Tag: "nature"

5 day Seattle travel plan

Surrounded by water and evergreen forests, with snow-topped mountains in the background, the Emerald City may not be as visited as some destinations on the West Coast, but if you want a balance between city and scenery, buzzing and relaxed, Seattle is a great place to start. The birthplace of Starbucks, you can expect great coffee on every corner, delicious fresh seafood, a lively music scene and laid back kayaking or hiking to get away from it all.

Day 1: Awarded the best walking and cycling city in the United States by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), Seattle is a great city to go out and explore on foot. Start at Pike Place Market, one of Seattle’s most iconic sites. If you go early, you’ll avoid the crowds and marvel as the many flower sellers and fishmongers set up their stalls.

Try the Athenian Inn or popular Lowell’s to get a tasty breakfast before you continue to explore, and then head down First Avenue towards Pioneer Square to take in Seattle’s famous historic architecture, awesome shops and a ton of high quality Native Indian art galleries. Check out Uwajimaya, 600 Fifth Ave. S., Seattle’s premier supermarket for a taste of Asian fusion.

Day 2: If all that walking’s given you sore feet, then be sure to slip a pair of insoles into your walking shoes and get ready to explore Seattle’s skyline. Prepare to be blown away as you’re whisked up 520 feet to the observation deck of the famous Space Needle. Take your time on top of the world and maybe even dine in SkyCity’s luxurious restaurant.

Make sure to check out the top rated Chihuly Garden and Glass, created by Northwest artist, Dale Chihuly to complete your mindblowing day. Depending on the time of year and the schedule, check out a Seattle Seahawks game if they’re playing at home in the evening.

Day 3: Now that you’ve had a pretty good feel for the city, it’s time to check out Mt. Rainier, often referred to as Washington’s crown jewel. This still active volcano is teeming with wildlife, waterfalls, glaciers and forests, and is truly an unforgettable experience, as you can spot wild deer, bear and even elks.

Great hiking abounds around Mt. Rainer and you can start with a short trail loop, like the Nisqually Vista Trail. Be sure to pack extra rain gear, as this city is famous for its constant drizzle, and if you need to get more insoles for your hardworking feet, try out the Pedag brand for ultimate comfort. If you’ve got any energy left, check out one of Seattle’s world famous live music venues, such as Café Racer, or Columbia City Theater.

Day 4: If you’re a fan of kayaking, then the San Juan Islands offer a beautiful backdrop to spend a day spotting for orcas and enjoying the Puget Sound’s breathtaking scenery. If you prefer to explore the islands on foot, or maybe even spend a night there, check out the times of the Washington State Ferries and leave the city far behind as you enjoy the best that nature has to offer.

Day 5: The chances are that on your last day, you’ll be feeling more like doing some quieter activities than more hiking or exercising, so take in the famous Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way S. Even if you’re not interested in flying, this fascinating six-story-tall gallery is sure to capture your attention. If you’re not a museum person, you could take a taxi or drive to Columbia City, a quirky, historical neighborhood, off the tourist trail. Grab a beer, get a coffee and just enjoy a chilled afternoon of relaxing and tasting delicious foods.

Seattle has something for everybody, from nature lovers to historians and art, culture, music and seafood fans. Five days in the Pacific Northwest will leave you with a taste for more.

Travel idea: Camping at Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 40 million people in the U.S. go camping each year, and about the same number have at least one dog, as much a part of the family as the kids. When summer arrives, schools are out, and it’s vacation time for many families across America. Camping, a tradition since the late 1800’s and even before, became more popular by the 1930’s as Americans found the pleasure in exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Visiting a national park sounds like a great idea, always educational and fun for the whole family, but dogs love a camping adventure and want to go too. Fortunately, most national parks permit dogs on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times, subject to Federal regulations and individual park rules and restrictions

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. There is a wide diversity of the environment from mountains and forests to lakes and shore within the group of islands which form the 45,000 acres of the park. Dogs will love camping at Acadia where they are allowed on more than 100 miles of trails, as well as on the 45 miles of historic carriage roads. They are restricted, however, from beaches, lakes, steep hiking trails, and trails where peregrine falcons are nesting.

