubs, even pools, and of course, comraderie. And they take credit cards for payment. In fact you could say that New Zealand is a plastic nation. I read that almost all personal financial transactions are made with a card , credit or debit. My VISA cc was accepted everywhere for even the smallest transactions. I only used my ATM card once, at the airport upon arrival.

Among the first things After settling in was to visit i-SITE. It is New Zealand’s official visitor information network. There are over 80 i-SITEs nationwide which means you can find one in almost every town and city you want to visit. Every person who works at an i-SITE is a local travel expert for their home town. They will help you find quality activities, attractions, accommodation, transport and handle the bookings. They charge no fees and they were able to get better prices than I could. I found them to be the best of the tourist offices in all my RTW travels. In addition this one offered a two hour walking tour (for a fee). One of our stops was Old St. Paul's church. A timber gothic revival style, it is the oldest wooden structure still in use in the Southern Hemisphere.
Today it is only used for special events but as luck would have it, the church had a quartet performing that evening. They were actually quite good even though they look like zombies (due to my poor pic taking skills).
One of them is famous (more or less but he was certainly amusing)...
They even sold wine and sandwiches to enhance the experience. You really have to love those Anglicans!

This country has some excellent museums, maybe not always for the quality of their collections but surely for their presentation. Among the several I visited in Wellington The Museum of New Zealand, affectionately called Te Papa (our place in Maori), is noted for its social history collection. The building from the outside....

Level 4 and 5 of Te Papa is about the most exposure I got to the the Maori culture. Maoris (a flashback from my anthropology class) were the first inhabitants and believed to have come from eastern Polynesia, arriving between 800 and 1300. This makes NZ the last major landmass to be populated (with the exception of the polar regions). The first Euopean explorers came in 1642 led by Able Tasman, a Dutchman. His group left when a number were killed by the Maori. It wasn't until 1769 that James Cook, an English captain, arrived and mapped the land. Subsequently it was colonized by the British but was never set up as a penal colony like Australia.

There was also A special exhibit on WOW! World of Wearable art. The exhibit displayed some of the attending garments of the World of WearableArt Awards Show, a performance spectacle held annually in Wellington during September. Photos are not permitted to this is the only one I could take...too bad because the "costumes" are EXTRAORDINARY!!

Since I was in Wellington, it was an excellent chance to check out the the buildings that comprise Parliament. There are three and each was built at a different time and in a different style. The newest is called the "beehive" and that's just how it looks. (No pic but trust me, it's not very attractive). The first parliament was held in in 1855 but moved to a more central location between the two islands at Wellington in 1865. It is a part of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is officially Queen of New Zealand and is represented by a Governor General who ratifies all laws put before her. It's leader is a Prime Minister. It has only one legislative branch, called the House of Representatives (although based on GB's House of Commons). The electorate of about 125 represent a population of 4 mil. (That is one per 32,000 people compared to the US which is one to 700,000+ Originally there was also a Senate (based on the US model) but later eliminated because it was were ineffective. (Hmmm....) In 1893 New Zealand gave women the right to vote making it the first major nation to have universal suffrage. No wonder it's such cool country.

Wellington is a very walkable city. One of the ways to cover some ground (!) is to visit the Botanical Gardens. It is located in Kelburn, a suburb in the hills overlooking the central city. I got there by taking the cable car from Lambton Quay (pronounced "key"), the main shopping street, and returning on foot. This is a stop along the way....
And here is something I did not know about camellias...

On another day I took a train to Featherston then bus to Martinborough, the latter a town about an hour outside the city. It is located in the Wairarapa Valley which produces most notably, Pinot Noir. It is a young wine industry. The most mature vines are only about 30 years old and there are not more than 25 wineries. Not all of them have tasting rooms. It is easy to cover a number of them on foot, which is what I did. Unfortunately, most weren't open when I arrived in the morning so I had the opportunity to do a lot more walking than tasting. The first I visited, Te Kairanga, is now owned by an American, Bill Foley, who also owns other wineries throughout the world including Sebastiani in CA. I was unimpressed but they said they have a new winemaker and to look out for the 2013 vintage. Next was Alana Estate. The pinots didn't do it but I liked their Gruner Veitliner 2013. The third was Poppies, the name of the woman who is the winemaster. She had a good schtick and posed for a photo.
All on all, none was outstanding and the prices are high. Of the ones I tasted , they ranged from $34 to $110 NZD. According to the Martinborough Wine store the best are Ata Rangi, Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough, Peregrine, and Mt. Difficulty. Unfortunately, I didn't taste any of these but have a good reason to return! In addition there is a very good jazz festival in September according to a shop owner.

