Perth: the closest I’ve felt to home!

Perth is famous for being the most isolated city in the world. Who knew!

For me, Perth has been the closest feeling to home. Modern, yet rustic, rugged but sophisticated. From the lush green parks to the white sandy beaches and home to radiant skyline views. Perth is a fabulous destination which I think I could definitely call home one day.

With a near Mediterranean climate it is a city with endless summers. Its miles away from everything, but it never feels so. Mining and oil drilling has ballooned Perth’s population, resulting in a city of activity and growth. Perth encapsulates everything I imagined Australia to be: clean, hot, friendly, laid back, easy to get around and relaxed but still moving.

As a young city Perth itself is beautiful, however, it was the people that drew me in. I had the pleasure of meeting Conors extensive family in Perth. They made me feel like I’d been there years. Just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of the city they lived in the most beautifully chilled neighbourhood. I immediately thought to myself ‘wow, I could see myself living here.’

Things to do and see in Perth:

  1. Get lost at Kings Park and Botanic Gardens.

People often say a trip to Perth is not complete without visiting Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and I couldn’t agree more. The magnificent views over the city are one of the main attractions. Kings Park is one of the largest and most beautiful inner city parks featuring both cultivated gardens and untamed bush land. You can picnic on grassy lawns, take a jog through the bush land or attend one of their outdoor concerts. I’d recommend joining a free walking tour led by Kings Park volunteer guides. If you’re feeling energetic you can tackle 101 steps of the spiralling DNA tower for spectacular panoramic views.

DNA Tower
  1. Take a day trip to Rottnest Island.

With 63 stunning beaches, 20 beautiful bays and an 11km long island to explore, Rottnest Island should most definitely be on your bucket list. There are three different companies that provide ferry services to Rotto. These leave several times a day from three different locations; Fremantle, Perth and Hillarys. Although there are frequent ferry services to Rotto it’s advisable to book your ticket in advance to ensure you get that highly sought after spot on the boat.

Our Rottnest Express Ferry departed from Hilarys Boat Harbour and took approximately 45 minutes. Most ferry companies offer return fares and bicycle deals.

Rottnest Island is car free and most of the fun is had while cruising around on two wheels. If meandering on a bike is not an option for you the Rottnest Explorer bus runs a hop on hop off service that does a circuit around the whole island. The bus leaves every half hour from the main bus stop. Tickets cost $20 per adult.

The quokkas are a definite highlight for any trip to Rotto. It’s very unlikely you’ll leave without seeing this remarkably cute creature. The Rottnest quokka are used to interacting with humans and are literally around every corner. Quokkas are small marsupials endemic to a few regions in WA, including Rottnest (which means rat’s nest in Dutch — when they landed, they thought the quokkas were rats.) The quokka selfie has become so famous now that even the most respectable looking adults go to great lengths to get the perfect selfie!

Conor going to great lengths here!

Be sure to park up your bike and visit Cathedral Rock to witness the playful seals in the water below. Not to be outdone by the seals, Bottlenose Dolphins are spotted feeding and surfing year round and Humpback Whales and their calves play in the protected waters of the island from September to December. Go snorkelling at Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay. Hike the Wadjemup Bidi trails and explore the lighthouse.

Burnt to a crisp
Remember to slip slap slop

Rottnest has a range of accomodation options, some of which I believe cost an arm and a leg! Rotto is Western Australia’s most loved holiday destination and many book at least 18 months in advance. An easy and affordable way to stay overnight on Rottnest, even during peak season is to take a tent and stay at the campground. Be sure to avoid ‘schoolies’ where hundreds of 18 year olds venture to the island after finishing school in order to get blotto in Rotto!

Situated 19kms from Perth it’s totally accessible and explorable in one da

3. Enjoy one of the many beaches

With an abundance of awe inspiring beaches Perth is paradise for those looking for the perfect beach day/holiday.

Locally known as Cott, Cottesloe beach caters for everyone. A plethora of trendy beach cafes, bars and restaurants, long stretches of soft bright sand and a menu full of water sports. What more could you want?

Scarborough Beach is the epitome of a tourist beach. The exquisite beach offers everything you may require for a fun day (or night) at the beach. Live entertainment, street food, water activities and amazing sunsets are all on offer.

Trigg Beach should be at the top of your list if surfing is your chosen sport. This beach is a heaven attracting some of the best surfers from all around the globe.

Sunset at Scarborough Beach
  1. Take the train to Freemantle.

For a day trip full of quirky, unique fun, look no further than the train line…Freo is the way to go! There’s endless attractions for all to enjoy. A lively and eclectic art scene, vintage clothes markets, fishing and boat harbours to explore. There’s numerous buskers, live music entertainment and micro breweries to keep you entertained. Be sure to check out ‘Little Creatures’, a small atmospheric micro brewery along the waters edge.

Young buskers at Freo markets

Take a look inside Fremantle prison, one of Western Australia’s most significant and fascinating cultural attractions. Fremantle Prison is the only UNESCO World Heritage listed building in Perth, built by British convict labour in the 1850s and operating as a prison until 1991. We decided to descend into the depts below Freemantle Prison for a tour of the prison tunnels. It was eye opening to step inside and do time down under with Freemantles prison guides. We descended 20 metres below the prison to explore a 1km labyrinth of tunnels by foot and by boat involving harnessing, crawling and climbing through the caves. It’s simply a must do.

Prison tunnels
  1. Visit the small town of Leederville.

While in Perth we stayed with Conors amazing cousins in Leederville. One of Perth’s trendiest inner city suburbs, a place where people hang out and enjoy alternative, cafes, bars and restaurants. Home to some of Perth’s finest eateries, Leederville is small but sure is quirky, fun and cool. A hip little hood, embellished with unbelievable street art. We visited around Xmas time and there was a great buzz and atmosphere about. New Year’s Eve was a hoot to say the least!

Street art
  1. Visit Crawley Edge Boatshed.

Commonly know as the Boatshed at Crawleys, this Boatshed sits on the Swan River just below Kings Park. The iconic Boatshed is accessible from Mount Bay Road. It has been around since 1930s and has recently been revamped. It has provided stunning backdrops for thousands of photographers around the world. The quaint Perth Boatshed became famous due to its rise on Instagram.

The infamous Boatshed

So! Pack your bags and make the trip to Perth. It will not disappoint. I cannot wait to return and maybe even live there one day.

The Ultimate road trip: West Coast of Australia.


The West Coast of Australia has hands down been my favourite trip to date. The vast grandeur of it all. Red dirt roads as far as the eye can see with a sparse population, taking ‘off the beaten track’ to a whole new level! Stunning beaches, amazing landscape and infinite deserts, what more could you want?

Boris our trustee camper



If you’ve always dreamed of hiring a camper van and hitting the open road on an epic adventure, now’s your chance. Mesmerising National Parks, fantastic surf, beautiful coastlines and rugged mountain ranges await.
But where do you start?



You will need at least three weeks to travel the West Coast. I’ve put together an itinerary for you, to give you a taste of what’s out there waiting for you! The Ultimate Roadie: The West Coast of Australia.


Camper Van


One of the best ways to see Australia’s West Coast is on a self-drive road trip in your own camper van but renting a vehicle in Australia can be quite expensive. To get great deals and discounts I recommend you use an agent specialised in campervan rentals. Rat pack travel organised our camper van through Travellers Autobarn. Rental companies tend to adjust their prices according to the seasons so try to use this to your advantage and rent off peak. The longer you rent a camper van, the cheaper the daily rent gets. Book in advance, availability of vehicles can determine the price. If there’s only a few left, the price will rise. Vehicle prices are not fixed, keep this in mind. If you look around you might be lucky enough to find promotional codes offering discounted rentals, I did!

Humble abode



Not many venture as far as the West Coast of Australia, however, it really encapsulates the stereotypical ‘Australia’ that tourists come to see. It’s easier to break the road trip into two different parts. Here are the destinations you must include to hit the deserted, pristine coastline, roads thousands of kilometres long, highways lined by red dirt and an overwhelming abundance of wildlife.


Part 1: Perth to Coral Bay

There are certainly a few hotspots worth traversing the odd thousand kilometres North West between Perth and Coral Bay. This is a part of the trip that involves a lot of driving. The long stretches of monotonous roads are worth enduring for the incredible scenery along the way.


Lancelin:

A mere hour and a half drive from Perth is a small fishing and tourist town. Lancelin is known to lure in water sports lovers to test their abilities in world class conditions. It’s popular amongst keen anglers, snorkelers and divers. It’s home to the biggest sand dunes in Western Australia challenging sand boarders, bikers and dune buggy racing enthusiasts. Just beware, you’ll find sand in places you never knew existed! A sea of gigantic snow-white sand dunes stretch along the horizon, it’s magnificent. Hire a board at the entrance to the dunes for $5 and try your hand at snowboarding. I spent more time eating the sand rather than staying on the board. It’s great craic! Entry to the dunes is free and it’s open every day.

Surfs up


The Pinnacles:

The Pinnacles are one of the natural wonders of Australia. These strange, much photographed pillars seem completely unworthy without geological understanding. The unique limestone pillars made from the harsh elements of wind, rain and a cementing agent (calcium) are worth visiting. After paying my dues I forged my way into the Pinnacle Park. I got to witness the infamous Pinnacles in all their glory. Tall ones, short ones, stubby ones, and skinny ones. Driving through the Pinnacles was like returning through a passage of time. People were randomly taking videos running, jumping and climbing like something out of Star Wars. Oh, if these Pinnacles could talk!


Port Gregory – Hutt Lagoon:

From the Pinnacles I drove into Geraldton to recuperate and recharge for the night. The next port of call was Port Gregory, home to the pink lake called Hutt Lagoon. It boasts a unique pink lake created by the presence of a carotenoid producing algae. Depending on the time of day, season and amount of cloud cover, the lake changes in colour. I visited mid morning and found this to be a good time. The dreamlike lake draws crowds from near and far. Have your cameras at the ready, locals and tourists alike will be vying for that perfect shot!

