Departure Lounge: New Zealand

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

I’m over-the-top excited about my next big travel adventure.

In just 6 weeks I finally get to visit my #1 Dream Destination – N E W  Z E A L A N D !

I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and have been obsessed with New Zealand ever since I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2002. Since then, I’ve learned more about the country through friends, family, and strangers on the Internet and my fascination has only grown. I’ve been told that it is very similar to my beloved BC, which is fantastic because I think I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

With all the traveling that I’ve done over the past 15 years, it’s hard to believe that I haven’t been to New Zealand before. It seems that the two-month window that I’ve been waiting to find in my calendar has yet to appear. So, I’m making the most of the 2.5 weeks available to see as much as possible. I just can’t wait any longer!

I have a jam packed itinerary, which includes visiting friends and family and taking in a tour of the South Island with travel blogger extraordinaire and NZ resident, Liz Carlson, of Young Adventuress. I’m so excited to experience this country with locals and to maybe even pick up some photography tricks from Liz.

I know I won’t be able to check everything off my bucket list this time, so hopefully this is just the beginning.

Itinerary

March 19: Auckland

March 20: Matamata & Rotorua

March 21-22: Orari

March 23: Christchurch & Lake Tekapo

March 24-25: Queenstown

March 26-27: Wanaka

March 28-29: Franz Josef

March 30-31: Punakaiki

April 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park

April 3-4: Wellington

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Channeling my inner Baggins in Hobbiton.
  • Zorbing in Rotorua
  • Glacier Hiking at Franz Josef
  • Cruising the awe-inspiring Milford Sound
  • Visiting the WETA studios in Wellington where LOTR came to life!

 

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Any recommendations or travel tips?

2016: A Year in Review

2016: A Year in Review

Let’s all breathe a collect sigh of relief that 2016 is over. Although, this year wasn’t so terrible for me personally, I know that it was pretty rough for many others. Health scares, miscarriages, terrorist attacks, school stabbings, the fentanyl epidemic, record breaking rain, devastating natural disasters, skyrocketing real estate, the ongoing crisis in Syria, a relentless string of celebrity deaths, and an election season that sucked the life out of everyone. I think I speak for us all when I say, 2016 – good riddance.

But, all that being said, there is still so much of the past 12 months to be grateful for. I made so many new friends and was able to both visit and host friends from far away. It was a transition year for me professionally as I started a fantastic new job in February. As my priorities shifted to spending more time focused on work, this in turn caused a slight dip in my world travels. However, I still managed to maximize weekend getaways and finally hit my milestone 30th country.

As I look back on 2016, I want to remember the good and carry forward a message of hope. There’s still a lot of love and light in the world and nothing teaches that better than travel. So with that being said, here is a look back on my travel adventures during the past 365 days.

1. Seattle, Washington (January)

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I successfully continued my streak of celebrating the new year in a different city for the 3rd year in a row. After a night of feting and fireworks at the Experience Music Project, we began 2016 by exploring Seattle’s Underground City and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. We lucked out with bright blue skies and although I’ve been to Seattle more times than I can remember, this visit was probably my favourite.

2. San Diego, California (February)

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There are few things that I cherish more than my annual trip to San Diego. It is one of my top 10 favourite cities and home to my dear friend Jennie. This trip was extra special as I got to meet her daughter Maggie for the first time. Baby in tow we visited old favourites like La Jolla and Pacific Beach and finally got around to visiting Balboa Park.

3. Victoria, BC (February)

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As I mentioned, I started a new job in February (woo!) and gave myself a week break in between (something I highly recommend). This was the perfect opportunity to tag along with my travel buddy Mindy on a couple of hotel site-visits in our provincial capital. We split our two nights between the Fairmont Empress and the Delta Grand. I got a horrible cold on the way over and it poured rain almost the entire time. But fortunately, I had a great friend and a lovely city to cheer me up.

4. Nanaimo, BC (March)

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I took off for my first business trip with my new job after merely 10 days. With just a 20 minute Harbour Air flight I was in Nanaimo, a commute that would become familiar as I made three additional trips in 2016. I haven’t got the chance to fully explore the area as a tourist but I do love any time I can get on the island. And, I’m a sucker for a seaplane ride, especially when I get to sit up front with the pilot!

