Princess Fairytale castles of Sintra, Portugal! Quinta da Regaleira, Palacio da Pena. Seacity Fitness workouts.

yoga fashion, workout clothing

Life update is long overdue… I’m sure you have sensed that a lot has been happening!

Read on for a recap, plus my next destinations for the summer: I’ll be in six exciting new countries.

miffy nail art, nail polish nijntje

After back-to-back trips during the first half of the year, I spent some downtime in Vancouver, working on my new shop. This is a project I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time, but I never had the time until now. It’s been wonderful to connect with so many of you, and I love seeing photos of you receiving packages from me! 

(If you’re not sure what I’m referring to: I’m selling most of my wardrobe here, come check it out. Lots of  Japanese Lolita, Goth and Harajuku fashion, Miffy kawaii clothing and more, at discount prices. Simply take a look at the listings, then email me and let me know what you’d like!)

live music dj yoga classes

During this catch-up period, I rebooted my fitness routine by joining a new studio, Seacity Fitness. (Address: 102-1500 Howe Street near Burrard, in downtown Vancouver, Canada).

Seacity has a gorgeous studio with glass doors that face the waterfront. They have unique classes not found anywhere else in Vancouver, including yoga with live DJ music! 

girls yoga poses as pairs

The studio uses innovative equipment such as stretchy bands and suspension rigs, to really work your balance, core, strength and cardio. I’ve been going regularly to their Pilates classes, boxing, and my personal favorite: mini trampoline. 

seacity fitness vancouver downtown studio

Seacity Fitness offers a free one-week pass that you can sign up for on their website, and is also part of Class Pass. The instructors are wonderful, and the workouts are both fun and challenging. If you’re in Vancouver and looking for effective exercise classes (as I was), I encourage you to shape up at Seacity.

(You may have noticed that I changed my hair recently... There’s a skull on the back of my head now! This new style is by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio. All the details on my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina.)

Quinta da Regaleira sintra

Time to get packing again, as I’m off to travel to six countries. (All the details at the bottom of this post).

But first, let me complete my love-letter to Portugal — with a day-trip to the royal palaces of Sintra. I dressed up as a purple princess, and wandered through breathtaking fairytale castles.

sintra travel guide, churches, museums

Most tourists come from Lisbon to see Sintra’s most famous sight, Palácio da Pena, which bears resemblance to the Walt Disney castle.

But by far, my team and I preferred a lesser known palace, Quinta da Regaleira (pictured in these photos). Come inside with me, and I’ll show you why.

(By the way – my dress and princess sleeves are available for sale, on my Depop shop. Email me if you’d like to get them.)

portugal princess dress

First, the must-know travel information. How do you get to Sintra? From Lisbon (Lisboa), you can drive or take a bus, but the easiest method is taking a 30-minute train ride. Our Eurail train passes came in handy for this short trip, since we could simply hop in and ride.

Sintra is a popular destination, and can be packed with tourists. I recommend visiting during weekdays and off-peak seasons if possible, to avoid the crowds. Tickets are required to enter and lineups can be long, so look into getting advance passes (we had press access thanks to Visit Lisbon.)

fairytale castle tower, Quinta da Regaleira

If you visit only one attraction in Sintra, let it be the elegant 19th century palace: Quinta da Regaleira.

As you walk through the gardens, you’ll feel as if you’re a princess from a storybook fantasy. 

rapunzel tower castle, europe

The grounds of Quinta da Regaleira are enormous, and not as frequented by tourists — giving you free rein to explore.

Like in a storybook, I wandered through mysterious forest paths. I crossed a lake laden with stones, and ducked into a maze of tunnels. At the top of this stone tower, I pretended to be Rapunzel letting down my hair!

european famous castles, royal palaces

Commissioned by “Monteiro the millionaire,” the architecture is a tribute to Gothic-Renaissance romance. His estate and chapel are teeming with gargoyles, pinnacles and other ornamentation.

