Kuala Lumpur- A melting pot of culture

It’s funny, when we look back over the countries we’ve visited, the consistent feeling we’ve had in capital cities is we don’t really like them all that much. That feeling of ever so slight anxiety I recall from London commuting, constant sensory overload and claustrophobia on public transport feels like such a distant memory, until you enter a capital city. Bangkok is quite simply bat shit crazy, and cities like Delhi are just such an assault on the senses. The great thing about cities though sadly don’t outweigh the bad things from my perspective, but it’s always worth at least experiencing them for a couple of days just to get a feel for the place. So when we arrived to Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur, we weren’t particularly excited about the prospect of another mega city. I’d heard all the things about the airport being a total monster, but I hadn’t prepared for it clearly! 

KL airport is like no other airport in Asia I’ve seen. It’s a shiny glistening city, rammed full of commuters traveling all over the world, absolutely jam packed full of shops (there’s a mall comparable with a Westfield inside the airport), and more importantly, everything was just so damn easy! I remember on a connecting flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, we made our check in with 4 minutes to spare thanks to a shocking passport check process, but KL was totally the opposite experience. Everything from buying a local sim, to getting a taxi to the city was a total doddle! This ease of movement continued into the city too, where the metro is dead simple and studiously cheap! 

What definitely made things easier though was meeting a friend we made in Hanoi back in November. Cadmon happened to be flying to Hong Kong for a concert that same night so caught up with us at arrivals. After a quick hello and goodbye we were in a cab to the city, with a vague idea what we were doing, where we were going, and a plan to link up with Cadmon later in the week. 

We decided to stay in the Bukit Bintang district of the city and I’m so glad we did! This area was an easy walking distance from so many attractions and areas defined as ‘must see’ in KL, as well as hundreds of opportunities to sample the famous food of Malaysia (and particularly KL). The food here is a wonderful mix of Indian, Chinese, Thai and the home grown Malay, totally in line with the culture and population. I’ve never seen a place that is so multicultural but more importantly, beautifully integrated multiculturalism. I didn’t get any impression that there were issues with so many cultures living intertwined unlike sadly, we see all too often in the UK (especially if you read the daily mail). It really doesn’t matter where you are in KL you see examples of this; from the Indian/Asian fusion food on the streets, to the general feeling throughout the streets. We saw a mosque next to a Catholic Church, next to a Hindu temple on one street, turned a corner and you’d see a beautiful government building with Islamic architecture mixed with Colonial British influence, aided by a impeccably manicured cricket pitch and pavilion. It’s such a weird yet wonderful mix that you see throughout the city. 

The food is legendary in Malaysia and I can totally see why! Firstly, it’s everywhere you turn, and such a huge part of Malaysian culture. The streets have a constant aroma of Indian spices (it really made me feel like I was back in India), the constant percussive beat of wok’s making amazing stir fries, the smell of BBQ satay and fresh fish, and sadly durian. They bloody love durian here, and unfortunately it kind of smells like a mix of a bin that’s insides are rotting in direct sunlight, and vomit. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this wonderful culinary hybrid and ate our way around the city joyfully (but avoiding durian). If you come to KL, the tourist street food spot is called Jalan Alor and is well worth a look at night. I can’t comment on any restaurants (like proper restaurants, with napkins and silver polished cutlery etc) but I can say all of the street food restaurants (with plastic tables and chairs, plastic forks and plates, and fairly in/out service) were sublime! 

Like with any city, different districts have very different feels. We spent a day walking around the city (getting very weird looks from locals as most people don’t seem to walk around much due to the heat, which is pretty intense) just exploring the different areas. It’s incredible how much change there can be between Chinatown and little India, which are literally a ten minute walk apart. Chinatown obviously felt similar to many others all around the world, but with a market selling fake EVERYTHING that made me feel like I was back in Bangkok. A short trot down a busy road, and you enter little India, where buildings are painted with the most vibrant colours imaginable, statues of Ganesh and Brama are all over the place, the air is perfumed with Hindu incense, and the shops belt loud Bhangra music across the road like their having a decibel battle; just like being back in India, but with considerably less chaos. It was such a nice reminder of all the things I loved about India, with the subtle removal of the things I didn’t love so much! To follow this all up, we walked to the national mosque and surrounding areas. Sadly we couldn’t enter as we were here during Eid, but just being able to check out the mosque from afar was good enough. For the rest of the day, we explored the district around the mosque, housing a number of government buildings, the worlds largest outdoor bird sanctuary, a few more temples, a botanical gardens and a planetarium. What really astounded me was the cleanliness of this area. The pavements and roads were immaculate; so alien for most of what we’ve seen in other Asian capitals. Many of the buildings followed the architectural style of Islamic/colonial British we spotted earlier, and the area felt eerily quiet, mainly due to the Islamic celebrations. Combine all of these things and you could definitely question if you were still in Asia, all of this was just so alien to another places we’ve been! 

