6 Great Desserts Worth Traveling For

great desserts
The famous Boston cream pie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An earlier version of this blog post about great desserts appeared on Yahoo Voices. Since Yahoo Voices is no longer among the living, I updated and resurrected it – because … dessert! Be sure to chip in with your favorites in the comments.\

I recently wound up at a Cheesecake Factory for a work function. And it’s not quite right to go to a place named after cheesecake and not try some.

A slice of milquetoast chocolate-coconut cheesecake and a boatload of calories later, I wondered who’d stolen the flavor from my dessert. It was so bland that I had to pine away for the great desserts I’ve eaten while traveling. If you’re planning to travel, scan this list and see if you’ll wind up near them. If you do, be sure to drop in for some seriously fine desserts.

great desserts
The chocolate bread and butter pudding at Cornish Pasty Co. It is a quantum singularity of deliciousness. This one has a side of creme anglais – you can also get it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Finale – There’s obviously more to Boston than baked beans. Or even Boston cream pie. If it’s great desserts you want, get to one of the three Finale Desserterie & Bakery locations. Try a sampler platter – there are too many goodies on the menu to pick just one. My dining party outvoted me, but I would’ve gone for the Retro Chocolate platter. I didn’t mind our sampler platter – I just thought it contained a few tame choices and too many things with berries: When I eat dessert, I load up on the chocolate. The chocolate lava cake was the standout.

Mungalli Creek Dairy – I blame this little dairy in the remote Atherton Table Lands of Australia for ruining all other cheesecakes for me. Ever since trying the Sicilian cheesecake (whole-milk ricotta, orange glace, flecks of dark chocolate, cinnamon cookie crust) at Mungalli Creek Dairy, every other cheesecake I’ve sampled disappoints me. Maybe there’s something about making cheesecake from the milk of cows that are wandering around. Just getting there adds to the adventure – it’s a few hours away from Cairns near the town of Yungaburra. And it will involve a trip through the hills on a narrow country road.

great desserts
A porter, an IPA and a mostly demolished brownie with raspberry ice cream at the Aegir brewery.

Patagonia Chocolates – Queenstown, NZ, is mostly known for its adventure sports. A few more places like Patagonia Chocolates could also put the scenic city on the map for great desserts. For me, the star at Patagonia is the ice cream. The banana split flavor isn’t what Americans might expect since it lacked strawberry, focusing mostly on banana and chocolate flavors. I was only in Queenstown for a two days, but made three stops at Patagonia for ice cream.

Sufistin Kaffihus – It takes about 15 minutes by bus to reach Sufistin Kaffihus from Reykjavik. And it’s worth all the uncertainty of wondering which stop is the right one for those of us still flummoxed by the Icelandic language. The chocolate-coconut cake there was worth every calorie – it was sweet enough to be a proper dessert, but not so cloying that it was a chore to finish the last bite. It was also fairly light despite its richness. It was all about balanced sensations and letting the individual ingredients shine through. Sufistin doesn’t have a Web site – but you’ll find it near The Viking Hotel in Hafnarfjörder.

great desserts
The super-awesome Sufistinn Kaffihus on a summer day in Iceland.

Ægir microbrewery – There’s a lot to praise about this brewery in Norway – first, it looks like a historic stave church. Inside, you could imagine vikings trying to drink each other under the table. The beer is excellent, too. But this is all about great desserts, so let’s talk about the chocolate brownie … we had it drizzled with some raspberry sauce. A scoop of raspberry ice cream topped it off nicely. It pairs very well with any dark beers on the tap list (the lineup changes frequently).

Cornish Pasty Co – When I want a serious dessert, I go to the nearest of the three Cornish Pasty Co. locations in the Phoenix area (there’s also a The Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas). I usually get a chocolate bread-and-butter pudding if I want a big dose of chocolate. Otherwise, I go for a banoffee pie – never heard of it? The Cornish Pasty Co. version is a collision of bananas, caramel, graham crackers and made-right-there fresh whipped cream. There are other desserts, too, but these are my standouts. Hint: Only the hugest appetites will be able to manage eating a pasty and a dessert.

