I didn’t travel alone

Date: Friday 18th March 2016

Location: My Bedroom, Dorset, United Kingdom

It’s March and I’m sitting in my bedroom in my mum’s house where I’m now living (at the age of 26), looking out the window at the grey sky, the grey roads and the grey houses. Sometimes I forget that I even left the country, and when I do remember I wonder if it wasn’t just a dream. But then I look down at my arm and there are these two little marks on my forearm that will probably be there for a long time to come. They are the scars from when a giant, thorny fern fell on me in the jungle and I was too impatient to wait for the thorns to fall out on their own so I dug them out with a needle … and now they have scarred. And then there’s the thin white line that goes up my shin on my right leg where I scraped it climbing a fence to get into a corn field in America … and then I got sunburnt the next day and now it will stay. It took 4 months for the bruises from that bloody table challenge in New Zealand to fade, although I did keep accidentally hitting them on stuff so maybe it wasn’t all the game. To add to this I don’t think the mosquito and sandfly bite marks on my ankles will ever disappear. But the biggest change to me is when I close my eyes. Inside my head I can see a million different pictures in a myriad of the most spectacular colours. Each memory in turn can make me smile, laugh, cry, pause in wonder, cringe in embarrassment, fill with joy, stare in awe, swell with pride, make my heart break, make my heart sing and make me feel an astounding number of things that touch every point on the emotional rainbow (my emotional range is now definitely larger than a teaspoon). On the whole they make me grin from ear to ear. Memories are amazing; each one is like a brightly wrapped gift that I get to open again and again.

But more than just the physical and mental marks left on me I’ve gained the knowledge of this incredible group of people whom I never would have met in any other situation. When you are travelling you meet people you had never even imagined could exist and they’re doing things with their lives that you never even considered someone could do. Each and every person you meet opens up your eyes to new possibilities and it’s overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. I loved learning about each and every one of you and I’m honoured that you thought I was worth sharing your story with.

When I tell people I’ve just travelled around the world on my own they generally tell me I was brave to do so (which I still think is a weird comment) but the truth is I didn’t travel the world alone, I travelled it with all of you. Whether it was a month, a few weeks, a day or even just dinner you all kept me company and shared my experiences the whole way round. I know I’m sounding all lovey-dovey and New Age (maybe I picked it up in America) but you guys made my trip what it was. If I hadn’t had someone around to take me out for dinner on my first night in New York or take me wine tasting in Niagara or show me how a tornado forms in real time or take me dancing all night in Austin or take me to crazy music festivals or invite me to stay in your family home or get me lost in the Wyoming mountains on a horse or teach me how to use a machete or join me in swimming in a river full of piranha and caymans or teach me how to act like a tree when there’s a monkey on your back or how to play dishes or save me from killer chickens or encourage me to get to the top of Colca Canyon or chase llamas in Cusco for me or help rescue my backpack in Puno or make me friendship bracelets in a truck driving across the salt flats of Bolivia or understand my excitement at geysers in Rotorua or jump out of a plane with me or forgiven my terrible Maori stick throwing or ride across the Narnia landscape with me or jump into the freezing lake Wanaka with me or laugh at me when I got too drunk (again) in New Zealand or invite me out on random snorkelling trip with all your friends when you’d only just met me or stay up drinking and laughing all night on a random sand island or take me to the most hilarious, empty club in the middle of the outback or laugh your way round the museums of Melbourne with me or take me for walks on the beach discussing the pitfalls of love or spend the evening prank calling exes with me and dancing like a crazy person … my journey would not have been the same.

So I want to say a huge thank you to everyone I met and remind you that by traveller code if you ever need a place to stay, or even just some help navigating my home country/city, then just let me know and I’ll be there for you.

And to those who haven’t yet travelled, go, please go, just go. Like I said, memories are amazing! They are worth far more than any Gucci handbag or Louboutin shoes you’re saving for (and I would really love a pair of Louboutin’s) and making the memories themselves is even more magical. The world is a massive, complex and beautiful place that I haven’t started to scratch the surface of. You don’t travel to realise your dreams, you travel to create dreams you don’t even know you’re going to dream yet.

