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Posts Tagged ‘Beaches’

Going Solo

I made the decision to go to Jordan about six months into the trip.  I figured that if I was ever going to visit the middle east, this was the time to go…I’d be a $350 plane ticket away in Turkey v.s. a $3,000 plane ticket from the States.  Jordan’s a pretty expensive country, so Kelly decided it wasn’t in her budget and headed off to Prague to meet up with an old friend.  Since I would be traveling alone in a region I knew very little about (and to ease my boyfriend and parents’ worries) I decided to do an organized tour through GAP Adventures instead making the trek solo.  It would be nice to not have to worry about planning where to sleep, where to eat, and how to get from Point A to Point B myself…I was happy to pay someone else to do it for a change.  I’ll discuss the specifics and compare an organized tour to traveling independently in my Jordan wrap up, so I’ll skip over those details for now. 
 
I arrived in the capital city of Amman and caught a taxi to my hotel, checked in, and headed downstairs to meet the other members of my group, which consisted of 1 Brit, 2 Americans, 4 Belgians, 2 Irish, and 5 Canadians (most of them married couples…yay).  Our guide, Haymen, was a half Jordanian, half Croatian guy in his forties who smiled, laughed, and smoked A LOT of cigarrettes.  Our first full day, we traveled to check out the ruins of Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. 
 

Arch of Hadrian - One of the main gates to the city

The Forum

The Temple of Artemis

 
We then made the hour or so drive to the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world that lies between Jordan and Israel.  It’s so salty, that no life can thrive in it (thus, the name) AND this makes the water so buoyant, you literally float on top of the water.  Seriously, you’d have to try REALLY hard to drown in it…I tried diving down to touch the bottom with no luck.  Ladies, a word of advice:  DO NOT shave the night before/morning of your visit…the salt will make your skin burn like hell. 
 
We spent hours floating around, taking photos, and lounging on the beach.  Several of us also rubbed the black sand all over our bodies for a spa-like treatment, which felt nice, but was a pain in the ass to wash off.  Overall, a very cool day.
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Dead Sea

 

Floatin'

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With another overnight bus ride under our belts, we arrived in Fethiye, a town located in the south of Turkey along the Mediterranean coast.  We would stay here a full day and night before catching our boat for a 4 night Blue Cruise along the coast over to Olympos. V-Go’s, our hostel in Fethiye, was super nice; they had a great swimming pool, wonderful staff, fantastic view of the bay, and hosted BBQ’s just about every night. 

View from the deck of our hostel

The first day we arrived we  checked out the neighboring resort town of Oludeniz.  We heard the beaches there were absolutey stunning (despite being full of European tourists) so we hopped on the local mini-bus and took a 20 minute ride to catch some rays.  We spent the day lounging at a bean-bag beach bar, sipping beers and admiring the gorgeous water and surrounding cliffs.  It’s also a hot spot for paragliding and “luckily” the landing strip was right behind us.  Fortunatley, most landings were pretty good and no one ate it.

Beach at Oludeniz

That evening for dinner, we visited the fish market in the center of Fethiye where you choose and pay for your fish, shrimp, etc. and then bring it over to one of the surrounding restaruants that will cook it up for you as desired and provide salad and bread for only $5!   Talk about fresh!  We all agreed that it had to be one of the best seafood meals we’d all had in our lives.  I think Seth still dreams about that fish market!  After dinner, Kim headed back to the hotel and Seth and I had some beers at the pier and caught up on what each of us had been up to over the last 7 or 8 months.  We ended the evening having beers at V-Go with the staff and headed to bed.

Seth and his delicious salmon

The next morning we were up and at em’ quite early to catch our bus to the bay where we would be shuttled out to the boat for our gullet cruise along the Mediterranean coast.  We picked up a handful of people that would be joining us on the cruise and spent the short ride getting aquainted.  Once on the boat, we and met the other passengers and our captian, Ahmet, and headed out.  Even though the ocean and landscape were incredibly beautiful, I had a little trouble that first day.  I’m not sure if it was the quality of the Turkish motionsickness medicine or what, but I was seasick for the first 4 or 5 hours on the boat.  Luckily, I found my sea legs later that afternoon and could relax and enjoy myself. 

