Ever since our first trip to Death Valley in 2014, I had wanted to go back. Of nearly all the National Parks we have visited, it has definitely been my fave. There is something otherworldly about this place that has stuck in my mind so I was happy that we were able to return just in time to celebrate my birthday. We both took off on Friday, which really allowed us to do and see a lot while we were there. We camped at the Furnace Creek Campsite which was quite crowded this time around. On Saturday morning, we got up and went on the Desolation Canyon hike which promised glimpses of the multi-hued volcanic rocks that occupy this part of the park. I was a little nervous about some of the rock scrambling that was needed to get to the end of the hike but we made it and had a lovely time sitting and enjoying the views of the surrounding areas. Later that day, we went to Mosaic Canyon where we only hiked about halfway due to the setting sun. The next morning we went on a 7.8 mile hike of Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, Zabriskie Point and Badlands Loop. This hike was really incredible. I had no idea just how beautiful it would be. This was the second longest hike I had done, after Tongariro, so it was a bit strenuous at times and my feet were pretty achy by the time we reached the end but it was so great to see just how many vistas and landscapes just this small area of the park could deliver. It was a lovely way to celebrate another year of life and I look forward to returning again and exploring even more of what Death Valley has to offer.
After leaving Tongariro, we headed to Rotoroa where we were looking forward to the geothermic pools and baths to repair what damage the hike had done. After a long day, we grabbed dinner at Burgerfuel in Rotoroa and headed to our hotel for some much-needed rest. The next morning, we checked out Hell’s Gate which offered both a geothermal reserve walk as well as a spa to enjoy. We did both and it was just the right kind of relaxation needed towards the end of the trip. We then made our way to Hamilton, making a stop a Dough Bros and happening on the birthplace of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We stayed at a brand new hostel, Matamata Backpackers, which coincidently happened to be down the road from Hobbiton, where we were headed the next morning. Our host was very nice and the space was very cute. The last day of our trip was a whirlwind, as we crammed quite a few stops into the last 12 hours we had in the country. The first stop was a tour of Hobbiton, this was something I had wanted to do before we event booked this trip and boy did it deliver. I literally got teary-eyed as we approached the site. It was so cool to see the love and care given to this place (even if just for tourism money) and really experience a place from one of my favorite film franchises, corny but true. We then drove to Auckland to have lunch at Lord of the Fries where we got the Poutine Burger and were not disappointed. We also visited Giapo where we had some fancy vegan ice cream cones. We wanted to visit one last site before we left for the airport, so we headed to Piha Beach where we climbed up Lion Rock and ran around in the water. All in all, this was an amazing trip. I wish we had been able to have 2 more days in New Zealand to explore a few more sites but I’m so happy we were able to make this trip happen and so thankful for the support of our family and friends who helped make it possible. It is a trip that will stay with me for some time.
For most of our trip I had talked Scott’s ear off about how I wanted to try to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but the idea of a 12-mile hike made me very nervous. When we finally arrived in Tongariro National Park, I had made up my mind. We camped at Whakapapa Village which conveniently had a shuttle to take you to and from the hike. On the day we arrived, we explored some of the surrounding areas and enjoyed the heated kitchen area to heat up our Pranah Cafe leftovers. We reviewed all the items needed for the hike and prepped our packs for the next day’s journey. We opted to take the first shuttle so that we would have the most time available for the hike. The hike itself was intense and gruelling at times, all the things I read online said you could experience all 4 seasons in one hike. The only items we did not have/bring were gloves and boy did I wish I had brought a pair as my hands were freezing and I resorted to putting my hands in a pair of extra socks that I packed. Despite the rather gruelling and frigid parts, this was an amazing hike and I am so happy we decided to do it. So many beautiful things to see. I loved all the volcanic rocks that greeted us before we began our hike up and the beautiful Emerald Lakes that were revealed after the worst part of the journey. The last couple of miles my feet were aching so my pace slowed down a bit but we made it to the end in time to catch the shuttle back to camp.
