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MUST READ: “Love with a Chance of Drowning”

28 Jul

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“Love with a Chance of Drowning” by Torre DeRoche is the true story of DeRoche’s adventures in meeting a guy in a bar and months later spending about a year (I believe) traveling in a sailboat with him from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas to the Pacific Islands.  DeRoche goes on this adventure despite her fear of deep water.  This book really makes you believe that life is about the adventures in life and that fears can be overcome.  It also makes you believe in love.   I loved this book and highly recommend it.  It made for a great beach read.

The Essential Travel Guide to Perth

25 Mar

Perth, in Western Australia, is one of the most modern and fastest growing cities in the developed world.  Despite this, it is still what would be considered a ‘hidden gem’ when it comes to taking a holiday in Australia. Most tourism in the country centres on the huge coastal cities in the south and east, that everyone around the world knows about. If not there, then the ‘Red Centre,’ with Uluru, Alice Springs, and thousands of miles of outback, tends to enjoy much attention.

A huge city and well on course to become a global business hub in recent years, Perth offers just as much as the other areas mentioned.

To prove it, we looked at some of the great things to see, at places to eat, and at where to stay when you travel there.

Getting to Perth

Before experiencing such a great place, you need to get there first. While Perth has a major international airport taking flights from cities around the world, look to add a touch of adventure to your trip.

Travel into another major city by aeroplane, and then use a company such as Transfercar to enjoy cheap or free car hire across the country to Perth. Yes, such a journey will take a few days, but it will give you the opportunity to add another experience to your break.

Some free time will also allow you to plan what to do when you get to Perth.

Getting Your Head Down

If you are looking at the higher end of accommodation yet do not want to pay a fortune, consider somewhere like the Metro Hotel. Four stars and close to the city centre, it is clean, tidy, and comfortable, with great transport links out of and around Perth.

Alternatively, the Underground Backpackers Hostel is almost in the dead centre of the city. This location will give you great comfort at even more of a bargain price.

Finding a Bite to Eat

With hundreds of bars and restaurants, finding the best can be a chore. Depending on your tastes, Perth offers something for every palate.

The Red Cray Seafood Restaurant offers great tasting fresh dishes for lovers of fish, crab, and a range of exotic seafood. Saowanee’s Place is one of the better Thai restaurants in Perth. Sawanee’s has won awards in each of the last five years if you need any more convincing.

What to Do

As with every Australian city, Perth is a culture and heritage rich place with so much to see and do.

  • Outside of the city, head south to the popular town and wine region of Margaret River, where you will find great shops and restaurants.
  • Back in Perth, take a tour of the once notorious Fremantle Prison, a former Australian convict site now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
  • Sea life lovers have to visit the Aquarium of Western Australia, home to the country’s largest single aquarium and one of the best such centres in the country.

There will be even more to discover when you get to Perth. Print out and keep this list for those annoying occasions when your mind draws a blank.

This article is written by Transfercar, a car rental Australia service, providing travellers free transport for major cities in Australia.

 

One Week on the North Island of New Zealand during Winter

5 Sep

When I was searching for what to do in New Zealand for one week during winter, I searched and searched for someone to have written my exact title for this blog.  Because I was not so lucky in finding one, I will create a blog for all people wanting to know about options for a one week trip to the North Island of New Zealand during winter.