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Kalgoorlie

Date: Monday 14th to Thursday 17th December 2015

Location: Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, Australia

As an interlude in my trip to Perth, which you can read about here, I took a trip a short way into the centre of Australia and went to visit a town called Kalgoorlie. Kal (as it’s affectionately known) has about 30,000 inhabitants which happens to be exactly the same amount as the town I grew up in. However my town is a 10 minutes’ drive from a city in either direction and a 30 minutes train journey to London. Kalgoorlie is a 9 hour train ride from Perth, the closest large city to it. Let’s just say Kal and my home town have a different feel from each other

Kalgoorlie is right in the middle of the bush, surrounded by that flat red dirt and those trees which seem to just appear out of nowhere. It’s a beautifully stark and repetitive landscape but absolutely full of colour. Within a 10 minute drive in any direction you’re out into the wilderness and it doesn’t take long to lose sight of civilisation all together. However right in the middle of all this beautiful countryside is a big, fat hole because that’s what Kalgoorlie is known for, the gold mine. When I say it’s a big hole, I mean it’s a biiiiiiig hole. It’s 3.5km long, 1.5km wide and 570m deep at its deepest point. That’s one and half empire state buildings deep! It produces on average 2000 oz of gold per day which is dredged up from the ground by a combination of explosives and drilling. The rocks from this mining are carted up out of the hole in trucks that weigh over 30 tonnes empty and can carry up to 300 tonnes of rock and debris (that’s like 60 elephants!). In fact I’m not sure which is more shocking – the size of the hole or the size of the trucks. And before anybody gets their feminist boots on over this, 40% of truck drivers are female. Kal has found other ways of letting the traditional masculine vibe of mining emerge (in the form of topless barmaids). All these facts come from the brilliant tour that you can do of the whole mine, where you drive around the giant hole next to all the massive trucks (not the knowledge of the topless barmaids, that came from a very funny/slightly awkward night out with 3 other guys in the local bar.)

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So the other tour you can do in Kal is a tour of the brothel. Yep, you read that right, a tour of a brothel. It is the only place in the world I found that you can pay to enter a brothel and not be guaranteed sex! Either way, it was entertaining and fun and actually gave some decent history of the area. It is the oldest profession in the book after all.

I stayed with a lovely family in Kalgoorlie (the family of my Perth friend) who couldn’t have looked after me better. They took me to a million places, showing me all the sites, took be out for a bbq in the bush under the beautiful stars and let me join in with all their social engagements like I was an old friend. I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome and I am incredibly thankful to them for that. One day I was taken round to the stables to go on a horse ride out in the bush, which was lovely. However we were joined by the pet sheep. So sheep are actually quite a lot like dogs, as in they will jump up on you, run around the feet of the horse and annoy them … and chase after cars. It is the only time I have been riding where we had to stop the ride to go chasing after a sheep who was trying to chase down a tow-truck going in the opposite direction. Only in Australia hey?

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My Perth Family

Date: Thursday 10th to Monday 21st December 2015

Location Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

I have a friend who I met in America when we both spent two months having fun in the West Virginia Mountains while ‘working’ at summer camp. We managed to make our long distance relationship work through various skype dates and a brilliant trip to Greece. So when I said I was coming to Australia it was only natural that she screamed into the skype microphone that I’d ‘better be coming to Perth!!’. I know better than to disobey her, so Perth it was for the final two weeks of my trip.

Perth is the most remote city in the world, by this I mean it’s in the middle of bloody nowhere. As you fly into the airport it’s just red dirt everywhere and then all of a sudden this shining spot of glass and steel appears on the landscape. My friend picked me up from the airport and after jumping around like idiots for a while and doing that screaming thing that girls do when they meet each other after a long time (no, I don’t know why we do it either. It’s a biological reaction you can’t help. Like sneezing ) we jumped in her car and she took me to her house ready to become her adopted sister for two weeks.