To finish off our day exploring we went to see the iconic Petronas Towers, the highest twin towers in the world. These buildings are absolutely stunning, I can see why they are so iconic now! At night, they illuminate and sparkle like diamonds, visible across the whole city. Underneath the towers is yet another monster shopping mall, leading outside to a beautifully landscaped garden and lake area. Walk through the other end of the mall and continue walking for ten or so minutes along the skywalk, and you enter time square, absolutely filled with designer stores ranging from Prada to Hugo Boss. This part of KL reminded me so much of the opulent areas of Dubai. This kind of over polished and shopping centric way of life is so far removed from my day to day it’s unbelievable: people were spending more on handbags and watches in the ten minutes I walked down that road than we’ve spent in a few months in Asia! Still, it’s nice to see how the other half live I suppose. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb in my £2 singlet and grubby shorts though 🤣.  

As with any place you visit, it’s almost mandatory to visit the touristy stuff, especially as it’s free! I think it’s safe to say there’s not that much really historical stuff in KL apart from the Batu caves, so off we went to see them. Sadly from our perspective we both felt totally underwhelmed (sorry KL). Don’t get me wrong, the outside is pretty impressive, but the caves themselves and the temples inside just didn’t blow us away as much as expected, or anywhere near as much as some of the Hindu temples in India. I appreciate thisbprobably sounds very spoiled, but for us it’s the truth. There’s lots of work going on there now too, in an attempt to ‘jazz up’ the surrounding area which for us just felt fake too. But again, it’s one of those things you’ve got to do and we did it, and it was free, so nothing lost. 

As I mentioned earlier, we had agreed to link up with Cadmon again whilst in KL. We spent a quality day with him exploring the non tourist areas of KL. The day started off with a trip to a Chinese/Malay food market for breakfast, where we got to experience some PROPER local grub, costing all of about £2. We’ve definitely found here (as well as many other countries) the best trick in the book for saving money is to avoid restaurants and eat with the locals, and this summed it up beautifully! Ordering was a bit of a challenge as no signs were in English and many people surprisingly didn’t speak English (in Malaysia it seems like the vast majority do) but the battle was sooo worth it! Following this, Cadmon drove us out towards Cyberjaya to see some of the lesser known areas and buildings. We got to explore one of the biggest mosques out of central KL, and saw some stunning buildings including the presidential offices, a monsterous building that really stood out around the others in the area. I’m so glad we got to see these other areas that were so different from the main body of KL we’d witnessed thus far. After stopping for lunch to have one of my new favourites, vegetable pandan thali (and selection of vegetarian curries, dhal, breads and chutneys served on a banana leaf) and a cheeky beer whilst watching the lions, we finished off a cracking day with some real icing on the cake, a pint on a helipad at dusk! It’s not often you get do to something like this, and doing so in KL whilst overlooking the Petronas towers and KL Tower was simply awesome! I guess the company was okay too ☺️. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we both got tattoos too! 

I’ve wanted a forearm piece for ages, but have been undecided on what for ages (as well as being fairly apprehensive about a visible piece day to day, but oh well). After a lot of searching, we found a tattoo studio very highly recommended (and with a huge portfolio of stunning inkwork) called bloody ink, situated a ten minute walk from our hotel in a small shopping mall. This mall was so different to the others in KL; feeling more like an old school bazaar, with stalls selling everything from cheap knock off goods to smartphones, tattoos to manicures. The mall still allows smoking inside, isn’t even remotely polished, and has a food court upstairs that I don’t think any other backpackers have ever entered, but that’s all part of the charm. Down one end of a small alley in said mall, are a number of tattoo stores; we definitely picked the best! 

I decided to get a piece to commemorate the memories and challenges of this trip. Hanzhi, my artist, was awesome at really taking on board what I was after, and after a bit of redesign work he produced this freehand!

