2017 Solo Trip: 5 Days in Portugal

A lofty thought of a solo trip turned into reality late-June when I booked the round trip from Boston to Lisbon.

From Google-translate conversations with Uber drivers to eating pastel de nata every single day to walking 10,000 steps before noon, this trip went way beyond my expectations. However, it took me 2-3 tries to write this post, because the first time came out too diary-like and the second time came out too travel blogger-like. Ideally, this is a mixture of both. Instead of running through each day, I’ll focus on 5-6 highlights of each city.

The 6:20pm Friday night flight set no foundation for a good night’s sleep. With 1.5 hours of snoozing, I landed in Lisbon at 6am with no other choice than to take a 3 hour railway straight to Porto. Upon arrival, I dropped off luggage to my hostel (Porto Lounge) and headed next door for some coffee and carbs.


With no map and very little Porto research, I began wandering around the small city. The Sherry from 2 years ago would’ve had every single thing planned at exact timing with an exact route.

Livararia Lello – the library that supposedly inspired J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter. Since it’s been such a tourist attraction in the recent years, they’ve been charging 4 Euros as an ‘entrance fee’ but you can use the  entrance ticket as a voucher if you purchase a book. There was a line of maybe ~50 people in front of me, but the attendant came up to me and asked me if I wanted to skip the line. Odd, so I did. She gave me a little bracelet and told me to wish on it. Upon cutting in line, I spent an hour here, mainly in the cooking and traveling section. It was a nice way to ease into the city.

Port Wine Tour – decided on a whim to do this tour and my hostel was able to point me in the right direction. 20 minutes prior to the start, I headed down to the bridge to meet the group at the ‘bottom’ part of Pont Luis. In our small tour group included a couple from Atlanta, 2 Ecuadorians (friends who met up in Porto), 1 Kentuckian studying abroad in Madrid, and myself. Right off the bat, the group got along quite well. We crossed the bridge to the other side, Villa de Gaia, onto Taylor’s. It was a very extensive self-guided tour with 2 tastings included (dry white and late bottled vintage). Next thing you know, it was 7pm, and we were walking back to Porto for some tapas and additional tastings of Douro wine + vinho verde (green wine). It was advertised as a 3.5 hour tour, but since we liked each other so much, the official tour lasted 5.5 hours. But we all knew that I hadn’t eaten since BRUNCH (11am!!) so four of us went to dinner for the sake of not seeing me in a state they did not need to…

Francesinha experience (Picota) – For something we could not pronounce all night, “frrr, frrrrrr, frrrr…” I was told by many that this was something I needed to try here. Described to me as a wet hamburger and for future reference, it is not healthy to eat a whole francesinha by yourself… naturally, we were smart enough to share. While we waited for the main course, we ordered Portuguese grilled octopus and Portuguese snails. What seemed like 30 minutes turned into over 2 hours of food and tawny wine, and these special folks celebrated into midnight for the ‘official’ birthday.

Serralves Garden – When I got here, I forgot I was in Porto. It’s (just) a little garden, a short 15 min drive west of the city. Nothing crazy happened here – it was just a peaceful, relaxing way to spend a portion of the afternoon.22730317_10155839533748615_3286549204302745255_n

Foz – where Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This was the second moment I fell in love with Porto. (The first was on our way to Taylor’s, when we stopped on the other side of the river looking from Gaia to Porto) We stopped by the water to have a snack and watch the sunset, also key to freezing because it was quite windy and cold. Something about a beer and ham & cheese toast overlooking the Atlantic… I could’ve stayed in that moment a little close to forever.

Brasao – easily the best meal I had, not only in Porto, but throughout the entire trip. Minus the Pasteis de Belem visit (ha). By then, I was semi-used to the ‘dinner is at 10pm’ deal and it was easy to see why this restaurant is usually booked out until midnight everyday. The best combo – a bottle of Alentejo wine, Portuguese grilled octopus, Alheira (YUM), and a steak to share.

