Antelope Canyon X

Antelope Canyon has blown up on social media in the last few years. So much so, that the upper and lower canyons have turned into the Disney World of the slot canyons. I honestly do not like crowds and lines and when I stumbled upon Antelope Canyon X, I knew that this was the right choice for us. We wanted to take a lot of photos and have the space and time to do so.

We booked our tour through Taadidiin Tours. This is the only tour company that operates in this canyon, as opposed to the multiple companies that operate in the upper and lower canyon. There are two tour options: a hiking tour or a photography tour. The hiking tour is an hour and a half in length and there are no bags allowed on this one. The photography tour is three hours in length and you are allowed bags.

We booked the photography tour because we needed to bring our camera gear in a bag and also wanted to pack a lunch. The hiking tour is a lot less expensive, so if you are not bringing a bunch of gear with you, it is a good option.

Once at Antelope Canyon X, there are passenger vans that transports you about 3km to the canyon. You then have to hike down a bit of an incline to reach the floor of the canyon. I recommend wearing shoes with good grip as there is a steel grate that you walk along as you go down the incline. This may not be the tour for you if you have mobility limitations.

There was a group of 10 of us on the tour and we each took turns at different areas of the canyon. This allowed us to have each section to ourselves. There was a couple getting their wedding photos taken while we were there, which made this a memorable tour. The guide was also very helpful in giving us tips for framing our photos.

We got some very nice shots and felt like we had lots of time and space in the canon. We went in October, so there weren’t any light beams hitting the canyon floor at that time. If you go mid day, you will have the best lighting in the canon.

I highly recommend this tour, especially if you do not like crowds. We found the photography tour to be a bit long though. I think an hour and a half would have been more than enough time to get in what we needed. While you are in the area, make sure to stop at Horseshoe Bend to see the sunset.

If you have any questions about this tour please ask in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Kira

10 Most Instagrammable Spots on Oahu

If you are heading to Oahu, you will likely want to get some awesome photos for “The Gram”. There are so many options on the island that it can be difficult to choose where to go. After doing extensive research before our trip, we narrowed it down to 10 locations. We usually like to steer clear of crowds when traveling, so a lot of these places are a bit more remote and quiet.

These were our favourite spots to get Instagram photos on the island. Hopefully this will remove some of the leg work for your upcoming trip.

1. Stairway to Heaven

It is illegal to climb up the Stairway to Heaven. A guard monitors the entrance and there is a $1000 fine per person for violators. Luckily, there is another route to get up here. The Moanalua Valley Trail is a 10 mile round trip hike that will get you to the top. We went with a guide named Mike Karas. He is a photographer and if you are interested in hiking with him, send him a message on Instagram. He will take several pictures of you on the top like the one you see here. If you are going alone, make sure you download the trail map on the All Trails app so you don’t get lost. The hike is 8 hours long, which included an hour at the top.

2. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens

This is the famous Oahu road that you have probably seen someone skateboarding down on Instagram. It is just passed the entrance gate to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. It is illegal to get a photo here and there is a guard that monitors the road during opening hours. Do not try to get a photo here until the park is closed. It is dangerous and rude to do so, as there is lots of traffic during the day. Go either before it opens at 8am or after it closes at 5pm. There is an opening in the gate that you just walk around to get inside. We went at 6pm on a rainy day and got a nice a clear image.

3. Lanikai Pillbox Hike

No trip to Oahu is complete without hanging or sitting on the edge of the Lanikai pillbox. It is a short hike up here, but wear shoes with traction as there are some very steep spots with loose gravel. And don’t worry, this photo is deceiving. There is ground right underneath me. If you take this shot from the right angle you will look pretty badass!

4. Lanikai Beach

If you have completed the Pillbox Hike, then it is a no brainer to cool off at Lanikai Beach. It is no wonder this is named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is quite shallow and a bit rocky in the water, which can make it difficult for swimming. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful white sand beach to relax and catch some rays.

5. Hamama Falls

Located on the east side of the island, this waterfall is less visited than Manoa Falls and is just as beautiful. It takes about an hour to hike up to it through the jungle. We had the falls all to ourselves and only passed a few people on the trail. If you are looking to get away from the crowds, then this one is for you.

6. Ka’a’awa Beach

If you blink you may pass this iconic beach, which sits along the Kamehameha Highway on the east shore. There were only a few other people on this beach when we were there, so you could have this one all to yourself.

7. Kualoa Ranch

If you are into Jurassic Park, then Kualoa Ranch is your place. They have a Jurassic Park tour that takes you into the Ka’a’awa Valley where scenes from 50 First Dates, Godzilla, Lost and Hawaii Five-0 were filmed. Get a shot with a dinosaur or edit it into your photo using the JurassicPaint app.

