Penguin Parade

We rented a car during our stay and decided to head out of the CBD for a road trip. Now let me start by saying that driving in Australia is quite different than in the US. Adjusting to driving on the other side of the road was the easy part – however figuring out what signs mean and where toll roads began, was an adventure on its own.

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28059450_10210604818210803_5280732331856564433_nHere is a common parking sign found in Australia – good luck figuring it out. Another big difference was the toll roads. What we encountered was a small blue light on the highways that designate it has become a toll road, with no other notifications. Thankfully we bought a daily toll pass with our rental car because it turned out we would have had to pay over $50 in toll road charges (more than the cost of the rental!)

27972025_10210604815690740_4969153523061540396_nOur first stop on the road trip was St Kilda. This is a must even
27867993_10210604815170727_3833110568602134904_nif just for a photo op of Luna Park. St Kilda is a beach suburb and one of the most attractive destinations in Melbourne. There you will find people cycling, skating, reading a book or simply sitting by the beach watching the world go by. We strolled down the main road and found a nice little restaurant to get some lunch.

28276620_10210604815130726_3552131017569117702_nNext we were on the road heading to Brighton Beach. We had read about the colorful bathing boxes and wanted to see them in person. The drive was fairly fast from St Kilda and the parking lot made it very accessible to visit the beach for a short time. The entire area was filled with the bathing boxes that are lined one by one on the sand. We wandered the beach admiring all the beautiful designs then headed back to the car to continue our trip.

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28168050_10210604814130701_6694062854993446816_nOur next stop was dinner in the town of San Remo, the last stop before crossing the bridge to Philip Island. It was a tiny village but had a street full of cafes. Most of them were closed by the time we arrived however we found a nice seafood cafe by the water. Walking in I was instantly reminded of Santa Monica Seafood which is one of my favorite places back home. The shop was half market and half cafe, meaning you could buy fresh seafood or order it cooked.

28056339_10210604818970822_1947360526088095404_nThe fishermen took their boats out daily to catch the items for the menu.Since we love trying local food we decided to get the seafood plate for two, which included a combination of scallops, shrimp, flake, salad and fries. The food was delicious and we were curious what flake was so after a bit of research we found out it was a gummy shark that is found in Southern Australia. Quite interesting as it just tasted like a perfectly seasoned fish.27867785_10210605043136426_5631439096051553189_nNext we got back on the road and crossed over the bridge to the highlight of our day. Phillip Island is a place you head in the afternoon to view the famous Little Penguins Parade later in the evening. At around 9pm every night, these small penguins come out of the water and return to their homes onshore. We arrived quite early as I am obsessed with penguins and wanted to get a great view. Within the facility you can watch videos about the penguins, learn about the experience, and shop for souvenirs. Right at 7pm the doors opened and we were able to go to our assigned section to wait for the adorable penguins to come out.

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We were very excited to see the world’s smallest penguins in their natural habitat! It was fascinating seeing them wait till darkness for their exit from the water. They do this so it is a safe expedition away from the birds who try and attack them. At 905pm we started watching the penguins come up in groups usually with a leader in charge. They waddled their way up the beach in order to check their surrounding, then would continue on. This pattern went on for nearly an hour!

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Melbourne is a beautiful city but it is nice to explore its surroundings as well. We had an incredible time on our road trip and have several other planned throughout the country. Off to explore Queensland next!

 

❤ Danielle

 

 

Four Seasons

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Melbourne is a dynamic cosmopolitan city. It is known for its great arts, sports, shopping, food, fashion and coffee. The city feels very modern European. Melbourne lets you experience four seasons in one day and I mean literally four seasons! It is truly amazing to see the weather change that frequently. But the good part is no matter how cloudy it becomes or how windy the air might be, there will always be a nice and bright sun shinning soon!

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We stayed in The Docklands, which offers a nice little getaway at the edge of the CBD. The beautiful waterfront with cafes and high rise buildings was very calm. We often walked around the area and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere.

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The main part of the city is the CBD (Central Business District). Within this area you will find fantastic public transportation options, and it’s all FREE. The trams are the lifeline of the City of Melbourne and are well connected with important landmarks, lanes and market areas.

