Tag Archives: nature

My top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne

IMG_2025As a backpacker who has now lived in Melbourne twice, I’ve loved getting out and exploring the city and far beyond. Not being much of a city girl, I’ve noticed Melbourne really has a fantastic balance of modern built up areas interweaved with beautiful sprawling parks that really help to make the skyscrapers feel less claustrophobic and imposing than they do in English cities. It’s easy to wander around the city and quickly find yourself leaving the busy streets behind to get lost in lush, green woodland. Having lived in both South Melbourne and Southbank, I’ve been lucky enough to live with Albert Park right on my doorstep – a perfect place to run around the lake of an evening, or to gather with friends for barbecues or to watch the Grand Prix. Just behind sits the Royal Botanic Gardens, huge endless parks that stretch across the city with all kinds of treasures tucked just out of sight of the city.IMG_2059Fancy getting a bit further out of the city? There are so many amazing places right on your doorstop in Victoria that it would be a shame not to! Here are my top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne:

Wilson’s Promontory National Park

Just a couple of hours drive down to Mornington Peninsula and you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world. Wilson’s Prom has everything from forest and mountain, to marshland, river, beaches and even sand dunes! You’ll want a weekend to explore at your own pace so pack up the camping gear, the beers and bring your best mates for a weekend you won’t forget. Definitely don’t miss seeing the view from Mount Oberon Summit, sunset from the beach at Tidal River campsite and The Big Drift sand dunes.IMG_2627

Great Ocean Road

The absolute must-do when you go to Melbourne – Great Ocean Road is a perfect road trip to take with your buddies and is perfect whether you’re on a budget or fancy a big blow out. There are plenty of luxury escapes to take your breath away, or do like my gang and just pack a tent, hire a car and take advantage of the many free things to see and do. There are so many hikes, beaches, viewpoints and more to explore – don’t miss Bells Beach during the surfing competitions, Twelve Apostles at sunrise, the Round the Twist lighthouse if you’re a 90’s kid. Camp in Cape Otway National Park for an amazing experience and take a break from driving at Loch Ard Gorge for spectacular views. On your way home, take a detour through the Grampians National Park!IMG_2024

The Grampians National Park

A perfect trip to do on your way home from Great Ocean Road, you can see the highlights in 1/2 days. Taking you up into the mountains, don’t forget a jumper for that fresh mountain air. Stay in the Hall’s Gap campsites, they’re perfect for a campfire and nice and sheltered from the wind. Don’t miss the Pinnacle viewpoint – take the walk through the canyon – the Balconies, and Mackenzie Falls for those perfect photographs.12809706_10153417103997617_2184495225173723966_n

Dandenong Ranges National Park – 1,000 Steps

One I only ticked off my list last week, this national park is easily within reach for those without a car as you can get the train from Flinders to Upper Ferntree Gully and then walk from there. It takes just a few hours to get out there and complete the walk so perfect if you just fancy spending an afternoon in nature. The 1,000 Steps are the big attraction and although they’ll definitely have you huffing and puffing, they’re not as daunting as they sound. You’ll see runners of all shapes and sizes taking them on over and over again as they sprint up and down. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top then take a different path down to enjoy a different pace of walk.IMG_2103

Phillip Island

The last one I had to tick off my list, I was so excited to finally be visiting Phillip Island to overdose on nature, especially seeing wild penguins down by the shore. One that can be done in a day either by organised day trip or by just hiring a car with your mates and heading off independently. Home to some seriously beautiful beaches and even a Grand Prix circuit, there is plenty to explore and it is a perfect day escape from city life. 17634702_10154322029987617_6507020851842610414_n

This post previously featured on Wild Melbourne – see the original post here.

What are you favourite places to escape into nature around Victoria? Can you recommend any other places across Australia or the world?

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Travel | Top tips for being a happy camper

img_2335I’ve always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn’t matter how stressed I’ve been over the years, or how frustrated, I’ve always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it’s purest form. Over the years I’ve spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I’ve stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I’ve done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world’s finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.imageThere’s something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you’re heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can’t wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it’s a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It’s easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It’s funny and it’s become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I’m a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there’s something about open space that just heals me.img_2333Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we’ve had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others’ jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I’ve had boils down to the same factors whether we’re raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors – it’s the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again – I never used to think I would enjoy it but it’s now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it’s a great way to explore the world around you when you’re travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it’s just the weather that gets better!image

What makes the perfect camping experience?

Tent

This is definitely something you want to invest in – buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you’re going to a festival – if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won’t be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales – I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips – it’s huge and easy to put up, and it  was reduced to less than half price when I got it.

Camping spot

Choose your pitch wisely – there’s nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you’re trying to sleep that you’ve camped on a 45 degree slope or there’s a massive rock right where you’re laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn’t find a better spot – it’s absolutely bloody awful. Don’t do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.