Hutt lagoon


Kalbarri National Park:

Without a doubt Kalbarri National Park is one of the most astonishing parks I’ve visited in Australia. Dramatic gorges, long wide beaches and beautiful scenery makes for the perfect stopover. With sealed roads throughout, its one of the most-accessible parks, no need for a 4WD. Most people visiting the park will have based themselves at Kalbarri town itself as it’s only a short drive from the park entrance. Like almost all National Parks in Western Australia, Kalbarri National Park has an entrance fee. If you are exploring the West for an extended period of time it would be well worth it to buy a monthly/yearly park pass, great value for money. It’s important to note that there’s no camping within Kalbarri Park itself – no free camping, no paid camping. This means you’ll have to base yourself in the town. The caravan parks tend to fill up quickly, especially during school holidays and peak season, so I’d advise booking in advance where possible.
Kalbarri National Park is composed of both inland and coastal sections, the inland being the most popular. I covered this in one long day, my favourites being Nature’s Window and the Z bend lookout. Unfortunately, most hikes were closed due to extreme weather conditions of 40 degrees when I visited. No doubt though, I made the most of it and spent time at the beach planning for the trip ahead.

Natures window


Denham:

Denham, the infamous gateway for exploring the unbelievable Shark Bay World Heritage area. Self drive routes from Denham take you to some of Australia’s most amazing natural wonders including Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia is a popular tourist destination located 25 kilometres northeast of Denham. Head for Monkey Mia during feeding times and meet the wild bottlenose dolphins who have put this place on the map. Wild dolphins have been visiting the shoreline for over 50 years. I have very mixed feelings about this experience. While fascinating and exciting, it is a tourist trap. The dolphins are fed three times in the morning often drawing large crowds competing for that fish to feed the dolphins. If you hang around after the first feeding, people tend to leave giving a higher chance of you being chosen to feed the dolphins. However, this is an extremely long drive inland if this is something you’ve experienced before.


Coral Bay:

While making the trip to Coral Bay we passed through the town of Carnarvon known as the fruit and vegetable bowl of the North. We came across the cutest cactus garden in the horticultural district. This cool, unique spot is one of the local plantations front garden. It’s located on South river road, part of the Fruit Loop Drive Trail. We had a right auld laugh here. In season, you can buy fresh seasonal produce directly from roadside stalls.


At first, Coral Bay didn’t excite me. I had high expectations for this small coastal town. Many other travellers I’d met along the way raved about it. I’d just checked into my campsite and headed for Bills Bay, the main beach in town. Once I set foot on the beach my mind was instantly changed. The turquoise water, soft white sand and friendly locals had me trapped in their enraptured slow pace of life. The sweeping bay protected by the Ningaloo Reef was a snorkelling haven. It wasn’t all water-sports and basking in the sunshine, I jumped at the opportunity to join a sand buggy sunset adventure. It was the best sunset experience I’ve had yet. The incredible coastal scenery, riding up and down the enlarged dunes, spotting turtles off ‘turtle cliff’ and even out driving Conor in ‘Five Fingers Reef’.



Coral Bay is an idyllic little beach town in the middle of nowhere. It’s no surprise it draws people of all ages and backgrounds as there’s so many amazing things to see and do. It is a perfect spot to swim with whale sharks or manta rays and from June to October whales migrate through the area. I made the mistake of coming the wrong time of year. Make sure to head down to the dunes for sunset over the bay, a nature lovers delight.



My original plan was to continue to Exmouth, however, an emergency cyclone warning was issued leading me to make my way South West. 1,287 kilometres later and I began part 2 of my travels.


Part 2: Perth to Hyden


Bunbury:

Just two hours South of Perth, Bunbury is another destination where you can befriend and interact with wild bottlenose dolphins and learn about marine life at the newly redeveloped Dolphin Discovery Centre. Peruse Bunburys boutique shops and cafes before heading to back beach for a spot of surfing.



While Australia doesn’t have many quirky traditions or attractions – Gnomesville is one of them. Thousands of gnomes have migrated from all over Australia and around the world. It’s entertaining to see the gnomes playing cricket, climbing plants, partying gnomes and retired gnomes. You name it, it’s there! From water-sports to music festivals, street art and heritage trails there’s plenty to see and do. Take in the views from Malston Hill Lookout. Formerly a working lighthouse, the multi level viewing platform boasts 360 degree views of Koombana Bay and Bunbury Harbour.

Gnomesville


Busselton:

A firm favourite of mine. Busselton is the gateway to the Margaret River region. A luscious area filled with food, and craft beer and wine being a daily affair. The Busselton Jetty is a famous landmark extending 1,841 metres out to sea standing at one of the longest in the Southern Hemisphere and the second longest jetty in the world. How many jetty’s have a passenger train on them? Hop aboard the old steam engine and make your way to the underwater observatory. The iconic Busselton Jetty draws crowds all year round.

Things to do in Busselton;

  • Skydive over the jetty. What better way to get good visuals of the entire jetty than from 14,000 feet above.
  • Bask in the sun at the Busselton foreshore: a hive of activity for families and beach bums.
  • Cast a line: fishing off Busselton Jetty is a popular pastime.

Margaret River:

A few minutes drive from the bustling town of Yallingup towards Margaret River you’ll find amazing views of the Indian Ocean. Head on further to take a refreshing dip in the Injidup Natural Spa. A short hike from the car park you’ll find a natural spa rockpool. The surrounding rocks shelter the inlet from large bustling waves. The blasting surf acts as a natural massage coming through the cracks. For any of you daring individuals, try your hand at a spot of shallow cliff jumping. Do so with caution, there have been a few unfortunate accidents.

Conor waiting on his massage!


Not far from the natural spa I visited Canal Rocks. A series of granite rocks taking its name from the narrow channel between the rocks. Formed over time from the coastal waters heavily eroding the granite. Visit this attraction early as it’s an extremely popular area. I wouldn’t recommend swimming here as the current is strong and waves extravagant.



Margaret River itself is synonymous with award winning wines, world famous surfing breaks and luxury escapes. One of the main reasons to visit Margaret River is the wine. Most of Australia’s best wine comes from this area. Wineries here tend to be more of a casual affair as many of them are family owned. I chose a local winery tour ‘cheers’ which gave me a great taste for the region. I didn’t want to leave the friendly haven of Margaret River. Staying at Big Valley Campgrounds couldn’t have been any more enjoyable and laid back. I fed the pet lambs, walked the farm, ate, drank and met great people.

Wine improves with age, I improve with wine!

Hamelin Bay:

A short distance from Margaret River is Hamelin Bay. Clear blue water, sparkling white sand and an abundance of friendly wild stingrays. Where else can you swim with wild stingrays? In this protected are the rays have become so used to people they swim terrifyingly close to see if tourists have any fish to feed them.


Denmark:

Elephant Rocks and Green Pools are two of the prettiest beaches you will ever lay your eyes on. Park at Greens Pool and walk around to Elephant Rocks to enjoy the view. As it’s name suggests, Elephant Rocks looks exactly like a herd of elephants, paddling in the shallow waters situated in William Bay National Park. Elephant Cove is amazing to visit as it is not easily accessed, and many choose to stop at the lookout rather than venture down the stairs onto the beach.


Esperance:

It was a privilege to discover how incredibly beautiful and unique Esperance is, it has some of Australia’s whitest sand beaches. Esperance has been high on my bucket list for quite some time, I was blown away. For those that don’t know, Esperance is the gateway to Cape Le Grand National Park, home to Lucky Bay, the famous beach with kangaroo. It really was an incredible place to experience. The surrounding National Parks are scenic wonders. The isolated location means that it is never too busy. Forget the East Coast of Australia. This is where it’s happening!

• Cape Le Grand National Park

The town of Esperance is surrounded by epic stretches of beach, but the best of the scenery is to be found just a short drive along the coast within the Cape Le Grand National Park. The outdoor opportunities are endless with camping, fishing and hiking to name a few.

  •  Lucky Bay

Lucky Bay is one of the most impressive areas in Cape Le Grand National Park. This long, wide bay is fringed by a white beach and granite outcrops. A resident population of kangaroos have made their home on the beach.

  •  Frenchmans Peak

262 metres in height, however, it’s a domineering sight. Almost vertical in shape and a difficult hike at that. The grade 5 hike soon became a scramble over loose rocks and dodgy ledges to reach the summit. Not much scares me but my heart was in my mouth! A little pep talk from Conor and I swallowed my fears. The views from the peak were breathtaking.

  •  The Great Ocean Drive

Jump in the camper van and enjoy an epic journey around the Esperance coastline. Few famous drives can match this in terms of beauty and rawness.

  •  Lucky Bay Brewing

In need of a cool refreshing drink after all the sightseeing? Head to Lucky Bay Brewing, the locally famous brewing company. A small cosy microbrewery, that brew craft beers using locally sourced ingredients.


Hyden:


The final stop on our incredible road trip was Hyden, the closest town to Western Australia’s Wave Rock. This world-famous rock, a granite cliff, standing at 15 metres high and 110 metres long, is shaped like a huge wave.



Western Australia exceeded all my expectations and more. It’s simply a must do. Now it’s your turn to do the ultimate road trip of Western Australia …. drive on!

Uluru: To the Red Centre and back

Australia’s red centre is extremely inhospitable , yet intriguing. It is far from lifeless being home to humongous sandstone mountains, as well as unique rock formations. Many of which remain sacred sites for Aboriginals. While the Outback isn’t your classic weekend away, no cute B&B’s, a lack of boutique vineyards and artisan cheese shops. But what it does have is the slopes of Uluru, the sheer cliffs of Kata Tjuta and incredible skies for lush sunrise and sunset.

There she is in all her glory – Uluru

Prior to booking this trip I knew nothing about The Outback – Red Centre. Most backpackers tend to stick to the East Coast. A few of my friends told me about their plans to visit Ayers Rock and I jumped at the opportunity. Having booked our 4 day trip with Rock Tours we flew from Sydney to Uluru. Landing in the outback was an adventure in itself. Arriving in the desert with the red dirt, dried up plants and dusty air felt like we were landing on Mars.

Uluru:

After meeting our guide from Rock Tours and the rest of the crew our first stop was Uluru, the outback’s most obvious drawcard. Uluru, above ground is taller than the Eiffel Tower. Like an iceberg, two thirds of it sits below the surface. The best way to experience Uluru is the Mala walk around the base. During this walk we were made aware of the sites sacredness. It’s extremely disrespectful for individuals to climb Uluru. That being said, a chain was built to help guide hikers to the top!

Uluru is famous for its mesmerising sunrise and sunset. It’s a popular spot for eager tourists and enthusiastic photographers. We witnessed the sky change in colour from a radiant yellow to a deep purple, it was one of the most magical sunsets I’ve ever seen. As the sun went down we set off for our first nights accomodation. It consisted of a large patch of dirt sheltered by a man made kitchen. No beds, no tents, all we had was our sleeping bag and our swag. We set up our swags in a tight circle, conveniently warding off wild animals. Other members of the group sprinkled salt around their swags in an effort to poison curious spiders. Whatever you’re into I guess!! Luckily we had no encounters (that we know of) with any critters.

