My Top 5 Tourist Fails

Have you ever experienced a “Pinterest Fail”? It’s when you find a recipe for “THEBESTCHOCOLATECHIPCOOKIESEVER” and they end up looking like this:

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Pinterest cookie fail, circa 2012

True story.

Well, the same thing can happen when travelling… and I like to call these “Tourist Fails”. You travel across the province/country/world to do THEBESTTHINGEVER and something (usually the weather) presents the unexpected and you end up with less-than-perfect travel photos. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you do it anyway – rain or shine, my friends.

So, here are my Top 5 Tourist Fails (so far):

Tourist Fail Number 1: Stonehenge, England, United Kingdom, March 2010

I visited Stonehenge shortly after they built a gate to keep tourists from touching /stealing /breathing on the stones. If you cannot tell by the look on my face, it was cold and windy as hell. I think I lasted 10 minutes outside before running back to the bus. Also, the brochures don’t mention that Stonehenge is located directly beside a busy highway and massive parking lot (albeit with a highly convenient coffee shop and loo). This is the best photo I got.

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It’s so bad that I’m not even mad about it anymore.

Tourist Fail Number 2: Machu Picchu, Peru, South America, October 2011

You know those days when you regret not checking the weather forecast? To this day I’ve never seen so many ponchos in one place. Thankfully, my trusty North Face windbreaker has been with me through it all. And we went for pizza afterwards. Which gave us food poisoning. Check off the ol’ bucket list.

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Pro Tip: Take the self-guided tour in reverse to avoid the crowds
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This was the first leg of our four-week South America trip

Tourist Fail Number 3: Cape Palliser, North Island, New Zealand, December 2016

Yes, even many years later I have failed to check the weather report. You can read all about my trip to Cape Palliser and the seal Nursery visit in my Cape Palliser blog post.

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Tourist Fail Number 4: Loch Ness, Scotland, United Kingdom, April 2010

This one isn’t weather-related but I honestly thought we would see Nessie (please refrain from laughing). I was travelling the UK with a friend from high school on a serious shoestring budget. We were so cheap that when we got to the castle at the end of the 90-minute walk we didn’t even want to pay the £10 to see it up close. Then we walked the return 90 minutes and took the bus back to Glasgow. Let’s just erase this from memory now.

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Nixon belts were still cool back then, okay?
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My first time seeing herds of sheep… Prepping myself for New Zealand, I guess!

Tourist Fail Number 5: Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada, October 2015 & 2016

In 2015, my sister (the Machu Picchu one) came to visit me and we drove 10 hours from St. John’s to Rocky Harbour for a three-day weekend. The boat tour season at Western Brook Falls was over, so we set off to hike the Green Gardens trail instead. Yes, it may have rained, hailed and snowed, but trust me, cracking an ice-cold Iceberg beer at the viewpoint over the lush grass and sea stacks made the journey more than worth it.

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Pro Tip 2: You can totally use your shoe to open a beer, and socks as mittens when in a pinch.

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Bonus Fail:

I went back to Gros Morne in September 2016, this time with Brett before we moved to New Zealand. The ferry was still running at Western Brook Falls and I was so excited to finally get on it.

I’ll just leave these photos here.

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So naive about how cold it would be on the water…
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At the end of Western Brook Pond (the famous view is from the top of these cliffs)
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The North Face jacket is still present – under Brett’s hoodie. Seriously, it’s effing cold out there.

Funny enough – looking back through old photos to write this blog post made me realized that I actually enjoyed having these unexpected and less-than perfect travel experiences.

Postcard photos and “everything was fantastic” vacation stories are a dime-a-dozen, and if I’m going to travel that far to see something, I want to see it from a new perspective and in a unique way – not identical to something I pulled from Pinterest.

Travelling has taught me the value of being flexible and having the ability to laugh at myself… and most importantly to check the weather forecast more often 😊

48 hours in the Art Deco capital: Napier, New Zealand

The past few weekends were spent lounging around the house, visiting cafes and eating copious amounts of wings and fries. Now, I’m all for R&R but I also get a bit ‘squirrely’ when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. This past weekend we switched things up and drove four hours up the North Island to Napier for a weekend away from the city. *Note that it took five hours because of my superb navigation skills.

Napier

Napier is a unique city – and much bigger than I’d anticipated. Part of the City Centre was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the 1930s, and now boasts an abundance of Art Deco buildings from that era. Now there’s your history lesson for the day.

