Great Barrier Reef snorkeling and Atherton Tableland waterfall swimming

Rising early, we caught the 7am bus from Townsville to Cairns. The journey wasn’t too long so we arrived in Cairns for lunchtime. We used our trusty maps.me to locate our hostel and walked along the beach front to get there and check in. The accommodation was basic but we were upgraded from the four bed that we’d booked to a three bed at no extra cost which was handy. We walked through the on and off rain to the supermarket to pick up some grub for lunch and ate it on a bench outside the supermarket (classy I know). I bought some cheesy bread from the bakery, a pot of hummus and crackers and an apple.

We didn’t know quite what to do for the afternoon so we headed to the nearby shopping centre to peruse the shops, picking up a couple of extra things for the NZ winter – you’d have thought we’d have everything by now ey? I also managed to exchange the water bottle I had bought in Typo in Brisbane, as sadly the gold letter ‘S’ on the front had become scratched off.

We arranged to meet up with Sophie and Charlotte at their hostel Mad Monkey and ended up watching a film in their fab communal area. Along with a couple of other girls we watched ‘How to be Single’, which is a light, feel-good film, snacking on chocolate shared out by someone amazing who had been sent an Easter care package by her mum and insisted we help her eat it (what an angel). It was exactly what we needed, especially as it was so miserable outside. After the film, the five of us made a supermarket trip for dinner and parted ways until the Barrier Reef trip we were all going on the following day.

Great Barrier Reef day trip

Another early start to go and snorkel in the reef, we were up and walking to the ferry terminal to check in for the day. Our boat which was the opposite of our Whitsundays experience in that the vessel was significantly bigger than anticipated! As we boarded we were offered free tea, coffee and biscuits, and warned to take sea sickness tablets as it was going to be rough out there, even the crew had taken them…

Let me tell you now that they were not messing around – it was chaos! People were flying everywhere as they staggered up and down the boat clinging onto the rails as the boat rocked, plowing through the waves. The back deck was the designated ‘sick’ zone where a smug crew member handed out sick bags to those looking green.  I wasn’t feeling amazing but Rhianna was not feeling well at all so we sat on this deck, occasionally getting covered in ocean spray and clinging on to stop us being thrown about the rocky boat. It was ROUGH. People were dropping like flies. At one point Rhianna had a very close call but managed to hold it together and came back from the brink vom-free (so proud!). Once we finally reached our destination everything thankfully calmed down. We decided to hire stinger suits just in case and were given flippers and goggles too. Incredibly, the boat had prescription goggles that you could hire for free with the warning of a $50 damage fee if anything happened to them – this meant I could see the coral and fish really clearly – result!

Although we were traumatised getting there, and you could tell the only reason we had to travel as far out as we did was because the poor reef is dying, it was so beautiful. Thanks to my camera’s waterproof case I was able to take photos and videos in the water as you can see below:

We had two snorkelling sessions with a break for lunch in the middle. It was a light bbq with fish and lots of fresh salads so nothing too heavy for the rocky journey back to shore! I’m so glad I managed to see the reef before it’s gone but at the same time I felt conflicted contributing to it’s harm by visiting in a huge boat (I was not expecting it to be that big!) But nevertheless it was an amazing day.

Atherton Tablelands

The next day was another excursion! We were doing a day trip to the tablelands with Barefoot Tours as the final part of our Oz Experience package. We were picked up from our hostel in a cool minibus – had fake grass carpet and lots of flowers inside. driven out of the city and into the rainforest. Our guide for the day was super charismatic and great at his job – even jumping in Lake Eacham at the first stop to encourage us to do the same (it was a cool and grey day so you can see why we needed encouraging). Although it wasn’t the ideal weather for jumping in and out of lakes and waterfalls, you’re only in the Peter Andre’s mysterious girl waterfall once right?

We swam in the lake for a while before drying off and heading back to the van where our guide had prepped morning coffee and snacks of fruit and cake. Lamingtons are delicious by the way. We headed to our next stop, seeing a super cool parasitic tree that had engulfed it’s neighbouring tree as well as another fallen tree:

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Next stop was the Millaa Millaa Falls, the famous Petre Andre waterfall which was also used in a Herbal Essences Advert. The water was freezing cold but we did swim out to the rocks near the waterfall and did the classic ‘hair flick’ from the advert.

We had sandwiches provided for us for lunch which was great and after we’d had our fill we continued to explore the tablelands, walking through the rainforest to see some more beautiful waterfalls. There was a lot of getting cold and wet then trying to dry off and warm up unsuccessfully – Katie’s lips even went blue! We were only there once so were determined to swim at every opportunity but I just couldn’t manage the last waterfall – which had it’s own natural rock slide – so I watched the others do it whilst keeping warm in all my layers!

The whole day was such a laugh and we experienced some really cool things. We even got Tim Tams for the journey back to Cairns (for those of you unfamiliar with Tim Tams, they’re just like Penguins without the joke on the wrapper and arguably better tasting). Conveniently we got dropped off at the hostel, and Katie and Rhianna went to the shop to pick up some bits whilst I started on dinner.

As it was our last night in Cairns we headed to the infamous Gilligans hostel bar which is more bar than hostel! It also happened to be ladies night where we managed to get some free pink drinks, result. Here’s a snap of us with Charlotte, Sophie and some new friends. We had a fab night and were sad to go back to the hostel as that meant our time in Oz was up! 😦

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Finally our time in Oz was over and it was time for our flight to Auckland (via Sydney) for the third and final leg of our adventures! We booked and paid for a shuttle bus to the airport not realising how close it was to the city so we arrived with tons of time to spare before our first flight back down to Sydney. We had splurged on a hotel room for the night at Sydney airport as it was about the same price of a last-minute hostel in the city plus the cost of getting there and back. It was luxury to be in a proper bed and watch TV and the beds were so soft and comfy, much better than trying to avoid the springs in old hostel beds!

And that was our time in Australia complete. Thanks for reading folks! My next posts will be all about New Zealand adventures, how exciting xoxo

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Easter on Magnetic Island

We arrived late into Townsville on Easter Saturday, and thankfully the hostel we’d booked wasn’t far away from where the Greyhound drop-off point was.

