Backpacking Desolation Wilderness – Middle Velma Lake

Perfect Camping Spot

Details: Middle Velma Lake – Desolation Wilderness

Trail Head At: Bayview Trailhead Campground, South Lake Tahoe

Length:  10 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2100 Feet

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This was our first time backpacking Desolation Wilderness in South Tahoe and we absolutely loved it! We took a long weekend, hiked to Middle Velma Lake, and were blown away by the alpine lake dotted with fir tree covered islands, sparkling crystal clear waters, our own private swimming cove, and violet sunsets.

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We made our first stop at the bright green Granite lake for some water and a little break. We drove up right after work, spent the evening sleeping in our car and woke up bright and early to hit the trail head, because we wanted to make sure and beat any possible crowds. Truthfully, we were pretty exhausted. We didn’t get to the campground until around 9:30pm (partly to blame was the half hour it took in the drive through at InNOut,) so we had enough time to change into our jams and then crashed out. Oddly, BayView Campground doesn’t have any potable water, so we had to fill at Granite Lake.

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How are these magenta wild flowers? ❤
Purple Wildflowers at Middle Velma Lakes Trail
Are these mountain bluebells dotting the paths? Welp, that’s my guess!

Our Campsite and own Personal Swimming Cove

We found a gorgeous campsite right on the water’s edge, and had the most wonderful time swimming in the crisp take-your-breath-away refreshing waters, swimming to the little islands, lounging on our rock in the sunshine and reading. We even had a mama duck and her babies share the cove with us, paddling around and leaping out of the water in ridiculous little cute flop movements, propelling themselves out of the water.

Our swimming cove - Middle Velma Lake
Check out our perfect lounge spot!

I don’t know about you, but I have to ease myself into cold waters. For me, this means standing in the water to my waist for about twenty minutes just shaking my head before going in. This trip, we decided to go for a morning swim, and as Brad was bout to dive in I just went for it and jumped. I think the latter is a much better way to go about things. Gives your body less time to acknowledge the frigidity and just feels more adventurous!

Islands at Middle Velma Lake
I love a good lake swim!
Perfect Camping Spot
Perfect Camping Spot

Mosquitoes were a little intense at night, so we just avoided them entirely by getting into our tent for dinner around 7:30pm. We lounged in our tent reading, taking in the woodsy lake view, and munched on veggie korma with salty ramen, and later creamy hot chocolates with trail mix Cliff Bars (my new fav).

I knew the sunsets were going to be spectacular. South Tahoe boasts amazing sunsets and I was really looking forward to this one at our mountain campsite. We were fairly worried about mosquitoes, especially as the sun went down after our massacre at Young Lakes, Yosemite but this was just fine, particularly near the water’s edge where the breeze kept them at bay. We slapped on some Deet and found a perfect spot on a flat rock outcropping to settle. We sipped our steaming coffee and Kahluas, as the sun set deep purple over the undulating lake.

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What I read: I read two great books this camping trip! The Guest List –  twisty turny mystery thriller in the vein of Agatha Christie, set during a glamourous wedding on a stormy island off the coast of Ireland. I also read Darkdawn, the third and final book in the Nevernight series, a rip roaring revenge fantasy, about an elite school of assassins and a woman on an epic quest of vengeance.

New purchase: We also absolutely loved our new sleeping pads, the NeoAir XTherm courtesy of my Aunt Bea, as an early anniversary gift. These pads are excellent – they kept us very warm (which, for me, is always a very pressing concern), they were comfy and well padded, and they weigh less then a pound! Great purchase.

Next up on the Hiking Blog – Kennedy Lake, Stanislaus National Forest!

Two Great Trader Joe’s Sparkling Wines

TJ’s Wines Under $10 Each

I just grabbed two great sparkling rosés at Trader Joe’s and had to share them!

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Opaline Pinot Noir Brut Rosé ($7.99):

This bottle is such a show stopper I had to grab it. Look how pretty and bright and glam it is! And, at under 8 bucks, you really can’t go wrong.  It is refreshing and light, with hints of strawberry, raspberry and citrus. Great summer sipping wine. I’m actually quite excited about picking up more of these babies. 

