Travel Ideas for Animal-Loving Families

My family and I are huge animal-lovers. We have two rescue dogs that only travel with us on road trips (see my post Tips for Traveling with Dogs) so we love interacting with animals of all types when we travel to fill that void of missing our dogs. Over the years we’ve had many different encounters with animals. When our daughter was very young we would sometimes visit zoos when we traveled but that seemed to get less and less. Now we prefer to visit places that are rescue centers or see animals in their natural habitat when possible.

Our interactions with animals during our travels have run the gamut, with some places more positive experiences than others. My list of top places includes mostly dogs, exotic birds, bears, moose, butterflies, sting rays, and iguanas. I’d like to share some of the places that stand out more than others here.

When I was planning our trip to Utah, a co-worker who has been to Utah a few times recommended a place called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I looked it up and it did indeed look like a place my family and I would be interested in visiting. Not only did we visit there, but we had lunch upon arrival, stayed in one of the cottages on-site, toured the facilities with a guide, volunteered with some puppies (PUPPIES!), and even got to have a sleepover with one of the puppies in our cottage. It was even better than I could have imagined. I highly recommend staying here if you’re in southern Utah. You can read my full post on Best Friends here:  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”.

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Walking a puppy at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

San Diego, California is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is it beautiful but it’s absolutely full of things to do. When we were there a few years ago, we stopped to visit a bird rescue just outside San Diego called Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary. This is a place my daughter and I still talk about because it was such a unique experience for us. We had been to animal shows before where birds perform silly tricks and such, but we’d never been allowed to touch and interact with exotic birds before. One of our most memorable interactions here was with a bird called “Peanut,” who serenaded us and made us laugh. You can read my blog post on Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary here:  Off-the-Beaten Path Things to Do in Del Mar, California.

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Some of the birds from Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary

Many people visit Alaska to see bears, moose, puffins, and many other animals. When we visited Alaska, we definitely saw our share of many different types of animals. One of my favorite places to see animals was at Denali National Park. We went on a bus tour (an on-and-off bus where you could get off and hike then catch another bus to get back out of the park) one day and saw tons of bears, many different kinds of birds, caribou, and dall sheep. You can read about Denali National Park here:  Denali National Park in Alaska. Another animal encounter we had while in Alaska that turned out to be my daughter’s absolute favorite is when we went to Seavey’s Sled-Dogs in Seward, Alaska. What’s not to love about getting to hold adorable Alaskan Husky puppies? Going on a sled-ride pulled by some eager dogs around the grounds was a ton of fun as well!

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One of the puppies from Seavey’s Sled Dogs

Ostriches and butterflies probably aren’t the first things you think of when you think of Aruba. Many people visit Aruba for the powdery white sandy beaches and while they certainly didn’t disappoint, we also discovered a couple of places for animal-lovers. Simply known as The Butterfly Farm, this is one of my favorite butterfly farms I’ve been to anywhere. There are hundreds of butterflies here from around the world as well as caterpillars. A guided tour is included in the entrance fee, and the guide will show you how to safely handle butterflies when they inevitably land on you. We also visited the Aruba Ostrich Farm and loved it here. In addition to the tour of the ostriches (which you can feed and even go on a short but wild ride if you’re little and lucky enough like our young daughter was), you can eat lunch here, and view their African art pieces. There’s also a souvenir art shop full of local art work.

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My daughter feeding ostriches at the Aruba Ostrich Farm

Charleston, South Carolina is another one of my favorite places to visit, and I’ve been there many times over the years. On a recent visit, I discovered The Center for Birds of Prey, which is just outside Charleston in a city called Awendaw. Here, we took a guided tour and saw many different types of birds, watched a flight demonstration, and saw newly-hatched baby owls. Many people think of historical sites, gourmet food, and beaches when they think of Charleston, but The Center for Birds of Prey is also a great place to visit if you’re in the area and are an animal-lover.

