My Eastern Destination

By | October 31, 2019

I enjoy planning a vacation almost as much as being on one. You start with a blank page and ultimately arrive at a milestone where you have all airfare, accommodation and top attractions identified. You research so much about the cities, tourist do’s and don’ts, and outdoor activities that you feel you could be an honorary ambassador for that location.

For the last decade we have taken our vacations abroad (England, Iceland, New Zealand, Italy, Hawaii) but in 2019 we became tourists in our own country. In June we touched the Pacific Ocean and in August we touched the Atlantic after we spent two weeks in Atlantic Canada.  It was pretty special to get to Eastern Canada but it wasn’t done without hours of research and a bit of luck.

Here are some takeaways of our trip and pointers to help others if they are struggling to see these provinces.

Preparation

Why does Atlantic Canada require a blog post?  It’s within our own country so what’s so difficult?  Two weeks is a good length of time to work with but the challenge was getting to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Travel blogs, Tripadvisor posts and YouTube videos rarely covered all four provinces in a single trip and fewer did it in a fortnight.

This was an ambitious plan and not one that was commonly recommended.

Two weeks for the Maritimes (NS, NB and PEI) is manageable but would still require sacrificing sights.  Adding in NL without backtracking was a logistical challenge and one I relished.

The Itinerary

For reference here is where we were each day:

  • Day 1: Halifax, NS
  • Day 2: Halifax, NS
  • Day 3: Moncton, NB
  • Day 4: Moncton, NB
  • Day 5: Kensington, PEI
  • Day 6: Kensington, PEI
  • Day 7: Port Hawksbury, NS
  • Day 8: Chéticamp, NS
  • Day 9: North Sydney, NS
  • Day 10: Bonne Bay Pond, NL
  • Day 11: Bonne Bay Pond, NL
  • Day 12: St. John’s, NL
  • Day 13: St. John’s, NL
  • Day 14: St. John’s, NL

I will back up and explain how that came to be.

Airfare

A perk of traveling within your own country should be direct flights, but that isn’t always a guarantee.  Most provinces East of Quebec should have a direct flight from Edmonton but they don’t fly on a daily basis and the days they do fly direct may not line up with our preferred vacation length.  Adding in a second airport complicated matters further.

In order to accommodate NL we needed to travel one way and avoid backtracking to our point of origin.  This needed all the tools I use for flight research: Hipmunk, Google Flights and Kayak.  A pattern emerged with flights to Halifax falling on Monday, Friday, Saturday and return flights from St. John’s being Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday.

From here it was as easy as putting this in to Google Sheets to visualize the key metrics: dates, trip length and cost.

Lesson #1: Airfare within Canada is still expensive.  Flights from YEG -> YHZ and YYT -> YEG was cheaper than flying to Italy (only by $200) and more expensive than Maui.

I am a strong advocate of shoulder season travel but the slightly smaller crowds and cheaper costs are offset with cooler weather.  If we were going to see what Canada has to offer then we would do it in summer months with nice weather, even if it meant doing so at a premium cost.

Halifax to St. John’s

With our travel dates set the next task was to figure out how to get from to B and what would we see along the way.  I wish I was the kind of person who could show up somewhere with nothing booked or planned and let the adventure happen but even writing that sentence out stressed me out.

Accommodation in summer is a premium on places like Edward Island and Cape Breton, car rentals needed to be arranged and ferries (with exact date and times) were required.  I booked airfare five months in advance and accommodation, car rental and ferries four months out.  This may not be everyone’s experience but I’m a keener on planning and didn’t want to leave any loose ends if it could be helped.

With a starting point and end point figured Jenna and I went in to research overdrive to learn everything we could about provinces, cities and what to see on the road.  We spent a month researching, plotting our itinerary before we finalized our two weeks in Atlantic Canada.  Some amusing comments offered to us were: New Brunswick is called “No Funswick” and has a higher speed limit to get people out of the province and when in Cheticamp eat lobster and do lobster fun things.

New Found Land 

Before the itinerary could truly take shape we had to know how much time was spent in the Maritimes and in NL and the most important part: how and where would we arrive in NL.

Lesson #2: A coworker from New Brunswick corrected me in how I referred to NS, NB, PEI and NL as The Maritimes.  He didn’t specify who was more offended by that classification but urged me to refer to all four provinces as Atlantic Canada.  This is probably on the same level as calling Scotland “England” or including Ireland in “Great Britain” (graphical help).

