Brittany and Nico

Joined November 2015
  • Day3

    Pender Island

    August 21, 2017 in Canada

    Our trip to Pender Island started off on a bit of a hangry note. After driving up the West Coast (and back down), moving on to Butchart Gardens (and deciding not to visit), we made our way to the ferry terminal in hopes of grabbing something to eat and saying farewell to our German travel buddies.

    Turns out that the ferry terminal is just, well, a ferry terminal, and a busy one at that. Only ticketed passengers could visit the cafe so we had to say farewell much earlier than originally planned. Even though the terminal was very busy, the Land's End Cafe was a much smaller version of a US truck stop, only worse. With limited food options, we opted for an Amy's Organic bean & cheese burrito and a four cheese individual sized pizza.

    We hadn't done much planning for Pender except pick our camp site which was accessible only via water or hiking in. Since we would be hiking in and had read about the island's car stop system (civilized hitchhiking with signs and benches), we decided not to take a rental car. Our minimal planning also left us a little strapped for food due to the limited cafe choices and the lack of mobility on the island with no car. We grabbed a couple bags of chips, a banana, and a cookie to accompany our selection of trail mix and granola bars for dinner.

    Once on the island, we started on our way to find a car stop in hopes of hitching a ride to get at least somewhat closer to the trailhead. We had no takers, but fortunately the island's community shuttle (donation based) took us within 30 minutes walking distance of it. Nico had mentioned that it was an easy hike in but after the initial climb and signs warning of a steep trail, we knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. Wanting to get to the campsite with enough daylight to set up our tent, we booked it as quickly (and safely) as we could along the ~1.5 miles down to the water.

    Upon arrival, we were bummed to find that someone had set up camp in our reserved spot. There were other vacant spots, but the one we had chosen was more private and off the main path. We set up at another site just in time to watch the sunset while snacking on our "dinner". The campsite looked over a bay and part of the northern side of the island.

    After an early wakeup call by an inquisitive bee, we packed up and were on our way. We couldn't pass up a detour to the island's highest point, Mt. Norman, towering above the sea at 240 meters. Despite only being 1 km, the track provided an early morning bun buster with a nearly continuous incline. It was well worth the effort - we were rewarded with pretty spectacular views over the Gulf Islands and Salish Sea on yet another clear day.

    Worried about the reliability of the car stop system, we headed back down and towards town. We only waited about 5 mins at the nearest car stop when a friendly resident gave us a ride to the local mall. We stopped at Jo's for brunch - a true hidden gem with friendly service and delicious bennies and skillets (side note: breakfast bennies appear to be the bee's knees in Canada as every breakfast place we visited served a variety of them). Since we sat outside, we could also follow the solar eclipse along with a group of locals. The Vancouver area saw ~90% eclipse - it was pretty cool to see the sky noticeably darken at 10 AM.

    It didn't take long to hitch a ride back to the ferry from another friendly local on her way to picking blackberries, and then we were en route back to Victoria followed by our flight back home. We got some more awesome views over the Salish Sea on the way out, all the way from Vancouver down to Washington. Future trip note: check out Olympic and Mt. Rainier National Parks.
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  • Day2

    West Coast

    August 20, 2017 in Canada

    We picked up a minivan to cruise along the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island. After passing through some small towns, the road met up with the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Few people live on this side of the island (due to heavy rainfall and strong winds) so we were mainly surrounded by thick forests and hills.

    We parked at the southern terminus of the Juan de Fuca trail which runs 47 km parallel to the shore. We only did a short section of the hike, down to Mystic Beach. We entered a lush forest with trees covered in moss, running creeks, and several slugs. It was somewhat reminiscent of New Zealand's Fjordland park, an area that sees even more annual rainfall.

    After 45 minutes, we arrived at the rocky beach. Several camps were still set up from the night before. The rugged coastline stretched far in both directions, disappearing only into the fog. The limestone cliff walls were porous from the ever-present water runoff.

    On the way back, the fog cleared just enough to reveal the mountain outline of the Olympic National Park sitting above a thin layer of clouds.
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  • Day1


    August 19, 2017 in Canada

    Although we love Seattle, our visit to the city was short lived. We boarded the 9am ferry for a 2.5 hour trip to Victoria. The entire journey was really scenic: lots of green islands lining the Puget Sound, the snow-capped mountains of the Olympic National Park in the backdrop, and the bigger waves in the Strait of Juan de Fuca crossing into Canada, all under blue skies and sunshine.

    We arrived in beautiful Victoria and met Johanna's sister, Ludia, and her boyfriend, Tim, who had arrived the night before. We explored the downtown area and grabbed a bite to eat before heading to Fisherman's Wharf for a kayak trip in the harbor.

    It was seal pupping season so we were hoping to see some baby seals but unfortunately the wind had picked up at the beginning of our trip and we didn't make it to the pupping area. While we did see a few seals, it wasn't quite as exciting as we had hoped.

