The one about the North Island (New Zealand)

It’s as if we’ve been performing a never-ending rain dance given the weather we’ve had over the last 4 weeks, and the North Island of New Zealand was just the beginning. That being said, even with the rain and clouds, New Zealand was entirely too picturesque to be even the least bit upset about it.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

We arrived right at summer began in New Zealand, but came prepared for sudden weather shifts as we heard that temperature and precipitation can change on a dime. We flew into Auckland on a drizzly morning and walked around as much as we could muster after the red eye from Perth (via Melbourne).

{Note that there are plenty of direct flights from the east coast of Australia and several from Perth (as well as Los Angeles) should you make your way to NZ anytime soon!}

Anyway, Auckland was fine – nothing to write home (or on the blog) about – and maybe it was just the weather for the day we were there! I’d love to go back perhaps when the weather was a bit sunnier.

From Auckland, we drove north to a region called The Bay of Islands, where we were booked into a great B&B for a few nights, Tarlton’s Lodge in the town of Paihia. The Bay of Islands is an easy (and beautiful) 3 hour drive from Auckland.

Image via Sub-Tropicals.co.nz

Most folks with whom I’ve spoken typically head south of Auckland to Rotorua (still on the North Island), but we had a fishing day planned with a colleague of Barr’s and with images like this, we were amped to see The Bay of Islands in person. Upon arrival at the B&B, we weren’t disappointed and the view was as stunning as we could’ve hoped:

Seriously, this was the view from our room

Seriously, this was the view from our room’

After day 1, our blue sky days kind of ran out. And though this meant that not as many photos were taken, the vistas were still dramatic and memorable.

Barr bravely stuck with his tee time Kauri Cliffs, located about 45 minutes from Paihia – in gale force winds no less!

Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs Golf Course

Kauri Cliffs Golf Course

And although my boat tour (with Fuller’s Great Sights) around the bay was limited in where the boat could actually safely travel, we still managed to see plenty of dolphins streak into the air with aplomb:

Dolphin watching at The Bay of Islands

Dolphin watching at The Bay of Islands

"The sea was angry that day, my friends"

“The sea was angry that day, my friends”

After our respective days in the rain, we prayed for better weather the next morning as that was the day we were scheduled to go deep sea fishing (for which the region is world renowned). Y’all, I listened to the wind howl all night long and the rain pummel our window, fearful of the day that I assumed fishing would have in store. (Side note: our Kiwi friend, who organized the fishing expedition brought by seasickness medicine the day before given the forecast for fishing.)

Needless to say, when we woke up the next morning to more driving rain, I was ready to bow out. Mercifully (but also disappointingly so), the captain of the fishing boat informed us that the 40-50mph winds were not conducive to a safe or enjoyable fishing trip and we had to cancel. 😦

But fear not! The Kiwis still showed us a cool time that morning with a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, just outside of Paihia. Waitangi is where the British and Maori people signed the New Zealand Declaration of Independence in 1835. There’s a museum on the grounds as well as a traditional Maori demonstration. Well worth the extra few dollars.

The whare runanga or Maori meeting house

The whare runanga or Maori meeting house

And despite the mist and clouds on the drive back to Auckland, we were still stunned by all the colors, animals and beauty in the North Island. If you’re planning a New Zealand trip, I definitely recommend just driving around and getting lost a little – there isn’t a bad view that I could see. 🙂 Until next time…

Auckland Recommendations:

Bay of Island Recommendations:

  • Tarlton’s Lodge: Quaint (3 rooms only) bed and breakfast in Paihia – spectacular views, fab breakfast, and the owners are the best!
  • Fuller’s Great Sights: Tour company with lots of options for Bay of Islands and the surrounds
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Quick and fun historical and cultural overview of the region
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The one from the states

I’m baaaack! It’s been quite the blog hiatus for me, and I’ve really missed it! The past few weeks have been hectic with lots of travel (both flying and driving) and catching up with friend and family so taking a bit of time to get back in a routine has been a bit of a challenge. See what I mean?

Perth to Auckland Abbys Roads

December 12: Perth to Auckland (via Melbourne)

New Zealand Itinerary Abbys Roads

December 13 – 22: New Zealand travels

The itineraries, activities, and just general catch up on New Zealand deserves its own post – especially for those of you thinking about a trip over there – but in the meantime, here are some shots of our NZ adventure:

A chilly boat trip on the Doubtful Sound

A chilly boat trip on the Doubtful Sound

A teeny NZ library

A teeny NZ library

Paradise, New Zealand

Paradise, New Zealand

From New Zealand, we headed home to the states for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays:

December 22: Sydney to Dallas (onward to Houston) for Christmas (image via Wikipedia)

So much puppy time! And of course, a lovely Christmas with the Simpson side of the family.