 

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Within the CBD you will find the iconic Federation Square which is full of art and culture. You can check out free exhibitions at ACMI. Across the street is the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is built with Victorian Gothic architecture. Another must-see within the area is Flinders Station that stunningly covers two whole city blocks! It is one of the longest railway platforms in the world and one of Melbourne’s iconic buildings.

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One of the most fascinating attractions we encountered was the colorful street art and graffiti. Melbourne laneways are filled with all kinds of art: abstract, political, pop art, environmental, and social depiction. The best place to check these out would be at Hosier Lane or ACDC Lane. With so many artists living in the city, it keeps changing constantly giving you a new experience every time.

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A place you cannot miss is the Queen Victoria Market. It was established in 1878 and is the biggest market in Melbourne. Upon entering you will see a labyrinth of stalls, where you can fill your baskets with all kinds of meats, fruits, flowers and clothing.

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It wasn’t long before I located my favorite: passionfruit, and stocked up for the week.This market extends through several blocks and has everything you could possibly need.

 

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Another beautiful place is the Southbank where you can enjoy a lovely walk along the river with cafes, restaurants, and interesting statues. This is where the Crown complex is located which encompasses a huge casino and high-end shopping. The area is nice to visit at all hours of the day as you can enjoy spectacular river and city views.

Now after all this reading about places to visit I’m sure you’re wondering when I will begin talking about food? It’s so hard to even figure out where to begin. Melbourne is a food MECHA. You will find just about anything and everything. Rotating Sushi Trains seem to be a huge hit as we saw one on almost street. Spanish churros are also fairly common and you can even get them filled with cream inside.

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The CBD has all types of unique desserts. We found a frozen yogurt shop that puts their soft serve into an actual watermelon! We also wandered into a Kit Kat store where I was able to design my own Kit Kat, everything from the flavors to the box.  Seafood, wine and steaks are also very popular in Australia and I love how fresh everything always taste.

 
I don’t want to go into too much detail on the food as I will be making a blog post focused on it later on. However we had an incredible time in Melbourne and truly fell in love with the city. We also rented a car to take a road trip outside of the city, which was one of the greatest experiences! Later this week I will be writing about it.

As always thank you for reading!

 

❤ Danielle

 

 

The Move Down Under

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On January 29th we will be boarding a one-way flight to Australia. We are uprooting our lives and moving to the land down under.

We have both recently quit our jobs and are very excited for this new adventure. We have been talking about this for years and its surreal that the time is almost here. We will both be furthering our education and careers as we envelope in a completely different atmosphere.

We are going there without knowing anyone in the area. We don’t have relatives or close friends in the country, so we are pretty much taking a dive into a relatively unknown world. However with enough research, moving shouldn’t be so difficult for us.

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Thankfully these days with all the various social media platforms it will help void the feeling of distance. We will be able to communicate and keep in touch with loved ones no matter where in the world they are located.

There’s no doubt about it that the first few months will difficult and most likely lonely as we will only have each other for comfort. However we have an incredibly strong bond and know that we can withstand anything.

We appreciate all the love and support we have gotten from family and close friends that have known about our move and thought it was best we share with everyone else at this time. We love you all and will miss everyone back home tremendously. You are always welcome to come visit us! Here’s to whatever comes next.

With love,
Danielle and Casey

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7 Days in Tennessee

Here is a suggested itinerary for Nashville and Memphis for a weeklong trip.

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Nashville

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♥ Day 1 –
 Music Day 
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Grand Ole Opry House

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Ryman Auditorium

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Country Music Hall of Fame

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Musicians Hall of Fame

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Johnny Cash Museum

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George Jones Museum

Bluebird Cafe

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♥ Day 2 – Family Fun ♥
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Gaylord Opryland Resort

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Nashville Zoo

Adventure Science Center

Opry Mills Mall

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♥ Day 3 – History Day ♥
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The Hermitage

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Belle Meade Plantation

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Belmont Mansion

Lotz House

Carnation Plantation

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♥ Day 4 – Tourist Attractions ♥
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Centennial Park