I couldn’t be happier, the detail he’s managed to squeeze in is so much more than I ever expected, and he’s absolutely nailed the brief! To add to all this, I shared my new piece of ink of Reddit, and it totally exploded! At time of writing this has over 250000 views, nearly 300 comments and over 16000 upvotes, making it to the front page (in Reddit terms, this is a big deal). I’m just glad people like it! Kelly went for something totally different. She’s become obsessed with diving on this trip, and counts herself as a bit of a mermaid at the best of times (oh, and she loves Disney stuff), so got herself a constant reminder of her times under water and got a watercolour mermaid. After much deliberation on colour or not, and more importantly watercolour or not she went for it, and 3-4 hours later this was the outcome. I’m sure you’ll agree her artist Miiaow did a cracking job too! 

So that’s our time in KL done! I can definitely say this is my favourite capital in Asia thus far, and I’m actually looking forward to going back. Special thanks to Cadmon for being such an awesome tour guide and friend (and driver especially when you bolted us to our bus with minutes to spare). 

Now onto Penang to explore some street art and to eat our way across it!

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). 

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 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 😳

NZ South Island: The Land of Exponential Beauty 

Nearly everyone I spoke to said “Just you wait”. To be honest I didn’t believe it. I was so blown away by the landscapes and scenery of the north island as well as everything else going on there, I simply couldn’t fathom anything more spectacular. 
I was wrong. I should have waited. I was blown away once more. Then again, and again, and again. 


When you hit the South Island, you’re greeted by a Jurassic park like experience almost immediately, sailing through what feels like an archipelago of ancient spiky islands jutting out the sea. Hats off to the captain of the massive transport ship, the route through the sea to Picton around these islands looks tightly squeezed, and requires pinpoint accuracy I’m sure, and is made even more fun when the weather isn’t on your side (as it wasn’t when we sailed). 

As with many places, New Zealand feels like a totally different place when the weather is bad, but here it seems almost multiplied. The place is so beautiful in the sun, but can seriously feel like a moment from a horror film when it’s bad, especially when tackling the windy dark roads (throw in a couple of sharp cliff edge drops around the mountains too and you’re definitely in a horror movie)! That’s what we endured the night we arrived in an attempt to make it to Nelson straight away off the boat, but due to conditions we had to opt for parking up at a rugby field instead. Unfortunately this end of the world feeling occurred a few times, the weather wasn’t always on our side, resulting in cancelled sky dives, and poor skies meaning star gazing in the dark sky reserve wasn’t possible 😡

The Towns and Cities 

One thing I didn’t expect here was how the towns and cities varied so much, and I definitely didn’t expect the huge level of Scottish influence into everything. This is far more commonplace down south towards Dunedin, but certainly permeates through most places we stopped. Nelson was a great place to start our southern adventure, a small town with a big attitude, we spent the morning enjoying the wonderful Saturday market, stocking up on all the seasonal produce we could before heading out to explore. As the craft beer capital of the island, this wasn’t particularly onerous 😜. The thing that got me about Nelson was the architecture; this was one thing we’d really have to get used to though. The whole town felt like something out of an American movie from the 50s purely down to the design of the town. Not only does it utilise a grid system and the buildings all follow that old school design, but it’s SO QUIET! I have been shocked in New Zealand how quiet the roads seem, but in cities it’s exactly the same. To put into context, I live near a town in the UK called Colchester and a little village called Dedham. Dedham is a tourist trap in the summer, and has genuinely taken me longer to drive through than it has some cities here! This has been a real surprise and treat for me, as the areas we’ve visited still feel totally alive, just without the stress of congestion. Keyword=BLISS!

Oh yeah, I discovered this guy too. Check out Evolving  Rhythms. This guy makes some beautiful music!

Whilst I say there’s primarily a strong Scottish influence here around the more built up areas, I must stress each area has a very distinct look and feel. Dunedin for example, was uber Scottish! This University city felt like driving into Edinburgh with the somewhat gothic buildings, the names of the streets, and the ever so slightly Scottish sounding locals (I later found out Dunedin is the only area in NZ with accent variance apparently). The BEST thing abot Dunedin though is the rugby. We managed to get to a super rugby match, a pretty special battle between the local Highlanders and the arch Christchurch rivals, the Crusaders. The match was one of the best I’ve seen live without a shadow of a doubt. The pace of play was staggering, as was the general quality of play. To top it off, we ended up with the match ball, which we had to sneakily stash away when exiting the stadium 🙄. 

ANYWAY….

