SOUTH ISLAND

Having caught the ferry across to Picton, our first overnight stop on the South Island was Abel Tasman. It’s a beautiful little town situated in the heart of a national park right by the ocean. Since we had a free day here we decided to do a half day walking and kayak tour. In the morning we set off from our hostel along the coastal path that runs through the national park. Along the way there are a number of bays that you can stop off at and the views were amazing. In order to meet our guide for the kayaking we had to walk for about 3 hours until we reached one of the larger bays. Once we arrived we had a picnic lunch on the beach, which included the yummiest chocolate cake. We then set off in our kayaks and began the 3 hour paddle back to our starting point. The views from the water were even more beautiful than from the coastal path and we even got to see seals and their cubs on one of the islands.

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Next stop after Abel Tasman was Franz Josef, the home of one of New Zealand’s most famous glaciers. Unfortunately, while we were there the weather was awful, meaning we were unable to actually go and see the glacier, since you have to get up there via helicopter. Instead we used our free time as an opportunity to relax and visit the hot pools, which were really cool. That night our hostel ran an event called Pizza Fest, in which you paid $20 for 2 hours of all you can eat pizza – I was in heaven!

From rainy Franz Josef we then arrived in sunny Wanaka, which was my favourite place in New Zealand just because of how unbelievably beautiful it is! Before arriving in Wanaka we stopped off in Fox Glacier, home to Lake Matheson. We were given time to get off the bus and do the two hour walk around the whole lake, which is absolutely breathtaking. There is one viewpoint in particular where Mt Cook can be seen rising up over the lake. The water is so calm that it reflects a perfect mirror image. None of us could believe how beautiful it was!

Once we had arrived in Wanaka we decided to spend the day by the lake and have a picnic whilst enjoying the sun. We had also been told about the Wanaka tree, which is supposedly the most photographed tree in the whole of New Zealand! We decided we needed to see this for ourselves so went for a walk to go and find it that afternoon. Safe to say it did not disappoint and truly was outstandingly beautiful.

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The next day we ambitiously decided to climb Roy’s Peak, which takes about 3 and a half to four hours to reach the top. Having done the tongariro crossing, which is a lot longer, I thought this would be easy in comparison… But I was so wrong. There were very few flat sections, so we found ourselves climbing up the side of a mountain for the best part of 4 hours in 25 degree heat. Although it was a struggle and not something I would willingly put myself through again the views all the way up and especially from the peak were absolutely stunning!

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After Wanaka we headed to Queenstown, which is in very strong contention with Wanaka for being my favourite place in NZ. We were especially excited because we would be meeting up with a couple of friends who had been on our Stray bus previously! The day we arrived happened to be St Patrick’s Day and the whole town was absolutely buzzing as a result. We quickly got into the spirit ourselves and had a brilliant night celebrating! The next day we were feeling a little worse for wear, which gave us the perfect excuse to try the infamous Ferg burger, which has made a huge name for itself and which we’d been hearing about since before we even arrived in NZ! Safe to say it did not disappoint and was without a doubt the BEST (and probably the biggest) burger I have ever had in my life!

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Being the adventure capital of the world, it would have been wrong not to try one of the extreme activities that Queenstown has to offer. Unable to muster up the courage to do the world’s longest bungee jump, we decided instead to do the canyon swing. This involved throwing ourselves off a 109m high platform, free falling, and ending in a swing. There are supposedly over 70 different ways that you can jump off so Hannah and I decided to do it in tandem.. backwards…! The feeling of free falling was 100 times worse than with a skydive because you literally just feel like you are falling with nothing attached to you. Hannah and I were so scared we couldn’t even scream. Once we reached the bottom and started swinging we were both caught in a fit of giggles, unable to quite believe what we had just done. It was so so scary but absolutely awesome at the same time!

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Before leaving Queenstown we decided to go up the gondola to see the panoramic views of the whole town. Just like Wanaka it was absolutely beautiful and hard to believe that people actually live and work so close to such beautiful scenery.

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Sadly our time in New Zealand was coming to an end, but not before our last stop РMt Cook. We only had one afternoon here before we were due to leave for Christchurch the next morning so we decided to spend it doing the Hunter Valley walk. The walk itself was pretty easy, being all fairly flat and only taking about an hour and a half one way. The view of the mountain once we reached the end was absolutely amazing and just goes to further show what an absolutely stunning place New Zealand is.

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Leaving New Zealand was extremely sad – not only because we had the most wonderful time there but also because it meant that we only had 12 more days left of travelling and one more country left to visit! Next stop Vietnam!!