Taking a ferry to Newfoundland was the obvious answer.  Dropping the vehicle off on Nova Scotia, flying over, renting another vehicle and carrying on was too complex.  Plus, we have never had a lengthy trip on a boat before and how bad can it be (spoiler: I was fine with the idea until Jenna pointed out the “evacuated” sign in our room that would be placed on the exterior of the door in the event something befell our vessel and we needed to leave).

The primary reason for going to Newfoundland was Gros Morne.  I am not sure where I first heard those two words but when I saw images from Gros Morne I knew it had to be a part of our trip.

There are few inanimate objects I love more than hot dogs but fjords are a strong contender.

Gros Morne looked like something you would see in Norway or New Zealand and it immediately became a priority.  Unfortunately it’s on the other end of the Newfoundland, about 700KM from St. John’s, but that’s Future Sean’s problem and he won’t mind driving all day having seen Gros Morne National Park.

Thankfully Marine Atlantic offers destinations in two ports, one close to St. John’s (130KM away) and the other on the western area, roughly 300KM from Gros Morne.  With the ability to see Gros Morne and St. John’s locked in the 7 hour ferry ride was booked and I was able to map out the nine days leading up to the overnight ride.

What’s in a Maritime?

Prior to researching anything on the trip what did I know about the Maritimes?  Peggy’s Cove, Bay of Fundy, Halifax, Cabot Trail and seafood.  And that helped sort out the trip more than anything else.  With a nine day window to get from Halifax (NS), stop in two other provinces before returning to North Sydney (NS) the plan fell together quite quickly.

There were a few key questions I looked for and the answers varied.  I will add in my experience and muddy the waters further, but here were the biggest questions I had while planning:

How much time do you need in Prince Edward Island?

Two days at a minimum, three may be perfect.   Our trip through Charlottetown was a wash due to the Gold Cup Parade and 5KM run at Victoria Park.  We felt Charlottetown got the raw end of the deal here as we saw gridlock and turned around to find calmer roads out of town.

Crossing over on the Confederation Bridge we headed west (West Point Lighthouse) then north to L.M. Montgomery (aka Green Gables) for our first day.  Our second day was spent exploring the beaches along the Cavendish area (Thunder Cove Beach, PEI National Park) and having a lobster dinner in New Glasgow.

If we had a proper third day I would have liked to explore the eastern reaches of the island.  Thankfully we had some spare time and were able to go to Prim Point and have a lunch at Northumerland Provincial Park so the absence of Charlottetown wasn’t felt too badly but a few more hours would have been appreciated.

Length of time on the Cabot Trail?

I read reviews of anywhere from 8 hours to three days to drive the Cabot Trail.  We drove clockwise and had two nights in Cheticamp but didn’t drive the majority of the trail until our second day where we drove, hiked, explored and had lunch during an 8 hour span.

We left our Airbnb at 9AM, hiked the Skyline Trail, Bog Trail, MacIntosh Brook, Green Cove and Middle Head.  After all that we arrived in Florence at 5PM. I was feeling a bit weary by the end of the day but it was likely due to rain and following a caravan of vehicles out along the highway for the final hours.

Cabot Trail is a beautiful drive but not dangerous in anyway.  Our experience from the South Island in New Zealand, Westfjords in Iceland or Hana Highway and West Maui Loop in Maui prepared us and made the Cabot Trail a breeze to handle.

I am not sure how anyone can spend three days on the Cabot Trail.  We skipped over Meat Cove due to driving distance off of the Cabot Trail (~ 30KM).  Not an impossible distance but a bit of a challenge to squeeze in on a full day.

Which side for viewing Bay of Fundy?

My research recommended going to the New Brunswick side and that’s what I will pass along.  Although don’t do what we did and drive from Moncton to Bay of Fundy National Park (100KM) and then go another 80KM for the Hopewell Rocks.  We needlessly drove for too long when Moncton to Hopewell Rocks is a simple 40KM drive.  This was a big oops.

Although I would recommend time in Bay of Fundy National Park.  We didn’t have an opportunity to hike any trails but it was gorgeous and even though we made a 150KM detour it was hard to be upset in there.

High tide of low tide for Hopewell Rocks?

This is a personal preference but having been there for high tide, waiting a few hours for low tide to arrive, we enjoyed low tide a thousand times more.  Kayaking along the rocks in high tide would have been great but the onsite tour company was booked days in advance so this didn’t work with one of the few times we wanted to be spontaneous.  Walking along the ocean floor and seeing how high the water rose was an amazing experience but it didn’t require an entire afternoon to see high tide and low tide.

