That time we went to Wales and climbed three mountains for charity

 

“Why are we doing this?” 

“Because… you can.”

Last weekend I found myself engaging in something quite out of character: I hiked up (and back down) not one but three rather large peaks in Wales – all in aid of charity.

And let me tell you, it was, quite honestly, the hardest thing I have ever done — ever. Not to be dramatic, (okay, a little) but as a girl who would rather poke her own eyes out than actively purchase a pair of hiking boots and who loves nothing more than a warm evening in front of a fire cocooned in blankets and eating chocolate, this really pushed me to the limit. And for that, I am actually mega grateful.

It all began with a flippant conversation between a group of girls trying to think of something ‘a little different’ to do to raise money for their chosen work charity of the year, The Royal Voluntary Service.

“Let’s climb up the Welsh Three Peaks?”, Charlotte said.

“Oh yes, what a fabulous idea!”, we said.

And so, just like that, our journey to the peaks began.

The first obstacle was making sure we had everything we needed. And, unsurprisingly, I had none of those things. The ‘essentials’ list was endless: boots, head torch, thermals, waterproofs, wool socks, compass, walking poles, gloves, hat to name but a few. And then there’s the blister plasters, micropore tape (to keep your toenails on *cry face*), truck load of painkillers, sweets and a small bottle of prosecco to cheers the completion (this was on the essentials list).

Skimming over ‘emergency shelter’ and ‘safety blanket’ whilst studying the list, it dawned on me that this might not be as easy as I had first presumed… I had only started collecting pieces of hiking kit and rallying around for donations a few days before due to sheer denial; and despite my valiant efforts to ignore it, it didn’t go away!

So, the day of the challenge flew around at the speed of light and we made our way, with all the gear and no idea, to Chester train station for collection.

Mountain 1 (1085 m)

The first mountain on our to-do list was Snowdon. Bit of context for ya: Snowdon is the largest mountain in Wales and the highest point in the British Isles outside of Scotland. Yep, pretty darn high that thing (smug hair flick). It is also breathtakingly beautiful and if you have any David Bailey photography skills – of which I do not – you would LOVE it.

It was approximately one-third of the way up this mountain when I realised how grossly I had underestimated the ordeal that lay before us. ‘Ice’, one of our charming, chappy Mountain Leaders (who also took on the role of counsellor, passive-aggressive deflector, and motivational mentor) advised us that we would be doing a fair bit of ‘scrambling’.

For those of you unsure what scrambling is — ie. me last week — it’s when three points of your body are on a mountain at any one time. I thought he was joking – but, turns out, he wasn’t.

So, just as Ice had said, the path disappeared, and instead, we had to haul our sopping-wet little selves up the rocks with our cold claws paws and high into the clouds (1085 m to be exact).

Side note – Yes, you read that right, his name was ‘Ice’. I’m going with self-appointed to give him a bit of an outdoorsy, ‘I’m at one with nature’ edge; however, we later found out his name was Darren which, FYI Darren, we all thought was perfectly acceptable and far cooler than Ice. But whatevs, y’know.

After three hours we reached the summit and were greeted with weather that can only be described as stepping into a washing machine full of arctic water and pins that stabbed us in the face — all while our hands froze off and we tried desperately not to get blown over the edge. We huddled together for a quick photo, smiled winced with mascara sliding down our faces and prepared for the descent down the other side. Just to note, a fair bit of this was done on our bums — so as not to plummet down and break a leg (or nail).

Coming down was slightly uncomfortable due to my feet really giving me jip and aching. The only way I can describe it is, you know the pain you get after a night out when you have been walking in heels for hours? Or after a long day on your feet shopping? Yeah, that’s the ticket. I know you know.

Three hours later and we made it! A few gentle tumbles in streams of water were had but no major injuries sustained. And, despite being completely drenched, we had succeeded in completing mountain number 1! HOORAY.

Mountain 2 (893 m)

So, back to the bus we trudged. We refuelled with a bacon bap and cup of soup and an hour later arrived at destination number 2, Cadair Idris.

By this point (about 7:30 pm) it was pitch black and the trusty (and extremely fetching) head torches came out to play. Which, secretly, I had been quite excited about sporting since I had lovingly packed it the day before. And so, a little tired and a lot wet, up the second mountain we went.

Thinking back, I pushed myself a smidge too hard too soon on this one. In my desperation to get the burning leg pain out of the way, I charged up the mountain chatting away in a state of mild, over-tired, bacon-butty-fuelled delirium. This caused me to suffer what I describe as a catastrophic sugar crash – and what most would describe as mild fatigue due to lack of proper eating.

After having a minor episode of “how the **** am I going to get down this mountain when my arms and legs feel detached from my body”, and subsequently being force-fed Haribo, a Mars Bar, and sugar tablets, I sprung back good-to-go and pinged my way down the rest of the mountain.

