Relax & Hike in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a World Heritage Site internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves and biological diversity. Always a favorite place of mine to visit for many good reasons.

  • Going back into nature has some sort of ancient coded connection to the seat of our soul. It feels good to be in Yosemite. Something about the spirit of Yosemite that pulls you back like a magnet.
  • Always something to do and see. From beautiful trail walks to stunning views of the mountains, waterfalls et al and sightings of wild animals like deer, coyote and bears.
  • Bears don’t attack humans like in Yellowstone. Unless you are fighting for a snickers bar with one. Never feed the bears. They are a large graceful smart creature to admire from a distance.

So this time round we had another great reason to go to Yosemite. My mum was in town (from Sydney, Australia) and we wanted to show her the spirit of Yosemite. The beauty of Yosemite which every year pulls us to visit and experience something new.

About Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a United States National Park spanning eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in east central California, United States. Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.

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More on Yosemite on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosemite_National_Park and at U.S. National Park Service here: http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm. There is also a nice 30 min video of Yosemite here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTj2BF5HmXo which also tells the story of John Muir‘s fight to protect this amazing piece of land.

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” –John Muir in a letter to his wife Louie in July 1888

The trip to Yosemite National Park

If you live in Silicon Valley than expect to travel around 4 hours to get to Yosemite National Park. It a pleasant drive and plan at least one break along the way… at the Bass Pro Shop to recharge batteries and explore the shop.

silicon_valley_to_yosemite_map

Bass Pro Shops (Outdoor World)

Bass Pro shop is located in Manteca. Manteca is halfway on your journey to Yosemite – see map above. Bass Pro is a retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor recreation merchandise stuffed animals and all sort of hunting gear. It is an experience in itself. When you 1st walk in you will notice the sign that asks you to “check and have your weapons secured at the door”. Inside is a hunting shop mixed with a stuffed zoo!

Where to stay – Yosemite View Lodge

Yosemite View Lodge is situated on the edge of the majestic Merced River, with most rooms providing gorgeous views of the river from the comfort of your own balcony or outdoor spa.

View from our room at Yosemite View Lodge
View from our room at Yosemite View Lodge

Yosemite View Lodge is located at the base of the entry gate to Yosemite National Park. It is a 15 min drive from the gate through the part into the valley. It is an amazing drive. Which is why we love staying at Yosemite View Lodge. It gives us an opportunity each morning and evening to experience the wonders of Yosemite. The entry to the park is $20 per vehicle unlimited for 1 week – more of the park’s fees here.

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So one night coming back to Yosemite View Lodge, we came across a buck with full-grown antlers. As we stopped, he walked past our car at a hand reach away. Other times we got to see coyotes and on Christmas eve a dozen deers galloping on the side of the road while it snowed. Simply stunning. Stuff you never get to see in such context if you stay inside Yosemite Village. You get to appreciate the drive back and look forward to it each day.

Great points about Yosemite View Lodge:

  • You sleep to the sound of waterfalls. Close the door to your balcony and it’s quieter. Open it and the sound of rushing water will relax your mind.
  • There is a gas fireplace inside that is made to look like a wood fireplace. Always a pleasure to come back to the room after being in the cold and start the fireplace. During winters this is a winner.
  • Cheap! Around $200-250 /room /night.
  • There is a spa in the bathroom.
  • Most nights you get a visit from room inspectors – 2 cute Raccoons.

Annoying bits

  • No Internet inside any of the rooms. Only in the main foyer and you have to pay $9 for 24 hrs for Internet connection rivaling that of dialup. No free hot spots anywhere in the valley either.
  • You will only find AT&T cell reception in the car park of Ahwahnee Hotel or on top of Glacier Point.
  • If you are picky about quality food than bring your own. Seriously.

What to do in Yosemite National Park

Experience what nature has to offer by hiking its trails.

The Yosemite Village is pleasantly placed in a valley surrounded by large mountains, waterfalls and plenty of greenery. Only 1 million years ago glaciers used to roam this valley. From the picture below you can imagine how glaciers user to roam this valley. Today waterfalls are left of their presence.

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Yosemite Valley Visitor Center

First thing you should always do is drop by the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Open 9-5 daily. Go there to find out what trails are open and any warnings in the area – stay safe! Due to weather conditions (even in spring) some trails like The Four-Mile Trail can be half closed. So find out what is open and plan your hiking expedition from there. While at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center watch the a 23 minute film titled “Spirit of Yosemite” presented in the theater behind the visitor center lobby.

Trails we Hiked in Yosemite

Me scanning the horizon
Me scanning the horizon on the Mirror Lake trail

Plenty of trails you can take. However this time round we only hiked the following.