Were we to revise our itinerary this would be the first adjustment.  We would spend the morning in Bay of Fundy National Park and then an hour at Hopewell Rocks before returning to Moncton.  Of course this is only possible if tide tables are in your favor.

Unfortunately Moncton failed to impress us and if we needed to make further adjustments to the itinerary we would consider driving from Halifax to Hopewell Rocks for low tide viewing, overnight in Moncton, and then leave the next day.  Sorry Moncton, we may not have met each other when we were at our best but two nights here was was one too many.

Stay where you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at

A common question we received after our trip was if we were screeched in while in St. John’s.  Simply put, no.  The bars on George Street were numerous and some had signs to sign up for a ‘screeched in’ ceremony in the evening and the premeditation of it all was a bit off putting.  We are also not night owls so going out for getting screeched in wasn’t for us.

Highlights

Atlantic Canada is as beautiful as you would expect, and in some areas it was even more breathtaking than I was prepared for. As a landlocked kid from the Prairies I never tired of seeing a shoreline, harbors and having an opportunity to walk near either (Halifax, St. John’s).   Each province was unique in their own way and it was a treat to see the subtle changes as we drove.  However, there are a few highlights were calling out:

  1. Prince Edward Island was stunning and looked better in person.  The red beaches against the water never got tiresome.  The province is idyllic and has charm at every corner.
  2. The winner for extreme beauty was Newfoundland.  We came off the ferry in Port aux Basques under rain clouds but as we drove the silhouettes of rugged terrain appeared and my first landscape inspired curse was uttered.  The clouds eventually left and I was left in awe for the remainder of our drive.  Lakes, ponds, trees, exposed rocks, fjords, the province was packed!

The summer of 2019 in Edmonton was a bit of a disappointment.  If it wasn’t raining it was cold.  We timed our trip perfectly and had wonderful weather and even with diligent application of sunscreen we came back with a tan. Yet, if we were a few weeks later in our trip we would have experienced Hurricane Dorian and could have had a different experience entirely.

Prior to our trip we bought a Parks Canada Discovery Pass and this $109CAD well spent.  We used this in every province and visited a total of nine National Historic Sites and National Parks, the majority of which would have required admission.   I would recommend a Discovery Pass for any visitors that plan on spending more than a few days in Atlantic Canada.  I would also urge visitors to photograph their Pass and refer to it on your phone as proof of purchase for times you walk in to a site (ie: Citadel Hill in Halifax, Green Gables in PEI).

Lowlights

We didn’t give New Brunswick a chance to wow us, we came for Bay of Fundy and moved on.  Our time in Moncton was a bit underwhelming and we felt a different vibe there than any other location we were in. This isn’t Moncton’s fault but it was our least favorite time on the trip.

I mentioned Gros Morne above and the single most important sight I wanted to see was not visible due to clouds.  Western Brook Pond may look stunning with rock walls, waterfalls and pristine water but we saw nothing.

We made lemonade and persevered, seeing sights (in the rain), did hikes and enjoyed the National Park despite the weather.

In 2014 we visited Milford Sound (New Zealand) and had perfect blue cloudless skies.  This area is the wettest part of New Zealand, averages rain every day out of two and we had a perfect day.  Perhaps this is a bit of weather karma but I’m not complaining.

Until Next Time

Given the opportunity to return to Atlantic Canada what would we do?  Priority one would be give more time to Nova Scotia.  We had five nights in the province but it could easily have had a dozen.  Halifax was lovely and we barely scratched the surface.  We sacrificed this province significantly to make the trip work and the province felt worthy of more time.

New Brunswick may be good to see more of and change my opinion of it, but given the choice of where I would spend more time the answer would be Nova Scotia.

While a little harder to manage more time in Newfoundland would be a must.  There were remote areas off of the Trans Canada we didn’t reach and with such a rugged coastline we could drop in to coves, inlets and bays for a week and never tire of them.

Worth a Thousand Words

Now that you’ve read a few thousand words feel free to look at the photos from the trip that have been added to my personal gallery.

My New Zealand Experience

By | April 11, 2016

In October 2014 Jenna and I spent 22 days travelling the North and South Island of New Zealand. This was a trip I had been anticipating for eight years and over that time my expectations for the country grew exponentially. Thankfully the country met and exceeded every hope I had for it.

For three weeks we didn’t sit still. We each battled an illness at separate times on the trip and went sightseeing in all weather conditions. Each day was magical and full of experiences that it is difficult to articulate in speech, let alone text. In the past I broke up significant trips in to multiple posts. A trip of this magnitude would occupy at least five installments and that is slightly too much for anyone to read, so I will capture the important travel bits and write up the highs and lows.

