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imageThere’s so many amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips and experiences just waiting for you on the East Coast of Australia, but none quite so well known and impressive as the Great Barrier Reef. This iconic natural wonder is the world’s largest coral reef and is one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the country and backpackers travelling up the East Coast. When you arrive in Cairns, this is the main trip you just cannot miss out on, everywhere you walk there are ticket touts and travel agencies trying to get you booked on the trip of a lifetime, promising a chance to swim with sea turtles, dolphins and even sharks. We had already booked our trip as part of our overall East Coast package and had chosen the Osprey V Premium Reef Cruise from Down Under Cruise and Dive which offered the chance to snorkel, scuba dive, to cruise on the boat and even to see the reef from the air with a helicopter ride back to shore. We were so excited for the trip, it was our chance to see some amazing wildlife and to have a go at diving for the first time. Sadly it wasn’t to be, Mark had the chance to try his first dive but I had just had a cold and wasn’t able to try it out, I stuck to snorkelling instead. We met at the jetty early in the morning – we had been good and not gone out the night before so weren’t hungover thank goodness, we needed all our energy for the day ahead.

Before we knew it we were powering out to sea on a fabulous catamaran with the crew who introduced themselves and gave all the guests a chance to get to know each other. There was a real range of people on the trip, from some much older people to others who were barely 18, some were backpackers and others were on family holidays, others didn’t even speak English as a first language. It was great to have such a diverse group and just showed that the reef is an incredible draw for people from all over the world, from all cultures and countries. Some of the guests were serious divers, others were beginners, and others didn’t even plan to get off the boat – they were just there for the boat and helicopter rides. Even though I was so excited to snorkel at this point, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disheartened by the dark, stormy-looking skies that were darkening the ride out to sea. The crew said not to worry about the weather, that we wouldn’t let it get to us but it could be a bit choppy going out to sea – all I can say is, I’m glad I grabbed handfuls of the ginger seasickness tablets they were handing out. I was dreading feeling seasick because it does just ruin your day, I had packed my own Travelcalm tablets but I hate taking medicine for it because it often makes you feel worse. The ginger tablets were incredible and I would swear by them from now on – they rid me of pretty much all my nausea and didn’t make me feel tired or groggy. When we arrived at the first snorkel site, I was eager to get in the water and suited up in my snorkel, flippers and wetsuit.imageOkay so I want to stress at this point, that all of my complaints about the trip have nothing to do with the crew who were absolutely amazing. It was frustratingly all down to the weather and the elements, which cannot be helped, but it did ruin the trip for me. The first dive and snorkel site was extremely open and with no real shelter from the swell and the wind, it was difficult to actually swim there. Not only was the current so strong that it kept dragging us away from the fish and pushing us into the boat, but it also meant we were exhausted very quickly despite being strong swimmers. I barely saw anything worth noting at the site because I was far too busy trying not to end up being slammed against the side of the boat by the waves. Mark was having a much better time on his first dive which took him lower in the water so he was less affected by the waves, the instructors were great and he pretty much had one-on-one coaching through every step. Back on the boat, the waves were getting rougher as we headed out further to sea and lunch was served – the food was amazing but sadly it was difficult to enjoy after spending hours being thrown around the boat and in the waves. I might not have felt sick but I definitely felt unsettled and exhausted. Unfortunately a lot of other people on the boat were feeling sick and suddenly it was turning into sick city – everywhere you turned people were going green, grabbing sick bags and running for the back of the boat. We must have been almost the only pair on there who didn’t get sick – it was horrific!

