About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.


Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

Family Travel Guide to Traveling With Kids

September 1, 2014 by  

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travel with kids

I may look motherly – but I’m not! I never wanted kids of my own. I’m not sure why, it just never appealed to me; taking care of someone, the diapers, crying, responsibility, and especially the toddlers – I don’t do well with toddlers. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like kids – I love other people’s kids. Yes, they still may cry, but they aren’t my responsibility 24/7.

However, over the last 3 years I found myself traveling with other people’s kids quite often and that meant taking responsibility for them for extended periods. It’s quite a challenging and enriching endeavor for me personally. Whenever I start another trip with one of my nieces for the Niece Project, I still get a moment of panic that makes my stomach flip as we’re about to take off. It’s knowing that if something goes wrong – it’s my responsibility – my family is depending on me to keep everyone safe.

Since I’ve completed 3 trips now with my nieces, I also realize that I know a lot more now then I did on my first niece trip. I noticed my stress level was much less as we worked on our preparations to leave. This was niece number 3, I had learned a lot from traveling with the last two and I felt like I was really ahead of the game on this one. When I left with Evie last year to Vietnam I was a ball of stress, it was her first time abroad, and I was worried about everything – how she’d deal with the flight, the food, the jet lag, and how I could make sure her mother was feeling ok with this whole trip. However, maybe lesson number one to traveling with someone else’s kids is to make sure they have their passport before you pull out of the garage – which is what we forgot on our recent trip to Peru with my niece Megan.

I’ve had a lot of people contact me about their own Niece and Nephew projects with questions on how to prepare and how to cope with teenagers on the road, so I started compiling my steps I used for my recent trip.  Here are my top tips:

Build Anticipation

Vatican with kids

Traveling with my niece Bethany at the Vatican. A tour she chose herself after doing Italy research

For the time leading up to the trip, I try to do whatever I can to get them excited about it as normally I think they have a mixture of excitement and intrepidation. After all, for many kids this is the first time they will travel without their parents to far off places – and that can be intimidating. Get them a guidebook or send them websites or phone apps about your destination. Have them get involved in the research and decide what they want to do or see. This gives them more ownership of the trip and takes the pressure off you too.

Temporary Guardianship

As I said, you are responsible for the child you are traveling with and essentially their guardian for a period of time. It’s a good idea to talk with the parents ahead of time about getting a temporary guardianship document drawn up and notarized to take with you. I first did this when I started traveling to less developed countries with my nieces, but it’s a good idea to do no matter where you go. First off you’ll need this to prove you have responsibility for the child to any authorities/border regulations that might require it. In addition, you are the adult who has to potentially make split second decisions if something goes wrong from a medical emergency or country emergency. Luckily I’ve never had to pull out and use the document before – but I feel better having it.

Take Along Insurance Information

Insurance is always a good idea…Of course if you are responsible for them you’ll want to ensure you have their insurance information and proper coverage. But if you are traveling internationally, then the first step is to talk to their parents and make sure they contact their insurance company and find out what their kid’s international coverage entails. And if you are traveling remotely or doing adventure travel like I recently did with my niece Megan in Peru, you’ll want to ensure they have emergency evacuation insurance and all of the international coverage boxes ticked.

Make Copies

Before you leave make sure that you have digital copies of their passports and insurance cards (as well as yours!) and leave them in your email or cloud storage AND also with their parents.

Enroll in STEP

If you are traveling internationally, it’s always a good idea to register with the STEP program with the US State Department (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It’s a good habit to develop and I normally make my nieces go and do this step themselves so that learn about the process and will use it as they continue to travel by themselves as they get older.

Picky Eaters

We all know how picky kids can be when it comes to eating food that looks foreign to them. I always try to encourage my nieces to try new things, however it’s still a good idea to pack some ‘emergency’ snacks for flight delays, long train rides or buses. I normally ensure that we have nuts and Cliff Bars from home so that they at least have something familiar with them if they are having one of those picky eater days.

Stay Connected

traveling with kids

Megan chatting with her friends on her phone. Her lifeline to not getting homesick

I mainly travel with teenagers, and you know how connected teenagers are to their phones – it’s their lifeline. I understand that the point of traveling with them is to transport them into another world, but they are still kids, and they do still want to stay in touch with their friends – especially if gone for a long time. I always carry a personal internet device (mifi) with me, which allows us to both connect to internet wirelessly. This way they can still get messages from their friends and more importantly share their experiences with their friends and family. It’s also a great way for them to stay in touch with their parents to let them now what they are doing

Share your Itinerary

I’m used to traveling solo and I practically never make an itinerary. However, to ease the parent’s concern and to let them know where you are, make sure they have all of your flight information as well as your itinerary of where you’ll be staying and any emergency numbers or ways to get a hold of you.

