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Trip Report 2013: San Jose, San Francisco, Portland, Montreal, Cook Islands

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Hello Fodorites

A quick trip report as-we-go.


Friday June 28 - we flew from Auckland to San Francisco via NZ8 on Air NZ. Great service and a smooth flight despite late off. Scored the exit row and all of its extra leg room :)

We arrived to sun and temperatures 4 x times warmer than back home :) The holiday was getting a fantastic start.

We picked up our rental car from Budget. We booked online at budget.com and pre-paid our one week rental. What we didn't realise was that by pre-paying, we were allowed into the priority queue (only 3 customers in it) instead of the normal queue (at least 20 people in it, all needing about 8 minutes each to be served). Score!

The GPS made the drive from SFO to our family's home in San Jose really easy. It was a nice drive, especially with darling Lovener2 alongside to help make sure we were getting for the cars coming from different sides of the road than we were used to. The drive took about an hour and the home in San Jose is in a lovely leafy and quiet area.

Our family was still out at work and holiday programmes so we decided to venture to the local shops and get ourselves sorted out with a simcard. By now we are starting to notice just how hot it really is. One opens the car door and it is like you have opened the door of the oven. The winter clothes from home are quickly exchanged for something with a touch more air flow :)

The simcard exercise was far more painful than it needed to be. I had to put on my grumpy bear voice after we had made 3 trips back to the store, spent over 3 hours trying to sort it out. it turned out they sold us a plan that actually was removed from the market a week prior. Surprise, surprise, it wouldn't work. My only advice - if you need a simcard, go directly to the telco provider. Do not bother with Radioshack (who could more appropriately name themselves radioshite).

We had a nice quiet evening at home with the family, enjoying the sun and new backyard. Glorious.

Saturday 29 June

The heatwave continues - hurrah!

This morning we ventured to the Gilroy Premium Outlets, about a 30 minute drive from San Jose. We didn't have that long so focused on Gap, Saks and Banana Republic. A couple of good bargains but in my opinion, Nordstrom Rack wins when it comes to 'steal of a deal bargains'. It was a great day to go with the heat temperatures. There was great aircon and everyone else had gone to the beach so lovely and quiet.

We ventured into the countryside to Gilroy's garden/farming area and then scoffed blackberries all the way home. We picked up some amazing strawberries - enormous in size and full of flavour. Looking forward to trying the peaches and nectarines today. Yummo.

The afternoon involved an end-of-soccer-season-party with 65 people descending on the backyard. It was a lovely fun afternoon with lots of kids running around and having fun with the hose.

Another great day. Am loving the heatwave. 110 degrees today (or 43 where we come from). Nothing short of glorious and 5 x hotter than the weather we came from yesterday :) :)

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    It has been hot here, but we love it because it's so infrequent. Yesterday, we ran into a couple that came to SF from San Jose "to cool off" - it was about 110 at home, and ONLY in the 80s here in the city!

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    Day 3: Sunday 30 June

    Still loving the heat.

    We started the day with a short walk to the San Jose village. Lots of people out walking their dogs and lining up for brunch. We decided to try the Crepe Vine but wouldn't rush back. We seemed to fall into a service black hole and I waited almost an hour for poached eggs (& then they forgot the toast that with the eggs).

    We wandered back to the house and then headed off to Mountain Hill to pick up family that had been having sleepovers. Mountain Hill seemed a lovely quiet city and was about 40km south of San Jose back towards the Santa Cruz mountains.

    The quick pick up turned into an unscheduled multi-course home-made banquet lunch with friends. Totally unexpected and wonderful hospitality.

    We spent the late afternoon at the San Jose Swim and Racquet club lounging around by the pool, taking the occasional dip (the water was as warm as bath water, amazing) and watching the kids swim, dive and play. It was a fabulous afternoon just hanging around with the family and enjoying the sun. We enjoyed our later afternoon bbq leftovers and reluctantly dragged ourselves home to enjoy the last of the sun at home.

    Tomorrow we have an early start, heading for the Big Smoke of San Francisco.

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    We had an early start and drove from San Jose to Portland. We left not long after 7am and seemed to avoid all the traffic and made good time to San Francisco. It was an easy drive to our hotel near Union Square.

    The lovely lady at the Westin gave us a fantastic room. Up on the 28th floor and with floor to ceiling windows on 2 sides. Just amazing.

    We wandered the streets of San Francisco and did some shopping in Union Square for a few hours. Lovener2 was very successful in the shopping department and now owns two new pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of jeans and a new jacket. A lot of credit card damage was done at my favourite store, Williams Sonoma.