La Burgondie Cremant du Burgogne Rosé ($10.99):

I love a good Cremant! This french sparkler is crisp and fruity with light floral notes. It reminds me of sipping bubbles and basking in the sunshine at outdoor cafes in Strasbourg or Paris. And I don’t know about you, but anything that makes me feel transported is something I definitely want to participate in right now. I can also personally attest that it makes a great Sunday morning mimosa – particularly to watch during a Harry Potter marathon 🙂

kate mckinnon fancy GIF by Saturday Night Live

Stay tuned for my next round of TJ’s picks!

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Backpacking Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite!

Details: Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite

Trail Head At: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Rancheria Falls Trailhead

Length:  20 Miles (f**k me)

Elevation Gain: 2100 Feet

Okay guys, this hike was unbelievably beautiful. In fact, the more I think about it, (and the more time I have had to recover) the more impressed I am with the landscape. It was full of cascading waterfalls, lush alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, those sharp granite cliffs Yosemite is famous for and epic views of the glittering reservoir.

A little background about Hetch Hetchy – this area is part of Yosemite, north of Yosemite Valley. So, it boasts less crowds then the valley, a quicker drive from the Bay Area and the same gob smackingly beautiful scenery.

Wildflowers - Hetch Hetchy Hiking Trail Yosemite

This trail is quite dreamy. You spend about seven miles of the hike winding along the gorgeous, sprawling, reservoir. We noticed almost non stop evidence of bears, but unfortunately did not have any sightings this trip.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Yosemite
Hetch Hetchy reservoir is a dream

It was also an absolute bitch. We hiked 20 miles total in two days, with plenty of steep switch backs, mosquitoes and very little shade. The last day was definitely the most difficult.  At one point in the hike, on our return trip home, I really thought we might just die there on the trail.

 

Hetch Hetchy reservoir, Yosemite

Waterfall number 1, Hetchy Hetchy Yosemite
Waterfall # 1!

We took a break at Rancheria Falls for lunch and it was the most epic lunch spot, with the waterfalls cascading down the silvery granite rocks to the green pools below.

Rancheria Falls - our lunch break view!
Rancheria Falls – our lunch break view!

The first campsites are located in the forest near Rancheria Falls, so you could end your hike there but we decided to trek on to the Tiltilly Valley, because Brad had camped there on a previous trip and said it was pretty spectacular.

Lily Pond Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite
Views on the way to the valley. Getting close to the meadow!

So, there were two difficult parts to this hike:

  • THE SWITCHBACKS
  • THE BOG

After about a mile plus of steep switchbacks, we arrived at the Tiltill Valley  (yesssss). Then had about a mile left to go through straight up bog. I’m talking balancing on rocks and water submerged logs, Brad on one end, me on the other, as we tried to avoid falling in the sludgy, muddy, foot deep water. Bugs were swarming in clouds, mosquitoes were biting and I had to hardcore compartmentalize because if I hadn’t mentioned it before, I am terrified of snakes, and it was 100% Snake City. I did see one slithering away into the high grass, but just for a moment. (Insert mind exploding).

But, after we had had slogged through, we were rewarded with this magnificent, beckoning, view.

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Tiltill Valley – We made it to the meadow!

And Look at Our Campsite:

Our campsite - Tiltilly Valley, Yosemite
No biggie, just our campsite at the edge of the MEADOW
Our campfire and chairs, Tiltill Valley Yosemite
View from our campfire complete with chairs 🙂
River Tiltill Valley, Yosemite
River right next to our campsite

This was very convenient for getting water. Brad even went for a swim! Per usual, I need the weather to be a little warmer for submerging in that frigid water. I love hearing the rushing water as we fell asleep in our tent.

Brad hanging by the river, Tiltill Valley, Yosemite
Brad, chilling by the river
Tiltill Valley - Yosemite
Our meadow 😀 We earned this view !

We loved falling asleep to the sounds of  an owl hooting in the tree, as the glittering stars filled the ink black sky.