Posted by Dayts 01:30 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

More of Oz: Melbourne

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On the car trip from Narooma to Melbourne, I mentioned that Teresa spotted a Roo. She sent me this photo that she took.
That evening we arrived in the city. We were dropped off at our hotel, thanks to Neil and Teresa. It was the Ibis on Little Bourne and is not to be recommended. Had I not paid in advance for the first night, we would not have remained. We moved after two days to the other Ibis Melbourne on Therry Street and it worked very well for the rest of our stay.

The next morning we went to the Queen Victoria Market, a favorite with locals and tourists. Everything you need to have a picnic can be found: fresh local (Coffen Bay) oysters, cheeses (Tasmanian Brie and Adelaide Blue, meats, baked goods, fruits, and wine. And that's what we did for our lunch. Then onto the center of activity at Federation Square.
It is here that most of the museums (free except for special exhibits) are clustered including the Ian Potter Centre (closed), NGV International, and the Australian Center for the Moving Image. We went to ACMI...boring. Then we walked over the nearby Princess Bridge which crosses the Yarrow River to visit the Edward Steichen and Art Deco Fashion special exhibit at the National Museum..interesting.
(Steve walked around instead). Together we went to the Immigration Museum to see the regular gallery and a headscarf special exhibit...informative. (We learned the Aussies interned the Germans and Austrians during the world wars and there was a whites only immigration policy in the past). All of that was more than Steve could bear so we had a brew in a quaint old pub and all was well with the world. Speaking of brews, it is important to learn the terminology. A "pint" is what we all know. A half-pint is a "pot" and in between is called a "schooner." For those who give a damn, our favorite was Chancer Golden Ale.

Melbourne has a very adequate city transportation system. There are trams that take you everywhere you need to go. There is a free trolley that does a loop around the city center stopping at a number of key attractions. And there is a tourist bus that does much of the same but with a few more attractions thrown in. Take the free trolley and save $5.

One of the days we met Teresa and Neil for lunch at one of there favorite spots, the Chocolate Buddha. They both know the city well and took us on a guided tour providing commentary interesting tidbits and some history. They took us for a walk along the Royal Arcade on Collins Street, the exclusive shopping street. We visited the Royal Exhibition Building, one of the greatest exhibition buildings constructed in the Victorian era (about 1884). It was used as the National Parliament for 20 years before the capital was moved to Canberra.
I think you get the picture that Melbourne is a cool city and there is lots to see and do.

Even with all of this, our favorite day was when we to Teresa and Neil's home in Albert Park. It is a beach community 3 km south of the CBD and is characterized by wide streets, heritage buildings, terraced houses, open air cafes, and parks. Here is an example of a terrace home...
We were invited to a family dinner and it was one for the best meals we had in Australia. Their home has several floors with balconies which overlook the city and the ocean.
With two daughters, one son-in-law, two grandsons (one 10 and the other 6 months), three dogs, our hosts and us, it was a party. As you can see, one of the group tired sooner than the others.
I have to admit Steve and and I weren't too far behind!

The next day Steve had to depart for the US and I planned my next and final leg of our RTW trip. I had two weeks left on my own and I considered visiting another area in Australia or going to New Zealand. My next blog entry supplies the answer.

Posted by Dayts 21:33 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Oz: Sydney, Narooma, and the Australian Health System

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It took two long long flights with a five hour layover in Seoul to get from Tokyo airport to Sydney airport then an efficient 15 minute train ride to our hotel. I have to report it was not what we expected. No question that the city has a beautiful harbor, incredible beaches, and an outstanding icon.
But it seemed overpriced and overhyped. Maybe it was our accommodations. I chose The Great Southern Hotel because it was in the CBD and conveniently located by the Central train station. But that was the only positive. The room rate was almost four times more than what we had paid for decent accommodations in some other countries. It was tacky, without charm, and not well maintained. And on top of this there were extra charges for everything; wifi, stored luggage, one hour late checkout, credit card usage, and sitting in the lounge. (OK, I lied about the last).