    Time was starting to get away on us and we didn't want to be late for our Alcatraz spot. We took a cab down to the crazy zoo of Fisherman's Wharf and had a very quick bite at the bar of bubba gump shrimp. Nothing to write home about but good service and nice to be out in the hustle and bustle.

    Alactraz was fantastic. We both really enjoyed the audio tour and would have loved it if it gone on for even longer. We were really getting into it and then it was over :( We were both surprised how quickly time passed and how small the actual prison facility was.

    We ferried back to Fisherman's Wharf and then walked back to Union square. We did a bit more shopping on the way home (sales are fantastic compared to what we get at home).

    We eventually made it back to the hotel, about 28,000 steps later. Rested our feet for a few minutes and then headed out for a late dinner.

    We ate at Colibri Mexican restaurant which was very close to Union Square. The meal and service were both excellent. We enjoyed ceviche, slow cooked chicken and slow cooked pork (plus a few cocktails). It was all delicious.

    Feet now feeling really sore, it was time for bed.

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    Another early start today as we were driving from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe.

    We headed off about 7.45am and first drove to Folsom to visit a Costco. We had a card that would give us access to the members-only shopping warehouse. It was absolutely fascinating with everything you could possibly want to buy in bulk. A couple of good bargains snatched (& the suitcases beginning to bulge), we headed back onto the highway.

    The drive to South Lake Tahoe was a bit of a concrete jungle with outlet malls on both sides of the highway. It eventually got a bit more exciting when we entered Eldorado county.

    We made it to South Lake Tahoe around 2pm and headed straight for the Ms Dixie paddle-steamer (or should I say, diesel? powered ferry with a paddle accessory??). We had booked this in advance and were really looking forward to it.

    The weather didn't work in our favour. Despite being really warm the skies greyed over and Lake Tahoe resembled a dirty grey puddle. Ms Dixie went to Emerald Bay and it was scenic but still very grey. There was even some lightning to keep things exciting.

    The Ms Dixie experience was quite entertaining with a good commentary and very friendly staff. Food on board was good and we had a really nice time despite the views being pretty average.

    We headed back our family's house and made ourselves at home. Dinner was take-out from La Familia on Ski Run Boulevard. Excellent mexican food, only a short wait, and helpful staff. The rest of the family arrived up from San Jose about 8.30pm and we had a great night catching up. It was a shame that this was the last stop before we headed our separate ways.

    Another early start on Wednesday 3 July with a drive from South Lake Tahoe to Reno Airport followed by flights to Portland (via San Francisco).

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    Wednesday 3 July

    Today we had our travel day, driving from South Lake Tahoe to Reno and then flying to Portland via San Francisco.

    It was an easy short drive with little traffic on the road. It is hard to see much Lake from the road when you are driving which surprised me as prior to visiting, I had read multiple recommendations to drive around Lake Tahoe. It was hard to see much whilst driving for the section of the route that we drove.

    Our rental car return and check-in was smooth and straight-forward. Our flights were complimentary following a rather disastrous experience with United earlier in February when I spent 5 days stranded around various airports thanks to United mechanical issues. Thankfully, this flight was uneventful ☺

    We connected through to our Portland flight which was an hour late leaving. Portland airport is small and had an immediately friendly and welcoming feel. Catching the Max light rail into the city was an easy way of getting into the city and checking out the neighbourhoods at the same time.

    We found our hotel, Westin Portland easily. Our first impressions of Portland are great – it’s a fantastic, clean city with lots of greenery. We are staying at the Westin alongside a large number of WDS2013 attendees. We’re also getting starwood points which I’m hoping to use later in the year when Mum & I go to the Isle of Pines – hurrah, can’t wait!

    After checking in and getting settled, we headed out for a bite to eat at Oba. Oba is a Venezulean restaurant. We enjoyed great cocktails and a lovely meal seated outside with the warm breeze. My favourite dish was the stuffed jalapenos. Simply delicious.

    Thursday 4th July Adventuring to Nordstrom Rack, Tannasbourne.

    We’d put today aside to check-out the large Nordstrom Rack store in Tannasbourne. We’d decided to take the rail and bus out there and the plan half worked. We got the timetable a little wrong with the Sunday schedule being active due to the public holiday. We caught the train for half the day and then caught a taxi the remainder of the journey which worked out well.

    Lunch was a yummy petite burger from FiveGuys and, now well fortified, headed off to Nordstrom. The bargains were excellent and the choice was great. I would have liked a few more handbags to choose from but was very happy with the items were picked out. Dad did very well in the Polo shirt department and Lovener2 scored well in the shoes department.