By the Numbers
Using a daily journal and our credit card statements here are some numbers about our trip.

  • Number of fill-ups: 7
  • Total mileage: 3795KM
  • Cost spent on fuel: $539.89 NZD (~ $491 CAD)
  • Number of nights camped: 21
  • Number of nights dry camped (no utilities hook up): 7
  • Number of nights free camping: 4
  • Cost spent on camping: $600 NZD (~$528 CAD)
  • Cost spent on food: $733.73 CAD

Getting There
All AboardIn 2013 I began monitoring airfare for New Zealand and keeping track of when the cost would rise and fall. Typically the sweet spot for buying international airfare is about five months out and I bought in January for departure in October. I had the benefit of having a year of historical data so I knew the typical cost and was able to secure a seat at the ideal cost.

NZ Airfare Graph

NZ Airfare Graph

We flew Edmonton to Vancouver and then Vancouver straight to Auckland. Our return flight added one additional leg as we went Christchurch to Auckland and then back over to Canada going through Vancouver before landing in Edmonton. Air New Zealand transported us to and from New Zealand and this was a very comfortable airline. I paid to have seats near the front part of the rear cabin, close to the bathrooms but not near the exit row (on recommendations from SeatGuru).

The Route
We landed in Auckland and ventured south, zigzagging our way through North Island.


Greenspace In the Stink Stained Earth Embracing the Redwoods

Each activity we did was deserving of a long write up and at no time did we regret our decision to try something. The Trilogy Experience provided us some incredible moments at the Hobbiton Movie Set, and the Ruakuri Caves. The other features of the Trilogy Experience included a very eerie and dark trip through the Waitomo Gloworm caves and a chance to understand the Māori culture at Te Puia.

Gloworms at Ruakuri Caves Sharp Objects Our Hobbiton Guide Quaint Door Te Po Cultural Experience

Lake Taupo was beautiful and a shame we were there for just an overnight stop. This is the largest lake in New Zealand and the small piece of beach we camped beside also showed it was gorgeous too.

Tongariro Crossing
While heading to Wellington we made a stop at the Tongariro Crossing and attempted to do a few KM hike. Jenna was recovering from her cold, and I was starting to come down with one, so we turned around before the Soda Springs and failed to reach some of the other attractions on the hike, but at least we were walking beneath the shadow of the mountain that doubled for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Rotorua Museum Weta Cave Wellington Harbour Wellington Botanical Garden

We opted to spend more time in Wellington than originally planned and it was worth it because the capital city kept us busy for a day and even a few days there wouldn’t have been enough time. Exploring the waterfront, a wonderful (and free) museum at Te Papa and a tour of the Weta Workshop made for a full and exhausting day.

North Island (NZ)

Overnight spots in the North Island were:

  • Auckland
  • Matamata
  • Rotorua
  • Rotorua
  • Lake Taupo
  • Wellington
  • Total distance in the North island: 1,113 KM

On the Cook Strait Ferry from the North to South Island you immediately see a difference in landscape, and when you land at Picton you feel like you’re in a whole new country. The hills are more dramatic, the people have a more relaxed feel and there are less crowds. The South Island was my favorite of the two, but it offers dramatic landscapes, fjords and ragged mountains; which are hard to compete against.


Crossing the Cook Strait Kaikoura Coast Nice Background Hokitika Gorge Approaching Franz Josef

We did some backtracking on our way to a piece of heaven at Abel Tasman National Park. Our time here was wonderful. We did a long hike, were followed by a pod of dolphins, had amazing views of the Milky Way and Southern Cross.

When we landed on South Island we did a little backtracking and crossed the South Island across the middle and then came back up to land in Christchurch.

South Island (NZ)
Overnight spots in the South Island were:

  • Marahau (Abel Tasman)
  • Kaiakoura
  • Hanmer Springs
  • Hokitika
  • Fox Glacier
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Te Anau
  • Gore
  • Dunedin (Katiki)
  • Christchurch
  • Total distance in the South island: 2,682 KM


Dunedin Coast Seeing Sandfly Bay Comfortable? Morning at the Boulders Demolition

Ground Transportation
Campervans are a popular mode of transportation in New Zealand and we ended up renting a smaller Jumper Lite 2 (model is no longer in service) from Wilderness. Wilderness had a high rating on the New Zealand website Rankers, but other companies to look at would be Apollo, Juicy and Britz.