    For dinner, we found a highly rated burrito/taco joint that didn't disappoint. It was the first time for half of the party to try a burrito and it probably won't be their last. We capped off the night with a few cocktails at a lively bar.
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  • Day0


    August 18, 2017 in Canada

    We quickly jumped on a chance for another weekend trip when Nico's cousin, Phillip, and his girlfriend, Johanna, planned a trip to our friendly neighbors to the north. The plan was to fly into Seattle and then take the ferry North through the Puget Sound to Victoria in Vancouver Island. Since it was summer time and we were trying to increase our camping IQ for an upcoming trek, we packed only our backpacks for the 3 day trip.

    Upon arrival in Seattle, we hopped on the Link to our hotel in the Belltown neighborhood. Seattle is always great to visit because the fun neighborhoods remind us of Denver and we love being surrounded by water. We strolled over to the Pike Place market area for some delicious mules with homemade ginger beer. Afterwards we met Nico's cousin and girlfriend at Elliot's, remembering the good salmon from a previous visit. It wasn't quite as good this time around, but we still enjoyed sitting on the pier for sunset.
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  • Day17

    Final Thoughts NZ

    January 1, 2017 in the United States

    Without a doubt the scenery. What stood out as really unique and special was the South Island: prominent mountain ranges, glacier blue lakes, spectacular fjords, diverse flora, and a hotbed for any and all outdoor activities. Second was diving Poor Knights Islands, featuring different types of marine life in cold water conditions. Marlborough Sound was also worth the visit.

    Nothing new, but generally quite good with fresh ingredients (farm to table). The meals that stood out were breakfast at Vudu Cafe Queenstown, lunch in Arrowtown, fish and chips at Fishbone Queenstown, and upscale dining at the Grove Auckland.

    Next time:
    Spend more time on the South Island, maybe even the rural Stewart Island, to do more tramping and diving the Milford Sound. Hit more of the Great Walks such as the Milford or Kepler Tracks. Wanaka sounds fun and is surrounded by mountains. Also, late December doesn't generally have the greatest weather; we caught quite a few rainy days and cooler temperatures. February is the best month for summer weather.

    The quirky:
    - Corona is surprisingly popular here, and is generally served without a lime!
    - Driving regulations are very strictly enforced. We were told that NZ has the highest rate of children hit by cars in their own driveways.
    - Lots of digs at the neighbors: "The best thing about the Tasman Sea is that it separates us from Australia." Or, in reference to introduced possums eating native birds, "Most of our problems come from Australia." Finally, "despite the boat being built in Australia, it lasted quite long."
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  • Day16

    Waiheke Island for NYE

    December 31, 2016 in New Zealand

    We signed up for a New Year's Eve festival during the planning stages of the trip, so we found ourselves on a ferry to Waiheke Island with NZ's rowdiest 20 something crowds on Saturday afternoon. The liquor was flowing on the boat ride in, and we were concerned about our capability to "hang." Waiheke is an island in Auckland's harbor that houses several wineries and pretty beaches. The festival was on one of the vineyards, so all the party goers were bussed there from the ferry terminal.

    The festival setting was pretty nice, surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. There were also some nice food options - we went with a fresh pizza. The music unfortunately left much to be desired. The DJs weren't quite up to our standards, but I suppose it's tough to ask top talent to fly around the globe for relatively small crowds. I don't think we'll be seeing "Calvo" headlining at major US clubs any time soon.

    The wine, local from the vineyard, was flowing. To be cost effective, we would buy an entire bottle to split between us. When all was said and done, after 6 hours, we were almost 3 bottles down. Fortunately we drank plenty of water. There were fireworks and a champagne toast when midnight rolled around, over 20 hours before friends and family back in the US celebrated the new year.

    The ride back was a bit chaotic. People were asked to choose from 3 departure times (naturally we chose the earliest). Unfortunately many others had overestimated their ability to "hang" so our ferry was way overcrowded with those scheduled on later trips. But alas, we made it back to our hotel just after 2 for our last night in New Zealand.
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  • Day15


    December 30, 2016 in New Zealand

    We left ourselves two days to explore New Zealand's largest city. While the country is much more renowned for its outdoors, Auckland is uniquely positioned on an isthmus between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean (Hauraki Gulf), and offers trendy dining options.

    The first order of business was finding new black sandals. There was a cruise ship in port for the day making the streets extra crowded. After 2 hours up and down the main Queen Street, we finally proclaimed victory. Next up, we took a stroll into the North Wharf / Viaduct Harbor neighborhood. The waterfront area is pretty nice and we were fortunate to have nice weather. We stopped at a few beer gardens on the way and then headed back to the hotel.

    Dinner that night doubled as Nico's birthday dinner. We had reservations at an upscale restaurant, The Grove. We started with 4 small snacks that were very creative and flavorful - a good sign for the rest of the meal. We chose the four course tasting menu and supplemented our meal with one of the offered specials (fresh fish). We thoroughly enjoyed all courses, particularly the special.

    The next morning, we brunched in the Parnell neighborhood, and then took a long walk through the Auckland Domain which is home to several forest paths, nurseries and a museum.

