“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.” – Toto

Durban

I think that anyone with a serious love of wildlife has Africa on their bucket list. It is the mecca, one of the last places on earth to witness species of that magnitude in their natural setting. I was extremely fortunate to have visited South Africa, specifically Durban, as a graduate student. One of my conferences was being held in that magical country.

At the time I thought this might be the only chance I get to visit this wonderous land so I better make the most of it. Durban isn’t known as a big tourist hub, necessarily, and can be quite dangerous. We were instructed that if you are going to leave your hotel, drive only to your destination and back, no strolling the streets, no detours. I had heard horror stories of people smashing into people’s car’s while they were stopped at a stop light to snatch their purse on the back seat.

I didn’t have any of these encounters, however, even when we visited a large market. Not once did I feel unsafe. Durban is a really interesting city with a cool Afro-Indian vibe and beautiful beaches. It is the third most populous city in South Africa and the second biggest manufacturing hub next to Johannesburg. To learn more about the area I did a city bus tour and it really was worth it if you are interested in diving a little deeper into the history of the area.

Bus tour

Not only did you get the history, they also stopped at the Durban Botanical Gardens and the beach. The Botanical Gardens is Durban’s oldest public institution and Africa’s oldest surviving botanical gardens. The gardens, not only had an abundance of plant life, it also had several bird species in the area. It was a beautiful place to walk around and we even stumbled upon a wedding in progress while we were there.

Birds

Flowers

I am not typically into these types of tours, but the stop at the beach and the trip to the botanical gardens was a nice touch. What I really wanted was to experience the wildlife in this country. So, I signed up for several wildlife tours, one was a safari tour of Thula Thula private game preserve, the second a hippo and croc boat tour, and the final a safari tour of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.

Thula Thula

Thula Thula

The Thula Thula tour, started at their lodge, where we were offered drinks for a fee and some lovely views from the patio. You can stay at this lodge and they also have some camping options for a true Africa experience.

While I was there the rangers had found a dead rhino that poachers had killed for it’s horn. With the ever dwindling and critically endangered status of this magnificent animal it is somewhat disheartening to see that even a game reserve can’t keep these criminals out.

We took a safari jeep around the reserve and were lucky enough to see giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, nyala, elephants and so much more. The most impressive and possibly most intimidating were the elephants. We found a pack of female’s and their young and stopped to watch them, while being mindful of several bull elephants watching close by.

Zebras

As we sat there in awe of the pack I turned around just in time to see the biggest of the males coming straight for us. I yelled to the driver, who had stopped the jeep and he turned around. As soon as he saw the bull I could see the urgency in his eyes as he started the jeep.

Elephant

All I could think in that moment was that the jeep was never going to start and we would be stomped to death by this mammoth of an elephant. But it started right away and we moved along, the bull giving up as he saw us leaving. Talk about close encounters with the locals!

Landscape

The reserve was spectacular and definitely a must-see if you are in Durban. The landscape and the animals living there are awe inspiring. The beauty breathtaking. And even though it was winter in South Africa the weather was perfect.

Hippo and Crocodile Boat Tour

Hippo tour

The second tour was a hippo and croc boat tour in St. Lucia, South Africa. On this tour you take a pontoon boat up one of the largest Estuarine systems in Africa, which is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

This was a fantastic tour. You get onto a pontoon boat when you arrive and from there the guides takes you on a two-hour tour of the area, where you will see some 800 hippos, around 1000 crocodiles as well as a plethora of bird species.

Hippos

The boat travels lazily down the river, while the guide tells you about the native plants and animal species and the might of the hippo bite. It is another world and a fantastic compliment to the safari, seeing wildlife from another perspective. And let me tell you, there were so many hippos! It was fantastic.

Hippo tooth

Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve

My final tour was of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. This iconic park boasts 96,000 hectares of land housing the African big 5, Cheetah, Wild Dog, Nyala, Giraffe and more. The park is best known, however, for its rhino conservation. This reserve has the option of taking a guided jeep safari or driving yourself through the park. The roads are well kept and there is a ton of wildlife to see. I managed to see everything except the big cats, which tend to be seen more during the sunset tours or early dawn tours.