8. Chinamen’s Hat

If you look across the street from Kualoa Ranch, you will see the island of Mokolii. This island is more commonly known as Chinamen’s Hat given it’s shape. If you shoot this at the right angle, it will look like you are wearing the hat. Mine ended up being pretty tiny…

9. Kewalo Basin Park

Just east of Honolulu and Waikiki sits Kewalo Basin Park, which has some great views from this mid evil looking tub. The park itself is very quiet for being so close to a busy city. There are picnic tables right next to the water with magnificent views. A great place to eat lunch and then go for a dip at the adjacent beach.

10. Barber’s Point Lighthouse

This beach sits on the Southwestern tip of Oahu. It is a bit off the beaten path and in an industrial area. We had the beach to ourselves in the middle of the day. In the evening, there is a Luau hosted on this beach at Germaine’s Luau. Might be a good idea to catch the show and get a sunset photo with the lighthouse in the background.

These were our favourite spots for photos on Oahu and there are so many other places that we could have explored. If you have any suggestions for other photo locations, please leave them in the comment section below.

You can see other photos of our trip to Oahu and Kauai on my Instagram. Go check them out!

Happy Travels,

Kira Canadian Girl

Hiking to the Stairway to Heaven on Oahu

The Stairway to Heaven has some of the most beautiful views on Oahu. Combine that with a prewar, unmaintained staircase and you have yourself an Instagrammer’s dream. With photos of the stairs popping up daily, you would think it would be easy to get to, but that is not the case.

There is a guard who monitors the entrance to the stairs and calls the cops when he sees people climbing down. The fine is a hefty $1000 per person. Unless you have money to burn, I would not recommend this.

Luckily, there is another route to the staircase; a back hike that is 10 miles long and takes 8 hours to complete. You will not be fined if you go this way.

After reading many reviews, we decided that we didn’t want to hike alone, as many people get lost on the trail. I came across a guide’s name on a Trip Advisor review and contacted him via Instagram. His name is Mike Karas and he only takes groups out on weekends. If you direct message him on Instagram, he is prompt to reply.

We met Mike along with 10 other hikers at the Moanalua Valley trailhead at 6am. There is a park there with a play structure and bathrooms. We were fitted for gloves and spikes that went over our shoes. These would be needed for the muddy and steep portions of the trail.

We set out at 7am and started with the easy and flat portion of the hike. It takes you through the woods and across several streams. This section takes about an hour and a half to complete. Our group was pretty young and kept a good pace through this part.

After the flat portion, you start to gain elevation and this is where the gloves and spikes come in handy. It is pretty muddy on the trail, so expect to get a little dirty. Without the spikes, you will slip and slide all over the place.

As you get closer to the staircase, the hike becomes more challenging. If you have a fear of heights like me, you will feel less comfortable and a bit more on edge (literally). The biggest challenge was an almost vertical hill that you had to climb up while holding on to a rope. I held on to that rope for dear life going up, but going down was a breeze. Another girl in the group felt the same way.

Once over the big hill, you are pretty much there. We arrived at the staircase at 12pm and had an hour to take photos and explore. Mike is a photographer and takes pictures of everyone in the group. With 120k followers on Instagram, it was a treat having him photograph us.

The view from the top is absolutely amazing. You will get to see most of the east side of the island including Lanikai Beach, Chinaman’s Hat, the sandbar etc. Make sure to bring a lunch to eat at the top as you will be starving. We brought 3.5 Litres of water for the both of us and drank all of it.

The hike back is pretty simple, but felt like it went on for ever. Once back at the trailhead, Mike had cold drinks for everyone, which was very refreshing on a hot day. We were glad we did the hike with the group as we met some really awesome people that we now keep in touch with. We saw several people hiking alone get lost on the trail and they didn’t make it up because of time constraints. We made it back by 4:30pm.

If you plan on doing the hike alone make sure to download the All Trails app and follow the map. The name of the hike is the Moanalua Valley Trail to the Haiku Stairs.

This is the most challenging and rewarding hike that I have completed. I highly recommend it and Mike Karas as a guide. If you have a fear of heights, you should be able to push through; there are only a few spots that got me really nervous.

Happy Travels,

Kira

5 Ways to Minimize Your Carbon Footprint

The weather has been pretty erratic lately, which has got me thinking about global warming and how we are negatively affecting our planet. I feel like I could be doing a lot more to minimize my carbon footprint and reached out to my Instagram followers for advice. I was so pleased with the results, that I compiled people’s suggestions here for everyone to read. Here is what we all came up with:

1) Recycle

Okay, we all know about the three R’s. I think this was engrained in us from elementary school. Recycling is a no brainer and something that is pretty easy to do, so no excuses! Most cities and municipalities have recycling pick ups or drop off bins. We have a bin just a couple blocks away, which makes things easy and convenient.