After leaving Abel Tasman behind, we drove through the night to a hotel in Nelson so we would be closer to Picton for our ferry the next day. Scott was a real trooper for getting us safely to the hotel despite being exhausted. This was a first time driving on the rather remote southern island at night. Nearly everything was closed and we were very nervous about finding an open hotel. Luckily we did and we got some much-needed rest. The next morning we made a stop at Ritual in Blenheim for some food (I had my first caramel slice here and fell in love) and randomly ran into one of Scott’s PlantBuilt teammates. We arrived at the Picton Ferry Terminal with plenty of time to spare and turned in our rental car. The Ferry ride was nice and relaxing with some beautiful views of the smaller islands off the coast. When we arrived in Wellington, we got our new rental car and made our way to our hotel and had dinner at Aunty Mena’s Vegetarian Cafe. The next morning, we had breakfast at the highly recommended Práńáh Cafe, which was as good as we were told (second caramel slice was consumed here). We then headed over to the Weta Cave to check out all the Lord of the Rings merch and take the Weta Studio tour which was pretty cool. Then Scott had his hopes set on visiting the Adrenalin Forest which is a space full of trees connected by zip lines and obstacles, with a healthy fear of heights, I opted to watch him zip around the courses and took photos and videos galore. After working up an appetite in the forest, we headed to Burgerfuel (which was also highly recommended) for some vegan burgers, fries and milkshakes. Then we zipped over to the Te Papa Museum to check out some art. Before leaving Wellington the next morning, we made one last stop at Práńáh Cafe for breakfast and took some leftovers with us to enjoy at our next destination.
Wanaka was low key as we spent the day wandering around the town and doing some grocery shopping. We grabbed our first meal since Queenstown at an Indian Restaurant in town and went back to our condo to do some much-needed relaxing and laundry. We left Wanaka the next morning to make our way to Punakaiki which was one of our longest drives of the trip. We made a few stops along the way to see Lake Hāwea, Fantail Falls, a Franz Joseph Glacier outlook and stopped at a beachside/roadside coffee cart for some much-needed caffeine. We arrived at the Punakaiki Beach Camp just before sunset and were able to get ourselves a very picturesque campsite. It was still a bit rainy but the location was just beautiful and we could hear the waves crashing against the coast all night. In the morning, we packed up camp and went to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes before making our trek to Abel Tasman National Park. I had booked us a campsite at Anapai Bay which required us to backpack in. As we hiked, we started talking about how early we would need to leave the next morning to ensure we arrived on time for our ferry to the north island. I should mention that nearly every drive we had taken at this point took about 2 hours longer than the GPS indicated. New Zealand roads are usually one lane each direction and many routes take you through winding mountain roads, so we were a bit worried as we had quite a few miles to cover to get to Picton and our ferry. When we got to camp and set up our tent, my anxiety about missing that ferry kicked into high gear and I decided that it would be best if we didn’t stay the night there. So we packed up our gear and hiked back out leaving one of the most remote and beautiful campsites behind.
Yesterday was the official start of the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans and we decided to make a king cake. While gathering supplies at the store, we decided to experiment and fill the king cake with Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl spread. The results were pretty delicious and as a result, I’ve updated my Vegan King Cake recipe (here, here) yet again so you can make one of these bad boys yourself!
– I didn’t do exact measurements on how much spread I used so I tried to estimate, I think we didn’t use quite enough so err on the side of more.