The Four-Mile Trail

If you want to get amazing views of the valley this is the hike to do. Don’t be fooled by what sounds like a short trail. It is all up the mountain hiking. A very good work out for the glutes! Expect about 3-4 hours up the mountain and when you reach the top you will be at Glacier Point. More reading here: http://www.yosemitehikes.com/yosemite-valley/four-mile-trail/four-mile-trail.htm When close you can only go 2.6 or so miles. Still a great hike.

Distance: 4.7 miles (7.5 km) one way.
Time: 3 hours and 2 coming back.

The Four-Mile Trail early in the hike
The Four-Mile Trail early in the hike
The Four-Mile Trail starts off like this
The Four-Mile Trail starts off like this
Breathtaking views half way up the trial
Breathtaking views half way up the trail
Only keeps getting better
Only keeps getting better

Mirror Lake & Tenaya Canyon

This one is pretty flat and easy to do. It will take you deep into Yosemite forest and provide a range of lovely scenery along the river. If you really want to experience the mirror lakes glass like effects get there around 8am when the water is still, no wind and perfect lighting. More reading here: http://www.yosemitehikes.com/yosemite-valley/mirror-lake/mirror-lake.htm

Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km) to loop around.
Time: 3 hours with small brakes for photos.

Mirror lake few mins from where the bus drops you off, the start
Mirror lake few mins from where the bus drops you off to start your hike
Half way through the hike
Half way through the hike

Sentinel Meadow & Cook’s Meadow Loop

This is a casual walk anyone can take and you are bound to run into some deers, local bird life and maybe a bear 😉 More reading here: http://www.yosemitehikes.com/yosemite-valley/sentinel-cook-meadow/sentinel-cook-meadow.htm

Distance: 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip.
Time: 1-2 hours.

Casual walking and exploring hike. Maybe a bear is lurking by ;-)
Casual walk and exploration hike. Maybe a bear is lurking by 😉
Local wild life is not afraid of humans
Local wild life is not afraid of humans

Ahwahnee Hotel

Once you have finished your hikes for the day, the Ahwahnee Hotel is a great place to drop by and kick back with a hot chocolate or coffee in front of a large communal fire place in this swanky hall (pictured below).

Ahwahnee Hotel was constructed from stone, concrete, wood and glass and opened in 1927. It is a premiere example of National Park Service rustic architecture, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It is also a very expensive hotel to stay in but open to the public to drop in and use their open area for relaxing, reading a book near the many fire places and dine in their swanky restaurants.

Swanky hall where you can kick back and relax - tea is served at 4pm
Swanky hall where you can kick back and relax – tea is served at 4pm
Main dining restaurant open for lunch & dinner
Main dining restaurant open for lunch & dinner

And that pretty much wraps up a great trip to Yosemite!

Few final tips:

  • Do not speed through Yosemite National Park. Especially during summer. Many bears each year are killed by speeding drivers. Drive slow and take in the wonders of the beautiful Yosemite National Park.
  • Do not feed any animal. As cute and innocent as they look, it is not good for anyone. They are wild animals and teaching them to be dependant on human hand outs will teach them to be violent in the future to others when not fed. Especially bears; which must be put down in such cases.
  • Do not litter and do not take anything out of the National Park. Leave only with amazing memories and great photos.
  • Have fun!

Photography // for the photography nerd insiden you… all the pictures here were shot on a Canon 5D full-frame sensor through f2.8 L 24-70 mm lens & the tighter shallow depth of field pics through f1.4 50 mm fixed.

~ Ernest

Let’s go Sailing in Hawaii

Every year my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary by doing something crazy/special. This year, we decided to go on a boat and sail around the Hawaiian islands. Living & working in America gives us plenty of choices. Hawaii is only 5 hour flight and it costs a few hundred bucks to fly there and back.

We found Kainani Sails operated by Brian “Keao” Shaw & Iwa Hartman on AirBnB.

Kainani Sails

AirBnB is where you get to rent from real people – not hotels or larger charter businesses. We wanted this to be “personal” and special holiday and not have to rush everywhere we visit. Basically doing it at our own pace. Kainani Sails has a boat which is a fully equipped 43′ sailing yacht. It is also their home. Perfect. Let’s go!