Giraffe

Wildebeast

This park has a lot to offer, however, if you find an animal of interest close to the roadway it can get rather crowded with jeeps and personal vehicles as everyone tries to get that perfect photo.

Too close

Close up

All the tours I did in total cost me around $400 CAD, some included lunch and drinks and all the shuttles to and from the location. It was worth every penny and I think that Durban is a totally underrated city, with wildlife in their backyard, a booming metropolis with plenty of things to do, and fantastic beaches if you are into surfing.

Have you been to Durban and on safari? Let me know your experiences and what places I am missing.


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“Dear Ocean, thank you for making us feel tiny, humble, inspired and salty…all at once.” – Anonymous

Maui is one of my favorite places, full of natural beauty on land and in the water. I was fortunate enough to visit Maui after winning a trip through Travelocity’s Roam with the Gnome contest. This was the first (and only) time I have ever won anything so you can imagine my excitement. The contest covered flights to Maui and 4 nights at the Marriott in Wailea but we decided to make more of a vacation out of it by booking extra nights in Lahaina and renting a car during those extra nights so we could explore the island a little more. I am so glad we decided to do this because Maui is the kind of place you need to leave the resort and see.

Lahaina

Lahaina

Lahaina is a historic whaling village, where as many as 1,500 sailors would take their leave, including Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. This town is now a cute, artistic town with its sprawling banyan trees (including the oldest banyan tree in Maui), adorable little geckos scurrying around, and several small gift shops and restaurants. Also make sure to pick up a cup of Kona coffee and some ahi poke from the local supermarket, along with some fresh mangos.

Lahaina Jodo Mission

There are lots of places to explore in Lahaina, but one place we spent some time at was the Japanese Buddhist Temple, Lahaina Jodo Mission. The place has a feeling of peace engulfing it, you can stroll around the sandy property taking in the pagoda and the enormous 12-foot high bronze Buddha statue. The statue was installed in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i. It is free to explore with the option of leaving a donation.

Buddha

Haleakala

Haleakala

Haleakala is a volcano that forms around 75% of the Island of Maui. Haleakala means “house of the sun” and legend has it that it was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. Apparently, Maui’s grandmother helped him capture the sun and slow its progression across the sky to make the day last longer.

There are lots of options for how to best spend your time on Haleakala. You can go by horseback, foot, or bike (in some parts) with many different trails to choose from including short hikes or long, backcountry hikes, and sunrise or sunset hikes (which require a reservation). No matter what you choose, though, you will not be disappointed. Haleakala has this otherworldly feel to it, with its reds, purples, and shades of brown.

The weather can be unpredictable, however, so dress appropriately and bring water and sunscreen (you are in Maui after all, not Tatooine). We chose the Sliding Sands summit hike, a strenuous hike that descends 2,800-feet in the first 4 miles to the summit floor. It is beautiful to say the least.

Iao Valley and Iao Needle

Another one of our stops was the Iao Valley and Iao Needle, which I just found out closed in September 2016 due to flooding. Apparently due to the flooding the river shifted and destroyed the trails, which cannot be repaired. At the time of our visit, however, it was a great stop with lush mountains and beautiful ponds surrounded by fantastic tropical plants.

Iao Gardens

There was a trail that followed along a river and around gardens with a viewpoint of the Iao Needle. It is a greenery covered stone that is actually a volcanic remnant and is surrounded by the Pu’u Kukui Crater. This was the site of a battle in 1790 between King Kamehameha I and the Maui army in an attempt to unite all the Hawaiian Islands.

Road to Hana

The road to Hana is a must see if you are planning a trip to Maui. The road is not super wide and can be treacherous but we managed to navigate it with minimal problems in our little economy rental car. There are lots of places to stop along the way, here is just a taste of some of those spectacular stops.

Hana Lava Tubes

Lava tubes

The Hana Lava Tubes are a series of tunnels below ground where lava once flowed. This was formed as lava flowed down towards the ocean creating a crust, which allowed lava to continue to flow below it. Once the lava had drained out a huge tunnel was left in it’s place. It is the largest lava tube in Maui and the 18th largest lava tube in the world.