Accommodation

We spent two nights at The Nautilus on Marine Parade. Our perch from the second floor was stunning: unobstructed views of the ocean and Cape Kidnappers in the distance. We were just far enough from the City Centre to avoid the crowds of tourists, but just close enough to walk to dozens of restaurants and the bike shop where we began our wine tour on Saturday morning.

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View from our balcony to the ocean

The Vineyard Tour

I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of biking from vineyard to vineyard, but decided it would be a good idea to burn some calories while drinking a lot of wine. Brilliant, right? So we booked ourselves in with Napier City Bike Tours on the “Country to Coast” self-guided tour. I think this was a great package: we were dropped off about 20 minutes out of the city at 10:30am, bike 16km and stopped at six cellar doors, then we were picked up and shuttled back to the city at 4:00pm.

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View from Black Barn Vineyard

Any reservations I’d had about biking around the vineyards quickly disappeared. This was an excellent way to spend a Saturday: The sun was shining and temps were around 25 degrees all day. Each vineyard was unique and special in its own way – differentiated by their host, scenery, wine offerings, and history of the vineyard. We visited:

Above: Te Mata and Beach House

Our wine choices

We purchased wine from both Te Mata and Akarangi. The funny thing about wine is that there are two types I will always avoid: Shiraz and Chardonnay. They just don’t do it for me (I actually had to dump out my Chardonnay tasting at Black Barn).

However… Our favourite wine at Te Mata was a Syrah (related to the Shiraz grape) and the Chardonnay from Akarangi. The fact that I bought Chardonnay speaks volumes for this vineyard. We learned from the owner that they’d produced wine in previous years, shut down the business for family reasons, and have only just started producing wine again since late 2016. Their wines are currently online and at their cellar door (which happens to be a church, relocated from nearby Clive). Akarangi was certainly my top pick for location, chill vibes and beautiful wines.

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Akarangi Cellar Door

Note: Another bonus of the tour is that you can leave your purchases at the vineyard and the shuttle driver will collect them before meeting you at your pick-up location. That was a much-appreciated perk.

The unexpected highlight

Near Te Mata vineyard is a café called Chalk ‘n’ Cheese. Do not bypass this place. We stopped in for a cheeseboard and while choosing our selection had a full cheese-tasting experience. I cannot recall the exact cheese we decided on but everything was incredible – and the woman conducting the tasting was very knowledgeable. She also had a very dry sense of humor, which came through when Brett remarked that one of the cheeses would “taste good in a toastie” and her reply to me (with an eyeroll) was, “I am so sorry for this Kiwi man.”

We sat outside underneath beautiful, ripe fig trees. I know they were ripe because one plummeted down onto my arm and exploded with fig juice. A man, whom I’m assuming is a regular, looked at me and said “Oh, you got figged on!”.

Yes, yes I did.

Aside from the fig incident, this was the perfect pit stop on our bike tour, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone in the area.

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Dining out in Napier

After arriving back in the city we went on an evening bike ride to find some food. Honestly, we just wanted pizza. While we were cycling around the “non-tourist” area of town looking for Hell Pizza, we came across Dough Pizzeria. It looked much more inviting than the mob of hungry takeaway patrons at Hell, so we parked our bikes outside of Dough and went in. The wood fire pizza was delicious and reminded me of a place back in Newfoundland that serves authentic, Italian-style pizza (or so I assume since I’ve never been to Italy). I opted for the Mediterranean simply for the black olives, and Brett ordered a chicken pizza. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes (no joke). I think we went to bed at 9:30pm with our carb coma, and it was so worth it.

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We headed back to Wellington early Sunday morning, and it’s incredible how much we were able to see while in Napier for just two nights. I can definitely see myself heading back there in the summer months to visit more vineyards, bike along the trails and get consumed in the relaxed lifestyle once again.

The road less traveled: Carterton, New Zealand

New Zealand’s North Island looks like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, with a splash of Dr. Seuss throw in. This is due to the rolling, green landscape, with a single tree occasionally scattered on a hilltop. It really looks like a fairy tale.

As a sendoff for my last day of Christmas vacation, Brett and I planned to go hiking nearby. We headed towards Carterton, a small town about 15 minutes from Masterton. At the end of Dalefield Road was the access point to Mount Dick Lookout, known to be one of the best viewpoints in the Wairarapa (the other is Rocky Lookout, which I’d hiked to with Brett’s dad in November).

