Indonesia- A culinary delight

For anyone who knows Kelly and I, you’ll know we’re massive foodies. We actually planned a huge proportion of this year away based around having a culinary oddesey, and we definitely haven’t been disappointed that’s for sure. We spent nearly six weeks in India eating pretty much entirely street food or home cooked meals, ate our body weight in Banh Mi across all of Vietnam, seriously over indulged on incredible curries in Thailand, and and helped prepare the local delicacies of Kava and Lovo on a tiny island with the villagers in Fiji,to name but a few. Cambodian cuisine was a bit of a let down really, but other than that we’ve been truly blown away by the quality of everything we’ve got to sample, and we’ve certainly been adventurous! I must say, New Zealand was also a big surprise for us. Obviously nowhere near as exciting or spicy as the cuisine in Asia, but the quality of produce and food, and the beer was so high it was impossible to have a bad meal!
Having said all that, Indonesia definitely needs a special mention (or its own blog, which is why you’re here). We didn’t expect a great deal I think it’s safe to say, apart from the obvious dishes like Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), but there were so many special dishes we discovered we were literally in heaven! This post is based more around advice for fellow woodies exploring Indonesia, so you can get he most out of your food discovery there!

Animal friendly feeding



The first thing to say, is the vegetarian and vegan options on Bali and the surrounding areas are out of this world! Similar to India, the primarily Hindu population on Bali are mainly vegetarian. Mix that with the hippie-chic yoga/surf culture at runs through the veins of the island basically mean on every street, there is somewhere preparing something wonderful and bursting with flavour. The Indonesians love their chilli, and a theirs pack a punch, so take care if you aren’t a fan of hot food, but there are so many traditional dishes that don’t even register on the Scoville scale you shouldn’t really have to worry so much. You’ll be given the opportunity to cover your food in sambal if you like your food spicy. Every place you go will have their own recipe, just watch out as some are seriously hot! 

We spent the first week on Bali basically eating pure vegetarian and vegan meals in an attempt to save some cash, but if you look around and find the good local Warungs (traditional local restaurants) you can find some great deals and certainly find some great grub! If you’re after local food, this is definitely my best recommendation; only eat at the Warungs, and check the menu first. Many places charge tax and service on top of the advertised costs, meaning in some cases you can pay up to 20% on top of the bill! We got caught out by this a couple of times, but you tend to see increased costs like that at the more opulent restaurant or hotel. Just avoid them, the local food is so good, you shouldn’t pay more just to get a nice place and shiny cutlery! 

I’d 100% recommend sampling Tempe, a sort of coarse tofu alternative. If cooked right, it’s bloody lovely. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it from now on. 

Western creature comforts

 
If however you aren’t that adventurous with trying new grub, the more western offerings around Bali vary from pretty dire attempts at pizza and pasta, burgers and shnitzel (for all the Aussies obviously) to some absolutely sublime eateries who deliver some outrageously good grub, ranging from super food salads, beautiful home baked breads, avocado and feta on EVERYTHING and some proper good smoothies to accompany. Without question, I’d highly recommend eating around the Canggu area, north of the super touristy (and a bit shit) Kuta, ever so popular with the Aussies again. We stayed here for about 4 days before flying to Malaysia, and didn’t have a bad meal.

 But you find places like this all over Bali and to a point, the island of Gili and Lembongan. Whilst they may not exist in abundance, they are out there, and if you’re lucky enough to find them you won’t be disappointed!


The good old black stuff



Obviously Indonesia is known for its amazing coffee, which is best known to come from the Java region, but hunt out some small coffee houses and you’ll be hard pushed to not find some artisan brewer with a direct relationship with some small plantation somewhere else in Indonesia. I’d highly recommend sampling the Bali coffee, served in the traditional style with the thick grains stuck to the bottom of the cup (remember this before you neck the whole cup), it’s about 10000 (about 60p) rupiah per cup at most places, so way cheaper than an Americano, but still damn tasty. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a proper maestro of coffee production and preparation. We were so lucky to discover a small shop called Tales of Coffee right next to our last hotel. This place had only been open four days when we first dropped in, and Kobe, the young Belgian owner was a true master of coffee and chocolate. I’d go as far as comparing him to a molecular gastonomist of coffee and chocolate. We only found this place by chance, when Kelly had a hankering for a hot chocolate, and we ended up back there every day after at least once. Without question, this place made the best hot chocolate we’ve had since leaving the UK, and I’d probably say it’s up there as one of the best I’ve ever had! I sampled a number of coffees, but the best was definitely using beans grown on mount Rinjani, and prepares using the v60 method of slow drip, with meticulous care and attention being paid to the amount of coffee used, the speed of pour, the amount of water soaking the grains, and the final amount of coffee in the pot. Seriously, this attention to detail was definitely worth it, the coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had. Whilst chilling out at this coffee house, Kobe told us how he ended up opening the store. During his travels three years earlier, he fell in love with Indonesia mainly drawn for his love of good coffee, so spent the next six months trying to hunt out a local grower and the best beans. Following a huge effort, he found his array of growers, set up collaborations and business deals, and began to market the product with impeccable delivery, sound business strategy and a solid marketing concept. A couple of years later the company had enough capital to open its first shop, designed entirely by him, decorated with locally sourced woods and products, and covered head to toe in beautiful design and stories of the growers and the origins of their coffee and chocolate. It really was rather inspiring to see a guy so young following his passion and taking the plunge into entrepreneurialism in a foreign land like Indonesia: to do it so successfully is a pure testament to his efforts and love for high quality products. 

This is just one of many stories I could tell like this though. It’s clear many foreigners have decided to do the same in Bali; setting up restaurants and cafes that reflect their personal values, and enable them to live the lives they want to live, whilst delivering quality to the locals and guests of the area. Again this was so good to see, and meant we got to enjoy so many great meals and gear so many stories of how these establishments came to fruition. 

What to look out for



Okay so you get the idea; there’s some damn good grub out there. But as I mentioned earlier the local food varies way more than the well known Nasi Goreng, which is probably one of more boring (albeit filling) dishes you’ll end up eating. There are so many dishes that need a special mention.

Nasi Campur: A great thali like dish often served vegetarian. This normally consists of about 5-6 small dishes. Most Warungs will offer Tempe in Kekap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy, bloody delicious), Urap Urap (steamed green beans served with grated coconut, crispy onion and beansprouts), Perkedel Jagung (spiced corn fritters), rice and sambal. Every warung will have a slight variance on what’s on offer, what’s in season, and what animal or fish they got in that day, so definitely something to eat again and again.
Soto Ayam: a spicy chicken soup served with noodles and egg. Again is can vary quite a bit, but is normally full with flavours of Kaffir, Lemongrass, garlic and chilli, and will have a lovely dark yellow colour from the ladles of turmeric added. You don’t see this everywhere so if you spot on a menu, get involved!
Bakso: Another broth based dish, this contains beef meatballs, and normally served willed with crispy wontons, egg, beansprouts and bok Choy (if you’re lucky). You’ll see street vendors all over Indonesia selling this for super cheap (£1 a bowl or there abouts) and you’re expected to season as you please with Kekap manis and chilli sauce. Get involved. It’s delicious!
Nasi Lamak: A coconut curry in essence, but normally served on/in pandan leaf. Apparently this is a poplar Malay dish but it’s definitely made a mark here!
Babi Guling: an absolute must if you’re a carnivore. Essentially this is BBQ suckling pig served with a sambal. It’s very simple, but bloody delicious! The meat is marinaded and cooked whole over coals forever. We tried this at a few places and there’s definitely some clear variance, but pretty consistently it was amazing!
Beef rendang: Well, not much needs to be said about this, apart from it MUST be eaten! Rendang is a slow cooked beef curry stewed in coconut milk and filled with an amazing array of spices. This is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time, so I ate my fair share in Indonesia. This really is a must eat meal here, make sure you eat lots of it!
Meat on a stick: Does as it says on the tin. Across all of Indonesia you’ll see tiny stalls cooking tiny skewers of various meats under coals, normally accompanied by a fan to keep the coals roaring. They are sold in bunches of ten normally, and served as spicy as you like (spicy normally means they are dipped in a home made sambal). Just be careful with what you order, there’s been reports recently of some places in Bali serving dog and disguising as other meats, and I ordered some chicken ones that consisted of, let’s just say, less desirable cuts 🤔. Most places serve sate of some kind, but if you spot sate posut BUY IT IMMEDIATELY! Posut is minced beef and coconut, and was just stunning. Sadly, the best places are nearly always off the beaten track, so speak to a local at your home stay about getting the good stuff.

Hunting out the good grub



As I just mentioned, some of e best grub was carefully hidden from tourists, sold down a tiny alley from somewhere definitely not resembling a restaurant. This is pretty common, so make use of the guys you’re staying with to find the hidden gems. 
A simple litmus test anywhere you go though should be the clientele. If a place is empty, there’s probably a reason for it. Nearly every home stay you’ll see will also be a restaurant, tour guide, booking agent, masseuse, and seller of shit touristy stuff, so probably don’t do all things well. The best meals we had were often small Warungs with a few locals sat around chatting and munching. Likewise, if you see groups of expats (for example, the guys working at dive shops) that’s normally a good indicator of good local restaurants. 
And finally, if you want good western or fusion food, or something more polished, I can’t recommend anywhere higher than Canguu, there’s just so much choice and so many quality places to eat, drink, and chill.

Where’s good for what?

Ignoring regional variance here, and talking entirely from my own experience (so definitely not an exhaustive list), but here’s my recommendations for where to go for what.



Nasi Campur: Le Kan in Canguu. This was a perfectly crafted and delivered rendition of this super popular dish. Whilst it was more expensive than we’d pay previously (89k for one big portion with meat) it was light years ahead of other versions we’d had previously. Just be prepared to add about 18% onto the bill for service and tax.
Nasi Lamak: Head to Uluwatu and check out any of the places near Single Fin (a top spot for surfers). There’s loads of places offering great food for good prices.
Vegan grub: Canguu and Ubud are filled with high quality places serving only vegan food. Specifically though I’d recommend Biah Biah in Ubud (a very cheap but excellent place only serving traditional Balinese food in tapas style tiny dishes. You can get a good feed for about £4 easily. Also worth a special mention is the Eco Cafe on Nusa Lembongan. You pay a bit more, but this place really cares about the world. They don’t use any palm oil or products with MSG, Source all their produce from local growers, and only buy rice from a plantation where the staff are paid a good wage and take a cut of profits. They also don’t use any plastic and give discounts on food if you drop off plastic bottles for recycling. 
Rendang: There’s only one place to mention here; Bernadettes in Ubud. This is specially mentioned in lonely planet apparently, and for good reason. They triple cook their rendang and stew in coconut milk for 24 hours. It’s out of this world! There’s no point in eating rendang anywhere else after going here, it’s THAT good!
Babi Guleng: Again, there’s only one contender here. Ibu Oka in Ubud now have three sights because they are that good, but we were recommended to drive out to no3 by locals we chatted with. The opening hours vary daily (basically when it’s gone it’s gone), and it’s kinda tough to find (it’s down a tiny alley but covered in pig statues), but if you go for an early lunch there you won’t be disappointed. 

 Coffee: You’ll probably know this one already if you’ve got this far, but for me, Tales in Canguu is the clear winner for excellent coffee and even better hot chocolate, but also because I really bought into the values of Kobe’s approach to his company, and wanted to support him as much as possible. Rinjani coffee is a real world player in my eyes now!

Meat on a stick: This is almost impossible to recommend, and I couldn’t tell you where to actually go to get it! But the best we had was on Gili T by a mile. I went off cycling with one of the guys working at Cheeky Monkey Homestay to get it, and it was amazing! Just take my earlier advice and speak with locals to find the hidden secrets.

Healthy grub: Betelnut cafe in Canguu (again, I know) delivered some sublime food and smoothies, all delivered to a super high standard and damn tasty. I highly recommend the sustainable fish curry. This varies day to day dependent on the catch but is damn tasty!

Ethical eating

Indonesia is pretty well known for its palm oil growing on Borneo. If you don’t know how much damage this growing is doing, watch this.

 It’s damn hard to avoid palm oil in food anywhere in the world, it’s literally in everything from toothpaste to crisps, but we are trying to avoid it from now on. I had no idea the sagas this is doing to Borneo but also the environment in general. 

Also, lots of places use sauces laden with MSG, which I would recommend avoiding wherever possible, it’s horrible stuff for your body! Places cut corners to save money, and the life of many of the animals served in your meals is probably pretty questionable. If you want to consider ethical consumption, obviously eat predominantly vegan or at least vegetarian, but also search out the places that actively promote their corporate social responsibility. There are so many you’re bound to find somewhere good to eat!

Finally, and I only mention this because you’ll see it everywhere, but I’d recommend avoiding Lawak coffee. This is super famous in Indonesia but particularly in Bali. Driving back from Batur we stopped at a plantation growing teas and coffee, but also producing Lawak coffee. For those that don’t know, this is weasel coffee. The wealals are fed the coffee beans in their husks, and the undigested remains are made into coffee. Unfortunately though, these little guys are almost certainly mistreated 90% of the time. 