The Trip Back:

We woke up pretty early, sipped our steaming coffee and ate our breakfast bars while watching deer graze in the meadow. We packed up our campsite, squared our shoulders and set off for the bog.

Wildflowers, Hetch Hetchy Hiking Trails

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When we finally finished the hike we got home around 8pm, and collapsed on the couch with a Trader Joe’s pesto veggie pizza and wine. We, (well I) was sunburned to the nines, covered in bites, and parts of me hurt that I didn’t even know existed, but we made it! And it really was an epically gorgeous hike. Next time, I would recommend planning three days for this trip, so that you have a day in between to enjoy the surrounding, relax and recover before the 10 mile trek back. Also – bring Deet. Ours hadn’t arrived yet from Amazon, and we figured we could make it. MISTAKE.

Next up on the hiking blog: Three days in the Velma Lakes, Desolation Wilderness Tahoe!

 

 

 

Backpacking Paradise Lake in Tahoe National Forest

Spoiler Alert: I would not recommend taking this trip in early summer!

This weekend we really wanted to fit in a backpacking trip, get some fresh air, clear our minds and just enjoy the beauty of the back country. Many national forests will be opening up next weekend (YES Yosemite!), but most were still closed this weekend. Tahoe National Forest was open and had decent weather so we decided to try our luck. As you’ve probably picked up from some of these blog posts, I am an eternal optimist. Mostly things turn out well. This time, it bit me right in the ass.

Paradise Lakes Mountan Trail
How’s that view? Tahoe you show off 😀

Details: Paradise Lake, Tahoe National Forest

Trail Head At: Paradise Lake Trailhead, parking north side of I-80 at Exit 176

Length: 14.9 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2,582 feet

While the hike was beautiful and sunny, it was also almost completely covered in snow. I figured I’d give it the old college try, but after hiking about four miles and biting it pretty several times, I was done. About half way through the hike, I slipped, twisted my ankle and decided that’s it! I’m calling it! Brad was a total Champ and took some of the heaviest items out of my pack to carry so the return trek would be easier for me.

Paradise Lakes Trail - Covered in Snow

Paradise Lakes Snow Covered Meadow - June

We could have finished hiking to Paradise Lake. since we had a downloaded map we were still able to follow the trail through the snow, but trudging and slipping and falling then trying to recover with those heavy packs is fairly miserable. At least for this gal! Guess I’m just a fair weather camper. John Muir would probably have been quite disappointed in me. We headed home and drove directly to InNOut 😀

So my advice on hiking Paradise Lake: I think it depends on the season and amount of snow fall, but in general terms, for elevation over 7,000 feet in the future I will wait for at least mid summer. This hike was very beautiful though. I think it will have amazing sunsets and swimming in the lake will be super refreshing, so we hope to try this trip again in August!

Brad and Brie Paradise Lake

Next up on the hiking blog – Hetch Hetchy Yosemite!

Three Great Amazon Shows to Watch During the Lock down

Here are some of the best, most escapist, most binge worthy things I have watched on Amazon during the Pandemic:

Fleabag Wedding

Fleabag: I watched this show about a year ago and just rewatched it last week. I highly, highly recommend doing this right now for your state of mind. It’s a feel good, hysterical, whip smart, empowering show. Phoebe Waller Bridge is a flat out genius. My very favorite is the second season – it’s a perfect show. Also, get your hands on a Gin & Tonic in a can to drink while watching. Then you can cheers Fleabag and her priest properly. 

Synopsis: A dry-witted, free-spirited, woman, known only as Fleabag, has no filter as she navigates life and love in London while trying to cope with tragedy and her insane family.

Poldark 2

Poldark: Oh for the love of God just watch this beautiful, transporting show. The scenery is dazzling, the leads are magnetic and this is pure English seaside escapist magic. 

Synopsis: Set in the late 1700s in Cornwall, it follows the story of the dashing Ross Poldark, recently returned from the war to find his father dead, his mine is disrepair and his fiance married to another. And CUE SCENE! 

