2015 has flown by more quickly than a Hollywood romance.
The first half of the year featured numerous local and overseas trips, carefully balanced around career changes and planning for the much-anticipated move abroad. The second half has been one of North American discovery.
Since finding a place to live in Washington State, it feels as if I’ve had one bag constantly packed for trips away, and one foot out the door. My plans seemed frenzied at times, but always turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s rewarding to look back on the places I’ve been and the things I’ve achieved in just 12 months.
It also makes me laugh aloud to think back on the many times I’ve exasperatedly told Tom that I don’t feel like I’ve DONE anything lately. Oh contraire!
This year certainly had its share of stresses, but it’s also been filled with beautiful moments and unforgettable adventures with family, friends and my number one dude.
Here are a few of my favourites…
Hot Air Ballooning in the Hunter Valley
An early 4am start was well worth it for my first hot air ballooning experience. It was so peaceful, and surprisingly quiet as we floated calmly above the vineyards, lakes and estates that dot Pokolbin and Lovedale areas. Our crew was even treated to views of kangaroos bounding through the grape vines – a truly Australian experience that still makes me smile.
Despite this legendary wine region being just an easy hour’s drive from my then-home of Newcastle, we made a long weekend of it to sample the best restaurants and tasting rooms along the way. And returned home with a car-boot load of wine.
A Rustic Week in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji
A rejuvenating week of sun, sea and complete downtime was a much needed antidote to a very stressful start to the year. I’m so grateful to have visited Botaira on Naviti Island. No phone signal, no wifi, no aircon. Just a beautifully rustic bure mere steps from the ocean. Someone take me back, stat!
My version of ‘doing nothing’ included a lot of snorkeling the coral reef offshore, a scuba dive, boat trips, a hike to the highest point of the island, kayaking and SUP – but there was also a lot of downtime: lounging on the hammocks and daybeds with a good book and a spiced rum cocktail.
Swimming with Manta Rays in Fiji
One of the most unique experiences I’ll ever have was encountering migrating manta rays on a snorkel boat trip while in Fiji’s Yasawa Islands. It was a few weeks until the migration season was expected to begin, so I was incredibly lucky to see these early birds!
I held my breath as several manta rays swam directly underneath me in the channel, dwarfed by the size of their wingspan. Being able to watch as they fed on jellyfish was just the icing on Nature’s Cake!
Queenstown Canyon Swing
After a not-so-fun bungy experience in Phuket, I’ve developed a wee fear of activities that involve plunging off ledges at great heights. But as soon as Tom and I decided to plan a winter ski trip to Queenstown, I knew I couldn’t avoid doing something kinda crazy. Adventure capital of New Zealand with a massive adrenalin junkie? Yup, good luck.
So I packed my big-girl-underpants and signed up for the world’s biggest canyon swing. You know what? It wasn’t that bad or scary at all! Just good fun, and epic views of the valley (admittedly, nicer to see them on the slow ride back up than while falling face first toward it)
Getting engaged by a glacier
Trying to place this one within the list so as not to look smug… but obviously, getting engaged was my favourite moment of the year, and will no doubt be the favourite moment of my life.
In addition to being the aforementioned adrenalin junkie, Tom is quite the sweetheart and had planned an epic scenic helicopter flight to Earnslaw Burn, a glacier on New Zealand’s south island.
When our ride landed on the snowy valley beneath the glacier, we got to explore on foot and find little waterfalls around the valley’s rock wall (created by the glacier melting above). Then, to my surprise, he proposed!
It wasn’t flashy or over the top. Sans Flash Mob or cinematic production. Just the two of us, together in a beautiful place in the world. Our version of perfect.
Rekindling a love for skiing
After nearly a decade’s hiatus, I finally got back on the skis in 2015! First in Queenstown’s Remarkables and Coronet Peak, and now much more regularly at Mt Baker, Washington, as the snow has been fantastic this season (and it’s just a 90 minute drive from home!).
While I’m a bit more cautious on the slopes now than as a fearless teen, nothing quite beats the feeling of a great run on fresh morning powder. Also a big fan of the Apres Ski.
