Tag: beach

Four Tips for Auckland Day Trips

So dear reader, you’re telling me that you’re having a grand old time in Auckland, New Zealand, but you’d like to venture outside of the city a little bit.

Do you have time to drive to NZ’s south island? It could be an 8-12 hour trip depending on where you go. No?

Well, luckily for you, I have some wonderful day-tripping options for you to choose from. Keep on reading, you intrepid traveler.

Things I recommend for day-trip travel:

  • A vehicle, preferably a car (if you’re looking for a place to rent a car, I recommend GO rentals)
  • A good sense of direction OR access to GPS navigation
  • PocWifi – so you can use wi-fi at any time, at a relatively affordable price
  • Cash, just in case
  • Snacks??? I mean, it’s up to you, I just very snacky when I roadtrip.

I’ve given you some one-way travel times from Auckland to all of the listed destinations below, but take these with a grain of salt. Traffic, road work, your own driving speed, etc. will all flex these times.

Hobbiton

Travel time from Auckland: About 2 hours

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or even if you aren’t, Hobbiton is beautiful venture in the countryside to the movie set where scenes from the Shire were filmed for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

During the tour, you’re able to walk through the actual set and take photos, while a guide tells you all sorts of movie trivia (a delight for any nerdy heart). If you’re lucky, the weather will be sunny and light up the green hills of the Shire, making you feel like you might ACTUALLY be a little hobbit. (Shoot for summer or maybe late spring.)

I recommend that you book your ticket online in advance, because the time slots can sell out and you can only visit the set if you’re on a tour. Also, since you book a time and they ask you to check in 15 minutes before your tour, you should give yourself enough time to get there. Even if you arrive early, they have a gift shop and a cafe where you can kill time.

Rotorua

Travel time from Auckland: About 3 hours

Rotorua is an excellent place to visit for nature and culture fans.

Whakarewarewa Forest

The Whakarewarewa Forest is only about 5 minutes from downtown Rotorua and is a great place to stroll, hike, bike and even ride on horseback. For travelers from the U.S., the huge trees that the forest is famous for might look a little familiar, and that’s because they’re actually California Redwoods!

Geothermal Activity

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone resulting in a ton of geothermal activity! We visited Hells Gate – both a geothermal park and spa. When you visit and find yourself encompassed by the warm steam and surrounded by volcanic rock, you’ll understand how it got its name. I recommend choosing the tour and spa package, so you can take a self-guided tour through the sulphur and mud pools that make the naturally-heated spa pools possible.

Lake Taupo

Speaking of Taupo, if you have a little more time in Rotorua, Lake Taupo is just about an hour’s drive away. It also has a lot to offer! Apart from a HUGE natural lake that you can take boat and kayak tours on, there’s also Huka Falls, known for its beautiful icy blue water. Huka Falls has a few different hike trails of its own – including the Spa Walk, which actually leads you to a natural hot spring.

Maori Villages

If you’re interested in learning more about Maori culture, there are a couple different Maori villages that you can visit in Rotorua. If you’re not sure which one you’d like to visit, ask the locals. Some of them are actual living Maori villages and others are a bit more… tourist-y. We had planned to visit the living village, but after freezing our buns off on a brisk Lake Taupo boat tour, we opted to warm ourselves up at a local pub.

Waitomo

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

One of the big attractions in Waitomo is their cave system. You can visit Ruakuri, Aranui or their Glowworm Caves – all of them offering a different experience. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try black water rafting or tubing through the caves (we were a little too chicken to try this – plus, it was already pretty chilly OUT of the water)!

However, if you’re finding yourself short on time like we were, I would make the Glowworm Caves your Waitomo stop. When you’re in the sitting in the darkness of the cave, only illuminated by the soft blue lights of the thousands of glowworms – you forget you’re in a cave. It’s almost like looking up at a bunch of little stars. It’s truly beautiful, and honestly, my words do do it justice. You can’t take photos in the cave because the glowworms are very sensitive to lights and sound, so it’s really something you have to see for yourself.

Tauranga

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

Tauranga is for lovers – beach lovers, that is. The Mt. Maunganui Main Beach has been voted New Zealand’s best, and I can totally see why. The long stretch of beach is a great place to stroll, relax on the soft sand and swim.

If you want to get a hike in, the beach is also conveniently located at the base of Mt. Mauao. If I recall, there were a couple main hiker trails – one that loops a bit more gently up the mountain and one that’s a shorter, but steeper climb up to the summit. We took the steeper climb, which was QUITE the haul, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the way and at the top.

