Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Kepler Track

I mentioned that the highlight of my New Zealand adventure consisted of 4 days, 75 km and 2000 vertical feet. This adventure was a 4 day trek through Fiordland National Park on one of Canada's Great Walks called The Kepler Track. Why it is called a "Great Walk," when it is anything but a walk, I'm not quite sure but the name certainly didn't prepare me for what I had ahead of me.

The Kepler Track was intense. It covered 75 km of ground across narrow mountain ridges, open plains, along side river banks and waterfalls and up steep and unstable rock faces. The hike itself would have been far less challenging had I not been carrying a 60 pound pack on my back but then again I wasn't looking for a walk in the park.

Because it is a safety risk when going out into the mountains for any length of time, I checked in and registered with the National Park Rangers to let them know when I was leaving, what my planned route was and when I expected to return. That way if I hadn't checked back in around my scheduled return date they could track my estimated whereabouts and send for help.

I took with me the essentials for what I believe is needed to make a successful and enjoyable camping trip or trekking excursion:

* Tent
* Sleeping Bag
* Water jug and purifying drops
* Jet Boil (best invention ever for cooking)
* First Aid Kit
* Walking Stick
* Chocolate and Hot chocolate
* Playing cards
* Warm socks
* Bug spray
* Head Lamp

On the first day was beautiful, the sun shone bright, the sky was clear and the bugs stayed away for the most part. I trekked for nine hours that day wanting to be sure to cover as much ground as I could and get a sufficient start to my four day trek without burning myself out. Nine hours of climbing up hill and over mountain ridges while carrying 60 pounds of equipment on your back is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Luckily my trusted walking stick held up and at times helped to keep me up as well.

Day two was a little more intense. My legs were tired and my shoulders were sore from the straps digging into me the day before but I had met fellow trekkers along the way and now had an entertaining team to continue on with. The weather took a turn on us and we found ourselves stuck in the middle of an enormous thunderstorm with rain and hail and winds that could have easily blown us over the edge. With the visibility being very limited we had to trek much slower than the day before stopping much more frequently to have a cup of hot chocolate or take cover in the areas we could. By night fall we were soaked, sore and in fantastic spirits. We found a wooden shelter that kept us out of the rain, pulled out our oversized chocolate bars from the Cadbury Factory and submerged ourselves in a game of euchre. Huddled around a small wooden table with our voices providing the music for the night, my trekking friends and I couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces.

Over the next two days I refreshed myself in the waterfalls along the way, attempted to learn how to send smoke signals, enjoyed the scenery and drank endless amounts of water. An unexpected rock slide along the trail caused us to have to detour up and over the side of the mountain instead of taking the flat track we were intended to use. The very unstable ground beneath us with the soft moss that covered it made for a sketchy half and hour until we made it back down the other side and to safe ground again. Part way down my foot slipped through the moss causing me to fall forward and almost tumble down the side of the mountain. Luckily, a massive tree was just in arms length and I was able to catch a hold of it just in time to break my fall, however not before wedging my shin between the roots of the tree that were below the moss. Swelling and a nasty bruise was all that came of that incident but with the assistance of a fellow trekker who happened to also be a paramedic, my leg was bandaged and ready to go in no time.

There is much to be said about the four days I spent in touch with the wilderness in Fiordland National Park, if I were to blog solely on this experience alone I am confident I could write for months. I took away from this experience the importance in being prepared for unpredicted weather conditions, the beauty of nature, the satisfaction of peace and silence and taking time for yourself and finally the power of friendships that can be created between people no matter the ages. I will never forget the days and nights I spent out in those mountains and although I may not be able to find the proper words to convey all of the memories I made during the trek, they are certainly memories I will keep with me always.

My advice to you is to make a point to become one with nature in some form at some time in your life. Even if you don't feel you are the outdoors type of person, I assure you, an adventure like this has something to offer everyone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

South Island NZ

After a 48-minute flight I had landed on the South Island in Christchurch and was ready to see what the rest of New Zealand had to offer.