5. Calgary / Banff, Alberta (March)

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For Easter weekend, my extended family descended upon Calgary for my cousin Jordan’s wedding. Essentially everybody attending was from out of province, which made it a family reunion of sorts. The wedding itself was at an incredibly picturesque spot in the foothills and it was great to catch up with all my relatives. The trip highlight was definitely when a pack of my cousins and I hit up Mt. Norquay in Banff for a day of skiing. I was thrilled to be back on the slopes after a five year hiatus (how did that happen?) and relieved to know that I hadn’t forgotten how to ski.

6. Bowen Island, BC (April)

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Our third annual girls getaway was yet another huge success. This year we went to nearby Bowen Island, which is quite possibly the easiest and most relaxing city escape for Vancouverites. Just a short half hour ferry ride landed us on a beautiful little island in a quaint cottage with lakes and hiking at our door step. We once again lucked into perfect spring weather and spent most of our time drinking wine and catching up with Rachel, freshly back from 9 months in Quebec. Four years post-university and we’re still going strong.

7. Montreal, Quebec (May)

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This year I decided to see more of my home country. That may have had something to do with the exchange rate, but mostly because Canada is amazing. On the top of my list was Montreal, where I wouldn’t have to break out my grade school French but could still get a major dose of culture. I met up with my friend Katie, who recently moved to Ontario, and checked ourselves into an adorable apartment near Le Plateau. The summer temperatures and festival atmosphere made for a super fun weekend. We ate poutine and bagels and watched Cirque de Soleil and rode bikes through the Old Town at night. It was a great intro to Quebec and I look forward to exploring more of the province in the future.

8. North Cascades National Park, Washington (July)

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This year’s annual camping trip occurred over the Canada Day long weekend at a super secret camp ground in the states. Thanks to my expert camper friends we enjoyed a quiet weekend floating on a mostly deserted lake with warm but not hot weather. Basically just eating and playing board games and sitting around a camp fire. We also may or may not have decorated our tents with Canadian flags and paraded through the campground with face tattoos. Yup – we are those people.

9. Whistler, BC (July)

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It wouldn’t be summer in the Pacific Northwest if I didn’t take a trip to Whistler, and lucky for my bank account, this time it was for work. The sunny weather only lasted one evening but it was still fun to run around in the forest with our senior manager group – who knew accountants were so competitive? It also didn’t hurt that we were staying at the Westin. #workperks

10. Kelowna, BC (August)


One of my favourite summer traditions is heading to Kelowna with all my extended family. I have several Aunt’s and Uncle’s who have places on the Lake and between them we have two boats. So this past August I spent 2 days wakeboarding and wine tasting with my pack of 20 something cousins. It was fantastic! I’m continually thankful for a family that I actually really like to hang out with.

11. Chicago, Illinois (September)

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I cannot for the life of me figure out why Chicago doesn’t get more buzz. It’s such a fantastic city. Great food and entertainment in a gorgeous setting on Lake Michigan. My first trip to the windy city was with my perennial travel buddy Mindy. We took a red eye flight and made the most of the Labour Day long weekend. We crammed in everything from deep dish pizza to the famed architecture boat tour to comedy at Second City. If it wasn’t for the winters, I could totally see myself living in Chi-town one day.

12. New York City, New York (October)

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After nearly nine years, I finally made it back to New York City. This time in early autumn, which I think is probably the most perfect time to visit the Big Apple. Once again accompanied by Mindy, we conquered a giant portion of our NYC bucket list. My most memorable activities were visiting the 9/11 Museum and attending the off-broadway show Sleep No More. Seriously, you must experience this show! But what surprised me the most was how overwhelmed I felt by the crowds. I’m a total city girl and usually love the hustle and bustle, but NYC took it out of me. I found myself craving nature and some quiet time in the park. I guess that’s why Vancouver is the perfect city for me.

13. Taiwan (November)

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Taiwan was an unexpected surprise stopover on route to Thailand. We had a full day to explore, which was made even easier by the free half-day tours offered at the Taipei airport. We visited a temple, and made pastries, and attempted to chat with the locals. It was such a low stress way to kick start our vacation.