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One of the beautiful birds at the Center for Birds of Prey

The next place I’m going to mention is definitely touristy, but a lot of fun nonetheless. As they say, some things are popular for a reason. When we were recently in Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, we went snorkeling with a tour group that took us to Stingray City. Here, we were able to touch these gorgeous creatures as they glided past us on the shallow sandbar. Our guides offered to let people hold or even kiss a sting ray (it was said to bring you good luck), but I was content to just gently touch them as they swam past me. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the endangered Blue Cayman Iguana on our guided tour of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. While you can’t touch the iguanas on the tour (they bite), you get to see them up-close on the behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. You can read my blog post on stingrays (and more) here:  Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More and my post on the botanical garden (and more) here:  Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell.

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A Cayman Blue Iguana at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in Grand Cayman Island

The final place on my list where my family and I interacted with animals is Hawaii. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii (a.k.a. The Big Island) multiple times and I’ve seen many different kinds of animals like huge turtles both in the water and on beaches on the Big Island, peacocks in Kauai, and whales off the coast of Maui. However, one of my favorite animal experiences was when we visited the Kauai Humane Society and took one of the shelter dogs on a field trip. At the Kauai Humane Society, you get to choose a dog from their best-behaved dogs and take them for a walk or wherever else you’d like for the day after paying a donation and getting some items for the day. The dog we chose, Priscilla, was extremely well-behaved in the car and on her leash. Taking Priscilla on a field trip that day was one of the highlights of my vacation in Hawaii and given all of the amazing things we saw and did in Hawaii, that’s really saying something! You can read about my vacation in Kauai here:  Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things.

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Sweet little Priscilla from the Kauai Humane Society

Are you an animal-lover? Do you try to incorporate visits to animal rescue centers or otherwise interact with animals when you go on vacation? What are some of your favorite places to visit animals?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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Which Hawaiian Island is Right for You?

So far, I’ve been to four Hawaiian islands on three separate occasions:  Maui once, Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island) twice, Kauai twice, and Oahu once. I’m by far no expert on Hawaiian islands but I would like to share my experiences for people who have never been to Hawaii because I have gotten some questions. Hawaii is a popular bucket-list place for many people, so when they go, they want to make sure they’re going to be happy with their decision.

First and foremost, the most important question is which island should you go to? There are six islands that tourists can visit. In addition to the ones I listed above, there’s also Lanai and Molokai. Lanai is mostly (97% as of 2012) owned by former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who wants to keep the island remote and luxurious. There are a couple of hotels, a few golf courses, and no traffic lights. People come here for rest and relaxation. Molokai, is almost the antithesis of Lanai, with no five-star luxury hotels. Half the population is of native Hawaiian heritage. This destination is ideal for adventure seekers, history buffs and those who want to experience old Hawaii, pre-1959.

Maui is the second-most visited island, and is best known for its beaches. You can drive the super-curvy Road to Hana, to see the rain-soaked side of the island. Another popular activity is to watch the sunrise from the Haleakala National Park. You can go with a group and cycle down the volcano or just drive there on your own and skip the bicycle tour if you have a rental car. Many people honeymoon in Maui and there’s even a phrase that you were “Mauied” if you got married in Maui. There’s no shortage of things to do, but Maui tends to get a bit touristy especially in Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach.

Oahu is the most-visited island and home to the state capital Honolulu. This island is best for couples, families and groups of friends seeking culture, entertainment and great food. There is a huge range of things to do from active pursuits like hiking, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, or taking tours of historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Iolani Palace. Don’t think your only option is to stay at crowded Waikiki Beach, as there are many options on other parts of the island that aren’t so over-run with tourists.

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Oahu from Diamond Head State Monument

Kauai is known as the Garden Isle, and is perfect for those that enjoy getting out in nature. Hawaii’s best hiking trails can be found on Kauai, such as the famous 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. There are many other parks around Waimea Canyon, called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, where you can find trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Poipu in the south shore is fantastic for snorkeling and swimming year-round.

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Waimea Canyon in Kauai

Hawaii Island is also called the Big Island and is larger than all of the other islands combined. The world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, is here, as well as 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. The Big Island is ideal for people who love hiking, families of all sizes and ages, and those that want to explore all that this beautiful island has to offer (in other words, everyone!). Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a place you definitely want to visit as well as Waipio Valley. You’ll find black sand beaches and probably spot some turtles here.

