FAMILY VACATION 2018!

For the first time in about 10 year, my family FINALLY did a family vacation! Earlier this year, my mom and I were throwing out ideas about where we could go. The key determinants were: inexpensive, warm, and had a lot of activities we could do. Hawaii? Nope too expensive. Florida? Nope, been there too many times. MexicoOK! Without any argument, we decided to take them to the wonderful Puerto Aventuras, Mexico!
Puerto Aventuras: a small, quaint, gated community located about 50 minutes south east of Cancun (between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.) Kwin and I have vacationed here two years ago- where it was my first time to Mexico, and Kwin’s…well he’s been here a lot!
We left on Christmas Eve- leaving the snow covered, and bone chilling Michigan- and headed for the sun. Travel tip… Christmas Eve/ New Years Eve typically have the cheapest plane tickets! Customs was a breeze. We then caught a shuttle to pick up our rental car. We ALWAYS rent a car when traveling, even in Mexico, because it allows us more freedom. We don’t have to depend on a bus, other people, time constraints, and predetermined schedules.With the van all packed up we made a quick stop at SAM’s club to load up on some snacks/groceries and then made our way to our final destination! Last time Kwin and I stayed in the Omni Hotel, located right in the downtown area, and this time we stayed in a nice VRBO condo.

So, what is a vacation with Kwin and Megan like? Well, just because we are on “vacation,” doesn’t mean that we are going to be sitting and doing nothing all day. I love relaxing occasionally, reading a good book and getting some good R&R…but when we travel we feel like we should be adventuring new terrain, and diverging into the culture!
Coba
Our first excursion was the Mayan Ruin- Coba. This Mayan community was first settled between 50 BC and 100 AD in the Yucatan Peninsula. However, when the spaniards discovered this land, they brought over deadly diseases, which nearly wiped out the entire population! When Coba you will see the main/ largest pyramid (Ixmoja), spiritual temples, two ball courts, and other Mayan ruins.
Upon arriving you can choose to have a tour guide, which is nice because they are very knowledgable about the ruins, or walking the through by yourself. You can also rent bikes or take a “trolly.”
Ixmoja is one of the ONLY Mayan ruins that you can still climb! It’s a steep 120 stair climb to the top. Most of us were able to make it to the top, and the view once up there is spectacular. Overlooking the vast green jungle, two lakes (Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc) and seeing evidence of other uncovered Mayan structures.
Given that Coba is a good distance from the Ocean, and in the middle of the jungle, it can get pretty toasty out there! But no need to worry, there are three fun cenotes to jump in just a short 5 minute drive away- Cenotes Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha. Keep reading to learn a little more about these!

Tulum
Otherwise known as Zama, meaning City of Dawn, because it faces the sunrise. Tulum resides on a bluff facing east toward the Caribbean Sea. Tulum had access to both land and sea trade routes, making it an important trade hub.
All of the Mayan communities were connected to one another by way of path. This is said to have extended for miles connecting Coba, Tulum and Chichén Itzá.
This is probably my favorite Mayan ruin. The ocean views, ability to swim whenever you want, PLUS sunrises and sunsets! Unlike Coba, most of the Tulum ruins have been preserved. This allows you to feel like you are actually walking around the same community that they once did.
FYI: This is a VERY popular tourist attraction, so if you’re not there early in the morning it can get very crowded.

Cozumel
We always make a day trip over to the island of Cozumel, taking a ferry from Playa Del Carmen (which is about a 45 minute ride.)
Downtown Cozumel is similar to any port city- full of people, restaurants, shops, etc. Given it’s a popular location to do a day trip, and where cruise ships port, we like to get away from town ASAP!
Just like last time, we rented mopeds, and cruised around the whole island! Stopping along the way to do some snorkeling, body surfing, or getting some refreshments.

Cenotes
What exactly are these things? They’re natural caves that are filled with fresh water (That’s right, FRESH WATER,) in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. These underwater sinkholes were formed millions of years ago when limestone caves collapse, revealing underground pools.
When driving down the highway you will see signs for cenotes EVERYWHERE! Let me tell you, it’s so refreshing to jump into fresh water pools after doing some hiking all morning.
Most of these cenotes are well managed and cost only a couple pesos. Some of our favorites are: the ones I listed above at Coba- Cenotes Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha- and Cenote Cristalino (Which is right near where we stayed in Puerto Aventuras.)
Each Cenote is unique….

