new zealand

The crowds and camaraderie at Hot Water Beach

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I silently screamed so as not to make a scene around all the other people. I’ve never stepped on hot coal, but I imagine this is what it would feel like.

I quickly ran towards the ocean to soak my feet in the cold water.

Our pool was definitely too hot. Like, way too hot. Burning hot, I would say.

We went to Hot Water Beach on our third day in New Zealand. It was a destination I had looked up early on during the planning of this vacation. Since you need to go during low tide, we had to make sure we timed everything right. About 175 kilometers from Auckland, at Hot Water Beach, there is a patch of thermal water beneath the surface of the sand. How neat is that?

All the trip reports, my Lonely Planet book and Google reviews said the same thing — you have to go during low tide to be able to dig your hot water pool. (During high tide, the area you would need to dig is covered by water). Everyone also warned that there would be crowds. There would be no way around that.

Planning around the tides

Originally when we checked the tide schedule back home in Seattle, we learned that low tide would either be at 6 am or 3 pm on the day we would need to go to Hot Water Beach. I say “need to go” because we were doing a trail race within the first week of our trip and had very little wiggle room for time spent on the North Island.

We decided we would rent our car the night before in Auckland and then leave in the morning around 4 to go to Hot Water Beach as the drive would take a little over two hours. Yes, we’d rather wake up super early on our honeymoon to avoid the hoards of tourists that would be there at 3 pm over 6 am.

It didn’t work out that way.

No, it wasn’t overcrowded at 6 am. Actually, I don’t know what the crowds were like in the early morning because that’s not when we ended up going.

When we settled into our hotel and were double checking our plan, we realized we had misread the low tide times. Low tide would actually be at 5 am! Leaving Auckland at 3 am just seemed crazy. We decided to “face the crowds” and go during the low tide in the afternoon. This also meant sleeping in, which I was not opposed to.

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We left Auckland around 8 am and headed first to Cathedral Cove, which is near Hot Water Beach. You may recognize that iconic triangular-shaped cove opening from the Narnia movie!

Bryce had to navigate a lot of steep, winding, single-lane highway roads on the drive to Coromandel Peninsula. I tried my best to be co-pilot and not fall asleep. I may or may not have failed in this role.

The (really hot water) beach

We arrived at Hot Water Beach a little more than an hour before low tide. (You can still access the thermal water about two hours before and after low tide). Unsurprisingly, there were already a lot of people there.

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There was no problem figuring out where to start digging. The groups of tourists scattered closely to one another in close proximity gave it away.

We found what we thought was a nice spot of untouched sand and started digging. Because we are cheap, we didn’t rent spades like most others had. We didn’t bring shovels from home since we weren’t planning to check bags on the plane. Oh, but don’t worry, we came prepared!

Ultimate Frisbee discs. Yes, we used plastic discs to dig up the sand at the beach.

The digging

We didn’t have to dig too deep until we reached the hot thermal water. It was very hot.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” I asked Bryce, not about our choice to dig with Frisbees but the specific area we had decided to dig up. “Maybe this is why no one else is really digging here.”

We weren’t quite sure what to do. We noticed a few others who were digging beside us had started filling plastic bags and buckets of ocean water and pouring them into their holes. They were cooling down their pools.

Bryce and I tried to use this tactic, but it was a littler harder with only Frisbee discs.

I felt like we had worked too hard to abandon this hole we had dug up. But, I was also getting tired of stepping foot in the hole and feeling like I had actually burned my foot!

Bryce suggested we dig a new hole closer to the ocean water. The thinking was that this way, the natural flow of the cold water could fill our new pool.

Neighborly teamwork

After what felt like an hour of initial digging, but was probably half that time, we abandoned our super hot water hole, and started over again closer to the water.

Mind you, it was close to low tide now so the ocean line hovered nearby us. Not only were we closer to the ocean water, but this patch of sand was not above the most hot of thermal waters. (It was hot, but it didn’t feel like my feet were going to burn off like the water up above where we initially dug up).

We were closer to our neighbors than before but everyone was respectful of each other’s “space.” The Australian family next to us even offered to let us borrow their shovel more than once.

What serendipitously ended up happening were the neighboring pools sort of connecting together. The kids next to us broke down their wall of sand so that their (hotter) water could flow into our pool. We did the same to the woman’s pool next to ours. Now, not only were our pools being warmed from the thermal water we dug up, but also the hot water flowing from up above — remember, where I almost burned my feet?