Conversely, places like Greymouth on the West coast, or Invercargill on the South coast both oozed industrial; because of this they seemed quite harsh and cold. As with many places around the globe, the demise of fossil fuel industries often leaves places feeling somewhat stagnated. This is certainly the impression I got of these two towns, and in others that once thrived from gold mining it honestly felt like time just stopped (a prime example being Arrowtown, near Queenstown). Nothing seemed to be going on, or really on offer. The “hub” that’s so commonplace around Western towns didn’t seem to exist so we never really found the soul of these places. In invercargill, we both felt like outsiders in a very ‘interesting’ community, so immediately left. It definitely felt a little bit like this…

Thankfully, not everywhere was like this. You couldn’t be further from our invercargill experience when you hit Queenstown, obviously renowned for being a place to do ridiculous things like bungee jump and skydive, but there’s so much more to it than that. The area itself is truly stunning! Sat on a massive (and I mean massive) lake, the area feels like a beachside community where everyone is out to have the time of their lives. What I really loved about this city were the views of the mountains and the drives around the area (oh and Fergburger). Yes, there was loads of fun things to do, but for me the scenery was the true winner. We were very lucky to stay with an old friend from back home, his family and housemates, which gave us a good taste of life here. Something sadly I picked up on rather quickly we’re the strains people we’re under due to the ever so apparent gentrification of the area. As demand for property continues to increase, as does the price, those who live and work in queenstown (probably on minimum wage) are slowly priced out of the area. Without this huge workforce powering the machine that is queenstown tourism I’m not sure the whole system will function (and there ain’t exactly much around that’s for sure)! Only time will tell, but I expect the bubble will burst soon enough. 

To be honest there are places of equal beauty that are very much up and coming near Queenstown, for example, Wanaka. If you ever get a chance to visit this area, Wanaka should be a must see. It’s a beautiful and modern lakeside town, with a great atmosphere and generally a very cool vibe. We were sadly only here for a day but were lucky enough to stay on a vineyard, who i have to say made the best Pinot noir I had in New Zealand! Highly recommend a stop off here if you get he chance. 

Our whole New Zealand experience was pebbled with experienced like this. There are too many places to mention for sure, and you don’t travel to New Zealand for the towns and cities; as the title suggests, you travel here for the sights. 

The Landscapes 


It’s safe to say I’ve found myself saying wow more than ever. The title of this blog isn’t an exaggeration, there have honestly been times where I’m stunned by what’s in front of me, we’ve turned a corner, and I’m stunned even more! You just can’t fathom what you’re seeing here unless you’ve experienced it yourself. The South Island in particular is covered with these gargantuan mountain ranges that tower above you on both sides. What makes it even more impressive though is how rural everything still is. The South Island is vast, you can easily drive for a few hours and not see another living soul (apart from livestock obviously). There were genuinely areas where I don’t think I saw a house for 100k, and our tom tom was saying things like “in 255km, turn right”. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is it’s been preserved so nicely, and the shared values of conservation run through the entire kiwi culture. Because of this, everything is kept beautiful! 

As with the north island, my experience of New Zealand has shown me many new natural wonders. The big thing in the north was the geothermal activity, but down south it was the mountain ranges and glaciers and fjords that took your breath away. This place really is such a unique wonder; we literally went from exploring Milford sound in all its beauty on one day, and no more than 5 days later we were seeing the glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox.

One thing that really is quite distressing though is the amount of receding that’s occurred over the past 50 or so years, yet another example of the devastation we’re enforcing on this planet. A week later, we were at the base of mount cook, the highest point in New Zealand seeing more glaciers, including areas breaking off and running down the glacial river;so sad.  

As with anything really, there’s always got to be a negative. New Zealand is obviously no stranger to seismic activity, as has been clearly evidenced by some pretty monstrous earthquakes over the past decade. Kelly and I decided we needed to see the damage done and support the impacted communities so decided to finish up our trip by visiting Kaikoura before heading to Christchurch. Unfortunately, the main road running from the north of the island is still closed after the last major earthquake, and from the south was also closed thanks to a pretty major rock slide! This meant we had a 10 hour drive via the ‘inland road’, which was also pretty badly damaged in November. The windy, narrow, and barely paved road was certainly an experience, but we got to see some pretty awesome views we’d have otherwise missed. Arriving in kaikoura was quite a shock, with many shops, restaurants and hotels still closed due to structural damage. The town is effectively cut off right now from the rest of New Zealand, but the perseverance of the locals is inspiring! They all seemed to keep such an upbeat attitude to everything, with no outlook other than to dog it out and move on. 