If you can believe it, I cut this day trip round-up short for you, dear reader. There’s just SO much to do and see in New Zealand. That’s why I’m definitely going back in the near future and why I’m creating these helpful guides for travelers. If you’re looking for a place to start in Auckland, check out my budget traveler’s guide.

Happy travels to you!

xoxo,
Katie

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Budget Traveler’s Guide to Auckland

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Auckland has a lot to offer – and many of its great attractions cost little to no money to see. This humble guide will help you explore the city without breaking the bank.

First things first, though. If you weren’t thinking about renting a car in New Zealand, I urge you to reconsider. There are so many places to explore and driving will give you the most freedom. If you haven’t driven on the left side of the road before from the right side of a car, I promise you, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Just drive carefully (and more slowly, if you must) and follow ALL road signs/rules. Roundabouts and one-way bridges are kind of a doozy, but you’ll figure it out – you’re smart people.

If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable rental place, I can’t recommend GO rentals at the Auckland Airport enough (I swear, I’m not a plant, I just had a really good experience). They’re conveniently located just about five minutes from the international departure terminal, they have long hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate almost any pick-up or drop-off time and they have a shuttle to get you to and from the airport terminals. Plus, they’re just NICE. And if you’re driving in an unfamiliar country, you don’t want a crap car. Don’t forget to ask them about their GO Play discount card- it comes with a map of attractions around NZ that you can get discounted prices on.

Once you’ve gotten all settled, here are my recommendations of places to go:

Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill Domain

In the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park has it all – you can drive through it, jog or walk. You can marvel at all the precious sheep just wandering around without a care in the world (don’t try and approach them though, they are not a fan).

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

And if you make it to the top of One Tree Hill, you can see some great city views, as well as the obelisk put in place to honor the Maori people

This One Tree Hill is NOT the American TV drama series – so if you were hoping to see Chad Michael Murray, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But not really, because this One Tree Hill and surrounding Cornwall park is SO much cooler (sorry, Chad).

Mission Bay

If you’re a beach person (like I am), then you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Mission Bay. Like most beaches, it will get crowded as the day goes on and the temperature rises, so if you want peace and quiet, I would go in the morning.

Here you can stroll along and enjoy the beach views, go for a swim and have a fish-and-chips picnic on the sand or the park grass. Once you’re done having fun in the sun (maybe, depending on the time of year – we went at the end of spring/vert beginning of summer, so weather was cloudier and cooler), you can head into the City Centre. It’s only about a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic.

Central Business District/City Centre

I like checking out the downtown areas of each city I visit, so for me, visiting the City Centre was worth that alone. But it’s also a good place to go for food and shopping – both luxury, local and tourist gift shops are all located here. It’s also close to the University of Auckland if you’re curious about that, and it’s an easy way to hop on a boat tour or ferry and get to Viaduct Harbour.

Viaduct Harbour

The harbour is right smack dab in the middle of the City Centre. With a bunch of bars/restaurants to choose from right on the waterfront, it’s an excellent place to wind down your day. Ferries seem to come in and out of here, if you’re interested in a ferry trip. Plus, there’s a park down way for kids and apparently a summer movie series shown here, as well. It’s also home to the New Zealand Maritime Museum – free entry for Auckland residents and about $10-$20 for visitors.

Botanical Gardens

Let it be known that I love gardens – so naturally, we ended up going to THREE botanical gardens here in Auckland.

The Auckland Botanic Gardens is just under 15 minutes away from the Auckland Airport and admission is completely free. The crazy thing is not only how beautiful the gardens are, but they span over 150 acres of land. If you go, prepare to get a little lost inside – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eden Garden is a much smaller, but equally gorgeous botanical garden located on the side of Mt. Eden and just a stone’s throw away from the City Centre (about a 7-minute drive). For only $6-$10 (children 12 and under get free admission), you can wander around these stunning blooms to your heart’s content. You may see some goofy-looking chickens also mucking about. And if you’re feeling ambitious, one of the trails in the garden leads you further up the mountain to a great city view.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think it would be the Domain Wintergardens. I had never seen or been in Victorian-style greenhouse gardens before, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough. The flowers inside are ridiculously pretty and enhanced by the pool/fountains set in the middle of the two greenhouses, surrounded by statues. It almost made me want to pop on a corset and bustle and sit down for high tea – ALMOST. Wintergardens also is free to see, just outside of the City Centre and across from the  Auckland War Memorial Museum.

