OurOyster.com is a site dedicated to proving that anybody, no matter what their situation in life, can experience the joys of travel. Through personal experiences and photos, we seek to inspire. I had always written about budget travel - and the brilliant culture and adventure experiences that you can have on a budget.
I have a strange fondness for quirky frontier towns. So when I first read about the eccentric opal mining community in Lightening Ridge, out in the desert of New South Wales, I knew I had to visit. We like to take one or two road trips per year, so this became our Easter road trip destination.
Why Visit Lightening Ridge?
Lightening Ridge is an eccentric little town where you can get your fill of outback vibes, while still being reasonably close to civilization. I had not heard of Lightening Ridge until recently, and for years I have wanted to visit the opal mining center of Coober Pedy. However, being so remote, we would have to do a lot of organizing and spend a bit of time to get there. So when I learned that there was an opal mining town in the NSW outback, accessible from Sydney, I knew that we would have to visit.
If you want to learn about Opal mining, visit off the grid bush mining communities, and experience the outback and the desert, then Lightening Ridge is a destination you should definitely consider.
Where is Lightening Ridge?
Lightening Ridge is located in the New South Wales outback and isn’t particularly close to anything – but its not so far away as to be impossible to reach. It’s located 700 km’s from Sydney (about a 9 hour drive) or 730 km’s from Brisbane (about an 8 hour drive). It is possible to head there in a day, but there are lots of great places to visit on the way, so why not make a road trip of it?
What to do in Lightening Ridge
Lightening Ridge is all about opals and outback, as you will see from our following list of 6 reasons to visit Lightening Ridge.
Fossick for Opals
To ‘fossick’ means to search, and the word is most commonly used in the context of searching for something precious in the ground. But first, what are opals? An opal is a precious gemstone formed from silica. It’s shiny and can be full of different colours, or even sort of pearl like. Lightening Ridge is the only place in the world where you can find black opals. Black opals is where the silica gemstone has adhered itself to a black substance as its base. I asked a few people in Lightening Ridge why those kinds of opals are only found here, and no one really had a definitive answer.
Fossicking for opals is actually pretty easy. You don’t need any special equipment, just dig through some dirt. There are a few places around town where they have dug up great piles of dirt where you can have a go searching for opals. We didn’t find any, but we also didn’t apply ourselves that hard either.
Car Door Tours
The best way to great a great feel for the lay of the land is by doing on the car door tours. These are little mini driving tours where you essentially follow a trail of numbered car doors through the outback landscape to different points of interest. You can get a self driving tour guide from the tourist information office for a gold coin donation. There are several car door tours and we did a couple of them. They definitely help you to get a little off the beaten path and let you discover another facet of this interesting little town.
Visit a Mine
There are a couple different walk in mines in town where you can descend into an old mine to see what the work would have been like for the early miners. While it was interesting, there wasn’t much information (and it was self guided) so we left feeling like we hadn’t really taken in all that much. If you want to visit a mine I would recommend one where you have a guide who can tell you some stories and really bring the place to life.
Bush pubs in the middle of nowhere
Have you ever gone on a pub crawl in the middle of nowhere? Well about 70km’s from Lightening Ridge, in the middle of the mining camps, are three extremely unique bush pubs. The club in the scrub, the Glengarry Hilton, and the Sheepyard Inn. Your GPS may not be able to tell you how to get there, but the tourist information office in Lightening Ridge can give you directions. You will need to do a bit of off roading to get to these pubs, but while rough, the roads are fairly decent, and we did it in a Peugeot station wagon.
This whole area is incredibly interesting to visit. Here you will find real active mining camps (just be careful if walking around as there may be unmarked mining pits).
Enjoy the desert sunsets
Sunsets in the desert just seem to be more epic than anywhere else, and I’m not sure why. Maybe its because the flat landscape with no trees just gives you more sky to look at. Either way, there is a car door tour which will take you to the best place in Lightening Ridge to watch the sunset.
Artesian Bore Baths
The water in the Artesian Bore Baths is said to be approximately two million years old, and is forced into the baths due to great pressure from the Great Artesian Basin. The water maintains a natural temperature of about 40 – 50 degrees celcius, and entry to the baths is free.
Where to stay in Lightening Ridge
Lightening Ridge is a small town, but despite that, there are quite a few options regarding accommodation, from hotels to motels to camping grounds. We had all of our camping gear with us so we stayed at one of the two local camp grounds.
Banff is easily a contender for one of the most beautiful places in Canada, and it is an ultimate playground for those who love the outdoors. All year round, Banff delivers stunning natural vistas and loads of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts. In the winter, Banff is known for it’s skiing, and in the summer for it’s hiking.
We visited in the summer, and as you might already know, we absolutely love hiking. The first thing we did upon arriving in Banff from nearby Calgary was head to the national parks office and get maps of all the great family friendly day hikes in the region. The below list are our top 3 favourite hikes in the Banff region. These hikes are easily accessible, and can mostly be completed by all fitness levels. We did them with an 11 month old in a backpack carrier, and a 5 year old who was walking the entire way.
I have listed the walks in terms of difficulty (with the more strenuous one first and the easier ones last), and also in the order that I enjoyed them. So without further delay..
Lake Agnes Tea House Trail, Lake Louise
The Lake Agnes Tea House is one of the easier tea houses to access and therefore is one of the most popular tea houses to visit. It was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers, and has no running water or electricity. It is now a little gourmet tea house serving delicious teas and homemade baking. The tea house is only accessible by trail or helicopter, so other than the seasons supply of flour and sugar which is flown in once per year, the rest of the daily supplies are packed in by the staff who hike to the tea house each morning.
The tea house is situated on beautiful Lake Agnes which is worth the hike in it’s own right. The hike starts from just outside the Chateau Lake Louise, which is a good place to grab a coffee or a snack before setting off. The hike winds its way up the mountain on a relatively moderate trail for about 3.6 kilometers before reaching the tea house. The trail is wide and well maintained, but there is a moderate incline making this hike more difficult than the others I will discuss here. All in all though, people of all fitness levels should be able to complete this without too much issue.
We visited in early July and as we ascended the mountain we came across patches of snow and ice on the evergreen trees. At one point we even got a little sprinkle of snow, which only added to the magic.
Johnston Canyon and Waterfalls
The next two walks are tied for being very easy and very accessible. Any fitness level can easily complete these walks as they are more or less entirely flat. There are two waterfalls which you can visit in Johnston canyon, and getting there is via catwalks fixed to the canyon walls.