The same can definitely be said for Christchurch. The aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that caused so much destruction is still more than apparent; half the city is still a building site! I had totally underestimated how much damage had been done, and was genuinely shocked when we arrived to see the hundreds of cranes, traffic cones and workers in fluorescent jackets and hard hats. 185 people died in that quake, and the reach of the damage seemed to touch everyone we spoke too. Yet still everyone was upbeat, positive, friendly and loving life. The city itself is super quirky, with street art covering what felt like every wall, and a number of very stylish boutique establishments selling everything from art to ice cream. It also still contains an old school tram, that even has a touring restaurant running in the evenings! The whole place was super cool: even down to crossing the road, which offered games of pong against the opposing side of the road, or the massive NES style game just on the road being projected onto a building opposite. Seriously, this game was cool! I can definitely see why people like Christchurch so much. 

Perhaps one thing that I slightly underestimated though was the variety of unique wildlife i’d be seeing whilst on the South Island. 

The Wildlife

Most people immediately think of the kiwi when you mention New Zealand, and understandably so, as it is the national icon after all! Sadly we were only able to see one in captivity, and it did a great job of hiding too! However, New Zealand has so much to offer in terms of wildlife you’d be pushed to see anywhere else! For example en route to Milford sound, we spotted a number of Kea, the worlds only alpine parrot, casually hassling tourists and nibbling the plastic off passers bags and cars. These birds look pretty average until they spread their wings, when you suddenly see a beautiful array of colours on display. These guys were super playful and a real sight to watch. Combine this with the huge numbers of hawks and eagles you see flying around and your in an ornithologists dream land! Note, I didnNOT take the photo below!For birds though, this is by no means the pinnacle. On the south coast in the land that time forgot known as the Catlins, we stopped off at the Royal Albatross sanctuary. These air monsters are basically dinosaurs I’m sure, with a wingspan on average of around 10ft! The royals are picky buggers, only frequenting the Southern Hemisphere; New Zealand and Patagonia are the most southern points bar the Antarctic, so they are pretty happy here! 

Just because I haven’t talked about birds enough, I need to mention the penguins. The teeny tiny blue penguins enjoy many of the coastal areas of the South Island. We managed to spot them both at Abel Tasman national park and Kaikoura. We ended up rescuing a baby blue in kaikoura, who was casually enjoying his first moult (so couldn’t go in the sea) when he was hassled by incoming tide (and shitty tourists trying to get a selfie or sixty). We ended up calling the Department of Conservation who came along and moved him to a safe space. Apparently they get super stressed if they are hassled so we may have saved the little guys life! Conservation points for the win!!! On the same day we also spotted a couple of fur seals chilling on the rocks just off the coast. I was probably 10ft from one, which was a pretty awesome experience! 

Finally, crossing to the sea is probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve had with animals ever, and beating a day with Asian elephants is going to be a tough one to beat! We decided we had to book onto a whale watching tour as Kaikoura is synonymous with seeing sperm whales. After a couple of failed attempts getting out on the boat, on our last day there we managed to both secure a place. Normally on a tour, you’re lucky to spot a couple on a two hour cruise. Not only did we spot two within about fifteen minutes, but they put on quite the show for us! We had a good 20 minuted of them coming up for air and generally messing around, which is fairly uncommon for sperm whales. Then the real fun started! About 30 minutes in our whale spotters on the boat saw a blue whale, an incredibly rare sight apparently. Heading over to get sight of them up close, we discovered there was not just one, but a small pod! We have no idea why, but they were quite happy just chilling in pretty much the same spot, rolling around, swimming upside down, the works. To spot one is rare enough, but to see 3 for such a good amount of time is almost unheard of, to the point where two of the staff on board were brought to tears as they’d never seen anything like this! Honestly, just being around such mammoth and rare creatures was an experience enough, but to have them around us for so long was unforgettable.

 https://youtu.be/Ti-q13j-dWc

I always knew I’d love this country, but what was delivered was so much more than I could have ever imagined. Without a doubt this is the most stunning country I’ve ever been to, one that kept giving and giving, and somewhere that will always be close to my heart (and my arm now, whoops). Thanks to New Zealand, I’ve swum in crystal clear glacial rivers, sat in geothermal hot pools, climbed a volcano, hiked to glaciers, seen royal albatross, fur seals, blue penguins, sperm whales and blue whales in their natural habitat, been to hobbiton, seen a live super rugby match, slept at a vineyard, seen the Milky Way countless times, sand boarded down a desert, and so much more. I definitely won’t forget this place anytime soon. 