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Tennessee State Museum

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First Center for the Visual Arts

Cooter’s Place

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Memphis

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♥ Day 5 – Music Day 
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Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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Sun Studios
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Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

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Gibson Guitar Factory

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Music Hall of Fame Museum

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♥ Day 6 – History Day 
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Civil Rights Museum

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Graceland

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♥ Day 7 – Tourist Attractions 
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Beale Street

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Peabody Hotel

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Pyramid Lookout

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Crystal Shrine Grotto

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St Jude

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Soulsville

Memphis, Tennessee is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the home of the Blues.  It is also very popular for the barbecue, amongst other notorious things which is why in May they host the World Championship Barbecue Contest. The city is also home to Graceland, the residence of the legendary Elvis Presley.

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The mansion sits on a 13.8-acre estate where Elvis lived for over 20 years. You have to take a bus across the road and up the hill to the house itself. The house is beautiful and you are given an audio guide upon boarding the bus. The audio guide comes with an interactive iPad that is hosted by John Stamos and features commentary and stories by Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie that helps you tour the mansion. In total the building consists of twenty-three rooms, including eight bedrooms and bathrooms, and was renovated by the Presley’s. Most of the rooms are decorated out it in a very 70’s style.

During the self-guided tour you are able to see the living room, kitchen, dining room, tv room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father’s office, trophy building, racquetball building, and the meditation garden. Elvis Aaron Presley, his parents Gladys and Vernon, and grandmother Minnie Mae are all buried there. There is also a memorial of Elvis’ twin brother Jesse Garon who died at birth.

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Elvis loved cars and the Car Museum displays some of his favorites. You can also enjoy viewing the outside and inside of two Elvis’ private planes. The Lisa Marie, named after his daughter, includes a living room, conference room, and private bedroom. It also had very unique features such as gold seat belts and sinks.

 

Now after a long day at Graceland, the place you want to go to experience great food, nightlife and music, all on one street – is Beale Street. It is full of shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. You will find just about everything you need here.

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Memphis has several fascinating museums where you can learn about the music history of the city. There are many different styles that became popular and emerged. The museums will give you an inside look at the start to present day of many musical icons.
One museum that is a bit different than the rest is the Gibson Guitar Factory. They offer daily tours showing you exactly how they make guitars and all the steps in the process.
You can’t miss a visit to Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Stax Records was founded in 1959 by two siblings, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. They combined the first two letters of their last names in order to form the company Stax, one of the most popular soul music record labels of all time. It launched the careers of many great artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T. and the M.G.s. Other artists to record at Stax were Isaac Hayes, The Stale Singers, the Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. Stax Records is to soul, what Sun Records is to rock ’n’ roll.
Sun Studios was founded by Sam Phillips in 1952 when he rented a small studio space for himself. The label Sun Records, started to gain momentum in Memphis because of how respectful and non-judgmental they would treat local artists. Sun Studios is where legends like Elvis Presley, Johnnie Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded their music.
From Sun Studios you cantake a free shuttle to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This museum is one of the few Smithsonian museums that is outside of Washington DC. Upon arrival you are presented with an audio guide so that you can go at your own pace. You will learn about the complete story of the music scene in Memphis.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame is another wonderful museum. It honors many of the greatest musicians of all time, who created the city’s music legacy. It began as a trbute to legendary musicians and then transformed into a museum. You can see a lot memorabilia, rare video performances, and there are area to answer some trivia questions.

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FullSizeRender-2The Peabody Hotel is a grand old hotel in downtown Memphis and it has some unusual guests – five ducks live in a suite on the penthouse floor. Apparently this bizarre tradition started in the 1930s – the ducks were placed in the fountain of the Peabody Hotel as a practical joke (after a night of drinking), however it somehow stuck, and in the 1940s they enrolled a circus animal trainer to start the “Duck March”. The animal trainer is now known as the “Duck Master”. Every day at 11am the ducks come down the elevator with their duck master, walk down the red carpet and go into the fountain in the hotel lobby, where they swim for half the day. In the evenings at 5pm, the cycle is reversed and they walk along the red carpet back to the elevator in order to take it up to their suite.  It is definitely a fun attraction to see in person!