You can camp with your dog at Blackwoods, open 1 May – 31 Oct, or Seawall, late May-Sep. There are approximately 300 campsites, restrooms, running water, a dump station, and shuttle bus service, but no hookups at Blackwoods. One vehicle, two tents, and up to six people are permitted at each campsite. Entrance fee – $20/night for 7-day maximum.

The Seawall campground on the western side of Mount Desert Island, the largest part of Acadia, is about a 10-minute walk to the ocean. Each of the 122 campsites allows tents and RVs up to 35′ long. Seawall has drinking water, flush toilets, campfire rings, and a dump station, with free showers and camping stores about a mile from the campground. Shuttle bus service is also available. Entrance fee – $14-$20/night, 14-day maximum.

Duck Harbor (Isle au Haut) is a one-hour ride on the ferry from the mainland. Although dogs are not allowed to stay in the Duck Harbor campground, it might be fun to take him along for a day trip of exploring. A $25 special permit is required to go to Duck Harbor.

(Note: Campsites are specifically marked.) Campground reservations – 877-444-6777

Visitor Centers:

Hulls Cove – 15 Apr – 30 Jun, 8:30am to 4:30pm; Jul & Aug, 8am to 6pm.
Park HQ – Open year round, 8am to 4:30pm; Apr – Oct, Mon thru Fri. (Winter camping hours vary.)
(Note: See nps.gov/acad for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is simply awesome. With a spectacular panorama of color at sunrise and sunset, an amazing variety of plant and animal life, and incredible scenery, it is truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The South Rim is open year round, subject to fire danger restrictions, weather conditions, and road closures. You and your dog are welcome to check out the view along the two ½ mile Greenway trail along the Rim. A well-behaved pet can go along with you on the 3/4 mile guided Geology Tour. Dogs are restricted, however, from park buses, lodging areas, and trails along the North Rim.

One of the most popular campgrounds that allows pets is Mather, located within Grand Canyon Village. Mather, about a mile from the South Rim, offers 327 camping sites among the Ponderosa pines for tents and Rvs. Mather can be crowded and is usually full by noon. Each campsite has room for up to three tents, a fire grate, and picnic table, with drinking water, dump station, and restrooms on the campgrounds. Laundry, showers, bank, pay phone, and other amenities available at the Visitor Center, a short distance away. Summer hours 8am-5pm. Campsites – $18/night, 7-day maximum. Reservations Required: 877-444-6777, or online at recreation.gov/

Desert View has 50 campsites for tents, small Rvs, and travel trailers, for a 7-day camping limit. Each campsite permits up to six people, two tents, and two vehicles or 1 RV/trailer, and your dog. Be sure and include water with your camping equipment and wood or charcoal for cooking on campsite grills only. Only certain types of firewood can be used, “certified” wood is sold at the Visitor Center. There are only two water faucets, no hot water, and no hookups. Showers are available for a fee at Mather campground, 25 miles away. Overall, you can consider Desert View offers very basic camping.

Camping fee – $12/night/7-day maximum. ATM machines are conveniently located near the campground restrooms. Reservations not required, so come early.
Entrance fee – $25/vehicle for seven days. Visitor Center – 8am-8pm (summer hours)
(Note: See nps.gov/grca.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited and one of the largest in the U.S., encompasses more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountain trails, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life in this part of the Southern Appalachians. Free entrance to the park.

Located on both sides of the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines, the main entrances are at Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are nine designated campgrounds including Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Campsites have individual fire grates, picnic tables, and restrooms on the campgrounds, but no showers, hot water, or hookups. Fees vary from $14-$23/night at each campground. We will look at two of the largest, Cades Cove and Elkmont, with individual campsites for up to six people, two vehicles, and tents. Both require reservations for a maximum of 14 days and permit motor homes up to 40′ and trailers up to 35′. Both have food storage lockers and dump stations onsite or nearby. There are specific restrictions on firewood, but bundles of “certified” firewood can be bought at Cades Cove and Elkmont. Keep in mind this is bear country, and all food must be stored in your vehicle or storage lockers.