  • Cenote Choo-Ha has platforms that you can jump off into the water! A 50ft and 20ft jump…believe it or not, I actually did the 50ft jump this time!
  • Multum-Ha supposedly has a legend that a man fell into the hole and his skeletal remains are still at the bottom.
  • Cenote Cristalino is an above ground cenote which has a rock wall to jump off of, and fish that suck on your feet and give you a nice pedicure (if you sit still enough.) You pay big money for that in the states!

FOOD!
Well, how can one go to Mexico and NOT like the food? I think it’s impossible! Fresh guacamole made right there on the spot, fresh pico-de gallo served as we sat down at the table. Fresh seafood. Man, I don’t think we had a bad meal. Plus the food is SO CHEAP here!
Puerto Aventuras main downtown is a popular tourist spot called “Dolphin Discovery.” Surrounding the area with dolphins, sea lions and manatees, is a boardwalk and 10+ local, family owned restaurants.
Each night we tried a different restaurant! We obviously all had favorites, but in my opinion they were all great.
Good food, good drinks, good company!

I’m so glad that we were able to take a fun family vacation with my parents and two younger brothers!
A trip to the sunny, and warm Mexican weather is always so rejuvenating for the soul. Especially living in grey, cloudy and cold Michigan.

Check out Kwin’s Video he made of our trip HERE!

I hope you all enjoyed reading this and are having a great start to the new year!

New Zealand Honeymoon!

New Zealand, where do I even begin? It truly was the vacation of a lifetime! Kwin and I are so fortunate to have spent our honeymoon making such great memories. I’m sorry that this blog is kind of on the long side…but I could write forever about how amazing this country is. I hope you enjoy(:

img_3340

Christchurch

We arrived in New Zealand on Christmas day, ready to start our adventures! Little did we know that ALL of Christchurch was shut down for Christmas! It was a ghost town. We ended up renting some bikes (Next Bike) and headed to New Brighton Beach for the day. It was a nice ride (mostly because nobody was on the road). PS-For those who do not know the ozone layer in the Southern Hemisphere is thinner than the Northern Hemisphere so the sun is INTENSE! Unfortunately we both got pretty burned that day….

Christchurch also has a Botanical Garden and Historical Museum which we were able to walk around on our last day. Such a cool place!

img_3304

Lake Tekepo and Lake Pukaki

 December 26, we picked up our Mighty Camper van as early as we could, stocked up on groceries and then started on our adventures. Our first stop was Lake Tekepo, this was our first glimpse of the crystal clear, aqua blue water of New Zealand lakes. TRULY INCREDIBLE. After hiking around a little bit we finished our journey to Lake Pukaki and stayed at Glenntanner Holiday Park (Just outside of Aorki National Park-Mount Cook). Something pretty neat about the Holiday Parks in New Zealand was that they have community kitchens for everyone! It was such a cool atmosphere to be in: people from all over the world, cooking and eating dinner together! NOTE: We did not stay in holiday parks all the time, but in specific areas in New Zealand its illegal to Freedom Camp, so just know the laws wherever you are!

Mount Cook-Mueller Hut Hike

This was probably Kwin and I’s favorite hike of the whole trip! It was a 3-hour round trip hike. It was definitely a challenging hike: with steep incline and mostly stairs the whole way up. We stopped multiple times (both to catch our breath, and also take in the beautiful views.) Once at the top we had an amazing view of Mount Cook- The tallest Mountain in New Zealand- along with the surrounding glaciers and glacier lakes. Kwin got this crazy idea that we should hike back down, grab our Tahoe SUP  inflatable paddle boards, do a shorter (less vigorous hike) to the glacier lake and paddle it. Unfortunately, after carrying our boards almost 2 miles, we got to the lake and found a nice cliff, which meant NO ACCESS to the lake. Frustrating, I know…but hey, at least we got some beautiful pictures!

img_5066

img_3335

img_5078

img_3342

Queenstown

New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world…and well Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand! It is perfectly located in the middle of the Southern Alps, and along Lake Wakatipu. A perfect set up for hiking, biking, paddle boarding, white water rafting, paragliding, etc. WE LOVED THIS CITY! It has so much to offer, we could have easily spent a week there! However, due to our limited time we only had 4 days, so we packed them full of fun!

