#CatTravels: A day trip to Waiheke Island

By April 15, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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For a moment, I regretted my decision to skip Auckland.

I had planned our nine days in New Zealand with our top picks in mind: visiting wineries, checking out the surf in Raglan, fishing for trout in Lake Taupo, whitewater rafting, riding the ferry to the South Island and staying on a farm.

We figured if anything else came up — hiking, food tours, walking on beaches, touring a brewery — then we’d try to fit it in. But if not, it would be OK.

And then, on the flight over, our flight attendant raved about Auckland, the largest and most populous urbane area in the country. It’s a bustling city, with amazing restaurants, Māori culture everywhere and up-close-encounters with penguins. She talked about this one restaurant, Federal Delicatessen, that had me using up my last minutes of free wifi at the airport researching. Oh, that pastrami sandwich!

But instead, I had skipping the city altogether, opting for two days on Waiheke Island, the most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf, about 11 miles from Auckland.

I was intrigued by this little island, which boasts a population of about 9,000 residents. (Though, during summer months, that can swell to 30,000.) It’s just an half-hour ferry to the island (unless you bring a car, like us, and then it takes an hour), making it the most accessible island in the gulf. Ferry service used to be once a week years ago. But since this island became such a popular spot for day trips and weekend get-aways — by both visitors and kiwis alike — service increased to several times a day.

The passenger ferry to Waiheke is twice as fast — 30 minutes — than the one that takes vehicles over.

The passenger ferry to Waiheke is twice as fast — 30 minutes — than the one that takes vehicles over.

The island is about 12 miles long and varies in width from half a mile to 6 miles across. There are 25 miles of beaches, many of which are easy to access. The western side of the island is the most populous and is set up for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Waiheke. There’s a charming beach town, Oneroa, with cafés, restaurants and very small grocery stores. It’s a quick walk to Oneroa Beach.

We landed and drove directly to Onetangi Bay smack in the middle of Waiheke on the northern coast. It’s mile-long beach that was once a landing strip for airlines. Today, it’s a popular beach, with super-fine sand similar to that in Kailua, to walk and beach comb.

The mile-long Onetangi Bay

The mile-long Onetangi Bay

On the ferry, we had met a woman whose mother lives on Waiheke and she was visiting her for the weekend from Auckland. She recommended we eat at Charlie Farley’s, a casual restaurant right on the bay where you can get both a flat white — a coffee beverage made with microfoam of steaming milk and a single shot of espresso — or a cold glass of beer. The deck overlooks the bay, and it’s not uncommon to see dogs sitting alongside their owners here.

There was a nice variety of breakfast options here, from simple bacon and eggs to an eggs Benedict on toasted sourdough with spinach and house-made hollandaise. I tried the Bacon Buttie (pronounced “buddy”), which was really a bacon sandwich on locally made artisan bread and house-made tomato relish. My husband ordered the Charlie’s Big Breakfast, which came with streaky bacon, eggs, sausages, grilled tomatoes, super-crispy hash browns, mushrooms and toast. (Streaky bacon is bacon cut from the sides and belly and having distinct strips of fat, just FYI.)

The Bacon Buttie, with streaking bacon and a fried egg on toasted Ringawera pide with house-made relish.

The Bacon Buttie, with streaking bacon and a fried egg on toasted Ringawera pide with house-made relish.

The BIG breakfast at Charlie Farley's Restaurant.

The BIG breakfast at Charlie Farley’s.

We decided to drive back toward Oneroa, where we were staying, and stop at vineyards along the way.

Despite its size, Waiheke boast more than 30 vineyards with very passionate and dedicated winegrowers using the maritime climate and ancient soils to create very distinctive red and white wines that have earned international recognition.

The climate here is well-suited to growing Bordeaux wine-type grapes. Most of the grapes grown here — about 75 percent — are Syrah. So naturally, most of the wineries here specialize in red wines.

We started at Te Motu Vineyards, which sprawls over 10 acres and produces mostly reds. As with most of the wineries here, these wines are all done in the French style, making them more elegant and complex.

The vineyards at Te Motu Vineyard, our first stop.