At the second dive site, one guy was unable to go in the water because he was so sick from the waves and several others were huddled on the floor in corners. The staff had their work cut out with everyonebeing so I’ll, but you can’t fault them, their enthusiasm never faltered and they looked after everyone while continuing to rally the remaining troops into the water. We were pretty cold by now but still eager to get in the water at what we were told would be a much more sheltered site, we were glad to find it was much better and with lots more to see. I spotted a shark swimming along, loads of Nemos and all kinds of rainbow fish but it was still an anticlimax after swimming with sea turtles the previous week. We climbed back on the boat happy that we had actually seen a shark and prepared for the ride home. This was when it all went a bit crazy – a poor woman who had been suffering badly with seasickness all day was knocked off her feet as she came out of the toilet by a passing wave. She went flying and smacked her head on the wall, it started bleeding and she started being sick – it was horrible, we couldn’t even get to her straight away because of the crazy waves. Luckily the crew managed to get her up and sitting at a table but she was so ill and frightened by the whole thing that she had to be helicoptered back to the shore. It was all a bit dramatic and after all the vomit and stress of the day, it really killed what little good mood was left. Eventually we headed back to Cairns and you have to give it to the crew, there was one guy in particular who decided to get up and start singing all the old classics – he had everyone singing along and laughing. It was a much better end to the day, but we were gutted to have missed out on the Great Barrier Reef experience. I’m never one to give up – I will be going back to do it again when the weather is better and hope to have a completely different trip.

How was your Great Barrier Reef trip? Did you have a better experience? Can you recommend any good companies?

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imagePacking is one of the hardest parts of preparing to go travelling. In your mind you dream of gallivanting on a beach with your slender, tanned frame draped in gorgeous, floaty fabrics looking like something out of an advert for Free People. The reality is, there’s just not much space for outfits like that in a 65 litre backpack! Suddenly your dreams are shattered when you realise how little space you have to pack up your whole life and carry it around with you for the next year. There’s a reason I never wrote a packing list until now, and it’s because I really do think it is difficult to provide a general one for all as each person values different items at different amounts, plus if you’re travelling to different places it makes it difficult to pack for all weathers. I had an easy job at first because I was packing for South East Asia where I knew I would be needing just very light clothing, swimwear and sandals. I packed extremely lightly and decided to buy stuff along the way if I needed more clothing, and most of the items I took with me were ones I already had instead of buying new when I knew it would be cheaper in Asia. But when it came to arriving in Australia I was totally unprepared – I had no clothes for city life just hippy tie-dye dresses and flip-flips. I had to buy jumpers and even a coat just so that I could stay warm in the Sydney winter. But I didn’t mind this too much because it just meant that I hadn’t needed to carry the items around Asia for five months with me.

I’ve definitely noticed over time that there are some items that I packed way back when I first set out in January that have stayed with me ever since and remain as useful as ever, while a lot of other things I brought with me have since found their way to the bin or charity shop. These are the things I want to talk about because some of these things are the ones you might not think of when packing your bag, but they might turn out to be the things you need most. Check out my list below:

  1. One pair of leggings, jeans and tights. These have been a saviour and are still used all the time – the jeans were my saviour when I arrived in Sydney and it was freezing, while the leggings are the comfiest thing ever to travel in on long bus rides or flights when the air con gets a bit much. Tights are just great – they can go under any dress, playsuit or shorts and help to make them look a bit smarter or just keep you warm but take up no room at all in your bag.
  2. Sportswear and a good pair of trainers. You might not be the sportiest person in the world, but when you’re walking everywhere, you’re trekking through jungles or up mountains, or you’re walking on uneven ground, trainers are a godsend. They do take up a big of space in your bag, but if you get super cute and comfy ones you’ll end up wearing them most of the time when you’re travelling, or just tie them on to the bag. Sports shorts, yoga pants and sports bras are great because they not only look really good, they’re comfy for travelling in and for doing all kinds of activities. (M and M Direct)
  3. A scarf or pashmina. Pick up one in Bangkok’s markets, they’re gorgeous. This is such a fantastic item to have in your hand luggage or handbag at all times – throughout Asia I never left the hostel without it. It’s so good to have one on a flight or bus when the air con gets too cold, or just to have it to sling around your shoulders as a mark of respect if you stumble across a temple or shrine you just have to explore. With so many religious sites in Asia, it’s always good to be prepared.
  4. Padlocks. I say plural because it’s always a good idea to have one larger one and a few smaller ones – it was so important to have a larger one to lock up your valuables in Asia because there were thieves around and your money/passport/iPad is worth a lot more there. But it’s also good to have some smaller padlocks for your bag when travelling on buses or trains. It gives you peace of mind more than anything.
  5. Memory cards. Always pack a few of different sizes just in case one is unreliable or decides to let you down when you’re in the middle of nowhere and see something incredible. You don’t want to be stuck without enough storage when you’re travelling – there’s just too much to capture.
  6. If you’re travelling in Asia, you might not arrive with it but you should definitely pick up some coconut oil. It’s amazing stuff and I swear by it – you can use it for anything, your skin, face, hair, nails, lips… And it all comes in one bottle. Trust me, when backpacking the less bottles you have weighing you down the better, plus it’s cheap over there.
  7. More than one adapter – luckily I packed three because when I arrived in Asia, I found that one of them would only work in certain plug sockets while the other would work in all of them, and my other one was specifically for Australia. Now remember you can buy them along the way so don’t carry them unnecessarily, but it’s always good to have a spare.
  8. When I first went travelling I packed make-up remover wipes, now I swear by baby wipes. They’re cheaper, come in bigger packs, better for your skin and you can use them for anything. They’re so great for when you’re travelling long-haul on a flight, bus or train and just want to feel clean again.
  9. Tiger balm or bite cream – just accept it, when you go travelling everything will be trying to eat you alive. Mosquitoes, midges, sandflies, bed bugs and all the rest – you’ll get to a point where you’ve been bitten so much your legs are a mess and you wonder what it was like to not feel itchy. It’s unpredictable and annoying but always best to be prepared – depending on where you are, you will use different products but carrying them with you is a must.
  10. Medical kit – now I’m not talking swabs and gauze, but plasters, Imodium, painkillers and antiseptic wipes can be such a saviour if you fall off a motorbike or are in a car accident and have to clean yourself up, if you become ill or get food poisoning. Just having basic supplies with you can mean the difference between infections and smaller scars, it can mean avoiding an uncomfortable night spent squatting over a train toilet.