(Not really a highlight but felt the need to write about it) Kizomba/Salsa/Bachata at the Dance Floor – Not a surprised that I had to test out the dance scene, so at 1am, I mustered whatever strength I had running on 1.5 hours of asleep, and I went across the river to Gaia for some dancing. (Very honestly and no sugarcoating, the dance scene was okay. Kizomba > Salsa > Bachata) Upon leaving ‘early,’ I went to bed at 5am.


Monday was a tough day for me. I was planning on getting to Lisbon in the afternoon, which means I had a few hours in the morning to walk through my favorite parts of Porto and get some souvenirs. I sat down for tea and breakfast where the Queen of England has visited, walked the bridge and river, and packed up my things to head to the train station. The 3 hour train ride gave me a chance to recap for myself all that went on in Porto. Fast forward a few hours, I get to Lisbon into my hostel. I FELT INCREDIBLY SAD. The feeling of how I felt when I first moved to Boston from Northwest Arkansas resurfaced, and it was an eerie one. I arrived to Lisbon wishing I never left Porto.

I gave myself the rest of the night to get an attitude adjustment, ate some Mozambique food (not sure I’d recommend), and tried to sleep before 3am-still-jetlagged-time.

Sintra – Debated whether to count this as a separate city…Hernan met me in Lisbon to take the 45-min train to Sintra and we decided to figure it out as we go. From the National Palace of Sintra to the Pena Palace (closest thing to a real life fairytale castle) to the Moorish Castle, we walked so much that my knees started to hurt badly. Afer a day of exploring and walking, we ended the night at Lija do Vinho which was the best part of the day: cured meat, sheep cheese, olive oil, jam, and douro.

Pasteis de Belem – this came up on every research about Lisbon, and as always, food is a huge motivator. Figured out the bus system, and took the 30 min ride to Belem. As expected, there was a crazy 50+ person line and for some reason, I got to cut in line again… This girl had 2 nata + a cup of mocha. That’s all.

Time Out Market – every city needs something like this. Food vendors bordering the interior, from chicken to steak to dessert specialty, anyone can find something here. I had a grilled octopus dish over mashed potatoes and spinach. I wish I had the stomach and time to try more, but off to my next highlight…


Photo Walk Session – I knew I wanted photos taken some time during my trip, so a few weeks before, I started googling for Porto and Lisbon photographers. Emanuele’s website was actually the first to come up in my search. I was then searching on AirBnB in the experiences section, and to my surprise, I found a few photo walk photography sessions and to more surprise, found Emanuele’s listing. Booked a session for my final afternoon in Lisbon and it turned out to be the highlight of my time in Lisbon. Walking through Alfama in the perfect weather can only be fully described through a few of my favorite photos.


Thursday was mainly a travel day with only time for a delightful breakfast at the airport and picking up port wine, jam, and pasteis de nata to bring back for the Boston folks.

Overall thoughts:

Pros of traveling alone:
+ ALL THE PROS. No need to consider someone else’s budget, taste, or energy level.

Cons of traveling alone:
– Can’t try all the foods in one sitting without looking like a pig
– Expenses: that’s the reality of it. Splitting a hotel room or food or anything would drastically cut down costs.
– No one to take your picture for you so you have to selfie it up or be ok with no portraits.

Thanks for the birthday trip of a lifetime, Portugal. I’ll be back soon.



Acadia National Park

We embarked on a gps-said 4.5 hour drive to Acadia National Park. Friday’s drive included a caramel macchiato for each of us and a playlist named ‘lobstah races.’ En route to Portland, ME we go!

Having been to Portland only once on a day trip for my recent birthday, I had a few things I wanted to see and revisit. One of them includes walking in Old Port and the other includes Holy Donuts – We left with a sweet potato ginger and a sweet potato lemon glazed donut and ate it on the remaining 2.5 hour drive up the state of Maine.