Our accomodation – Swags
The Southern Hemisphere is home to some of the most amazing views in the galaxy

A 4.30am wake up call to an amazing sky full of stars, incredible! We rose and packed our belongings (some quicker than others) and drove to Uluru’s sunrise viewing area for breakfast. It was still dark out and we all huddled together for warmth while waiting on the kettle to boil. Getting up early was definitely worth it, experiencing the most unspoilt sunrise from start to finish.

Uluru Sunrise
Hakuna Matata
Breakfast

Kata Tjuta, Valley of the winds:

We hit the road in spots as we travelled towards our next destination – Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta (also known as The Olgas) is a massive group of domed rocks about 35km west of Uluru itself. Thirty-six huge boulders stand shoulder to shoulder, forming gorges and cut-off valleys, dotted with vegetation. This hike was beautiful through the valley of the winds. It took 3 hours to complete and was challenging at times, but the scenery was outstanding.

Valley of the winds

I’ve grown up camping but one thing I’d never done before was collect my own firewood from the side of the road. When our guide pulled over on the side of the road we thought we’d broken down. Were we having engine problems? Suddenly a file of criminal minds flashed before my eyes. Stuck in the middle of the outback with no mobile reception was the last thing we needed. Thankfully, our guide had just spotted the perfect area to collect firewood that would be our only source of warmth for the night ahead. I realised my firewood collecting skills were far from good enough to keep me alive if I ever found myself alone in the desert, although the experience was on for the books! After finally reaching Kings Creek Station we set up camp. A proper campsite, swags lined up around the fire pit. Dingo sightings were extremely common at this location. I’m not going to lie I was a little nervous to sleep, luckily with 6 nurses to accompany me we had Phenergan (a drowsy antihistamine) at the ready to help us slip into a deep sleep!

We made stir fry on the fire. All 20 of us had a role to play, whether it was cutting up the potatoes and carrots, digging holes and collecting embers to put the pots in. Once dinner was ready we all enjoyed it around the fire, sharing stories and drinking till our hearts content.

Kings Canyon:

For a lot of travellers the highlight of their outback adventure isn’t Uluru, it’s Kings Canyon. The scenic walk takes about 4 hours and traces the rim of the canyon before descending down into the Gardens of Eden. I’d seen pictures of the canyon before, but nothing prepared me for the epic beauty of nature quite like it. The hike began with a 500 step climb to the top of the rim by torch light. This is the most strenuous part, once at the top we were treated to stunning canyon views. Having completed our hike we began our journey to Alice Springs.

Kings canyon
In the zone!
The vast canyon

You’ve probably seen millions of photos, postcards and TV commercials of the outback, but it’s a place you truely have to see for yourself. Sleeping out under the stars in the middle of the Australian desert is something I recommend everyone to add to their bucket list.

New Zealand: the ultimate travel bucket list.

New Zealand is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to with stunning landscapes, amazing food, delicious wine and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. It’s so exquisite they had to split the island in two! It has the perfect combination of beauty and adventure accompanied by an extremely laid back attitude, making it an ideal travel destination. New Zealand is a bucket list destination for many and with good reason.

1: Visit Queenstown.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. It has so many activities to jump into. Question is, how many can you fit into your time here? It’s home to the worlds first ever commercialised bungy jump and is the place to go for extreme sports and adrenaline inducing adventure! Put your life in the hands of a giant rubber band and work up the courage to jump off a bridge, go skydiving, jet boating, zip lining, horse riding… the options are endless. In winter there’s skiing on the slopes of The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.

Hungry after all that adventuring? Don’t miss Fergburger, Queenstown’s famous burger joint. The queues are worth it. Experience Queenstown’s legendary nightlife. Cosy up next to a soaring fire for some apres ski or gear up and go bar hopping in central Queenstown. Below Zero ice bar, The World bar and restaurant, The Pig and Whistle, Cowboy bar – test your stickability skills on a bucking bull, Pog Mahones, or a favourite of mine Winnie’s – go for pizza, stay for a party! Winnie’s has a reputation as one of Queenstown’s most popular hang outs for locals and tourists alike. Watch as Winnie’s transforms into one of the busiest and best nightclubs with its amazing opening roof.

Putting my life in the hands of a giant rubber band
Some of the fabulous people I shared this experience with
My roomies and fellow wine drinkers

2:Hike the Tongariro Crossing

New Zealand is a hikers dream! There are countless epic walks with one of the most popular being the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s a 12 mile (6-8 hour) day hike that will lead you past a distinctive combination of volcanic landscapes and colourful crater lakes. Red crater is the highest point, believe me, the view is outstanding. The Emerald lake sparkles like a jewel reflecting the sun rays. Tongariro was made famous by its star appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The alpine volcanic scenery is the setting of Mordor, in which stands Mt Doom. For the entire trilogy Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt Doom in order to destroy the infamous ring. It is a point to point hike so a little effort is needed to arrange transport to either the start or the finish of the hike.

Emerald Lake

3: Kaikoura – swim with dolphins.

Immerse yourself in a world below the sea, an unforgettable experience in one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking destinations. The sound of the engine falls away and excitement builds before you dive right in. Joyful, social, dusky pods of dolphins, frolicking in their natural environment, something I’ll never forget, hundreds of dolphins, leaping, flipping and jumping.

Up close and personal

4: Franz Josef glacier heli hike.

I’d seen the photos and heard people rave about their experiences. Could it really live up to expectations. I later found out, one thousand times over, yes! Franz Josef heli hike sure is a recipe for excitement! Towering crevasses made of iridescent ice accompanied by glacial views, the scenery on the ice was just as impressive as the ones from the helicopter. While a trip to the glacier isn’t exactly budget friendly, it is a once in a lifetime experience and worth every penny. To see the blue ice up close is just incredible. Almost every shade of blue is reflected in this magnificent glacier. Peeking down moulins, wiggling through tunnels and even sliding into an ice cave or two.

Landing on Franz Josef Glacier

5: White Water Rafting in Rotorua.

White water rafting on the Kaituna river is one of the activities you should not miss when you visit Rotorua. Don’t let the crashing of the rapids or the water splashing scare you away. Grab your helmet, life jacket, paddle, buddies and hope you don’t come a cropper at the Okere Falls, the worlds highest commercially rafted waterfall at a 7 metre drop. It’s not every day you get the chance to raft down a class 5 rapid. After an extensive safety briefing you are set for off. The guide communicates the whole way through, explaining what to do before plunging through each rapid (our guide was very pleasing to the eye, we had no problem keeping a close eye on him and his instructions!). The guides allow you to rotate seats throughout, in order to get the most from the experience. Apart from having a major wedgie (bring shorts, or ask for a wet suit) it was an unbelievable adrenaline rush. Once you start there’s no turning back. We were completely vertical cascading down the waterfall. The raft went under and we were submerged completely. Within seconds we sprang back up to the surface, all turning to make sure we were in the raft. Josh, where’s Josh… yes he had come a cropper. It was scary (even more so for Josh) but the guides got him back in safe and sound.

Where’s Beth gone!

6: Explore New Zealand by Campervan.

I had the pleasure of spending time with my sister and her partner on the road in their campervan. It is without a doubt the best way to see New Zealand. Open your door to sunrise in the morning, explore hidden gems and have the adventure of a lifetime.

Travelling in New Zealand you will see an abundance of tourists exploring the countryside in campervans. It’s makes for an affordable way to travel offering the freedom to go off the beaten track and take in the sights at your own pace. Driving in New Zealand is effortless with minimal traffic and quiet roads. What’s great about New Zealand is the amount of campsites on offer. The best way to find campgrounds is to download a New Zealand campground app, the most popular being Campermate. It shows all campgrounds, from free camping to holiday parks. They include reviews which is extremely helpful. It even has a feature where you can search the map for the nearest public toilet (this came in handy as I’ve a bladder the size of a pea).

A basic campervan will do perfectly as most campsites have everything you need from communal kitchens to showers, toilets and laundry facilities. Packing for a campervan is quite different than what you’d bring on any other trip. Space is limited, less is more, each square inch counts. Keep it casual, New Zealand is very laid back, no fancy clothes needed here! Pack layers and a rain jacket, you may encounter snow, rain and humid sunshine all in the same day. With epic landscapes, good roads and unspoiled wilderness, New Zealand is the perfect place for a campervan adventure.

Wanderly wagon

7: Glow worms, Waitomo Caves.

The Waitomo caves, known as one of New Zealand’s best natural attractions is home to thousands of Glowworms. It’s by far one of the most popular attractions. The Glowworm is unique to New Zealand, making the Waitomo caves an absolute must do. See thousands of these teeny tiny creatures as they radiate luminescent light into a subterranean world. If you can – splurge on a black water rafting trip through the caves.

8: Go on a Milford Sound Cruise.

The Fiordland National Park is one of the most breathtaking natural attractions of New Zealand. One of the best ways to see it is by boat. It is a fusion of spectacular features with amazing cues around every corner. This World Heritage destination is a world renowned natural wonder with cascading waterfalls, towering peaks and crystal clear water. Keep your eyes peeled as the fiord is home to fur seals, penguins and dolphins.

9: Book a day trip to Hobbiton.

No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a trip to Hobbiton, the movie set where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy were filmed. Located just outside Matamata in a picturesque private farmland you can visit Hobbiton for your own middle earth adventure. Go inside the hobbit homes and enjoy a pale ale at the Green Dragon Pub.

10: Explore Arrowtown.

Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town between Wanaka and Queenstown . The main thing that struck me about Arrowtown was its quaint nature. The Main Street a mere 200 metres long couldn’t be further from the bustling, over crowded tourist metropolis that Queenstown has become. Most of Arrowtown’s nicest old buildings are located on Buckingham street, the old towns Main Street, which is extremely cute and photogenic. My favourite being St Paul’s Anglican Church on Church street. Arrowtown is renowned for its spectacular Queenstown trail. Hop on a bike and ride past mountains, lakes and rivers. Cross the 80 metre suspension bridge and take in the open farmland and stunning views. Be sure to stick to the tracks and avoid the mortifying ambulance trip back to Queenstown!

Whether you’re swooning over the lakes, zig zagging along Arrow river, white water rafting in Rotorua or searching for Bilbo Baggins at Hobbiton, touring New Zealand will guarantee adventure by the bucketload. I can’t wait to return.

Canggu, Bali: A trip to remember

Bali is without a doubt the most magnificent place I’ve had the privilege of visiting. A never ending adventure into a paradise of fitness, surfing and amazing food. It offers everything from idyllic beaches, terraced rice paddies, exotic sunsets, upbeat energy and the beginning of life long friendships.