Adding to the enigma: we spotted Masonic symbols inside the church, such as an eye in a pyramid.

Quinta da Regaleira spiral staircase

Monteiro was a Freemason, and built underground “Iniciatic wells” for secret rituals such as the Tarot initiation.

Standing inside the narrow and damp pit and looking up at the light, you can feel the solemnity of these rites.

sintra portugal castle winding stairs

Quinta da Regaleira’s famous “wells” are more like inverted towers. A 27-meter spiral staircase winds around the structure like a snail.

sintra portugal castle, architecture

The stories of the Knights Templar are alive, in this Portuguese palace hidden with symbols and secrets. (Photography by Borderless Media)

princess photoshoot, sintra castles

Romantic and dramatic… Quinta da Regaleira palace in Sintra is well worth the trip.

moor castles in portugal

Sintra has many other historic sights, from museums to the hotel room where Lord Byron stayed.

We took in this soaring view of Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which was built in the 10th century by the Moors. (Remember when I visited the most famous Moors palace, The Alhambra in Spain?)

sintra portugal palacio pena poseidon

Sintra’s most popular attraction is Palácio da Pena. It was constructed in the 19th century by Dom Fernando II, as a summer palace for the royal family.

Many say Walt Disney based his Magic Kingdom castle on this one (although there are other European palaces that claim to be his inspiration). Palacio da Pena does have a Disney-esque feeling, which I admit wasn’t to my taste… this Poseidon statue felt like the entrance to a theme ride, especially with the line of tourists waiting to go inside.

Pena National Palace, disney castle sintra

To me, the palace was like a painted movie set. It was difficult to enjoy the visit when there were so many tourists around. In fact, we could hardly take a photo without a dozen heads poking out from the balconies.

I think you can sense the different feeling of these palaces from the photos alone. For my team and me, Quinta da Regaleira was a far better experience.

portugal viewpoint, cabo da roca cliffs

On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped at the western-most point of Portugal, Cabo da Roca. This cliff edge is a popular viewpoint, high above the crashing waves.

belem portugal, monument to discoveries

We also stopped by the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, which celebrates the explorers that led the Age of Discovery. Near this statue, a map shows former Portuguese colonies around the world, including Goa, Macau and Brazil. 

rua augusta arch light projections

My travel filmmakers and I got back to Lisbon in time for a spectacular light show, which was projected onto the Rua Augusta Arch.

Arco da Rua Augusta light show

Lisbon has a tremendous energy. A crowd gathered in front of the landmark, and DJs played electronic beats while lasers swept through the sky.

video mapping light show, lisbon portugal

With music and narration, the light show told a legend of how Lisbon was founded. We watched animation and film footage flow over the archway, depicting the love story of Ulysses and Ophiussa.

projection mapping lisbon arch

The 3D projection mapping was impressive, especially when each architectural detail seemed to move and crumble. At one point, the “Glory” statue at the top of the arch turned into a disco dancer, and gave her best Travolta impression!

Mercado da Ribeira market, food

Finally, we had a midnight snack at Mercado da Ribeira market. This modern, indoor space is brimming with food and drink vendors, serving all types of cuisine. I longed to try a bite from every stand…

portuguese market, street food

There’s a vibe here similar to that of food trucks: young indie chefs, experimenting with dishes and using the best local ingredients. I had several types of sardines, black rice, gooey sponge cake…

lisbon famous ice cream, santini

… and the best coconut gelato of my life, at Santini Gelati. This family has been making ice cream since 1949, and their creations are celebrated as the best in Portugal (if not the world).

Come see more of my Lisbon travel tips here. Portugal is now one of my favorite European countries, and I regret not visiting sooner.

depop sellers, fashion blogger shop

And now, I’m off on the road again. My travel film / photo team and I are working with Visit Slovenia, on a project in Ljubljana! I’ll also be stopping in the Netherlands (including Utrecht and the Miffy Museum, a dream come true). And we’ll be all over Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn. It’ll be my first time in these Nordic countries, and I can’t wait.

miffy cute bunny nails, nail art design

Starting today, I’ll be sharing these European escapades on my social media — stay tuned to my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina for lots of fun.