So really, this barely scratches the surface of things to see in Auckland, but it’s a quick round-up of some of my favorites! And I know traveling isn’t cheap, so I hope this guide helps you jump-start your planning and save some dough, so you can treat yo’self in other ways. New Zealand is worth it!

With Much Aroha (Love),
Katie

Top 10 Things to Do in Haiti

  1. Le Citadelle
Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

This is the landmark that I wanted to see most in Haiti, and it was everything I hoped that it would be. Le Citadelle is the massive fort that was built overlooking Cap-Haitien by the Haitian army after France was defeated. It was meant to protect the north from any attempt by the French to take back the colony, but such an attack never came. Now Le Citadelle is a UNESCO World Heritage open for visitors to learn about the history and heritage of the Haitian people. In order to tour the fortress, you first need to hike or ride a mule up a steep, cobblestone path. People with mules will follow you up the trail if you opt to hike, just in case you get tired, but it is just fine to keep going on foot. The fortress itself is well worth the struggle up the hill, for those of you uncertain about hiking, and the views of the verdant, surrounding mountains definitely add to the appeal.

  1. San Souci Palace
San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace is just down the mountain from Le Citadelle, and it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, this beautiful ruin wasn’t as developed or crowded as the fortress. Here, we were guided through the building by a guide from the nearby town, and the only other people there were a couple locals enjoying the views and shade of the high walls. We learned that San Souci Palace was the home of Henri Christophe, also known as King Henri I, after the country won its independence from France. When it was built, San Souci was said to rival Versailles, and after seeing Le Citadelle, I could imagine that this was true. Much like the fortress, this site tells an important story about the history of this often misunderstood Caribbean country.

  1. Grotto Marie-Jeanne
Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Ever since I first visited Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, I have been in love with caves, and so far, I have had the opportunity to visit some in almost every country that I have visited. Haiti was no exception, thanks to the itinerary that Tour Haiti put together, and the cavern that we visited was Grotto Marie-Jeanne west of Port Salut. This cave was not well developed compared to some others that I have visited, but that was honestly something that I found very attractive about it. One half of the cave was easily accessible to the whole tour group via some stone steps. The other part of the cave required that we crawl through some narrow spaces, and carefully climb down some steep and slippery inclines. I would only suggest this for people that are good hikers and sure on their feet, but it was really cool. It was a true caving experience, even though it was not technical, so that was quite unique.

  1. Bassin Bleu
Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu is one of the most popular, natural attractions in Haiti, and it is essentially a waterfall and a deep, stone swimming hole. Getting here is difficult, as the road to the trailhead passes through the river, and is quite steep. There is also a bit of a hike from the parking area to Bassin Bleu, which isn’t all that difficult for hikers, but might be hard for people not used it. The walk is quite beautiful, however. There are several pools below Bassin Bleu, as well as the river, which you cross on the walk there. Bleu itself, as its name suggests, has blue water, and it is deep enough to jump from the rocks into the water (but follow guide instructions for safety). There is also a lovely waterfall here that has a little nook behind it, where you can relax and enjoy this little, tropical oasis. It is a bit busy here, however, so it is good to go as early as you can.

  1. Beaches (Cap-Haitien, Jacmel-area, and Port Salut)
Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

The Caribbean is known for its beaches, and Haiti is no exception, so it only makes sense to experience some of the country’s coasts. My favorite beach was north of Cap-Haitian, because it was very unique. The sand was dark here, and there were cacti growing on the coast; it was unlike any other beach that I have seen in the region. Alternatively, the beaches of Port Salut were nice, white sand that was fun to stroll along. Sadly, this area was hit quite hard by the recent hurricane, so I am not sure what the current state of this place was. However, there are many beautiful beaches in Haiti for the ocean-lover.

  1. The Observatoire
The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

In the mountains above Port-au-Prince is a little bar that sits on the one of the best views of the city that you can get as a tourist. Catching a sunset here should be a priority if you are spending any time in Port-au-Prince. This viewpoint reveals the city’s beautiful side, and getting to see the surrounding mountains and the coast all at once really paints the perfect picture of just what a dynamic area Port-au-Prince sits in. The drive up here is beautiful, if steep and sometimes crowded, and the restaurant itself is a wonderful place to relax in the open air and take it all in.