We were fortunate to stop at a place that really cared for the weasels, but I still didn’t want to enourage the production so didn’t buy any. I must say, it smelled amazing though. 

So there you go! An unexpected culinary delight found in Indonesia. For any foodie, this is now a firm recommendation for a visit from me! I’m sure the grub on Java and other parts of this vast country are just as good too, so don’t go just on my experience and recommendations. 

Lembongan islands and Bali part two- Above and below the ocean

And onto our next stop! The Lembongan islands.

Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida are another tiny cluster of islands, but this time off the coast of Bali. Unlike the Gili islands, these don’t come with the precursor of parties, honeymooning or chilling, but as synonymous with activities more based in the sea. Kelly has got seriously into her diving on this trip, and I’ve discovered a new found love for surfing and snorkelling, so this next leg was always destined to consist mainly of these activites. Our trip to these islands was primarily based around not being on the islands, but loving the time we could spend in the ocean. Also, these islands are primarily Hindu, so we swapped the Muslim culture for a deeper Hindu vibe which is all so everpresent here. 

Lembongan is mainly known for its unique encounters with manta rays and the fairly secretive Mola Mola fish, a deep sea fish that only really comes higher up to the surface for cleaning (I think). Sadly, we arrived just before the Mola Mola season, but regardless there was plenty for us to enjoy! After a day of recuperation from travel, we spent a day exploring the first island, Nusa Lembongan, is a really interesting split of hustle and bustle of busy tourism based strip, deeply entrenched mangrove forest, and desolate, somewhat untouched landscape. It’s so small, we managed to drive round and explore the majority of the island in about two hours, checking out all the local dive shops, potential places to stay, and other activities available. During our ride around, we stumbled across an area known as devils tear which was certainly rather lively, but just around the corner we found these natural infinity pools with almost no other tourists around! 

The island itself is as mentioned already, tiny, but has so much character. It’s very easy to get lost in the outskirts and forget this is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia for tourists. Sadly though, the island is surrounded by these weird party pontoons, offering water slides, banana boat rides, jet skiing and I’m guessing all day drinking, catering mainly to the Chinese caucus of guests. However, once you look past this, there is so much character on the island you can almost ignore all of this. Lembongan and its neighbour, Ceningan, are actually joined by the iconic yellow bridge. After we’d explored Lembongan, we rode across the rickety yellow bridge for another exploration session. Now Ceningan is definitely an Instagrammers dream, absolutely covered in super trendy beach bars and clubs, covered with the iconic beach swings, trendy beach hut style accommodation painted in bright colours, and surrounded by pretty epic coastal scenery. After a fairly arduous drive across some pretty horrific roads (if you can call them that), we stopped at a couple of spots for a bite to eat, a freshen up with some wonderful fruit tea, and some chill time enjoying some stunning cliff top views. Whilst Cenningan is definitely a less touristy and arguably less maintained island, it certainly has its own charm. We explored the lot (well, the lot that’s accessible by bike across the shocking roads that still exist) in about 2 hours as well, so it’s easily doable in a day. 

ANYWAY, back to the real fun stuff. 

We managed to get arguably the best price for our next few days worth of activities; bonus! This is definitely the best approach for Indonesia; book a place for a night, hunt out the local deals, barter to your hearts content, then settle for the best deal you can get, and enjoy! We decided to book onto a number of trips over the coming days. Kelly went to do the must do dives around the island, whilst I made use of the beginner level surf opportunities and opted for a snorkelling session with a local guide. Now, for anyone coming to these islands, I highly recommend a proper shop around for such activities. We found the cheapest place for diving was called dive concept diving. For two dives around the main manta points, we paid 800000 rupiah, which comes in at about £55, at least a tenner cheaper than most places we found. Watch out for hidden charges, as many places charge extra for heading to manta point (arguably THE place for manta spotting, just off the coast of Nusa Penida) as well as equipment hire. Dive concept didn’t charge for equipment hire,and 150000 rupiah for manta point, so was definitely a good deal! For my surfing, I found this awesome local dude Called Nicky, based in a tiny hut just off the main beach where you will probably land. He charged about 50% what others were attempting to charge, and so ended up paying about £15 for a private two hour surf with tutorial, and around £9 for a three hour snorkelling marathon. I was so happy to book with this guy, I got so much for my money and he was super friendly and jovial throughout. My surfing session was simply perfect. Great waves, just off the coast of the island, with constant support from Nicky offering me 1-2-1 advice. Unlike other surfs I’ve done, it felt like the waves were non stop and relentless, without the constant struggle of swimming back to a good break point. For two hours, I endured 5-6ft waves breaking beautifully across a shallow reef, about 3m below the water level. Sadly this obviously meant on the couple of occasions i wiped out, I did cut my feet up a bit, but regardless this was a quality day on the waves, and way more than I could have initially hoped for. I didn’t get any footage here as I was busy surfing, but here’s some footage of lacerations break, where I spent most of my time surfing 

Whilst I was doing this, Kelly was 30m under the waves, enjoying her time with the majestic mantas. I wish we had more footage of these guys, they really are incredible creatures. Kelly spotted half a dozen across her two dives, and came back utterly mesmerised by them. Obviously, I’m gutted I couldn’t join her but I’m so glad she got to experience them in there natural habitat.

From what we learned on the island, some mantas can reach a wingspan of up to 8m, far bigger than I could have ever comprehended! I think it’s safe to say Kelly didn’t spot any quite this big, but regardless this was definitely a once in a lifetime moment she will never forget, and is definitely a tick off on the list of seeing some pretty incredible sea life! 

So after a pretty epic morning of surfing, I went back out on the ocean for the afternoon to get my own taste of the local offerings under the water. Sadly, I didn’t get to see ant mantas, even though Nicky diligently hunted for them off the coast of Penida, but we did explore 5 spots around the three islands, enjoying coastal mangrove spots, shallow coral, deep ocean, and some amazing fish highways. Now, it surprises me still to say this, but I honestly think the reefs we got to explore were probably the best I’ve seen in the 9 months we’ve been away! Seriously, these reefs were incredible; far better than what we saw off the barrier reef in Australia, and probably en par if not better than the exceptional reefs we saw in Fiji! I was quite simply shocked by this, especially following the poor quality reefs we experienced at the Gili islands, clearly seriously damaged by such a high level of tourism. The array of soft and hard coral, and the colours I saw were spectacular, and im so glad I got experience it. If I could, I would have stayed another week just to spend more time in the sea, and sure Kelly would agree!
Our time on Lembongan was short lived, we only stayed for a few days, in an attempt to see a bit more of Bali. To finish off our trip to these islands, we spent a day exploring Nusa Penida. Although this island is by far the biggest of the three, it’s also by far the most desolate, under developed and un-touristy of the three islands, which I’ve gotta say was a nice change from the norm of the past couple of weeks. Regardless, what it lacked in tourism it certainly didn’t lack in character and beauty. We decided to head to a coastal area I’d discovered on other blogs about Indonesia, but with no maps or data, and paths that once resembled roads, getting there was a challenge! Now we’ve ridden some pretty horrific roads during our time away, but the roads on Penida probably took gold, silver and bronze. Once you’re off the beaten track and away from the port, you’re quickly greeted with what sort of resembles a gravel path, made up primarily of huge boulders dotted all over the place, pot holes baby elephants would get stuck in, and cliff edges right on the edge of the roads. They were certainly a challenge to ride, but that’s all part of the fun I guess. Getting tor the spot we’d aimed for though, made it totally worth the effort…

  • After a long two hour drive, we got back to the only properly populated part of the island, and spent the rest of the day exploring the coastal northern strip. This is just what I imagine Bali must have been been like before Australian tourism dominated so much of it; tiny bamboo shacks covering the coast line, covering the sea with fishing lines and traps, barely any Warungs or signs of civilisation apart from the odd new development obviously gearing up for the hoards of tourists that will soon discover this wonderful chilled out place, and by chance, we discovered a tiny turtle sanctuary! Obviously we had to stop to check it out. Whilst this place looked run down, the work they did was fantastic. Run by locals, they buy the eggs off fisherman who’d usually sell them to hoards of Chinese tourists for lunch, hatch them, and release into the wild once they are ready. This sanctuary relied entirely on volunteers, And I was very happy to hear they had loads of westerners dedicating weeks to supporting these creatures. We were lucky enough to see a bunch that had only hatched a few days earlier, definitely the smallest turtles I’ve seen to date. 

Traveling has made me realise the polarising impact tourism can have on a place. When you compare Lembongan to Penida, you quickly realise how quickly tourism can totally dominate an area. Lembongan was great, but it’s safe to say it was nearly totally saturated by crappy western restaurants offering sub par attempts at western food, crappy home stays charging way too much for very little (we couldn’t get a place for less than £12 a night, and we had a crap fan, a shower than consisted of a hose out the wall, and plenty of rust covering everything it could in the bathroom), which was fine for us, but we certainly felt we were paying over what we should have. Compared to Penida which still relied mainly on the locals trade and consisted of family run businesses, full on eating off the land, and untouched beauty. Sadly I definitely could see the impact of tourism taking over here too, and I reckon in 5 years it will be unrecognisable. I’m just glad we got to experience it as it is now. 

Having said all that, we were both sad to leave these islandsWhilst the tourism traps have their downfalls, there’s something to be said about some level of home comfort that comes with western tourism. Arriving back on Bali, we went straight to Canggu, another area close to the heavily Australian influenced Kuta and Seminyak, but with less posh hotels, swanky bars and beaches filled with broken plastic day beds. Now this place is cool! Imagine the awesomeness and laid back atmosphere of Asia with the hipster chic bars and restaurants of east London. What I really loved about this area was the array of small independent shops and restaurants, offering superbly produced menus of local and western food or boutique products all heavily stylised and polished to an incredibly high standard. Over the next four days we frequented a number of these establishments, and I must say we didn’t have a bad meal once! In particular, Deus Ex Machina may actually be the coolest place I’ve ever been to, and Old Mans Restaurant was a cracking spot for a cheeky Bintang or some Sangria. I’ll probably write a blog about the food and drink scene here as it was so good and so unexpected. 

To add to that, the surfing on the coast was brilliant, albeit probably a bit too strong for me. I spent two days out on the surf, loving every minute, but didn’t catch as many waves as on Lembongan (but definitely got my fill of wipeouts, crashes with other surfers, and a couple of wounds from crashing into said boarders). Regardless, it was again bloody fun. Again no footage of this as I was too busy focusing on not crashing out, but someone else has done some great work with a drone for me!

I definitely think I’ve found a new thing I love! 🏄 🌊 🤘

We’ve managed to find so many cool places here I could easily get stuck here for longer, but sadly we fly tomorrow to Malaysia! Indonesia in a pretty amazing country; I wish we had the chance to see more of it, and we will definitely come back for holidays, hopefully with a bit more cash! 

Right, off for one final surf before we fly. See you soon Indonesia, you will be missed! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

Gili Islands- Part of the furniture

What feels now like months ago (edit-it was months ago, it was back in December) we spent just short of a week on Koh Rong Samloem, staying at the best hostel in the world, Mad Monkey. This was our first proper taste of island life, and we bloody loved it! Our days consisted of pretty much nothing apart from cooking ourselves, swimming, partying, with a bit of naked bioluminescent swimming at midnight to tip off every awesome night we had there. We also met some of the most awesome people we’ve met on this trip so far. Some we’ve managed to link up with again, some were still in regular contact with, and some we plan to meet up with again in Europe sometime. We met a group of legends on the islands who booked a few days and stayed over three weeks. At this point I didn’t think we’d ever be in the same boat, but I was wrong. 

But Koh Rong Samloem was a full on party, we’ve totally fallen for the normal island life. Everything is just so much more chilled out than mainland life. Waking up to the sound of the sea pretty much every day, with days consisting of beach, swimming, and the simple things in life. I’ve lost count of how many islands we’ve been on now over this trip so far, but it’s got to be over a dozen. 
When we were planning Indonesia over a year ago, we knew we had to visit the Gili islands. This tiny trio of islands off the western coast of Lombok have gained the reputation of a must see destination, but not a real taste of true Indonesia (to be fair Bali isn’t exactly traditional itself either)! But the crystal clear water, opportunities for daily swims with turtles, and the positively laid back vibes were far too appealing, especially after our somewhat failed attempts around Bali earlier in the month. 
So we booked a boat, after quite a bit of deliberation and google searching, and off we went. For anyone considering Gili, I’d first say don’t worry too much about the boat journey. They are somewhat notorious as being a bit shit, with a number of boats breaking down and in more extreme cases, sinking! My one piece of advice would be to book with a bigger company, don’t risk a cheaper local boat. For one, they take about 5 hours rather than two on a bigger boat designed for large numbers of passengers. Our boat journey was smooth, not the most comfortable journey, but smooth, and we got there fine. Regardless of who you book with, you will be entering the vessel like this. 

