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

Observation Point Hike in Zion

Have you been to Zion National Park in Utah? If not, you need to add this to your list stat! This is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to. We went in Fall, so all the colours were changing and the weather was just perfect for hiking. We only got one hike in here and decided to do Observation Point, as it has the best views of the park.

The hike is 8 miles round trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain. To get to the Weeping Rock Trail head you need to get on the shuttle at the visitors centre and get off at stop number 7. The ride is about 45 minutes each way.

The first leg of the journey is comprised of switch backs for the first mile. This part was very pretty as there are lots of trees changing colours. You get a great view of Angel’s Landing and the park as you gain elevation quite quickly. Expect to be pretty out of breath if you keep a good place. This part is shaded, so it is not too hot.

Once up the first leg, things even out and you get to see a different side of the park. You will walk by some canyons and get some beautiful views of the mountains. There are less trees in this leg and more bushes, so things start to heat up. Not as much elevation is gained during this section, so your legs get a little break.

The last leg comprises of a narrow path that winds up the mountain. You are very exposed to the elements in this section. Things get hot and windy. I recommend dressing in layers as I ended up hiking in my sports bra. My shirt got totally soaked from hiking in the heat. I could not imagine doing this leg in the heat of summer!

If you are afraid of heights, this section might bother you a bit. Only 2 people have died on this hike, so it is relatively safe. A woman was pushed to her death from here in 1997. Her husband was trying to collect a life insurance payout, but has since been convicted for his crimes.

Once you have made it through the exposed section you will find yourself at the top and a short track through the bushes will lead you to the Observation Point lookout. I could not believe how much trees and bushes there were up here. I was expecting a more barren landscape at such a high elevation.

We brought a lunch with us and ate it at the top. There are little squirrels up there that are eager for a hand out. Not the best idea to feed these little buggers!

The views from the top are absolutely breathtaking! Pictures just don’t do it justice. You get a glimpse of the entire park from here and get to look down on Angel’s Landing. Definitely above the angels here!

It took us 4 hours to do this hike with 45 minutes at the top and lots of stops for photos along the way. We kept a very good pace despite the stops. The people from our shuttle were still walking up as we were going down. This hike is pretty strenuous, so you should be in pretty good shape to complete it. With that being said, there was a four year old that we met at the top and several families with kids that we ran into.

Our only regret was not bringing enough water. We both brought 750ml water bottles and ran out 3/4 of the way down. If you are going in the summer you will need lots of water.

If you have any questions about this hike or Zion in general please ask in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Kira

Kanarraville Falls Hike

Who knew that Utah was filled to the brim with beauty?! So many people looked at me funny when I told them I was going on a trip here. My husband and I love to hike, so we thought that this was the place for us. The Kanarraville Falls Hike was on my list and ended up being my favourite hike in Utah.

The trail head is within the quaint town of Kanarraville. The town is close to Zion National Park, but not inside it. There is an $8 hiking permit, which you pay for at the start of the hike.

This is a 6 mile round trip hike that takes you along along the Kanarra Creek. It is pretty hard to get lost, as the creek is your guide. The trail crosses the creek several times, so you cannot complete this hike without getting wet.

We were here in fall and the water was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It was pretty cold, but we are Canadian, so it did not faze us. You may want to invest in some neoprene socks and waterproof hiking shoes for this one.

I would consider this hike easy to moderate. There is a slight elevation gain at the beginning that gets your heart rate going, but otherwise the hike is pretty flat. There is some balance required as you are hiking in the water and hopping from rock to rock. Some people may benefit from a walking stick to navigate the waters.

This hike takes you up a hill where you can see mountain peaks amongst the changing fall colours.

You then venture into the woods where the colours become up close and personal. You start to hike down the creek and eventually end up at the entrance of a slot canyon.

Inside the canyon is the most majestic waterfall with a ladder and rope to help you up.

Beyond the first waterfall are even more waterfalls.

There is a second waterfall with a ladder at the end of the hike, which was closed the day we were there.

I can not say enough positive things about this hike. It was truly majestic and awe inspiring. We went at a perfect time of year, as barely anyone was on the hike with us. In the summer it is a very popular place.

I highly recommend adding this one to your list if you haven’t completed it already.

Happy Travels,

Kira