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It was foreign multi-generational engineering at its finest!

“Are you getting enough hot water?”one of the older kids of the family next to us asked.

“Yes, thank you,” we replied back. “It’s getting really hot!” I added.

My comment didn’t mean that I needed this girl to get back to work, I was merely stating a fact. But, she began to rebuild their sand wall in between their pool and the flowing thermal water from up above to create a stoppage in new hot water flow.

“Is that better?” she turned around and asked.

“Yes, thank you so much!”

Guess it was paying off to be working as a team rather than by ourselves. I mean, I did have a moment of, “I hope these kids are not peeing in their pool!” since some of our water source was connected. But, I quickly pushed this thought away as these kids were all being super helpful and nice towards Bryce and I. Their parents raised them well.

It was a hot day — maybe high 80s in Fahrenheit — so after a good half hour soak, I was ready to be done. My fingers and toes were looking like prunes and I was just so hot from being in the hot water and having the sun beaming down on us.

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We finished the day by playing with the waves in the ocean water. And, Bryce threw his Frisbee around on the open beach, away from all the diggers.

Some people say there is nothing good about the North Island, but this was a great example that the North Island does have some special, not-so-secret, gems.

 

 

Pacific Northwest, seattle

Embracing (a sunny) winter wonderland

It was sunny in Seattle on Sunday and instead of leaving Seattle and taking a ferry ride, my husband and I left Seattle and went to the snow.

We’ve owned our own pair of snowshoes since December but with all the traveling in the last few months, hadn’t made it out to the mountains to use them.

Since spring is officially approaching this week, we decided this may be our last chance. We checked online trip reports for nearby trails and it looked like going to the Big Four Ice Caves in the North Cascades seemed like a good option. We’d be able to drive our (non-4 wheel drive) car on the main road, which had been plowed of snow and then hike to the trail head from the main gate. It’s also about an hour-and-a-half away from Seattle so fairly close.

Despite our best efforts to arrive early, we were parking the car around 9:30 am. There were only four other parked cars so that was a good sign — it wouldn’t be very crowded! We walked to the edge of the plowed road and decided to strap on our snowshoes rather than wait for “fluffier” snow. I mainly just didn’t want to carry my snowshoes anymore.

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It was a beautiful day to be out in the mountains. Blue skies. Birds were singing. The sun was shining bright and we quickly got warm and started shedding layers. I was doing a lot of squinting since I didn’t think to bring sunglasses!

It was about 2 miles on the snow-covered road to the trail head. We’ve done this hike in the summer so it was a bit weird to see everything completely covered in snow. Once we started on the actual trail, the packed down area of the “trail” was kind of narrow but snowshoes seemed to have been the right decision today. We saw so many footprints that had sunk deep into a foot (or more!) of snow. With snowshoes, you don’t have to worry about sinking into deep snow.

Through trees and over a few bridges, some parts of this hike sort of seemed familiar. Not only were we doing it in snow, the one time we hiked this in the summer was 6 or 7 years ago so my memory wasn’t super sharp on what everything had exactly looked like.

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From the start of the trail head, we could hear small avalanches. As we got closer to the caves, the rumble definitely got louder. We eventually reached a point where we decided we would turn around. Why take a risk with avalanches, even if they are small? From reading trip reports, we already knew we wouldn’t even be able to see the ice caves since they were completely covered in snow.

We saw two groups and one man hiking down when we were heading up. However, on our way out, we came across many other hikers. Only one other person had snowshoes and the rest were in hiking boots — with the exception of a family who was cross-country skiing on the trail! Skis seems liked a great option for the snow-covered road but seemed a little dicey on the trail. Or, maybe I just thought that since I’m not a huge fan of cross-country skiing to begin with.

More then once, a passerby in regular boots made comments about our snowshoes. One woman even said “You’re so smart!” Guess trudging along in regular shoes was more difficult than snowshoes.

Our total outing was more than 6 miles and the next day I woke up with some sore and tired legs. (At least my arms were not sore, so there’s that!)

Lucky to live so close to the mountains. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

new zealand

Christchurch — just my thoughts

I was in shock when my husband told me what had just happened in Christchurch as we were making dinner Thursday evening. It was Friday afternoon in New Zealand and the Christchurch community was living a nightmare.

Bryce and I were just on vacation in New Zealand last month and visited Christchurch. I couldn’t believe the news he was reading to me off of his phone.

Hasn’t this city been through enough?