The vineyards at Te Motu Vineyard, our first stop.

The wine tasting at Te Motu included sips of its signature vints.

The wine tasting at Te Motu included sips of its signature vints.

There are wine trails all over Waiheke Island. This one connected Te Motu with several other vineyards in the area.

There are wine trails all over Waiheke Island. This one connected Te Motu with several other vineyards in the area.

Next, we stopped at Te Whau Vineyard on the southwest point of Putiki Bay facing Auckland. This was, hands down, the most stunningly beautiful vineyard I had ever been to — not just here but anywhere. The tasting room and restaurant sat above the glistening bay dotted with sailboats. It was just breathtaking.

The wines, themselves, were exceptional. The Forsyth family established the winery in 1993, planting its first grapes across five acres in 1996. The award-winning “The Point,” of which less than 1,000 cases are made each year, and Te Whau Chardonnay were first made in 1999.

The view from Te Whau, as we walked to the tasting room.

The view from Te Whau, as we walked to the tasting room.

The wine here was very pricey, so the tasting at $12NZ was a great deal. That cluster of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was just picked that morning.

The wine here was very pricey, so the tasting at $12NZ was a great deal. That cluster of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was just picked that morning.

Our last stop was Goldie Wines, the oldest vineyard on Waiheke Island, established in 1978. It spreads across 30 acres overlooking Putiki Bay and is now home to the University of Auckland’s Wine Science Centre, providing innovative education and research to improve the wine industry while providing students and researchers hands-on training at a working winery.

We came for the cheese platter and wine sampler, which was served by a graduate student from San Diego.

We came for the cheese platter and wine sampler, which was served by a graduate student from San Diego.

After a few hours of touring vineyards and sampling wines, it was time to stop driving and relax.

I had booked a small rental on Airbnb in Oneroa and it was perfectly charming, with a small patio and a comfortable bed with French linens. The water here comes from rainwater, so we have to use it sparingly. And the wifi is adequate but limited. It made me second-guess whether I could move here permanently.

We had plans to eat dinner at Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, which came highly recommended by everyone we had talked to. But it was closed for a private function — it looked like a wedding — so we went to the winery next door instead.

Cable Bay Vineyards is known for its handcrafted wines — the chardonnay was exceptional — and beautiful lawn with spectacular views of Hauraki Gulf.

We sat at the tapas bar, order a couple of glasses of wine and some small plates and watched the sunset.

The crispy lamb ribs atop a kale-and-cabbage slaw.

The crispy lamb ribs atop a kale-and-cabbage slaw.

Of course, I ordered a pizza, this one with chorizo. It goes so well with wine!

Of course, I ordered a pizza, this one with chorizo. It goes so well with wine!

The wagyu bavette was tender and spicy and perfect with the Syrah.

The wagyu bavette was tender and spicy and perfect with the Syrah.

The view from the restaurant at Cable Bay Vineyards.

The view from the restaurant at Cable Bay Vineyards.

There were so many things we could have done — toured around Auckland, hiked the trails on Waiheke — but this was perfect. I wouldn’t have planned our first day any differently.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and now Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattraavels

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#CatTravels: Heading to New Zealand

By April 13, 2016 #CatTravels

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Finally.

I’m going to New Zealand!

Honestly, I’ve been mentally planning this trip for years. I have guidebooks dating back to 2008. It’s been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember.

And I’m finally going!

This trip happened like most of my traveling: I found really cheap tickets online and booked it. Didn’t really consider the time of year (It’s autumn there) or whether I’d be stuck in the middle of massive deadlines at work (I am).

But it’s fine. The fall is actually a great time to travel to New Zealand, when fares and rooms are cheaper and the weather is crisp and sweater-worthy, hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dipping to around 50 at night.

What has always attracted me to New Zealand, or Aotearoa as its called in Māori, is its options for outdoor fun. Even when I was packing, I didn’t even think about taking anything other than long-sleeve shirts, yoga pants, sweaters and a rain jacket.