We booked a nights accommodation on Gili T initially, with the intention of moving to another island for a few days, but once we arrived at cheeky monkey homestay we were made to feel so welcomed and at home, we decided to book another two nights immediately. We were greeted by Rudi, the new owner of the home stay, and immediately introduced to Sofia, his Finnish fiancé . These guys welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home. They also had such an abundance of knowledge about the islands and surrounding areas we honestly didn’t feel the need to look around anywhere else. The room we booked was just what was needed, with a private bathroom and good shower, a fan to give Anemoi a run for their money, breakfast included that consisted of fresh fruit, an omelette or pancakes, and at a super cheap price. To top it off each room has a hammock outside the room to complete the package, and they had the cutest cats I’ve ever encountered (they were basically dogs). What more could we ask for (maybe an infinity pool, but for about £8 a night on the Gili islands that’s pushing it a bit). 
The Gili islands each have a unique reputation. Gili T is known as the party island as is by far the most densely populated, Meno is a honeymoon island, and Air is a chill out island. We actually arrived to the islands during Ramadan, so the non stop parties ended by midnight every night (when all the bars closed). This had put others off we spoke to, but for us this was perfect. We certainly weren’t that up for nightly partying till 3am, we are old after all 😉. I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t want a constant party, this is easily avoidable. The bars are all along the port end of the coast, with most hostels and guest houses positioned more inland. We never had an issue with noise, apart from one night when our noisy German neighbours enjoyed peer pong a little too much, and returned as the bars closed to serenade us with terrible renditions of U2 songs. That we could live with.
Gili immediately had a huge appeal to us. There are no vehicles on Gili T, with the primary forms of transportation around the island consisting of horse and cart, bicycles, and if you’re super lazy, electric bikes. We never actually made use of any of these though, the island is only 7km in diameter, you can easily walk around it in two hours, I ran around it in 40mins, and obviously all the main stuff is an easy walk away from wherever you are. As with anywhere, the best way to see the off the beaten track stuff is via foot anyway! Also the welfare of these horses was somewhat questionable so didn’t want to encourage any poor treatment.  The island is riddled with amazing restaurants to please any western tourist, a plethora of high quality dive shops all charging the same price for open water certification, and thousands of people on tiny little stalls littering the beach selling everything from snorkel gear to magic mushrooms (they are totally legal here!!!!). We decided to pass on any hallucinogenic antics, and just enjoy the beach though. As with most places we found in Bali, the local Warungs and street food vendors offer the best array of grub too, so partaking in the offerings of the night market was a somewhat regular occurrence, costing on average about £4 for a feast for two. 

We settled pretty quickly into island life, filling our days with reading, snorkelling and generally doing very little most of the time. My relaxing was somewhat scuppered by a couple on Lombok climbing Rinjani, but that’s a different story. 
One day, Kelly managed to get a free shore dive through one of the many dive companies, for the return of a beach clean. One thing that sadly became apparent to us upon arriving was the sheer amount of rubbish on these otherwise stunning beaches. Sadly, it seems that not all travellers give a shit about the environment, their surroundings, or the state of things for other travellers. Whilst Kelly was out picking litter off coral, I proceeded to run around the island collecting stuff where I could. When I returned to the dive site, I continued to collect 5 sand bags full of crap, mainly consisting of plastic bottles, cigarette packets, straws, nappies (fucking nappies, I mean, come on) and anything else I could lay my hands on. When everyone else emerged from the depths, we continued for another hour in the baking sunshine to collect a dozen bags of crap. Sadly this is a daily occurrence too, and upon the reef there’s even more. Seriously guys, if you travel anywhere, just pick up your crap, don’t use plastic bottles, don’t use straws, and maybe consider the environment. To add to our outrage about the state of the littering, we were invited to a showing of a documentary called plastic ocean. This clearly demonstrated the harsh reality of what we’ve done to the oceans, to islands, and to society now with our constant ingestion of toxic chemicals now leaching into water/food sources. I’d highly recommend hunting this down, and watching it, it was really rather shocking and has definitely changed our outlook on our use of plastic.
This whole environmental concern seems somewhat paradoxical it should be said: there are clearly many people on the island doing what they can to preserve the wildlife and reduce waste wherever possible. All is not lost. 

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Whilst we continued to pick up anything we could to clean the place up, we continued to empty the absolutely stunning white sandy beaches. North of the main strip, is an area called turtle point, and I can see why. We proceeded to spend most days there, as without fail we spotted a number of turtles each time we went out. This was just amazing, and getting to enjoy the company of such majestic animals was such an unforgettable moment (or series of moments I should say). We also frequented the Western side of the island, which is far more laid back and pebbled with the more opulent (and obviously expensive) resorts, but greeted us with one of the most breathtaking sunsets we’ve seen on the year so far. 
Oh, and they had swings in the sea, so that was cool!
Before we realised where we’d been, I’d climbed a volcano, gone from a slightly darkened skin tone to something resembling mahogany, and we’d stayed a week! Rudi and Sofia did a great job at keeping us there, we were just far too relaxed to even consider moving too far. We did manage a day exploring Gili Meno, which is well worth a day trip if you’re in the area. Definitely more chilled out, but some great snorkel spots and again an incredibly chilled atmosphere throughout. As soon as we threatened to leave the island, Rudi and Sofia insisted we have a dinner together, and Koman insisted I learn to cook Nasi Goreng for everyone (obviously I duly accepted this kind offer).  Then my mate Kaite arrived and immediately checked into the home stay too. Her and Kelly got on like an absolute house on fire, with a shared love of the ocean and exploration of beautiful places (and an equally twisted humour; didn’t see that coming.) Said dinner quickly amalgamated into a banquet for the whole home stay, with some local friends coming along to have a jam with us. The night was perfect, and polished off with an abundance of the locally produced rice wine. Now we’ve sampled plenty of local alcoholic delicacies on this trip, but this tipped us over the edge. It was quite simply sublime, like a slightly harsher sherry. Kelly with her super sweet tooth got properly into this, and full on suffered the next day, meaning we definitely couldn’t leave. 

Clever move guys….

 We ended up staying twelve days in the end, far more than we had planned, but when you find a place you like so much, why move? The rest of our time consisted of very much the same, with the added extension of beer pong on more than one occasion with Katie and Sofia (let’s just say it was a draw in the end). 
Oh I can’t forget to mention Katie getting serenaded/wooed by the local dude missing his front teeth with a surprisingly good singing voice albeit a bit touchy. I don’t think he succeeded

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, this island is cool, very cool. The people we stayed with made us feel like family, we didn’t want to leave, and loved every minute (apart from the hangovers, definitely didn’t enjoy the hangovers). So whilst this wasn’t a super party fortnight, we got it just right. With the perfect mix of beach life, good people, great music, familiar faces, new friends, Bintang, and time in the ocean we’d well and truly recharged our batteries
Sadly, we had to leave eventually. After 12 days we decided to head to Nusa Lembongan for more of the same. We left cheeky monkey with some lifelong friends, an invite to an upcoming wedding in Lombok, a darker skin colour, some incredible memories swimming with turtles, and our faces on the newly created wall of fame for their longest staying guests at the home stay. If you guys are reading this, thanks for so much awesomeness, and making Gili unforgettable, and making it feel like a home away from home (and accepting us as part of the furniture). 

Mount Rinjani- With my head in the clouds

During this trip overseas, we’ve managed to get a few really decent hikes in; way more than expected. After spending a day exploring a national park unassisted in Cambodia, and traversing down dry waterfalls with nothing more than a poxy rope to hang onto, I didn’t think it would get much tougher than that. Then we spent 3 days in the forests of Northern Thailand, staying with a local Karen tribe and living off the land which again, was a physical and mental challenge. Then we took on Tongariro Alpine crossing in New Zealand; our first experience of an active volcano. Tongarero was certainly a battle at points, but the absolutely breathtaking views throughout made it totally worth it. Then finally, we climbed Mount Batur in Bali at 4am for an in incredible view of the sunrise. That’s pretty much the totality of our hiking experience really: we’ve both really loved the trips we’ve done and both agree they’ve probably been the most rewarding and gratifying excursions we’ve done during this year away: I’d probably go as far as saying they’ve all been some of the best experiences on this trip!

So after seeing a few mates post about Rinjani, I couldn’t really pass on his this opportunity, but as most people seem to, I massively underestimated the task at hand!

I’d like to think of myself as a pretty active person. Over the past 5 years I’ve got really into running. Since my first 5k back in 2012 I’ve now completed over 15 half marathons, a marathon (which ended up being an ultra marathon: long story), then progressed my love for running to obstacle races! Again I’ve probably completed over a dozen of these in the past couple of years now, taking on some of toughest courses in the UK in some pretty challenging conditions (like the depth of a northern winter for example on a course filled with freezing water). The point I’m trying to make is I’m pretty active, I like a challenge, I don’t give up easily, and I hate failure.

Rinjani without a doubt pushed me harder and closer to my breaking point than any race, challenge, or actually, anything else I’ve ever done! Let me tell you the story. To add to this, our tour company was pretty shit, and actually really screwed us over makings things infinitely more difficult. Read on for the full story.

Rinjani is the second highest volcano on the Indonesian ring of fire, with a summit at 3726m. The volcano has formed a massive Caldera, and quite uniquely still has the original volcano visible from the centre. Rinjani last erupted just over a year ago, but wasn’t anything major fortunately. Still, it’s a bloody active volcano! From most reviews I’ve read, people seem to consistently say it’s VERY tough, or use language similar to brutal/it will break you/extreme test of your mental and physical strength/just don’t do it. After some of the treks we’ve done so far in some pretty extreme conditions, I thought I’d be okay, and kind of brushed off most of the comments.

Sounds perfect right! I thought so…

So I signed up, got the first boat across to Lombok from Gili T, got picked up in a horse and cart and taken to the HQ, met some of my other climbing buddies, got in a cab, got taken to another HQ closer to the start point, jumped onto the black of a flatbed truck, driven to the start, and off we went for a couple of days of hiking. During this three part journey, it became very clear that our group consisted of different skill sets, abilities, knowledge of the task at hand, and confidence. This was all fine, it’s so rare to have a group all at the same level of ability, so we persevered in a group, with our guide and porters. These guys need a special mention. I’m actually questioning if they are human! The porters are employed to carry the gear, food, water, sleeping arrangements (tents, sleeping bags, etc) up Rinjani for the groups. On average each guy was probably carrying around 20-30kg of stuff in two baskets at the end of a bamboo rod. To make matters worse the were doing this either in sandals or barefoot, up a fecking volcano! Sadly these guys didn’t really speak a word of English, as I would have loved some tips from them as they casually trotted up the mountain without missing a step, but it wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately for us too, our one guide only spoke very basic broken English, so our general level of conversation with the guys in charge was, to be frank, shit. Oh well, we followed them up the mountain at different speeds, all meeting up again at the various stopping points on route. 

As you’d expect from a hike that increases in elevation over 3km, the landscapes we crossed varied greatly. We started trekking though a small forest Area, opening up into glorious agricultural land backed with undulating mountains, followed by huge rolling hills like something you’d expect from a Tolkein novel, huge steep inclines wrapped around volcanic streams, steep inclines with only tree roots anchoring the ground together, then finishing off with just gravel. 

Oh the bloody gravel.

 The two steps forward/one step back gravel. The gravel that filled your shoes within seconds, buried your feet to ankle depth within seconds, send you flying at shallow points, and absolutely zapped all energy you have in your tank for the rest of the hike. And that was all before the end of day one!

So, after six hours of hiking, part of our group made it to base camp on the crater rim, overlooking the caldera. Sadly our group had split up due to differing speeds up the mountain. My small group made it to basecamp first, followed by other members of the group about two hours later. We actually found out our groups had merged with another, doubling the size to 10 climbers. Once we all arrived and got chatting, it sounded like we’d all had very different experiences so far on the climb. One fellow climber turned up around 8pm, accepting she wouldn’t making it to the summit, but feeling hugely satisfied with her achievement for getting to the basecamp, two others made their way up basically on their own after their guides left then, two others struggled the whole way, and the final climber again, pretty much did the lot on their own. Sadly it was very apparent the company we all booked with hadn’t really planned for climbers needing additional support, encouragement, or hadn’t even considered people going at different speeds. 

I can honestly say that this part of the trek alone was more difficult than any of the others I’d done previously, and we weren’t even a third of the way in. By basecamp, we’d spent 6 hours hiking upwards non stop, in the scorching heat of midday sun (’twas a hot ass day, with very few clouds in the sky), across some incredibly tough terrains (at points effectively climbing up the terrain, not hiking), and reaching an elevation of 2500m; so a mile of elevation gained in that six hour stint. The pure elation we all felt when arriving at basecamp made us all forget about the challenges we’d just faced though. Our porters made up our camp right on the edge of the rim, with some truly breathtaking views across the caldera lake, with the sun setting behind another summit of the caldera. I’ve said this a lot on this trip, but this sunset was pretty magical, offering us a wonderful array of pinky red hues as the sun dipped below the mountains, and finally beyond the horizon. My group (Felipe and Pablo from Chile, and Hanz from Germany) all enjoyed a cheeky bintang to reward our speedy efforts alongside this beautiful sunset, it was definitely a well earned beer! To finish off evening, our porters made us an awesome vegetable curry, which we obviously all wolfed down within minutes of being handed to us, before getting an early night. 