    The bus and train back to the city was easy and we dropped our purchases quickly before heading out on a Brewvana Beer Lovers tour for the evening. We grabbed a quick snack to eat at the Blues Festival on the waterfront before meeting up with Matthew, the Beer Lovers Tour Guide. Even for a non-beer drinker like myself, the beer tour was lots of fun. Lovener2 (the brewer in the family) was in his element. We met the head brewer from Base Camp brewery and Lovener2 whipped out his list of questions. We also visited Gigantic Brewery which was in the ‘burbs. Thankfully, they at least sold bubbles so I didn’t have to be a complete tee-totaller.

    After Gigantic, we headed to Hopworks which was o.k but didn’t have quite the same intimate “craft” feeling as the other breweries we visited. I was bracing myself to visit the 4th brewery and then we found out only 3 breweries would be visited due to a change of scheduling with the 4th July celebrations. We had a great night out and loved all the people we met.

    Friday 5th July: from the Willamette River in a Tube to the Zoo

    Today was a day full of adventure. We kicked off early with a walk over to the other side of the river to join 612 other brave souls attempting to break a world record.

    The world record we were chasing was the longest consecutive “floating” human chain. We all had donut-shaped inner tubes and a life vest. It wasn’t the warmest of mornings (I’ve since discovered that Portland seems to be cool until lunch time and then gets hotter as the day goes on). We all lined up and then jumped into the river holding onto a piece of rope.

    Each string of rope had about 50 floaters hanging on. Our string of rope was then towed out into the Willamette and joined onto another string of floaters. We were in the water relatively early on and had a while to wait as other floaters progressed through the queue. We entertained ourselves with chatting to other floaters, singing songs, having a laugh and doing the Mexican wave. It was a real hoot and we loved every minute.

    The world record gods smiled on us and we nailed the world record attempt with 621 confirmed floaters. We beat the previous record holders from Italy that only had 500-something floaters. Dripping wet, it was time to test the human spirit and borrow a towel from a stranger to dry off.

    Lovener2 had to race off and join his next brewery tour, Brewvana’s Behind the Scenes tour. After he nipped off, I stayed around to help deflate the inner tubes before dripping my way back to the hotel and washing the river sand out of the shoes.

    Lovener2 had a great time at his beer tour, he seemed to really enjoy Lancewood brewery. After I’d done the washing and got myself organized, I headed off for a quick stroll around the town (or around the shops to be more accurate ;). The afternoon had quickly evaporated and it was time for me to head to meet up with other WDS attendees and catch the bus to our special event at the Oregon Zoo. I got the registration processes out of the way and then met up with Lovener2 a couple of hours later.

    My first impression of WDS was awe. So slick and well-organised. Even more meaningful given that this is a volunteer-run effort with no commercial sponsorship & completely non-for-profit.

    The opening party was so much fun. Meeting great people, enjoying the sun. A marching band including stilt walkers performing on stage. We met one of our favourite actresses from Offspring and lots of other interesting people.

    Saturday 6th July The Big Event we’d come for – WDS.

    We planned our trip around WDS. People keep asking us “what WDS is” but in truth we’re still figuring it out and having fun figuring it out. We’ve been asked “is it religious?” “is it a cult?” “why is it non-profit”. We’ve heard it described as “for people wanting a non-conventional life”, “for entrepreneurs and bloggers” and variations of both of those theme. In short, it’s an amazing collection of individuals grounded by a shared desire to be adventurous and contribute to the community.

    We had some amazing and inspiring speakers and participated in workshops. We finished the day feeling uplifted and energized. We then headed off with 400 others for a cruise on the Willamette River. We topped a great day out with dinner and cocktails at Saucebox. Delicious and fun.

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    Absolutely awesome speakers today at WDS. All pretty inspiring stuff around the science behind happiness, goal setting, rejection therapy, and dreams. We had a great afternoon workshop on blogging as well.

    The night ended with an 80s Dance Party at Pioneer Square. Lots of bollywood dancing as well. It was a real laugh and we had a great time, dancing away until midnight.


    Another beautiful day in Portland. Firstly it was time to pack the bags and get all of our/our friends' shopping packed in. The suitcases aren't rolling quite as smoothly now thanks to Portland's tax-free shopping...

    We caught the bus over to The Commons brewery but found it closed so walked over to Lucky Labrador instead. We had a nice time there (food was o,k but not fabulous) and enjoyed the sampling tasting tray and cider.

    We wandered back across the Hawthorne bridge and through the city & wandered around the shops. Our feet are feeling tired today even though we've only done 10,000 steps.

    We finished up with a snack at Rockbottom Brewery. Food and beer excellent and friendly service. We hopped in cab and made our way to the airport.

    Tonight we head to San Francisco & overnight there before heading to Monteal tomorrow at lunch time. We're sad to leave Portland. We've loved our time here and had amazing experiences (& weather!)