She and her (real) sister could not have looked after me better – within a day I felt like I’d been there forever. Which is a good thing as our first job was to complete my friend’s chores and the weekly food shop. Our next day we took a trip to Ellis Valley to start our list of sight-seeing. Western Australia has a very different look to the east coast of Australia but the locals are all still the same. For example on the west coast you only have to travel a few miles inland to find the endless plains of that bright red dirt and the scrubby bush plants that you see in the movies and feel like you’ve gone back in time to a world before people. Then you run into a naked man standing at the top of a cliff holding a go-pro being egged on by his friends to jump in the water… still in Australia then. We later found out he was an Instagram famous spear fisher from Exmouth (Australia not Devon), go figure!

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Perth was where I had my first encounter with kangaroos, which when close up are a little bit more frightening than they appear on the TV and I also met quokkas, just as adorable as they look on TV. I met the quokkas on Rottnest Island, their one and only home in the whole wide world – and an absolutely stunning place to visit.

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The classic thing to do on the Island is to hire a bike, cycle to a little bay and then spend the day snorkelling. To me this sounded like a fab idea, a little bit of exercise to make me feel like I’d done something, then relax on the beach all day. When we got off the boat from the mainland we asked one of the (really cute) crew to point us in the right direction. He duly brought forth a map, pointed out where we were, the best bays for swimming in and the direction and length of time it would take to ride there, ‘Won’t take you more than 20 minutes max mate’ *insert my poor Aussie accent here*. Off we went with the wind in our hair and the sun on our cheeks, full of energy and fun … and there we were 2 hours later. Still with the wind in our hair and the sun on our cheeks (and shoulders and backs and thighs, all turning a bit red by now) with maybe less energy but still a whole load of fun. We have no idea how we went so wrong but basically instead of going the short hop round the island we went all the way round in the other direction. Wouldn’t have changed it for the world as it meant we saw the island in all its beauty, including the salt lakes in their pastel colours of purple and pink, the fancy boat harbours, the coral reefs and its three light houses! …There aren’t three, we just saw one twice without realising. By the time we got to the bay we were aiming for (yes, we got there) we thought we well and truly deserved every minute of relaxation we had. Which was about 30 minutes as neither of us are very good at sitting still that long and by then we were starving. We left the beauty and went off in search of a late lunch and a glass of wine.

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My friend also took me out on the town several times in Perth. It is such a fun city to go out in. It’s laid back, there’s no horrible bouncer checking you up and down for ‘cool factor’ before letting you into the club. On the contrary, they’re perfectly happy to have a conversation with you while you’re queueing (who knew bouncers could talk!). The people in the clubs are friendly and happy and willing to talk to strangers, meaning I made new friends. This was a good thing as at some point my host did have to go to work. My new found friend showed me the best places in town for a hung over breakfast, which beaches to spend the day strolling along and the best bars for an afternoon drink … and treated to the Aussie charm in bucket loads.

I was included in all of my friend’s social engagements over the weeks I was there, including a Christmas party outside in the sunshine (weird as hell) which turned into a fabulous girly night in and several dinners out with friends. I got the full on local treatment and I loved it. I would imagine that Perth is a great place to be a tourist, but I have no idea as I wasn’t one.

I finished my time in Perth on the 20th December at a bar, sitting with my two adopted sisters laughing and joking at a table next to a wide open window, looking out over the sea and watching the sun set, with a cider each in front of us. Knowing that in 24 hours (actually closer to 35 hours) I would be back in England, in the cold and the rain, leaving behind all the many, many friends I had made on my journey around the world and knowing that the sense of freedom you gain from travelling would soon be a distant memory. I savoured every last sip of that pint.

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Getting my groove on in the Bay

Date: Saturday 29th November to Tuesday 1st December

Location: Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia

I was lucky enough to meet some pretty cool people when I travelled through Cairns, Queensland and it just so happened that most of them work and live in Byron Bay. It’s always nice to enter a town knowing you’ve got a friend somewhere. They had promised to take me out and show me the local spots in Byron and they definitely delivered.

Byron Bay is a strange (but wonderful) place. My cousin passed through Byron on her travels a few years ago and she loved it. It’s weird how some places you go have a personality that aligns so specifically to someone you know that you’re amazed they weren’t born and brought up there. Byron Bay so completely sums up my cousin I was astonished she ever left. It’s different and quirky, full of interesting art and beautiful scenery, it’s overspilling with hippies in dreadlocks and baggy trousers, striving to be individual and different and yet has a sense of respectability about it which comes out in the really good food and drink you get everywhere… it’s a strange place ( I think I said that).

