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If you love rides, you’ll probably be all about heading to Disneyland when you visit LA, but actually, the innocuous sounding Knott’s Berry Farm will have you gasping for breath and begging to get off some of the scariest roller coasters and rides in the world!

Knott’s Berry Farm started in Orange County California as a berry farm and is where the boysenberry was first propagated. Who knew?! Cutely there is still a berry farm on site and an olde worlde shop where you can buy jams including the aforementioned boysen.

There is a wild west themed train where the faint hearted should prepare to have their britches shunted off when armed bandits break into your carriage. Fun if you’re expecting it. A pant-ruiner if you’re not.

But that’s all the just the side show to the monster rides that have proven to be too scary for me. I have tried some of them and others I just stand and stare round-eyed at the screaming punters wishing they were standing round-eyed with me.

Take the Supreme Scream, which I stupidly went on. The name is really misleading. It was so fast and so terrifying it rendered me speechless. Screamless. Gasping for a gulp of air during the 45-second duration. It’s a vertical rocket launch ride with shoots you on your seat 77m into the air in three seconds with speeds maxing out at 80kph, you suspend weightless for a moment in time where I swear I could see the curvature of the earth as I looked for my stomach somewhere below, then down we rushed for a bounce which took us halfway up the tower again before it all ended. (At the time of writing this ride is closed for maintenance).

Supremely screaming!

After that moment I was no where near game to get on the Xcelerator The Ride which is the fastest roller coaster in the park. I stood and watched people’s faces slip off as they were shot out of the gate reaching 130kph in 2.3 seconds, then hurtling 90 degrees straight down where they can gather their features again before spinning away.

A new ride, HangTime, is due to open in summer 2018 and will have the steepest drop in California with twists and turns featuring a negative-g stall loop. Apparently that means you’ll feel weightless. Personally I’d rather float sedately in a pool for that feeling, but this ride ensures Knott’s Berry Farm is on the list for extreme theme park junkies.

Renderings of the new HangTime ride opening summer 2018

But for the rest of the family, the Peanuts characters call Knott’s home, there’s tamer rides too that soak you (and then you can stand in front of full body dryers if you want to), plus kid-friendly ones.

But food was the original drawcard to this park that is nearly 100 years old and each March the Boysenberry Festival takes place.

It’s a cool story: Walter and Cordelia Knott originally bought the farm in 1920, and in 1928 in the midst of the Depression they bought more land and built a 25m tea-room, berry market and nursery where berry plants were sold. Walter worked on propagating the loganberry, raspberry and blackberry from the scraggly vines that Anaheim Parks Superintendent Rudolph Boysen had been working on. He finally hit success, named the new berry after him and today every boysenberry in the world can be traced back to Knott’s Berry Farm.

In 1934 Cordelia served eight fried chicken dinners on her wedding china and now they serve chicken to 1.5 million diners a year at their chicken restaurant here in the park.

Click on this link to find out more about Knott’s Berry Farm next time you’re headed to Anaheim!

The post USA: Knott’s Berry Farm’s surprisingly scary rides appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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Ever since Lonely Planet ranked Waiheke Island (just half an hour by ferry from downtown Auckland) in their Top 5 list of the best regions in the world to visit in 2015, the little island that seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city across the water has been booming.

It’s idyllic climate is a microcosm of Auckland. It can be raining and drizzly in the city but the sun will be shining on the endless beaches and bays that surround this wiggly shaped island. If you’re a boatie those beaches and bays make for a perfect escape as there is always a nook to anchor in for a bit of shelter.

If you’re a wine lover then how does 30 cellar doors sound? Here is a link to (so far) my 8 favourite wineries to visit for lunch or just a tipple on Waiheke >>

Just a casual lunch at the Batch winery with views of Auckland

But while the people may be coming out here in their droves, big business isn’t. Which is lovely. The only fast food you’ll find on the island is fish n chip shops where your order is made fresh, the wood fired pizza truck at Little Oneroa beach or the Indian and Thai restaurants and a couple of burger places that cook your meal while you wait as about as speedy as it gets around here.

All that to say, there are no sky scraping hotels or chain restaurants. In fact there is very little in the way of hotels and motels and instead a whole lot of personal houses available for rent.

So, where to stay on Waiheke Island?

Be My Guest is a property management company, locally owned on Waiheke, which has a portfolio of more than 30 properties dotted all over the island at all prices. Think huge sprawling farm house with sweeping views of the city which can sleep 18, to a cosy cottage tucked away in bush where native birds play and sing. There are fancy, modern properties with infinity pools high on a cliff to waterfront houses with monstrous decks for long evenings around the barbecue sharing tales and a bottle from one of the local wineries.

Here are six that I had a look through to write about and (hopefully) help make your choice a little easier as you decide where you might stay and with how many of your nearest and dearest.

Onetangi Luxury – sleeps up to 10

The beautiful sun deck

Set high on the hill overlooking Onetangi Beach, one of the most stunning, and certainly the biggest, white sandy beach on Waiheke Island, this modern, luxury house has all the bells and plenty of whistles. Drive up the driveway, past other houses that share this amazing view and you’ll arrive at the back of the house where first impressions are deceiving. You can see nothing of what lies behind the massive glass front door at first. Photos are hard to do this place justice as there is a pool that starts in the lawn on the left of the house, goes under the hallway and ends with an infinity drop off to the view. Just wow.