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    We got lucky with our flight to San Francisco last night. Our flight crew were reaching their maximum hours and about to become "illegal" which meant that our flight left only 1 hour late. The other flight to San Fran (due to leave an hour before us) ended up being scheduled to arrive on midnight & 5 hours late.

    We scored well again for the flight to Montreal. On checking in we were told that we were the only on-time flight scheduled for the day, hurrah.

    We had a quick nibble to eat and then found the Ghiaradelli chocolate stand before heading for the plane. It was great to be on Air Canada (not as great as Air NZ but several notable steps above United).

    It was a smooth 5 hour 20 min flight from San Francisco to Montreal. No meal was served on the plane but we had Ghiaradelli so we were fine :). Off to stay with the family now, having a lovely time.

    ps- Montreal is hot and muggy! 30 deg c on arrival at 9pm.

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    It wasn't the best of sleeps but we soon got on our way to catch up with some quilting friends in downtown Montreal. We all had a late breakfast together and chatted for several hours before going our separate ways.

    We got home in time for a late lunch, quick rest and then headed out to the local Baie D'Urfe village for some errands. A trip to the grocery store was lots of fun and I managed to pick up somethings not available back home.

    We were looking forward to our dinner in the older part of Montreal at Joe Beef. Reservations are hard to come by and we had a slight moment of panic when our reservation was hard to call up. It's a small intimate restaurant with seating very close together.

    I was thrilled when they found us a more spacious table (more like a picnic table) in the garden. They have a great vegie garden which made Lovener2 a bit jealous. Many of the salad ingredients are grown there. I actually saw a mouse scurrying amongst the swiss-chard so hopefully it doesn't turn up on the menu at some time later... ;)

    The menu was rich and decadent with a brief salute to French cuisine. It wasn't the most amazing meal I've ever eaten but it was memorable and the company was great. We tried the oysters / tuna / double-down foie gras / rabbit / steak / lobster pasta / doughnuts / profiteroles. I think the double-down foie gras would have had 2,000 calories alone.

    Selective nibbling was the only way to go through this menu that would have given my nutritionist kittens. I was very selective in my nibbling until we got to the doughnuts. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my waist-line), I had a bit of competition for these as they were so good. At the time I didn't need quite so much competition for the doughnuts, but on writing this a day later (today having been clothes shopping), the competition was a good thing :)

    After all that cream & butter, there was nothing more that could be done than lie around. So on that note, we headed off to bed.

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    A lovely relaxing day today. In the morning we ran errands and then found ourselves at the Pointe Claire "Baie" store. There were many bargains to be found. It is a large department store and now is a good time to visit with many items marked down by 60-70%. The signage is all in French and refers to Liquidation. I'm not sure if this means the same as what it does to us when we are at home. However, there are great quality shoes, clothes and handbags.

    We meandered home after picking up a yummy lunch from the patisserie. A quick afternoon nap followed by dinner at home with a cousin who had come to visit.


    We had a nice sleep in this morning and then went for a walk. Not that far but everything seems further at 29 deg. c. We had hoped to find an exercise class that had been scheduled at the local colleague but it seemed to be not running with the holiday break on here. We wandered through the St Anne village and found a nice spot to have a waterfront lunch. It's clearly a very wealthy area from the number of power launches that pull beside us. We share a plate of aranchini and enjoy the novelty of warm wind (rather icy cold wind) blowing on us.

    While we are out we also manage to pick up a cabin bag at the thrift store for $5. It's a touch too long to make Air NZ really happy but I think that we can get almost get away with it. We walk home with the bag for a while but in the heat it gets a bit tiresome so we hop on a passing bus.

    Later in the afternoon we make a quick back to the Bay department store. The store itself isn't well organised in the ladies wear department so it takes some time to comb through the shelves. Even now, after 2 visits, I still don't feel like I've combed through ladieswear properly. I come home with a new dress ($50), and two Tommy Hilfigier blazers ($70 each) and some most gorgeous Liberty of London ballet flats. Lovener2 find many stylish bloke items not quite as bargainsome but great finds nonetheless.

    A late dinner at home, delicious and then quickly off to sleep.

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    Another balmy 32 degree c day today. We left early for a visit to the old city. First up, I wanted to visit a French fabric shop called Effiloche. Alas, when we arrived they were closed for their annual summer holiday :( Such a shame, all the quilting fabrics in the window looked gorgeous.

    Next up we headed for the old city and had a great wander around. Great art galleries and interesting shops. Everything felt very European and decidedly "Frenchy" :) We visited the Basilica Notre Dame which was nothing short of glorious inside.

    We enjoyed a great lunch down at the Cartier Square, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sunshine before wandering back to the car via more galleries. A lovely afternoon.