  1. Jacmel
Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

This little coastal town is a well-known tourist destination in Haiti. Besides its historic marketplace near the port, the mosaic along the shore is a common sight in pictures of the town. However, a good guide will show you the city’s other works of art as well. There are mosaics all over the city, and all but the one on the beach were done by the town’s own artists, many of them children. Jacmel is also the perfect place to buy paper mache, which is a true art form in Haiti. When I initially heard about it, I was imagining that stuff we all made in elementary school, but this is some real sturdy and beautiful paper mache, a must-buy in Haiti.

  1. Explore Port-au-Prince
The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

This is low down on my list, just above two things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t able to, because Port-au-Prince actually kind of scares me. I have just heard so many bad things about this city through the media, and through some of my contacts in Haiti as well. That being said, I’m not sure a trip to Haiti would be complete without seeing some of the capital, and if you go with a good guide, it is no problem. The iron market in Port-au-Prince is really amazing, and has been rebuilt since the earthquake; it is also a great place to pick up souvenirs. Hotel Olofson is a wonderful stop, because of its historic and beautiful architecture, and Petion-Ville has some nice restaurants and bars to check out as well.

  1. Ile-a-Vache

I haven’t actually been to this location (or the next), but if I ever had the chance to travel back to Haiti, this is one of the places that would be at the top of my list of places to see. Ile-a-Vache is a small island off of the southern coast of Haiti, which is known for its pristine beaches. Based on what I have heard, I actually think that this may be one of the most untouched coastal areas of the Caribbean, but that is changing rapidly. Resorts and cruise ships have set their sights on this little slice of paradise, so if you visit here in the future, please be sure to support local people- find out what hotels and restaurants are owned by Haitians (and are safe) and give them a try. Anything owned by a large company is almost guaranteed to send most of your money out of the country.

For more information on this stop, check out Nerdy Nomad’s Post on Ile-a-Vache

  1. Pic la Selle: The Highest Peak in Haiti

Hiking is probably my favorite thing, period. So, while I had an amazing time in Haiti, I really missed it. Some of my fellows on the tour that I took to explore the country would consider the walk up to Le Citadelle to be a hike, but it was paved and it wasn’t all that long of a walk. So, for people like me, I would suggest trying something a little harder. Here I have listed Pic la Selle, the highest mountain in Haiti, because I love bagging high points (but I am no mountaineer). That being said, this isn’t actually a hike that I have done, and I am sure that there are alternative options for hiking in Haiti as well. I am listing some resources below for further info:

Summit Post Entry on Pic la Selle

Trekking in Haiti

Isla del Encanto Roadtrip: Puerto Rico Oeste

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

I have to say, the Western side of Puerto Rico was my favorite, even though I loved El Yunque. There is SO much on this side of the island, and I thought that the Karst formations here were fascinating and endlessly beautiful.

DSCF7074

Ponce (c) AB Raschke

First, I’m going to include Ponce in my discussion of the Western side of the island. This was the first city that we stayed at in Puerto Rico (driving for ~1.5-2 hours after a full day of airplane travel was not pleasant), and it was our introduction to real Puerto Rico, rather than the place that I had built up in my head. It was my awakening to the fact that Puerto Rico is its own country, with its own, unique culture (which I discuss in my previous Puerto Rico post- link), The architecture here is unlike anything I have ever seen in the US, and it is really a testament to the age of the city (founded in 1692- which is pretty old for the “new” world). Just taking some time to walk around and appreciate the buildings downtown is a great use of any traveler’s time. However, on top of the lovely buildings like the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadelupe and the Parque de Bombas, there are also a bunch of nice museums in Ponce. I have heard that the art

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

museum here is well wroth the trip, but I was only able to visit the Ponce Museum of History, which I enjoyed as it gave me a chance to both practice my Spanish reading abilities and learn more about Puerto Rico. This museum is also free, but be sure to sign the guest book when you visit. Finally, keep in mind that a lot of museums may be closed on Monday or Tuesday in Ponce, so try to do a little research when deciding what days you will be there and what you want to see. Also, I would suggest doing a little reading on safety in Ponce, because there have been some issues with crime against tourists in this area- link .

