Noosa

Coll and I had an easy bus ride to Noosa and I have to say: this turned out to be one of my favorite places I have been so far in Australia. Granted, having great weather and good friend would make anywhere better but Noosa has such a great vibe. It is a bit fancier/resortish than Byron and had gorgeous beaches and hiking trails and shops. I would have loved some air conditioning though as temperatures averaged mid-to-upper-80’s and relatively high humidity.

Turns out our hostels (we had to stay at separate ones since Colleen booked later than I did) were way further from the Greyhound bus stop than anticipated. And mine was up a HUGE hill.

By the time we had dropped our stuff in storage and changed, we were pretty hot. We set out to go to the Fairy Pools, which are rock pools in the Noosa National Park, thinking it would be a kind of short, chill walk. It turns out it was about an hour each way, hilly and climbing up and down from the rock pools was hard on our feet. I even ended up walking under my umbrella for a bit since it was so hot but it was so worth it!

We passed a few beaches along the way which were just beautiful. They were much less crowded than the main beach and had lots of surfers.

We had a lovely time exploring the fairy pools, taking pictures and just laying out. Snacking on some fruit and getting too much sun, we decided to head back. By the time we returned we were exhausted and opted to go back to our hostels to rest and shower before meeting for dinner. It was great to be on the same page the whole weekend (mostly just us both always being exhausted) so typically we wanted to do the same things.

We grabbed a burger for lunch and I tried tomato relish for the first time (interesting..almost a mixture of ketchup and pickle relish but not quite) and then decided to shower and chill and meet later for dinner at Halse Lodge where I was staying which had a great patio and ambiance. We chatted and shared a pizza and some wine and by 9 o’clock we’re ready to call it a night.

The next morning we were up bright and early and caught the 7:45am bus to the Eumundi markets! These are a huge market with things from clothes and jewelry to food to repurposed records to health treatments and more. We had a lovely, albeit hot and humid, morning wandering the stalls each getting some cute earrings.

Soaking in the ac on the public bus, we decided to change and head to the beach! Main Beach is, as the name suggests, the main beach. The water was crystal clear and quite warm and we just laid out and chatted and dozed a bit. I went out for a quite bite for lunch and popsicles and then eventually we parted ways to get ready for the evening. One attribute I love about Colleen is how she truly appreciates places she goes and what she experiences. Even when we were hot and tired and miserable (or when we weren’t) she always reminds me how lucky and blessed we are to be here, living life. Oh, she also told me about how they have wild geckos that live in people’s houses and eat mosquitos. So there is some true Australian life for you!

I did a quick load of laundry (although someone my underwear did not survive the crappy washer) and we met up for our evening event: a sunset river cruise! Colleen was in charge of snacks and went all out! We must have had enough food for at least six people. We had just the loveliest evening cruising down the river, taking pictures and eating and trying not to think how we both had to leave the next day.

Thoroughly overstuffed and exhausted, our plan was to go out for a drink to be social but at 7:30pm we called it and went back to the hostels to relax and go to bed early. I chatted with my roommates a bit (one from Northern Ireland and one from Canada) and was easily asleep by 9:30.

The next morning we had leftover fruit for breakfast by the beach and said our goodbyes. Hopefully life will bring us together again!

Brisbane

I had four nights in Brisbane and contrary to what many people have told me, there’s plenty to do there. I have a few friends who live around Brisbane which also helped. My first day there was a complete mess though. The hostel I was staying at was supposed to have a free shuttle from the bus stop but when I called for a pickup it turns out that the shuttle was being serviced. This meant I took a train and then had to walk 15 minutes uphill with my 65 liter backpack and my 30 liter day pack in 80 degree, humid weather. Needless to say, I was not happy. In retrospect, I definitely should have just ubered.

I was compensated two drink tickets and then was able to check in early and was not sure what to do. I was supposed to meet a friend that afternoon who had to cancel so I grabbed some lunch and intended to go to Wooly’s to grocery shop but a HUGE storm hit so I instead showered and booked a movie ticket to see Captain Marvel. Unfortunately, it turns out I booked the wrong theater at the other end of the city and then had to call and get refunded and rebook at the right theater. What a day of mistakes.

I actually ended up having the theater to myself! It was a brand new luxury theater with the absolute worst popcorn I have ever had. Note to anyone: never get vegan popcorn. Between the olive oil butter and the fact it was cold I was so disappointed. But, the movie was fantastic! What a relaxing and cool treat (my hostel here does not have air con).

I had a drink at the bar and ended up spending the evening chatting with my roommate, Adrienne. We hit it off and spent the entire next day together. While we had a decent room the bunk beds were so loud and squeaky, I did not ever get a good nights sleep there. The next morning we grabbed some free brekkie and then went to pick up “a few snacks” at Wooly’s, which was about a 12-minute walk from us. We ended up getting more than anticipated (including half a watermelon for me) and even at 9am by the time I got back to the hostel I was so overheated and sweaty and gross. I will say this though: that was some damn good watermelon!