Mountain 3 (886 m)

Four hours on the bus later — taking us to the cheery time of 3 am — we arrived at Pen y Fan: the final hurdle. We had royally had enough by this point and didn’t we make the Mountain Leaders know it. I’m sure one of them, Sam, even feigned an eye injury to stop from having to put up with another minute of our moaning. He actually waited on the bus until we were done, lol.

However, this mountain was my favourite. Not only was the end in sight but it was a relatively kind incline— at least compared to the first two. And there were no huge rocks to scale and it had stopped raining so we could see without huge droplets of water splashing in our eyes (winner)! The sky was so clear we were even able to turn our trusty head torches off and plod by moonlight under the stars. I mean, it could have been quite pleasant had I not been awake all night, up a mountain in Wales, very cold and very far from bed.

Side note We liked to think of ourselves on this expedition as comedy moaners. Grumbling under your breath about how much you hate the Mountain Leader, mountains and Wales, whilst peeping out the hood of a ‘waterproof’ jacket and looking like a walking bin bag really helped pass the time. Even if none of the above was true (deep, deep down).

So, we finally completed the third mountain at 7 am, 19 hours and 20 miles since we first stepped foot onto Snowdon! We made it! ‘Euphoria’ was how we described it at the time.

Bedraggled and tired we attempted to celebrate with a glass of bubbles, gripping proudly onto our certificates, but opted for a warm and very sweet cup of tea instead. AND, to top it off, we finished with a 6000 calorie deficit – YES!

“When you go out of your comfort zone and it works, there’s nothing more satisfying.” – Kristen wig

Between the first and second peak, whilst I was rummaging around in my backpack searching for spare batteries for my head torch (totally normal Saturday night behaviour), I uttered in frustration, “Why are we even doing this?!” to which, out from the dark next to me, a nice old fella named Peter replied, “Because, you can.” Peter had lost his wife two years ago and he was doing the peaks to raise money for the hospice she spent time in. Heartbreaking. If anything was going to humble my grumpy little attitude problem it was that. I held onto that thought during the second two mountains and it helped me remember how lucky I was to be there, why we were doing it in the first place — and to appreciate how special this adventure really was.

And, before I wrap this rather long ol’ post up, I’d like to give a special mention to the team of mountaineers that completed this challenge with me – Louise, Gaby, Charlotte, Nicki and, of course, Pete. You are all amazing and I’m one lucky hiker to have been able to experience this with such a genuine, spirited and hysterically funny crew. When are the National Three Peaks, eh?

This challenge was so good for me. It showed me what I am capable of and catapulted me out of my comfort zone. It also made me realise how good it is for the soul to put yourself to the test and that it’s okay to take pride in yourself and celebrate your achievements when you are done. I am also aware I have written this as though we have climbed Everest (hikers and climbers of the world, I take my proverbial hat off to you-you legends!) and it did, at times, feel like we had!

Despite all the moaning and achey muscles, I loved every minute. I mean, don’t get me wrong, hiking isn’t going to be my new ‘thing’, but I enjoyed this new adventure.

If anyone feels so inclined or takes pity on us, please feel free to donate here to a really worthy cause.

 

“Don’t be afraid to take an unfamiliar path, sometimes they are the ones that take you to the best places.”

 


 

 

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Christmas in Melbourne

 

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As I sit, cup of tea in-hand, with my thermal socks pulled up to my knees, I’ve found myself reminiscing about last year’s Christmas; the one spent soaking up 30 degree sunshine in Burn City (Melbourne), Australia.

It’s Facebook’s fault. Every day I’m shown pictures of our adventures- 24 hour cross-state road trips, meetings with peculiar wildlife, snorkelling in The Whitsundays. My social media was devoid of any orange- Autumnal pictures last year, it was all blue skies and beaches.

For those new to The Upside, my fiancé Joel and I spent a year living in Melbourne, which included last Christmas. (Best. Year. Ever.)

  

Before I visited the Land Down Under I always wondered what it would be like. I had this terrible, Englishly-ignorant, vision it would be all red dirt and kangaroos, with every tiny bug trying to kill me.

And what about Christmas?  How does all that blasting, UV- fuelled, sunshine and beach lifestyle leave any room for poor old, velvet suited, huge bearded, Mr. Claus?

The thought of an un-Christmassy Christmas quite frankly, distressed me.

Well, I’m happy to tell you, Santa fits in just fine. With a slight adaption of culture and the very noticeable lack of necessary clothing, I was overjoyed to find out Australian Christmases are very much the same.

If you’ve ever wondered, Aussie traditions are identical to those in the UK. The tree and decs go up in early December, the department stores are decked out with fairy lights and tinsel and some Aussies even tuck into a full roast on Christmas day.

