15 best travel moments of 2015

2015 was another year full of travels. we spent the bulk of our "vacation" time in New Zealand [which I can't say that I regret] and I've done much more exploration in our expat home of Taiwan. obviously I had great moments not related to travel - meeting my nephew, being at my cousin's wedding, finding our home in Taipei - but we're going to stick with a theme here.

2015's travels included 5 countries and 3 continents: Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea, United States, and Singapore. rather than recapping everything by destination, I've decided to select a few of my favorite travel moments from throughout the year - along with my favorite photos of course!

relaxing on a rooftop pool in Singapore

there are a lot of amazing things to do in Singapore. places to go, food to eat, neighborhoods to explore. but one major to-do on this trip for us was relaxation.  so we decided to splurge and stay at the Marina Bay Sands. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about: the giant surfboard-looking hotel with the infinity pool overlooking the Singapore skyline. for us? it was completely worth it.

cruising Milford Sound

Milford Sound is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth. the drive there left us in awe, and cruising through the sound itself was just magical. if my enjoyment of an experience was measured by the amount of photos I took while there... this one may be at the top for the year. [consider: I had to add another blog post about the cruise to share all the photos.]

hiking Elephant Mountain for the first time

"the mountains are calling and I must go" - guys, this feeling is real. not knowing where I was going and ill-equipped for a hike, I decided to climb Elephant Mountain on a whim. the views were too clear to refuse. and though I've returned to do this hike several times, the views and the photos from my first visit were still the best.

going over the edge at Sleeping Bear Dunes

a mix of childhood nostalgia and gorgeous views made this one of the best days of summer, while spending quality family time back in Michigan. scrambling down [and back up] a steep sand dune may not sound like fun, but there's a reason why Sleeping Bear Dunes was once voted the most beautiful place in America.

taking a journey through Hobbiton

I may be more into Star Wars than Lord of the Rings, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to tour Hobbiton while in New Zealand. climbing into hobbit holes, drinking a cider at the Green Dragon... totally worth the carsickness from the long and hilly drive to get to the shire.

riding the bus in Beitou

a friend and I got on a bus to go see some geothermic activity near Beitou, and had no idea what stop to get off at. the driver didn't speak any English, but tried to help us anyway. then an adorable old man got on and knew a little English, followed by a young mother and her son. pretty soon the entire bus of people was giving us advice on which stop to get off on, and which trail to take to get the best views. some days living as a foreigner in Taiwan is difficult, but this was one of my best Taiwan moments ever.

visiting Nugget Point Lighthouse

I have a thing for lighthouses [it's genetic, right Mom?] and we drove 3 hours round trip just to visit Nugget Point Lighthouse. the scenery along the coastline was simply stunning - jagged rocks, green hills, and beautiful blue water. seeing as this day also included a picnic on the beach and a visit to see penguins, it was one of my favorites from our NZ trip.

girls weekend in Kenting

why did it take me so long to get down to Kenting? I don't know, but I had an amazing time with friends, relaxing on the beach and enjoying amazing food [and of course some beverages.] this weekend reminded me that there is so much of Taiwan I still haven't explored - and definitely made me itchy to get out there and see more of this island.

biking through Taroko Gorge

maybe one of my favorite places in Taiwan - you know I can't leave Taroko Gorge off this list. our most recent visit was somewhat less successful on the hiking front [due to typhoon and earthquake damage] but we tried something new: biking through the gorge. it's always great to see one of your favorite places with fresh eyes, and that's exactly what this experience was.

the views of Lake Tekapo from Mount John's Summit

this hike to the top of Mount John was not something we had on our itinerary, but turned out to be one of my favorite days from New Zealand. the weather was perfect and the views were stunning. I'm so glad the campground on Lake Tekapo recommended this hike!

photographing the Michigan night sky

the last night we spent at my Husband's childhood home this summer, we arrived late at night and decided to forgo sleep in favor of playing under the stars. having the photos and memories made it totally worth the exhaustion of the following day.

climbing Seven Star Mountain

I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't been back to Yangmingshan since this amazing hike up Mt Qixing. aside from having a beautiful name, this mountain also has beautiful views. some friends from Hsinchu came up for the afternoon and it was great to catch up while enjoying some fresh air.