I hopped in the shower really quick as we were heading to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary that morning. I tried to book a paddle boarding hire for that afternoon but due to some misunderstandings and confusion it ended up not happening. This turns out to be for the better for multiple reasons. Firstly, I was able to spend the whole day with Adrienne! And secondly, it turns out that the Brisbane river is infested with bull sharks!!!! Why they even allow paddle boarding there is beyond me.

So, off we went to see some koalas and on the shuttle ride to the sanctuary we stopped at a gorgeous lookout at Mount Coo-Ta. We had some beautiful city views, petted a few pups and continued our ride with entertainment provided by a fun driver.

We arrived about 11:30 to the sanctuary and immediately got in line to hold koalas! A few fun facts we learned while there:

⁃ Koalas are not bears, they are marsupials and have pouches for their babies;

⁃ Koalas are struggling with chlamydia because of all the roads built up, they tend to stay in specific forrest areas and become inbred;

⁃ Koala sleep between 18-22 hours a day;

⁃ Average life span is 10 years in the wild and 15 years in captivity; and

⁃ The lesser known breed of koalas called “drop bears” can be quite dangerous. They are carnivores and can drop from trees on to prey below. None of these were kept at the sanctuary as they are dangerous.

We had to wait in line for about half and hour and another guy from the hostel ending up tagging along with us for the rest of the day. Waiting next to the exhibits provided lots of “awwwwww” and “oh my gosh SO CUTE” moments. And then, I got to hold two! Kind of anyway.

The first koala, Barney, they gave me to hold refused to hold on to me. The keeper kept setting his feet on my hands and he would lean as far away from me as he could. I think he’d had his limit of strangers so they said not to take it personally and they would go get a new one haha. Fingle did much better! He had just woken up so he may not have really known what was going on.

Next, we went to explore the rest of the sanctuary. We wandered around and saw a variety of Australian animals such as: wombats, dingoes, platypus (which turns out are venomous!), echidnas and of course kangaroos. Below are some pictures from wandering around the enclosures and hanging out with the ‘Roos (be sure to enjoy that kangaroo selfie).

Once we finished up, the three of us headed to south bank via bus. We decided to take the free ferry across and then went to Streets Beach! This is a really cool area: because of the shark infestation they have built a manmade beach and pool area in the middle of the city as an alternative for people to swim and layout. We changed and hung out for a few hours before heading back. It was so nice to cool down and relax and just chat.

I ended up playing trivia that night at the hostel, lost as usual, and then chatted with Adrienne and our new roommate Kenzie for a bit before bed. While unfortunately Adrienne was leaving the next day, Kenzie ended up spending the next two days with me and I am so thankful to have met both of these girls. It’s easy enough to meet people when you travel but to find friends who you really get on with and have a lot in common with and are sad to say goodbye to is such a treat. Those friends are the ones who make traveling more meaningful and memorable.

The next day, we went to Burleigh Heads! This is part of the Gold Coast and is just about an hour away from Brisbane. My old coworker Josh works on Moreton Island so he and a friend of his (who actually studied business and graduated the same year I did at JMU!) came and picked up Kenzie and I for the day. We had a bit of a late start but grabbed some lunch and did the trail walks there, which had some lovely views.

After the hike, we headed to the beach. It was such a treat to be reunited and catch up with Josh who I have not seen in probably almost two years! He has been living and working abroad in New Zealand and now Australia and being able to see an old friend was so refreshing. We had some swimming lessons in the water, the guys did some handstand practice and just relaxed. We also met this adorable pup named Mavis.

Once we made it back in rush hour, dealt with a missing wallet and dinner, we all piled in our girls room for some cards and drinking. I tried goon for the first (and probably last) time. Goon is the cheapest form of wine around and typically what backpackers buy. It’s about $13 for four liters of wine. It has some additives so often leads to bad hangovers.

Kenzie, Josh, David, Santiago and I went out to play some pool at a nearby bar and then ended up at a karaoke bar! I’ve never done karaoke before (yes, I know, I’ve already been scolded by my brother) but we had such a good time. It was a Wednesday night so not terribly crowded and easy enough to get up and dance or sing or just hang out and chat. We shut down the bar and went to sleep exhausted.

Unfortunately, not being able to sleep well I woke up still exhausted and not feeling well so spent the morning lounging around and planning for the rest of the day. My friend Colleen who I had met in New Zealand on the bus tour lives in Brisbane and was coming in to meet me for the day and then come with me to Noosa for a few days. She arrived around noon so I pulled it together and Kenzie joined us exploring for the day, and we had such a fun day! Colleen is Irish and Kenzie is Welsh so I loved just sitting there listening to them chat. On top of their accents, they are so sweet and encouraging and genuine ladies and we could not have asked for a better day. We walked into the city (we were staying in the valley) and ended up at this cafe overlooking the river and Kangaroo Point for lunch.

We next wandered into the city as I wanted to buy a carry on roller luggage. Partially as I’ve been buying clothes here and there and also because I’ll be going on a few island trips in the next few weeks that I’m not allowed to bring my big backpack to. I found and then proceeded to look like a tourist walking around with it all day haha. We ended up stopping and shopping a bit and then walked through the city back to Southbanks with tour guide Colleen pointing out what many of the buildings were and providing history on the city.

We stopped at the Brisbane sign to take some pictures and went to cool off at the beach again.