So what did I do? Well I walked up to the lighthouse (a must-do), I went out for drinks, I chilled on the beach, I shopped to fulfil all my health crystal and yoga pant needs and I enjoyed chilled out dinners with lovely friends and good conversation that stretched into late in the night. A particular friend really took me under her wing in Byron (she’s one of the most incredible and interesting women I have ever met. I’m very proud to call her a friend). One night she invited me along to a club night in another town, a few miles inland. Now, leaving the coast of Australia is sometimes a dodgy move, it all gets much weirder the further away from the sea you get. This place was no exception – a small town in the middle of the bush with a random club. It was meant to be a big party at which her friend was dj-ing but when we got there it was empty. Very empty. Not to be disheartened that quickly we got a drink and waited for it to fill up. When it became very clear that it wasn’t ever going to fill up we decided it was just an opportunity to have the entire dance floor to ourselves and proceeded to fill the space as completely as possible. We pulled out all the moves including the lawnmower, stacking the shelves, the lightbulb and (my personal favourite, having learnt it in Australia) the jellyfish.

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In contrast back in Byron we visited the ‘drumming circle’ a group of people who get together every evening around sunset and sit on the edge of the beach, making music. It’s beautifully calming to listen to the sounds of the drums echoing around you as the sky turns from blue to orange. This experience sums up Byron.  You may find elements of the place elsewhere in the world but you don’t often find all of them lumped together. It’s a really interesting place to visit and when you’re there you should totally embrace the spirit of the place. I’m not a Byron Bay baby and it doesn’t completely sum me up but I can completely see why it’s a mecca to others.

Noosa

Date: Friday 27th to Sunday 29th November 2015

Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia

I grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire, mostly known as being commuter-ville for bankers, having an excessive quantity of ridiculously clean Land Rovers, once appearing on a mug in Peep Show and the home of the presenter of Robot Wars. Along with these claims to fame comes a plethora of nice quality clothes shops, pretty little cafes, quirky gift shops, lovely restaurants, elegant parks and well-dressed couples with small children named Alfie and Tabitha. Lift this entire scene up and dump it next to the beach in Australia and you have Noosa. Despite my upbringing in clean cut suburbia I have always been more than happy to get covered in mud at a farm, sweaty and disgusting doing manual labour, soaked to the bone on a walk or just generally look a complete state. I don’t even mind if I break a nail, not that much … not really. But when I arrived in beautiful Noosa after months of roughing it while travelling I couldn’t have felt more at home.

It helped that I was staying in one of the most stunning hostels I have ever been in. YHA hostel is a listed building built in that classic everglades style with a wooden veranda and big airy rooms with windows on all sides. It’s staffed by a very friendly team who are happy to help in any way they can and it does a great breakfast. Noosa itself is full of great, independent shops that I spent hours getting lost in selling a huge array of wares (and where I spent far too much money ). However all those hours in shops didn’t just provide me with a load of ‘stuff’ that I then had to carry around, I also had a brilliant conversation with one shop owner regarding a necklace that went something like this:

Shop owner: that necklace is vegan leather so really good for the planet

Me: Vegan leather? So it’s synthetic?

SO: No, not synthetic! Its vegan leather

M: how do you make vegan leather?

SO: Well it’s just like leather but vegan

M: but not synthetic

SO: no

M: … right.

Either way, I still bought the necklace.

Noosa is right on the edge of a national park which was conveniently only a 5 minute walk from my hostel. Read any of the travel books and they’ll tell you the best time to see it is as early in the morning as possible before it gets too hot. The thing is though that in summer in Noosa the sun rises at 4:00am and it’s already baking hot by 7:00am, so I figured if I was going to do it I should probably do it properly and get up to see the sun rise. Come 4:00am the next morning I was in my hiking shoes and leggings and making my way to the park. I have to say I missed the sunrise itself but I did have a beautiful walk around the park in the bright sunshine without the heat. I would like to say I had a lovely solitary walk around the park but that wasn’t the case. It seems like every single runner in Noosa gets up at 4:00am to run around the park. I thought I was doing well by getting up so early but these guys put me to shame! Determined to feel good about myself I decided later in the day it would be a good idea to go running, except that I had no trainers. So my clever plan (after having done no exercise for 6 months) was to go for a run on the beach as I could do that barefoot. It wasn’t a good idea, it didn’t make me feel good, it made me feel very unfit and slightly sick. And I could barely put my heels to the ground for about 3 days… But the view was pretty good. 