We’re arriving in Auckland, via Hawaiian Airlines, staying overnight, then catching a ferry to Waiheke Island, a popular escape for city dwellers with beaches, galleries and wineries.

From there, we’re making our way south — yes, I’m driving — through the famous surf district of Raglan in the west, across the island through the limestone wonderland Waitomo, and staying a few days at Taupo, the country’s largest lake. We’re planning to fish for trout, kayak down rapids, walk along the beaches, surf (if it’s not too cold or gnarly) and eat our way through the North Island.

We’ll wind up at Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city with 200,0000 residents. There’s a world-class zoo, a multimillion-dollar museum and a plethora of restaurants — and food tours! — and plenty of nods to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy filmed entirely in this country.

From there, we’re catching a ferry to Picton, our first stop on the South Island. From here, we’ll venture through some national parks, hopefully do more kayaking, maybe see some penguins and spend time at an alpaca farm. (Yes, alpacas. I wish I could bring one back!)

To be honest, there’s really no way to see all of what New Zealand has to offer in nine days, especially since we’re traveling to both islands. It’s like trying to pack in all the sites from Seattle to San Diego in less than two weeks. Virtually impossible.

But we’re going to make the most of our short time here. I’m excited just to see the place, its natural wonders, its glaciers and biodiversity, its surf breaks, its trees, its inspirational beauty.

I’ve been going through a fairly rough patch in my life these past couple of years, from battling fertility issues to dealing with finances (the woes of freelancing!), so I’m partly stressing about this trip and partly looking forward to it. I’m hoping when I get there, things will all make sense to me. I’ll figure out what I need and how to really cope with this torrent of emotions. And I hope to come back renewed.

Or five pounds heavier. Whichever. 🙂

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and now Snapchat (@catherinetoth).

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Turned 41 and joined Snapchat. Weird, right?

By April 1, 2016 Musings, The Daily Dish

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A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a journalism class at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa, primarily about social media.

Now, I know a fair amount about the topic. I’m active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve lurked on Pinterest and update my bio on LinkedIn. I’ve even been known to Periscope and add photos to Google+ every so often. I even have my own YouTube channel (that hasn’t been updated in a while.)

That’s pretty good, especially for someone “my age.”

But there’s a whole world of social media I know absolutely nothing about.

It’s called Snapchat.

And, quite honestly, the color of the site alone disturbs me.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 11.32.19 AMSnapchat is an image messaging app that allows more than 200 million people are actively posting, sharing, commenting and viewing photos and videos that magically disappear after 24 hours. Of its active users, most are between the ages of 13 and 23, with a growing number over 40 (like me). Most of the images posted are selfies — no surprise — with the false belief that these images will never surface again. (Highly unlikely.)

I never had any interest in joining Snapchat. None. I’m already bogged down with the social-media platforms that I’m already using — why in the world would I want to add another one?

There’s a misconception out there about social media and me, mainly that I love it. In all honesty, as much as it’s helped me promote my writing and led me to build relationships with old and new friends, it’s become the bane of my existence. There’s always something I have to post or read or comment on. I have to strike a balance between posting enough photos and way too many. I’ve ruined many meals with my quick-draw iPhone skills and shared way too much with people about my life.

And, when I think about it, I do spent more time than I’d like to admit on my phone or laptop, browsing through feeds or responding to comments.

I hate living my life through social media.

So then I did the strangest thing: I joined Snapchat.

I’ll be honest: I though it was going to be a cinch. I’ve semi-mastered the other platforms; they’re all set up to be fairly intuitive, particularly to non-tech natives like me. Snapchat sounded easy enough — sign up, post videos or photos, done.

Not so much.

First of all, the dashboard is confusing. You swipe instead of click and I don’t know how to find people to follow. (Heck, I don’t even know who’s following me!)

Then there’s the problem of “real time.”

See, I don’t always post photos of places I’m currently at, for various reasons. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I don’t have Internet connection, sometimes I don’t want people to know where I am at all times. But with Snapchat, you have to be where you’re posting. It doesn’t work otherwise. Meaning, I can’t upload anything that’s not taken in real time.

That was my first challenge.