Do excuse my stating the obvious here, but the weather is what makes the biggest difference. All the things you associate with Christmas are replaced with all things summer. Cheese boards for barbecues and bobble hats for bikinis.

This weather had a huge effect on my festive eating habits – my annual December non-diet was replaced by real bikini-fear. With the distinct lack of cold and any need to wrap up, there really is no ingrained desire to comfort eat your way through a boiling Australian summer. (Plus, the thought of hitting the beach on Christmas Day is enough to put anyone off eating mince pies.)

 

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As honorary Aussies, we celebrated Christmas Day the only way that felt right, by going to the beach. (Well, when in Rome.)

Joel’s ‘rents had popped over from the UK and his sister Roxie and her partner Eric travelled down from their home in Queensland to spend the festivities with us, at our little house in Melbourne.

In contrast to Christmas Day at home, ours was spent enjoying the great outdoors.

In the morning we set up camp at Williamstown Waterfront, moving onto the local beach for the afternoon – which was packed with travellers and locals enjoying the glorious winter sun.

Aussie Trivia 1 – Melbourne’s weather can be temperamental in December, but luckily for us sun-worshippers it was well into the 30’s. It has been known to rain and temps can get as low as 17 degrees. (Which, due to Melb’s lack of humidity, feels far cooler than 17 degrees at home, fyi.)

Aussie Trivia 2- Unlike in the UK, the temperature in Melbourne increases all day throughout summer and reaches its peak at around 5 o’clock. (This is awesome for catching the last rays of the day post work, but does make for a rather sweltering commute home.)

After we’d soaked up enough Vitamin D, we trooped home, cracked open the stubbies (beers), lined up the shrimp and fired up the barbie.

     

During the Christmas break, we continued to do some extremely un-festive things,

We visited dreamy wineries (see my post on why Victorian wineries are everything), tracked down wild koalas on the Great Ocean Road and navigated the uber- famous and very hipster, Melbourne Laneways.

    

As Christmases go, last year’s was up there.

Until meeting Joel (my travelling sidekick) I was a homebod. Festivities Down Under were something I had never considered, let alone thought I’d get the chance to experience. I have well and truly caught ‘wanderlust’, and loved every minute of our year, upside down.

If, per chance, you have ever considered a warm Christmas- or need some respite from these frosty Winter nights, I’d whole heartedly recommend a visit to Australia. It’s quite the novelty putting on factor 30 in December, mate.

 

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Why Santorini needs to be next on your To Go List…

//Santorini Travel Guide//

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As I write this post I am sifting through the millions of photo’s that Joel and I took whilst on our recent trip to Santorini attempting to pick out my favourites. I’ll tell you this much, it’s a first world struggle. 

I’d like to start by saying, Santorini is even more breathtaking than I imagined it to be. Everywhere you turn there are white washed walls covered in pink bougainvillea, bright blue doors, rooftops and EPIC views.

If you are looking for a white sandy beach laced with palm trees kinda holiday, Santorini is not for you my friend. If you are looking for some of the most insane view-porn of your life and fancy seeing your Instagram explode, book yourself a ticket.

The reason we nipped over to the island is because it’s where we are getting married. I am forever fearful of a wet English wedding and I’m after a fairly low-key ‘do. We checked Greece out with this criteria and were given the nudge that Santorini was the place to go.

So off we went to give the beaches a test run, eating all sorts and sampling the local vino on our way (for research purposes obviously.)

It took me all of about 12 hours to fall irrevocably in love with the island and I now have my heart set on my Greek knees up.

I am sure, it totally is, with no doubt whatsoever, the place I want to get married.

Reasons to visit:

Not too tough on the purse strings- First off, don’t be put off by an expectation that Santorini is super expensive. Yes, it has its fair share of 6* hotels and my money seemed to evaporate from my little pouch of euros, but it’s no more expensive than the other Greek islands.

We knew we needed to do this jaunt (‘research project’) on a budget. Mainly due to the fact we have just touched down from a year in Oz and are both very much jobless. It may be plastered all over Instagram and teeming with the rich and famous but you can do Santorini properly even without tons of cash. (We did!)

Views- Again with the view porn. I would like to stop and take this moment to impress how ridiculous the views are.

A rather large volcanic explosion blew a huge hole in the island in the 16th century, making  Santorini crescent shaped. The explosion caused a ‘caldera’ to form in the middle which filled with the Aegean Sea. Beautiful little towns and villages have since been built into the caldera’s cliffside, resulting in the world famous rooftops and spectacular views. (Oh and refer to pics for the sunsets from said views, wowza.)