Trueblood Whole Cast

TrueBlood –  This show is pure escapist fun. The original, racy vampire series features Sookie Stackhouse,a  blonde Anna Paquin, who works as a bartender in Bon Temps, Louisiana and can read minds. Fresh, exciting, sassy and funny as hell. PLUS, Alexander Skarsgaard stars as a viking. Also, I just really love walking around the house saying SOOKIE! (Rhymes with Cookie). Lafayette is and might always be one of my favorite all time characters. I am very seriously considering naming my future corgi puppy LaLa in tribute. I know Bill is exceedingly annoying and resembles a reptile, but you can get past it. The first three seasons are definitely the best, but my very favorite scene comes in the second to last season, when Lafayette makes amazing margaritas for the ladies who work at Merlottes and they settle in sipping their margs to watch the show as Maurella the fairy gives birth, (orgasmically somehow?!), to five babies. I told you, it’s bonkers.

Synopsis: In a time when vampires have entered the mainstream, young Lousiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse sets out to prove not only can vamps and humans co-exist, they can find true love.

Backpacking Mount Shasta to Seven Lakes Basin

Our Campsite on the Alpine Lake - Mount Shasta

Here’s a Great Backpacking Trip to Take During the Lockdown!

Summer is officially here which means it’s camping and backpacking time!  Luckily, hiking trails in Mount Shasta are still open, and this is a great getaway for backpacking trips, where it is easy to social distance. Because this is a rather secluded place, we saw very few people, and had an entire lake to ourselves for camping!

Brie Hiking Mount Shasta
I’m going on an adventure!

Details: Seven Lakes Basin Via the PCT, Mount Shasta

Trail Head At: Gumboot Trail

Length: 7.8 Miles Give or Take,  More if you hike to other secluded lakes

Elevation Gain: 1,309 feet 

Mount Shasta Hike Itinerary:

We drove up Friday afternoon, and spent the evening at Gumboot Campgrounds, a first-come-first-serve surprisingly lovely campsite on a crystal clear lake. We arrived around 5pm, gathered wood and started a fire. This campground is at fairly high altitude and got very chilly as soon as the sun went down, so we threw our sleeping bags over our shoulders and snuggled up next to the fire. We breathed in the fresh pine, ate our turkey and sharp cheddar sandwiches and lost ourselves in the mesmerizing heat, flicker and crackle of the fire.

Camping Gumboot Campground
First camping trip of the season!

In the morning we packed our things, gobbled our PB and dark chocolate protein bars, sipped our steaming hot coffees fortifying ourselves for the day and headed to Gumboot Trail for the hike. This hike begins at the PCT and then branches off toward the Seven Lakes Basin trail.

Beginning the Hike! Gumboot Trail, Mount Shasta
Beginning the Hike – We’re on the PCT!

Our favorite parts of the hike were the panoramic views of Mount Shasta, the sparkling lakes below and the stunning alpine vistas. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and we soaked in the sunshine and wide open spaces.

Seven Lakes Basin Mount Shasta 1

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Brad Seven Lakes Basin Mount Shasta

We also loved hiking the PCT. Ever since reading and then watching Wild, I have wanted to hike part of the PCT, so that was great fun.

This trail is about eight miles so not too long of a hike, but there are several patches of slippery snow from the winter to hike through, and a steep descent covered in loose rocks down to the lakes which make it a little more difficult.

A Lakefront Campsite, Campfires and a Sky Full of Stars

When we reached the lower lakes, we had them completely to ourselves and chose an epic spot on the shores of the glistening emerald green lake, with a fire ring.

Our Campsite on the Alpine Lake - Mount Shasta
Our view ❤

After resting and having a bit of lunch, we hiked to another pristine lake about twenty minutes away through some golden meadows, surrounded by snow and evergreens. I was sure we were going to see some bears, the setting just felt right, but we have the entire summer ahead of us. We spent the afternoon setting up camp, lazing by the lake and reading books. I read the second book in the Nevernight series, which if you haven’t read is absolutely brilliant.

Pristine Alpine Lake - Seven Lakes Basin
I’m such a sucker for an alpine lake!