The first waterfall that you will come to, after walking for about 30 minutes, is lower Johnston falls. There is a narrow tunnel through the canyon wall which will take you to a viewing platform just meters from the waterfall itself. Expect to get wet. From there the catwalks slowly climb for about another 30 minutes towards upper Johnston falls. All the while, you walk just above the rushing Johnston creek. In total the return walk will take about two hours.
This walk is also accessible in both summer and winter, and in winter you have a chance of seeing the waterfalls in their frozen state.
The trail starts from next to the Johnston Canyon Lodge. They have a cute cafe/ restaurant in the lodge, making a great place to come and refresh after your hike. While the trail and catwalks are pretty much flat, they can be narrow in places, so we recommend using a child carrier instead of a pram if you are planning to do the walk with little ones.
Sundance Canyon Trail and Marsh Loop
This incredibly accessible and low impact hike is also walking distance from Banff town, making it a great option for days when you don’t feel like driving too much. The walk starts from the Cave and Basin Historical Site (which we unfortunately did not have time to visit), but you do not need to pay any entry fees if you only plan to do the hike.
There are two options, the shorter March Loop which is about a 45 minute return loop over boardwalks, or the Sundance Canyon which will take about 1.5 hours return. Or you can do what we did, and combine the two, to make a 2 hour return hike.
If you are pushing a stroller, this hike is a good option, as the path is wide and flat. It’s also a good option if you want to cycle instead of hike.
The marsh loop is pretty much self explanatory. The boardwalks take you through a marshy area where you can spot lots of wildflowers and birds. The Sundance Canyon path takes you to *surprise* a canyon, with a nice little picnic area. The path to the canyon is wide and more or less paved (making it great for cycling). Once you reach the canyon and picnic area, the path becomes a lot more narrow and wild. There are options to continue hiking along the bow river from here, but for us, the canyon was our destination, and we turned back at this point.
Have you been hiking in Banff National Park? Tell us about your favourite hikes in the comments!
I booked our Alaskan cruise on a sort of a whim. I was looking for flights from Hawaii to Canada and found a good deal to Anchorage instead. And what better way to travel from Anchorage to Vancouver than by Alaskan cruise? So we ended up on a cruise, and it departed on Simon’s birthday no less. How is that for lucky timing?
Even though our cruise was booked on a whim, it ended up being one of the highlights of our 8 month trip – which is saying a lot considering all the epic things we did. So read on and find out all about what you can do and see on an Alaskan cruise.
Why go on an Alaskan Cruise?
Even for those who are not really that into cruising, Alaska is one of those destinations where a cruise really makes sense. Like our cruise to Papua New Guinea, Alaska is another one of those destinations where cruising will give you a perspective that you just can not get if you only travel by land. In fact, I think you need to do Alaska twice; once by cruise and once by land. The truth is, the sights you will see from the cruise are just so different from what you will see on land – the two experiences can not really be compared.
For example, we spent a day slowly cruising through Glacier Bay National Park, and we spent a considerable amount of time admiring some of the major glaciers in the area. The only way you can really experience this national park and these glaciers is by cruise.
Also, of the three ports we visited, two of those are not easily accessible by the mainland. In fact, the only way to access Juneau is by cruise or by plane.
Of course, cruising provides a nice level of comfort to your travels as well. Instead of constantly having to pack up your bags and move to different locations, you can visit different locations all while staying in the same room. You only need to unpack once! That is a big win for us when traveling with two young kids. Traveling families will appreciate just how easy the cruise line makes everything. Everything is taken care of for you, and of course, there is the kids club.
Which cruise line should I choose?
Which cruise line you choose will depend on a variety of factors. When do you want to travel? What route do you want to take? Do you want a cruise line that is more family friendly, or one that is more upmarket?
For us, we had a tight time frame for when we could depart, so our decision was based purely on timing. Also we only wanted a cruise that went from Anchorage to Vancouver, so of course that factored in as well. In the end we ended up going with Princess Cruises, which is not one of the more family focused lines, but we still had a great time and they still made it very easy for us to travel with our little ones.
What can I see on an Alaskan Cruise?
As I sort of mentioned before, you get to see part of Alaska that are inaccessible to land based travelers when you travel by cruise. The most spectacular of these examples were the glaciers at Glacier Bay National Park. We spent an entire day in the region, and park rangers even came out and boarded the cruise ship so that they were able to run a whole bunch of informational sessions. The scenery was absolutely mind blowing and not something we will soon forget.
In addition to glaciers and stunning coastline, there are also a lot of animal viewing opportunities on an Alaskan cruise. In fact, I definitely recommend packing some binoculars for the cruise, as there are wildlife spotting opportunities pretty much every day. We saw otters, seals, and all sorts of birds, and some people even spotted some bears – but we didn’t have binoculars so we were not able to locate them among the trees.
Alaskan Cruise ports of call
Skagway was probably my favourite port day for many reasons. First of all, I grew up playing the very vintage computer game of “Yukon trail” where you make your way to the gold fields and try to strike it rich. It was a slightly more technologically advanced version of “Oregon trail”, another vintage computer game from my childhood, now I prefer besök den här sidan. So Skagway has been a place associated in my mind with adventure since I was very young. And the town itself did not disappoint.
The entire town is a National Park, and has really retained it’s gold rush history and character. Wandering around the tiny town is an absolute pleasure. There are many tours available in Skagway, and those interested in history and incredible natural scenery will want to do something that involves the White Horse Pass. Simon had an adult day on an ATV, so the kids and I opted for the more family friendly train option, where we chugged along the historic railway until the border of Canada at the White Horse Pass. The scenery was absolutely incredible. For the return journey we traveled in a bus, and stopped along the way to do some gold panning. Jacob absolutely loved the gold panning, and we found a decent share of gold flecks between us, which I had turned into a beautiful souvenir necklace.
Skagway is one of the places which I am desperate to return to. I have now added the multi day historic Chilkoot trail hike to my bucket list.
When you are wandering through Skagway make sure to drop into the National Park visitor center. They have a great little museum and a short film which does a great job of bringing the history of the region to life.
Juneau is the Alaskan state capitol, and due to it’s positioning, is only accessible by air or sea. There are no roads to Juneau! Juneau definitely looks the part of working administrative capitol, which means it lacks some of the historic charm of Skagway or Ketchikan, but that doesn’t mean there is any lack of things to do.
Definitely one of the highlights of Juneau is the Mendenhall glacier. This glacier sits right above the town, and is only a short drive away. Short and easily accessible hiking trails can take you right up close and personal with the glacier, and there is a great interpretation center there run by the National Parks Service. You can easily visit the glacier on a half day tour.
We actually did two half day tours while in Juneau. The other we did was buy a pass on the Mount Roberts Tramway which takes you up to the top of Mount Roberts where you will find loads of great hiking trails and plenty of excellent views of Juneau and the surrounding area.