Campground Night #1, 2 Campground Night #3 Campground Night #4 Campground Night #9, #10 Campground Night #11
Campground Night #12 Campground Night #13 Campground Night #14 Campground Night #15 Campground Night #16
Campground Night #17 Campground Night #18 Campground Night #19 Campground Night #20 Campground Night #21

Our home on the road was a Fiat van converted in to a campervan. It was outfitted with a living area, bathroom and kitchen. None of it was overly large but it was functional. A larger unit would have been nice, but having a ‘van’ and not a ‘mini motorhome’ was appealing. Although, the nuisance of having to make up the bed and store the linens every day got tiresome, and a larger unit would have avoided that routine.

New Zealand drives opposite to North America and to add to the stress I had to drive a manual. Not only was I driving in a foreign country in a large vehicle, I had to relearn how to drive a manual while shifting with my left hand.

Back to DrivingPicture this: you are five minutes behind the wheel of the campervan and approach a traffic circle. Every instinct I had from decades of driving was now useless and I had to jump in to heavy traffic flow while the queue of vehicles behind me began to grow and a few honked their horns.

Straight and flat roads don’t exist in New Zealand so a 200KM journey could take four hours. You don’t get anywhere fast and most of the roads we traveled on were paved. The campervan handled the country well and the only time we feared for our safety was going through tight hairpins in the Abel Tasman region or when we were on a windy single lane gravel road in Glacier Country.

The People
The people of New Zealand are incredibly friendly, perhaps more than Canadians. Everyone was polite, relaxed and above all, fiercely proud of their beautiful country.

At the Hanmer Springs Hot Pool I was able to eavesdrop on a conversation between a Kiwi and a German engineering graduate who was spending several months cycling through the country. The one exchange that stood out is slightly paraphrased but the context is there:

Kiwi: How are you finding the roads on a bike?
German: Most seem good, vehicles move over and give me room, but some honk as they pass.
Kiwi: Maybe that’s their way of saying ‘hello’?

Instead of immediately thinking that the drivers were being angry that there was a cyclist on their road the resident went to the happier and supportive path, and based on my experience sharing their roads for three weeks, I would tend to agree. What is seen as an act of frustration in Canada was a supportive honk, especially in such a hilly country you know that a little bit extra support from motorists would be welcomed.

Another situation that stands out to show the true colors of New Zealanders happened while we were in the capital, Wellington. We were walking through a busy shopping area and noticed a pan handler by the front of a store similar to 7-11 (it should be noted that we only saw a few pan handlers throughout our trip, they were not very common). The 7-11 employee walks out and asks the pan handler if he would like a smoothie. The handler answers yes and the employee hands him a ready made smoothie and they begin talking. This exchange would never happen in North America and showed a level of friendliness and compassion that is common for these people.

We had several chats with locals in town or out hiking in the middle of nowhere. Everyone was always glad to provide their thoughts on the local terrain or recommendations for a ‘must see’. When they learned our nationality their curiosity about the country, differences we’ve experienced on our trip, or tales of family members returning with as much Maple Syrup as they could bring back would come out.

Food and Groceries
Regardless of where you travel you expect to see North American fast food chains in large cities, but what surprised us was how common Subway’s were. Large cities or small towns, there were Subway’s everywhere. This was the most popular restaurant in the country and was equivalent to the frequency of Starbucks in Seattle.

We ate at McDonald’s twice. Once was on the day of our arrival passing time until our campervan was ready for pickup, and another time near the tail end of our trip as we were on the end of a long day and even longer drive. For everything else we prepared ourselves or had a treat with a meal out. The kitchen facility in the campervan allowed for the ability to cook up soup, fry meat or have chilled vegetables at any time. We had more freedom to drive later in the day and check in to our camping spot after dark because we knew we could make our meal.

Grocery purchases was challenging at first because we had to work with a small fridge (60L) and become familiar with strange products. We had a breakfast staple of oatmeal, granola, yogurt and fresh fruit. Lunches were typically cheese and crackers, salad or sandwiches, and suppers were challenged by the ‘everything sticks to me’ frying pan. Pasta was common and if we were camping at a powered site we could use the microwave, otherwise we relied on boiling water or frying meat to prepare our meals. We never ate anything fancy because with one frying pan, one pot, limited sink and fridge space we had to be conservative on what we prepared.

Jenna was careful to buy products from New Zealand so our cheese, wines and fruit were all domestic and we showed no moderation in consuming any of that.