Cades Cove, in eastern Tennessee, is an ideal choice for viewing wildlife with more open areas in this part of the park. You can find everything you need at Cades Cove Campground Store from groceries, souvenirs, and camping supplies to a variety of express food and beverages. Hours – May-Jul, 9am-7:30pm. Aug, 9am-7pm. Sep-Oct, 9am-6:30pm.

Elkmont campgrounds, 8 miles from Gatlinburg, date back to the early 1900’s as a summer resort in the Appalachians. The 220 campsites range in price from $17-$23/night, 7-day maximum, and reservations should be made in advance for this popular campground open until 29 Nov. Limited selection of camping essentials available at the campground concession.

Your dog cannot be left unattended at the campsite, and he is allowed on only two trails in the park, the Gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The first trail follows the Little Pigeon River about 2 miles through the forest from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the edge of the town of Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is an interesting part of history, which you may want to explore further. Check at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if your dog can go along, or if any kennels is available. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep & Oct, 8am-6:30pm. The Oconoluftee trail through the forest is about a mile and a half walk beside the river to the town of Cherokee. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep-Oct, 8am-6:30pm.
(Note: Detailed information at nps.gov/grsm.)

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, camping is healthy, inexpensive recreation. Whether it’s the shore, the forest, or the mountains, you’ll escape those hectic travel arrangements and the stress of everyday life. Leave behind the modern conveniences, and inconveniences; your dog will enjoy it as much as you!

Sharon L Slayton

Cross Country National Park Trip: towing and route advice

Question: Have some time off from work, planning a cross country road trip. 25 years old and not sure when else I would have this kind of opportunity. Plan on hitting a few of the big national parks over a 6 week period (Glacier, Tetons, Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, etc.)

I will be towing my friends 17′ travel trailer. It has a weight of 2850 lbs dry, about 3500 gross weight. I have RV/camping experience. Unfortunately my CRV will not tow that (its also brand new not trying to destroy the transmission). I am looking at buying a used suv/truck putting a transmission cooler and brake controller on it (maybe a V8 Explorer) then selling when I get back. I looked into renting but most rental companies do not allow towing and it would be cheaper to buy and then sell a couple months alter than to pay the $45 a day for a car.

Any recommendations on reliable tow vehicles with decent mileage (all things considered)? What advice would you have for towing, and towing long distance. Any other advice regarding the trip route would be greatly appreciated!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As always, reader comments are most welcome. I actually got some good towing advice from someone who just went through a similar scenario. Sadly he said there is no good answer currently available.

The first thing that you need to know is that tow ratings are usually given for an empty tow vehicle with a 150-pound driver. The weight of all optional equipment and any other payload (other people, luggage, tool box, etc.) must be subtracted from the tow rating. So that will lower your effective tow rating from the opening number.

Also travel trailers are boxy and have a lot more wind resistance than something like a boat trailer or a even a streamlined snowmobile trailer. And you also want a good margin of reserve over the minimum tow rating to make up for loss of performance at altitude (3% loss of engine power for every 1,000-feet above sea level), to give you some extra margin for passing situations, and to keep you from outright abusing the tow vehicle by overworking it.

Although you can tow with a front wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t the best thing to do because the hitch weight (should be 8 to 13% of the trailer load rating) will be pushing down on the back end of the tow vehicle with takes weight off the front end. So rear wheel drive vehicles with a full frame are the preferred tow vehicles, although really solid unibody models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee can get the job done pretty well, too.

So, you probably need to look at vehicles with at least a 5,000-pound tow rating. That eliminates virtually all the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder cross overs that are so popular now.

The Chevy Traverse is right there at 5,000-pounds tow rating, but it’s a Chevy and a front-wheel drive one at that. Don’t know how you feel about them but personally I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole. Ditto its butt-ugly GMC cousin. An old style Nissan Pathfinder would work, but they are pretty crude vehicles in some ways and new ones are fast disappearing. The new Pathfinder is only rated to tow 3,500-pounds, which is par for the course for most of the cross overs. Same for the mid-sized Toyotas, and towing reports on the big Nissans and Toyotas (Armada and Sierra) are not very good.