    A quick visit to the Bay/Baie's downtown store produced further shopping fruits before we headed home for a quick pack. For all you non-believers out-there, everything has fitted into the suitcase(s) nicely and we even have a little room ;)

    We had a great night out at the Baie D'Urfe yacht club. It was amazingly hot. It was hard to comprehend Mum's emails from home describing howling gales when I was reaching into my handbag for a wet-one to wipe off the heat....

    Our time in Montreal draws to a close. We are up early tomorrow for our flight to Los Angeles. We'll spend our layover in the company of awesome friends which we are looking forward to. I'm also looking forward to off-loading the vegemite spread I've been carrying for them. It's now been through Wellington-Auckland-SFO-Reno-SFO-Portland-SFO-Montreal Airports. It's well-travelled breakfast spread :)

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    It was indeed hot yesterday here in Montreal; I went cycling in my jeans and was wishing I'd worn shorts a few minutes into my bike ride. It seems like you stayed out in the far reaches of the West Island, which gave you likely a different perspective of Montreal than most visitors get.

    Enjoying your trip report and reading your thoughts about Portland and Montreal as I visited Portland for the first time myself last month! Unlike me, seems like you got great weather in Portland. You'll have to return to Portland some day to see the gorge-ous Columbia River Gorge. Best wishes, Daniel

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    Thanks for the good wishes. Yes, we did have an excellent time for the American & Canadian legs. Daniel,. we were very keen to visit C.R.G but unfortunately just couldn't make it work. We were so lucky in Portland with the whether that it does bode well for a return visit, even though everyone met told us how lucky we were!

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    Well, we certainly were up early this morning. Ready at the airport by 6am for the 8.15am Air Canada flight to Los Angeles.

    The Air Canada check-in lady politely informed us that we were allowed 50 lbs per piece rather than the 70 lbs x 2 plus 1 x 50lb her colleague had told us on the way up to Montreal. SHe offered to charge us $75. Um, I don't think so. So we cheerfully repacked the luggage so that we were each carrying the maximum carry-on weight which was 2 x 10kg each excluding laptop, purse, and camera. Hurrah. The lovely check-in lady seemed amazed at our repackaging prowess and bid us bon voyage :)

    The flight to LA passed smoothly and we landed at LA Airport about 11am. We had arranged a rental car to go and visit our friends with Avis. I have nothing but high praise for Avis at LA. The bus driver happily lifted our bags onto the bus, gave everyone driving tips and was very friendly. We got the same treatment at the opposite end of the day today too when returning the car.

    We drove to our great friends at Newport Beach and not long after arriving, headed out for lunch. We went for a drive on the coast to Javiers (sp?) restaurant. It was a Mexican place where there seemed to be a fair bit of trendy smoozing going on. A lovely lunch and cocktails.

    We returned our friend's place and spent the afternoon lazy around the pool and catching up. It was a great afternoon (with more beating-down sunshine).

    We headed for the airport early evening via a couple of Nordstrom stores. We arrived at the Airport about 9pm and are now awaiting our 11.15pm departure. No trouble with all of our extra bags when we made our way to the AirNZ counter. We got the quick wink and quickly scurried off before anyone changed their mind and wanted to weigh our bulging carry-on :)

    Next stop is the Cook Islands. Here's hoping for a little more sunshine. We may not finish the trip report for a week now, depending on communications.

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    It was great to be back on AirNZ again. We had a great flight from LA and even managed a light doze. We arrived in Rarotonga very early in the morning (not exactly sure what time, the flight arrived earlier than scheduled, perhaps around 4.30/5am).

    Dutyfree at Rarotonga Airport consisted of alcohol and prices were about the same as NZ supermarket prices. Bubbly was particularly expensive so we gave the good stuff a miss.

    We had a bit of time before our 8am flight to Aitutaki which gave us a chance to figure our just what to do with our luggage in Rarotonga. We didn’t want to take all of our bags on the small island hopper planes run by Air Rarotonga.

    Luggage storage options at Rarotonga are:

    - Airport lockers which come in small / med/ large. Located near the Air NZ check-in counter/ Air Rarotonga office. They are narrow but very deep. Very expensive with the average sized suitcase locker costing $20 per day.

    - Having Aquarius Hotel (directly across the road from the Airport) look after your bag for $10 per day

    - If you are travelling on Air Rarotonga flights to outer islands, they will look after your bags for $2 per bag per day. They will only look after your bag for the time that you are travelling to the outer islands and you must pick it up immediately after you land back in Rarotonga.

    It was a relief to be able to store the bags with Air Rarotonga as it would have been an a hassle to have to lug them around.