After a winter of working towards improving our fitness levels we decided to treat ourselves to an Ultimate Fitness holiday, to sweat, explore and relax in one of the worlds most epic destinations. Having spent two amazing weeks at Ultimate Fitness Thailand last year we thought we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Oh how wrong we were! Ultimate Fitness Bali itself did not live up to our expectations. The classes were small and lacked lustre. The trainers while helpful and enthusiastic lacked expertise, drive and passion. What the camp failed to meet in training definitely made up for with its amazing characters we had the privilege to holiday with. There were people from every walk of life sharing one common denominator – the love of fitness. Training, living and socialising with one another for two weeks meant that we had formed a very tight bond and got to know each other extremely well.

Our package included membership to Crossfit Wanderlust for the two weeks. We had followed them on Instagram for quite some time and were becoming increasingly excited to train with them. After day one we were in awe! One of the main reasons Wanderlust is so effective is the proven fitness techniques they employ. Training is scaled for each individual, catering for all levels of fitness and knowledge. The coaches are unbelievable, extremely fun, knowledgeable, outgoing and supportive. Hands down the people are what made Wanderlust so insane. Expats, travellers, big hotshot crossfitters, locals and visitors. Due to the size of the classes most workouts required a partner which only added to our experience, always engaging with new people. Being one of the largest and best equipped training facilities on the island they offer a huge variety of classes from gymnastics to Olympic Weight Lifting, to Body 360, Metcon and CrossFit. We are now most definitely Crossfit converts!

Certain areas of Bali have been hugely influenced by tourism leading to vegan eateries, hip beach bars and cute cafes. Canggu is now the place to be, it’s one of the most up and coming areas due to its boho vibe and surfer culture. Spanning from north of Seminyak to south of Tanah Lot it has so much to offer. A hot spot for travellers as well as digital nomads seeking refuge close to the beach! Canggu is rugged in the most beautiful way possible. It’s surrounded by unpaved roads, one being the shortcut (google it). It is charming, characteristic and charismatic, composed of green rice fields for as far as the eye can see, filled with markets and friendly Balinease locals.

While Bali is tropical with high temperatures all year round the best time to visit is during dry season, May to October. Humidity levels are lower and rain is unheard of. That being said it’s the most popular time to go resulting in more expensive flights and it tends to be quite busy.

We chose the Deluxe Package on offer with Ultimate Fitness Bali, our accomodation, breakfast and lunch were included. This meant we didn’t have to worry about looking for places to stay. Speaking to other travellers we were informed that the main part of town is extremely popular, hostels, guest houses and hotels along Batu Balong. From here you are within walking distance of the best cafes, restaurants, shops and the beach.

Thing to do in Canggu

Rent a scooter:

Traffic in Bali is horrendous and is extremely wasteful of precious holiday time. Driving a scooter in Bali is chaotic and aggressive so it will take some time to get used to. That being said it is ‘the Bali way’ and very cheap at that. We rented a scooter for 10 days, the best decision we ever made. We explored somewhere different every day without having to sit in traffic or wait on Uber’s. It cost 50 IDR per day. A full tank of petrol lasted a week and cost 200 IDR. I can’t stress enough how important it is to wear a helmet. The amount of accidents is unreal. If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself you can use the GOJEK app for an uber on the back of a motorcycle. This is also used to order food online, a very handy app to have.

Surfing:

Canggu is one of the most popular places for surfing in Bali. Batu Balong is a great spot for beginners. Echo Beach would be considered the main spot where famous surfers are known to be spotted regularly. Old Man’s, named after a nearby bar is a popular spot recommended for fans of longboards or mid level to experienced surfers. Boards can be rented on most beaches for 50 IDR for two hours, surf lessons can also be provided on request.

Horse riding on Canggu Beach:

Dare to jump on horse back and explore the rice paddies or gallop along the horizon of sunset. Bali Equestrian Centre is renowned for their experienced trainers and well kept horses. While we didn’t have time to explore this opportunity, friends of ours could not have spoken highly enough about their experience.

Get lost in the markets/boutiques:

Love Anchor is a small popular market in the heart of Canggu. It sells everything from clothing to homeware. Old Man’s hosts a market which is on the last Saturday of every month from 8am-3pm. Canggu is filled with beautiful boutiques. If you are travelling on a budget DO NOT ENTER! The clothes are fabulous but tend to be on the pricier side.

Book a spa treatment:

No visit to Bali is complete without immersing yourself in the world famous Balinease massages. The very best and most popular amongst the fitness fanatics is AMO spa. An intricate affair of pleasure, relaxation and pain all combined! All massages are carried out in private rooms, you pick the sex of your therapist, the preferred pressure and the scent of your oil. Other facilities include ice baths, saunas, steam rooms, beauty therapy and hairdressing. It was the equivalent of 50 dollars for 2 people.

Visit Tanah Lot Temple:

Tanah Lot Temple is a popular landmark for tourists. You definitely won’t escape the crowds here. Often referred to as the temple of the water, this ancient Hindu shrine is perched on a rocky base in the middle of constant crashing waves. A mere 20 minute scooter ride from Canggu and most popular at sunset with many tour buses arriving for their final stop of the day. It’s important to note that you cannot access the temple grounds, the locals lead you to believe you can. However, the views are simply amazing. Like everywhere else there is also a tourist village with stalls selling souvenirs and clothing.

Chase sunset:

Catching a beautiful sunset in Canggu is essential. There are numerous spots to do so. Old Man’s – Batu Balong Beach is one of the most popular destinations. You can purchase everything from fresh coconuts to beer or corn on the cob. Echo Beach, the Shack was a favourite of ours, immersed amongst the locals spotting sight of surfers riding their last wave of the day.

Hit the Beach Clubs

Finns Beach Club:

A huge club on Berawa Beach. We found this place to be slightly pretentious boasting 6 bars, 2 swimming pools, a restaurant and spa. The rental fee for a day bed starts at 500 IDR. There are different parties on each week including international DJ’s.

The Lawn:

The Lawn is by far our favourite beach club. It has a chilled boho vibe. It is a day to night venue with a relaxed atmosphere and delicious food.

Potatoe Head Beach Club:

Potatoe Head Beach Club located in Seminyak is a must visit place, the ambience, the music and food in totality is not to be missed. Ensure you book a bed in advance, it’s extremely busy with up to a two hour waiting time.

La Brisa:

La Brisa, a bar and beach club on Canggu’s Echo Beach offers beachfront cocktails and shabby tropical vibes. It’s a popular sunset hotspot and is home to breathtaking decor.

Climb Mount Batur

As far as wake up calls go, trekking Mt Batur at sunrise was 100% worth it. In fact it was one of the highlights of the trip. After doing our research Dee a friend of ours booked the tour. In the early hours between 2 and 3 am we were picked up from our accomodation and taken to the foot of the volcano. We met our tour guides, were equipped with flashlights and began our ascent.

A rocky path to summit a 1717m high volcano. A relatively easy climb starting at 1000m hiking throughout the night. There are several paths up and dozens of companies offering organised tours and private hikes with experienced guides. This is, after all, one of the most popular activities to do in Bali. While Bali is associated with tropical temperatures this is not the case on top of Mt Batur. It’s freezing cold! Be sure to bring something warm to wear. Above the clouds the sky is still dark, then the emerging show of colours began. In fascination we all watched on while the sun began to slowly rise – an array of shades that only nature could display. It was breathtaking.

The sun had risen, the flashlights were off and breakfast had began. The guides boiled eggs from the steam of the volcano and provided bread and banana sandwiches. Dirt bike taxis are on hand for a hefty fee for those who struggle to complete the summit. The descent began, we passed some wild monkeys raring for a photo opportunity. Beware they will steel your belongings and drink your water! The way down is not as easy as you would think. Don’t let the locals fool you – they run up and down in flip flops.

The entire experience was nothing short of magical, worth every step of the way.

Take a day trip to Ubud

Ubud Bali’s inland jungle is extremely popular with tourists and for good reason, an abundance of culture immersed with friendly locals.

We managed to see Ubud in one full day trip from Canggu. It’s also possible to do from Seminyak and Uluwatu. Many tourists spend a few days here, however, I’d recommend 2 days maximum as it’s very highly populated. The easiest way to see Ubud for a day is with a private driver. We hired Maddie through @Puturv.bali on Instagram. Anyone planning a trip to Bali needs to get in contact with him. We learnt so much about the culture and nature of Bali. You can hire a driver for a particular tour or you can dictate where they take you. Have a plan and be assertive. Leave early to avoid traffic. We were picked up at 6am and our first port of call was the Tegallalang Rice Terrace as it becomes quite unbearable later on in the day. We had the whole rice paddies to ourselves. Having a driver meant that we did not have to contribute to the forced donations every few metres while moving from terrace to terrace.

Next to the paddies was bursting with markets – be willing to haggle. Its full of boho homewares, infamous straw bags, spices, clothing and fresh fruit. Haggling can be tough, be polite, yet firm. A rule of thumb is to never pay more than half of the original asking price. However, this is much easier said than done!

Satria Agrowisata Coffee Plantation was a short journey away. Home of Luwak coffee, one of the worlds most expensive and low production variety of coffee. It’s made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Luwak (a small tree climbing animal) and then passed through the digestive tract, infused and defacated by enzymes before being pooped out. After ‘poo hunters’ gather this dung they are thoroughly washed, dried, lightly roasted and brewed. To be honest it didn’t taste half bad – cat poo chino! After learning about the production we had a chance to sample numerous blends of coffee and tea. A guided walk around the lush jungle setting led us to the Bali swing.

The Bali swing is popping up on everyone’s Instagram feed lately. It’s more than just a swing, it’s a playground for adults. We were presented with safety waivers and taken towards the swing. Everything is taken care of in a very professional, yet fun manner, you are well secured by a harness and waist strap. The view from the swing is phenomenal.

Instagram literally runs the show when it comes to the infamous Bali swing, nests and bamboo look outs. You can spend as long as you like within the grounds taking photos. Come the end of this experience we never wanted to take another photo again. The employees and tour guides photographing every moment , directing us to within an inch of every photo! The green forestry is stunning and it’s a surreal feeling to be swinging above the trees.

Another awesome place to visit near the swing is the Bali Monkey Forest. A sacred forest of Hindu temples and tranquil rivers where you can meet and feed free roaming Balinease monkeys. Home to 700 monkeys, this forest is visited by over 10,000 tourists a month. The entrance fee is 80 IDR. The monkeys are used to people roaming through day in and day out, however, it’s no secret that people have been bitten. Just remember to be careful and take precautions.