Weather- Every now and again we all need a good ol’ top up of Vitamin D. Between May and September you are guaranteed glorious sunshine in Santorini. It is HOT with temperatures from mid 20’s to early 30’s. Iffy British weather alone is enough to get me to the Greek.

Treats to eat – I had a ball eating my way around the island. I lost count of how many gyros Joel and I ploughed through last week. Gyros, Greek yoghurt, Greek salad, yep big fan. That’s without even mentioning the fresh seafood and scrummy eat-till-you-almost-bust-out-of-your-holiday-dress pizzas. 

Greek wine- I tend to regard myself as a grade A-wino and this considered my knowledge of Greek wine is vastly below par. Santorini is home to a ton of wineries, which means barrels of local wine to try, Hoo rah.

I sincerely recommend a visit to Venetsanos Winery. It’s just off the main road between Perissa and Fira. We spent an afternoon supping away (very rosey cheeked) on generous sloshes of wine from the lovely staff, whilst taking in another stunning view of the caldera.

(Alternatively, if you are anyone other than me, you can stay healthy by ordering the fresh orange juice that’s on offer in almost every cafe or bar in Santorini.)

So here’s a quick break down of our Santorini trip:

Where we stayed:

Perissa

We stayed at the South of the island in the small town of Perissa. This buzzy little place gave us everything we wanted from a holiday. It’s close to the beach – for mermaids, full of bars- for the odd tipple and there’s a massive choice of pretty little restaurants all lined up along the shoreline.

A lot of travellers tend to stay at the North of the island for the views. Thats totally fine for being sassy and twirling around on the marble floors of Oia but the reality of the situation is, I needs me a beach. Quick heads up, the sand is volcanic, black and really hot.

Where we visited:

Oia

Pronounced EEYA or OIYA, this is the famous, most Instagram-able place on the island. That blue and white though.(Insert one million heart eye emojis.)

Tourists pour into the ‘prettiest town in the Med’ every day and it’s so beautiful when the sun sets, people CLAP.

This is the part of the island where the half-naked instagoddesses barefoot skip across rooftops, or if you are me, pose awkwardly and accidentally photobomb every poor soul in the area (sorry all.)

To give it even further context, Brad and Angelina have a house in Oia. Not too shabby for Lizzie.

Fira

A 20 minute drive from Oia, Fira just pipped it to the post as my favourite town in Santorini.

I totally lost it here. We visited this town the most throughout our stay. It just has such a nice vibe to it. Fira has all the charm of Oia, it’s got the white rooftops and cobbled streets but it has a little bit more character and a panache about it.

You also feel a bit more like you are on holiday here. There are people living life, shopping and doing their touristy thing. It’s fun. Also less people are about to hit you in the face with a selfie stick.

How we got around:

Santorini is only about 18km from top to bottom, so hiring yourself a car is a massive YES if you fancy exploring and want a simple way to navigate the island.

We hired a moped, much to my mothers dismay. I wouldn’t normally condone the use of them (don’t fall off and PLEASE wear a helmet) but Joel’s got a full motorbike license so we were a okay.

You could always cruise around on a quad bike as a marginally safer mode of transport. Or even better, there’s always the option of jumping on one of the local buses.

It was super tough to leave this wonderful place and I found myself grizzling pathetically spoilt-child-style in departures on the way home.

I really hope this little Santorini Travel Guide helps any potential visitors, so that hopefully you won’t holiday as clueless as me.

Until next time, we will be back soon!

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Wilsons Promonotory National Park

We have just returned from my first ever, real life camping experience at Wilsons Promonotory National Park.

When I say first, what I mean is first time actually being outdoorsy and saucepan-cooking-camping.

Wilsons Promonotory

I’ve stayed in tents at festivals but I wouldn’t call that ‘camping’, that was more like seeking refuge under a poorly assembled, leaking shelter. As a camping novice and spending two nights in the wilderness, I feel I fared rather well and once again one of Australia’s landmarks has stolen another piece of my heart.

Normans Beach Wilsons Promonotory

Last Saturday we got our kit together, tent check, gas stove check, blow up mattress check, lights (very important) check, wedged everything into our trusty car and set off on our way to the national park for a weekend of wilderness camping.

A bit of background for you: Wilsons Promonotory is a 50,512 hectare National Park 3 hours outside of Melbourne. It’s located at the southern most point of Australia and is lined by the Southern Ocean. It’s Victoria’s biggest and most popular national park with over 400,000 people visiting a year. It’s not hard to see why,  it has enormous granite mountains, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, forest AND rainforest.

We stayed in Tidal River Camp Site which is located on the coast of the park. From our pitch we could hear the waves rolling in at night (aaaah) and the sky was dusted with thousands of stars due to the lack of light pollution.

Normans Beach Wilsons Promonotory

I always knew camping in Australia would be easier than in England. For starters it didn’t rain or even threaten it once and the temperature wasn’t sub-zero at night.