The infinity pool that goes under the house!

The indoor/outdoor living of this home is breathtaking so whichever way the wind might be coming, if at all, you have a deck to sit on. The front deck overlooking that view is the hero though and the huge table is begging for friends to sit around it and tell tall tales.

There are five bedrooms all sleeping two each and four have those killer views, a gas fire in the lounge and heat pumps in the rooms for a cosy winter stay too. Hallways and different levels ensure separate wings and the huge kitchen has a scullery for a fabulous dinner together.

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Puriri Valley – sleeps up to 18

The stunning farmhouse at sunset

This stunning farmhouse sits above its own vineyard and is the ideal escape for a couple of families, a wedding party, or even some of the guests!

It sleeps up to 18 with six bathrooms and there are a couple of gorgeous spaces in here you’ll gravitate to and not want to leave – even though Mudbrick is only down the road and Cable Bay a stone’s throw from there.

Driving up to the house you’ll park on the circular drive and a double story rustic barn will be the first thing to catch your eye.

Looking from one fire place to the other!

Step in here and you’ll find up to ten people and can be accommodated in an open plan loft with three double beds (ideal for a family of teens), a master room and a little studio room.

But walk past the draping wisteria into the main farm house and you’ll step down into the great room with an enormous window that draws you into the view over Matiatia and all the way to the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The views over the vines to Auckland

The huge kitchen has been repainted and a builder’s block bench links to a farm table which I’m sure could tell a tale or two if it could talk! Two lounges are connected with an open fire the separates the rooms and outside is another fireplace and long table for long yarns under the sun set. This venue can even cater for small weddings to a max of 40, so if that sounds like you, just drop them a line.

Oh and if you like local art, they have a cool arrangement with a gallery to show the work of New Zealand artists with the pieces available for sale. And no, they don’t make a commission, they just love art!

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Waikare – sleeps up to 8

Right in the heart of Oneroa

If you love the idea of not needing a car and staying in the heart of the little village of Oneroa, bustling with cute shops and plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you sated for a month, then you’ll love this property. You could even walk to Waikare from the ferry (although it’s about 2km away!)

It sits right under a cafe actually, but that is only open in the day time, and makes getting your morning flat white fix easy peasy! Although can also mean some morning noise.

The master suite opens onto the deck and views

It’s been stylishly furnished and is elegantly designed with the kitchen as the hub opening onto the open plan lounge. But it was the huge deck with a glass front and a large table for dinner while overlooking Oneroa beach that had me. This place has a beautiful master bedroom and another with twin beds, then a large bunk bed room that can sleep five more. Ideal for a family, it’s a simple stroll to the beach and a pop upstairs for the first of many cafe visits!

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Sandcastle on Seventh – sleeps up to 8

Easy living over Onetangi

Located with great views of Onetangi and a huge deck on the front and back, this property seemed very “Ikea” to me. It’s all minimalist Scandi with wood walls and ceilings, furniture that can be in or out and an open plan kitchen/dining/lounge. Every room is designed against the hillside to take advantage of the killer view.

There are two bedrooms downstairs (you enter into the living room off the back deck) and another sleeping area made up of two bunks head-to-tail that will sleep four.

The lounge with sun deck and killer views

A great location for a family or two sharing – and the outside shower means you can get the sand off your feet before stepping inside!

Just down the road are two great cafes/restaurants and the buses come past too, so you’d hardly need a car here.

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Heritage on the Beach – sleeps up to 8

Outward appearances are deceiving!

I’ve always wondered what lay inside this row of apartments and now I know! This one, Heritage on the Beach, is deceptively large! It’s also superbly located right on the beach of stunning Onetangi. So close you wouldn’t even need your jandals! Inside has been decorated in dreamy, aqua beachy tones with a touch of Bali. A deck wraps around the lounge with a barbecue overlooking that huge lawn and the beach across the road, but if you didn’t fancy cooking you are literally a sausage throw between two great restaurants: Beachhouse and Charlie Farleys.

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This post is for girlfriends and wives and anyone who’s ever been dragged to any kind of sports game. Ever. A game to play on your own to keep the boredom at bay – and no one knows you’re doing it!

This game is the perfect ruse for looking captivated, because frankly, you will be.

It needs to be at a stadium where sponsors logos are on display, but that is the only requirement you need to occupy yourself for at least a few minutes before you need to focus again on the activity in the centre.

This game also works equally well for live sport when sitting in front of TV or at a bar with over excited fans screaming all around you.

So if you’ve exhausted the amount of times you can get away with nipping to the loo, this game will get you through!

I played the game at Dodger Stadium in LA!

What is this game?!

My mum Joanna, who has sat through more than her fair share of rugby games on TV over the years, has invented a game (actually it might have originated with her sister Jackie!) to keep disinterested fans looking like they’re actually interested – and quite frankly to pass some time. We call it the game for wives and girlfriends, but that is to be sexist. Some blokes hate sport and some girls love it, I know, I stand in both camps depending on the tedium. (I’m looking at you baseball with no score after two hours).

It’s called the Alphabet Game and this is how you play it:

Using only stadium signage (sometimes you might bend the rules to allow branded team shirts, but only under extreme circumstances) you go through the alphabet from A to Z. No finding the S or the P out of order, although a good player will remember where those letters are when they get to them and dart their eyes back!