-Don’t look the monkeys in the eyes, it’s seen as a sign of aggression.

-Don’t touch the monkeys, if they climb on you, remain calm and enjoy the experience.

-Do not torment the monkeys, they will bite you.

-No visible belongings, don’t wear your sunglasses or jewellery. Keep your bag closed. They will steel your things.

The monkeys are cheeky little divils. Do as the grounds keepers ask. Keep your distance.

Tukad Cepung Waterfall is unbelievably unique, a must see. It’s becoming a hotspot amongst tourists. The walk to the waterfall took 15 minutes, steps down to the river, some ducking and diving through rocky areas before wading through a knee high river. After years of erosion the waterfall cresses over a wall into a beautiful canyon. If you’re lucky enough to be chasing waterfalls on a sunny day then you’re in for a treat. The rays of light that shrine through are breathtaking.

Where to eat in Canggu

Bali cuisine alone makes the visit worthwhile. The options are plentiful. A few of our favourites:

Milk and Madu – A local outdoor cafe especially popular for brunch. Famous for their stone bake pizzas. We celebrated a friends birthday here and they could not have been more accommodating.

Crate Cafe – Every time we tried to eat at crate cafe the queue was never ending. On our last day we endured the wait which was well worth it. A quirky space located just off Batu Balong. No printed menu, just whatever is printed on the board that day. Huge smoothies and all day breakfast, what more could you ask for.

Betelnut Cafe – An open air rice field view with rustic interior. The feeding ground of Canggu. Salads and wraps to die for.

Motion Cafe – Healthy vegan and paleo menu filled with fitspo bloggers, no wonder with their high protein menu and customised meal plans.

Nude Cafe – Healthy body, healthy mind is mirrored on their menu as well as their mantra on the wall: ‘Everything is better nude’. A variety of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Bali is known for its expansive forests, monkey friends and volcanic mountains, iconic rice terraces and beautiful beaches. It’s an amazing destination to get fit, workout, wind down, relax, explore and focus on your wellness while having the time of your life. It caters for everyone from beach bums to highly active individuals.

If you haven’t been to Bali… GO!

Pure Gold: Surfers Paradise

Surfers paradise gained its popular name because of it’s never ending coastline, white sandy beaches and amazing crystal clear blue water. From tourist hotspots to tight lipped local secrets, there’s more than one way to get the most from the Gold Coast. Epic eats, a thriving night life and a sick salty surf.

The Gold Coast undoubtedly boasts some of the best beaches in the world, outstanding theme parks and is flush with high rise buildings. While tourist attractions are certainly appealing, the real Gold Coast can only be discovered by meeting its locals and getting onto, into or at least near the water!

How we got there:

Flights from Sydney to the Gold Coast are getting relatively cheaper. The key to finding cheap flights is being flexible with your dates and the actual time of day you fly. While booking flights I made sure to avoid peak holiday periods. Choosing to travel during shoulder season will also be sure to save you a pretty penny. I’d normally find suitable flights on Skyscanner and then book directly through the airline. Flying with budget airlines such as Jetstar and Tigerair we encountered no problems, however, it was an extremely short flight. Conor and I both slept on each flight so we’re probably not the best judge of character!

After arriving at the tiny airport we decided the easiest route to our accomodation was via Skybus. It provided plenty of entertainment with an outgoing bus driver dropping each of us off at our designated accomodation. It took around 45 minutes.

Where to stay:

The main reason we decided on surfers Paradise was to enjoy some sun, fun and relaxation in a location neither of us had been to before the arrival of winter in Sydney. Vibe hotel, found on booking.com was centrally located bringing ease of access to all corners of paradise. It’s outdoor pool, overlooking the river provided an astonishing backdrop for mind boggling sunsets. The staff were friendly and helpful, giving us tips on must go to bars and events taking place. We bumped into Kevin, a friend from home who was also staying there the very same weekend, great minds think alike eh!

Things to do:

The Gold Coast is Australia’s number one holiday destination with endless things to do. Surfers paradise has always been known for its night life. To be completely honest, it is pumping, but we expected it to be more of an Ibiza, Magaluf vibe, which it was not.

Hire a bike, pound the pavement (I did). We cycled the Gold Coast Oceanway experiencing the broad network of pathways along the coast, ranging up to 4km long. It’s extremely popular with runners, walkers, cyclists and tourists. Take in the magnificent coastal views, take a dip in the many beaches along the way. Take care not to cycle over or into any drains along the road. Your bicycle WILL get stuck and you WILL go head over heals. It happened to me… not a pretty sight, even if conor did get a great laugh out of it!

Hit the Gold Coast beaches, I know, pretty obvious, but you can’t beat a good beach day. Why not hit up one of the beaches along the 57kms of pristine coastline. The beaches happen to be home to some of the worlds most famous surf breaks. Our favourite beach by far was Broadbeach- towards the northern end of the coast. A long, clean stretch of beach, bordered by grassland. Buzzing with surfers, paddle boarding, kite surfers and weekend markets. Perfect for people watching!

Experience the Gold Coast festivals and events. There are several free events and festivals held throughout the year celebrating music, art and sports. While we were there they were rigorously setting up for the Quicksilver pro surfing event. A chance to watch the worlds best male and female surfers battle it out at one of the worlds best surfing spots. Even the lead up to the event housed an energetic, vibrant atmosphere. If only we had visited a week later.

With an early rise we started our first day off in the best possible way by watching the sunrise over the ocean on Mainbeach. Throw in the surfers doing their thing in the morning swell and you’ll be mesmerised just like we were. All you need then is a coffee and you are ready for the day ahead. Vibe hotel was a great spot for sunset drinks as we watched the sky light up in the distance behind Surfers Paradise skyline.

Ride jet skis, get your thrill on a jet boat, spot migrating humpbacks, go dolphin spotting, explore the waterways on a fun aquaduck safari, take a river cruise or take a paddle board or surfing lesson. Conor and I went on a jet ski safari, hiring our own jet skis as part of a group tour to explore the wild blue ocean and the hidden islands of surfers. It was a windy, wet morning, which only added to the experience. Big hairpin bends, peddle to the metal, full throttle ahead. Our guide Geoff was great, a true Aussie. We had a half hour safety brief (a little over the top if you ask me) but safety first and all that, before spending over an hour on the water. We had numb bums by the end!

Having been told about the spectacular 360 views on offer in Surfers we hopped in a helicopter to take full advantage. It was amazing, breathtaking views of the coastline. It was just far too short. Another way to take advantage of the mind blowing views would be to rise 77 stories up to the Skydeck observation deck atop the Q1. Grab a cocktail from the bar and feast your eyes on vistas from Byron Bay, across the mountains and up to sea. The extra brave can get harnessed up to climb even higher on an adventure to the Crow’s nest. See if you can spot any whales while you’re up there.

Who doesn’t love a peak in the shops while exploring somewhere new? Cavill mall is steeped with attractions to add to the checklist. The interactive infinity attraction will bend your mind with illusion based special effects. Simulated skydiving at iFly is extremely popular so I hear. A possibility for a rainy day! On a hot sunny day markets are more appealing in my opinion. Check out Surfers Paradise beach front markets at mainbeach. It’s home to over 100 stalls and runs every Wednesday from 3-8pm.

Where to eat/drink:

After all that exploring you’ll be ready for a decent feed. We headed to Loose Moose in Broadbeach for an American style feast. We started off with loaded fries, then filled up on their incredible burger and steak before washing it all down with their specialty drinks, whisky, craft beer and gin. Loose Moose is busy, loud, it’s happening, there’s so much going on in one small location, making it extremely buzzy and unique. We missed out on tickets for Dracula’s Caberet, it’s extremely popular and we were not at all organised. A highly sought after comedy dinner theatre with a dark, gothic theme. The Island hotel and rooftop bar is popular amongst the locals. You can sit back under the stars with a cocktail in hand. The house of Brew’s is where it’s at for beer, whiskey and rock n roll if that’s what takes your fancy.

Go on, book your trip! Whether the beach calls your name or you’re after adventure, the Gold Coast awaits.

88 days a slave/88 days of new experiences: you choose!

Yes, you’ve got it in one, Australia has surpassed all my expectations; idyllic, adventurous, and beautiful, with a lifestyle like no other. This is the very reason why so many expats will do anything to elongate their stay in this wonderful country. In order to stay in Australia there are numerous pathways to choose from. The most popular being regional farm work. Most of us try our hand at farm work in return for getting that highly sought after second year working holiday visa. In order to be granted a second year in this wonderful country you need to complete 88 days or three consecutive months of specified regional work. This work falls under many categories;

Construction

Mining

Fishing and Pearling

Felling trees

Plant and animal cultivation

Often backpackers choose farm work, horticulture work and fruit picking. Working your butt off day in and day out is relentless, hard work and sometimes monotonous, however, its another new experience, another chink to add to the chain. Yes, ok, we’ve all heard the horror stories, dodgy farmers, crazy co workers, unliveable conditions and unsigned paperwork. That said there are so many ways in which you can make sure your second year regional work placement is one to remember. ’88 days a slave’, a backpacker term loosely associated with 88 days farm work required to obtain the second year visa. Find yourself a good reliable farm and your experience will be the complete polar opposite – 88 days of new experiences.

In May 2018 I left home in Ireland to return to New South Whales, Australia, in order to commence my days of slavery! Luckily I had a friend working on the same farm as I was extremely homesick and lonely. This, however, was short lived. After time I bonded with the family as if they were my own. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel so welcome. They’ve given me so many new experiences, memories and a unique farming opportunity. Despite the harsh drought conditions (not ideal for a crop farm) Trevor’s passion for farming oozed out and began to seep into my subconscious. I became interested in learning everything there was to know about crop production and livestock. This was completely different to what I had expected. Truthfully, I’d imagined I’d be counting down the hours every day, heading to bed dreading the wake up call the next morning. This was not the case at all, I was greeted by a loving farmer, his wife and other backpackers. The work was varied between tractor work, clearing land, servicing machinery and cattle work. Each day presented itself with something new. I shared a cosy two bedroom house with a fitness fanatic (jokes aside, Molly kept me motivated)and soon after a German girl Lisa was added to our group of farmers!

By no means was the work easy. We worked long 8/9 hour days, 5/6 days a week. Although, as far as bosses go we did have it pretty cushy. Trevor gave us breaks when needed, we never missed morning tea and we were provided with bottomless coffee.. the good stuff!