We eventually ubered back to the hostel and spent awhile packing and chatting and eating dinner, going to bed a bit early as we had to say our goodbyes to Kenzie and leave for the bus around 6:45am.

Byron Bay

This will probably be my shortest blog ever! I spent three days in Byron Bay which I had heard raving reviews about from various people. Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit while I was there and since it is a beach town, there is not an exceptional amount of non-outdoor activities.

I took an overnight bus from Sydney to Byron and actually got a little bit of sleep. My hostel let me check in early so I hung around a bit before heading to the beach! This hostel was recently renovated so I was unfortunately in a ten-bed, mixed dorm without air con, the amenities and common areas were lovely.

A short walk took me to the beach where I read, napped and swam for a few hours. This was the only day calling for sun and it was a beautiful day! The water was crystal clear and absolutely refreshing. I wandered around until I found a cafe for lunch while doing a bit of window shopping. I returned to the hostel to rinse off and change before doing the light house walk organized by the hostel. By this point, my lack of sleep hit hard and I struggled to convince myself to walk for 2.5 hours instead of nap. Definitely worth it! I also passed a huge alcove of hundreds of bats. I was surprised to hear them so loudly as it was the afternoon.

We arrived at the eastern most point of Australia and passed a few beaches along the way. We also saw The Pass, which is a great sunset spot but unfortunately the weather was never good for a sunset there. It ended up being a good workout as we had lots of stairs and inclines which paired with the humidity was a rewarding end to the day.

I got on pretty well with some of the people from the walk and we spent the evening hanging out, playing cards and just chatting. I meet so many people from all over but I would say Americans would be a much lower percentage than other nationalities.

The next day since it was raining, I slept in (or tried to) and then went shopping for awhile. Took a nap, watched some tv and made some dinner #pastalife. We decided to go out since it was Saturday and started at the Beach Hotel. This was a really cool scene and so fun with music and dancing at first but then the music selection turned pretty bad so we headed to the Railway. I decided to get a $5 pizza from Dominos and called it a night since it was starting to rain again.

One other thing that is really cool about Byron is the number of street artists. People tend to collect every other block to listen people playing various instruments and singing.

My last day was St. Patrick’s day! I think it is more celebrated in the larger cities in Australia but there were a few decorations of here and there around Byron. I went to the beach for a few hours and finished a book before going with my group to a brewery tour. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea as all I really wanted was some lunch and I do not like beer… I was going to just leave and of course a huge rain storm hit and never blew over so we ended up walking twenty minutes back in the pouring rain.

I got some bug bites at some point in the past week that I must be allergic to because the bites turned into huge welts. Thankfully a few days of allergy medicine reduced them but I still can’t figure out when I got the bites. Other than that, I have not really seen any of the dangerous spiders or snakes that are indigenous to Australia.

After the brewery tour, I spent awhile packing and then eating with everyone before grabbing some DELICIOUS ice cream from In the Pink and then heading to bed early. Snickers and Nute

My bus left the next morning at 7:30am so I knew it would be an early rising. I head next to Brisbane and am so excited! I get to see my good friend Colleen from the NZ bus tour and my old coworker Josh.

Bondi Beach//Sydney

I caught a short flight to Sydney and at the airport I noticed these cool sinks. The hand dryer was attached to the sink handle so you could dry your hands at the sink!

I landed in Sydney and rushed off to my hostel in Bondi to drop off my stuff so I could go meet my friends Luke and Adrian. It was a gorgeous sunny day and at times we got pretty hot but it was a great site seeing day. It was so fun to see these two tour friends from New Zealand after only like a week! We checked quite a few things off my “to see” list this afternoon.

We started of course with the Sydney opera house and Harbour bridge! So cool, and to be honest surreal, to see such an internationally well-known symbol in real-life.

We walked through the botanical gardens to pass the state library, the old town hall, and Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral.

We went to the QVB (Queen Victoria building) next and unfortunately Adrian had to leave us at that point. This building was so pretty, the stunning architecture and details made me come back a few days later to wander around the shops a bit more. There are quite a few tea rooms in here and my back up plan was to do a high tea if the weather got bad.

As Luke and I made our way back towards the ferry to catch one to Manly Beach, we passed this random monument. It is Queen Victoria’s dog who passed away around 1864 but if you get close, a recording starts speaking, explaining the history and then saying if you throw a coin in, the dog will bark. As Luke and I went to dig out a coin to throw in, it started barking!

We also walked through Darling Harbour, which is a cute, smaller Harbour just down from the Sydney Harbour.

When we arrived to the ferry terminal we were in between rides so ended up stopping for a drink. Luke said he wanted a milkshake since it was so hot and I thought, sure, why not. He kept walking into bars and asking if they had milkshakes and I thought to myself: this is a bar, no way they have ice cream. The third bar we stopped at had them so I ordered a strawberry one. Imagine my surprise when she brought out what was basically strawberry milk! Lessons learned: milkshakes in Australia are literally milk shakes. To get an “American” milkshake, it would be called a “thick shake”.

We caught the ferry to Manly which gave a cool view of the Harbour from the water.