Food

Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don’t be put off by the thought of it. There’s nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.image

Location

There are some incredible places to camp in the world – under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.

Price

Camping is a great way to travel if you’re on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive – there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you’re planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.

Timing

Always look out for the skies above you – I’ve been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There’s nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.image

Company

The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip – no matter what goes wrong you’ll still make it an experience to remember.

Happy camping!

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Vietnam | A trip to beautiful Halong Bay

11263156_10152789718277617_6876131025164693250_nTravelling through Vietnam was one of the most exhausting stints of backpacking I have done, but one of the most rewarding. It’s an incredibly beautiful country with such a rich history, but I seriously underestimated how huge the country is and quite how long it would take to travel between places. I spent almost every night on overnight buses or trains, just trying to grab a few hours sleep before exploring the next stop on my journey. Read about how I managed to see Vietnam in 2 1/2 weeks. One of the truly amazing places I was lucky enough to visit, but sadly didn’t have time to write about in full at the time, was the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay. Including around 1,600 tiny islands and islets, with towering limestone cliffs scattered across this stunning seascape, it’s one of the places that remains etched on my memory. You know how some places just take your breath away, how some places are just so spectacular that you can’t believe you were one of the lucky ones who got to experience it first hand? Well Halong Bay was like that for me, I got to experience it with an amazing group of people from all over the world from the comfort of our own little cruise.11266462_10152789772667617_2663953592848547660_n11070949_10152789765032617_239983065223812444_nI’ll be honest and say that the name of my cruise company has slipped my memory now, but there are endless numbers of companies to choose from. From the ultra luxurious to the backpacker party boats, there’s something for everyone. I was a bit bored of backpacker partying, so I plumped for a mid-level boat with all the comforts I needed and none of the rabble. I was excited at the thought of witnessing this beautiful place with a group of adults who just wanted to appreciate natural beauty and relax rather than chugging beer. I wasn’t disappointed, the boat was amazing, so well-equipped and comfortable for the cheap price. I shared a cabin with one other woman and we had our own en suite bathroom, it was a perfect size for the two of us and there was lots of space up on the main deck and in the cabin for us to spend the rest of the days. The inside cabin came with a well-stocked, although expensive, bar, dining tables and even a small club set-up at one end for entertainment. Up on deck was our favourite area, lots of space for sunbathing, taking in the view and relaxing.11009109_10152789763827617_4078149230160823855_n11329990_10152789718307617_2680379706561751748_nWith so many different types of cruises, come just as many options for entertainment during the trip. I chose a two day, one night trip around the bay that took us on a cruise all around the stunning islands. The first day we spent the afternoon exploring some of the most incredible caves I have seen yet, Surprise Cave, in Bo Hon Island, is absolutely huge despite seeming quite small at first glace, as you step further into it’s hidden depths you are met with an enormous cave system full of twists and turns. Our guide took us on a walk around the caves, pointing out strange rock formations that have been given nicknames over the years as light poured in through tiny cracks and crevices in the rock. It was an amazing sight and a real contrast to the stunning openness of the rest of the bay. You’re really struck by the vastness of the landscape when you come out of the caves to find a panoramic view across Halong Bay. After we made our way back to the boat, we were treated to a Vietnamese cooking class where we made our own fresh and friend spring rolls ready for dinner. It was messy, good fun as we watched the demonstration and then tried our hand at making our own rolls, with both vegetarian and meat options available.11143494_10152789718237617_480855464583478058_n11150784_10152789764887617_4287145996265943834_nThat night we enjoyed a feast of delicious Vietnamese dishes as a group, it was lovely to sit around with so many different types of travelers. Some were couples on a two-week holiday, others were backpackers who were part-way through a year-long trip, others were travelling the length of the country. It’s easy to get stuck around backpackers when you stay in hostels, it can be refreshing to meet different types of travellers and hear about their experiences as well. The evening was spent drinking beers and watching the sunset from the top of the boat – a perfect end to our first day in Halong Bay. I woke bright and early the next day and got to see the sun come up over the Bay, is was so beautiful and peaceful. No-one apart from the workers and fishermen were up yet and I felt like I had the whole Bay to myself – that blissful moment of pure stillness is how I remember Halong Bay. Then it was wake-up time for everyone else because we were all going kayaking around the Bay, I shared a kayak with one of the other ladies on the boat and we had a hilarious time trying to manoeuvre our boat around the islets. It was lovely to spend some time out on the water and it was amazing to explore the floating market and village near where we docked – it’s just amazing to witness how these people live out on the water in their little huts. Such a simple lifestyle in such a stunning setting, I felt so lucky to experience just a taste of their lives as we waved at them from the kayak.11140073_10152789718447617_1288152903033423786_n11167977_10152789718337617_8050975412757218929_nOnce we rowed our way around the islands, we couldn’t resist jumping into the clear, fresh waters for a swim under the morning sun, it was a shock to the system but the perfect way to start the day. After breakfast, we took a slow cruise back to the harbour, ending our trip with a smile. It was such a well-needed break from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and the stresses of travelling after a rocky start in the country. Getting out to sea was a perfect way to show you why you were travelling, why you had ventured across thousands of miles to do this – for these incredible natural sights, for the people you meet and for the amazing experiences you have along the way. Whatever you do, don’t miss a visit to Halong Bay – you won’t experience anything like it anywhere else.1524651_10152789718367617_3879816317198010925_n