Bungee Jumping: We went to the Nevis Canyon Bungee jump (part of the AJ Hackett company) and jumped off a 137m (440 feet) platform in the middle of a canyon! This was the scariest thing that I’ve ever done, but let me tell you it was amazing! Felt like I was flying!

White Water Rafting: We went down the Shotriver, which is full of grade 4 and 5 rapids. It was a fun and a beautiful ride! I would have to say that the scariest part was the bus ride out to the river! The roads in New Zealand are unbelievable… drivers have no fear and the roads are in some crazy areas! This road specifically was an old Gold Trigging road: dirt, pot holes, winding through the mountains, steep drop offs, spots of erosion- FREAKED ME OUT! (These roads are considered historical, so no repairs are allowed to be made.)

Hiking: We did the Queenstown Hill hike which was also pretty steep, but definitely do-able. It has beautiful views overlooking the entire city of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

img_5209.jpg

img_3369

IMG_3443

Bike Wine Tour: Queenstown and all the surrounding towns have this awesome trail system (mostly mountain bike friendly) extending for miles! It’s hilly, winds through the mountains, and alongside vineyards and wineries.

img_3376

img_5236

img_3385

Paddle Boarding: Lake Wakatipu was is one of my favorite paddles EVER! Seriously, the scenery of the crystal blue water and mountains was just amazing. Also it was pretty easy to find secluded beaches to relax on. DISCLAIMER: It is illegal to paddle board in New Zealand (or any watersport) without Life Jackets! We did not know this at first! 

img_3367

img_5175

Milford Sound

We were advised to go to Milford Sound by everyone we talked too! While here we did some paddle boarding through the coves, but didn’t end up making it too far out due to the strong Sea Breeze that came in! It was a beautiful place, and the ride out there was beautiful too! I would definitely suggest getting out there and either doing the kayak tour (these are early in the day due to the sea breeze that always comes in) or the bout tour-if that’s your kind of thing!

img_3362

img_5126

Roy’s Peak

We completed the Roy’s Peak hike which was LONG and tiring. It was all steep uphill hiking. (Talk about a calf and butt workout!) The hike took us about 4.5 hours to complete but is slotted to take about 5-6 hours. The views were incredible the entire hike up, overlooking Lake Wanaka and the surrounding Mt. Aspiring National Park mountain range. If you’re ever in the Wanaka area hit up the Burrito Food Truck! It was possibly the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life! 

img_5268

img_3401

Fox Glacier

A guided  Helicopter/Glacier Hike is pretty popular to do while in New Zealand, so we figured why not! There are a couple different glaciers to choose from, but we did Fox Glacier.  It was really cool to be able to walk around on-top of a glacier, while also learning the history them. This was also my first time ever in a helicopter!

img_3407

img_5290

img_3415

Arthurs Pass

First we did the most iconic hike in the Arthurs Pass National Park- Punchbowl Trail. A beginners hike, but has a really cool waterfall at the end of it! After, we hiked the Mt. Aoiki trail (stems off the Punchbowl Trail) which was intense! Very steep, mostly like rock climbing at times, but a super fun hike up. It had a beautiful view at the top of the whole Arthur’s Pass valley.

img_3422

img_5331

img_0033

Freedom Camping

 Before leaving for New Zealand, Kwin and I were extremely nervous about freedom camping and the laws/regulations on it. For anyone who is planning on traveling to New Zealand (the South Island) the best advise I can give to you about freedom camping is that IT IS ALMOST EVERYWHERE! Most of the cities/towns do not allow it when you are within city limits, but they have signs everywhere telling you where freedom camping is and is not allowed. Some of Kwin and I’s best camp sites were ones that we found freedom camping!

