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.

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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.

Aloha Hawaii

Date: Monday 1st to Saturday 11th July 2015

Location: Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Flying into Honolulu is one of the most beautiful trips you can do, if you ever find a way to make it to this island, do it! In an empty blue sea it is a shining black, green and yellow jewel that appears out of nowhere inviting you down to its perfect sandy beaches. Although this island is part of America it has a completely different feel and it is incredibly multicultural. In parts it has more of an Asian feel than an American feel, despite the language. I was lucky enough to be staying at the Moana Surf Rider hotel, the oldest in Honolulu and what was once a very beautiful plantation style wooden building with a veranda and direct access to the beach. Since then, the architects of Honolulu got hold of it and have added two hideous 1960s wings on either side. I would say this was a shame but seeing as planning laws never seemed to come into play in Honolulu they’re not exactly out of place. However if you keep your eyes trained either towards the sea (Makai) or towards the mountains (Mauka) this is one of the most visually stunning places that I have seen so far.

IMG_2415My first few days in Hawaii I was hauled up in bed with tonsillitis, but honestly there are worse places in the world to feel that crap! And really what’s the difference between a bed and a sun lounger by the pool to the antibiotics. After recovery, the first trip I managed to get myself out on was snorkelling in Hanauma Bay. This is the flooded crater of an extinct volcano that after a few million years has become full of beautiful coral and fish and it’s super easy snorkelling, pretty much put on your mask, put your face in the water and there’s a fish! It’s a conservation reserve so the rules on touching/standing/accidently kicking the coral are pretty strict aka DO NOT TOUCH! But all this protection means that fish populations which were once almost fished to extinction are now flourishing.

IMG_2501I would add some photos of the beautiful fish in here for you but to go waterproof we also had to go old school with a camera that had film…

One of the most memorable trips we took while in Hawaii was a day trip over to Big Island. This is the island that is still full of live and very active volcanoes, it’s where all those videos of exploding lava and melting beer cans come from. We started the day with a helicopter trip over the most active section of the volcano which can only be accessed from the air (for obvious reasons!). As you fly over the sea of solid black and grey below you, you can see little columns of smoke trailing up into the atmosphere. Our very helpful tour guide (who wanted you to know that he works for a company called ‘Blue Hawaii’) explained that these are trees which are bursting into flames as the lava hits them. The fires are so contained and don’t spread as Big Island is a very wet and rainy island, everything is just too damp to burn easily. Then as we circled round a particular little hill and looked down you can see a little glowing pool of orange. THIS IS LAVA!! This is an actual piece of melted rock that has burst out of the centre of the earth (or near enough, don’t correct me geographers) after being down there for who knows how long! Maybe it has never reached the surface before and this is the first time since the world formed that this lava is seeing daylight. So exciting! However I wasn’t jumping around and squealing in my seat quite at that point as it turns out I get helicopter induced motion sickness … damn. After landing (major relief!) we got on a bus to carry on around the island. The tour took in beautiful black sandy beaches where we saw turtles, sulphur fields with rising gases, lava tubes which are tunnels under the ground caused by fast moving lava, lava fields where you can walk across the swirling patterns the lava has created and a tour of the national park. We ended as the sun went down watching the glow of the bubbling lava reflect onto the side of the crater, pretty special.

IMG_2615Another day we took a trip to Waimea Falls in the north of Oahu island. This is a beautiful waterfall that you can swim in which has  botanical gardens attached to it. It’s worth spending a few hours there to soak up the atmosphere … and also have an amazing lunch at the Peacock café! We took the local bus back, which although it took ages was a really interesting trip where we got to see lots of little towns around the island.

IMG_2620We did many other activities including a luau with Polynesian dancing and traditional foods, July 4th fireworks on the beach, watching outrigger boat races on the beach and countless days just lying around on the beautiful sand beaches. Hawaii is full of super friendly, laid back, cool people who are happy and proud to show you around their beautiful islands. … And if I haven’t convinced you to visit yet you should know that Honolulu has no mosquitos whatsoever! Sold?