Our sailing trip took us along this route
Our sailing trip route. Yellow icon was the start & finish. Click map for larger view.
This is us! From left clockwise: Iwa (Crew), Keao (Captain), Urszula & Ernest (me)
This is us! From left clockwise: Iwa (Crew), Keao (Captain), Urszula & Ernest (me)

What you need to know:

  • You will sail in a fully equipped 43′ sailing yacht. It has kitchen, 2 bathrooms (again don’t expect a hotel bathroom), living room, master cabin with a comfy queen size mattress and 2 smaller cabins and an engine so you can still move when the wind is down. See pictures of it here.
  • There is fresh water on board for bathrooms and drinking.
  • Captain Brian “Keao” Shaw has around 10 years of sailing experience and is USCG certified. Having grown up in Hawaii he also knows the local waters very well.  He will even turn on the motor when a whale is sited to make them aware of us – that’s caring for nature. With Iwa Hartman as his crew you are in great hands.
  • On board you will also find surfboards, snorkeling & fishing gear, a 2-person kayak, deck chairs, a small library, outdoor grill, and a 10′ tender with a 15 hp outboard known as the “Zodiac”. Your taxi shuttle to the shore.

Things to prepare before:

  • To prevent nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness ask your GP for prevention pills. We received Transderm Scop in 10 patches (a 30 day supply). Each patch goes behind your ear and lasts for 3 days.
  • A rashguard to keep yourself from getting burnt by the sun. You will be on the boat, snorkeling, surfing etc… always in the sun. This will protect you from the UV.
  • waterproof housing for your camera. The world below is amazing. You will regret it if you do not have a camera capable of taking video or photos underwater.
  • A book or an iPad with digital books. There’s nothing like kicking back reading a book and watching the sun set or early in the peaceful morning indulging your mind.
  • You and Keao will create your meal schedule to make sure you eat healthy. Done before your trip via email.
  • A waterproof jacket. When crossing the channels between the islands the wind picks up and waves get larger. You may get splashed when sailing.
  • LED headlamp / torch. When the sun sets you will want additional / personal lighting.
  • Buy some snacks, red wine & alcohol before you board. My favorite is the Chopin Vodka, 4 times distilled and rated well in San Francisco for the last 2 years.

My favorite things to do on the boat

  • My sleeping habit changed from 3am – 8am (ahh the life of an entrepreneur software engineer) to 9:30pm sleep and 6:00am wake up as the sun rises. My body naturally went into this cycle with the sunset and sunrise rhythms. I had a ton of energy each day without a need for caffeine. I did not drink a single drink with caffeine while on board.
  • Sleeping on the stern (back of the boat) under the stars. I created a nice comfy bed and slept under the stars each night – simply amazing! Without any light pollution you could see every star possible with the naked eye. I felt like the character in Altered States tapping into evolutionary state when our ancestors used to sleep under the stars.
  • Sit at the bow (front of the boat) on deck chairs with your partner to enjoy the open seas as you sail.
  • The master cabin has 2 roof windows which open up. Sneaking in and out of the cabin via these windows felt like being a kid again.
  • Take stunning photos from all corners of the boat. Just hold on tight coz the boat does rock with the ocean and leans during full sail.

Our journey begins

Saturday (Feb 18)

  • For short trips of around a week its cheaper (with coupon) & more convenient to leave your car at the airport parking. We flew out of flew out of Oakland International so parked our car at Park ‘N Fly.

Lahaina Bay - Home for the next week! Aloha!!
Lahaina Bay – Home for the next week! Aloha!!
  • We flew Hawaiian airlines Boeing 767 into Kahului Airport on Maui (Hawaii). That’s the top part of the island. It’s best to catch a shuttle bus (which fits around 10 people) from the airport to Mala Harbor (the south side of the island in Lahaina). A 1-hr car ride. Grab the shuttle bus as soon as you walk outside the airport.
  • Captain Keao picked us up from the bay on the “Zodiac” (outboard) and took us to the fully equipped 43′ sailing yacht parked further in the Lahaina Bay.
  • Having arrived to the sail boat, we were greeted by Iwa (his crew) and helped on board. I must say this was a very friendly welcome and we felt like at home straight away. Thanks folks!
  • That afternoon we watched an amazing sunset and then star gazed. Using an iPhone app Sky Safari to identify the stars, planets & constellations was super fun… before falling asleep under the stars.
Sunset over Lanai
Sunset over Lanai

Sunday (Feb 19)

  • Early morning we set off sail to Honolua Bay. This is the west side of Maui. It was a 5 hour journey and Urszula got to sail the boat under Captain Keao’s supervision. Here’s a nice video of our sailing treck Sailing adventures in Hawaii with Kainani Sails.
  • The private residence bay was amazing. Rich in corals and surrounded by rocky cliffs with 2 beaches where about 2 dozen surfers were catching 6 foot breaks coming from the open sea along the cliff faces. So Keao and I grabbed 2 surfboards (the boat carries 3 surf boards) and we paddled to the break. We had a kick ass time while Urszula went snorkeling & underwater recording with Iwa.
  • As the sun was setting a large pod of Spinner Dolphins came into the bay. I call them Tunas because they the young ones look it. They are famous for their acrobatic displays in which they spin along their longitudinal axis as they leap through the air. Urszula and Iwa set out on a kayak to get closer to these amazing creatures Sailing adventures in Hawaii with Kainani Sails.
Spinner Dolphins playing with us in Honolua Bay
Spinner Dolphins playing with us in Honolua Bay. Click pic for larger view.

