Three Perfect Days: New Zealand
Story by: Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by: Camilla Rutherford | Hemispheres June 2016
For most of its history, New Zealand existed at the edge of the world. Before the Maori paddled ashore nearly a thousand years ago, the two main islands of Aotearoa (“the Land of the Long White Cloud") were practically still prehistoric, ruled over by flightless moa birds that stood 12 feet tall. In fact, New Zealand was the last major landmass on Earth touched by human feet. These days, the nation's cultural ambassadors—Peter Jackson, Flight of the Conchords, Lorde—are doing a fairly good job attracting international attention to what is arguably the most remote corner of the planet.Auckland, meanwhile, is investing heavily in its infrastructure (a $350 million convention center and rail system are on their way) and cultural institutions (the reimagined Auckland Art Gallery won the 2013 World Building of the Year award, and the derelict 1928 St. James Theatre is being restored). This year, the country's largest city welcomed the first annual Auckland City Limits concert festival, an Austin spin-off headlined by Kendrick Lamar. You can't help but feel that New Zealand is consistently punching above its weight. But what else would you expect from a country that has the warrior blood of the Maori coursing through its veins?
I'm standing atop Mount Eden: a dormant volcano, former Maori fort, Auckland's highest natural point at 643 feet above sea level, and now something like the city's backyard. From up here, it's easy to see Auckland as a kind of greatest-hits version of the Pacific Rim: San Francisco's escalator-steep hills, Portland's fanatic coffee culture, Hawaii's volcanic landscape, Los Angeles's sprawl, a Seattle-style observation tower, and fresh seafood that would wow any Tokyoite.It might not be a good idea to get too engrossed in the view from up here. The hilltop trail circles a 160-foot-deep crater named Te Ipu-a-Mataaho, for the Maori volcano god. One wrong step and you're in for quite an adventure. But the bowl-like crater is so tufted with soft grass and pinkish wildflowers that—bless New Zealand—even a tumble into a volcano looks as if it might be pleasant.Skyline views at Viaduct Harbour Mount Eden is invigorating, but I probably wouldn't be standing here after an 18-hour flight if it weren't for the two flat whites—New Zealand's favorite coffee, a less foamy cappuccino—I consumed earlier in the sunny atrium of the Hotel DeBrett. Built in 1925, the city's landmark hotel combines sleek Art Deco touches with bright pops of color and quirky minimalist furnishings. The surrounding Central Business District, or CBD, is all sleek boutiques, glossy skyscrapers (some of the only ones in the entire country), and as much bustle as you can expect from a pint-size metropolis. To get acquainted with Auckland's more creative side, I'm off to meet Neala Glass, a whip-smart gallerist who moonlights as a street art guide for Great Auckland Walking Tours, in Ponsonby, a revamped inner suburb a 10-minute cab ride away. Now the haunt of hipsters and artists, this handsome cluster of Victorian villas has become a hotbed of public art—each work a small window into Kiwi culture. “This area has always attracted migrants, bohemians, artists," says Glass. “Polynesian rappers who lived here described it as 'tough but colorful.'" It's not so tough here now, but the color remains. We're standing before the corner of a roof jutting out from the grass in Western Park, the work of local artist John Radford. “He submerges buildings like Roman ruins," Glass says. “He's inspired by the layered, checkered histories that lie beneath the surface." We turn onto Karangahape (known as K Road), a former red-light strip now thick with hip bars and clubs. The street is named for the mythical Maori chief Hape, whose name, Glass tells me, means “clubfoot." “Because of his clubfoot," she explains, “he wasn't chosen to ride here on the Tainui war canoe. So he summoned a giant stingray, surfed here on its back, arrived two weeks early, and let out a wailing welcome call, or karanga, when everyone else got here." It's one of the few main roads here that kept its Maori name instead of getting the Victorias and Alberts you see everywhere else.Neala Glass, guide, Great Auckland Walking Tours“This is a nod to our nuclear-free law," says Glass, pointing to a panel of protest posters—the Visual Artists Against Nuclear Arms Peace Mural—tucked behind a gas station. “Artists wanted to make visual their support for the bill. They painted a mural a month, 22 total, until it was passed." From here, we stroll through narrow Myers Park, a palm-lined statue garden between steep grassy slopes.“I used to work here," Glass says as we approach the Auckland Art Gallery. Built in the 1880s in the French Château style, the gallery is dominated by a white clock tower with a gleaming annex made from glass and local kauri wood. I pop into the café for a Vanuatu-grown coffee before meeting gallery assistant Alice Ng for a stroll through the collection. We stop in a small room lined with stately 19th-century portraits of Maoris, each with intricate facial tattoos, or ta moko.
In which Nicholas gazes into a dormant volcano, takes the wheel on the high seas, and contemplates facial tattoos
“Because we grew so quickly as a city between the 1840s and the 1950s, we invited a lot of international architects, each of whom brought their own references. So we're a bit of a hodgepodge!" —Neala Glass“It's very painful," whispers Ng. “They use a chisel to get the ink into your skin. Different tribes have different designs, so you can look at a face and trace a person's lineage—like a family tree on your face."“What must the Maori think about all the American frat boys with tribal tattoos?" I ask.“They actually have a word," she says with a laugh, “for 'ta moko without meaning.'"I say goodbye to Alice and head toward the Sky Tower, the Southern Hemisphere's tallest structure at 1,076 feet. Daredevils bungee off the top or—yikes—walk on a platform around the observation deck. After a quick ride to the top, during which I grip the side of the glass-bottomed elevator for dear life, I decide an acrophobe like me is much better off back at sea level. I grab an outdoor table at Depot Eatery, a buzzy bistro in the tower's shadow, where I slurp sweet, briny Te Matuku oysters from nearby Waiheke Island and bigger, creamier Bluff oysters dredged up from the sand off the South Island's southern tip.I work off lunch with a midafternoon stroll, taking in a parade of Victorian and Art Deco buildings and a seemingly endless array of parks thick with subtropical plants. Auckland is a young city, founded by the British in 1840. It has the feeling of a colonial outpost that's been jerry-rigged to fit into the nooks and crannies of an untamed volcanic landscape. At the heart of it all is the waterfront, a stretch of working docks that has seen extensive regeneration: The brick warehouses of the Britomart Precinct now host some of the city's top fashion designers, while the reclaimed land of the Wynyard Quarter has brought food trucks and cutting-edge architecture to a post-industrial landscape still dominated by massive cement silos. 5The redeveloped waterfront Wynyard QuarterOne such area is Viaduct Harbour, which got the ball rolling on all this waterfront renewal in the wake of New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup victory. (The winning vessel, Black Magic, resides nearby at the National Maritime Museum.) I'm scheduled to head out on a sailing tour of my own with the Explore Group on the 50-foot yacht Defiance.The name of Waitemata Harbour derives from the Maori word for “sparkling waters," and the sunlight dancing on the waves tells you why. “Auckland has the largest ratio of boats to people of any city in the world," skipper Charles Scoones says as we set sail. “If you placed everybody on all the boats in Auckland, each boat would only need to hold five people." The city also has the largest marina in the Southern Hemisphere—hence “the City of Sails."As we pass under the imposing Harbour Bridge (nicknamed “the coat hanger"), Scoones points to two flags flapping above. New Zealand is about to vote on whether to change the national flag. The current one has a Union Jack and the red-starred constellation Crux, the Southern Cross. The new design swaps out the Union Jack for a silver fern. This species of tree fern has a silvery underside, which Maori hunters would use to catch the moonlight on late-night hunts.
