One of the many reasons I’m gaga for glamping is because it offers an all-access pass to nature, and at Wya Point Resort, perched on the cusp of Canada’s West Coast, this access is VIP.
Located a few hours from Vancouver, BC, via car and a trip aboard BC Ferries, connecting the mainland to Vancouver Island, I arrived at Way Point Resort with my family in the early evening. The sun was starting to set, bathing the resort’s private beach in a pink, blue, and golden-hued light so complex it would be difficult for Pantone to capture it in a color chip.
So taken by the way the light was peeking through the old-growth trees towering over the Pacific Ocean, we dashed out of our car and ran to the resort’s sandy cove before even setting foot in our yurt. Once the sun sank into the horizon, we walked a few steps to our “glampsite” and realized we could have witnessed the kaleidoscope sky from the lounge chairs topping the cedar deck circling our yurt.
Built strong and sturdy by the Ucluelet First Nation—the original inhabitants of the land—to withstand their position at the edge of the Pacific Rim, the 15 beach-access yurts at Wya Point Resort are far from fair-weather. Indoor wood-burning stoves provide heat in the winter, while the pop-up rooftop skylight cools in the summer. Small indoor kitchens—intended to complement the outdoor grill—provide just enough space to prepare a coastal feast.
At 8:00 p.m. the tide rolled in and with it, waves so powerful, their froth dusted our yurt’s window with millions of micro bubbles. The sound of the waves juxtaposed against the quietness of nature soothed my soul into a sleep so deep I awoke the next morning to the cry of eagles.
After an obligatory sunrise beachcombing session where we checked out tide pools teeming with sea anemones and starfish, we headed into the nearby town of Ucluelet. Locally-roasted coffee from The Foggy Bean Coffee Co was on our menu, as was a coastal hike along the 5.5-mile Wild Pacific Trail.
Before returning to our woodsy hideaway, we felt it was our duty to the destination (and our inner foodies) to pick up salmon and halibut caught that morning for an evening cookout.
Barbecuing local fish under a canopy of ancient cedars, I was struck by the privilege of Pacific Rim glamping, and the front-row seat Wya Point Resort gives you to the Pacific wild.
– Well-equipped bathrooms are a few steps from each yurt.
– In addition to yurts, Way Point Resort also features campsites, as well as a collection of nine beachfront, timber-frame lodges.
– The region is famous for fishing, surfing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, so there’s no shortage of activities.
Imagine arriving to the shore of a glacial lake, surrounded by yellow poplar trees and snow-capped mountains and saying, “We’re home.” This my friends, is campervanning in New Zealand, where each night you stop at an absurdly gorgeous place, make a gourmet meal, open a bottle of Marlborough wine, and then wake up to a million-dollar view, free of charge. We carried on like this for 10 glorious in our Maui Ultima campervan—our luxury studio apartment on wheels—exploring the South Island’s mountains, glaciers, fjords, colonial towns, beaches, and alpine villages. There are so many exquisite and remote places to experience in New Zealand, that a rental car and a few hotel stays wasn’t going to cut it. With the ability to move at our own pace, go wherever inspired us, and have the amenities of home on hand, we found the keys to total freedom and adventure.
We picked up our two-berth Mercedes Sprinter with its spacious living area, efficient kitchen, full bathroom, ingenious storage, and modern accents and couldn’t believe how posh a campervan could be. Watch this video for the full tour of our faithful steed and mobile palace.
Our 1472-mile route was ambitious but there isn’t a single place on this itinerary we’d cut on this crazy clockwise loop. Starting with Christchurch, Lake Alexandrina, Mount Cook/Tasman Glacier, Oamaru, Moeraki Boulders, Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, Curio Bay, Catlins Conservation Park, Invercargill, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Lake Wanaka, Haast, Franz Josef Glacier, Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch.
We left Christchurch way later than expected so the new plan was to get as close to the world heritage site of Mount Cook National Park as possible before dark. We zoomed into our trusty Maps With Me app, trying to survey the digital landscape for a pretty place to sleep and found a spot overlooking Lake Alexandrina. In New Zealand it’s legal to “Freedom Camp,” which means if your vehicle has its own bathroom (like our Maui) and the land isn’t signposted, you can overnight park on public land. Freedom camping allowed us to wake up to views like this every day.
After admiring the tallest mountain in Australasia, we headed south on Canterbury’s Highway 8 going from snowy mountains to teal seas to the stunning city of Dunedin. We were dazzled by the Victorian and Edwardian architecture and lively vibe of this university town.
The Otago Pennisula, a 20-km long finger of land jutting off Dunedin has some of the best marine life and bird watching in the world with the albatross colonies, endangered yellow eyed penguins, hooker sea lions, sea elephants and more. We pulled over to watch some seals and made a seafood dinner in our fully equipped kitchen.
Continuing along the southern coastal roads into the Catlins, there were not only gorgeous beaches but Lord-of-the-Ring style podocarp forests. We took a hike to a waterfall and I could have sworn we saw a few hobbits darting between the moss-encrusted trees.
Every visitor that comes to the South Island has Fjordland National Park and its world-famous Milford Sound on his list. There is no freedom camping in the park so we stopped at Deer Flat campground in the shadow of the 5,000-foot mountains and made ourselves a hearty meal before hiking and kayaking the day away.
Milford Sound is said to be an 8th Wonder of the World and after our four-hour kayak expedition between the majestic mountains, hanging glaciers, and gushing waterfalls…we’d have to agree. Fjordland National Park is a wildly popular place, attracting plenty of tour buses, but with our campervan we were able to zip to the lesser known vistas and trails without the crowds.