I did both of these tours with just the kids, as Simon decided to have some adult only time on a cycle tour of the glacier and some of the towns best craft breweries. Needless to say, like every other port of call, there is plenty to do.
If you are heading south like us, Ketchikan will be your last stop. It’s known as the salmon capitol of the world, but it is also home to a gorgeous and lush temperate rain forest and a strong indigenous population. Ketchikan is a beautiful historic town, ad easily explored on foot. Tourists will want to head to Creek Street – a bunch of close wooden buildings built along rambling boardwalks. It’s very atmospheric, and most of these buildings now participate in the tourism industry so you will find lots of shops and cafes here. If you are here during the spawning season, you can also stand on the bridges and boardwalks and watch the salmon climb up the creek underneath.
If you want to explore on your own, there are a few hiking trails which leave from town and are easy to do in the time you have from docking. Otherwise, the cruise will undoubtedly offer a ton of guided tour options. I won’t list all the options out here as there are just too many, but make sure to check your cruise guide. Since Ketchikan is such an important center for the local indigenous population, we decided to join the family friendly tour out to the Saxman native village. Here the inhabitants welcome visitors, teach you a little about their culture, perform some traditional dances, and let you get a glimpse into their active totem carving workshop.
It was really great for Simon and the kids to get a bit of insight into this beautiful culture, since they have not had as much exposure to it as I have.
Cruising Alaska vs. Independent travel
As with any mode of travel, there are pros and cons. When it comes to Alaska, I think it would be beneficial to travel using both methods of travel. However, here are some of the pros and cons of traveling Alaska via cruise.
The amazing Alaskan coastline
Visiting Glacier Bay National Park
Only having to pack and unpack once
Great informational talks given by the onboard naturalist
Great food and convenience
A huge variety of shore excursions available
Getting to visit towns which are not easily accessible from the mainland
You only get a day in each location, and with all the great activities available you will leave wishing you had more time
You do not get to venture too far off the beaten path
You will fall in love with Alaska and need to plan a return trip!
There are only cons that I could think of in regards to exploring Alaska by cruise, but they are kind of big ones. Everywhere that we went there were literally dozens of different activities we wanted to do and places we wanted to explore, but we only had a day or half a day in each place. In the end, I just ended up adding heaps of new things to my future travel wish list. If we had been traveling independently, then of course we could have just stayed in each place as long as we wanted.
I thought I knew a lot about hiking. I thought I was prepared. I mean, I have been doing long distance hiking for ten years now. But then I did something foolish. I joined a bunch of Facebook groups about the Camino de Santiago (spoiler: its one of our upcoming adventures) and now I am completely doubting all of my previous hiking knowledge.
I bought my first pair of hiking shoes in Scotland. I actually bought them while en route to hike Ben Nevis. They were the traditional high top style of hiking shoe, they were a size too small, but they were reduced for quick sale due to a manufacturing fault. Decision making for the win. Despite being a size too small – not so small that my toes were super squished, but small enough that I had to make sure my toenails were always cut super short – I never had any issues with them. That day we didn’t end up hiking Ben Nevis (icy conditions made it too dangerous), but I did end up using those shoes all through New Zealand (all the great walks bar one), all over Australia, and all through South America. Never a blister, not one.
Then when we were hiking around Banff, I found another pair of hiking shoes on sale. These ones were trail walking style and were my actual size. A big improvement. They were super comfortable from the very beginning. I used them all over Banff, and then all through the mountains of Australia and across steamy Hamilton Island. No blisters, no issues.
So you would think I would be well prepared for the Camino. After all, we are planning to walk on average 18 km’s a day and have planned in several rest days. And that is what I thought too. And then I joined the forums.
These are some of the comments when I asked if my hiking shoes would be appropriate.
“I would and do wear hiking shoes 1 size larger than my normal shoe wear. You need room for your feet to expand and swell.”
“My feet ballooned on my first Camino and I resorted to cutting off the toe sections so my toes could stick out but I still lost my 2 big toe nails…..but I was walking in 38 degrees for 10 days for 9 hours day.”
“Sounds like you have the perfect shoes for you. I went a size bigger for the French Camino and regretted it, got huge blisters. Wore my regular size on the Portuguese Camino the following year and was fine.“
“No. The heat and long hours on your feet will make your feet at least half size larger than normal. Keep your lovely shoes for shorter post Camino hikes and get new larger shoes…“
“Take your favorite shoes, not sized up, and a pair of sandals burly enough for hiking. If your feet do swell, then you can always hike in your sandals. I have completed 3 Caminos, never sized up and been fine. Halfway through my first Camino I switched to sandals and have only used sandals since. “
So, conflicting advice. So I decided to ask the experts. Below is Dr. Velimir Petkov’s advice from Premier Podiatry on choosing the best hiking boots. Here is his advice below:
Choosing the right pair of hiking boots can make the difference between being comfortable and having a miserable experience.
One of the most important things to look for when shopping for hiking boots is the thickness and stiffness of the sole. You don’t want to get a pair of boots with soles that are too flexible. They should also provide a good grip to prevent slipping if you intend to hike through rocky surfaces.
Next, you have to make sure that the toe box (part of the shoe that covers and protects your toes) is wide enough. If possible, get professionally fit by a podiatrist or a sports/hiking shoes sales specialist. Your toes need just enough room to wiggle around freely so that you don’t get blisters. Your toes and forefoot bones should fit comfortably in the shoe when you are standing and walking. Choosing boots with a narrow toe box can harm your feet by causing bunions, hammertoes or Morton’s Neuroma.
You also want to have excellent arch support. If you are serious about hiking, I recommend that you invest in a good pair of custom molded orthotics. In my practice, I see a fair bit of hiking enthusiasts. I measure their feet using a 3-dimensional volumetric foot scanning device which allows for an extremely accurate and precise fit. I then design custom orthotics with a lightweight carbon fiber sole, a shock-absorption XRD mid-layer and silver-infused cover on top. XRD allows for up to 90% absorption of energy when impacted. Metallic silver prevents the growth of bacteria and eliminates human odor. A great pair of orthotics should last for about 2 years with good care.
Take into consideration the terrain where you’re going to be hiking. Warm climate calls for breathability while hiking through wet conditions (in snow or through streams) requires you to have water-repelling boots.
Lastly, don’t get dazzled by a pair of boots’ color, style or a fancy name. At the end of the day, you want your boots to withstand the demands of the trail you’ve chosen. Durability, rigidness, size, and comfort should be at the top of your priority list.