There isn’t anything that will handle your trailer properly that will give you gas mileage like you are accustomed to. But the full sized GM SUVs (Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon) seem to do a little better on gas than most of the others. The Durangos are not as good, although the new ones should be better than the old ones. The ’99 Durango that I had was optimized for towing in winter was bad on gas. On one multi-day, multi-state trip I noted that my buddy’s Tahoe got a mile or two per gallon better than I got despite the fact that his truck was a bit bigger. My ’06 Explorer rear wheel drive V-8 does somewhat better, but this vehicle is no longer available new. Current Explorers are front wheel drive on what is essentially a Taurus chassis.

The Ford Ecoboost twin-turbo does get around the altitude problem, and they get very good gas mileage when running light without a trailer, but suck gas like crazy when towing because they are working hard. And I think the only rear wheel drive choice for this engine is a pickup truck although it might be available in an Excursion.

But a 4-door pickup might be your best solution, if you can live with it. GM, Ford, and Ram all offer diesels now, too, and the mileage with gas engines from all of them is better than it used to be.

Good luck with the towing business. Personally, I’m not sure towing a trailer is the way to go. You get to take your home with you and don’t have to pack/unpack, but you’ll spend on gas and camping fees, and the trailer will be a major pain when you’re navigating the switchbacks (and there will be a lot of them in your trek)

Let’s talk about your route. It’s awesome but here are some ideas:

1) Drive back on a different route – no use seeing the same thing twice. Consider coming through KC, St. Louis across KY and WV, and then up through Shenandoah NP.

2) Buy a National Parks Permit for the year.

3) Check out the Navaho Nation Parks, namely Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley when in Arizona/Utah. Two of my favorite experiences from the trip.

4) After Rushmore go to Devil’s Tower, it’s not too far out of your planned route and it’s cool. Also, Rushmore on July 3rd is Fireworks – totally worth it.

5) Glacier is amazing, and I thought it was worth it to go into Canada to Wateron Lakes park too. Depends on your time. Also, I don’t know when you are going, but make sure the Going to the Sun rd is open. They are usually plowing snow off until late june.

6) If driving across Iowa, and you are a baseball fan – Field of dreams is pretty cool.

7) Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it.

8) When driving across Minnesota on I-90, if you see a sign for a 55 ft tall Jolly Green Giant, get off that exit and see the darn thing. Biggest regret was missing that.

9) The Michell Corn Palace however wasn’t really worth the stop.

10) Looking back I’m upset we didn’t do more of the Utah national parks, so I’m jeaolous of that.

11) I would strongly suggest the Henry Ford Museum and/or Greenfield Village. Very family oriented and a historical gem. Located in Dearborn and it seems you are passing it anayway.

12) Although it’s slightly West of your current route, Death Valley is amazing and may be worth a few extra miles.

Sanibel Island, Florida – laid back family vacation spot

If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway spot with no real night life, Sanibel Island may be the place for you.

Beautiful beaches

It’s fun to do some shelling with the kids at Bowman’s Beach. And the water is usually good for swimming (water on the Gulf is often calm but make sure you shuffle your feet in the water because there are stingrays that you might inadvertently step on). A lot of people go out in the morning, until it really starts to heat up (depending on time of year) and then do more indoor-related things until later in the afternoon, when it’s beach time again. Sunset on the beach is great.

Other nature related stuff

Visit Ding Darling for the nature trails. You can also bike or drive through the Ding Darling refuge. Rent a boat and explore around the islands (and see dolphins) if your timing is good.

Fishing

The fishing in Tarpon Bay is terrific. You can hire a guide for a half-day trip and haved a great time. Even non-fishermen often end up enjoying themselves out on the water.

Restaurants

The Island Cow is great with kids. Mucky Duck and bubble room on Captiva. Doc Fords and the Little Lazy which is by the bridge going over to Captiva. Take the boat to Cabbage Key for lunch from Captiva. It is a beautiful ride on the intercoastal waterway. The Mad Hatter right before Captiva is excellent. Doc Ford’s Mojitos are good. Grandma Dots has a very nice grouper.