Christchurch had a massive earthquake in 2011 that destroyed its city center and killed more than 100 people. When we visited the city, there were parts of it that looked like the quake had hit earlier this year. That’s how much destruction it caused.

But, the city was rebuilding. Everyone we came across were so nice and friendly.

Obviously, a natural disaster is far different from human-caused terrorist attacks.

My heart hurts for not only Christchurch, but Muslisms around the world.

Can you imagine how it would feel to be scared to go to your place of worship? Or, if you are not religious, to a place that is special and sacred and is full of comfort to you?

When I woke up Friday morning, I was still deeply sad and then got angry. My local newspaper had very little coverage on this news. My dad, who is currently visiting my grandma in Japan, said Japanese news outlets were showing some coverage of the New Zealand Police conferences.

I wrote to the online editor of my paper about how disappointed I was in the decisions they made for what was front page news. It’s the first time I have every written to any editor of a newspaper. And, don’t get my wrong, I have a soft spot for journalists … I used to be one “a lifetime ago.” But this was just unacceptable to me. No banner alert about this news on the top of the newspaper’s website? Why couldn’t the local neighborhood story that was front and center wait until the following week?

And, yes, there was one story about the New Zealand shootings but it was below the fold, which meant that on your phone, you would have to scroll to even see it!

Why was I getting so worked up about this?

Because even though these events are horrifying and tragic, my community needs to know. Everyone needs to learn. White supremacy is the United States isn’t just affecting Americans. It is negatively affecting the world. This is not OK. This is not right. This should not be acceptable.

All humans should be treated with respect and dignity. And, not be feared of because of the color of their skin or religious identity — or anything else for that matter.

But, you already know that.

Maybe I’m getting more worked up about these events because I was recently in New Zealand. But, don’t get me wrong, even if I hadn’t visited New Zealand at all , I would still be livid about what took place in Christchurch.

Pacific Northwest, seattle

A quiet, friendly, place

Daylight savings time always messes with my body. I hate losing an hour of sleep. But, I guess the payoff is that you have an hour of extra daylight at the end of the day.

This past Sunday, on Daylight Savings Day, Bryce and I decided to make full use of the wonderful sunny weather we were having in Seattle — by leaving Seattle.

We took a ferry ride to Kingston.

Because, why wouldn’t you want to cruise on Puget Sound with majestic views of the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker, all from one boat ride?

We parked our car in Edmonds, which is just north of Seattle, and walked on the ferry as passengers because 1) paying for the car on the ferry is expensive and 2) our only plan was to just walk around Kingston. We caught the 1:30 ferry and had a very nice ride.

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The smell of the salt water. The sun shining. Yes, it was cold out on the deck of the boat, but it was worth all the views. It’s funny to look back and think that there was one dark point of my life where I didn’t like ferry rides. (It’s because it meant the end of my weekends because I used to work on the peninsula alway from my friends and family).

Now ferry rides are much different!

At one point during our ride to Kingston, I ran inside to use the restroom and when I returned, Bryce was still taking photos of Mt. Rainier. When I jokingly asked if he was done taking photos of the mountain, he seriously replied that he had shot more than 100 photos just of Rainier!

When we arrived at Kingston, we walked along the pier and by the shops in town. Bryce had researched a nearby park with trails that we had planned to explore. As we were walking up a pretty steep hill, that had no sidewalk nor shoulder, I noticed how every time a car passed by, the driver was would slow down and move to the other side of the road.

“That’s how you know we’re in the ‘country,'” I said. “In the city, people would still be zooming by us!”

Bryce may have rolled his eyes at this comment.

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There were clear signs on the road that marked an outlet to the trail. We suddenly found ourselves in a secluded little forest of tall trees and a fern grove. The sunlight that came through the trees was magical. It was as if the light was shining down just to play with the mossy tree trunks and luscious ferns. Beyond the trees, you could see the blue of Puget Sound. It was quiet. It was peaceful. No one else was around.

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It’s not a coincidence that it was quiet. This park is called “Quiet Place Park.”

On our way out when we reached the main road again, a couple had just parked and the two were getting out of their car.

“Did you save any photos for us?” the gentleman said to Bryce who was still holding his camera.

“Yeah, ha ha, we did,” Bryce replied.

I thought this would just be a quick banter among strangers but it actually turned into a nice conversation.

The couple started telling us more about the park and how it’s a community effort to keep the trails maintained and the park clean. “If not, the DNR will take the land back,” the man explained. His wife chimed in that the park was originally started by a local woman in memory of her daughter who was “brutally murdered.”