However, we did have other things to take into account such as making sure the tent door was zipped up through fear of animal visitors (you don’t have to worry about a hungry wombat or a deadly snake at home in the New Forest).

This place is teeming with animals. There are 30 types of mammal creeping around the park at any one time, including kangaroos, wombats, koalas, possums and bats. That’s without mentioning the ever present parrots, emus, lizards and bugs.

One of the many things I love about this park and throughout Australia, is the respect and preservation of all its wildlife. First and foremost the park is home to them and us visitors slot in and make sure we respect that.

This fluffy little barrel rolled out of the bush to say hello and check us over for edible treats.

Wombat at Wilsons Promonotory

Wombat at Wilsons Promonotory

Parrots at Wilsons Promonotory

We spent the majority of our weekend admiring the beaches and hiking on the many walking trails. On Saturday we stomped (alternating between hiking and struggling) from Tidal Bay, up and over a mountain to Squeaky Beach (the sand squeaks when you walk on it). We detoured to a trail known as Pillar Point which leads to the tip of a rocky peninsula separating Tidal Bay and Squeaky Beach. The panoramic views from Pillar Point were breathtaking and stretched for miles over acres of tree filled, green outback and blue ocean.

I must admit this isn’t my usual way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I would probably, by the evening, be a few wines in, eating terrible food, perusing all manners of social media and having done very little in the way of exercise and  it was SO REFRESHING to do something different.

Wilsons Promonotory view

Pillar Point Wilsons Promonotory

I was always quite frightened of the prospect of camping, let alone camping in Aus. What happens when an axe murderer comes out of the bushes at night and your phone signal isnt working? Not only do you have to worry about THAT but also the enormous number of weird animals coming into your tent whilst you sleep.

Anyone naïve enough to believe that camping in Australia is unsafe and that you are out in the wilderness all alone (i.e. me) let me reassure you that this, thankfully, does not have to be the case. Park Rangers were on hand to give advice and the fellow campers on our site were more than happy to lend us newbies a helping hand.

I would also like to point out throughout our camping experience, I had full mobile phone signal. For someone quite sure she is within minutes of being bitten by a deadly animal, this was hugely reassuring. Bravo Australia. .

 

Normans Beach Wilsons Promonotory

A lot can be said for waking up, scrambling out of your tent and breathing in the fresh morning air. Stepping out of your normal routine and doing something different, being outside and taking in the natural landscape is good for the soul. I found it very therapeutic.

Despite initially being clueless and way out of my comfort zone, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in this BEAUTIFUL national park.

Wilsons Promonotory in all its unspoilt and natural glory literally took my breath away, thanks again Australia for a bloody ripper time!

fiance at Wilson Promonotory

Selfie at Wilsons Promonotory

Emus at Wilsons Promonotory

Parrot sitting on my arm at Wilsons Promonotory

 

 

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I wish every day was a Whitsun-day


Whitehaven Beach Whitsundays

 

The Whitsundays stole my heart a million times over.

Last month Joel and I visited his sister, Roxie, at her home in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. If I can give one piece of advice to anyone reading this, you must go to the Whitsunday’s, it is UH-MA-ZING.

Roxie kindly put us up for the week, whilst we enjoyed the excitement of what Airlie Beach has to offer. Airlie is renowned for it’s party culture and is a must-stop-destination for backpackers travelling up the east coast of Australia. The town is full of shops, bars and clubs and promotes a laid back and relaxed vibe. Travellers visit Airlie to explore some of the 74 beautiful Whitsunday Islands and the main tourist pull, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 1,400 miles and is the world largest single living organism. It is famous for being home to thousands of species of wildlife including, sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and coral and because of this is one of the most popular tourist locations in the world.

Whitsundays Sailing

Sailing the Whitsundays

The highlight of our Airlie stay was a two night trip Avatar, a trimaran sailing yacht, where we were given a guided tour of some of the most famous destinations throughout the islands, hopping off to snorkel along the way.

Having never ‘properly’ snorkelled before I was itching to throw myself in to the water and see what was down there. By ‘properly’ I mean I had never snorkelled in the open ocean, where it’s impossible to wimp out and find land or swim to the shallows and touch your feet on the bottom. Once you are on the reef and surrounded by sea creatures you can’t quite help but feel slightly out of your depth (literally).

Over the two days we snorkelled in Luncheon Bay on Hook Island and Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island. We swam through huge clusters of living coral and in bays teeming with beautiful brightly coloured fish.

We were given rather attractive wetsuits to wear in a bid to ward off any tiny and invisible jellyfish from stinging us whilst we were in the water. Lucky for us it wasn’t jellyfish season but it’s better to be safe than stung.

