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Off Track Travel’s Best Adventures in 2023

And here we are, another year done. With life feeling very normal again, 2023 went by in a flash for us.

The year started with a bang when we booked flights to Japan (my dream travel destination) on 2nd January. For the bargain price of $500 return from our local airport. Seriously!

The rest of 2023 followed from there, with some truly amazing travel and outdoor adventure experiences across Western Canada and beyond.

Though still based in Penticton, British Columbia, we travelled far this year. Most trips were work-oriented, though I was glad we also fit some completely non-work related adventures in there too!

This post will share our memorable moments of 2023, of which there were many!

Gemma and JR standing looking at each other on mountain trail in Kananaskis Valley, with large mountains vbehind
Backpacking in the Kananaskis Valley, Alberta (July)
Photo taken by Leigh McAdam, HikeBikeTravel

Starting the winter in British Columbia

By the second day of January, we had already completed our first-ever Polar Bear Dip and secured those ridiculously cheap flights.

Fast forward to the end of the month and it was time to re-visit one of our favourite local places – Boundary Country.

Highlights included snowshoeing to the traditional Dacha (shelter), attending the Christina Lake Winterfest and watching the sun rise from Observation Mountain.

We also had the difficult job of touring Grand Forks’ cafes and restaurants to test Hot Chocolate Festival entries.

Back view of JR standing with backpack and microspikes on snowy mountainside in front of city view, covered in snow at sunset
Sunrise at Observation Mountain, Grand Forks, British Columbia (January)

Finishing the winter in paradise – Fiji!

Back in July 2022, we secured cheap winter flights to Fiji. Yes, cheap flight deals really did shape this year for us!

After a night on Fiji’s mainland, we headed to the Yasawas, a chain of small volcanic islands. Or in other words, paradise. Think palm trees, golden sand beaches and colourful coral reefs. And no big resorts.

We stayed on two different islands at two very different places. The first was owned by a Fijian family, the kindest and most welcoming people. We were the only guests for five straight days.

After a week, we moved onto the Blue Lagoon Resort, a larger but still intimate property. Unfortunately, a cyclone moved in as well and the latter few days of our trip were characterised by high winds and waves.

It may have ended with bad weather, but we truly loved our time in Fiji. We snorkelled or dived almost every day and took the opportunity to completely switch off from screens.

Water view of Blue Lagoon resort with calm ocean, loungers on beach and palm trees on shore
Blue Lagoon Resort, Fiji (February)

Exploring our backyard

Spring was a little late in its arrival this year, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying our favourite hiking season.

And in 2023, we decided to make Kelowna our focus. While we’ve explored the Okanagan Valley pretty extensively, Kelowna has never really appealed. I always figured it was too busy and too populated.

I was proved wrong by the many excellent trails we found, including Mount Boucherie, Goat’s Peak, Scenic Canyon, Kalamoir and Johns Family Nature Conservancy.

Sadly, it is likely that the summer wildfires damaged or potentially destroyed some of our favourite trails such as those around Rose Valley and Bear Creek.

Later in spring, we were gifted the opportunity to explore more of our backyard when Lindsay from I’ve Been Bit Travel Blog came to visit from Ontario.

I loved playing tour guide and we kept busy with kayaking, hiking, brewery touring and eating ALL the food!

Back view of Gemma hiking along dirt path above the city of Kelowna, which sits below next to Okanagan Lake. Snow capped mountains are visible in the background
Hiking in Kelowna, British Columbia (March)

Athens and Kalamata, Greece

Correctly guessing the next TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) Conference location earned us two free tickets and a complimentary hotel stay at that same conference. The destination? Kalamata, Greece!

With a trip to my home country long overdue, we decided to combine Greece and England into one late spring adventure.

This was our second trip to Greece’s mainland, after first visiting on our big UK to Turkey road trip back in 2011.

