California….FINALLY

When I think of California, this is what I picture
When I think of California, this is what I picture

I took a little trip back to the states for a month and finally got to see California for the first time. I stayed with my BFF in Pebble Beach so I was living the good life! They recently purchased a home off of the famous 17 Mile Drive and close to the ocean, so I’m glad I got to see it and help around the yard.

The "Gingerbread House" in Pebble Beach for rent
The “Gingerbread House” in Pebble Beach for rent

Like New Zealand, California is also known for its wine production and we visited MANY tasting rooms and a few vineyards. I couldn’t help but notice a some similarities in the coastlines and the flora. There were a lot of those creepy trees I love so much as well as the same types of flowers and bushes.

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I was also lucky enough to go to the Monterey aquarium a couple of times and got in plenty of shopping (my downfall). We also hit up Big Sur and ate lots of great food in the time I was there. I’m happy to say I fulfilled my requirements for seafood, Mexican and BBQ and some stuff I had forgotten about like this cheese steak sandwich!

Mmmm Philly cheese steak!
Mmmm Philly cheese steak!

Some of the first places they took me were to the wharf and Cannery Row. I was overwhelmed with all of the free clam chowder being sampled along the walk and took advantage of just about all of them. THAT was something I hadn’t had in a while. The gigantic crab legs were hard to miss as well.

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We saw these great little squid air plants and I made a friend in the gift shop.

Squid air plants you soak in water once a week
Squid air plants you soak in water once a week

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There were sea lions and otters galore, like this one who found an urchin to munch on (very carefully).

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I was really impressed with the aquarium, so much that I went back a second time. The jellyfish and cephalopod exhibits were outstanding. I spent a lot of time staring at the flamboyant cuttlefish. There was a touch pool for skates and rays and a beautiful shallow pool with anemones.

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Skate – totally looks like a scary alien face

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Pharaoh cuttlefish

The jellyfish were so mesmerizing, it was hard to get out of the exhibit! They had quite a few octopi as well.

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Big Sur is a must do if you’re in the area, so they kindly took me on the drive and we stopped in at a nice place to eat overlooking the ocean.

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Closer to home, we went to Carmel Beach for some sunset shots and pictures of the infamous cypress tree. This is allegedly one of the most photographed trees in the U.S.

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Another trip took us to a sunset while drinking wine and having some appetizers.

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Carmel Beach had this one spot where the sand was pink. When mixed with the black and white sand then dried, it became purple. Of course I had to bring some home with me!

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While I still have food on my mind, there was some great fruit at this farmer’s market and I saw some odd cauliflower at a market outside of town. I’m also constantly amazed by the cereal aisles that I miss so much. Ours here is about 1/4 of that size and 50% more expensive!

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Thanks again, Dahnelle and Remo for making my first visit memorable and I look forward to coming back!

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Dunedin, New Zealand

 

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Where to start? I’ve only been here for 10 days but it seems like a month already. Quite a bit has transpired since I arrived, starting with my cancelled flight to Dunedin from Auckland due to snow. It wasn’t that pressing that I got down there that day, so I holed up in a not so great hotel down the road from the airport.  I didn’t have a first impression of New Zealand by staying there, really. However, walking around to find something to eat and checking out a nicer hotel, I saw in the distance a large tall field with trees on it that looked nice, but that was about it.

The flight to Dunedin (which is located near the southern tip of the southern island) was amazing. It’s the only land I’ve seen besides Guyana that has been so sparsely populated.  Of the 4 million people in NZ, 3 million live on the north island, mostly in or near Auckland and only 1 million on the south island. I saw a huge snow capped volcano and mountainous areas devoid of trees. I was actually surprised at how few trees there were. Apparently NZ had about 80% of its land covered by them but when people came here, they were cut down.

There aren’t many animals here either. The poor flightless birds that were native to NZ were killed by introduced species like humans, cats, rats, possum, pigs and dogs. I thought I was asking a dumb question as to where I could find kiwi birds, but I was told that they are very hard to see in the wild. I believe the only mammal here is a bat. NZ is free of snakes which is amazing but does have the sweet tuatara lizard who is a relative of the dinosaurs. Those are hard to see in the wild as well but can live between 60 and 100 years!

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When I was about to land in Dunedin, there were patches of tall dark trees poking up out of the earth like knives standing on end. I could see where the snow still hadn’t melted in spots yet and bright yellow bushes dotting the landscape.

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The following day, I got into town and had a look around. It certainly was quite different than what I’ve been used to seeing. First, the weather was very cold and damp. I stayed bundled up in my jacket, three layers of clothes and bought Merino gloves right away. It was overcast with drizzle on and off and then the sun would come out. However, it was subject to change at any given moment and I learned quickly to always have an umbrella with me.

There are quite a few photos, so I’ll post them here with comments under them:

View from Roslyn looking out onto Otago Bay
View from Roslyn looking out onto Otago Bay
Amazing architecture in a church
Amazing architecture in a church

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Great mochachino!
Great mochaccino!

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Train Station
Train Station

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Inside train station
Inside train station
Chinese botanical garden
Chinese botanical garden
A very steep street, but not the famous one here
A very steep street, but not the famous one here
Gulls in St. Clair
Gulls in St. Clair

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St. Clair beach
St. Clair beach
St. Clair beach
Best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had!
Best cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever had!
Tuatara on the side of a building
Tuatara on the side of a building

I was able to take a penguin/albatross/fur seal tour the other day and luckily it was beautiful! Not a single drop of rain. The tour only had 7 people, 4 of which didn’t speak English so it was a fairly quiet group. We were able to go onto private land to see the very rare fur seals, hooker sea lions and yellow eyed penguins. We stopped at the Royal Albatross Center which is one of the only places in the world based on a mainland that albatross nest.  They are the largest sea birds with up to a 10 foot wingspan! We saw about three fly over us and the views out to the ocean were spectacular. If it’s not obvious by now, I like taking photos of the sea gulls. They’re actually quite beautiful and they pose very well. I didn’t realize I caught this one flying in until after I took the photo:

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Gull calling to his friend flying in at the albatross center

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After that, we drove about 40 minutes toward the peninsula where huge hills awaited us.

Cool trees shaped by the wind
Cool trees shaped by the wind

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Fur seals were hunted to extinction by European hunters last century. Luckily, a large population increase occurred over the past five years here. They looked silky soft!

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Baby fur seal
Baby fur seal

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Then it was off to see the penguins and sea lions! The scenery did not disappoint and was literally breathtaking (especially after coming back up the hills!) The hooker sea lions are the rarest of the world’s five species of sea lions and are endemic to NZ. The Maori hunted them to extinction centuries before the Europeans showed up. These males weigh up to 880 pounds! They can also live up to 25 years and can dive to depths of over 700 feet!

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The male with his harem

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The male with his harem beach babes

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Seal skull
Seal skull

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We waited patiently for the penguins to come in from the water. There were two on the cliffs already and finally one appeared right before we left.

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The end of a great day!

The drive back provided some great shots of the sunset, albeit from the inside of the van.

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I feel this was the first time I got to see the New Zealand I have been hearing about and I look forward to seeing more of it over the next few months.