The next morning the three of us took the ferry to Magnetic Island with Charlotte and Sophie. Both the ferry and night at the hostel were all included as part of our Oz Experience package which was handy. Once on the island after the short boat journey, we caught a bus from the ferry terminal to Base hostel which had a beautiful beach view. We left our bags in the luggage room as our rooms weren’t ready yet, then we got the bus back over to the other side of the island to see the weekend market – which was not exactly what we were expecting. I think it’s fair to say after the incredible markets in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam we were slightly disappointed by this particular market! Nothing can live up to that standard. There were arts and crafts on sale as well as some odd bric-a-brac, and people giving massages on the beach. It didn’t take us long to walk through and continue along the waterfront to take in the beach views. As it was Easter Bank Holiday the island was teeming with families on holiday but it didn’t feel overcrowded.

After our beach walk we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in a cafe called The Early Bird (not the same as the one in Cardiff!) and we had some really nice food with a sea view – I had Mexican pulled pork and a green smoothie that tasted mostly of pears, yum. Sophie and Charlotte are vegan too so it was lucky we found somewhere that they could easily find something to eat. Considering we had mainly been living off homemade sandwiches and cooking for ourselves to save money, it was really nice to indulge in some proper food made by someone else.

After deciding to buy an ice cream for dessert (a delicious honeycomb Magnum) next we headed to another part of the island on the bus to go and feed the rock wallabies. They are as they sound – wallabies that live in the rocks! Admittedly they were quite hard to find, especially as they’d probably had a lot of visitors that day, but eventually after patiently waiting, a couple came out of hiding and we even got to feed one with wallaby food we’d bought between us.

It was getting late in the day so it was the perfect time to head for the most popular walk on the island, the ‘fort walk’, as dusk is the best time to spot the wild koalas. We were concentrating so hard on trying to see the koalas and thankfully it finally paid off and we actually saw a few, including a baby one! It also helped that people had made arrows with sticks where they had seen a koala, and considering these animals don’t tend to move very far or very fast, there was usually still a creature to spot in the tree above.

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After reaching the fort at the track’s summit and admiring the view, we managed to walk back to the road in relative lightness as the sun was going down. By the time we reached the bus stop however, it was dark. Unfortunately, we had only just missed the bus by a few minutes and had to wait almost an hour for the next one. The roads were country lanes so it wouldn’t be a good idea to walk at night, particularly as it would be a long journey across the island with no lights. When the bus finally arrived and we got back to the the hostel we made a beeline straight for the kitchen to make the pasta and sauce (aka meal of kings) we had brought with us. It was lucky we had brought food with us as we would have been pretty stuck without it as the supermarket was shut and near the ferry terminal, not near the hostel. For the rest of the evening we just hung out chatting on a picnic bench outside the kitchen and agreed to reconvene early the next morning to make the most of the day and go on a hike.

Having asked the hostel receptionist about walks around the island, we set off on the bus first of all to the supermarket to get picnic supplies for lunch, before walking to the start of the track we had planned to follow. By this point it was already pretty hot and humid, making the hilly track a lot more challenging, particularly for myself and Rhianna as we do not cope well in the heat!

The views around the island make it worth it though – this was the view from our lunch spot. Not bad at all!

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After our picnic with a view, we continued down the hill to the end of the trail and caught the bus back to the hostel, picked up our bags and caught the ferry back to the mainland. Sophie and Charlotte had a bus to Queensland that afternoon so headed back earlier than us. When we got back to Townsville it was dinner time but as it was Easter Monday and therefore a bank holiday, nothing was open! Even restaurants! So we looked up the nearest Dominoes and walked out of town on the hunt for $5 pizza (Don’t know why we don’t have the same deal/topping options over here!). We didn’t want it to get cold walking back to the hostel so we sat on the stools in Dominoes and shamelessly ate our pizzas. So worth it. When we had demolished our food we headed back to our hostel. It was one of the very few hostels that had free WiFi with no time restrictions so we had an internet session and chilled out watching telly.

Not a bad way to spend the Easter holidays!

xoxo

Sailing in the Whitsundays

Arriving off the night bus around 9am pretty tired, the three of us walked into town. We had to check in at the sailing company office and find the hostel Magnums which we booked for after our boat trip. There was only enough room to take a small bag onto the boat so we left out big rucksacks in the luggage storage in the hostel. This trip was an excursion included in our Oz Experience pass so although we knew we were going on a sailing trip, we weren’t sure of all the finer details.

We checked in for our 2 day/2 night excursion with Explore Whitsundays and found a place to eat – we managed to get some reasonably priced toasties and sat in the shade outside the bar before pottering round the shops. We made a quick trip to the pharmacy to pick up some more travel sickness tablets (Rhianna and I weren’t taking any chances) and also to the bottle shop to buy some goon, before walking across town to the port to board our boat.

The boat was called ‘Broomstick’ and was significantly smaller than expected…especially for the number of people going on the trip. We were told to find a bunk in one of the two cabins below. Rhianna and I ended up sharing a ‘double’ bunk which you couldn’t sit up in because the deck above got in the way. We weren’t expecting five-star luxury but I think it’s fair to say we weren’t expecting this either. Nonetheless we were in the beautiful Whitsundays so we were excited as we headed out to sea with the sun shining!

Unfortunately pesky cyclone Debbie had had the biggest impact on this part of Australia and you could really tell. There were boats wrecked in the marina, the trees on the side of the hill were bare, and as we later found out, the visibility in the water was nowhere near it’s usual level.

For fear of losing my camera/phone, I don’t have many photos to show from the Whitsundays. Thankfully Katie took a few too, including this one below of me looking happy as we were all about to demolish a huge plate of nachos – yummy.

Sailing away

Much of the experience was sailing about, taking in the views, sunbathing on the deck and getting in and out of the water to snorkel. As I mentioned before, Debbie had really affected the visibility so you couldn’t see as much as you would have been able to a few weeks prior. Having said that, at one point being in the middle of a huge shoal of pretty blue fish was amazing!