Make a Communication Plan

Before you leave talk with the parents to make a plan on how often you are going to contact them so that they feel comfortable. Also discuss the mode of preferred communication (email, skype, sms, phone calls) and test it out before you go. This includes the kid too – they should work out with their parents how they are going to communicate with them – especially if you are doing international travel. Before I left on my most recent niece trip to Peru, Megan had planned to use imessage to stay in touch with her parents and text them updates. We tested this out before we left and utilized the mifi device while in Peru to ensure she had internet connectivity to use the application. Just remember, every parent’s comfort level is different. Last summer my sister-in-law asked to have an email update every day. No problem – keep the parents happy is my main rule.

Consider Tours

When you travel together for a while 24/7 it’s pretty easy to get tired of each other, I love to use tours to kind of mix it up and give each other another social outlet. I’ve used Intrepid small group tours as a great way for my nieces to meet other adults and kids while getting to know a more local side of a country.

Your Daughter/Son is So Cute!

Daughter – what? “No, no, she’s not my daughter, she’s my niece.” I have finally gotten used to this exchange on the road. People will of course think that you are the parent. Even though this seems really strange to me (after all I don’t think I look like a parent – or that’s what I tell myself), it’s of course natural for people to think that. As much as I would like to believe that it’s normal for aunts and uncles to travel with their nieces and nephews, it’s not. Maybe one day the Niece Project will really take off and that will be the case – but until then graciously accept that you will look like a parent during your travels.

Make a Money Plan

Sit down and discuss with the parents how you will handle the access to cash and spending. If you are traveling internationally, this becomes a little more challenging. Many kids these days do have debit cards or prepay cards – but you have to make sure they are useable in other countries. Does their bankcard work as an ATM card and will it work overseas? What are the international charges? Make sure someone contacts the bank and works this out as well as letting them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t put a fraud hold on the card. Sometimes parents would rather not have the kid responsible for money and they’d like you to take out the money and dole it out accordingly.

Be Prepared for Queasiness

barf bag travel with kids

Evie holding an important pack item!

I know this sounds strange – but on 2 of the 3 trips I took with my nieces it left me frantically searching for a vomit bag; not for me, for them. It took me completely by surprise, but kids are kids and they tend to get motion sick, nervous, and generally sick. After a few times caught by surprise – now I always have a barf bag with me and a pack of Dramamine. And while you are stocking the first aid kit, make sure you know of any allergies or medical issues they may have before you go. You don’t want to be surprised by a bee sting or nut allergy!

Do you have any other tips for traveling with kids you’d like to share?

 

Prince Edward Island For Oysters & Awe Inspiring Skies

August 25, 2014 by  

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I continued my seafood-a-palooza this week on Prince Edward Island in Canada.  What’s that?  You haven’t heard of PEI?  Well – if you are a foodie I’ll tell you a secret – get here now…it’s an island full of food that will tantalize your taste buds and warm your heart thanks to all of the local love going on.  The island’s top 3  industries are fishing, farming, and tourism – mix that together in a geographically beautiful landscape and you’ve got a culinary destination!

My parents and I continued to satisfy our seafood itch and not only enjoyed eating seafood on PEI, but we also did some great hands on experiences.   – We went out on a lobster boat and pulled traps as well as visited an Oyster farm and learned about aquafarming.  Much more to come on that in future writing – but just know that many days I had oysters for breakfast…nuff said.

We also got dirty in the local farms of PEI and then cooked up a feast at a cooking class.  But mostly we just drove around the island on the various scenic routes stopping at fishing villages along the way talking to fisherman, and farmers.  “Everyone is so nice here!” my dad exclaimed in the car today.  And he’s right – nice people, scrumptious food, fantastic hands-on experiences, beautiful national parks, sweeping landscapes, and a tight-knit community  = a great travel destination!  And that’s how I spent my week!

Canada National Parks PEI

The dune hike at PEI national Park in Greenwich was a highlight for me. You hike on a floating boardwalk to get to the dunes. Gorgeous!

Cooking class farm to table

Raspberry mint ice cream made today at our cooking class @AnniesTable – we even picked the raspberries ourselves!