2) Reuse

Instead of throwing away single use items, try to find products you can use over and over again. Some recommendations that were made included reusable shopping bags, sandwich bags, straws and water bottles. Most grocery stores have started to charge for bags to encourage reuse.

3) Reduce

According to the EPA, the average household produces 4.4 pounds of trash a day, which is 1600 pounds a year! There are people that have started a zero waste lifestyle, so I think we can make an effort to meet somewhere in the middle. Some of the recommendations made were using glass jars to store bulk items to eliminate packaging, composting organic waste, using plastic free items, refillable household items such as soaps and laundry detergents and avoiding fast fashion.

4) Eating a Plant Based Diet

The evidence shows that eating a plant based diet greatly decreases emissions and land usage. And while some people see these diets as fads, recent changes to the Canada Food Guide show that this may be the way of the future. The health benefits alone make this a change that everyone should consider.

5) Minimizing Fuel Emissions

It boggles my mind that with all the technological advances in the world, we are still utilizing fossil fuels for our vehicles. We could all make improvements in this area, especially myself, who lives and works in a rural area. Some recommendations that were made include walking, riding a bike, using public transportation, car pooling, purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle.

This is the little list that we came up with, but I know there are more suggestions out there. If you have anything to add please let me know in the comments.

Happy Day,

Kira

Favourite Photos of 2018

Better late than never to reflect on 2018. It is a cold snap where I live in Manitoba, Canada, so I thought this would be a great day to reflect on last year and warmer days. Our year was full of adventure and creativity. We went on 5 vacations, which took us from Maui to the East Coast of Canada. Along the way we upgraded our cameras and improved our editing skills. Here are some of our favourite moments and behind the scene info of how we took these photos.

1. Johnston Canyon, Alberta- January

This was my first time seeing a frozen waterfall. I had to jump about 8 feet off a viewing platform to get this shot. Looking back, one of those icicles could have fallen on me. Our new year definitely started off with a bang.

2. Ice Castle, Winnipeg- January

These are probably the best photos we have taken to date and I continue to post new ones on my Instagram. I applied for a photography permit, but they denied us, so we had to arrive when the exhibit opened and sprinted in to get these unobstructed shots. We were only here for about 20 minutes as the crowds started to make things challenging and people kept trying to offer me their scarves and coats. I was not cold, mainly because of the sprint in.

3. Naples, Florida- February

My parents migrate to Florida for the winter and we visit them for my birthday weekend. We found these posts on Naples Beach and Eric helped carry me onto one. What you don’t see in this picture is the dozens of people laying on the beach behind here. Some of them were taking pictures while I was up there. Luckily I am used to an audience from my years of dancing.

4. Maui, Hawaii- March

This was my favourite photo from our trip to Maui, mainly because of how Eric framed it with the flower and also because it was taken in an unexpected place. We got it right next to the pool bar at the Grand Wailea Resort. I was standing inside a cave that houses their Grotto and there was a man made waterfall in front. Probably not the scenery you had in mind when looking at this.

5. Maui, Hawaii- March

This was our first attempt at underwater photography with our new Olympus camera. Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was an underwater mode on the camera, which would have made this image more clear. Swimming in the dress was a challenge as it got really heavy. The people on the beach must have thought I was nuts swimming around in this!

6. Winnipeg, Manitoba- June

I found this dress online and started to brainstorm where we could photograph it. Saint Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg was a no brainer. This church burned down in 1968 and all that remains are the walls. Eric hoisted me up in this window and the lighting was just perfect to get this ethereal shot.

7. Pinawa, Manitoba- July

How unexpecting is this place? Taken at the old Pinawa Dam, I had to hop a fence and walk across a 3 foot landing 30 feet above shallow water. Eric then had to hoist me inside. The phrase “doing it for the gram” took on new meaning here. A local Instagrammer helped me edit this one as I couldn’t get it right.

8. Peggy’s Cove- July

So proud of this image at the iconic lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. If you have ever been here, you know that there is usually a sea of tourists. I didn’t think getting a shot like this would be a possibility. It was a miserable day and early in the morning, so the stars aligned for us and Eric captured this image. I feel proud to be Canadian when I look at it.

9. Kanarraville Falls- October

Another out of this world location on one of our hikes. I had imagined this shot with me climbing the latter in a long white dress, but unfortunately the images just looked bizarre. I had no intention of sharing this bikini shot with anyone, but (no pun intended), it was either this or nothing at all.