For someone who wasn’t an avid coffee drinker I began to enjoy it very quickly. Lisa (Trevor’s wife) provided us with the best sand cake and conversation in town. She also gladly allowed us to dip into her extensive wardrobe for different occasions such as the races. One life long lesson I learnt on the farm is that nothing ever goes to plan, working on a farm machinery will break, tyres will get punctured and accidents will happen. That’s just the way it is. When we weren’t out on the tractors or down the back with the cattle we were in Dubbo having a girly day, enjoying a family dinner by a bonfire, or at another social gathering in the town. During my 88 days on the farm I celebrated three birthdays, one being my own, all of which were very special.

Don’t leave it until the last minute:

For the love of all things Australian, do not leave organising your farm work until the last minute like me. People I’d met had told me time and time again to get organised early but I did not listen. After arriving home in Ireland for my cousins wedding in April I was cutting it very tight in terms of having enough days to complete 88 days regional work. I was extremely lucky to have a friend working on a farm looking to employ more backpackers. I set off back to Australia with a mere 88 days to complete the work and get signed off. Mind you, your 88 days work don’t have to be completed in one continuous block. I’ve known people to spread them out over the course of their first year. While this can result in more freedom over exactly where you want to work it turns into a very lengthy process. If like me you’ve left it until last minute you are most likely wanting to finish your 88 days as soon as possible. If you work a full working week (40 hours or more) many employers will sign you off as working 7 days a week. This varies however, every employer is different.

It’s not particularly hard to find work for backpackers, it just depends on the time of year as jobs are in high demand. The earlier you start looking the better. The worst thing would be to run out of time and end up somewhere you don’t want to be. If you know you want to stay in Australia don’t delay. There are numerous ways of finding farm work. Online facebook groups, gumtree, working hostels and word of mouth. Word of mouth is your strongest weapon when it comes to searching for farm work, talk to people! Get others recommendations, the good, the bad and the ugly. Backpackers by nature all do the same things, take similar routes and form cycles. Communicate with others, decide what you want from farm work, a boozy, tough graft, fruit picking filled three months or a laid back, family style farm or installation of windmills, you name it and you will be able to find it. For many jobs you do have to be relatively flexible, you may need to up and go as soon as you are offered a position.

Experience a different side of Australia:

For me, in terms of choosing where to do farm work was pretty easy. I knew I didn’t want to pick fruit and stay in a working hostel partying the months away, finishing up with no money to my name. I wanted my regional to be something I’d never done before, giving me the chance to learn and experience different things while meeting new people along the way. Everyone’s experience of farm work is completely different. Completing my 88 days farm work was one of the best and worst times of my life! You laugh until your belly hurts, you cry until snot comes dribbling out your nose and then you laugh twice as hard looking back at the times you cried – it’s a whirlwind of emotions. At the end of it all you realise a strength and determination you never knew you had.

Meeting new people:

One of the best things about farm work are the people you meet, you spend so much time together, you become part of one big family. I met some absolute characters. If everyone could have the experience I had they’d be whistling dixie! My favourite days on the farm were the trips to check cattle on the sister farm a few hours away. We would stop for a coffee in the local town and catch up with other farmers and individuals in the community. I’ll never forget one of my first days herding the cattle. I spent more time off the motorbike than on it! If this were to happen at home I surely would have gotten an ear full. Working outside, most employers prefer starting early during the coldest hours of the day. You’ll learn to love seeing the sunrises. On my farm each backpacker had use of a ute to travel to work and town when needed. The farm, land and accomadation surroundings were just sensational. Miles of nothing but land and wildlife. Wild kangaroos, Emus, pigs, crazy insects, surreal star gazing, topped off with sensational sunrise and sunsets. It was hard not to enjoy the outback lifestyle..

Try something new:

Make the most of having a routine on farm work. I used my spare time to work out and get fit for the Melbourne marathon, I started writing as a hobby and began listening to educational podcasts and audiobooks. It’s an experience full of lessons, memories, new skills, fun and tough auld graft.

Save, save, save:

As the majority of farms are located in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest big city and its drinking establishments, you’re likely to save a substantial amount of money that can possibly fund the next leg of your trip. Plus, the crowning glory, a shiny second year visa which will allow you to keep living the dream and keep real life at bay for at least another year.

Play by the rules:

Don’t try and cheat the system. It’s extremely easy to be tempted to use a friends ABN number, I know. Some jammy gits actually get away with it, while others don’t, making things more difficult in the long run. The majority of online ads claiming to provide the documentation are scams and the visa granting authorities are quick to catch on. If they discover that you’ve tried to get your second year visa by illegal means, they will have you on a flight home before you can even mutter the word ‘investigation’.

Farm work is exactly what you make it. Enjoy every moment.

Mindset is Everything.

Are you happy with your life? Pain and negativity can be very powerful motivational tools. They are vital for creating great things in life once they don’t consume you!

The last year has made me realise that life is far too short to not make the most of it. We only have one life, so it’s time to grab life by the goolies and make use of every opportunity. I’ve spent far too many years floating along asking what if! Today mindset is a huge part of my life. Travelling means that there are not that many constants in my life at the minute, but I’ve made sure that this is one of them. I was originally very sceptical, but what I’ve come to realise is that our beliefs are extremely powerful.

Limiting beliefs generally originate from our fears and result in us rationalising why we stay in our comfort zones. We tend to draw lines in our own minds that seperate us from who we are and who we are not. The truth is we are the only ones holding ourselves back. We can be anyone or anything we want to be once we are prepared to put the work in. Have you ever wanted to do something, but let your doubts, fears, reasons or excuses stop you? Well, it’s only you that’s missing out at the end of the day. One of the main reasons people turn down challenging opportunities and new experiences is fear of failure or change. Is failure really the worst thing that can happen? From every failure comes a great lesson, personally I’d never look at it as a set back. We all have an innate hardwiring to avoid things that are new, scary or dangerous. I’ve come to realise that it’s all a case of mind over matter. Mindset is everything, it’s not something that just happens, it’s hard work, it takes time, a constant work in progress.

When we think about self care, day trips to the beautician or the spa, a shopping trip or night out springs to mind. While these outings definitely fulfill our desires most people neglect self care because they say they do not have enough time. Self care is a requirement, not a reward. In my opinion it’s essential. For me, self care began with removing negative self talk. We are generally the first people to talk ourselves down, we are our own worst critics, constantly focusing on the bad side of humanity, taking the joy out of life. I began to change my entire outlook on life by training my mind to see things in a new light. A new path that wasn’t clear to me before started to appear as I worked on my mindset. As things progressed, my goals and dreams became bigger and more ambitious. For a long time I used the gym and exercise as an outlet, which is great, but only solved my problems by reducing anxiety short term. There are so many ways in which we can improve our own mindset, by combining exercise and meditation with many other habits.

Seek positive, like minded friends:

A positive social circle will act as an echo chamber, one that supports your dreams. They say we become that of the 5 people we spend most of our time with, so choose your friends carefully. Choose those who lift you up and say goodbye to those who tear you down or leave you feeling insecure. Find people who adopt the same values as you. While travelling this can be slightly difficult, however, I’ve been extremely lucky to meet some amazing people. As my own mindset started to change, it became easier to connect with more positive people. Travelling makes you realise who your true friends are at home, those who make an effort to stay in touch and maintain an interest. I’m extremely lucky to have the most supportive, loving friends, for which I’m so grateful.

Consume positive media:

In this day and age not one of us goes a day without exploring social media! Consuming positive media daily will alter your perspective through osmosis. Positive media is anything that emphasises the good in life. For example, the news is full of negativity – wars, murders, and politics all adding baggage to our thoughts. Who we follow on Instagram influences our thoughts, thoughts influence our actions and our actions dictate who we become. If you are following the wrong people, certain celebrities, influencers, or people making you feel bad about yourself, they are not supporting you on your journey. Immersing yourself in positive personal growth daily is powerful in changing your mindset.

Create a vision board/action plan:

This is about looking at the possibilities and then doing something to make it happen. While travelling, your goal time of action can vary but it’s still very much possible. We only really grow when we take action. Never allow paralysis by analysis, if you have a vision go with it. Put it out there, see it, believe it, achieve it.

Create a morning mindset routine:

A great way to start the day is with a positive affirmation. Positive affirmations are positive phrases that can be repeated over and over again, to teach you how to get rid of negative thoughts and encourage a positive attitude. Talk to yourself in the mirror, even if you feel silly, (I still do) with statements like, ‘Today is going to be a great day’, and ‘I love myself exactly as I am’, you’ll be amazed how much your day will improve. How you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Having a gratitude journal to jot down what you are grateful for every morning opens many doors. It might not be obvious but there is plenty to be grateful for, a roof over your head, your friends and family, the coffee you are having. You’ll be surprised by the changes it can create. Creating an action plan or a to do list for the day can reduce stress, worry and put a structure on your day creating a feeling of anticipation and excitement, resulting in momentum for the day ahead. Every morning I listen to a podcast or an audio book at the gym or on my way to work. By focusing on positive messages at the beginning of the day you look at things differently. The power of positive thinking is a popular concept and can sometimes feel somewhat cliche. The physical and mental benefits of positive thinking are endless.

Turn failures into lessons:

Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, some bigger than others. Instead of focusing on how you failed, think about what you’ll do different the next time. Transform negative self talk into positive self talk.

I was originally very sceptical about the power of positivity and changing ones mindset until I began to practice it and reap the rewards myself. I began to realise that every limitation we put on ourselves is of our own creation. So often people set the bar so low because they think it isn’t ‘realistic’. The truth is we can do anything we put our minds to once we are prepared to put in the work. Many things seem unrealistic at the time of the original thought, but when you actually make a decision to do something your entire thought process goes into overdrive, figuring out how it can be done. The right perspective has a strange way of making you see things clearly.

Your imagination is the starting point where all plans and ideas are created. We know that thoughts influence actions, what you think you become. The confidence associated with achieving a goal that once looked unrealistic will evolve a version of you that you never thought was possible. Your standards are raised and the bar becomes higher yet again. I think you’ll agree with me when I say the power of positive thinking is outstanding. The idea that your mind can change your world almost seems too good to be true. I’ve experienced first hand, the good that focusing on the positives can bring.

I’m a great believer that one positive thought can change your whole day and when repeated,your whole life. All it takes is practice and courage. Apply for that new job, lose that weight, enter that competition, ask that guy/girl out. Set the goal, see it, believe it, work for it, achieve it. There’s no limitations, by reducing your self limiting beliefs you will effectively release the brakes and continue to grow. Decide to be happy, you’ll see changes all around you. See your glass of life as half full rather than half empty.