    Check-in and boarding with Air Rarotonga was very relaxed. No boarding call. You simply walk out to the plane about the time that you think you should. Lovener 2 was able to board the plane about 2 minutes before it took off. All very relaxed!

    The flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki is 40 minutes in a small but not tiny plane. It was a bit cloudy on landing so we didn’t get an amazing view of the lagoon from above.

    We were picked up at the Airport by Terry who did transfers for a number of accommodation providers. We were dropped off at our accommodation –Aretai Villas and welcomed by Mama Nicholas.

    We chose Aretai Villas because it seemed like a nice balance between the eye watering prices of the flash resorts and almost-backpacker accommodation at the other end of the spectrum.

    Aretai is looked after by Mama Nicholas whose company we really enjoyed. She had a real sparkle in her eye for 86 and was simply charming. We had many cups of tea, scones and passionfruit together. Mama Nicholas is very skilled in tivaevae and had much to talk about.

    The villas are Aretai are great accommodation for a family. They have a large spacious lounge and 2 bedrooms. Self-catering would be an easy option here (particularly if you bought some staples with you from your home country). They are set right on the beach with kyaks available.

    For us, unless I wanted to spend more time talking tivaevae with Mama Nicholas, I’m not sure we would stay here again as as a couple we just didn’t need quite so much space!

    The flight from Rarotonga landed just before 9am and we were immediately whisked to Aretai Villas and then quickly picked up by our pre-arranged tour operator, Teking.

    We originally booked the Lagoon Snorkling tour for immediately after landing as we weren’t going to be able to get into our accommodation. It turned out to be a great idea (despite the fact that it was well over 24 hours since we had been in a bed).

    We had a fantastic time on Teking’s Lagoon tour. Lots of laughs and some astonishing snorkeling. Teking had 3 boats out that day which were captained by himself, Captain No-good, and Captain So-good.

    We snorkeled over 4 different spots. One had a huge amount of fish. Fish everywhere in every direction you turned. All sizes, lots of colours. There were also some enormous fish –a wrass? And giant trevally. Some of the fish we saw were a metre in length by about 75 -80 cm wide.

    Another snorkeling spot had giant coral. Not a huge variety in colour but a huge range of shapes including the brain shaped coral.

    The next snorkeling spot had a shelf and was fun to meander through (being loosely guided in direction by some buoys). Nice fish here too.

    Our last snorkeling spot took us to purple coral. It was purple from above the water and quite blue from below the water. It was very pretty.

    There was a nice lunch bbq’d on Honeymooner’s Island where we watched kite-boarders who were clearly having a huge amount of fun whizzing around the lagoon. I think Lovener2 quite fancied himself out-there and I don’t think I would have been far behind given half a chance!

    Our final stop was at Big Foot Island. Again, very pretty and a nice place to have a stroll around.

    The tour with Teking was well-worth it. We were out on the water for about 6.5/7 hours. It was highly entertaining and a great way to spend the day.

    After a big day out, we decided on a quiet night and popped next door to Puffy’s takeaway and grill for dinner at about 6.30pm. The fisherman was still out fishing so we decided to come back after 8pm for our freshly caught fish and chips. When we came back, Dad was still out back filleting the tuna! We were absolutely ravenous by the time it arrived. Yummo.


    Today we lay around for a bit and then decided it was time to explore the island. Getting a car was impossible so incredibly reluctantly, I hopped on the back of Lovener2’s scooter, knowing full well that my Mum back home would be having kittens. I pointed this out to Lovener2 who knew better than to go faster than 20km. It’s the way that everyone travels in Aitutaki and everyone was very careful on the roads/tracks.

    We rode around Aitutaki and had a lunch at the flash Pacific Resort. We were curious to see what the resort was like and the quality of the resort relative to the eye-watering prices charged. In short, it was nice but not overwhelmingly so and we wouldn’t shell out the extra $ to stay here personally.

    We had our lunch in a little outdoor bungalow right next to the beach. Despite being a bit windy, it was picturesque but not quite as nice as some of views you get from French Polynesia’s outer islands or the Isle of Pines. Lunch was o.k but not great and certainly over-priced.

    Later on we took our scooter out to Samade-on-the-Beach’s bar & grill. We had booked in for their Island Night show which we were really looking forward to. Samade-on-the-Beach has a very beautiful location right on the Lagoon and some small sized bungalows that looked very nice. I think we would probably stay here if we returned to Aitutaki one day.

    We had not long sat down when the Lagoon started to grey over. And then the heavens opened up and down came the rain. This was not a light speckling of rain. This was a torrential downpour. We had to move tables to avoid getting drenched.