Our Campsite Mount Shasta

Alpine Lake Mount Shasta
How’s that emerald water?

Right around sunset things got really chilly, with the wind whipping through the trees. We braved it out in our tent, reading books and relaxing and after the sunset the weather was quite pleasant. We loved snuggling up to the fire pit and taking in the pristine views. We just slung our sleeping bags around our shoulders for warmth. At night the shimmering stars were absolutely amazing, filling up the sky.

Sunset Alpine Lake Campsite Mount Shasta
How’s this mirror like lake after sunset?

Mount Shasta Campsite - Stars

I really had fun this trip learning how to make a bag drop, start a fire from scratch and use a flint. Usually Brad handles the campsite set up, but I think it’s high time I learn. Plus, I pretty much felt like Katniss Everdeen.

The next morning we slept in, then crawled outside our tent to have breakfast and start the fire. We nibbled on some strawberry breakfast bars while lazily sipping our coffee and Kahluas and gazing out over the lake. After a leisurely morning, we headed home about midday, energized by all that fresh mountain air and exercise, excited about our new backpacking spot.

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Mount Shasta Seven Lakes Basin Trail

Brad Seven Lakes Basin - Snow!

Next up on the hiking blog: Backpacking in Stanislaus National Forest (hopefully). National forests are supposedly opening up in June, so finger’s crossed this is true and we can get a permit. Bring on the bears! Bring on the meadows! Bring on that mountain air!

 

 

A Budget Guide to Whole Food’s Best Sparkling Wine 

I’m Sampling the Budget Bubbly At Whole Foods – And Listing the Tastiest Options!

Let'S Do This The Magicians GIF by SYFY

Considering the state of things right now,  I have been limiting my trips to the grocery store as much as possible. Our local Trader Joe’s has been so insanely crowded lately, that I’ve been trying out other grocery stores in the area. We have a Whole Foods in walking distance and while doing a quick grocery run, I spied this Vino Verde and Cava both under $10, and figured I should probably snatch them up.

parks and recreation treat yo self GIF

My First Budget Option Wine Picks:

I will continue to pick up different options each trip until I have found the very best budget friendly choices. Here are my first samples:

Broadbent Vinho Verde ($9.99): Vino Verde is one of my go-to favs for spring and summer. It is a lightly effervescent, refreshing, crisp white wine with pretty floral notes from the green region of Portugal.  We fell in love with this wine on holiday in Lisbon two years ago, and are always on the lookout. It’s a great summer sipping wine. Whenever I see the tall, thin bottle tinted green with a screw top on the shelves I make a beeline for it.

Cava Roger D’Anoia ($8.99) Dry and crisp with nice bubbles. This was a decent Cava, but I will probably try another my next trip.

 

Additionally, I have been drinking pink lemonade lately as a treat. Remember that frozen lemonade concentrate you used to drink as a kid? Well, I’ve started making pitchers of it to keep in the fridge on weekends for Brad and I, and I highly recommend. Nothing like pink lemonade to lift your mood! 😀 It’s our go-to treat after backpacking as well. A trip to InNOut and a large pink lemonade! Also, the frozen limeade makes a fantastic margarita! Who knew?!

I think it’s a good idea to treat ourselves right now, and Happy Hour is a great way to make things feel celebratory.

season 2 drinking GIF by The Good Place
Literally, my happy hour dream right now 😀

Next up on the wine blog:

Sampling the Budget Bubbles at Safeway. Stay tuned for the next round of picks!

The Office Party Hard GIF

Five Great Netflix Shows to Watch During the Lockdown

Now that we have tons of time on our hands, here are some of the best, most escapist, most binge worthy things I have watched during the Pandemic:

Ozark: What to know about Jason Bateman's Netflix drama, season 3 ...
SO MUCH TENSION

Ozark – Hell yes! This show is flipping fantastic and completely riveting. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are excellent as a couple desperately trying to make the best of a horrific, constantly escalating situation. Linney is an absolute powerhouse. Julia Garner as Ruth, a pickpocket who quickly becomes embroiled in the couple’s schemes is magnetic. Somehow this pitch black show also manages to be very funny and there is no shortage of shocks and surprises. I loved it. It even made me consider visiting The Ozarks, which, I went to on a family vacation and was widely considered our worst holiday. Ahem: MOSQUITOES AND SCORCHING TEMPS I’m looking at you. 

