Everything really is bigger in Texas, writes Tracey Chatterton, and some of the attractions are literally out of this world.

Fried chicken and waffles is served at breakfast and almost everyone drives an over-sized SUV - welcome to Texas - where everything really is bigger.

Air New Zealand now fly direct from Auckland to Houston five times a week.

The city will forever be linked to space thanks to the famous words: "Houston tranquillity base here. The eagle has landed."

I got the opportunity to sit in historic Mission Control as part of the Level 9 tour which departs Space Center Houston.


Walking into the 60s styled room with pale green monitors I was taken back to the scene of cigar-smoking men high-fiving each other as Apollo 11 touched down on the moon.

The steps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin beamed onto television screens around the world.

The tour takes you inside a government compound where more than 500 NASA astronauts and space explorers have trained before travelling to the International Space Station.

The things you see really are from out of this world - or destined for it.

If you don't have time for the day-long tour which must be booked in advance there is plenty to see at Space Center Houston.

The science and space learning centre is one of Houston's top attractions, hosting a million visitors a year.

This place is seriously cool and not just for those who can tell you how long it takes the International Space Station to orbit Earth - it's 92 minutes by the way.

There is plenty to see with more than 400 artefacts, three theatres and live shows.


For those with kids you can't go past the interactive section where you can spin yourself silly in the centrifuge which is used as a training tool for astronauts getting used to handling the g-force of being in space.

Tracey Chatterton in Historic Mission Control with tour guide David Cisco.
Tracey Chatterton in Historic Mission Control with tour guide David Cisco.

You also have the opportunity to touch a piece of the moon which was brought to Earth by Apollo 17 in 1972.

It is one of just eight lunar rocks in the world available to be touched.

Finally you can't miss the center's newest exhibition, Independence Plaza which stands at eight storeys high.

It is a shuttle replica sitting atop the historic NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.

The vast fuselage of the plane and the inside of the shuttle have been transformed into engaging learning spaces.


I came away buzzing after our space-filled day only to replace it with a shot of adrenaline from the roller-coaster at Kemah boadwalk.

Kemah Boardwalk is a great place to take the family.
Kemah Boardwalk is a great place to take the family.

This is a top destination for families where you can enjoy one of the hair-raising rides or simply watch the sunset while enjoying a wine at a waterfront restaurant.

The Downtown Aquarium is another great option for those with children where you have the chance to feed and pat stingrays.

The highlight, however, was Nero the white tiger who knew just how to play to the audience, sitting majestically for photos one minute and then rolling onto his back as if he wanted his tummy scratched.

Both of these attractions as well as Space Center Houston are part of a city pass ticket booklet which saves you 46 per cent off regular combined admission for five attractions.

Texans like their cars and it really is the best way of getting round the city with 2.2 million residents.


After a big day sight-seeing there's nothing better than dipping your feet in the pool which is just what I did at Hotel Derek.

This 312 room boutique hotel is named after Houston's black gold roots, a play on the "derrick" drilling rig.

Lights by Hawke's Bay designer David Trubridge feature at Hotel Derek.
Lights by Hawke's Bay designer David Trubridge feature at Hotel Derek.

Bright artwork, rich fabrics and designer amenities give the hotel a funky edge.

And imagine my surprise to find the distinctive lights of Hawke's Bay designer David Trubridge in my room.

The hotel, just west of downtown, caters to business guests during the week with many using it as a base for a weekend in the city while they shop at the nearby Galleria, which has more than 370 stores, or catch a Texans game or concert.

My favourite feature is the outdoor pool and movie wall where guests can watch a classic Western from the pool or lounger each weekend.


My trip wouldn't have been complete without visiting a true Texan Cowboy store.

We found family owned store in Denton, Foster's Western Wear and Saddle Shop.

Chance Foster told us his grandfather started the business 50 years ago.

He learnt to work with leather after being kicked in the leg by a mule. He'd since passed his skills down the generations.

It takes Chance just 10 minutes to shape a hat by shaving and steaming it to the customer's specification.

I couldn't resist his Texas charm and walked out the store with my very own Texan boots.


- Tracey Chatterton travelled to Houston courtesy of Air New Zealand and was a guest of Visit Houston.