Swimming with Dolphins

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For the last 20 years of my adult life I have wanted to swim with dolphins. I had the opportunity in Mexico when in Cabo San Lucas, but my travel companion had already done it so we opted to go snorkeling instead.

As I continue to travel and have plentiful opportunities to interact with animals I have developed more of a social conscience and have refrained from doing things that compromise various  animals’ welfare.

So when the opportunity arose to swim with dolphins in Kona, Hawaii – in the wild, not in some pool or amusement park I jumped at the chance!

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Sure I won’t have close up photos with me kissing a dolphin’s snout, and I won’t get to ‘ride’ along their backs, but an encounter with them in their natural environment would hopefully be just as unforgettable.

We chose Splashes Ocean Adventures, an eco tourism company that supports the welfare of the dolphins. Pods of spinner dolphins rest in the mornings after a night of hunting off the coast of Hawaii’s big island. With only 5 of us aboard our small vessel, with a guide and a driver we set off early in the morning.

I’m not the most confident snorkeler, or swimmer, so jumping off the boat off shore into the open ocean had the potential to completely freak me out. The first challenge was to find the pod of dolphins, which are half sleeping, half swimming south. Out boat then raced in front of the pod and we had mere minutes to get in the water, snorkel into their path and hope to see them and swim right above them. The company makes no guarantee to see or swim with dolphins (as you would expect with an in the wild encounter) so we were incredibly lucky to jump in and swim with them not once but 3 times.

Your behaviour in the water also determines how successful your interaction is with the dolphins. You need to keep quiet and just kick over to them, arms by your side. All of sudden the pod was coming and our guide jumped in, and our driver said ‘go now –  go now!’ and then I was in the water madly paddling towards them. The need to reach them in time quelled all fears I had of being in open waters and then there they were! Just metres under me. It was so quiet and peaceful under the water, one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. And then after a few seconds it was over and the pod has passed. A few metres the wrong way and we would have missed it.

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So lucky to have three chances to see these animals in the wild and so up close. It was definitely the highlight of the whole trip and we were so glad we chose this as our ‘expensive activity’ of the week, seeing as we could only afford one!

We the followed the dolphin experience with more snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay. Another fantastic experience and a chance to see more dolphins in the wild, jumping and flipping!

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I was so glad to tick this item off my ‘bucket list’and have an authentic experience out in the open ocean. Highly recommended!

Red Road, Hawaii Big Island

On our recent trip to Hawaii, we stayed in a flipkey accommodation on the Puna Coast near Pahoa. On a Wednesday night, after seeing the black sand beach at Kaimu and visiting the night markets, I drove the long way home up Highway 137, also know as the “Red Road”.

The sun was setting and the road was fairly deserted, which was lucky as it can get pretty narrow. As you drive under the various tree tunnels it also gets quite dark. I almost ran over two wild pigs that ran out in front of my car.

Now a proper paved road, the ‘Red Road’ got its original name from red cinder pavement used in the past to create the surface of the road. The route takes you right past the ocean and lava cliffs, with many spots to pull over and explore the cliffs and swimming spots, the most famous being Kehena Black Sand Beach, where clothing is optional and the climb down is rough. Since I was on my own doing this drive, and it was getting dark, I didn’t want to climb down to the beach and have some sort of accident (which is highly likely)  so I chickened out, and just looked at it from the car park above. We would be visiting other black sand beaches on our trip so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The trees that create tunnels on the road are just amazing, you’ll want to pull over many times to get photos. It was much darker under the foliage than in these images.

I ended up detouring down a very narrow and dark tree lined street to get back to Pahoa, but you can follow the dirt track all the way up to Hawaiian Beaches, past recent lava fields and past more remote and secluded swimming spots. We drove the dirt track during daylight hours, in search of a swimming spot called ‘Natural Lava Swimming Pool’ but even with specific directions we didn’t find it. Instead we drove on to the Champagne Ponds and Kapaho tide pools.

After driving the Red Road I wasn’t going to attempt another off road adventure up the dirt track in a hire car, on my own, after sunset!

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Sunset with black beaches and palm trees

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The bumpy winding road of Highway 137

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Incredible tree tunnels that you may be lucky enough to have all to yourself

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Plenty of spots to pull over and explore the cliffs

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I never got up early enough to see sunrise, but it would be spectacular from this side of the island.

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Dense foliage, where the two black pigs scurried into after crossing the road right in front of me.

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Another spot with palm trees silhouetted agains the sunset

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Further up Highway 137 you cross some lava fields

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This view was seen from the dirt beach access road from Hawaiian Beaches to the paved section of HWY 137.

