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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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.