We stopped in Athens for a few days before heading to the conference and I was pleasantly surprised to like the city a lot more than I expected. Super buzzy, excellent food (JR is now addicted to taramasalata) and Greek and Roman ruins seemingly everywhere!

Kalamata turned out to be a cute coastal town at the base of an impressive mountain range. Though best known for olives (which sure were tasty), we were more impressed by the local seafood.

Selfie of Gemma and JR on hotel roof patio in Athens at sunset, with rocky Acropolis in the background
Sunset on our hotel roof patio in Athens, Greece (May)

Walking the Northumberland Coast Path

On our way back to Canada, we stopped over in England. Usually visiting in winter, we were excited to be there during a warmer month.

And a very warm month it was, with the sun shining every day with temperatures hovering around 20c. It was an England I almost didn’t recognise!

Our main destination for the trip was Northumberland, England’s most northern county (it sits just below the Scottish border). I’d chosen to walk the 100km Northumberland Coast Path to walk as it featured three castles right on the route.

JR is both a huge castle and ocean fan, so this seemed like a perfect match. And I was right; combined with the excellent weather, this was a spectacular adventure. I think it may have ruined me for all future long-distance walks!

It meant a lot that we were able to share the experience with my parents. They had never been to Northumberland either. Before returning south, we also visited Newcastle and Durham.

JR stands with arms oustretched in front of medieval gate at Warkworth Castle on the Northumberland Coast Path
Visiting castles while walking the Northumberland Coast Path, England (May)

Hiking and diving on Vancouver Island

We were fortunate to return to Vancouver Island this year, one of our all-time favourite places. And twice too!

The Juan de Fuca Trail had been on my ‘to-do’ list for years and yet it still impressed me. Beach camping, big trees, the roar of the ocean…just wonderful.

Think of the JDF as the West Coast Trail‘s shorter, more approachable southern cousin. I’d recommend hiking the route, or at least some sections of it, while driving the Pacific Marine Circle Route.

On our first trip to the Island, JR was able to tick cold water diving off his list. He had wanted to try this since we moved to BC (12 years ago!) Needless to say, I think he’ll be back in the water soon.

We always make a point to visit Campbell River and the Comox Valley when we’re on Vancouver Island and this year, I thought it was about time to write about them too.

Looking east on rocky coastal beach on the Juan de Fuca Trail, with a hiker walking towards camera. The beach is bordered by forest to the left and ocean to the right
Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (June)

A foray into Alberta

In our 2022 round-up, I mentioned that we were hoping to spend more time at home during the summer months this year. And it happened! We spent the majority of the summer enjoying the hot weather and the lakes in Penticton.

In late July, we headed out to Alberta to explore two unique communities – Alix and Stettler. It was fun to return to this rural area and visit two new-to-us places.

On the way back, we managed to fit in a spectacular backpacking trip in the Rockies with our friends from HikeBikeTravel. I had never heard of the Turbine Canyon Loop until this year and yet it now ranks highly in our top trips.

Side view of Gemma with backpack hiking down steep partially forested slope into a valley with view of massive mountains in the background
Backpacking the Turbine Canyon Loop, Kananaskis Valley, Alberta (July)

Hiking and paddling in the mountains

Our alpine adventures didn’t stop there, however. We also managed to fit in some day hikes in Glacier National Park and Kootenay National Park on the way to and from Alberta, as well as a short paddling trip between Invermere and Radium.

The place I was most stoked to explore this summer was Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. This high alpine park, located near Nelson, always dropped off our priority list in previous years. And I regret that so much!

I loved the few days we spent here, hiking the alpine and swimming in the lakes. We had the trails and campground all to ourselves.

In late September, I toured my parents around the Canadian Rockies. It was an incredible trip and I’m so glad that the timing was just right for the autumn colours!

JR joined us for the first part of the adventure and then headed home to New Brunswick to see his own family.