By the time we arrived in our little beach efficiency, we’d been traveling for a little over 8 hours. The mixture of pre-4th traffic, Portland stop, and grocery shopping wore us out. Instead of recapping the trip by day, I’ve broken it out by categories of what we did.


  • Beehive Trail (1.3 mile loop) – this was our ‘warm-up’ hike, and little did we know, it was the most strenuous of the trip. Reviews warned us about the steep rocks and the metal rung scaling, and reminded me of my fear of heights. Going in, we knew we had somewhat of an advantage from living in Arkansas. Length-wise was quite short, and after some rock hugging and eye-closing, we made it to the summit. Thankfully, the way down is through another loop called Bowl Trail – much less intense and manageable. You’ll get plenty of Instagram-worthy images in throughout the trail. In summary, we went on a cloudy/foggy day, and given a sunny day, I would do it again.

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  • Great Head Trail (1.4 mile loop) – we actually did this as our back-up hike when we found out Precipice was closed due to falcon nesting (don’t ask me what that truly means). The park did not have good direction towards this trail head, and we wandered around twice before finding the entrance – go us. However, when we actually got on the right path… we saw the clouds lifting and we were able to catch some cool breezes. Descriptions of the trail say it’s a quick loop or whatnot, but we stopped at countless places to admire all that Maine had to offer, and we easily spent 2+ hours there. Overall worth doing if you have the time and can catch a good day at Sand Beach (connected to the trail).

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  • Bubble Pond Trail (1 mile) – this is the epitome of low effort, extremely high reward. This was our last hike of the trip, and it was the easiest of them all. We were given tips to head North vs. South for ‘better views’ and looking back, I don’t think we even finished the summit because we were so in awe of the views we’d already seen. Nevertheless, it’s worth going for down time and proximity to places you’ll already be in.

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Food (all in Bar Harbor)

  • Thirsty Whale – this restaurant came up on both Beth and my research, so it naturally had to be the first restaurant in Bar Harbor we’d try. Beth really wanted to test if she were allergic to lobster, and I just wanted food? Historically, I’ve not been a fan of fried fish, but I saw ‘Famous Fried Haddock Sandwich’ on the menu and I may have caved. In addition to the sandwich, I added on a cup of New England Clam Chowder, which I can never resist. Service was friendly, food came out fast, and we weren’t allergic to anything we ordered. Fabulous. Would recommend.
  • Thrive – the new thing nowadays is smoothie acai bowls and salad bars, and this was one of its kind in the town. Post yet another hike, we cooled down with vegan muffins and peanut butter cocoa smoothie bowls. Very filling, semi expensive, worth the try.
  • McKay Public House – Beth found this while I was napping one day and the selling point was cheap wines, cute patio, and decent appetizers. Truth for all three points. I find this place worth it if you’re not super hungry and just want a nibbler + wine. Extremely date-like location and not fully in downtown.

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  • Finback Alehouse – this was our last night in Acadia and we just wanted some Thai food or comfort food (which is one in the same). A great selection of beer, signature pulled pork, and walking distance to the harbor sold me on this place. Since it was the Sunday before the 4th, there was a 30-minute wait (oh no), but we were able to walk around for sunset and we were promptly seated. Very recommended if you plan on getting a food coma.
  • Mount Desert Ice Cream – many odd flavors and very large servings should be two solid reasons to point you to an ice cream shop. Thankfully, the servers respected my many indecisions of trying spicy chocolate along with 6 other flavors before deciding on cookies & cream (how original). Walking distance to the square and semi hidden from the main street, so go for the mid-day treat in the midst of souvenir shopping.

Scenic Points

  • Otter Cliff – came here twice: once on a drive around Park Loop Rd and second time on a Milky Way stargazing adventure. We saw people laying out and picnicking during the day, but I’m pretty sure we were the only ones out there at 2am. One of two life changing moments.