Monday (Feb 20)

  • We set out sail early towards Maunaloa on Molokai island. A secluded place that reminded me of the 1st episode of Planet of the Apes (1968) when the crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future. Nothing but beach, sand and mother nature.
Molokai
Molokai
  • Molokai is the fifth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands. It is one of the least touristy islands and very native.

Tuesday (Feb 21)

  • We departed before sun rise to beat the winds while crossing the channel. However we hit some pretty crazy winds and the seas were angry my friends. I was thinking Mavericks! This was the time I gave in and plonked motion sickness patch on and the waterproof jacket.
  • When we hit Lanai’s Au’au channel the winds settled and oceans calmed down and turned deep blue. I have never seen anything like this before.
Lanai cliff faces west facing
Lanai cliff faces west facing
  • We stayed the night in a secluded bay near these amazing rock cliff faces where Urszula came face to face with a 3 meter shark in the coral rich bay.
  • It was funny to watch those touristy charter boats come in loaded with people, they bobbed out for 30 minutes into the water and had to get back on the boat to leave again. What a rush. Did the tourists even get a chance to take in the beauty of the surroundings and underwater. While we kicked back and snorkeled at our own pace taking in everything nature had to offer.

Wednesday (Feb 22)

  • We headed into Lanai Bay and parked the boat amongst other boats. This was a big change to the secluded areas we visited earlier. A lot more populated.
Lanai bay
Lanai bay
  • Lanai is sixth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. A privately owned island. It is also known as the Pineapple Island because of its past as an island-wide pineapple plantation. The only town is Lānaʻi City, a small settlement. Lanai has the longest stretch of coral reef in Hawaii and the beaches on this island are down right deserted.
Secluded cove near Four Seasons at Manele Bay
Secluded cove near Four Seasons at Manele Bay
Secluded cove near Four Seasons at Manele Bay
Secluded cove near Four Seasons at Manele Bay
  • I highly recommend you visit the Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay. A brief walk from the bay and they have great Mojitos (my favorite).
  • The beach at the base of the hotel is also amazing with fascinating tide pools, great snorkeling, red sea cliffs and a stunning cove.
Four Sesons beach at Manele Bay
Four Sesons beach at Manele Bay

Thursday (Feb 23)

  • We loved Lanai so much we set sail back to Maui later in the afternoon.
  • Stopping along the way in the middle of the ocean and jumping off the bow to hear the Whales sing under water. (see video) and to feed some crazy black fish (see video). hehehe that was fun! I think they wanted to feed on Urszula.

 

Sailing back to Maui
Sailing back to Maui
  • Sailing back to Lahaina Bay I took charge of being the Captain hehe under Keao’s training around the instrumentation and reading the sails/winds I sailed us back into Lahaina while we all enjoyed the amazing sunset.
Please call me... Captain!
Please call me… Captain!

Friday (Feb 24)

  • Early morning we hit the surf in Lahaina Bay with our surfboards. Plenty of people catching perfect waves.
Surfs up!
Surfs up!
  • Lunch time we said our goodbyes – it was tough after such an amazing week with Iwa & Keao. Not only did we have an amazing time but we also made friends. That is something we will never forget. Keao dropped us off at Lahaina bay port where the friendly folks at Enterprise car rental picked us up for the next journey in Maui.

Wow, we sailed in Hawaii

We couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Both Keao and Iwa were outstanding hosts. From looking after us with healthy food (we got some recipes), entertainment, history lessons of the sights, sailing lessons to opening up their stunning waterfront property (the 43′ sailing yacht) to us. We felt like we were at home but away from home. Urszula counted 76 Whales during our trip! I started to call this whale pollution because there were so many of the them hehe I really decompressed and disconnected from my reality and lived a life which I can only compare to what I believe our ancestors did once when they were one with nature.

Here’s a short video of our trip

Want to experience the same?

Everyone should at least one in their life sail. Especially around beautiful Hawaii.

Check out more photos here on Flickr

Here’s how to get in-touch with Keao or Iwa from Kainani Sails:

Videos you should watch:

Enjoy!
~ Ernest

Tips on travelling in the USA

The following list is by no means complete or exhaustive of everything one needs to know to travel in the USA. This is a list of stuff I learnt in the last 1 year of travelling around USA. These I share with you now and will regularly update as I learn more and any corrections along the way.

