Friday, July 22, 2016

Coco Lane - A Pampering Session in Armagh

One of the most exciting things about going back to my home town is seeing how well it is doing.

Armagh is a very beautiful city with it's two cathedrals towering like protective sentinels over this ancient city. There is a lovely blend of old (buildings) and new(businesses) with a liberal splash of trendy (interior design and fashion).

Two types of businesses are flourishing here - hair salons and beauty parlors - so if you were in the mood for a weekend of personal pampering consider Armagh.

My most favorite hairdresser of all time is Colleen Mullan - the one person who "gets" my frizzy mop right every time owns her own salon, the cleverly named International Hairport Benburb, in a quaint village, about 15 minutes from Armagh City. Full disclosure here - Colleen is my cousin, and I love her to bits. So you'd be justified in accusing me of being biased, BUT my hair is not easy hair, and her work speaks for itself as far as I'm concerned!

She is one of many up and coming business-women in Armagh who are rapidly knocking on their own glass ceilings. Another great hair place doing Armagh proud is the award-winning Petra's House of Color in Thomas Street, Armagh. They won the Ulster Tatlers, Hairdressing Salon of The Year 2015. Petra was in my class at school. I have great respect for her achievements in this competitive industry, and I'm overjoyed to see her doing to well.

While I was home in April/May, My Sister and I treated ourselves to a day of pampering in Coco Lane Beauty Spa. From the moment we walked in through the door, I was bowled over by the gorgeous decor.

It was hard to believe were were still in little old Armagh! Ciara, the owner and another great example of girl-power in the Armagh business-woman's world, had paid attention to every last detail.
Even the W.C. done up in Marilyn Monroe 50's chic was delightful
Since we'd booked on a weekday morning, My Sister and I had the place pretty much to ourselves. We began with a blissfully warming soak in the hot-tub. We'd already used the towels by the time I thought to take a picture - Ciara'd had them beautifully arranged on our arrival. I'd not gone into the experience planning on writing this blog. I was so impressed with it that I decided before I left the premises that I would take some snaps so that I could blog about it.
After the tub we lounged in a "tikki" style area and had a delicious lunch, served up to us as we lolled about in our robes catching up on sister-time. Healthy sandwiches and salad and gallons of tea were brought in from "Doorsteps," sandwich place just up the street.

After lunch Ciara worked her magic on my jet-lagged body with a massage that felt like heaven had arrived!

We finished up with a mani-pedi and before we left Ciara gave us a little goody-bag of travel sized lotions and potions - perfect for the travel junkie that I am!

So I wasn't surprised to learn that Coco Lane has not only been nominated but also shortlisted as a finalist in the Ulster Tatler Awards 2016 for beauty salon/spa of the year.

This had certainly been the tonic I'd needed after my hectic travel schedule, and the perfect setting for us sisters to catch up. So if you feel like you need a pep up or are wondering what to do on a rainy day in Armagh, head to Coco Lane - you will come out feeling completly rejuvenated!

Best of luck in the awards, gals!

Byddi Lee

Monday, July 18, 2016

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

We had a late-afternoon, direct flight out of Auckland back to California (into SFO not San Jose but close enough!) So we could do one thing in Auckland, just one thing...

Go see a volcano  (of course-duh!)

From Mount Eden you get spectacular 360 degree views of Auckland.

It is the highest natural elevation in the city.

I would also recommend visiting the Sky Tower (I did that last time.)
From Mount Eden you feel like you can reach out and touch it!
It is taboo to actually go inside the crater of the volcano according to Maori culture. It was nice to see everyone respecting that.
We spent about an hour here. A much nicer way to pass the time than at the airport. I was sad to be saying goodbye to New Zealand.
It's so far away, and I've been so fortunate to visit twice that I know it is unlikely I will ever be back. That thought choked me up a little. But never say never - perhaps if they invent teleportation...