Of course like any other other human I was worried about the dreaded ‘S’ word (Shark). I came to realise after a couple of mentions the ‘S- word’ is not supposed to be mentioned in Australia much at all, let alone while people are precariously getting into the water. I was reassured that there has never been an attack in the Whitsundays and as far as anyone knew sharks preferred to dine at dawn and dusk. So, at lunch time we were all good.

The following morning we were woken up at 6am and jetted over to Whitsunday Island (the largest of the islands). Our early start was for us to be the first travellers on Whitehaven Beach and have the best chance of seeing it in all its unspoilt and un-walked on glory.

Whitehaven is famous for being the most beautiful beach in Australia and one of the best in the world. It is the only beach in the world made up of fine grains of white silica (which feels like flour when walked on). Silica doesn’t retain heat like normal sand and is comfortable to walk on even in frying-hot temperatures. However beautiful this sand is , it is also deadly to all things mechanical and we were advised to keep our cameras and phones clear of it as it has a tendency to clog up the innards and stop them from working.

Just as planned we were the first visitors and were able to explore a serenely quiet and undisturbed beach. We waded into the warm sea and were surrounded by huge sting rays gliding past us. We also spotted a tiny lemon shark from the beach (it was about 2 foot long, so not to worry).

The beach is stunning, the water is warm with a turquoise hue and the sand is bright white. It’s no wonder this beach is up there with the best in the world.

Our trip was full of animals from start to finish. From the boat we spotted a couple of turtles swimming past and as if we hadn’t been spoilt enough with all the colourful and tropical fish ,we saw a blue whale bob out of the water as we were making our way back to the dock. We were lucky to see this as most of the whales had already left the Whitsundays and migrated down towards the South of Australia.

The trip was full of laughs, lots of nice drinks, decent food, and spectacular sights. I enjoyed every second of it and would even sleep in the tiny pod cabin again.

Bobbing up and down under the stars in the middle of the ocean in rural Queensland is something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do. It was just as awe inspiring as I ever thought it could be and if I could, I would go back tomorrow! Thank you Airlie Beach for being a perfect paradise.

Sailing the Whitsundays

Sailing the Whitsundays

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Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays

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Whitehaven Beach Whitsundays

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Whitsundays, Australia

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Sailing through the Whitsundays

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Koh Phangan

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After six days of perfect relaxation in Koh Samui, we hopped on a ferry and made our way over to Koh Phangan for some more of the same, beaches and paradise- lucky us!

The island is ten years behind Koh Samui, it’s much smaller and is only accessible by boat. The majority of the roads connecting the north and south of the island are unfinished and mountainous, which made our journey to the hotel somewhat terrifying. The taxi driver navigated the bumpy roads, meandering around the edge of huge rainforest drops, whilst we peered out the windows and into the forest below.

Arriving at our hotel felt like walking onto the set of Jurassic Park. Set back from the beach, the hotel is surrounded by rainforest and built halfway up mountainous hillside. Our room was surrounded by jungle which meant we were frequently visited by the resident wildlife: birds, lizards and thousands of bugs (all of which seemed to be waiting to bite me). It was the first time I truly felt away from the familiarity of Europe and unsure of what was going to be waiting for me outside the balcony door.

The island is famed for its backpacker party culture and full-moon parties. Following suit from our relaxing Koh Samui stint, Joel and I decided to stay at the North of the island, where you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and lack of revelry. Perfect.

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Thong Nai Pan Beach

The resort was situated on Thong Nai Pan Beach, which is known as one of the most beautiful on the island. It is an idyllic bay with blue/ green waters, surrounded by rainforest and endless ocean.

The beach was quiet, with no clubs or bars, with only restaurants lining the waterside.

We spent much of our time on the island wandering up and down the beach, sampling coffees and cocktails on our way. We often watched thunderstorms brew from the beach, until the forks of lightening got too much (for me) and we would retreat to watch from the safety of our room. (Click below for some serious lightening.)

 

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Thongsala Night Market 

Thongsala is at the south of the island and is where the majority of the action happens. Backpackers congregate for the full moon parties and there is a lot of shopping and eating to be done. We wanted to see what the fuss of Thongsala was about so we hopped on another moped and set off to explore the night market.

There is great novelty in shopping in the dark, it’s so un-British. The hot and humid weather in Thailand promotes doing your day to day tasks by moonlight when the temperature has dropped and there is something really special about it.

The market is a weekly event that is a big deal to both the islanders and travellers.There is lots on offer from trinkets and jewellery to street food and groceries and is bustling with people looking for a bargain.

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Date night on the beach –

So you may think its slightly ridiculous to call this night our ‘date night’ but since the big move I have spent a lot of time communicating with home and sometimes hours and evenings can disappear to a chinwag with your family. We decided that we would take a night off from our phones, let our hair down and have one night without worrying too much about our budget (that always seems to go out of the window after a couple of drinks anyway.)