    The city is definitely worth a few days on the trip. The time from Christmas to New Year is pretty quiet as many people leave town and shops close down.
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  • Day14

    Bay of Islands

    December 29, 2016 in New Zealand

    After 2 days of cold water diving, we were ready for some rest and relaxation. We drove another hour north to the Bay of Islands. This is the area of some of the first European settlements and site of the treaty establishing New Zealand as a country. It's also a popular tourist destination due to, you guessed it, lots of islands and water activities. The accommodations were at a luxury home stay, Point Veronica Lodge, run by two friendly British expats in a fantastic location overlooking the bay.

    We started off the rest and relaxation straight away by enjoying the awesome views from the hot tub. It was the perfect way to wind down after 2 days of cold water diving. We headed into the small town, Pahia, for dinner and made it an early night.

    One of the reasons we chose to stay at the lodge was for the breakfast, which many reviewers had commented on. We weren't disappointed. John did an excellent job commanding the kitchen, cooking up perfect scrambled eggs with salmon over English muffins and lox. They also had a big selection of cereal, cheese, croissants and fruit. We rounded it all out with a couple cups of coffee. On more than one occasion, Nico was asked if he was sure that he didn't want any meat. A common thought by people is that he's forced to not eat meat by Brittany. :)

    The lodge is situated off one of the walking paths that follows the shoreline and leads to the neighboring villages. We ventured over to Opua with full bellies and enjoyed the views of the coast along the way. The entire country sees a lot of rain so there was greenery all around us.

    After our walk, we took the car ferry over to Russell which is a quaint little town that lies on the opposite side of the bay. We wandered through the little town, enjoyed some local oysters for lunch, stopped by a beer garden, and then visited the Pompellier Mission, home of the country's first printing press. The press was used by a French bishop to translate the bible into Maori in an effort to convert the native people. It was surprisingly interesting to see the entire book making process in work, from printing to binding to the leather cover.

    After that, we checked out the nearby Long Beach. Unfortunately the good weather only lasted around 20 mins until clouds and wind moved in. As the (made up) saying goes, if you like the weather in New Zealand, just wait 10 mins and it'll change.

    For dinner, we ate at the Thai/Indian restaurant Greens which actually prepared both cuisines quite well.
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  • Day13

    Poor Knights Island Diving Day 2

    December 28, 2016 in New Zealand

    Day 2 started bright and early with a wake-up at 6 AM. It was a little tough getting into our damp and chilly wet suits knowing we had to jump in the cold water for 3 more dives! But we didn't regret it.

    The first dive was along a wall. With murky visibility and seemingly no bottom, it was a bit eery. The swim back to the boat was a little calmer over a field of sea kelp.

    The second and third dives, also along walls, were quite spectacular. At dive guide Ren's suggestion, we got really close to the wall and focused on the macro life. There were lots of little blennies and triple fins to be found, along with different types of moray eels hiding and swimming about: grey, mosaic, yellow and speckled. Scorpion fish were also blending in throughout.

    Overall, we were pretty impressed with New Zealand's premier dive spot. Although the cold water takes some adjustment, there is a plethora of unique little creatures to be found among the colorful rock coral.

    We cruised back into port and then headed further up north.
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  • Day12

    Poor Knights Island Diving Day 1

    December 27, 2016 in New Zealand

    Diving was up next on the agenda. We drove around four hours from Waitomo to Tutukaka, gateway to the Poor Knights Islands. We boarded the Acheron liveaboard and were greeted by dive guides Ashleigh and Ren, cook and ship hand Mandy, and skipper Kevin. There were 6 other divers on board: the Whitehouse family, one Canadian and one Chinese.

    The Poor Knights are volcanic rock formations, rated as one of Jacques Cousteau's top 10 dive sites, in part due to the mix of local cold water and tropical species brought in via current from the Great Barrier Reef - as described in the documentary, Finding Nemo. :)

    We did 3 dives the first day, kitted up in thick 7 mm wetsuits with vest, hood (+ sharkskin for Brittany). Even before jumping in, we saw Schools of trevally hanging out at the surface feasting on small crustaceans.

    There were no tropical coral formations, instead kelp, algae, sponges, and sea fans, with sea urchins throughout. There were colorful byrozoans covering large sections of wall, surrounded by anemone and lots of different nudibranches, from the size of a fingernail to several inches.

    The highlight on the first dive was seeing a small carpet shark hiding under the kelp.

    The third dive, our favorite, was the famous Blue Maomao Arch. The arch extended above water, and consisted of large purple boulders underwater. As hoped, there were massive schools of blue maomaos, a brilliant blue fish local to these waters, who like to hang out in caves and under archways. These were some of the largest schools we've ever seen, beautifully moving in unison around divers.

    For dinner, Mandy served up some lamb legs and a vegetarian lasagna for us. We opted out of the night dive to keep warm, drink some wine and chat with the boat crew. We stayed up just late enough to enjoy warm brownies and ice cream.
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