Years ago, HK and I traveled to New Zealand for a month.  He was working for a Fortune 500 company that (generously) gave high-performing employees a month-long sabbatical every 4 years.  It was our first time to fly first class (on Air New Zealand, a fantastic airline.)  We went in February, late summer in New Zealand. Our plan was to rent a car, spend 1 week on the North Island and 3 weeks on the South Island.  That was a good choice, however, we could have spent lots more time in the country and still not experienced it all!

Stepping off "The Ledge"

Our first adventure was in Waitamo, where we took a “Lost World Epic Tour“, a full day of exploring the cave systems in this area. We began with a 325-foot abseil into a seemingly bottomless ravine to get into the cavern. I was petrified when the guide told me to “just step off and enjoy the view.” The descent takes a full 30 minutes, and after the first 3 or 4 minutes, it was a blast!  The next day was even more adrenaline-filled with the Haggas Honking Holes adventure. I highly recommend either (or both) of these day trips to anybody that likes a rush!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be new Zealand’s most spectacular one-day tramp (hike), and one of the finest in the world.  It’s just over 12 miles, but with extremely steep ascents and descents, takes at least 7 hours to complete. Beginning in sub-alpine vegetation, the tramp takes you up the slope of a volcano, to the crater, and down to different-colored emerald green and turquoise blue lakes.  HK and I are strong hikers, but I’m grateful that we took hiking poles to take some of the stress off my knees on the long, steep descent.

Kaikoura

After taking a ferry to the South Island, we headed to the small town of Kaikoura, on the east (Pacific) coast of the Island.  Here we unpacked our bags and settled into a little efficiency apartment for several days.  There is so much to do in Kaikoura, including whale-watching, dolphin sighting, hiking, biking and, of course, eating seafood!  There are several small local crafts shops in the area-a great way to spend a rainy day. We also enjoyed ourselves at the local cinema. We saw “The Full Monty” and had an absolute blast cutting up with the Kiwi’s in the audience. The theater had a 15-minute intermission for smokes and drinks.

Sperm whales and Dusky dolphins are found in abundance in Kaikoura. We spotted 7 whales, then took a small boat a long way offshore and swam in freezing cold water (with wetsuits) with a huge pod of Dusky dolphins. The captain basically lets the dolphins find the swimmers, and I found myself in a pod of about 30 of them. We were instructed not to touch them, just let them do what they wanted to do.  10 minutes was about all we could handle in the water. Hot chocolate was a nice warm-up.

Willy & the Boyz

As a side note, Kaikoura is where we purchased our travel mascot Willy and the Boyz.

Sailing the kayak

The 3-day Abel Tasman adventure combines sea kayaking, water taxi’s and trekking, along with staying in one of the most beautiful little bohemian lodges at Awaroa. Our sea kayaking portion was guided, as the tides in this area can be tricky. In order not to fight the tides at the end of our paddle, we hoisted sail on the kayak and cruised right in to the beach. I swear, I’m going to look into buying one of those little sails for my ‘yak!

When hiking to Awaroa,  it is essential to plan your crossing during low tide. The tides in the estuaries rise quickly, and, having missed our water taxi and window of opportunity, we ended up crossing in what quickly became chin-deep water, hoisting our backpacks over our heads! It was worth the effort, though. On arrival at the lodge, I’ll never forget swinging in a hammock listening to Cat Stevens over the speakers. It was HK’s introduction to one of my favorite artists, and to this day, Cat Stevens always reminds us of New Zealand.