Foodie weekend in Adelaide
Combine old friends, delicious food and quality wine – and there you have the ultimate indulgent weekend adventure. Back in May, Tom and I headed to Adelaide to visit some of our favourite people before the craziness of the US move began. It was a weekend of long brunches, food markets and cellar doors amongst the picturesque Barossa Valley. Add in a few city cocktail bars and the discovery of Maggie Beer’s Salted Caramel. Heaven!
Playing host in Newcastle
With the US departure looming, I got to host my mum, my sister and her beau, and my best friends at different times over that final month in Oz. I adore Newcastle, and loved getting to know this totally underrated seaside city for 2+ years. Playing tour guide meant I got some last chances to show it off, and experience the best of the city in the process: the vintage markets, coastal walks, picnics with ocean views, beach time, brunches and funky small bars.
Newcastle is a small city with a big heart. A former blue-collar coal town that’s now establishing itself as a cultural destination in its own right. I’m excited to share more about it soon here on the blog.
Coming to America!
Possibly the most all-involving adventure of the year was leaving Newcastle behind, bound for Washington State. January will mark six months of this new life for us – and what an adventure it’s been so far! With a few expected bumps in the road, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve embraced this Washington life (as outdoorsy people it’s easy!) and I’ve even bought the North Face rain jacket to prove it.
Hiking in the North Cascades National Park
Hiking the Thornton Lakes Trail to Trappers Peak was a personal achievement for me, made better by the company of new friends. While we’ve been hiking a lot since moving to the USA, I hadn’t completed a trail this long or arduous in many years (or possibly ever). The scenery throughout the day was so spectacular that it speaks for itself. The post-hike campfire dinner and red wine was pretty great too.
Road trip through British Columbia
In September, we were gifted with a few spare days before Tom’s full time job began. So we hit the road! As we’d only been in America for about three weeks, this was our first real taste of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. After city-slicking in Vancouver and catching up with friends in Whistler, we took to the road in our new Jeep to see those famous azure lakes, rocky mountains and waterfalls that makes Western Canada famous. Along the way we also surprised ourselves with vineyards and some very cute bird encounters.
Christmas vibes in Leavenworth
As soon as I found out about Leavenworth, I knew I just had to go. While this Washington small town’s Barvarian roots aren’t exactly authentic, it’s got Christmas cheer up the wazoo, which makes it a perfect weekend destination during the annual Christmas Lighting Festival.
Leavenworth is the place where fellow festive nerds unite to collectively oooh and ahhh over millions of Christmas lights, drink mulled wine, snack on roasted chestnuts, and enjoy the tunes of bell choirs and carol singers without being mocked by the real world.
Eating my way through Portland
What does a group of Aussie expats do on a Labor Day weekend? They head to Portland, of course! Cue three days of eating and drinking close to everything in sight. My dream for a tapas-style brunch was finally fulfilled at Tasty n Alder, I was introduced to the coolest whiskey library, and finally started to come around to Team Champagne following an afternoon of cheese and bubbly at Ambonnay. Throw in Portland’s insane food truck scene and you have one very happy girl. A happy girl in need of some stretch pants.
A British Inspired Thanksgiving in Victoria
A real perk of living in Anacortes is the ferry terminal practically on my doorstep, which can transport me throughout the San Juan Islands, as well as Thanksgiving’s destination – Victoria B.C. While there, friends and I managed to pull off a traditional yet Aussie-influenced Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of the holiday was devoted to exploring the city’s unique blend of British and Canadian culture: castles, cups of tea, ice-hockey and learning about the island’s indigenous heritage at the Royal BC Museum.
Scuba diving in Maui
While I love it here in Washington, swapping the icy drizzle for some sunshine was the perfect way to spend Christmas. I booked four scuba trips during our week on Maui’s West Coast, which finally enabled me to graduate from very-nervous-novice to being more comfortable with the underwater world. The diving was phenomenal, especially at the renowned Molokini Crater where the visibility was 100+ feet and I encountered turtles, reef sharks, eels, and fish in every shape and colour.
My favourite bit? Being able to hear the song of humpback whales calling to each other from nearby waters. A truly magical moment.
With just a few days remaining in 2015, I’m switching gears from Maui’s tropical paradise back into Washington’s winter. I’ll be in Seattle to ring in the new year with good company and, of course, good food.
What was your favourite adventure this year?
Happy New Year All! Here’s to more wonderful travel adventures in 2016.
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