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  • Cadillac Mountain – some pamphlet said that this was the most visited summit? Highest summit? Again, we came here twice: once on a foggy afternoon and second time at 4:40am on our last day. We were maybe ¾ up the mountain before we pulled over, but this was two of two life changing moments.

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  • Jordan Pond – I just realized that we did Otter Cliff at 2am, Cadillac Mountain at 4am, and Jordan Pond at 5am… Nevertheless, this came up on my research multiple times and naturally, we waited till the last morning to go see it. It’s not much of a walk, but it’s definitely a photo opportunity and potential hammock spot.

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Key Recommendations

  • Stay on Mount Desert Island – it’ll make your life a lot easier. We stayed in Seal Harbor (South), and it was 15 minutes from Bar Harbor and 15 minutes from the park itself. That being said, plan early! We booked ~4 months ahead.
  • Prepare for 0 cell signal throughout the park – it’s not easy to get directions or meet up with people, but you’ll find a few bars on the top of summit or in Bar Harbor.
  • Catch all the sunrises, sunsets, and stars you can – Acadia is perfect. That’s all.

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Costa Rica | December 2016

Happy forecasted 6-10″ snow day in Boston! Hence, the best time to recap on my most recent trip to Costa Rica. I went with my family and two other families from LA.

Below is a detailed version of our itinerary, for any of you wanting to plan a trip soon:

Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica

  • Direct flight from Houston via Southwest – 3 hours 30 min, easy
  • Reserved a car from Hertz ahead of time via Priceline
  • Checked into our hotel for the night at Hotel La Riviera – a little bit southeast of the airport in a quaint neighborhood

Day 2: San Jose –> La Fortuna

  • Picked up 3 cases of water, fruit, and miscellaneous supplies for the three families at Walmart in Alajuela before heading out to La Fortuna
  • Windy drive & fog made it a 2:45 hour drive of 44 miles to our Hotel Vagabondo
  • Lunch @ Chifa La Familia Feliz ($ – Peruvian/Chinese Fusion)
    • Found out later it was the #1 Restaurant in the area, cha-ching!
    • Chef himself made a curated menu for us with Peruvian Ceviche (appetizer), Calamari/Shrimp (appetizer), Curry Chicken & Potato w/ Rice, and Surf & Turf
  • Spent 4:30pm-8:30pm at Baldi Hot Springs enjoying powerful waterfalls and 8+ pools of varying temperatures
    • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED; I think Dad wished we stayed at that resort…
    • the buffet portion isn’t really worth it, so I’d say eat at the restaurant or eat beforehand
    • $6 locker rental + $10 towel deposit

Day 3: La Fortuna

  • Booked a Mistico Hanging Bridges tour (~2 hours) for the morning – great for families with kids and a different way to take a walk in nature
  • Hiked to the 1992 Lava Flow (1.5 hr RT)
  • Accidently skipped lunch, oops.
  • Coffee tasting at North Fields Cafe ($) – with the intention of doing a coffee tour, but it was going to be $30 PP for 2 hours and with the amount of time we had, we didn’t see its ROI.
  • Christmas Eve dinner @ Restaurante Mi Casa ($$ – Typical Costa Rican food)
    • Guaro Sour x2
    • Ceviche
    • Rib-Eye Steak for Dad
    • Churrasco Steak for me
    • Sea Bass w/ Avocado Sauce for Mom

Day 4: La Fortuna –> Santa Elena/Monteverde

  • 10am-noon: After packing up, we went to the Rainforest Chocolate Factory Tour ($25 PP):
    • Extremely informative tour and we got to walk through the cacao tree plantation before we sat down to unpeel cacao fruit –> taste the seeds –> roast the seeds –> taste them again –> drinking chocolate tasting –> melted chocolate tasting
      • Spoon 1: plain sea salt
      • Spoon 2: hibiscus flakes + orange extract + sea salt
      • Spoon 3: almond flakes + almond extract
  • Drove a rough, car-sick filled 4 hours to our lodge Hotel el Atardecer
  • Spent the afternoon settling in and checking out potential excursions
  • Ate dinner at Treehouse Restaurant & Cafe
    • by this time, everyone was craving pizza…so the table ordered 3 pizzas in addition to Costa Rican plates
  • Booked our excursions for the next day at the Tourism Center downtown