Sledging

We had never heard about white water sledging prior to our trip to NZ.  We’re both fans of rafting in big water, though, and we jumped on the opportunity to steer ourselves down a white-water river on, basically, what looked alot like a kneeboard. A company called Frogz was the outfitter, giving us basic guidelines, transfers and equipment before our put in at “The Gorge” for a full day of over-the-top excitement. The “Chinese Dogleg” was the highlight, a Class IV rapid that begged to be surfed. I love this picture of me yelling “Outta my way” as I surfed over the guy in front of me!

parapenting Lake Wanaka

Wanaka. Asked where in the world I could live, I have often stated, beyond a doubt, Wanaka. This is an adventurers town with more to do in a small area than anywhere else I have been. At least, it was that way in the 90′s. Sitting on our balcony sipping a beer after a strenuous hike, we watched people rising above the mountainous terrain with a parachute. One look at each other, and we ran down to the lakeshore and signed up. Our Tandem parapenting began with a brief instruction from our respective guides, followed by a cable-assisted lift behind a power boat over Lake Wanaka. (I don’t think they do this anymore.) Amazing views of the surrounding area took my breath away. Then the guide unclipped us from our tether and we were gliding at an altitude of 3000 feet. OMG! I have always claimed to be afraid of heights, but this was not terrifying in the least.  I felt like an eagle for the 15 minutes that we soared over mountains. Landing was easy in an open field. (Not so easy for HK, he was captured by a strong gust and landed in the downtown post office parking lot!)

View from Diamond Lake track

1st skydive

OK, I take that back. The “scared of heights” remark. I was in near-panic mode as we climbed to an altitude of 15,000 feet preparing to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. What were we thinking when we signed up for this following our parapenting experience?  I wanted to chicken out, but being a total cheapskate, HK , I, wasn’t about to blow the $$ we’d pre-paid Skydive Wanaka for the jump. So out I went, heart in throat. The freefall was what I assumed was my last cognizant moment of life, until the cord was pulled and we were just as suddenly floating back down to earth. Euphoria consumed me. Landing was a gentle trot on the ground and then I got to watch HK as he came in for an equally graceful descent. If you’ve never skydived, do it. You will literally be on cloud nine for days, maybe weeks!

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth. And our 3-day Milford Track hike was one of the wettest backpack trips we’ve ever taken. Was it worth it? YES! At only 33 miles, it has been called one of the “finest walks in the world”.  We had signed-up for a “guided walk” because a very limited amount of people are allowed on the track at any given time, and since we were on a tight schedule, we played it safe.  Hearty meals, warm, clean lodging and drying rooms to dry our boots and clothing made our first “Hut to Hut” walk so much more pleasant. Plus we met some cool people on our trip. I have to admit, though, when we saw the backpackers on the trail, I felt embarrassed about being so pampered, since we are typically in the backpacking sector.  Then again, seeing their soggy clothes and the sparse huts that accommodated them, I got over that pretty quick.

negotiating more heights

They say it always rains in the rainforest, and that just makes for some outstanding waterfall views.

lush

Milford Sound

Arriving at Milford Sound, we enjoyed a boat ride on the sound, located just off  the Tasman Sea, surrounded by 4000 ft. rainforest and waterfall-clad peaks.  Returning to Queenstown by prop plane, we reflected on our journey through this microcosm of landscapes and climates. The diversity of this land of contrasts makes New Zealand one of my all-time favorite destinations.

Glacier at Joffre Lakes Provincial. Park, BC

While traveling through British Columbia, HK and I camped at Birkenhead Lake, a remote, pristine Provincial Park located about two hours north of Whistler . As we were setting up the pup-up, the park ranger told us there were bears in the campground right now, to watch out for Chance. We kept him on a pretty short leash those couple of days.

Birkenhead Lake Campground

While there, we took a long, strenuous hike through a boulder and scree-field-the result of an avalanche- to Joffre Lakes. Beginning the hike, a fine but steady mist fell on the already saturated ground, making the going slippery and a bit unnerving. Chance went along, but HK had to carry him on the boulder walk.  Roxy and Kismet couldn’t join us due to foot injuries). We passed a few brave souls on the hike, each commenting on what a trooper our little dog was. Chance loves to hike, and pulled his leash and encouraged us every step of the way.

As we climbed and scrambled to seemingly non-stop rocks and mud, the cloud cover dissipated, offering a beautiful vista of the glaciers looming just beyond the lakes.