I decided to rent a car for the 3 weeks I would be spending on the Island, that way I had the ability to move around when and where I wanted to and my accommodation was taken care of as well. A quick stop at “Super Shed” to pick up two layers of carpet underlay was all I need to make up what would be my bed for the next 26 days.

At night, I followed the same routine. I always found a comfy parking spot in a well lit area, always remembering safety first of course, hung my towels over the window to block that well lit area from keeping me awake all night, folded down the back seats with my oh so cozy mattress from “Super Shed,” and unrolled my sleeping bag ready for a good night sleep.

Being on a budget, I stuck to the basics for dinner. I can thank Uncle Ben and his fabulous selection of easy cook rice for a full stomach and every once in a while when I felt like spoiling myself, I’d buy a few pepperoni sticks to add in for my protein. A cheap bottle of white wine poured into my plastic origami cup and my laptop with an endless selection of movies to choose from kept me entertained and usually unaware of strange sounds that often went on outside. On cold nights I kept the car running for 10-15 minute right before bed and thankfully more often then not, I fell asleep before it got cold again.

In Queenstown I risked my life bungee jumping off the tallest bungee in the world, the original bungee where the concept was first created. I was thrown around in the rapids of black water, took a drive on Baldwin Street, which just happens to be the steepest street in the world and spent endless time relaxing in the many thermal pools that existed all across the South Island.

My South Island experience was probably my favourite part about my New Zealand adventure. I visited the Cadbury Chocolate factory, Seal Point where I was chased by seals along the beach, I watched penguins come back from sea to tend to their babies in their colony, stood on giant boulders in the middle of the ocean that came together to make some of the most incredible formations I had ever seen.

Although my entire experience in New Zealand was unbelievable, the absolute highlight of my adventure was made of up 4 days, 75km, and 2000 vertical feet, and soon you’ll know why.

Friday, March 5, 2010

North Island

Where do I begin? If I were to tell you about all of my experiences in New Zealand for the entire 5 weeks I was there, you would be reading forever. Let me recap some of my greatest North Island experiences that have left me with the fondest memories and a desire to return to NZ as fast as I can.

Having worked in Lake Louise where many Aussies and Kiwis flawk to, I had made many great contacts for countries all over the world. Niki, a very good friend of mine who is originally from Auckland, not only suggested but insisted I call her parents when I arrived and stay with them. To tell you I was spoiled through this contact would be an understatement.

Niki's parents, Jenny and John, were more than I could have ever asked for. They lived in a beautiful home overlooking the water with a view of the entire city. The entire back wall of their home was sliding doors that opened up onto a gorgeous patio with a fireplace and the most comfortable black, wicker patio set I have ever sat in. Having been invited to stay in their home, the first 2 weeks of my New Zealand experience was not your typical backpacking experience. I slept in a queen size bed with feather pillows, the stone shower had a waterfall like water flow and even the towel rack was heated. I ate steak and BBQ chicken almost every night, had free access to the Internet and Jenny became a personal chauffeur to show me the most amazing sights in the city.

I spent a long weekend hiking old gold mines in the Coromandal Peninsula, boating catching fish and even caught a shark while deep sea fishing with Jenny and John.

I visited Waiheke Island by ferry and wandered over the rolling hills through endless wineries sampling this, that and whatever they had to offer me. I picnicked on the sheep covered grass under the sun and fed very angry looking cows with rings through their nose, hoping not to have my fingers taken off. In the later part of the day when I had walked as far as I could walk I rented a scooter to take me to the furthest parts of the Island that I hadn't seen before. I wrote "Hi Jo" in the sand of every beach I came across, a tradition I have had for as long as I've been traveling with my best Friend Jodi from back home.

In Rotorua I visited the thermal hot pools and became very familiar with the stench of sulphur that seemed to exist in far too many places. I joined in a cultural experience of the native people of NZ, the Maori Tribes, where I learned about their culture and ate an earth over feast called "Hangi." which is essentially where food is cooked in the ground and covered in dirt however, quite tasty.

One of the biggest highlights of my North Island experience was a 2 night trek in the mountains. I trekked roughly 8-10 hours a day, stopping to enjoy the scenery, take photos and enjoy the absolute silence that filled the air. At night I understood the true essence of fending for yourself while I slept under the frame of a wooden shelter and woke up to a massive possum standing on my chest, I knew I had felt something heavy.