As it was our last night on the island, we sat on the beach watching fish jump out of the water and drank Pina Colada’s until the sun went down!

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Our stay on Koh Phangan was amazing. The endless white beaches and jungle rainforests were such beautiful sights to behold and experience. I kept wanting to pinch myself to see if what I was seeing was real. One thing I would like to suggest to any would-be visitors of the island, is to invest in some heavy-duty insect repellant as the bugs on this island are ruthless.

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Thanks for the fantastic trip Koh Phangan, you were a treat.

Koh Samui Part 2

We had to travel back to Samui to reach the snazzy airport, so we decided it would be rude not to stay for a couple more nights on our favourite island. We lapped up the last bit of paradise before heading back to Bangkok and for the final leg of the journey to Australia.

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We stayed in Mantra Samui Resort which was positioned halfway up the hillside at the north of the island. We had panoramic views of the island from our infinity pool (which are almost everywhere in Thailand) and ate eggs benedict every morning from the buffet, that along with pancakes, toast, pastries, yoghurt etc.

Sad, tanned and very well fed, we said our goodbyes to Thailand and began the journey (dragging our bulging suitcases) the final 4,500 miles to Melbourne!

Onward!

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Koh Samui

 

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The next stop on our Thailand tour was my first taste of island paradise, the mesmerising island of Koh Samui.

To the east of the mainland, Samui is one of the largest islands in the Gulf of Thailand and is surrounded by Ang Thong, a beautiful marine national park.

 

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After a quick flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui Airport (fyi- it’s a privately owned airport and ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world), we arrived at our home for the next six days- The Mimosa Resort and Spa. The hotel is on the north of the island and right on Me Naem Beach; from where you can see both neighbouring islands Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.

After a couple of days sleeping through until lunch, we had enough of missing half of our days to jet-lag and set our alarms to make sure we were solidly on Thailand time. The six-hour time difference threw us well out of sync and we were missing the spectacular spreads the hotel had put on for breakfast (which inexcusable, especially for Joel).

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We spent the entire week laying on the beach, the end. Okay, so thats basically what we did, with a bit of swimming for good measure when we were frazzled from the heat. The weather was a humid, but glorious, 30 degrees and it did not relent at night.

The sea was luke-warm, clear and still and the beaches were lined with coconut- filled palm trees. Koh Samui is truly a tropical dream. The absense of working internet and abundance of makeshift bamboo  houses adorned with shells really gave the feeling of isolation from our hectic life at home.

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On the days we felt like peeling ourselves away from the beach, we hired a moped and did laps of the island. We did however, chose what felt like the hottest days on record for these trips and we both got quite sunscrorched.

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We visited the island-famous view point Lat Koh and had epic panoramic views of the whole of Chaewang Bay and out into the ocean.

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On our travels we found Na Muang Waterfall and had a paddle in the pool below.

We also visited the famous ‘Big Buddha’, one of the main attractions on the Island. It is connected by a small road to the mainland and is visited daily by locals for worship and curious tourists.

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Fishermans Village

Whilst out and about on our travels we visited a small village known as Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut, a ten minute drive from our hotel. Fishermans Village is a eclectic mix of tourist-luring shops and shopping markets for the locals. It’s the oldest village on the island with lots of it’s old features having been well preserved and most still standing. Numerous fishing piers still sway in the water and some are still in use by the local fisherman today.

The streets of the village are filled with market stalls and shops full of clothes, jewellery and trinkets which are a bargain hunter’s dream. There are lots of places to eat with a huge choice of bars and restaurants so needless to say Joel and I didn’t go hungry!

Fishermans Village is renowned for being quaint and having kept it’s authentic Thai heritage alive, I would recommend it as a ‘must see’ if you visit Koh Samui.

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Sea kayaking-

Interrupting our six day lay-on-the-beach-and-not-move- athon, was a couple of hours spent out in the ocean in a two person kayak. The kayaks were complimentary through our hotel and although I am not usually the first one to rush to partake in a sporting activity this was particularly enjoyable. We navigated our way out of the bay across rocks and through shallow pools and paddled the length of the beach, admiring all of the more secluded and salubrious apartments on our way.

We cruised around just as the sun was going down and got to enjoy the treat of nature that is a beautiful Southeast Asian Sunset, from the water!

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When we weren’t exploring the island on our moped or skimming through the ocean in our kayak, we were absorbing the beauty of our resident beach (which is front-of-travel-brochure material).