French River PEI

The colorful fishing village of French River

Canada lighthouse

#PEI has an abundance of lighthouses but I loved this one w the Canada maple leaf at Covehead Bay.

raw oyster

My morning shooter from Colville Bay Oyster Company in Souris. Better than cereal

Prince Edward Island

Wandering aimlessly around the @gentleisland PEI near Kensington

Fishing buoys

Tools of the fishing trade in #PEI . Each fisherman has his own color so that he knows which traps are his.

Balsamic PEI

I walked into foodie heaven today @LiquidGoldCTown in #Charlottetown PEI. An olive oil & balsamic store offering tons of amazing varieties to try and mix. Flavors like blood Orange, maple, coconut, espresso, butternut squash, and Persian lime. It was 20 times better than an ice cream store as I sampled a ridiculous amount and wanted them all. Recipes are on their website www.allthingsolive.ca and if you are in the maritimes definitely make the trip here to try and buy!

PEI National Park

Hiking through the wetland dune trail @ParksCanadaPEI

cutting apples

Colorful apples and colorful arms at Annie’s Table Farm to Table Cooking Class

Disclosure:  I was invited to enjoy Prince Edward Island  by Tourism PEI.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

 

 

Ballooning: Taking in “Down Under” From “Up Above”

August 15, 2014 by  

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The first time I ever went up in a hot air balloon we had a crash landing. Ok – maybe that’s a bit melodramatic but I did end up with a bloody knee and a whole bunch of people on top of me as the basket drug along the ground. I called it a crash landing, the captain called it an ‘engergy disapation landing’…tomato…tomaaato.

ballooning gold coast australia

However, somehow I’ve been able to shake that experience off and get back off the ground. Why would I do such a thing?

hot air balloon gold coast

Because floating silently above the ground like a drone taking pictures is just that much fun.

Doing photography from above is one of my favorite things to do.  I must be the luckiest person around as I was able to go hot air ballooning in Australia not once, but twice! I feel like pretty soon I’ll be captaining them myself! Then again if I want to avoid more crash landings, it’s probably best if I stick to the photography.

Gold Coast in Queensland

If you are going to float above the beautiful Australian landscapes you have to get up early. The first morning in Southern Queensland near the Gold Coast I had my alarm set for 4 AM. I groggily woke up, put on warm clothes, gathered up all of my electronics and slept walk my way to the Hot Air Gold Coast bus that would take us away from the coast and into the hinterlands for a sunrise float. Luckily it was an hour drive so I was able to sleep on the bus after the safety video.

We arrived as they were filling the balloon. In the inky blue darkness all of a sudden you’d see a bright flame in the distance. It looked like a fire breathing dragon with knights surrounding it trying to get it under control. Maybe I had been reading too much Game of Thrones before bedtime? As the balloon filled up, it slowly lifted off the ground and became upright. The guide called us over one by one to climb into the basket. I was pretty loaded down by all of my camera equipment, but I managed to sling my leg over the basket somehow.

The ride was spectacular – and the whole time I had the song “Up Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon” running through my head. We climbed quite high on this flight. You could see all the way to the Gold Coast once you got up there in altitude. The sunrise was a bit cloudy – but the views were still great. We were able to see the mountains of the Great Dividing Range as well as a number of farms and small towns. We had a nice ‘safe’ landing and then spent time helping them load the balloon back on the truck. After that it was off to a champagne breakfast at a local winery.

balloon sunrise

A cloudy sunrise above the hinterlands

Farmland below. The balloon scared the cows!

Queensland from above

Great Dividing Range of Queensland

Queensland hot air balloon

Where fields collide…

deflating balloon

Everyone chips in to deflate the balloon

Outback Ballooning Northern Territory

My second hot air flight was over the outback in the Northern Territory with Outback Ballooning. This was also a sunrise flight and we started in the complete darkness in the dusty orange outback outside of Alice Springs. This was a smaller group and a bit smaller basket. The sunrise was a golden orange without a cloud in the sky. It lit up the outback with long mystical shadows. This pilot took us much lower – in fact so low that it made me pretty nervous based on my first balloon experience. However he had it under control the whole time. We were even able to chase a few kangaroos through the outback!

At the end of this flight we all helped pack up the balloon again and we even got to witness the captain delicately lift the balloon and basket back onto the truck flatbed – not an easy task. Afterward we were all treated to champagne and biscuits to toast our safe flight.