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Not content with exercising the lower half of my body I decided to work the upper half too and go kayaking through the everglades with ‘The Discovery Group’. However this trip, unlike the run, was a very good idea. You take a boat from the harbour upriver into the shallow, still waters of the everglades. Dock up at a little camping site, have some tea and cake, and then pick up the kayaks to go further into the network of rivers. The everglades feel timeless, like you could be in any century you want and they would be exactly the same. I think it’s something about the stillness of the water and the comforting ‘wrapped up’ feeling you get from the trees on either side of you. The water is dark black from tannin that washes out of the trees, and vast sections of it are covered in beautiful lilies that open their flowers during the day and close them again at night.

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After about an hour of kayaking you pull up to another camp site and have a beautiful bbq lunch of trout or steak and a quick dip in the refreshing river. Note to self though, don’t wear a bikini that has white on it, it will never be white again after going in that water. You then jump back on a boat (yes I know it’s cheating that you don’t kayak back) and return to modern day life 4 hours later, feeling as zenned out as you would if you’d just had a yoga lesson.

All in all Noosa was a form of therapy for me, a little taste of life back home but still bathed in beautiful Australian sunshine and surrounded by amazing scenery. I feel like I may have found my retirement home.

Living on a Sand Castle

Date: Sunday 22nd to Tuesday 24th November 2015

Location: Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

As you’re travelling down the East Coast of Australia it becomes apparent that the main attraction is the beach, so when you get half way through Queensland and the next thing to see is the biggest island in the world made purely of sand it’s not a huge surprise. However when you get to the island itself, it is a surprise to see that this island is not only huge (it includes ‘75 Mile Beach’), it’s full of forest and has resorts built on it. I don’t know, in my head any building on a sand island just sunk … apparently that doesn’t happen.

There are several ways of seeing Fraser Island . You can take your own car over to the island, hope it doesn’t get stuck in the sand and then buy a few nights at a hotel. You can go on a ‘tag along’ tour where you and a group of strangers are put in a 4×4 together to drive in convoy with one leader. Or you can go on a tour in a 4×4 coach. All right, I chickened out of driving the four by fours myself but only because anyone I had met who did it said they spent more time digging the cars out than they did seeing the island and as I didn’t have my own car the only way left was on a tour. I chose a company called ‘Cool Dingo’s’. Partly because their 3 day tour sounded really good and had been recommended to me by lots of friends and partly because by the time I came to book my trip it was one of the only ones with space left on it …

The main attraction of Fraser Island is its beautiful fresh water lakes (yes it is a sand island with lakes on it). During the tour you visit several which are crystal clear and beautifully warm and perfect for swimming in. (Which is a good thing as the sea surrounding Fraser Island is prime shark territory and you’d be pretty mad to swim in it). The most beautiful and famous of these is Lake McKenzie, more blue than any other water you’ve seen and surrounded by a perfect white sand beach, you could stay there forever and be pretty happy.

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But you can’t rest at Lake McKenzie for too long as there are plenty of other things to see and do. One of the best things you can do on Fraser Island is go on a plane tour with Air Fraser Island. These little 6 seater planes drive up and down 75 Mile Beach taking off for a 20 minute flight, coming back down and picking up the next lot of people. The view you get of the island as a whole is amazing with the beach stretching out on either side of you and a broccoli style forest stretching out underneath you. If you’re lucky you may even see the shadow of a whale or a shark in the water below you. Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to see any wildlife on my flight but we did spot two turtles and a shark from the top of Indian Head. This is one of the highest points on Fraser Island, a section of the sand so old and compressed it has turned into a form of rock. From the top of this cliff you have a brilliant view out over the water and into the champagne pools. These are rock pools right on the edge of the beach meaning that, depending on the tide, the waves just about crash into them making the water bubble and giving them their name. As they are rock pools they’ve been heated by the sun and make a lovely place to kill an afternoon chatting away and looking at the view.