I then asked him about some of those comments I had gotten in the camino forums. I have been stressed for months about having to buy another pair of hiking shoes. I love my current hiking shoes, but they are definitely not fitting me loose. I have pretty big feet and I the largest size in the women’s range is *just* the right size. But if I move into the men’s range, the sizes tend to be too wide for my narrow feet. Oh the problems of a tall girl!
Dr. Velimir Petkov’s had this advice about hiking shoe sizing:
Shopping for shoes is best done in the afternoon because our feet expand and get swollen during the day. When it comes to hiking shoes, you should be able to slip 1 finger in between your heel and the back of the shoe when unlaced.
Some sandals can be suitable for hiking, provided that the terrain is not too rough and the weather condition are mild.
Ok so with that, I think I will stick to my original plan. I am going to keep my comfy hiking shoes and in addition, I am going to buy a pair of those fancy hiking sandals. Then, if my feet do swell, I can switch shoes mid hike to allow my feet a chance to breath and rest. This should also help with blisters as I can switch shoes if anything starts to rub.
So tell me, what type of shoes do YOU prefer to hike in?
Ottawa, the under-loved capital of Canada, is one of my favorites in Canada. In fact, it’s one of the places we are thinking of relocating to. Full of history, culture, activities and adventures, Ottawa is a laid back and friendly town and a great place to feel the Canadian vibes.
I’ve been to Ottawa five times. In fact, I think it actually might be the Canadian capital which I have visited and revisited the most (other than my home capital city of Winnipeg of course). My first visit was as a 17 year old on a week long excursion for high school students from across the country. My most recent visit was with my Australian husband and my two kiddos for Canada Day.
Ottawa was an unlikely choice for the future capital of the country. In fact, Ottawa was only a small frontier town when it was chosen for it’s future glory. It was chosen for two reasons; firstly, it had good natural defenses to defend it from a possible America attack, and secondly, it is midway between Toronto and Montreal – which were two of the main cities in Canada at the time.
Ottawa will probably be most appreciated by those who love art, culture, and museums. And the museums in Ottawa are simply not to be missed. But stay a little longer, dig a little deeper, and maybe grab a rental car to explore the area around the city, and you are sure to find something for everyone – including those seeking adrenaline (more on that later!).
48 hours in Ottawa
Ok so let’s get started with the itinerary. If you only have a weekend in Ottawa then I would recommend sticking to the beaten track and checking out two of the most important museums, as well as two other very important cultural sites.
Before you arrive, go online and book in for a free tour of the national parliament. Believe me, its actually a really interesting tour (I’ve been on it three times). If you have limited time, it’s best to book in advance, although they do usually have last minute spots available. On the day of your tour, while you are waiting for your tour (or after your tour.. or both), go and wander through the ByWard markets.
The ByWard markets have been operating since 1826, and are open every day except Christmas Day and New Years Day. Here you will find over 600 vendors selling crafts, souvenirs, art, and food. Not all the vendors are market stalls either. There are plenty of permanent brick and motor stores in the market as well including some great bars and restaurants.
Day two is a heavy museum day. Ideally you could spread these two days across three days, especially if you are like me and get museum burnout fairly quickly. The two museums that I highly recommend are the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of History. Both are world class. In terms of which to visit first, I would suggest the one which peaks your interest the most first, just in case you end up spending all day there. And I warn you, that is very much a possibility with both of these places.
I just love the Canadian Museum of History. Some of the permanent exhibitions include an excellent timeline of the history of Canada (presented in a super interesting and engaging way, trust me), and some great collections about aboriginal art and culture. They also always have different special exhibitions on – check their website to see what will be on at the time of your visit.
In addition, the history museum has an excellent kids section. It’s like a little world, and kids can visit different activity stations with their “passport” and complete activities to collect stamps. They can make shadow puppets in the Indonesian section, do origami in the Japanese section, and load and unload foam blocks onto a cargo ship in the trade routes section. If you have young kids, you could easily spend a couple of hours just in this part of the museum alone.
A post shared by Jade Johnston (@ouroyster) on Jul 3, 2018 at 4:53am PDT
The National Gallery of Canada has an impressive collection of Canadian and International art which spans across all styles. There is really something for everyone here. We tend to spend more time in the contemporary art and photography sections, but there is plenty of every style and period.
4 Days in Ottawa
If you have four days in Ottawa, then firstly, take the 48 hour itinerary and stretch it across three days. Believe me, you will thank me.
On day 4, let’s take a break from arts and culture and do some outdoor activities. There are a couple options for adrenaline seekers and outdoor lovers in Ottawa. If you want to stay within the city limits and do something not totally blood pumping, then why not explore the Rideau canal, where you can bike along the waterfront trails or hire a kayak or canoe and paddle down it.
Or if you have a car then head out of town. We were visiting Ottawa just after Simon’s birthday, so to celebrate I had organized for him to do Canada’s highest bungee jump. The Great Canadian Bungee is a 200 foot drop over a lake and is located about a 25 minute drive from downtown Ottawa.
We got there a bit early so Simon could get weighed and measured and start mentally preparing himself. Soon a bunch of other people arrived who would be bungeeing around the same time. The kids and I positioned our selves in the shade (it gets hot in Ottawa in the summer!) and waited while the group walked up the hill to the bungee platform. Simon was the first to go. He wanted to go first so that he would not lose his nerve while watching the other people. You could probably have heard his scream 10 miles away. After calming down from the adrenaline we made our way back to Ottawa to relax in some of the cities cool new bars and restaurants.
I have been to Ottawa five times and I have barely scratched the surface. That is partly to due with how I tend to revisit the same places over and over ( I just love the Canadian Museum of History!). If you have more time, there is still lots and lots more to do in Ottawa. Whether you want to explore cool new restaurants, outdoor experiences, or more museums, there is truly a lot going on. For the full list of what to do and what is on, check out the Ottawa Tourism website.
There seems to be two sorts of travelers out there. There are those who are minimalists, who travel with only the bare essentials in their backpack. Many of these travelers prefer to travel carry on only for the simplicity and also for the cost savings of not having to always check a bag. The other type of traveler likes to be prepared for anything. They pack everything and anything that they might need. Also, with the added pressure of looking good in the travel photos that we share on social media, there is still extra stress to pack all the best outfits.. “just in case.” I even know that some hard core Instagram users even research different locations at their destination and then pack outfits just to match different backgrounds. As you can imagine…. the luggage would start to add up.
But is there a happy medium?
Can you still look good and stylish in your travel photos, while still traveling carry on only?