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A black rocky beach on the Big Island

I suggest combining a couple of islands for a vacation that’s longer than a week. If you can only stay up to seven days, just choose one island and see and do all that you can in that time. If you have ten days or more, you can comfortably see two islands. I personally like to spend a week on one island and five days on another island. With flight times, you’re looking at basically two weeks. For ten days, I would divide up the time equally as five days on one island and five days on the other, assuming it’s your first time to Hawaii.

Flights between islands are cheap and often but do still take up a chunk of your time, between getting to the airport early, going through security, flight time, and getting back out of the airport and to wherever your destination is for your second island. Most inter-island flights go through Oahu, too, so you may have a short layover en-route to your  destination island. There are only two inter-island passenger ferries in Hawaii. The Molokai Ferry departs twice daily from Lahaina, Maui, to the nearby island of Molokai, and takes about 90 minutes. The Maui-Lanai Expeditions Ferry departs five times a day from Lahaina, reaching Manele Bay on Lanai in 45 minutes.

That about covers the basics for Hawaiian islands. If you have any other questions or comments, I’d love to hear them! Share your Hawaiian experiences with me and others here as well!

For posts on my recent vacation to Hawaii, you can read about Kauai here:  Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things and about Oahu here:  My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Running in Kauai and Oahu Hawaii

If you follow my blog, you probably know I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to 46 half marathons in 44 states. Hawaii was actually the second state I ran a race in, Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state, so no, I didn’t run a half marathon in Hawaii this time. I have now run on four different Hawaiian islands, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed running on every one of them.

I often run when I’m on vacation, especially if I’m training for a race. Since I have a half marathon coming up in May and am thus in training mode, I knew I would be running while on vacation in Hawaii the end of February and first part of March. Sometimes I’ll look online beforehand to try to figure out the best running route but since I knew I’d be in Kauai for a week, I decided to just see what my choices were when I got there. I should have known better.

The first day I ran in Kauai things didn’t go so well. I just started off from my hotel and started running along a walking trail between the hotel and beach but ended up hitting dead-end after dead-end and ultimately ended up running along a busy 2-lane road on the way back to my hotel. I looked up Google maps to find a running trail and found one less than a mile from where I was staying (near Kapaa). This was the Ke Ala Hele Makalae multiuse trail and it turned out to be absolutely perfect.

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The Path that Goes by the Coast

Ke Ala Hele Makalae is Hawaiian for “The Path that Goes by the Coast,” and it hugs the eastern shoreline for about 7 miles in two segments that will eventually be connected and the path will ultimately go for 17 miles when completed. This is an asphalt/concrete rail-trail that partially follows a former railroad line once used to haul the island’s sugarcane. One section connects Lydgate Park to Wailua Beach Park, and the rest links Kapa’a to Ahihi Point. There is a 2-mile gap between the two segments (between Wailua Beach Park and Kapa’a), which you can bridge via road although the road is busy and the shoulder is narrow.

I ended up running the Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail on four mornings while I was in Kauai and I have to say after the first day, I looked forward to running there on later days. I’ve always loved running along a coastline where I have views of the ocean as well as rocky formations and sandy beaches and this trail had all that and more (like feral cats and chickens!). It was a bit crowded at times but not enough to bother or hinder me in any way. There isn’t any shade either so be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat and bring some hydration with you.

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I saw dozens of feral cats and chickens when running in Kauai!

Logistics:  for the southern segment, parking and restrooms are available at the north end of Lydgate Park off Nalu Road. For the northern segment, parking and restrooms are available at Waipouli Beach Park at the Lihi Boat Ramp on Kaloloku Road, as well as at Kapaa Beach Park at the end of Niu Street.

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Ocean views like this made it easy to run in Kauai!

After spending a week running in Kauai it was time to fly to Oahu. I have to admit, I was a bit sad to lose my beautiful running route in Kauai but I looked forward to finding one just as good in Oahu. However, history repeated itself and my first run in Oahu didn’t go very well. I tried multiple ways to find a good running path near my Airbnb before I was supposed to run but despite all that, I once again ended up running along a busy 2-lane road. This time at least there were mountains all around to admire and keep me distracted. Still, I knew there had to be a better place to run.