Watch out for…

If you’re driving just watch the cyclists – many folks rent bikes there and some haven’t been on one in years.

Where to stay

Marriott across the bridge from Sanibel.

Llanelli in Carmarthenshire travel itinerary: nature and beaches

So I found some amazing pictures on this site for family holiday cottages in Wales. Turns out, there’s a town I had never heard of before, the coastal town of Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, that’s just right for a vacation itinerary.

Day 1

Llanelli boasts 22km of coastal path/cycle track in the Millennium Coastal Park. I spend day 1 on the traffic-free cycle/footpath although a few people probably opt for the golf course instead.

Something you’ve probably never done: visit a tinplate museum to better understand the process of tinplate making. The Kidwelly Industrial Museum is a few miles from the Western end of the coastal park. Admission is free.

Day 2

Hit the bikes again. Today we cycle to Sandy Water Park in the heart of the Coastal Park. The man-made Six hectare lake is surrounded by rolling parkland and trees. It’s a great place to see swans and mallard. After a picnic, we get on the Swiss Valley cycle way which takes us up the tranquil Swiss Valley Reservoir (or for fifteen miles right up to the National Botanical Gardens of Wales, but we will save the gardens for day 3).

Day 3

The National Botanical Gardens of Wales are 8.50 GBP for admission and is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. You’ll want several hours if not a full day, so we choose not to bike it. Most people start off on the land train tour – the driver’s commentary is usually very good. There’s a complimentary shuttle around the site and a few places not to be missed – the double walled garden and the old apothecary building.

You could buy a 7-day ticket if you think you’ll want to return. The Great Glasshouse gets excellent reviews, and there’s a large nature reserve, which requires several hours to explore. You’ll want comfortable shoes, as there is a lot of walking (especially if you don’t use the shuttle). Also, you might want something waterproof since everything other than the Great Glasshouse and the small tropical house is open to the elements.

Day 4

Llanelli has some outstanding Blue Flag beaches and seaside scenery. Take your pick:

Oxwich Bay Beach – I would spend more time at the two nearby castles, but the beach is sandy with good swimming and water sports opportunities, dunes, and a nature reserve with elevated walkways.

Rhossili Bay Beach – They say this one is beautiful but hard to reach. If you’re there at the right time, there is a tidal Island to explore. Good for surfing and swimming (no lifeguard).

Langland Bay Beach – A sandy beach with rocky outcrops, this one does have lifeguards. Popular for swimming, surfing and families. Holds Blue Flag and Seaside Awards.

Saundersfoot Beach – Consisting of several sandy beaches along the bay, some busy and some sedate. Nice waters for swimming at all. Blue Flag awarded area.

Tunnels Beaches – features hand carved tunnels dating to the 1820’s – fun for kids to explore and they lead to a beach plus indoor and outdoor play areas.

Barafundle Bay – They say this is one of the best beaches in the world. Difficult to access with good swimming but no lifeguard and no facilities.

Day 5

We finish the travel itinerary with a day at the WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre. More biking is an option. Walking is another option, but for me, it would have to be the canoe safari, getting close to wetland wildlife at eye level including mute swans, their cygnets, dragonflies, damselflies, and water voles (the water rat is much cuter than a real rat and is a semi-aquatic rodent).

Expect to see expanses of summer flowers, and kids should enjoy the water vole city play area where they can explore our network of tunnels just like real water voles. Flamingo watches are another possibility; you can see baby flamingo chicks (through binoculars). Keep an eye out for warblers, lesser yellowlegs, spoonbill, sandpiper, ruff, black tailed godwit, greenshank, spotted redshank, and lapwing.

Experience Nature at its Best – Travel Plan to the Galapagos

Explore the enchanting Galapagos Islands (Islas Encantadas), about 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and discover the amazing world of Darwin. Listed as a World Heritage Site and one of nature’s wonders of the world, the Galapagos is a National Park and biosphere reserve famous for giant tortoises and birds, marine life and mangroves, iguanas and flamingos. Our vacation destination is Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the most populated town of the Galapagos, via Guayaquil on the mainland of Ecuador (or via Quito if you prefer).