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We had seen a plaque that indicated the park was dedicated in memory of a daughter, Catherine, but there were no other details on the date or how old she was. What a sad story, but such a beautiful place to keep one’s daughter’s spirits alive.

Every time there would be a pause in the conversation as the four of us stood around their car, I thought the conversation was over. Don’t get me wrong! It was an enjoyable conversation but the husband was starting to hover away from the trail so I kept thinking he was done talking to us!

But, one of them would ask us another question and the conversation continued.

“Where are you two from?”

“Seattle,” we replied.

We quickly found out that this older couple used to live in Seattle but they moved to the peninsula 15 years ago. “It’s not the same city, so many changes. So we decided to move,” the husband said.

We also quickly learned that they used to live and own a business just a few blocks away from where we currently live! What a small world.

And, that the wife used to be a nationally-ranked marathoner and had competed on four national teams (for various sports) in the past. Now she’s 70 but is still fit and cares for her 102-year-old father! The genes are clearly good in that family.

It was kind of funny how many similarities there were between me and this woman.

She went to the University of Washington. I went to the University of Washington. (We found out she’s been to New Zealand) and I’ve been to New Zealand. She’s from Seattle, I’m from Seattle. She’s a runner, I’m a runner. Although, when she used to run marathons, she was saying she would do 12 milers every day. (My body cannot take on that kind of mileage. Even when I was injury-free, I wouldn’t be able to do that).

The conversations eventually came to a natural end. We said good-bye and each wished each other well.

“Don’t give away this secret place!” the man said as Bryce and I headed down the road.

“We’ll keep it a quiet place!” I replied.

 

seattle, travel

The honeymoon is not over

“It must be hard to be back to normal life,” my dental hygienist said to me as I had a mouthful of water sloshing around.

My whole family goes to the same dentist. Yes, my mom, dad, brother and my husband! My husband also recently referred a friend to our dentist so I guess we’re just getting EVERYONE to see her. What can I say? I have a really good dentist, who has a great team of dental hygienists. I have been seeing my dentist for my entire life, so 31 years, and I’ll let anyone in North Seattle know!

But, back to my original story.

I was in the chair at my dentist’s office while the hygienist asked about my wedding and New Zealand honeymoon. (Since my whole family sees the same dentist, the entire office knew about my July wedding and New Zealand trip six months later!)

The hygienist said how it must be depressing to be back now that the wedding and the honeymoon are both over.

I honestly thought I would be sadder, too.

But, I’m not!

Bryce and I joke almost on a daily basis that “the honeymoon is not over!” Even on nights when we hardly spend time with each other because he has to coach Ultimate, or something else comes up, I still yell “the honeymoon is not over!” as one of us heads out the door.

One thing that keeps my spirits up is looking forward to summer. I don’t have any big summer travel plans but I want to have as many weekend getaways and camping trips as I can with both Bryce and friends.

You may think that it’s too early to plan for summer when some streets in my neighborhood still have clumps of snow, but it’s not! Summer in the Pacific Northwest is wonderful and with that, popular. I wanted to reserve a camp site out on Kalaloch, which is on the Olympic Peninsula, but guess why I didn’t? All weekend camp sites from May to September are all booked!

So, now is definitely the time to start thinking and planning for summer weekends.

The honeymoon is not over.

 

 

new zealand

Auckland: I could live here

We started and ended our New Zealand trip in Auckland, mainly for convenience’s sake since we were flying in and out of Auckland Airport from Oahu, Hawaii.

I had big dreams to see as much of the South Island as possible so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Auckland, which is on the north end of the North Island. A friend who lived in New Zealand for a year also confirmed that Auckland is like Seattle so I didn’t need to spend a lot of time there.

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I agree with her opinion.

It’s like Seattle, but better!

We only spent two nights and a full day at the beginning leg of the trip and then a night and most of the next day before our return home. So, just a bit of touring around the city but I’d like to think we did and saw a lot in that short time.

I liked that Auckland was super walkable. Seattle on the other hand, is not really walkable. I liked that there were so many options for Asian food. I liked that there were spacious and pretty parks within the city.

Maybe this sounds like it could be any big metropolis but I liked Auckland more than I thought I would.