Our gullet

For the next few days,  all we did was lounge around, work on our tan, eat, drink, swim in the coldest water EVER and check out the scenery.  I also learned how to play backgammon!  We had perfect weather the whole time.  Our first stop was the small town of Kas (pronounced “cash”) for a short walk around and some souvenier shopping.  In the days that followed, we cruised by the former town of Dolikisthe, also known as the ‘Sunken City’, as it was ruined by an earthquake in the 2nd century.  We were able to see one of the Greek Islands from the boat one day as well! 

 

Part of the Sunken City

Kim jumping in!

Swimmin'

Chillin' on the deck

The food that Ahmet and his mate prepared for us was delicious.  Normally they have a cook that is on board but they were a little short staffed.  I even helped out with dinner one night!  Another evening, we docked the boat and the guys BBQed for everyone on a small island. 

Seth, Kim and I spent every night sleeping on deck under the stars.  It was awesome. We had such a great time and couldn’t have asked for a better cruise.  Great people, food, sights, Efes beer….it’s all you need!  Our last night, we hung out in the bay near a town called Demre.  Our whole group would be shuttled to the dock the next afternoon to catch a mini-bus to Olympos.  We all planned to stay Seth’s last night there in ‘tree houses’ next to more beach and old ruins.  Can’t wait!

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Since Kim and I were in the area, we decided to hit up the notorious Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, an island off the east coast of Thailand.   It’s one of those things you just have to see.   Because of the influx of tourists to the area, around this time each month  the price of everything doubles or triples and it can be very hard to find a room.   And even if you do, they require you to stay at least 5-10 nights!   Reluctantly, we booked 5 nights well in advance at Coral Bungalows on the west side of the island.   We weren’t too happy about spending that long on a party island, however, we would be meeting up with the Jeff’s once again and have a few extra days to relax.  We had heard that Coral was known for it’s party hardy atmosphere and huge, all night pool parties — not to mention the billion signs on the drive there advirtising the “Biggest, Craziest Pool Party in the World 700, 500, 200 meters Ahead!!   Kim wasn’t too pumped about this but to our surprise, our room was gigantic with super power A/C, private balcony, and far enough from all the action to turn in early if needed.   It was fantastic! The pool, restaruant and bar were right on the beach and sold everything from gatorade (gotta get in those electrolites) to toilet paper…they made it very easy not to leave this place.   

Beach view from Coral

 
We spent the days leading up to the FMP walking around town, shopping, and hanging with the Jeff’s and our new friends Chelsea, Chris and Katie.  We thought about heading to the beach on the east side for some tanning and swimming, but once we caught a glipmse of it, we quickly changed our minds.   The scenery itself, the cliffs, the color of the water, the blue sky was all wonderful, but the beach itself was pretty gross.  Trash everywhere!!  People don’t just party on the beach the night of a full moon, it happens just about every night here.   The sand is filled with straws (from all the buckets being consumed), wrappers, paper, broken glass…it’s horrible.  And we know that the water is just a big urinal when the sun goes down.  So, needless to say, we didn’t do much actual beach time in Koh Phangan. 
One day while Jeff and I hung by the pool, Kim did a day trip to Ang Thong National Park to visit some of the surrounding islands.  Despite the nausea-inducing boat ride, the scenery was gorgeous:
 
At night, we would meet up with everyone at Coral and then head to the beach.  The nights leading up to the FMP are just as good, if not better than the actual party.  It’s crazy!  The beach is lined with “bucket bars” competing for your business, yelling and dancing, waving various patriotic flags to attract certain tourists, offering gifts with purchase, etc.  Chris and Katie had been living in the area a month, so we stuck with them and got “the hookup” at their favorite place.   This was also during the final days of the Olympic Games and Canada was playing the U.S. in the championship hockey game at 3am.   Since we were with ALL Canadians, and they are FREAKS about hockey, Kim and I had to tag along to represent:)   We didn’t quite make it to the end of the game, but heard we put up a good fight in overtime.  The Canadians were quite happy with the outcome (and quite drunk walking home at 7:30am).