And here’s a heads’ up for rookies: the hardest letters to find are J, Q and Z (although here in New Zealand we can find a Z on the back of website addresses) so remember where you saw those because there’s probably only one!

Another complication is if the signage is one of those electronic ones that change, although the good thing about that is the game should take you at least an inning. (#baseballspeak)

So what do you think? Will you play it?

Yes I played the game at Twickenham at the RWC final 2015!

The post The best game EVER for watching sport when you’re bored witless! appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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So you’re hitting the high seas! Good for you. I’ve done 10 cruises now and each are so different and wonderful, that I’m not sick of them yet.

But there are a few tips you need to know about how to pack for a cruise. Ready?

My sister is all set to go on Carnival docked here in Jamaica

Here are my top tips for what to take on your cruise:

A day pack/bag: Your luggage needs to be put outside your cabin door the night before you arrive at your final destination. Take a small cabin bag or day pack that you can also use on shore excursions for your nightwear and toiletries to avoid leaving the ship looking like a hipster in pajamas. Also pack your swim suit and casual clothes in it on Day 1 so if your bags arrive late to your room, you can head out to the pool without having to wait.

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I have now opened my online Travel Store and this backpack would be ideal as a day pack for walking, hiking, cycling, shopping and also serve perfectly as your overnight bag before you disembark. Shipping is only available in NZ, sorry.

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With 3000 passengers, the luggage loading is an astonishing feat of organisation!

Clothes: Here we go!

Ladies, you want to pack light so your clothes can be unpacked into the drawers and cupboards, so smart casual is the go. Mix and match pants and tops/tunics and a couple of sun dresses. Pack something for 1 or 2 formal nights. Usually I go black on black and bling it up with jewellery (it’s so easy for us girls!). Don’t bring heels. Seriously, teetering around on deck is not a good look and unless your shore excursions consist of the theatre, you don’t need them.

Gentlemen, jeans and casual tops are fine for day wear on almost every ship. (I can’t actually think of one they’re not, but want to hedge my bets). Bring button shirts for evening meals and on formal nights you’ll need a jacket and tie (or a bow tie if you’re so inclined). You’ll need dress pants too, but they don’t take up much room.

Formal wear: Most cruises include formal nights so you may want to throw in a little black dress and couple of different coloured pashminas or scarves to make it look like a new outfit. Men, if you don’t want to pack a jacket you can often rent one onboard. Formal nights mean dinner suits or tuxedos. Of course, some ships’ formal nights are not as posh as this, so once you’re booked, check on their website as to dress code. They’re fun (spot the ladies in their gowns and tiaras!) so get amongst it and enjoy the bubbly!

Sensible shoes: I’ve already explained that ladies don’t need heels, but I will allow one pair for formal nights (I know, I’m generous). But you will certainly need some good walking shoes for excursions. Also a pair of flats that are good enough to wear to dinner is essential (I had to borrow my cousin’s on our last cruise).

Gym gear: If your chosen ship has a gym (most do) then bring your trainers and if you’re anything like me, you can wash your clothes in your shower and hang them either on your deck to flutter in the ocean breeze, or in your room with the air conditioning on full roar and they’ll be dry in no time.

By the pool: Pack a couple of swimsuits so you don’t have the nasty job of pulling damp togs on when you want to hit the pool again. Take a hat, sarong and jandals (thongs/flip flops for my international readers) and sunscreen. You can dine poolside in this getup and wrapped in a sarong will likely be fine at the lunch buffet.

Laundry: Most ships will have a laundry that you are able to use (except perhaps the really posh ones where your cabin attendant will take your clothes to have them washed for a fee). Take a small packet of laundry powder to either use in the main laundry or in your room for hand washing.

With your binoculars you can zoom right in on an acropolis like this one. Gold!

Entertainment:

Binoculars are a great idea wherever you are cruising. Spot the whales breaching in Alaska, see the far off Italian village before anyone else, find a castaway lost at sea…. Take a good book (or 2). I prefer the Kindle as I can load any number of books on and they’re much cheaper and lighter than taking them from home. Take your iPod as some cabins have iPod docks (check this online with your cruise ship once you know where you’re going).

Power adapter: Depending on what ship you’ll be on that could be an American or European converter. Don’t take a power board (which I always pack to use in hotels) as these are considered a fire hazard and a no-no. I sell a Universal Adapter in my Travel Store.

Walkie Talkies are a suggestion from a reader who says they’re great for finding each other – especially your teens!

Shoe holder – those ones that hang over a door, is a great tip I’ve seen for storing all sorts of whatnots like sunscreen, yes shoes, makeup bag (if it’s small!), little foldaway umbrella. Because you’ve unpacked for the week or two, you can end up with a lot of clutter on your table. I like this idea.

Highlighter pen. This is a great suggestion for marking on your daily schedule (which is delivered to your room each night) which activities you want to do!

Breathing assistance comes at a hefty price!

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If this post was helpful, you’ll love this one: 11 things NOT to do on a cruise!

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The post How to pack for a cruise appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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In Washington DC, the city famed for the White House, government (and all that is going on there right now!), stately monuments and the collection of magnificent Smithsonian museums that line the mall and are free to the public, is another museum, off the beaten track and holding the most heart wrenching exhibit I have ever seen.