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Toro Negro (c) AB Raschke

While in Ponce, I also visited Toro Negro  for some hiking in the rainforest. Trying to use a phone GPS to find this place proved to be quite difficult, so I would suggest following the directions on the site I have linked to above if you want to give it a visit. The site says that the ranger station here may no longer be manned, but when we went it was open and we were able to get maps and suggestions for what trails to see in the time we had. Not having a lot of time, because we decided to visit last minute and had some trouble finding it, we just hiked to Charco La Confesora, which was a nice swimming spot, and wasn’t too busy (especially compared to El Yunque!). There is enough here to spend the whole day exploring, however, as there are some architectural points of interest (an old observation tower and a swimming pool- no consensus as to whether this is open now or not) as well as some waterfalls- Dona Petra and Dona Juana Falls. I would have loved to spend more time there exploring, and it was so much quieter than El Yunque. I would highly suggest spending some time here if you are looking to experience the rainforest of Puerto Rico at all.

Finally, to my favorite part of western Puerto Rico- the north where

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

the Karst is. The place that I read about most for this area was Rio Camuy Cave Park , and since I love caves, I absolutely had to visit. First, here’s what is great about this place: the ride and hike into the cave are mind-blowingly beautiful; I just love descending through the forest into the shady caves, and it was wonderful to see how the life of the forest really invades these caves and adapts to life here. The formations in the main part of the cave are massive, and finale of the tour is an overlook down to a river that gives the cave its name, and in my mind, makes it s unique spot worth checking

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

out. All that being said, this is not the best cave tour I have been on. For the size of the cave, the tour was far too long, and this was due to several things: the tour guide had to say everything in Spanish and English (probably my fault- let’s be honest), the trails were very slippery and some people had to take them slowly for safety’s sake, and the tour groups were huge, so everything took longer than it would have otherwise. It really felt like they were just trying to get as many people through the cave as they could, but even so, if you aren’t careful, you might not be able to visit, because the park wisely caps how many people can come per day. So, if you do decide to stop by (the views are worth the downfalls of the tour, as long as you get there early enough), come early! If you don’t, you may need to wait for a long time for your tour (some reviews I read said 3 hours- not sure if they are exaggerating or not, but I got there by 10a and I had to wait an hour) or you may not get to go at all. Once you get there, you will get a number as you drive in (your place in line), then you pay for parking, park, pay for your ticket, and wait for your number to be called. Keep the process in mind, and I think the visit will be much more enjoyable; I didn’t have problems because I read up on it beforehand.

An alternative spot to visit (or a great addition) is Cueva Ventana

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Cueva Ventana (c) AB Raschke

or the Window Cave (aptly named). On this tour, you will climb through two caves. The first is quite lovely in that there are tree roots and even little plants growing in the cave, surviving on the bare minimum of light. The second cave has a room full of bats, which was amazing to see, especially at such close distance. It then leads to the cave’s namesake, a large opening that looks out onto the countryside and a curving river. The view alone is worth the price, honestly, but the wildlife that we saw in these caves was exceptional. I saw my first amblypygi here! I liked this tour a little better than Rio Camuy, but there were a few things that concerned me. First, I thought we were disturbing the bats, and while some of the visitors were just shining lights on the animals or screaming a little because they were afraid, I know from my PhD work that this can add up to some serious problems for the animals. Also, the tour groups here were also very large, which made it hard for the guides to make sure that people were following their directions. Overall, it was a great place, however, and both caves really gave me the opportunity to get to know this beautiful area.

 

Coronado: A Historic Island City

(c) Access Maps

(c) Access Maps

Like much of the American Southwest, the story of the landscape begins with the first exploration by the Native Americans, and the eventual colonization of the Spanish. For Coronado, this chapter of the story began in the seventeenth century with the explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who charted the island for Spain and named it and the surrounding islands Las Yslas Coronadas. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Europeans really started to use the area, and it wasn’t until after the independence of Mexico that anyone other than whalers took advantage of the beauty and natural resources of Coronado. However, for several decades the island was bought and sold on more than one occasion, apparently by people who were somewhat short-sighted, until the island ended up in the hands of E.S. Babcock Jr., H.L. Story, and J. Gruendike in 1885. These three visionaries organized the Coronado Beach Company, and began to gather investors and buyers in order to develop a resort town between San Diego and the open ocean. In 1888, the historic Hotel del Coronado was opened, and between 1900 to 1939 Coronado became one of the major tourist draws in the area. People flocked to Tent City at the base of the Del to swim and partake in the fair-like atmosphere of the area. Movies were made there, and Hollywood stars graced the halls of the Del. After 1939, the fickle demands of tourism shifted, but the value and beauty of this area ultimately continued to draw visitors to the island, and helped maintain some of San Diego’s unique landmarks. (Source).