Buckets at Coral with the Jeffs

Bucket bar stalls along the beach

Partaking

 
The night of the Full Moon Party, we all went to an authentic Thai BBQ at this quaint little restaurant, Bull Of the Moon.  Chris and Katie ate there just about every night for the last month.   The owner was quite generous and provided us with a great experience.   Basically, they place this metal bowl with sort of dome in the middle with slits over a pot of burning coals.   He fills the outer area with broth to cook noodles and vegetables and then gave us a plate of raw shrimp, squid, pork, beef and chicken to grill ourselves with chopsticks.   Good fun, but super hot!   We would have enjoyed this activity much more in the winter:) 

Traditional Thai BBQ

 Then it was back to Coral to get painted up for the party.  It’s pretty much against the law to not cover yourself in neon paint for this event.  Plus, it’s just fun to paint stupid stuff all over each other!  We had a great time drinking and dancing the night away.  It was very interesting as well to see all the random people passed out all over the beach, falling off stages and spranging something, carrying their barefoot buddy off the beach with cut up feet, and the list goes on.   I’m sorry, but that shit was out of control! Good times though!

Gettin' painted up!

Chelsea, Kim, Chris, and Jeff getting crazy

Katie and Jeff actin' like fools

The beach looks exactly how you feel at the end of the night

We of course spent the next day recovering and getting ready to head back up north.   We had a short stop back in Bangkok before we took a long bus ride from hell up to Chiang Mai.  I will say though, we had so much fun in the Islands!!   It’s gorgeous here and everyone should see this place.  Southern Thailand, you will be missed.

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After all the craziness in Bangkok and Phuket, Kim and I were looking forward to taking it down a few notches and relaxing on some of the small islands of the Krabi province. First stop was Phi Phi Island.  With some advice from fellow travelers, for the first time on this trip we arrived with no reservations for accommodation, as we were told that the island was quite small and we could easily find a place to stay just walking around a bit.  This was a big step for Kim, the planner!   But we found a home for the next 5 days without a problem.   It even had a TV with an awesome movie channel. Pretty Woman, Before Sunset, The Last Unicorn….it was so nice to lay around and watch TV before bed, something we hadn’t done since Buenos Aires.

One of the Ko Phi Phi Beaches

 

 We spent our week wandering around the tiny center, chowing down on delicious Thai food, and sunbathing on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  The island has two beaches — one side is mainly a pier where the ferries, longtail boats and private watercraft come in and out of the island and the other is the main beach where most people hang out.   Both sides are lined with cute little restaurants, bars, and shops.   We hiked up to the view point via the Tsunami evacuation route that gives a perfect overlook of both sides of the island.   A photo of Phi Phi just four hours after the tsunami hit is posted up on a tree…it’s crazy to see the difference between that photo and what it looks like today.

Boats lined up at the pier

Ko Phi Phi from viewpoint

Another day, we decided to do the “Seven Islands Tour” that was recommended by a friend we met on the ferry.   It was one of the best tours we have done on this trip.   Captain Dang (and his awesome sunglasses) took us on his long boat to an amazing lagoon with translucent water, surrounded by limestone cliffs, where we took turns jumping off the boat and did some swimming.   Then off to Maya Bay where they filmed the movie, The Beach, for lunch where we were able to work on our tan.   After lunch, we headed over to Monkey Beach to feed the monkeys and do some snorkeling.   For our last stop, we took a long ride to Bamboo Beach.   Kim laid around while I collected coral and sea shells for my friends’ kids back at home.   Because of the way Phi Phi Island itself is shaped, you can’t see the sunset from either coast. However, on the way home from our tour, Captain Dang stopped us right in the middle of the ocean to watch the sunset.   It was such an incredible day.

On the boat

Me swimming at Maya Bay

Kim and Captain Dang

Bamboo Beach

 

Sunset

 That night, we hung out with some Colombian girls we had met on the beach and their Spanish friends. Of course I loved the chance to use my Spanish all night. It’s been so long since South America! We had some of our first buckets—yes, they drink out of huge buckets in Thailand, and made our way to a Thai boxing bar. They were offering a FREE bucket to any girl that would get in the ring and “fight”. I was so close to gearing up and getting’ in there and then Kim reminded me how getting hit back may not be as much fun as getting to hit someone-which I’ve always kind of wanted to do:) She was probably right and it was probably for the best that I didn’t get in there in my current state. HA! But that sure would have been a good story… 

Kim and I both really loved Phi Phi.  There are a ton of tourists on this island, which is why some travelers claim to dislike it, but it’s definitely worth seeing in our opinion.   However, we did want check out one of the even smaller islands of Krabi.