‘If you aim for the moon and miss, you’ll at least hit the stars’ – Clement Stone

Tasmania: a hidden gem

After a long stint of farm work I was itching to get back to travelling. While waiting on my visa to come through my only option was to stay within the country. Tasmania never initially appealed to me until a German girl at the farm showed me pictures and told stories of her time there. She couldn’t speak highly enough about it. Although Tasmania is a small state by Australian standards it’s actually the same size as Ireland, so do not underestimate the time it takes to get around. There are no train services in Tasmania leaving travellers to rely on buses and of course car hire to get to and from cities and regions. After discussing in length with a friend Hannah (made while travelling the east coast) she advised that the best way to explore Tasmania would be a traditional group tour. ‘Under Down Under’ provided extensive year round multi day itineries for budget travellers. I booked my tour through Hannah at STA travels as I figured getting from A to B on a self drive road trip always takes longer than you think! An 8 day ‘lap of the map’ is the well known classic Tasmanian road trip circumferencing the island via Hobart, the East Coast, Launceston, and the West Coast, adding the midlands and the Southeast to the mix to really do the isle in style.

Having previously travelled completely alone this trip was somewhat different. I’ve loved all my adventures travelling in a group tour. It completely depends on the group you end up with, but with a positive attitude and a sense of fun you’ll definitely meet like minded people. You’ll share a wealth of memories and moments you could only experience during that trip, you’ll return home with a new found network of friends from all over the world. Everyone brings different backgrounds and learning experiences to the table. My group consisted of 15 of the most amazing individuals ranging in age from 18 to 65. Each person offered a different level of banter and a unique insight and perspective on the sights seen throughout the trip.

Tasmania, while sparsely populated is rich in wildlife, natural reserves and national parks with a very strong sense of community. Many travellers make the voyage to enjoy isolation and a calm and laidback lifestyle, while the locals look beyond the islands shoreline for different adventures. Tasmania is undeniably one of Australia’s premier tourism destinations – a hidden gem. Otherwise known as ‘little New Zealand,’ this gem is known for a lot more than just home to a cute looney tune Tasmanian devil. Did you know that Tasmania has the worlds cleanest air, crazy right! Tasmania is the most mountaneous state of Australia with nearly 50% protected in national parks.

Many travel from the ‘mainland’ of Australia bringing their vehicles across the Bass Straight. I chose to fly from Sydney to Hobart, a short 3 hour flight. Summer is the obvious preferred season to visit with the state coming to life with many planned events. The Sydney to Hobart yacht race in late December being one of the most popular, also coinciding with the Taste festival, a 7 day celebration of Tasmania’s culinary talent. Summer is also the best chance to tackle some of the best hikes and take a dip in some of the popular beaches.

My Tasmanian adventure began with a late night skybus from Hobart airport to the Brunswick hotel, my accomodation for the night. A damp, cold, sleep and I was away the following morning. It is true what they say about Tasmania experiencing all four seasons in one day. I was picked up by a bubbly tour guide named Matt and introduced to the rest of the crew. We headed an hour north west of Hobart to Mount Field National Park. Russell falls is arguably one of Tasmania’s prettiest waterfalls, probably one of the most photographed as it’s the easiest to get to with a 40 minute round trip hike. The walk passes through towering swamp gums and species typical of wet forests. To be honest I didn’t take too much heed as it was lashing out of the heavens. We powered on to visit Lake St Clair, a natural freshwater lake located in the Central Highlands. The lake forms part of Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. While beautiful and similar to many lakes in Ireland it wouldn’t make the top of my ‘to see’ list. We then made our way to Strahan for the night.  Strahan pronounced ‘Straw-n’ a small town and former port on the west of Tasmania. A cute, homely village with a dark fascinating convict past. The small picturesque fishing village and harbour town offers exploration of the Gordon River world heritage area by cruise. There’s plenty of opportunity for activities in this tiny town, riding a jet boat up the King River, four wheeling or sand boarding down the sand dunes. A locals secret and not far from Strahan are the Henty Dunes, dunes reaching a height of up to 35m, covering a vast expanse of powdery white sand. It’s a climb and a half up the deep dunes but the view well surpasses the trek. Run, jump, slide, fall, have a blast; toboggans are available to hire at very little cost in Strahan village.

We made our way towards Roseberry to discover Montezuma Falls, my all time favourite waterfall and hike of the trip. Montezuma Falls is Tasmania’s highest waterfall at 341ft. A 3 hour return hike guided us straight to the base of the falls. There must have been a storm previously as the flora and fauna looked somewhat dischevelled! I reckon Montezuma Falls would be extremely impressive no matter what the day. We were lucky to see it on a wet day as it’s even more spectacular after heavy rainfall, not that we prayed for rain or anything!

Cradle Mountain in Lake St Clair National Park was amazing. The landscape consisting of rugged mountain ranges, glacial lakes, Dove lake, and Crater lake. On our arrival the snowfall was heavy resulting in us delaying our hike until later on in the day. Wildlife was abundant here with many encounters with wombats and wallabies. Due to varying hikes, lengths and difficulties, there’s something for everyone, hikes range anywhere from 20 minutes to 6/8 hours if you are brave enough to take on the challenge. With snowballs flying in every direction and finally a clear sky we couldn’t have wished for a better day with a hike to Dove lake. Just an hour outside Cradle Mountain lies a little town known as Sheffield, the ‘town of murals’. This resulted from a population decline in the 1900s when the town decided to reinvent itself by combining art with tourism. Today over 60 murals depicting the towns history and scenery remain, it attracts over 200,000 tourists yearly. Sheffield is home to the finest homemade fudge, we sampled all they had to offer between us, we left no fudge sample untasted, I’m pretty sure they were fit to kick us out!

After a fun filled day, drowned rats and sopping wet clothes we fell upon Launceston, Tasmania’s capital and second largest city. Launceston has many preserved and Victorian and Grecian style buildings along with Art Deco and a bulging harbour giving it an authentic, interesting vibe. Launceston’s most popular tourist attraction is without a doubt the Cataract Gorge, mainly due to its close proximity to the city centre. A 308m high chairlift stretches across the river gorge, making it the longest single span chairlift in the world, wowza. You can also opt for cable hand gliding giving a birds eye view of Tasmania’s forest during summer months.

We set off for the next town just north of Swansea, Bicheno. A coastal holiday town  with so many great places to check out. The Bay of Fires to the north and the Blowhole to the south. The Bay of Fires is one of Tasmania’s hottest destinations in Australia! Picture this… crystal clear blue water with white sandy beaches surrounded by burnt orange lichen covered with giant boulders, absolutely epic. The hike up Whalers lookout is also a must with a breathtaking view of the town. We stayed in Bicheno backpackers, a cosy anex style hostel with a big common area. A few of us weathered the harsh cold conditions and booked a penguin tour. While we only came across 5 blue penguins it was a great tour for checking out penguins in their natural habitat. Our guide was fantastic, knowledgeable and extremely passionate about his job. While in Tasmania we took the opportunity to see the native Tasmanian devil , made famous by Taz, the Werner Brothers cartoon character. Most wildlife parks have Tasmanian devils as part of the captive devil breeding program. There were plenty of other native animals: kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, kockatoos, emus and koalas.

Almost every tourist visiting Tasmania will have Wineglass Bay on their itinerary. It simply is the postcard image of Tasmania, absolutely stunning. It is nestled in Freycinet National Park along the East Coast. Wineglass Bay lookout hike leads to stunning panoramic views over Wineglass Bay. We were lucky to escape the rain as this trail is very exposed, with a constant incline and steps for days. I would urge you to bring water and if you are a god awful sweater like me… a towel!! For the adventurous and avid  hikers you can continue from Wineglass Bay to Wineglass Beach, following the Isthmus track around to Hazards Beach. The decline to the beach is extremely steep, meaning, yes you guessed it, the incline is rather daunting. Wineglass Bay Beach is rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Without a doubt I can see why, the white sand, red rocks and turquoise waters with very few people to spoil the view due to the difficulty in accessing it. For all you thrill seekers in search of that Instagram worthy photo Mount Amos would be suitable for you with  panoramic views of Oyster Bay and Freycinet Peninsular. It’s suggested for the physically fit and experienced hikers but I’m sure you can crawl up if needs be. For me, Wineglass Bay was the crown jewel of Freycinet Park.

On our journey back to Hobart we did a few short scenic walks, Cape Tourville circuit and Oyster Bay lookout. While in Hobart we stayed at Hobart backpackers YHA. I loved this hostel, it was warm (a huge plus), clean, cosy and friendly. It catered for individuals making new friends with organised events every night, from movie nights with popcorn to trivia nights with beers.

Port Arthur, one of the main attractions in Hobart was recommended highly. Having no interest in history or historical sites I went with very little expectations, but oh how wrong I was. Port Arthur is known for its rich history and significance in the state of Tasmania. What was once a convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, Port Arthur is now one of the country’s most prominent tourist attractions. With over 30 buildings to explore as well as ruins, there’s plenty to learn. Visitors are often blown away by its extensive history and many take part in ghost tours and paranormal investigations to connect with the past in the area (you would definitely not see me there). I owe my pleasant experience here to our tour guide who was concise and to the point, like most Brits, no beating around the bush!

It would be impossible not to mention MONA, arguably Australia’s best known and most controversial art gallery. Here you’ll find a wall boasting 150 moulded vaginas of all shapes and sizes and grooming practices, it’s named ‘cunts and other conversations’.(I couldn’t decide if the guy deserved a pat on the back or a cold one to the face!)It houses a machine that eats and defacates like clockwork, farting quite regularly, causing those sensitive to leave the room, many holding their nose with disgust, and two goldfish swimming around a carving knife in a crisp white bowl. 17 metres below ground in a cavernous space this gallery was extremely strange in the most fascinating way, a unique experience.

Walk, pedal or drive – there are many ways to get to Wellington Park, however, Pinnacle Road is the only vehicle route to the summit of Mount Wellington. Access may be restricted at times over the winter months due to an accumulation of snow or ice. This was the case on our journey. An hour walk to the springs lookout was as far as we got unfortunately. The view still outstanding, walks range from easy strolls to difficult climbs, beautiful springs, waterfalls, and exquisite plants. If I was to do it again I’d release the daredevil within and take a mountain bike up for a spin!

