sihanoukville snorkeling trip

Travel highlights of 2014.

…and there goes another year. And, as usual, there is never enough travelling. I can’t complain, though. In 2014 I went on our first Big Dad and Daughter Adventure to Cambodia, did some serious skiing in the New Zealand Alps, had my first American Thanksgiving in a snowy Minnesota, skied in Utah with the mormons and a had a few local trips, including being in Sydney for the St Patrick’s Day parade. Amongst all that was a whole bunch of highlights (and often the highlights are not necessarily about a place as such, but about the people you are with, the food you ate, discovering something so new or simply a beautiful moment). So, without further ado here are my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2014 (in no particular order):

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Our biggest highlight from our Big Dad and Daughter Adventure to Cambodia was undoubtedly the behind the scenes tour of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre about an hour out of Phnom Penh. It is home to gibbons, sun bears, crocodiles, elephants, tigers, otters, deer and over a thousand other exotic critters. The animals were taken from poachers, markets, restaurants and abusive owners and they receive care and shelter as part of a sustainable breeding program. We saw lots of great critters over the whole day, but the two biggest highlights were getting a T-shirt painted by Lucky the elephant (while we were wearing the T-shirt) and getting thrown into a cage of baby monkeys. As soon as we stepped into the enclosure the excited junior primates jumped on us and swung from us and crawled down the insides of our T-shirts. One even tried to get up into Jasmine’s shorts.

the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center
Lucky (or Jackson Pollock as I called him) the elephant 

Thanksgiving, Minnesota, USA
I’ve had Thanksgiving lunch in Canada before (and the Canadians are very quick to tell you that did it first!), but this was my first Thanksgiving lunch in the US of A. And golly gee wizz was it fun. And gosh darn it did I eat and drink a lot. I was in Maple Grove on the outskirts of Minneapolis with my wife’s family where, between 15 of us, we did our best to devour two massive turkeys (one roasted and one smoked), cranberry sauce, stuffing, baked ham, green bean casserole, glazed carrots and cornbread. There was one other dish that made me, well, laugh. It was steamed sweet potatoes with melted marshmallow on top. And no, it wasn’t a practical joke. Those wacky Minnesotans eat that stuff. I did leave room, however, for the pumpkin pie with a whole heap of whipped cream. And yes, I felt sick after that, but boy it was fun.

Thanksgiving in Minneapolis

These giant blow up turkeys near my wife’s parent’s house, which had electronic nodding heads,  were only up for one day!

Heliskiing, Arrowsmith Ranges, Canterbury, New Zealand
This was the fifth time that I have done a day’s heliskiing with Methven Heliski, but this was the first time I’ve done it on corn snow. For the non-mad-skiers-like-me out there corn snow (or also called spring snow) is when the sun melts the top of the frozen snow base creating a soft layer on top. There hadn’t been snow for almost two weeks when we went heliskiing (and not much snow at all before that either). But, that turned out to be a very wonderful thing. The problem with heliskiing in deep powder is that it is unsafe to ski on very steep slopes because of avalanche danger. We got got to carve up the most forgiving of snow on runs that the guide, who had been guiding for 15 years, had never skied before. Let me tell you, there was a whole lot of hooting and hollering as we hooted down each run.

heliskiing methven new zealand
Hiking our way up to the steep drop-off.

heliskiing methven new zealand
Our ride picking us up from the bottom of one of the runs.

Snorkelling Trip, Near Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Another of the highlights from our Big Dad and Daughter Adventure to Cambodia was a day snorkelling trip to a couple of islands of the coast of Sihanoukville. Our small group (in our big boat) motored out on the glassiest of seas where we anchored of a small island then snorkelled amongst an impressive array of technicolour fish. We then jumped off the top of the boat into the deep clear water (Jasmine loved that part) followed by a delicious lunch of fresh fish and rice. We finished the day on a remote beach in an almost remote island (there were a few just huts that people were staying in on the island) where we swam and swam some more.

sihanoukville snorkeling trip
Dad and daughter at sea.