“Auckland has the feeling of a colonial outpost that's been jerry-rigged to fit into the nooks and crannies of an untamed volcanic landscape."“Some people say it looks like a tea towel!" says Nick Fewtrell, a young crew member manning the sails.“It's all wrong!" agrees Scoones, shaking his head.Each of the passengers takes a turn at the helm, and I'm last to go. I'm wondering if this is an elaborate ruse, suspecting that if I give the wheel a full Price Is Right whirl, the boat will barely move an inch to the left or the right. But when I finally grip the wheel, I see how responsive it is—each tiny maneuver breathes life into the sails, catching a new gust. I have to admit, I feel kind of powerful. Oysters at Depot EateryI debark for dinner on Princes Wharf. The Culpeper, a sunny new eatery with wicker chairs and palm-frond-patterned banquettes, serves dishes so artful—buttermilk-fried duck with honey-and-pink-peppercorn glaze, hiramasa kingfish and yellowfin sashimi with wasabi-avocado mousse, glazed lamb ribs with brown-butter yogurt and shaved beets—that I Google “time in NYC" to see if it's too late (or too early?) to send my foodie friends photos of my dinner. (It is, but I do it anyway.)I wander down Queen Street to Giapo Haute Ice Cream, where I get a scoop of Keri-keri avocado with macadamia praline, topped with macadamias tweezer-dipped in chocolate. (Other flavors come with piped and brûléed meringue or a miniature chocolate kiwi—the bird, not the fruit.) As I make my way back to the hotel, I'm reminded of a quote: “Modern Auckland is a perky gold-digger, over-talkative but full of ideas … and much in love with life." This much sugar will do that to you.
In which Nicholas learns about extinct giants, gets schooled in “cuddly dudley" wines, and dines on the spoils of Waiheke IslandEat your heart out, seven-hilled Rome: Auckland boasts a whopping 48 volcanic cones. Few of these are as starkly beautiful as Pukekawa, or “the hill of bitter memories," atop which sits the neoclassical Auckland War Memorial Museum. I've taxied up here from the DeBrett to avoid the punishing incline—though if you're going to get leg cramps, this green and lovely hillside is the place to do it.Opened in 1929, the blindingly white marble museum is pure Western pomp, but it is filled with elegant nods to local Maori tradition (such as carved wreaths of kawakawa leaves instead of laurel). With a mission similar to the Smithsonian's, it's also a repository for Kiwi cultural treasures, like the ice axe of New Zealand–born Everest-summiter Sir Edmund Hillary and a 10-foot-tall recreation of a giant moa, a massive flightless bird hunted to extinction by the Maori some 600 years ago. A boat-filled harbor on Waiheke Island
I cab it back to the DeBrett to grab my bags, then walk to the Auckland Ferry Terminal, a brick-and-sandstone colossus now over-shadowed by office buildings. A 35-minute ferry ride across Hauraki Gulf takes me to Waiheke Island, a 36-square-mile retreat that is part Hamptons (posh weekenders), part Napa Valley (wineries and olive groves), part Scottish Highlands (hordes of sheep), and part Kauai (hidden coves).My first stop is the hillside Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, where I'm having lunch with Aussie-born expat Mike Beagley, managing director of New Zealand luxury menswear brand Rodd & Gunn. Though his store sits on the CBD's tony Queen Street, on the same block as Prada and Dior, Beagley is the definition of a charmingly approachable bloke.“Ralph Lauren has a polo model. Rodd & Gunn has a polo team that actually plays polo," he says, chuckling. “One of our players got smacked in the face with a mallet and got blood all over his uniform. It was fantastic!" I look down at my blood-red Angus beef tartare with mango mustard, daikon, coconut, and egg yolk, and I can't help but join him in a laugh.Mike Beagley, Managing Director, Rodd & Gunn“The real New Zealand is this beautiful view," he says, gesturing at the vine-covered hills and the skyline in the distance. “It's an appreciation for great wine, great food, for life." I have to agree that there is a dolce vita vibe to Waiheke—la dolce kiwita?—as I tuck into my second course of sweet corn and truffle ravioli with black trumpet mushrooms, watercress, and parmesan.“This is refined," he says, pointing to our food. “This is rustic," he continues, nodding outside. “And that's New Zealand."Beagley heads back to work, but I stick around at Mudbrick to meet Steve Robinson, a guide with the island's family-owned Ananda Tours. He used to play in a rock band called the Heartbreakers (“This was before Tom Petty thought of the name!") and co-owns the studio that produced the 1995 hit “How Bizarre" by OMC—the biggest pre-Lorde hit by a New Zealander. Today, he's volunteered to be my designated driver.
“New Zealand is a very green country, ecologically sustainable. I think part of that is Maori—there's a spiritual connection to the land and to the idea of passing along nature to future generations." —Mike Beagley“Waiheke is a Jurassic-era island with mineral-rich soils," Robinson says as we hit the Mudbrick tasting bar. “We're primarily an island of red wines and olives." In fact, the island is perfect for growing the kinds of grapes you'd find in Bordeaux. Cellar master Bob Scott, who has a way with words, describes the country's wines with phrases like “gooseberry with a slight hint of armpit," “creamy richness that doesn't go butter," “pencil shavings and leather," and “cuddly dudley." From here, Robinson drives me to a succession of hidden vineyards, along winding roads so narrow that we have to pull into the brush to allow cars to pass. We get to talking about the flag referendum: “I voted for the new flag, because my wife thinks I'm resistant to change," he jokes, “and I wanted to prove her wrong."At Stonyridge Vineyard, which is tucked into a picturesque valley, I meet winemaker Marty Pickering, the son of a dairy farmer. “You know, I got all those practical, tractor-driving skills from him," he says over a glass of Bordeaux-style Larose, “but then I don't really like milk all that much. This end product is so much better."Farther on, at Obsidian Vineyards, which is run from a corrugated metal quonset hut, we sip Syrah with cellar master Martin Owens. “Australian Shiraz is a punch in the face," he says. “New Zealand Syrah is a pat on the back."The rugged, lush coastline of Waiheke Island
We continue past stands of flowering manuka trees, wetlands teeming with pukeko (long-legged purple swamphens), and sheltered coves like Little Oneroa Beach. Just up the hill from here is my next hotel, The Boatshed, a stylish update of a “bach"—Kiwi for a modest holiday home; the term is derived from either “bachelor pad" or the Welsh word for “small." The digs are neither padlike nor cramped. In fact, the palette of whites and creams and the breezy nautical theme (model yachts, an old ship's funnel, a chess set with puffin and seagull pawns) call to mind a Nantucket-set Nancy Meyers rom-com.Guests assemble for dinner at tables that fill the cozy living room and spill out onto the patio. Using produce grown on-site in the hotel's veggie patch, chef Adam Rickett creates the kind of fare you might find at a sophisticated friend's backyard barbecue: dry-aged ribeye with yellow tomatoes, leeks, and zucchini; grapefruit-cured salmon with whipped avocado; salt-roasted beets, pickled fennel, lemon yogurt, and toasted hazelnuts; and a classic iceberg wedge salad.Later, back in my room, I fall asleep with the door open, lulled by a sea breeze and the sound of waves crashing. I could get used to this.