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My ‘ wrong turn’ road, looked ominous but did lead me back to Pahoa!

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Lava cliffs just metres from the road

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A sign in the front yard of our Hawaiian Beaches accommodation.

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Sunset over the Pacific

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I never grew tired of looking at the palm tree views

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A panorama of the cliffs at the end of our street.

Bucket List – Hawaii

The flights are booked! Less than 100 days to go. I am off to Hawaii in April. Hawaii has definitely been much more on my radar in the last three or so years as a ‘Bucket List’ destination. I’ve been lusting over people’s holiday posts for a while now and seeing too many Hawaiian themed pins on Pinterest.  I had a stopover at Honolulu back into 2013 and all I saw of Hawaii was a few beaches out the window as the plane landed,  as well as the inside of the airport.

I’ll only be going for nine days and we are still in the process of deciding which islands to go to… clearly we can’t go to all of them!  It just means I’ll have to go back for a second trip at some point 🙂  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the volcano on Big Island,  some of the most amazing waterfalls and beaches in the world, as well as trying some Hawaiian treats like the pineapple whip.

And now the fun starts,  The Planning!  One of my favourite parts of organising holidays is researching, bookmarking and booking accommodation and activities and making lists of possible things to do – with pictures  and links.  I then send this to my significant other for review….  And await his approval ! So on that note,  I’m off to visit Pinterest again!

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We plan on hiring a car and road tripping to all the scenic sites.

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Have been reading about some great tours that take you to all the best lava spots.

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 Love the look of this lagoon in Ohahu… will need some relaxing time.

Any  comments or recommendations are welcome! Especially for Ohahu and the Big Island.

Nine More Things To Do In: San Francisco

After my first visit to San Francisco, I wrote a post of nine things to do in the centre of the city. That was a trip for 3 days, with a friend and with no car. Four years later I returned for 2 days, with my partner and a car. This led to having a different experience of the city (and one where he got to choose the majority of sites). So here is nine more things to do in San Francisco!

1. Comic Museum – When your fiancé is an an Artist, holidays revolve around exhibitions. The Cartoon Art Museum in downtown SF is small, but interesting if you are into that sort of thing. Pretty rad gift shop too. UPDATE – The museum has closed (Sept 2015) and is searching for a new home, read about it here.

2. Walt Disney – The Walt Disney Family Museum is much bigger than I expected, so it is worth visiting for the price ($20 Adults) and it was really interesting. Of course The Artist could have spent all day there…

3. Crissy Field – A reserve / park along the waterfront of the Presidio area. Great for a drive, ride or walk, head right to the end to get great Golden Gate views.

4. Coit Tower – A great place to get 360 degree views of the city on top of Telegraph Hill.  And it’s only $6 entry.

5. Lands End – Past the presidio on the edge of the Pacific Ocean is Lands End, a national recreation area with great views and hikes. Great for views of the GG from the other side.

6. Legion of Honour – ‘The Legion of Honor museum displays a collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art in an exquisite Beaux-Arts building in an unforgettable setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge’.  We didn’t get time to go in the museum unfortunately, but it is still a spectacular building to see from the front.

7. Lombard St – Having a car meant we could drive down the famous street, but it is so popular that there are people everywhere, making it a bit less special.

8. Small Gardens – All over the city are little parks, gardens, slides, steps and interesting nooks and crannies to explore! We found a few accidentally (like Fay Park in the photo above), but some you need some expert know how to seek them out  (next time I hope!)

9. Sutro Baths – These ruins are located at Lands End, north end of Ocean Beach. See them from above at Cliff House or walk down and explore.

San Clementes, California

The artist and I spent a gorgeous two nights staying in a little motel in San Clemente, Orange County, California. We lazed by the beach, slept in and ate bread (due to both of us suffering from a bad stomach bug – so romantic).

When we felt a little better we walked along the pier and even swam in the ocean. I was fascinated by the train that goes past, right on the sand. Oh and sunsets. You know how I like my sunsets.

 

Photo of the Day… Sunset

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I am such a sucker for a good sunset (who isn’t?). Especially one over the ocean. Especially one with interesting cloud patterns and multiple colours. Ahhhhh.

But this one was a bit different; sure the clouds and colours were there, looming over the silhouettes of cranes and construction at the Port of Los Angeles. Somehow the two elements just worked so well together.

This was taken from the decks of the Queen Mary, docked at Long Beach, California.