48 Hours in Queenstown, New Zealand

The Remarkables live up to the name.
The Remarkables live up to the name.

If New Zealandgave birth to adrenaline sports, Queenstown is where those sports gestated. It’s flanked by the aptly named Remarkables mountain range, perched on a lake that rivals Lake Tahoe, and criss-crossed by canyons, rivers and gulleys. Here’s just a taste of what you can do in Queenstown in the summer in just two days – winter is a different animal, and very suitable for snow sports:

  • TSS Earnslaw – This steamship was built in 1912, making it younger than most of its current passengers. Okay, I’m exaggerating – but not much! Cruises can just take you for a lake excursion on Lake Wakatipu, or for a multi-course meal on the far side of the lake. Watch the steam engine crew at work, and hang out on the bridge with the captain, who will likely be rockin’ The Police while fogeys do a sing-along by the lounge piano. Sedate, but relaxing.
  • Street Luge – A cable car gives you a great view. But you’d better focus on the twisty track when bombing down in an unpowered go-cart. It can get plenty fast, but the track is more tame than I’d prefer. Still fun, though!
  • Bungee Jumping – A signature activity. You’ll have your pick of operators and sizes.
Sarah paraglides above Queenstown.

  • Paragliding – Not quite as extreme as skydiving, but you’ll get an incredible view of The Remarkables, the town and Lake Wakatipu. It takes about 10 minutes. Get there around 9 a.m. so you can book your flight before the winds change – they often stop gliding in the afternoon.
  • Hiking – The street luge course is the starting point for some awesome long hikes. Some will take you to nearby mining ghost towns!

Think Twice About …

  • The Underwater Observatory – Sure, $5 NZ is cheap. But you won’t see much from this very small space with one window.
  • Patagonia Chocolates – Awesome desserts. Try the banana split ice cream. Everything is rich and tasty.sdc10079-1
  • Fergburger – It’s a Queenstown legend. People who live 16 hours away talk about it. You’ll find some exotic meats there in addition to beef. However, Fergburger has one of the planet’s most annoying Flash Web sites, so I’ve shafted them out of a link here. Anything that automatically plays music and takes too long to load drives me crazy.
  • Dux De Lux– Best microbrewery in town, and it ranks high in the nation. Ginger Tom is a standout.
  • Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips – Locals say it only “looks dodgy,” and they’re right. This greasy place by the docks serves up fish ‘n’ chips, of course, and a raw fish concoction with coconut milk and the freshest green-lipped mussels ever. Super-cheap, too! No link – not for an annoying Web site, but for lack of one altogether!

New Zealand Travel Itinerary – My Ideas

New Zealand travel itinerary
Tongariro – a must for your New Zealand travel itinerary.

If you need some ideas for a New Zealand travel itinerary, I have you covered. Here are some suggestions for 14 full days in New Zealand that can help you put your own adventures together.

First off, visiting New Zealand involves a lengthy flight (unless you’re from Australia). That means spending at least two weeks is the only way to go. These ideas include some highlights from my trip and a few ideas of what I would’ve changed in my New Zealand travel itinerary with my newfound knowledge.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Our caving group, with a backdrop of glow worms.

Day One: Arrive from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. local time. Drop bags off at hotel in Parnell near the downtown area. Grab a few flat whites at Ben’s. Ogle crazy foods at local Asian markets. Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island and hike to the top of the volcano. Return to hotel … check in and shower. Then off to dinner and wandering the streets of Auckland. Hindsight is 20/20 … and mine says I should’ve rented a car after the flat whites and driven the easy two hours to Rotorua, thus affording some time in the fun capitol, or extra time in Wellington. I was planning to feel far more jet-lagged, but the symptons never came.