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We have done quite a bit of carry on only travel, and we continue to travel mostly carry on only even with two kids in tow. In fact, generally the only time we check in luggage is when we are traveling with bulky items like a pram or car seats. So I guess I would say we are pretty seasoned carry on only travelers. But what about fashionable travelers? Ok, I must admit, I don’t really care enough about the Instagram to do location research and pack outfits just for one photo. (our secret ok?) So I wont be able to tell you any secrets about how to magically cram that ball gown into your carry on bag (and yes, I have seen bloggers who pack literal ball gowns for an Instagram shot…….and yes, they look awesome, but for me personally, its a bit excessive), but I can tell you some little tricks to help you maximize your packing so that you can look awesome in a bunch of different situations.
What The Fashionable Carry On Only Travelers Pack
Firstly, lets manage some expectations here. When ever I pack for a carry on only trip, I try to limit myself to four of everything. I found that four is the perfect number for me. Generally when I travel, I will do laundry (usually hand washing) every other day (or every day when I am traveling with my kids cause daaaammmnnn do they make a mess of things!), and having four outfits allows me to get away with missing a laundry session on a flight or transfer day. Also, if you pack smart, those four tops and four bottoms can actually become 16 different outfits.
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Just a plain white skirt can be combined with different tops to combine a multitude of different looks!
Now one thing you need to think about is what season you are traveling to and what season you are traveling from. You will of course, want to pack accordingly. If you need to bring bulky warm clothes, of course, those are the things you should be wearing on the plane in order to conserve space in your bag.
To jeans or not to jeans? That is the question
A lot of backpackers never travel with jeans. They are bulky and they are a pain to hand wash (and air dry). But in terms of looking good for the gram, lets just be honest with ourselves here… those quick dry travel pants are yuck. Just yuck. Also jeans are the height of versatility. So in short, I think that if you want to take jeans, and they suit the climate you are going to, then go for it. But I do recommend taking jeans made from a thinner, softer fabric, just for ease of washing and drying.
The second type of bottoms I recommend considering is some form of leggings or active wear. These are great if you plan to do any hiking or other active activities, and they are also great to use as pajamas or as something comfortable on transit days. If you don’t plan on hiking or anything like that, then you can swap these our for a different type of bottom.
A post shared by Jade Johnston (@ouroyster) on Feb 20, 2018 at 7:02am PST
Leggings and a pair of shorts are all you need for hiking adventures!
When I travel to a warm destination, I will generally take at least two pairs of shorts. If I am not taking jeans, then I will sometimes take three pairs. Shorts are great as they can be used in all sorts of situations. Choose which shorts you take wisely. Its best if they can be used in both active situations, but can also be paired with a nice top for nicer occasions.
Lastly, you might want to consider taking a skirt or a dress. I generally will try to take a skirt instead of a dress, because I can then mix and match it with the different tops I am bringing in order to create different looks.
Once you have chosen the bottoms you want to pack, then have a think about which four tops will match as many of the bottoms as possible. If you pick four tops which match all four bottoms then you are able to create 16 outfits out of 8 items of clothing. Keep in mind what sort of activities you will likely be engaging in, and what are the local customs. I always try to stick to basics and solid colours, as I find these are more versatile.
Its all about the accessories
You will have seen that I have recommended sticking to basics and you might be thinking…booorrriinng. But stay with me. The way to make your look pop in your travel photos is with the clever use of accessories. A statement necklace and a brilliant pair of sunglasses are all you need to take your outfit up a couple levels. And luckily, accessories do not take up much space to pack. I like to only take two or three necklaces and two pairs of sunglasses, but its really up to you and how much space you have in your bag.
A post shared by Jade Johnston (@ouroyster) on Nov 27, 2016 at 8:54pm PST
Sometimes a statement necklace is all you need!
But what about toiletries?
For me, the biggest pain in the butt is packing toiletries. The trick here, is to try to pack as many in non-liquid form as possible. I like using the solid shampoos and soaps from Lush, and also their solid moisturizer bar is also awesome. They also sell solid conditioner bars, but my curly hair needs more intensive conditioning than what the bars can offer.
Your Luggage is Just as Important as What you Put in It
I have posted before about my favorite pieces of luggage, but it is worth mentioning it here again. I absolutely love my Rolo bag. It’s essentially like a big toiletry bag for clothes which allows you to roll up all your clothes into one little package. It then clips together and can be carried over your shoulder. I can usually fit all of my clothes, plus all of the kids clothes in one rolo bag. The best thing of all is that it comes with a hanger attachment, so when you arrive all you need to do is unroll it and hang it in the closet.
The other indispensable item for traveling carry on only is packing cubes. If you are not using something like the Rolo, then you should absolutely invest in some packing cubes. They will keep everything organized and compact in your bag.
Despite having recently visited, Alaska is still on our bucket list. There is just simply so much to do for nature lovers like ourselves. But despite feelings of FOMO, we still did some pretty amazing things during a recent two day visit to Anchorage.
When we decided to go to Canada, I started looking up cheap and fun ways to get there. There was a flight sale on to Hawaii… so I booked that first. Read about our time on Oahu and Maui here. Then I found a cheap flight from Hawaii to Anchorage. And then, well what better way to get from Anchorage to Canada than via an Alaskan cruise?
If I had known more about Anchorage, I would have organized more than just two days in the city, but either way, we definitely made the most of our time. If you only have two days in Anchorage, the following itinerary will help you see some of the highlights.
In order to go to some of the places mentioned in this guide, you will need a rental car. One of our days is actually outside of Anchorage.
Day 1: Developed and Deepen your Alaskan Understanding
Day 1 is all about learning about Alaska, and there is no better way to do that than the seriously amazing Anchorage Museum. We actually visited the museum on our last day, but we were completely blown away by it. I really recommend visiting on your first day, as it will provide so much history and context, which will enrich the rest of your visit.
The Anchorage museum covers everything Alaska. There are exhibits about history, about native cultures, about science, and about art. There is even a large children’s section to the museum. You can see political art, learn about Alaskan dinosaurs, hear stories from the different native peoples who live in Alaska, and learn about the gold rush all in one place.
There was not an exhibit which we didn’t like and we ended up spending HOURS here. So many hours in fact that we were almost late getting to our cruise bus connection! Stressful!
After filling your brain with everything Alaska, you will want a good feed. We recommend checking out one of the cool craft beer pubs around Anchorage. We visited the 49th State Brewing company which has great beer, delicious food, good views, and was kid friendly.
Day 2: Wild Alaska, but within Day Trip Distance
It’s amazing how soon after leaving Anchorage that you feel like you are out in the wilderness.
When we asked around for good activities around Anchorage to do with kids, a bunch of people mentioned the Musk Ox farm, so we put it near the top of our list.