The next day, we were due up at 2am, to make the summit for sunset. We’d been warned by fellow climbers that the next day was even tougher, with sections over 60degrees in angle, horrific terrain, and oh yeah, it was PITCH BLACK! Needless to say we were all somewhat apprehensive about this. By bed time, two of our ten strong group accepted they wouldn’t make it so decided to stay in bed (probably very wise). At 230 the following day we set off on the next leg to the summit, and almost immediately hit a whole new level of tough. 

From probably 20 minutes in, we were greeted by the thick gravel again, but this time mixed with an incredibly steep climb through volcanic valleys crumbling at the lightest touch (no holding onto anything for us then). Previously these terrains greeted us independently, but combining them was just bloody horrible! Any morale or energy we had was almost immediately sucked from our bodies as we battled up the terrain for over an hour. To add to this, the ground in places had fully caved in from previous wet periods, resulting in ankle destroying breaks in the ground. I lost my feet down some of these on a number of occasions, and felt pretty lucky to not seriously injure myself (good thing too, we’d have been royally screwed if we had broken anything). To top this off, the only light source we had was the moon, which fortunately was pretty much full, and bloody bright. Sadly our guide only had one head torch for the whole group (useful eh). Surprisingly, I don’t have many photos of this section, but imagine trying to ski uphill in the pitch black, and not fall over boulders, huge roots extending out the ground, whilst being super short of breath. Yeah. That.

Parts of the climb in these sections at points was again actual climbing, requiring full extensions of legs to actually get up; obviously quite tough on the ol’legs after the other parts of the climb. This terrain continued for well over a couple of hours until we hit the edge of the vegetation growth. Now, the real fun started. 

At this point I think I started to get some of the symptoms of altitude sickness. We’d ascended about 500m In the past two hours, with another 700m to go before sunset to the summit. My energy levels just went through the floor, I had a stonking headache, my limbs ached (including my arms which I’d barely used), and I’m pretty sure I got to a point of chatting total bollocks to my fellow climbers (now joined by Julia, an awesome Ukrainian lass with a scary amount of energy, totally full of positivity who really kept me going from this point on). From now on, the hike looked like this.
So, let me try and explain this succinctly. For the next 700m, the climb was only gravel and rock, at least 50degree incline, with high (and freezing) winds battering us on the volcano edge, with literally a 2 foot margIn of error either side of us at points. Seriously, there were areas where a slip to the left would have sent us down the mountain, and to the right into the caldera; nice eh? The terrain was so tough going up I had to stop every 10-20 steps to catch my breath, slipping down at least a step every time, making this even harder. On so many occasions, I honestly thought I couldn’t do it, I’d never make it to the top. I persevered with huge thanks to Pablo and Julia (the group had yet again divided with Felipe and Yahn storming ahead). Looking up was a terrible idea; every time I thought I was closer the summit appeared to be even further away! On so many occasions I thought we’d made it, only to discover there was another point beyond what we could see. As you can imagine this was ugly demoralising and utterly crippling. After probably another two hours of climbing barely 400 metres, we hit a new point, with huge lumps of stone surrounding us, we were nearly there. One final push, and I hit the summit!
You’d think hitting the summit would result in an immediate sense of euphoria and elation. I think at the time I just felt freezing cold, exhausted, and generally a bit confused. We arrived just before sunrise, maybe by ten minutes. It didn’t really dawn on me that I’d done it until the sun actually started to rise in the distance. At that point, I felt totally overwhelmed. Looking down across the huge landscape I’d just climbed filled me with emotion I don’t think I’d ever felt before. I wish I’d filmed it or taken more photos, but I was so cold I couldn’t really use my hands. No joke guys, take gloves with you! The temperature at the summit was barely above zero, and after the best part of 9 months not enduring anything below about 15 Celsius, it felt fucking cold!
So after probably 30 minutes at the summit, we all agreed it was too bloody cold, and decided to descend. Now for anyone who’s done anything like this, you’ll know going down is a full blown quad burner. This was something else though. We spent probably an hour quasi-boot skiing down the main point of the summit, trying our best to not stack it and roll the best part of 500m down a volcano. It wasn’t easy, we all stacked it at least a dozen times, but managed to stop and take photos at some pretty mind blowing views as we descended towards the cloud line. I honestly think some of the views as we climbed down were more impressive, purely down to the change in hue we experienced over the horizon. We spent a good two hours descending the coarse terrain, passing monkeys, sharp cliff edges, vertigo fuelling drops, and some crazy volcanic terrain before getting back to the basecamp. We were obviously overjoyed,and then found out we were the first back, a mere (apparently) 7’hours after setting off, arriving back to a cloud filled camp where we could barely see three for in front of us, and slowly saturating any hair on our bodies with cloud based rain. 

After a little power nap I awoke to find out the rest of the group still weren’t back though, nearly 2 hours later. An hour later they emerged. These guys had been hiking for nearly 9 hours in total, and we’re obviously exhausted. 

Then everything went to shit.

In an indistinguishable level of broken English, our one guide decided to let us know because our group arrived back so late, we couldn’t do the next leg of our trip, apparently due to the time we were going to eventually set off. We were given two options; stay at basecamp, stuck on the cloud, waiting for the impending storm to unleash its fury all over us, or hike from basecamp to the hot pools (our next stop) and back: a total of 8 hours additional hiking minimum. As you can imagine, the mood in the camp at this point was one of pure deflation. Apparently the guys who came back later had also been told to turn around before the summit, then arrived to discover their tent dismantled, stuff just on the edge of the crater gathering a Lovely layer of dirt and dew. After an internal discussion with our group, we all agreed this was quickly turning into a shambolic situation, so we should just cut our losses and head back to the start. 

The porters were clearly not happy about this, so quickly packed everything up at camp, and set off down the mountain. We did our best to follow, but through cloud and rain, and down some pretty treacherous terrain we didn’t stand a chance. Within five minutes are group had divided again, the porters were long gone, and we worked our way down the mountain on our own.

Fortunately, and by pure chance, I’d tracked the whole hike on my garmin watch, which left a breadcrumb trail the whole way back! Once I discovered this the worries of our group were somewhat alleviated, but we were still concerned about the rest of our group following behind us (but no idea how far). The next hour consisted of a very wet hike though forest areas, along slippery and tree root laden land, down again some very steep slopes that were now akin to a mud run. Needless to say, it was again energy sapping! After a fairly hefty soaking we had another 5 hours at least of hiking, and around 1000m to descend. I think my speedy group must have just been on a pure adrenaline rush as we totally steamed through it, stopping a couple of times to eat a super healthy and balanced meal of Oreos and peanuts. I ended up taping everyone’s knees, as well as a group of Malaysian tourists on their way up; the descend had been tough on the old joints! After 5 arduous hours though, we made it to the flatlands: the end was in sight, but still no sign of our porters, or the rest of our group! Sadly, we managed to get lost right at the last point, had to hitch a lift on the back of a tomato truck into the local village, to try and find our company. I managed to get in touch with my home stay owner Rudi, who superb! They unleashed the fury on our tour operator and got them to sort their lives out and help us. After another 2 hours of total faff, we managed to get our hiking company to accept some level of responsibility for the pretty shambolic second day. They sent a flatbed to pick us up, another one followed for the rest of our group, and we headed back to HQ. After a further bit of discussion with the boss, I managed to get transport for all the climbers to their respective hotels and destinations, which included a private boat for me to get back to Gili T. By this point, all we really cared about was getting back safe, so that was good enough. 

So in total, we spent just short of 15 hours hiking, covering over 20 miles, ascending and descending over 2500m through. 

Looking back though. It was bloody awesome and so worth the pain. 
I feel such a huge sense of accomplishment from completing it, and in a great time, especially considering all the crap we endured. The classic phrase what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger has never felt so true to me. Our culture today is obsessively focussed on unrealistically positive expectations: not everything will be smooth sailing in everything you do, and not everything that’s good will be fun. But picking personal challenges, taking them on head first, and kicking those challenges square in the nuts is without question the best way to grow as a person. I feel that more than ever now. 

Bali part one- Start as you mean to go on 

For the vast majority of this trip, we’ve had a plan. The plan has stemmed from a spreadsheet of budgets, itineraries, and things to do and see. Up until Australia this plan was pretty meticulously adhered to, with some obvious shifts when we get scuppered by typhoons, or when we’ve heard of local secrets of just up to date information on places. When we have moved away from the plan, or just not had a plan for certain sections, we’ve had some unforgettable times! We’ve ended up on a near deserted island off the coast of Cambodia for the best part of a week, we’ve stayed with local families and celebrated Hindu festivals, spent 3 weeks driving the east coast of Australia, the list goes on. So when it came to booking up the next leg of our journey, we thought we’d just wing it. For this stage, this involved booking a flight to bali, and booking a flight closer to home just over 3 months later, with no real plan in between. We had similar between Vietnam and New Zealand and that worked out great! 

This one didn’t start out quite as smoothly though…

So there we were, preparing to board our flight to bali, when we were informed we needed a flight out of Indonesia before they’d let us board a flight! Our rough plan was to spend a month or two working our way across the archipelago towards Malaysia, when we’d cross the boarder. Well that didn’t pan out; with only a couple of hours till our flight we booked what we could: a flight 28 days later to KL. here’s the second part of the initial fail. We had planned to spend closer to 2 months here, but the visa situation has recently changed. We had the choice of a 30day visa waiver, or bouncing in and out of the country to effectively get a new visa. Sadly the extended tourist visa needed some pre planning, a visit to an embassy, all that jazz. Even if we’d wanted to do that (which I guess we would have) doing that whilst driving 4000km wouldn’t have really worked. So now we had a flight out and a massively restricted timeframe in Indonesia. We ended up booking flights out of bali, meaning we’d probably miss a bunch of the route we’d hoped to complete. 

But ho hum; these things happen. 

Then Kelly’s bag got left in Australia….and my favourite (and only) hoodie got left at the airport…

We booked last minute a hotel near to the airport. We were due to land about 2am local time so just needed a bed. The flight was over an hour late taking off, and after sorting out Kelly’s bag info we didn’t even get out of the airport till way gone 3! Being the last people in an airport is a very weird experience… The hotel was a total dump, stank of bug spray, cheap bleach and moth balls, and overall was a total shit hole, but it was a bed. After a few hours sleep we got out as quickly as possible. 
At this point things started to look up. We decided to book into a new hotel that looked amazing, as we’d had enough already of bad hotels (and we’ve stayed in some howlers on this trip). Semimpi basecamp was a brand new hotel in Between Seminyak and Kuda (the Ibiza for aussies). By a country mile this was the nicest place we’ve stayed so far in 8 months! It oozed hipster-chic styling in the rooms, showed movies over the pool at night, served great food, and the staff went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were happy! We hired a scooter to explore the surrounding areas of Kuda and Seminyak, and got a proper feel for the area. The rumours are true though guys, Kuda really is the Magaluf for Aussies! The beaches are wall to wall plastic day beds, littered with hawkers selling sarongs and fake Oakleys, whilst the streets feel like any Aussie city, covered in designer surfware stores; not what we were looking for. Seminyak was definitely en par with western opulence, but with slightly more chill. We decided to check out Potato Head, a beach club loads of people recommended to us. And I can see why it was so highly recommended, this place was pretty amazing! A beautiful pool with a swim up bar overlooked a stunning stretch of private beach with an incredible sunset view, cocktails to die for, and a menu that would satisfy any foodie. As you can imagine, it was absolutely filled to the brim with beautiful people all after that idyllic Instagram selfie; obviously we didn’t partake in such heresy, but did enjoy a couple of diet cokes that cost more than most meals we’ve had here. Still, well worth checking out if you’re in Bali. 

One real supeise for us was bumping into Natalie, one of Kelly’s sort of cousins (no blood relations but as good as). We had hoped to see her in Darwin where she now lives but it was just too far to get to in the van. Catching up after so long was great, and as ever seeing a friendly face in a foreign land was just awesome. By pure chance we also managed to link up with my old colleague Katie For a night of reminiscence. 
 After Kelly’s bag finally got to bali our next stop on the list was the inland town of Ubud. There’s nothing else to say about Ubud apart from it’s a bloody cool place! I was trying to figure out where it reminded me of, and the closest I can get to is Chiang Mai in Thailand. Like Chiang Mai, Ubud has held on tight to its traditional cultures, architecture and mashed it nicely with a chilled western vibe. Ubud boasts a huge collection of ancient temples hidden down unexpected back alleys and through shop fronts. We actually found this one hidden behind a Starbucks; what a find! 