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FLYING WITHOUT WINGS

Those of you that know me will know that one of my biggest fears is heights. However, you might remember that skydiving was one of my “to do’s” on my bucket list. Taupo is the first destination in New Zealand where it is possible to do a skydive and I knew that if I was going to go through with it, I had to get it over and done with as soon as possible.

So there I was, Taupo Skydive Centre, Memorial Drive, Taupo (yes that is actually the street name!!).

0ft… Once we had arrived we were given a safety briefing and watched a video of other people skydiving – both did little to calm my nerves. It was then time to meet my diving instructor, Brett, and get ready for the jump. Within a few minutes I was dressed in an electric blue jumpsuit, complete with full body harness and hat (with chin strap!!). Safe to say I looked ridiculous but for the sake of safety I didn’t care. Time to board the plane!

7,500ft… Half way up! The views were already absolutely incredible – not that I could appreciate them or think about anything other than the fact I was going to be jumping out of a plane very soon.

10,000ft… Doors open! There was one girl who had decided to jump at 12,000 feet, so once at 10,000 the doors were opened in preparation for her skydive! The last thing I needed was to watch someone literally fall out of a plane just before I was about to do the same. She fell so quickly and it was at that point that I really thought “I CAN’T do this”!!

15,000ft… Fly or die time! So here we go, the long anticipated moment. I was first up, which in hindsight I’m very thankful for as I don’t think I could have sat and watched other people jump! People always ask “were you scared the chute wouldn’t open”, “was it cold up there”, “was it loud or quiet”. And the answer to all those questions is “I have absolutely no idea”. From the moment my legs were dangly over the side of the doorway I was thinking of nothing. And next thing I knew I was falling through the sky! The feeling is something that I will never be able to accurately describe.. But it was absolutely incredible!! It’s so exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time!

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We were free falling for a minute in total, but I wish it had been longer! Having said this, once the parachute was opened it was awesome! It was at this point that I could really appreciate the views around me, and being able to see beautiful Taupo from that high up was unbelievable! Brett even let me steer the parachute, which was actually a lot more difficult than I realised. He was much better at it than I was so I swiftly returned the controls to him.

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So overall the flight went very smoothly.. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for our landing!! As you approach the ground there are people whose job it is to grab hold of you once you’ve landed so that the chute doesn’t pull you up again. Whether it was Brett’s misjudgment or the misjudgment of one of the ground staff, we somehow managed to land directly on top of her so she was completely flattened. Luckily no one was hurt and she was able to see the funny side, which was a good thing because Brett and I found it hilarious!

Once back on solid ground I was utterly speechless! Brett asked me if I would recommend others to do a skydive and I can honestly say that EVERYONE should do it at least once, regardless of whether you’re scared of heights (that includes you Dad!!).

Back down to earth… Safe to say it was a bizarre feeling to be walking around a supermarket within an hour of having landed from my skydive. Next stop was a unique Stray destination called Blue Duck Station, which is basically a farm in the absolute middle of nowhere. We had a house to ourselves, complete with bedrooms, living room and kitchen. With 30 of us in there it almost felt like what I would imagine an American frat/sorority house to be like. That night Jinx prepared the most amazing Mexican themed dinner, complete with barbecued chicken burritos and LOTS of sangria!!

It’s a good thing we had a good feed as our next stop was National Park, where we would be doing the famous 19km Tongariro Alpine Crossing! I knew it was going to be tough, but nothing could prepare me for how tough it really was. The first hour of walking is not so bad as it’s all pretty flat. After this, however, you have to traverse the mountain range, which involved climbing I-don’t-know-how-many steps. It felt like they went on forever and it really showed me how unfit I’ve become whilst travelling!! The views from the top made it all worth it though. From up there we overlooked the magnificent Mount Doom (famous from the Lord of the Rings films) and the beautiful Emerald Lakes! The whole walk took us 6 hours to complete but the views all the way were breathtaking and made it even more worthwhile!

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Our final stop on the North island was Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Unfortunately while we were there the weather was pretty dismal, but this gave us a good excuse to visit the famous Te Papa Museum. The museum was without a doubt one of the best I’ve been to… And I’ve been to a fair few of London’s! They had three exhibitions on – “The Scale of our War”, which was all about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War. This was my favourite of the three – I had no idea the huge part that New Zealand had played against Germany!

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The second exhibition was called “People’s Impact on the Land”, which explained all about the hurricanes and earthquakes that NZ is so prone to and how things have changed over time. This was pretty cool and there was even a room you could stand in which simulated a real earthquake! Finally, the third exhibition was all about the Maori people and their culture. This was so interesting and I especially liked reading all about the history of the Haka, having watched it many times on the television during the All Blacks’ rugby matches.