– We think this might be good if you also add cinnamon and sugar to the spread. You would need about (1/2 cup evaporated cane juice sugar and 2 Tbsp cinnamon)
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups water (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil or neutral taste oil (we used refined coconut oil)
1/2 Tbsp salt
1oz yeast (we used 4 packets of Fleischmann’s RapidRise Highly Active Yeast)
1 Tbsp Ener-g Egg Replacer mixed with 4 Tbsp Warm Water
Cookie Butter filling:
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl spread (I think we used half a jar in total)
1 pound of powdered sugar
1/4 cup non-dairy milk or water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl
- To make the Dough, add all ingredients to a mixer with the dough hook attachment, and mix on speed 2 until dough forms and is slightly warm to the touch (about 3-5 minutes). Cover the dough for 1 hour and let sit in a warm area to build humidity to allow the dough to rise.
- Once the dough has risen, find a workspace at least 3-foot wide and flour the surface. Cut the dough into two halves and sprinkle with flour. Roll dough into a 2-foot long strip about 12-16 inches wide.
- Spread Cookie and Cocoa Spread onto the dough evenly using an offset spatula getting the spread as close to the edges as possible. Cut the dough lengthwise into three equal strips
- Roll each strip (like a cinnamon roll) lengthwise forming a long roll. Braid the three rolls together and form a circle with the braids. Place on a baking pan and pinch the ends of the braids together.
- Cover with a large plastic bag (like a garbage bag) and let the dough proof for an hour.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper for 15-18 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Take out and let cool.
- While king cake is cooling, it’s time to make the icing! Mix together non-dairy milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar until combined. You can add an additional 1/4 tsp of liquid to thin the icing if too thick. The desired consistency is close to paste or glue. Melt Cookie and Cocoa spread in a saucepan until it will run off a spoon.
- Pour and spread icing on king cake and use a spoon to drizzle melted spread on top. Hide the baby and enjoy.
Scott and I spent 11 days in New Zealand last month. It was amazing. Neither of us had done much internationally traveling so this was a big deal trip for us. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible during our short stay and opted to drive ourselves across the country and camped as much as possible. We arrived in Queenstown which ended up being the perfect spot as we spent our first three nights in the nearby areas of Fiordland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Wanaka.
For our first night, we were lucky enough to have a campground entirely to ourselves. We stayed at the Mackay Creek Campsite in Fiordland National Park which had a beautiful view of the East Eglinton River Valley in the distance and some beautiful flowers along the creek. The next day we drove Milford Road to Milford Sound which might have been one of our favorite drives as nearly all the mountains surrounding us had tons of waterfalls pouring down the sides of them. It was like being on another planet. We stopped off for a quick hike to see The Chasm which was pretty nifty. After we left Milford Sound we made our way to the Sylvan Campsite in Mount Aspiring National Park, unfortunately by the time we got there it was pretty cold and rainy but we had enough of a small break during the downpour to get our tent set up and kept relatively dry. It was so windy and rainy that night, the most stormy weather we have endured camping thus far, but our tent stayed dry and it was a quite an experience to hear the strong winds gust through the forest before hitting our tent. I had wanted to spend the next morning taking the drive to Skippers to see a spot used in the filming of THE LORD OF THE RINGS but the nasty weather was going to continue and it was a remote area that I was already worried about accessing with our rental car so we made our way to Wanaka early where we were looking forward to a warm meal and a room for the night.
For my birthday we took a trip that had been on my list for ages. We went up to the PNW to visit the town of Twin Peaks. Now of course Twin Peaks is a fictional town made up for TV but the real town exists in Snoqualmie Valley, Washington right outside of Seattle. We took the chance to visit our pal Kittee in PDX and rented a car so we could drive up to Snoqualmie on my birthday. Right before the trip, I finally got Scott to watch the entire show and FIRE WALK WITH ME so I was super amped for the trip. We spent our first night in Portland where Kittee accompanied us to Homegrown Smoker and Vtopia Cheese Shop and we stuffed our faces. The next morning we woke up early for breakfast at Blossoming Lotus and stopped off at Voodoo Donuts for the car ride. Along the drive, we spotted another famous PNW landmark, Sleater-Kinney Road! It was stormy as we arrived in Snoqualmie so we hurried to catch all of the sites and made our way up to the falls, they were spectacular at night but we were getting soaked so we got back into the car to finish our drive up to Seattle where we met friends for dinner. The next morning we decided to go back to Snoqualmie so we could see the falls and the weather was perfect so we hiked down to the bottom of the falls. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday and it was great to spend some time with Kittee. I’m hoping we can make another trip up to Portland soon and maybe sneak off to Snoqualmie again!