I’m sure I have said this a lot over the past few months but Railay (or Rai Leh) was one of my favorite places we have been on this trip so far.   Ah!   It just keeps getting better!   This island is reknowned for it’s rock-climbing trails and has two sides of beaches as well.   On the west end, there is a fantastic beach and all the resorts, a hot spot for honeymooners.  Take a short walk over to the east side for the backpacker friendly accommodation and cheap restaurants and bars (obviously this is where we stayed).   The beach on this side is all mangroves and not suitable for swimming, but just head south about 10 minutes and a trail will lead you to the picturesque Tham Phra Nang Beach, perfect for laying out, taking a dip or getting a dirt-cheap foot massage right on the beach, which I totally took advantage of. Best $4 I’ve ever spent!

 

Tham Phra Nang Beach

Rock Climbers

We spent 3 days here relaxing on the beach, watching the rock climbers do their thing and hanging out at what might be my favorite bar in the world – Skunk Bar 2.   Great staff, great drinks, great music (most of the time) and a SUPER laid back atmosphere.   Every night we got our butts kicked in Jenga and Connect Four.   I don’t know what it is about the Thai’s, but they know their games…it’s like winning strategies are ingrained in their heads as a toddler or something.   Never bet money on Connect Four in Thailand. They will annihilate you!

 

Kim and Pat, our bartender. As you can see, he has a tough job.

The Universal Language of Jenga

One night we were having drinks and playing Jenga with the staff when all of a sudden, two men with plastic badges around their necks came into the bar.   Everyone got quiet, the music was turned off and it was obvious that there was something quite serious going down.   I looked around and everyone was putting out their “left-handed cigarettes” (that they purchased at the bar) and trying to act cool.   Of course all the conversation was in Thai, so none of us knew what was going on.   The two men went behind the bar and started going through…all their CD’s??   Yeah, they were some kind of pirated music police!!   They took all the copied CD’s they could find, had some words with the owner and left.   What?!!   The bartender, Pat, explained what had just happened and then assured everyone they had copies of the copies that were just taken and there would be tunes back on in no time.  It was hilarious!  Smoke all you want, drink all you want, but don’t get caught with pirated music in Railay!

After our chill days in this wonderful place, it was time to get ready for the madness that we knew was coming.   After an entire day of traveling by long boat, mini-bus, public bus, and ferry to the east coast, we would arrive in Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party….

Incredible Sunset on Railay

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Thailand…Whoa.

Most travellers we have met say the same thing about Bangkok….you either love it or you hate it.  After spending four or five days there, I can safely say that we are…undecided.

We were visiting Thailand smack-dab in the middle of  the tourist high season, so we expected there to be a lot of backpackers around, but were shocked at how many travelers we saw.  Our guesthouse was located in the infamous Koh San Road area, a street that is lined with backpacker guest houses, travel agencies, bars, clubs, t-shirt booths, and food carts. Other than the tuk-tuk drivers and food cart vendors, there were no Thai people in sight…just tourists.  I had heard that the ‘real’ Bangkok was more modern and filled with nice malls and shops, but after Hong Kong, Kelly and I had no desire to wander around another shopping complex.  

Koh San Road

Our first full day, we sorted out our bus tickets to get out of Bangkok and spent time exploring the Royal Palace and Wat Pho, home of the world’s biggest reclining Buddha statue.  The palace and temples were absolutely breathtaking, but the heat forced us to head back to our guesthouse soon afterwards for some A/C.

The Grand Palace

 

Reclining Buddha

The next couple of days were spent wandering around ‘The Old City’, looking at temples and strolling through street markets.  From our observations, Bangkok is noisy, polluted, smelly, and fairy difficult to navigate…the street signs are very confusing here, and although close to a lot of tourist sights, our part of town was pretty isolated from the main modes of public transport.  Needless to say, we were ready to get out of the city.

We did love one thing about Bangkok…the food, of course!  There are tons of street food vendors selling delicious pad-thai, barbecue meat sticks, fried rice, fresh fruit and other fried goodies for ridiculously cheap.  One night for dinner we scarfed down all of the above for the insane price of $3 TOTAL.

Meat Sticks!

We just couldn't bring ourselves to eat one

In all fairness, Kelly and I only saw a smidgen of the city, so we can’t really pass judgment.  We will say that it has not been our favorite place and leave it at that.

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we were looking forward to boarding a bus twelve hours south to Phuket, one of Thailand’s popular beach destinations.  Our plan was to check out the craziness of Patong Beach for a couple of days and then do some island hopping on the Andaman coast. 