Snowshoeing, Deer Valley, Utah
I have spent a lot of time in the mountains in the winter, but I’d never been snow shoeing. And what a place to try it for the first time. I joined Spencer from All Seasons Adventures for a snowshoe tour up through the valley of Deer Valley ski resort. The ski runs were two days away from opening, but there was certainly enough snow – which also meant it was a super workout trudging through the deep snow. ‘Rest whenever you want,’ said Spencer. I didn’t want to look like a wuss (I could have easily rested every two minutes), so I puffed and panted my way up the steep slopes to the ‘top of the ridge’. While we were walking he said: ‘I took an Australian football team up here last winter. The team started with C.’ ‘Was it Collingwood?” I asked. ‘Yes, that was the team. There was a guy covered in tattoos.’ He was talking about Dane Swan. ‘They really struggled,’ he said. No wonder why I was puffing and panting then. Mind you, they did it in runners without snowshoes. But, boy was it worth it. All the way we were treated to spectacular views and lots of…serenity. We walked up ski runs that were eerily  quiet. I just wished that I had brought my skis with me – it would have been a beautiful ten minute run down through powder that took us over almost three hours to walk up.

Spencer on the way down (that was the easy part).

 The Temple of Doom, Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
My friend Dan will testify otherwise (he was the one who dubbed Temple Basin the Temple of Doom), but I actually enjoyed our Day from Hell (as Dan also dubbed it). Temple Basin is a club ski field in Arthur’s Pass – and when I say Arthur’s Pass I mean a long long drive down Arthur’s Pass. But the long drive from Methven was not the worst of it by no means. To get to the actual ski field involved a walk up a mountain track – a very steep, treacherous mountain path. The only good thing was that there is a ‘goods’ lift that takes your skis and boots up, but the signpost at the lift claimed that it was a 40 minute walk to the top. Maybe it’s 40 minutes for someone who is uber fit and uber keen to get up there – it took us an hour and a half. Then when we got to the top we’d missed lunch (you have to book it ahead) and Dan couldn’t hang on to the ‘nutcracker’ lift. I made it all the way to the top of the lift, but you then had to walk up a steep narrow ridge to the ski slopes. I loved the whole day, though. To me it was an adventure and I love a good adventure. Oh, except the walk down carrying my skis and boots. That was hell.

temple basin new zealand
Dan was happy for the first 15 minutes of the walk!

With the in-laws, Sydney
I’ve been to Sydney many times, but it’s so much fun to take people there for their first time. Particularly when they are American (Americans get so excited about stuff). We took my wife’s parents up to Sydney and it was such a thrill watching their faces when they caught their first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. We then took them on the ferry to Manly (and it was one of those perfect warm Sydney days) and we sat in the sun by the water drinking rosé before catching the ferry back as the sun was setting. Then to top it off we were in town for Sydney’s huge St Patrick’s Day parade and party in Hyde Park the next day.

The manly ferry

Grandpa and Luca on the Manly ferry.

Two ski resorts in one day, Park City and Canyons, Utah
I’ve been wanting to ski in Utah for years. I’d always read about their ‘champagne powder’ and deep, deep snow, so I was very excited to have the chance to stay and ski in Park City. I went in late November at the start of the ski season so didn’t get the deep snow, but I did pretty much get the mountain to myself because hardly anyone else was there. Only about a third of the mountain was open, but I also had another mountain to ski on the same pass. With my newly introduced Epic Pass  I could also ski Canyons Resort next door. So I skied one mountain in the morning then caught a bus and skied the other in the afternoon. I did get to ski some powder, too. I snuck under the boundary ropes to find some lovely soft and deep powder. Just don’t tell ski patrol. I can’t wait to get back there because this northern summer they are building a lift between the two resorts which will make it the biggest ski area in the US.

canyons resort-utah

Orange lifts and orange skis at Canyons Resort.

Back Friday, Mall of America, Minneapolis, USA
My wife’s family all said: ‘Oh, you never, ever go to the Mall of America on Black Friday.’ The Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in America and Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year. But I like a bit of madness and chaos, so I had to check it out. I didn’t get there until just before noon, so I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get a car park, but I drove in and found a spot in minutes. And the mall itself wasn’t crazy busy (I’ve seen it worse at the Boxing Day sales at Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne – which incidentally is the largest shopping mall in the southern hemisphere). It was all worth it because everything was ridiculously cheap. I found jeans that are over $120 a pair in Australia for $19. I bought three pairs. And I even found my car in the carpark straight away at the end. Now that is something amazing in itself.

mall of america black friday

Everything in America is bigger – including the Christmas trees.

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