The Musk Ox farm is located near Palmer, Alaska, which is about an hour drive from Anchorage. This is not really a farm is the traditional sense, this place is all about preserving the Musk Ox, a species which was once on the verge of extinction. The Musk Ox on this farm have been domesticated, and are not being bred for release into the wild. As such, we are able to visit them and to get a look at these small but hearty creatures. The Musk Ox were much smaller than I thought they would be, but their great big bony heads would definitely be a formidable weapon. A bunch of Momma Musk Ox had babies during our visit, so a few of them mock charged at the fences where we were standing. It definitely got the heart racing, and we moved on quickly despite having a pretty safe fence in between us and them.
Musk Ox have always been a special animal to the native people of Alaska due in part to its beautiful and warm wool called Qiviut. Qiviut is the down like under wool which keeps the Musk ox warm during the harsh Alaskan winters and is eight times warmer than wool, and not itchy or scratchy at all.
So if this stuff is so amazing, why havn’t I heard of it before? Well the thing with Qiviut is that it can not be sheared. The only way to collect Qiviut is to comb it out when the animals are shedding, or to do what the native people did, and collect it from the ground after it had been shed. Therefore, collecting enough Qiviut to make clothes with is a long process, making this wool very fine and expensive. But other than rare and expensive, it is also a very humane animal product as no harm comes to the animals in its collection.
Check out their website to make sure they are open and running tours, as they are not available at all times throughout the year.
After visiting the Musk Ox we recommend stopping for lunch at the same place which was recommended to us; The Noisy Goose near Palmer. This is probably the most “all American” type of restaurant you will ever find. They seriously represent every American stereotype that you can think of. The walls are covered from top to bottom with kitsch signs, many with very NOT politically correct slogans. Don’t come here if you are easily offended, but do come if you want delicious hearty American food with ENORMOUS portion sizes. Maybe just get one plate to share because seriously….
After eating all that food you will probably want to go for a walk. On the way back to Anchorage, stop in at the Eagle River Nature Center inside Chugach State Park. The Albert Loop trail is a great, family friendly trail, which is only about 1.5 miles long. But despite being quite short, we managed to see a moose! I couldn’t believe it! There were also bear warnings on the trail as a bear had been spotted earlier, so we bought bear bells, and the guy at the nature center let us borrow some bear spray. For such a short walk, so close to the city, this one really had it all. Stunning scenery and even animal encounters!
There are loads of other great walks in the park, but we didn’t have time for them. Check out their website to see what else is available in the region just outside Anchorage.
Barcelona is one of those cities that is like nothing else anywhere in the world. A hub for artists and designers, Barcelona has evolved into something totally unique. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and is also Spain’s second largest city, but it is still very much it’s own destination in itself. A trip to Spain would absolutely not be complete without spending some time in Barcelona.
Barcelona Itinerary Guide
This is going to be a difficult guide to write, because there is just so much to do in Barcelona. It’s got nightlife, it’s got art and culture, it’s got amazing city walks and architecture. The food – the food is glorious in Barcelona. And it even has beautiful and clean beaches. Oh and did I mention the shopping? I will structure my guide with suggested itineraries based on days, but really, you need at least several days to really do Barcelona justice.
1 day in Barcelona
One day in Barcelona is crazy, but for if some reason that’s what you have, then this itinerary will help you see some of the most important sights of the city.
Start your day at Barcelona’s most famous building – the Sagrada Familia. If you have been traveling through Europe for a while and you think you have church exhaustion, then think again. This structure is like nothing you have ever seen before, church or otherwise. Construction is still ongoing, more than 140 years after Gaudi became involved. When it is complete, it will be the tallest church in the world, but it is already the most recognizable. The Sagrada Familia is really the culmination of all of Gaudis architectural and design creativity and is a joy to look at. I literally sat outside the church for hours just looking at all the detail.
During my visit I was unable to go inside the church, so a return visit is definitely required. I would honestly go all the way to Spain from Australia simply to behold the Sagrada Familia again once it is complete.
Tapas is something you can not escape in Spain, and why would you want to? After visiting the Sagrada Familia, our one day itinerary is going to take us to the museum of one of Spain’s most influential painters. It’s about a 40 minute walk from the Sagrada Familia to the Picasso Museum, so why not take your time, do some shopping, and grab a tapas lunch on the way. You will want to be sufficiently refueled before our next stop.
Museo de Picasso
Picasso is one of Spain’s most famous painter, and his museum is right here in Barcelona. The museum has one of the most extensive and complete collection of Picasso works, from his first works when he was studying art, all the way to some of his most famous works. The collection is houses in five large houses and there is a huge amount to see. You will want to dedicate a good few hours to exploring the museum.
2 days in Barcelona
A weekend trip to Barcelona will give you just enough time to start to get a feel for the city.
Start your morning by heading to the ultimate Gaudi experience at Parc Guell. Not only are the gardens filled with the beautiful mosaics and animal sculptures that Gaudi is famous for, but this is also a fantastic place to get some fantastic panoramic views over all of Barcelona. For those who are huge fans of Gaudi, you can also his house (now museum) which is located here as well.
You can not visit Barcelona and not visit this incredible market, so jump in a taxi or hop on public transport and make your way back through the city towards La Boqueria. The market has existed in Barcelona since medieval times (although it has only been in this particular spot for the past 200 years). This is where you can buy some incredible meats, cheeses, olive products, and even gets some drinks and tapas at one of the market bar stalls. During my visit, we stocked up on picnic supplies here pretty much every day. So grab some picnic supplies for lunch, because our next stop is the beach.
Barcelona’s city beaches
Barcelona’s beachfront stretches for kilometers and kilometers, which some areas like, Sant Sebastia full of tourists and trendy bars, and other areas a lot more calm and local. I recommend going for a walk along the boardwalks until you find a nice quiet spot to enjoy your picnic. Then relax and catch some rays. When you are ready to move again, walk back towards Sant Sebastia (the busy tourist area) until you find a cool bar or patio to sit and enjoy a drink at.
3 days in Barcelona
It’s museum day, and luckily you don’t need to travel too much between each museum as they are all located in the same area. The district of Montjuic contains the National Museum of Catalan Art, the Museum of Archaeology and the Ethnology Museum. There are several nice gardens around here, including the botanic gardens. Again, this is another great opportunity for a picnic, so you might want to make a stop at La Boqueria before heading out here. Or is a picnic isn’t for, luckily there is amazing food literally everywhere in Barcelona.
Choose a couple museums and explore the unique culture and art of this special region in Spain.