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Dash loving on Barr on Christmas Day

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Our wee family on Christmas Eve

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My sister and I at the Nutcracker

Houston was just the beginning of our stateside travels:

December 22 - January 6: Houston to Memphis to Louisville to Charlotte to Durham back to Charlotte and back to Houston (Barr is back in Oz)

December 22 – January 15: Houston to Memphis to Louisville to Charlotte to Durham back to Charlotte and back to Houston…via Chicago, dont ask (and Barr is back in Oz)

From Texas, we headed to Memphis, Tennessee to see Barr’s brother and his wife, as well as some Charlotte friends who recently relocated there as well as some much loved aunt, uncle, and cousin time.

Then it was onward to Louisville, Kentucky to see Barr’s parents and grandmother – as always, it was too short.

We then headed eastward to North Carolina: Charlotte for New Year’s and then Durham for a wedding! It was amazing to be back in the Carolinas and we can’t wait to move back before we know it.

The Johnson cousins and their spouses - Matt was there in spirit :)

The Johnson cousins and their spouses – Matt was there in spirit 🙂

Enjoying a great dinner in Memphis

Enjoying a great dinner in Memphis

Stevie and Chris' lovely wedding in Durham, NC

Stevie and Chris’ lovely wedding in Durham, NC

WFU golf alums - such a great reunion!

WFU golf alums – such a great reunion!

Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind with not enough time in any one place. And while the flights were long and the drives at times tedious, the trip to New Zealand, the hugs and relaxation with our parents and siblings, and the celebrations and chin wags with friends were all 100% worth it.

Sydney from the Taronga Zoo

Sydney from the Taronga Zoo

So there you have it: 3 weeks in a nutshell! I wish I had more pictures – I think we were just so focused on catching up with everyone that snapping a ton of shots fell a bit by the wayside; however, I did receive a lovely new camera as an early birthday gift, so hopefully Ill make up for lost time – and will of course be back with fun posts, pics and roads. Until next time…

The one with a holiday hiatus

Barr and I are in the midst of a trip to New Zealand en route back to the states for Christmas and New Year’s, hence my lack of posts over the last week! I’ll be enjoying some radio silence through the holidays, but will be back before 2014 is over 🙂 In the meantime, you can follow our Kiwi adventures via Instagram – and a few shots below, too. Happy holidays! Until next time…

Pink sheep spotted on the North Island

Pink sheep spotted on the North Island

View from our room in the Bay of Islands

View from our room in the Bay of Islands

A rainy boat trip, but dolphins were spotted, so all in all: a success!

A rainy boat trip, but dolphins were spotted, so all in all: a success!

Having a bit of fun at a Maori cultural demonstration

Having a bit of fun at a Maori cultural demonstration

Onto the South Island: Queenstown

Onto the South Island: Queenstown

Summer in Queenstown

Summer in Queenstown

First helicopter ride - incredible!

First helicopter ride – incredible!

Lake Wakatipu from Bob's Peak

Lake Wakatipu from Bob’s Peak

The one with the grand finale

Even though it was our last weekend in Western Australia, we didnt slow down. In true Blanton fashion, we moved (again), but this time into our true final stop: a hotel for the next few days before we head off to New Zealand for 10 days and then onward to the states for the holidays! So yes, Saturday was spent tidying up the rental townhouse and packing away clothes in boxes for shipment all before our grand finale on Saturday – it was jam packed!

Some our friends told us about Polo in the City, which is exactly what it sounds like: a polo match held in the heart of the city. 🙂 Luckily, there is a fabulous green space right between Perth’s CBD and the Swan River called Langley Park, where the polo was played (and where we also attend Taste of Perth a few months back) – and even more lucky, the weather this past weekend here was perth-fect (hehe).

Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City 2 Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City 10

 

This was our first polo match, but kind of like when I went to ascot in October, we didnt watch too much of the ponies (much to Barr’s dismay) – it was very a “see and be seen” kind of event, with lots of socializing, champagne, and sun. My main takeaways from the sport were:

  • The horses tails are braided
  • Not getting hit in the head/accidentally hitting someone in the head with the mallet would be a skill in it of itself

Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City 3

 

Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City 8

During the divot stomping, I stopped to play with some pups. Because why not?

During the divot stomping, I stopped to play with some pups. Because why not?