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

As with its history, the atmosphere of Coronado is unique, even for the generally sublime nature of San Diego and the warm, ocean environment of Southern California. The massive Coronado bridge, which arches over San Diego’s bay waters, serves as a portal to this beautiful place in the mind of the imaginative. Drivers need to keep their eyes on the road here, as California traffic isn’t forgiving, but for passengers the bridge can inspire a feeling of flying, and at the very least, offers views of San Diego and Coronado that are impossible to capture from the ground. Once across the water, the roads get smaller and I always immediately get the feeling of a small town. The houses here are manicured, and varied, but have a standard of beauty that suggests the wealth of anyone who can afford property on the island. The bridge dumps its passengers into the neighborhoods, which most people navigate through to the main street of Orange Avenue. Anyone spending a day or more in Coronado would be missing out if they didn’t spend some time strolling the lesser traveled streets, however, as the houses themselves are lovely, but there are also a couple small churches tucked away in the more residential areas that merit a visit.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Orange Avenue is where most visitors spend their time, when not basking on the beach or exploring the Del Coronado. Here, shops and restaurants line the street and display a variety of historical and modern architectural types. The mix of buildings is appealing in themselves, and while the wares of most of the shops are fairly tourist-oriented, the restaurants are tempting. Anyone who enjoys a sweet crepe should visit Fabrison’s French Creperie Café. I have never had a disappointing crepe here, but they are only open in the morning and afternoon, so be sure to drop by before they close up. For dinner, seafood lovers should check out Brigantine’s Seafood, and Village Pizzeria has tasty pizza and a casual atmosphere; they will also deliver to your hotel room. MooTime Creamery.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Of course, the crown jewel of Coronado is the Del Coronado Hotel or the Hotel Del. I personally haven’t stayed there, but just visiting and taking advantage of the beach in front of the hotel has inspired my appreciation for this place. The design of the hotel was drawn up a few years after the Coronado Beach Company was founded in 1886, and building began a year later. By 1888, the Hotel Del opened its doors to the public, was the center of the bustling tourist town of Coronado, and claimed the title of being the largest resort in the world at that time. Prominent Hollywood and government figures passed through the halls of the Hotel Del, and even the casual visitor today would be hard pressed to miss the hotel’s proud display of photos of the Del’s historic heyday. By World War II, the hotel was no longer sought after

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

by Hollywood stars, and by the 1960s the buildings were aging, neglected, and slated for demolishment. Luckily, however, ideas of destroying the old hotel gave way to a desire to see it restored to its historical grandeur when M.L. Lawrence invested heavily in expanding the Hotel Del and adding modern resort amenities to the property. As for myself, I enjoyed taking in the hotel’s unique architecture and historical interior design. Downstairs there are a variety of expensive shops, but also an interesting display of historic photos and plaques that tell the story of the Hotel Del Coronado. I have heard that getting tea at the Hotel is something of a visitor must, but I have never had the opportunity myself. Besides exploring the public areas of the hotel, I have spent most of my time there on the beaches outside, which are cared for daily and seemed to be fairly quiet in terms of crowds.

And if you have any questions about my experience in Coronado or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on February 1st, and I will be writing about Coronado’s neighbor, San Diego.

Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, CA

As its name implies, the Torrey Pines State Reserve is one of only two places in the world where the rare Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) grows. To my eyes, the Torrey Pine is a squat, hearty tree that makes its way in the world by clinging to the sandy cliffs of the La Jolla area. Coastal storms and the harsh desert environment that the tree calls home have twisted some of the plants, but many look unexceptional. Nonetheless, I always find myself enjoying the company and experience of rare species; there’s something special about being in their presence.

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Outside of visiting for the trees, the Torrey Pines State Reserve also has a set of trails that weave through the dry, coastal environment of San Diego, and it sports a long, sandy beach perched just under the crumbling cliffs of the shrubby bluffs that characterize the park. It also home to the Los Penasquitos Marsh, which has been closed to all use save one trail. The components that constitute the reserve make it a varied place, that is appealing to hikers, travelers, and beachgoers and which kept me busy for more than half the day.