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Eating is our favourite hobby and much of our Thailand trip was spent indulging the local cuisine. On most days ate Pad Thai, a dish of noodles with chicken or prawns, bean sprouts and nuts. This quickly became our signature holiday dish at 80 Baht (£1.60), it was a really tasty bargain! As you can see from below we occasionally allowed ourselves a more European dish (you can’t beat a slice of Italian stone baked pizza after a long day holidaying).

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Our first trip to paradise was nothing short of perfection. Koh Samui is perfect. It’s peaceful, heavenly beautiful and with so much to see and do. We will definitely make it a must to venture back and see all the parts we missed. If I ever get fed up of western civilisation you will find me sinking Mojitos in my bamboo house, on that beach above.

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Bangkok

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Touch down in Asia!

Bangkok is generally seen as a stop-gap destination for travellers en route to Thailand’s paradise islands. It is a complete contrast to the serenity of these islands, with it’s built-up skylines, millions of residents and overcast smog, but it is just as incredible in it’s own right and is a magical and mental city.

Trip one- Welcome to Thailand 

We arrived at Bangkok airport at seven am and I felt the first rush of excitement at being on the other side of the world. We regrouped after our eight hour flight from London to Mumbai , which was followed by another four, very turbulent and uncomfortable, hours from Mumbai to Bangkok.

Two hours of standstill traffic and crazy driving later, our taxi driver dropped us at our hotel. We had treated ourselves to a cheeky five star stay at the Radisson Blu, which is located just outside the main hub of Bangkok.

What can I say about Bangkok, it is an incredible city! I wasn’t sure what to expect but it is everything I hoped it would be. There are people and cars everywhere. The capital city is renowned for its vibrant street life and hustle and bustle and with a population of 14 million people its easy to see why.

Despite its vibrancy,  the city does come with its negatives. At times it was unbearably humid and the pollution in the air made it slightly difficult to breathe. According to the World Meteorological Institution it is on average, the worlds hottest city with temperatures ranging from 28-35 degrees all year round.

Having endured our long haul flight and after a bit of a midday, jet-lag induced siesta, we decided to go out for a wander and get our bearings. Walking along one of the side roads at 6pm I was disappointed to see people were packing up their market stalls. Being English and used to everything turning in for the night by 530pm I had assumed this was the case, I was however, gloriously mistaken. The locals were just setting up and this was one of the infamous Bangkok night markets!

We perused the stalls and saw that they were selling anything imaginable, from beautiful tapestries and hand painted ornaments right through to tasers and machetes. It was quite a sight for my very unenlightened I-have-never-left-Europe-before eyes.

Our first stay in Bangkok was way too short but it gave us a taster of what more we wanted to see and what the it had to offer. We left the city and made our way to the second stop on our Thai tour, Koh Samui.

Bangkok’s well sophis’ airport
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Spectacular view from the Blue Radisson Hotel
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Night swimming!
Banging cocktail
First things first..

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Trip 2- Welcome back to sin city

Fifteen days later, after bidding a sad goodbye to the exotic island of Koh Samui, we were on our way back this ridiculous city.

Our second stay was at the Muse Hotel which was slightly more central to the city than the first. We felt spoilt with our skyline view of the city and fancy-pants swimming pool. You get a lot for your money in Bangkok which made it easier to live the high life (literally) and stay in some seriously swanky hotels.

This time we vaguely knew a plan of action and did a little more exploring, visited enormous luxury shopping malls,roof top bars and we took a very interesting and slightly intoxicated trip to the infamous Koh San Road.

The shopping in Bangkok is wondrous and for a keen shopper like myself I was in retail therapy heaven. Now, I am fond of the finer things in life, the odd handbag or watch but I love a bargain and I love tatt. Basically anything that will fall apart as soon as I take it out of the suitcase, I will buy it. Keyring’s, pens, purses, jewellery, any general rubbish you never look at again, was all there in abundance.

The shopping centre MBK was a pretty spectacular shopping experience. This huge building is six stories high and hosts over 2000 shops and market stalls that sell anything under the Bangkok sun. It is safe to say you could lose days or weeks trawling through this market.

Koh San Road was an experience I will remember for all of eternity, not just because the hangover the next day before a 10 hour flight to Sydney may have been the worst of my life, but also due to the exuberance and fun of the road itself.

After sheltering from a torrential tropical rainstorm in a restaurant, meeting a very nice couple from up north and a few hundred wines later, we found ourselves in the middle of a long street lined with bars with people spilling out onto the road. The clothes and food sellers had just packed away and were making way for the nights revellers, i.e. us.

To cut a long and blurry story short we had a fantastic night. We bought an edible scorpion, drank buckets of cocktails, danced the night away and chatted to some extremely eccentric (and green lizard) locals! I am just glad I didn’t get a tattoo on my face (Hangover Part 2 ref). We left Bangkok a shadow of ourselves from the night before, but captivated by the fast paced, uninhibited, city of wonder.

 

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