Day 2: Bus from Auckland to Rotorua. Arrive around 2:30 p.m., check into hotel. Visit Kairua Park, walk around Lake Rotorua. Watch for the sulfury lagoon where the lake turns color. Eerie! Indian dinner at Ambiance. General hanging around the town.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Heading up Franz Josef Glacier.

Day 3: Breakfast, drive out to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It’s an amazing but low-key addition to anyone’s New Zealand travel itinerary. After lunch, off to Agroventures. Zorbing is the highlight. Try the Schweeb, too. We followed this with driving around the countryside at dinner at Fat Dog. An extra day here would’ve been nice. Too much fun stuff to do here! I posted about our time there, with more photos.

Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Stop whenever we feel like it, especially at the Honey Hive. Continue on to Tongariro through Taupo. If you’re a hiker, get provisions in Taupo. Quick two-hour hike on Taranaki Falls Track. Dinner at Skotel. Arrange bus service for tomorrow’s hike.

Day 5: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. An epic journey requiring a post of its own … or two (coming soon). Drive to Waitomo, stopping in National Park at Eiven’s for a quick dinner. Then on through Te Kuiti into Waitomo. Fall DEAD ASLEEP!

New Zealand travel itinerary
Me overlooking Queenstown, The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Day 6:  Start with breakfast at Bosco Cafe. Then onto Rap, Raft & Rock for our Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Post about that coming soon. Shower, followed by dinner at The Thirsty Weta. A late snack at Curly’s Bar & Grill. Fall dead asleep … again! Read all about it in my glowworm cave post.

Day 7: On the road by 8 a.m. for the drive to Wellington. You can do it in six hours without speeding, but more stops equal more time! We made an extended stop at Paraparamu Beach. Hang out on Cuba Street, have a great Indonesian dinner at Rasa.

Day 8: A quick visit to Te Papa Museum, followed by grabbing a few Wellington Phoenix shirts (Wellington’s soccer team in the A League). Then, we catch a flight to Nelson. It’s only about 20 minutes. Arrive, check into hotel, wander the streets and have a late lunch at Falafel Gourmet.

Day 9: Bus to Abel Tasman National Park (this will get its own entry soon). Walk for a few hours. Late lunch at The Park Cafe. Brews at The Sprig and Fern. Dinner at Little India. This may sound like blasphemy, but in retrospect I’d skip Abel Tasman and head straight to Franz Josef today to make up for an extra day in Rotorua.

Day 10: Bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Stop at the Sandfly Cafe … ate a possum pie! By the way, New Zealand likes weird food. You might want to make room in your New Zealand travel itinerary for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Various other stops – a very nice drive. Best 8-hour bus ride ever. Arrive, check out the town. Hang out a bit.

Day 11: Franz Josef Glacier tour. Unbelievable! That was pretty much the whole day, except for showers and cooking dinner at the backpackers’ lodge. It’s not physically that strenuous, but the experience of being on a glacier is amazing. This should be part of any outdoor-related New Zealand travel itinerary.

Day 12: Bus to Queenstown. Stop in Wanaka – beautiful town on the lake! Continue to Queenstown through the heart of NZ’s grape and fruit basket. Lots of vineyards and vintners. Scenery turns more dry and stark. Clearly more commerce and mining, despite the isolation. Arrive in Q-town … we ate some fresh green-lipped muscles at the Aggys Shack chased by gelato from Patagonia – try the banana split flavor. It’s not what you’d expect! Then, off to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire where it’s still in a theater!

Day 13: Parasailing and street luge, followed by a nice run around town. We followed the lake’s edge for a few miles. Then to Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips for smoked eel and some sort of raw fish concoction. Took a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Fun, and beautiful views. Great to see a bird’s-eye of the crew working the boilers. Finally, a a nightcap at Dux De Lux following a nice pad thai at one of the local Thai restaurants.

Day 14: Breakfast at Halo. Go to Queenstown Airport. Say good-by to Q-Town. Catch a flight in Auckland. And this brings my New Zealand travel itinerary to and end.