My manifest destiny – Trinidad, CA

September is a really special month for me. I started dating my husband (Scuba Steve as he will be known henceforth) in September, we got engaged in September, and then finally, we got married in September.  When you don’t have kids, September isn’t a new year, it’s an extension of summer.  So what does this have to do with California?  Well, this is the story of our engagement trip.

I’ve mentioned this before, but air travel wasn’t something I spent a lot of time doing growing up.  We explored the area around us with road trips and long weekends, but that was it.  I used to sit in the back seat surrounded by luggage, art supplies, travel games and coloring books, and as an only child I’d like to think I was so entertained by myself that I rarely asked “are we there yet?”  Since I grew up and still live in the Northeast, prior to September of 2012 I had not completed my manifest destiny, something at the time was very much on my bucket list.  Chicago was as far west as it got, so when I told Scuba Steve I wanted to go to California, San Francisco and Wine Country to be exact, he added in the Redwoods and we were off to the races.

We tag teamed the planning on this one, and since I barely had any points at this time, hotels and flights were straight cash, a foreign concept to us these days.  We were intent on hitting the Redwoods National Park up north, about a 5-6 hour drive from San Francisco.  After a lot of research, we settled on the Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn in Trinidad, CA.  A place we would love to return to someday.  Each room had its own balcony overlooking the ocean where you could watch and certainly listen to the seals barking in the evening.  Since the fog was so heavy we could not figure out what that soundtrack was to the first half of our trip and finally, when the fog lifted, at least 30 seals were barking away on a rock outside.  The locals do not find this cute, but Scube and I were quite taken with it, I mean you don’t exactly hear barking seals in Philadelphia everyday.

Back to the B&B, the owners are the sweetest people, serving a delicious breakfast at around 9am (we were surprised, as normally breakfast starts so early!), and opened their kitchen to guests with beverages and snacks throughout the day.  Additionally, they were quick to provide itineraries that matched the length of ones stay, as well as excellent dinner recommendations. Staying a few days, we opted for the lengthier itinerary, but upon arrival, we were beat, crashed and then naturally woke up ready to greet the world at 4am California time.  Kitchen closed.

On our first morning, Scuba Steve had the worst cold, and we were plying him with a cocktail of Dayquil, Sudafed, and the like in the hopes he would be able to enjoy the day.  At around 6am, we grabbed a granola bar and an apple and headed toward Patrick’s Point.  Our morning hike consisted of Wedding Rock, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, our engagement!  Scuba Steve had asked me to grab a map which if you know me, is hilarious.  I cannot read a map to save my life, after rummaging through our stuff, I turned around and there he was, down on one knee.  To this day, I have no idea what Scube said to me, I blacked out into a puddle of the happiest of tears.  After composing ourselves (okay fine, myself), we tried to get through to our families and friends with what little cell service there was, and continued to explore Patrick’s Point.  Nothing says excitement and disappointment like, “OMG we got en-…” to get cut off each time.

The area of Patrick’s Point was beautiful, as thick fog would slowly burn off as the sun would escape through small slats in the pine trees up above.  After about an hour of exploration we headed back to the Inn for some much deserved breakfast of pastries, eggs, juices, the works.  I mean we had been up since 4, a granola and an apple wasn’t going to cut it.

After breakfast, our itinerary for the day focused on the Redwoods National Park, and we hoped to spend a lot of time getting lost in the forest.  After checking in with the National Park Visitors Center for a map (of course, Scube needs his maps) and a few trail ideas, we headed first to Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Tall Trees Grove.  None of these were long or tedious hikes, but the pay offs were incredible.  In typical fashion was tried to hug the trees and our outstretched arms didn’t even come close to completing a full on hug.  I have an incredible fear of snakes, and one of my Scube’s favorite moments from the hike down into the Trall Trees Grove was when I asked “you don’t think we’ll see any snakes here?” as I unknowingly stepped right over one.  So yes, there is a possibility that you could see snakes (ugh).

Even though this was a few years ago, California was fairly dry, and Redwood Creek near the Tall Trees Grove was almost completely dried up.  We walked through the creek bed and headed the 2 miles back up to the car.  When not hiking, the look out points on the main roadway to the points were stunning, and we were constantly stopping to take in the view and try our hand at some pretty bad selfies, but we didn’t care.  The drive back to the Inn was incredibly beautiful.  You end up driving down a hill where there’s the ocean on the right and a lagoon on the left.  The beach was made of dark sand with small little caves and inlets we explored during our stay.