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Memphis, Tennessee was named after the ancient capitol of Memphis in Egypt due to its location on a major river. Throughout the city you can see different icons that resemble Egypt, such as the pyramid. Inside the pyramid is the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop. You could easily spend hours looking around as the interior is HUGE. The observation deck is the main attraction and its definitely worth the view! It costs $10 to go up the elevator (free if you are staying inside the hotel) however if you decide to eat at the restaurant they take $10 off your meal. Inside you will also find a delicious fudge factory that makes fresh fudge daily as well as some crocodiles and fresh fish.
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One hidden gem to discover in Memphis is the Crystal Shrine Grotto. It is a beautifully created cave that dates back to the 1930s. Natural rock and quartz crystal collected from the Ozarks form the background for the nine scenes from the life of Christ. The art recreates history and literature. The cave is located inside a cemetery so please be respectful when paying a visit.

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There is no complete trip to Memphis without learning about the Civil Rights Movement and knowing how important this city was. The Lorraine Motel is the current site of the National Civil Rights Museum. Inside you can spend many hours learning about the history and struggles of African-Americans. It is designed to take you on a journey through time – from the earliest days of slavery to the present-day Black Lives Matter Movement, with everything in between. You learn many things from the founding of our nation, the civil war, reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, Montgomery Bus strike, the Freedom Riders movement, college sit-ins, and much more. The museum is very interactive making you feel as if you are witnessing everything first hand. It is a very emotional experience but far more educational than any history class could ever teach you. It is great to set aside a whole day for the museum as there is a lot to read and learn, and it is a self-paced walk through. The last part of the museum you are able to see the room that Dr King stayed in the night before he was assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr’s words hang proudly on the Lorraine Motel marquee. He had traveled to Memphis to lend his support for a sanitation workers strike. He gave his last speech at a church not far from the hotel the night before. This very place is where he was shot. May we always honor his legacy.

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Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

– Dr Martin Luther King Jr

 

Music City USA

One destination that captured my heart was Nashville, Tennessee. I was very excited to visit the city known for cowboy boots and country music.  Along with country music, Nashville is also home to genres like Bluegrass, Classical, Blues, Contemporary Christian, Americana, and Jazz. With over 130 music venues throughout the town, visitors and locals alike can enjoy live music 365 days a year. Nashville also is a city full of history.

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On arrival it is best to take some time to get acquainted with where everything is located. The main street in downtown Nashville is called Broadway and is filled with venue after venue playing live music day and night. Most of the venues have a bar and/or restaurant inside making it very easy to grab some food while listening to local artists perform. At one end of Broadway you have the riverfront, where you can easily take a stroll by the water or walk above the Mississippi River along the pedestrian bridge. At the other end of Broadway you have the Bridgestone Arena home of the local hockey team, the Nashville Predators.

Near Broadway there are plenty of museums that you can visit during the daytime. Two museums that are very close to each other are the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both of them you can easily spend hours in while learning about the history and influence of great country legends. Often times you can find discounted admission to one or both of the museums online.

Centennial Park is located a bit outside of downtown but is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. The 132-acre park features an iconic Parthenon, historical monuments, a lake, volleyball courts, a dog park, and walking trails. The parthenon is world’s only full-scale replica of the one in Athens. Inside the Parthenon is a beautiful gold 42-foot statue of Athena. It is the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere

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No visit to Nashville can be complete without a vIMG_5871isit to the famous Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. When there are no scheduled evening shows you are able to take a behind-the-scenes tour. The first part of the tour is a very interactive showcase displaying the history of the Ryman and how it has evolved over the decades. Afterwords you are able to go inside the main auditorium in order to see the seating and stage. Along the way are different displays and videos informing you of events that have taken place at the Ryman.

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Another great place to visit is the Musicians Hall of Fame and Grammy Museum. It takes about an hour or two to tour the museum learning about all the musicians that have made it into the hall of fame and even seeing some of their original artifacts. From the Musicians Hall of Fame you are able to walk to the Tennessee State Capitol, Tennessee State  Museum and the War Memorial.