When it comes down to it, these are definitely the items that have been used the most out of my backpack and interestingly only two of these items are actually clothes – the most practical. Bear that in mind if you’re packing for a long trip, I know it feels like the most important thing is to look the part but you can buy clothes all over the world and not many people actually care what you look like when you’re travelling – they’re more interested in the smile on your face and the stories you have to tell. I know girls who rocked up to Australia with their hairdryer, straighteners, curlers, a shedload of makeup and a whole wardrobe of going out outfits – I’ll be honest and say you don’t need it. It’s nice to have some of that stuff so you can actually make an effort sometimes, but you don’t need a suitcase full of the stuff, why not save the space and make your bag lighter for travelling further? Plus when you’re moving between places so often, nobody ever realises you’ve been wearing the same outfit on the last 10 nights out. When you’re camping in the outback and haven’t showered for a week, it really doesn’t matter what label you’re wearing. Get back to basics and enjoy it. My best advice, if you plan to travel to Asia, just pack as light as possible and buy everything there – you’ll save a fortune and you’ll only end up buying all the clothes anyway!

What are your most useful items? What do you wish you had packed on your last trip? What do you never leave home without? 

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imageAfter an epic four weeks of travelling up the East Coast – taking in the stunning sights of Fraser Island, Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, traipsing through the national park in Noosa and kayaking across Byron Bay, we were more than ready for the final stop on our tour. Cairns is one that everyone talks about and we were excited to see what it would have to offer – if our previous stops were anything to go by it was going to be pretty amazing! More than anything, we were looking forward to the huge reunion we would have with all of our friends we had met along the way – with countless more stops along the East Coast route, we’d lost some friends to places like 1770 and Mission Beach, but we were all due to arrive in Cairns during the same week. When you’ve got a huge week like this planned, it’s important to have a good hostel ready and waiting for you, and in Cairns there’s only one that people talk about – Gilligan’s! Owned by Base Backpackers, the super-hostel is a multi-level hostel with rooms ranging from four to ten bed, each boasting en suite facilities with a kitchen on every level. To say it was one of the best and most impressive hostels I have stayed in was an understatement – the nightlife was great, the location was perfect being right in the middle of Cairns, it was the cleanest hostel I have ever stayed in and there were loads of deals for those staying there including free backpacker dinners when you bought a drink each evening. We had booked in for four nights, but already planned for stay for at least a week.imageimageAs soon as we arrived the reunions started, we bumped into some friends we had met down in Airlie Beach and Noosa and went for drinks and dinner. That first night there saw us joining upon the fun and games downstairs as the staff had us all playing Bogan Bingo – a hilarious game we ended up playing over a few different nights. The next few days were spent exploring Cairns – we checked out the lagoon and spent a few days sunbathing and barbecuing down there with friends, we headed out in the evenings for drinks and ended up partying in the Woolshed – another place you simply have to go. It was a blur of fun, goon and complete exhaustion – every night we partied and every day we spent the whole thing out in the sun. Between this we had trips planned including The Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation and White Water Rafting Xtreme – more on these in my upcoming posts. So we were fully booked with plans and on top of this we had to find time to hang out with everyone before we all parted ways as some people flew home, others to New Zealand and others to the other side of Australia.imageimageCairns was a great little place, as soon as you arrived it felt like you were on holiday as you could tell most of the people walking the streets were. It was full of shops, bars, restaurants and more, and the lagoon was packed with sunbathers every single day. I could understand how some people could love it and end up staying to work, but personally it wasn’t somewhere I could have stayed longer – I was happy to stay for 10 days of fun with friends but that was what kept me there for so long, not the place. I found myself very aware that it was a holiday town and that people were constantly passing through – that the backpacker culture there was so transient it was less of a culture and more of a business. But that was fine with me, I had no plans to stay longer than we did and I didn’t want to work in Cairns, it was just a perfect end to our East Coast trip. So where did we spend our nights? In true backpacker style, we followed the cheap drinks and food which took us to our own balcony, to Gilligan’s bar, the Woolshed and Irish bar, and for one night we ended up in a bar around the corner after being offered unlimited drinks and pizza for $20 or $30 on a Sunday night. Best advice for saving money, trawl the streets and keep your eyes open for deals – these girls just passed us some leaflets as we crossed the street for that one and it was a great night!imageimageAnother really great night we had in Cairns was actually one when we were bored one night and decided to go out for a drink and a walk. We were walking when we heard a load of fireworks going off and spotted the shower of stars beyond some trees, we headed over and saw that they must have been part of an event that was ongoing at the cruise terminal – naturally the journalist in me wanted to know what was going on and walked straight over. Despite it being a private and ticketed event, we waited until the doormen were distracted then snuck in to find a really lovely party going on. It was celebrating an Aboriginal art exhibition opening and how better than to do that with music, champagne, fireworks and food? We ended up checking out the exhibit which featured pieces worth tens of thousands, hobnobbed with the other guests and enjoyed some fancy foods and fine wine. It was a bit of a treat considering we had been living off scraps for the last week. It was a really refreshing change to be around that kind of event and some of the pieces of art were amazing – we ended up having a really interesting night and it was totally different to what we had been up to every other night. I love when you stumble across things like that.

Have you been to Cairns – what did you think? What was your favourite bar in town? Have you crashed any exciting events? 

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imageI had a pretty intense chat with a friend recently, he was going through a bit of a tough time and had lost his travelling way for a little while. It happens to us all when we get settled in one place for too long – we get antsy, frustrated, feel the need to escape but don’t know where to turn next which can leave some people feeling pretty alone. I know because I went through the same thing at around the same time – it’s the trouble with having a travelling soul, you’re always looking for the next adventure. Most of the time that’s amazing, but if that feeling hits you when you’re stuck working somewhere and have to wait to leave, it can be a killer to your mood. After several people I was really close with left Darwin to start their next adventure, I was pretty down and sick of life there – don’t get me wrong, the city had been an amazing home for me for three months and is full of memories for me. But it was the longest I had spent in one place since starting travelling – while that was just what I needed to start with, it soon became suffocating as more and more people left. I know my friend felt much the same, he was struggling to see why he was still there because he too had never planned to stay as long – he had just fallen in love with the place and the people, as had I.