Day 5: Santa Elena/Monteverde

  • 8-11am: Started the morning with the most intense ziplining I’ve done in my life at 100% Aventura, home of the longest zipline in Latin America
  • Really worth the $50 per person ~ we had about 30 people on our tour, but it never felt like it because the guides were so efficient and the lines were long enough to not get clogged before/after
  • Had lunch at Taco Taco Taqueria ($), which we were all disappointed that we didn’t have tacos until this point…but it was great.
    • Order everything one size down of what you think you’d consume…I normally eat 3 street-sized tacos, but ordering 3 was a mistake.
  • It’s safe to say everyone passed out for 2 hours afterwards – well-deserved, really.
  • 3-6pm: Embarked a 2 hour horseback sunset tour ($35 PP)
    • Best valued horseback tour I’ve been on
    • Really captured the movie-esque sunset scenes of Central America
  • Had dinner at Trio Restaurante ($$) in Downtown Santa Elena
    • Empanadas + Ribs for Appetizers
    • Sea Bass + Coconut Chicken for Entree
    • Rice Pudding + Mango Trio for Dessert

Day 6: Santa Elena/Monteverde –> San Jose

  • Drove another 4 hours on rugged roads to San Jose (by then, I was so over the terrible road conditions)
  • Had an extremely late lunch at Tenedor Argentino ($$)
    • White Sangria (MUCH NEEDED)
    • Spinach Empanada
    • Beef Tenedor Milanese (essentially a giant chicken-fried steak, Argentinian style, with a fried egg + salad, and you bet I ate it all)
  • Walked around Downtown San Jose (extremely 3rd world) and drove back to our Hotel La Riviera for the night, where we stayed the first night.
  • We took an UBER! After we returned our car at Hertz, we needed some way to get back…and here we are, a $5.27 uber with the Zeng family.
  • No dinner necessary thx to the giant Milanese steak.

There you have it, our itinerary in detail. Now see below for overall recap…


  • Easy & cheap, non-stop/direct flights from Houston to San Jose
  • Relatively low-cost
    • accommodations
    • meals/alcohol (and huge portions)
    • tours/excursions
  • Mild-climate year-round, with dry season Feb-July and wet season Aug-Jan
  • Full of nature: Arenal volcano, beach parks, rainforest, mountains…etc.


  • Extremely rough road conditions – prepared to take 3 hours to drive 60 miles and get really carsick
  • Expensive car rental (due to above) & necessary full-coverage insurance + third party coverage = ~$550 for mid-sized SUV for 5 days

Overall: If you can survive a week of low-maintenance living, enjoy adrenaline-packed activities, and can stomach some rough roading… Costa Rica can be a cheap and easy vacation. Just make sure you mentally plan enough time for travels between towns, if you choose to explore more than one area.

It’s not about the destination; it’s about the adventure.

Earlier this week, Alex and Beth tossed around the idea of camping overnight at Richland Creek Wilderness. What started out as a lunch conversation in the KC kitchen turned into reality on Saturday morning…

Six of us: Beth, Alex, Rob, Mandee, Tyler, and myself ventured out of Fayetteville bright and early at 10:30am to head to Witts Springs, AR. Each car mapped the destination for ‘Richland Creek Campgrounds’ and decided to meet there, at a rough ETA of 1:15pm. 2 hours and 15 minutes later, we drive through familiar roads of AR-412, AR-21, and Ar-74, and head down this little dirt path. Halfway through, we see a few trucks parked along the road and find out that there is a set of waterfalls waiting for us.