Some of the most amazing memories of my travels are surrounding the unbelievable people I met who opened up their homes and hearts to me without even knowing me. As I share with you my South Island experiences you will hopefully see how the people you meet while you travel can leave lasting impressions that remain forever.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Land of the Kiwi...New Zealand

After much research, endless vaccinations and a very important shopping trip to Mountain Equipment Co-op, I was ready for what the world had to offer me. A 19-hour flight was all that separated me from the land of the Kiwi, New Zealand.

As I descended towards the Auckland airport I could see the mountains, the water and the large buildings that filled the city. It seemed so similar to the West coast I had just left but I knew it was going to be very, very different. My flight touched down at 6 a.m. and all I could ask myself was "now what?" With a 50-pound pack strapped to my back and a smaller backpack strapped to my front, I grabbed a map and headed for the bus. I had absolutely no idea where I was, no plans and it was the greatest feeling I had felt in a long time. The Kiwi folk were very helpful and directed me to the correct bus that would take me into the heart of the city where I could try to find a hostel to drop my bags.

I was lucky enough to be able to check in so early and secure a bunk in a 10 person dorm room at a local hostel. After my bags were safely locked to my bed and my money pouch was tucked tightly under my shirt, I was ready to hit the town. My first day in NZ was pretty relaxed. I was still trying to adjust to the massive time difference and become familiar with my surroundings but I knew that the excitement was about to begin.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coast to Coast

There is much more to the West coast than Lake Louise and mountains and I wouldn't be me if I hadn't of explored all of it. In the two and a half years I spent on the West coast, I covered a lot of ground. By bus, by car, by bike and even by foot with my thumb in the air, I was able to experience most of what the West coast had to offer.

The West Edmonton Mall took a toll on my bank account but put a smile on my face and many more hangers in my closet. There they had everything; wave pools, swimming pools, roller coasters, sharks, flamingos, casinos, you name it, this mall had it. One trip to this mall in over two years was certainly not enough and became a trip that I took with the girls roughly every four months.

The Calgary Stampede was another experience all on its own, an absolute adventure each year I went to it and definitely something I would recommend everyone experiencing once in their life time. I'm not a cowboy fan nor do I even really enjoy country music, but even the hardest rapper and punk rocker could learn to have a good time at the Stampede. Crowds of rowdy people, bull riding shows, concerts, party tents and live music on the streets made the annual event very enjoyable.

Without a doubt the best part of the West Coast is British Columbia. A place that easily became one of my favourite places in the world and to this day is a place I could live forever and be more than happy. The endless road trips to Pemberton for four day music festivals, zip trekking from peak to peak mountain tops and overcrowded van rides to Whistler to mountain bike in the summer and snowboard in the winter are some of my fondest memories. The feeling of standing on the edge of a mountain with nothing but a mountain bike beneath me or a snowboard strapped to my feet is indescribable.

The time I spent on the West coast helped me grown into who I wanted to become. It challenged my mind, my endurance and my ability to save money in order to afford taking advantage of the amazing opportunities it had to offer. I say I could have stayed in BC and lived happily and that is the truth; I decided that first I would explore more of the world and the cultures that made up the experiences I will never ever forget. Stay tuned to follow me on an unbelievable adventure.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I fell in love with the West Coast

Lake Louise had so much to offer. It was a small village community where everybody knew each other and also knew everything there was to know about each other. There I worked as a waitress in the Tom Wilson Steakhouse and could not have asked for a better job. From my managers to my work hours right down to my uniform, there was absolutely nothing to complain about. I worked six hours a day serving people from all over the world and meeting new faces and left with $250-$400 in my pocket each night. My rent for a 2 bedroom, fully furnished apartment was $160 A MONTH and the $3 and $4 lunch and dinners in the hotel made grocery shopping cheap.