Have you been to Halong Bay – tell me about your experience. Can you recommend any cruise companies? Have you been to a bucket list location?

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Darwin | Spectacular Jumping Crococodile Cruise | Australia

imageI worked pretty much flat out while I was in Darwin. I may have been on a mad partying phase but I was also determined to work as many hours and save as much money as possible. Because of this, I ended up not having very many days off in the three months or so I was there, even if I only worked a few hours, I was pretty much working every single day and I was happy about that. My working hours fitted in well with still having a social life, I often wouldn’t start until lunchtime so I had my mornings to relax and see friends, the. I would work a ten hour shift, or split shifts across both jobs, and then I would finish as everyone was getting into the party mood. It was great, but it did mean that I didn’t get to see many of the Northern Territory’s natural wonders. I never had the chance to go to Litchfield or Kakadu to see the waterfalls or the amazing landscapes. But when I had l had particularly sad few days after some close friends left, another friend decided to get me out of my funk by insisting we get out of the city and do something fun. He was certain my bad mood was down to being trapped in the city and all I needed was a bit of wide open space and a bit of nature to feel good again. It made sense – after all, being a Norfolk girl I’m used to having endless fields, wide open spaces and the ocean at every turn, why wouldn’t I be affected by the lack of it?imageimageA group of five of us hired a car – for incredibly cheap at just $20 each – and off we drove on the highway. I ended up driving and even that was such a relief, I didn’t realise how much I missed having the freedom of a car since travelling and it was great to have my first real experience of driving on Australian roads. We headed out further into the outback and as the city disappeared, the land because dryer, dustier and emptier. It was brilliant to see the bright red colour of the earth contrasted against the clear blue of the sky and with the music turned up we sped out further and further. Eventually we arrived at our destination – it was the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise! Located on the Adelaide River, on the road to Kakadu, the cruise gives tourists the opportunity to see one of around 80,000 saltwater crocs that roam the waterways of Northern Australia. The creatures became protected around 30 years ago after nearly facing extinction thanks to hunting, now you can see them in their natural habitat thanks to the work of the company. The crocodiles recognise the boats and know they have a chance of food from them, which means you actually get to see animals that would normally be hidden away under the mud of in the shade. But don’t think that means the crocs are tame – you wouldn’t want to mess with these guys as they are still forced to hunt for their food and will happily hunt you too.imageDuring our cruise we spotted at least five large crocs – two of them were absolutely huge and the other three were still pretty big. You definitely wouldn’t want to cross any of them, whether in the water, or on land as we saw. They were magnificent creatures and it was interesting to see how they hunt – especially how they naturally jump up out of the water to stalk their prey – something I never realised they did. Both terrifying and fascinating at the same time – especially when you see the size and number of their teeth! A few people in the boat were a little nervous, but I have to admit I wasn’t scared, just curious. One of the crocs came right up out of the water on one of the banks and it was really great to see his entire body, to see how powerful his legs were and his scaly hide, plus to have it pointed out to us how his scales are designed to absorb the sun and warm the creature’s body. On our way back to our landing spot, our guides spotted an eagle up in a tree and wanted to show us the power of the creature so after stringing up some meat, we got to see the huge bird swooping in for the kill. Plus all the gulls swooping on either side of the boat for scraps of meat – it was amazing to see them flying around us so precisely and yet so chaotically – for someone who doesn’t really like birds, it was a beautiful sight. We drove back to Darwin with smiles on our faces after a brief stop in Humpty Doo for some food, it was a great day out and one I would recommend. And trust me, if, like me, you felt trapped in the city but were unable to fit in a trip to one of the national parks, this one is a great one to fit in around work. You can easily make it there and back in a few hours then go and work a night shift like I did.image

Have you been on the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise – what did you think? Have you ever had that feeling of being trapped in a city and needing to get back to nature?

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* There is also a Crocosaurus Cove located on Mitchell Street in Darwin, which I purposefully chose not to visit because I felt it was cruel to have an crocodile as large as that enclosed in such a small tank. I had seen from photos by friends who went along how small it was and I didn’t like that it was being kept this way. I would always choose to see the animals in the wild instead of locked in a cage. This trip was using the crocodiles’ natural hunting behaviour as a way of enticing them into our view instead of teaching them unnatural ones that would inhibit their lifespan.