That’s all for now but I’ll be back soon to tell you all about what we got up to on the South Island!

I STRAY’D NEW ZEALAND

So on Monday 27th February we began our hop on hop off tour with Stray. Dragging ourselves out of bed and to our pick up location at some ungodly hour we met our tour guide/bus driver/fellow backpacker Jinx. He informed us that he had been given this nickname during his first week of training with Stray because everything he touched seemed to breakdown, which boded well for our forthcoming journey. One of the best things about Stray is it gives you the opportunity to meet all sorts of people from all over the world.

Our first stop was Hahei, a beautiful area in the Coromandel. Before checking in we stopped off at hot water beach, which is located directly above a hot spring – hence the name. The beach is known for digging your own natural hot tub. I was pretty sceptical at first but it actually does work! On our first night we made a group dinner all together, consisting of barbecued steaks and sausages with salads, coleslaw, and mash. Having recently been living on a diet of eggs on toast, Hannah and I were extremely excited to be having this meal and it was a great way to bond with the group. We then had a free day in Hahei, in which we explored the nearby beach and did the coastal walk all the way to stunning Cathedral Cove Bay.

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Next stop was Raglan, which is most well known for surfing! It’s actually one of the only places in the world where you can ride the same wave for 5 minutes!! En route to Raglan we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, which was extremely impressive.

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Once settled in our hostel we were given the option to have a yoga session at ‘Inspiration Point’. Hannah and I jumped at the opportunity, having been wanting to try yoga since we started our trip. It was extra special to be able to do it on a platform looking over the ocean with the sound of cicadas all around us. Although our yoga skills may not have been up to par, the view most definitely was.

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After Raglan we stopped off at Waitomo on our way to Rotorua. This was one of the stops I was most looking forward to as its where you can go caving and see the glow worms. We spent a total of 4 hours working our way through the underground caves, scrambling over rocks and wading through the freezing water. The highlight was floating through a section of the caves in rubber rings where all you could see in the pitch black were thousands of tiny lights from the glow worms that clung to the ceiling. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and looked like millions and millions of stars.

After staying one night in the geothermal town of Rotorua, we moved on to Lake Aniphenua where we would be staying in a Maori village. Having been delayed an hour due to our bus breaking down, we were extremely happy to arrive and the views of the lake and surrounding scenery more than made up for it. The Maori family we were staying with were extremely welcoming and told us all about their tribe and the traditions of their people. We spent the afternoon doing various activities – some of us learnt how to make bracelets out of reeds while others learnt a special form of martial arts, including the haka which they performed for the rest of the group later that day, much to our amusement! I decided to take the cooking lesson, in which we learnt how to make special fried bread. The recipe itself was pretty straightforward and a lot of fun to make. The pressure was on as the bread we were making would be used for the group dinner that night! Once we had finished we got to try the bread with golden syrup – it was so delicious!

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That night we had the most incredible traditional Maori feast prepared for us. To prepare the meat they wrapped it all up and placed it in a hole in the ground in which they used fire and water to smoke it. They covered it in tarpaulin and damp sheets and buried it all under soil to keep the heat in. It was then left to cook for 2 hours and by the time it was ready it had a wonderful smokey flavour. With the meat we had stuffing, potatoes, salad and our homemade bread. After that meal I had never felt so uncomfortably full in my life, but the food was so delicious it was definitely worth it!

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Look out for my next post to hear about my adventures in the sky…

KIA ORA!

We have now arrived in country number 4 of our trip, New Zealand. This is the stop that I was most looking forward to of all the places we visit – my mum used to live in NZ so has frequently told me how amazing the country is.. So far she has been absolutely right!

For our first week in Auckland we were lucky enough to stay in my parent’s friends’ apartment, which was in a perfect location with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. Having been living in hostels for roughly the last three months it was so lovely to have our own place to just chill out! It was also great to catch up with my parents’ friends, who were kind enough to take us out for dinner on a couple of occasions and show us around the city. Martha even took us to spend the day at a polo tournament, which was really good fun!

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Also while we were in Auckland we took the ferry out to Waiheke, which is a beautiful island covered in vineyards and beaches – it feels a world away from the busy city. Once on the island we visited the town of Oneroa where we had a look around and grabbed some lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at Onetangi Bay, which was beautiful!

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Another thing I would recommend doing if you’re ever in Auckland is to go up the sky tower. You can see the whole city and surrounding area from up there and the views are absolutely breathtaking!