IMG_6665If you are able to go I highly recommend a visit to see the Grand Ole Opry, which is the longest-running radio broadcast in the world. The Opry House is located in an area called the Music Valley which is a little outside of downtown but there is plenty to do out there if you want to spend the day exploring. There is a huge Opry Mills Mall which offers a shuttle service to the breathtaking Gaylord Opryland Resort nearby.

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the incredible 4.5 acre resort. It is proud to be known as the largest non-gaming in-hotel exhibition space in the world. The resort is filled with beautiful indoor gardens and waterfalls. There are many different sections of the hotel, such as the Delta section where  you are able to take a boat ride on the river. In the evenings beginning at 6pm there is a water fountain show with lights and music that is fun to enjoy.

From the resort you are able to hop on a similar shuttle to take you over to the Opry House. The venue is very big and there is not a bad seat in the entire auditorium. In my opinion the Opry House is not as beautiful as the Ryman Auditorium, however it is a MUST to visit and watch the Grand Ole Opry. The shows are fantastic and get you singing and dancing along to the music.

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In order to learn more about the history of Nashville you need to wander a bit outside of the city. The first place I recommend is the Hermitage which was home to our seventh president, Andrew Jackson. You are able to go on an interactive tour of the mansion and see the different rooms. Once outside you are able to see the original cabin, the gardens, and where both the president and his wife were laid to rest.

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Another historical landmark is the Belle Meade Plantation. You are able to select from several different tour options to view the mansion and grounds of the 24 acre estate. The workers are all dressed in costume and give you a great detail about the history and present day use of the area. Belle Meade Plantation’s history is full of farming, a period of slavery, and thoroughbred horses. The most notable horse was named Bonnie Scotland. Almost every horse that races in the Kentucky Derby today is a descendant of Bonnie Scotland. Her descendants include Secretariat, Sea Biscuit, and California Chrome. During the tour you are able to explore the grounds including a horse stable, carriage house, dairy, various gardens, a mausoleum, smokehouse, and a log cabin. Afterwords they offer free wine tasting in the gift shop.

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Kia Ora!

New Zealand is primarily made up of two main islands, the North Island and South Island. It was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893. There is so much to see and do in New Zealand that no matter how long you go for, it still wouldn’t be enough to see all that the country has to offer.

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I was fortunate enough to visit last year with my boyfriend towards the end of November. However due to limited vacation time our trip only lasted 7 days. It took some time to create the ultimate itinerary for our visit to New Zealand, however I am very excited to have accomplished everything we set forth to do. We chose to focus on the north island due to our stay lasting only a week. Of course, we plan to return in the future to spend more time exploring the beautiful country along with the southern island that we have yet to see. Our itinerary is shared below and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have!

Auckland

Day 1

We had a nonstop flight overnight and were extremely tired when we arrived as neither of us caught much sleep on the plane. Due to traveling often I know that its always nice to have a day of rest on arrival, which is what I planed for. I had booked the Hilton Auckland hotel right on the water as the pictures online were stunning. Upon check-in we were told that our room was not ready yet, however the kind gentleman said he could upgrade us to their nicest suite if we were able to give them about an hour to get the room ready. Not a problem at all – as we were starving so we went upstairs to eat lunch in their restaurant. The food at the restaurant was mediocre however the view of the water was breathtaking! We finished eating and went up to our beautiful room which was far more stunning then either of us could have ever imagined. Most of the day was spent taking a nap until we woke up for dinner and decided to walk around the city a bit. The view from our balcony is pictured in the panoramic below.

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Wellington

Day 2

The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. We knew we wanted to see the capital city even if it was for a day trip, so we woke up early in order to take a flight down to Wellington. Once we got into the city center of Wellington we wandered around the streets and found a place to enjoy a nice lunch. The city center was filled with a lot of cute cafes and shops. We finished up lunch in perfect time for the 2pm sightseeing tour we had pre-booked. We located our guide and were told it was just going to be us along with one other couple. That was pretty great as the driver was willing to alter our stops to our preferences whether we wanted to stay longer or shorter in one place or another. Our tour guide was extremely friendly and did a fantastic job pointing out all the highlights, historic landmarks, and iconic buildings.