Not surprisingly, Phuket turned out to not really be our cup of tea either.  Patong Beach was pretty, but super packed with endless rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a few old topless ladies.  At night we checked out the party street, Bangla Road, which is like an even tackier sixth street in Austin.  We saw our fair share of lady-boys and had about 30 different Thai guys approach us and ask if we wanted to see a ping-pong show.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, google ‘ping-pong show Thailand’.  Tempting, but…no.  There is also a lot of prostitution in Phuket and I can’t tell you how many older men in their sixties we saw with very young Thai women…pretty disgusting.  We were glad to only be spending a couple of days here. 

Patong Beach

At Sunset

Other than lying on the beach, we took a day tour out to Ko Tapu, otherwise known as James Bond Island…it’s where parts of ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ were filmed.  The island itself was lovely, but the amount of souvenir stalls covering the entire beach and  the boatloads of tourists really turned us off of the whole thing.  I realize that Kelly and I are tourists as well…I guess I just didn’t expect for there to be so many of us in one place at one time!  

This one's for you, Sarah H. - James Bond Island

Based on our experiences in Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand was not living up to the beautiful, relaxing paradise we had envisioned.  On top of that, Kelly and I were starting to feel a little travel fatigue.  I know it’s hard to believe, but living out of a backpack every day, constantly figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, finding a place to sleep, a place to eat…these simple tasks become quite tedious and can start to wear you down after awhile.   Poor us, right?

Hopefully our time on the island of  Ko Phi Phi would get us back on track…

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One thing that Kelly and I realized early on this trip is that some things just don’t turn out to be how you imaged…that we are not always going to have that picture-perfect experience. This was certainly the case with our three-day sail out to the Whitsunday Islands. 

When we booked our trip in Byron Bay, the first thing to decide was on what boat we wanted to sail. There are dozens of sailboats of varying sizes, different trip durations, amenities, and clientele. We knew right away that we didn’t want to spend three days on a ‘party’ boat with a bunch of drunk eighteen year-olds and due to Kelly’s issues with sea-sickness, we definitely wanted a bigger boat. Most importantly, we wanted a boat that was going to sail all the way out to the Great Barrier Reef since we didn’t have the time to make it all the way up to coast Cairns. The Anaconda III seemed to be the right fit for us, so we booked a private cabin with it’s own ‘bathroom’ and air-conditioning. The tour included all of our meals and there was a bar on board with plenty of cold beer to quench our thirst.

The Anaconda III

After killing a couple of days at a great relaxed hostel in Airlie Beach, the evening we boarded Anaconda III, it was pissing rain. We were greeted with a glass of champagne, shown our cabin, met the crew, and the thirty or so passengers were given a brief run-down of our itinerary. ‘I’m sure all of you are wondering how long it is going to rain,’ one crew member commented. ‘The answer is…for the next three months. It’s rainy season’. Fantastic. How did we not know this?

Captain's Area

The following morning, it was still cloudy and raining, although not as heavily as the previous evening. Our first stop was Whitehaven, a beautiful white sand beach. Unfortunately, as soon as we set foot on the island, the winds picked up and we had to jump back on the boat to travel to a more sheltered cove. We spent the morning lounging and walking along the shore and Kelly took a shot at scuba diving. The crew offered a free introductory lesson which covers the basics and allows you to get used to the gear and breathing naturally under water. She felt it was a bit weird and had a some trouble with the breathing, but it did peak her interest and she may take an extended certification course in the future. On our way back to the boat for lunch, it started dumping rain and all of us were completely soaked.

 

Crap Weather

Pretty beach

Kelly gettin' her scuba on

In the afternoon, we were dropped off in a couple of coves for snorkelling. We saw some pretty cool fish and the reefs were beautiful.

There was no rain on our second day, although it was cloudy and the winds were blowing pretty strong. That morning, we got our second round of bad news…due to the high winds, we would be unable to sail out to the Great Barrier Reef. This was really disappointing, as the reef was the main reason we booked this specific trip on this specific boat (and paid more money). The ocean was really choppy that day and everyone was rolling around all over the deck, which was pretty entertaining (and nauseating). Fortunately, Kelly didn’t get seasick once!