Day One:

Arrive in Guayaquil after a 4-hour flight from Miami (about 7 hours from Los Angeles) and take the shuttle provided by the Oro Verde hotel, which is only 10 minutes from Jose J. Olmedo Airport. The guest rooms at the Oro Verde are comfortably furnished with modern amenities and the latest technology. With four restaurants, a full-service spa, and excellent staff, the hotel is highly recommended by travelers to Guayaquil.
Rates: $120/deluxe double.

Dine in tonight at the award-winning Le Gourmet restaurant, recommended for the best in French gourmet cuisine and elegant atmosphere.
Prices: $20-$25. Reservations.

Day Two:

This travel plan will not cover everything there is to see and do in Guayaquil, but you might begin with a visit to the Casa de la Cultura after breakfast in the hotel’s El Patio. (Opens 6am). The museum houses an extensive gold collection from prehistoric times including jewelry, masks, artwork, and archaeological artifacts.
Hours: Tues-Fri, 10am-6pm, Sat, 9am-3pm. Admission: $.50

A good choice for an affordable lunch is the popular La Canoa restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental, conveniently located near the Malecon Simon Bolivar. The menu features local and regional specialties such as fried rice with crab, as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Open 24 hours. Reasonable Prices: $3.50-$9.

Spend a pleasant afternoon on the Malecon beside the Guayas River, a 2-mile boardwalk shaded by tall trees where people gather on sunny days. You’ll see monuments, museums, and lovely botanical gardens along the way. Take the $5 one-hour tour on the river in the Henry Morgan pirate ship replica, and visit the Museo Guayaquil en la Historia, where the city’s history is displayed in 14 dioramas. Enjoy refreshments from vendors’ carts or the food court before returning to the hotel. Admission: $2.50.

By now, you’ve no doubt worked up an appetite for dinner. La Parilla del Nato sounds promising with a choice of grilled meats and seafood. If you’re really hungry, order the shish kabob. Hours: Noon-Midnight. Prices: $6-$12.
If you’re In the mood for an after dinner drink, stop in at the hotel’s El Capitan pub/bar before bedtime. Opens 10pm.

Day Three:

Leaving Guayaquil on a morning flight to Baltra Island Airport, where you’ll pay the $100 National Park fee before taking a 15-minute bus ride to Itabaca Channel. Here you can catch the ferry (if transportation is not included in your accommodations) to Puerto Ayora, 10 minutes across the channel.
Four daily 1 ½ hour flights from Guayaquil, 9am-11am.

Check into the Semilla Verde Lodge (awarded Travelers Choice 2013), a guesthouse where privacy and personalized service are a welcome change from busy hotels and crowded streets. Located about 8 miles from town, the estate is surrounded by forest, yet high enough to provide amazing views of the National Park, Marine Reserve, and other Galapagos Islands. Managed and owned by the Grimstones, the Lodge features six bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and fully equipped kitchen for self-catering. Your spacious guestroom has sliding glass doors that open onto a private terrace. After lunch at the Lodge (previously arranged), enjoy a leisurely walk on the nature trails through the forest where birds and other wildlife live, as well as an occasional tortoise. Robert Grimstone, an experienced naturalist and accomplished dive guide can arrange scuba diving if you’re interested. (Academy Bay is a good choice for beginners.)
Rates: $160/dbl (Full breakfast included, lunch and dinner meals can be arranged.) Naturalist guide service & tours.

Ride into town tonight for dinner at Il Giardino, recommended by tourists and locals for open-air dining in a garden setting. Fresh seafood, Ecuador specialties, and Italian cuisine.
Hours: Tues-Sun, 8:30am-11:30pm. Prices: $9-$13.