Luke, and Adrian, both attended uni at Manly so it was cool to get a quick tour and see a good amount of the island. I easily could have spent at least half a day there but ended up being there for just over an hour.

Fun fact: on my to-see list in Sydney was 42 Walaby Way, Sydney. This is the address of P Sherman (the dentist from Finding Nemo). It does not actually exist in real life but seeing this building with a dentist sign, I decided to post a picture of it with the comment on it. Only three people responded but it gave Luke and I a good laugh haha.

We caught the ferry back after about an hour because I wanted to try to catch the sunset at the Harbour. Unfortunately it was cloudy so it was not the most exciting sunset.

I stayed sitting on the edge of the Harbour for awhile after the sunset. Seeing the Harbour at night was so beautiful! I was sitting on a pier near a restaurant that had a live performer so I just took in all the life and lights around me while singing along (for those of you who know me, this should not be a surprise at all).

I caught the bus back to Bondi and planned to get up super early since Tuesday (the next day) was the only sunny day called for in the next week. As usual, I did not make it up as early as planned. The hostel I was staying in was literally across the street from the beach and gave me a gorgeous view but unfortunately was going through some construction. I grabbed breakfast and went off to do the famous coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte. It is about a 3 mile return and technically the walk to Coogee is more famous but it is about twice as long.

On the walk you pass through a few beaches, such as Tamarama and a few others, and have some absolutely stunning views. It took me a while to do the walk as I kept stopping for photos and it was pretty warm, even at 8:45am.

After returning, I headed to the beach! Bondi is a big surf beach but I mostly napped and people watched with a few ocean dips.

I spent a few hours on the beach and then grabbed a smoothie and shopped some to miss the worst heat of the day. I was so tired I was tempted to just take a nap instead of going back out but I pulled through. I spent about an hour mapping out the remainder of my trip and felt so accomplished! Read a book until about 6:30pm and got ready to go out to dinner with a group from the hostel. It was decent pizza but I really went to try to meet some new people, which did not really happen.

One of the girls I met in Hawaii turns out is actually working at the hostel I stayed at though so we spent a lot of time the next two days exploring the city together. We started at Paddy’s Market, which I was really excited for. It turned out to be a huge market with stalls of all the same souvenir/tourist junk. There were a few food stalls too but it was overall a bit disappointing.

We walked through Chinatown and ended up at a delicious and cheap sushi place. We both decided the lobster one was the best.

Next, we revisited the QVB to look through the shops and take a few more pictures.

After leaving QVB, we popped in a few stores at the mall partially in search of coffee and partially in search of a bathroom. Bathrooms are not super common in Australia. For example, McDonalds would not necessarily have a bathroom. So confusing. Once content, we set out to find Angels place. Turns out angels place is just the name of a street and what we were really looking for was a street art exhibit called “Forgotten Songs”. This is a birdcage exhibit that as you walk beneath it you hear various bird calls of those birds local to the area. Another cool example of how Australia has various artwork throughout.

I had a bit of time to kill before I met some friends for drinks/dinner so Courtney and I headed to the Harbour to grab a quick happy hour. We timed it really well as soon as we sat down, the rain started. It had been drizzly a bit on and off but it really started at this time. After that, we parted ways. I was meeting some friends of my moms friend, who is from Sydney. Because of traffic they got a bit delayed which allowed me to have a little power nap.

Mary and Jenny were absolutely lovely company and I feel so blessed that I was able to spend my evening with them. Another great example of Australian hospitality: they have never met me but were willing to spend a few hours chatting about life and travel and give me a mini tour of the city with the top down on the convertible on the way to drop me back in Bondi. We went to this really cool bar called O Bar which is on the 48th floor of a building. The really cool thing about this bar is that the inside spins slowly so you have a panoramic view of the city. How cool is that!! Another fun coincidence is that Jenny and Mary are both somewhat in my industry, so it was enlightening to hear about their career paths and travel stories.

The next day was my last one in Sydney/Bondi. I spent the morning doing a bit of window shopping, packing and blogging. Courtney and I had tickets to go the Sugar Republic at 4:30pm but headed into the city a bit early. After a difficult time of finding a spot to store my luggage, we wandered around the city stopping by the Chinese Garden of Friendship where we spotted this guy.

We stopped at a bar for a drink and set off for Sugar Republic. For those wondering what it is: it is a pop-up museum based around sugar. So various candies, ice cream, sweets, fairy floss (cotton candy) and colorful, vivid displays. So fun! Literally kids in a candy shop.

We grabbed a quick bite of sushi before parting ways and I headed to grab my luggage and catch my bus. I’m currently on a 12-hour overnight bus to Byron Beach which is allowing me plenty of time to catch up blogging! Here’s to hoping I can actually get some sleep.

Melbourne

I have reached the about halfway point of my trip and arrived in Melbourne, Australia Tuesday evening! I am traveling up the east coast and have really been looking forward to Melbourne as I have met a few friends who live there and was excited to see them again.

One of my good friends Georgia lives in Melbourne and her family was kind enough to shuttle me around and let me stay with them the whole week I was there. What a treat to stay in a house and have my own room and do laundry! I have found that most Australians are quite friendly and amiable but I am exceptionally grateful for the hospitality shown to me over the past week. I felt like an adopted child for the week and can not think of a better start to my time here down under.

