All posts by Tim

Whistler, British Columbia – Not Just A Skiing Mecca

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Garibaldi Lake near Whistler

We’ve all heard of the skiing and snow-boarding mecca that is Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. One of the largest ski resorts in North America, Whistler Blackcomb was home to the alpine and nordic events of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and so, as you can imagine, it has fantastic amenities and is truly and outdoor lover’s paradise. In this article we are going to explore many of the fun adventurous pursuits you can engage in throughout the year in this magical place.
Whistler Village is the perfect resort town, set up with pedestrians in mind. As such it is a great place to relax and enjoy the local cafes, boutique shops, bars and restaurants. The township and ski resort lie some 121 km (75 miles) north of Vancouver. The drive takes about 1.5-2 hours depending on traffic/conditions. If you want a real fairytale experience up in Canada’s Coast Mountains why not invite a group of family and/or friends to Whistler for a long weekend or, even better, a week. There are fabulous Whistler vacation rentals available if you’d like to splurge on a luxury vacation that you’ll never forget.

Whistler Blackcomb – Winter
This famous ski area is the biggest in North America and has 8000+ acres of mountain slope to explore. It was originally 2 separate ski fields (on neighboring Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains) but they merged in late 1990’s. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola spans the two mountains and is the highest (1430′) and longest (1.88 miles) gondola in the world. The gondola is used by sightseers as well as skiers and snowboarders. There are fur trees dotted here and there on the ski runs which makes them more spectacular but also more challenging. You need to be aware of and avoid tree wells (which I hadn’t heard of before writing this article, coming from NZ where our ski fields don’t have trees on them), and know what to do if you fall in one. The most important thing is to always ski with a buddy, never alone.
If you have spare cash there is also the option of heli-skiing on fresh powder and/or walk on the Whistler Glacier.
If you’d like to pretend you’re a Winter Olympian, the Sliding Centre is open for us mere mortals to have a go at the Bobsleigh, with a professional pilot of course. This heart pounding experience is not just available during the winter either. In the summer season they fit the bobsleighs with wheels!
My list of fun winter activities is certainly not exhaustive but could also include dog sledding, ice skating, nordic skiing and snow mobiling.

Whistler Blackcomb – Summer
In the summer months Whistler has a popular mountain bike park with trails for beginners (lessons available) through to advanced. This year the season was May 9th – October 9th.

There are also great hiking trails on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Of course some are closed over the winter months but you can “snowshoe” some of the ones that remain open. One of the most popular summer hikes is the High Note trail which starts from the top of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, is 9.4 km and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Along the trail you’ll see cute Marmots sunning themselves on rocks, and get spectacular views of the surroundings mountains, and the valleys and lakes below, including Cheakamus Lake.

For pure exhilaration there is arguably nothing more exciting than the Whistler Ziplines. The park features multiple ziplines which are linked by suspension bridges, boardwalks and trails. It boasts the longest zipline in Canada and the US combined. The beauty of this activity is that no previous experience is required. You just have to have a will to be thrilled as you soar through the air over old growth rainforest.

Other exciting outdoor pursuits are white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking. White water rafting tours, led by experienced guides are available on the Green, Lower Cheakamus, Elaho and Squamish Rivers. The rapids on these rivers are rated between Grade 1-4. The River of Golden Dreams (officially Alta Creek) is gentle meandering river which is popular for relaxed kayaking and canoeing, as are the lakes around Whistler. The growing sport of Stand Up Paddling has made it’s way to the mountain lakes too. There are plenty of rental companies that hire out the watercraft if you haven’t brought your own and don’t want to do a tour.

If you are into fishing then there’s fishing tours to local rivers and lakes all year round. In this part of the world you’ll be fly-fishing or spin casting for Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Char or salmon. In the winter they do ice fishing too – a unique experience where you fish through a large whole drilled through lake ice.

Near Whistler
19 km to the south of Whistler is the large Garibaldi Provincial Park which is famous for it’s natural beauty. The park offers 90+ kilometers of hiking trails, including the 18km return trail to Garibaldi Lake with it’s gorgeous turquoise glacier water. The park is has a number of camping sites and it is essential to reserve a camping spot at some of them (including Lake Garibaldi) during the peak season from June 29th to mid October. You have to purchase a permit to camp anywhere in the park. Another great way to see this stunning lake and the mountains surrounding it is from the air in a chartered small aircraft from either Squamish airport or Green Lake (seaplane). or to can get a helicopter tour from Whistler.
Another must-see spot 29 km north-east of Whistler is Nairn Falls Provincial Park. The activities available are fishing, cycling on the roads within the park, and hiking. The most popular hikes are the 3km round trip walk to the gorgeous Nairn Falls, and the 4km round trip walk from the camping site to One Mile Lake which is a fun spot for swimming and general frolicking in the admittedly frigidly cold water.