The one time we did get off the boat onto dry land for a few hours was to explore the beautiful Whitsunday Island:

It was glorious. We got dropped off on a beach on the other side and walked across the island up to a look out point. As you can see above, the sand was so fine and white it made incredible patterns in the sea. We walked down from the viewpoint to the beach, stinger suits in hand, and got straight into the sea – we had lots of fun jumping through the waves. It was really refreshing to have almost no concept of time and how long we’d been there. When we finally had had enough, we got out to dry off and explore the other end of the beach. Apparently there were sometimes baby sharks in a pool of water at the back of the beach, but we couldn’t see any despite wading in and trying to keep still for as long as we could. We found a really cool piece of driftwood (see photo above) that was probably a casualty of the cyclone and managed to scale it and look out to the islands – bliss.

Both evenings we chilled on the boat after buffet style dinners – one essentially a roast dinner without the gravy and the other a barbeque, chatting to others in the group drinking goon and playing music. We met two girls Sophie and Charlotte travelling together who were doing the same Oz Experience package as us, with almost the same schedule – they were even on Fraser Island the same time as us but we didn’t know it! We really got on with them so planned to meet up to go to Magnetic Island (our next stop) as we were going at the same time.

Although I had a great time sailing round the Whitsundays, when we docked into the harbour I was also happy to be back on dry land with plenty of shade! That evening there was supposed to be a ‘boat gathering’ with free drinks at a bar but seeing as it was Good Friday and therefore nowhere could serve alcohol, it was looking like no pubs/bars would be open. However, there was a charity event in one of the bars taking place to get around this law as you were allowed to sell alcohol provided it was with a meal. You paid an entry fee, ate a plate of food from the huge buffet they provided, got a stamp to say you had eaten and could therefore order drinks from the bar. Everyone from the whole town must have been there because it was packed! They also had live bands play throughout the night and so it was a really enjoyable evening. A great way to round off our sailing trip.

On our final day in Airlie Beach Katie was going off to do a sky dive – eeek! So as it was going to be a long day, we had breakfast, checked out of the hostel, put our bags into storage and dropped Katie off at the sky diving office. Rhianna and I felt like we were dropping our child off at school as we proudly waved her off. We spent our day hanging out in the hostel common area and wandering round the souvenir shops. I attempted to catch up on this blog and Rhianna on her vlog but the communal computers didn’t have any internet so there was only so much we could achieve. Nevertheless we managed to do some admin and spent more money than I was comfortable with ringing our hostel in Townsville for that night to arrange late-check in. Katie arrived back around 4pm and showed us all the fab photos and videos she got from the skydive – the views looked incredible I have to say.

We cooked ourselves some dinner and went for a quick walk along the beach front before heading back to the hostel for our bags and walking over to the bus stop to catch our evening Greyhound to Townsville.

Next stop, Magnetic Island!

xoxo

Fraser Island adventures part 2

Day 2

This morning we had an earlier start and after such a packed day yesterday it was a bit of a struggle getting out of bed but of course it was so worth it being in such an incredible place. Rushing down to for some breakfast before getting on the bus, we headed off towards the beach to spend the day along the east coast of the island. Although we experienced driving on the beach in a huge 4×4 bus the day before, the novelty hadn’t worn off. We sped along the shore to the north of the island for our first stop – Champagne Pools. The weather was cooler and windier than the day before so the thought of wading into the sea isn’t the most appealing but we remind ourselves of where we are and brave it. As you can see from the photo of Katie and Rhianna below, it was pretty grey!  When the waves crashed into the rocks on the outskirts of the pools, they shot up and created lots of spray, like champagne. You had to be careful not to get too soaked!

 

When it was time to go, we walked back up to reconvene in the bus. Our next port of call was a stop to look at the multicoloured sand cliffs The Pinnacles. They looked just like those jars that you fill with layers of sand when on holiday. For some reason hardly anyone wanted to get out and see them as it was raining, but as Brits the three of us put on our waterproofs and went out with the tour guide Jared and one other girl. We didn’t stay too long but at least we got out off the bus!

Our next stop further along the beach was a walk up to Indian Head. The view from the top of the headland is shown in the photo above to the far left. It had also stopped raining at this point which was great. Apparently it’s common to spot whales and dolphins at that point but unfortunately there was no sea life to be seen. After taking in the views and trying as hard as we could to conjure up a pod of dolphins, we walked back down towards the beach for lunch in a campsite behind the dunes out of the wind. Just like the day before, it was a picnic help yourself affair with rolls and salads. Next we headed towards the famous Maheno Shipwreck (pictured above) which has been wrecked on the beach since 1935. You can tell it’s been there for a long time as it’s so embedded in the sand and covered in barnacles.

Perhaps my favourite thing that we did that day was visiting a place called Eli Creek and floating down it in rubber rings. It was fairly busy and we were a large group so we had to wait for a while to get three rings for us but once we got them we had quite a few trips down the creek. Other people seemed to have had enough and sit on the sand instead but we kept going so we were almost the last people back on the bus! After that we had a coffee and cookie stop before heading back to the resort. Dinner that evening was BBQ themed ans as yummy as ever.

Day 3

I have to say this was my favourite day of the Fraser tour; it was the most relaxed and the sunshine came out for us too. We had a smaller bus today as quite a few people only did a two day tour so that could also have been part of it.

Firstly, we drove to Lake Birrabeen (a beautiful lake similar to Lake Mackenzie but less busy) where we played volleyball and tried stand-up paddle boarding which was loads of fun. Today’s weather was so much nicer and by 10 o’clock it was already pretty hot so we were slapping on the sun cream as much as possible. As we were there first thing we had the beach to ourselves which was awesome. We relaxed on the beach for a few hours until it was time to go for an early lunch.

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Stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Birabeen

For lunch, instead of a picnic buffet we went to a resort near the beach for a proper hot buffet lunch – delicious. As I mentioned in my last post, whilst on Fraser we ate soo much food! After we had eaten as much as we could handle, we drove back along the beach to then walk through forest to the emerald Lake Wabby. The walk through the forest was hard in the heat, especially as it was mostly uphill. When we emerged out of the trees, all you could see was sand. The dunes are so expansive and they look endless. The lake is really amazing as over time the sand dune moved to cut off the water from reaching the sea, creating a lake with rainforest on one side and sand dunes on the other.