img_3325

img_0032

img_0028

img_3374

Our Itinerary 

Day 1: Christchurch- Bike to New Brighton Beach

Day 2: Glenntanner Holiday Park- Lake Tekepo and Lake Pukaki

Day 3: Queenstown Holiday Park- Mt.Cook and Walking around Queenstown

Day 4: Freedom Camping along Lake Te Anu: Milford Sound

Day 5: Queenstown Holiday Park- Nevis Bungee Jump, Paddle Lake Wakatipu

Day 6: Arrowtown Holiday Park-White Water Rafting, Queenstown Hill Hike

Day 7: Freedom Camping in Mountains- Bike Wine Tour (Arrowtown, Queenstown)

Day 8: Freedom Camping along Ocean-Roys Peak Hike, Swimming in Lake Wanaka

Day 9: Greymouth- Fox Glacier Helicopter Hike

Day 10: Freedom Camping, Craigburn Skiing Area-Arthurs Pass Hikes

Day 11:Christchurch-Botanical Gardens & Historical Museum

 

 

 

 

Do We Have Everything…I Hope So! New Zealand, Here We Come!

Where in the world are Kwin and I going now? Here is a little hint….it’s where both of us have ALWAYS wanted to go; It’s the adventure capital of the world; and it’s where Lord of the Rings was filmed…NEW ZEALAND!

To be specific, Kwin and I are heading to the South Island of New Zealand for two weeks! We will be making our way from Christchurch to Queenstown, Lake Puringa, and so many other towns in-between.

16711854_10208694565749144_5066362181037182611_n
So Excited to have some amazing sunsets like these along the coast<3                        Photo Credit to Kelsey Frankhauser!

What’s our agenda you ask…that’s a good question, and unfortunately I don’t have an exact answer! New Zealand has so many things to offer (if it were up to us, we would be staying there a heck of a lot longer than two weeks,) but we plan on doing a lot of hiking, biking, white water rafting, paddle boarding, diving into the culture, going to local mom&pop shops, and most importantly relaxing! When Kwin and I travel we don’t like to have everyday planned to a ‘T’, instead we have a backbone of where we are going and things we would like to do. We like to ask the locals about hidden gems, and places that they recommend! It’s out honeymoon, so unplugging and just being present with one another is a HUGE plus for this trip.

17201112_10208868901707434_1369812059875844852_n
I cannot wait to be doing this!                                                                                          Photo Credit: Kelsey Fankhauser

Like our trip to Kauai, Hawaii, we rented a camper van (Check it out here) to live in for our two week stay. This time we did upgrade to a bathroom, thank goodness! One thing we like most about staying in a camper van versus a hotel/Airbnb and rental car is that we don’t feel obligated to be somewhere every night. This allows us more freedom and flexibility.

Freedom Camping

Camping in New Zealand has become quote popular, drawing in people from all over the world to vacation! This is wonderful for the New Zealand economy…but can be pretty harmful to the environment. In order to preserve the beauty of New Zealand, the government passed a new law (Freedom Camping Act 2011) limiting ‘Freedom Camping.’ With this new law, they made it a little bit harder to camp anywhere in New Zealand     (This link explains it a little easier!).

This did put a little damper on our complete freedom while in New Zealand..but I just made sure to look into what cities had “Freedom Camping lots” and which ones required you to book ahead of time!

What All Are We Bringing? 

Since we are traveling by plane we do have to somewhat limit what we bring…no bikes, not all our camping gear, and no dogs :(.

FullSizeRender-1

  • It will be summer over in New Zealand during our trip, so most of out attire is bathing suites, hiking clothes, and comfortable gear.
  •  Tahoe SUP Inflatable paddle boards!
  • GoPro, and all it’s accessories
  • Karma Drone
  • Passports!
  • Books! Kwin and I love reading and are looking forward to sitting on-top of a glacier with our books.
  • Hammocks

Kwin and I are so excited to finally be taking out honeymoon and going to such an amazing and beautiful place! If anyone has been to the South Island of New Zealand please feel free to share some of your favorite things! We plan to unplug completely while over there but cannot wait to share our adventure when we get back!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and see you all in January 2018!