4 days in Barcelona
If you have more time in Barcelona, then you will have time to explore some more of the special architecture which made Gaudi and Barcelona famous. Two popular buildings to visit are:
Casa Mila – This building is one of Gaudi’s most well known buildings and is also UNESCO listed. The building, one of Guadi’s residential projects, is more of a sculpture than a building, and can be admired as part of a tour
Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 92, 08008 Barcelona
Casa Battlo – Casa Battlo is the result of a restoration by Gaudi, which famously broke all the city bylaws at the time. The city got over it though, and now it is one of his most celebrated buildings. The facade of the building is covered with colorful mosaics or broken tile, a mosaic technique made famous by Gaudi. This is another building that is worth visiting as part of a tour.
We quickly learned that Hawaii isn’t your typical budget travel destination when we first started researching it, but that doens’t mean that you have to spend your life savings. There are lots of things you can do in Hawaii, and on Maui in particular, for free, or almost free.
Things to do in Maui on a budget
Any destination like Maui, where nature is really the main draw card, will have plenty of things to do for free (or cheap).
Halekala Crater for sunrise
You can not visit Maui and not experience a sunrise from the summit of Halekala. You will need to get up pretty early in order to make it to the summit in time, but trust me, this is one sunrise that is definitely worth all that effort. In order to visit the crater, you will need to either join a tour (more expensive) or reserve your sunrise permit in advance ($1.50) and have access to a rental car. Now having a rental car does attract a cost, but a car is pretty much essential to visiting the highlights of Maui, and I would recommend that you have one for your entire time on Maui.
Cost: If you self drive the cost will be $1.50 for the sunrise parking permit, and $25 per car entry fee.
Drive the Hana Highway
This is another of those can not miss day trips. The road to Hana is an incredible trip through the jungle along ** hairpin bends. The trip will take you past incredible lookouts, serene waterfalls (some of which you can swim in), eclectic eateries, and stunning scenery. Leave early, because even though the road to Hana isn’t exceptionally long, you will find yourself inevitably running out of time as you stop to explore all the amazing sites.
Cost: Free, other than the cost of car rental and the delicious food you will want to buy along the way (don’t miss the coconut ice cream!).
Hang out in Lahaina
Lahaina was tied for our favourite town in Maui. It’s a beautiful historic town, with plenty of great restaurants and shops. Kids will love playing around the giant banyan tree in the town square, and if you are lucky, your visit might coincide with one of the many markets which is also held in the square. The shopping is excellent in Lahaina, I couldn’t resist buying multiple vintage style t-shirts during our visit. Strolling down the main street is definitely a treat, and if you need a break, why not stop for an actual treat? There are a couple really excellent shave ice places in Lahaina. In fact, we drove here almost daily from our apartment further up on the coast, just for the shave ice.
Cost: Free, as long as you can resist the cute shopping.
Day trip to Lanai
Lanai is the smallest inhabited island in the Hawaiian island chain, and one which can only be reached via ferry from Maui. The ferry departs from Lahaina to be precise. Lanai may be only 9 miles from Maui, but it could not be any more different. Lanai used to be almost entirely used as a pinapple plantation, but now it is home to a small resort, a small town, and, it doesn’t seem like much else.
Lanai is windswept and other worldly. In some particularly windy areas of the island, the trees were growing almost sideways. It is definitely very different from nearby tropical Maui.
There are some interesting hiking that can be done on Lanai, as well as a beautiful beach near the one main resort. However, if you are coming to Lanai, you probably want to explore, and for this you need to rent a 4 wheel drive. There are only a few roads on the island, and almost all require a 4 wheel drive vehicle to explore. There are not many car rental options on the island, so try to organize this in advance.
During our visit, there had recently been a lot of rain, so several of the roads we wanted to explore were shut. We ended up not having too terribly much to do on Lanai, but this would have been different if we had had more luck with the weather.
Cost: The ferry costs $30 each way and jeep rental will cost you around $150 – $200 per day.
Explore the beautiful beaches of the south
The beaches on south Maui are big, bold, and beautiful. We based ourselves in a holiday apartment in Kihei for a few days and used this as an opportunity to explore the south. There are tons of beautiful beaches and coves all along the south coast, but the biggest, and our favourite was Makena beach. Even though this is one of the more popular beaches, it was still not terribly busy when we visited, and there was lots of room for the kids to run around and lots of shade for us to relax in.
If you continue driving south from Makena beach, you will enter an old lava flow area. Suddenly the landscape changes, and all you can see is twisted black rock all around you. Follow the road to the end, where there is a small parking area. Here you can either set off on some of the walking trails nearby, or you can visit La Perouse Bay. This small rocky cove is a popular spot for snorkeling. Just make sure you follow the signage on where it is save to enter the water, and which areas to snorkel in. This is a great spot to see turtles.
If you are looking for something a little bit different, just north of the headland from Makena (Big) beach is Oneuli beach. The difference here being that suddenly the sand changes colour from white to black. Maui definitely packs a lot of diversity into a small area!.
Drive the northern loop of Maui
Sometimes described as the northern road to Hana, the northern loop of Maui is another epic road trip for those who want jaw dropping scenery, and narrow winding roads. Like the road to Hana, the northern loop has scenery of epic proportions, with probably the best known stop the Nakalele blowhole. But unlike the road to Hana, on the northern loop you are much more likely to have peace, quiet and serenity. The northern loop is much less traveled than the road to Hana which means you might feel like you have it all to yourself. Of course, that also translates into less stops and services, so make sure you have a full tank of petrol and lots of snacks.
The northern loop is also a little more intense in terms of the driving than the road to Hana. The winding mountain roads can be extremely narrow in places, with barely enough space to squeeze past oncoming traffic. Drive slowly, and be aware if other vehicles are approaching, as there are only a few designated areas where it is safe to squeeze past each other.
The northern loop starts around Honolua Bay, which is famous for it’s epic snorkeling. It then continues on to the Nakalele blowhole. The views from the blowhole are incredible. I actually enjoyed the views more than the actual blowhole. Just be careful around the blowhole and do not get too close. Obey the signage! People have been sucked into the blowhole never to be seen again. Don’t risk your life for instagram please.
After the blowhole there are a few lookout spots, but mostly it’s all about the drive and the scenery. At about the halfway point you will come to the tiny village of Kahakuloa, where there is pretty much…. not much. There is a little shave ice and snack shop at Lorraine’s shave ice. It’s great for a stop and a snack, but it doesn’t really come close to the gourmet shave ice that you will find in other areas of Maui.
If you have time and feel like a hike, then the Waihee ridge trail is a good option. We had sleeping kids by the time we reached this point, so we opted to skip it and instead continued on to the Iao needle state monument. To get the the needle, follow the signs through the not so pretty town of Kahului. There is a short walk up to the needle viewing point, and there is a river that you can swim in. The park is nice and shady and cool, and it’s a nice spot to stop. It can be busy though, so be prepared to enjoy the views with a lot of other people.