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Lake Wabby

We had a dip in the water and chatted to the three Irish girls we’d met. Some of the fish that you used to see in tanks to nibble on the skin of your feet were in the lake so if you kept still enough they’d come and have a go on your feet – so strange. We lounged in the glorious sun with out feet in the water and I could’ve stayed longer but we had to get back to the bus to then get the ferry back over to Hervey Bay. Funnily enough it takes longer to get back through the trees to when you don’t have the right shoes on – I didn’t want to put my trainers back on as my feet were wet so started off bare foot but the sand was too hot so I changed into flip flops. This time we were the last back to the bus but it was okay as everyone was having tea, coffee and cookies so we didn’t feel as bad for being late.After one last energy burst we headed back over to jump on the ferry. There was a beautiful sunset on the way back to the mainland.

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On the way from the port to our hostel we saw kangaroos just in the field which was pretty cool. We stayed in Flashpackers hostel for the night and did a shop run to get pasta and pesto for dinner (and chocolate for dessert). We went to the shop whilst the receptionist was on a run to pick up people from the Greyhound bus – in fact, she was the one who kindly gave us a lift to our accommodation a few days before. The Flashpackers was a really nice hostel with lots of sofas to relax on, a decently stocked and clean kitchen, and free wifi. The rooms were clean and most importantly had an amazing waterfall shower was lush after being continuously covered in sand for the past few days!


We had a night bus booked for the following evening so we had a day to get ourselves together and have a bit of an explore. We went to the shopping centre to get some essentials – active shorts for me, walking shoes and some long sleeve tops for Rhi and a water bottle for Katie. We got a delicious spinach and feta ‘tear and share’ loaf from a bakery for our lunch and walked down from the shopping centre to the seafront in the heat to eat it.

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Yummy baked goods

We regretted not having our swimming stuff as there was a very tempting public water park that all the kids were loving. Being very hot at this point the three of us were so jealous! After some chilling out taking in the view, we walked all the way back to the hostel via the supermarket to get some supplies. We had some dinner and chilled out in the hostel until it was time to get the bus. Next stop Airlie Beach!

Fraser Island adventures part 1

After arriving late the previous night, we didn’t have time to sleep in or explore Hervey Bay as we were being picked up at 7:30am for our transfer to Fraser Island. This excursion was part of the Oz Experience package we bought before flying out so we weren’t sure what to expect but safe to say I had a blast for three days on the largest sand island in the world.

We got picked up in a minibus and taken to a check in point where we offloaded our bags onto a trailer for the ferry crossing to the island, before being taken down in another bus to the port. The ferry crossing wasn’t long at all; and we spent most of it up on the deck in the sun looking out for dolphins. Sadly we didn’t see any!

Our tour didn’t start until the following day, but we had been recommended to arrive as early as possible to make the most of the resort facilities: we spent our day lounging by the pool, swimming and dipping in and out of the hot tub. It was luxury! We had a lunch of pizza and chips shared between us and made friends with a very unafraid Kookaburra looking for crumbs to eat. Here’s a photo:

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After eating we wandered down to the beach to be greeted with a scary sign warning you about the wild dingos and instructing you to carry a ‘dingo stick’. Conveniently for us, someone had left a big wooden staff near the gate (Gandalf would have been impressed) so we picked that up to take with us as we walked along the sand. Here’s Rhianna modelling said stick in the style of Gandalf himself:

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The sand was very light in colour and super soft between your toes – heavenly. Luckily our beach trip was dingo-free too. After a lovely walk and quick paddle in the sea we ambled back to the resort to catch the shuttle bus up to our accommodation. Funnily enough the backpacker accommodation was out the way of the rest of the resort guests. Getting our big rucksacks out of the luggage storage room, we found our lodge which had a few different rooms, a kitchen with seating and a veranda. Not bad at all. The three of us were in a four bed room with bunks, but the other person supposed to be sharing with us didn’t turn up so we essentially had a private room to ourselves which is always appreciated.

We settled in and met some of the other people in our lodge and played some card games until it was time to go down to the bar area for dinner. All meals were included in our tour package, which meant a buffet for every single meal of the day. Considering we had been scrimping on meals out and always cooking for ourselves, it was a treat to be catered for. We filled up on noodles and spring rolls, with fruit and ice-cream for dessert. Safe to say we took full advantage of the amount of food available.

Waddling back to the lodge, we met everyone else staying in our lodge and sat round the kitchen table with the goon we had brought from the mainland. A friend had warned me that Fraser Island was one huge party and so we should buy goon before we got there as it would be expensive on the island. Whilst we had a fun evening playing cards with the boys in the lodge, we decided to head back down to the Dingo bar where we’d had dinner but it wasn’t exactly busy…. it was empty! We were slightly confused as we thought there would be loads of people there; essentially it wasn’t exactly the crazy night we had been told about.

Day 1

We had an early start for the first day of our Fraser Island tour. We had a buffet brekkie – cereal, toast, fruit, cooked breakfast – delicious! We met our tour guide Jared and get onto the bright yellow 4×4 bus (photo below). Our tour didn’t start straight away as we had to go and meet the rest of the group who were coming off the ferry. This did mean that we got first pick of the seats on the bus which was nice considering the bumpy ride we had in-store.

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After everyone else arrived we were ready to set off to our first destination, Lake Mackenzie. Leaving the resort we turned off onto a sand track and now we realised why the bus needed to be 4×4! It was super bumpy and we were all lifted right out of our seats at some points! I was glad I’d taken my travel sickness tablet just in case. We drove along the island’s beach highway and were lucky enough to see a dingo walking along the shore.

When we arrived at Lake Mackenzie there were a lot more people than I expected to see but it was the Easter holidays so there were lots of families. Anyway, the lake was breathtaking. The sand is silica sand so it was super white and soft and the water so clear. It was a little colder than perhaps I would have liked to be getting in the water but we decided it just had to be done anyway so braved it. There was a quick rain shower but then the sun came out so we seized the moment. There I am braving the water in the picture below. Once I had my whole body in the temperature got better for sure. Also where the water goes from a pale blue to dark blue is a big drop in the depth of the lake. It’s so deep there’s no way you can see the bottom anymore. Strangely enough, considering that Fraser Island is surrounded by the sea, the water is actually freshwater and was really nice to swim in. Apparently turtles live in most of the lakes on the island but as there were lots of people about we didn’t see any.