14. Thailand (November)

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My 30th country! I was so deliriously happy to be on vacation in a warm, tropical destination. It was made even better by the fact that my sister-in-law tagged along to help me enjoy all the affordable luxuries available in Southeast Asia. Cheap massages and tailors and beer, oh my! I was slightly concerned about visiting Thailand in the wake of their beloved king’s death, but even in mourning, the Thai people blew me away with their kindness and generosity. I know this won’t be my last trip to the Land of Smiles.

15. Portland, Oregon (December)

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Another annual tradition is forming, where I  make the 5 hour drive down the I-5 to visit my cousins in Portland. My only goals for this particular trip were beer and brunch, both easily accomplished within hours of my arrival. Fortunately, the weather gods smiled upon us and we were able to spend the entire day on Sunday adventuring in the Columbia River Gorge, one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. We stopped for a panorama view at Vista House and at the famous Multnomah Falls for a photo-op and then hiked to Wahclella Falls (pictured above) nearly in solitude. We even had time to drive over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington to stop at the Panther Creek Falls (yes, more waterfalls!) before we ran out of daylight (take that TLC). It’s no wonder that US Congress recognized this area as the largest National Scenic area in America.

16. Vernon, BC (December)

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My final getaway of 2016 was to the stunning Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa in Vernon, BC. My family Christmas celebrations got moved earlier in the month so I was free to grab my girl Erica for a spa getaway that has ruined me for all future spas. The sprawling hotel is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Okanagan and lavished with Swarovski crystal decor. It was luxurious and relaxing and definitely worth the slightly harrowing drive up the Coquihalla highway.

2016: By the Numbers

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones) –  USA / TaiwanThailand

States Visited: 5 (1 new one) – Washington / California / Illinois / New York / Oregon

Provinces Visited: 3 (1 new one) – British Columbia / Alberta / Quebec

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Other Modes of Transportation: 8 ferries, 2 buses, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 12 (YVR, YXX, YYC, YOW, YUL, YYZ, BLI, SAN, ORD, EWR, BKK, TPE)

Kilometres Flown in 2016: 44, 542

Beds Slept In: 21. Of those, 11 were hotels, 5 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were Airbnb rentals, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

Blog Posts: 14 (eek… I was really lazy on the blogging front this year)

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Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

When I chose Thailand for a weeklong vacation, my only goal was relaxation. I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to see everything on my wish list so I didn’t even try. Someday when I have more time, I will return to the Land of Smiles to explore all the jungles, beaches, and temples that my heart desires.

In the meantime, I set my sights on Lonely Beach. After a couple of nights in bustling Bangkok, my sister-in-law Faith and I journeyed to the most Eastern edge of Thailand to its second biggest island, Koh Chang.

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Koh Chang is one of the lesser known tourist destinations in Thailand, which was exactly what appealed to me. Quiet. Beautiful. Secluded. The perfect spot for our “sistermoon” and perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Southeast Asia.

Upon arrival at the 3 star Warapura Resort we quickly fell into a blissfully relaxing daily routine. Each morning we woke at our leisure in our private waterfront villa and enjoyed breakfast by the ocean. After sipping on Americanos and lazying around in hammocks, we walked down to the white sand beach.

Once we got to the beach, we rented beach chairs and an umbrella and set up camp for the day. The aptly named Lonely beach was sparsely populated with soft white sand and crystal clear turquoise water as warm as a bath. It was pure heaven and I never wanted to leave. We spent most of our time in the water, taking breaks to quench our thirst with the local Chang beer. It’s a tough life.

 

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After we had our daily fill of Vitamin D we walked back to our home away from home to shower off the salt water and catch up on wifi time. Our location on the western side of the island was ideal for coupling happy hour cocktails with sunset watching each evening. I’ll never tire of fiery skies.

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One of the best things about Thailand is the affordable luxury. Each evening we ordered authentic Thai dishes like pad thai, papaya salad and mango sticky rice for just a few dollars and pampered ourselves with pedicures and massages that would cost 5 times more at home.