In the summer time I spent my days hiking mountains, rock climbing, mountain biking or simply floating down the river in my raft soaking up the sun with my friends along side me. Some days I would take off and relax in the natural hot springs that flowed along side the mountains or spend the day enjoying a cocktail on a patio in Banff. I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy the days and begin work at 5 p.m., not everybody had that luxury.

My winter days were just as eventful. Snowboarding, snowboarding and more snowboarding. The most exciting part of the day was waking up at 7 a.m., looking outside to see more snow had fallen and racing to parking lot ready to head to the hill.

The Lake Louise Ski Hill was only a 5 minute drive from my house which made the jam packed car rides with far too many people and snowboards packed in them, not seem so bad. Being on top of a mountain at 8 a.m. with 10 to 15 of my friends all strapped to our snowboards, shredding through waste deep powder is a feeling that words can't even describe. I used to snowboard all day, head home for work and wake up the next morning to do it all over again.

Winter excursions were a regular occurrence in Lake Louise. Whether we were climbing the hiking trails with our snowboards attached to our backs and riding down the mountains that shouldn't be ridden down, or playing pick up hockey on the frozen over lake or building igloos and sleeping in them on three day camping trips in minus 25 degree weather, there was never a dull moment in Lake Louise.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ontario to Lake Louise, AB

The West coast was always somewhere I imagined myself living. The relaxed lifestyle, the impeccable mountains and the beautiful blue lakes and rivers always had me convinced I would fit in just fine there.

I had been told by a friend that the Fairmont was a great company to work for so I applied to three different ones on the West coast. Four days after I applied online I received a call from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Lake Louise, Alberta. In no time at all I was completing a phone interview to work in their brand new up beat and urban steakhouse and was well on my way to living an eventful summer in paradise. 12 days later I was sitting in the massive gymnasium at Brock University writing the last exam I would write as a student there and all I could think about was the plane I had to catch in six hours to take me to Lake Louise. I got the job and was actually about to move across the country.

Many of my friends couldn't believe I was just going to pick up and leave everyone and everything I knew in Ontario to move across the country by myself in only 12 days but for me, that was half the fun. Not knowing where I was going to end up or who I was going to meet was one of the most exciting things for me. Some asked was I nervous? Others asked, was I scared? and the answer is no, I wasn't. I was excited beyond belief to finally do what I had always promised and get out and see the world.
For those of you who have never heard of Lake Louise before, it is located 40 minutes West of Banff, directly in the centre of the Rocky Mountains.

The village was small, very small. The air was free of pollution, the trees were so green and the mountains were so massive. It was a 4 kilometre accent up a winding road through the mountains to get to the Chateau, a road that was every runners heaven and for those who didn't like to exercise, an absolute nightmare. When I reached the top of the mountain there stood the Chateau. This enormous structure was set in the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. With the turquoise lake circling in behind the hotel and set behind that, a snow covered glacier glistening in the sun, I knew I had arrived in my paradise.

My life in Lake Louise began at that moment and at that moment I knew I had made the best decision I could have ever made by moving there.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It began with a simple vacation

When you think back to when you were young, how many of you can remember your first vacation?

For me, a trip to Florida when I was four years old was the start of what has become some incredible travel experiences. Aside from the regular family vacations and spring break party trips to Cuba and Mexico with my friends, I was looking to experience more of what the world had to offer. Growing up I remember hearing so many adults say they wished they had traveled before they settled down. I always promised myself that I would get out and see the world "before it was too late," before I lost my youth, had got married and had children that is.

After high school I was convinced I knew what I wanted to do with my life but at 18 years old, how sure was I really! I accepted an offer into the Psychology program at Brock University and was set on becoming a Youth Worker for young offenders. Like most things seem to in life these days, my four years at University flew by. For many people finishing University is nothing but exciting and for others it is terrifying to think the days of being a student are over and the world of responsibilities awaits them. For me, I wasn't overly excited and I certainly wasn't terrified, I simply realized finishing University meant I had nothing holding me back and it was my time to get out into the world.

As I relive my travel experiences and what ultimately has brought me to where I am today, I invite you to look within yourself and find the traveller in you. I am sure some of you can relate to the experiences I'll mention and if nothing else for those of you who can't, I hope you can live vicariously through them.