Each section of the Lava Tubes had its own special features and there is lots of signage around describing what you are looking at. My favorite part of this self-guided tour was the chocolate corridor of stalactites. The entire corridor looked as though it was oozing chocolate kisses. Not going to lie, it made me kind of hungry.

Hershey kisses

Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach

This beach is located just off the Hana Highway and has beautiful 360 views. There is a little trail off the beach that leads through lush greenery with beautiful blue pools of freezing cold water. As you wander around the area you get different aspects of the beach, from the black sand to the various rock formations jutting out into the ocean.

Black sand beach

This beach is situated within the 120-acre Wai’anapanapa State Park and consists of black lava cliffs and a beach created by a lava flow several hundred years prior. It’s beautiful here. I did have one mishap here however, I was admiring the waves crashing in and tried to hop from rock to rock into the waves without getting wet and as the waves came crashing in I tried to leap back onto the sand. As I hit the sand my foot immediately sunk in and my flip-flop snapped leaving me shoeless. It was a hilarious disaster and I have the photo of the incident to remember that oh so magical moment. Sigh*

Shoeless

Hiking Trails

There are several hiking trails along the Hana Highway. One trail in particular that we stopped at was the Bamboo Forest on Maui’s Pipiwai Trail. This trail was like a tropical oasis with bamboo shooting up all around us.

Bamboo forest

You have to follow the Pipiwai Trail for 1 mile before reaching the Bamboo Forest but it is definitely worth it. Not only is it a bamboo forest but there are several spots to stop and check out some waterfalls. We didn’t do the entire hike due to time constraints but it was lovely.

Trees at work

Food and drink

I can’t forget to mention the food and drinks along the way. We stopped at two spots in particular. One was a fruit stand, where I finally got a coconut (my first one ever, which I can’t tell you how excited I was) and we picked up some fresh mangos, mangosteens, and coconut.

Mangosteens

We also stopped at an open-air food market along the way. There we had swordfish (also a first for me) and picked up some coconut chips (amazing!). The people were super friendly and the food was fantastic.

Outdoor eating

Wailea

Wailea is what I would consider a resort town. It was the location of the Marriott where we would spend our free nights. The hotel was super nice with infinity pools, hot tubs, views of the ocean and right off the beach some of the best snorkeling we could ask for. The food and drinks were not included, so that was a bit of a bummer but if you sign up for the Marriott rewards card you got a discount on the buffet breakfast, which was fantastic.

Breakfast

Every morning at around 6 am we would get up, eat a fresh mango and go snorkel around the rock jutting out from the beach. This was when the water was the calmest, as the day went on the water seemed to get choppier. The snorkeling was phenomenal, we saw turtles, eels, and tons of tropical fish and cool corals every morning.

After our morning snorkel we would hit the breakfast buffet, filling up as much as we could eat. This allowed us to skip lunch and save some money. Then we would spend the rest of the day hanging out at the beach, sitting by the pool, or walking the nice paths along the water where lizards could be seen basking in the sun.

Marriott

There is so much to see and do in Maui and we didn’t even get to a luau! Have you been to Maui? What did I miss that should be on this list of places to see?


“A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling. ‘Look up and down and round about you.’” – John Muir 1898

Yellowstone Geysers

In 2010, my boyfriend and I embarked on a cross country road trip from Prince Edward Island, Canada, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia driving through the US. It was a trip to move my boyfriend to Vancouver Island, while I was going to remain in Prince Edward Island to finish veterinary school. We decided to make a vacation out of it and take the opportunity to do some hiking in one of the top national parks in the United States, Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is considered the first park to be designated a national park in 1872 when the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was established. Prior to this there were several expeditions, with the first organized expedition in 1860, which failed as they attempted to explore the Yellowstone Plateau. In 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition occurred and the Old Faithful Geyser was named. In 1948, Yellowstone had its first 1 million visitors.

Old Faithful

This park is steeped in history and has been shaped into what it is today by many, becoming one of the most popular national parks in the world. It also has some pretty cool geothermal activity too. As you walk the paths to the different geysers and geothermal sites, there is a smell of Sulphur in the air and a hot steam that constantly washes over you. From geysers, to hot springs, to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls, in Canyon Village there is something for everyone.