At the time, I found our conversation hard to hear and talk about, but now – since moving on, it keeps coming flooding back to me and I can’t help but remember one phrase in particular. “When you’re travelling, you’re never alone, but you’re always lonely.” The way my friend came out with that really surprised me, he’s the life and soul of the party and everyone loves him so much, he always puts in every effort and will do anything for his friends. But it just shows you that even the ones who are the centre of so many people’s worlds can be lonely and struggle sometimes. I could totally understand what he was talking about after speaking to another close friend who said: “You form these intense and beautiful bonds with people, but you never really have a lasting connection with those around you because people always leave.” I couldn’t put it anymore perfectly myself – I’ve felt this so many times when I’ve met people and fallen in love with their character, personality and soul. I’ve fallen head over heels for the moments we’ve shared and the things we’ve experienced together. Then just days or even hours later, we part ways and sometimes never see each other again.imageIt’s a hard thing to adapt to and I think that’s why me and my friend were feeling down – we were both so used to being the people who leave and go on to something more exciting to distract us from the sadness of what we have left behind. This time, we were some of the last ones of our gang there and we felt the pain and the loss of every single bright spark who made our time in Darwin as special as it was. I totally understand where my friends were coming from but I can’t help but disagree about the part after people leaving – it can feel like that at times when you’re constantly moving from place to place and don’t get a chance to spend more than a few days together. But there have also been so many times where I have seen it proven how amazingly travellers can come together to create a family that cares for each other no matter what. I saw it when I was in the crash in Cambodia and friends who were scattered across Asia and beyond went out of their way to check I was okay and to even come and look after me until they were happy I was safe enough for them to move on. I saw it in Darwin when something awful happened to a friend of mine and the whole gang rallied around, they did so much by just being there and it just showed how close we all were after just days of knowing each other. I know that I could call on so many of my travelling friends day or night, if every I were in trouble, or just needed a chat, they would be there.

It’s been nearly four months but I still speak to friends I met on the East Coast on a regular basis and am even making plans to be reunited with some of them soon. It’s been nine months since I met one of my most special gangs back in Thailand and I still speak to them every few weeks and even FaceTime despite us all being scattered around the globe now. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have so many connections across the world and is easily one of my favourite things about travelling – these friendships are so special and I treasure them so much. This morning I woke up to around 30 messages from old and new friends and it really showed me that even when I’m working in the middle of nowhere, these friends don’t just forget you. Yes, there are lonely times when travelling – but they’re also the times that really shape you as a person and teach you the important life skill of being on your own and actually enjoying it. There is no light without dark, and as much as there are times when you will feel completely alone, there are times when you will be overrun with people and friendships that will last a lifetime. The important thing is to recognise in other travellers what point they are at in their own journey – be kind and be what others need you to be. When we’re on the road it is more important than ever to look after each other and to support each other – don’t leave anyone lonely, don’t push anyone away. We all need a little family sometimes. The sights are important, but it’s the people that make the real memories.image

 

Have you struggled with feeling alone while travelling? Have you found that perfect travelling gang of friends? Do you manage to stay in contact with other travellers along the way? 

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imageThere’s no doubt about it, backpackers may give it the bigg’un about how few items of clothing we need and how we can survive with just a bar of soap instead of all those luxury beauty items – it’s true, most of the time when you’re on the road you realise you need very little luxury to have the time of your life. But there are times when every single one of us craves a treat, misses some of those home comforts, or just doesn’t want to share a room with seven other people! We all get pushed to our limits in order to keep travelling for as long as possible, and often we don’t realise how much we have sacrificed in order to extend our trip, to make our money last and to keep going just that little longer. I know I’m guilty of it as much as the next person and can remember several times where I have sacrificed staying somewhere nice for an absolute hole just so I can save those pennies to do an awesome boat trip or yoga retreat. I like to weigh things up and instead of ever turning down an experience, I just see which I would rather have – more often than not, a luxurious night in a big, comfy bed with a hot shower is the first to go. But then there are those times when I just can’t stand the thought of staying in another dorm, listening to someone snoring as I lie awake knowing I have to get up in a few hours. Those times when all I crave is space to unpack my bag and some time on my own – we all feel like that sometimes, and it soon becomes all we can think about.

I’ve noticed in my ten months travelling that there are some things that just stay in my mind, things that I perhaps never fully appreciated until I came away. Particularly recently, because I’ve just moved into my own place as part of my new job and have all my food provided for me – I’m suddenly living in more luxury than I have for nearly a year. And it’s really making me realise how grateful I am for even having the opportunity to go away and experience other cultures, to be both deprived and enriched at the same time as I learn to truly value what I have. So in the spirit of being grateful, and of dreaming of far off luxuries – here’s my list of 35 things you really learn to appreciate when you’ve been backpacking for a while:

  1. Personal space – whether it’s the crowds in Asia or just finding room for your bag in an Aussie hostel.
  2. A good night’s sleep – either you’re up all night partying or someone is getting up early to catch a flight.
  3. Your mum’s cooking, or your dad’s, just those comforting foods that remind you of home.
  4. Supermarkets – nothing beats a good supermarket, 7/11s in Asia, IGAs in Oz, they just don’t measure up.
  5. Your own room – being able to shut a door on the world at the end of the day is such an amazing feeling.
  6. A double bed – oh god after battling dorm life, top bunks and all the rest, starfishing is just heaven!
  7. Shampoo and conditioner for your hair type – not just half empty bottles you found in the dorm shower.
  8. Clean kitchenware – in a hostel kitchen shared by 40+ people this can be a rarity.
  9. Finding all your food in the fridge where you left it, no milk missing, or beers stolen.
  10. Sitting on an actual sofa and watching TV – the first thing to go when I left, but perfect for hangovers.
  11. Having wifi all the time, and being able to rely on the connection.
  12. Having phone signal all the time!
  13. Having your hair cut, or your bikini line waxed by a woman who can speak English.
  14. Being able to plug into sockets without using adapters.
  15. Not pulling out coins from six different countries every time you pay, then having to sift through them.
  16. A quiet night in – can’t believe I’m saying it but sometimes it’s all you crave instead of another night out.
  17. A whole wardrobe of clothes to choose from instead of wearing the same outfit, yet again.
  18. A really good roast dinner – sorry but I’ve not found one yet other than back home.
  19. Christmas in the UK – nothing beats it.
  20. Showering without wearing flip flops.
  21. Not being woken up by the sound of someone having sex below you, or above you, or next to you.
  22. Good chocolate – it just doesn’t taste the same overseas, especially in hot countries.
  23. Not having the scars, scratches and bruises that come with traveller’s legs.
  24. Actually having a night out where you look glossy and groomed instead of sweaty and scruffy.
  25. Having your washing done for you instead of having to wait for a hostel washing machine to be free.
  26. Not being eaten alive by mosquitoes, bed bugs, sand flies and whatever else wants to eat us.
  27. Being up-to-date with every detail of the lives of those you love. Being able to be there for them.
  28. Being able to talk to your best friend on a whim instead of dealing with such a huge time difference.
  29. Hot showers. ‘Nuff said.
  30. Simple foods like beans on toast instead of all the spicy curry in Asia.
  31. More exciting foods instead of living off beans on toast and instant noodles.
  32. Being able to buy your alcohol from a supermarket pretty much all the time instead of bottle shops.
  33. Not having sand at the bottom of all your bags and shoes.
  34. Not having permanent flip flop tan lines.
  35. Having a car and not having to rely on public transport.

imageAll of these are things we talk about longingly about with other backpackers over long nights by a fire on the beach, over beers by the swimming pool, or when we meet other travellers. But as much as we talk about how amazing it would be to have a nice long, hot shower with luxurious products before getting into a huge double bed in a private room, we also know we wouldn’t give up this life for the world. That these bed-bug infested rooms and long nights out are worth every second. That the feeling of sand between your toes and those moments when you catch two people at it in the bunk next to you aren’t all part of the experience. That we’ve never felt freer and happier than we do right now. And that every sunset and sunrise brings new excitement into your life at the prospect of what is to come. Home comforts are great, but nothing beats adventure. If you fancy a little luxury and want to leave the kids at home, why not check out the adult-only holidays available at Tropical Sky?

What at home comforts and luxuries do you miss when you’re away from home? Do you like to treat yourself every now and again when backpacking? 