Day Four:

You’ll awake to morning bird calls and have breakfast downstairs before catching the shuttle to town. First on the agenda is a visit to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) research station, a 20-minute walk from town. There’s a lot to see here where numerous scientists and volunteers concentrate on research and conservation within the National Park. Spend time in the museum and see the tortoise breeding incubators in the walk-in enclosure. You might catch a glimpse of Super Diego, the “Latin lover,” so named for fathering numerous turtles. The Library offers an extensive collection of almost every book on Galapagos history and Darwin, as well as journals, newsletters, and scientific papers of the CDF.
Hours: 6am-6pm. Admission: Included in the National Park fee. Donations welcome.
Gift shop onsite.

Have an inexpensive lunch in town at Ronald’s before taking the 2-mile walk to Tortuga Bay. Not open to swimmers, you’ll see lots of Galapagos wildlife among the lava rocks. Spend a few hours swimming or snorkeling in a cove nearby. Rent a kayak at Playa Manza for about $20 and explore the protected small bay where blue footed boobies might entertain you with their courtship.
Hours: 6am-6pm. Free admission.

You’re probably ready to relax tonight with dinner at the highly rated Angermeyer Point, the former home of a local legendary painter. A water taxi will take you from the main dock in town to the restaurant for a $1 or so. Voted the best in atmosphere and waterfront dining, enjoy your meal by candelight on the outdoor deck of the old stone house. From your table you can watch marine life and land iguanas (the restaurant is also known as the Casa de las Iguanas).
Hours: 5-10pm. Prices: $11 & up. Reservations recommended.

Day Five:

You’ll awake refreshed in the forest air to the peaceful sounds of nature around you. Another hearty breakfast at the Lodge and you’re ready for a ½ day tour of the Highlands arranged by your host. Plan on taking some fantastic photos of birds and other creatures in the cloud forest, at the underground lava tunnels, and the twin volcanic craters Los Gemelos.

After a wonderful tour, return to the Lodge for a quick change of clothes before going into town. Have lunch at the Hernan Café, conveniently located in a busy part of town and close to places to shop. Order a cappuccino, something you won’t find in most other restaurants here. The menu includes sandwiches, pasta, main meals, and ice cream.
Reasonable prices: $5-$10.

Let’s spend some money and go shopping. Visit the Galeria Aymara for handicrafts, ceramics, and jewelry, but don’t buy items such as black coral, turtle, and tortoise shell which may be considered endangered species. You’ll find custom made T-shirts by Daniel at Morning Glory, art, and jewelry along Darwin Avenue, as well as the best in gold and silver at Galapagos Jewelry. Shops along the waterfront sell souvenirs, mugs, and glasses. Olga Fische Folklore features leather, books, woven rugs, ceramics, coffee, and chocolate.

Have dinner tonight at La Garrapata restaurant, which is recommended for casual, open-air dining. Good variety on the menu and wine list, as well as the special of the day for $3. Complete meals are only slightly more, around $16. Friendly service and reasonable prices add to the popularity of La Garrapata.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9am – 4pm & 6:30 -10pm.

(Note: Don’t forget the camera! Plan on doing considerable walking to really enjoy the natural beauty of the Galapagos.)

Day Six:

Since this vacation has been rather short, you’ll probably plan a return to the Galapagos. Leaving Galapagos for Guayaquil and an overnight stay before heading home.

Getting there: Flights on LAN or the national airline TAME, round trip Guayaquil/Baltra about $300.

Sharon L Slayton

Travel plan: 5 Days in Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley is a coastal region of New South Wales, comprising of a mixture of big cities and small towns, all of which have something to offer visitors. While the renowned Hunter Valley vineyards are what put the area on the map, travellers are also drawn to the region for the stunning scenery, white sandy beaches and a chance to view nature in all its glory. In fact, with an estimated 2.5 million tourists visiting Hunter Valley each year, the region is the 6th most popular vacation destination in all of Australia.

With tiny mining towns such as Singleton showcasing the Hunter Valley history, and large cities such as Newcastle bringing a more modern and cosmopolitan aspect, trying to find a way to see everything can be a nightmare. If you’re short of time, you may need to pick just a handful of Hunter Valley highlights. This 5 day itinerary combines small town charm, big city excitement and, of course, a look at the famous Hunter Valley vineyards, which no trip is complete without.