I can’t say enough good things about this little slice of paradise and the opportunity to get a week of quality time with my sis. It was short and sweet and simply the best! I’m so glad that I opted for an untraditional vacation destination. It was definitely worth the long flight.

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 What’s the most relaxing vacation you’ve taken? Where should I go next?

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

For someone who has visited over 300 cities across 6 continents, I’ve sadly seen very little of my own country by comparison. When the Canadian dollar started to tank towards the end of last year, I decided that 2016 would be the year of Canada. I called up my friend Katie in Toronto and organized a long weekend in Montreal, a city I’ve wanted to visit for years. It would be the first time in Quebec for us both. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as it turns out, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

I took a red-eye flight, arriving in Montreal early Saturday morning. After waking Katie up in our adorable Airbnb apartment and enjoying a wake-up coffee on our lovely terrace, we set off to to explore.

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Feeling fresh on no sleep – Take that jet lag!

Lachine Canal

We didn’t intentionally go looking for the canal but somehow I’m always drawn to the water. When we stumbled across the Lachine Canal we decided to take advantage of the warm weather and stroll along the path to the Old Port. Along the way we discovered that the park is also a National Historic Site and the third most beautiful urban circuit in the world as ranked by Time magazine in 2009.

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Vieux Port

After walking the canal we ended up in the Old Port which is by far the most touristy part of Montreal. We strolled the cobblestone streets, visited the stunning Notre Dame cathedral, and spontaneously bought tickets to the latest Cirque du Soleil show, Luzia. We simply couldn’t pass the opportunity to see Cirque in the place where it originated. It was a fantastic Mexican inspired production that wowed me even as a long-time fan. We even had the privilege of running into several of the star performers later the next day when they were casually doing back flips in the street. When in Montreal…

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I’ve already written about all the delicious food that we ate in Montreal but my favourite location was certainly Chez Suzette. We had a lovely spot in the window where we could enjoy our crepes and some epic people watching. Basically the perfect setting for our 10 year friendaversary celebration!

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Mont Royal

On Day 2 my main objective was to visit the Mont Royal park, which I didn’t realize is actually a large volcanic hill/small mountain. I heard that there was a great viewpoint, which should have tipped me off that we would have a climb ahead of us to reach the Chalet. It was well worth the effort for the views and subsequent relaxing in the park.

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Parc Jean Drapeau

The rest of our day was a bit haphazard. We had a plan to check out the first day of the Piknic Électronik, an EDM festival that happens every Sunday throughout the summer at Parc Jean Drapeau. However, by the time we got there, the line to buy tickets was so long that we figured we wouldn’t make it inside by closing. So, instead we opted to try out the much touted bike share and get ourselves some Bixis. We rode around the park and then ultimately decided to find our way back to the Old Port. A lot easier said than done considering the lack of bike lanes and the steep incline to the bridge. We made it across though and were rewarded again with some lovely views of the city.

Along the way we made friends with Samantha from LA and the three of us spent the rest of the evening riding through the city, searching for night life, and making friends with locals. It was one of those spontaneous nights that made me feel fully alive, like this is what it means to be young and adventurous and free.

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We ended our trip on Monday with a relaxing walk through our neighbourhood to a local Polish bakery.

Montreal is completely unique to any city I’ve ever been before. The history and language made it feel slightly European, while still maintaining a distinctly Canadian feel. The people were so friendly and the city was notably vibrant and energetic.

At the end of any trip, I’m always wishing for at least one more day. But, even though I didn’t scratch every item off my wish-list, I had a truly memorable starter weekend in Montreal. I have a feeling that I’ll be back. Until next time… À bientôt Montréal! 

 

2015: A Year in Review

2015: A Year in Review

How do I even begin to describe the past year? Chaotic. Exhausting. Incredible. It was chock-a-block full of highs and lows. I rode the wave of awesome that was 2014 through the first few months until things took a turn in April when work stress started to take a toll on me. Then when an apartment flood hit in July – my life felt like it was spiraling out of control. The one constant in my roller coaster year was travel, in epic proportions. Travel is my source of inspiration, energy, excitement, and joy. So I squeezed more travel into 12 months than I thought was humanly possible. And you know what… it saved me. I closed out 2015 with a self-care trip to Australia and now as 2016 approaches… I feel rejuvenated and completely at peace. Here’s a look back at my crazy year!

