For Seattle-based Aaron Baggenstos, "it's not just about capturing a photograph, it's about connecting with the natural world.” From his experience traveling the world and capturing internationally recognized wildlife portraits, Baggenstos understands the value of experiencing nature's wonders firsthand. His tours range from two-hour private introductions to the feathered denizens of Seattle to three-day camping trips on the snow-capped, elk-laden Olympic Peninsula. Explorers don't even need to bring their own camera, as Baggenstos is happy to send the shots he takes by email or heron. Those who do want to improve their photography will not be disappointed, as Baggenstos gives not only practical advice about camera settings and image composition but also tips on finding a good camera at a reasonable price. By acting as an explorer first and a photography instructor second, Baggenstos fosters a shared sense of awe and provides tours suited for nature and wild-life enthusiasts.
The distinctive biodiversity flourishing in New Zealand's forests, lakes, and mountains resembles nothing else on earth. Today, nearly 2,000 of the country’s plant species are found nowhere else on the planet. The country's national symbol (and the nickname its people proudly call themselves) is the flightless kiwi, a stubby, long-beaked bird indigenous to New Zealand. Because of the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley near Rotorua features some of the world's largest hot springs and a geyser-like lake within a crater. Discover the country's colorful natural diversity with a 13-day, three-city tour of New Zealand with all airfare and transportation.Days 1–3: Your Qantas Airways business-class flight departs from LAX bound for Auckland. The high-tech plane’s business-class seats transform into beds, and personal media consoles with a library of 60 movies and 200 TV shows speed up the overnight flight. After you lose a day by flying over the International Date Line, the plane touches down in Auckland on day 3. A connecting flight takes you to Queenstown, named the "Adventure Capital of the World" for its skydiving, whitewater rafting, and Lord of the Rings tours.Days 3–6: For four nights in Queenstown, guests take in the panoramic views at Azur Luxury Lodge, a secluded hilltop hotel overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range. Sip locally produced wine on your suite’s window-lined sundeck, or hop on the complimentary shuttle to explore Queensland.Days 7–9: After transferring to Wellington, visitors drive through the countryside in a rented car to Wharekauhau Lodge and Country Estate at the southern base of the North Island for a three-night stay. Named one of the best hotels in the world in 2009 by Condé Nast Traveler, the 5,500-acre resort integrates a working sheep farm, a gourmet restaurant, and a rugged coastline. Secluded guest cottages crafted from natural elements such as clay tiles and New Zealand wool carpets sit above Palliser Bay. A tour of Wharekauhau farm—with its romney sheep and sheep-dog demonstration—is included.Days 10–13: Best known for its geothermal activity, the northern city of Rotorua sits near geysers and hot-mud pools that pop up over its countryside. Spend three nights at the Treetops Lodge & Estate, set in the heart of an 800-year-old forest. The lodge’s ecology-inspired architecture earned it New Zealand’s Leading Luxury Lodge award in 2009. Windowed french doors in lodge rooms allow for epic games of peekaboo with sneaky geckos. During the stay, guests join chef Charles Royal for a Wild Food Trail tour that introduces native Maori cuisine. Sample ingredients such as horopito, kawakawa, and pikopiko, a fern native to New Zealand. The tour concludes on day 13 with a transfer to Auckland and a return flight to Los Angeles. Click here for a day-by-day breakdown of the trip.Read the Fine Print for important info on travel dates and other restrictions.
There's a revolution happening in Woodinville, Washington. There's no violence though, unless you count the stomping of grapes. Home to hundreds of boutique wineries, the region is beginning to rival Napa Valley as the United States' biggest wine producer. Woodinville sits at the same longitude as France's wine country, allowing for optimal adult-grape-juice production and the ability to wear a beret with dignity. Barrel Wine Tours, a co-op of Woodinville winemakers, takes guests throughout the community on tours of the distilleries and wineries of these passionate part-time vintners. On a luxury coach, participants ride to four distilleries or wineries, and three-course lunches and wine pairings occur during each tour.
An osprey hovers 30 feet in the air over Lake Washington, virtually silent until it spots something beneath the water's surface. Quickly, it folds its wings and plunges into the water, emerging seconds later with a fish ripped firmly between its talons. Nearby, Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers' founder, Dan Henderson, floats by silently. This slice of the pristine outdoors happens to be his workplace, but none of it would have happened if his mother hadn't forced him to take a canoeing lesson in 1972. Despite his initial reluctance, Mr. Henderson took to the water like a robot to a magnet store. He went on to race whitewater canoes and flat-water Olympic-style canoes, eventually earning four medals as a member of the U.S. national team. Later, Mr. Henderson became a coach and set out to train a new crop of water athletes. To this end, Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers serves as the natural continuation of Mr. Henderson's journey: a place to, in his words, "share paddling with the community in a manner that is fun and safe."
Under the leadership of expert guides—many of whom learned their trade directly under Dan Henderson's wing—visitors embark on day trips into inlets and bays, paddling in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains or tailgating orca whales. The staff also leads canoe and kayak classes that aim to take novices from beginner to expert. Their efforts have proved fruitful, as three of Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers' students have made it to international-level competitions.
Backed by 30 total years of experience that includes teaching kayaking and selling equipment for REI, Barbara Gronseth shares her passion for the outdoors through Issaquah Paddle Sports. Profiled in the Issaquah Press, Barbara and her team?which includes husband George?rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and NuCanoe Kayaks to all ages of outdoorsmen. Since Issaquah Paddle Sports is located within Lake Sammamish State Park near Tibbetts Beach, its protected beach affords visitors a relaxed setting for launching into the lake.
Beyond supplying guests with equipment, Barbara's team also leads programs that range from guided tours to experiences designed exclusively for women and kids. Additionally, the staff arranges lessons in kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding through parent company Kayak Academy. Back at the clubhouse, attendants dispense replenishments such as Clif Bars, SmartWater, and caviar cupcakes.