My Top 5 Favourite Islands

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

Last summer I wrote a series on some of my Favourite destinations. But one of these lists needed some serious updating after my travel adventures over the past 12 months. So without any further ado, here is my updated list of favourite island escapes.

Spanning five unique countries, all of the islands on my list have one important thing in common: stunning natural beauty.

Top 5 Favourite Islands

Galiano Island, BC

This lovely little gem in the Gulf Islands is the nearest to Vancouver making it a perfect weekend getaway or even day-trip from the mainland. Very few people live here year round, but those that do love it’s laid back vibe and tight knit community. Galiano is the only place where I’ve ever felt safe enough to hitch hike or leave my bike unattended. They even have a free store and a free book store where you are welcome to take whatever you like – no donations required. With stunning views from the top of Mt Galiano, lovely trails near Montague harbour, and the friendliest locals around – It’s no wonder I have come to consider Galiano my second home.

Mt Galiano Viewpoint

Hvar, Croatia

If you are looking for an intoxicating blend of old world charm, exhilarating night life, and ruggedly beautiful coastline, then look no further than Hvar. Touted as the sunniest spot in Europe, this beautiful island on the Dalmatian Coast convinced me that it would make a perfect Honeymoon destination. A consistent contender on many top 10 lists – it’s no surprise that Hvar easily holds its own among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

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Capri, Italy

I just can’t get enough of the Amalfi Coast and especially my favourite little piece of la dolce vita – Capri! Twice I’ve visited this lovely island off the coast of Naples and twice is not nearly enough time to soak it all up. Famous for its dazzling Blue Grotto and beloved for its majestic Cliffside vistas, Capri is the perfect place to soak up luxurious Italian living.

Capri, Italy

Maui, Hawaii

Oh Maui… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Before I first visited Maui, I had previously been to Oahu twice. And I thought it was great. Then, I went to Maui and now I wonder why anyone even bothers going to Honolulu because Maui is E V E R Y T H I N G ! Less crowded than bustling Waikiki, Maui offers a more laid back vibe but still delivers a ton of activity if you want it. In my four day escape I lay on gorgeous beaches, snorkeled with sea turtles, drove the winding and scenic road to Hana, summited a volcano, and ate my heart out. I still look forward to visiting the other islands in the future but for now I am content with my version of paradise!

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Santorini, Greece

Located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece is Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world – and for good reason! I fell head over flip flops for the spectacular caldera views, beautiful beaches, cliff-side villages, amazing restaurants, and friendly local hospitality. Santorini was a dream destination for me and it absolutely lived up to all the hype. I had one of my favourite travel days of all time while riding an ATV around the island and touring the nearby wineries. It was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost pained me to leave. I will definitely be back someday!

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What’s your favourite island escape?

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From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

With only four full days in Maui – it was extra important to prioritize the activities that we most wanted to see. And one place that I didn’t feel right about skipping was the massive Haleakala volcano. Maui’s highest peak makes up approximately 75% of the island’s landmass, so in many ways Haleakala IS Maui.

After checking out of our Airbnb condo rental and loading up our trusty rental car, we set off for our last major Maui adventure. The drive from our base in Kihei to the summit took approximately two hours. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the 10023 foot summit – the world’s highest elevation gain in the shortest distance. With that kind of elevation gain happening, altitude sickness was a mild concern. However we didn’t plan to do any major hiking so we ended up just fine.

At one point we were completely engulfed in dense clouds and wondered if we would even be able to see anything from the summit. Fortunately, we soon emerged from the clouds and were delighted by the view from the lookouts on the way up. The scenery was dramatically different from everything we had previously seen on Maui.

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Can you believe that on the drive to the summit, we passed through just as many ecosystems as you would if you drove from Mexico to Canada! At times the landscape was so foreign that it appeared as if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the moon!

We decided to head up mid-day to avoid the crazy crowds at sunrise and sunset. Although I’m sure the views are stunning at those times of day, we weren’t disappointed with our view at all. We lucked out and had a beautiful, sunny, clear day. From the summit we could even see neighbouring Moana Loa over on the Big Island.

IMG_3523 IMG_0717The summit of Haleakala is above one third of the Earth’s atmosphere and has excellent astronomical seeing conditions. The limited light pollution combines to make one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes.

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There are so many ways to explore the Haleakala National Park. This trip was really just a teaser of what’s to come. Next time that I visit Maui, I want to try (1) a cycle tour from the summit, (2) paragliding!!, (3) hiking down into the crater, and (4) checking out the famous sunrise!

It’s easy to see what people love about Maui and why it truly is paradise. I’m clearly smitten and I know I’ll be back!

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Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.

This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!

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With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.

These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:

Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand

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The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.