With some lingering jet lag, we decided it was time to relax for a bit before heading to dinner at Moonstone Grill to toast to our engagement.  Moonstone Grill overlooks the ocean, and the scenery at the restaurant was fantastic.  I have no recollection of the food, and that might be because upon leaving the restaurant we realized we were driving on a flat tire.  Driving about 100 yards, we had destroyed the tire and turned back around, Steve went inside to call AAA, and I enlisted an elderly man to help me change the tire.  Knowing that our spare would only last for 50 or so miles (my dad or Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny may have mentioned that), we unfortunately spent the next morning in a tire shop getting a new tire on our rental car.  Since Trinidad was not all that close to a major city, this seemed to be the best course of action, despite the unexpected bill.

Once the tire had been replaced, we decided to visit Fern Canyon, where Jurassic Park 2 was filmed.  The drive into the canyon was a single lane road, where lead cars are required to chaperon cars to and from the parking lot.  The drive into the canyon was so incredibly cool.  Wet ferns and foliage crawled up both sides of your car, as the dirt road seemed to narrow before your eyes.  We truly felt like we were in the movie, though a bit hesitant considering there was some light off-roading through rocky streams involved.  Nothing like replacing a flat tire and then holding your breath while the bars on your cellphone disappear faster than a vampire in sunlight as your car is rocking back and forth on rocks, in creeks, etc.  But we made it.   The hike into the canyon was damp, beautiful, lush and green.  It involved climbing over massive tree trunks, getting your sneaks wet, and getting a little lost.  Beyond the canyon, we walked along a beach in what was a gray day, and looked back upon the cliffs hiding the canyon from which we came.  We saw hikers who had been hiking for months on the Pacific Crest Trail, large animal carcasses, and circling gulls, truly at peace with nature (something so new to me). After walking along the beach, we headed back to the car, waited for our lead car, and decided to head out to Elk Point, where Elk’s (luckily for us) were incredibly abundant.  Elk’s were everywhere, and we kept a safe distance though definitely snapped a few photos.  Our Elk detour only lasted a few minutes, and we decided to check out the town of Trinidad itself.

The town is very much a quaint fishing village, reminiscent of towns in Maine.  With a stunning white and red light house, a beautiful cove/marina and a hike cliff walk, the town had a lot to offer, even if we only had a few hours to spare.  That night we had dinner at Larrupin Cafe.  The meal was out of this world, and we were not expecting that for such a small town.  They bring a charcuterie board to start, and while I don’t remember exactly what we ordered, I remember we were both in culinary heaven.   Fortunately, our car did not have a flat tire upon leaving so we certainly called this day a win.

We were hoping to kayak the next morning, but since the conditions were rough, the company cancelled our tour, so we decided to spend more time exploring Trinidad on our last day before heading down to wine country.

Trinidad was such an unexpected bright spot, and that excludes the excitement of our first morning.  It was so diverse and offered and so many different outdoorsy activities coupled with really great food.  It was such a great start to my very first time in the Golden State.

Off to wine country, next!

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Playing hide and seek behind a massive Redwood tree
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If a tree falls in the forest, can you cut a hole in it and walk through it? Yes, yes you can.
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View from above, pre – trail
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trinidad 1 Tree hugger.
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The beautiful town of Trinidad, CA
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Another view of Trinidad
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The trees go on forever
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trinidad 3 Patrick’s Point, the fog burning off
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Jet lagged, early morning, Patrick’s Point, bursting with news to share
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Fern Canyon, cue the Jurassic Park theme
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Inside Fern Canyon
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Our NatGeo moment

Fraser Island – Is that a dingo?

When my husband said he booked us a day trip to Fraser Island I stared blankly at him and said “Okay, great!”  I had no idea what or where Fraser Island was (geography, not a strength), and since Steve was in charge of our Australian honeymoon, I went with it.  Before our trip, I learned that Fraser Island is the world largest sand island.  Located in Queensland, and a world’s heritage site, many tours leave for the island from Noosa Heads, which fit perfectly with our plans.

Fraser Island has a relatively large camping scene, and while you can take a personal car to the island the terrain is tough to navigate and is not recommended for novices or those unfamiliar with the land.  As a result, we decided to go with a tour group, which meant a very early morning for us. The tour started at 600am (good news, the pick-up location was just a short walk from the Sheraton), and we boarded our brightly colored Fraser Island Adventure Tours bus, eager but tired.

The drive from Noosa to Fraser Island is two and half hours long, fortunately, we stopped at Rainbow Beach (close to Fraser) for a bio break and to pick up the last members of our tour group.  The views from above of Rainbow Beach were sprawling and beautiful, however, the true beauty is from the ocean looking up. Though, drivers be warned, Rainbow Beach is known for eating and swallowing more cars than any other beach! More on that later.