Joffre Lake

Have you traveled to rural parts of British Columbia? We’d love to see your pictures!

HK andI are hikers. Avid hikers.  We used to be avider (is that a word?) hikers, but time has slowed us down a touch. Plus the fact that we don’t like driving too far to get in a “quick” 6-10 miles. Fortunately, there are many, many options in Vancouver proper that perfectly fit the bill.

Stanley Park is an obvious choice. It is 10% larger than Central Park in NYC, and a 5 mile seawall is the perfect length for a walk or run. Plus there are (more…)

It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to post, mainly because we’ve been “off the grid” of wi-fi. From Sequoia national park to Redwoods to Olympic and Rainier, we’re trying to catch up on blogging the adventure. So here is a recap of  our time in California and Washington. (more…)

the view from our campsite at Zion

So far, we’ve enjoyed Zion Cayon Campground the best. As we had no immediate neighbors, and were set beside the Virgin River, the dogs loved playing in the water and evenings provided us with fantastic stars set between the jagged rocks of the Zion mountains.

the Pup-Up

Hiking The Narrows

We hiked The Narrows, a two and a half hour, upriver trek, where there is no path; the river is your trail. Early on we crossed chin- deep in the 55 degree clear currents. The majority of the hike was knee to crotch deep and we found that holding hands was the safest way to navigate the strength of the river. However, when we tried to pass this info along to other, often clueless, hikers, no one ever heeded our advice.

In fact, the intelligence of some of the hikers was questionable at best. As we rented neoprene booties, special boots, and long sturdy hiking sticks, others attempted the hike in sandals or worse, barefoot. I wondered aloud if these people were just stupid or just too cheap to spring for the shoe rental, but HK warned me to keep it to myself. I did, however, belt out a “You’ve GOT to be kidding” when we saw a guy desperately needing to show off his importance by whipping out his….

ipad! What did you think I was going to say??

navigating the Narrows

 For any sweat-inducing activity, or water-based sports, cotton clothing is a no-no, as it keeps you wet and cold. Quick-dry attire is a must. However, again, the clueless wore bluejeans and tee-shirts, looking miserable, slogging along the waterway in their soaked, clinging clothes.

The morning we went, we watched a short, informative video about the potential dangers, including the risk of flash flooding thru the Narrows Canyons. Hikers have drowned in these floods, and since there was a 70% chance of rain this morning, I admit I was leery. But hey, it would make for a great story, so we prepared for the worst, hoped for the best, and went for it!

The narrows is a very deep canyon that has been cut through the mountain by thousands of years of water running through the mountains. At points, it is impossible to look up and even see the top of the canyon. In many places, there is no escape route in case of a flash flood. Hikers are told of the warning signs of an oncoming flood–a change in the color of the usually clear water, stronger currents and debris flowing downstream, such as logs and other hikers.

It was well worth it. This, so far, has been my favorite hike. There is something about the slightest possibility of danger that feeds my soul and brings out the old risk-taker that I used to be.

At the campground, we met another blogger, Russ, from N.J.. His travel blog is www.raffaytravels.worpress.com. Check them out, it’s a great site. Russ is a teacher, traveling over the summer with his wife and four kids, in their popup. We have camped near them in Moab and Bryce, but only just met in Zion. It’s fun to meet other travelers along the way, and he shared some helpful tips, as well.

We’re off again, but check back, whenever we find reliable, free wi-fi, I will update our adventures.

ready to go!

As promised in my last blog, here are some of my tips and tricks of packing for that upcoming trip, whether it is a long weekend away or a multi-week international adventure. Many of these tips you may already know. Some may sound silly, but this is what I have learned works for me.  I am going to use my upcoming trip to Norway as an example, since I’ll need to bring a variety of clothing for questionable weather conditions. (And because Norway is notoriously expensive, and I DO NOT want to have to purchase anything that I already own).