A few minutes later, our other half of the crew pulls up, and we spend 10-15 minutes exploring – getting our feet wet, checking out the cave area underneath, and enjoying the natural state.

Another 30 minute drive on the dirt path later, we arrived at Richland Creek Campgrounds, where we parked our lovely Ford Fusions and a few of us ventured to find the trailhead while the others stayed behind and practiced Frisbee throwing.

At 2:24pm, we set off to our adventures – not before taking a group photo, though. This captures our happy spirits, slight ignorance, and excitement.


-25 minutes later- we come back out from going south (vs. going northwest) on what seemed to be the wrong trailhead. Thankfully, Mandee never closed out his Google Maps, and we could see the little gray dotted line of hope that would be the correct Richland Creek trailhead.

With hope, we venture off into the wilderness again, and this time, with a little more faith, we cross a tree bridge with our tents and 45-liter packs.


-another 15 minutes pass- we were traveling along the creek, rather than on the trail above the creek, so with a few life/death moments and teamwork, we scaled the side of a mini cliff (literally) and made it up to the actual trail. Once again, we were hopeful, and we hiked a good 1/2 mile before stopping at a flat, white rock for a water + wind break.


Surprisingly, throughout the trail, we meet different group of people that had gone to where we were wanting to go : Richland Falls. Just to give everyone an idea – this trail is not paved, it involved a lot of elevation changes; uphill, downhill, slippery sand, fallen tree trunks that one would have to step over, and giant pieces of rocks made it a lot harder to smoothly hike. Oh, oh, the trail also involved taking off one’s shoes to hike through the creek, such as this:


What felt like an eternity later, after much exploring and decision-making, it seems that we’ve reached Richland Falls. Beth ventures to see the path, Tyler ventures, and Rob/Alex make the final exploratory trip before deciding whether we’d camp by the falls or go back to a place we’d passed. The last leg of the trip was probably the most life-threatening: most of the path was 2-feet wide, one little misstep would cause you and your 45-liter backpack to fall off the little cliff and into the creek. Thankfully, the only thing that did its tumble was Mandee’s Yeti mug (which Tyler rescued and it ended up not denting at all).


AND WE’RE HERE!!! Quickly, we set up our tents, hammocks, and gathered fire wood. Not before taking a nice, team selfie…


Hard to say, but we’d probably spent the last 2-3 hours of sunlight lounging around in our hammocks, taking photos on the waterfall, exploring nearby caves, and eating. Eating PB&Js that Beth had put together and chowing down on snacks. Rule was BYOH: bring your own hammock.


Next thing you know, it was nightfall, and we’re sitting around the fire that the guys built and sharing our life stories (kidding, but not really). By that time, our entire bodies started hurting…


Homegirl (me) went to sleep at 8:30pm like a grandma, and woke up at 8:20am feeling sore, tired, yet refreshed. From what I was told, the rest of the homies stayed up a little bit listening to Beth’s ghost stories.

The morning hike back was a lot easier than the afternoon prior, thanks to our expanded knowledge and revived spirits. This time around, we got to tell other groups that they weren’t far from the falls and ‘good luck’ 🙂

After another break on our trusty white rock, we made it back to the campgrounds (our cars) in a nice 2-hour time frame. Tossed our trash, cleaned off our skin with some flushable cleansing cloths, and mapped our way back to civilization. Overall, very rewarding trip, and I’m so happy our group came here. Finished off our trip with some BBQ, grilled mac and cheese sandwiches, and plenty of Coke.

Day 10 | Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

This has got to be one of my top 3 favorite/most memorable days on this trip. As I commented before, instead of following our original itinerary (which would’ve put us in Day 16 for Mount Cook), we decided to chase the good weather. We were supposed to be headed to Wanaka (southwest of our destination) by now, but we decided to go northeast again just to get another good hike in.

