Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Brisbane and the Beauty that is Byron Bay

The Travelling Series

Whilst travelling around, a lot of backpackers complained about Brisbane and how it's just another city and there isn't much to do. However, when we arrived, we found it a refreshing change to be back in a big city again with more going on than just a beach. 

Brisbane is quite clean and feels fairly modern. All the shops are in one place on Queens Street and there are also some super shiny malls which reminded me of Singapore. There's an arts and culture section across the river which was fun to explore, as well as a lagoon. 

My favourite thing that we did while we were there is take the thirty minute bus ride out of town to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This is a bit like a mini zoo with a focus on koalas and other Australian wildlife, such as kangaroos and dingoes.

Whilst we were there we were able to get up close and personal with the animals, from stroking koalas to feeding the kangaroos. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big kid at heart and I absolutely love the zoo, so this was an amazing day for me!

Another thing that I loved about Brisbane was the Christmas lights, decorations and music playing around the city. It's the first time I'd actually felt Christmassy since we'd been away - as it's difficult to get into the spirit in 30 degree heat - and I really enjoyed the festive atmosphere. 

After Brisbane we travelled to Byron Bay, another beach town famous for surfing. It's slightly bigger than Airlie and has a bit more going on. 

Main Beach is beautiful but the weather wasn't great while we were there - I think we managed a couple of half days sunbathing on the sand and that's about it. 

I really liked Byron but it was 'schoolies' week while we were there; this is when Australia's 18-year-olds break up from school/college and have a two week bender to celebrate. There were a lot of drunken idiots about and it actually cut our trip short because we wanted to stay for five nights but there was only accommodation available for three. 

I'm glad we got the chance to go though as we had a lot of fun there (when it wasn't raining)!

Then it was time to head to the place that we'd both been waiting for: Sydney. 

(Katie-xo)








Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Irony of Rainbow Beach and the Overhyped Fraser Island

The Travelling Series

Anyone who's travelled along the east coast of Australia knows that there's a specific touristic route which everybody takes. This includes either Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay in order to take the ferry trip across to Fraser Island. 

When faced with the decision of where to stay in order to go to Fraser Island, we chose the place which sounded the nicest: Rainbow Beach. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as Rainbow Beach is so small; there's a couple of shops/caf├ęs and a few crappy hostels but that's about it. The beach is the main attraction but we didn't get to make the most of it as it rained the whole time we were there. 

I didn't think Fraser Island was as amazing as everybody makes out either, but it's still worth a visit!

It's the largest sand island in the world and the only way to get around is by a four wheel drive. We took a day trip out there in a Fraser Island Explorer Tours bus and driving around was actually really fun. It's so bumpy driving on the sand - it feels like you're on a ride at a theme park!

I loved getting to paddle in Lake MacKenzie as it's made up of super clear fresh water which makes it very pretty. We also got to see the famous Pinnacle coloured sands and Maheno shipwreck, as well as wade through Eli Creek.

The best bit about the tour was getting to see some wild dingoes in their natural environment. We were driving along the beach when we spotted two and it was really exciting! 

There's a couple of other attractions that we didn't get to see as we only did the day trip. I'm glad I got to experience the island but I wouldn't feel the need to go again. 

Until next time!

(Katie-xo)





Friday, 12 December 2014

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

The Travelling Series

After Cairns, we took an overnight bus to the lovely little town of Airlie Beach.

It was from Airlie that we went cruising around the Whitsundays Islands.

First up was Daydream Island where we got to visit the largest outdoor living reef in Australia. The aquarium was complete with sharks, sting rays and Nemo fish, amongst other amazing sea life. We also got to feed some fish whilst paddling in the sea and have them swarm around us, which was a pretty cool experience!

We then headed to Hamilton Island where we had a picnic for lunch. The only way to get around this island is via golf buggy - I've never seen so many of them in one place! Unfortunately there wasn't time for us to rent one otherwise I'd be well up for that - they look so fun to drive! 

After Hamilton we headed to Whitsunday Island to visit the famous Whitehaven beach. It's now one of my favourite beaches due to the super soft sand which is ultra fine! It also never heats above 20 degrees which means you can walk on it at any time of the day without burning your feet, unlike most beaches. It's truly stunning and lives up to all the hype.

Airlie Beach was actually one of my favourite stops in Oz due to the Whitsundays trip, but also because the place itself is small, cute and charming. It has the biggest and best lagoon, as well as a really pretty harbour. Furthermore, all the shops, bars and restaurants are on one strip - it's an ideal place for a holiday. 

Coming up after the break: Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island. 

(Katie-xo)





Sunday, 7 December 2014

G'Day from Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

The Travelling Series

We flew from Auckland to Cairns via Brisbane in order to begin our Aussie adventure down the east coast. 

We had a bit of a culture shock when we arrived as Australia is quite different from New Zealand! Some things that I learned in a mere few hours after our arrival include: the tap water tastes disgusting, Red Hot Chilli Peppers are overplayed everywhere and people ask you 'how you going?' instead of 'how are you?' (I found this totally bizarre!) 