Georgia’s dad picked me up from the airport and we just kind of hung out and caught up that evening. Georgia and I met in Salzburg, Austria a few months ago and became fast friends. Although she is a student and works, she made so much time to show me around. Wednesday we took the train into the city and saw many of the main sights. The weather in Melbourne can change quite quickly so we ended up buying an umbrella and never using it (other than as a prop for pictures).

We arrived at Flinder’s station and visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and Fed Square before going over to Hoosier Lane to see some street art.

By this point, we needed food so we went to Degraves Street for some absolutely delicious pizza!

Next, we went off to continue exploring at the Block Arcade. This was the cutest little indoor laneway with posh shops and restaurants. We went to do a honey tasting (complete with a dropped glass jar).

From there we headed to the state library and walked around for a bit.

Then, we took the free city tram around the city to see any other sites we’d missed and just relax a bit. We met a lovely mother-son Irish duo and had a nice chat with them while on the tram. And, we passed the Marvel stadium!

Our last stop of the day was the Queen Victoria Night Market. It was a huge market with tons of boutique vendors and food stalls and fun music and games. We grabbed some sangria and then wandered around. On a whim, we decided to get henna tattoos!

Heading back home after the long day, we accidentally stayed up longer than planned (typical).

The next morning I was up early to go to brunch with my friend Matt. Matt and I met in Switzerland and funnily enough he lives just five minutes away from Georgia. He’s also been a big help in figuring out my trip, Aussie slang and just traveling in general. We went to a place called Mister and Miss, which was delicious. He was nice enough to take me to the mall too for a bit before going back to Georgia’s. Georgia and I headed to the Mornington Peninsula that afternoon, which is about an hour and a half from Croydon. We went to the Portsea Pub for lunch, which is attached to the hotel, and had absolutely lovely views. There was even a wedding there, which was cute to witness.

We stopped by Georgia’s house before heading to Gunnamatta Bay where we basically had the whole beach to ourselves. It was pretty breezy so just comfortable to sit out and chat, and someone (not me Mom) got a bit sunburnt. One thing to note about Melbourne is their highways have all these sculptures along the way which makes the drive much more interesting.

It was such a peaceful afternoon and then we drove back to Melbourne for dinner with the family and a somewhat early night as we had to get up around 6am the next day.

Friday was an early morning as Georgia drove into the city for uni and I went along to catch my Great Ocean Road (GOR) bus tour. My tour went from 8am-8pm and I dosed on and off most of the day. The GOR is a very popular road trip that begins in Melbourne and heads towards Adelaide. I did not go all the way but we made quite a few stops along the way. When I arrived at the bus stop I was in the vast minority as almost everyone there was of Asian ethnicity. I made friends with the few other Caucasians on the bus and had some lovely chats with them and had a cute little aussie snack pack from Cheryl.

The first stop we had was in Bells Beach where I had a hot cross bun! For the record: I did not know these actually existed, I thought they were just in that children’s song. It was pretty good but would have been better heated up.

We did a small loop and I saw my first kangaroos!! Unfortunately they were quite far off and asleep so not very exciting. Then, we stopped briefly at Lorne beach, where we saw heaps of cockatoos.

Next stop was Apollo Bay for lunch before heading to Cape Otway, which is a rainforest/National Park. It was so cool to do a short walk through, I felt transported to Fern Gully.

We went to the Twelve Apostles next, although there are not still twelve of them. The Apostles are the rock formations shown in the pictures below. The sky was spitting some rain but thankfully it held off while we walked around. It was such a beautiful view, even with the hundreds of tourists.

Just down the road from the Apostles was Loch Ard Gorge. This was incredible, makes you feel very tiny when you walk down the bottom. I would say one of the highlights of this stop was watching two very well dressed Asian men get hit by wave while taking a picture. This moment was made even better when they tried to run from the water and tripped in the sand. Never a dull moment!

Our very last stop was Lake Colac, which was quite unexciting but more of a stop so the van could refuel.

We had about two and half hours to drive back and when we cross the bridge back into the city I saw a pink pond. This photo below has been borrowed from a news article but it is pink due to high salinity, high heat and low rainfall. This cause the algae in the water to turn pink! How cool.

Because of the construction works on the train stations in Melbourne (they picked a holiday weekend, which makes no sense) I ended up taking a bus back towards Croydon where my personal chauffeur (Georgia’s dad) picked me up. After a cup of tea and a bath at my bed and breakfast, I chatted a bit with Georgia before heading to where we were staying the next few nights (a friends place where she was petsitting).

Saturday we had all these things planned to do and the morning turned out completely different than we anticipated. I chatted with my family and friends a bit in the morning and in the end we went out to brunch at this cool cafe called “the Hatter and the Hare”. It was an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe and the food was delicious. We ended up ordering two cakes to go, I ordered the Alice and she had the Cheshire Cat.

I took the train/bus/train to Brighton Beach that afternoon and although it took over two hours, it was so worth it. Bright beach is famous for its brightly colored and vibrant bathing boxes. These are very much a mark of wealth as they can cost around $200,000 each. I spent over an hour walking around, taking pictures and soaking up some sun.