Synopsis: Financial advisor Marty Byrd drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder money to appease a drug cartel.

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THAT DRESS

Dead To Me: This dark comedy is a great story of female friendship and female rage. It’s original, it’s surprising, it’s funny, and I loved the twists and turns. The Newport Beach location is such escapist fun right now. Also, I was obsessed with Judy’s amazing outfits. Seriously. I hunted one of her boho dresses down and bought it on Amazon. Linda Cardellini is a great actress, she’s so natural. Season two ends pretty explosively, I just finished the finale and am ready for the third.

Synopsis: Grief stricken and rage filled widow Jen meets nurturing free spirit Judy during a grief support group and they strike up a deep friendship, however Judy has some shocking secrets of her own.

Outer Banks: The Emotional Stages of the Addictive Teen Soap

Outer Banks: This teen adventure mystery is ridiculous, but it has beautiful locales, a search for buried treasure, excellent surfer chic outfits and it sure made me want to visit North Carolina. I actually had to look up The Outer Banks — they are a 200 mile long string of islands off the coast of North Carolina and I am for them.

Synopsis: A group of goofy teens from the wrong side of the tracks stumble upon a treasure map that unearths a long buried secret. Adventure, chaos and budding romance ensues.

The Rose Family Relationships that Give Schitt's Creek its Heart ...

The Good Place

Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place –  I watched these comedies before the lock down, but absolutely loved them, so I am including on the list because they are such great, escapist entertainment. They are feel good, quirky, boast tons of irreverent humor with heart, and characters you will love 😀 Plus, you will constantly be quoting these characters in your everyday life.

Synopsis: When the fabulously wealthy Rose family suddenly loses all of their money, they are forced to leave their pampered lives to regroup and rebuild their empire from  Schitt’s Creek, a dinky town they once bought as a joke.

Synopsis: When Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in the afterlife, she’s both relieved and surprised that she’s made it into The Good Place, particularly since she realizes that there has been a massive mistake.

Next Up on the Entertainment Blog:

More great shows to binge watch during the lock down – Amazon and HBO.

 

An Epic Road Trip Through New Zealand’s North Island

Expect: Hobbits, Maori Monkey Carvings, Heart Stopping Sunsets and ADVENTURE!

Itinerary: We began this trip with one week exploring the glorious South Island, followed by five days exploring the North Island.

Visit Family in Auckland:

Brad’s family was not yet home from work when we arrived, so after flying in from the South Island, we picked up our rental car and went straight to the nearest beach! We stopped off for apps at a restaurant around the corner with an outdoor patio. It was great fun catching up with Brad’s family, hearing about their life in NZ, meeting their adorable girls/ pugs, watching rugby and snacking on apps and cocktails at a low-key open air restaurant across from the beach.

Matamata: AKA HOBBITON!!!

First stop – The Shire! I was basically raised on The Lord of the Rings, so of course, of course, I had long been dreaming of visiting Hobbiton and was wildly excited. It was an amazing, magical, day. We frolicked around pretending to be a part of Middle Earth the entire day. We chilled in front of Bilbo’s stoop, held Gandalf’s cane and even had a drink at The Green Dragon!

Brad Chilling In Hobbiton
Brad, just looking at home everywhere!
Brie Hobbiton
I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!

Brie and Brad Hobbiton!Brie and Brad Green Dragon! 1

Brie and Brad Toasting The Green Dragon
Toasting in the Green Dragon!

Taupo: (Toe-paw) Note: You are pretty much guaranteed to mispronounce every New Zealand City name on your first try. It’s a rite of passage.

We had great fun in this lakeside town. The sunsets over the lake were dazzling, bright bursts of fushia, fire orange and red.