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Before leaving Auckland we took a trip out to Piha on the West coast. The beach was amazing, with black sand and huge waves!

Next stop was up to the Bay of Islands! I absolutely loved this place, mainly because of how stunning it is! It’s also where I finally got to see wild dolphins for the first time ever which was the most magical thing. We took a boat trip all the way up to the famous hole in the rock and got to see beautiful views of the New Zealand coastline. On the way we came across a school of about 30+ dolphins feeding. They were so playful, jumping out of the water and following the boat. They even had calves with them which was incredible to see. It was one of my favourite days of travelling for sure!

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The following day we took a tour all the way up to Cape Reinga, the most northern point of NZ. We were able to see the point where the Pacific and Tasman seas meet, which was beautiful. En route we drove down 90 mile beach which is actually a marked highway. However, in reality the beach is only 60 miles long. We also went dune boarding which was so much fun!!

We have now started our hop on hop off bus tour with Stray, so I will be back again soon to tell you about the first part of our trip!

BULA!*

*A word heard everywhere in Fiji. Bula is deeply embedded in Fijian culture and means a number of things, from hello, welcome, goodbye, love and more. It is used as a blessing of health and happiness.

So it’s safe to say our week in Fiji was full of ups as well as downs. Having decided to visit during their rainy season, we were prepared for the fact that we might see some rain whilst we were there. However, we were not prepared for this rain to fall relentlessly for most of the day, every day. Nevertheless, in true English spirit we resolved not to let the weather spoil our time in Fiji.

After spending our first night on the mainland we caught the ferry up to the Yasawa Islands, where we were going to spend the week island hopping. Our first island was Blue Lagoon and it was absolutely beautiful. When we arrived on the island we were greeted by all the staff singing a welcome song in their native language. That night we had a wonderful BBQ meal accompanied by live singing and a kava ceremony, which is a common tradition in Fiji. After dinner we were given the option to do coconut bowling on the beach, which was a lot of fun. The staff had their own team and naturally blew us all away.

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Our next island was Korovou, which left much to be admired when compared with Blue Lagoon Resort. Unfortunately the rooms as well as the food were very average and they offered very little activities in comparison to other islands. If you are ever island hopping in Fiji I would suggest avoiding this island if you can.

Next we travelled further south to Mantaray Island, which we had heard very good things about. Again the Fijians on the island were the loveliest people and also welcomed us with a song. The island is most well known for the amazing snorkelling you can do just off the beach. Between May and October you can even swim with mantarays – another reason not to travel during the rainy season!

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Aside from the wonderful snorkelling, they offered a range of activities, including a Fijian cooking lesson, basket weaving and yoga on the beach. One evening while we were there the staff performed a traditional fire dance which was amazing!

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Having had a lovely week, despite the rain, real disaster struck on the Saturday when we were due to return to the mainland. Unfortunately the boat was unable to come due to poor weather and extremely rough seas. We were literally stranded, meaning that we were forced to cancel our flight to New Zealand. Thankfully the boat was able to come the following day and we were able to rearrange our flight to Auckland for the Tuesday, so it could have been worse!

Moral of the story – aim to visit during their dry season!!

Bula!

THE SUNSHINE STATE PART II

As I write I am currently on my way to Fiji, meaning that my time in Australia has sadly come to an end (for now!). It really has been the most incredible couple of months and I leave with so many wonderful memories and new friends. It seems only right that before I touch down in Fiji I pick up from where I last left off and tell you about the rest of my travels up the east coast.

After Brisbane we headed to Hervey Bay where we caught the ferry to Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island and home to the infamous Aussie dingos. To get around the island we booked onto a tour with the company “Cool Dingos”. We were driven around the island in a huge pink 4×4 bus/truck, which was extremely necessary considering the state of the tracks and beaches we had to drive on!

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On the first day of our trip we visited the beautiful Lake McKenzie and did a walk through the rainforest. That night we stayed in accommodation provided by the tour company and were up bright and early the next day. First we were taken to Indian Head, which is a headland that lies in between two long stretches of beaches. Usually you are able to see lots of marine life from the headland but unfortunately we weren’t able to see any because it was such a cloudy day. Next we went to Champagne Pools, which is a beautiful rock pool formation given its name by the way the waves look when they crash against the rocks. The water was absolutely freezing but some of our group were brave enough to go in for a swim – safe to say I was not one of them! That afternoon the sun finally came out and we visited the amazing Maheno Shipwreck which is washed up on the beach. My highlight of the tour came towards the end of the day when we went to Eli Creek. Here we used big rubber rings to float all the way down the creek to a spot where we could sunbathe and enjoy a light snack.