Cash and Credit Purchases
We brought $800CAD to be exchanged in to NZD and used our credit cards for the majority of our purchases. All terminals were chip enabled but there were a small amount that would only accept NZ branded credit or debit cards. The majority had no issues with our BMO MasterCard but the foreign card did present a few challenges for sales staff as they had to select the originating country and if that failed the purchase was entered manually on the terminal.

Grocery stores sell alcohol and with each purchase we would buy a bottle or two of wine. We were asked for ID once and our Canadian driers license wasn’t acceptable so we had to present our Passport. We didn’t always carry our Passport on our person (it was locked in the safe back in the van) but it was never an issue as we weren’t asked for ID again. The process at the grocery stores is that when alcohol or tobacco is being purchased the cashier would call a supervisor to approve the purchase and they would be the ones who would determine if ID was required.

Essential Items
Our campervan came with a GPS but the most important item we had with us was an app that we had on our phones and tablets: CamperMate. Not only could you find campsites in your area, you could look for sanitary dump sites, attractions, gas stations and grocery stores. This app was installed before we left and could be used without a data connection. We referred to CamperMate several times a day to plan our next attraction or do research on where we were staying for the night.

I bought a NZ SIM card for my iPhone 5S and this was helpful for the intermittent data connections we required or to call to a campground and inquire about a reservation.

I have touted the benefits of SmartWool socks prior to this trip, but New Zealand was the time we experienced Merino wool, specifically from Icebreaker. We had begun purchasing Icebreaker gear a year before the trip and appreciated its cooling and warming abilities and quick dry nature, especially if we washed clothes in the sink the night before and had them out to dry while we drove to our next stop.

Highlights, Lowlights
The Highs

Arriving in Milford Sound on a rain free, cloudless and sunny day was incredible. This area gets an average rainfall of 22 feet a year, so we were truly honored to be here on a perfect day. We opted to have a bus ride to and from Milford Sound and this gave me a chance to not stress about driving and enjoy the beautiful road through Fjordland. The bus driver was informative, kept the conversation lively, and gave us plenty of opportunities to stop for photos along the way. When I think back on our trip to New Zealand, this is the first day I think of.

Milford Sound

Abel Tasman. The northern tip of the Southern Island was breathtaking. This was a quiet escape in between the Tasman Sea and dramatic landscape. Our long hike along the Tasman Walk was a great way to see this beauty but having a pod of dolphins follow our water taxi at the end of the day was inspirational.


Gorgeous Sandfly Bay Falls River Suspension Bridge Falls River Suspension Bridge Follow the Pod Morning Sky

Queenstown. The adventure capital of New Zealand is a lot like Banff, Alberta. There are tourist attractions on every corner and there is something for everyone here. We had two nights here and on the second day the weather was perfect and we put as much in to experiencing the city as we could. We started the day with a boat ride on the lake, spent an hour in a sensory overloaded puzzle/maze arena, had a ‘choose your own adventure’ for wine tasting, went for a go cart ride down the hill and capped it off with an incredible buffet overlooking the town site.


Queenstown Harbour Sampling at The Winery Queenstown Luge Dinner with a View

The Lows
Time was always against us and we could have easily spent a month on each island. Knowing we were on a schedule we had to skip areas on this trip and for what may be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience it is disappointing to know that we left some gems undiscovered.

The hangover following this trip was bad. I felt that I peaked too soon and the most amazing trip of my life was behind me. Even now I find it hard to look at a potential destination and ask myself why bother if it won’t be as good as New Zealand. This country was so beautiful and inspiring that boarding the plane in Christchurch to head home was a significant low point for me.

Slip on Haast PassWe traveled in October, which is late spring/early summer, and we knew the weather could be a bit questionable. If we had a bad day on the trip it was because of weather. Even in rain we persevered and tried to see what we could. One night in Glacier country (at Gillepsie Beach) was a particular low point. We made our way through a treacherous single lane gravel road to find a local gem of a beach.

Washed Out Gillespies Beach When we arrived the visibility was poor and even if we did gear up to go outside there wouldn’t have been any use. We made the most of a bad situation, had a warm dinner, turned the LPG powered furnace on, and enjoyed a movie with bagged popcorn. We knew that there would be bad weather days so we prepared for them and even though this was a cold and dreary camping spot it is one of the more memorable nights we had.

Our first day in Auckland was plagued by frantic weather. In the span of thirty minutes we would see sunny skies, a light breeze, hard winds followed by sideways rain and then the system would repeat. Even locals commented on how unusual the weather was.

Wrap Up
Outside of our flight, campervan and ferry crossing ticket nothing was booked in advance. We would plan as we went. With the exception of a few key dates we had to make we were left to our own devices. Having more time would have been preferred, but unless we were spending months in New Zealand we would be missing something.

