For our trip to New Zealand, I flew into Christchurch and met up with my parents, who were there on their own trip. We spent day exploring the Banks Peninsula, including an excellent boat trip from Akaroa. The next day, I flew Queenstown to meet up with Kyle.
On the Milford and Routeburn tracks, hikers can experience four seasons in a day. Though we hiked in New Zealand’s early fall and hoped for mild days, we also knew the passes could receive feet of snow at this time of year.
This made it difficult to strike the right balance. We wanted to pack light enough to be able to move quickly and have energy for side trips, but we also wanted to be comfortable regardless of weather. Fortunately, we’ve acquired a good set of layering gear over the years, which we could draw on to assemble our packs.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, I was on sabbatical. While I was still working, I had a lot more flexibility in when I could travel. New Zealand had been on our to-visit list for a while, but seasons and distance make it hard to visit during a normal year. We took advantage of my flexibility by planning a three-week trip to New Zealand for February and March — late summer / early fall.
Over the years of wanting to visit New Zealand, we had accumulated an extensive list of places we wanted to hike and explore. As we got into planning the details, we narrowed our trip to focus on hiking in the mountains of the South Island. Just that easily filled three weeks.
In planning our 2015 trip to Scotland, we reluctantly cut Islay from our itinerary. Friends had enthusiastically recommended a visit, but we could not make it work with our schedule. We pledged, however, to visit on a future trip, and made it a priority when planning our 2019 visit.
We allocated three days (& three nights) to Islay. This gave us time to explore the island’s beaches and visit several of our favorite distilleries for in depth tours and tastings.
While tempted to return to some of the excellent hikes from our previous trip to Scotland, we instead decided to explore new parts of the Highlands before returning to prior hikes. After researching hikes in Scotland, we settled on four days of hiking the peaks of Torridonian sandstone running through Sutherland, Assynt, and Wester Ross.
In May 2019, we had the opportunity to return to Scotland for a week of hiking and whisky. Starting in Inverness, we spent the first half of the trip hiking in the northwest Highlands. We then drove down the west coast, took a ferry to Islay, and spend three days visiting distilleries, trying whisky and exploring the island.
Over the past few summers, my family has settled into a bit of a rotation between a week hiking in the Northwest and a week at Cold River Camp in the White Mountains. For 2018, we decided on a week of day hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Despite smokey skies from wildfires, we had a wonderful time.
In January 2018, we spent a long weekend on Oahu to seek some sun and warmth as a break from Seattle’s winter. In contrast to our past Hawaii trips to Kauai, the Big Island, and Maui, this was a relaxed vacation, with just a few short hikes and a good amount of time reading on beaches and in other beautiful places. Oh, and a chance of missiles.
After a rainy couple of days, we were fortunate to wake up to a beautiful clear morning at Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme. We took advantage of that with side trips to Tête Nord des Fours and Lacs Jovet on our way to Les Contamines. From there, we returned to our origin in Les Houches via Refuge de Miage and Col du Tricot to complete our Tour du Mont Blanc.
From Rifugio Bonatti, we followed a variant of the TMB over Mont de la Saxe and then down into Courmayeur. We hiked back up out of Courmayeur on a stormy morning, reaching Rifugio Elisabetta under broken clouds. Clouds and rain obscured the views for our hike from Elisabetta to Croix du Bonhomme.