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Top 10 Travel Moments of 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fjordland National Park on the Southern Explorer Topdeck tour.
“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. 
December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. 
How did it get so late so soon?” 
- Dr. Seuss

 As closing time nears for the year we call 2015, I find myself not remembering the 365 days it entailed but the thousands of moments it encompassed; those little random moments that all-too-quickly became memories and fill me with such happiness that they sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks. What follows is my top 10 travel moments of 2015 that I know I'll be reminiscing about for many years to come...

1. Heli-hiking Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Heli-hiking Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Hiking the Fox Glacier was guaranteed to be a top 10 moment of 2015 even before I actually experienced it, what brings it to the top of the list though is the miraculous conditions that I was allowed to experience the moment in. Firstly, despite this experience being the pivotal reason for booking my trip to New Zealand's South Island in the first place, a helicopter crash at the hiking site just one week before I myself was set to head up the glacier in a helicopter threw off my anxious/excitement see-saw. As the Fox Glacier lies on the West Coast of New Zealand - a region that sees an average of 178 days of rain each year - I worried that the tour would be cancelled due to heightened security measures flying into the almost always foggy glacial valley. However, the morning I was booked for the hike I woke up to the clearest day, that almost turned out to be too nice a day as I felt like a melting ice cream atop the glacier! Secondly, the moment was made more precious by the amazing company of my fellow Topdeckers who joined me in penguin sliding through ice caves and making the experience truly irreplacable.

You can read more about my heli-hiking adventure here.

2. Hiking through hail atop Mt Etna, SicilyHiking Mt Etna in Sicily

The atmosphere and scenery were like nothing I had ever seen before. Vents of steam; rich basalt; flowering plants; illusions of rivers of snow - It was straight out of a magic school bus story. Unfortunately it was here, 3 kilometer high up on a volcano, that the seemingly perfect plan fell apart. We were supposed to catch a cable car to the second level of the volcano and then catch a 4WD to one of the volcanic craters. Instead, we alighted the cable car to find nothing but a horde of people hiding from the storm outside/waiting for the 4WDs to start operating again that we were seemingly destined to become a member of. As the first hour passed and the 4WDs were still not budging, we located a rain jacket rental and braved the hail for a hike around Europe's tallest active volcano. There was a certain sense of serenity that was awarded to us with the making of this choice to trade in our cramped commercial surroundings for volcanic fumes, hail, lightning, rain and next to no other human wanderers. After a long while we began our walk back to the cable car and ultimately our bus ride home. However on our return we were surprised by the passing of a plethora of 4WDs headed to the crater. As we constantly failed to pull one over, we decided that if there was still one when we got back to the cable car station we were going to risk missing our transfer back to Taormina in favor of taking the trip to the peak - after all it was what we went there to do. To our luck, there was one jeep left with 4 spare spots. 10 minutes later we were at the peak listening to the call of nature as our hair danced to the static ambiance. Sure, we were an hour late for our bus, but by golly it was worth it. 

3. Driving through Fjordland, New Zealand

Watching waterfalls at the Fjordland National Park on the Southern Explorer Topdeck tour.

It was as if the weather was thanking me for studying it. After a week of sunshine and clear skies which defied weather forecasts and climate outlooks, the skies tears finally rained down on us; and I couldn't have been happier. As we drove from Queenstown to Milford Sound via the Fjordland National Park, the clouds joined with the endless waterfalls in apparent celebration of our presence. As we passed through the Darren Mountain range via the Homer Tunnel, it was as if our bus was the TARDIS in disguise, as although we entered the tunnel to natural disaster levels of rain and flooding we exited the tunnel to an ephereal opening of the sky with the only remaining clouds glowing as the abundant sunshine passed through it. What's more is that it's at this exact moment that our tour guide chucked on some Sigur Ros levels of meditative music leading me to the certain assumption that I was no longer on Earth.

Click here to read more about my New Zealand adventures, with a full post about Milford Sound coming soon!