The next one was simply this — and it was quite a revelation: My life is fairly dull. I surf — though I can’t Snapchat that — and I hike — but the same trails every morning — and I go to work. At some point, I might eat something. But most of the time, I’m sitting at my desk, working. I’m writing or editing a story or browsing the Internet. I may grab a food magazine and read it. I frequent the bathroom. (Not quite Snapchat-worthy.) I might drink some water or stop at 7-Eleven for a Diet Coke. It’s pretty uneventful.

So what do you do when you’re life is pretty ho-hum? Who cares about your posts?

I went back to Instagram and look at friends’ feeds, wondering, “Is their lives really that amazing?” Of course not. We only post the good stuff. We don’t want people to know what we’re really doing. It’s not interesting enough.

Welcome to Snapchat. The documentary of your pretty boring life.

So here I am, Snapchatting my home lunch or Indy playing with his toys or the three (OK, it was more like 15) Reese’s peanut butter cups I ate on Wednesday afternoon.

And for whatever reason, people care.

Maybe because it makes us more normal than our IG feeds. Maybe it’s satisfying to see that people’s lives aren’t so glamorous as we think. Or maybe we just have way too much time on our hands.

I’m thinking the latter.

***

If you’re even remotely interested in my humdrum life, find me on Snapchat @catherinetothfox. It may not last for long. LOL.

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A week after ‘The Eddie,’ and we’re still enthralled

By March 7, 2016 Musings, The Daily Dish

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There aren’t many sporting events that we think about a week after it’s over.

Not many people remembers the finisher of the Honolulu Marathon or can even recall who won Super Bowl 50. (It was Filex Kiprotich from Kenya and the Denver Broncos, in case you’re wondering.)

But people are still talking about the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau, the epic and legendary big-wave contest held at Waimea Bay on O‘ahu North Shore.

It was held for the 9th time in 21 years on Feb. 25, with 28 invited competitors — the most experienced names in the big-wave surfing world — riding waves at least 40 feet tall. The one-day event is more than just a surf meet; it’s a tribute to Eddie Aikau, a local North Shore lifeguard who was lost at sea after paddling for help after the Hōkūle‘a ran into trouble on its first long-distance trip back in 1978.

The last time it was held — and I was there — was back in 2009. We braved the traffic and crowd back then. And we didn’t even stay for the entire contest. (I had to go to work.)

Man, a lot has changed.

This year’s Eddie lured more than 25,000 spectators from around the world who lined the beach, sat on rock walls and stood along the highway to be part of something historic. They posted photos on social media using the hashtag #EddieWouldGo, which trended around the world. The whole eight-hour show was streamed live online, effectively slowing down the Internet connection at countless offices all over the island — including ours at PacificBasin Communications.

Like many of us, I had no intention of driving out to the North Shore to be part of what I knew would be a mess of traffic, crowds and craziness. Instead, I sat mesmerized at my desk at work, watching the live feed on my iPhone. Even on a small screen, the waves looked startlingly huge. As much as I love to surf — and it’s been devastatingly flat on the south shore recently — I would nevernevernever want to be sitting out at a lineup with a swell that big rolling in. That would qualify as one of my worst nightmares.

Yet, there they were, these brand-name surfers from around the world, seemingly cool and collected in the presence of absolute terror and danger. Even Aikau’s 66-year-old brother seemed fairly calm as he surfed some of the biggest waves of his life.

And every media outlet covered it in some way. Esquire, The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN — if you didn’t mention it, you were missing out on the most talked-about and the absolutely coolest thing happen that day. Even today, more than a week later, folks are still tweeting about #EddieWouldGo, sharing photos or posting congratulations messages to local boy John John Florence, who took the title.

I admit, I watched the replay of the event this past weekend, not at all bored with the rides I had already seen the week before. It was still exciting, still captivating. There really isn’t any sporting event quite like this, one that captures our attention — which, let’s be real, isn’t very focused these days — and ignites our imagination. These surfers seemed like superheroes, and we can’t get enough. At least I couldn’t. And I think it will be a long time before many of us forget it, either.