The following was our itinerary in New Zealand and my recommendations: 
Monday, August 29: Arrive in Auckland at 10:20pm.  Go straight to Mercure Auckland (our hotel for three nights).
Recommendation – Do NOT stay at Mercure Auckland.  It had a great location and low prices, but not the greatest hotel.  Room was extremely small, there were no amenities (e.g., no alarm clock), and the street noise was tremendous. 
Tuesday, August 30:  Morning – explore neighborhood.  Afternoon – Wine tour with NZ Wine Pro.
Recommendation – Check out the various discount websites (such as Groupon and Living Social).  Matt and I were able to get this tour for half the price through Groupon New Zealand.  Additionally, I highly recommend booking a tour with NZ Wine Pro.  Matt and I had a private tour with John (the owner).  We were taken to four vineyards, we had a wonderful lunch which was included, and we were taken to a beautiful beach.    
Wednesday, August 31: Day tour to Waitomo & Rotorua including Polynesian Spa through Gray Line.  Dinner at Viaduct.
Recommendation – Have dinner at the Viaduct.  Waitomo and Rotorua are tourist destinations.  If you want to see the highlights of New Zealand, go to Waitomo and Rotorua.  And, don’t miss going to the Polyneisan Spa (although beware that you may have to get rid of your clothing afterwards due to the sulfur smell).  However, if you are looking for a more geniune New Zealand adventure, skip Waitomo and Rotorua.
Thursday, September 1: Bus to Paihia, Bay of Islands.  Boat ride to Russell.  Stay at Waterfront Suites in Paihia.
Recommendation – Russell houses the oldest hotel and bar in New Zealand.  Besides that hotel, there is not much to see in Russell.   If you decide to stay in Paihia (which I recommend) stay at the Waterfront Suites.  We got a good deal on Kayak.com to stay at this luxury hotel.  Our suite had a living room, a full kitchen with all appliances, a laundry machine, and even a towel warmer.   

Friday, September 2: Day tour to Cape Reigna through Great Sights.
Recommendation – I highly recommend this day tour through Great Sights.  Matt and I were able to see the northernmost tip of New Zealand, jump into the Tasmanian Sea, and sand board and sled. 
Saturday, September 3: Morning – Dolphin tour through Great Sights.  Return to Auckland.  Dinner in Sky Tower.  Hotel – Sky City Hotel.
Recommendation – Stay at least one night at the Sky City Hotel.  There is a casino and many restaurants in the hotel to keep you busy.  Additionally, make reservations before your trip for dinner in the Sky Tower.  With regard to the dolphin tour, it was nice to see the different islands and dolphins swimming next to the boat.  However, it was very cold and at this point of the trip I was getting sick.  If I had not been sick, Matt and I would have done the island stopover and probably would have enjoyed this tour more.
Sunday, September 4: Morning – Explore neighborhood.  Afternoon – Flight back to the United States.
Recommendation – To save money on transportation to and from the airport, take the Super Shuttle.  A final recommendation is to not spend much time in Auckland.  We had fun exploring the shops and parks during our free mornings, but I can’t imagine spending more than a couple mornings exploring Auckland.    

French Polynesia: Move Over Honeymooners – We’re Celebrating Our Engagement Moon

29 Aug

As you are aware, Matt and I became an engaged couple in the French Polynesia and, in particular, in Tahiti.  Now, not only can the Tahitian Islands claim the No. 3 spot in Modern Bride Magazine’s “World’s Best Honeymoon” survey, but they could easily start marketing themselves as the place to get engaged.

It is much easier and cheaper to take advantage of the Tahitian Islands than people think.  From time to time, you can find some great deals on Air Tahiti Nui’s website.  For example, our deal was for around $1200/pp we received flights from LAX –> Tahiti –> New Zealand –> LAX and, on top of the flights,  our deal even included 3 nights at the Radisson Resort in Tahiti.  We ended up extending our stay in Tahiti and purchased one extra night at the Radisson for the price of less than $100/pp.  You could do the trip even cheaper by purchasing one of Air Tahiti’s discounted flights to Tahiti and staying at an even cheaper hotel.  We wanted to keep our black sand beach.

Now I do realize that we are a bit spoiled in the fact that $1200+/pp is not a cheap trip for all people.   However, considering we were quoted over $2000/pp for one week in Ireland, considering we were able to visit three destinations (LA, the Tahitian Islands, and New Zealand), and considering this is one of those “once-in-a-lifetime trips,” the cost was well worth it.