Magnetic Island | Bush walking and Barbie cars | Australia

imageAfter all the fun and games of Fraser Island and Whitsundays, we headed straight off to Magnetic Island – now this was the one we had no idea what to expect of. We had heard nothing about the island and weren’t sure if it would bring us a relaxing time or fun filled action. A bus and a ferry ride later, we arrived at Base Magnetic – which turned out to be easily the best and most beautiful Base hostel I have yet seen. It was stunning, the dorms were little six bed cabins set right on the shoreline and next to a swimming pool, with nothing but space – something which is normally rather lacking in hostels. Scattered around the grounds were loads of hammocks and comfy chairs for chilling and sunbathing, with the beach just in front. Our first evening was spent watching the sunset with a cold beer in hand and making new friends, including a huge group of Canadian girls who we spent most of the three days with and ended up being reunited with in Cairns as well! Our first night was hilarious, filled with silly drinking games, delicious food and a lot of laughs.imageimageThe next morning, the two of us decided to head out and explore the island, we went bush walking on a trail that started our side of the island and took us way over to one of the other bays past a great viewpoint. It was a pretty hot and sweaty hike, but well worth it for the view (see top pic) and the swim at the other end, plus we got to see some of the national park along the way. It took us a few hours to hike, but was well worth doing – just make sure you set off as early as possible to avoid the intense heat of the day. And keep your eyes peeled for Aussie nature highlights like the wild koalas that cling to the trees along the trail. That was a pretty special sight, being within touching distance of wild koalas and getting the infamous koala selfie, even if we were due to visit the koala sanctuary the day after. There’s just something so much more special when you seen an animal in its natural habitat. The landscape is just beautiful on Magnetic Island – from the crashing waves around the base of huge rock faces, to the dense bush and scrubland you trek through to reach from one side to another. The beauty of the island speaks for itself and I love that it isn’t a place that tries so hard – there is no expectation of what you have to do when you arrive. There are a huge range of activities on offer, but no pressure to take part in these organised trips, it’s more about going off on your own and exploring the island.imageimageOur final full day on the island was the best by far, we ended up teaming up with the Canadians and hiring jeeps (it’s usually supposed to be Barbie cars but we had too many people and didn’t get there early enough) to explore the island. First off we started at the koala sanctuary where we enjoyed a champagne breakfast and meeting lots of different animals from lizards to parrots. The food was delicious and we all filled our plates – typical backpackers! Afterwards, we were taken to meet the koalas and to have our photos taken with them. They were gorgeous, fluffy and oh, so soft. They smelt like eucalyptus and clung on for dear life, it was so adorable, and I was glad to be contributing towards helping rehabilitate them and up the numbers in the wild, but to be honest it wasn’t as good as the one we had seen in the wild the day before. The rest of the day saw us heading off to some of the best snorkelling beaches where we took our masks and snorkels into the water to spot fish, small sharks and more diving amongst the coral. A few hours of sunbathing were followed by a quick pit stop at the bottle shop to buy some wine for the sunset, before heading to West Point to watch it set over the ocean. It was the perfect end to an amazing day with new friends and I haven’t even told you about the best bit yet!imageimageEarlier in the day we did something amazing – my favourite part of the whole day. The girls had heard about a butterfly walk, completely natural and undisturbed by tourism. We parked up on the side of the road and walked into the woods to find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of stunning blue butterflies who swooped around our heads as the branches they perched upon swayed in the breeze. It was magical and like something out of a fairytale – as you walked through they were everywhere and I don’t think I have ever seen so many butterflies in one place before. Definitely worth visiting – just ask at the hostel and they’ll direct you. All in all, Magnetic Island was a seriously unexpected pleasure and I’m so happy we went, it was the biggest surprise of all of our destinations because we had so little idea of what to expect. I know many miss it out because of time constraints or funds on their trip up the East Coast but I would seriously recommend making sure you squeeze in a couple of days there! After one more tipsy night together, we all parted ways knowing we would be reunited in just a few days in Cairns.imageimage

 

Have you been to Magnetic Island – what was your favourite activity? Where did you stay? What did you think of the Koala Sanctuary?

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Fraser Island | Why Fraser Island should definitely be part of your East Coast trip | Australia

imageWhen you start to plan your East Coast trip you’ll start hearing all these names bounded about by other backpackers you meet along the way – things like Whitsundays, Fraser Island and Magnetic Island. It will go straight over your head most likely, that it did with me and I didn’t know much about what the trips would actually entail. If you do like me and Mark and book your whole trip as a whole, the number of different trips on offer will baffle you and often leave you unsure of what you want to book. First tip, do your research. For each of these locations there are countless different trips on offer and you don’t want to end up on the wrong one. From party cruises to camping outdoors and driving trips, there’s loads to choose from and it’s important to choose one you think you will enjoy as they are all aimed at different types of groups. For me and Mark, our absolute hands-down favourite trip was Fraser Island, and it’s definitely the one East Coast trip I would go back to do all over again.image

 

What is Fraser Island?