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After swimming in the lake it was time for lunch so we dried off and walked back towards the bus to the picnic area where we were given sandwiches and salads – we were certainly being well fed as there was plenty for the whole bus. When we’d all finished feeding our faces, we headed back onto the bus and into the rainforest – fun fact: Fraser Island has a massive rainforest that survives despite the whole island being made of sand. This place is pretty special and definitely worth a visit.

We did a short walk through the rainforest to another, smaller freshwater lake but you couldn’t swim in this one, before continuing through the rainforest on a longer walk. It was a super pretty walk and the water in the creeks was crystal clear – it’s bizarre that the whole forest is growing in sand.

Our tour guide Jared even showed us how to spot some funnel web spiders hiding in their burrows by shining our phone torches in at the right angle. Considering they’re very deadly spiders I didn’t want to hang about too long! We then walked back to the bus that Jared had driven round to meet us and had an afternoon coffee and cookie stop which was nice but I was still full from lunch! I swear my stomach had shrunk to accommodate for our travelling budget but being catered for on Fraser just stretched it right back again as we were constantly eating!

We also visited a clearing in the forest called ‘Central Station’ which used to be the centre of a logging camp on the island and read all the information boards about its history. As it was nearing sunset, we then headed to the beach to watch the sun go down. How lush is this view:

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It was also a lovely way to round off the day. Heading back to the lodge we showered and walked down to the bar for dinner. This evening was a Mexican theme which was delicious. They had a decent provision for veggies and vegans so I was loving the Mexican beans in wraps with salad and salsa – yum. That evening my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach everything was so tasty. I even managed to squeeze in some ice-cream and fruit for dessert.

After dinner we decided to stay in the bar for the pub quiz and this time there were more people about. We joined these three Irish girls that we met on our tour that day and although we didn’t win it was a laugh and we stayed in the bar for a while before collapsing into bed as we had another jam-packed day ahead of us.

Day trip to Australia Zoo and a few days in Noosa

Despite the early fire alarm in our hostel in Brisbane, we were up, checked out, and at the coach station in good time for our Greyhound bus. Our next destination was Noosa but we were making a stop off at Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s zoo) along the way. It was easy as the Greyhound bus got us to the zoo for 9am and then another coach picked us up late that afternoon so we had a whole day to see all the animals. We took our rucksacks and stored them in lockers at the zoo for the day to save us lugging them about.

Once that was all sorted out I had such a good day visiting the zoo! It was the Easter holidays so it although it was teeming with families with tearaway toddlers, it that meant that we actually got to see a Crocodile show with Teri, Bindi and Robert Irwin where they fed a huuuge croc. The language they used to talk about the crocodiles was really interesting as they kept emphasising how they are mostly misunderstood creatures and that whilst they can be scary it’s all about respecting the animal and understanding their behaviour. Having said that, there’s no way I would have wanted to be in that arena with that crocodile!

Other animals we saw included kangas and koalas (of course!) Below are some snaps and yes, that is a selfie with a kangaroo… The koalas are so sleepy and you’re lucky if you see one blink let alone move from their perch! Whilst at Australia Zoo we also saw lots more koalas, otters, alligators, snakes in the reptile house, birds in the aviary, tigers, giraffes and much more. All in all a fab day.

 

We collected our bags from the lockers and waited for our bus outside the zoo. Typically it was late, but that didn’t matter too much as it wasn’t a long journey to get to Noosa. When we arrived at the bus stop the driver kindly pointed us in the direction of our hostel, and so we walked through the town’s main street to get there – luckily Nomaads hostel wasn’t too far away. We waited to be checked in, got into our room and headed out to the supermarket for dinner. For some reason my maps app took us a really random way…through a dark park littered with toads… I almost stepped on one several times! After ending up in the car park at the back of the shop thanks to said maps, we were finally in the supermarket looking for dinner. I think we were all in need of a lot of vegetables as we landed on stir-fry as our meal of choice. We got one of those packs of stir-fry veggies, an extra pepper, a jar of sweet and sour sauce and some microwaveable brown rice. It was a meal with all colours of the rainbow – yes, we were those people in the hostel that everyone eating pasta and instant noodles envied, and it was amazing. (We may have also purchased three chocolate easter bunnies on offer for $1 each – no shame here).

For our time in Noosa we hadn’t planned anything in particular apart from knowing that we wanted to see the national park. Unfortunately we ascertained pretty quickly that there was no cheap way (at least, without a car) to see the nearby everglades, and as we couldn’t afford to spare hundreds of dollars, we settled for seeing what was in walking distance. Speaking to the travel advice guy in the hostel, he panicked us with his shock reaction that we hadn’t planned and booked all of our New Zealand Kiwi Experience buses yet. We were confused because we didn’t really know how it worked but didn’t think we had to plan everything exactly in advance – we didn’t know how long we were going to want to stay in each place. As the weather was miserable anyway we decided to find a cafe to camp out at whilst we looked into it and essentially have an admin morning. We found a cute independent cafe on the main shopping street and ordered large coffees to fuel our planning session. I won’t bore you with the details but we looked at maps, timetables and did a lot of internet research.

For lunch we had the sandwiches we had made that morning when we had intended to go out to the national park, but they came in useful nonetheless. When we’d finally had enough of planning we decided to go for a walk to the beach on the other side of town. Although it was still raining on and off, we donned our raincoats and set off on a much-needed walk. The beach itself was really refreshing; not at all sunbathing weather but it’s always enjoyable to be by the sea.

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After spending some time at the beach we headed back into town and went to the supermarket for dinner again. The kitchen at the hostel was tiny and so unorganised but we made do, guarding a hob fiercely so nobody else swooped in whilst we drained our pasta!

That evening we headed into town to see Beauty and the Beast at the cinema; this was a great film which I thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t realise until the very end that Ewan McGregor played Lumiere – for some reason I thought they’d actually picked a French actor haha. We took what was remaining of our chocolate bunnies (*cough* Rhianna *cough*) which although was yummy, it turns out it’s really easy to get chocolate ALL down yourself. And because it was dark there was no way to see you needed to clean it off before the chocolate has melted onto your clothes!