In addition, the weather is warmer, the people are more in your face and I have never seen so many beaches in my life! 

It's also quite common in the North for cities to have a 'lagoon' adjacent to the beach; this is basically a large outdoor pool for the public to swim in so that they don't get attacked by the marine stingers in the sea at this time of year.

In the few days that we were in Cairns, we visited a beach called Kewarra. We got the bus there and, as we hopped off, the driver remarked: 'have fun and watch out for the crocodiles!' We laughed along thinking it was a joke, but soon later realised that he was being deadly serious due to the posters plastered everywhere warning the public about the jellyfish and sharks in the water, as well as the crocodiles. It's crazy - we'd never have these kinds of problems in England! 

As well as visiting Kewarra Beach, we also went to Green Island off the coast of Cairns to see some inner parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

After my unfortunate diving experience in Thailand, I decided I wanted to stay dry for this one - so we got the ferry to Green Island and then sailed over the Great Barrier Reef in a glass bottom boat. We saw turtles, eagle rays and Dory from Finding Nemo, amongst plenty of other fish. 

When we hopped off the boat, we were absolutely buzzing! Then Kane spotted something colossal in the water. 'Katie, look! A wild dolphin.' No, Kane - that doesn't look like a dolphin. Try again. 'Katie, look! A shark!' 

That's right, we saw a shark - just casually swimming in the sea. I'd never seen a shark in it's natural environment before and the scary thing about it was that there were snorkelers ten feet away from it pleasantly minding their own business. I never thought I'd be in a situation where I legitimately had to shout 'SHARK' at people in the water! 

It hovered for a bit then luckily decided to swim in the opposite direction without hurting anybody. 

We found out afterwards that it was probably only a reef shark, which is pretty harmless. But still, a shark is a shark to me! 

After Cairns we headed down the east coast to a lovely little town called Airlie Beach.

To be continued...

(Katie-xo)









Friday, 28 November 2014

The Final Chapter of NZ: Mount Cook, Peel Forest and Kaikoura

The Travelling Series

Unfortunately when we arrived in Mount Cook it was raining and miserable. This meant we had to spend the afternoon abusing the wifi instead of going on the many bush walks we were told we could do in the area.

We were saved from boredom at night though, when the hostel put on their weekly 'Mount Cook Backpackers Quiz'. Our team came second which meant free drinks all around! It was great fun.

The next day the sun came out, so we did the Tasman Glacier walk. Huffing and puffing at 8am is not usually my idea of a good time, but it was so worth it when we reached the lookout point at the top of the hill as the views were stunning. 

We then headed to Rangitata where we had the opportunity to do a horse ride at Peel Forest. I used to horse ride religiously when I was younger - it was my favourite thing to do in the whole wide world. I'd been dying to get back on a horse for years and when I realised that we'd get to horse trek through the Rangitata landscapes which featured as Rohan in Lord of the Rings - how on earth could I resist?

My horse was called Debbie and she was a jumpy little thing who always had a spring in her step - if I hadn't ever ridden before I would have been nervous. The whole thing surprised me actually as it was pretty much like riding a bike. We trekked through the rainforest, around the river, up and down rocky terrain, through the river and back again - all with the beautiful snowy mountains as our backdrop. It was an incredible experience!

We stayed in Rangitata for the night before we travelled on to Kaikoura, which is famous for it's whale watching activities. It's a shame that the whales were too far out the day we were there but, to be honest, it was just nice to have a little mooch around the town. It reminded us of a typical small Cornish beach town in England - but with much nicer fish and chips! (It was actually quite possibly the best fish I've ever had.)

I've just realised that I keep talking about food in these blog posts - you can tell how much I love to eat! 

After Kaikoura we made the trip on the ferry back to Wellington in the North Island. Our Stray bus tour was basically a big circle as we needed to get back to Auckland for our flight out of New Zealand. 

On the way back up, we stopped over in Wellington for a few days as we really liked the feel of it when we were there for one night previously. This also allowed us to meet back up with Jasmine, one of our friends from our original Stray bus, as she lives there. It was so nice to see her again and it just reminded me of how lucky we are with some of the people we've had the chance to meet on this trip. You guys are amazing! 

When we got to Auckland, we also got to meet back up with Aurelia (our German friend from a previous bus) and had Christmas coffees in Starbucks - which was just lovely!

I'm usually so excited about Christmas but it's difficult to get in the festive spirit over here. In both New Zealand and Australia, Christmas falls in the peak of their summer time which means it's warm (totally not the same, in my opinion)! I'm so glad I'll be home for Christmas so I can celebrate it in the cold English weather - the way it's meant to be done! (Sorry NZ and Oz.)

Anyway, I digress. Back to New Zealand - the experience with Stray has been nothing short of amazing! I'm so pleased that we've done it as it's been nothing like anything we've ever done before. Parts of it did feel a little rushed but that was just because we had so much to do and see in the limited time that we had! I would recommend Stray to anyone as it's a great way to meet like-minded travellers, as well as get off the beaten track! 