Hot air balloon outback

Take of from Australia’s Red Centre

Outback sunrise

A perfectly orange sunrise in a clear morning sky.

outback hot air balloon

Bushy trees start to light up in the sunrise

Alice Springs from above

Long shadows form across the outback as the sun rises

kangaroo outback

Tracking kangaroos from above!

hot air balloon nothern territory

A perfect landing!

These were two iconic places and landscapes to capture from above. And the good news is that it looks like my days of crash landings are past me!

If you could go ballooning anywhere in the world – where would you go? Please answer in the comments!

More Australian Ballooning Info:

Hot Air Gold Coast Website – www.hotair.com.au/goldcoast
Cost: Sunrise ballooning and vineyard breakfast $250 AU

Outback Ballooning  Website – www.outbackballooning.com.au
Cost:  30 minutes $290 AU

Disclosure:  I was a guest of the Tourism NT and Queensland Tourism during my time in the Australia.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

New Brunswick Canada for the Best in Celtic Heritage, Whales, Boating & Misty Skies

August 9, 2014 by  

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New Brunswick. That week was the perfect storm of Maritime Canada – seafood, whales, boating, tides, Celtic heritage, and family.

My week of New Brunswick goodness started in the capital city of Fredericton with a big dose of the Scottish heritage unique to the Maritime Provinces.  Then we went to the famous Bay of Fundy to spend some time observing the highest tides in the world (changes of 30+ feet) in this unique environment.  We got our sea legs out on the water and have spent every evening eating seafood feasts.

With my parents along, I can say that we may not agree on all things – but we can all agree on seafood.  The fresher the better and there is never such a thing as too much lobster.  That why today we are spending our day in the little fishing village of Alma learning about the lobster fishing industry and stuffing our faces with the freshest catch around!

 

lobster new brunswick

I love traveling seaside! New Brunswick lobster! What’s your favorite thing to dip it in?

bay of fundy low tide

St. Andrews Canada

St Andrews By-The-Sea truly is a picture perfect town! Loved doing a morning run down main street.

highland games fredericton

The @NBHighlandGames are in full swing. I love kilts! #BeAScot

 

oyster shooter

Every night should begin with an oyster shooter. Who agrees?!

 

Bridge Fredericton

An old railway bridge converted to pedestrian use in Fredericton – one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world!

 

Kingsbrae Garden

Took a stroll thru the meticulously landscaped @KingsbraeGarden in St. Andrews – beautiful buds all around!

 

Whale watching Bay of Fundy

Every morning should begin w a Minke whale saying hello!

 

glamping new brunswick

Spent the evening soaking in an old wood fired hot tub @ridgebacklodge – surrounded by my glamping dome & pine trees!

Disclosure:  I was invited to enjoy New Brunswick by Tourism New Brunswick.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

 

Take in the Uluru Sunrise at Longitude 131 Down Under

August 7, 2014 by  

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Luxury accomodation Uluru

I found myself wandering around the aisles glancing at magazines while trying to listen to the announcements on the airport PA system. As my eyes rolled over the massive amount of paparazzi photos and ridiculous headlines, one cover with a reddish-orange glow caught my eye. Prince William and Kate were impeccably dressed and lighted in the vibrant glow of the Australian Red Centre.

Considering this was the destination I was headed to on my flight today, I picked up the magazine and started paging through it to see more pictures. To my surprise the royal couple had just visited the spiritual sight of Uluru and stayed at the exact place I was booked at for the next two nights – Longitude 131. If glamping was good enough for the royal couple, then it would definitely be good enough for me.

As soon as I arrived at the Red Centre and saw the 15 little tent tops peaking out of the brush in the desert I knew this would be a unique experience. Most people are enticed to the area by the views and culture of Uluru, the largest monolith in the world. However I was enticed by the chance to stay at Longitude 131, the premier glamping experience in Australia. I was intrigued at how this property that hosts the Royal Family and people such as Oprah could pull off luxury in such a remote and barren desert location.

My Love of Nowhere

Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park is the spiritual center of Australia and it’s conveniently located about dead center in Australia as part of the Northern Territory. This was my first trip to the Northern Territory and I was excited to see this barren land. I’m inexplicably drawn to these environments – the nowhere environments such as Kazakhstan, the steppe of Mongolia, the Meseta of Spain, and the Great Plains of the US.