Brie and Brad Sunset Tekapo

Maori Monkey Sculpture: We rented kayaks for the afternoon and paddled to the Maori monkey sculpture, which was pretty fantastic. One note – this should be a fairly easy paddle, however it was super windy on the day we went, so we had to paddle extra hard to beat the wind before it really picked up and finished the three hour trip in half that amount of time. I thought I was going to collapse after and could not get warm. Paddling is not a sport for the faint of heart! Brad had to legit carry me into the bathtub at our hotel, where we proceeded to eat a cheese plate, in the bath. I highly recommend this.

Maori Monkey Sculpture Tuapo
Maori Monkey Sculpture
Brie Paddling Maori Monkey Sculpture_InPixio
We made it!

ALSO – the McDonalds in Australia and NZ have frozen Fanta slushies for less then $1 and they are delightful! You can mix a choice of like 11 flavors and I was completely obsessed with them. I had that in the bath as well.

Eats: New Zealand has great Indian food, and we found a delicious place in Taupo for dinner, Master of India. By the last evening, we were pretty exhausted. We had been traveling for a month and just finished our grueling (well, at least for me) paddle. After the cheese plate bubble bath, we grabbed some fast food and feasted in bed while watching World War Z. (I am always in the mood for World War Z, BTW). It was a great, relaxed end to our trip 🙂

Indian Food Tuapo
To die for Indian food!

I loved, LOVED New Zealand and would return in a heartbeat. I often find my mind wandering to the majestic sprawling, New Zealand landscape, or hiking Mount Cook, or lounging on the shores of Lake Wanaka, or sipping rosé in the Queenstown harbour. New Zealand has a way of working itself into your heart and taking root. The next time, we will most likely spend a few days in Auckland to visit Brad’s family, and take some time to explore the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, then head to the South Island for heart stopping vistas, and hiking galore!

An Epic Road Trip Through New Zealand’s South Island

Mount Cook You Stunner

I often find my mind wandering to thoughts of gorgeous New Zealand and when I think about our summer in the South Island, I think about heart stopping views, expansive never ending vistas at every turn, towering snow capped mountains, aquamarine lakes, golden meadows underneath crystal clear blue skys, hikes, delicious piping hot pies, cheeses, wines and Kiwi good humor. I would return to New Zealand in a heart beat.

Hiking Mount Cook, New Zealand
Mount Cook
Mount Cook you stunner!
Mount Cook you stunner!

The South Island Itinerary:

Day 1-2 Arthur’s Pass: Brad has family in Christchurch, so we began our trip visiting them. It was wonderful to hear about their lives in NZ and to catch up. Then we headed to Arthur’s pass. This part of the South Island is where the fun truly begins for your road trip extravaganza.  One of the most amazing things about the South Island is that there are vast stretches of road where there are simply no people at all! You can get out of your car and wander. It’s gobsmacking!

Arthur's Pass NZ
Literally, not another soul around

 

Arthur's Pass, Hike
Getting some serious Isle of Skye vibes during our Arthur’s Pass hike!

Brie and Brad Arthur's Pass

Day 3-5 Mount Cook via Tekapo

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Glittering Lake Tekapo, NZ
Turquoise Lake Tekapo

Hiking Mount Cook: The Hooker Valley track at Mount Hook is one of the most gorgeous hikes I have ever taken. Every bend uncovers a stunning alpine vista – snow capped mountains! Golden meadows! Rushing rivers and glacial lakes! And, considering it’s relatively flat and well maintained the entire way, this hike provides an unbelievable effort vs. rewards ratio. The hike took us about 3 1/2 hours past two swinging bridges, to the Hooker Glacier lake.

Hiking Mount Cook - South Island NZ
I mean….c’mon.

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So many swinging bridges!

 

Mount Cook You Stunner
First glimpse of Mount Cook – insert angels singing

I get super motion sick, so had to time crossing these bridges when there weren’t many people plunking their way along, making the bridge swing. At one point I tried to “jog” lightly, to try and avoid the swinging motion. I do not recommend this tactic.

We stayed at Twizel, at a holiday park. Budget lodging is not easy to find in NZ, but holiday parks are a great option. We got an ensuite room and walked to Fishtail – the most delicious Indian place for dinner. We saw lots of family lounging at the picnic tables and using the grills. It looked fun.