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The bus we had booked up to Hervey Bay didn’t leave until the evening so we got up and checked out of the hostel. Leaving our bags in their luggage storage we walked to the other side of town to the main beach. This was a lot busier than the beach we went to the day before and there was a strip of shops and restaurants on Hastings Road alongside the beach. The main beach was packed full of families enjoying the sun with kids running about eating ice-cream. We headed along the beach and followed the trail into the national park – although we didn’t get to see the everglades we at least walked through the national park. As much as we looked we couldn’t see any wild koalas we were told lived in the trees, but the walk along the coast was lovely- you’ve got to love some fresh air and a sea breeze.

Deciding to treat ourselves to a late lunch/early dinner, we made our way back to the restaurants and found a cafe that did ciabatta sandwiches/burgers for $15 with chips. The food was fab and definitely hit the spot.

It was time to get back over to the hostel, collect our bags and walk through town to the bus stop via the ‘liquor store’ to get a goon for our trip to Fraser Island.

It was only a four hour bus to Hervey Bay which isn’t far in Aussie terms, but we found ourselves tired and thinking it was later than it was because the sun went down so early. We had booked into a hostel for the night called Aussie Woolshed, which was a 20 minute walk from the Greyhound drop-off point. However, we didn’t have to walk in the end as a woman doing a pick up for another hostel kindly offered us a lift – result! We arrived at the hostel and found our room, it turns out we’d been upgraded from the 8 bed doorm we booked to a 4 bed seemingly private room; there were no bunks and a telly in the room. I was wrecked so I watched some ‘Would I Lie to You?’ on the TV in my pjs whilst Katie and Rhianna went for a little explore. A great result and a great end to a chilled couple of days.

 

Thanks for reading folks xoxo

Crossing time zones to Brisbane

Arriving into Brisbane’s transit centre on the coach an hour later than we anticipated, we caught the metro and walked another ten minutes to our hostel, Bunk. We were initially confused as to why all the timings at the station were an hour out, but it turns out that Queensland is an hour behind New South Wales – we weren’t going crazy after all! The reception area of the hostel gave a great first impression, with lots of comfy sofas, armchairs and spots to sit with a laptop. When going to check in, there was a problem with our booking – even though we’d booked three beds through Hostelworld, their booking system had only registered two beds…uh-oh. Plus, it was a Friday so the hostel was pretty full. Thankfully the receptionist swiftly sorted us out, putting us in a private room as that was the only room available (winning) and charged us for a cheaper room than what we’d booked for the ‘inconvenience’! Not bad ey? It was a double bed with a single bunk on top, and there was an en-suite too which even had mini toiletries. Backpacking luxury! I had such a lush long shower, whilst the others went food shopping. I felt sparkling clean, it was incredible.

For some reason all three of us really fancied fajitas for dinner so we splashed out and got all the ingredients, including salsa and sour cream – yum! Before we made dinner we headed down to the hostel bar to use the drinks voucher we had been given by reception. Most hostels seemed to do this in Aus and they almost always have a specific time you can use them, e.g. between 7-8pm to get you down to the bar. By a huuge coincidence we bumped into friends from university Aiden and Rosie in the bar! They were doing a semester abroad in Sydney but happened to be in Brisbane for the weekend and happened to be staying in the same hostel – madness! So we caught up with them and decided to go out and explore the city’s nightlife after dinner. Aiden was super tired but Rosie came out with us and we ended up having a great night in a bar that played retro tunes.

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Hostel bar pink drinks

Seeing as we’d been out late the night before, we had decided to have a nice lie-in and not set any alarms. We woke up embarrassingly late (or impressively depending how you look at it) and had a leisurely breakfast that was basically lunch, before heading out into the city to the Southbank. We wandered through the city’s main shopping street, with Rhianna popping into Apple to buy an SD adapter to replace the one she’d sadly lost, and me getting a pretty water bottle in Typo to replace the one I’d bought that continually leaked. We continued to walk down to the river, passing a suitcase sale in front of the library along the way. This was basically a small scale car boot sale, with everyone selling clothes and shoes out of a suitcase. I think it’s a really cool idea and we should definitely have suitcase sales in the UK. Katie found a bargain luggage tag for a $1 which was coincidentally from Typo. Result.

This is a glimpse of what Brisbane’s Southbank looks like. There are definitely similarities to London’s Southbank, there being lots of restaurants, an arts centre, theatre and museum all along the waterfront. However, London does not have an artificial beach in the middle of the city! I guess it’s because Brisbane is basically the only Aussie city that isn’t on the coast so they’ve tried to make up for it! We wandered along the river, walking through all these shady paths decorated with lanterns to keep out of the sun, before returning to the beach to chill out on the sand. As it was a weekend there were loads of kids playing and having fun in the lagoon, and families in restaurants or having barbecues nearby. That’s something I noticed about public spaces in Australia, there are lots of free to use barbecues with picnic benches which is pretty awesome. We stayed at the beach until the sun had set and then made our way back across town to the hostel via Eagle street pier which consisted of lots of nice restaurants on the riverfront. Unfortunately we couldn’t buy more food for fajitas again as the supermarket had shut, so instead we bought some pasta sauce from the convenience store near our hostel and had spaghetti followed by a relaxed evening.

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Brisbane at night

The following morning we made sure we got up earlier than the day before, having brekkie then heading out to the shop to get some snacks. Katie and I also needed to get a charger as mine had broken and she had lost hers, so we unwillingly spent $20 on a replacement. Obviously not a fun purchase but a necessity nonetheless. Walking further into the city, we walked along the river into the pretty botanical gardens. It was so nice to have a big green space in the middle of the city. We explored the gardens, with a quick pit stop to go on the swings in the park…before continuing through the city back towards the Southbank. We found a Brisbane sign that we didn’t spot the previous day, and that was fun seeing all the kids (and Katie and Rhianna) try to climb on it! We were keen to go to the art gallery there, but unfortunately it was shut when we got there! Story of my life with museums and galleries, they always seem to be shut! We found out that there was the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre nearby that was open and was free to visit, so we made a beeline round the corner.

Inside there was a really interesting exhibition about the planets with loads of incredible photos of the solar system, as well as another exhibition about extinct creatures and the impact humans are having on the planet. There was also an extensive taxidermy exhibition displaying so many different animals which Katie in particular was not a fan of. So we went round quickly and decided it was time for some food.

