As the year comes to an end, it’s traditional to review the year, and share the best moments. I’ve often been accused of being premature (don’t ask), so it’s possibly appropriate that I jump the gun, and recall a few memories which made 2014 an especially good year. This may be a risky strategy, the year still has some legs in it, and a trip to Iceland next week certainly has some potential to add several memorable travel experiences.
This year overflowed with special moments; as the world of new media opens up more opportunities almost daily, the chances are, there will be more adventures in store in the future. Travel adventures aside, recently being awarded the Oman Air Travel Blogger of the Year, and chosen as a Canadian Photography Ambassador were two unexpected, but extremely welcome surprises.
Shameless self promotion aside, choosing the highlights from a year filled with exceptional travel experiences, was a challenge, but here are my personal favourites:
Spending six weeks travelling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia, experiencing the best of Canada by rail, and car is impossible dismiss in any list of highlights. Witnessing the beauty, and diversity of the provinces through the window of a Via Rail carriage was an unforgettable experience.
Driving through the Rockies, probably my favourite mountain range, meeting fascinating people, passionate about their culture, the environment, and their way of life left an indelible mark on me. First Nation communities proudly retaining their heritage, and culture through dance, and Pow-Wows, while educating visitors through interpretive centres, and museums was especially inspiring.
The iconic Canadian wildlife seemed a little camera-shy during my journey. However, getting up close and personal with black bears in New Brunswick, and an acrobatic flying display by raptors near Prince Rupert were hardly mere compensations.
Just visiting Cape Town, one city that seems to hold a special place in most travellers heart, was a highlight in itself. It’s one of the world’s most loved cities, squeezed between the ocean, and the dominating escarpment of Table Mountain, there is plenty to keep any visitor entertained for several weeks.
In, and around the city there are so many attractions; from browsing the shops, or enjoying a craft beer at the Waterfront, to the colony of unbelievably cute penguins at Simon’s Town, and the feeling of being at the World’s End in nearby Cape Point National Park.
Visiting the township of Masiphumelele, was both poignant, and inspiring. Conditions in the shanty town ranged from habitable to atrocious, people living in corrugated tin shacks, with raw sewage running down the streets where schoolchildren played had me initially reeling in stunned sympathy. However, having my guide explain some enterprising initiatives, and speaking to several locals left me with a more lasting impression; inspired by their constant optimism, and spirit. I left uplifted, and certain that the residents would eventually succeed in building a better place for themselves.
Another of the easier choices to make, travelling five days by ship to reach one of the most remote islands on earth is certainly a highlight. In the capital, Jamestown friendly “Saints”, offer genuine smiles, and greetings, adding to the undeniable charm of this South Atlantic island.
There is plenty more to explore than Longwood House, the exile of Napoleon, and his now empty tomb. The island has many tracks to discover, with spectacular scenery, hilltop fortifications, and natural swimming pools such as Lot’s Wife Ponds, which are well worth the trek. Home to Jonathan, the oldest known living land animal, and ornithological superstars, such as pretty fairy terns, and the endemic wirebird.
I also managed to achieve a lifetime ambition, swimming with a whale shark, another reason St Helena couldn’t be omitted. It is also set to become a hotspot for the largest fish in the world, as shoals of more than thirty sharks are becoming common place early each year.
Visiting Queensland, Australia including the Whitsundays, Eungella, Townsville, and Surfer’s Paradise gave me plenty of memorable moments, but actually being selected for this great travel initiative was an undoubted highlight.
Considering some of the other 21 illustrious names selected, including Dave, and Deb of the PlanetD, Nellie Huang of Wildjunket, and Sherry Ott of Ottsworld, being invited was an honour.
I attended the inaugural aboriginal open day on Palm Island, and saw a platypus for the first time, swam with turtles on the Great Barrier Reef, and experienced a moving Anzac Day service at dawn. However, it was the little individual touches from Peppers, Broadbeach, which made the project a little special. They had managed to find the only selfie I’d ever taken, and hung it on the wall, and watching a favourite film “Gladiator” on my own private cinema, made this a very personal experience.
Costa Rica is my most recent travel experience, and had me creeping ever closer to South America, so far a no go territory in my travel career. It’s a beautiful country, with lush cloudforests, and deserted, white sand beaches, with a fascinating, and friendly culture, there’s plenty to appeal to all kinds of traveller.
Standing high in the canopy of the cloudforest on a hanging bridge within touching distance of a troop of howler monkeys, happily going unperturbed about their business left me almost speechless (I said almost). They sat calmly for several minutes, allowing the group to excitedly snap pictures, even appearing to pose for our benefit, it seemed impossible that anything would top it anytime soon.
Several days later however, on a pitch black night, I was sat on a beach, under a star filled sky in the Tortuguera National Park. Along with several other excited visitors, transfixed by a green turtle emerging from the crashing surf to lay her precious egg cargo. Witnessing the supreme effort, and delicate care of the turtle in completing this super important task is something everybody needs to see for themselves. It was a magical moment, and one I never wanted to end.
Sharing these special travel experiences is not merely to show how lucky I have been this past year. It’s hoped they may provide some inspiration for those still unsure where to visit next year.
Hang on though, don’t rush out to make a booking just yet, Iceland is still to come, there may still be room for a revision.
What were your travel highlights of 2014? Please share them in the comments.