Rough Seas

Evenings on the boat were spent chillin’ on the deck, enjoying Toohey’s beers, joking around with the crew and our fellow passengers. We had a good group with us, but no one that Kelly or I really bonded with. Our last night, the a/c in our cabin went out and the boat was rocking around pretty badly. Kelly and I tried to sleep in the lounge, but it was still excruciatingly hot, so we went up to the deck where I half-slept and Kelly took pictures of the sunrise.

Our favorite crew-member, Stompa

Me passed out on the deck

Kelly's sunrise

The final day, we awoke to sunshine…not a cloud in the sky. As annoying as this was, we were glad to have one nice day sailing amongst the islands. More snorkelling ensued, but none was as good as the first place we visited. All in all, it was a good trip, but we wished the weather would have cooperated a little better. We returned to Airlie Beach late in the afternoon and our Aussie friend Chris joined us that night for drinks before we caught our flight back to Sydney the next morning.

Finally, a nice day!

Us and Chris on our last night

To anyone out there that is considering sailing the Whitsunday’s, we highly recommend it…just try and do it when it’s NOT rainy season.

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Brisbane and Frasier Island

After Byron Bay, we made our way up the Gold Coast for a short stop in Brisbane, which would serve as the base for our trip out to Frasier Island.

Frasier Island is the largest sand island in the world (123 kilometers), home to a few hundred residents, a couple of ‘resorts’, and a bunch of dingos. There are two ways to explore the island: a) a tour agency organizes groups of eight or nine people and gives you camping equipment, a map, the keys to a 4-wheel drive, and you are free to explore the island on your own or b) you can do a tour with a guide who drives you around and drops you off at various cool spots. I knew immediately I did not want to do the self-drive tour, as I’m a freak about driving on rough terrain (all of the ‘roads’ on the island are sand), and since all of the 2 or 3 day tours didn’t align with our travel schedule, we opted for the one-day guided tour. It also happened to be Australia Day, which is basically their July 4th here. We’d be missing all of the parties in town, but really wanted to see Frasier and it was the only way we could do it.

We met our guide, Graham, at the bus station with the rest of our group, piled into a cramped Range Rover and made the three hour drive to Rainbow Beach. From there we took a short ferry over to Frasier and cruised along the 75-mile beach. Unfortunately, you can’t swim here, as the waters are breeding grounds for tiger sharks. After snapping some photos, we headed inland to check out Lake Birrabeen, a freshwater lake with a white sand beach.

75-Mile Beach

Driving inland on the sand roads was not pleasant for me. Most people get a thrill out of off-road driving, but it’s just not my cup of tea. The roads on Frasier are really rough and it amazes me that companies give a vehicle to any 21-year old with a drivers license and let them have at it. People constantly get stuck in the sand here, damage the trucks, or worse yet, roll their vehicle. Kelly and I did hear that after March, the government is no longer going to allow self-drive tours and I can clearly see why.

At first driving on the sand roads was ok, but after 20 minutes of all of us getting jostled around, I began to feel a little woozy. It was also around this time that our vehicle started to overheat and we would have to stop every so often to let the engine cool down. Great.

Once we finally reached the beach, our jaws dropped. It was absolutely stunning. The water was clearer than any I’ve seen and we spent an hour or so swimming and lounging before having a picnic lunch.

 

Yes, that's a lake

Whoa!

Chillin'

Since Graham was concerned about the vehicle overheating again and us missing the last ferry back to the mainland, we skipped our next stop on the tour and made a brief visit to Central Station to do a quick walk through the rainforest. Once again, we made our way back to the 75-mile beach and had to stop on several occasions to let the engine cool down.

 

Our guide, Graham, showing us a cool tree

Car Troubles

Another tour bus happened to be driving past, so to lighten the load in our vehicle (which would in turn help with the engine overheating), we all piled into the other bus for a ride back to the pier. Long story short, Graham made it back to Rainbow Beach with the car and we made the long drive back to Brisbane. Being Australia Day and all, Kelly, Graham and I celebrated with a couple of beers at a nearby bar and called it a night.

Brisbane

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Both Kim and I could have stayed in Sydney for a few more days, but were excited to head to Byron Bay since we had heard so much about it from the Aussie boys we met in Chile. We couldn’t wait to check it out and get some more beach time. Marianne had been there before as well and was able to show us around and point us in the right direction for nightlife (to say the least).

 Byron Bay is a great little beach town, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, shopping for some items we had lost along the way and sipping cold beverages. To get some exercise, we did a really nice hike up to the lighthouse, where we passed the most eastern point in Australia!! So cool. It also gives you an incredible view of the entire coast.