Perhaps the most amazing thing though was what lies just on the outskirts. On one of day’s exploring inner Ubud, we literally took a turn right, and within a minute you’d have no idea we were adjacent to a town. We stumbled across fields of rice paddies, surrounded by nothing more than more fields: what a find! For me this was one of the highlights of Ubud as it was so unexpected. We actually did this again at a slightly better known route with again, spectacular views. 

As we were in ubud we had to visit the Monkey forest. It’s safe to say both of us were a little apprehensive about this after our last escapade at a similar temple in India, when Kelly got bitten by a little bugger wanting a banana. The monkeys here were just as michevous; nicking tourists water, sunglasses and hats all over the place, and raiding people’s bags for the slight chance of some grub. Fortunately we were okay this time, and the views along the coast were definitely worth the risk. 
We’ve definitely decided one of the best ways to explore is on a bike. We spent a day driving everywhere and anywhere outside of Ubud, with literally no idea where we’d end up. The only thing we planned to see was a local waterfall, which according to our bike renter, was pretty unknown on tourism routes. He was right; we pretty much had the whole thing to ourselves! After a five minute hike down to the water I had far too much fun getting soaked before heading back to the bike. Another quick search on google maps showed us another waterfall to potentially check out. After a 40 minute ride we hit the entrance, paid our 10000 rupiah entrance fee (less than £1), and made the steep, un-paved hike down to the water. This was definitely not in any lonely planet books or on many blogs. To get to the waterfall, we had to walk along rice canals, down some super steep walkways, through a cave or two, and squeeze through some pretty tiny gaps between rocks, but we made it! Typically it was less impressive than the previous waterfall, but the hike was certainly interesting, and we really did feel like the only people for miles. This is why I love just hiring a bike, the freedom it gives you to see stuff totally off tourist trap routes can totally make a trip. 

Our day continued in a similar guise; just checking google maps, finding somewhere or something that might be of interest, and riding there. We ended up riding through a small parade of people dressed up for a Hindu celebration, a bunch of villages with the cutest kids flying kites (the Bali kite festival is on now), before heading back to the city to enjoy the famous Balinese delicacy, Ibu Oka (roast suckling pig).
Finally, to burn off the high calorie grub we had just consumed, another hike was in order. This time on a slightly more well trodden path; alongside a valley run surrounded by fruit and rice growing. This was another stunning walk called the Campuhan Ridge Walk, definitely recommended if you’re ever in Ubud. 

To finish off our time in Ubud, we decided to climb a volcano (as you do). 

Okay so that sounds crazy; but it’s not that bad. Mount Batur is north east of Ubud, and summits at 1714m. We set off at 2am to make sure we made it for sunrise, which we did with 30 minutes to spare. What a great hike! For the last 400m the terrain was pretty tough, made up primarily of dust or big rocks. With the dodgy terrain, thin air and chilly temperatures (oh and that it was still dark) it wasn’t the easiest, but so worth it. Whilst we battled against clouds, when they did break, the views were truly breathtaking. 

So you’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound like much failing right? Yeah, we did some more fail, don’t you worry. 

Again, we took recommendations from a bunch of fellow travelers we have met, and ventured south. I was desperate to get some more surfing in, so we decided to head to Bingin beach on the south west of the island. Everyone we had spoken to advised we leave our bags at the top of a very high cliff edge, and search the local hotels for a place to stay rather than booking anywhere online in advance. So off I ventured, up and down the very steep steps to the beach and back, stopping at every hotel, guesthouse and villa I could find. 90% were either out of our price range by at least three fold, or were full. After two hours of very sweaty searching we finally found a place for 250k right on the beach. Whilst it was basic as anything, it was still the most expensive room we’ve paid for in Indonesia thus far! But to be honest I didn’t care with a view like this. 

So here’s the next big fail. The swells were apparently huge, abnormally huge for the next few days, hence why everywhere was full I guess! This meant no novice surfing could really take place anywhere on this southern ridge of bali. The waves for the next few days averaged anywhere between 10-14ft, I would have almost certainly died giving that a go. So there we were, in a surfers paradise, without being able to surf, and running out of cash too (no ATM nearby and we didn’t have transport). Needless to say we decided to move on and cut our losses pretty quickly. Still, I’m very glad we made it down there to witness some seriously skilful surfing and a sunset like this. 

The following day, we battled for over an hour to get an uber (companies like uber and grab are apparently banned by the local taxi mafia as they at least cut fees by half of normal local cabbies) to get to Uluwatu. Fortunately we managed to land a genuinely nice cabbie who drove us around a few hotels whilst we haggled for the best price. Once we found a place I went on another hunt for a bike to rent. Again, fail time! Everywhere had sold out of all their bikes! After another 90 minutes of fairly frustrating hunting for a scooter, I finally got one and we ventured along the coast to check out the pro surfers who’d traveled here for the freakishly big waves, as well as another monkey temple; this time right on a beautiful coast line. These photos really don’t do the surf or the temples justice though. 
So after all this fail, we both agreed to just give up and go to a tiny island just off Lombok for a bit. We jumped on a boat to Gili T, where I’m sat now writing this blog. We’ve done very little for the last week apart from run around the island (the whole 7k of it), lie on white sandy beaches, read, snorkel with turtles, clean beaches, dive, and generally chill. Oh I did do one more thing, which was such an experience it deserves its own blog. Watch this space 

East Coast Australia part 2- Brisbane to Cairns

Warning! This post contains loads of fun stuff that will almost certainly give you a huge sense of wanderlust!

Firstly, an apology. For those of you reading my posts chronologically, I am sorry this is being posted so close to my last blog. One of the main issues of being in a camper in Oz is you don’t always have access to the internet (a blessing in disguise I say!) For this reason I couldn’t upload any photos to the last blog, so had to wait. I actually posted that from Cairns the day before we flew to Indonesia! Whoops. Publishing blogs from my iPhone isn’t the quickest or easiest thing to do…

Looking back on our Sydney to Brisbane trip, it’s become more apparent to me that we got the most enjoyment out of the landscape and people rather than actually doing things. This is probably for the best; doing stuff in Australia aint cheap! Every day just driving, camping, and refuelling (both us and the van) we seemed to be absolutely burning through money! It’s a really hard thing to get my head around, especially when we’ve been able to live on so little in Asia! 

Neither Kelly or I had been further North than Sydney on previous trips to Oz, so were determined to make the most of this trip across Queensland. We discussed the things we really HAD to do in Oz, and agreed to take the plunge and just do it. More on those activities later.Whilst I say having all the fun in Australia is a costly exercise, if you look around you can definitely find some cheap things to do that are quite simply, amazing. For example, the following day we drove to Bundaberg, home of the famous (in Oz anyway) Rum. It makes perfect sense that Rum is made here, almost every road you drive along in Queensland is bloody cane fields! Seriously, it’s quite amazing how much cane is grown here. During this trip we’ve visited vineyards and wineries, and brewers, but never a rum distillery, so gave that a go. The first thing to say about the distillery is WOW, the smell of molasses around the whole site is as intoxicating as the pure alcohol permeating through the air! Bundy Rum is one of the only distillers that actually undertakes the whole process, from raw materials to bottling left in the world (apparently). Regardless, that was just a fun fact; the awesomeness came from the tour around the site, finishing off with a tasting of their top Rums (over $200 a bottle good). I must say, I do love a good Rum, and some of other more exquisite rum’s were top class, even winning worlds best Rum last year. The site itself was a great mix of historic and modern, with a really interesting museum on the history. Sadly no photos from this tour (they’ve had a couple of pretty catastrophic fires on site over their 170 year life, so no electronics allowed on the tour), but if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a look. for $30 this wasn’t bank breaking, and well worth the money.

Beating that however, was our next couple of days in and around 1770 (yep, that’s the name of a place). After a bit of research looking for a place to stay, we discovered a kangaroo orphanage called Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary, only a short drive from Agnes Waters. If I’d known about this sooner, I would have spent a whole day here. The sanctuary allowed camping on site, and obviously had hundreds of Kangaroos. Because the majority of these were orphans, they’d been hand reared since childhood (Joeyhood?) so were more than comfortable around humans. Seriously, this was probably one of the highlights of my time in Australia. We arrived at about 3pm, spent the whole afternoon feeding, petting, and generally chilling out with the Roo’s, and woke up the next morning to amazing views over the coastline, whilst having more Roo’s chilling out right next to the camper. Believe me when I say, it was really quite difficult leaving this place. I do need to say though, it’s really rather sad hearing about the Australian Governments approach to Kangaroos; allowing slaughter of thousands of kangaroos a year in each state! I get that from an agricultural perspective they can be seen as a pest, but seriously, it’s not like Aus is running out of space, and these amazing createures only live here! The more time I spend on the road, the more and more I hate humanity…..

ANYWAY

The whole reason we were traveling to this area was for surfing. I’ve never surfed, and never really had any huge desire to do so, but whilst being in oz I’ve become somewhat perplexed by it. We were told about the surf school in 1770 being very good, very cheap, and effectively the last place in Oz you can surf whilst heading north, as you start to enter croc territory! We booked onto the $17 lesson, taught by TBone from Reef2Beach surf school. After a quick tutorial on the sand, we hit the water. Another reason this area is great for beginners is the surf isn’t too monstrous. We were expecting 2 foot waves, but closer to the end of the day we were hitting 4ft waves (trust me, they seem much bigger when you’re trying to surf them!) I’m not sure Kelly really got into it, or ‘succeeded’ at surfing, but I bloody loved it, and didn’t totally suck! Within about an hour, and after changing for a bigger board, I’d finally managed to stand and ride a wave, and spent the next 2 hours attempting again, and again, and again. I was genuinely surprised how much I loved it, and can’t wait to get back out in the water over the rest of this trip! This’ll obviously be me in a few weeks 😉

 

Now, the real fun starts!

The next day, we had an epic drive to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. Half way through our 700km/ nearly 9 hour driving epic, we got a flat battery! What the hell are the chances of that (the chances are raised significantly if you leave the radio on when you stop for lunch, that’s for sure). After a 2 hour ‘change of plans’, and a new battery later, we made it to Airlie just before sunset. It’s a shame as we didn’t really get to explore the town properly, but by that point we were both exhausted so set in for the night. The following day, we set off on our trip with ZigZag Tours, which we later found out meant we were on the fastest boat out of Airlie! We opted for a day trip to Whitehaven beach rather than one of the epic sail boat adventures for two reasons; time and money. A sail trip will cost in excess of $300 per person, this cost $100! We started the trip cruising around the Whitsunday islands, before stopping at a couple of snorkel spots. Sadly the snorkel conditions really weren’t great, and you could really see the huge amount of damage the recent cyclone had done (another #fuckyoudebbie right there). The snorkelling was just an added bonus for us though. Whitehaven beach was next.

It may seem ridiculous doing a boat cruise just to get to a beach, but until you’ve been you can’t comment. Whitehaven is a bit of a geological anomaly: the sand is 98.9% pure silica! It’s so white it doesn’t get hot, you need to wear sunglasses because of the reflection from the sun, and you WILL burn whilst there. The sand was actually used to made the lens for the Hubble telescope, and can be used as an exfoliator on your skin.  This beach, is quite simply, spectacular. I’ve definitely lost count of how many beaches we’ve seen over the past 8 months, and so many of those have surpassed any expectations I had, but Whitehaven massively raised the bar yet again. I decided to go for a run along the 8km stretch of sand, which was an incredible experience. Once you head further up the beach you swap the other tourists, boats and helicopters for complete solitude. I was the only person on that stretch of beach for a good 40 minutes, and it was utter bliss! Needless to say, the water there is absolutely to die for as well; crystal clear blue and a wonderful temperature. Spending a couple of hours on this (and another) beach across the water simply wasn’t enough, I wish we had all day (although I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have escaped without becoming a lobster).

This would be a tough thing to beat. The following day, we undertook another epic drive all the way to Mission Beach, just south of Cairns.

And then I did this…

Yep, I fell out of a plane at 15000ft, landing on another outstanding beach…. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and after a failed attempt in New Zealand over the Fox Glacier (thanks to the weather; I didn’t wimp out) I decided to go big, and did the highest jump in Oz. This-Was-AMAZING! I’m so glad I got to do it finally, and would 100% do it again tomorrow! For anyone considering a skydive, just do it! I would highly recommend getting the video as well. Yes it’s expensive, but you WILL NOT remember it all once you’ve come down from the adrenaline rush. When can I do my next one???

That was going to be a tough one to beat that’s for sure!

So we went to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of Snorkelling.. That’ll do…

We booked with a tour operator who had exclusive rights to a couple of areas of the Outer Barrier Reef, far more secluded than many of the reef excursions you can do to closer reefs, apparently these slightly more untouched reefs are seriously impressive and well worth a look, so we took a punt. The tour group we went with from Cairns were great, but crazy for health and safety! We had to wear life jackets (never great for snorkelling) and we were only allowed 50m from the boat, before a man with a whistle started making noises at us. In typical Kelly fashion, she got excited and somewhat carried away, didn’t hear any whistes, and got chased around the reef by the captain of our vessel to bring her back closer.