Of course, heading in, we had to pull over for scenic stops…


Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park; Hooker Valley Track

We originally wanted to do the Mueller Hut track, but it required booking in advance during the months of November-April, and not everyone in our party was equipped to do such a strenuous hike. After looking through our options at the visitor center in the village, we decided on Hooker Valley Track, which put us at a good 3-hour turn around time, in time to make it to Wanaka by mid afternoon.

The track itself had little elevation change, but it had A W E S O M E lookout points including the Mueller Lake one. I see so many movies and advertisements with snow capped mountains and turquoise lakes, thinking, oh they’re just green screened or photoshopped, no way they could be real. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL, FRIENDS.

Unfortunately, shortly after, we had to cross a suspension bridge…which…I…extremely…dislike…if you remember from my post about the Blue Pools. It was windy and once again had a maximum of 10 people at a time. Everything between the first and second suspension bridge was full of twisty elevation changes and flat lands. Once we got off the second bridge, we got to a little shack aka “rest stop” for people to take a breather, go to the bathroom, or just enjoy the open window view. From our understanding, that was a mark of 2/3 of the way. Being completely transparent, I was ready to turn around and go back at that point.


…and so we did, about 10 minutes later. I wasn’t feeling too great, and we were all getting pretty hungry, and we were told that there wasn’t a “must-see” view later on in the route. (I know, there wasn’t the satisfaction of finishing the hike, but our bellies were calling) plus the weather was already making a turn for the worse at the time.

Hill Country Salmon Farm

We had passed by this farm several times now, first time from our first Christchurch->Omarama drive, then the day in Lake Tekapo, then now we’ve all made up our minds to get some salmon sashimi for lunch. The farm had salmon feeding, sashimi, and pre-packaged salmon to cook later. After reading so many great reviews on TripAdvisor, I’m not sure that I was quite as impressed. It was “ok” sashimi, and I feel like we’ve had better in Auckland and definitely better now that we’ve eaten another 3 pounds in Akaroa.

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We AirBnB-ed a holiday lake house from this lady and it was a huge home! There were 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a giant kitchen, and wonderful lake views from the balcony. As always, we like to cook a meal at home, so we used all the necessary items – oven, electric wok, pots, and pans to make mac and cheese and lamb bake.

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Day 9 | Mount Aspiring National Park + Wanaka

HIKING. What everyone tells you to do in New Zealand and one of the biggest parts of our trip! I’m so excited to be able to share this post with everyone, finally, after putting it off for half a week (hey, I needed the rest).

Mount Aspiring National Park; The Blue Pools

We drove out 2 hours to head to the Blue Pools (something that’s been on my Pinterest travel bucket list). Every scenic drive is worth staying awake for, even at 8am, and we stopped twice to take some pictures before heading into the park. Below is a 10am picture of Lake Wanaka:


The Blue Pools track itself only takes about 25-30 minutes each way. I had such a hard time staying on the correct side of the road (the left side) and kept running into people who were heading out. The air quality was so pure, and one could hear birds chirping and the nearby waters rushing. It was truly a peaceful and calming experience!

There were two bridges we needed to cross before getting the view of the final destination, and I AM NOT A FAN OF SUSPENSION BRIDGES! First off, the max number of people that could be on one was 10…so I kept counting us and making sure there wasn’t another 5+ people coming behind or ahead of us.


After two wobbly bridges, we made it!! The scenery was so rewarding, and it was everything I’ve seen from online and more! The water was so blue due to the glacial waters and since it hasn’t rained in a few days, nothing has been tossed around and it was so icy and clear. We saw a group of German boys do bridge jumping into the waters, and it reminded me of the (once in my lifetime) experience when my friends and I cliff dived in Hong Kong.