1. Barcelona, Spain (January)

I couldn’t have been more delighted to kick off 2015 in one of my new favourite cities, Barcelona! This wasn’t my first time in the Catalonian capital but it was certainly my best. Gaudi, tapas, magical fountains… What’s not to love? My travel BFF Megan and I celebrated in true spanish style with Cava, a dozen grapes, and thousands of new friends at the Plaça d’Espanya! Feliz Ano Nuevo!

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Park Guell

2. Amsterdam, Netherlands (January)

On my way home from Spain I ended up with a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam… just enough time to get out of the airport and take a Sunday morning stroll through the quiet cobblestone streets and picturesque canals. It was the perfect way to stretch my legs and re-visit a city that I quite enjoy!

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3. San Diego, California (February)

One of my favourite winter haunts is Southern California. And the city that calls me back time and time again is San Diego. This visit took me back to some favourite spots like Coronado Island and introduced me to some new neighbourhoods like the Gaslamp District. I can’t wait to return again next winter!

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

4. Portland, Oregon (March)

When my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily relocated to Portland last year, I knew that many trips were in my future. After all, it’s only a 6 hour drive from Vancouver. I had mixed feelings after my first visit in 2014 but my second trip convinced me that Portland really is worth the hype. I’m a firm believer in the weekend getaway and now I’ve got PDX fixed in my GPS. This trip was made even better by yet another reunion with my friend Megan. We just keep meeting up all over the world – and I love it!

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5. Maui, Hawaii (April)

This year I convinced my best friend Katie to do something a little bit crazy… Go to Maui for the weekend! The Easter long weekend to be more specific. I had both Good Friday and Easter Monday off work so we flew out Thursday evening and took the red-eye back on Monday night. I came straight to work from the airport and didn’t use even one vacation day for my island escape. Now, that’s how you travel the world with a full time job! I had been to Oahu before but this was my first time to Maui – a place that I have quickly dubbed PARADISE ON EARTH! I will be back, that I know for sure.

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6. Cultus Lake, BC (April)

This spring I spent a weekend revisiting one of my favourite childhood haunts. Cultus Lake was a frequent stomping ground for my family back in the day and also the spot where I attended summer camp as a kid. It holds so many wonderful memories of learning to canoe and building sand castles and playing capture the flag in the forest. And on a weekend retreat with friends, it was a calming and restorative respite from the city life.

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7. Halfmoon Bay, BC (May)

Our second annual girls weekend was a roaring success. Last year we visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Northwest Washington and had a really lovely time. This year we ventured to my new favourite local getaway – the Sunshine Coast. We rented a gorgeous cabin from Airbnb right on Secret Cove in Halfmoon Bay and spent a blissful spring weekend of tranquility and quality girl time. Everything about this weekend was perfection!

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8. Salt Spring Island, BC (May)

At the last minute I decided to join in on a surprise birthday trip to Salt Spring Island to celebrate my friend Sarah. Her husband rented a house for a group of friends and we had a very relaxing weekend visiting breweries, wineries, cheese farms, and beaches. I already had a second trip planned for later in the summer so it was really just a teaser of coming attractions. I just can’t get enough of the Gulf Islands!

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9. Greece (June)

Me and #TeamTravel kickstarted our European summer adventure in Athens, Greece before checking into a villa on Santorini for the island escape that dreams are made of. I could use every superlative in the dictionary and still fall short of describing how much I love Santorini. It’s ridiculous and y’all just need to go. Now.

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10. Turkey (June/July)

With just over a week in Turkey we were able to visit some of the most impressive natural wonders and ancient ruins I’ve ever seen from Ephesus to Pamukkale to my trip highlight – Riding a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia! I sincerely hope I get to return someday because this country has so much more to offer.

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11. Whistler, BC (July)

This year, my annual summer retreat to beautiful Whistler village was a little different than usual. Instead of calm walks by the lake and shopping in the village, I joined a group of 11 ladies to celebrate my friend Crystal’s upcoming marriage. No matter the season or the occasion, Whistler never disappoints and this was no exception. Hands down, the best Bachelorette party I’ve ever attended.