Admittedly, Sydney had a tough act to follow. We left Japan dragging our hearts behind us. Arriving in Australia, we found street trash, graffiti and a roughness in dress and actions which didn't serve it well. (And what is this, "no worries" instead of "you're welcome")?

Another surprise was how mediocre we found the food outlets to be...even independent of the cost. We had trouble finding a good meal. We frequently found quantity substituted for quality and there is evidence of obesity to prove it. Our best meals were the picnic lunches Steve put together.

But there are good reasons people want to visit. Aussies refer to their country as "Oz". I was told it was how they pronounce the first three letters in their country's name, "aus". And in some ways it is Oz. The Pacific is clear with beautiful shades of blue, even in the harbor.
The beaches have light, fine as flour, sand. There are tons of good pubs with excellent beers on tap (Chancer Amber Ale was one of our favorites). There are two pubs that both claim to be the oldest in the city. We felt we had to visit both to be fair. Here are the pictures to prove it.

And there parts of the city we really enjoyed like seeing the Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay (pronounced "key"),
the Rocks (where we saw the theater production of "A Murder is Announced"), Manly Beach, and all the places Denise's daughter, Teacy took us.
large_4EB9E7A42219AC6817A5B68D2B498BFB.jpg she's the one on the left.
They included Bondi Beach, the favorite haunt of surfers, Oxford street, where fashion houses used to reign, Paddington, and Watsons Bay. The New South Wales Museum had an interesting albeit small, aboriginal collection. And to walk through the Botanical Gardens was a pleasant afternoon.

We found four nights in the city was more than adequate and had booked a train to take us south along the coast to meet our friend, Neil, at Nowra which was half-way between Sydney and where he and his wife, Teresa, have a home in Narooma. The latter is a charming small town on the Pacific Coast. He was gracious to pick us up at the station because it was a two hour drive to his home. Before I boarded the train in Sidney, I was feeling very dizzy. By the time we reached our stop in Nowra, I could barely walk. Neil was on the platform when we arrived. I was very happy to see him, gave him a hug, then promptly puked into a water drain by the station door. (I don't have a picture of this). I must say that if you are going to be sick, hope you have hosts like Neil and Teresa. The next day was Sunday and I had not improved one iota so it was decided I would go to the emergency ward at a hospital 45 minutes away. All I can say is the Health System in Australia is pretty darn good. It was a busy day but they got me into a bed within minutes. The nurses were efficient, friendly, even fun. The doctor took the necessary tests and explained his conclusions simply and clearly. I was seriously dehydrated (the travails of traveling) and the solution? Just that...bags of saline solution. About four hours later I was released, feeling much heavier, and the bill was half what I would have paid in the states.

After another day, I was able to walk and eat without regurgitation. (Lucky me)! This is what I saw from Teresa and Neil's porch....
In the next several days we did some exploration of this beautiful area visiting small towns, each one more charming or rustic than the other. And each beach was more beautiful than the last.
We even saw a pool that is built into the rocks by the sea and filled by the waves.
Joining us on these trips were the family's three Westies and they made our travels even more fun. Here they are posing for the camera....

One of the days, Neil drove us to Canberra, the capital of Australia, and about a three hour drive east of Narooma. To get there one crosses the Great Dividing Range, the third longest land-based range in the world. Like the US, this was not the first home of the nation's capitol. It was moved to this more neutral, architect-designed city from Melbourne. ("Never let an architect design a city," Nile says). It has a bicameral government with a Senate (like the US) and a House of Commons (like the UK) led by a Prime Minister. Here is the Parliament Building
and the the House chamber
The end of the day we checked out the embassies. The most expansive were the Chinese and the American complexes. What's that tell you?!

The next day we packed for the next leg of our trip, this time to Melbourne. Neil and Teresa have a home in Albert Park which is beach area right outside the city center. They had a reason to go, as well...their grandsons. So they offered to drive us there. We had a trunk full of baggage with three happy Westies on top that had a much better view than normal. It was about an eight hour drive going through interesting towns and beautiful countryside. We were on the lookout for kangaroos (Roos) and Teresa had the first sighting. One was carrying her joey but I don't have a picture to show you. We got to our hotel none the worst for wear and settled in for our six night stay.

Posted by Dayts 20:31 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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