In which Nicholas tubes through a glowworm-lit cave, gawks at slime-green springs, and eats like a MaoriI wake up before sunrise to catch a ferry back to the mainland. I flip on the radio in my rental car to news that the old flag has won out, and then begin a 120-mile drive south to Waitomo, home of the famous glowworm caves.I embrace the road-trip vibe and make a breakfast of gas-station snacks: chicken crisps, hokey pokey (honeycomb) biscuits, and Lemon & Paeroa soda (“World Famous in New Zealand"). The whole left-side-of-the-road thing isn't as hard as I'd expected—though I do switch on the wipers every time I try to signal a turn.I pass through countryside populated by cows and sheep, suburbs turning to fields turning to gentle hills. Soon, I'm in the unassuming village of Waitomo, which sits atop 25 miles of caves lit by millions of beautiful glowworms.Tubing and climbing through caves“They're officially maggots!" exclaims Angus Stubbs, of The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co., an outfit that drops people like me into a pitch-black labyrinth of subterranean streams.“But that doesn't market too well," says his colleague Logan Doull.“What strikes me is how bizarre it is that we're selling you a ticket to see performing insects," says Stubbs. “I can't think of anywhere else…"“Maybe a flea circus?" adds Doull.The larvae of the fungus gnat, carnivorous glowworms attach themselves to cave ceilings by silk threads covered in mucus, and put on a bioluminescent display to attract unsuspecting prey that have flown into the darkness.Eruera "Eru" West, Marketing Manager, Te PuiaI'm led to a rack of insulated wetsuits, along with a young couple from Melbourne and a seven-girl netball team from Australia's Gold Coast. “Netball? Is that an Aussie name for volleyball?" I ask, my Americanness glaring. I'm met with a nine-person barrage of shouts and groans. (It's more like basketball, it turns out.)“I shouldn't have had that last basket of chips," yells one of the girls, squeezing into her suit. “I have a food baby!" “A food baby?" cries her teammate. “Mine's full-grown!"
“The Maori have been involved in tourism for more than 150 years. We use the money we earn to fund schools of Maori performance and art to keep our culture alive." —Eruera “Eru" WestWe're set to explore the cave system via a network of underground streams, which will require us to place our backsides into rubber tubes and plunge butt-first off subterranean waterfalls. We practice our technique off a dock, aided by guides who are more than happy to offer helpful shoves. Screaming is optional, but I do feel that the expulsion of air might stop the murky cave water from going up my nose.As we duck into the maw of Ruakuri Cave (Maori for “den of dogs"), a guide tells us to point our headlamps toward the hand-size, spidery-legged, grasshopperlike cave wetas on the ceiling. I don't usually have a problem with bugs—but I have a problem with these beasts.Once inside, we zip along lugelike, bouncing off limestone walls, bobbing over rapids, our noses inches from dangling stalactites. We're told that we're sharing these waters with crayfish and three-foot longfin eels (they bite!), but luckily I don't meet any in the darkness.Every few minutes, our tube caravan slides into a cavern, some with 60-foot-high ceilings. It's not often that nature lives up to its Instagram-filtered, color-corrected photographic approximations, but this, a twinkling galaxy in miniature, is the closest I've come to feeling that I'm in the presence of magic. And to think, it's all just gleaming mucus.The Champagne PoolAs we towel off back in the sunlight, my fellow spelunkers ask me where I'm headed next. I tell them I'll be driving to a town called Rotorua, known for its Maori culture and hot springs, and they giggle-shriek: “It stinks!"A harsh assessment, I think, until I approach the town about two hours later. The healing waters, which transformed this sleepy lakeside town into a tourist spa in the 1870s, give off the rotten-egg aroma of hydrogen sulfide. Luckily, your nostrils adjust quickly.My first stop is south of Rotorua, at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which, despite its endearingly cheesy roadside attraction name, is actually a brilliant collection of hot springs, geysers, and boiling mud pools—all in surreal, otherworldly hues. The Champagne Pool, which fizzes with carbon dioxide, has a rust-red rim; the Devil's Bath is a shockingly unnatural shade of slime green due to suspended sulfur crystals. The candy-store colors may look enticing, but some of these pools can quite literally boil you alive or acid-burn you to bits. Intact, I head back to town, where I check into The Regent of Rotorua, a modish boutique hotel with an indoor pool fed by thermal waters of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, I'm off to meet Eruera “Eru" West at Te Puia, a family-run Maori cultural center that is part handicraft workshop, part history museum, and part aviary (they have a pair of kiwi birds). The grounds are dotted with spectacular hot springs, steam vents, and geysers. For West, the place is more second home than workplace.The Rotorua Museum in the city's old Bath House building“This is my tribal area," he says. “There have been five generations of my heritage doing this. My mom is still my boss!" His aunt Teresa works here too—she's the one who teaches me how to strip flax leaves and twist them into ropes at the on-site weaving school.
As evening falls, West and I join a group gathered in front of the wharenui, or meeting house. Elaborate eave carvings, with a head at the peak and fingertips at the bottom, are meant to evoke outstretched arms of welcome. It's time for the te po, a Maori take on the luau.“Kia ora," says our host, Robert Piripi, offering up the traditional greeting, a phrase that has also been embraced by the pakeha, or white New Zealanders. “For me, this is home," he continues. “We cook our food on the steam vents every day. We bathe inside the mineral waters every night."
“Our word for 'tourism,' maanakitanga, means to increase your visitors' mana."A middle-aged American man is chosen as the pakeha leader. The Maori blow a conch shell and send out a warrior to offer a token of friendship. Our “chief" accepts the gift, and he and the warrior press noses twice to mark the coming together of families and ancestors. The Maori then sweep the ground (to represent a clean slate), slap their thighs (to show no harm will come), and let out a wailing call (to symbolize a rope pulling a guest's canoe to shore). Far from being a cheesy floor show for tourists, this is a culturally important ritual that dates back centuries. It's a privilege to be a part of it.After we're ushered inside, the women perform with poi, twirling balls on a string, slapping them rhythmically against the palms and backs of their hands. The men flick out their tongues and widen their eyes, shouting and grunting their way through a haka, the war dance commonly associated with the All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team. “It was designed to make the enemy turn around and run," whispers West. “Sticking out your tongue shows that your mouth is watering for flesh."The Maori carving school at Te PuiaSpeaking of which: The dance is followed by a feast, cooked in giant boxes over natural steam vents called hangi. In Maori neighborhoods, women still leave baskets of food over these seething holes for hours on end—something like geothermal slow cookers.We start with a nonalcoholic shot of lemon, kawakawa herb, and manuka honey, which is said to have medicinal qualities (and sells for up to $50 per jar). After a quick “amene" (Maori for “amen"), we dig into a buffet of kumara (sweet potato) soup; hangi-steamed lamb, chicken, and pumpkin; and finally the iconic Wellington-born, kiwi-topped meringue dessert pavlova.“Our word for 'tourism,' maanakitanga, actually has a much deeper meaning," says West. “It means to increase your visitor's mana—worth, prestige, importance—and that's what we're all about. Tribes would value themselves on their ability to accommodate and be hospitable." A smiling Welsh woman sitting next to West at the table puts it a little more succinctly: “Doesn't this whole entire country just ooze charm?"