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12. Oregon Coast (July)

In mid-July I ended up having a major personal crisis when an apartment leak forced me to temporary relocate for 3 months. I won’t get into the painful saga here but know that it was rough. Mere days after the initial destruction, I was fortunately able to escape the chaos with some of my favourite people (read: cousins) and hideaway in the sleepy town of Gearhart on the Oregon Coast… something that has been on my bucket list for far too long. It was exactly what I needed in that moment and I’m so glad I have such an amazing family that I get to call friends.

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13. Golden Ears Provincial Park, BC (August)

I’m a self-proclaimed city girl. I like civilization, amenities, and the hustle, bustle of crowded streets. It’s so exciting to me! That being said, I definitely enjoy nature A LOT. I’m just not going to win any outdoor woman of the year contests any time soon. Camping doesn’t sit near the top of my to-do list pretty much ever, but if it is well organized and with great people, then I do enjoy the experience. This year, I even agreed to camp on a rainy, chilly weekend so feel free to praise me in the comments. Really, it was just an excuse to play games, drink wine, and listen to all the Taylor Swift.

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14. Salt Spring Island, BC (August)

My second trip to Salt Spring Island (this year!) occurred on the very same weekend as a massive windstorm. Fortunately the Gulf islands didn’t get hit quite as bad as Metro Vancouver where over 500,000 people lost power. We rode out the storm by touring the local wineries, visiting a pretty fantastic farmer’s market, and even testing out some paddle boats (not to be confused with SUP – I’m talking old-school, peddle-with-your-feet boats). This weekend was so much more than the activities though. It was quality time with the most important women in my life: my mom, my sister-in-law, and my cousin/BFF who came all the way from Winnipeg to join in on our annual girls weekend. Thanks ladies – Let’s do it again next year!

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15. Alaska (September)

This was the most relaxing vacation of my entire life and couldn’t have come at a better time! I was completely mentally and physically burned out from a ridiculously stressful summer when my parents offered to take my siblings and I on an Alaskan cruise. YES PLEASE! While cruising isn’t exactly my preferred way of travel, in this situation, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I wasn’t bothered by the higher than average age demographic or the less than stimulating onboard activities because all I wanted to do was eat good food and nap as much as humanly possible. And during the few hours each day that I could muster up the energy, we planned some awesome adventures in the incredible Alaskan wilderness: Dog sledding, helicopters, mountain biking, train riding, bear watching, glaciers, and so much more! Thanks Mom and Dad!

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16. Keats Island, BC (September)

I still wasn’t back to normal as September came to a close. And even though binge watching HGTV was the only activity of any interest to me; I knew that a dose of travel could be just the thing to snap me back to life. So I joined some lovely friends for a quiet and reflective weekend on the incredibly beautiful Keats Island just off the Sunshine Coast. There was nothing much to do and that was perfect. Just panoramic sea views and forest walks. Time slowed down and the important things came into focus.

IMG_469017. Greensboro, North Carolina (October)

I had no idea what to expect when I decided to spend a long weekend in North Carolina. Thanks to a couple of perfect weather days and peak autumn foliage, I was pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this part of the world truly is. It didn’t hurt that I was once again reunited with my travel bestie Megan. She is always a fantastic host!

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18. Australia (December)

Australia… how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways! I still have so much to write about my time down under but for now just know that it was the BEST! This trip was somewhat spontaneous (for me) and came about after some soul searching. I realized that I was completely depleted and really needed to take a step back from my life. I requested a leave of absence from my 9-5 and booked a flight to the other side of the world. I split my time between visiting an old friend and embarking on my first true solo travel adventure and it was EVERYTHING! I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Australia. It is different enough to be interesting, yet similar enough to be comfortable. And those beaches… I mean… the rest of the world should just give up. Now that I’m back home and feeling like a new and improved version of myself, I have a brand new dilemma too… how do I return down under? And for longer?!!