I got minimal Gothic Miffy nail art, to match the theme of the trip… Arigato Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, BC for the cute nails! They always do the most intricate, kawaii gel designs for me. (The skull and black diamond ring is by Sapphire Studios.)

pastel goth clothing store, shops

And don’t forget to check out my big wardrobe sale! Just added lots of new items to my shop – including Gothic Lolita dresses, Miffy fashion and some of my best clothing from Tokyo.

Check out all the listings here and email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) with a list of items that you’d like to get. I can gladly calculate exact shipping for you, and do discounts on bundle packages. Please don’t feel shy about writing to me! It would be a pleasure to send you designs from my personal collection. Talk soon!

Shop La Carmina’s Pastel Goth Jrock Kawaii closet sale now!

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Los Angeles Vampire Ball at Bar Sinister! Custom Fangs by Father Sebastiaan, Vampire Wine tasting lounge.

custom molded vampire fangs

Vampires, everywhere! On my last trip to Los Angeles, I partook in a number of blood-thirsty activities that paid tribute to Nosferatu.

In Part 1, you saw me rolling around with Trevor on Bela Lugosi’s gravestone. Now, I’ll take you to a Vampire wine bar and Bar Sinister’s Endless Night ball. I’ll also show you how I got custom-made vampire fangs, which look like the real deal!

Father Sebastiaan fang maker

I was excited to meet Father Sebastiaan, master Fangsmith, during his stop in LA. He’s world-renown for his ability to craft vampire fangs, which fit right over your canines and look indistinguishable from the rest of your teeth.

I felt like the journalist from Interview with a Vampire, meeting Lestat. After all, Father Sebastiaan is the founding father of the Sanguinarium, the largest vampire community in the world.

goth figures collectibles

He travels the world, crafting fangs for fellow creatures of the night. While in Los Angeles, he set up shop in this spooky Beverly Hills abode.

vampire couture zombie fashion

The space felt like a coven gathering. I admired this vampire couture, made by hand with decadent materials.

Father Sebastiaan vampire fangs

Kent Kaliber introduced me to Father Sebastiaan, who created my very first set of fangs! The process took about 40 minutes, with theatrical rituals in between.

The professional fang master comes from a long line of dentists. He measured and fit the pointy Lilith prosthetics over my canines, then shaped them to fit perfectly over my teeth. No need for glue or any adhesives. Once they’re in, these fangs stay snug, and feel like they’re part of you.

make vampire fangs canines

Father Sebastiaan walked me through several initiation rites, including flipping through this book and choosing a vampiric name. He gave me a special ankh necklace to wear, and a case to store my new fangs. (You can wear them for most of the day, and only need to remove them when you eat and sleep.)

Wouldn’t you like some enticing fangs of your own? You can find out more on Father Sebastiaan’s website and his Facebook

bar sinister hollywood

Now, I was ready to party at the Endless Night vampire salon, at Bar Sinister. This legendary club remains one of the best Gothic venues in LA, and has parties every weekend. (Address: 1652 N Cherokee Ave, Hollywood, CA)

kent kaliber bar sinister host

I co-hosted the event with Kent Kaliber; we went on stage to introduce the performers. There was a dark roster of entertainers that night…

mata hari bellydance

… including belly dancers, go-go girls and DJs. Father Sebastiaan also set up a booth for fang-making.

endless night vampire ball

Bar Sinister has multiple rooms to explore. Vendors set up booths for bondage wear, headdresses and other alt fashion.

dracula monster mask

As dawn crept closer, the dance floor got wild. These two took “the monster mash” to a whole new level! 

scary latex monster mask

Fear the creeping dead! Everyone dressed up for the Endless Night vampire theme, but this latex mask took the cake.

(Not pictured: the S&M fetish stations upstairs, where you could whip or be whipped, on a cross and other equipment.)

bar sinister los angeles owner

A devilish thank you to host Kent, and owner Kelly, for welcoming me back to Bar Sinister. They throw a fabulous Gothic club every weekend, with birthday specials, so check out Bar Sinister’s Faceebook for upcoming events. 

vampire vineyard bar tasting lounge

After all that decadence, Trevor and I needed to replenish our veins with blood. Believe it or not, there’s an LA bar that serves this exact purpose: the Vampire Lounge & Tasting Room. (Address: 9865 S Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 9021)

los angeles vampire lounge

The moment you walk in, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into Dracula’s lair. There is an upper floor, giant mirrors and chandeliers — a setting made for the King and Queen of the Damned.

Vampire Wine And Tasting Room, beverly hills

Opened in 2011, the Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room is the first of its kind. Vampire aficionados can come here to sample “bites” of food and sample wines, while watching Nosferatu on the screen.

vampire theme bar restaurant

All of the wines come from Vampire Vineyards, a California-based winery. You simply must try their flights of wines (several reds and whites), each with enticing names like Dracula and True Blood. 

vampire vineyards red wine

I was delighted by Vampire’s rich, full bodied victuals. What a pleasure to sip bloody wines in this elegant space, accomanpanied by quality cheese and charchuterie.

Don’t leave without a bar of Vampire Dark Chocolate. Trevor and I couldn’t resist eating the entire package.

vampire wine bottle, true blood cabernet sauvignon

The bar also sells bottles of Vampire Wine; my favorite is the True Blood Cabernet Sauvignon. What a marvellous occasion for sipping “the blood of the vine”!

downtown los angeles clubbing

I’ll end with some more alternative adventures in Los Angeles. I went to downtown LA one evening with Lauren. In recent years, this area is becoming known for its bar scene.

the lash, goth bar downtown la

We hung out at The Lash, an alt venue that usually has no cover charge. This is my type of venue: “ginger bear” craft cocktails, an indie crowd, and live DJs that spin dark electro and Italo Disco. 

maya store, melrose los angeles

Finally, Trevor and stopped by Melrose Avenue for a shopping session. We ducked into a classic store, Maya Hollywood  (7360 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA).

tribal tibetan masks

The colorful walls are packed with tribal masks from all over the world. I browsed Tibetan jewelry, Mayan earrings and other spiritual accessories.

necromance los angeles taxidermy

We paid a visit to Necromance (7222 Melrose Ave): a spooky store filled with oddities from the natural world. You’ll find strange shells, preserved insects, and taxidermy such as a giant stuffed white peacock.

(If you’re interested in stores like this, also check out my posts about Loved to Death San Francisco, and Obscura Antiques in NYC — where I appeared on their TV show.)

stuffed lions taxidermy

It’s always a wild time, being in Los Angeles! Here are more of my Goth / alternative LA travel tips, including club nights and shops, from my trips over the years.

vampire female fashion clothing

Did this post inspire you to plan a Dracula-themed day in Los Angeles? (More of this photoshoot in my story about Bela Lugosi’s cemetery).

PS – I’m off to six countries this summer, announcement coming soon! Be sure to get your orders in from my Goth fashion sale, before I head off. All the listings are here; let me know what you’d like and shoot me an email, before everything is gone!

Brussels local fashion boutiques! Shopping in Dansaert, Stijl Belgian designers, Lunetier Ludovic.

brussels fashion shops, clothing stores

Can you tell I was delighted to be in Brussels? I got an inside look at the local fashion scene, thanks to the special arrangements by Belgium Tourism Board.

We filmed stories in three very different boutiques: glasses, jewelry, designer couture. I also found out why Brussel’s Dansaert shopping street is known as one of the coolest in Europe.

PS – if you want to buy this Miffy shirt, it’s available on my Depop shop along with many new items… Email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom)  and let me know what you’d like from my clothing sale, before it’s all gone!

Lunetier Ludovic glasses store

First stop on my Brussels fashion tour — a unique eyeglasses shop.

These days, glasses have become a style statement. Lunetier Ludovic is the vision of Ludovic Elens, a Belgian optometrist who crafts distinctive frames by hand.

belgian cool eyeglasses

We loved the vintage vibe of Lunetier Ludovic boutique (Address: Ernest Allardstraat 14, 1000 Brussel).

I’m a glasses-wearer myself (although you usually see me in contact lenses), and quite picky about frames. My favorite styles come from Europe — where the designs tend to have a minimal, modern aesthetic.

designer glasses brussels

Ludovic’s glasses stand out because of his handcrafted techniques and quality materials, sourced from around the world. I tried on a few frames made out of Buffalo horn and cellulose acetate.

cool hipster glasses boutique

Lunetier Ludovic’s storefront displays his own collection, as well as other indie glasses brands.

He is passionate about offering a bespoke experience for his clients. In the age of machines, Ludovic’s work is a throwback to the days when artisans used their hands and simple tools to craft spectacles, from raw materials.

handmade high end glasses europe

I loved the unique shape and speckled pattern of these eyeglasses.

Ludovic told me that he didn’t feel there was a single style that best suited certain face shapes. Instead, he aims to make glasses that reflect his clients’ personalities. 

optician factory, LUNETIER LUDOVIC lunettes

We went downstairs to his workshop. Ludovic showed me how to cut silhouettes from raw acetate slabs, and polish them to perfection on a spinning tool. He often spends weeks refining a single pair of glasses, as each order is individually made and customized to the client.

custom designing glasses

So cool to see the artistic process from start to finish, at Lunetier Ludovic. The Belgian designer has a knack for capturing the customer’s individuality through his handmade designs.

bel arte jewelry store brussels

The inspiration continued at Bel’ Arte,  a lively boutique run by a young couple. Everything here is made by independent Belgian designers. (Address: Rue de Flandre 53, 1000 Bruxelles)

belgian designer rings

Bel’Arte has the goal of highlighting local artisans, who often don’t have the opportunity to display their goods in stores. I browsed one-of-a-kind jewelry, leather goods, furniture, lighting and other design items.

dansaert jewerly accessories

Very impressed by the skill of these young Belgian artists. These twisty rings and earrings would be fantastic gifts, as they can only be found here.

(All photos by Borderless Media – and our travel video will be out soon.)

stijl fashion shop dansaert

I wore a Miffy outfit that day (it’s available for sale on my shop!), and found my bunny boyfriend at Stijl — a famous boutique for Belgian designers. (There are separate shops for men and women; the latter is at Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat 74, 1000 Brussels).

In the 1980s, this neighborhood had very few attractions. Stijl opened in 1984, and transformed Dansaert into the cutting-edge fashion destination that it is today.

brussels designers haute couture

I interviewed Sonia Noël, the founder and owner. She wanted Stijl to be a platform for young Belgian designers to show their works.

Thanks to her initiative, these little-known locals have become big names in the couture world: Dries van Noten, Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester and Raf Simons, to name a few.

stijl belgian fashion labels

Stijl carries the latest collections of these now-famous names. However, the store remains true to its original goal, and always gives space to up and coming Belgian designers. 

(Below are designs you can find at Stijl; click the images for details)

belgium local designers mode

I loved seeing the sleek couture of Maison Martin Margiela and the “Antwerp Six”, beautifully displayed in a single boutique. Stijl is a must-visit for those who appreciate fine fashion.

ancient belgian building facade

The entire Dansaert district is worth browsing. I spent hours looking at vintage and modern clothing stores, book shops… and even found this old building facade, next to Chicago Cafe.

brussels museum musical instruments

I’ll leave you with a look at the classic architecture in Brussels. The tourism board took us to lunch at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), known for its collection of over 8000 instruments.

You know I’m obsessed with Art Nouveau… what a treat to look out from the museum’s rooftop! This swirling steel and glass structure was built in 1899.

Restaurant Musical Instruments Museum

We had lunch by the windows: a feast of Belgian specialties like French fries, Liege meatballs and tartines (open face sandwiches).

bruxelles architecture

This is only an introduction to the spectacular food we ate in Belgium… There’s much more to come, including a video and a chocolate tasting.

Did the style scene in Brussels surprise you? Are you familiar with Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and other local designers? (Shop a selection below…)

buzzfeed travel weird crazy japan

PS – Thank you to Buzzfeed Travel for featuring me in a big article about Tokyo bizarre travel! It went viral and trended for days.

PPS – Since there was so much demand, I’ve added new Japanese Lolita dresses, Miffy tops and more to my Depop shop. My best items are now up, so come take a look and email me quickly to let me know what you’d like. I’ll gladly do exact shipping, and discounts if you get more than one item. Have fun!

Come shop La Carmina’s wardrobe sale here.

Kayaking in Paihia, Bay of Islands! New Zealand nature & adventure travel, Contiki tours.

paihia kayaking, new zealand

I hope you’re in the mood for pretty photos today… because New Zealand really knows how to work it!

When I arrived in the Bay of Islands on my Contiki tour, I felt like I had entered a living postcard. Waterfalls, dolphins, beaches… no wonder NZ is one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.

contiki tours sun and steam

I had no regrets about traveling with Contiki, a vacation company for 18-35 year olds. Everyone on the group tour got along well, and the schedule had plenty of “me time.” You could go off exploring on your own, sign up for activities, relax with a book, party all night with new friends… it’s up to you.

Contiki‘s journeys are all about living life to the fullest, and treating each day as a new adventure. I was inspired to do something different from my usual trips: get up close to nature.

pure new zealand, ocean mist

My Contiki trip started in Auckland, and then we drove about three hours north to Paihia. With a misty morning view like this, it’s easy to see why Paihia is considered the jewel of the Bay Of Islands. (The Bay refers to an ocean-front region with laid back towns like Kerikeri and Russell, and 144 islands).

bay of islands beach

Paihia’s beaches invite both relaxation and adventure. Tourists come her to take part in all sorts of outdoor activities: scuba, fishing, skydive, parasail, kayaking. 

coastal kayakers, bay of islands

I confess I’m not usually an outdoors / sporty type… but it would be tragic to miss out on the natural beauty of New Zealand. My friend recommended kayaking in Paihia, so I signed up with my Contiki tour manager, Monique. (If you want to take part in an optional activity, she makes all the arrangements including transportation.)

paihia kayak tour

Coastal Kayakers offers half and full day tours; I’m glad I went for the shorter one, as I was tired after several hours of paddling! Our instructor showed us how to use the oars and pedals in the rear of the two-person kayaks. Then, we were in the water and off.

adventure travel, kayaking

Even if you’re a total beginner, you’ll get used to the rhythm of the strokes. The pace is leisurely; every so often, we took breaks to admire the stunning Oceanic scenery.

new zealand mangrove trees

One of the highlights of the journey was when our Coastal Kayakers guide led us into a mangrove forest. We weaved our boats through the tress of this unique ecosystem. (Photos by Salima Remtulla)

mangrove forest kayaking

As we passed by these remarkable mangroves, our guide spoke about their unique characteristics. These twisting trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, and the shallow waters let sediments accumulate to support a diversity of wildlife. 

north island nz nature

Our guide pointed out a flock of birds nesting in the branches with their children. We held our kayaks together, and she told us a legend of star-crossed Maori lovers whose tears flowed into the Waitangi River.

contiki vacations young travel

These tangled roots and branches look stunning in photos, but they have a purpose as well. They draw in fish and other sea creatures, and shelter them from predators. The roots also stabilize the mangroves during the daily tides, and build up sediments in the mud.

paihia waterfall

We ended the tour by paddling up to Hararu Falls. The image looks more hardcore than it is — people don’t go over the waterfall, but can approach the roaring waters from below.

kayak near waterfalls

The horseshoe-shaped Hararu looked a bit like a miniature Niagara Falls. The falling water creates a foamy top layer that reminded me of a bubble bath.

new zealand vacation town paihia

We went on land for rest and refreshments, and everyone in the group got to know each other better. Then, it was back on the kayak for the 30 minute journey home.

Coastal Kayakers was the highlight of my time in Paihia. I’m happy I challenged myself on this eco-tour, and was rewarded with the beauty of the Bay of Islands. 

vintage clothing stores new zealand

Back in Paihia, I reverted to my modus operandi… and explored the fashion in this cute town. Paihia is a tiny vacationer’s spot with a handful of retro vintage stores, cafes and artisan boutiques.

paihia gelato ice cream

I couldn’t resist getting a scoop of gelato, although it was hard to pick from the 100+ flavors. I went with licorice, as it reminds of absinthe ice cream I had in Prague.

Later that evening, I had fresh New Zealand seafood at one of the ocean-side restaurants. NZ has all types of international cuisine but is famous for its fish and mussels, so I encourage you to seek it out.

maori girl model, art

I went inside this shop that sold Maori art. Love the intricate patterns and tattoos that are part of the native culture.

aotearoa north island new zealand

I learned from our Contiki manager Monique that “Aotearoa” is the widely known Maori name for the entire country.

legends restaurant fish and chips paihia

The Contiki “Sun and Steam” tour includes all breakfasts, and a number of group dinners. I enjoyed dining on fish and chips at the Paihia Ex-Servicemen’s Club. This venue is usually for members only, but Contiki has special arrangements that let us through the door.

Monique poses with the hostess, “Auntie,” who came to each table to introduce herself and make sure we had everything we needed.

dolphin watching tour bay of islands

At each stop on the tour, you can choose to join a variety of optional excursions (for a fee, but it’s less than if you booked it on your own).

While I kayaked, photographer John Contompasis went on a catamaran cruise around the Bay of Islands. His group saw all types of marine life, and he captured this dolphin jumping out of the water! 

hole in rock bay of islands

The dolphin cruise also sailed to Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island, a natural wonder that you can pass through.

new zealand sailing, ship tours

Arr, there be pirates in Paihia. After spending time on the water, I understand why many travel bloggers consider New Zealand one of their favorite destinations.

new zealand modern art gallery

I’ve heard of bus tours that force you to stop in tourist traps such as warehouses. This was never the case with Contiki — we always took lunch and bathroom breaks in charming towns, where we could find lunch or mosey around.

In Whangarei, I strolled by the sailboats and went into a free art exhibition. 

contemporary artist auckland

If “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” I wouldn’t mind dreaming about these creatures.

Tane Moana Giant Kauri Tree

The Contiki bus also stopped at Tane Moana, home of the giant Kauri Tree. Check out the size of the trunk compared to little ol’ me. (The entire tree wouldn’t even fit in a vertical photo.)

Kauri Tree Walkway, forests

Tane Moana also had a rainway walk that led through the forest. I looked up at this canopy of leaves.

north island new zealand landscape

The bus ride itself was a pleasure. Everyone enjoyed the ever-changing scenery from the window, and chatted and listened to music.

the shire landscape hobbit

Contiki buses are also equipped with Wifi internet, in case you need to Instagram or Snapchat your experience. (I did — I’m @lacarmina on these social networks).

pure new zealand travel blogger

Looking back at these photos, I’m amazed at what I got to experience in just seven days. I didn’t get to see New Zealand’s South Island this time, but that gives me a good reason to come back soon.

new zealand forests, scenery

What do you think of my Contiki tour experience? Have you ever spent time in the great outdoors, on an eco or adventure trip?

PS: I’m gearing up for six new destinations this summer… announcement soon. I’ll give you a hint. Miffy!

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