Photo of the Day… Golden Gate

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A friend of mine does these jumping style photos when she travels in front of many famous places. She took an awesome one on the Great Wall of China with no one else in the shot! Rare…

Anyway, we visited the Golden Gate Bridge (we actually drove across it too – cool) whilst on our recent trip to San Francisco. We drove to the end of the Crissy Field promenade in the Presidio to a little wharf that juts out right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was extremely windy and the wind was pure ice. So cold. I decided to do a jumping shot in honour of my friend. After 3 goes, nailed it!

Love the results… it’s all about the leg placement! I could get use to taking these… now to just convince The Artist to be my patient photographer each time…

McWay Falls, Big Sur California

I thought driving the Big Sur coastline from Monterey to Santa Barbara during Winter would allow us the place to ourselves mostly. Even though it was the New Year period, I still thought it wouldn’t be crowded and we could see the ‘hidden gems’ I had seen online and was eagerly awaiting the chance to explore.

However I was wrong. Ok so New Years Day probably wasn’t the best time to ensure ‘crowd free’ sightseeing, but it was unbelievable the amount of tourists on the Pacific Coast Drive that day. The car park for McWay falls was well overflowing, and cars lined the road for nearly half a mile in each direction. I guess seeing as this attraction is visible from the Highway it’s not missed by many, 99% of cars and tourists would be stopping here. I was already crowd forlorn by the time we joined the pilgrimage down to the boardwalk that snakes around the headland to see views of McWay falls, an 80 ft stream of water that flows right onto the sand. We didn’t even get into the road to see China Cove in Point Lobos National Park, and the road to Pfieiffer beach was closed so I had very high expectations of McWay Falls fulfilling my nature needs.

Luckily the beach and falls are very picturesque and a great vista to look out on from the boardwalk. The trillion visitors treading the planks got great photos of the view, like I did above. Not a very unique experience but a special place nonetheless.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

On our epic drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, we stopped in for a quick visit to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A film scene from one of my all time favourite movies ‘The Lost Boys’ I was keen to feel the seaside carnival love.

We arrived late in the afternoon and the sun was just setting off the beach, which you can access from the boardwalk. As it was New Years Eve there were quite a few riders hanging around, but it wasn’t too crowded.

I was mainly disappointed with the Boardwalk. It felt a little rundown, a little seedy and shabby. The whole area surrounding the boardwalk also seemed a bit questionable, somewhere I wouldn’t like to be at night. Most of the crowd going on the rides were teenagers, it didn’t have many families like you may find at Santa Monica Pier. Maybe earlier in the day or when it is busier (like summer) it has a nicer feel. As it was a weekday not all of the rides were open either. We only were there about 20 minutes, got some lovely late afternoon light for photographs and then moved on, continuing our drive to Monterey.

Sometimes you can have an experience somewhere that is completely different to others on a different day, or time of year. I was happy that I got my ‘Lost Boy’s’ fix in the end. Out of our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, it wasn’t one of the highlights (though it’s hard to compete with Carmel-By-The-Sea and the coastline of the Big Sur!)

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano suspension bridge is a great little day trip, half day excursion from Vancouver. Somehow we managed to get a variety of buses from central Vancouver across to West Vancouver and up to Capilano Rd. The suspension bridge is one attraction, along with the thousand year old trees and the treehouses and paths that connect through the forest. It reminded me of an Ewok village!

An added bonus was on our return journey across the suspension bridge we saw a baby bear playing at the water’s edge below us. Our second bear in the wild sighting in a week! Of course when I returned to Canada 3 years later I was convinced we would see a bear, but no luck!

 

Hoboken Arts and Music Festival

The Hoboken Arts and Music Festival is held each Spring and Fall on Washington St, in Hoboken New Jersey. I was fortunate enough to attend during my first ever trip to New York in 2007. Random traveller luck would have me meet a Hoboken Native whilst travelling in Prague who offered me her couch when I was travelling to NY later that year. Seeing as the cost of accommodation in Manhattan was out of my poor measly backpacker budget I accepted her offer and found myself busing from JFK to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on a Saturday night then getting the bus out to her apartment, on Washington St. We caught the ‘path train’ under the Hudson river to party in the East Village all night (felt like a real New Yorker saying that!) and then woke up Sunday morning to climb onto the fire escape (again, so New York) to find the Arts and Music festival happening at her door step.

What a great festival, full of interesting art, artists and stalls, amazing food and performances. Hoboken is a great little city right across from Manhattan, with lots of cool bars and restaurants, including one of my all time faves, Johnny Rockets! The festival was a  great start to my week in NYC!