Then I Ubered to St. Kilda where I grabbed some dinner and walked along the pier with a friend I had met in New Zealand. We saw a fairy penguin, the pier is a wildlife community for them, and I saw a few more when I went back later. After Ty left, I grabbed a drink to wait for sunset.

Already, it was my last full day in Melbourne! I had my first (and probably last) vegemite toast. This is a very common food here in Australia and you typically spread butter and then this on toast. It’s incredibly salty and bitter so feel free to enjoy these photos:

I spent some time doing a last load of laundry and packing before going to get coffee with my friend Casey who I had met in Cinque Terre. He picked me up and we went to a cafe down the road and as we were talking with the hostess I noticed the couple sitting directly next to the stand were Georgia’s parents! What were the odds. After a good laugh over the coincidence and introductions Casey and I caught up on life and travel. Georgia’s parents even shouted us for our drinks (they paid for us inside) which was such a thoughtful treat.

Later that afternoon Matt picked me up and we ran a few errands before stopping at Lilydale Lake where I saw my first bin chicken.

We went to one of the Hillsong churches next which was an interesting experience. Hillsong is a famous church that started in Sydney and now has campuses all over the world, and I had visited one when I was in London. A bit too contemporary for our tastes but still cool experience. After rocking out, we went to get a specific meal Matt had been talking up for weeks: an HSP (halal snack pack). It’s basically chips with different types of kebab meat and cheese and lids of different sauces. Delicious but rich and terribly unhealthy.

Matt and I ate this at his house, played a few rounds of cards and then went to a lookout spot in the Dandenong Ranges. The view of the city was beautiful even though we could not see any stars. We did also almost hit a kangaroo driving there, so that was a more typical kangaroo experience haha.

The next morning, Georgia took me to the airport and we had our last goodbye. I’m sure we’ll meet again traveling soon! My time in Melbourne was quite different than the rest of my trip so far as I’d been seeing all these familiar faces, staying with friends and having so many great conversations about life. Quite refreshing and such a treat.

the Great New Zealand Road Trip (pt III)

Day Six: Wellington

We began the long drive to Wellington today. We stopped first on a pull off to see Mount Doom (filmed in LOTR).

Next, we stopped at a relatively new war museum to break up the drive which was interesting and gave us a chance to stretch our legs. It was so windy we ate lunch really quickly before finishing the drive to the “Windy City”. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and is a pretty cool city. We were spending two nights there, which was a treat to not have to pack up every morning, and stayed at a spot right in the city center.

After checking in, we walked around a bit and then napped and relaxed. I grabbed dinner with Colleen and Aaryn but it was not the best Thai food we’ve had. We went out on a pub crawl that night which was organized by our hostel. It was cool to see the city night life but the last stop was back at the hostel and it was dead so not the ideal ending to the night. We checked out a few cool bars (and stopped at Mackers for a snack), did some dancing and went to sleep.

Day Seven: Wellington

The next morning I went to the Mount Victoria lookout point. I had thought it was more of a trail walk than a hike or a real trail so I was dressed pretty poorly for how steep and hot it was. The views were beautiful and some of the other girls joined me a bit later!

I actually ubered back to change then grabbed lunch and went to the harbor. We went to the Te Papa museum but we’re a bit brain dead and exhausted so did not really spend as much time in it as I would have should I had a better attention span.

We headed off to the cable car and took it to the top before walking through the botanical gardens. They were nice but the highlight was definitely the rose garden and some of the best gelato I have had since leaving Italy!

Making our way back to the hostel it was nap time before a quick shower and dinner before trivia night (they call it quiz night). It was a bit lame and very hard. I thought my team did decently but seeing how we placed near the bottom people must have really cheated.

Day Eight: New Plymouth

Left bright and early again to head to New Plymouth. On the way one of the tires of the trailer completely blew out so we stopped and soaked up some scenery and sunshine for a bit.

On the bus normally people are chatting or singing unless it’s early in the morning in which case people nod off. We had a pretty musically inclined group and a decent DJ so a lot of singing occurred and our trip song was dubbed “Sun is Shining” by Axwell, although to be honest most of us feel like we listened to “Happier” by Marshmellow more haha.

We got back on the road and stopped at some small town for lunch. I don’t remember the name of it but I can tell you it was not worth stopping at. We went to some bakery in town which was less than fulfilling before leaving for a wine tasting. The wine tasting was at a gorgeous winery in Omata called Okurukuru. We sampled four types of wine and ended up leaving with a few half bottles and lots of pictures.

Next stop was New Plymouth! I will be honest…I had not heard of this town but it was a cool, cute small coastal town. Some of the girls and I were planning to do a bike/scooter tour around the area and had some trouble with broken bikes and scooters so we all eventually ended up on electric scooters, which was a blast!

Below is where Abi lost her sunglasses 😂

The rest of the group did a climb and Ben was nice enough to send me some pictures.

We went to a chain food Mexican place called Mad Mex for dinner, which was pretty good and then just showered and hung out. I went to the boardwalk to watch the sunset but it was freezing so I did not last long.