    The Island Night dancing was all done by kids and was lots of fun to watch. Some were more in time / familiar with the routine that others ;) We had a great night out and were thankful that the rain stopped by going-home time. Lovener2 rode us home gingerly at a snail’s pace (I think it would have been quicker to walk) and we enjoyed a mouthful of dirt after being passed by some cars and other scooters!


    We didn’t feel we had missed too much by having a short stay in Aitutaki. For us, the island didn’t lend itself to lazing around too much and there isn’t a huge amount to do. We loved going snorkeling but once that is done & you have driven around the island, then you might find yourself scratching for options. The beach/lagoon is very pretty but certainly isn’t the most stunningly beautiful that we’ve ever seen. Aitutaki gets onto the world’s top 10 beaches list but personally, we think that some parts of French Polynesia and New Caledonia’s Isle of Pines have more jaw-dropping beauty. Still, we certainly won’t be complaining, having enjoyed 2 hot days when back home the rain & wind remains hideous. ☺

    It was exciting to board the puddle jumper for Atiu. An island that there wasn’t a huge amount of information available on before we left home. Atiu is 50 minutes flight from Aitutaki and has a dramatically different landscape.

    Atiu is surrounded by a ring of dark coral and has some gorgeous dramatic beaches, rich almost red soil, and some jungle-like greenery. Not unlike some parts of Moorea/ French Polynesia without the population/ French government-funded infrastructure.

    We were picked up by our accommodation provider Marshall who runs Marshall’s B&B. Marshall is very personable and has deep knowledge of Atiu. He makes us feel very welcome and we know that we’re going to have a great time here.

    We had borrowed a pick up from Marshall and used this to spend the afternoon exploring Atiu. We had lunch at the one place that appeared open and ate the one item available on the menu (burgers). Very tasty burgers ☺

    We drove about halfway around the island, experienced the jungle greenery and then found ourselves at Oneroa Beach. Simply breathtaking. Not the type of beach that we would rush to swim at. For us, the ocean swell looked too treacherous (and I didn’t want Loverner2 to have to explain to my mother that not only had he taken me on a scooter, he’d also taken me swimming amongst the crashing ocean waves and rip) ;)

    The scenery was dramatic and beautiful. We strolled along the coral filled beach and picked through beautiful shells. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

    We finished our afternoon off with a visit to Atiu Fibre Arts Studio (more tivaetivae and some fabulously creative use of tapa cloth and lace), picked up some Atiu coffee and then headed back to the homestay.

    We ate dinner in with Marshall who cooked us a great meal and then we nodded off to sleep not long after.

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    We spent the morning driving around the rest of Atiu and visiting its dramatic beaches / coast line. The scenery is striking and rugged. Very beautiful. Very bright greens, and ocean that is part royal blue and part turquoise.

    We grabbed a quick burger from SuperBrown and then got changed into our caving-dwelling clothes ready for an afternoon of cave visiting.

    We went with Marshall Humphreys' eco tour, which was led by Paul Maaka. We visited the Anatakitaki cave and saw the most amazing bird, the Kopeka. The Kopeka are tiny nocturnal bird which navigate the dark using sonar. Amazing to listen to their constant chirping to help them navigate amongst the stalactites and stalactmites.

    The caves were very beautiful and more impressive than the caves we have visited in NZ. They took about 25 minutes to walk to. It's a pretty careful walk as much of the path is over or around sharp coral. The effort to get there is well-rewarded as the caves are spectacular.

    The next part of the tour was a candle-lit swim inside one of the caves. It was tranquil, a touch on the cool side (refreshing rather than tropical), and an experience we'll never forget.

    Our tour finished with a visit to a Tumunu (Bush Pub) which consists of a basic hut/shelter, several logs to sit on and a bucket of bush beer which is shared amongst attendees (whilst Cook Island music played in the background). It was fun to share tales with the locals (all male) and I wisely stopped after a few rounds of the cup. Lovener2 was in for several more rounds. It was a lot of fun.

    Dinner was with Aunty Parua Tavioni and was a wonderful experience. She is an excellent cook and we loved spending time with her. The highlight of the evening (after her delicious coconut prawns) was her sharing her tivaevae with us. She is a wonderful tivaevae maker and we spent a lot of time discussing techniques and sharing designs. She was just gorgeous and very generous in sharing her knowledge. I would have loved to have spent a few more days with her.

    We were exhausted by the time we made it to bed!

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    Our time in Atiu was drawing to a close. In keeping with our usual desire to make the most of our time in special places, we decided that there was room for another attraction visit before we caught the plane back to Rarotonga late morning.

    We went with Marshall to see the Rimarau Burial Cave. My oh my. Hidden in the middle of no-where (the path didn't even look like a track). From the outside, the cave (made of limestone and calcium) looked fairly non-descript.