This was a trip I waited for my whole life and it was inspirational in every way. This was more than a vacation but a life experience and I can’t recommend New Zealand enough to people I have spoken to about it.

My Walk on the West Coast Trail

By | August 28, 2015

Gord and I planned our first West Coast Trail experience for nearly a year and August 13-19 2015 we did it! Leading up to the hike I tried to find answers about fuel, bug spray and itineraries for daily hikes and meals. Now that I have experienced the trail I wanted to share some of that knowledge for others who would be looking for the same details.

By the numbers here was our West Coast Trail hike: total distance of 75 KM covered in 25 hours and 43 minutes of hiking time. In that time I took nearly 222,000 steps and we spent six nights and seven days on the trail.

The Hike
We went South (Port Renfrew/Gordon River) to North (Pachena). There weren’t any compelling reasons to go the other way for us, but the appeal of attacking the harder terrain (60KM to 75KM on the trail) first was a bonus. When the Gordon River ferry drops you off on the trailhead you are overwhelmed with the age of the forest, the scale of what you are up against and feel a bit like storming enemy territory as you and your other ferry mates hit the trail.

Years of alpine hiking prepared us for this hike. What elevation gains there were in this section was done over a well groomed trail with roots and more roots. We saw everything the trail had to offer on day one, with rotted boardwalks, tricky roots, mud and ladders. Having long legs and poles helped us navigate the roots and mud with ease but you still had to plan your steps because the roots are slippery and we were only a misplaced foot away from a serious injury.
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My Commute Data Collection

By | August 29, 2014

I enjoy data. I like seeing details on the mundane, figures on the minutiae and histogram on the meaningless. I track which songs I listed to on Last.fm, how many steps I do with FitBit and for the last two and a half years, have been keeping track of when my Sherwood Park transit bus would arrive in the morning and afternoon.

What started as a way for me to become familiar with the frequency of the buses turned in to a habit and each time a 425 or a 401 bus would arrive in my life I would take a screenshot on my phone and mark the date and time of that specific bus in a spreadsheet.

On September 2 the Sherwood Park transit routes are changing and my routine will have to change. All the data I have collected since April 2012 is now useless, but instead of putting that to waste let’s see what information I can pull out of this spreadsheet.

The timing of my morning bus was captured 454 times and my afternoon bus was captured 375 times. This difference is attributed to not starting to capture afternoon bus time until nearly three months later. There are also times where I would take an ETS bus elsewhere to Edmonton, commute on the LRT to ride home with Jenna, or find another way home. There were times I would drive to the transit center and not need the local commuter so on those days I would only record my afternoon numbers.

The morning information was useful to determine when the bus would arrive at home. The afternoon data was used to see when I typically left work. My average work hours could be determined from below, so a typical day to and from work is from 6:49 AM until 4:44 PM, which is closer to eleven hours than ten when you add the time for the commute time home.

Morning commute data:

  • Earliest bus pick up: 6:23 AM
  • Latest bus pick up: 7:11 AM
  • Average pick up: 6:49 AM
  • Mode: 6:56 AM

I spent the first 2/3 of my commute to TELUS going in at 6:56 AM and started to go in 15 minutes earlier catching the 6:40 AM bus in 2014. This explains why the Average is closer to the Mode since the majority of my mornings started at the later, 6:56 AM, time.

Afternoon commute data:

  • Earliest bus pick up: 2:37 PM
  • Latest bus pick up: 6:41 PM
  • Average pick up: 4:44 PM
  • Mode: 4:22 PM

Number of times caught the afternoon bus:

  • …before 4PM: 8
  • …after 5PM: 100
  • …after 6PM: 14

For the first six to eight months at TELUS I typically caught the 4:21 PM bus. As my responsibilities grew so did my time at the office and I ended up catching a 5:00 PM or later bus. I aim to be logging off between 4:30 PM and 5:00 PM, but I found the afternoon bus schedule to be inconsistent so needing to be in the elevator at a certain time to catch a bus didn’t matter because I would need to wait until closer to 5:00 PM to catch a bus anyway. As someone who strived for consistency in data the variance in the afternoon schedule bothered me, but eventually a bus did arrive and I would always get home.

Let’s view this data in graph form!
Morning commute data for the 425:


Afternoon commute data for the 401:

What does all this mean? Very little. My mornings were pretty set and the afternoon was a gamble on when I would leave and when a bus would be there to take me home. I like knowing when my morning bus arrives and plan my routine around that and the afternoon information is purely for entertainment purposes to see what time I leave the office.