Thanks to our drivers - Leftie, Panda and Keys - and thanks to everyone we met aboard Stray. It was so nice to meet you and spend time with you all - you certainly made the experience very enjoyable for both myself and Kane! We will miss you! 

Coming up after the break: Australia!

(Katie-xo)









Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Exploring the South Island: Abel Tasman, Franz Josef and Queenstown

The Travelling Series

We only spent one night in Wellington on the North Island initially before we caught the ferry to the South. This is because we had to do all of New Zealand pretty quickly as we were on a strict time limit of one month and there's a lot of ground to cover! 

Following on from the night out in Wellington for Jasmine's birthday, we headed to Picton on the ferry and then travelled across to Abel Tasman National Park where we spent a couple of days. 

The beach there was absolutely lovely and we stayed at a hostel - called The Barn - with the comfiest beds ever! There were no bunks in sight and everybody had a feather pillow and duvet which was absolutely lush when you're on the move every day and in a different bed every night. 

Another highlight of the South Island was Franz Josef where I got to do something I never thought I would do - climb a glacier! 

First you take a short helicopter ride up to it - I'd never ridden in a helicopter and I absolutely loved it! Luckily it was clear and sunny that morning so the views on the way up were insane. Then you spend roughly three hours on trekking on the ice; it was rather challenging for me because I'm not a big hiker and you had to go up and down hills and slippery steps - as well as in and out of tunnels! We had crampons on our boots, of course, but it was exhausting nonetheless! I'm so glad I did it though because it's not very often that you can say you've been on a glacier. Plus our tour guide told us that the glacier will have completely melted in thirty years time, so I thought I'd seize the opportunity while I could! 

The helicopter ride back down was even better than the ride up as I got to ride up front with the pilot - I absolutely loved it! 

A few days later we ended up in Queenstown which surrounds Lake Wakatipu. It is incredibly picturesque with the Remarkable mountains in the background. I've never seen such blue lakes in my life as I saw in the South Island of NZ - apparently it's the glacial powder in the water that makes them so blue when the sunlight reflects off it. They were simply beautiful! 

Kane celebrated his 24th birthday while we were there. We had a bit of a knees up with our Stray bus the night before, and then spent the actual day ignoring the fact that we were budget backpackers and embracing the treats in the form of a cinema trip and nice meals out. (The film of choice was Gone Girl which was really good - I highly recommend it if you haven't had the chance to go see it yet!)

Whilst we were in Queenstown we were able to try out the famous Ferg Burger, which is honestly the best burger I've ever had in my life (so far). They're huge so you can just have one on its own as your main meal - I wish I could describe just how good they are but I'm struggling to put it into words. Let's just say that it's a party in your mouth!

The only negative I have about Queenstown is that you go past a certain point to get to it, where you're officially closer to the South Pole than to the equator, so it's a lot colder!

But the temperature wasn't about to change any time soon as it we were then due to travel to Mount Cook. 

Until next time! 

(Katie-xo)











Tuesday, 18 November 2014

LOTR Fangirling: Hobbiton, Wellywood and the Weta Cave

The Travelling Series

One of the main reasons that I chose to travel around New Zealand was the fact that I'm a massive Lord of the Rings fan. Everyone who's anyone knows that the films were shot there by Peter Jackson (the Kiwi director from Wellington) and, as a result, the scenery that features in the films is just stunning. 

I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Hobbiton in Matamata during my Stray journey around the North Island and it's something that I'll never ever forget. What the film crew have done there is absolutely amazing. Like Elijah Wood has previously said: you don't have to imagine that you're in Hobbiton because you are actually in it. It's inspired by the British countryside and it feels like such a magical place - I was like a big kid running around it! 

I'd heard beforehand that the actual tour is not very good as they rush you around in preparation for the next tour, but I didn't find that at all. Our tour guide let us mooch around in our own time; there were a few occasions where we were lagging behind at the back of the group but we could just make our way back to the group when we were ready - no pressure and no questions asked! I think they understand that every nerd needs to get their fix before they have to leave. 

At the end of the tour we actually got to have a pint in The Green Dragon, the pub based in Hobbiton, and it was such an awesome moment! 

Kane and I took a couple of hundred photos that day but it was so worth it when I look back at them all (even if we did get a photo with every hobbit hole possible and some of them are practically identical)!

A few days later I got to fangirl some more when we visited Wellington for the first time (or Wellywood, as it's now commonly known, due to the fact that Peter Jackson built his post-production studios there). 

We went on a tour that features locations from the LOTR films, including the forest in the shire from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring where the Hobbits set off on their journey, and then we got to go to the Weta Cave and Workshop. This was the place where the props for LOTR and The Hobbit were designed and created so we got to see a lot of super cool stuff!

Weta also did a lot of digital special effects on the films and we were told that they are currently working on the final Hobbit film which is due out in cinemas in December! Exciting!

I loved being in New Zealand as every landscape that you drive past, every mountain and every river, might just have featured in Lord of the Rings. The whole country just resonates Middle Earth in all it's glory. It's absolutely beautiful and, at times, completely breathtaking. 

Next up: the South Island.

(Katie-xo)







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