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We explored the 62-acre Botanical Garden which also has a beautiful Rose Garden inside. Next we drove just a few minutes to get to the bottom of the Historic Wellington Cable Car. We were given the option to either ride the car up or stay on the bus and drive to the top. Of course we chose to take the cable car. The views at the top were surreal! You could see the city along with the ocean. It was so peaceful and such a beautiful day. We then drove along the coast admiring the beauty until we reached Mt Victoria lookout. The lookout was out on the entire city so the view was magnificent, however it was extremely windy up there. That is when we learned that Wellington is nicknamed the windy city as there are hardly any days of the year the city doesn’t get wind at all. Overall I was very pleased with the three hour sightseeing tour as it gave us a great overview of Wellington, New Zealand’s dynamic capital. It was a great introduction to the city as we were short on time. We then head back to the airport in order to return up to Auckland.

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Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton

Day 3

We were up extremely early this morning i15110525_10207458570596579_742933102718499000_on order to hop on a bus down to Waitomo Caves. The morning drive gave us a beautiful sight of the countryside. Today was probably the day we were most excited about on our trip as we were planning to see two of New Zealand’s top attractions. There are three caves available to visit in Waitomo however we chose the Glowworm Cave as it had always fascinated me. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but thanks to Google I have included a picture below. The glowworms light up the caves when it is pitch black and it is an incredible sight to see. Inside the caves we first did a short tour followed by a boat ride to see even more of the Glowworms. The outside of the caves are very green and tropical as you can see in my photo above.

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From Waitomo we drove towards Matamata, home of one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, the Hobbiton movie set! It is built on a family’s private farm. Peter Jackson thought this particular farm would be perfect when they were scouting locations for the film, so he approached the family and was able to build the set there. I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan (I honestly have never seen the movies), but I absolutely loved visiting the set.  It’s such an incredible place and I found the amount of work and detail that went into building it was fascinating. The whole set has been left intact since  filming, and you feel as though you’ve stepped into some sort of magical place. You are required to book a tour in order to explore inside however it is well worth it! Most of the hobbit houses you are not allowed to go into, however there are a few you can. The tour gives you lots of information about the land, the building, and the movies. We then went to the Green Dragon, where we were offered ginger beer, cider, and a few other drink choices. I chose to have some cider (freshly made there, I believe) and it was DELICIOUS. Following drinks we were escorted up to an enjoy a wonderful feast. Following the conclusion of the tour we hopped back on the bus in order to head to Rotorua.

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Rotorua

Days 4-5

15940708_10207798901264633_2124772013628958139_nRotorua is the city to go to if you want to see New Zealand’s geothermal activity and learn about the Maori life. We were greeted with the  overwhelming scent of sulphur. Rotorua is home to steaming hot springs, impressive geysers and mud pools amongst other attractions. This morning we woke up in order to go ATV Riding. I’m someone who loves adventure and adrenaline so the moment I heard you can go quad biking in New Zealand, I already had my heart set on it. It took a little convincing to get my boyfriend to join, but he had a great time as well! We were the only ones that morning so it was a very private15966114_10207798898984576_8759798703523208276_n ride with two tour guides. We rode up a huge mountain and into the forests on the other side. The scenery was stunning as on one side was Lake Rotorua while the other side was forests and mountains.

Following our morning ride we decided to go up to Skyline Rotorua. On arrival you purchase tickets to take the gondola to the top and choose whether you want to Luge your way down. We were both starving and wanted to get some food up there so we figured doing Luge after eating may not be so great. The views of the lake while going up the Gondola are stunning. You are able to see the entire city on your way up. At the top they have two options for food – a full service restaurant or a cafeteria with plenty of different food stations. We opted for the cafeteria as there was quite a bit of variety. We ate our food at one of the tables outside while enjoying the scenery. It was such a calm place and made a great afternoon to relax. After a few hours we went back to the hotel in order to get ready for our night activity.