After a quick nap, we rallied for the Perth’s Christmas Parade downtown. Our friends, Toni and Nuno, hosted a lovely BBQ at their flat beforehand and then we headed down to watch Santa roll through Western Australia (I was super impressed that Perth was so lively post-9PM!) 😉

Santa! I know him!

Santa! I know him!

And just to really round out this “all over the place” post, here are some delicious peppermint (not bubblegum – don’t let the color fool you) macarons that my girlfriend Becca and I whipped up! She’s a baking whiz – I had to learn from the best.

Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City Abbys Roads Perth Polo in the City 1Merry merry, indeed! It was a memorable last weekend in Perth. Until next time…

 

The one with PerThanksgiving

Even though it doesn’t really feel like it in Australia, the holiday season is upon us! 🙂 We didnt make it to the states last year for Thanksgiving either (kind of a long and expensive flight for turkey), we were again blessed to spend the holiday with good friends (we miss you, Virginia!) And we did miss our pup as well, but don’t worry – he looked like he was enjoying the meal back in Houston with my sister:

Patiently waiting for a single crumb to fall

Dash patiently waiting for a single crumb to fall – bless his heart! 

For our second expat Thanksgiving, we escaped Perth and headed south to Margaret River, land of wine, beaches, and kangaroos. A very organized couple rented an absolutely amazing house for five couples and six children…a very full house! We even managed to snag a good ole’ Texas style deep-friend turkey – it’s the little things. Everyone brought a few goodies for the big dinner (a few days delayed from actual Thanksgiving Day, but memorable, delicious, and happy all the same), and the guys even did the dishes 😉

Yummo!

Yummo!

Putting the finishing touches on the meal

Putting the finishing touches on the meal

A fabulously set table - true red, white, and blue!

A fabulously set table – true red, white, and blue!

And it wouldn’t be a trip down to Margaret River without excessive kangaroo sightings! The kids loved it (and who am I kidding, the adults did too).

Perth Thanksgiving Abbys Roads33 Perth Thanksgiving Abbys Roads22On our last morning there, a group of us got up waaaaay too early from a post-turkey coma to surf. Thankfully, we did have a former professional surfer in  the group who had plenty of tips for a first-timer like me (as well as an excessive number of surfboards). It was a bit like what I would imagine being stuck in a washing machine would be like, but I’m so glad I tried. (Barr, of course, is a natural).

Perth Thanksgiving Abbys Roads69 Perth Thanksgiving Abbys Roads

 

Western Australia is unfortunately well known for shark attacks on surfers, so I was a bit apprehensive , but there are always the helicopters scouring the coast for any suspicious shadows (sharks are also tagged and monitored just for this purpose).

Can you see the helicopter?

Can you see the helicopter?

It was such an ideal weekend and Thanksgiving, and I am especially thankful for the wonderful friends we’ve made here in Perth over the last few weeks and months….as well as for views like this:

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Until next time…

 

Gift Ideas for Under $100 for Friends & Family

My_Favorite_Things_Linkup_2014
It’s the last week of the Favorite Things link-up with Cheers Y’allA. Liz AdventuresMiss Dixie, and Southern Style with the topic of gift ideas for under $100 for friends and family. Merry merry! Gift Ideas for Under $100
1 Lara Casey Notepads (the perfect size with the sweetest messages)
2 Thermapen (great for both girls and grillin’ guys – just maybe not in pink!)
3 Headphone Ear Muffs (for the winter runner in your life – I have several)
4 Languiole Steak Knives (who doesn’t love rainbow steak knives?)
5 Waterproof Speaker (a nice addition for your TSwift shower-singing friend…or husband)
6 Charitable Gift Donation (an incredibly personal and powerful gift)
 7 Personalized Children’s Puzzle (love this one for kidlets!)
And although these have been about gifts and things, always remember the true reason for the season. Until next time…

The one with the tunnel tour

About 20 minutes south of Perth CBD is the fabulous city of Fremantle. Home to  Western Australia’s largest collection of heritage listed buildings, “Freo” (yes like the Dockers) is named after Charles Fremantle, a British naval officer who took formal possession of the mouth of the Swan River in the name of King George in 1829.  Almost 186 years later, Fremantle is fresh, bustling, artsy, historical, and home to the Fremantle Prison.

Fremantle Prison (image via One Perth)

Fremantle Prison Tunnel Tour Abbys Roads8

The prison was opened in 1855 to house convicts sent to Australia from England, and it was still operational (for maximum security prisoners no less!) until 1991. It was ultimately closed following two massive prisoner riots – the fact that the Fremantle Prison was the last prison in the developed world that still used the bucket system probably didnt help with prisoner unrest.