The Newseum is seven floors of the history of news around the world. It has original newspapers in its archives dating back to the Great London fire and on the top floor has Lady Gaga’s meat dress and when I was there, a video of Jimmy Hendrix playing the star spangled banner on guitar at Woodstock (amazing!)

But on the first floor, in a room that many people would walk past, is the Pulitzer Prize Winning Photograph room of harrowing and emotive images of every winning Pulitzer photograph dating back to 1942.

The 2017 Pulitzer prize winners rotate in an exhibit at the entrance

It is a room that you walk around in silence and for me, with tears. Take your time here to read the little stories behind the photo. Of the electrical worker who gave his colleague mouth to mouth resuscitation as he hung upside down from the wires having been electrocuted. Of baseball hero Babe Ruth, frail and leaning on his baseball bat in front of standing ovation three months before he died. The Vietnamese girl running naked from the Agent Orange acid drop.

But the image that made me stand still and stare the longest, and I still think about it today, is the one below of the starving child trying to make its way to a feeding centre in Sudan in 1993 as a vulture stands waiting for her to die.

This was the first photo that choked me up. Look at the whole stadium on their feet.

Taken in 1967 the linesman had been electrocuted as bystanders watched. He was saved, albeit with severe burns.

The photo that killed him

The photographer, Kevin Carter, won a prize for this photo, but was so haunted by what he saw and the guilt of not intervening that he took his life three months after the win leaving a note saying “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses of anger and pain… of starving or wounded children.” He was 33.

The photo that defined his career also killed him.

There is a lot of sorrow in this room, but so too celebrations. When you visit the Newseum, do take a right and spend a moment in the Pulitzer Prize Winning room.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photo room

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The Newseum is open 7 days at 555 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. There is a charge to enter (about $25 for adults) but your tickets are good for two days – and you’ll be surprised that you may want to come back, there is so much to see.

The post The most heart-wrenching exhibition in the world appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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I was on Newstalk ZB last weekend for an hour talking travel. It’s a talkback radio station broadcast throughout New Zealand and I’ve done these “summer broadcasting” hour long travel shows for the past four years. I absolutely love it! You can really get into talking about a destination or hear callers own travel tips and squirrel them away to try out some time.

But on Sunday someone texted in and asked where would I recommend for someone who wanted to go to an absolute hidden gem, so remote, a place no one really even knows about.

I thought about it for a bit (I only had a few seconds because dead air is never good on radio!)

Of course the minute you tell people about a remote hidden gem that “you won’t find in all the guide books”, then voila. It becomes a blog post!

But two years ago I think I found it:

The most remote place I’ve ever been, far from it all, off the internet grid, close to the rawness of nature and really an undiscovered gem by many is…

Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Driving over the sands to get to the crater of Mt Yasur

There are only one or two flights per day from Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila on the main island of Efate to Tanna. It takes 40 minutes on a prop plane over the glistening Pacific ocean.

Tanna Island is rugged and remote and its main drawcard is the constantly exploding Mt Yasur volcano that you can actually stand on the edge of with nary a fence nor even a row of pebbles to stop you stepping too far and falling into the abyss that sounds like the washing of a fierce ocean roaring way below.

We were filming video for Vanuatu Tourism and flew a drone over it – hoping not to lose it! Another guy was doing the same. Here is our 90-second Tanna Island video which you are welcome to share with your intrepid friends!

Tanna Island Vanuatu - YouTube

It was a two-hour drive each way from our hotel, White Grass, where we had pre-ordered our evening meal in the afternoon for eating when we returned after dark. Then off we went, driven by the official local guides in their 4-WD trucks which are beaten up every day on this crazy bumpy road. It hadn’t helped that part of the road up the volcano hadn’t been repaired or graded since the 2015 cyclone and huge slabs of roading concrete lay strewn like a staircase. I think work has been done since!

We bumped along the wild road sometimes sealed, sometimes dirt, with grass higher than the car on each side, broken every now and then by a gateway into someone’s home where men would be gathered outside awaiting the traditional evening kava meet-up. We drove through small villages with cell phone top up shops and small grocery stores and kids playing and kiosks selling pineapples. So green. So lush. We stopped on a bend in the road, high up with views to forever and in the distance we could see the smoke.

Mt Yasur exploding in the distance

Finally we turned off into a paddock with a building where we paid an entrance fee to the local owners, which our driver took care of on our behalf, then on we continued, holding onto the door handles to stop bumping into each other, then across smooth, wind-swept black sand with no roads, steam rising from the cone in the distance as we circled around the back of the mountain.

You’ll arrive in the late afternoon and the trucks drive really close to the crater so all you are left with is a quick 5-minute climb up the steep sandy steps. That was enough for me though, I was pooped!

A HUGE open crater edged in black sand with steam rising greets you at the top. You’ll also see the blue smoke of the sulphur and black smoke clouds billowing out. About every 30 minutes you hear an almighty BOOM and then a pitter patter. It’s not until the sun goes down that the red molten lava begins to glow and you realise the pitter patter is the sound of the rocks being hurled up and falling back into the mass of steamy crater upon which you stand.

It’s mesmerising and exhilarating and I could stand here for hours and hours just watching and listening and shrieking at the noises. It’s probably not for everyone though. A French family were visiting and one of the boys (about 10) sat with his back to the volcano waiting for his parents to hurry up. He flatly refused a family photo on the edge.