Tips

  • Use a “SuperShuttle” to and from the airport. http://www.supershuttle.com/it’s a shared taxi van of around 9 people. It’s dirt cheap vs. crazy taxi fares and you get to see more of the area as they drop off people around town.
  • If you live in the valley and have your own car and are taking a short trip of around a week it is cheaper esp. with a coupon & more convenient to leave your car at any of the available airport parking companies. Some which are further away from the airport have shuttle buses that take you to the airport and back for free so don’t worry if it’s 5 minutes outside the airport.
  • If you are arriving to the USA don’t bother bringing your wardrobe. Clothes here are cheap. Dirt cheap. Brands and all. Especially during public holidays like Thanks Giving or Christmas time by average 50% off.
  • If you need to rent a car do it through Enterprise. I find them the most reliable and mostly the cheapest. Sign up on their website to receive regular coupons to bring that price down and don’t forget to read my post on car rental hidden costs to save even further.
  • For accommodation I highly recommend AirBnB. Airbnb is an online service that matches people seeking vacation rentals and other short-term accommodations globally with locals with rooms to rent. It’s fun, cheaper than hotels, you can be very selective on location (not restricted by hotels location), meet interesting people and live like a local. It works really well in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. We only use AirBnB now when travelling. Why spend big $$$ on a hotel when all you need is a place to sleep and store your luggage. Use the money you save to buy some fashion!
  • Americans drive fast on freeways that stretch up to 5 lanes each way. Get ready. Either hire a GPS or bring your own so you’re not slowing traffic down. As long as you’re not doing anything dangerous on the road you will be fine to keep up with the communal speed limit. I’ve seen police sway across all lanes to slow traffic down when it gets too fast.
  • The only dangerous creatures are Bears (especially Grizzly) & Mountain Lions. You wont see poisonous spiders, snakes or crazy insects.
  • For more tips visit each of the places mentioned below. The posts include their own unique tips.

Some of the great places we have visited

  • New York City (Manhattan) – The city that never sleeps. My favorite! One of the most densely populated areas in the world. Known for its financial and fashion center of both the United States and the world.
  • Los Angeles – West Hollywood. Home of the movie industry.
  • San Francisco – Home of the high-tech scene and area known as Silicon Valley.
  • Hawaii – Made up entirely of islands like Big Island, Maui etc. Natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches and oceanic surrounding, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists.
  • Monterey – 1-hr drive south of the valley. A beautiful coastal city.
  • Carmel-by-the-sea – a hidden gem round the corner from Monterey. The beachy town is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history.
  • Yosemite National Park – Designated a World Heritage Site recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.
  • Yellowstone National Park – a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features.
  • Las Vegas – The Strip. Internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, partying (clubs) and fine dining.

I will be posting individual posts to each of those locations with photos so come back soon.

~ Ernest

Hawaii: Big Island with 3 Volcanoes

Our 1st trip to Hawaii and it was to the Big Island. Why Big Island? cause it’s damn big, has 3 volcanoes and there’s plenty to do outdoor both under water, on land and in air.

Yap, if you want to let yourself loose and get back in touch with nature then this is the island you should be visiting. If you want to party and have a night life then this isn’t your island. Matter of fact, just head out to Ibiza if you want to do that.

Note: You can click on each of the pictures below to open up a larger version on my flickr account. Enjoy!

Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii - notice the red A, that's the island.

We stayed on the Big Island

Just the Big Island. As you will see below there is plenty to do there. We stayed at Keauhou Beach Resort, hired a car from Alamo (read my car rental traps before you get one) and off we went on our adventure. Here’s what happened.

Keauhou Beach Resort
Keauhou Beach Resort - where we stayed
View from our balcony
View from our balcony

Stuff to watch out for

Like any place you visit in this world you will no doubt come across few areas that get you under your skin.

  • Roads are very narrow. Both for driving and for parking. Kind of reminds me of the roads in Australia and very unlike American wide roads.
  • Most roads do not have street lights. Night driving gets frilly especially when you see those signs to watch out for Donkey’s crossing or Mongoose sliding across the road like snakes. Use high beams. I’m sure this is done on purpose since the Big Island is the home of Mauna Kea Observatory.
  • Average speed limit is… wait for it.. 35 mph. wtf! yes, driving around this island is slow and nerve wrecking when time is precious. Stay away from driving on major roads during the traffic window 3.30-5pm – it crawls. At the resorts, tourists are taught to pull over and let the faster locals pass by since they need to get their kids to school – so are there 2 speed limits.. locals and tourists.
  • Expedia affiliations with Wyndham Vacation Resorts. They will try to lure you (not a pleasant experience) for a 2 hour of your time to listen to their sales staff try to sell you “Timeshare Accommodations”. For your time, you will get $100 off any Expedia booking you do on the island. You work out whether it’s worth it for you. I gave it a shot since I wanted to learn more about this Timeshare I hear people talking about and quiet frankly it reminds me of Bartercard in Australia (thumbs down). Also in light of AirBnB disrupting the rental market, timeshare accommodation is just a waste of money for me. However I got my $100 off Expedia booking – yay!
    Save on travel with Expedia.com.au

Cool stuff to do

Since we only had 1 week to do this we needed to make sure that we covered as much in/on water, land and air as much as we could in that week.