As expensive as Australia is compared to Southeast Asia, we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant meal for a late lunch. We had heard good things about a burger chain called Grill’d when we asked for recommendations in Sydney, and as there was one close by it was a sign. We were pretty ravenous at this point so I think we would have thought anything was decent food, but the verdict on the burgers was good, and the sweet potato fries we shared were lush too. There was certainly more salad in the burger than any I’ve had in the UK, so trying to fit it all in one bite was a bit of a challenge! But I’m happy to say we all hoovered our food up without any other problems.

That evening we had our much sought after fajitas again as the shops were open this time. We had to be up really early to catch a 7:30am bus so we had another chilled evening and a fairly early night. There was however, a slight hiccup in this plan when the fire alarm went off at 5am and the whole building had to filter out onto the street. After waiting outside for half an hour or so for the all clear to get back in the building, it wasn’t long before we had to get up and get going anyway *sighs*.

I think all three of us were sad to leave Brisbane and could have happily stayed there for a few more days exploring the city. But we continued onwards to Australia Zoo and then to Noosa, which I will tell you all about in my next post.

Thanks for reading folks xo

Surfing in a cyclone (kind of) in Byron Bay

After a 13 hour night bus we arrived in Byron Bay a little dazed and confused. Who’d have thought that you’d get more sleep on the night buses in Southeast Asia with their fully reclining seats? Amazingly there was someone from the hostel waiting to give us a lift so we didn’t have to walk to the hostel – result. They gave us a mini tour of the town along the way which was handy, even in our tired state. The three of us checked in and managed to book two extra nights which was really lucky; if we’d headed further north we’d have been stuck in cyclone Debbie! This ‘surf n stay’ was our first experience in our Oz experience cruiser package so we got one night accommodation for ‘free’, a surf lesson, breakfast and dinner. So we booked our surf lesson for the next morning and walked into town to explore and get some food supplies.

I really liked the atmosphere in Byron, a small and vibrant surfer town, with lots of hippy clothing shops and cute independent eateries. Like the typical backpackers we are however, we headed straight to Aldi to get lunch and other supplies instead, including an ice-cream for the walk back to the hostel in the sun. As the hostel was right on the beachfront, we made sandwiches and headed out onto the beach to eat them and soak up some rays. Below is a photo of the lovely beach. That evening we had a barbecue provided by the hostel, made some friends with some German backpackers and played cards.

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Byron Bay isn’t too shabby

The next morning we had our included surf school breakfast of toast and cereal and got into our swimmers ready for our surf lesson. If you’re wondering what the conditions were like for our lesson, our instructor described the waves as ‘teachable’ and the pouring rain that accompanied this was in fact the tail end of cyclone Debbie. Great. We were all first time surfers so we were daunted by this but still determined to have a decent go at it anyway. We plodded down to the beach with the boards and had a pep talk teaching up how to stand up on the board. I can safely say it’s a lot easier when you’re stationary on sand! As I couldn’t wear my glasses I had to leave them on the beach but because it was pelting it down with rain nobody else could really see that much more than me. It was fun but a lot of work – if I want to be a professional surfer I’d need probably 90% more arm strength than I currently possess! I sadly didn’t get to stand up fully, more of a crouch, but Rhianna did and I think Katie did too. Though for me the hardest bit was battling against the waves to get back into the sea! I definitely want to try again in calmer weather though.

When we got back to the hostel, everyone else was sheltering undercover or inside and looked at us like we were mad! Strangely it was warmer in the sea than on the beach (only in Oz!) so we all really needed a long hot shower to warm up. Funny story, I did get stung by a jellyfish on my hand (if you’re wondering no-one had to wee on it! 🙈), all it needed was to be run under really hot water in the shower to bring out the sting. It was a bit sore for the next couple of days but I survived to tell the tale.

That evening we went to get our free meal from the surf school. Usually the hostel put on a food option like the barbecue we had the previous evening, but tonight it was a meal out in a bar called Cheeky Monkeys. It was still raining so we got the shuttle bus (yes this bar had it’s own shuttle bus) and we got to order what we wanted off the menu and the surf school paid for it, and we got some free drinks vouchers too. I had a huge basket of calamari and chips, Katie had a massive burger, and Rhianna went big with a steak. We were all happy and pretty full in no time. We headed back to the hostel to make ourselves more presentable before getting the bus again to make the most of our free drink vouchers. At this point the wind was picking up and the rain wasn’t stopping either. We carried on with our evening, having some free fizz and a bit of a dance.

When we decided it was time to go back to the hostel, we got our raincoats from the cloakroom and headed out into the deluge. Debbie had definitely arrived! It was raining so hard that by the time we were under shelter a few metres down the road, we were completely soaked. The main crossroads in the town centre was flooded, so to cross we had to wade through the shin-height water to get to the other side! It was crazy. The funny thing was that the next day everything had drained and you’d never have know it was flooded at all!

 

Wading back to the hostel
So much water!

However, flooding further up the coast in meant we were having difficulty booking our experiences, particularly Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. So as there was a Greyhound office in Byron, we headed there to try and get things sorted. It turns out that the head office in Brisbane was also shut due to flooding so we had to make a few trips to get everything booked when the office re-opened. We used the rubbish weather to our advantage and sorted out as many buses as we could using the computers in the office and eventually we managed to get our Fraser Island trip and Whitsundays trip for the dates we wanted – phew!

 

We also made use of the cinema that doubled/tripled up as a brewery and an arts centre! We went to see Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams; whilst it definitely wasn’t a laugh a minute film, the acting was good and it was poignant and well executed.

Our last night in Byron was a more relaxed affair. We made spag bol and chilled out in front of the telly. Katie and Rhianna went to the beach for a walk but weren’t out for long as it was apparently pretty scary in the pitch black. The next morning we checked out of the hostel but we still had a few hours to kill before our coach up to Brisbane. Luckily this wasn’t cancelled because they’d just re-opened the highway. As it wasn’t pouring with rain we went on a walk up along the coast to the lighthouse.

Heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags, we walked into town and stopped by the bakery on the way to the bus stop. I had a delicious carrot cake slice, yum. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Byron Bay, despite Debbie paying us a visit!

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To the lighthouse

Chapter two: arriving in Aus!