Then before it gets impossibly dark, it’s time to head back to the resort, clean up in your little bure dotted in the lush gardens and meet back in the restaurant for dinner. It was the lobster for pretty much everyone in our group to top off one of the best experiences in my life!

Flying the drone over Mt Yasur

On the edge!

Standing on the edge of the abyss

Send a postcard home! Volcano mail

Traipsing up to the rim from the cars below

Some of these kids were a bit scared! Marcus captures it all on film

As the sun goes down the glow comes up

Got it!

Lily takes photos with a birds eye view

Look for availability at a bunch of Tanna Island hotels here:



Booking.com

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Join me, Megan Singleton, Blogger at Large, on this incredible 18-day hosted tour of Italy!

We start in Rome and finish in Milan and in between we will taste and see the best the country has to offer: fresh produce, fine wines, castles and canals, markets and ruins.

This tour – with a good amount of free time – is a trip of a lifetime!

Start your incredible tour of Italy with a stopover in Singapore to eat fabulous tasty cuisine and shop – but not too much because we have the next two weeks to do that!

Spend three nights in Rome where we will have a private walking tour of the highlights and hidden gems that other tourists don’t get to see. We will go inside the Colosseum and hear stories of the gladiators, followed by an underground tour to see 1st century Roman houses. We’ll tour the remarkable Vatican Museums, Sistene Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, then in the afternoon head out of Rome to visit local villages, picturesque lakes and have dinner as the sun sets.

We’ll have two nights in Orvieto visiting the spectacular village of Civita di Bagnoregio on the way, perched on a mountain and accessed by a foot bridge.

There will be free me to explore on your own, have dinner at your leisure, shop and drink in the history and culture – not to mention the food and wine!

We will then have two nights in Siena which is our pivot point for sightseeing in Assissi, Montepulicano, Bagno Vignoni and a walking tour of Siena to see the ancient duomo, Contrada Museum and the Palio Horse history.

Two nights in Florence gives us plenty of free time after first visiting Accademia Gallery to see David, then just enjoy the city at your own pace with a free day.

The Cinque Terre villages are a highlight for visitors to Italy, so we will spend three nights in Monterosso with its lovely beaches, restaurants and plenty of things to do. Three days here will be at your leisure exploring the famous brightly painted villages and relaxing.

Then three nights in Venice will ensure we get to see and do the best this extraordinary city has to o er. We’ll take an evening gondola ride, visit local markets, try Cicche (tapas plates) and also visit the islands of Murano and Burano.

We’ll have a private tour of a glassblowing workshop in Murano and enjoy discovering pictur- esque, brightly coloured Burano, famous for its lacework.

Our 18-day tour ends in Milan with a look around the city and a fabulous farewell dinner before we return to New Zealand the next day – or some may choose to stay on in Europe and continue their trip of a life time!*

Cost is $12,995pp share twin and includes:

• Economy class airfares from Auckland via Singapore to Rome, returning to Auckland.

• Accommodation in beautiful 4/5 star hotels.

• All transfers, sightseeing tours and entrance fees as per the itinerary

• All breakfasts and some special evening meals

A non-refundable deposit of $1,000 per person is required 7 days after booking, with the balance due 3 February. As cancellation fees apply, travel insurance is mandatory.

* Speak to us about adding on extra days or personal travel to this amazing South America itinerary.

This tour has been thoughtfully designed by Megan Singleton (bloggeratlarge.com), WEKA Travel and House of Travel Howick.

Contact Alison Kearney at House of Travel Howick to book your place! Phone 09 5354559 • Email alisonk@hot.co.nz

The post Join me in Italy in 2018! appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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We just bought our first home – a bach on Waiheke Island! The island in Auckland’s harbour famous for wineries and surrounded in beaches and bays. Ours is a little 1972 classic Kiwi bach (holiday home) that has just been beautifully renovated and as I type I am sitting on my deck listening to the summer cicadas.

So in the name of getting to know my new surrounds, I have been visiting Waiheke Island’s wineries for a wee nibble of their fare and a splash of the local nectar. In fact I had been taste-testing vineyards long before we bought our little place, but now my mission is to add to this list as I down each glass.

So here’s my current review of seven wineries that all have restaurants or at least cheese platters available to sit outside:

Note: I have added to this post. We are now at 9 beautiful wineries you need to know about!

Cable Bay Vineyards

You can walk here from Oneroa or even the ferry at Matiatia if you feel like a 2km hike up hill. And you should. In the last couple of years Cable Bay has undergone a transformation. The white cloths are still thrown over tables in the newly renovated restaurant but it’s the outdoor lounge they’ve created in a sunken veranda under a huge canopy, the bean bags strewn across the lawn lapping up views of the city, the hip music of an afternoon, and the new pizza oven that’s got me. Don’t be surprised if a helicopter hovers in dropping off guests or a live music session plays on the lawn. But it’s the views that I’ll be bringing friends and family for time and again.

It’s very easy to stay until after the sun goes down here!