I went back to my room and tried researching running trails in Oahu but all I could come up with were places near Waikiki or Honolulu. Since my plan all along was to spend as little time in Waikiki as possible, that wasn’t going to work. I needed to find a place to run either on the east side or northern part of the island. I didn’t want to have to drive 45 minutes each way just to reach a good running path either.

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Part of the North Shore Bike Trail in Oahu

Finally after much debate and attempts at researching trails suitable for running online, I stumbled upon the North Shore Bike Trail, which is about 2.6 miles long. I added this to Waimea Bay Beach Park and made it work although there were parts in-between where I ran along the road. The bike trail is shaded in parts and has views of beautiful Pupukea Beach and Shark’s Cove. My daughter and I ran here and we rarely saw other people on the trail so it certainly wasn’t crowded and I can’t imagine it ever really being crowded.

After doing more research, I found the Kawai Nui Hiking Trail that’s on the southeastern side of Oahu but read that it can get muddy and since it had been raining a lot recently I didn’t attempt it, but that’s another option. Close to Pearl Harbor is the Neal S. Blaisdell Park that has biking and running paths. Just be aware that there are many homeless people in the area so you wouldn’t want to run there by yourself or when it’s not daylight. I personally didn’t feel unsafe during the day, but I wasn’t by myself and it was during the day.

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Running by Shark’s Cove in Pupukea in Oahu

Although I enjoyed running in Hawaii, I know it’s not for everyone. To some people, it would be too hot but I seem to do better in warmer temperatures than most people (and worse in colder temperatures). Also, not everyone would want to run while on vacation, but I truly enjoy running and look forward to it rather than dread it. Besides, the scenery certainly helped get me motivated to get out the door!

How about you guys- do you think you’d like running in Hawaii or do you tend to not run while on vacation? Would it be too hot for you to run comfortably? If you do run on vacation, how do you find your running routes?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things

I’ve been to the Hawaiian island of Kauai twice; the first time my daughter was almost 2 years old and more recently with my teenage daughter. I feel like the island remained pretty much unchanged in those eleven years with the exception of more traffic and people on the island. However, my experiences both times were vastly different.

The first time I went to Kauai I went with my husband and his parents (and as I mentioned our daughter) and I felt like I was just kind of along for the ride. My mother-in-law had been to Kauai before and pretty much set our itinerary for Kauai and also our time on the big island, which we combined for our 12-day vacation. At the time, I had no problems letting someone else plan what I did on vacation and I don’t remember really even looking up things to do.

We went to the pool at the resort, went to some beaches, a luau, my husband and I hiked in Waimea Canyon while my in-laws watched our daughter, and one day we drove up the coast to see Princeville and the surrounding area. Honestly, I don’t remember much from that vacation other than what I just typed here. Don’t get me wrong. I had a fantastic time but looking back I feel like it was all kind of a blur of beaches and swimming pools with the luau and Waimea Canyon mixed in.

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My family’s first time in Kauai

Flash-forward to my more recent vacation to Kauai and there are quite a few differences. This time the three of us hiked in Waimea Canyon State Park, hiked part of Sleeping Giant Trail, and Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail with a sweet dog we took on a field trip from the Kauai Humane Society. We snorkeled on our own and swam through schools of fish, saw a spiny lobster, crab, and colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. We crawled through a small opening to get to Makauwahi Cave. We went ziplining and even flew through the air superman style on some of the lines (some of us went upside-down on some of the lines). My daughter and I also ran together several days and were rewarded with ocean views, volcanic rock formations, and sandy beaches along the way. Oh, and we also went to a luau complete with delicious local foods, musicians, several different Polynesian dances, and a fire show.

We’re an active family when we’re at home so it’s not surprising that our vacations are also active. That’s a good thing too, with all of the shave ice we ate! This was the first time I had ever tried Hawaiian shave ice. I always just thought it was like a snow cone. Oh how wrong I was! There is a difference in the quality of shave ice, as I found out. The best kinds are hand-formed with macadamia nut ice cream or vanilla ice cream on the bottom, with two or three flavors that evenly saturate the shave ice from top to bottom and sweet cream poured on top. The ice cream on bottom and cream on top sometimes cost extra (depends on the place) but they’re absolutely worth it.