Nine Things To Do In: San Francisco

1. Alcatraz! ‘The rock’ is a great day trip, the audio tour head set thingy is very interesting. Plus the ferry ride is great!

2. Segway tours… 3 hours of cruising fun, we booked with city segway tours.

3. Eat seafood chowder and shrimp down at the Wharf.  Anywhere at Fisherman’s Wharf will be yummy.

4. Watch the seals relaxing and playing at Fisherman’s Wharf.

5. Ride the cable cars, worth the queue for people like me who live in non cable car cities and it’s still a novelty!

6. Hang out in Union Square, shopping, people watching, flower buying…

7. Walk the steep streets, go down them on a segway if you dare!

8. Wander the grounds of the Palace of the Fine Arts, pretending your in Europe

9. See the fog roll in across the bay… especially around the Golden Gate Bridge!

 

Eating Your Way around Seattle

I have been fortunate enough to visit Seattle, Washington twice in my life. Both times I ate so much I nearly rolled home to my hotel at night. The second time we cleverly booked a hotel with a courtesy shuttle. Perfect, eat too much and call for assistance.

Of course it is a foody heaven at the Pike Place Market, infamous for fish throwing, fresh produce and organic goodies. Love a bit of World Spice and Chukar Cherries.

Famous chef Tom Douglas has a plethora of restaurants to visit, Serious Pie for gourmet pizzas, Lola, Dahlia Lounge and Bakery for to-die-for Doughnuts, Palace Kitchen, Etta’s for famous seafood and the others.

One of my favourite places is Purple, for its wine tasters and great deserts, with a gorgeous wine bottle staircase. And French cuisine at RN74.

One of the best ways to get a taste of the city (pun intended) is to do a food tour with Savor Seattle. The Pike Place Market tour is great and last time I did the Booze’n’Bites tour; snacks and alcohol on a weekday afternoon – delightful!

Stay: Silver Cloud Hotels

Eat: Tacos Guaymas

See: Space Needle

Moraine Lake, Canada

Can you ever see enough crystal blue, glacier fed lakes? I think not. We had seen about ten prior to driving the 14 km from Lake Louise out to Moraine Lake. A sign in Lake Louise warned of congested traffic and limited parking. Pfft I thought, we’re in the middle of nowhere in the Canadian Rockies – how could there possibly be that much traffic that we should think twice about visiting?

Apparently there could be that much traffic.

Cars lined the road for a kilometre before we reached the car park, which had enough spots for well over 50 cars. Clearly everyone else had ignore the warning sign too. This must be some lake we thought, why else would there be so many people here? Hiking perhaps?

We finally got a spot and walked to the edge of the lake, preparing to be amazed.

Hmm, its ok, we thought. That squirrel on the rock is pretty cute. The lake did not seem all that spectacular from the edge, where drifted logs had piled up. Are we missing something? Maybe we had just become Lake Snobs. Seen one lake seen them all.

We did the obligatory climb to the top of the rockpile, with all the other tourists. We rounded a corner and – bam! There’s the view people are talking about. Now we can see why this lake is featured on Canada’s 20 dollar bill. I would love to see it in winter, with snow on the cliffs and mountains.

Absolutely stunning. We ended up just sitting there for 20 or so minutes just taking it all in. That blue colour, the crystal sunshine, canoes meandering across the lake, mountains, glacier silt piles. It may have been the eleventh lake we had seen in 5 days, but Moraine Lake was now our number one.

Well played Canada, well played.

Banff Gondola

Isn’t it the worst when you only have one day to sightsee in a certain place and you have all these things planned to fit into your 24 hours and it rains!

We arrived into picturesque Banff National Park and the quaint town of Banff to rain and cloud. Oh no, this won’t do for outdoorsy hikes and a trip up the Banff Gondola – recommended as the best of three gondolas in the Canadian Rockies, with the Jasper tramway and the Lake Louise gondola making up the trifecta.

Disappointed (and hungry) we decided to cut our losses and go for an early dinner / late lunch at about 4pm seeing as the rain looked like it had set in. Of course as soon as we arrived back to our accommodation the heavens cleared, the sun came out – and in a split second we were back in the car screaming round the bends to get on the gondola and go see some of the amazing views. Hunger pains aside, we were very lucky and got to see the surrounding valleys in all their glory, ignoring the looming clouds behind us.

Eventually the rain started and the clouds shadowed the valley and the view, but we were content, it was money well spent on the gondola trip. You definitely wouldn’t pay to go up the Banff gondola in poor weather, hang out for sunshine, even if it is only an hour long!