Every so often they throw an outdoor concert at Cable Bay under the sunset

The Batch Winery

This might be my new favourite! My first love is Cable Bay for the rolling lawn, the casual vibe and great food in the veranda restaurant, but come up here to Thomas’s Bach Restaurant at the Batch Winery, confusingly named but worth the effort to get to. It’s on the Waiheke Explorer route too. I’ve been a few times this year now, for lunch, for a glass of wine whilst watching the views from the mainland’s eastern beaches to the CBD and across to Auckland’s north shore and around to the Coromandel. Then recently we were there for a wedding of a gorgeous friend who stood under the huge tree on the front lawn wrapped in the breathtaking view and signed her name on a wine barrel. Gorgeous.

The view from Thomas’s Bach Restaurant at the Batch Winery

Goldie Wines

Located in Surfdale, just near Oneroa, this gorgeous little winery was in the throes of setting up for a wedding and as the clouds rolled around the seating for the ceremony moved from inside to outside under a monstrous tree on top of a hill with sweeping views over Putiki Bay. Now owned by the University of Auckland and home to the Goldwater Wine Science Centre, named after the founders of the vineyard in the 1970s, where students are immersed into the operating and creating of wines in a hands-on way. We ordered a charcuterie and a cheese platter for four of us, and tried wines by the glass outside as a group of lads played petanque and their girls drank wine and giggled at a table beside them. A perfect couple of hours!

The perfect backdrop for your wedding

Goldie’s deli and tasting room for sitting in or out

Man O’ War

It’s a hike to get to (about half an hour on a dirt road) across the island, or you could arrive by boat at high tide and get off on the jetty, to enjoy one of their famous platters. There is limited indoor seating, but a large marquee with roll-down wind shelters makes for the best of both worlds, right on the beach and without the wind. There are several picnic tables dotted on the lawn, kids playing cricket, and those platters. A really great winery for a casual lunch with friends sitting on the edge of lapping waves.

The cottage at Man O War Vineyard

One of two choices of Man O War’s amazing platters

Casita Miro

This winery restaurant specialises in Spanish and Mediterranean tapas plates. They also have a gin distillery here which adds a quirky element. That and the mosaic scultpuring around the building. Their food has seen the restaurant listed regularly in top 50 lists in Auckland. The feature here is the unique building and the food. But if you happen to have any broken crockery bring it out, they’ll love you for it!

Casita Miro restaurant

Tantalus Estate

Probably the newest winery on the island which opened in 2016 (on the site of the former of Saratoga Estate), this is an awesome restaurant surrounded by vines. Look for the curved wood slat ceiling as if you’re dining in a wine barrel and the incredible lighting that is handmade from gnarly grape vine roots and hand blown glass bulbs. There is a small cellar door for private functions but a large restaurant up the steps with indoor and outdoor seating and even a huge fireplace surrounded by leather couches for you to wait for your table. You won’t the ocean views of some of the other wineries, but this restaurant is worth coming for alone.

The restaurant at Tantalus

Mudbrick Vineyard

As we arrived a helicopter was just lifting off only to travel about 1km over the trees and put down its thirsty guests at Cable Bay. The first thing that wows you is Italian-inspired gardens with their views towards Auckland. There are two dining areas here : the tables and chairs outside the tasting room and gift shop or indoor casual dining if the weather is being awkward, and the fine dining restaurant where many bride has sat. The perfectly manicured hedges are stunning, and again you can eat and drink inside at the fancy tables, or sit under one of the umbrellas outside for a sip, and swoon at the trimmed hedgerows.

How about a wine tasting tour by helicopter?

Passage Rock Wines

This casual winery has outdoor seating virtually among the vines. The woodfired pizza oven spits out the best pizzas on the island, according to the New York Times, and their syrah has won 18 awards since 2004. This is a great winery to visit if the kids are in tow, meal sizes are generous and the trampoline, sandpit and bikes will keep them amused while you taste.

Te Whau Vineyard

The drive along the peninsular to Te Whau is so impressive it’s worth coming here just for a quick tasting. You can see Kennedy Point across vines draped in white nets from one side and Auckland’s far eastern beaches stretching all the way to the city from the other. The tasting room and small restaurant are in a building high above the vines below, which was a pity as I would have loved to be able to take my meal and sit down among them. I’d recommend this for a taste as I felt the restaurant looked more like a cafe but the prices more like white table cloths.

Te Whau’s grapes covered in a bridal veil on Waiheke

From Te Whau’s tasting room looking to Auckland

The Waiheke Island Explorer is a double-decker hop-on hop-off bus that leaves from the Fullers Ferry at Matiatia and stops at many of the wineries listed here about every half hour, as well as Oneroa for cafes and shopping. Cost $60 for one day pp. Family passes and 2-day passes also available.

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Tight right, loose left – driving in Europe is a breeze!

This guest post by Delwyn Sinclair, Manager of Peugeot EuroLease NZ, covers everything you need to know about self driving in France!

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Who would have thought? Working for Peugeot EuroLease for 20 years and I’d never actually sampled the product first hand. Instead, I lived and learned through my customers’ stories and feedback to become what new customers call an ‘expert’ and what regular customers call ‘friendly’ I expect.

Well that changed recently when my 17 year old visited France on a one year exchange and it was vitally necessary for Mum to visit. And because I just couldn’t say no to my 14 year old – it became a girl’s road trip.

Here is the route we took on our 15-day road trip in France!

The route Delwyn took around France

Little did my kids know it had been 18 years since I last drove on the “right side” of the road. Instead I feigned positive. And let’s face it, I have thousands of customers of all ages that have managed it without injury, so really there was no excuse. The time had come for me to walk the talk.