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Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana

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We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!

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Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park

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Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.

The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.

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Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach

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Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.

Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park

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You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.

I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.

Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.

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The Way Back

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Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.

If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!

My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.

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So in conclusion I leave you with a few words of advice if you plan to do the Road to Hana for yourself.

Top 8 Hana Survival Tips:

1. Pull over for faster vehicles

This one is more about etiquette and the aloha spirit. On one lane roads, it is just better for everyone if you let the speeders pass you by.

2. Plan for a full day and leave early

We left our condo just after 7am and returned just after 7pm (post-sunset). I’m not a fan of driving those roads in the dark and it really is a full day. Beat the crowds and start early.

3. Leave with a Full tank of Gas

There are no gas stations between Paia and Hana so do not make the mistake of expecting to find gas on the road.

4. Find good music

My favourite part about road trips is singing loudly and car dancing with friends. Katie and I fell madly in love with the station 99.9 Kiss FM – Maui’s Best Mix of Yesterday & Today. One minute you’re belting it out to Sam Smith and the next minute you’re dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! What could be better than that?

5. Prepare for Rain

Hana is lush and tropical for good reason. It is one of the most rained on places on Earth, so be prepared with something to dry off with and some protection if you plan on walking around a lot.

6. Eat the Banana Bread

I don’t care if you don’t like bananas – eat the bread! Yes, I am bossy. You’ll thank me later.

7. Don’t Stop Everywhere, but do stop where you want

As I mentioned, the best stops are past Hana so if you stop at every bridge and shoulder with a view you are never going to make it in one day. We definitely made some unplanned stops because the view was just too good not to but we definitely passed on a lot of spots. Trust me, you will see amazing things no matter what!

8. Bring snacks and water

There are not a lot of restaurants between Paia and Hana (and basically nothing on the backside) so we packed a full day of snacks and water so that we would have enough energy to tackle all of the awesome sights on the way. Plus we never had to wait in lines to buy food. Efficiency is sexy people!

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Our little engine that could – 2014 Ford Focus

If you can stomach up the courage to rent a car and drive the Road to Hana, I highly recommend it. In this case it really is (as cliché as it sounds) all about the journey, not the destination.

What about you? Have you ever consider driving the Road to Hana?

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

I like to consider myself a fairly adventurous person. I love heights (and jumping from heights). I will eat pretty much anything. I enjoy road trips, climbing, hiking, and camping. I grew up exploring a wide variety of water sports from tubing to knee boarding to wake boarding. But for some reason I’ve always been a little bit frightened of the ocean.

Even though I live on the beach and could spend all day every day looking at the blue waves crashing on the seashore, I’m still a bit hesitant to merge my land loving life with what lies under the sea. I think it has to do with all of the deadly sea creatures just waiting to sting, bite, and dismember me. But, fortunately, I know that this fear is mostly irrational (but not entirely – shark attacks happen people!) and I have taken the plunge in many beautiful spots around the world… most notably snorkeling in the Red Sea and the South China Sea. And if truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling.

So on my recent trip to Maui I decided to join my aquaphile bestie on yet another snorkel trip. I knew it would be fun but I certainly didn’t expect it to be the highlight of my trip!

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Molokini Crater

We started off the day at Maalaea harbor where we boarded the Pride of Maui and took our seats for a one hour sail to the first stop. We knew we were in for an excellent day when the crew was already serving my favourite Kona coffee at registration. We filled up on delicious Maui pineapple at the breakfast buffet and braced ourselves for what was shaping up to be a fabulous day!

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Our first stop was the beautiful Molokini crater, which offers exceptionally clear water with visibility reliably in excess of 150 feet. The healthy coral reef is sheltered in the arms of the crater creating an amazing underwater sanctuary. And to Katie’s delight… a bird sanctuary above. Her major dilemma of the day was how to manage her face time… in the water vs. looking up at the sky. Molokini snorkeling is truly a unique experience, as there are only 3 volcanic calderas including Molokini in the entire world!

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We swam for about an hour enjoying the calm currents and thousands of fish. My fears were completely forgotten as I eagerly asked Katie to identify all of the brightly coloured fish I was seeing. It turns out that it is pretty handy having a science/marine/animal expert for a travel buddy.

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Back on board we set sail again for our second stop of the day – Turtle Town. While we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch we spotted North Pacific Humpback whales in the distance. This was a thrilling surprise as whale season was just wrapping up and we weren’t expecting to see any on our trip. We eventually settled just off the Southern coast of Maui near Nahuna point where we hoped to be able to swim with the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

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This area is home for the protected sea turtles who were soon bombarded with snorkelers ignoring the rules to stay 10 feet away and not swim overtop of the surface breathing reptiles. I got a bit frustrated by the crowds so I swam off on my own and quickly found my own personal turtle to observe for over 20 minutes. I swam alongside as my new little friend surfaced and dove down to the volcanic coral. I feel so privileged to have experienced that moment.