  1. Lava everywhere!! don’t get scared. First  thing you will notice when you fly in is plenty of black rock that looks like unfinished land renovations. That is the laval from over 100 years ago. It’s all over the island. A’a (as in a a it hurts when you step on it) is the most common and looks like sharp small rocks stacked on top of each other. 2nd most common is Pahoehoe, like frozen liquid water.

    Big Island Landscape
    Big Island Landscape
  2. Kapoho Tide Pools. Spectacular location. A place I could live. The pools are great for snorkeling and only a meter or so deep.

    Kapoho Tide Pools
    Kapoho Tide Pools
  3. Helicopter ride over the Island. This is the BEST way to see the whole island inc. Hilo falls (if not in dry season). The ride is around 3 hours and it is spectacular. We went with Paradise Helicopters and flew in a 6 passenger Bell 407 helicopter. The seating of this chopper basically allows for 5 people to have window seats. The only downside was seeing other choppers get really close to the lava while we always stayed up really high.
  4. Punallu Beach. Know for the black sand and often called the black beach. You get to see many turtles beaching and feel the unique black grains that make this the black beach.

    Punallu beach (black beach)
    Punallu beach (black beach)
  5. Kealakekua Bay. Also know for the memorial resting place of Captain Cook. The bay here is the BEST location for snorkelling. PLenty to see underwater and beautiful crystal clear visibility.

    Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay
    Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay
  6. Waipio Valley. “Waipiʻo” means “curved water” in the Hawaiian language. It was the location of the ancient grass palace of the ancient kings of Hawaii with the nioi stands. You can go horse riding down into the valley if you have the time else just admire the views, take some photos and go to Pololū Valley.

    Waipio Valley
    Waipio Valley
  7. Pololū Valley. The word Pololū means long spear in the Hawaiian language. It is the Northernmost of a series of erosional valleys forming the east coast of Kohala Mountain on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Go for a hike down the mountain and onto the beach where you will find many Zen like rock structures and a peaceful atmosphere that you can fall asleep to. Lovely place! The hike down is around 15 mins.

    Pololu Valley
    Pololu Valley
  8. Beaches to see– A Beach, Makalawena Beach, Hapuna Beach, Kaunao Beach and Kua Bay. If you are from Australia or Asia then these beaches are the norm but still a great place to catch a wave.

    Kua Bay
    Kua Bay
  9. Night swimming with Manta Rays.There is a 90% chance you will see them. The adventure starts in the evening as a bunch of boats (with you on one of them) go out onto the ocean. All the boats park in a large circle and wait for the sun to set.
    We park and wait for the sun to set
    We park and wait for the sun to set

    A bunch of divers jump into the water with flood lights and light the ocean from the bottom up. This attracts plankton which in turn attracts massive Manta Rays. You enjoy the 40 minute feeding fest from above as they Manta’s swoop in loops consuming the plankton.

    Swimming with Manta Rays at night. VIDEO:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF038bozWzs

  10. Dolphin & Whale experience. Get to see spinner dolphins famous for their acrobatic displays in which they spin longitudinally along their axis as they leap through the air. These dolphins return from the deep ocean in the morning after a long night of hunting and cruise along the shore line to bay to sleep. So choose a crew that will leave as early as 7am so you don’t have to swim with the dolphins when they sleep rather when they are cruising along the shore line. We went with Dolphin Discoveries, threw ourself in-front of a pod of 80 dolphins 4 times, got to see whales breaching and we also snorkeled. Heaps of fun!Swimming with the Dolphins VIDEO:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq6Y1RGqJ2Y
    Humpback Whale watching with breaches VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq6Y1RGqJ2Y

Stuff you can skip the tour and do yourself

  • Volcanic National Park including lava cave– this costs around $180 per person and is an all day driving adventure around the island. Stuff you can do if you hire a car. If you don’t have a car, then do this one.

    Kilauea Volcano - most active volcano in the world
    Kilauea Volcano - most active volcano in the world
  • Sunset Lava cruise.Dont expect to see lava pouring into the ocean. We didn’t. However we did see an amazing coast line created by the lava, lava tubes and steam where the earth was still cooling from a previous flow.If you want to see an amazing sunset stop anywhere on a hill as the sun sets over Hawaii and enjoy – like we did below.

    Sunset in Hawaii - Everywhere!
    Sunset in Hawaii - Everywhere!

