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!

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

AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH…

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As much as I loved Gili T and Lombok, it has been great to explore some of the regions of the Balinese mainland. Despite its size, Bali is such a diverse island, with Seminyak at one end of the scale, being a modern and bustling city, and ubud being at the totally opposite end, bursting with traditional Balinese culture and picturesque scenes.

Ubud was a great place for the bucket list. You might remember from my first post that one of the things I wanted to do whilst in Bali was to climb to the summit of Mt Batur in time to watch the sunrise. Well, I did it! And it was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and breathtaking experiences (both in the literal and metaphorical sense!!). Hannah and I were both apprehensive about the 2am wake up and the long, and by no means easy, climb to the top. However, once we finally reached the summit at 6am, just as the sun was beginning to peek over the surrounding mountains and scenery, it was all worth it.

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Our experience of climbing Mt Batur was made even more incredible by our sighting of macaques (Balinese long-tailed monkeys) on our way down the mountain. There were so many of them, including little baby monkeys which were adorable. They were extremely tame and so would happily jump on your back, making for an excellent selfie opportunity! As part of the trek we also visited the famous coffee plantation and rice patties of Ubud.

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Later that afternoon, Hannah and I decided that we hadn’t quite had enough of monkeys and so we went to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Not only is this nature reserve full of macaques, but it is also home to a beautiful Hindu temple.

Our final day in Ubud was spent at one of Bali’s small zoos, which is home to a number of ginormous elephants and baby orangutangs. Having never seen an elephant in the flesh before, I was stunned at the size of them. It was great to get the chance to ride on top of one. However, the highlight of the day was getting to cuddle and take a selfie with a baby orang.

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I would describe Canngu as a happy medium between Ubud and Seminyak; slightly bigger and more modern than Ubud, but far less developed and more relaxed than Seminyak. The highlight of Canngu for me was the food we got to try whilst there, especially the breakfasts and the traditional Indonesian dishes.

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For our final couple of days in Bali we returned to Seminyak and enjoyed a relaxing day at Potato Head Beach Club, which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Next stop, Australia!…..