Fraser Island is actually the largest sand Island in the world – sitting just off the East Coast at Noosa the Island covered a huge area of 184,000 hectares which span a length of 123km and a width of 22km. Big right? Well trust me, it feels that big, you can drive for hours up and down the sandy beaches and only cover part of one side of the island. Further inland, the Island is full of lush rain forests, gorgeous sandy beaches and don’t get me started on those crystal clear lakes that are hidden away in the centre. Bursting at the seams with natural beauty and amazing animals, the Island is a world heritage listed paradise just waiting to be explored and those who book on to exciting four wheel drive trips might be lucky enough to stumble across Australia’s most pure dingo blood line as well as a range of creatures including whales, dolphins, turtles, goannas and more.image

 

What trip should I do?

We chose the three day, two night Nomads Fraser Island Tag-Along Tour which is advertised here for $459 and includes all food/accommodation on the Island (in a hostel type setting and is the only one that doesn’t leave you camping on the beach) but it also gives you a night in Nomads included in the price both before and after the trip. Just to point out, we also paid significantly less for this trip by booking a huge package deal at the beginning of the trip because we were given bigger discounts but even at this price it is worth it. During the trip you are separated off into cars of about seven or eight people, with drivers and passengers in each – if you have a licence you can take it in turns to take the wheel which is the best bit of the trip! The tour leader drives the first vehicle and then we had one automatic and one manual vehicle so it’s suitable for all types of drivers. The guide will take you off roading for the three days with plenty of time exploring incredible locations including “the fresh waters of Lake McKenzie, the shipwrecked remains of the ‘Maheno’ and the spectacular views from Indian Head. Relax in the ‘Champagne Pools’ or take a trek to the Hammerstone Sandblow. Abundant in native flora and fauna, explore the tropical rainforests of Central Station, the coloured sands of the Cathedrals and at Lake Allom see fresh water turtles. Drive 4×4 along 75 mile beach, explore the sand dunes and swim in Lake Wabby. Picnic at Lake Garawongera or float down Eli Creek.” Despite being organised by Nomads – who you guys will know I have been less than impressed with before – it was a great and well organised trip.image

 

What was the trip actually like?

It was absolutely bloody amazing. From start to finish I don’t think I laughed as hard anywhere else on the East Coast, nor did I meet funnier or more amazing people. It always comes down to the people you meet – it doesn’t matter how awesome the place is, if you don’t have great people with you it will only ever be an average experience. The people on my Fraser Island trip made it for us, they made our East Coast experience because two different groups of them met up with us later on for other trips. We were actually lucky enough to have two of the girls on our Whitsundays trip and three of the boys were with us in both Airlie Beach and Cairns which was an amazing reunion! We were lucky and our whole gang bonded pretty much instantly which set us up for an amazing time playing in the lakes, driving like maniacs along the beach and whale spotting. The accommodation was brilliant and we really appreciated not camping because it did get cold at night there, we were staying in four bed dorms must metres from the beach where we were stargazing at night and dingo spotting in the day.imageAs you can see from the pictures, Fraser Island truly needs no filter – but I love them so hey. During the few days we visited Mackenzie Lake and the Champagne Pools which were both absolutely beautiful, the lake was filled with crystal clear waters and the pools were perfect for an afternoon dip and trying to catch fish. Indian Head was worth a stop-off because this was the first place I spotted whales on the East Coast – the whole horizon was filled with water spurting from their blowholes and below us sharks circled. As you’re driving along the beach keep your eyes peeled because there are whales swimming alongside the Island and they always wave a fin to say hello. Swimming at Eli Creek is a refreshing way to spend the last few hours of the trip and don’t forget to check out the Maheno – a huge shipwreck on the beach. My favourite part was definitely Mackenzie Lake and the driving around the island – I was the only girl in the car and definitely gave the boys a fright with my driving.image

 

What to pack?

Pack light – just a small bag with one or two changes of clothes, swimmers, mosquito repellent if you get bitten a lot, warm clothes for nighttime, lots of goon and a towel. You seriously don’t need much and you probably won’t bother to shower when you’re there, none of us did. Make sure you take your camera and even better if it’s a waterproof one!

Have you been to Fraser Island – what did you think? What tour did you choose? Which was your favourite East Coast tour? 