Going to the reef was great, and I’m so glad we did it, but the group we were with were just a bit controlling. I can definitely see why, some of the other members of the tour clearly didn’t know what they were doing, or how to respect the coral, but for Kelly and I this was particularly frustrating. I can’t believe I’m saying this too, but the reefs we got to see in Fiji were actually way more impressive too! I know, we sound so spoiled. Regardless, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef!

To finish off the last leg of our trip, we kept heading north. After a stop off for 1 night in Cairns, we drove to the Daintree Rainforest, after a number of recommendations from fellow travellers and friends living in Oz. En route, we stopped for a couple of Crocodile tours, exploring both mangroves and the Daintree river. For $25 for both tours this was a total bargain! We did our tour with Crocodile Express, setting off from Daintree village initially. This was a great tour that’s for sure, but more importantly we got to learn so much about these fascinating creatures as well as spotting a bunch (and other pretty unique wildlife along the way). To add a little to the excitement, we even beached on the river bed for 5 minutes due to an unexpectedly low tide, that was a bit of a squeaky bum moment to say the least!

We decided to spend 2 days in the rainforest, camping just south of Cape Tribulation, pretty much the most northern part of the East Coast you can access without a 4×4 vehicle. We camped right by the beach, yet still in the rainforest. The whole area was totally stunning, and somewhat Jurassic. We were fortunate to be camping right next to Noah beach;  one of the nicest we’ve seen so far in Oz. To top this off, it was totally secluded, only really accessible to those camping at our site: no one was on the beach the whole time we were there, which was just bliss. So obviously I had to take advantage of the seclusion. Sadly, this far North going in the water at beaches like this is dicing with death, so we obviously decided against this. Regardless, the beaches, the rainforest, the views and the treks were so worth the drive, and being off grid a few days was a blessing as well! Just to add to this part of the journey, we spotted a family of Cassowaries too! These elusive and rare birds are not found anywhere else in Australia apart from Far North Queensland, and to see a family is a very rare site!

Keep going, not that much further to go….

So now, for the first time on this drive in Oz, we started heading South…

By chance, our buddies Tim and Steph (from previous blogs about India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Melbourne) were visiting Cairns for the weekend. We just can’t seem to stay away from these guys! We all stayed at Ellis Beach, just north of Cairns for one last night together. It really can’t be stressed enough how nice it is to see familiar faces on a trip like this, where you don’t have to do the standard commentary again, and again, and again (where have you been, how long you been on the road, etc etc etc), and with these guys it’s just all so easy. After another cracking evening, we agreed the best way to say our (potential) final goodbyes was watching the sun rise over the ocean, and it definitely delivered! Yet again, what a pleasure it was to spend time with them.

So, that’s basically it! We spent our final day in Cairns (which I must say is a seriously cool city!) before getting a very late night flight to Bali. Looking back, this leg of the trip has been pretty epic! We’ve stayed at 2 vineyards, been to the theatre and the super rugby, explored 4 coastal cities and countless towns, enjoyed 100’s of beaches, been to a wedding show, bought a wedding dress (!!!), caught up with so many awesome people, kayaked with dolphins, hiked alongside Echidna’s, spent an morning and feeding Kangaroos, spotted wild Koalas and Cassowairies, snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef, jumped out of a plane at 15000ft, run across Whitehaven Beach, gone for a naked stroll along a crocodile laden beach, been to a Rum distillery, spent 2 nights in a tropical rainforest, driven the whole of the East coast of Australia (over 5200km in total), and finished off watching the sun rise over the ocean with some great friends. This 2 months has gone so fast, and I’ve bloody loved it, but It’s time to get back to Asia, so we can stop haemorrhaging money!

East coast Australia part 1- Sydney to Brisbane

So far on this trip of a lifetime we’ve hired Campervans twice, once for 43 days to explore the whole of New Zealand, and once to get from Melbourne to Sydney. Van life may not be the most glamorous way to travel, but damn it’s fun! Without a doubt it’s my favourite method of getting around so far (maybe a close second actually to driving a TucTuc around India), mainly because of the freedom it gives you. When we were figuring out our method of getting up the east coast of oz, we debated between flights to key spots, getting the Greyhound bus the whole way, or a van. In the end the van won, purely because it gave us the freedom we have loved so much to properly explore the place we’re visiting.
For anyone considering a journey like the east coast of oz, you need to consider a few things. Firstly, are you happy being stuck on a bus for hours on end, with limited stops, and potentially being in very close proximity with people you just don’t like (we weren’t, i’m secretly a grumpy shit). Secondly, can you afford to hostel hop constantly and eat out for potentially every meal three times a day (we couldn’t really, and I love cooking so….). Finally, are you happy just seeing the key tourism spots, cities, or hubs? We weren’t; clearly 3 weeks of van life trumped all other options for us!

So off we set again, driving from Sydney to Cairns over 3 weeks, in our new steed, Deadrie. It would be an understatement to say she’s a little rough around the edges, has clearly been around the block a few times and kinda needs some TLC, but she has done us okay so far. We’ve spent the past 9 days getting to Brisbane, making the most of van life by stopping wherever the hell we wanted! This has mainly consisted of stopping at shed loads of Australia’s stunning beaches and exploring a great variety of the coastline and surrounding areas.

Our initial plan for this chunk consisted of driving immediately to Coffs Harbour, about 200mi up the coast. We should have known though, this would never happen. We had our last supper with Kelly’s parents at Hurricanes (an absolute MUST if you’re in NSW, genuinely some of the most amazing ribs we’ve ever eaten), meaning we had literally no chance of getting that far north. We made a last second decision to cut back to the Hunter Valley, purely because it was just so bloody beautiful the last time we were there! We just about made it before the kangaroo witching hour at dusk. Sadly our camping options are somewhat restricted in oz in contrast to the amazing array of options available in New Zealand, so we opted for the cheap option at a site on a racecourse. Typically, there was a circus in town the night we arrived, so we shared the site with some rather “interesting” neighbours. Regardless, we were in the Hunter Valley, it was beautiful, and got to experience some wonderful roads in and out. 

Over the next few days we aimed for Port Macquarie, another coastal town further north. Again, massively underestimating the drive, this took another two days rather than one. We don’t appear to have been very good as this estimated driving Malarkey so far… Alongside this, we took a couple of routes resulting in a two hour round trip to get back to the same spot, thanks to one way inlets, boats not running, and entire stupidity. Typical… alongside this we nearly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere after exploring some sand dunes on a historical aboriginal site, just to add to the fun.

When we FINALLY made it to port Macquarie though, we were greeted by an awesome beachside town, with plenty to do and see. One of the highlights of Port Mac was definitely the koala hospital, a voluntary organisation set up entirely to rescue and nurture injured koalas. Sadly these cute guys are getting to the point of severe endangerment now, all thanks to humans obviously (not helped by the fact they all have chlamydia though). The work they do is wonderful and you really got a sense of the cohesion of aim from the staff members volunteering there. 

Anyway….After Port Mac we continued our journey north. We are constantly on the hunt for free camp sites which often tend to lead us to some pretty weird places. Our next stop can only be described as a stereotypical hick town to be honest… we ended up pretty inland in the middle of nowhere, staying in the car park of a hotel. This hotel was literally the only sign of local economy for probably 15 miles in either direction, and was populated primarily by guests frequenting the establishment whilst donning their custom made bottle coolers, extreme mullets, and looks of bewilderment as we entered the bar for a schooner. Needless to say, we felt yet again like we were in a sketch from a league of gentlemen “you’re not from around here are you?”

This wasn’t the last time we’d feel like this on this leg of the journey. Another evening again, hunting our a low cost site (of which there are surprisingly few), we drove off track for an hour or so and ended up in a very different situation. This time, I was warned of the “feral” locals before they all arrived for the evening raffle (which we were welcome to join). Kelly with her pink hair got some interesting looks, and I got a full blown stare down from a couple who’d obviously never seen anyone like me before (and I thought I blended in okay here, but apparently not). To finish off the evenings entertainment the local village drunk (I think drunk, but might have been something else) made friends with me at the bar, just as Kelly abandoned me for the solitude of our camper just as I got a fresh beer. It probably goes without saying, but the conversation that came in tow wasn’t the greatest discussion of philosophical theories I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in…. The evening was topped off by witnessing a feral local battle to the drunken topple-over, over I believe who truly won the meat platter awarded in said raffle (with a bit of Trump politics thrown in). This was rather entertaining until it took a full on racist turn. I’d been told about the blatant racism which can be witnessed further afield in Oz but this was the first experience I’ve had of true racism in quite some time (probably the first time on this trip). Once the scrap was over, said rowdy feral locals stumbled into their cars and drove off (it appears drink driving isn’t a thing in feral land either). The weirdest thing is, all this end-of-night activity actually occurred about 8.30pm!!!! Ho Hum.

During this leg of the trip, we stopped off at as many of Australia’s beaches as possible, and I must say, I can definitely see what the fuss is about. East coast beaches in Oz have consistently been pretty fabulous; long stretches of sand both along the coast and towards the sea, impeccably clean, and great facilities. It’s a real shame that camping is prohibited at most otherwise we’d have a consistent spot outside all of them up the whole east coast. Ive managed to get a few good runs in along the beaches en route which has been great! My barefoot skills have definitely dwindled somewhat though; the exfoliation from the sand on my feet has made them as soft as baby’s bums after months of toughening them up from rebelling against shoes almost permanently!

Around 1500km north of Sydney, we reached the legendary town of Byron Bay. I can definitely see why this place is so popular; it oozes chilled hippy beach vibe from every pore. We ended up spending a few days here but could have easily made that weeks if we had the time! The weather wasn’t really on our side most of the time, but we got to enjoy sunsets over the beach, some great views across the bay, and the absolute highlight was the sea kayaking expedition we did! We spent a good 3 hours out on the water with our group, and got to see a pod of dolphins surfing the waves just ahead of us. Sadly I didn’t get any great photos of this (this is the best I got) but what a great thing to experience! We can also now both say we kayaked around the most eastern point of Australia. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t really want to leave Byron, but we booked heaps of fun stuff for the next leg of our trip, and there was plenty more to see further north! 

We were also really fortunate to catch up with some mates we made in Vietnam, who lived in Brisbane. We met Gemma and Eric whilst out on our boat tour of Ha Long Bay, and instantly hit it off. I think Kelly and Gemma bonded strongly over their mutual dislike for the drunken northerner we had to endure on our boat. Gemma very kindly offered to house us whilst we were in Brisbane, and was an awesome tour guide too! We spent 3 days with these guys exploring the local area. The outskirts of Brisbane are pretty beautiful, you definitely don’t feel like you’re so close to a city! The city itself is tiny in comparison to others we have seen. Although we didn’t get to go in and explore the city Eric (our trusty chauffeur) gave us a quick drive through. After a day of exploring the surrounding areas, another day trying to explore the Tamborine Mountains (loads of roads and trails were still closed following the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie, donning the phrase #fuckyoudebbie for the rest of the trip), an evening playing drinking games, hours playing with their new pup Nala, walking between islands at low tide and cooking copious amounts of grub on the barbie we’d probably overstayed our welcome so continues north again. Guys it was great to see you both again, and we have to return the favour when you head to Blighty! To add to our Brisbane experience we also linked up with Kelly’s old school friend from Ireland, Marie, and her adorable family. It’s always nice to see how people live in areas we’re visiting, and this was no exception. I could definitely see myself living in a Brisbane suburb after the last few days around here.

So there you have it, over 2500km later we are only half way up the east coast! The next ten days we will be heading to Cairns, with a quick stop off en route to explore the Whitsundays, jump out of a plane at 15000ft, snorkel around the barrier reef and spend a day in a rainforest. No biggie 😳

Sydney- A Family Affair

After an awesome week in Melbourne with some great friends, we were off to see Kelly’s family in Sydney. They moved here about 9 years ago, and whist Kelly has seen them during that time, she hasn’t seen her mum in 3 years and her dad in 6, so this was a well deserved catch up to say the least!

But first, we had to get there….

We decided to sign up for relocation offers, which is exactly as it sounds, relocating a vehicle from one location to another. The basic premise is you pay next to nothing for the pleasure, and you’re given a time frame to drive from A to B. Simple right? Look what we ended up with! Ladies and gents, meet Bertha.

To say this vehicle was an upgrade to Leeroy, our home in New Zealand, would be a massive understatement! Bertha came equipped with a proper Inbuilt shower and toilet unit, a full size kitchen, enough space to sleep 6 people, the works! Apparently Bertha was the most expensive vehicle they had in the fleet, and would have retailer or over $200k brand new and well over $200 a day to lease. For this relocation, we paid $5 a day…

There are really two options when driving from Melbourne to Sydney, drive the short and dull inland road, or drive the considerably longer coastal road. We did the math, and worked out we should have plenty of time to drive the coastal route and still make it to the drop off on time. What’s the point in doing something like this if you don’t get to see any sites eh?