The sorry aftermath of the 1988 Fremantle Prison riot (image via Wikipedia)

You’re probably wondering where the tunnels come into play. Your patience is going to pay off. 🙂 Beneath the prison grounds is a large network of tunnels built by the prisoners beginning in 1852. Now you’re probably wondering if the prisoner-built tunnel system was built for the purposes of escape, but actually these tunnels were dug to create a fresh water supply for first just the prison, but was ultimately utilized for the entire town of Fremantle.

The tunnels are now part of the Fremantle Prison Tunnels Tour for those individuals older than 12, in fairly good physical condition, and it is not for those with any semblance of claustrophobia or fear of heights. Case in point:

The shaft we climbed down to access the tunnels – yikes! You’re strapped in though.

I don’t know who these peeps are – we weren’t allowed to bring anything down the tunnels with us so no pictures of us actually in the tunnels – but it gives you an idea of how tight the tunnels are! (image via VisitFremantle.com.au)

You also get to wear some pretty sweet gear:

Proof we actually did the tour

Proof we actually did the tour

Once you have descended into the depths of the tunnels, your guide (the two we had were so great!) explains the history of the tunnels, how they were built and for what purpose – I can’t imagine how the prisoners spent 15+ hours down there each and every day.

One of our favorite parts was when we approached the deeper portions of the tunnel, where the water was very deep: pairs of us lumbered into these teeny canoes to continue to paddle through the tunnel network. At the end boating portion, the guide stopped the group and asked everyone to turn off their headlamps to “see” what it is actually like to experience complete and utter darkness – the term “light at the end of the tunnel” has never meant more to me.

If you ever find yourself in Fremantle, I can’t recommend the Fremantle Prison Tunnel Tour enough! It’s an incredibly unique experience. If tight tunnels and heights aren’t your thing (or you’re with a younger group), the prison offers some other tours that may be up your alley. Until next time…

The one where with Thanksgiving reflections

Holiday season number two as expats is full on for Barr and I. Another year living abroad has been full the highest highs and unfortunately, the lowest low – though the “ups” far exceed any down(s). We’ve been blessed beyond measure to explore our collective dream and desire to live and work overseas, experiencing new cultures, traveling to unique countries, meeting some lifelong friends, and leaning on each other and God to get through the hard times and celebrate the joyous moments.

Thanksgiving_Expat_Abbys_Roads

And even though we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving (albeit a few days late and with an absurdly expensive turkey), I wanted to take a post to reflect on that which I am truly thankful for.

  1. I am thankful for my husband. Without question, this expat life wouldn’t have been possible without him; he works incredibly hard each and every day (weekends included!) to make this dream a reality. He is my best friend, my constant support, and my shoulder to cry on. He’s there for me when friendships don’t pan out, when I’m homesick, and when I’m stressed or angry (even at him) – and he’s there for those good times, too: travel adventures, quieter nights at home or going to a movie, and planning a big, full life together. He pushes me when I want to give up or when I need a dose of reality. He encourages me to be a better “Abby” and to pursue my hopes and dreams. I am thankful for Barr.
  2. I am thankful for living outside my comfort zone. There are so many times in any given week that I just wish I could turn on American television, purchase a box of cereal that isn’t $7, not fret about finances (and my lack of contribution to the aforementioned), stressing about where we will live 4 weeks from any given day, or worrying about reacclimating to life back in the states, but none of these thoughts even come close to the unadulterated happiness and gratitude I feel to living as a citizen of the world. Living without total control. Living in lesser known parts of the world. Writing instead of working a 9-5 job. Starting over, several times over. 😉
  3. I am thankful for gaining new perspectives. It’s been incredibly enlightening and refreshing to realize what you can live with (and without). As an expat, depending on the city you live in, you may not have a large (or particularly nice) dwelling. Or you own furniture. You may have to learn to take public transportation everywhere. You definitely learn that although English, for the part part, is spoken or slightly understood in many parts of the world, it’s not the English you may be used to – and this means communicating differently or just understanding that what you know isn’t necessarily the norm. I’m grateful to know that I can live without so much stuff, so much space, “my dream kitchen”, a car, English, a Starbucks on every corner. Maybe this one sounds trite, but I hope to return to the states and apply this mentality to the “me, me, me” “more, more, more” or “keeping up with the Jones'” attitude that I can sometimes adopt.
  4. I am thankful for God’s plan.  I like things done my way in my time – I’m not proud of this…at all, but if these last 18 months of expat life has taught me anything, it is that this isn’t the Abby show. Though I may try, I cannot control everything in my life, and just because I think that something is “ideal timing”, I don’t know best. Life throws you for a loop sometimes and you (I) have to let go. There have been some humbling events from our expat life that show me that there is a planner here, and it’s not me. This is the hardest thing to say (well, type), but I am thankful for His plan, even when it doesn’t align with mine. It’s finding the beauty and the good bits in dark times and understanding that you wouldn’t have those revelations if you hadn’t been through the tougher stuff – and knowing that it’s all part of His bigger plan. He knows the plans for me and I am thankful that it is one with hope.