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But one of the best things about the Cool Dingo’s Tour is the people you meet. As you’re on a bus with the same 25 people for 3 days you get to know them all pretty well. You all stay in a resort in cabins that take up to 16 people each and all have their own kitchen/living room … meaning they make a great place for an after party once the bar on site has closed, and you have dinner as a group together every evening. I met some truly lovely people on Fraser Island that made all the swimming, flying, hiking, running over hot sand, floating down rivers, drinking and partying so much more fun.

Sailing Paradise

Date: Wednesday 18th to Friday 20th November 2015

Location: SV Whitehaven boat, The Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

The only way to see the Whitsunday Islands is by boat and, my god, do you want to see the Whitsunday Islands. When you’re travelling up or down the East Coast of Australia everyone will say ‘have you been to the Whitsundays yet?’ It is THE place to go and even though I’m not really one for following the crowd… you have to go. Right down at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef, they are a beautiful set of sand islands some of which are forested, some not but all are made of the most beautiful fine white sand, surrounded by stunning coral reefs.

I chose to travel on the SV Whitehaven which comes under the ‘Adventure’ category of trips. The Whitsundays have three categories of boats ‘Party’; mostly filled by the 18-22 crowd…I don’t want to know what happens on these boats, ‘Adventure’; for people like me who want to want to see the Whitsundays in all their glory but still have a drink in the evenings and ‘Family’ for older people and couples.  The SV Whitehaven is a medium sized sailing boat, big enough to fit 20 people sleeping for the night and small enough to still have a wonderfully intimate feeling. Run by some of the most fun and chilled out tour guides I found, they will make sure you see all the best bits of the Whitsundays and have a great time doing it. These are people who obviously absolutely love their job, and why wouldn’t they?

The tour takes two days, on the first you spend the morning sailing through the bright blue sea with the wind in your hair and what seems like the whole world stretched out in front of you. You come to a stop at a sheltered cove which has some amazing snorkelling and if you’re lucky a turtle or two, then after a few hours you get back on board for an amazing lunch. The afternoon is spent getting to know your boatmates (… boatmates? Yeah, I’m going with it) while lounging in the sun on the front deck and waiting to see the sun set over the prow of the boat.

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As night falls and the boat moors up you can either head down to your bunk to sleep, or set out your bed on deck under the beautiful stars. I opted for outdoors sleep, admiring the constellations, at least for a few hours. It gets surprisingly cold out at sea.

On the second day comes the highlight of the tour; Whitehaven Beach. Pulling up at a small inlet on what’s called the ‘back’ side of the island you get introduced to S**t beach. At first look you wonder why it deserves its name, it’s really not that bad. Then you walk through the forest (up a hill no less) for about 20 minutes until you come to the island viewpoint and then in front of you is one of the most spectacular beaches you have ever seen. Bright white sand and perfect turquoise sea stretching out in front of you. I’ve added a photo below but so far no photo I’ve seen has done it justice, it has to be seen to be believed.

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Not only is the sand pure white and super fine, and the sea crystal clear and as warm as a bath, it’s also full of sharks and stingrays! That’s better than it sounds, as in the sharks are little baby sharks (under a metre long) and won’t come near you but they are pretty cool to watch. And the stingrays stay in the shallows and keep themselves to themselves but you can get a very close look at these elegant creatures in the wild. After soaking up the scenery and the sun we headed back to the boat for an amazing lunch, followed by more snorkelling and kayaking around the island. This was some of the most fantastic snorkelling I have ever done and because of the laidback vibe of the trip you can wander to your heart’s desire. There aren’t many rules and the time limit isn’t one that’s going to bother you. Besides if you get bored of snorkelling you can always just spend your time jumping off the boat instead.

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The whole trip ended with a chilled out return to the harbour where if you ask nicely they’ll let you drive the boat too.