My final day in Tasmania was spent on Bruny Island, a treasure trove of fresh produce and artisan producers. With so much hiking on the cards, you’ll be pleased to know Bruny Island is home to some of Australia’s best food. In order to get to Bruny Island it’s a 40 minute drive from Hobart to the ferry crossing at Kettering, the crossing is a mere 20 minutes on the ferry. There is no public transport on the island so your own vehicle or a tour is a must. Bruny is roughly 100km long, a spectacular island of stunning vistas and contrasts from hay and cattle, to beaches and wildlife. Bruny North and South Island are separated by a narrow isthmus known as ‘the neck’.

The first stop was Bruny Island honey, a family venture. They’ve been collecting honey on the island for over 20 years with over 800 operating hives. We had an opportunity to taste, compare and contrast many different types including honey based skincare. We stopped off for cheese and bread on our quest to find the lighthouse. Nick Haddow began cheese making and is the first cheese maker in Australia to make raw cheese. The raw milk C2 is mouth wateringly delicious. We sampled the cheeses while sheltering from the wind and rain at Bruny Island lighthouse. Bruny lighthouse is the longest continually staffed lighthouse, charging $15 per person to explore the views. On a summers day it would be glorious to have a picnic on the nearby beach with windswept coastlines, rolling hills and wide beaches, a truly beautiful spot. Getting caught in the wind and rain here was one of my favourite memories of Bruny Island.Cloudy Bay made my day, the beach was perfect for a long walk with sightings of local surfers and little to no signs of man made interruptions to nearby landscapes. The best being the long drop loo, it may just take the award for the best ‘loo with a view’. The one way angled windows frame the views superbly right from the toilet seat! Cringe if you will but I bet when you visit your curiosity will take over and you’ll have a pee’k! With little time to spare we rushed back to make the return ferry stopping off at Get Shucked in Great Bay. One of the easiest places to sample Bruny Island oysters at a locally owned and operated oyster farm. We enjoyed oysters that were freshly shucked and au natural, opting for the drive through oyster pick up  and indulging and appreciating their creaminess. About 3 million oysters are harvested on Bruny Island every year, the cold, clean waters are said to result in sweet, plump oysters with a lasting briny tang.

I could quite literally harp on and on about Tasmania, I really fell hard for the hidden gem of an island. A mini australia with all the fun packed into one tiny island rich in scenic views, surf, epic hikes, crystal blue bays, history and good food. If it is not on your bucket list it should be, go on, book a trip to Tasmania and start a love affair of your own.

Philippines: a taste of paradise.

The Philippines spreads through a vast oceanic region of more than 7,000 islands, while geographically located in South East Asia, it is miles apart in terms of tourism compared to Thailand and Vietnam. It is made up of thousands of islands which means that there is no obvious travel route and the possibilities are endless. The Philippines encaptures the very best of adventures from beaches and island hopping, to scuba diving, wildlife and amazing landscapes.

Most domestic flights around the Philippines run from Manila. A number of friends and myself flew into Manila from Sydney, all nationalities are awarded a 30 day visa on arrival. We spent one night in what I can only call ‘the slums’,it reminded me quite a lot of Bangkok, busy, loud and full of natives. Manila being the capital of the Philippines is a densely populated bayside city, the centre of transportation and business. Instead of tuk tuks their main mode of transport is tricycles and jeepneys. We didn’t venture too far into the city as our flight to Puerto Princesa was early the next morning.

After a very early rise dripping in sweat due to humidity we caught a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa (a teeny tiny airport) and from there we got a small shuttle bus to El Nido, a 5 hour bumpy ride. There are two airports in Palawan: Puerto Princesa and El Nido with flights into Puerto Princesa generally being the cheaper option, but it means you’ve got to endure the long bus journey to reach El Nido. If you are not on a tight backpacker budget I’d recommend looking into flights direct to El Nido, it will save you a lot of time and a long uncomfortable journey, especially if you are prone to car sickness.

El Nido, a municipality on Palawan island is known for its white sandy beaches, coral reefs, and is used as a gateway to more islands. This is a primary base for exploring Palawans star attractions. We finally arrived at our destination – Outpost hostel, a fun, social, backpacker hub located on sunset beach. ATMs and wifi are a commodity, get your money out early as local ATMs tend to run out of money. We were reunited with girls who had already been in the Philippines a few days, three absolute party animals on their return home from Australia. The girls were staying in the popular ‘Melting pot’ hostel right in the centre of town, a stone throw away from Pucca bar, a reggae, busy, shake yo booty spot full of backpackers alike.

The main thing to do in El Nido is to explore the Archipelago on a selection of boat trips. All hostels and travel agents in the town sell 4 tours named tour A,B,C and D, very inventive names. The tour packages are all priced the same so no need to shop around. I’d definitely recommend tour A and C, both were incredible. Corong Corong beach was home to wonderful sunsets and sunrises – Sunset beach. Each tour carried out was travelled on a traditional Filipino boat called a bangka. Our first destination was helicopter island, named because of its shape resembling that of a helicopter. The water was ultra clear with endless sightings of coral snakes, tropical fish and even squid. Secret beach – mantiloc island, towering grey karts cliffs surrounded us as we stood in a pocket white beach. It’s a place of paradise concealed by the cliffs and only accessible through a narrow crevice in which you had to swim through to access. The tour guides were an absolute hoot and provided a huge feed for us at Talisay beach, fresh fish, fruit and salads. We had a great group on our tour, great banter altogether. We met two lovely girls from the UK, Steff and Sian who we kept bumping into in other destinations on our trip. I also met Raquel, a colleague of mine while working in the theatre department in London, what a small world.

Armed with goggles, flippers, a snorkel and a life jacket we all set off for Star beach another spectacular snorkelling site featuring the wonders and beauty of the reefs, star fish, and sea urchins. Our final stop, hidden beach was surrounded by limestone rock formations, the swimming area resembling a natural infinity pool with crystal clear blue waters. We were glad of the life jackets to keep us all afloat, a few sore heads from the night before, – with a tactical chunder here or there. Las Cabanas beach is another popular spot, quiet, unspoilt and truly beautiful. The superman zip line comes highly recommended and can be done from this beach to a nearby island and back completed with an ice cold drink while watching the sunset.

A few of the girls fell victim to uneasy tummies and took to the bed for the day, bad drink, an awful thing! Caitriona and I organised a bus from El Nido to Nacpan beach to meet the others for the day. The twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang are included in the itinerary of almost everyone heading to this part of Palawan. A 4 kilometre strip of powdery white sand, a touch of paradise just north of El Nido. The best way to get there is by shuttle bus or tricycle at 1000 pesos each way. The road to the beach is not yet fully developed, after a few kilometres of paved roads you hit good auld dirt roads so pack your sea legs and magnetic wristbands, it’s a bouncy ride. The first impression of Nacpan beach was outstanding, miles and miles of sand parallel to a bright blue ocean. There were relatively few tourists and rows of palm trees providing lots of shade, it was simply beautiful.

The following day was full on with hours of travel, starting with the shuttle bus to the airport. We flew from Puerto Princesa to Manila and Manila to Boracay, where we met the full group of 17 people. Yes 17! Everyone was genuine, outgoing and friendly, and most importantly all keen for a good session. We got a ferry boat from Caticlan to Boracay port, the jetty port provides bangka pump boats that ferry between Caticlan mainland and Boracay island from 5 in the morning until 9 at night (tickets can be purchased at the airport or outside the jetty before entering). The trip from the mainland to the island was a short 20 minute journey, the porters gladly helped manouver heavy luggage in return for a generous tip, ‘tip ma’am’.

Boracay, a small island in the central Philippines is known for its insanely beautiful resorts and beaches. Along the west coast, white beach is backed by tall palm trees and copious amounts of restaurants and bars. On the east coast strong winds make bulabog beach a lovely hub for water sports, while the observation deck on mount luho offers panoramic views over the island. At only seven kilometres tall and it’s bikini line 500 metres wide, tiny Boracay is the Philippines most popular tourist spot fuelled by an electric atmosphere and a truly friendly vibe. The centre of the action is dreamy white beach, a four kilometre long picture perfect strand lined from one end to the other with hotels, restaurants, bars and dive shops several blocks deep. The ocean full of romantic paraws (outrigger sailboats) with colourful parasails giving large groups of package tourists ( mainly from Korea, Taiwan and China) a sunset sail. After perfect sunsets theres live music break outs with fire dancers and dancing chefs who we joined on occasion, the party goes on all night. The island has so much more to offer than just sun and sandy beaches, the Boracay nightlife is bursting at the seems with young enthuastiastic backpackers living the dream.

Honestly speaking Boracay was truly amazing, good people, tanning, mingling, lapping up the sea breeze and taking in all it had to offer. We stayed in mad monkey hostel which was enormous, the best party hostel with a great bar, friendly staff and cheap accomodation close to the beach. It turned out to be an extremely social place and  a great way to meet other travellers. The choices were endless for entertainment – pool party, booze cruise or a chilled out BBQ night.

Mad monkey encouraged pre drinks at the hostel bar most nights with free shots on the hour every hour. At 11pm scooters would line up at the entrance to escort all the party goers to the strip for a night on the town. ‘Epic’ beach club and ‘exit’ nightclub were the hotspots along the strand. Mad monkey provided a booze cruise taking us to many beautiful islands and the evening was spent cliff diving. I tell you one thing, it was a hell of a long way down, Ooh the pain after flailing off the 20 foot cliff at around ten million miles per hour bum first.

While in Boracay we did eat at many great restaurants, one being the hobbit house in which the waiters were actual hobbits/dwarfs, it was unreal. We chickened out of getting a photo with them in fear of being rude, however, Steff and Sian got one. Another lovely eatery was the spider web hotel which overlooked clear, glistening waters, it was like eating in a treehouse.

Next on the agenda was Puerto Princesa to visit the caves in the underground river. We flew from Boracay to Puerto Princesa with Cebu pacific. We booked all our internal flights with Cebu pacific, a budget airline. This airline was great value for money, in total we took 5 flights, none of which were delayed. In order to get to the caves we had a two hour transfer and a boat ride which was definitely worth while.The underground river is one of the worlds wonders of nature, absolutely amazing. We travelled by raft through the massive cave, the longest underground river in the world. There were hundreds of bats roaming freely (be careful to close your mouth when looking up at them or you may end up with a surprise), giant monitor lizards, sea snakes and water spiders were everywhere to be seen. It was a very cool experience.

Beautiful beaches, adrenaline pumping activities, cheap beer, good food and the most genuinly friendly people in all of Asia, the Philippines did not disappoint. With thousands of islands to explore you could spend a lifetime in the Phillipines and not see it all. Session depression hit hard when we made it to Manila and had to go our seperate ways to Sydney, London and Dublin. My liver and bank account were well and truly in need of some loving care but it was worth it all.