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I was beyond elated when I climbed back aboard the Pride of Maui for an early happy hour at the open bar. Katie and I raised our Mai Tai’s in the air to celebrate a truly wonderful morning that we won’t soon forget.

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The Best Food I ate in Maui

The Best Food I ate in Maui

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” ― Anthony Bourdain

I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination but I do love to eat. And to me, experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best parts about travel.

When I casually mentioned to friends and family that I was going to Maui for a quick long weekend getaway I was flooded with enough restaurant recommendations to easily feed me for 3 weeks. I had to prioritize all of the delicious local delicacies due to my limited time and these were the meals that topped my list.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Coconut Syrup: 5 Palms Restaurant in Wailea IMG_3517 If you have not had coconut syrup on pancakes then you haven’t truly lived. It is without-a-doubt the best topping and is best experienced in Hawaii where everything tastes more tropical and delicious.

Fish Tacos: Paia Fish Market in Paia IMG_3396 If I could eat fish tacos every day, I think I probably would. There is an abundance of amazing fish tacos to be found on Maui and these ones made of the tropical Ono fish (meaning “sweet, very good to eat”) definitely hit the spot.

Ali’i Plate: Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina IMG_3408 We didn’t have time to attend a luau during our short 4-day stay in Maui, so instead we opted for a luau on a plate. This authentic Hawaiian dish included many famous delicacies such as Kalua Pig, Lau Lau, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Hoaloha Farm’s Poi and Haupia.

Breaded Mahi Sandwich & Taro Chips: Da Kitchen in Kahului IMG_3539 I first tried Mahi Mahi on my first trip to Hawaii back in 2005 on the island of Oahu. It has been one of my absolute favourite fish ever since and I certainly couldn’t leave Maui without enjoying some once again. The taro chips were an excellent addition – I love a good root vegetable!

The Original Banana Bread: Halfway to Hana Snack Shop in Haiku IMG_3459 We attempted to sample the banana bread at Auntie Sandy’s in Ke’eane on our Road to Hana adventure but alas it was closed for the Easter holiday. Fortunately, the snack shack at “Halfway to Hana” delivered in a big way as this was some of the best banana bread I’ve ever tasted. Apparently it’s “the original” banana bread so with a claim like that it should be pretty delicious.

On this trip we also enjoyed Shave Ice (not shaved ice as I incorrectly called it many times), Fresh Maui Pineapple, delicious Kona Coffee, all the Mai Tai’s, and my new favourite gelato flavour – Sandy Beach (think peanut butter, graham crackers, coconut, and salted caramel…mmm).

Stay tuned for more Maui updates. We packed a lot of activity into a four day trip so let the highlight reel continue!

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

Packing is one of those topics that people surprisingly seem to love. After my last packing-related post was a gigantic hit I vowed to start sharing more of them (since you know I’m making these list anyways).

This is my packing list for a four day girlfriend getaway to Maui in April.

This will be my third time visiting the Hawaiian isles so I already have an idea about what to pack. The real challenge here is fitting everything into my trusty carry-on suitcase and an over-sized purse. The only reason that I am able to travel as much as I do is by cutting extra costs wherever I can… and the last place I want to spend my money is baggage fees. So here’s how I packed for a carry-on only vacation.

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I like grey and black… apparently even in tropical destinations.

CLOTHING AND SHOES

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  • 1 pairs of jeans (for the plane and volcano summit)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 beach cover-up
  • 4 tops (1 t-shirt, 3 sleeveless)
  • 2 cardigans (for the plane, chilling evenings, air-conditioned restaurants)
  • 1 fleece jacket (for the top of the volcano)
  • 2 bikinis (following the wash one, wear one rule)
  • 1 set of sleepwear
  • 4 pairs of underwear + 2 bras
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of bandelettes
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 long scarf (for the plane or to use as a shawl)

Note: I used three packing cubes for my clothing: 1 for dresses/bottoms, 1 for tops/cardigans, 1 for underwear/swim suits IMG_3351 TOILETRIES & ACCESSORIES

  • Stella & Dot Hang On Travel Case (toiletries/make-up/jewelry) – mine is sold out, but click the link for a similar version.
  • Norwex Cloth
  • Small Medicine Bag (kleenex, band-aids, meds)
  • Travel Flat Iron
  • 1 Pair of Sunglasses

ELECTRONICS

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  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Travel Documents & Insurance
  • Tote Bag (for beach use)
  • Small Purse (for day use)
  • Ear Plugs
  • Travel Journal / Pen