JFK Airport to Manhattan by Subway : Save Yourself Money

Arriving in any big city can be daunting especially if you are sleep deprived, have arrived at some ungodly hour of the morning or night and are burdened down with luggage. It may be tempting to think, “stuff it, I’ll get a taxi” and that’s a fair enough decision, but be aware that it will set you back approx. US$55 to get to mid-town Manhattan. A shuttle may seem like a simple hassle-free forward and simple option but it has two major down sides. At approx. $20/person it is significantly more expensive than public transport and not much less than a taxi for 2 people. Secondly then ride can be frustrating long if you are the first on the shuttle and the last to be dropped off. Uber is great but can pricey if there is surge pricing at the time you want it.

By taking a combination of the JFK AirTrain and a single MTA Subway pass you can travel into the heart of Manhattan for only 8.50/person. It will probably take you 1-1.5 hours but if you are on a budget that is a significant saving. Depending on how many days you are staying in New York you may choose to buy a 7 day MTA pass which costs US$30. If you are going from JFK to Brooklyn or lower Manhattan you need to take the Air Train to the Howard Beach subway station and catch the A train. If you are heading to mid-town Manhattan then take the Air Train to Jamaica Station and catch the subway to 34 th St Penn Station.

It’s a good idea to have studied at the subway map online before arriving. You can check it again at the subway station and every train carriage has one too. On every train route there are both “Express” and “Local” trains. “Express” trains do not stop at every station and are therefore faster while “Local” trains stop at every station and therefore gives a slower commute. On the map express stops are represented by a white dot and local stops by a black dot. Passengers on an express train need to swap to a local train if their end destination is only a local stop. It makes sense to do this at the last express stop before your local one. This is easy to do as the local and express trains are just across the platform from each other.

If you plan to take the subway from JFK into Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens it is best to consider where the subway stations are in relation to the accommodation you are looking at booking. Preferably book something within a short walking distance of a station. If it is too far away then you might need to catch a MTA bus across to your hotel or take a short taxi ride which should be less than $10.

Photo: Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir, Central Park, NYC.

10 conversation topics that may come in handy when travelling

Okay, so picture the scene: you’re sat on a packed bus or train, heading off to your next destination; you’re tired, you can’t wait to get to where you’re headed, but you’re also bored, and that person sat next to you seems to want to talk. So, what do you talk about?

All too often we head to the same topics when meeting likeminded travellers, namely where are you from, what do you do, and how long are you travelling for?

Sound familiar?

After about five minutes the conversation dries up and you head into awkward territory. With that in mind, here are ten conversation topics you can use the next time you’re sat next to a potential chat buddy.

1) The weather.
Yes, we all do it at some point, it’s the conversation starter of years gone by, but it works! Breaking the ice by talking about how stinking hot it is, how freezing cold it is, or simply how weird the rain was last night, is the perfect in-road into a free-flowing conversation.

2) Where your travels will take you.
It’s easy to ask how long someone has been travelling for, or where they’ve been, but asking where they are likely to be heading to may find you a travel buddy, or at least fill an awkward silence.

3) Have you met any interesting people on the road?
Everyone has a story to tell about the strange person they met on a train to such and such a place, and it’s usually quite an amusing one to share.

4) Do you have any ideas on where I could head to next?
Similar to the question about where their travel is going to go to, asking someone if they have any ideas on places you could see and experience in the future may throw up a few places you never thought of.

5) How do you plan your travels?
Picking the brain of someone in the same sort of situation as you could yield a few ideas you never thought of on how to get about, how to plan it all, where to buy cheap tickets from etc.

6) How your family and friends feel about your travels.
I find this a useful one, because it’s always interesting to get a perspective on how other people’s nearest and dearest view their travels and adventures. Not everyone reacts the same way, so it could be an interesting topic to discuss.

7) Tips on how to store photographs/memories.
You don’t want to lose your precious travel snaps, and whilst you may be relying on one particular method, someone else may suggest something that will suit you better.

8) Where is your dream destination?
Everyone loves to talk about far off plans and possible exotic locations, so asking about that number one, dream destination is a topic nobody will turn down.

9) Food, glorious food!
Eating on the road is hard, so any tips of different meals and ways to eat healthily, or maybe even new cuisines to try, is very gratefully received!

10) What you miss about home?
Travel is all very well and good, but we all miss certain things about not being in our home sweet home. Discussing this topic with someone who may feel the same way about things is good therapy, if nothing else!

It’s important to at least chat a little to people you meet on the way, otherwise what is the point? You might not feel like it, and I’m not suggesting you pour out your life story, but a little company in what can be a lonely experience if you let it be, could be just the thing you need.

Photo Credit: Zeepack under Creative Commons license.