So off we set, on our 1500km journey, with effectively 3 days to do it in. 

Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side. We spent the first day driving through some monsterous forestry and woodland areas, but also through one hell of a storm. The whole day was wet, miserable, and overcast! Because of this, we didn’t make it quite as far as expected, so ended up camping in the middle of one of said forests, only leaving the vehicle to turn on the gas, before hunkering down within Bertha. The following day we had agreed to make it to Jervis Bay, an area known around the world for having some of the whitest sand on the planet! Before we could dip our toes in the crystal clear water though, we had to drive the best part of 800km! So, we set off at 7am, and didn’t arrive until sunset. Fortunately, the weather was glorious most of the day, so we did get some pretty awesome views along the route. However, when we arrived, it became apparent our planned destination was going to cost around $90 to stay at, due to national holiday fees, said establishment being on a national park, and the size of Bertha, so we ventured further up the coast of the bay. Sadly this resulted in further rank weather setting in (and darkness, go figure), resulting in another let down! To make matters worse, we discovered that the shower was actually broken in Bertha (the sliding doors were totally knackered) and the cupboards containing ALL our stuff had jammed shut, and would simply not open! This may not seem like that big a deal, but when your whole life is in a bag, to say it’s a bit of a pain in the arse is a slight understatement!

The next morning was exactly the same; minging wet and cold, to the extent where we abandoned the planed beach walk, and continued our so far laborious journey to Sydney. The final leg should have been short and relatively easy drive up the coast. Somehow though, we only made it to the drop off point 10 minutes before the deadline at 3pm! Considering we pretty much only stopped for lunch this is still a total mystery to us.

But we made it! 1200km driven in 3 days, in about 22 hours of driving! Bertha, you were both great and a grumpy shit. Sadly we won’t be able to afford anything like that quality of vehicle again on the trip, but living the life of quasi-opulence for a few days was rather nice I guess.

So kids, lessons learned for this kind of trip like this. Check how long the route will take and add at least 20% on top, CHECK THE WEATHER before you set off, work out if you will actually get to stop anywhere en route, and figure out if you’ll actually save any cash doing it (we didn’t really). 

AANNNYWAY

The reason we did such an epic drive in such a short space to time, was so we could suprise Kelly’s parents. We had planned to arrive 3 days later, but Kelly had decided probably 7 months ago she wanted to suprise them. So after the dropping the vehicle off, we headed straght to the surgery where Angie (Kelly’s Mum) is a practice nurse. After contacting reception, getting the ladies on the desk in on the act, and basically booking a fake appointment, we eagery awaited her mum to enter the room. The reaction was absolutely textbook! The scream Angie let off was like a sonic boom, and must have scared the crap out of everyone else at the practice, but we did it! Following this, the suprise for Eugene (her Dad) followed, when we jumped through the front door of their flat. So the suprise worked; what a result! 

The next few days were spent with Angie and Eugene. We didn’t really do much, but that was great! After the best part of 6 years, there was obivously a lot to catch up on, and just spending time with each other was more important than being active. Kelly’s parents were very sweet, and had the Xmas tree up waiting for us, as we hadn’t really celebrated Xmas whilst in Thailand. To top this off, because we had arrived for Easter weekend (apparently, I had no idea of this) we had a combined Xmas/Easter lunch, and an Easter egg hunt (which I must say, Kelly took FAR too seriously). A great weekend all round really (with a little too much over indulgence on food, drink, and chocolates)…

A week of celebrations

We had quite a bit to celebrate whilst being here though. Kelly’s parents had recently renewed their vows, we hadn’t seen them since getting engaged (now over a year ago, how time flies when you’re having fun), my 30th/Kelly’s 30th (in August), and her parents 60th birthdays which sadly we’d miss. Because of this, we decided to book a few days away in the Hunter Valley, which is only about a 3 hour drive from the city.

Wow, what a stunning place! We booked into Hunter Valley Resort after finding a Groupon deal (another tip for Aus; abuse Groupon!) for a night of accommodation and a few activities. We all enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting when staying at a vineyward, learning about the vines and the history of the vineyard/surrounding area, and had some great food alongside the wonderful vino. The night we arrived, we were advised to go for a short walk away from the vineyard, as it was very common to see Kangaroos at dusk. I’m so glad we listened! Less than 1km from our accomodation was a huge group of Roo’s, all quietly hopping around rummaging for food. I said that whilst in Oz, I was adamant I’d catch them in the wild, and now I can tick that box! 

After a couple of days of over-indulgence (again), we headed back to Sydney to continue our antics. 

Kelly and I are massive Rugby fans. We were lucky enough to be at the local Super Rugby derby whilst in Dunedin, New Zealand, and as there was a match on in Sydney whilst we were there, we felt this was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s safe to say, Angie and Eugene are some of the least sports orientated people I know, and between them probably couldn’t differenciate between a ruck and a maul, try and conversion, but regardless we dragged them along as well. After an enjoyable journey to the ground with Kelly perfecting her ‘idiots guide to egg ball chasing’ we had an enjoyable match. 

To makes things even better, we met up with an old mate from uni who we haven’t seen in over 7 years! For those of you who remember Spock from Ruskin days, you’ll be glad to know he’s not changed THAT much since uni days.What was somewhat suprising though is Angie and Eugene seemed to not only enjoy the match, but actually GOT IT as well! 10 points to Kelly for exceptional describing clearly.

As mentioned earlier, Kelly and I got engaged just over year ago. Because we’ve been on the road for over 7 months now, it’s undertandable to say we’ve put wedding plans on the back burner (they never really even made it onto the burner but..) until we get home. Regardless, we wanted Angie and Eugene to have some level of involvement in the process, so booked onto the Sydney Bridal exhibition the day after arriving home from the Valley. Now, my plan was to let Kelly and Angie go off and look at dresses, whilst myself and Eugene looked at wedding cars, sound systems, and venues, but this failed completely. We spent the whole day at the show, because there was just so much to see! We even got the floodgates to open from both parents when discussing venues in Bali (seriously, there’s some stunners there that are so much cheaper than UK venues). We hadn’t planned on spending the whole day, as Kelly and I were off to the City for a night of partying with Tim and Steph, to celebrate her 30th, but we did..

We may have been a tad late for them, but this didn’t matter too much. After one of the best meals i’ve had since leaving the UK at Big Poppas in central Sydney, we spent the night partying, enjoying high class tequila with Moet chasers (yep, this is now a thing), dancing in birdcages in Gay bars, and embracing our inner youth through pillow fights and jumping on the bed till 5am back at their hotel. Needless to say, we did the 30th right, and definitly paid for it the next day. I’ve also 100% confirmed I no longer want to wear jeans or shoes. Yet again, Tim and Steph, you guys are amazing! Thanks for another amazing night, and another monster hangover.

To finish off the week of fun and frollics, we met up with Kelly’s cousins who again, we haven’t seen for 6 years! Last time we were in Sydney, we took the boys Matt and Ryan to the Ashes, but they were just kids! This time, Lauren is 19 and working full time, Matt was about to take his driving test, and Ryan was in his mid teens, and gearing up to take his GCSE equivalent! As ever, it was lovely seeing them again, and for the Sweeney’s it was a very rare occasssion having all the family (or nearly all the family) together. Annoyingly, we got so caught up in conversation we didn’t get a photo (sorry Tricia). These separate photos will have to do though. 

At this point, I thought the week of family fun was over, but Kelly and Angie had different ideas. They’d arranged to go wedding dress ‘trying’ for a day. This obviously is a proper right of passage for mother and daughter, but as we live the other side of the world this was one of the only opportunities for this to happen. However, what I didn’t expect was for them to BUY a dress! Obviously I know nothing of the details of said dress, but I do know lots of tears were shed, and regardless ofthe number of dresses tried on, this was ‘the one’. Guess we should probably start planning the actual wedding now that a dress is bought!

Fun with old friends

It feels like we have managed to meet up with people in the majority of places we’ve been, but Australia has raised the bar on this yet again, and Sydney was certainly no exception. We’ve literally dedicated a week to meeting up with people! It seems like the majority of Ireland emigrated to Oz about 6 years ago, so Kel has a few mates out here, as do I. On Anzac Day, we met up with (another) Kelly, one of her oldest friends from school. We were quickly given an introduction into an Australian past time, 2up. It’s literally a coin toss on steroids (+alcohol) that people bet on. I managed to win $20 over the duration of the day, so I was happy. Apparently it gets so heated, this game is illegal every other day apart from Anzac. We were given a tour of Bondi, and the lovely Watsons Bay, which i’d highly recommend visiting if you get the chance whilst in Sydney. 

We also got to frequent her 30th birthday in central Sydney, which came rather close to being a very long and heavy night (as I understand, this is pretty commonplace when Kelly McD is involved), but we managed to escape around 1am. We met some awesome people, and Kelly had told all her mates about her oldest school friend making an appearance, which was lovely and super welcoming. 

To add to the Irish caucus, we spent an evening with Niamh (pronounced more like neeve), another school friend from the land of the spud huggers. We spent the evening touring the Rocks, and Circular Quay, enjoying the famous sights of Sydney. Kelly and I last saw Naimh in 2005, so as you can imagine, we had a huge amount to catch up on! 

Next it was my turn to see old faces! We linked up with Lou, a (sort of) colleague from Uni days. Lou used to work for the Students’ Union when I worked for the Uni, but she was also my running buddy and (gossip fiend) whilst we worked at the same time. We had a great day at Manly doing a coastal walk, and met up again to go for a run (and gossip obviously), for old times sake.

Finally, meeting up with Spock on numerous occassions. Spock went off the radar somewhat when he moved over here, but we’ve stayed in touch from time to time via email etc. But catching up with him was literally like jumping back in time, absolutely nothing had changed, and we were all more than happy chatting utter shite like we used to all night long. We eneded up meeting up about 4 times, and finally got to meet his wonderful lady Sam. If you guys are reading this, thanks so much for such great evenings and even better company. Spock, she’s a keeper, take good care of her! It’s great to see you both doing so well and loving life so much.

So there we have it; 3 weeks in Sydney. It’s been so nice being with the inlaws, I have no idea how they put up with me for 3 weeks, but we all survived! Angie and Eugene, thanks for having us and thanks for everything you’ve done for us whilst we’ve been here. 

Now, we have another 3 weeks to explore the rest of the east coast in a camper again! If anyone has any must see places on the east coast to Cairns, let us know!

Why I’m done with Tripadvisor

I’m sure i’m not alone here. Normally before going anywhere, I’ll look at consumer feedback. In the normal day to day world this is just totally commonplace for me and many others. For example when looking to buy a product for coming on this trip, I consulted Amazon (where most of my purchasing was undertaken), and took the obvious advice of the thousands that purchased similar products ahead of me. We’re hardly talking about quantum mechanics here are we; this is now what i’d classify as basic consumer behavior surely?

I used to apply similar logic to locations, restaurants, and attractions, primarily using Tripadvisor. I should say now, i’ve been a user of tripadvisor for a number of years, and got quite into reviewing basically every place I ever stepped foot in. The digital badges they apply to their members activity were for some reason a driving force for me (I’m a level 6 contributor apparently, with some other shite that means very little to most of humanity…), and what have I gained from all this? Absolutely nothing…

At times particularly back home, Tripadvisor was really quite useful, I definitely won’t deny that. There’s been occassions where a previous guest at a hotel i’m staying at has advised on a floor to avoid, or side of the building to try and stay on for city views, restaurants who advise the gluten free options are lacking at certain restaurants, an almost mandating recommendation for a certain cut of steak, or the obvious “This place is crap, just avoid it” which is obviously appreciated, but whilst backpacking this just isn’t the case!

I don’t know if it’s the type of places we frequent now, or the fact i’m now the other side of the world, or the changes that have been made to Tripadvisors UI, or all of the above, but it’s just been useless on this trip. I gave up on a system I used to have as my first port of call almost from the offset of this trip. Here’s what’s bugged me about it all.

You’re probably being conned

Tripadvisor offer a business listing package, enabling establishments to drive up their reputation, visilibity, and general traffic. On the opposite side of this, unless you pay a large subscription to Tripadvisor, you can’t even request things to be removed, regardless of their slanderous nature!

How they calculate the ranking of establishments

Tripadvisor obviously works on a 5* ranking system like so many other sites. This is simple, intuitive, and just makes sense. HOWEVER, Tripadvisor seem to work on an interesting algorythm for calculating rankings. Let me explain deeper.

Venue A has 5 reviews, all of which are 5*, therefore this venue has 100% 5* reviews.

Venue B has 100 reviews, has 50 5* reviews, 30 4*, 20 3*, and 10 1*.

You can always assume that 10% of the population are going to just moan, so this isn’t out of the ordinary. I’m sure you can see from this simple example that 50% of these 100 reviews are 5*, etc etc etc.