So after a few days in Paris visiting friends that were past Peugeot employees and since retired or moved on, I was dropped off at our Paris Orly Airport location. A sensible option for two reasons:

1 – I was heading south

2 – to collect in central Paris was just too much of a challenge – especially when neither of my daughters have drivers licences, so there was no Plan B if I failed.

Choosing the Peugeot 2008 proved to be a great decision. It was big enough (just) to fit all our luggage under the luggage cover in the boot, and as our holiday progressed, small enough to get us in and out of some tight spots. You’d think I would have taken my own advice and booked early enough to get an automatic, but no, I was a last minute customer so a manual car it was. I’ve told hundreds of customers over the years not to worry, it’s not that hard to drive a manual on the other side of the road. Guess what? I was right! Yes, an automatic would have made it easier, but to be honest the manual kept me busy and super focussed – perhaps more focussed on the art of driving and away from any distractions. We won’t mention the few times I stalled. The kids were so embarrassed, but that’s nothing new.

Our Peugeot 2008 near Beaune

An even better decision was having my 17 year old with me from the beginning. I may know a lot of stuff, but my brain still struggles with all things digital, so when it came to programming the GPS – which is actually quite simple I realised on the final day without her – it was just too much for me. My priority was keeping us all alive and on the right track, whilst still remembering to breathe. Hence, my eldest daughter was shown through the GPS system once by an Orly location employee and subsequently nailed it every time, including stops en route to destinations, car parking areas, fuel stations and more. Most important for Day 1, when you only receive 10 litres of fuel in your vehicle, she got us to a fuel station within the first 10 minutes then onto the motorway south to Beaune which was to be our first stop.

I gave my navigator three jobs. To programme the GPS as previously explained, ensure I was always on the correct side of the road and to always say “tight right, loose left” when I was at an intersection prior to turning. It’s when you turn corners that you revert to habit if you are not fully focussed.

My back seat passenger received one job – stay quiet for the first few days so there were no unnecessary distractions! This is no easy task for said back seat passenger but thankfully they both performed their duties well.

I have to admit, my palms were quite sweaty and I did say a quick prayer before I set off. Three hours later, my palms were still sweaty and I said a very long prayer of thanks. We had arrived safely! Driving to the supermarket for some snacks on arrival was pushing it however, so to get some exercise after all that sitting (sounded completely plausible to the kids) we parked the car at the hotel and walked. Pity we didn’t have the GPS with us as we got lost, but thanks to Google Maps on my phone we eventually found our way and stocked up on the essentials.

Coming from the New Zealand winter, essentials included delicious summer fruit and all things French, which of course included numerous varieties of cheese which, incidentally, was incredibly cheap. My favourite French cheese sets me back $15 at home – well it cost me less than 2euros. Needless to say we ate a lot of cheese the first few days! And bread. And olives. And those gorgeous red, orange, yellow and green mini tomatoes. Yum!

Beaune was lovely to explore early the next morning, especially when we came across a small market with the most delicious cherries, apricots and more olives. After a number of photos that had to be just so to meet teenager Instagram requirements we returned to the hotel, checked out and explored the area around Beaune. One word: stunning. We even parked up inside a vineyard at the end of a row of grapes for a picnic. Thankfully the man driving the tractor let us be, in our little world of fabulousness.

Our next stop was recommended to me by a French friend, via a family member he called for advice when I explained I hadn’t booked anything after our first night in Beaune. He thought I was slightly mad, after all it was July and places were full to overflowing with people on their summer holidays. But, as I knew from past customers, places inland still have availability as the majority head to the beach (or as the French say, the seaside). And after all, I had www.booking.com and a car – I couldn’t go wrong.

Le Puy en Velay was the recommendation and while it was quite a drive, it was worth it. What a treat. We spent the late afternoon and evening exploring the old town by foot, including the Notre-Dame de France statue high on a hill overlooking the town. The views were incredible. Later that evening as darkness fell, ”Puy de Lumieres”, an incredible light-show on six emblematic monuments of the city, took centre stage. As one finished, you walked to the next monument for its show, and on and on. We only watched two shows, but they were quite fabulous.

Next stop, Uzes. A highlight of our holiday. We arrived the day before Bastille Day and booked ourselves into a chateau less than five minutes from town and just down the road (and a very narrow one at that) from the Haribo museum. Bastille Day consisted of a fabulous lunch at Le Tracteur, just 8kms from Uzes, after a morning spent at Pont du Gard. After a lovely afternoon swim at the chateau we ventured into Uzes for a quick dinner before returning to the chateau to watch the Bastille Day fireworks.

Peta Mathias was who we were to meet bright and early the next day. I booked the three of us into one of her half day cooking classes. Coincidentally, one of my Peugeot EuroLease customers had booked the same day, so it was lovely to connect with them and hear about their almost two month holiday in the newly launched, European Car of the Year, Peugeot 3008 SUV.

Cooking with NZ chef Peta Mathias

Our cute Peugeot parked outside our lodgings at Chateau Berard

Peta took us through the Uzes market buying up quantities of olives, fish, cherries, wine, bread, cheese and much more. We visited her favourite stalls and sampled many of the items before agreeing they were up to standard. My 14 year old thought that was just the plan, especially when we got to the wine stand. Having to explain you don’t drink wine like water made it quite obvious that she was a novice at the art of wine drinking, but more than willing to learn it seems!