When I visited the park, I hiked up the north beach first. In the morning, the crowds were fairly limited for a California beach, but there were swimmers, sunbathers, and surfers scattered all the way from the parking lot to the northern end of the park. There was also a large group of devoted volunteers combing the beach for trash when I was there, and I always find it heartening to run into people spending their time caring for the environment. The beach seemed otherwise unremarkable, and it was made somewhat unpleasant by the close proximity of a busy railway.

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

The southern half of the reserve was more appealing, but due to my lack of research before visiting, I was somewhat surprised by the fact that I had to pay for parking two separate times as my ticket for the northern parking lot didn’t work for the other half of the park. The northern half of the reserve is home to most of the Torrey Pines hiking trails, has a visitor center, restrooms, and its own beach.

Many of the trails here meander through the green capped dunes of hard packed sand, that are crisscrossed by increasingly deep ruts and ravines that have been carved out of the cliffs over the years. These paths can take hikers out towards the cliff edge, where you can gaze out at the ocean, and take in the adventurous nature of the Torrey Pines, as many of them grow along the cliffs and in the recesses of the water-carved sandstone. I took several of these trails, and enjoyed the unique vegetation and beautiful scenery of the ocean along all of them, however, the path down to the beach from the northern bluff to Flat Rock, was my favorite place here.

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

And if you have any questions about Torrey Pines or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on New Years, and will be about my first impressions of New York City. I can already say that I do not enjoy the cold!

Puerto Penasco: A Beach Paradise in the Desert

(c) Rocky Point Restaurant Guide

(c) Rocky Point Restaurant Guide

About four hours from Phoenix and Tucson alike, and a little more than an hour’s drive past the Mexican border at Lukeville/Sonoyta sits the formerly small fishing town of Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point to Americans and Ge’e Suidagi in Tohono O’odham). While it is currently a spring break/holiday hot spot for Arizonans looking to spend some time on the beach, Puerto Penasco’s major tourism development actually didn’t start until the 1990s. Initial development was slow, but by the 2000s the growth of the tourism industry and improvements in the city progressed at nearly a monthly rate. In some places, like the community of Las Conchas, condos starting at $100,000 were common- a mere 5 minute walk from the beach.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

I have been traveling to Puerto Penasco regularly for nearly a decade, and it is easy to see why people were eager to grab their slice of paradise here. The beaches, even at their busiest, were spacious compared to the overcrowded coasts that I have visited in California. Swimming here is easy- the water is warm and comfortable, the sand is soft, and when the tide is perfect there are large tracts of relatively shallow water to drift lazily through. At other times, the waves are good enough for body surfing or boogie bordering, and despite the generally sandy nature of the beach, there are also amazing tide pools here. Puerto Penasco’s beaches offer visitors a little bit of everything.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Besides the beaches, Puerto Penasco is home to CEDO, a vibrant shopping/dining hub in Old Port/Malecon, as well as some ecological treasures (and formerly a little aquarium). CEDO is also known as the Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Oceanos or the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans. CEDO has their base in Las Conchas, which has a small museum and shop for visitors. CEDO also runs a variety of ecotourism trips, which include paddling out at Morua Estuary, trips to Pinacate (a must see!) and the San Jorge Islands, among other things. For any one interested in the outdoors, CEDO is your go-to for Puerto Penasco.

Alternatively, Old Port or Malecon is a nice dose of culture, although this area is heavily influenced by tourism, and for any seasoned traveler, it is pretty easy to see. There is lots of shopping here, and while there are definitely some gems to be found, much of what you find here are the cookie cutter souvenirs that most tourists appear to be after. There are areas of Puerto Penasco with more authentic wares, of course, but Malecon is still a great place to visit. Standing on the edge of the main road in Old Port, you can look at some of the oldest parts of the town on one side, and the ocean,

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

rimmed by mountains, on the other. Many of the restaurants in this area are built to cash in on this view, with many of them having large, second-story patios (there is even one restaurant that was built over the water). There are also many places in this area to buy fresh seafood from Puerto Penasco’s own fishermen.

Besides dining downtown, I would highly suggest that anyone who visits Puerto Penasco stop and have lunch at Pollo Lucas. This is my favorite restaurant in the whole city, and while the dining is outside, beneath a thatched roof, it is the best Mexican food that I have ever had. Everyone that I have ever have brought here has loved it. It is simple, delicious, and affordable. I highly recommend it.

And if you have any questions about Puerto Penasco or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on November 15th; about the historic Tonto National Monument!

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

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