A long day and night of travelling and a delayed flight behind us, we arrived in Sydney! After being in Southeast Asia for the past month it was strange to be somewhere that seemed familiar – there was a WHSmith in arrivals and a big poster with the Queen’s face all over it! We headed into the city on the train, getting ourselves an Opal card (Oyster card equivalent) so we could get about for the next few days. Our hostel ‘790 on George’ was just around the corner from central station, funnily enough on George Street, so it wasn’t too difficult to find. We couldn’t check in yet as we were there too early so we dumped our bags and went for a wander. All three of us were pretty tired from our overnight flight and all we wanted to do was sleep, but we needed to power through to make the most of our time in Sydney.

The weather wasn’t particularly nice considering we all thought Aus was going to be gloriously sunny all the time! Instead the skies were grey, the temperature cool and accompanied by the occasional drizzle of rain. Safe to say Katie in particular was not happy! We walked through Tumbalong Park (great name) where there was a festival going on – lots of food stalls, music and people soaking up the atmosphere. We went to see what was going on and it turned out to be a Thai festival which was hilarious considering that’s exactly where we’d just arrived from! I couldn’t even comprehend buying anything from the food stalls knowing how much cheaper the food was in Thailand. Continuing towards Darling Harbour we walked along the waterfront. We had a few things to pick up so we went to the Harbourside Shopping Centre for a bit of retail therapy. It was here that we discovered the a clothes shop called Cotton On and the amazing Typo (a shop that is basically Paperchase and therefore I wanted everything they sold). After a while looking around the shops we got peckish and looked for some lunch. I settled on some yummy chicken pittas from a place that was similar to Nandos. It was strange going from the dirt cheap prices of southeast Asia as everything seemed like too much money, but obviously we just had to get used to Australian prices. It also felt strange to not stand out as much as tourists (apart from the accent) and not be approached by people trying to sell you something every five seconds.

The following day was more like what we expected from Australian weather as it was hot and sunny again. Thankfully the weather was nowhere near as humid as Southeast Asia so the heat was a lot more bearable. After a nice lie-in we took this opportunity to take the ferry over from Circular Quay to Manly Island, which my lovely mum recommended as you get the best view of the Opera House. Moreover we picked the right day to go because on Sundays all travel using Opal cards is capped at $2.50 which included the ferry journey, brilliant. Evidently everyone else had the same idea as us because when we got to the ferry terminal there was a huuuge queue stretching on and on – we were very lucky as we were the last people to be let on the boat. Here’s the fab view of the Opera House I snapped from the boat, with not a cloud in sight:

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We spent a lovely day on Manly Island perusing the craft market, choosing new sunglasses for Katie, walking along the promenade looking at the sea, getting ice cream and picnic things from the supermarket and eating under a tree with the beach right in front of us. The weather was brilliant so Katie was happy again! On the way back we caught the ferry just in time to see sunset as we were heading back into the harbour. I was so lucky to get the beautiful picture below, it really looks like the sun is coming out of the bridge:

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The next day in Sydney was also a glorious one, and today we had decided to head out of the city to the Blue Mountains, getting the train out to Katoomba and walking through the town to see the Three Sisters. Along the way we did a supermarket stop to pick up some fruit snacks and sandwich stuff for lunch. It was about a half an hour walk from the train station to the Queen Elizabeth lookout, but it was certainly worth it for the views!

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Here you can see the Three Sisters and a tiny stretch of the national park. The eucalyptus gives the trees the blue colour you can see, hence the name of the mountains. We took in the view and had our lunch looking out across the mountains – lush! We then did a cliff walk along to the funicular (I think that’s what it was), pausing at different viewpoints  along the way for photos and to look at the amazing views. At the end of the walk the sun was starting to set so we decided to head back to the train, but not before we payed a quick visit to this pretty waterfall we found.

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So it was our final day in Sydney. We did a quick look around the shops in the town centre, getting a jumper for Rhianna before using our Opal cards once more, getting the bus out of the city to Bondi Beach. To be honest I’m not sure why it’s as famous as it is. Although the weather wasn’t the best, it was a little grey and chilly, it looked like a beach that could have easily been in the UK. There were lots of surfer shops and cafes: we went for a coffee in a cafe called Swell that had old silver teapots on each table with cutlery and napkins – super cute.

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We headed back to Sydney city centre and went straight to an area called Newtown for dinner. We had heard great things about this vegan restaurant called ‘Lentil as Anything’ from someone we met on our travels in Vietnam (shout out to Bianca!) so we had to go and try it. There was a queue outside and everyone dined together, squeezed in whatever space possible, and that the menu changes daily depending on who is in the kitchen. The idea is that you pay what you can afford, supporting the refugee community – great stuff. Here’s a slightly blurry photo of the scrummy curry plate I had:

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We had time for a quick drink at a rooftop bar, where I also learned what a schooner is (essentially a half pint), before we got the train back into the centre in time for our night bus up the coast to Byron Bay.

Man down, changed plans and no more Ha Long Bay

So we’d all had a great time in Phong Nha National Park and as planned we had booked a night bus to get us up to Hanoi and then to Halong Bay for our last remaining days in Vietnam. However, a few hours before our bus was due to leave disaster stuck(!) as I suddenly felt really ill and ended up throwing up… Safe to say I wasn’t getting on a night bus!  Luckily the woman in the hostel was lovely and looked after us as soon as she took one look at me. She gave us a discounted private twin room for the night and had my bag taken to the room for me as well as managing to move our bus tickets to the following night for no extra charge. I really didn’t want to be in a dorm room when I was unwell so this was a blessing, and we were running out of time to get to Hanoi so unfortunately this meant I had to skip out Halong Bay.

Katie however did go on the night bus to Hanoi with Bianca and Tom as she really really wanted to see Halong Bay, and Rhianna kindly stayed behind with me. Although I didn’t have the best night for obvious reasons, checkout the next day was at 12 so I was able to have a lie in and not worry about disturbing other people too. 

Thankfully the next day I felt much better and managed some jam and toast for breakfast (despite being very jealous of Rhianna’s huge stack of pancakes I did restrain myself). We wondered what to do with our day as most places you need a motorbike or car to see but we decided to rent bikes and go for a leisurely bike ride. This turned out to be a great idea and we cycled along the river through the national park towards the Botanical Gardens. Here’s a snap from a sun cream and water stop: