Tag Archives: outdoors

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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Melbourne | Escaping to Lysterfield | Australia

image1-2I’m not much of a city girl, being born and raised out in the English countryside seems to swing you one way or the other. My sister is the ultimate city girl living in London and working in the fashion industry, but while I’ve loved the crazy hustle and bustle of visiting cities like Bangkok, Siem Reap and Hanoi, I’m always glad to escape again to the coast, countryside or mountains. I crave space, open fields, endless ocean or the fresh mountain air, too long spent breathing in the fumes of the city, dealing with traffic and so many people drives me crazy. Living in Melbourne was the longest I have ever lived in the middle of a city other than Sydney, and I know the old rivalry between the two is still strong for good reason. Both are amazing cities but Melbourne is where my heart is, even before I left the UK I knew it would be and everything I experienced while I lived there for four months only further cemented my love for the city. Melbourne is a fantastic city to live in if you don’t really like cities – despite my apartment being in the most central part of the city I never felt trapped the way I do in London. The beach was just a short tram ride away and on either side of my apartment you would find beautiful Albert Park and the Botanic Gardens with running tracks, endless open space and huge lakes. It was perfect for me, but even with all of this natural beauty surrounding me, it did sometimes get a bit too much living directly in the city. I’d still feel the need to escape and get away.13043643_10153463041487617_1676119061737887273_nNow I hadn’t even heard of Lysterfield Park, nor had many of my friends who had lived in Melbourne for a lot longer than I had, but it turned out to be the perfect pace to cycle away a hangover one Sunday. Around 30km out of the city, the park was created following the decommissioning of the reservoir that sits behind us in the photo above, which has left a beautiful woodland set against the banks of the lake. It was the venue for mountain biking events of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and features a wide array of trails suitable for beginners like myself or the more experienced rider. I was definitely feeling a little less enthusiastic at the thought of mountain biking on a hangover than Evan, but it turned out to be a really lovely day and perfect weather for escaping the city. We rode around the park and I attempted the mountain bike trails while he showed off. Wandering around the lake the banks were filled with families who had come well prepared with barbecues and all sorts of goodies. It was beautiful standing there as the sun was setting. We headed back into the woods to find the car and spotted some of the biggest kangaroos I’ve seen in the whole of Australia as we rode along the path towards the car park.image2-2We ended up having a rather entertaining drive home as the car decided to pack in and leave us stranded until we could get a lift, but it didn’t take the shine off what was a rather perfect day. It was just the death of fresh air I needed before heading back to work the following day – when you’re working 12 hour days six days a week, it becomes even more important to really make the most of your days off. It was really nice to have the opportunity to see another part of the city that I hadn’t yet explored. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Lysterfield, I would really recommend you head out there one weekend – whether you like biking, running or just fancy a nice stroll around beautiful park, it’s a lovely day out and well worth a visit. While you’re at it, why not check to some of the other stunning walks and parks scattered around Melbourne – check out my blog posts on Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway National Park and Grampians National Park. I can’t wait to visit the Wilson’s Promontory, Dandenong Ranges National Park and Philip Island when I return to Melbourne in a few months.13139215_10153486432222617_5936569580819338290_n

 

Do you crave city life, or you prefer a country escape? Where are your favourite places to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city?

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Da Lat | The Place To Get Adventurous | Vietnam

imageAfter days of stuffing my face with Hoi An’s delicious food, me and the boys decided to catch a sleeper bus to Da Lat and to get physical. Da Lat is the place to go in Vietnam if you fancy getting a bit adventurous – there’s no end of mountain biking, hiking, climbing, abseiling, canyoning and countless other outdoor activities. So it’s the perfect place to release your inner Jungle Jane and to liven up your trip a bit. It was a great contrast to the culture, beauty and heat of Hoi An to arrive in the mountains in this rugged and exciting landscape with skies filled with angry storm clouds. We were lucky, our bus pulled up outside Da Lat Central Hostel, which normally I wouldn’t trust as the first accommodation I see. But this turned out to be really cheap and fantastic accommodation – it was the cleanest and most luxurious hostel I had seen in the whole of Vietnam and if I were to return, I would definitely stay there again. Plus it was just down the street from the biggest bakery in Da Lat, which me and the boys frequented on a daily basis for coffee and delicious cakes – I was getting a bit addicted to the banana cake which I swear was the best I’ve ever had!imageWe only had a few days to make the most of Da Lat and we didn’t want to waste a second – I’d been eager to get here ever since arriving in Vietnam and hearing about all the awesome things we could do there. We headed straight out to check out the Crazy House which is a pretty unusual sight you have to see with your own eyes. It’s amazing architecture that belongs in Disney or some kind of theme park and the place has a great history I’d recommend you read about or ask about while there. You won’t need long to walk around it, perhaps an hour or two at most… We had to be quick as we could see a huge storm rolling in across the mountains and this was not somewhere we wanted to be stuck in the cold and rain after a long overnight bus ride and no sleep. We did get caught in the rain, and boy did it rain! When it rains in Da Lat, it really rains – not for long, but bloody hard! We were soaked and had to get a taxi back to the hostel but we’re so happy to arrive there where hot showers and our beds were waiting for us. After a nice nap, it was time for dinner and I headed out to the market down the road with friend Paul who has just as huge an appetite as me – we were determined to try as much food as possible. While he was wolfing down soup and barbecued meats, I plumped for a seafood platter of some delicious shellfish topped with garlic and herbs – all freshly caught and so tasty!imageThe next day we had booked in for what was quite frankly the best $20 I have spent since travelling – CANYONING! I had been waiting for a chance to do this ever since I was in Thailand – word had spread that far among travellers that I knew it must be good, but I had no idea how amazing it would be. We booked the trip through the hostel, but you can also go to the two main tour operators in town and book it through them – anyone will be able to direct you. We were picked up at about 8am and were whisked away in the minibus with our guides for the day who named themselves Tom and Jerry, much to our amusement. They were fantastic guides and really gave us all the support, help and encouragement we needed to take on free-jumping, abseiling and rock climbing without fear. I love stuff like this and was eager to throw myself off a few waterfalls and do something a bit scary. We were hooked up to harnesses and strapped on our gorgeous orange helmets and life jackets – we looked amazing. Then we were shown how to rappel down the steep cliff side towards the river, we then had to test our skills by actually abseiling down the side of the rock into the water. After that little taste we were excited to get on with the day and moved on to the first couple of abseils which took us into strong rushing waters where we skidded down natural water slides and floated down lazy parts of the river. We completed three huge challenges which saw us abseiling down the cliff and into waterfalls or the river.imageThe final one – the washing machine – was pretty scary because we couldn’t actually see what the hell we were letting ourselves in for! My favourite was the second one where we climbed down a huge waterfall in our socks before letting go about halfway and dropping the rest of the height into the river. It was amazing – such a rush! We also completed free jumps including one from around 18m which nearly broke my face as I accidentally face planted the water – holy shit that hurt. (Don’t worry – there’s a smaller one to choose if you prefer!) But I’m so happy I did it and showed that I could – Tom, or Jerry, thought I’d be too scared but I wasn’t! Definitely ended up with a fat lip though.. That’ll teach me to be stubborn! It was an amazing day it one that luckily ended when it did as a huge storm rolled in and turned the jungle into a swamp with rivers running down the cliffs we then had to try and climb to get back to the van – I genuinely didn’t think I would survive this climb, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was one second away from giving up and sliding down the hill back into the river when we made it to the road. Covered in mud, scratches and practically drowning in the torrential downpour – after six months in baking heat it was a strange experience to see, hear and feel real weather! I can’t tell you how amazing the hot shower felt after that day in the woods, and I can’t tell you how much my body hurt after that day, but it was all so worth it and I can’t recommend it enough!imageThe next day, we wanted to make sure we got out for a few hours before our night bus to Ho Chi Minh so we decided to ward off our aches and pains with a nice bike ride out to some nearby waterfalls. We hired mountain bikes for a few dollars and headed out in the sunshine for a cycle round the beautiful lake where boats and swan pedalos bobbed peacefully, then we stopped off at some lovely gardens where we bumped into a friend from our dorm in Hoi An – it was a great little reunion so he joined us to cycle to the waterfalls. We headed out of town and started out along the 7km ride, it was easy – all downhill and a great view across the rolling forest. Until it dawned on us we had to cycle back up the bloody hill to get back! We nearly stopped and headed back after suddenly feeling like we wouldn’t have time to get back before the afternoon storm – but then we realised how close we were and couldn’t resist.

Datanla Falls are definitely worth the visit and the ride out there is great – we went on the little luge ride to get to the bottom and took a few snaps by the waterfall before luging our way back up, just in time to move the bikes out of the rain. We sheltered at the restaurant and had some of the worst Vietnamese food I’ve had while waiting there… But the views across the jungle were amazing! After the skies cleared and the rain slowed, we quickly jumped on the bikes dreading the journey ahead but despite some horrible uphill struggles, we actually made it back really quickly. Just in time to shower and catch our bus to Saigon. Now I spent all of 12 hours in the city and went to see the palace, but that was about it. Personally, I preferred to spent my time in Da Lat and Hoi An, and I’m glad I made that decision, but it’s totally up to you what you choose.image

 

Have you been to Da Lat? We’re you brave enough for canyoning? Where else have you been that you could recommend for outdoorsy types? 

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Sleeping under the stars and watching the sun rise over the jungle in Khao Sok (part 2)

imageI woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I’d ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.imageimageI won’t lie, there’s something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it’s just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I’ve never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn’t the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.imageimageThe others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari – nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.imageimageThe hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam – even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.imageimageKhao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo – and believe me I’ve seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like – you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.image

 

 

Tell me about the places you’ve travelled to that really stood out in your mind – what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks? 

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