First and foremost, get everything into a carry-on sized piece of luggage or backpack.  With all of the airlines charging new fees for checking bags (and some even charging for carry-ons), you’ll be doing yourself a big favor to keep your belongings with you.

I use a medium-sized compression sack for my bulky items. For this trip, I have my Gortex rain parka, breathable lightweight sporting jacket (for cooler temps), and wool socks compressed into a neat 7″ x 3″ package.  Since I won’t be wearing those items immediately, they are crammed into the bottom of my daypack.

My 3 pairs of pants are tightly rolled. I have one pair of zip-offs, 1 pair of long hiking pants and 1 pair of comfy lightweight cargos. 2  wick-dri shirts and a cute lightweight button-down, plus a silk turtleneck are the tops I’ve rolled up, and in the empty spaces I have crammed my undies and a pair of LL Bean Mary Janes that are great light-hikers/street shoes.  I will wear my bulkier hiking boots on the plane, then change out of them and put them in overhead once we’re in the air.

compression sack, booze, shoes, Willy. Unfortunately, the dog can't go

I bought a tiny travel umbrellla at Target (my favorite store) on sale for $3.00 in prep for the rain I expect. I also have a waterproof sun hat, along with a cute little cap for bad-hair days. A large scarf that can double as a blanket on the plane will protect me from the cooties on the plane-issued blankets,  plus the fact that some airlines are now charging for them. An inflatable neck pillow will come in handy on the plane as well as long bus trips. An now that TSA only allows a quart-sized baggie to hold all your liquids (in no larger than 3-oz bottles), I went to the package store and purchased 2 little bottles of vodka, thus saving another $7.00 a pop. I’ll put those in w/ my little shampoo and Castile soap, which doubles as body wash and laundry soap.

Last but certainly not least, I have packed Willy and the Boyz, my trusted travel mascot that we purchased from an artisan shop in New Zealand about 15 years ago. Willy et.al. has traveled with us on every trip we have taken, and I consider him my ambassador of good will. (He is featured in an anthology that will be coming out later this year!)

Willy & the Boyz in the Alps

All of that , plus a few extra’s  (gum, coughdrops, book, trail mix…)  fits neatly in my daypack, adhering to the USAir size limitations of 14″ x 9″ x 22″. Pretty good, if I may say so myself!

So pack light, pack smart, and Happy Travels, everybody! I’ll report back on my Norway trip upon my return.

Greetings, peeps! I’m just back from that 5 day trip to Sedona, Arizona, where I reunited with 2 old friends and one new friend.  I’m sure you’ve been on pins and needles waiting to find out how THAT went, right? OK, then, I’ll dish the details, leaving out a couple of the more “special, private” times that will stay saftely sealed in the “Sedona Vault”.

At the airport in Phoenix, I was the last to arrive, and immediately knew that this trip was going to be a good one.  I admit, I was initially shaking like the girl who is about to meet a blind date for the first time, but aside from sporting a few more wrinkles and a little more weight, we really hadn’t changed that much. I would’ve recognized Bertha’s beautiful smile anywhere, and Debbie? The minute she opened her  mouth to holler to me, tons of old memories came rushing back.  More buried memories were uncovered when, after arriving at the condo we were to share, Deb pulled out her old scrapbook and yearbooks. OMG, we hooted until the wee hours!

Quite a bit of time over those 5 days together was spent in deep discussion of who we had been “back when” and where we’d gone since. And I’m not talking about geographical moves here, I’m talking deep shit. From insecure teenagers with a lot to prove to the world to 50-somethings who are maybe still trying to prove ourselves, to ourselves, we had each taken vastly different journeys to ge to where we are today.

During the day, we would head off in seperate directions to do whatever we wanted to do, with no expectations or prescribed itineraries.  As Bertha so eloquently put it, “we have options!” Some of us hiked, some shopped, some hung out and relaxed surrounded by the magical red rock formations that make Sedona such a magical place . Come afternoon, we all came back together over a glass (or several glasses) of wine, sharing tales of our adventures of the day.