I love wide open space where the clouds string out endlessly and the culture is rugged because it has to be. I love to see for miles and miles, and to experience the challenges that remoteness brings. And here I was in the heart of remoteness for Australia, eager to learn about the history and culture, but equally eager to learn how people live out here modern day and how a glamping resort can offer up unparalleled luxury experiences in…well…nowhere.

The Pioneers

Each Longitude 131 tent was a nod to the great pioneers and explorers of the area. The interior design had an old world charm, yet a mix of new world technology. There were maps, magnifying glasses and telescopes for your inner old world explorer. However the iPad and Bose speakers in each tent provided access to the modern world, while you gazed out on Uluru, the spiritual Anangu world. Each tent was actually part tent, part cottage with a canvas roof, 3 solid walls, and 1 full window for the 4th wall. This layout provided the perfect private view of Uluru. Touches of luxury were everywhere – from the view, to the turn down service with fur hot water bottles, to the complimentary mini bar, and finally to the Nespresso teas/coffees.

glamping uluru

Glamping outback australia

Best view Uluru

The Culinary Innovator

The Dune House was the communal lodge where you could relax, read papers, socialize with guests, review maps, talk with the guides, and pour yourself a drink at the self serve bar complete with drink recipes at your disposal. This was also where you ate your meals. One would think that in a remote location (the closest town was 280 miles away) with one road running through it and a delivery truck that actually stopped twice a week with food/produce, it might be hard to create inventive menus to go along with the luxury experience.

However, Chef Seona Moss knows how to make the most of her remote location. She uses the remoteness to inspire her thereby creating beautiful platings that are reminiscent of the landscape and area. She relies on the deliveries for fresh produce, but she also utilizes the expertise of the local Anangu people to infuse seasonal desert plants and fruits into the dishes. Her use of the local quandongs, a red fruit used by the Anangu were delicious in our dinner under the stars the first night.

Chef Moss’s creations take skill to cook and present, but to me the real skill is coming up with innovative dishes and mastering the logistics of her remote location and supplies. I love the fact she has made Uluru her home and has really embraced the local culture and techniques into her food.

Longitude 131 Food

Food Outback

The Nomads

Being a nomad myself for years, I am always fascinated learning about nomadic groups –historical and modern day. The Anangu people were nomads roaming as family groups (aprox. 50 people in a family group) around the desert outback only utilizing what they needed and always respecting the land. This is how most of the nomadic cultures survive; with a simple lifestyle and respect for the land that gives them life. Unlike many nomadic cultures I come across, the Anangu owned no livestock and instead lived off the land and only killed what they needed to feed the group. Uluru was an important source of water and animals for them, it was their rock of life.

However what surprised me most was the modern day nomads – the guides of Longitude 131 were living out here in nowhere and their stories seemed all the same. They were roaming Australia, or the world, and came across the Northern Territory and it called them. Most would stay for a year working in the Uluru area, and some stayed for longer. Regardless – these were not city people, they were people who loved the outdoors and remoteness of Uluru. And loved sharing the culture and history even more. They didn’t need much to be happy. I actually wondered if I could hack it out in the desert for a year working in a remote location – I’m not sure I could.

It seemed like every guide I had was either coming or going – some it was their last day and some it was the first day. On each outing we had a different guide for the experience – this was done on purpose so we could get different perspectives. I really liked this aspect as each guide’s passion and interest seemed to come out in their stories – some of them I connected to more than others – but all were extremely knowledgeable and professional.

Uluru Northern Territory

The Experiences

How do you add luxury to the desert environment? It’s all about service. Each morning and evening there was an exclusive experience that you could participate in with fellow guests. These experiences were about physically exploring the living and cultural landscapes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

The Uluru Sunrise Walk allowed you to view the sight of one of the famous Anangu song lines (stories) of Kiniya Liru. I was able to get a good feel for the beliefs of the Anangu and the importance of Uluru for their survival through the stories.

The Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds Hike (aprox. 4 miles) was by far my favorite morning exploration activity. It was a chance to hike through the magnificent Olgas comprising of 36 dome-like rock formations. There were valleys and gorges and amazing flower and fauna to explore.

The sunset activities with Longitude 131 provided a way to get a close up as well as a wide perspective. The first night we watched sunset from a distance in order to take in the whole environment. We were supplied with champagne and canapés as we watched the clouds swirl in color about Uluru. The second night we actually walked around the base of Uluru on the path.