beaching at Cathedral Cove

thanks go to Pinterest for adding the beach at Cathedral Cove to my NZ bucket list. I was worried the reality wouldn't live up to my expectations - but once again New Zealand proved me wrong. it was stunning. we had an awesome picnic here before making a mad dash to escape a summer storm.

chasing lanterns in Jiufen

the mountain town of Jiufen was another Pinterest-induced bucket list item that lived up to the hype. sure it was rainy and we got a little lost, but that's all part of the adventure. the tasty mochi balls and thousands of glowing red lanterns made this trip one of my favorite Taiwan days this year.

standing on the Moeraki Boulders

they're rocks, they're round, they're fun to stand on... the Moeraki Boulders were a short but memorable pit stop during a long day of driving. I think I loved this place so much because of this photo. it pretty much sums up my feelings on New Zealand in general.

our plans for 2016 aren't yet settled, but I've got my fingers crossed for some exciting adventures. if you're curious, you can check out 2014's year in travels - including Bali, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taiwan, Detroit, Ludington, San Diego, and Austin.

what was your favorite destination in 2015? do you have any exciting trips planned for next year?


an expat holiday home

say hello to our new Christmas tree. she may not be the most original, but for the first time in my adult life I have a tree that looks like it was decorated by an adult. [or really, IKEA. since that's where all this color coordinated decor came from.] I also love that this tree is "long needle" and did not scratch my hands up terribly while I decorated it.

a few rogue ornaments have slipped in since these photos were taken. a small silver house frame Husband brought back from his work with the Tabitha Foundation NGO in Cambodia. a painted footprint from my nephew. and most recently: Christmas coasters from a German beer hall here in Taipei.

I also hung up some of my favorite instant photos from our travels over the years, and added some tiny ornaments. the couch got a pillow makeover with burgundy and reindeer print - IKEA again.

add some vanilla cookie scented candles [why don't they carry pine tree fragrance anywhere in Taiwan?] and you've got about all the holiday spirit I was capable of this year. sadly I was in a cold medicine haze for about a week and not feeling very jolly. [hopefully since writing this, our time in Singapore has changed that!]

one of my favorite things is buying crazy Taiwanese holiday cards. the translations never quite come out right, but they are always so cute and elaborate I can't resist. this year's theme seemed to be "an army of Santas." I guess that's one theory on how he makes it around to everyone all in one night!

I keep telling myself that one year I'll get around to printing and mailing actual cards to everyone. this year I went so far as to mock something up - one of my favorite photos form earlier this year when we visited New Zealand. so you can go ahead and consider this my holiday card for you:

I hope your holidays are very happy! I'll be back from Singapore with lots to share next week.


penguin peeping in Dunedin

New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where you can see penguins in the wild. while some of the beaches are almost infested with the little blue ones, the yellow eyed penguins are rare. they nest on only a small portion of beaches on New Zealand's south coast and islands. with fewer than 4,000 estimated penguins in existence, they are considered to be an endangered species.

while we were staying in Dunedin, we decided to visit the Penguin Place conservatory and sanctuary on the Otago peninsula. they offer a protected area for the yellow eyed penguins to nest, as well as veterinary and rehabilitative services for injured penguins. walking tours allow you to travel through a series of trenches and hides to [hopefully] view some penguins while leaving them undisturbed.

we first encountered a mother penguin coming back from the water with dinner. her two "teenager" chicks had quite the argument over who got to eat first. the chicks were almost grown, and soon would be setting out on their own to hunt and nest.

yellow eyed penguins are unique in that they do not live in massive colonies. a pair will set up a small nest, usually in the brush or trees, and will not like to be in sight of any other pairs. this makes protecting the habitat even more difficult, as yellow eyed penguins need much more space than another species that would live together.

the yellow eyes are not the only animals taking advantage of this sanctuary. there are a few huts where little blue penguins like to huddle, and the penguin activity on the beach also attracts fur seals.

[I'm pretty sure that humans would be happy to call this view home as well.]

just as our tour was ready to head back, we spotted another adult coming in from their afternoon swim. this guy stopped and posed for our group, showing off his yellow markings. since the penguins are all free to roam as they please, we were lucky to see one this close up.

before we left, we stopped by the hospital section to say hello to the birds in recuperation. they were loud and kindof smelly, but still SO CUTE. I always feel weird about animals in the zoo, so it was great to see these birds in their natural habitat, and know that they are being protected.
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