The comfort that comes with being old friends (and Sharon, the new friend who we dubbed our “Lil’ Sistah”) brings with it saftey and an acceptance that I find very hard to describe. From foot rubs to late nite pajama parties, singing at the tops of our lungs (and video taping it!) to crying on shoulders then laughing so hard we nearly peed on ourselves, it all came naturally. It is very liberating not to have to censor yourself for fear of rejection. (Shit, if we were gonna reject each other, I figure it would’ve happened 30-some odd years ago, right?)

How many people actually get the chance to reconnect with old friends in such a way that lifts your spirits and warms your heart?  I think a LOT of people have that chance.  We just, for one reason or another, don’t take that chance. We allow life to get in the way. And what a shame. Because for me at least, I have a newly gained sense of acceptance and a warm feeling of being loved not just for who I am, but for who I was, way back when I considered myself pretty unlovable.

Thanks, girls, for giving me that gift. I love you, and I look forward to paying it forward.

Taking Chances

SBW

Chapel in the Rocks

Cutbait Cottage Lake Burton

Cutbait Cottage Lake Burton

This past weekend, HK and I spent 3 days with friends in the beautiful North Georgia mountains, Lake Burton to be exact. Our friends Ken and Terry own a home on the lake, and it has provided us with many great times over the years.

The leaves were at their peak, the air was crisp, not cold, the skies that saturated turquoise color that comes with fall. Basically, a perfect weekend.  You didn’t have to remind yourelf to look around to see the beauty, it was, literally, everywhere.

Jake on the lake

Jake on the lake

On Sunday, HK and I took Kismet and Roxie for a hike up to Raven Cliff Falls, a fairly easy 5-mile trail that follows Dodd creek to a massive granite outcropping. There, the double waterfall tumbles off the rocks with the fury of a woman scorned (not that i’d know anythiing about that…)

Raven Cliffs

Raven Cliffs

Roxie and Kismet hiking

Roxie and Kismet hiking

Mommy and Daddy really had a great time playing in the mountains of British Columbia. it seems like every day when Daddy got off work (at 2:00, since he was working on Eastern Time), they’d head off on another adventure.

One day while their friends Stef and Glenn were visiting, they went kayaking on the Indian Arm at Deep Cove.  Being a self-proclaimed cheapskate, mommy called all around to find us the cheapest guided trip. She finally found one, but when they got to the outfitters “office”, it was a little trailer in a run-down neighborhood. Two young (but cute) guys were waiting outside for them.

“Nice one, Jules. Real professionals”, Daddy and Glenn teased her.It only got worse when they told them to follow them down a long, windy, remote road. “This is straight out of one of those Kill the Tourist movies,” Daddy said, and that really pissed mommy off.  Finally they got to the put-in spot, and the 2 guides turned out to be very professional.

Mommy couldn’t stop talking about the scenery-here’s her favorite shot…

check out the scenery!

check out the scenery!

hahahahaha! that was their guide- a real “hottie”, according to Mommy and Stef.  Here are some more pictures from their 4-hour kayak trip

Beer break

Beer break

an abandoned hydro power plant

an abandoned hydro power plant

Meanwhile, (click on more to continue the story) (more…)

Willy and the Boyz

Willy and the Boyz

Last week, HK and I went up to Lynn Canyon Provincial Park to do some hiking. We didn’t take the pups, because we planned to hike too far for them to be comfortable. They love the little yellow house on the corner (where we’re staying in vancouver), so they were OK chilling out for the day.  Willy and the Boyz, however, did make it, as you can see in the above photo.

Lynn Canyon has a beautiful suspension bridge, which swings and bounces at 150′ above a roaring river.  (being a chicken-shit, I held tightly to both cables and screamed at HK when he made it swing).

We hiked down a steep gorge, and were being passed by a bunch of runners. We asked what was going on, and one guy who was walking along with us for a bit explained (more…)

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