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.

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…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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Wanaka

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Day 7 | Christchurch –> Omarama

After three days in Auckland, we flew to Christchurch to spend the next 10 days in the South Island. We laanded around noon and headed straight for lunch in the city…Abalone Thai Restaurant! I ordered myself an egg wrapped Pad Thai (my second time eating it!) Oh, and the airport is also where we met up with an additional 2 members of our party: Dad’s high school best friend and his wife. We used to travel with them when I was little, so this was nothing new.

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When we finished lunch and grocery shopping, we headed 194 miles southwest to Omarama, where we would be staying for the next 3 days. Since New Zealand roads are paved according to mountains, there was room for plenty of windy roads, low mph, and scenic stops.

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We arrived at our little abode around 7:30pm, and it was still bright! The boss lady welcomed us and offered us New Zealand milk and showed us to our apartment and even provided us with a rice cooker and electric wok! She showed us the way to the nearest supermarket where we could load up on groceries for dinner and breakfast.

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It was exciting to shop limited options and still be able to pull off ground beef elbow pasta and brussel sprouts for dinner. That marked our first day in South Island, and I deemed it…relaxing yet productive.

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Day 4 & 5 | Auckland, New Zealand

After three days in Tahiti, we decided to trade in paradise for a bit cooler weather. We landed in Auckland, essentially skipped 23 hours ahead and straight into a typhoon. Oh, and then there was the getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road…

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During the three days, we stayed with my mom’s college friend and her maid of honor. She and her husband picked us up met us at the airport and took us to eat Chinese noodles (yay Auckland!) before heading to One Tree Hill. To me, it was the Twin Peaks (SF) of Auckland. Sadly, the rain was already hitting and we were being blown away at the top of the mountain. Nevertheless, checked off the bucket list.

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Then, we met one of Dad’s past colleagues from China, and his family invited us to eat with them in SkyCity (the sky tower in the middle of downtown). The SkyCity had a bunch of restaurants on the 1st-3rd floor and the Orbit 360 dining at the top; I particularly enjoyed stir fry lamb and the firecracker prawns. We were just making up for the lack of Asian food from Tahiti, heh.

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Afterwards, we walked on Queens St., where most of the things were ‘happening,’ but it just seemed like everything was closed by 9pm and no one was really out and about like they were supposed to be…

Our second day in Auckland was brightened by a few hours of sunshine. We woke up early to steady rain and marmite for breakfast. WOW. I don’t know that I have words to describe it…but you’re supposed to put it on toast, and it’s pretty similar to Australia’s Vegemite.

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We were able to locals and do some grocery shopping with the family and have lunch at home. Before that, we went house hunting (for fun) with the family! They took us to Long Bay, where a new subdivision of houses were being built / ready to be designed. I’m a huge fan of the glass balcony stuff! Here are some pictures in case anyone feels like investing in a million dollar home in Auckland…

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Everything is measured in KG and that threw me off! The fruits and vegetables were super colorful, and the seafood/meats were extremely fresh. The lunch menu included fresh mussels, salmon sashimi, tomato and egg, and bak choy.

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By mid-afternoon, the sun was out and we headed to Devonport, the small town across the bay. The views are incredible, and the grass is lush, and the waters were so blue! The little town had a European boardwalk vibe and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon before the clouds and rain came back.

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We finished the day by having some steak, Blue Cod, and red wine at home before calling it early for a 5am wake up tomorrow for Rotorua!

Foodie’s Guide to Dating in Austin

There are too many instances when I would get a text from a friend asking, “where should I take ___ to brunch this weekend?” or “I have a car today! Where are some good places for dinner?” or “It’s about to be our 6-months and I have no idea what I’m doing.”

  • Disclaimer #1: it’s NOT that I’ve had experiences going on dates, rather, I’m just a foodie that’s explored 100+ restaurants in the area.
  • Disclaimer #2: This guide does not factor in your personal tastes, preferences, or wallet. 
  • Side note: I tried picking local restaurants to avoid chains and whatnots.

So, gentlemen, I have drafted a guide for where to take your lady to eat in Austin. I’ve separated this into three levels:

  1. you don’t even know if this is even a date yet……….
  2. you’re exclusively dating/in a relationship.
  3. major anniversary celebration / special occasion.

Level 1: “Is this even a date?”

Our generation these days can’t seem to fully ask someone out on date. We all know this is true. Plenty of people look back and confess, ‘oh, that was a date afterall.’ Gentlemen, you don’t want to ask her to go to cheap-skate places, rather, you want a classy place that isn’t too intimidating. These are great places for these wishy-washy situations, where you just want to test the waters.