Hemispheres senior editor Nicholas DeRenzo is looking into importing a few thousand glowworms to decorate his bedroom ceiling.
If you goCheck out united.com or use the United app to book your three day adventure to New Zealand.
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Best aviation-inspired museums to visit
With National Aviation Day right around the corner (August 19), a great way to celebrate is by visiting an aviation-themed museum. Many of the museums have hands-on, interactive exhibits —and some even have retired airplanes you can visit. Below are seven museums to visit this Aviation Day and beyond.
The Museum of Flight in Seattle bills itself as the largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world. The museum's 20 acres is home to more than 160 significant aircraft and spacecraft, including the world's first fighter plane, the first jet Air Force One and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It's also one of a handful of museums in the world that has a Concorde supersonic jet on display —located in its British Airways livery. The campus also includes the original Boeing factory, the NASA Space Shuttle Trainer and the only exhibit to house the original rocket engines used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon. Additional activities include flight simulators that make you feel as if you're flying an airplane, a 3D movie theater and an aircraft exhibit that includes the world's only presentation of the first Boeing 727, 737 and 747 jets.
The Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson boasts 2,600 acres and is one of the largest non-government funded aviation and space museums in the world. It features more than 350 historical aircraft, from a Wright Flyer to a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Visitors can take an hour-long tram tour narrated by experienced docents who share stories about the planes' significance and personal stories of service. There are bus tours of its aircraft boneyard, home to more than 4,000 military and federal government aircraft. If decide you want to participate in the tour while visiting the museum, it's recommended that you make a reservation 10 business days ahead of time.
Each year, Oshkosh attracts nearly 500,000 spectators to what is considered the largest airshow in the world — EAA AirVenture. But if you can't make this annual event in July, you can still visit the EAA AirVenture Museum year-round. While there, check out the museum's display of more than 200 historic aircraft — aircraft like the 1918 Curtiss JN-4D 'Jenny', a 1945 Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair and a 1930 Cessna CG-2 Glider. For attractions, visit the Eagle Hangar, a tribute to World War II aviation. And lastly, make sure to take a ride in a vintage 1929 Travel Air E-4000 open-cockpit biplane located at Pioneer Airport.
Palm Springs, California
Named by CNN as one of the best aviation museums, the Palm Springs Air Museum is one of the few that actually allow visitors to go inside aircraft to explore the exhibits. It features 59 aircraft from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Aircraft include a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, an F-14A Tomcat and even a Russian MiG-21+. Take a ride in aircraft like the P-51 Mustang, the iconic plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The museum is also home to permanent and temporary exhibits, artifacts, artwork and a library.
The National Smithsonian Air & Space Museum has two outposts — the original building in downtown D.C. and the more than 100-acre Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center facility near Washington Dulles International Airport. The downtown location has aircraft like the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager when he first broke the sound barrier, an Airbus A320 flight deck simulator and the forward fuselage of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, along with the popular “How Things Fly" exhibit.
The Udvar-Hazy center has thousands of aviation and space artifacts on display, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde, the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Boeing 367-80 — the prototype for the Boeing 707 and America's first commercial jet airliner. There's also the Airbus IMAX® Theater and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which gives you a 360-degree bird's-eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area.
The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is located on a portion of land that used to be Lowry Air Force Base, a technical training center until it closed in 1994. The museum is home to aircraft including a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a Cessna O-2 Skymaster and even a Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter. The brand-new Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery at Centennial Airport is phase one of the museum's second location that will focus on the present and future of aerospace. It offers interactive exhibits, the latest in general aviation technology and the chance to fly realistic Red Bird simulators as well as tours of the airfield.
New York, New York
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum complex in New York is located on a World War II aircraft carrier. Among its many exhibits are Enterprise, the prototype of NASA's Space Shuttle and a Harrier fighter jet. It also includes the British Airways Concorde that made the world's speed record for passenger airliners in 1996 when it flew from New York to London in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. Before leaving, make sure to check out the 4D aircraft simulator, something you won't want to miss.
United flies to most of the destinations above, including Denver, New York, Palm Springs, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C. You can fly into neighboring Appleton, Wisconsin, to visit Oshkosh. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your aviation-themed museum trip.
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Weekend inspiration: Savannah
The key to visiting Savannah in the summer? Planning outdoor and indoor activities, so you can enjoy all of the treasures this charming Southern city has to offer. If you only have a few days to spend here, it is even more important to plan your time and itinerary carefully. Luckily, we've gathered the best of the best to visit in historic Savannah with carefully planned air-conditioned stops along the way. Put on your walking shoes, grab some sunscreen and get ready to explore.
Before your trip, make sure to make reservations for dinner at The Olde Pink House restaurant in advance. Adjacent to the Planters Inn, this popular spot has been serving Southern food at it's finest at one of Savannah's oldest mansions. While there, make sure you order the fried chicken — voted one of the best in Savannah and it does not disappoint. The braised pork shank is also a must-try. From there walk over to Leopold's Ice Cream. Choose a fancy pre-made ice cream or create your own treat. A Savannah tradition, this shop has been serving the best ice cream in Savannah since 1919.
Abe's on Lincoln | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
If you're looking for a dive bar instead of ice cream, drop in to Abe's on Lincoln. Create your own artistic rendition of Abraham Lincoln on your napkin, and your creation might end up on the ceiling where other patrons' artwork is displayed.
The next morning get started before the crowds and visit the Waving Girl Statue. This statue commemorates Florence Martus who (from 1887-1931) became the unofficial 'greeter' of Savannah and waved at every ship that came into port. From there head down River Street to Huey's on the river for beignets and their potato casserole. Don't worry about the calories, you will walk them off.
The potato salad at Hueys on the river
Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
The Georgia Queen on River Street
Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
After Huey's, stop by the Savannah Bee Company and sign up for a mead tasting. For just a few dollars you will get to taste all sorts of variations and flavors from all over the country. Interestingly mead, created from fermenting honey, is one of the oldest alcohols in human history. Evidence of mead in clay pots dates back to 7000 BC. After you've had a few sips of mead and tasted the honeycomb, head out for a bit of shopping. We recommend Broughton Street, especially 24e and the Paris Market.
The Artillery restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
Stop by Juliet Gordon Lowe's birthplace (Girl Scout's founder) to see when the next tour is and make a reservation. Go to Husk for lunch while you wait. Husk, founded by James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock, uses local ingredients in his ever-changing, scrumptious menu. After your tour of Ms. Lowe's home, put on your finest and head over to Artillery for a fancy cocktail and then on to The Collins Quarter Restaurant.