    We shimmied down a very narrow dark hole (not for the faint-hearted) and climbed through the cave which is currently being researched by anthropologists. It is nothing short of astonishing. This is not a cave containing a few token femur bones. This is a cave where you have to watch your footing to make sure that you are not accidentally walking on a jaw bone, pelvis or tooth or fully intact skull.

    It was an experience we doubt we will ever be able to repeat and we felt enormously privileged to be able to visit. The cave has a very restful feeling, there is nothing eerie or disconcerting about it.

    We're now looking forward to getting home so did another bag pack and boarded the plane to Rarotonga which is a 45 minute direct flight from Atiu. Rarotonga looked quite stunning as we approached and we were glad to see what this popular island looked like.

    On arrival we picked up our luggage from Air Raro's storage and proceeded to have an island experience with the rental car booked through Island Rental Cars. We don't recommend them at all & if you want to be spared a rant, then skip over the next paragraph ;)

    We booked and prepaid for VW Beetle. Not cheap at $91 per day. We followed the instructions received to find the car beside the hedge. Of course, there was no sign of it. So we rang to enquire and we told it was "5 mins away, already on its way to the airport". 20 minutes later no sign of it. I ring again to be told it's already there. ???? How did we miss a VW beetle drive past? Oh no, they'd decided to give us a Crysler sedan instead. Which we were meant to magically pick out for ourselves amongst the all the other cars parked in the large parking area. It was parked 3 rows of cars from the hedge even! grrr! Then of course there are issues with a beep every 3 minutes when you drive the car, a groaning sound it made before lurching forward, and key issues too. We had to visit 2 offices to sign paperwork. Seriously unimpressed with the blase attitude and crappy vehicle. It was a hunk of junk. Avoid Island Rental Cars. You've been warned!

    We spent the rest of the afternoon cruising the island. We got lucky with a great fish sandwich for lunch at CocoLatte. We spent a few hours in the Botanical Gardens which were lovely. We eventually made our way to the Pacific Resort for the Island Night. Unfortunately our rental car experience luck spread to the Island night which wasn't good.

    It was lovely to bump into old acquaintances from NZ and the Pacific Resort has a beautiful setting. Staff were very friendly and the service was great. Nice cocktails. However, the Island Night was really bad. The food was inedible and we would have been very unhappy if we were staying at the 5 * resort. We had a chicken curry and frankly, we get better chicken curry in "long-life" chicken curry boxes from the supermarket. It was hideous. Entree was equally bad.

    We stayed for about 1.25 hours and decided to leave. We think it was the out-of-tune string instruments that eventually pushed us over the edge. The ukele and guitars were in different keys and two of the singers were out of tune. It was more than we could take so we cut our losses.

    We headed off to the Aquarius hotel by the airport to see if there were any rooms available. We clearly weren't the only ones with this same idea and they were already fully-booked. Loever2 set himself up with laptop in the lounge area where we were made to feel very welcome. I tried to accompany him until my eyelids started to get too heavy. I nipped out to the car for a quick cat nap.

    The AirNZ flight has check-in available from Midnight and then departs at the hideous time of 2.25am. We are now tucked up in the AirNZ Koru Lounge and bracing ourselves for the cold that we greet us on arrival home.

    Our total luggage stats:

    Big Bertha: 25kg
    Medium Bertha: 24 kg
    Small? Bertha: 26 kg.


    Purple back-pack: 4.2kg
    Black Thrift store carry-on: 10.4kg
    Small? satchel: 5.2kg

    We are dangerously close to cracking the 100kg!!

    We managed to escape excess luggage (after suffering the amusement of onlookers when we repackaged our luggage to spread the weight a bit more evenly). Mum & Dad, the scales you bought me for Christmas the year before last have more than earned their keep! We have one more flight with AirNZ to go so hopefully we can get through ;)

    It's been a great trip.

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    Wonderful report. It is an interesting mix of destinations you visited. Can you tell me more about the tivaevae and how they are constructed? Do they lean toward certain themes or color schemes? It sounds fascinating.

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    Thanks :)

    The Tivaevae I saw were beautiful. They were typically made of either two or three layers of cotton fabric (no batting or wadding is used between the layers). All used solid coloured fabric with no patterns on them. The background was usually a whole clothing (think sheeting) and then they used either shapes or a more all-over style pattern. Predominant themes were flowers which were sometimes heavily embroidered with decoration as well. The designs were tacked on and then needle-turned under.

    Hope this make sense? Not sure if you an experienced stitcher or if the way I've described this is all gobbled-goop?

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    Loveners, you did great. I do sew a bit, but have avoided quilting so far. I have been to shows with quilters though. It sounds like the designs were a form of applique. Very interesting that the fabrics were all solid colors.

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