Auckland, New Zealand

Oh, another added bonus: there were so many places to rest throughout the city! Clean park benches. Large wooden lounge chairs. Bean bag chairs on a grassy lawn. I took advantage of all of these as Bryce and I did a lot of walking throughout the city and at times I just wanted to rest for a hot second or two.

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On our last night in Auckland, which was also our last night in New Zealand, we came across a street market below the Sky Tower. It was a big celebration for Chinese New Year with various food vendors, music, and entertainment. I had an authentic looking and tasting jianbing (think Chinese crepe), something I had only ever eaten before in Beijing!

I could get used to a life where I can randomly stumble upon a street market that actually has good food!

Auckland surprised me in a good way.

What city have you been to that liked more than you thought? Or, could even picture yourself moving to?

japan, seattle

Will travel for matcha

If I had to pick my favorite food, it would be cheese, closely followed by matcha parfaits.

Although, I really love anything matcha.

Matcha tea. Matcha lattes. Matcha pound cake. Matcha roll cake. Matcha cookies. Matcha mochi. You get the idea.

It’s hard to find good matcha though.

I am in no means a matcha snob. I’ll order matcha mattes at Starbucks but usually ask for it unsweetened. Any other coffee shop, I am usually wary of their matcha unless it is run by Asians, or, they somehow indicate that they are matcha aficionados.

So, you can see why I am in matcha heaven whenever I go to Japan.

I try to eat as much matcha soft serve and parfaits as my stomach can handle — which is usually once a day — since we usually walk a lot when we are in Japan.

Several years ago my cousin introduced me to Nana’s Green Tea in Tokyo. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s a chain that produces matcha drinks and desserts. And, it was so good. We went to one in Tokyo and I ordered the matcha parfait with warabi mochi.

The mochi was so soft I wanted to sleep on it like a pillow. Sure, I could have done without the whip cream but that would mean no matcha syrup drizzle on top! This would become my new dessert staple when visiting Japan.

A year after this first introduction, I was back in Japan and went to Nana’s in Yokohama and I thought about trying a different dessert. But, of course, got the parfait with warabi mochi again. When you know what you like, why change it? It was still so good.

Then last year I learned that a Nana’s had opened up in Vancouver, BC. I go to Vancouver all the time! (OK, by all the time, I mean at least once a year since it’s not too far from Seattle).

The Vancouver location is in the outskirts of town but Bryce and I made a stop after a weekend of already eating a lot in the city. It was last summer and Nana’s had just recently opened there so it was pretty crowded. I was thrown aback that they had pretty bad customer service  — “This would NOT fly in Japan!” I thought. On top of that, they were out of warabi mochi so I couldn’t order my go-to dessert! I settled for the regular matcha parfait and it was still tasted good.

But, it was a little tainted by the experience of their employee not being willing to give us small change when we paid (so that we could pay for street parking) when we had purchased one parfait and a cup of matcha that easily added up to nearly $20 with tax!

When she handed up back big bills and we asked for coins, response was “We don’t do that here,” followed by what I took as an eye roll.

You don’t do good customer service?? (They also had a sign that said each person in your party needed to order their own beverage or dessert. Originally Bryce wasn’t going to order anything because he wasn’t really hungry. I don’t ever remember seeing signage like this in Japan. OK, rant about the Vancouver Nana’s over!)

Despite the weird experience in Canada, I was excited to hear Seattle would be getting its own Nana’s. Finally, good matcha will be in my home town! I can have my favorite matcha parfait all the time now! When I learned the location would be downtown Seattle, I was a little disappointed since it’s a pretty inconvenient location. No parking. Always traffic to get downtown.

It opened last fall so I waited for the initial crowds to die down. My friend Nikki and I finally tried it last night after work. It ended up being a nice 25-minute walk from my office. I was delighted that this location had a lot of seating, natural lighting and friendly employees. (I also did not see a sign that enforced a minimum purchase requirement, which I appreciated).

I ordered the matcha parfait, with of course, warabi mochi. Nikki ordered a seasonal matcha parfait with matcha chocolate. They were both tasty!

My parfait tasted just like the ones I have enjoyed in Japan. And, I was happy to enjoy it in the good company of a close friend.

But, there’s just something about eating matcha in Japan that makes it taste just a little better. Maybe because I’ve always pictured it as a “special treat” that I eat while on vacation. Maybe because I associate it with my nostalgia of Japan from childhood.

I’m looking forward to my next visit to Japan, whenever that may be, and knowing that if I ever get a little homesick for my favorite matcha dessert, it’s only a 25-minute walk away.