Yellowstone Falls

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is the first canyon downstream from Yellowstone Falls along the Yellowstone River. The canyon is approximately 24 miles long and is an impressive sight to behold.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The park is very user friendly, with very well-connected roads and platforms for access to up close and personal views of these natural wonders of nature. Along the way you can see bison, wolves, bears, deer and more. Just a fair warning that these are wild animals and are capable of doing more than just injuring a person. In 2015, 5 visitors were gored by Bison because they got to close. Trust me that selfie isn’t worth it. When we visited there was a family taking pictures standing just a couple feet away from a bull bison and you could tell that bison was getting pretty pissed off. I could feel the anxiety welling up as I just waited for the bison to attack the young child that kept inching closer and closer.

Close to Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park.  Another historic park, Grand Teton National Park was so named in 1929. Nestled close to Jackson Hole, this area has a rich Indian Culture that remains today. With over 200 miles in trails, there is something here for everyone and the wildlife is out of this world. We did most of our hiking here, including two spectacular trails, Death Canyon Trail and Lupine Meadow Trail.

Lupine Meadow Trail

We chose to do the Lupine Meadow Trail to Amphitheater Lake first. Roundtrip, this is a strenuous 10.2-mile hike, with an elevation change of 2,980ft. There are a lot of switchbacks on this trail but there are also some really pretty flat, meadow sections where you can see mule deer and ruffled grouse. There are views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole along the way as well. If you are looking to have wildlife encounters, this trail is a good bet.

Lupine Meadow

At one point during this trail we thought we saw a moose in the woods and stopped to check it out. The movement in the trees stopped and I thought that it must have gone off so I continued on along the trail, leaving my boyfriend behind, when suddenly he shouted, “It’s a bear!” I turned and saw a bear slowly meandering across the trail in between us. My heart immediately shot up into my mouth and I did the one thing you should never do, I ran. The bear, however, didn’t care one iota for us and just went on his merry way but my boyfriend was not very impressed. With my adrenaline pumping and him shouting at me that I’m not supposed to run I finally slowed down.

Once I got ahold of myself we rounded a corner to see a peaceful mule dear snacking on the meadow grass. I stopped here, caught my breath and settled my heart down into it’s proper place while I took in the beautiful creature.

About 5 miles into the hike there is a side trail to Surprise Lake.

Surprise Lake

It’s a short quarter mile hike off the main trail to the lake but it is worth the sidebar if you have the time. After Surprise Lake it’s the final hike to Amphitheater Lake, arguably the most beautiful spot in the park. The lake is surrounded by Middle Teton, Disappointment Peak (11,618-feet), Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain. The views here will take your breath away and it’s a great place to have some lunch.

Amphitheater Lake

Death Canyon Trail

We did the Death Canyon Trail the next day and I’m not going to lie I was looking all around me, ever vigilant for bears after the previous days encounter. Honestly, after that encounter I do it on every hike we go on, no matter where in the world I am. Death Canyon Trail is a 10.5-mile trail, if you do the whole thing and is considered strenuous with an approximate elevation gain of about 2,500ft. You can opt to do a shorter version, however, which is what we did, to the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, which is a strenuous 7.9-miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 2040ft. This trail sounds scary but it is a spectacular hike, with beautiful scenery every step of the way.

Death Canyon

You start the hike at the Death Canyon Trailhead and after a short distance you will turn onto the Valley Trail, which leads to the Patrol Cabin. At 1 mile you reach the Phelps Lake Overlook, an area surrounded by trees and a beautiful panorama view of Phelps Lake.

Phelps Lake

At around 1.7-miles you reach the Death Canyon Trail junction and at 2.5-miles you are officially in the Canyon, with a lovely river trickling through and rock walls soring overhead on either side of you. Once you reach the upper part of the canyon the hike levels out and becomes very easy walking. There are lots of spots along the river to stop for lunch (this seems to be a theme for me) and to get some great pictures.

Death Canyon

At the end is the historic Death Canyon Patrol Cabin, originally built as a barn in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It became a ranger patrol cabin in 1945 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Have you been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park? What were your favorite hikes and adventures?

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