10. Manitoba Legislature- December

Our Legislative building gets all dressed up for Christmas and I wanted to get a dramatic shot of it. I ordered this long train dress off of eBay for $60. It is one of those good from afar kind of items. If you are interested in taking photos here you can reserve a 30 minute slot free of charge.

That is a wrap for my favourite images of the year. Not sure if we will be able to top them this year; it all depends where life takes us. Looking back at these definitely inspires me to keep improving and push the envelope. This has become such a fun and creative hobby that Eric and I share together. Can’t wait to see where 2019 takes us! What is your favourite photo from the bunch?

Happy Day,

Kira

How I Edited My Instagram Challenge Photo

Instagram has a weekly photo challenge, which is a great way to get creative and think outside the box. The title of this week’s challenge is “Inspired By.” We had just taken some winter themed photos and I could not help but think of Canadian artist Trisha Romance when we took them. My mom owns some of her artwork, which are soft, warm and magical winter scenes.

I decided that I was going to do a Trisha Romance inspired image for the challenge using accessible photo editing apps. The three apps I used were Snapseed, A Color Story and Facetune. Below is the original image that was imported from our camera.

The first step in my editing process is to make slight adjustments directly on my phone. I decrease the highlights, increase the shadows, brightness and brilliance.

From there I go into A Color Story and add a filter. Lately I have been using January from the Seasons pack. It really makes the snow, trees, and red in my dress pop.

Usually this is where I would end my editing process, but I needed to make this look like a painting. I recalled an HDR setting in Snapseed that might help me achieve the look I was going for.

I liked the effect this gave, but my dress was way too bright, so I used the brush tool in Snapseed to desaturate my outfit.

In order to get a similar softness and warmth that you see in a Trisha Romance painting, I needed to add some effects to the photo. A Color Story has some interesting ones that might allow me to achieve this look. I don’t usually use these, but this was a great way to experiment.

I added light leak 10 and 11 at about half opacity to achieve that warm and soft pastel look.

I then added Flare 1 to add light to the image. Trisha Romance paintings always seem to have some aspect of light, whether it be a burning lantern or sun breaking through the trees.

With all of the layers that I added, it seemed like I got lost in the photo, so I went into Facetune and used the Details function. I brushed over my body and hair to make me stand out again.

My photo was now complete. This is definitely the most I have ever edited an image, but it was a fun task for a Saturday afternoon. It goes to show you how much you can transform an image with just a few editing apps. I am happy with the results and think that it captures the essence of Trisha’s art. What is your favourite editing app? How do you edit your photos?

Happy Weekend,

Kira

Grand View Lodge Minnesota

Living in Canada, I have visited a lodge or two in my lifetime. I have never been to one like Grand View Lodge, however. This is like your classic lodge, but on steroids.

Situated on Gull Lake in Nisswa, Minnesota, this historic resort includes over 200 cabins, 8 restaurants, 2 champion golf courses and a spa. In 2019, they will be adding a new boutique hotel and pool complex to the expansive property.

My husband and I visited over the New Years weekend and stayed in a cozy lakefront cabin on Roy Lake. There are so many options for accommodations here. You can stay in a hotel room in the main lodge or in one of the hundreds of cabins on the property.

Our cabin was a short drive from the main lodge and had a perfect amount of space for two people. If you are interested in staying in the cabin, ask for the Roy Lake Cabin 606. They also have Roy Lake Cottages, which are for large families and have 3 floors of living space. Both of these are updated and look relatively new.

You receive a free daily breakfast with your stay in the main lodge. We were expecting a continental breakfast, but it is a full on buffet. They have everything from eggs to Dutch waffles to sweet potatoe croquettes. This was a great way to start our day!

What attracted me to this lodge was all of the activities included in our stay. We went snow shoeing on the golf course, on a horse and carriage ride around the property, ice skated, swam in the indoor water park and enjoyed the nightly bonfires. There are so many activities that we didn’t get around to doing such as cross country skiing, ice fishing, bingo, movie night and the list goes on.

I was able to visit the Glacial Waters Spa during our stay, which was relaxing and impressive. I had a spa manicure/pedicure and the esthetician was so friendly and attentive. They have a relaxation room where you can sit and unwind in front of a warm fire. There are also steam and sauna rooms to use in the changing area.

Thinking of renewing your vows or getting married here? They built a new chapel this summer and it is just so picture perfect.

I can not say enough good things about this lodge. The people that work here are some of the friendliest I have met. When I first called to book, I could not believe how friendly the person was, but apparently everyone here is like that. It was so refreshing and made our stay that much more special. I feel that a representative from every lodge should come stay here as a master class in hospitality. I was impressed, and I am picky. Can not wait to return!

Happy New Year,

Kira