Blue Dahlia – Their happy hour is wonderful. Monday-Friday 3-6:30pm is perfect time to soak up the sunset in the patio and order yourselves some tartines. Outdoor seating is fantastic, take advantage of it! (West Lake location is my personal favorite)

  • Smoked Salmon Tartines
  • Meat & Cheese Platter
  • Belgian Waffles
  • Bread Pudding

 

Galaxy Cafe – The food here matches the slightly above casual ambiance. Great for both lunch and dinner, and they serve an array of options from carbs (pasta, sandwiches, wraps) to burgers to salads. Plus, you order and pay up front, so you could really avoid the whole “I’m paying for you” fight over the check.

Sadly, I didn’t take pictures while eating here three times. But…here are some great stuff on the menu!

  • Galaxy Fish Wrap
  • Buddha Bowl
  • Asian Seared Tuna Salad

Hillside Farmacy – Located in East Austin on 11th street, this is a super cute and dainty place for brunch or late lunch. Their menu is nicely condensed so you don’t have to spend time mulling over what to order, and their options suit meat eaters and vegetarians!

Pictured is the Fried Egg Sandwich (I hate bacon, but I LOVED the crispy bacon that they put in there). PLUS, they serve Coolhaus as part of their dessert menu, nomnomnom (sea salt caramel & coffee oreo pictured)

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Foodheads – Another cutesy, patio-seating Austin place, this cafe is known for its delicious, specialty sandwiches. Another order+pay upfront style, leaving ease for the conversation to flow. Plus, their outdoor seating options > indoor seating, so enjoy the breeze, the sunset, or whatever the weather is throwing at you that day.

  • Fish Torta
  • Chicken Special

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Level 2: “We’re dating.”

YAY, now you’ve got the lady, and you want to take her out to eat on Friday nights. You’re treading smooth waters at this point, but you still want to keep up your food standards.

Tbh, this is the easiest time to take someone out to eat. You should already know she likes, what she doesn’t like, and what she’s allergic to. Plus, as long as you are great company and she doesn’t get food poisoning, all is well. 

Cho Sushi – near Lake Travis (Steiner Ranch location), the drive to this place…is breathtaking! You get to spend 30 minutes enjoying the view of meandering mountains, curvy roads, and hopefully not too dampened by the Austin rush hour traffic. BEST SUSHI IN AUSTIN (in my opinion + a dedicated sushi post coming in June!)

Their happy hour has the best deals! You can be full without breaking your bank =)

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Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill – Can’t go wrong with the menu, something to cater to everyone’s tastes! Their portions are pretty big, perfect reason to share so you can try different things. Indoor seating is a little chilly and dark, but you can request outdoor seating and risk the mosquito attacks.

  • Buffalo Meat Pie (I hate meat, but I looooved this + it served me for two meals!)
  • Green Chile Macaroni

Downsides: Be prepared for the 90+ minute wait, especially on a Friday night. I came here with one of my best friends, and we had plenty to talk about during the wait. Plus, parking is a pain, so practice your parallel parking skills so you don’t embarrass yourself =)

Le Cafe Crepe – if you’re looking to achieve the Parisian vibe with the decor and cramped space, you got it. Granted, they expanded their outdoor seating, so you have a chance to sit under cute red umbrellas and enjoy the downtown view. Their food portion is pretty big and shareable, so you can try different types of sweet and savory yumminess.

  • Norwegian
  • Vegetarienne
  • Chloe’s Crepe (Nutella + Strawberries!)

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Level 3: “We’re celebrating.”

Serious could mean a lot of different things to different people. Let’s say, you want to celebrate your one year anniversary, or your significant other’s acceptance to law school, or her birthday.

Finn & Porter – This is on the quieter side of Downtown, nested in the Hilton. Perfect for a low-key event. Fantastic service – the waitress recommended all the house specials and checked on us frequently. The restaurant is designed in two stories, with the sushi bar at the first floor and the full bar on the second. Once again, wonderful bathrooms.

  • Appetizers: Grilled Gulf Oyster // Duck Rillete
  • Entrees: Sea Bass // 16 oz NY Strip
  • Dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse // Goat Cheesecake
  • Drinks: Mojito (a tad more delicious than the ones I had in Mexico)

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Personally, I came here with a small of friends for one of their 21st birthdays. Hence, the fantastic service + complimentary starter champagne + complimentary dessert.