This gave us a chance to see the rock formation up close. Wind had carved many interesting wave-like caves which were used as gathering areas for the men, women, and elders of the ancient Ananagu. We ended our walk once again with beer, champagne, and canapés at Kantju Gorge. I took my glass of champagne and camera into the gorge with me and sat and watched the walls of Uluru light up like a blazing fire and then die down as the sun set.

Finally we had the ultimate luxury eating experience – Table 131 – dining under the stars in the desert. A long communal table was set and we all gathered around to feast on a 4-course meal and wine paring all in the desert darkness. At the end of the dinner we were served a lovely port and then treated to explore the southern hemisphere night sky as guide Andy led us through a stargazing activity.

Sunset Uluru

dining under the stars Uluru

Sunset Uluru

 

The Modern Day Pioneer

Being surrounded by explorers, nomads, and innovators for two days was a highlight for me in the Northern Territory. It satiated my need for experiencing a popular location in a new, unique way. As I sat in my tent sipping a drink admiring the beauty of nowhere I realized that in a way Longitude 131 was a real pioneer in the Red Centre. Pioneers are not only people who discover a place, but they are also people who develop or apply new methods and activities. Longitude131 had successfully developed a full luxury experience in a harsh environment while staying true to the culture. There is nothing else like it in the area – it’s a special experience in the middle of nowhere.

More Information:

www.longitude131.com.au
With a price tag of $1100 per person and a minimum 2 night stay (all inclusive), it’s a hefty price tag for glamping. However Longitude 131 has the chops to pull it off due to it’s unique location and specialized offerings.

 

Disclosure:  I was a guest of the Tourism NT during my time in the Northern Territory of Australia.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

 

Wisconsin Lake Life on a Hot Summer Day

August 3, 2014 by  

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Life on this little lake in Wisconsin is quiet, no one is here during the week and the back of the house looks directly out on the lake in the backyard.  Are you ready for this – as idyllic as this lake is – I never once went out on it during my time here – gasp!  I was quite happy just sitting and enjoying it from the yard.  The sun set every night around 9:15 providing a technicolor light show which sent me running for my camera.

Here I soak up my Wisconsin lake life this summer.

Discover Wisconsin Lake Life

R U Ready? Here begins 2+ wks of gorgeous lake sunsets.

location independent office

It’s #happyhour at the office. Want to join me?

lake sunset

Last night’s sunset at the lake. The hues as if I were at a night club!.

stillwater bridge

A paddle boat floats along the border of Wisconsin & Minnesota.

tree sunset

Ray of light.

Tire swing

Forget happy hour – it’s tire swing hour!

cabin wisconsin

Mowing day today! It had been 25 yrs since I had to mow. I will happily wait 25 more until next time!

Golden hour photography

The golden hour on Cedar Lake.

midwest roads

My running route today – I was accompanied by beautiful clouds!

lake life wisconsin

A storm is brewing & I’ve go a front row seat!

 

 

 

Taking in the Green & Views of Australia’s Scenic Rim Trail

July 31, 2014 by  

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hiking Queensland

I waited at the edge of the road as the big truck passed by in low gear slowly climbing up Cunningham Gap otherwise known as Highway 15 in Queensland. I thought about what this pass would have looked like 186 years ago when explorer Allan Cunningham discovered it in 1828. After multiple attempts, he discovered this way through Queensland’s Great Dividing Range opening up an important route in Australia. Settlers and wagon trains have been replaced with trucks, cars and asphalt, but the beautiful views are the same.

After the trucks and cars passed we followed our guide Hanna across the highway and onto the Scenic Rim Trail (one of the many Great Dividing Range hiking trails) to begin our exploration of the area by foot.  This specific trail was a part of the hiking and luxury glamping experience offered by Spicers Canopy.

Spicers had just started offering this Scenic Rim Trail hike  – an inventive luxury hiking and glamping experience. It includes an all inclusive 3 days of hiking with 2 nights in canvas tents in the countryside and 1 night at Spicers Peak Lodge, all while being looked after by an experienced guide and a host of other people at the campsite and lodge.

I was eager to try out this form or glamping since I love camping, but I hate hiking with camping gear. Yes – you can read this as I’m lazy – but any time I can lighten my backpack it’s a good thing. This seemed like the perfect solution for me, with an added touch of luxury at the campsite. Our guide provided 40L day packs, a packed lunch, rain gear, and a great 2L water camel back. I took some extra layers and my camera and that was all I needed. They transported my other bag to Spicers Canopy campsite directly.