 

Byron Bay Main Beach

Yaaaaay!

On the walk to the lighthouse

 

Another view

The eastern most point of Australia

Our hostel was quite large but also very accommodating for the amount of people staying there. We spent many a night just drinking on the patio after cooking and then heading out to one of the bars to do some dancing. One night I almost won a $20 bar tab by winning a game of flip cup (which I’m phenomenal at by the way), but I was screwed. Missed out by one game!! Later that night we went out with a group of Irish boys to a couple clubs and then tried to go to the infamous Cheeky Monkey’s. Marianne had been telling us about the $8 “jugs” (pitchers from where we come from) and dancing on the tables for months. She said it was a MUST in Byron Bay. Well, too bad that Marianne was kicked out before she or any of us even got in because the bouncer said we were all too intoxicated. What?? Nah….not us:)

 Soon the Jeff’s arrived and the debauchery continued. More beach time, more deliciously prepared backpacker dinners at the hostel, and of course more beer and wine. Gotta love that cheap box wine, which tastes awful and is known here as “goon”. ‘Goon’ is the aboriginal word for “pillow” so it includes any wine in a bag that is then put in a box, including our slightly more expensive and better tasting wine. But hey, when you are on a budget….

Hostel dinners and boxed wine...can't beat it!

 On Marianne’s last night in town, we decided to try our luck again at Cheeky Monkey. I just had to shake my booty on the tables with her before she left! We headed over early since they only served the cheap ‘jugs’ until 9pm. It was ladies night, so we all got a free, huge glass of champagne to start, and then proceeded to take back a good 12 or so pitchers within the hour! After a couple of hours of dancing on the tables (covered in sheet metal, obviously dancing on them is encouraged) we sent Marianne off in style by shouting “We love Marianne!!” in our horrible Norwegian accents for a good 5-10 minutes before her bus departed. I’m sure the other passengers loved us. We will be meeting up with her again in Montenegro this summer. I can’t wait!

 

Us at Cheeky Monkey's

Marianne and Jeff L. gettin' tipsy

Going to miss you...see you this summer!

The following morning, the rest of us booked a day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin. Not much to see there other than a bunch of head shops, druggies, and a quirky museum. However, we did stop at some cool markets along the way and a few scenic spots on the drive back.

 

The Nimbin Museum

Our last night in Byron Bay, the Jeff’s and I camped out on the beach so we could catch the sunrise the next morning. It was breathtaking. Though quite uncomfortable, it was totally worth it. Check out these pictures.

 

It was time to work our way north up to Brisbane for our one day tour of Fraser Island and then it was up to the Whitsunday Island for our sailing trip!! We said our good-byes to the Jeff’s and promised to see them again in Thailand. Byron Bay was definitely one of my favorite spots on this trip. I WILL make it back here one day.

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Sisters in Sydney

With almost 4 months of travelling under our belts, Kim and I said goodbye to New Zealand and moved on to the east coast of Australia. First stop, Sydney. We’ve all seen images of the infamous Syndey Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, etc. Well, it’s all just as amazing as we imagined it to be. It was so great to finally see all of these things in person! With only a week in Sydney, we planned to make the most of it.

 We ended up staying at the Blue Parrot, a small, family-owned hostel filled with all sorts of travellers, long term residents, all looking for a good time. Our friend Doug that we met in Argentina was landing in Sydney the same day and we were excited to reunite with him after our time we spent together in the wine country of South America. Our friend Marianne we met there as well would join us 2 days later from Norway. The Mendoza clan together again! The hostel was located in the Kings Cross area, great for it’s nightlife and also known as the “Red Light District” of Sydney. Luckily, the hostel was around the corner from all the madness, so we didn’t really get that vibe at all.

Together again!

 We spent the first few days wandering around the city – a walk through the Botanical Gardens along the harbor, took plenty of pictures of the Opera House, had champagne in Darling Harbor and checked out the street markets in the Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney. We made a couple of new friends at the hostel, The Jeff’s, both from Canada, that joined us on our trip to Bondi Beach where locals and tourists alike flock to surf and soak up the rays. Marianne and I laid on the beach and relaxed, while Kim and the others did the 5 kilometer coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, passing other small surfing beaches along the way. 