It had been an amazing trip. Even better this time round, sharing it with My Husband. Alas, it was time to go back to our home in San Jose where the garden was waiting impatiently for us, having been very busy during the rainy season while we were gone.
Byddi Lee

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bay of Islands - My Personal Favorite

The North and South Islands of New Zealand are often compared, many people claiming the South Island is better, but I beg to differ. True the scenery is spectacular on the South Island, but that can be said of the North Island too. For me, the North Island offers more variety. You can hike, bike and kayak as much on the North Island as you can on the South Island, but with volcanoes thrown in. There's more culture in the North Island too and the ocean is warmer.

Our destination was the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland. There is a lot to see and do up here. You can dive the Rainbow Warrior, drive up 90 miles beach, slide down sand dunes, see where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific ocean at New Zealand's northern most tip. I'd done all that last time - this time I was here to relax. It was our last stop on an amazing 7 week odyssey that circled a huge portion of the Pacific Ocean. We needed the rest.

We stayed for three nights in Paihia at the Beachfront Pacific. It was on the edge of town, right across the road from the beach.

The beach felt like a private one, it was so empty - except for one late afternoon when we came across a dozen Irish lads. I knew they were Irish immediately because two were playing hurling on the beach while the rest of them cooled off their sun burn by standing waist deep in the water, chatting, laughing and at one point even singing! Gotta love the Irish lads!

But aside from the odd Irish invasion, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, though the locals were very friendly. This guy was a rescue dog - as in "search and rescue" and he loved to play on the beach with pretty much anyone who would join in.

He soon had My Husband well trained at throwing the the stick!
We'd been promising ourselves a helicopter ride and this was the place to take one - out to see the "Hole in the Rock." I'd been out before on the R. Tucker Thomson when I'd visited in 2003, but to see the Bay of Island from a helicopter was a real treat.
In the photo above you can see where the recent rains has washed sediment into the blue waters near Paihia but not reaching the town of Russell, across the bay.
Further out the water is clear turquoise.
You could see so much from the air - even this gigantic shoal of fish was so clear.
I felt like a spy intruding on yachts moored off secluded beaches
That didn't stop me from zooming my camera in for a closer look!
And the Hole in the Rock - spectacular!
The following day, inspired by all we had seen we took a  boat out to Otehei Bay where I found my Goldilocks Spot - the air temperature not to cool not to hot, the sea the perfect temperature for swimming...
And this view to sustain me when far from the ocean in a drought stricken land.

Sweet perfection!

Byddi Lee

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Amazing Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand

The Coromandel Peninsula is where the New Zealanders go on vacation. It's not to far from Auckland and the coastline is spectacular.

To get there from Rotarua we had to drive through Middle Earth! You can stop and do some Hobbit Tours etc. but it's not our thing so that whole aspect of New Zealand is lost on us.

Instead, for our en-route adventure, we choose to visit Wairere Falls, a 45 minute walk each way, steep uphill to get there but really worth it.

It was a little disconcerting that the river had flooded onto the trail. "Flash flood" whispered in the back of my mind. If the rain had come on we'd have scarpered out of there straight away.
The river was running at full spate - hardly surprising given the amount of rain we'd had.
Along the way, there were pretty mini falls. Each one had us wondering, "Is this it?"
But the trail is a full 45 minutes long (unless you are a super athlete). Anything you come to before that is simply an appetizer for the main event which you will know you've come to as soon as you see it. You hear the thundering of the water first.
It's nice because it feels remote. There isn't a throng of tourists pushing to get that perfect shot.

Unlike our next stop - Cathedral Cove. It's a 1.5 hr easy walk, but finding somewhere to park at the trail-head can be challenge due to sheer numbers of tourists. The trail to the cove feels like walking to a football match or concert - there's so many people. The upside was that we had good craic with the people around us. The trail was very muddy in places and those wearing flipflops provided entertainment for the rest of us! Everyone was in good humor and it was a fun encounter.

Cathedral Cove is beautiful, if crowded.

The caves and rock formations are massive and very impressive, so the tourist draw is pretty obvious.

It had been a pretty full day of hiking and by the time we pulled into Coromandel town, to stop for the night, the sun was staining the ocean pink.
The town was delightful with lots of lovely accommodation and restaurant choices. Again, I could have stayed here longer, but the next morning we would be up and out on the road first thing. Such is New Zealand - enough is never enough!

Byddi Lee