From this point you are back in civilization, and you can simply rejoin the main highway and continue back to which ever part of the island you are staying on.
Cost: Free, but requires a rental car.
Eat all the shave ice
We got fully addicted to shave ice while on Maui. There is nothing better than light fluffy snow, topped with delicious flavours and sitting ontop of some creamy coconut or vanilla ice cream to satisfy your sweet tooth on a hot day. There are some pretty amazing shave ice vendors on Maui as well. Of course, there are the big players, like Ululani’s shave ice, which always has a massive queue, or Local Boys shave ice… which also always has a massive queue. But then there are some pretty incredible smaller shops as well. The thing is, with shave ice, you don’t need to have a massive flashy set up to have a good product. The product it simple. What makes it awesome is the care that goes into creating it. A well calibrated machine with a nice sharp blade, and fresh flavours are all you need to make an awesome shave ice. So don’t hesitate to try the little shops as well. In fact, one of the best shave ices that I had in Maui was from a little shack set up in the middle of a parking lot in Kihei. She had freshly prepared Thai iced tea, which she used to cover the ice, which sat on top of some coconut ice cream and then was topped with sweetened condensed milk. It was so unique and SO delicious. Of course, you might come across some places with less than amazing shave ice. Maybe they blade isn’t quite sharp enough or calibrated well enough to give that super fluffy snow texture, but please, don’t just stick to the big players because of that.
I hope you like getting up early because one of the most unforgettable experiences that you can have on Maui, is watching the sunrise from on the top of Haleakala crater. Not only is the experience incredible, but the landscape on the crater is vastly different from anything else you will see around Maui. It really is a one of a kind experience.
“The sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed,” – Mark Twain
There are a couple different ways you can visit the crater. There are many, many tour companies which offer visits to the crater at sunrise. And of the tours, there are two main types. The first type is where you hop on a mini bus at a very early hour, often from the town is Kihei and drive to the crater. Another popular option for those who feel like getting a little bit more active is to take one of the tours which drives you to the crater, and then gives you bikes to cycle back down again. Then of course, there is the self drive option, which is my personal preference. However it is good to keep these other options in mind, as there are limited car park permits available, so if you miss out on the parking permit, joining a tour will allow you to still get access to the site.
Why should I get up super early to visit Haleakala Crater?
I don’t know about you, but in my 12 years of travel and 60 countries visited, this was the first time I had relatively easy access to a volcanic crater, let only the opportunity to watch sunrise from one. That alone makes it pretty special. Although maybe this is where I should point out that geologically speaking, it is not technically a crater. I think it’s technically the eroded top of a lava mountain. But let’s just call it a crater because like…. its a big depression at the top of a lava mountain and really.
During our visit, we were literally above the clouds. As the sun began to rise, everything started lighting up in some of the most intense colors I had ever seen. And all this is happening above a really other worldly landscape. You feel like you could be watching the sun rise on Mars. On top of this, the whole National Park area is home to some really rare and unique flora and fauna, with the most famous being the silversword plant and the nene duck, making it a place you will want to spend some time exploring even after the sun has risen.
What else is there to do in Haleakala National Park?
There are over 30 miles of hiking trails within the National Park, many of which are very short and family friendly as well. The summit visitor center is a great place to check in and get some information about the area. If you are traveling with kids, they can pick up an activity book from the summit visitor center. As you explore the rest of the park, do some of the corresponding activities, and then make sure to visit the lower visitor center as you are leaving to that they can get their Junior Park Ranger badge.
We stopped at three different short walks and viewpoints on our drive back down from the crater, but those who want to do even more hiking could definitely find further options.
How to organize a permit?
If you plan on driving up yourself, then you will need a permit in order to park in the car park (or enter the park in fact). All below facts were true at the time of writing (February 2019), but please check at the National Park website for up to date information.
Permits to enter the park during the sunrise period cost $1.50, and no, there are not the entry fees as well. You will still need to pay your national park entry fee ($25 per car) at the ticket booth as you arrive in the morning. Reservations for the sunrise period are available online from 60 days in advance from your visit. They can book up very quickly, so I recommend making a booking as soon as you know you are going to Maui. Registering with the online platform and making the booking is very simple and straightforward. You can also make the reservation over the phone by calling 1-877-444-6777 if you want.
Once you have secured your time, the ranger at the booth will have your name on a list. They will cross off your name, take your payment, and you will be free to drive the rest of the way to the crater.
I missed out on permits! What should I do?
There is an opportunity to get last minute permits. These are released from 4PM, 2 days before the sunrise in question. They only release the tickets at 4PM, so if you check in at 3PM they will still all say sold out.
If you miss out on permits AND last minute permits, one option is to join a sunrise tour. The permits are for car park spaces, not for actual visitors, so joining a tour is a great way to get your butt up there for sunrise if all else fails.
What should I bring with me to the crater?
Warm clothes! The crater is over 10,000 feet above sea level and before the run rises it is COLD. We were bundled up in sweaters and windbreakers and hats and gloves, and were happy to be! If you didn’t bring any warm clothing in your luggage, just bring a bunch of beach towels, or even a blanket from your hotel as you will be happy to have it!
Some snacks and drinks. There is no food for sale in the park, so if you want to sip some coffee as you watch the sunrise, you better pack your thermos.
The boys playing at the Halekala summit in all their warm gear.
Getting to the crater
You will need to get up super early to get to the crater in time. Believe me. We failed on this. Also, I recommend checking the sunrise time from the official National Park website, and not google, as the NP times are adjusted for the crater and are about half an hour earlier than the times on Google. I would suggest adding a bit of extra time to your estimated driving time – just in case. I mean, if you get there early, you can just hang out in your car with some snacks. Better that then be late,
We were late. We watched the beginnings of the sunrise as we drove our asses up that mountain. No one was overly pleased in our car. We did still get to have a magical experience on the crater, but yeah, it wasn’t our finest moment and we were all pretty upset. Our failings were checking the sunrise time on Google and not the National Park website, and then sleeping through the alarm. Epic. Fail.
Where should I stay?
If you are planning to go up the crater, then you might want to consider staying somewhere closer to the summit than the normal towns of Kihei or Lahaina. Good options are the smaller towns of Paia or Haiku. Paia is a cute little bohemian town and makes a great option. These are also great options if you plan to do the Hana highway as well as they are positioned right at the start. I would recommend booking a couple night in Paia or Haiku, using one day to visit the crater and national park, and then another day to get an early start on the Hana highway. That way you can best maximize your time.