I will continue monitoring the bus schedules in September but will start a new worksheet and maybe in a few years time post a similar summary of my data to see if my working hours have changed at all.

My New Ride

By | August 13, 2014

In the summer of 2005 I was working at Dell and living at home with Dad. I wasn’t paying any bills and with my first decent paying job I was getting more money than I had made before. With my earnings I was spending carelessly and as I was making plans to purchase a studio microphone and a four track deck to record my jam sessions with friends Dad urged me to consider looking at vehicles instead.

I had been fortunate to always use a family vehicle but never had one myself, but he made a valid point. Within a few days of Dad’s urging we went to Southgate VW and I was signing the paperwork on a new 2006 Jetta TDI. The Jetta was loaded on the inside, upgrades on the outside and came with a monthly payment that would stretch my budget for a few years.

The car may have been outside of my means, but the loan was eventually paid down and I was left with a low mileage vehicle that could run forever. The car was amazing for a lot of things, but what it was best at was gas mileage. I got so used to being about to go 900+ KM on a single tank of gas I thought every vehicle had that kind of mileage. The car was my own, every scratch or repair done on it was under my watch. I grew up in that car, transitioned through some major life events and although I never did try driving to Vancouver in it the car travelled Alberta and ventured to Saskatchewan once.

There were a lot of nice things to like about the car, but there were also some items that were grating. The heated leather seats were a blessing because the heater in the car was abysmal and would take 20 minutes to heat up. In the winter the trunk wouldn’t latch properly so I had to force it down or ignore the interior warning of the door being ajar. The car seated four comfortably and had a huge trunk for cargo, but after being in a house for a while the realization that I needed a truck for garbage runs, hauling tree branches or picking up larger items grew in my mind.

It wasn’t until Jenna suggested we look at a truck in early July that my plan was able to come to fruition. I started looking at small vehicles (Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota) but the long term practicality was missing so when I sat inside a four door Toyota Tacoma a light went on. Just like the Jetta was my ideal first car, a Toyota truck was something I had envied since back in High School.


After a week of looking through the Used section of dealerships and Kijiji, test drives on several trucks, I made my decision and traded in the 2006 Jetta TDI for a 2010 Toyota Tacoma TRD.

The Toyota is rugged but comfortable. The interior is roomy and has clean lines, a comfy bucket seat and some upgrades over my previous car (ie: Bluetooth, standard Auxiliary input, backup camera). The truck sits high but I don’t feel like I am crowding the lines on the road. After adjusting the garage around the truck fits, albeit with a paltry three feet of clearance, but it fits.

I have taken several truck loads to the garbage dump and it recently made a trip to Lac la Biche. The ride was smooth and I didn’t feel sore from the two and a half hour journey. Jenna was comfortable in her spot and the cats in the back were actually the quietest they had been in a vehicle in a long time. I miss the trunk but we put everything in Rubbermaid boxes for the lake so the open air box works just as well for now.

The truck isn’t new and has quirks. As best I can tell the vehicle came from Nova Scotia and had a past life as a fleet vehicle, but yet it has low mileage and not much wear and tear, but enough to show that it is used. The front driver side mudflap is missing, the brake pedal rubber cover is gone, some bed accessories like the plastic cover for the storage compartment or the sliding bedrail cleats are absent; but these can be replaced.

The interior fan has a ticking sound like a cricket when the fan is spinning, and according to others online, this is a common problem and some tightening of screws on the fan blade fixes it. I haven’t been one for doing anything myself in a vehicle, but fixing the fan noise is on my list now. Unlike the VW manual, the Toyota one actually tells you how to remove and inspect items. When I tried to change the Jetta’s battery in 2013 I had to search online for the information before the manual mentioned nothing about how to change it yourself, only the hazards of doing so and ensuring it was an official VW battery.

The benefits of a truck come at a cost: gas mileage. Instead of making multiple trips to the cabin on a single tank I used 3/4 to go there and back. The tank is 80L and thankfully gas is cheaper than diesel, but it does cost a bit to drive. Toyota carries a strong and reliable brand recognition and if I can avoid expensive oil changes or maintenance bills the two may even themselves out over the distance I drive the truck.

All in all having a truck has been fun and it’s been great to put a garbage load in and go, and not have to coordinate borrowing a vehicle. When winter comes the 4×4 feature will provide peace of mind during the really bad days. I miss the Jetta but I am enjoying the Toyota, especially as some have said it looks a little like a Stormtrooper.