Syndey Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Darling Harbour

Bondi Beach

On the coastal walk

Another day, we all did a day trip to the Blue Mountains, located a couple hours outside of the city. They are called the blue mountains because of the blueish shade they take on from the sky and surrounding landscape. We had this crazy old tour guide that really liked to hear himself talk so we decided to take the trail instead of the cable car up to the viewing point just to get away from him. We hiked down (and then back up) the 1000 steps to take advantage of the amazing views. It was a great work out too!

 

The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters

 

Our group

 Most of our nights were spent hanging out at the hostel with our new friends. We had some fantastic grilling sessions, a night of Marianne’s stellar caiparinas and caipiroskas ( a drink we became a fan of in South America), drunken walks to the nearby Elizabeth Harbor, a never-ending poker game, plenty of drinking games and late night parties on the stairs across the street. Um, yeah, we weren’t allowed to drink or make noise in the hostel after 11:30pm…so that’s where we ended up.

 We both absolutely loved Sydney!! Once again, I could totally live there. Now it was time to move further up the coast to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay. We even talked Marianne into joining us for a few days before she headed off to Newcastle for her semester of med school. The Jeff’s would join us as well a couple of days later. We were just too much fun to not see again:)

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After four days of holiday gluttony with the Brinches, Mary, Nicole, and Andy (a few of my awesome friends from home) flew into Christchurch to join Kelly and me on a whirlwind tour of the south island. With only twelve or so days to see the sights, we all piled into a rental car and and started to make our way north. Figuring out how to drive on the other side of the road AND the car is always interesting…

Day 1 – Kaikora
Kaikora is a small backpacker town on the east coast and is known mainly for its whale-watching tours. Kelly and I are ruined on whale-watching after Argentina, so we all decided to have a fancy seafood meal instead. We splurged on curried mussels, scallops, steak, and New Zealand crayfish. The rest of the evening was spent drinking and dancing at a reggae club across the street from the hostel. Before heading out the next morning, we hung out on the extremely windy (yet lovely) beach and checked out the nearby seal colony.

On the beach

Day 2 – More Wine Tasting (We Missed You, Leticia)
Driving through the Marlborough wine country on our way to Nelson, we would be stupid not to stop at the local wineries along the way for some tastings. Alan Scott and Cloudy Bay Wineries were not only recommended to us, but were located right next to each other. Score! We sampled some nice bubbly, a few reds, and sauvignon blancs for which New Zealand wineries are well known for.

Me, Nicole, and Mary at the Alan Scott Vineyard

We arrived in Nelson during the late afternoon, had a quick nap and then headed into town to meet my friend Julia for drinks. Julia is another Kiwi I met when I previously lived here…I hadn’t seen her in eight years and it was so great to catch up.

Days 3 and 4 – Abel Tasman National Park
The girls did some shopping around Nelson the following morning and after stocking up on booze and food at the grocery store, we made the short drive to Abel Tasman National Park, popular for its golden beaches. Our hostel was an awesome place called ‘The Barn’ where we had a couple of private cabins and lots of outdoor common areas with fire pits…it sort of felt like we were camping.

Chillin at the campground

For New Year’s Eve, Andy whipped up a batch of his glorious marinara sauce and we basically got sloshed on champagne and laughed all night at god-knows-what before the obligatory countdown to midnight. It was so amazing to have three of my best friends there with us to celebrate. Since we’re all getting old, we were in bed before 1 a.m….we had to get up at seven to catch our water taxi into the park to do part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Andy and Nicole ready to celebrate NYE in Abel Tasman

New Year's Eve is hilarious

I hiked in Abel Tasman years before and it was still as beautiful as I remembered it. After our informative and scenic boat ride, our water taxi dropped us off at Tonga Bay where we would start our hike along the coastline and through rainforest down to Torrent Bay. Parts of the trail were tough, but the views and beaches were spectacular. The hike took about 5 hours (including our stop for lunch) and we arrived at the beach to relax in the sun until our water taxi home arrived. What a fantastic way to spend the first day of a new year!

In the park

 

Day 5 – Long Ass Day of Driving to Franz Josef Glacier
The next day was spent mainly in the car driving down the west coast with a stop at the Punakaki ‘Pancake’ Rocks and the ‘greenstone’ capital of Hokitika to do some shopping.

We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to check into our hostel, catch a view of the mountains, and grab some dinner and wine at a local restaurant.

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