Stuff I wish we got to see

Here is stuff I didn’t get to see since 1 week isn’t enough to see everything. This is for my next visit.

Enjoy your Big Island adventure, I’m sure you will enjoy every minute of it!

PS. If you want to go here shoot me an email. Supposedly this is a private beach!

Private beach
Private beach

PPS. I have more photos of the Hawaii trip on my Flickr account here.

~ Ernest


Expedia.com.au Price Promise

Sydney, Australia – a checklist for day & night

I have been writing about Silicon Valley but haven’t about Sydney. My hometown. For those that might want to visit this beautiful city, below is a list outlining my suggestions where to go day or night.

Sydney is a small city so you can walk around to most locations but to those that are further a Blue Bus or the Train (CityRail) will take you there.

Day time

Sydney, Australia - ernestsemerda.com
Sydney, Australia - Photo by: ernestsemerda.com
  • Darling Harbor – recreational and pedestrian precinct that is situated on western outskirts of the Sydney central business district. It’s a short walk from Wynard train station. It’s basically a bunch of restaurants and bars on the water. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darling_Harbour,_New_South_Wales
  • Sydney Casino – Star City – is located there too. – http://www.starcity.com.au/
  • You will also find Sydney Aquarium there – http://sydneyaquarium.myfun.com.au/
  • The Rocks – tourist precinct and historic area of Sydney. Plenty of shops and places to eat. Located at Circular Key. http://www.therocks.com/
  • You can enter the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge from The Rocks. It’s a nice walk to the North Side and back.
  • Make sure you drop by Big Bite (think Ike’s Place in SF). This place always runs out of food during lunch. The best sandwiches in Sydney. http://www.timeoutsydney.com.au/venue/restaurant/cafe/big-bite.aspx
  • Sydney Tower is around the corner from Big Bite so check that out too. http://sydneytower.myfun.com.au/
  • Go to Sydney Opera House and keep on walking into the Royal Botanic Gardens. Opera House is at Circular Key not far from Sydney Café.
  • Catch a Ferry to Fort Denison. Fort Denison is a former penal site and defensive facility occupying a small island located north of the Royal Botanical Gardens. It’s in the middle of the harbor. You also get to spend some time on Sydney’s famous harbor and enjoy the views. You will need to catch a Matilda boat there, see here: http://www.matilda.com.au/dir076/matilda.nsf/Pages/Ferry+Services~Fort+Denison
  • All the major shops are located on “George Street”. The main street that runs through Sydney. You cannot miss it. However shopping is better & cheaper in America J
  • Kings Cross isn’t a clean place. There are some nice clubs there but it’s mainly polluted with adult shops & low quality bars.
  • Oxford Street is another popular place for food & bars but at night turns into chaos. Upper part of Oxford Street is a suburb called Paddington which is full of designer shops.
  • Get a Harry’s Pie at Harry’s Café de Wheels. It’s famous for the pies. Australian’s love pies. Located at Woolloomoloo. Best place to go after a big night out. It’s open throughout the night and always packed with people lining up outside. Same setup like Pink’s Hotdog in LA (USA). http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au/
  • Visit The Gap at Watsons Bay. The Gap is an ocean cliff, in eastern Sydney. About 15min out of the city (downtown). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gap,_New_South_Wales
  • While there, have lunch at Doyles on the Wharf Restaurant. It’s the best place for seafood in Sydney. http://www.doyles.com.au/

Night time

Sydney, Australia - ernestsemerda.com
Sydney, Australia - Photo by: ernestsemerda.com

If you have time visit the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves – both are next to each other and around 2 hours car drive from city (downtown). Expect to spend a full day there. http://www.bluemts.com.au/ and http://www.jenolancaves.org.au/

Enjoy the trip!

Ernest

Skydive from 18,000ft in Santa Barbara

It was a rush! We passed the 12,000 feet marker and we had to put on gas masks to breath. Air at this height is very thin. Few seconds later the plane’s hangar door opened, the noise of wind rushing filled the small plane and we had to relay on hand signals to communicate. I hanged my legs over the edge of an airplane buzzing at 18,000 feet over Santa Barbara with panoramic ocean views… and then I jumped!

At 18,000 feet
At 18,000 feet - that's me in the green shirt

The first few seconds were exactly like the pivot point one reaches during a meditation session. My mind just stopped. Stillness.. peace, freedom. Time stopped. I was awake, aware and overwhelmed. Few seconds later the rush of adrenalin filled my body and I was screaming over the top of my lungs from the thrill of a Skydive out of an airplane at 18,000 feet over Santa Barbara in California USA.