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Several years ago there was a rift within the main Maori tourist attraction, which resulted in it being split in two. On one side is Te Puia and on the other side is Whakarewarewa Village. We chose to go to Te Puia as many people recommended it and they had a free shuttle from hotel. The villagers showed us around and told us about their way of life and the significance of all the thermal activity. We were able to see a kiwi bird, which is the national emblem of New Zealand. We were then brought to Pohutu, a geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day. Upon arrival it had just started erupting which was pretty interesting to watch and take pictures. Following the activities we were invited to see Maori cultural performances, featuring traditional storytelling and entertainment. My boyfriend even went on stage to learn the Haka! We were then escorted to a dining room where we were able to taste an exquisite Maori feast prepared in the traditional Hangi style.15259637_10207458571196594_6113233218788427596_o

The following day we woke up early to take a morning cruise on the Lakeland Queen. It is the only stern wheel paddle boat and large cruising vessel on Lake Rotorua. Upon boarding we noticed that we were the only ones that were not part of a large group of Chinese tourists. We were given our own private area and sat separate from the large tour group. We thought this would interfere with our experience as their guide was not speaking English however the captain came over to great us and told us he could answer any questions that we may have. He also provided all the commentary for us in English. Since we did the morning cruise, we were provided with a breakfast buffet. It was a very nice and enjoyable way to experience Lake Rotorua.

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15977529_10207799076269008_4451643597456734969_nFollowing the cruise we decided to go explore the Redwood Forest. We got quite a bit lost on the way there and wandered around through several restricted areas. Eventually we found a sweet guy that told us to hop into his car because he could give us a ride there. The redwood forest itself was beautiful though once we finally made it. It was a lot cooler than the hot sun we had been walking in, which was very nice. We managed to find our way to the Redwood Tree Walk which is what initially brought us to the forest. It is suspended from 100-year-old majestic redwoods and features a series of suspension bridges and decks, elevated from 6-metres to 12-metres. We did the entire walk which is 553-metres. It was fascinating being so high up without the necessity of any harness or gear. Even more of a bonus is that it is eco-friendly. In the evening we flew back up to Auckland. Since it was Thanksgiving Day back in the US we decided to go out to enjoy a nice dinner. We found a Michelin-star restaurant and had a very luxurious dinner.

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Auckland

Day 6

We decided to do a city tour since we had yet to discover what the busiest city in New Zealand had to offer. Unfortunately it started raining, which was a bit of a bummer – however it did not stop us from exploring! We visited the Auckland Domain which is the oldest park in the city. We then stopped by the cute village of Parnell which had lots of little shops and cafe. Moving forward we came to explore Queen Street, which is probably the busiest shopping area in the city. There were many stores, restaurants, and hotels all along Queen Street. We found a cute little cafe and enjoyed an afternoon snack.

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Waiheke

Day 7

Our last day of the trip we decided to have a nice and relaxing time unwinding. We woke up early in order to explore the island of Waiheke. It was a short ferry ride from Auckland (about 30 minut15965190_10207799082149155_554103599114537231_nes). Waiheke is known for its fantastic local food, dozens of vineyards, and beautiful beaches. On arrival we hopped on a city bus in order to tour the island. The bus made many stops  along beaches and vineyards. A few of them we got off at in order to absorb the beautiful scenery. After a few hours we decided to head up to a vineyard called Wild on Waiheke. It was a huge place that was near two other vineyards (forgot their names). Once you enter their vineyards you instantly see all the amazing activities they offer. They have archery, clay shooting, giant chess, a trampoline, volleyball, and a playground for kids amongst other fun things. We got a cute little table and decided to have some lunch. Their fish and chips was outstanding. One thing we loved about Wild on Waiheke is not only is it a vineyard but it is also a brewery as well. They have a huge selection of drinks including some delicious cocktails

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Overall we had an incredible vacation visiting New Zealand, even if it was just a short week. Some things to take note – yes, having a car is more convenient but it is also more costly and you lose the opportunity to mingle with other people on the bus. For our trip we went with the Intercity bus, which runs frequently and is great on getting you to your destination fairly fast. There is also another service that runs less often (but is cheaper), the NakedBus. The locals of New Zealand are some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on my travels. They go above and beyond to welcome everyone to their remarkable country. I cannot wait to return to one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited!

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