Another important one is my gratitude for writing and specifically blogging. I so appreciate y’all (or even if it’s just my mom) reading and commenting. Happiest of Thanksgiving! And even if you don’t celebrate, remind yourself of the many blessings in your life – any day is a good day for that. Until next time…

Image via SheReadsTruth.com

The one with Rottnest Island

To my fellow Americans: happy Thanksgiving Eve {yes it’s a thing}! By the time you read this, the sun will be setting on Thanksgiving Eve in Perth, Western Australia and we Blantons will be resting up for burgers and Cheerwine 😉 No, no turkey for us on actual Thanksgiving – though we are making a weekend trip with some friends to celebrate the holiday belatedly on Saturday – but rather we’re escaping to an American bar here that stocks DDP (Cheerwine for Barr – one of his faves), almost authentic burgers, and non stop sports (even college games!)

But before the respective big meals (in true American fashion), enjoy some stories and snaps from a recent trip to Rottnest Island. Locally known here in WA as “Rotto”, Rottnest is a little island off the coast of Perth – we hadnt been yet, so a work team event for a day on the island was great timing to enjoy some of the amazing weather we’ve been enjoying.

A Rottnest beach from the boat on our way in

A Rottnest beach from the boat on our way in: beautiful white sand beaches and blue waters

Historically, the island was part of an 17th century European colony, followed by an Aboriginal prison, then an internment camp for suspected enemy Austrians and Germans during WWI and WWII, and now a tourist destination. And what a destination:

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Rottnest Island doesn’t have a hotel, per say, but does have little “chalets” that you can rent for the night, the week, the month – they’re a bit rustic, but I suppose it’s all part of the experience 🙂

If you’re only going for the day (like us), you can enjoy some of the beaches:

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Take a bike ride on one of the many trails that snake through the island:

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A biking quokka and I

Hike around the dunes and hills:

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Barr was much braver than I

Barr was much braver than I

Selfie time!

Selfie time!

Or enjoy a meal/drinks with a quokka, the happiest animal on the planet (what did we do before Buzzfeed?)! A quokka is a little animal (about the size of a domestic cat) in the marsupial family, so it moves around a lot like a kangaroo. Rottnest Island is the only place in the world where native quokkas can be found, and they’re very gentle (at least the ones we encountered on the island.)

Quokkas everywhere

Quokkas everywhere

You can find more adorable pictures of quokkas here and here…oh and here:

This is NOT photoshopped, people! This selfie with Barr, a work friend, and their new quokka buddy is 100% the real deal :)

This is NOT photoshopped, people! This selfie with Barr, a work friend, and their new quokka buddy is 100% the real deal 🙂

Now I hope all of y’all, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, have a safe and festive holiday season 🙂 Home really is where your heart is and I pray all my friends, family, and readers’ hearts are full and happy. Until next time…

Stocking Stuffers (for he & she)

My_Favorite_Things_Linkup_2014It’s that time again! For round 2 of the “My Favorite Things” link up with Cheers Y’allA. Liz AdventuresMiss DixieSouthern Stylethe feature is for stocking stuffers. So without further ado, here are some of my picks for both she and he! Stocking Stuffers for her
The all time best running socks, some JCrew fuzzies to keep warm {for returning to what I can only assume will be a polar vortex}, Nespresso coffee capsules, an adorable contact case (I currently have the pink, but they have a ton of colors available!), and the ever useful Tar-jay gift cardStocking Stuffers for him
 These caps (and frankly, lots of their accessories) are perfect for game day, what dude doesn’t need adjustable collar stays, giant ice molds for the perfect Old Fashioned, golf balls {if you know Barr, well this one is a given} ;), and the equally useful Knot Standard gift card (check out their stuff – great deals on well-made, tailored clothes)
Until next time….Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!!