The Plane which took us to 18,000 feet
The Plane which took us to 18,000 feet

Skydive Santa Barbara

Skydive Santa Barbara is the only drop zone in California to feature 270 degree panoramic ocean views on every jump. Additionally they are the only skydiving center in the Los Angeles area to offer tandem jumps from 18,000ft, the highest tandem jump in the world.

Skydive Santa Barbara is fully recognized by the FAA and has operated daily for the last 15 years with an untarnished safety record.

My jump on video

My brother and a friend visited us in July 2010 and we (including my wife) decided we wanted to seek some thrills. On our drive to Los Angeles we stopped by the Lompoc airport for a 18,000ft Skydive. Here is the video of the event.

Skydive Santa Barbara Website:
http://www.skydivesantabarbara.com/

Skydive Santa Barbara
1801 N H St Suite G
Lompoc, CA 93436

Yelp review:
http://www.yelp.com/biz/santa-barbara-sky-diving-lompoc

Please use the comments below to share your experience and ask questions!

Enjoy your jump!

Ernest

Travelling to New York (NYC – Manhattan)

New York also known as the Big Apple is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation’s third most populous state. It is known for its status as a financial, cultural, transportation, and manufacturing center, and for its history as a gateway for immigration to the United States.

In the last 2 years I have been to New York twice. Every visit leaves me feeling like it wasn’t enough and I want more. There is more to see and experience on each visit. New York is my favorite place on this planet. The best! Yes it’s busy & fast but it’s Alive! Full of energy and plenty opportunities for experiences. It is an ecosystem of it’s own which I recommend everyone should experience. For some it will be too much but for others that let go it will be a playground.

Some quick notes about travelling in the USA

  • Use a “SuperShuttle” to and from the airport. http://www.supershuttle.com/ it’s a shared taxi van of around 9 people. It’s dirt cheap vs. crazy taxi fares and you get to see more of the area as they drop off people around town.
  • Come to USA without much clothes since clothes / fashion here is cheap and the range vast.
  • If you need to rent a car do it through Enterprise. They are the cheapest. http://www.enterprise.com/
  • For accommodation I highly recommend AirBnB (Air, Bed & Breakfast). http://www.airbnb.com/ You basically rent a room with people who live in the area. So much cheaper than a hotel and you get to experience the real culture of the city. Best of all is you can live in the heart of the city / anywhere you like without being restricted by Hotel locations.

Now… onto New York, Manhattan!

The city that never sleeps.

Downtown
Downtown

Here are a bunch of places I’ve been to and recommend you also drop by and experience for yourself:

To be, do & see

  • Check out Seinfeld Café (if you’re a fan of Seinfeld) – it’s at the corner of West 112th Street and Broadway, near Columbia University. Food is nothing special but the photos of the Seinfeld crew plastered all over the walls and the feel make it worthwhile.
  • Visit Central Park – it’s huge and beautiful. The photo below was taken during winter. An ice rink is setup by Trump Group for everyone to enjoy the cold season. During summer the whole park lights up in green flora.
  • Shop shop shop @ SOHO District in Manhattan. You do not need to go anywhere else. This is the place to be ~ http://www.sohonyc.com/
  • Nightlife is at the “Meat Packing” district in Manhattan – weird name for a place but it’s where all the top clubs are. Make sure you go to:
  • Visit “Pier A” for a boat trip to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. Get there early since it’s always packed.
  • Coming back from Pier A visit Wall Street NYC Stock Exchange. It’s only a few blocks away on foot.
  • See a Broadway show. Anything will do! It’s something everyone has to experience.
  • Empire State Building queues are crazy so you can get the same experience from the Rockefeller Building if not a better view since you get to see the whole of Central Park and the Empire State. You really get a feel for how high you are when all the sky-rises look like tiny lego blocks from Rockefeller ~ http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Food

  • Finally, best for last, dine at Daniel. Be prepared to pay BIG $$$ for an unforgettable dining experience that excites the senses, an elegant and vibrant ambiance, gracious service and a delectable menu. Chef Daniel Bouluds award winning contemporary French cuisine is inspired by the rhythm of the seasons. This restaurant has 3 x Michelin stars. Only 5 restaurants in NYC have this high level of achievement. Located at 60 East 65th Street, New York, NY, 10065 ~ http://www.danielnyc.com/daniel.html

If you have any questions regarding New York please contact me. I’m always happy to help and share my experience. Also feel free to contribute to this post by commenting below.

Happy trekking!

AirBnB – find a place to stay

If you need a short-term stay there is nothing like the service AirBnB provides. My wife and I have used their service a number of times in New York & Los Angeles and loved the experience. Their online service is “wife proof” meaning that it’s so friendly and easy to use that I didn’t have to get involved when my wife used their service. Check them out by clicking here to visit Air Bed and Breakfast website (also abbreviated / known as AirBnB).

~ Ernest

Airbnb