Willie G’s – Located on 4th and Congress, it’s a beautiful place to dine indoor or outdoor. The year-round stringed lights on the trees make it seem like the holidays everyday (personal favorite). Ambiance inside set a romantic tone, but we saw multiple groups of all ages – dressed well of course. Bonus: the bathroom is so nice.

  • Appetizers: Crispy Calamari // Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
  • Entrees: 8 oz Filet Mignon // Blackened Scallops
  • Dessert: Creme Brulee // Macademia Nut Brittle Cheesecake

Personally, I came here with a group of friends (actually the same group as Finn & Porter) for my 20th birthday dinner. We were all dressed for the part, and yay for double the complimentary dessert!

The Bonneville – Love, love, love this location! Sits on Caesar Chavez and Guadalupe and overlooks Lady Bird Lake – perfect opportunity to go for a romantic walk afterwards. Their menu is kind of Asian-fied which is really cool, and their prices are quite reasonable for the quality of food served.

  • Appetizers: Mussels Steamed in Spicy Red Curry-Coconut Broth
  • Entree: Seared Diver Scallops with Scallion Rice Cake & Grapefruit Nage
  • Dessert: Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

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Now go eat your way through Austin =)

Top 5 Brunch Places in Austin, TX

I’ve always been a breakfast-lover, but when I learned that breakfast&lunch could be eaten at the same time, my world was changed. Throughout my time in Austin, I’ve explored my fair share of food, and these five places make my list to take your parents, date, and friends to eat at.

5. Austin Java

Its 6 locations give flexibility to find them wherever you are, and their menu is filled with all-natural, organic, and heart healthy options. I normally go to the one on North Lamar, for the sake of being close to campus, church, easy parking, and the fantastic outdoor set up. Dog friendly too! My first time here was March 2013, and as of February 2014, I’ve been here a total of 3 times 🙂

What I get here:

  • Tree Hugger Eggs Benedict
  • Breakfast Quesadillas
  • Veggie Chorizo Breakfast Tacos
  • All Natural Yogurt

4. Bouldin Creek Cafe

Located on South 1st Street, Bouldin Creek Cafe has the perfect little set up for your catch-ups. As a meat disliker, I love, love, love that everything on their menu can be made vegan! They have their ‘specials’ of the season, but the rest of the menu is pretty set. My first time was also March 2013 (apparently ate a lot of new food that month), and since 02/2014, I’ve been here twice.

What I get here:

  • The Neal + Tofu Neal (both tacos)
  • Spicy Pesto & Ciabatta Bread
  • Wanna-BLT (made with TOFU BACON, how cool is that.)
  • Raspberry-Hibiscus Iced Tea

March 2013

Lunch Date with Morgan + Wanna-BLT

Lunch Date with Morgan + Wanna-BL

3. Blue Dahlia Bistro

This dainty little place makes you feel like royalty – both the set up, the service, and the food. I’ve been here a total of 3 times since November 2012, and all 3 times in the Westlake location. I’ve recommended Blue Dahlia every time to friends who ask where to take their parents for a day visit or where to take their first date to. They have an awesome happy hour menu from 3:30-6:30pm as well.

What I get here:

  • Smoked Salmon Tartine
  • Meat & Cheese Platter
  • Greek Yogurt + Berries
  • Belgian Waffles + Fruit

Smoked Salmon Tartine Belgian Waffles

2. Upper Crust Bakery

Came here for the first time on Valentine’s Day 2014 with a fellow foodie friend (heh alliteration) of mine, Betty, and absolutely fell in love with the place! The bakery is all laid out with scones, tarts, croissants, cookies, cupcakes, you name it. On the plus side, they have such affordable prices and these people really love what they’re doing.

What I get here:

  • Spinach, Egg, and Cheese Quiche
  • Blueberry Tart
  • Strawberry & Cream Cheese Croissant (had a bite of Betty’s!)
Valentine's Brunch!

Valentine’s Brunch!

1. Walton’s Fancy & Staple

An occasion, long-time catch up, celebration? Always, always, always Walton’s! I actually celebrated my 18th birthday brunch here with a few girls from church, and this has been my go-to place for classy breakfast since. As of February 2014, I’ve been here 3 times, and each time, I’ve gotten something new and added to my list of breakfast loves. Fun fact? It’s owned by Sandra Bullock.

What I get here:

  • Challah French Toast (ah-mazing)
  • Chocolate Croissant
  • Caprese Sandwich
  • Chai Tea Latte
Challah French Toast

Challah French Toast

Fruit Tart 2.0

Fruit Tart 2.0

Blueberry Tart

Blueberry Tart

I’ve always wanted to blog about some of my favorite foods in Austin, so…here it is! Enjoy =)