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Luang Prabang – Playing mermaid in the waterfalls

imageIt’s been a while since I had the opportunity to indulge my inner mermaid, so when we heard about the huge waterfalls in Luang Prabang, we simply had to make sure we went there. Now I have to clarify that despite my initial excitement, I was taking the word “waterfall” with a good dose of cynicism. Throughout visiting waterfalls in Thailand, I became more and more aware that the word waterfall was being used to describe any drop in the water level from one centimetre to fifteen metres. The problem is that traditionally for us westerners, we expect something closer to Niagara Falls when we hear waterfall, so we get a bit underwhelmed if we head to one on the map and there is just a trickle of water with an inch drop. This happened a few times in Thailand, but don’t worry there are plenty of amazing waterfalls there as well. But I have to say, none I had seen previously could even compare to Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang.imageimageI ended up travelling through the whole of Laos with two amazing sisters, Phoebe and Bridie, after meeting them originally in Chiang Mai and then again in Pai. So by this time we were pretty sure we were meant to be good friends – the universe doesn’t push you together with people like that again and again without damn good reason. So with our bikinis ready and a picnic in our bags, we hopped in the tuk tuk to get there. Now we had chosen a private tuk tuk because it worked out only a tiny bit more expensive than the organised tour – we wanted to get there earlier so that we could beat the crowds and we thought it would be worth it to pay a tiny bit extra. We were wrong. The tuk tuk driver couldn’t find our guest house so he was late, then he decided to pick up a random couple on holiday from their home in Vietnam, and a monk! He then told us it would take an hour to arrive – we were pretty fed up by this point. Finally we arrived and headed into the waterfalls after paying a small entry fee. There are places to buy food and drink here if you do visit, and there are toilets.imageimageTo get to the waterfalls we had to walk through a black bear sanctuary run by a charity, it was pretty cute to see the black bears play fighting, swinging around on ropes and cooling off in the water. They looked well cared for and the charity was collecting money for their care and conservation work so hopefully they were honest and not just using the bears as an attraction. We arrived at the first level of the waterfalls and were overwhelmed by the stunning blue, green colour of the water in the lagoon that lay before us – apparently the colour is due to a reaction between the calcium in the rock. It was stunning to say the least and we quickly jumped into the cold water, swam around, climbed the rocks and jumped off with some guys who were doing backflips. It was so much fun that we almost forgot there were other levels and we only moved on because others were coming into what had previously been our own private pool. Amazingly, the next level was even more spectacular with more places to swim and take photos, and they all just kept getting bigger and better! We were wondering how the next could possibly beat the last but it always did.imageimageMy favourite level was the one where you could swim in a huge pool – it was the busiest unfortunately – but there was also a tree you could jump off into the water. It was awesome and I was the first girl up there, obviously in true ladylike style and with all the grace I could muster, I cannonballed down. But there were so many others that were so beautiful – ones where you could stand under the waterfall, ones where you could sit on rocks, ones where you could jump in. It was such a fun day and we finished it by heading up to the main part of the waterfall where you’re not allowed to swim – we wanted to climb up to the top and look down. But somehow we managed to reach the top and follow the wrong sign and ended up walking back down again and missing the lookout part – we also skipped the caves which are a bit of a walk from the waterfall and we had to get back to catch our ride back. We spent at least three or four hours there and we could have spent longer quite happily, so make sure your tuk tuk gives you enough time to really enjoy and make sure you don’t miss this amazingly beautiful landmark. It looks like something out of a Disney movie it’s just so perfect!image

 

Have you been to Kuang Si Waterfalls – what was your favourite part? Are you planning a trip to Laos, or would you like to go there? 

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Stepping back 160 million years to the real Jurassic Park – Khao Sok (Part 1)