After driving onto a barge and crossing a small stretch of water between Rainbow Park and Fraser Island, we had arrived.  On the East Coast of Fraser Island is 75 Mile Beach, it’s literally 75 miles long, hence the name.  And we drove all over it, spotting dingoes, turtles, and a large number of dead birds.  Our tour guide explained that these are migratory birds who fly for hundreds and hundreds of miles to get to Fraser Island and by the time they get here they have no more energy to continue. Truly a sad story.  Apart from the animals (varying in levels of alive-ness), 75 Mile Beach is known for the SS Maheno Shipwreck and the Champagne Pools.  In true Fraser fashion, that’s just a snippet of what’s available on this sand island.

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75 Mile Beach seemed endless on our trek

For a sand island, inland there are two things of note.  One is the redwood style forest.  Literally growing into sand are massive trees.  I thought I was back in the Redwood National Park and couldn’t believe that a rain forest so lush and so dense could grow on an island made of sand.  It was mind blowing.  Secondly, Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes, including the often visited Lake McKenzie.  The water is so pure there that it is said to be fabulous for your skin.  I naturally made sure my whole face got drenched in its crystal clear waters.  Do I look younger?

Redwood style trees in the interior of Fraser Island
Not the best pic of the “redwoods”, I couldn’t find the one I wanted so this will have to do.
The beautiful Lake McKenzie
The beautiful Lake McKenzie

Driving through the interior of the island to get to these lakes and forest, you can tell why it’s not really safe for drivers who are unfamiliar with the terrain.  Between tough, narrow one lane unpaved roads, and quick moving sand, it was comforting to be in the hands of a professional.  Plus seeing a few abandoned cars certainly helped solidify our decision to go in a group.

Our journey didn’t stop at the lakes and forest, we also explored the Pinnacles and Eli Creek. The Pinnacles reminded me so much of Bryce Canyon, as the colorful reds and yellow sands rose above the dunes.  It was crazy to me that a small island could have so many uniquely different geographies and attractions.  It seemed like Fraser Island was a microcosm of Australia itself, placed into one beautiful beachy / foresty location.

fraser island 8Eli Creek is a small stream with a strong current, so you hop in on one end and get to float all the way back to the beginning.  We had a lot of fun on this lazy river and meeting people from fellow tours during our stop there.

Lean back and let the current take you away on Eli Creek
Lean back and let the current take you away on Eli Creek

After spending about 7 hours on Fraser Island, it was time to head back.  The tides were in our favor as our tour operator decided why take roads, when you can drive on Rainbow Beach to get home???  He mentioned how the people drive on this beach all the time, but most don’t pay attention to the tides and that so many cars get abandoned or need to be towed off the beach at a later date.  He even showed us a postcards to that affect that showed all the abandoned cars in a single year.  You could probably fill a few calendars with abandoned car photos.  Despite that funny little anecdote, Rainbow Beach is truly stunning.  We marveled at the beautiful colors captured in the cliffs of the beach, understanding where it got its name, and simultaneously hoped that our driver really was well versed in the tides.

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Apparently, dingo sightings these days are fairly rare on Fraser
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Our snazzy tour bus
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Maheno Shipwreck

Bucket list: Surfing Lessons

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to surf.  My mom and I watched the movie Gidget and I was hooked.  She could surf, she could hang with the incredibly handsome boys, and she just made everything look so easy (minus her approach to snagging her crush).  So at 28, I still hadn’t tried surfing, and that was about to change.

The last leg of our honeymoon had us staying in Noosa Heads.  We follow the Starwood Hotels, what can I say?  Noosa, known for being the Hamptons of Australia, is also known for some of the best surfing spots in the country, so we had to sign up.  As part of our surfing lessons, we spent some time on shore learning the proper stance, how to jump on the board, and just get our muscle memory going.  Our group consisted of a few girls from New Zealand, and a young boy who took lessons a few times a week.  After some time on land, it was time to test our skills in the ocean.

The waves were about 4-6 feet high, and were so hard to navigate.  Half the battle with learning to surf is just actually getting out far enough.  Once we made it out, the instructor helped us get on board, push off and would scream “STAND!” when the time was right.  Stand I did not.  My husband on the other hand, stood up on his first try and gave everyone the peace sign as he rode on by.  I’m competitive, and I was pissed.

So after riding the surf in on my belly, I gathered the board and battled the current again in order to catch a wave, shoot the curl, hang 10, etc.  Again, I didn’t stand.  And again, I headed back into the sea, battling the waves, and the exhaustion that comes with it.  With each time I got closer and closer to standing and staying up, but each time I failed.  After what seemed like hours, the lesson was done, and I had not stood on my board.  I was disappointed, but more completely sore and exhausted.  And so was my husband.

The result: cocktails in the hot tub at the hotel.