Day 5-6 Wanaka

I loved Wanaka. Wanaka has a Lake Tahoe vibe going on – gorgeous, laid back, holiday feel. We began our days by grabbing flat whites at Patagonia Chocolates (why is coffee so good in NZ?!) and spent leisurely mornings strolling along the lakefront. An absolute must is hiking to Rippon Winery, the most gorgeous winery I have ever seen, for stellar Gamay Noirs, Sav Blancs, and drop dead gorgeous views. 

We hiked about an hour on a gentle winding path along the lake, the last third of the hike uphill to reach this gem.

Brie and Brad Rippon!
RIPPON WINERY!!! Whaaaat?!
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Glorious views on all sides

After basking in the splendor of the sweeping views over the lake, we did some sunbathing on the lakeshore. We took our bottle and sat on the banks of Lake Wanaka, sipping our refreshing and fruity Gamay as the day turned to twilight.20190318_200920

Brad convinced me to go horse back riding in Otago, and while I was hesitant at first, it turned out to be great fun. In California when you go horseback riding as a beginner, maybe, maaaybe, you trot. In New Zealand, you RUN!

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This was a gorgeous trip. The landscape was stunning, we saw tons of deer under the bright blue sky and the instructor topped off the trip with a drink at a rustic gold mining bar.

Day 7-8 Queenstown

The adventure capital of New Zealand is a total dazzler. We spent our time in Queenstown taking in the most spectacular views, picnicking lakeside, hiking, and indulging in the fresh seafood and Kiwi wine at the bustling harbor. We easily could have spent more time here.

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We headed to Bob’s Cove for a picnic with fruit. creamy cheeses, and stunning views. We spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the wine and fruit, sunbathing and going for refreshing swims.

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Can’t beat Kiwi picnics! (This is our Gamay from Rippon Winery :D)
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How’s this for a view?

Queenstown is 100% Lord of The Rings territory. I KNOW this is the Road to Gondor. Take your time driving the winding roads, jumping out for LOTRs photo ops.

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In the evening, we headed down to the harbor for some divine New Zealand rosé, and unbeatable views. We also really liked lounging and sipping drinks on the docked boat turned bar Perky’s.

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Queenstown harbor – NZ roses are my new favorite!

Note – I don’t have a picture of this, but I was sitting at the harbor watching the playful ducks and devouring my Fergburger, when I noticed some pretty large shapes undulating underwater and realized they were massive eels! I pointed them out to Brad. It was clear the ducks did NOT care for them either. About two minutes later other people began to notice them and we heard them gasping.

Milford Sound – If you have the time, check out Milford Sound. Take a picnic and cruise the NZ fjords. The cruise takes you past cascading waterfalls, rainbows glittering over deep green water, and lazy seals lounging on the rocks. We took a tour, the trip is 3 hours each way, so it is an investment, but a gorgeous experience if you have the time. Who knows when we will make it to Norway, so couldn’t resist the opportunity to cruise the fjords!

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New Zealand Eats:

Pies, just non stop pies and cheese boards, and seafood and great, budget friendly wine. I especially enjoyed the rosé and gamays. New Zealand also has great Indian food. I especially loved the rich, creamy, butter chicken pies, and the savory breakfast pies. We enjoyed the lakeside restaurants in Wanaka for sunset and really liked Erik’s Food Truck for fish & chips in Queenstown. We loved taking our piping hot meal and savoring it while the sunset over Lake Wakatipu.

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Brad looking cool as AF. Aside: So. Many. Pies!
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To die for Indian food!
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Fish and Chips + Shrimp and Chips at Lake Wanaka

Where to stay: As New Zealand was part of our final hurrah, long way around, one month trip, returning from Germany (we also visited Bali and Australia), we tried to stay in budget friendly lodgings, which is possible to find in NZ if you really do your research. We stayed at an array of hotels and parks. Holiday Parks are also a great option in NZ.

Next up on the blog – Road Tripping NZ’s North Island – Hobbiton, here we come!