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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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imageWhile in Airlie Beach we couldn’t miss out on one of the most well known trips on the East Coast, the one everyone talks about and the one you’re definitely not supposed to miss out on – Whitsundays. We had been looking forward to this one and after Fraser Island our expectations were high. Now I’ll be honest from the start and say that our trip was still fun and amazing, but it was a bit of a disappointment and nowhere near as good as Fraser. This was completely out of the hands of our guides, unfortunately the weather was a bit temperamental and pretty cloudy when we were out on the boat – unavoidable and such a shame as the weather before and after our trip was amazing. We left the harbour in brilliant sunshine and arrived back to a gorgeous day. It was just that bit in the middle – you know, the trip itself – where unfortunately clouds filled the sky and it even rained on us at points. We were heading out to the open ocean with Powerplay, which apparently is one of the most expensive cruises you can book but we luckily got a big discount for booking our whole East Coast trip as a package.imageWe chose Powerplay because it was not only a smaller boat – a catamaran – with a smaller crew and amount of guests, but it also offered a touch more luxury. It was our treat after living in some questionable hostels on the way up the east coast and we really wanted a smaller group for a different experience to that of cruises like the Clipper which is basically a booze cruise. Nothing wrong with that, and we know lots of people who have had an epic time on the other boats, but this time we just didn’t really fancy that type of trip. It was a good decision because our group for Whitsundays was one of the most diverse yet, with people ranging in age from 18 to around 45, but all a great laugh and it was brilliant to be teamed up with two girls from our Fraser Island trip for more fun. The boat itself had a mixture of private and shared sleeping quarters, we had booked a private room and after months of hostels I can’t tell you how amazing it was to have a door to shut on the world while we slept – even if it was just a little cubby on the boat. The double bed cabin came to $435, but as I said, we paid a lot less thanks to booking our trip as a whole. The rooms were great – a perfect size and with some of the comfiest beds ever – between that and the gentle rocking of the boat, we slept like a dream. Inside there were sofas and the kitchen, outside there was plenty of deck to sunbathe (we wish!), whale watch or play cards, while up at the front there was a hot tub – this was what swung it for us! imageThe first day was spent powering out to sea towards our first snorkelling site. Now I know that some, like myself, get seasick and can be put off the thought of a boat trip while travelling. I heard a lot of people on the other boats, including the Clipper, were getting sick thanks to the waves but on Powerplay barely anyone even felt sick. I had taken Travelcalm with me just in case but didn’t even use it the whole time, there was just one section where a few of us felt queasy because it became a little choppy – so I really wouldn’t let these worries put you off. When we arrived and dived into the water, we were instantly surrounded by fish of all colours, shapes and sizes at one of the best dive sites in Whitsundays. The seabed was covered in bright and colourful corals, and we spent a couple of hours there exploring and racing the fish. Afterwards, it was time for tea and biscuits on the boat as we headed to our dock for the night with a fridge full of cider and wine. A night of drinking games, cards and lots of fun followed, with a early start to power off towards Whitehaven Beach where we were all on the lookout for Johnny Depp who we knew had been spotted nearby filming the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.imageI’m not going to lie, this day was a bit of a disappointment after all the hype. It was completely overcast and even started raining on us when we stood on the beach – not the image I had in my mind when people describe Whitehaven! We took the standard photos, gave ourselves a scrub down with the sand – which is the finest you will find in the world and leaves you with baby soft skin – and went manta ray spotting in the shallows. When the winds and rain started up, we sheltered under a tree before given in and playing the old classics like 40/40 in to keep warm! It was an anticlimax but I know I’ll definitely do the trip again to experience Whitehaven in glorious sunshine. Luckily, what happened back on the boat more than made up for any disappointment. Throughout the Whitsundays, my one recurring thought was that I simply had to see a sea turtle. Until now I had see countless dolphins and whales, fish of all kinds and even sharks, but no turtles! Back on the boat, suddenly our skipper cried out “sea turtle!” And knowing full well how much I wanted to swim with one he said we had to dive in, minus stung suits because this was our one chance. I took no persuading and dived straight in to the water while Mark ran to grab a mask and my camera, I swam out to the turtle and was within touching distance of the creature. It was everything I dreamed of and more, I even gave him a little high five! I swam with him for as long as I could, knowing I was getting further and further into the jellyfish waters – I could see the little buggers everywhere around me and could feel the itchy stings all over my body. But it was worth it.imageThat night, we were celebrating the end of an awesome trip and an early birthday for Mark – it was actually the next day but naturally we had cake, all got a bit drunk, went fishing for squid before watching one of the girls eat it raw. Then finished up the night in the hot tub looking up at the stars – not such a disappointing trip after all! The two things we wanted were sea turtles and the hot tub – so it seems it was actually a pretty great trip. I would really recommend choosing Powerplay – the guys are amazing, great fun and really do give you the best trip. One of my close friends is also working on Wings which is a very similar trip, if you fancy trying that one out.image

Have you been to Whitsundays? Which boat did you use? What was your highlight?

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