Our whirlwind road-trip continued to the Adventure Capital of Queenstown and its adrenaline effects immediately took hold. Within an hour of our arrival to this alpine town, we signed up to bungee jump, jet boat the Shotover river, and ride the world’s largest gorge swing. Maybe its the town’s hundreds of adventure activities on offer or the seductive nature of the Remarkable Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, but Queenstown got our heart racing like no other.
We couldn’t leave Queenstown without a stop at the famous Fergburger for a Bambi—venison burger with spicy mango chutney. With full bellies we started our drive to Glenorchy, the hippy town at the head of Lake Wakitipu. It should have taken us 40 minutes but add in 20 photo stops to document the coastal gorgeousness and it took us close to two hours.
Cruising back through Queenstown with our mouths agape, we made our way north to Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. These sister lakes aren’t nearly as popular as Wakatipu, but dear lord are they spectacular. Glacier-cut mountains shoot from all sides of the deep waters and no matter how many panoramics you take, you can’t fit all the beauty in.
Over the waterfalls of Haas Pass and out to the West Coast, we made our way towards Franz Josef Glacier. We took a helicopter ride to the top to the pristine white peaks but by just pulling our camper over, we got this view.
A friend recommended a campsite near the glacier but with our gas kitchen, solar panels, kitchen, and bathroom, we had no reason or desire to use these shared facilities. Instead we found a quiet spot in line with Franz Josef, fired up our slide-out BBQ, and enjoyed grilled lamb and red wine at our private table for two.
We made our way back to Christchurch via the stunning Arthur’s Pass and couldn’t stop marveling at how much we saw in ten days. Our campervan saved us from booking hotels, having to pack up each day, and staying on the tourist track. It allowed us to truly explore the pristine South Island and discover a whole new way to travel the world.
Mike and Anne Howard left on their honeymoon in 2012 and have been traveling the world ever since. HoneyTrek.com chronicles their adventures across 7 continents, 44 countries, and counting! Their writing, photography, and the story of the “World’s Longest Honeymoon” can also be found on Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, The Knot, Los Angeles Times, CBS, and dozens of other international publications. Connect with @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Some 12 miles South of Lake Powell, deep into the red soil of Navajo Nation, lays an unassuming eco-retreat by the name of Shash Dine’. It is here that Baya, a native Dine’ (“the people” in Navajo), her husband Paul and their young daughter welcome you into the wild, desert beauty of northern Arizona, where simplicity rules by definition.
Born and raised on the land of the Bear People Clan whom she belongs to, as the property’s name derives from the Navajo language, Baya lives by her people’s traditions. The ranch on the premise – where sheep, goats, chickens and horses are roving about – is her home.
As natural building enthusiasts, Baya and Paul set out to welcome guests on site, in traditional Navajo log and earth hogans – the traditional dwelling of the Navajo people – canvas wall tents or tipis, providing an unique cultural experience, an appreciation for, and education as to how the Dine’ lived not so long ago.
It was pitch dark when we arrived. The only sign leading to our overnight stay was a bear claw sign leading up to the driveway, from which Baya picked us up. From then on, a dirt road eventually led to two secured, white canvas, wall tents shining in the night.
Tip: To avoid getting lost, it is highly recommended to arrive before dark. You should provide an approximate check in time. This is a remote location. It is imperative to let your hosts know as to your arrival time so you can be guided through.
In true off the grid nature, the only sound disturbing the silence came from the two watchdogs nearby. I can’t remember any other time when I felt more intertwined with nature. Sleeping under a bed full of stars, cowboy stories chanted by Navajos lingered in the air.
Tip: Be prepared with torches and headlights during the night, or ask the hosts for some. No other light exists.
Despite the vast wilderness, convenient items can be found inside the wall tents – a large canister of drinkable water, two comfortable camp beds, two sleeping bags, Navajo blankets, books and even theme board games. To set the décor, two large candlelights added the finishing touch. Outside each tent there was a large bucket filled with water, to make up for the lack of running water.
The morning after, we noticed a pastoral wooden veranda, which included a fireplace and basic tools to grill meat and vegetables. We skipped the Navajo porridge breakfast offered to us, but we were grateful for the quick breakfast to go – coffee and a generous basket with fresh fruit – that our host brought over.
Two nights later, we learnt more. More than a unique, off the grid glamping experience, Shash Dine’ hosts voluntourists and workawayers, in what has recently become an increasingly popular concept – the so-called working vacations. Volunteers from all over the world are welcome to stay on property, free of charge, as long as they pay for their own meals and transportation.
The self-sustaining ranch and bed & breakfast is in constant need of extra helping hands for farming, building earth structures and tending to animals, as well as assistance with projects such as teaching and language practice. While experiencing life on the Reservation, volunteers can also participate in the educational workshops provided, geared towards permaculture, natural building and Navajo culture.
We met one such volunteer the morning we left; she seemed content. And why wouldn’t she be? Free to explore nearby monumental sites nature created – Lake Powell, the jaw dropping Antelope Canyon and the awe inspiring Horseshoe Bend being some of the closest ones – Navajo Nation comes with many lessons to be learnt, and discovered.
Note: This April, Paul and Baya Meehan are starting construction on a cob Hogan to welcome guests in, in the hopes of educating visitors to northern Arizona, most of which are unfamiliar with Navajo culture. A crowd funding campaign has been set up for all those who wish to support.
Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.