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After Fraser Island we stopped over in the beautiful little town of Noosa for one night before heading on to Airlie Beach, where we would be starting our sail boat tour around the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays was probably the highlight of our whole trip up the east coast. We booked onto a boat called the Habibi, which offered wonderful food and allowed us to sleep on the top deck under the stars. We got to go to the beautiful and infamous Whitehaven Beach, which has the whitest sand in the world! Whilst on the boat we also did some of the best snorkelling I have ever done – I had never seen that many fish at one time before! On the second day of the tour it happened to be Australia Day. It was so much fun to spend it on the boat with our Aussie crew mates! Everyone got into the spirit, sporting Australian flags, and we even found time to stop off on a beach for a BBQ and a game of cricket!

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After Airlie we headed on up to Townsville where we caught the ferry over to Magnetic Island. As the island is so small and the roads are mostly dirt tracks we decided to rent a 4×4! Luckily we had our lovely Loka tour guide with us, who was able to show us all the best spots on the island. We visited a number of bays, which included Radical Bay, Florence Bay, Horseshoe Bay, and Alma Bay. The highlight was definitely watching the incredible sunset at West Point beach!!

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Last stop on our trip up the coast was Cairns! I was so excited to get to Cairns because I couldn’t wait to dive in the Great Barrier Reef. It definitely didn’t disappoint! We booked on to a tour with the company Passions of Paradise who were great! We had lots of chances to snorkel and also go scuba diving, which was amazing. The coral was like nothing I’d ever seen before and we got to see lots of marine life, including turtles, a reef shark, sting rays and jelly fish!

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Another must do in Cairns is a rainforest tour in the Atherton Tablelands. We booked ours through the company “On the Wallaby”, who I would definitely recommend just because our tour guide was so good and friendly. First stop on the tour was a tree called the Cathedral Fig Tree, which is claimed to have inspired the tree in the film ‘Avatar’. Next we went to Lake Eacham, where you can do a 3km walk around the whole lake. We were also able to see little fresh water turtles and went for a lovely swim. We also visited two waterfalls throughout the day. My favourite was the Milla Milla waterfalls, which is the most impressive waterfall I’ve seen and is used in the Herbal Essences adverts – it was therefore obligatory to get the infamous hair flick photo!

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After Cairns we flew back down to Sydney, where we spent a couple of days before catching our flight to Fiji! As you can probably tell it’s been a jam-packed few weeks, so I’m looking forward to a more relaxing (but just as fun) couple of weeks in Fiji!

Speak soon!

Jess

THE SUNSHINE STATE

Firstly, sorry for my lack of posts recently… We have been crazy busy since we began our travels up the east coast!! We have just completed the last leg of our journey North, having arrived in Cairns yesterday evening, and I have so much to tell you about what we’ve been up to along the way!

Byron Bay was our next stop after Sydney, which was a pretty big change from what we had become used to! It’s a quirky little town with a beautiful beach and the people were all really ‘hippy’. We spent our first day just chilling at the beach and looking around the town. We also managed to squeeze in a workout (traveller tip: pack a skipping rope if you want an easy, cheap, and space-saving way to exercise)! As well as exploring our immediate surroundings, we decided to hire a car and venture further afield to some waterfalls! It was so nice to be able to drive again and we had such a good day, spent mostly at Killen Waterfalls where we were able to have a swim and walk right behind the waterfall!

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After Byron Bay we headed on up to the Gold Coast, which I loved. Although I’ve never been, it is what I would imagine Miami to be like. They don’t call it Surfers Paradise for nothing… The beach was absolutely stunning, with perfectly white sand and the water was a lovely temperature. The waves were also incredible which made me want to try surfing again after having done it in Bali! Unfortunately, we only had a couple of nights here before moving on to Brisbane.

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Whilst in Brisbane we decided to hire a car again and drive to the Steve Irwin Zoo. We had the best day and were able to see some of Australia’s finest animals, including crocodiles, kangaroos and koalas. The staff at the zoo put on a croc show in which they got up close and personal with a huge crocodile, which was amazing but also pretty nerve wracking! Although I didn’t get to hug a koala (which you might remember was one of the things on my bucket list), I did manage to snap a selfie with a kangaroo. They also had animals from all over the world, so we got to see giraffes, rhinos, and zebras as well. My favourite was definitely the tiger though!!

I’m going to keep this post short and sweet but I’ll be back very soon as I have so much to tell you about what I got up to on Fraser Island, the Whitsundays, and Magnetic Island!!

Bye for now!