Here are some of my favorite things in Kauai:

Koloa Zipline Tours– 8 lines, some of which you can go head-first superman style, tandem, upside down, or traditional. Tour lasts about 3.5 hours and you get a snack and water on the tour. Our guides were laid-back but safety-conscious so I felt like everything was completely safe and secure. The last line is the longest, at about 0.5 mile, with views of the reservoir, farmland with cattle, and of course trees below.

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We were actually much higher up than it looks like here!

Makauwahi Cave Reserve– free guided tours or go on your own. Although you do have to enter through a small opening, there are carpets on the ground and it’s very short, so you’re through it before you know it. You can view the caves from above, but can’t really get good views inside the cave from that vantage. If you get lost trying to find the entrance, just walk down to where a river meets the ocean and you should find it shortly after that.

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Makauwahi Cave Reserve

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail– close to the Makauwahi Cave, this trail runs along the southern part of the island with views of limestone formations, cliffs, and ocean. The area has sharp, jagged rocks everywhere so it’s not a trail where you want to be wearing flip-flops. Bring sunscreen and water as there’s no shade and the sun is relentless. When we were there, signs were posted that the water at Maha’ulepu Beach was contaminated with bacteria and therefore unsafe to enter. All that being said, this place is truly beautiful and worth seeing.

Kauai Humane Society– field trips for well-behaved dogs can be arranged simply by showing up at the shelter, choosing a dog, doing a brief meet-and-greet with the dog, paying the $25 suggested donation (or more if you’re inclined), filling out a form, and taking the dog out along with some supplies in a backpack. Our dog, Priscilla, was truly one of the best-behaved dogs I’ve ever been around. She wasn’t afraid of anything and happily walked along the Maha’ulepu Trail and Beach with us. I hope sweet little Priscilla has found a home by now because she deserves it. One note if you do this, get there promptly at 11 am. The first day we went, we got there around 12:30 and there were no dogs left, so we went back the following day at 11 am and  had no problems getting a dog. I was told they usually have around 8 or 10 dogs per day that can go on field trips so often all of the dogs go out and are taken well before 1 pm.

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Walking the Maha’ulepu Trail with Priscilla from the Kauai Humane Society

Waimea Canyon State Park and Area– called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” this park is enormous and is adjacent to Koke’e State Park, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and a few Reserve Areas. What all that means is there are plenty of trails in this area. This time the 22 mile Kalalau Trail (my husband and I hiked part of it the previous time we were there) was closed so our daughter chose our trail to hike, the Awa’awapuhi Trail, which is in Koke’e State Park. The Awa’awapuhi Trail is a downhill hike 3.25 miles each way. When we were there it was extremely slick and muddy and we were glad to be wearing our Merrell hiking shoes. If we were really smart, we would have brought a change of shoes for when we got to our car. The trail isn’t terribly scenic until you reach the end but the ultimately the views are great and worth the hike.

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Waimea Canyon

Beaches for snorkeling- Lawa’i Beach and Poipu Beach Park. Conditions for snorkeling change throughout the year so check with locals to see what their recommendations are for snorkeling. Also, we found the best beaches for snorkeling are not good for swimming and vice versa. The coral shelf often extends close to the water’s edge so you need to watch your footing carefully. We went in with bare feet and got some cuts and scrapes on our feet and legs but nothing major. Water shoes would have been a better idea. We also didn’t have fins but just the mask and snorkel and that was fine for us because we’re strong swimmers but we saw plenty of other people with fins.

JoJo’s Shave Ice- I especially liked the Colada Special and Locals South Shore. My daughter said the Rainbow was one of her favorites. The 28-oz serving is huge and can easily be shared (or you can keep it all for yourself!). We also liked Uncle’s Shave Ice but theirs wasn’t hand-shaven and I read some spotty reviews. No matter where you get your shave ice, just be sure you get the sweet cream “over” and ice cream “under.” It really makes a big difference.

Have you been to Kauai before? What are some of your favorite things in Kauai? Have you revisited a place many years later and had vastly different experiences?

Happy travels!

Donna