imageOne of my favourite experiences in Thailand so far has definitely been my time spent in a 160 million year old rainforest slap bang in the centre of the country. When my Lonely Planet and a few websites all described Khao Sok as the ‘real Jurassic Park’ it definitely captured my imagination and conjured up a few images – but nothing prepared me for the real beauty of this completely wild landscape. Coming from the southern islands, it was a complete change of surroundings – from perfect beaches to untamed, lush green forest. It was just what I was in need of, after the bustling, busy time in Phuket Town I was craving some nature and exercise. I was in for a treat, and after a long day spent on a bus with my newfound friend, we pitched up at the road to the national park and were jumped on by the touts trying to sell rooms at their places. In an amazing coincidence, I had planned to stay at Jungle Huts which is recommended by Lonely Planet, the first to approach me was from Jungle Huts and was offering me a treehouse bungalow there for a few hundred less than I had planned to spend – winning!imageAfter settling in and taking a walk round the village, it was time for some serious food and a few drinks with a group of German and Swedish people I had met. That night I had the best nights sleep listening to the jungle sounds of crickets, bats and the occasional monkey and woke up ready to take on the rainforest. I actually headed into the park by myself that first day and planned to spend the day exploring by myself, but overhearing two very familiar accents at the entrance was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up meeting a couple from Suffolk just minutes into my walk and before you knew it we had teamed up together and hiked around 15km through the park over the course of a day, stopping only to swim in waterfalls spread along the jungle path. It was brilliant, just the exercise my body had been craving and great to get off the beaten path a bit. The travellers you meet in Khao Sok are there on purpose and are a different type to those you meet elsewhere, so it was great to find other people who were after the same experience I was.imageThe couple were actually staying at Jungle Huts as well so that evening we met for dinner and planned to take the overnight trip to the man-made lake that stood in the middle of the park. It was the best decision we could have made and we all went to bed really excited for what the next two days would hold – with promises of caving, hiking, swimming and much more! We also met a small group of people who would be in our tour group the next day which was brilliant and the A Team began to take shape. The next morning, we met our group early and set out on our trip with our tour leader, Mr A – a total legend. After a short drive to pick up snacks and out to the lake, we caught a long tail boat across – an amazing journey that showed us the beauty of the landscape with towering cliffs, vast open spaces and dense jungle all sitting alongside each other. It was heaven rushing across the open water like that and the group of 16 were all beyond excited to see where we would be staying that night. The group was a total mixture of ages from late teens to 60’s, but we all had a great time together.imageimageWe arrived at the lake huts which were all sitting on a giant raft that had been built on the water, the whole thing rocked like crazy every time anyone walked on it and we were all a bit nervous about what the walk would be like after a beer or two! After lunch, we set out for a long hike to a cave in the middle of the jungle, it was amazing. After a short ride on the boat, we hiked through jungle, under towering rocks and over fallen trees, to reach the cave, which we then started making our way through by torchlight. It definitely wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be if the lights went out with snakes, massive spiders and huge frogs living deep within. There were several parts where we had to wade through rushing water, and one point where we actually had to swim with our torches in our mouths, it was awesome! Just the kind of adventurous stuff we were all craving, and the real lack of health and safety made it even more exciting! We all arrived back at the lake huts and dove straight into the lake, which we were told in some places reached depths of 120m, but never got cold. It was strangely warm at all times, but perfect for swimming!imageimageThat night was spent eating a delicious dinner of freshly caught and barbecued fish with the A Team, followed by beers and a night safari where we saw monkeys and stargazed from the long tail boat. It was so beautiful and as someone who loves a bit of stargazing, it was gorgeous to get such an amazing open view of the sky where it was so dark, the stars have never looked to clear. We all went to bed happy and prepared to get up early – at 7am for the morning safari although as all group of us planned to be up even earlier for something very special. There was a group of about six of us who bonded pretty quickly and we decided we wanted to get up to watch the sun rise while out on the lake in canoes. It was amazing and I’ll tell you more about that in part two of my posts.image

 

Tell me about your favourite travelling experience – which places have really made an impact on you? Have you explored any national parks around the world? 

Ab Lucy sign off

 

 

Railey – getting back to basics in this rugged landscape

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After Koh Phi Phi, I was exhausted and desperate for a break and a chance to relax on a beach soaking up some sun. I’m not as young as I used to be and four big nights in a row, dragging my sorry self back to the hostel at 5am and then getting back up at 8am for a full day of fun was hard on my body. I loved it and didn’t want to miss a second of hanging out with amazing people, but I had already done longer on this party central island than most and was keen to get away. So when Tibby had to head off to his next destination, I took my chance to head to another new place – hoping for a more chilled out vibe. I certainly got it, Railey is about as chilled out as it gets and although it didn’t quite charm me like Koh Lanta, I loved it for many different reasons. I actually met a girl on the ferry over there and we ended up spending the next few days together, relaxing and chatting. When we arrived, clamouring out of a long tail boat at the shore and splashing through the waves with our bags, we headed to Railey Headlands where we were hoping to stay in bungalows at Railey Cabana but after a long walk they were fully booked, so we treated ourselves and stayed in the hotel next door for the night.

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The first night, we were tired but wanted to explore so we heard west for dinner where the nice beach was, but realised this was the family area so after food we walked to the east side – yes it is that small – where we found lots of monkeys chasing us along the way. But when we arrived, we knew this is where we wanted to stay, bars lined the shore, restaurants overlooking the sea, chilled out backpackers and reggae music galore. The next morning we moved there to a place high up above the shore where bungalows surrounded this restaurant, Rapala Rockwood was a great place to stay, although the steps killed my legs every day, and was full of fabulous backpackers who all wanted to make friends. Me and the girl I had met shared a bungalow the first night before she flew to Malaysia, then I stayed on alone in it for about five days. I met some fabulous Swedish girls, a small group from Austria and a few others who had been travelling across Peru and Nepal. So many interesting people and the locals were fantastic as well – the girls and I spent one evening teaching a Thai guy who worked where we were staying English – he actually did really well!