We played some card games and then kind of split up to do our own things; which for me meant blogging, journaling and going to sleep early.

Day Nine: Raglan

We left New Plymouth and headed to Raglan with a few stops along the way. Our main stop were the Waitomo Caves. I had initially wanted to black water raft in the caves but the tour did not offer that, which actually worked out alright because I ended up spending way more money on other activities earlier in the week. This was a cool experience and we had an awesome guide but I probably would not do it again.

The most famous part of these caves are the glow worms. It turns out that these are really a type of maggot who’s poop is bioluminescent and glows. They’re about an inch long and hang on the cave walls with multiple strands of saliva hanging down from their body to catch bugs and other types of food.

We saw a lot (and could not capture them in a photo) but also learned a lot about the caves formation as well as Maori history of the area. My favorite section was the cave curtain, picked below. The whole tour was a bit theatrical and the beginning you walk down this huge spiral stair case and go through various double doors which made it feel very eerie and almost like I was in an Indiana Jones film.

Next, we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. Not much to say about this other than it was pretty!

After this caving experience, we went for lunch at Katie’s Cafe. This is actually run by one of the tour guides sisters and was SO GOOD. I had the mushroom pie and it was absolutely delicious and cute! We followed that by a yummy carrot cake bite.

The food truck was right outside the kiwi sanctuary and I had really wanted to go and see a feeding but unfortunately it was not in our itinerary. I did not get to see one of these endangered species my whole trip here in New Zealand :(.

We drove the rest of the way to Raglan, which is the surf capital of New Zealand. It had a cute downtown which also had a bridge crossing over a river. I walked around and then grabbed some delicious sorbet before we left for our hostel.

Our hostel was so cool! Hard to get up to our rooms (ok maybe I’m being a bit of a baby but with luggage like ours stairs are hard) but it had an incredible view. I would say it is more of a campground than a hostel and we were surrounded by tropical forests and could still see the ocean. We hung out for awhile before going back into the city for dinner.

We ate and then returned to the hostel for our last night together! There was a cool barn on the property we got to use to play games and have Ben and Chris perform the haka and Colleen (attempt) to teach us an Irish dance. In the end, we all dressed up for a fun photo and then drove back into the town to go to the “club”.

The club was a bit of a let down since at first the music was great then it just got really repetitive. And it was kind of a grungy scene with lots of smoking. After a while, Abi and Colleen and I decided to just leave and go sit by the water and stargaze. Chris found us ten minutes later and we decided to head back to the hostel.

On our way, we spotted at a lookout spot. By this time it was about midnight and we saw some of the most incredible stars I have ever seen. There were so many clear stars, and I even saw a shooting star. Unfortunately, it was freezing so it did not last too long. Beautiful way to end the night and trip as people shared some of their favorite memories.

Day Ten: The End (back to Auckland)

The last day! A few people went surfing while we had a delicious breakfast in town and then hung out by the water.

All the feels started to hit as we realized it was really ending. Overall, I am so thankful to have joined this tour group and highly recommend it to anyone traveling New Zealand! Below is a link to their website and a fun picture of me with Chris and Ben 🙂

Kiwi Vibes Tours

After a lot of hugs and some tears, people went off to their various places but a good number of us were staying in Auckland for another night. We met up later for dinner at this really cool place called Elliot’s stables, which is basically a fancy food court. It was fun to have a last supper with a few girls and say goodbye and reminisce.

I went to Giapo’s, which is a famous ice cream place in Auckland to get some ice cream. It was not what I expected as their ice cream is more of a masterpiece with finger cones and pictures and no “normal” flavors. I did a tasting with a few others and decided not to even get ice cream after that.

My three weeks in New Zealand really flew by and I am now about halfway through my trip! I have met so many cool people and seen some incredible sites but I am so excited for the next few weeks as I travel Australia and meet up with some friends along the way.

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (pt II)

Day One: Coromandel Peninsula: Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove

After getting back to Auckland I did a quick load of laundry, grabbed so dinner from Subway and packed for my ten-day tour of the north island. I used an awesome tour group called Kiwi Vibes Tours and was on a tour with twelve other people and two Kiwi’s (New Zealanders) tour guides who actually are the founders of the company (shoutout to Ben & Chris). I briefly met two of the other girls on my tour the night before and we got up early to load into the van and set off!

We drove for a bit and then stopped to grab breakfast and our first activity of the day: a tour of a gold mine. While this was more of a way to split up the drive to our next stop it was cool to see the equipment they used, learn more about the process and the culture and get to know the other people on the tour.

We piled back into the van and kept on to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel Peninsula. This beach is a cool stop because of the tide is low you can dig a hole in the sand and when you hit water it will be (yup you guessed it) hot! Unfortunately, the time of the day we hit it was high tide so we were not able to dig but we did hang out for awhile.

We had some sandwiches (they put butter and mayo on like everything) and then went a short drive to the Cathedral Cove trail. This was one of the stops in New Zealand I have been looking forward to the most! It’s about a 20-30 minute up and down trail to get to Cathedral Cove but very worth it. Fun fact: Narnia was filmed here! Unfortunately, we did not have great weather but I am glad the rain at least held off.