At the next opportunity, I fully intend on trying surfing again, and at least this time I will know it’s not nearly as easy as Sandra Dee and the green screen made it seem.  At least I already have my Moon Doggie. 😉

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I mean look at these men! Who wouldn’t want to learn to surf if this was at the end of every lesson??

Noosa Heads – Wait, where am I?

When planning our Australian honeymoon, we knew that Sydney was a must, and so was the Great Barrier Reef, after that, we had no plan.  After looking at our map of Starwoods in the area, we settled on Noosa Heads because of a recently revamped Sheraton.  Doing a little research, we learned that Noosa was their version of the Hamptons, with surfing, beautiful beaches, a national park, and close to Fraser Island.  Fraser Island?  We’ll get to that in a later post.

We arrived late in the evening at Noosa, and checked in.  We were upgraded to a duplex, pool facing suite, with a downstairs living room, patio, and powder room, and upstairs with a master bedroom, balcony, and huge bathroom.  Like a bathroom you only dream about when watching HGTV.  To put it bluntly, the hotel was stunning.  The next morning, we were excited to start exploring.

The concierge mentioned there was a beautiful hike in the National Park, in walking distance from the hotel.  In fact, everything was in walking distance of the hotel.  The main street was adorable, littered with boutique shops, al fresco style restaurants, and on the other side, a gorgeous beach with big waves.  With our sneakers on, we headed toward the hike.  The hike was up a large hill, half trail, half wooden stairs, overlooking the beach, beautiful mountains, and various swimming holes.  The views were incredible, and the hike was fairly easy.  Upon reaching the top, the trail continued down the other side of the hill into another stretch of beautiful beaches but we chose to head back due to a hunger and an overwhelming need to go swimming.  It was here that we discovered our favorite lunch spot, Zachary’s.  Their arugula, pear, and parm salad dressed in a thick balsamic covered in grilled chicken was large enough for two.  We became regulars overnight.  One Monday during lunch, I watched the Giants get their first win of the season against the Minnesota Vikings while eating lunch.  The time difference and sports never lost it’s initial luster for us.

After lunch we decided to rent paddle boards.  This was a unique experience.  After standing up and falling a few times, I paddled out a bit further to discover I was surrounded by hundreds of light blue jelly fish.  I didn’t even bother standing up again, despite a few Australians trying to coax me up and shouting words of encouragement.  They weren’t close enough to see the terror of jellies waiting for me if I fell. I think it’s time for a new paddle boarding experience though, no?

It was back to the beach for some relaxing, and it is a beautiful beach.  In fact, there are multiple beaches in Noosa Heads.  Along the Noosa River and by the Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve, there are beautiful beaches, heavy winds perfect for kite boarding, and a view that will blow your mind.  We explored all sections of Noosa, and spent many an afternoon lounging by and walking along the reserve, watching the people, the puppies, and the kite boarders.

Noosa has a lot to offer, there was no want for nightlife or restaurants, and in nearby Noosaville, there were also wonderful restaurants and bars to enjoy.  We loved iS Tapas Bar in Noosaville (unfortunately no website to link to).  The sangria was delicious and the food was just as tasty.  Everything was either in walking distance or a short drive away, and on week three, I was a pro behind the wheel.

Noosa was a great relaxing stretch of time, and for anyone heading to Australia, I would highly recommend it, especially the proximity to Fraser Island, a really cool and fun day trip, coming up on the blog next week.

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Hanging out by the Noosa Spit
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Looking out at the beach from the entry to the National Park
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Toward the start of our hike, repping my BU Terriers
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Admiring the view
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Pups travel in style, Noosa Spit edition

Pic of the Week – Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard

Today’s pic of the week is incredibly timely.  I head up to Martha’s Vineyard tonight for a few more days of summer in the USofA.  With this trip being my second time to the Vineyard, I’m excited for another round of late night treats at Back Door Donuts, delicious seafood, and the beautiful gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs.

The photo seen below, taken in Vineyard Haven, outside, you guessed it, the Black Dog Cafe.

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A black dog outside the Black Dog Cafe, Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

Pic of the Week – The Algarve

My husband and I spent a week in the Algarve, which is the southern most region of Portugal, last September.  The cliff side beaches were absolutely beautiful, but the water, even for September, was freezing.  My husband, the human fish, could barely go in, and that’s saying something!  But nothing, regardless of water temperature, beats lying on a beach and letting all of your troubles float away, no?

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The beautiful Algarve, beaches are just better dotted with colored umbrellas, no?

Pic of the Week – St. John

We’ll call this pic of the week a big tease.  We are in the midst of posting on my Australian honeymoon so we will get to St. John in a little bit, but until then, enjoy the incredible beauty is that Trunk Bay.

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Beautiful Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI. Is this place even real??