We began our hike up to the peak of Mt. Mitchell. The trail was well groomed and I enjoyed seeing a number of new varieties of flower and fauna unique to Australia. However, we had a crazy weather day with unusual gust of winds that howled through the trees making it sound even more ominous that it was. As we crossed the saddle of the mountain at 3800 ft., the wind would gust through the saddle and nearly blow us off!

Mt. Mitchell Australia

Hiking to the Mt. Mitchell Lookout

Great Dividing Range

The view of the Great Dividing Range

As we hiked up Mt. Mitchell you could see the big picture of our adventure; way off in the distance you could see the white tops of the canopy camp in the valley. You could also see Spicers Peak Lodge perched high on top of a hill across from Spicer’s Peak.

The Mt. Mitchell part of the trek was park land, but on our way down we left the nice trail and went off-trail working our way down the ridge and out of the park. It felt freeing to be off-trail – I loved it! The steep ridge was slippery from the previous day’s rain so the footing was challenging. Eventually we came to a gate where we crossed over into Spicer’s property and Nature Refuge – 6000 acres of protected land. This was Australia’s largest private wildlife refuge. In addition to seeing wallabies (small kangeroos) hop around there were also a number of cattle. Spicers actually has 400 breaders and 4 bulls grazing as well as a full time rancher to manage the vast area.

Spicers Scenic Rim HIke

Hiking off-trail in the refuge

It was another 2 hours of hiking in the relentless wind on the Spicers property until we crested a hill and I finally saw it – the cream colored tents beautifully situated pointing towards Mt. Mitchell. I squinted my eyes to make out a person standing on the porch of the lodge building, with each step the person became more clear. It was Chef Ryan holding a platter of champagne for us! This is how I like to arrive at a campsite – this is glamping. In addition to the champagne, Ryan also had a plate of warm scones with jam and cream. We sunk into the comfortable couches in the main lodge of the campsite happy to have completed our challenging hiking day and even happier to be eating and drinking.

Glamping Spicers Canopy

Glamping at Spicers Canopy

There were 10 canvas tents built on individual platforms with a lovely porch and comfortable chairs. Each tent had a big queen bed with fluffy robes and a comfortable lounge chair and ottoman. The tents were powered with solar power so each had two bedside lamps and one overhead lamp. It was 51 degrees out – a bit chilly – but the big bed was outfitted with some of the plushest bedding I had ever seen. A big fluffy duvet, blankets, and 4 feather pillows that you just melted into. After the hiking, all you wanted to do was lay down on the bed and be swallowed up.

However first we needed to get cleaned up and fed. The ‘community’ building/lodge housed the bathrooms, a big open kitchen, and living room with a stone fireplace. It was toasty warm and comfortable – like your own living room. There were also 3 hot water showers and bathrooms to be shared by the glampers. Fluffy towels and toiletries were provided. Ryan and Finely, the two Spicers Canopy chefs, were there to cook us up a feast. The night’s menu included an onion-brie tart with balsamic, Coq au vin, mashed potatoes, carrots, and sticky date pudding with ice cream for dessert. And of course all the delicious Australian wine you could drink. This was not normal camping food!

spicers canopy glamping

I slept incredibly soundly in my little ‘duvet cloud’ that night despite the wind and was ready to go the next day to continue our hiking. This was a shorter version of the typical Scenic Rim Trail as today we’d be hiking up to the lodge to stay there for an evening before heading back to Brisbane.

Breakfast at the campsite was just as impressive and provided a great base for the days’ hike. We took off for another day of off-trail ridge hiking and sadly left Spicers Canopy behind. My fellow hikers were all from the Brisbane area so as we hiked they eagerly gave me more advice for other places to see and go in the Southern Queensland area. Interestingly all of my fellow hikers were also solo travelers that weekend. This was a great itinerary for a solo traveler who wants to try glamping. It’s group hiking, so you have a great communal atmosphere even though you are solo.

As we finished our day and hiked towards the picture perfect Spicers Peak Lodge, it felt as if I were hiking into a Colorado mountain lodge. Big wood beams, high ceilings, and a gorgeous nature setting. The lodge definitely extended the luxury experience and if you felt like more hiking there were a number of trails around the lodge too. Or you could just relax in the spa, swim in the infinity pool, or sit by the fire and enjoy the all-inclusive bar.

hiking Spicers Peak

Arriving at the lodge by foot is always the best way!

Spicers Peak Lodge

Spicers Peak Lodge

Spicers Peak Lodge Queensland

A great day to lounge after a good hike.