Lunch Break in Wanaka: Kai Whakapai

Our first time in the little town of Wanaka was rewarded with a sunny, outdoor lunch, and unique food many of us have never tasted! Our group does the whole “5 people share 4 plates” kind of thing, and I make the decisions 99% of the time, so I always get full say in what we eat. This is what I ordered for everyone:

1. Kumara Fritters with Saute Spinach, Haloumi, Poached Eggs, Roast Pepper and Tomato Salsa
2. Turkish Lamb Skewers served with warm flat bread, spiced Moroccan style couscous, beet root, feta salad, and tzatziki dip
3. Ciabatta French Toast with Central Otago roasted stone fruit, vanilla mascarpone, and sweet, raspberry, and almond toasted dukkah
4. Soft Tacos with chimichurri marinated fish, black bean & quinoa salad, coleslaw, and tomato chili & lime salsa

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It isn’t over until we get dessert! Black Peak Gelato is pretty popular in the area, and we opted for the Chocolate and Tim Tam flavor, while our friends chose Central Otago apricot and chocolate.


Mount Iron Track

We figured we would squeeze in a short 1.5 hour hike before heading back for the day. The first 10-15 minutes or so of the hike was zig zag, gaining elevation, and it was so tiring! The trail was very dusty, the weather was extremely hot that day, and we were wearing winter clothes…that combination made the first half of the hike almost miserable, but the views = always worth it! Recommendation and note to self for future: wear short sleeve shirts and cotton pants along with the outwear. Otherwise, your wardrobe will forever be in winter mode.

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Extremely thankful to have had great sleep that night…and onto the next one the next day, Mount Cook!

Day 8 | A Day in Lake Tekapo

Before I get in depth for the next few posts, I just want to prelude with the fact that I did A LOT of research before we arrived to New Zealand. We didn’t magically know where to go all the time and where to see, so I mainly read up on TripAdvisor, Pinterest (yes) and fellow avid travelers’ blogs. That being said, I had a very good idea of what I wanted to see and do and how to allocate our time wisely. Though, I did not have an itinerary (for all of you that are wondering and asking if I can send you mine); we planned day by day according to weather and availability of excursions. 

We woke up early at 8am on the 19th (and I can’t even tell you which day of the week it was) to drive ~an hour and half to Lake Tekapo. There were plenty of things to do – from the hot springs to hiking to horseback riding. Our first stop was at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Of course, it was filled with tourists, but it remained so serene even with all the background noises while it sat on Lake Tekapo.

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Then, we walked around the lake, took some pictures with the selfie stick, and enjoyed extremely good weather. These are non-filtered photos!! What you see is almost as breathtaking as what we saw in person. The Lupin was already starting to bloom (apparently full bloom by April) and I wish we could’ve stayed here a bit longer!

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For lunch, we headed to the #3 ranked restaurant by TripAdvisor, Reflections Restaurant. 1) The view was one of THE best! 2) I had no idea what to order, so I just ordered all their lunch specials… It was really nice to soak up the sun while sitting outside by the lake and waiting for our food. I don’t quite remember what we ordered…except I remember the sirloin steak on top of waffle fries. THAT WAS DELICIOUS.


Then, we headed off to Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking, ranked #2 in Lake Tekapo to-do! We picked the 2-hour Mountain Top trek, that took us to the top of Mount John (perfect – we were going to hike it anyway) and downhill to the lake, and finally through the forest back to the stables. I heard plenty about it being a phenomenal view and trek, but WOW my pictures did not capture the full effect whatsoever!

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BTW all 5 of us woke up really sore the next day…also a little bit about my horse: his name is Jeff. He apparently is their ‘cheekiest’ horse…he loved eating and being distracted and he could never keep still. Everyone else’s horses were just chillin’ and mine was running around the stables before we even began. He pooped all the time on the trails and slowed me down while everybody went ahead.Thanks for being my friend for 3 hours, Jeff.

We headed home after what became a 3-hour trek, and the men cooked for us that night! Dad’s fried rice and Mr. Huang’s stir fry brussel sprouts (a close rendition of mine). Starved and exhausted, we ate and rested early for the next day: Mount Aspiring National Park!

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