Day 1: Relax on the beach

You’re probably ready and raring to go upon arrival, but a relaxing first day is a great start to any vacation. Spend an afternoon by the sea, it’s quite the contrast to the lush green Hunter Valley vineyards and farmland that occupy most of the region.

If you’ve arrived into Newcastle, the beaches there are a good place to start. Caves Beach is ideal for enjoying the sea views with a bit of privacy. The beach is lined with gigantic rock formations which form caves large enough for sitting and enjoying a picnic. If you’re travelling with children, Bar Beach is a good choice due to its rock pools and sand that lends itself to sandcastle building. You may wish to check out the beaches in nearby Port Stephens for the best surfing conditions, particularly One Mile Beach.

Day 2: Sample the local wines

Face it, the real reason you’ve travelled to the region is to visit the Hunter Valley vineyards and taste some of the local offerings, and who’d blame you? Wine making is big business in Hunter Valley, and it’s one of Australia’s biggest producers of both red and white wines.

The area of Pokolbin, just outside Cessnock, is a popular place for wine lovers. It’s here that you can visit Audrey Wilkinson, one of the oldest Hunter Valley vineyards, having been producing wine since 1866. This vineyard has a huge variety of wines on offer, but really specializes in Chardonnays, Semillons and Merlots. You can also take a tour of Hunter Valley vineyards with a number of tour companies such as Vineyard Tours and Boutique Wines Tours. If you’re in the Pokolbin area in October, be sure to buy tickets to Jazz in the Vines; an annual event combining the chilled out sounds of jazz with the smooth tastes of wines from the local Hunter Valley vineyards.

Day 3: Enjoy the views

Pokolbin is about more than just the wines, it’s also a place to gain incredible views over the entire Hunter Valley region. If you love to see sights from a unique perspective, and aren’t afraid of heights, why not book a hot air balloon flight?

Balloon Aloft and Hunter Valley Ballooning are just two of a number of hot air balloon companies that have a base in Pokolbin. It’s an ideal spot, as visitors can soar up high above the Hunter Valley vineyards and the area is close to the Aberdare, Watagan, Corrabare and Pokolbin state forests, as well as the Werakata National Park so fantastic views are guaranteed. Choose a flight that includes a glass of wine direct from the Hunter Valley vineyards below. If you prefer to stay on the ground, head to Nobbys Head at Newcastle and take in the great views from the lighthouse, or perhaps venture over to Mount View (set in the surroundings of the Brokenback Range) and go to Bistro Molines, just one of the Hunter Valley restaurants complete with culinary excellence and stunning views.

Day 4: Marvel at nature

The coastal location of Hunter Valley makes is the perfect spot for viewing marine life. The great thing is, it really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit Hunter Valley, as dolphins can be seen during the winter (Australian summer) months, and whales can be seen during the other months.

Many cruises operate out of Port Stephens, such as Imagine Cruises and Moonshadow, while some also offer sailings from Newcastle harbour at certain times of the year. Vessels are usually fitted with underwater cameras as well as open topped decks so you can really get the best views from all angles. Many cruise operators in Hunter Valley boast a 99% success rate in terms of sightings, so hopefully you should spot a few mammals. Just be sure to take your camera!

Day 5: Pick up some souvenirs

If you’re leaving Hunter Valley today, make sure you take a few reminders of your trip home with you, along with some gifts for family and friends of course. Hunter Valley offers some very unique shopping experiences, and visitors may be amazed at the variety of items they can pick up here.

If you’ve not got far to travel, grab a few bits of the local Hunter Valley produce to enjoy back at home. The Newcastle City Farmers Market displays seasonal fruit and veg, freshly baked breads, and locally grown herbs and cheeses amongst much more. Alternatively, stop by Roberts Meats who have won multiple awards and are considered one of the best sausage sellers in the region. Of course, you absolutely cannot leave the region without picking up a bottle of your favourite local wine. Most of the Hunter Valley vineyards offer cellar door sales, where you can purchase bottles directly from the winery. There’s no better souvenir to take away from Hunter Valley.

See also: Visiting the land of Robin Hood