We swam out to this rock, climbed and jumped off! Thrilling.

After the trek back, we drove to the hostel we were staying at that evening which actually on a campground. It had two trampolines and lots of areas to hang out. We spent the evening with a barbecue, playing drinking games and getting to known each other. It is cool looking back now that total strangers can become such great friends! I’ll even get to see a few people I have met here after the tour when I am in Australia. As you’ll see in the pictures the ratio of women to men is not in our favor and we out-age the guys but we all get along so well.

Throughout the driving Chris and Ben shared facts about the history and culture of New Zealand. One of the things I found most interesting was when they spoke Maori. The Maori language is what the natives spoke here in New Zealand (and we experienced much more of it at the Maori village) but while they can speak it a basic conversational version most New Zealander cannot. About 4-5% of the entire population know it and mandatory to learn basics in primary school and then in high school often students are given the option to take or French or Japanese.

Day Two: Whangamata, Mount Maunganui & Tauranga

The next morning we left (tired and hungover) and stared the drive to Mount Maunganui which is in Tauranga. The windy roads were not helping people out who were not feeling well but we survived. We made a brief stop in Whangamata to see the beach, walk around town and get some smoothies.

Feeling more refreshed, we finished the drive to Mount Maunganui and checked into our hostel. This is such a cute beach town and we were staying right in the middle of it. Abi and grabbed a sandwich and went to sit by the wharf to soak in the town before the hike.

After settling in we went out to hike to the top of the mount which is called Maio Summit. While it was not a very long hike it was pretty steep, but at least it had an actual packed trail instead of the dangerous ties in Oahu. The views all the way up were gorgeous: the blue and green tones mixed with the hues from the sunshine were incredible and so worth the effort, not to mention the bonding in our misery.

We went to chill and swim at the beach before showering and going out for dinner. We split into a few smaller groups but most of us ended up at the Astro Bar across the street where Abi and I split a meter pizza! It was a cool vibe and we had a lovely time.

Day Three: Hobbiton & Rotorua (Maori Village)

Today was the day we went to the Shire!! I was probably the biggest Lord of the Rings fan on the tour (half the group had not seen any of the movies but still really enjoyed it) and was buzzing with energy and excitement. Since we arrived with a bit of time to spare we stopped for a little snack and I loved seeing “elevensies” and “second breakfasts” on the menu.

While this is the movie set it actually had to be rebuilt because originally they built it with cheap materials and tore it down after the filming was completed. When so many people continued visiting even with the set torn down, they built everything realistically and by code and filmed some of the later movies there. There were a total of 44 hobbit holes within the Shire and I probably got pictures in front of at least six haha.

We were lucky to have a beautiful day which made it even more magical!! Facts from our tour guide and further insight into the process of working there added to the experience. For example, they have about four weddings there every year. And one of the largest trees was fake. And they have a pumpkin growing contest every year. I had a few great moments of quoting movies as well.

It was about a two hour tour, which to be honest was not long enough. The last twenty minutes my friends Colleen, Abi and I got so far behind our tour group we were basically running to the Green Dragon to get our free drink and see it before we had to leave.

Overall, definitely worth the money and an incredible experience! Easily one of my top favorite places I have visited.

We continued our trip on and stopped for a quick bite in Tirau. This small town is town for its corrugated iron sculptures/buildings.

After lunch we drove the rest of the way to Rotorua. The hostel here was AWESOME. The girls had our own room and it was connected to a huge common space/kitchen/lounging area. I walked around for a bit and then rested for awhile since we were going to another activity that evening: the Tamaki Maori Village.

I originally was not going to participate in this activity because of the price and personal lack of interest but I decided to experience it with most of the rest of my group. It lasted about three hours and we were all freezing the first portion as it was outside. It is still summer here in New Zealand and gets pretty warm during the day but in the evenings or if the wind picks up, it can get surprisingly cold.

The whole experience was to provide insight to the background, culture and life of the Maori people and it definitely did. Each tour group had a chief to represent us and we saw and learned various things such as: the Hakka (war dance), the waka (river boat), strengthening and training exercises, food preparation and song and dance. Throughout all of these aspects was the underlying history of the Maori as well as their outfits and language.

It was a cool cultural experience but I would not say that I would do it again. The food was delicious (granted, we were all starving) and the entertainment was wonderful but one of the highlights was our bus driver to/from the city. He was an older man and not only Maori and hilarious but also led us on a bunch of sing-a-longs on the drive home. We got back to the hostel and crashed, excited for the next day.

Day Four: Rotorua

New Zealand in general is known as the adventure (sport) capital of the world and we experienced that today and the next day. Today, almost everyone in our group went white water rafting. This was an incredible experience as we went down three waterfalls and the last one was seven meters and the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.

We had a beautiful sunny day, although it was a bit cold since we went in the morning, and had such a good time. To be honest, I was pretty terrified. Not of the rapids or rafting itself but locking my feet into the raft and the possibility of my knees dislocating. Thankfully we had a great tour guide (who was actually from DC) and my knees were fine. My face, however, got slammed against my lifejacket on the waterfall and I really thought I was going to end up with a huge bruise but I got away with just a few small scratches.