Collins Quarter restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
The Collins Quarter restaurant is an Australian take on Southern food and is exquisite. Get the hot chicken — it's delicious. Wander over to Chippewa Square after dinner where the movie Forrest Gump was filmed. The exact bench he sat on for the movie is no longer there, but everything else in the park is the same. Nearby on Bull street is another boutique, Red Clover, you should stop at if you're in the market for a gorgeous new frock. End the evening with dessert at Chocolate by Adam Turoni. Adam's shop feels like you stepped into wonderland, complete with a grass floor and bookshelves full of delicious treats.
All that's left is to head home full of southern food and southern hospitality.
P.S. If you have a few extra hours rent a car and go see the Wormsloe Plantation. The entrance will take your breath away. Also check out the Bonaventure Cemetery where poets, revolutionaries and the founders of Savannah have ornate gravestones in a picturesque, photo-worthy setting.
How to prepare for your child's first flight
Traveling can be stressful at times, even when you're flying solo. But imagine what a child must feel, especially as they prepare to take their first flight. The key to any successful first flight is to take a cue from the Girl Scouts motto: be prepared. I'm a mother who started traveling the world with her child since she was 10 days old. So if you're planning your child's first flight soon, read on for my helpful tips to make your child's first flight a success.
Before the flight
Make sure to choose your seats as soon as you book your flight. Since restrooms are usually located at the back of the plane — and also near the front of the cabin, depending on the aircraft — you may want to choose seats near those areas so you won't have to go far if you and your child need the restroom or you need to change your baby's diaper. Additionally, children oftentimes enjoy looking out the window during a flight, so you may want to opt for a window seat so they can see other planes, a busy tarmac or clouds once you're up in the air.
Most airlines, including United, allow a child under the age of two to sit on a parent's lap. But if it fits within your budget, you could consider buying them their own seat and, depending on the child's age, bringing a government-approved child seat for them to use in the purchased seat. This allows you and your child to travel more safely and comfortably, and can help create a better sense of security for your child if they're used to the child seat you bring along.
Make sure to prepare your kids prior to the flight. Although airplanes can be exciting, they can also be scary for kids at first. Take time to explain what to expect during your journey, from the time they arrive at the airport until the plane lands at your destination. You can tell them about the kinds of people they will meet, such as gate agents, flight attendants and pilots, and the different events that occur, like boarding, the flight attendants' safety message and the sound of the aircraft engine during takeoff. This way they can enjoy identifying the people and events that make up their first flight.
At the airport
To avoid any unnecessary stress, print your boarding passes or download them to your mobile device before arriving at the airport. Also plan to check your baggage as soon as you get to the airport so you don't have to worry about carrying along extra gear.
You can check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you're unsure about what's allowed past security checkpoints, but baby formula, breast milk, food and medications aren't subject to the 3.4 ounce liquid restriction, so you're able to bring larger amounts of those items with you. Just make sure to let TSA officers know right away that you're carrying those items so you're not slowed down during the screening process.
After you've made it through security and are waiting at the gate, make sure your children have entertainment to keep them occupied while you wait. While most flights offer entertainment, there may be times when the inflight entertainment is not available, so bring toys, games, a tablet, coloring books or whatever it takes to keep them occupied and happy during a flight. If you're traveling with babies or toddlers, be sure to double check your diaper bag and make sure it has clothing, baby wipes, lotion, toys and extra bottles. Also, pack a favorite blanket and pillow for inflight naps.
You'll also want to carry various snacks, such as sandwiches, fruit, nuts, crackers or popcorn, and account for possible delays because food options may be limited. It's also a good idea to pack empty sippy cups or water bottles to fill up with inflight beverages.
On board the flight
When it's time to board your flight, you can take advantage of United's policy that allows families with children two and younger to pre-board. This will give you that much-needed time to stow your items and get you and your children in your seats so you're comfortable and ready for your flight.
By request, strollers can be checked at the gate at no additional cost. Before boarding starts, simply ask the gate agent to put a baggage tag on the stroller and you can leave it at the bottom of the jet bridge as you board the plane. When you get to your destination, your stroller will be waiting for you on the jet bridge after you exit the plane.
Once you're on board and settled, it helps to have a bottle on hand during takeoff and landing because it can help alleviate ear pressure for babies and toddlers. For older children, tell them what's about to happen and encourage them to look out the window to see what's going on before take-off. While in the air, create easy access to all the things you need to keep your children entertained and happy, and before you know it, you'll be on the ground again in no time. With just a little preparation, flying for the first time can be an exciting experience for both you and your child.
United heroes: Saving the life of a newborn
Pediatrician Elizabeth Triche was so touched by how our employees went above and beyond to transport her critical ill newborn patient from Saipan to Guam then Honolulu to San Francisco and from there to their final destination of San Diego, that on July 27, she wrote the heartfelt note below to CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby.
"Mr. Munoz and Mr. Kirby,
I am writing to give you my greatest gratitude for running a company that just did everything possible, every step of the way, to allow us to get our critically ill newborn with a fatal heart defect to life-saving emergency specialty care in San Diego.
Geoff Larson [Customer Service De-escalation Senior Manager] had given me his cellphone number one month ago and said to call if we ever needed any help getting patients to critical care. When I did call 3 days ago, he burst into action. We exchanged at least 10 emails and phone calls over the next 36 hours as he opened seats on fully booked flights, got us cleared to use oxygen (a process that usually delays our exit by 48-72 hours), and called on colleagues to make sure that all of our "special handling needs" in the airports were met. He emailed me as our first (of 4) flights arrived, letting me know that he was available to help with any glitches.
In Honolulu they held everyone on the plane so that we could get TSA and customs clearance first, gate side, avoiding our having to carry a sick baby in a car seat through an entire airport to customs. Helpers met us at each destination as gate agents from our departing cities warned the gate agents at our next arrival destination that we would need a wheelchair and help with bags.
Finally, as we were 30 minutes from our final destination, the pilot of United Flight 284 on 7/26/2018 from SFO to SAN called me up to the front of the plane to chat, as [there was] fog in San Diego. He wanted to know if the baby would be adversely affected if he [diverted] the flight to LA to refuel. We truly appreciated his taking our patient into account.
Ultimately, we arrived in San Diego without any major mishaps, and our newborn is currently undergoing definitive treatment for his condition.
Mr. Larson and his colleagues at United helped to save a life yesterday, as this baby may not have survived to make the flights had we had to wait for an open seat. Now that he has gotten to care, he will likely have a great chance at a normal life.
I just wanted everyone know that there are truly compassionate, dedicated people working for your organization."
We fly Australian firefighters to wildfires
As parts of Oregon and California continue to battle blazing wildfires that have already consumed thousands of acres of land, we stepped up to help and flew a group of Australian firefighters to Boise, Idaho, over the weekend.
We created an extra section to fly a group of firefighters from all over Australia to Los Angeles International Airport, where they departed on a flight to Boise, Idaho on August 4.
Australia/New Zealand Contingent Field Liaison Officer Barry James explained that firefighters were selected to come help based on their qualifications, and they're all proud to support their fellow firefighters in the United States.
"We're flying to Boise for a couple of days of training and then we'll be splitting up. Some of us are going to Northern California and the rest are going to Oregon for a six-week deployment," explained Officer James, who flew United for the first time, but said it won't be his last. "It was an awesome, awesome experience; it was really hospitable," he added.
Our Los Angeles based employees and crews made sure the firefighters felt their appreciation by giving them a special welcoming message in the gate area, where they thanked them for their hard work.
"It was such an incredible honor for us at LAX to meet and fly these men and women, who are sacrificing their time and putting their lives on the line to help us battle the wildfire devastation in this part of the country," said LAX Station Operations Control Manager Maggie Ronan. "The crew in general was just outstanding. They were all so honored to fly this group and felt it was amazing that United built the extra section for their journey. There was a very special energy felt on the flight as we closed up to send them off to BOI."
We're teaming up with leading disaster relief organizations to provide aid to those impacted by the California wildfires. We will match up to $50,000 in total donations made to our charitable partners, Airlink, American Red Cross, Americares, North Coast Opportunities and Shasta Regional Community Foundation. For more information and to make a donation California Wildfire relief efforts, visit our CrowdRise fundraising campaign.
Lots of sweat, lots of on-time departures: Summer on the ramp
It's 10:30 in the morning and the temperature gauge already reads 89 degrees. The Texan summer sun beams down from above. Heat waves emanate from the ground. Sweat glistens atop Ron Davis's shiny, bald head.
This isn't bad at all, Davis says. "I played high school football. Two-a-day practices? Those were hot. Some of the really hot days out here? Those feel more like three-a-day practices. We got it easy today."
A few gates down, employees revel in the "relief" that this weather feels like compared to the prior week.
"This is nothing," quips Tom Saavedra.
"A few clouds up there and a bit of a breeze – it's our lucky day," Leroy Taylor chimes in, a wide smile on his face.
Air temperature nearing 90 degrees. Tarmac temperature eclipsing 100 degrees most everywhere you step. 10:30 in the morning. And this is "easy". Welcome to life as a United ramp service employee at Houston's George Bush International Airport (IAH) in the summer.
United isoperating more than 500 flights out of Houston each day this summer, and thanks in part to the hard work of our ramp service employees, more flights have left Houston on time this summer than any prior summer.
How? Hydration and nutrition have played huge roles.
Posters with hydration reminders adorn the walls of ramp break rooms and hallways. It's the first topic of every meeting. Regular reminders are sent out over the group's radio system.
Employees have a flight schedule to keep, but as leaders, we have to provide them with the tools to do their job, says Gary Snead, a United supervisor based at IAH. "That includes keeping them fit to work in the summer heat."
And provide they do. Here are the resources deployed in an average summer month on the ramp in Houston:
- Over 10,000 bags of ice, totaling more than 100,000 pounds of ice.
- 313, 5-gallon water coolers refilled at least four times per day.
- An athletic trainer on site.
- One day a month, the IAH ramp holds a fruit & hydration day, where supervisors distribute over 1,000 pieces of fruit to our sun-soaked employees.
- 1,000+ cooling towels distributed.
- 10 misting tents
The increased focus on hydration has helped increase productivity, and it's also resulted in a record-low number of heat-related illnesses among employees.
You take care of the employees, Snead says, "and the employees will take care of your operation."
That's proved true around the world, as we have flown more customers this summer than ever before, all while topping our competition in on-time departures in recent months. Our 13,000+ ramp service employees have played a huge role in that.
Summer heat? It's been beat.
Top 7 things to experience when visiting Las Vegas
When picturing Las Vegas, you probably see shimmering lights, felt-covered poker tables and the ecstatic sound of slot machines. But the truth is that the city offers visitors far more to experience than just gambling and excess. Located on the edge of the vast Mojave Desert, this uniquely American destination is constantly reinventing itself with every passing day, which makes it an ideal vacation spot for virtually every type of traveler. To help you get the most from your next trip to Vegas, here are seven attractions in and around the city that you won't want to miss.
The Neon Museum
Since 1996, this magical outdoor art gallery has collected hundreds of old and discarded neon signs from the Las Vegas strip and displayed them for visitors on a 2-acre plot of land. With so much colorful history available to see, it's no wonder that the Neon Museum is one of the city's top Instagram spots. Though new signs are constantly being acquired and refurbished, many date back to the glory days of the 1950s, when Vegas icons like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were the entertainment headlines at the casinos.
Red Rock Canyon
This stunning nature preserve is just a 15-mile drive west of Las Vegas, and is the perfect place to experience all the scenic beauty that Nevada has to offer. Red Rock Canyon features 26 clearly marked hiking trails, indoor and outdoor conservation exhibits and a plethora of majestic wildlife and desert flora to view. There's even a picturesque waterfall, so bring your camera along with your sunscreen and bottled water. A variety of educational programs are held each month, including a popular “Bats in Our Belfry" presentation in which rangers take visitors on a bat sightseeing tour of the canyon.
The Mob Museum
Because the birth of Las Vegas is intricately connected with organized crime, this fascinating museum is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand how a dry Nevada desert became a worldwide symbol of glitz and glamour. Filled with amazing artifacts, vintage photos and life-size recreations of some of the city's most infamous residents, the Mob Museum focuses on both the gangsters who built Las Vegas and the law enforcement heroes who pursued them. A rotating collection of exhibits brings the town's colorful history to life in a way that no movie or book could ever hope to duplicate.
The Hoover Dam
A monument to man's industrial spirit and a marvel of American engineering, the spectacular Hoover Dam is located less than an hour's drive from Las Vegas — and it's truly an unforgettable sight to behold. Tours of the 726-foot-tall dam are highly encouraged and will fascinate young and old alike. While you're in the area, why not spend some time cruising the beautiful waters of nearby Lake Mead, which was created by the dam itself. Boat tours are available all week long from several locations around the lake, so advanced reservations are not needed.
Dig This Last Vegas
Are you visiting Las Vegas with children? If so, then this one-of-a-kind experience should definitely be on your travel itinerary. Dig This Last Vegas lets you and your kids drive and safely operate heavy duty construction equipment like bulldozers and excavators on a massive outdoor playground in the heart of the city. Anyone who grew up with toy tractors and plastic earth-moving machines can now climb behind the wheel and try them for real. With the help of trained instructors, kids as young as 8 years old can make their dreams of operating a genuine Caterpillar D5 bulldozer come true at this hands-on attraction site.
Spring Mountain Ranch
This Nevada state park is a relatively short drive from downtown Las Vegas and will instantly transport you back to the region's historic past. The perfectly preserved old west-style ranch is an excellent place for an afternoon picnic when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the casinos. Thanks to the lush green surroundings and man-made lake, the temperature at Spring Mountain is noticeably cooler than you might expect of the hot Nevada climate. Explore further as gentle hiking trails allow you to stretch your legs in comfort while you navigate some of the loveliest scenery in the entire state.
Lotus of Siam
Widely considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the United States, Lotus of Siam earned its prestigious James Beard Award the hard way; by serving incredibly delicious Northern Thai dishes every day for the past 19 years. Owner and head chef Saipin Chutima recently opened a second location in Las Vegas, which means you'll have no trouble making reservations while you're in town. Considering that top foodie magazines like Gourmet, Saveur and Bon Appétit have praised this restaurant's incredible dishes for almost two decades, you'd be wise to book a table in advance. Try their crispy rice salad with house-made pork sausage for a flavor that will make your taste buds sing.
When you're ready to experience the fun and excitement of Las Vegas, book your flight at united.com or by using the convenient United app, and share your story on social media with the #UnitedJourney hashtag.
The 8 most underrated American road trips
You've gotten your kicks on Route 66. You've wound through Highway 1. So how do you take another quintessential American summer vacation without repeating yourself? Good thing this country is not lacking in incredible vistas and varied landscapes—trust us: there is so much more than purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain (although, those aren't so bad themselves). From badlands to waterfalls, here are eight American road trips to consider.
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado
This western road trip through and around the Rocky Mountains has three separate routes that converge in Leadville, Colorado (the highest incorporated town in the country at 10,152 feet above sea level). There's no rule against traversing all three, especially since each is pretty short (82 miles total). First, take in the five enormous mountains surrounding Leadville, two of which are the tallest in the state. Head up through Tennessee Pass and cross the Continental Divide to reach the majestic town of Minturn for incredible fields of wildflowers. The route through Independence Pass toward Aspen has unbelievable views of the Rockies and Twin Lakes. Driving along the Arkansas River through Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain is ideal for spotting ranches, old mines and—fingers crossed—some Colorado wildlife.
Overseas Highway, Florida
You do not need a boat to enjoy the Florida Keys, and we can prove it. The Overseas Highway is one of the most unique roads in the country, as it basically island hops along Florida's hottest vacay spots like Islamorada (home of the Florida Brewing Company) and Marathon (home of Long Key State Park). The Seven-Mile Bridge is a highlight nestled into the 113-mile trip, so make sure to cross during the day for sprawling views of turquoise water and boaters galore. Other fun pit stops: Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, snorkel with sea critters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and pose for a selfie at Southernmost Point Buoy, the farthest south you can get on the continental U.S.
Jason W Lacey/Getty Images
Columbia River Highway, Oregon
This stretch of highway was the first of its kind to be officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and it's easy to see why. Set out from Troutdale, Oregon, and immediately you'll see the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. Get ready for a roller-coaster decent as you roll into Crown Point—the 600-foot drop toward the Columbia River is designed specifically for road trippers as it curves and winds through lush green forests. There are at least six notable waterfalls you'll pass along the way; step out at Multnomah Falls for a pic of its stunning bridge. Once you hit the town of Mosier, consider trekking through a tunnel of lava rock on the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead. The road officially ends after roughly 70 miles at The Dalles, conveniently close to the Sunshine Mill Winery. Treat yourself to a glass of the wildly popular Nirvana, a white blend with touches of honey and melon.
Bobbushphoto /Getty Images
Hana Coast Highway, Hawaii
While Hawaii's island of Maui is a hot destination for tropical romance, the Hana Coast Highway is not for the faint of heart. The road is affectionately called the “Divorce Highway" in honor of its precarious turns and proximity to the edges of tall cliffs. That said, the frequent waterfalls, black sand beaches and eucalyptus trees along the country's lengthiest rainforest highway make the trip totally worth the adrenaline rush. Though it's only 52 miles, the 25-miles-per-hour speed limit (with blind spots and one-lane bridges galore; this is a very good thing) makes it a two- to three-hour trip. But we have a feeling you'll happily take your time—the views from Kahului to Hana are beyond breathtaking.
Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico
If you're in the mood for dry heat and history up close, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is calling. West of Albuquerque is Chaco Canyon, an important ceremonial site for the Pueblo peoples between 850 and 1250 A.D. After taking in the incredible expanse of the canyon, drive south through the towns of Crownpoint and Grants toward the El Morro National Monument. Ogle the 2,000 or so signatures weary travelers have carved into the sandstone over centuries. Continue east through the Zuni Reservation to Zuni Pueblo, an arts community still practicing ancestral traditions and ways of life. Cap off this winding 360-mile desert tour in Farmington, where you can see Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, both of which date back to the 1050s.
The Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota
Together, the Black Hills and Badlands National Park in South Dakota offer 5 million acres of grassland, forest and rock formations. Might we recommend not hitting it all in one day? Instead, start out on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway near the town of Interior. Check out the millions-year-old (literally) jagged geographic deposits before heading north to Spearfish Canyon, home of sky-high pink limestone and gorgeous waterfalls. Meander down through Black Hills National Forest to check out Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and (drumroll, please) Mount Rushmore. Set aside a few days for the entire 232-mile journey because you'll probably find yourself either driving slowly to take it all in or stopping the car every few miles to hike or swim.
North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota
For a truly otherworldly experience, drive along the coast of the biggest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Superior. The northern Minnesota gem means ample opportunity to really get away from civilization. (Heading off the beaten path into the Boundary Waters just north of the coastline leaves you with no cell service, almost complete solitude and a chance to catch the northern lights!) Start your drive in Duluth and head north, scoping out the many lighthouses dotting the rocky coastline on your right and the distant Sawtooth Mountains on your left. Everywhere else is covered in pine and birch trees—and crawling with wildlife. Beaches pop up along the 142-mile ride, although Lake Superior is notoriously chilly, reaching 65 degrees Fahrenheit max during the hottest months of the year. But, in the height of summer, this might be exactly the cool-down you need.
Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine
For the ultimate, rugged New England road trip, you must drive the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. On the western side of the state, near New Hampshire, the lake is flanked by Rangeley Lake State Park and rolling hills of trees, flowers and wildlife. Start at Smalls Falls, and let the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline be your guide on this 36-mile tour. The route is straightforward but provides sights of everything from lakes and rivers to valleys and farmland. Swift River and Mooselookmeguntic Lake (who named this lake?) are outstanding photo ops. Summer is always a good time to visit when it comes to temps, but come autumn, the bright colors pop along this route, and might just be worth a second trip.
The comparisons between New Zealand and California are inescapable. Both are long and narrow with Pacific coastlines that seamlessly combine cliffs and beaches. Both boast some of the world's most spectacular national parks in the mountains and some of the most prized wine regions in the hills and valleys.
Some similarities are flip-flopped, because NZ straddles the 38th parallel south of the equator while California is on the 38th parallel north. That's why New Zealand's North Island shares Southern California's warm, dry climate and the South Island shares Northern California's cooler, wetter climate. That may also be why New Zealand's two largest cities (Auckland and Wellington) are in the sunny north, while California's (L.A. and San Diego) are in the south.
There are differences, too, and they favor New Zealand. Although it's about two-thirds the size of California, NZ is only about one-tenth as crowded (4.5 million compared to 40 million people). And NZ is surrounded on all four sides, not just one, by the Pacific.
But don't take our word for it — visit New Zealand to make your own comparisons and with new nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, New Zealand is even easier to get to. Starting November 30, Air New Zealand will operate nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. And beginning in April 2019, we will extend our service between San Francisco and Auckland to year-round with service three times weekly on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between November and March, and on the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft between April and October. Now that you have your travel plans set, read on for what to do while you're there.
From the 1,076-foot-high Sky Tower that dominates the Auckland skyline, you'll behold a city bordered by bays and peppered with parks. Locals take full advantage by sailing in the city's two harbors (Auckland is the “City of Sails") and participating in almost every other type of water and land sport — especially rugby, cricket, golf and tennis, all imports from the British who founded New Zealand.
Auckland's literal high points besides the Sky Tower include Mount Eden, Mount Victoria and One Tree Hill, three of the dozens of small dormant volcanoes with 360-degree views that punctuate the city. Another is Auckland Harbour Bridge across Waitemata Harbour, where you can climb the span or bungee off. Additional Auckland attractions include the Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery; the family-friendly New Zealand Maritime Museum and Sea Life Aquarium; and sprawling Cornwall Park, where cricket enthusiasts share the grass with sheep.
Wellington and Christchurch
These two coastal cities south of Auckland are each about a quarter of the population of Auckland, making them favorites of visitors who prefer compact cities. In the capital city of Wellington, most attractions are along the waterfront promenade, always teeming with walkers and runners, while others are in the steep hills. Be sure to visit the Museum of New Zealand and ride the Wellington Cable Car. Christchurch is still recovering from the big 2011 earthquake, but the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park are still lush and lovely, and Quake City at the Canterbury Museum is both educational and moving as it chronicles the devastation of the quake and the rebuilding efforts.
South Island Mountains
New Zealand may be best known for its mountain hiking, known to the locals as tramping. The highest peaks are in the Southern Alps, topped by 12,218 foot Mount Cook, but surely the most famous hike is the Milford Track — so popular that reservations are required to tackle the 33 mile hut-to-hut walk through glacially carved mountain passes, fjords, majestic waterfalls and rainforests in Fiordland National Park. But you needn't hike at all to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand's mountains. Driving past them or through them, such as the drive to Milford Sound where the Track begins, or to Mount Cook Village, does the trick.
Beaches and volcanoes
Stellar surfing and sunbathing beaches are found throughout the country, even in Auckland, although keep in mind that “beach weather" is more likely on North Island. NZ's Volcanic Zone, however, is concentrated in one North Island region, not far from Auckland. It's there, especially in Tongariro National Park, that you'll discover recently erupted volcanoes, lava flows, steaming geysers and hissing ponds — plus thermal pools, springs and baths in the towns of Rotorua and Taupo. You may recognize some of this region's mountains, where the hiking is nearly as splendid as on the South Island, from scenes in “The Lord of the Rings" movies.
Towns, villages… and sheep
Sheep are everywhere in New Zealand, even in the cities. You can even observe them being herded and sheared at SheepWorld near Auckland, but mostly you'll see them in the countryside while driving between cities and national parks, such as on one of NZ's 10 themed highways. You'll also go past farms, vineyards, mountains, coastline and dense wilderness. But don't drive straight through. Your fondest NZ memories after the trip may be of conversations with locals at a village café over coffee or a country pub over a Double Brown beer.
New Zealand's 14 wine regions blanket the east coast of both islands, but the Marlborough region near Blenheim at the top of South Island has the most wineries, including dozens that offer tastings. This region's Sauvignon Blancs are internationally acclaimed. While you're in the area, you should also stop by the charming town of Nelson and visit Abel Tasman National Park, a marvelous mix of rainforest paths and beaches.
Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with fish — and that's a good thing, because New Zealand fishermen operate in the sixth-largest fishing zone in the world, making seafood a NZ specialty. While myriad fish choices fill menus in coastal restaurants, expect a wide variety of cuisines (often broadly called “Pacific Rim cuisine") in the cities. That's especially true in Auckland, where nearly half of residents are non-natives from China, India, Fiji, Samoa and elsewhere. Wherever you dine, the food was probably grown or raised locally because importing ingredients is expensive — the nearest continent, Australia, is 1,300 miles away.
Besides New Zealand's two main islands, smaller islands off their shores are a treat to visit. The largest (about the size of Maui) is Rakiura/Stewart Island, a one-hour ferry ride from the southern tip of South Island, where a national park occupies 80 percent of the land. NZ's most populous small island (pop. 9,000) is Waiheke, a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland, which features forest trails, beaches, restaurants and wineries.
Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in New Zealand, so their “summer" starts in December. Plan a trip between November and April to enjoy mild temperatures and to avoid too many rainy days. When you arrive, driving a rental car is the best way to see the country. (You'll soon get used to driving on the left side.) And driving won't be tortuous within the country because there are no “boring" stretches of road — and a scenic, 3 1/2-hour Interislander or Bluebridge car ferry connects Wellington and Picton, letting you travel freely between North and South Islands.
If you go
Service between San Francisco and Auckland operates three times weekly with year-round nonstop service launching in April of 2019. Starting November 30 of this year, Air New Zealand will operate service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly. Air New Zealand code share service will be offered on around 100 flights across the U.S. for convenient connections to Auckland via Chicago. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
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Five magnificent stops between Honolulu and Guam filled with spectacular scenery along the way, and then back again. Join Big Metal Bird host, Phil Torres, as he explores our unique Island Hopper route, and discovers what the route means to the people of Micronesia.
It was an unusual sight: a flame on a plane -- but that's exactly what passengers on a flight from Boston to Chicago witnessed as we transported the very special cargo on July 18. The flame was enclosed in a secure lantern and accompanied by a Special Olympic athlete and two Guardians of the Flame – members of a group of more than 100,000 law enforcement officers whose role is to protect and ensure the delivery of the Special Olympics Flame wherever it travels.
This wasn't just any flame, however; it was the Special Olympics' Flame of Hope, the flame which lit the Eternal Flame of Hope to kick off Special Olympics' 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning.
CEO Oscar Munoz, General Counsel and EVP Brett Hart; and Community Affairs VP Sharon Grant, along with many employees and customers, greeted the Flame upon arrival to O'Hare International Airport, where it was presented to local Guardians of the Flame.
We didn't just transport the Flame of Hope on board one of our flights, said Oscar. "That flight symbolized how we are taking the values of inclusion and respect, which that Flame represents, fully on board as a company."
From O'Hare, the Flame traveled to Soldier Field, the site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games 50 years ago, and where the Law Enforcement Torch Run® took place the morning of Friday, July 20. More than 100 employees participated in the event, a four-mile course along the lakefront in downtown Chicago, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from throughout Illinois and the world.
I saw people from all over the world come together for a great cause, said Global Catering Operations Projects and Performance Manager Yana Strutz, who participated in the Torch Run, "It is wonderful to see my colleagues take time out of their busy schedules to ensure that Special Olympics athletes get the time and attention they deserve."
The run concluded with the lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope monument, a flame that symbolizes the eternal hope that Special Olympics provides to athletes and their families. The flame will stay forever ignited inside the permanent, 30-foot monument outside of Soldier Field.
United will go beyond just flying the Flame of Hope on one flight, we will 'carry the torch' everywhere we fly and spread the light of this inclusion revolution. We intend to be ambassadors for this movement everywhere we operate, said Oscar.
Our partnership with Special Olympics represents our continuing effort to break down barriers and further build on Special Olympics' remarkable legacy of inclusion by engaging our employees around the world.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.