Sunday, March 26, 2023

New Zealand 2023

Way back in 2000, I visited New Zealand for work. I returned home and told my wife what I had seen. It became her #1 bucket list destination. We worked with some of my former co-workers on an itinerary. When I shared our plans with our daughter, she said we weren't going without her so she and our granddaughters went with us.

There is no Memphis to Auckland flight scheduled so we had to get creative. With a 13-hour flight in front of us, we took a night in Los Angeles. Just by coincidence, the Four Seasons hotel was full of celebrities getting ready for the Oscars.

New Zealand's North Island has been ravaged lately. First, in January the Auckland area received an entire summer's worth of rain within one day. The airport was flooded. Below is the Immigration area.

That was just the start.

Cyclone Gabrielle hit the North Island mid-February. The damage was widespread and particularly hit one of our planned destinations.

We re-swizzled our plans and actually got a couple of bonuses from that.

We picked up a Kia Carnival van and headed into Auckland's Harbour area. We checked into the Hilton Auckland on Princes Wharf.

In Auckland, we took the ferry to Devenport and climbed Mt. Victoria.

We visited the Sky Tower, the second tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

Our daughter and oldest granddaughter took the Sky Walk on the outside of the 53rd floor.

We spent a morning at the Auckland Zoo where we saw kiwis.

We climbed One Tree Hill, a 600 ft. volcanic peak.

SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium had the best penguin exhibit we've seen.

Afterwards, all three girls took the Harbour Bridge Climb.

We hit the jackpot with our plans to ride horses on the black sand beach. There's a lot to that story. Notice that there's no one else on the beach.

Our time in Auckland was up and we headed south. Our first stop was Karioitahi Beach, another black sand beach.

On toward Rotorua, we passed through Tirua.

In Rotorua, the girls resumed their dare-devil activities at ZORB.

And Skyline's luges.

We also visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

After a 12-hour flight and 2 Sundays, we made it back to Los Angeles and spent the night at Hermosa Beach.

This is just an overview of our trip. I will be updating this post and adding more posts with much more detail.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island has been on our list for a long time. Cars have been banned on Mackinac Island since 1898. There are more horses on the island than people. More veterinarians than doctors. The taxis are radio dispatched carriages. Bicycles are used by the porters for the hotels. The island does have a distinct aroma.

Mackinac Island is hard to get to. After our exciting return trip from Edinburgh, we wanted something simpler. We flew from Memphis to Detroit with no checked bags and drove to Mackinaw City. We took the Star Line Ferry over to Mackinac Island. We bought tickets for the ferry online but we should have pre-paid for Self Park Secure parking as well.

The ferry ride is less than 30 minutes and you arrive in the center of the business district on Mackinac Island. The porters for the hotels will pick up your baggage and beat you back to your hotel. Take your time strolling down Main St. sampling the fudge.

We stayed at the Harbour View Inn. While it was a perfect location, I'll let you read my Tripadvisor review for the details.

We dined at several of the finer restaurants including The Pink Pony, the Carriage House, and the 1852 Grill Room. All three of them were exceptional. Reservations are pretty much mandatory.

We also dined at some of the more casual restaurants including Bill's Grill and Mighty Mac's. Like the finer restaurants, the food was great but no reservations were necessary. If you need incidentals, try Doud's Market.

We took the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour. That tour gives you insights into the island that you won't see from Main St. The waiting line looked long but it moved really fast. The tour is, of course, on a horse-drawn wagon. Once you get away from Main St., Mackinac Island is somewhat hilly so the horses kept getting swapped for fresh horses. There are a number of stops and 3 choices of how to exit the tour. Be sure and ask your driver where they're from. One of ours was from Romania and another was from Arkansas.

We elected to depart the tour at the Grand Hotel for ice cream and took a taxi back to our hotel.

The Grand Hotel is a destination in its own right and we returned the next day. There's a $10 charge for visiting it but it's well worth it. There are interesting shops and incredible views along the 660 ft. front porch. We had drinks in the Cupola Bar with a beautiful view.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Ireland Dashcam Highlights

I ran a dashcam for the entire trip in 2022. Here are some of the highlights.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ireland Geotracks

Here's a map of where we went in Ireland. I didn't capture the last day's drive back to Dublin.

I used my old Motorola Moto X and GPS Logger app.

Zoom in and you can really see some details.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


Our hotel, Cheval Old Town Chambers, was in the middle of the Royal Mile connecting Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. When you walked out the front door, you were in the middle of the Scottish Bourbon Street!

From one end to the other of the Royal Mile were shops, restaurants, street performers, medieval landmarks, everything!

We started our time there with a great walking tour by John Mowbray. It was tailored just for us particularly considering the 2 girls and the several senior citizens. We covered some of the Royal Mile near our hotel and then proceeded down the hill to the Old Town.

Grassmarket has a open air market and more shops and restaurants. John shared all the backstories on the sites along the way, e.g. The Last Drop and Maggie Dickson. Then to Victoria Street.

One of the most interesting sites was Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery). There were several graves there related to the Harry Potter story and "Greyfriars Bobby." Bobby was a dog who sat guard at his owner's grave for 14 years.

We weren't able to visit Holyrood Palace as there was a royal in residence and visitors weren't allowed. Maybe next time.

From our hotel, Edinburgh Castle is UPHILL to get there and then more UPHILL inside.

The one thing I wanted to see in the castle was the Coronation Stone. My first viewing of it was under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey in 1990. In 1996, the British Government returned the stone to Scotland. It was taken to Edinburgh Castle where it is now kept with the Scottish Crown Jewels. Then when I visited Westminster Abbey in 2003, it was no longer under the Coronation Chair. So I wanted to close the circle and see the Coronation Stone in its new home.

I checked that box. Unfortunately you couldn't take photos there so you'll have to take my word for it.

Around the corner and down the hill from Old Town Chambers is Cockburn Street. There are pharmacies (drug stores), pubs, and best of all gelato shops. We spent a lot of time on Cockburn Street.

There's WAY more information on my daughter's post.