This past weekend we went camping with friends at the Princess Campground in Sequoia National Forest for our friend Kyle’s birthday. Our pal Shawn snagged 2 great campsites with ample space for 8 of us which allowed us to spread out a bit. We were able to see a few sites in both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks including the Grant Tree, Roaring River Falls, Hume Lake, and Zumwalt Meadow, where we saw a mother bear and cub from a fairly close distance. We also attended a Birds of Prey presentation at our campsite which included a Red Tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl and Screech Owl. I was super excited to see the owls close up as they are birds that have always fascinated me. Even though we explored many areas of the parks we also had some down time at the campsite where we told each other embarrassing stories, made lots of vegan food (Daiya mac and cheese…mmmm) and played a few games of Werewolf which we got super into and got yelled at by the campsite ranger for making too much noise. Ooops! On our way back home we stopped off at Pixley National Wildlife Refuge where we saw two jackrabbits from a distance. Besides a brief low point on Saturday night where my Entomophobia kicked into high gear after Scott spotted a spider on my shoe, this was a great trip shared with friends. I hope we can go another adventure in August before work takes over my nights and weekends.
We have done less adventuring than I would have liked this year but I figured it was about time I posted about our trip to Santa Cruz Island over Memorial Day weekend. We had been talking about taking a trip to Channel Islands National Park since maybe our first backpacking trip last spring and we finally made it happen. This trip required more preparation as we had to take a boat out to the island and we needed to carry all of our water with us, since there was no potable water at our campsite*. We left early on Sunday morning to catch our boat at 9AM in Ventura. The boat ride was choppy but luckily no one got sea sick. We made it to Prisoner’s Harbor around 11AM and had lunch at a picnic table right on the beach. After lunch, we made the 4 mile hike to the Del Norte Campsite. This was an intense hike for me, lots of steep climbs but we made it. The Del Norte Campsite has just 4 spots but overlooks the Pacific Ocean so the view is perfect. Once we got to our site, we set up our tents, relaxed and napped. We then took a short hike further along the main trail to see if we could spot any of the island foxes we were anxious to see. We spotted one down the road but he kept his distance. Once back at our campsite, we started to cook dinner and a little fox came to investigate the campsite next to us. We watched him from a distance, until he eventually left. We took a short night hike to blow off some needed energy without disturbing the other campers.
In the morning, we got up and had breakfast. While the other campers, broke down their tents to catch the early boat at 11AM. Our boat wasn’t coming until 4PM so we had a lazy morning reading and relaxing. Once some of the other campers left, we got visited by 2 adorable island foxes and took 1000 pictures. Around noon we packed up our gear and made the trek back to the dock. We had lunch while waiting for our boat to arrive and relaxed on the rocky beach. The boat ride back was much smoother and we met a pod of dolphins which we watched swim along with us from the front of the boat. It was amazing! Once back on the mainland, we stopped for a much-needed meal at Pizza Cookery and gorged ourselves on vegan garlic rolls and pizza.
This was by far one of my favorite trips we have done, if you live in Southern California you should absolutely do this! I’m anxious to explore some of the other islands and eventually want to camp at Santa Rosa island, which requires some intense hiking and a 2-3 night stay!
*As we arrived to the boat on Sunday morning we discovered that Scott’s camelback sprung a leak. We made several attempts to fix the leaks but eventually gave up and did our best to drink from his water first. This gave me tons of anxiety about running out of water during our hike to camp but it all worked out and we had enough.