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I’d read online that there was a road leading to the top, which requires 4-wheel drive unless the roads are dry. We weren’t sure where the road ended and the trail began, so Brett and I took his 2007 Corolla station wagon up the dirt road towards the Lookout.

Eventually, we realized that we were on the trail, and that if we wanted to get our exercise for the day, we’d need to park and get out. However, the momentum of driving uphill got the best of us, and we drove the entire way to the top in 2-wheel drive without any issues (*phew*).

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I think I counted about 873 blind corners on this route.

Even before we reached the peak, we were rewarded with picturesque views of the surrounding valley, including lush forests and farmland. It was quite breath-taking at the top, with very low wind levels considering the elevation of 520m above sea level. In the far distance, we could see Lake Wairarapa near the town of Featherston, which is my favourite viewpoint during the train commute to Wellington.

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Posing with Mr. Brett Gibbs himself

In hindsight, the 3.7km walk to the top would’ve been easily manageable for Brett and I, as we are quite active and the slope wasn’t very steep. However, I’d say we were not fully prepared for the trip (i.e., Brett refused to bring his own water bottle and I’m not really into sharing) so driving was likely the best option for us today. If you’re interested in a shorter walk, there is a ‘parking area’ about 2/3 up the hill, which would likely give you a 30-minute walk to the top.

Before taking the winding road back to the city, we had a mini photo shoot (as all couples do these days, especially when the boyfriend has a popular social media presence).

Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

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I’m actually just thinking about pizza.

So, regardless of our hiking fail, Brett and I have reservations at the infamous Iberia Café in Masterton for $10 pizza night. Seriously. $10. Tax is included and Kiwis don’t tip (my understanding is that wait staff are paid above minimum wage versus relying on non-guaranteed gratuities). So, you give them a $10 bill and eat the pizza. It’s amazing. And it’s so, so good.

Here’s hoping I can fling myself out of bed at 5:00am tomorrow morning to make the 6:20am train with a pizza hangover. 🙂

Jan 8, 2017 8:00PM Update:

Behold, the three glorious pizzas we ordered: Apricot Chicken (front), Pepperoni (back left) and Brie & Cranberry (back right). We’re at the point now that we get recognized as ‘regulars’. Perhaps it really is time to move. 😉

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Paradise for surfers and seals: Cape Palliser, New Zealand

Today we drove approximately 90 minutes to Cape Palliser, the Southern-most point of New Zealand’s North Island. This coast doubles as a home to both surfers and seals – and divers if the ocean is calm enough – which, on this day, it unfortunately was not.

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Cape Palliser

Despite the high winds and rain, we shimmied up the 250+ slippery stairs leading to the 1897 Cape Palliser Lighthouse. It quickly became a “tortoise and hare” situation. As Brett leapt up the stairs like an antelope, I slowly made my way up, rigid and terrified as I passed a fellow tourist. We had to decide who would hold the only railing and who was at the mercy of the wind.

I held the rail.

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Going up…

At the top, we were rewarded with a 180 degree view of the coast. Brett’s dad took an obligatory photo of Brett and I. Not surprisingly, the weather was not co-operating and we were left with yet another hilarious tourist-y image of us trying to conceal our discomfort in the cold and rain. I like to think these types of photos are becoming some sort of weird tradition for us.

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I personally think a down jacket is a necessary addition to any summer wardrobe.

After surviving the descent back to the parking lot, we took a tour of “The Nursery”. This is where a large amount of seals congregate to make noise and stink up the crisp ocean air. Just kidding. This is the seal colony’s home base, which provides a natural shelter from the elements, even during high tide and winds. Oddly enough, I toggled back and forth on my opinion of the seals: one minute they were adorable with big bulging eyes, and the next minute I was screaming in horror as a big blob flopped towards the truck.

There’s really no middle ground with these creatures.

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There are dozens of camouflaged blobs in this photo. 
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“The Big Blob”

After safely arriving back home in Masterton, Brett and I took a recovery session at Iberia Café: home of the best (if not the only) Apricot Chicken Pizza. Paired with shoestring fries and a flat white coffee, this was the perfect way to cap off another day in the beautiful land of New Zealand.

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View from The Nursery

PS – If you were expecting me to finish this post with a photo of the mouth-watering pizza, I’m sorry to report that it didn’t stand a chance. Maybe next time. 😉