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19. Seattle, Washington (December)

To cap off this crazy year, I am continuing with my goal of celebrating New Year’s in a new city each year: 2014 started in New Orleans, I kicked off 2015 in Barcelona, and now I am about to ring in the start of 2016 in Seattle. My friend Mindy and I are going all out with fancy party tickets and a couple nights in a boutique hotel. I can’t wait to get dressed up and be a tourist in a city that feels a lot like home to me. I hope you follow my adventures into the new year!

 

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2015 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 6 (2 new ones) –  Spain / Netherlands / USA / Greece / TurkeyAustralia

States Visited: 6 (2 new ones) – California / Oregon / Hawaii / Alaska / Washington / North Carolina

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Other Modes of Transportation: 11 ferries, 1 cruise ship, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 18 (YVR, BCN, AMS, SAN, LAX, ORD, GSO, OGG, ZRH, ATH, BJV, ASR, IST, YYZ, SYD, BNE, PPP, HTI)

Kilometres Flown in 2015: 71,324

Beds Slept In: 28. Of those, 7 were hotels, 6 were Airbnb apartment rentals, 5 were house rentals, 4 were crashing with family or friends, 2 were in a lodge, one was a cruise ship cabin, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

Blog Posts: 51

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What are your favourite moments of 2015? What are you looking forward to most in the new year?

My 100th Post: The Evolution of a Blog

My 100th Post: The Evolution of a Blog

I am most definitely a celebrator. I love to go to parties. I am big on birthdays (including half birthdays!). And I try not to let major milestones (or minor ones) go by without paying some sort of homage.

Today I am celebrating a mini landmark here on Wandering with Whit. After 5 years of travel blogging I’ve finally hit my 100th post!

For those of you who are new to this site, here’s a bit of a refresher. I actually started this blog way back in 2010 to document my inaugural trip to South America. Back then I was writing under Musings of a Travelista and had only a few lone followers (thanks Mom!). After that trip, I posted sporadically but didn’t really take this whole travel writing thing seriously until last year when I rebranded as Wandering with Whit. Coincidently, 2014 was also my fullest year of travel since my 8-month European backpacking trip in 2005/2006.

Cartagena, Colombia - May 2010

Cartagena, Colombia – May 2010

Writing and Travelling have both been lifelong passions of mine so combining the two here has been more joy than work. However, sometimes I think about all of the unpaid hours that I spend building a blog that I’m not sure anyone wants to read but me. It certainly doesn’t come easily. I struggle with writer’s block and how to continually think of creative, new content. I compare my success to others and wonder if this is all just a waste of my time. I mean, does the world really need another travel blogger? But at the end of the day, I know that I do this for me. I love this little blog and that’s really all that matters. If it is entertaining or helpful or inspiring to others in any capacity, then that truly is icing on the cake (or bacon on the doughnut).

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But, this post is supposed to be a celebration and so I thought I would share some of my favourite posts from the past 5 years. These are subjective so maybe I really liked the photos or I was proud of my writing or maybe the place was just incredible and brings back fantastic memories. It’s my list so I make up the rules :)

Here are some of my favourite blog posts (in no particular order)

The one that started it all

“Jesus Meets the Holly Mother” Posted in: Colombia, South America

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The one with the best/worst stories

“My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments” Posted in: Musings

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The one that was the hardest to write… Seriously, how do you decide?!?

“My Top 10 Favourite Cities” Posted in: Musings, Favourites, Europe, North America, South America

Rome

The one that I refer most frequently

“The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu” Posted in: Peru, South America

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The one that I was the most nervous to post

“The Truth about Portland: Is it Really that Cool?” Posted in: Oregon, USA, North America

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The one that was surprisingly popular

“Packing Hacks: 10 Items I Always Bring Travelling” Posted in: Travel Advice, Packing, Musings

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The one with the photos that warm my heart #westcoastbestcoast

“Photo Essay: Summer in the Pacific Northwest” Posted in: British Columbia, Canada, North America

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

The one about my favourite way to travel

“Leisure vs. Adventure Travel” Posted in: Musings

Camel Time

The one that answers my most frequently asked question

“How to Travel the World when you have a Full-time Job” Posted in: Travel Advice, Musings

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Thanks for reading and for taking a moment out of your day to celebrate with me!

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?