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#40trails No. 17: Mānoa Falls, O‘ahu

By February 18, 2016 #40trails

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HIKE: Mānoa Falls, O‘ahu
WHEN: February 2016
LENGTH: 1.6 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Easy; great for novices, kids, families and leashed dogs
FEATURES: Well-worn trail, valley scenery, often wet and muddy, mosquitos (so use repellent), restrooms at the trailhead, fee parking, dog-friendly, small waterfall and swimming hole at the end, links to another trail. Be careful of landslides, falling rocks and ongoing pig control in the area on Wednesdays and Sundays.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I hiked to Mānoa Falls in the back of this lush valley. I know I was pretty young because the waterfall, in my memory, was huge.

And it’s really not. Mānoa Falls is only about 150 feet tall and not much more than a trickle every time I’ve seen it since. It’s really not that impressive.

But then again, that’s not the main draw of this hike.

The Mānoa Falls Trail is an easy, pleasant stroll though verdant Mānoa Valley.

The trailhead is located at the end of Mānoa Road, right at Paradise Park, a one-time exotic bird and plant attraction that closed in 1994. The parking lot is to the right. You park, walk into the Rainbow’s End Snack Shop — where, by the way, you can pick up whatever hiking essentials you’ve forgotten at home — and pay $5. Then you put the ticket on your dashboard and walk to the trailhead.

It costs $5 to park here.

It costs $5 to park here.

Inside the snack shop, where you can get everything from bug repellent to microspikes.

Inside the snack shop, where you can get everything from bug repellent to microspikes.

Follow the sign to the trailhead.

Follow the sign to the trailhead.

The start of the hike.

The start of the hike.

The walk to the trailhead might be the most dangerous part of the entire hike. You have to follow the narrow, winding road past the Lyon Arboretum to the start of the trail.

This is more of a walk than a hike, as the trail is well-worn and the incline very minimal. You’ll walk through Eucalyptus trees and a forest of bamboo, completely surrounded by trees and ferns. Despite the crowd — we probably encountered around 50 people by 9 a.m. — it seems quiet here.

As we started the hike, we noticed the trail is undergoing renovation, which calls for the installation of informational signs along the trail. The areas have been cleared and the structures for the signs are there, but they’re littered with stickers and vandalism. No idea when this project will be done, but it’s a great idea since this trail is one of the most popular on O‘ahu.

This hike is an easy walk through a lush rainforest.

This hike is an easy walk through a lush rainforest.

It's a nice escape from the bustle of Honolulu — and it's just minutes away.

It’s a nice escape from the bustle of Honolulu — and it’s just minutes away.

I love walking through bamboo, and this trail has a nice grove of them.

I love walking through bamboo, and this trail has a nice grove of them.

Right before you reach the waterfall, there’s a signed junction to the left in a grove of mountain apple trees. This leads to another trail, the 8-mile-long ʻAihualama Trail. The path here is rocky and narrow at first but opens up later and finishes with 360-degree views of Diamond Head, Waikīkī, Pearl Harbor and even Waiʻanae. This hike climbs to the top of Tantalus and is rarely crowded. If you’re up for the challenge, consider taking this route.

And if you’re not, you’re very, very close to the falls.

The start of the ‘Aihualama Trail.

The start of the ‘Aihualama Trail.

The end of the trail is here, at this waterfall. This is where most hikers stop.

The end of the trail is here, at this waterfall. This is where most hikers stop.

It takes about 20 minutes to get to the falls, which spills into a small swimming pool below. I was surprised to see people actually lounging in the small pool. First of all, a landslide in January 2002 closed access to the pool and waterfall. And second, it’s not especially inviting. It wasn’t like a difficult hike where you need to cool off. And the pool is small, very small, too small to share with 15 other people.

But I digress.

VERDICT: New to hiking? Then this is the trail for you. It’s easy and well-worn with hardly any incline, yet you’re surrounded by thick, lush greenery. While there’s no summit view like you’d get on a ridge hike, the entire walk is peaceful and gorgeous. But it’s a popular hike, so expect crowds, especially after 9 a.m. on weekends.

***
Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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