Don’t let all of the pampering fool you though, the hiking on the Scenic Rim Trail is definitely serious hiking. Some of the more difficult I’ve done in parts of the world. I would recommend proper hiking boots and poles if you go. I was definitely exhausted and sore after the hikes, but knowing that you would be pampered at the end of the day was the incentive I needed to get through the trail.

I’m guessing the old explorers like Allan Cunningham couldn’t have imagined such glamorous digs in the middle of this harsh mountain range, but I’m sure he and the rest of the wagon train would have welcomed some warm scones, cream, and champagne.

 

More Information:
Scenic Rim Trail Hike by Spicers – www.scenicrimtrail.com
This four-day walk experience gives you an opportunity to enjoy the Scenic Rim’s abundant natural treasures and breathtaking vistas.
Package Includes:
• Two nights’ accommodation in a safari-style luxury tent
• Final night at Spicers Peak Lodge
• Three days of guided walks including the walk into Spicers Canopy and the walk up to Spicers Peak Lodge
• All food & beverage throughout your stay including gourmet breakfasts and lunches, banquet dinners, and a seven course degustation at award winning restaurant The Peak on your final night

Disclosure:  I was invited to enjoy Queensland by the Queensland Tourism Board.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

 

Stunning Uluru, Australia’s Most Sacred Site for Anangu Culture

July 27, 2014 by  

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Uluru walking path

The sun was just starting to peak out around the reddish rock. I pulled down the brim of my baseball cap to shade my eyes as rays of light shot out of the clouds and onto my path.

The path around the base of Uluru was nearly empty in this section. Not many tourists venture out around the perimeter when visiting Uluru; instead they seemed to stay to the main points of interest and then get in their car and drive to the next one. But my Longitude 131 guide, Mark, suggested I go for a walk and get a better ‘feel’ for Uluru.

Uluru is Australia’s most sacred site for the aboriginal people called Anangu.  Believed to have been formed by the activities of ancestral beings in creation time (aka Dreamtime), Uluru includes caves, waterholes, and ancient rock paintings. The traditional name for the sandstone rock, Ayers Rock was the name given by European explorers, however it is now referred to as it Anangu name, Uluru.   After hearing Mark’s countless stories about Uluru and how the Anangu people used the rock to tell stories of their creation, I did long for a connection to this sacred place, and getting out to walk in more seclusion was just what I needed to process it all.

However instead of more of a connection to Uluru, I found my mind wandering as I walked along the path with the giant red monolith to my left and flat desert to my right. I had a lucidity that I normally only get when I run. As I looked at the landscape, absorbed the colors, inspected the trees, and processed the Anangu stories Mark told me, I found myself transported to many places I had been before in the world.

After 8 years of circumnavigating the globe, my view of the world is like a patchwork quilt – stitched together memories of places, feelings, landmarks, people, colors, and countries. They all sort of blend together after a while and remind me of each other. It’s rare that a place feels really new or different to me any longer – and that’s the downside of traveling for 8 years. Yet in some ways that’s what keeps me going – trying to find those new, unique places that aren’t like anything I have experienced before.

Often our brains make sense of new things by comparing them to past memories. This morning, I was not really taking a walk around Uluru, I was taking a walk through my quilt of memories. Every corner I would go around, every place I would look I had a familiar feeling transporting me to another place on the globe I had been before.

Uluru wasn’t Uluru, it was the Sique of Petra with its wind eroded walls carving tunnels that looked like petrified waves. The red monolith made of sandstone had the same strange ‘other-worldly’ feel as the limestone formations in Cappadocia in Turkey, yet in reddish rock instead of white. When I first set eyes on Uluru, I felt the same sense of awe and greatness as when I laid eyes on the Grand Canyon for the first time. The trees and changing colors of Uluru transported me back to the colorful gorges of Oman with it’s oasis of green trees.

Uluru and Petra

Uluru caves

Petra Sique

Uluru and Cappadocia

Uluru monolith

Cappadocia landscape

Uluru and the Grand Canyon

uluru sunrise

Grand Canyon

Uluru Dreamtime Stories and Hawaii Mythology

Mutitjulu water hole uluru

Big Island Volcano

 

 Uluru Anangu Family Circles and Mongolian Nomads

Uluru drawings

Mongolia nomads

 

 Uluru and Oman

Uluru trees

HIking Oman

 

Disclosure:  I was a guest of the Tourism NT during my time in the Northern Territory of Australia.  However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!

 

 

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