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I also had a magical evening where I stumbled across the Israeli guys who had been travelling Nepal and Peru and had brought a whole suitcase of instruments including a guitar, ukulele, flute, and a few others, plus a didgeridoo! We spent a night just playing the instruments, singing and having a laugh – one of those totally unexpected moments in life that you will remember forever. Especially my terrible attempts on the didgeridoo! I also spent most nights hanging out at the reggae bars below my accommodation, before heading to The Last Bar which has the most amazing fire show I have seen yet, set to dubstep, I have never seen them move so fast or so dangerously, and with so many mistakes, you know they are the most daring yet! Plus the Muay Thai boxing on some nights was brilliant – finally one that doesn’t look stylised and choreographed! I would definitely recommend if you happen to be staying there as most of the other bars close down early – a blessing if you’re in need of some early nights, undisturbed sleep and peace & quiet!

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There’s not a huge amount to report from Railey, as much of my time was spent laying on the beach, watching fire shows, swimming, sleeping and battling rubbish wifi. But it was a great in-between place to relax and rest after a hectic few days. Lots of people I met in Krabi after were just making day trips to Railey, which is also a great option as there isn’t much to do there apart from rock climbing and relaxing. You could easily experience it in a day, although I’m glad I stayed a few days. It was really nice to stay in such a rugged and wild landscape, totally different to how flat Koh Lanta was and so quiet compared to Koh Phi Phi. I loved seeing monkeys running around, huge cliffs towering over the beach and lush jungle between the east and west side. Such a contrast to other places I have visited and so striking as you’ll see from my photos.

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Have you been to Railey? What did you think? Where’s your favourite place to go when you need to chill out? 

Ab Lucy sign off

Saying goodbye to the UK

sun 3As I’m sure you can imagine, last week flew by in a blur of family time, catching up with friends and saying my goodbyes, packing and a constant battle between eating my fill of British food to last me the next year and working it off at the gym to get my body even remotely bikini ready. As you read this, I’ll be somewhere in Bangkok – hopefully wandering around a market eating delicious food and taking in the sights. I’ll be spending the first couple of days in a hotel, getting my bearings and making a firmer plan for the upcoming weeks and meeting up with friends. I’m sure it will only just be starting to register that this is how my life will be for the next year – no more getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work in cold, raining England – but finally what I have been working for and planning for over 12 months is finally a reality! I can’t quite believe it myself. sun 2sun 1I have to be honest, I’ve had the worst possible run of news stories since booking my flights – it seems there’s pretty much been a murder on a Thai beach, a shark attack in Australia, or a plane going missing every bloody week! Great for reassuring my mother I’m going to survive my trip, and great for reassuring me that I’m going to survive my flight. It’s okay though, I’ve never been much of a worrier so I’m putting all these news stories to the back of my mind and just doing everything I can to avoid being mugged, raped, murdered or involved in some horrible incident. In the meantime though, I have been doing my utmost to make sure I have some very special memories of home, my family and my friends. I’m sure there will come a time when homesickness strikes and I am very glad of them! As you guys will have already read by now – I’ve got some pretty good ones in the bag after a perfect Christmas with the family, my Mexican-themed New Year’s, my Nineties-themed Leaving Party, and a couple of lovely dates with the boyfriend.IMG_7416sunrise 1This post is just a quick one to show you what else I got up to in the week between Christmas and flying out. My week started with a bracing, windy walk on the beach with my parents at Sunny Hunny – we have a beach hut there and it was a chance for me to say goodbye to the hut as I won’t be seeing it for over a year. It was a beautiful day, very frosty and the coldest morning yet of 2014, but perfectly fresh at the same time. I love walking at the beach on cold, sunny days – the air is so clean and it really does blow away all the cobwebs. It was great to get some serious fresh air and some colour in my cheeks – plus with that and a few workouts, it was great to get past feeling so stuffed with all the delicious Christmas food. We covered about six miles and it was good to spend some time back by the sea – my inner mermaid was satisfied. As you can see scattered around this post there are a few pics I captured while by the sea – it’s such a pretty place.spa paniniI also had a lovely day at the spa with my mum where we were treated to a lovely facial and full body massage, plus lots of lovely steam rooms, Prosecco and cake. A pretty perfect mummy and daughter day – it was really lovely to have a day just the two of us before I go. This was followed by New Year celebrations, catch-up’s with the boyfriend’s family and other friends and then my long-awaited Leaving Party! The week finished with a lovely family meal with my parents and grandad – then some sad goodbyes with my best friends and the boyfriend. Then before I knew it, my parents were driving me down to Heathrow and I was on a plane, and whoaa now I’m in Bangkok. Life is pretty crazy sometimes, but crazy good. After a really rubbish start to the year, I couldn’t have ended it on a better note.relax

What have you guys been up to? Are you sad to say goodbye to 2014, or are you already head-first into making 2015 the best yet?

Ab Lucy sign off