Now by my logic, which may be flawed of course, I would assume this rating system should take into consideration the number of ratings too, rather than just the proportion of ratings at a certain level. This is just bonkers to me, and has often skewed the rankings for places i’ve been (location based rankings in particular can be thrown off massively here)!

People are moany bastards

Especially this side of the pond, people seem to only use systems like Tripadvisor to have a bitch and moan. I’m definitely one to have the odd rant myself, but i’ve done some profile stalking ahead of writing this, just to see if i’m waffling or not (still undecided to be honest), and the amount of people on Tripadvisor who have only 1* restaurants and hotels is quite alarming! Sadly, people have now realised if they bad mouth a restaurant online, sometimes they’ll get another meal free. I’ve seen this before, where restaurants try and redeem their bad review by getting another chance, of course, free of charge. My friends back home working in hospitality can spot you from a mile off, if you’re thinking of trying this by the way.

Your option matters, others don’t all the time

What I think is great, someone else will probably think is shite. I’ve found this so many times on Tripadvisor in particular, but also when using others blogs for travel research. I remember going to a restaurant in Greece with my family because someone said the seafood was amazing, and it was a total let down! The following night we went to a hilltop restaurant with fairly average reviews and all had outstanding food and equally good service.

At the end of the day, it’s bloody obvious if a place is going to be great, or terrible. Look for large volume customers, and very obvious swings towards 4 and 5*, rather than the terrible ranking system I mentioned earlier…

The use is totally sporadic

This is particularly prevalent in south East Asia, where we found waaaaaay more places to eat and stay than on Tripadvisor (and booking sites like booking.com too!). Unless you’re looking at high end establishments, it’s kind of pointless looking online because there’s an abundance of places to get great grub as soon as you turn up wherever you’re going.

I DONT WANT WESTERN FOOD WHEN IN ASIA!!!

This I’ve found particularly prevalent whilst in Asia. Those restaurants that utilise Tripadvisor to drive western trade have fully Westernised their menus. This means 10 pages of Schnitzel, burgers, pizzas, chips, and battered crap. Not only is this completely the opposite from what i’m looking for when away, but the quality is nearly always sub standard from my experience, and again, why would you travel to a culinary capital of the world and eat food you can get back home?

It’s constantly trying to rip me off

Yeah I get it, the company need to make money; totally understandable. But for ‘things to do’ the deals they offer on certain activities are just OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE! Seriously, i’ve just had a look around Sydney things to do, and FREE activities are being charged at $30+ for tours. Sorry, not going for that! After reading some other posts, it seems that the company Tripadvisor use to book trips and packages is actually a subsidiary, charges around 20-30% commission, and accepts no liability for things that go with the final booking.

It kinda takes away from the fun

I’ll admit, i’ve only just realised this really. I’m a planner, have always been a planner, and probably always will be, but on this trip I’ve really got into the habit o just rocking up somewhere, going for a wander, seeing where there’s a buzz, asking around, and winging it..

Just follow the locals!

Without a doubt, this is the preferred method now. Arrive at your home for the night, ask the staff what’s good, within your budget etc, and go from there. You’ll also see very quickly the popular places around, and those that are empty, or full of tourists. I know where i’d rather eat.

And what about accommodation?

Tripadvisor hasn’t really been my go to place for accommodation for some time, it’s just not what I perceive Tripadvisor as being about (although they are trying). Regardless of what system you use though, just remember, PEOPLE USE THESE SYSTEMS TO HAVE A MOAN, AND PROBABLY HAVE DIFFERENT PERCEPTIONS OF QUALITY TO YOU! I must confess, I have become a HUGE fan of couchsurfing now, not because it’s free, but because you get a PROPER experience of local culture. Some of the best experiences we’ve had on this trip have been through Couchsurfing (street cricket in India anyone??). In this instance the consumer feedback is very useful (for example the sheer number of guests a host has had is a quick way to tell their not a complete tool).

Sorry, this probably isn’t the most helpful blog i’ll ever write, but I felt the need to rant. Best advice, just follow your own nose and make your own decision.

Think I’m having a rant, i’m not the only one clearly. Check out this article that’s saying similar things. 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

Melbourne- Getting by with a little help from my friends 

“Here’s to tall ships. Here’s to small ships. Here’s to all the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships so here’s to you and me.” Irish proverb

One of my favourite things about travelling is the people, without a doubt. We’ve met some absolutely awesome people in every country who have inspired us, guided us, supported us, excited us, made us laugh, made us cry, and generally made our trip so unforgettable. Many of the people we’ve met we probably won’t see again, but we now have friends on all continents, so who knows, our paths may cross again. People say the world is a small place, and we’ve realised how true this is on so many occasions! I’ve bumped into an old school friend by chance at a bar in New Zealand, met a couple from Colchester in Vietnam, who’s parents live in the village next to mine, and a guy from Cambridge who worked with two of our closest friends, on a tiny island in Fiji! Seriously, what are the chances? We’ve obviously made some great friends for life too, who we will be seeing without question again (yes Mat and Sofi, this does mean a trip to Chile), but it’s always so sad saying goodbye to the people you just gel with, especially as someone is always moving on in this nomadic lifestyle.

But conversely, perhaps one of the best things is meeting up with old friends; reuniting with people from the old days or those you simply haven’t seen for too long. We’ve been so lucky so far to travel alongside old friends for much of the trip, and when we arrived to Australia the only real plan we had was to meet up with these people!

We arrived into Australia in Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 2am. After a night slumming it in a cheap ass hostel (still £40, that would have got us 5* in Asia😡) we got in touch with Tim and Steph. We’ve met up with these guys in 80% of the counties we’ve frequented, and by chance they have based themselves in Melbourne! Tim is now working for Rome2Rio and Steph was about to start a consultancy role in the city. These guys were yet again absolute legends. We arrived at their place to be greeted with a table laid for a roast dinner (our first in over six months!), and the offer for us to stay with them! We’ve done quite a bit of travel with these guys so we get on really well. It’s so nice to have some normality restored In a new city, but also to hang out with familiar faces again! The building they lived in also had a gym and a pool, which we took full advantage of! Every time we meet up though, we seem to end up getting shit faced, and this was no shift from the status quo. After a beautiful roast lamb (cooked on the barbie of course), we got the Lonely Planet tour of the city from our local guides, before heading to the cider and wine festival on the river! I mean, what are the chances this would be on whilst we arrive! The city at night is just as beautiful as parts of London with back alley streets similar to Brighton. The word “artisan” springs to mind at nearly every turn down these lanes, with hipster coffee and brioche burgers lining most stores. The thing that Melbourne is really famous for though is the fantastic array of street art that’s literally everywhere to see. Seriously, we’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff so far on this trip, but the street art we saw in Melbourne took gold, silver and bronze! What’s really cool is there are some streets that apparently evolve monthly with new works; id love to see this in action!

We had a week planned for Melbourne, and lots to see! We spent our time exploring the cities suburbs, back alleys and main sights. This is definitely a nice city to just wander around. There’s a really interesting mix of old school buildings clearly from Victorian rule, modern high rise buildings and old school shop fronts. There’s obviously a massive foodie culture here too (which makes me very happy) with huge Greek and Chinese quarters offering a wonderful variety of treats, as well as one of the best food markets I’ve ever been to. The street art again was out on full show for us, and is even more impressive during the day! Alleys like this attract hoards of millennials to get that perfect Instagram photo, but I just wanted to snap the art. 

We hadn’t realised, but the Melbourne comedy festival was on when we arrived! Hundreds of venues offered tons of comedians over two weeks, we had far too much to choose from! We ended up meeting one of the comedians, a guy called Jeeves Verma who was bloody hilarious! His whole sketch was based around his life growing up in an Indian family, which really reminded us of our time in India staying with families in Jaipur and Bombay. We could have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for shows as there was just so much on!

We were also super lucky to end up seeing the Book of Mormon whilst we were here. The two of us and Steph entered into a lottery to get half price tickets. Sadly we didn’t win but Steph kindly donated hers to us as she’s seen it already. Wow, I had heard it was a funny show, but we were in absolute stitches from start to finish! We ended up with front row centre seats too, so I got to perv with all the musical equipment under the stage too! Seriously, if you aren’t easily offended, go see this show immediately! 

Our whole time in Melbourne wasn’t a cultural furore, we did some boring stuff too! One of our favourite ways to experience a city is to just wander around. Melbourne is perfect for this with a huge variety of districts each with their own flair. We spent a day chilling at Brighton Beach with Steph enjoying the vibrant (and sometimes eccentric) beach huts, before walking to St Kilda, another beach side district. The walk itself was absolutely lovely and it was great to see the Australian outdoor ethos so alive, with so many people out and about running, cycling, roller skating, or chasing their dogs; definitely a place I could see myself enjoying more. We even managed to spot a pod of dolphins as we walked along the coast. We also spent a day enjoying the botanical gardens with a picnic by the river. The punting on offer was somewhat unexpected and obviously reminded us of Cambridge, but we avoided this due to the excessive cost! The gardens themselves are stunning and vast! We spent a good 4 hours exploring the different parts of them and enjoying the natural flora and fauna. It’s so nice to be somewhere so peaceful whilst being so close to the city. 

I started this blog by talking about meeting up with old friends. We weren’t done with just Tim and Steph that’s for sure! We spent the evening before the comedy show with our old uni friend Izzy. She’s been on the move for the best part of 4 years now. Her travel photos were one of my main points of inspiration for this trip and definitely gave us a few must see spots on the route. Izzy has been Melbourne for the past 6 months and is working as a video producer. She took us to a very quirky bar hidden down a dark alley behind some bins. Without her I definitely wouldn’t have known it was there! This place felt like walking straight back to Dalston, where you get cocktails served in vintage tea pots, the the music is all played from a gramophone, and beard oil and tattoo sleeves are more commonplace than anything else. We spent the whole evening until the show just chatting about our trips and Uni times. It’s great to reflect on all the amazing things we’ve done with a fellow traveler, as you can easily forget all the mini things that can easily make an adventure.

I can’t mention Izzy without mentioning her epic adventure doing rural work for her 3 months. Most people just end up picking fruit; that sort of thing. Izzy made a snap decision to book a one way flight to Sydney after breaking up with her long term boyfriend, to work as a cowgirl at a massive cattle farm! The stories she was telling us were mystifying, terrifying, and upsetting at times, but wow what an adventure! She ended up being at the ranch for 6 months, and by the sounds of it would go back in a heartbeat! Seriously mate, if you’re reading this, sell your story and make a movie!

We also ended up meeting up with Jennifer, a family friend of Kelly’s. These guys haven’t actually seen each other for 17 years, but it was like they saw each other yesterday! That’s when you know you’ve got a good friend, regardless of how long you’ve not seen each other it’s just like old times. We ended up being out until about 2am with them at a local club (well, sort of club) in a suburb outside the city centre. Jen, it was lovely to meet you, and we may well take you up on that offer of the South of France! 

To finish off our time in South Australia, we headed out to the Yarra Valley to meet up with an old school friend Rachel. Rach and I have a number of mutual friends, we’ve worked at the same restaurants, and went to the same school, but didn’t really become that close until a couple of years back. We ended up spending a day kayaking 8 miles, dragging a boat across a field, running away from cows, and sliding down reservoirs. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, and it definitely was!

Rachel has been living in the Yarra Valley for a few years now, and has made quite a name for herself at the Cherry Orchard she works for as marketing director. Since being there, she’s introduced a number of awesome cherry drinks including a knockout cider, a damn tasty cherry Weiss beer, and a couple of super healthy cherry drinks. This has sent her all across Australia and even across Asia selling her products. Anyway….

We spent a day exploring the cherry farms and learning about how it all works, followed by a cheeky tour of a local vineyard Rachel also works at. The Yarra valley is synonymous with excellent wines, and I can see how it’s gained this reputation! All the wines, from Shiraz to Chardonnay were sublime! It’s a good thing I don’t live here as I’d become a full blown wino! I must say though, the views across the valley are truly stunning! Sadly, the weather was against us for the duration of the time we were there, so we just HAD to stay in, sample more local wines, eat awesome food (thanks Rach) and chat utter bollocks for hours on end. To be honest, it was just what we needed, and really felt like home! Rach, it was awesome to catch up after so long of talking about it. It was great to finally meet Alex too, he’s alright I suppose 😉. 

So as you can see, our time in Melbourne was absolutely fuelled by friends. It was such a joy to see so many familiar faces. As ever Tim and Steph properly sorted us out and were outstanding hosts. We can’t thank you enough for your hospitality yet again! You guys really are legends and have become such a key part to so many memories on this year away. Also thanks for the extreme workouts in the gym, I think Kelly has only just stopped aching!

Steph, this is my new motto for fitness now!
Melbourne, you’re bloody awesome! I loved the chilled out vibe, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the beer, the teams, and definitely the culture. If the rest of Oz is like this the next few weeks are going to be a treat!

So now onto our next part of our trip, a drive up the coastal road to Sydney, all 1500km of it! Friends, say hello to BERTHA!!