Seals in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

After driving for 4.5 hours with glaciers and waterfalls as frequent an accorance as Starbucks in the States, I was beginning to wonder if I could be more impressed by the beauty of the Icelandic landscape.... then we arrived at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It was here dancing; smiling; wondering that I came to truly understand what David Attenborough meant when he said "It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living." I look forward to the day when I find a place more beautiful and a memory more filled with pure happiness than this.

Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia in Turkey

My favorite moments are those which challenge you to be more than you are, after all, in the words of Helen Keller, 'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all'. With that I cannot leave out the morning I faced my fear of heights head on and watched the sun rise over Cappadocia, from the gravity-defying vantage point of a hot air balloon. Add to that the most adorable/friendly/happy dog I've ever seen greeting us back on the ground - helping us deflate our balloon - and you have a perfect moment.

Exploring the magma chamber of Thrihnukagigur volcano, Iceland

I purposefully closed my eyes, not in fear but in an effort to prepare my senses for the sights to come. In just six short minutes, I would be wandering; touching; experiencing the inside of the magma chamber of a volcano. As we descended 120 meters down the throat of the once fiery abyss, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops also eager to get inside, I thought about how anywhere else in the world, the suggestion of exploring the interior of a volcano would be met with exclamations of insanity, but not in Iceland. In Iceland, it's just another day; another perfect moment.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

My brother and I spent our first night in Iceland at the Blue Lagoon. Having just literally escaped from the almost-subzero temperatures of the Silfra Fissure, our bodies were quick to welcome the 37°C temperatures of the Blue Lagoon. Arriving just before sundown (which was at 10:30pm!), we stayed until closing time watching the changing shades of the sky to every colour of the rainbow as the suns visible light rays scatter at deepening angles, and pulling stupid faces as we applied so much silica mud mask that we became almost unrecognisable. This night was basically the definition of happiness in the dictionary.

 8. Roaming around Stromboli, Sicily

Stromboli Volcano in Sicily from the Sea

I originally wanted to take the night hike up this volcano which has been almost continuously erupting for the past 2000 years now. However, on an already jam-packed itinerary, I sadly couldn't fit it in as it involved an overnight stay on the volcanic island. Instead, I took a day trip from Taormina to the volcanic islands of Panarea and Stromboli across the UNESCO-listed Aeolian Archipelago. The day involved all that one could ask of from a Sicilian holiday, including endless Italian food, crystalline waters to swim in and quaint Italian villages. However, the moment that brought this day into my top 10 travel moments was that in which I experiences as we approached Stromboli. As we approached clear views of the smoke from the volcanic vents escaping in jet-like eruptions welcomed us like fireworks. My emotions can only be described to have been as happy as a kid in a candy store.

Exploring the Home and Gardens of Charles Darwin, England

A moment can last a whole day right? Take off the part where I accidentally chucked my travel card in the rubbish bin, and this day-spanning moment is without question a member of the top 10 travel moment squad. I mean is there any greater joy than that provided by having free reign to explore Charles Darwin's home (including his study where you can see the very same black armchair and table where Darwin sat and wrote many of his books including 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection!) and his garden (still stocked with the same plants and bees that inspired many of his experiments!) while David Attenborough provides audio commentary for the experience in your ear? 

Back in July my brother and I spent 3 days in the seaside town of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Those 3 days were some of the most peaceful I can recall from the year, as we spent most of our time eating delicious pizza, swimming in the Adriatic Sea and pretending we were in Game of Thrones. However, there is one moment enclosed in that 72 hour window that stands out among the rest, and deserves a mention in this list - the evening we spent kayaking to the setting sun. Sometimes when I'm stressed I close my eyes and think back to this moment as we paddled the lightly rippled Adriatic Sea as the sunset against the Dubrovnik city walls to be awarded with an instant sense of joy and peace.

Find out four other things that you MUST do in Dubrovnik here.

 I can't wait to share with you all what 2016 has in store. 
Until then, Happy New Year! 
 xx L