Before I left for Tahiti, I had asked around about what we should do there.  I also checked out a couple of books from the library, but those were not so helpful.  The two recommended tours I was told to take are: 1) a boat tour around Moorea and 2) a jungle tour.   The first one is a definite.  Moorea has the dreamy beaches and crystal-clear water where you step into the water and can clearly see your feet.  Moorea is also where you can take feed stingrays and sharks, which is what we did with Hiro’s Tours (http://www.hirotours.com/).  We started our day early with a taxi ride to Tahiti’s port, a ferry to Moorea, and then another taxi to a hotel from which Hiro’s Tours’ boat launched from.  The boat took us around the island to see the mountains of Moorea, a ship wreck, and the different bays.  We were also able to take a look at those famous bungalows over the water.   After cruising around the island for a while, the boat stopped at a location from which we were to play with sting rays and stand in the water while sharks were fed right next to us.  Although no one had ever been bitten on Hiro’s Tours, I still did not feel completely comfortable swimming in water with 4-5 foot black tip sharks.  I sucked it up though and went into the water like a champ.  The boat assistants make you feel comfortable being in the water with the stingrays and sharks.  They will even bring the stingrays right up on you.   You are not able to be as friendly with the sharks, but boy did they get close.  At one point, one of the guys on the tour was surrounded by a group of them.  The sharks just left him alone.

The shark/stingray tour in Moorea is probably the best tour I have ever been on.  I will never forget this time when I swam with sharks.   The jungle tour, on the other hand, is not such a memorable tour.  The jungle tour guide picks you up, he drives you through the forest, you look at a lot of waterfalls, and you play with some leaves.  This tour can be skipped.  Granted it was pretty cool to play with leaves the size of me, but I would have also enjoyed playing in the water at our resort’s beach.

All in all, the Tahitian islands are a must see destination.  Tahiti can be skipped over, but Moorea, and I imagine Bora Bora, are the islands people dream of.

French Fries, French Wine, and the French Polynesia: The Story of My Proposal

25 Aug

August 25, 2011.  No, it was not a normal day for me, Courtney Mara.  Not only was this the day that I went from being a single gal to being engaged, but I also woke up for the first time ever in a beautiful hotel room on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti.  Matt, my now fiance, and I arrived late the evening before in Tahiti and went straight to our resort, the Radisson Plaza Tahiti.  We decided to take our first day in Tahiti slow by staying on the resort.  We spent the morning and early afternoon playing on the black sand beach, floating in the clear water, laying by the pool, and trying to get the French waiters/waitresses to understand that we like “frozen drinks” (thankfully, Matt was able to find a way to get his strawberry daiquiri and my pina colada).  It all seemed like a normal vacation day.  Low and behold did I know that a big question was coming later in the day…

Matt had made reservations at the nicest restaurant at the resort.  Around 5pm we went to the front desk to talk about our excursion for the next day and to ask about the restaurant.  We soon found out the restaurant serves French cuisine, which is my least favorite cuisine.  Matt cancelled our reservation and indicated that he was not hungry anyways.  I, however, was starving.  So, instead we went to the restaurant by the beach and ordered me french fries.  Matt appeared agitated that we would be eating at this restaurant.  I did not understand why, but I was too hungry to really think into it too much so I continued to eat my french fries (I guess he didn’t want my last meal as a single gal to be french fries).  After the sun went down and my french fries were gone, a resort worker lit the tiki torches between the beach and the pool.  Matt’s attitude significantly changed.  He ran over and grabbed a place for us next to a tiki torch.  He went to the room to grab towels (that would act as a blanket) and I assumed that he was using the restroom since it was taking so long, but it turned out he was really grabbing the ring and checking on the flower delivery.   We ordered a bottle of French wine and we laid out on a couch chatting about our five years together.

I had a feeling that the proposal was coming when Matt started off our conversation with, “So, what did you think of me when you first met me?”  In my head I was like, “Is he about to propose!!??!”  I started to feel his pockets without him knowing, but with no ring box in sight or touch I told myself, “Don’t get your hopes up!”  About 20 minutes into our conversation Matt had me face him as he presented me with a dozen roses.  I was completely shocked – I had not seen that a few seconds earlier one of the waiters delivered roses Matt had ordered earlier in the day (again, during one of his “bathroom breaks”).  Matt then said, “I think you know what is coming.”  At this point my heart was racing, I had my hand over my mouth, and I was thinking, “OMG” and “Finally!”  Matt got down on one knee, pulled out a Tiffany’s cloth bag, took out the ring from the bag, and then he asked the question most girls/ladies dream of being asked by their significant others, “Will you marry me?”  I quickly replied, “Yes, of course!”  Matt placed the ring on my wedding finger and I then got down to his level and hugged and kissed him for the first time as an engaged couple.