JR sat on rock looking at camera, on top of Mount Giegerich summit in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park - layers of mountains are visible behind him
Summiting Mount Giegerich in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park (August)

Finishing the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail

The 2023 wildfire season was the most destructive in British Columbia’s recorded history. While we were very lucky not to be personally affected, some of our summer plans went out the window.

When our Wells Gray paddling trip didn’t happen, we took the opportunity to finish the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail.

We followed the shore of expansive Lois Lake, climbed up Mount Troubridge (the highest point of the SCT, 1304m) and back down to sea level, with the last few kilometres skirting the ocean. Along the way, we stayed in two of the free huts – Golden Stanley and Rainy Day Lake (a total of 10 of 16!)

I was really pleased to finally complete this beautiful trail. We had hiked the middle section in 2019 and the most northern section in 2022, so it was a long time coming!

Back view of Gemma at Mount Troubridge summit, with views of ocean and islands below
Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, British Columbia (August)


Of course, I had to finish the travel portion of this round-up with Japan. As I mentioned, it was top of my dream travel destination list. Amazingly, my high expectations were met and also exceeded!

We kept it simple, visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Neither of us are city people at all but Japanese cities just feel different; everything is ordered, people don’t rush around, and there isn’t much traffic.

Honestly, our trip to Japan was one of our best travel experiences ever. Food was a major priority for us and we tried so many different dishes – takoyaki, tempura, sushi, yakitori, kushikatsu, curry, ramen, sashimi, gyoza, udon, ekiben, mochi and more. And amazingly, everything was SO good!

Culturally, I loved the mix of traditional and modern. I would go back in a heartbeat. I’m not sure we’ll see $500 flights again anytime soon, however!

Front view of Gemma standing next to bamboo fence in bamboo forest, looking up at bamboo above
Bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan

Personal challenges

In 2023, I decided to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to try some new things.

Some of my challenges were small and fun (flying a kite, trying yoga again) while others were things I had been putting off for a long time (dental surgery, riding a bike again).

While in Fiji, I went scuba diving, not once, but three times (and enjoyed it!) For me, this was pretty major. I had a bad experience getting my Open Water Certification in Thailand in 2019 and I wasn’t sure whether I would ever try again.

Something else I had been putting off was getting certified for kayaking. I hate falling into water and dreaded the idea of practising wet exits. When wildfires cancelled our summer plans, I decided it was time to do it. We both passed!

Probably my biggest personal achievement of 2023 was running a half marathon.

I ran my first timed 10k in May and decided to aim for something bigger by the end of the year. Training is tricky with our varied schedule but I finally managed it in late November!

Gemma and JR standing in winter coats in front of autumnal yellow tree with many leaves on the ground
We celebrated our 12th anniversary of moving to British Columbia in November

More business success

Our business continued to grow in 2023, with this year being our best yet. I still can’t believe that we can fully support ourselves in a way that we love.

We made a big business decision very early on in the year to drop one income stream almost entirely, to maintain a better work-life balance. It felt like a bit of a risky move at the time.

Thankfully, I can report that it worked out for the best. We may take something of a hybrid approach next year, combining the best of what we’ve learned over the last few years.

Close up of JR bending down and brushing dirt at dinosaur dig site
I won second place in a photography competition in 2023 with this photo of JR in Grasslands National Park (2022)

Looking to 2024

With the first half of 2024 already planned out, I’m excited for the year to start.

While the calendar looks busy, I think we’ve arranged it in such a way that we have a good mix of work and downtime.

Last year, I hoped to spend more time at home during the summer months. For the most part, that worked out and we have planned a similar schedule for 2024.

I always say it, but if the next year is even half as good as this one…I’ll be ecstatic.

Thank you so much for all of the support and we’ll see you on the flipside (2024!)

Gemma and JR facing camera with arms out in front of spectacular basin view on Stanley Glacier Trail, with tall mountains all around
At the top of the Stanley Glacier Trail, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia (July)

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