A few hours later, after much instruction by Peta and learning by her students, we all enjoyed a five course lunch in Peta’s Uzes home, then upstairs for a group photo before going on our merry way. The remainder of the day for us included a quick drive to Nimes, a tour of the Haribo factory as we approached home, then a late afternoon swim.

Up bright and early the next morning, as while the lovely seaside town of Cassis was the destination, we took the very very long way. I was desperate to catch a glimpse of iconic villages like Gordes and Roussillon that seem to grace the cover of almost every French travel brochure or website – including inside my own brochures over the years. We drove through numerous little villages that we would have loved to have stopped at, and tinkered about in, but due to time restraints we limited ourselves to just one stop at the Lavender Museum in Coustellet.

A two-hour rendezvous by my 17 year old, with an exchange student she met on a tour of Europe the month prior, just outside the town of Apt provided enough time for a fuel station search, quick bite to eat then a whistle stop visit to the gorgeous village of Rousillon. A few photos in a field of lavender then back to collect the navigator. The highlight of her two hours? She ate frogs legs for lunch!

The Luberon and surrounding regions deserve a minimum of a week, and a week it will get from me next time – including a villa with a pool and nice easy day trips starting early in the morning before all the tourists converge and take up every available inch of space.

A stunning lavender field in the Luberon Valley

The late afternoon drive into Cassis was a treat and while it took four attempts to find our centrally located hotel (the streets were blocked to allow the many holidaymakers to walk in peace), we finally showed the police our booking confirmation and they waived us through. But crikey, the parking on offer, under the hotel, required a team effort to enter/exit. Yes I knew I had full insurance with no excess, but more important was to be able to walk into Peugeot head office at the end of the lease and not be teased for destroying one of their beautiful cars!

My thoughts on Cassis?

Honestly, it was lovely, but it was full to over-flowing and I was happy to leave the next day. I think it would be nicer to go in June or September, outside the typical summer holiday period. You know I still wonder to this day, how (and I make an assumption here) the middle-aged British man that arrived in Cassis with skin the colour of milk (I know this because his stomach was this colour), felt the next morning because at about 5pm during our walk his back was looking more like the colour of my beautiful red Peugeot. Ouch.

Cassis glowing under the evening lights

The next week was filled with more driving, eating and exploring. We visited Sete, Aigues Mortes, Carcassonne, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Nantes before leaving my 17 year old behind with her final host family and returning the car to Paris Orly Airport. All without a scratch!

I lost track of how much I spent on toll roads, although I paid for them all on my Visa credit and debit cards so if I really wanted to know I could look it up. But truthfully, I don’t want to know. It was a necessity for the distance we needed to cover in such a short space of time.

We ended up driving over 3,000kms in just 15 days.

Mad? Yes, absolutely. Next time I will pick four different regions and stay a week in each in a villa with a pool and just do morning trips, with the afternoon left for lazy lunches, swimming and relaxing. I completely missed the Lot region, so that will be top of my list next time, as well as the Luberon. I’ll also try to stay off the motorways – necessary for this trip, but desperately boring. Plus I might include a touch of either Spain or Italy next time, and return my car there as a one-way between countries is actually really cheap with Peugeot EuroLease.

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7 handy tips for self driving in France:

• If you remember nothing else, remember this: The best way to ensure you have programmed your GPS correctly is to insert the zip code of the city or town into the City field. So, rather than entering ‘Bordeaux”, if your hotel address reads “33520 Bordeaux” enter “33520” in the City field. There are often two or more streets with the same name in some large cities so this ensures you are going to the right area of the city and therefore the right street!

• Always place your toll card in the same place. This saves having to ask the cars behind you to reverse so you can do the same, in order to search under, inside and around every seat, purse, bottom and bag inside the car!

• Filling up with fuel at self-service supermarket stops is a good idea as the fuel can be a lot cheaper, BUT as soon as you swipe your credit card it freezes the maximum amount the pump will provide (eg. about eur120) and it takes 4-5 days for that to come off and the actual charge to appear.

• Within the booking conditions of some hotels, you think you’re prepaying for the hotel but you’re actually allowing the hotel to freeze the cost of the booking on your credit card as a deposit, then when you check-out they charge you separately. It can take up to 2 weeks to unfreeze the funds initially taken. Very sneaky and downright inconvenient when you are using a debit card and don’t have unlimited funds.

• If your goal is to see as much of Europe as possible, just remember that you might see it but you won’t remember it. It’s only when you stay in a place for 2-3 nights and get out and walk and interact with the locals that you build memories that last forever.

• There are a LOT of roundabouts throughout France. Remember, you go anti-clockwise.

• If you want visit some of the most beautiful villages in France, and there are a lot of them, look here: http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/en/

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For more information about Peugeot EuroLease, a really cost-effective option for New Zealanders wanting to drive a brand new Peugeot through Europe, visit www.peugeoteurolease.co.nz

And take a look at this short promotional video highlighting the key benefits of Peugeot EuroLease:

What is Peugeot EuroLease? - YouTube

This post is sponsored by Peugeot EuroLease.

The post How to self drive in France appeared first on Blogger at Large.

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