Seeing this place in a campervan was such a joy and definitely recommended to anyone, and after 7000km driven we still feel like there was so much more to see. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to come back! 😜

How to travel New Zealand on a budget

So we’ve been in New Zealand for nearly 40 days now, and thanks to insider information, personal (slightly educated) experiences and months of research before setting off, we’ve quickly picked up how to save a few bucks whilst traveling here. We had a budget for 2 people of £5000 for 40 days. We’ve still got £1000 left and we leave in 3 days, we’ve still seen the sights, had all the fun, eaten and drunk out on quite a few occasions, bought stuff, got a tattoo, seen unique wildlife and generally felt like we’ve not missed out at all!
Whilst this list isn’t exhaustive, hopefully you’ll get some help from it. 

Drive it yourself 

This may seem counter intuitive, but seriously, it’s without a doubt the best way to see New Zealand in all its glory whilst giving you the freedom to roam as you please. We tallied up some costs of doing a coach tour with separate accommodation and this worked out very well for the pair of us (even cheap accommodation is close to $100 a night). We hired a self contained camper (meaning we can camp anywhere, have a toilet and cooking facilities built in, see below) for about 5300NZD At peak rate. We found a company called detour NZ who have been great and I’d highly recommend. Personally I’d say Avoid the companies like juicy as they get a bad reputation amongst locals and the campers scream ‘tourist with lots of stuff in to steal’, and to be honest they look pretty cramped. 

I’ve also seen loads of groups of people traveling in minivans or larger estates too, but it looks horribly cramped for me. You can pick up 2nd hand vehicles for as little as $1000 at the main international areas (Queenstown/Christchurch/Auckland) as people sell them off when departing after doing similar trips. Friends who live here say vehicles don’t depreciate very quickly here so you might be lucky and get all your money back on resale! So if you’re on a real budget and don’t mind slumming it a bit, this may be a good option for you!

Be aware though, if you are going to hire a campervan do it WAY in advance! We booked ours 12 months in advance of arriving, but spoke to people who tried 3 months before they arrived and could only get the D list vehicles. 

Freedom camp wherever possible

In New Zealand you can do a thing called freedom camp if you have a ‘self contained’ vehicle. Self contained basically means you can stay off grid without leaving a trace (no waste or rubbish basically). To be self contained you must have a toilet on board, and a way to dispose of waste water without simply spilling onto the road. 

The benefit of freedom camping is you can effectively park anywhere (unless there’s signs saying you can’t camp there, which there often are): you can also make use of a number of camp sites that are ONLY available to self contained campers. We’ve stayed in freedom camp sites (or Okay2stay sites, see below) every night so far, so haven’t paid a penny for accommodation! It’s seriously worth getting a self contained vehicle just so you can do this. Often, the sites are areas of natural beauty so you’ll stay in some breathtaking locations (example below). Other sites offer more facilities such as power, showers and launderettes but can charge $20 per person per night- note not per vehicle!

One thing to be aware of though is the negativity applied to freedom camping in some regions. Sadly many people have abused the ability to freedom camp so places are simply banning it now. For example in Milford sound, you can’t camp anywhere except a site that’s $50 minimum. This was more commonplace on the South Island than north though. Just be aware, freedom camping doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never pay to camp. 

It’s worth mentioning some of the most beautiful places we’ve camped have been freedom camp sites; another reason to really consider it! 

Okay2stay 

This is a scheme we signed up for back in the UK and only discovered by chance. Okay2stay is a paid membership scheme that gives you access to stay at different sites across NZ. These can be anything from a vineyard to a coffee shop, brewers to a olive or lavender growers. Again, you need to be self contained to make use of this, but it’s well worth it! The general rule of thumb is you purchase something from the place you stay at, but this is still cheaper than paying for a campsite (which are often about $18 per person for a non powered site)! They also offer discounts on some paid camp sites with all the niceties. 

The first time we stayed with Okay2stay, we were at a craft-brewery with on site restaurant that was absolutely superb! We only had a parking space in the car park but it was worth it. The second day we stayed at a boutique vineyard, and spent the night drinking Pinot Gris with the owner of the vineyard in his house! We also had our own private toilet and hot shower, and had truly breathtaking views over the vineyards overlooking the 90mile beach peninsula! The next few occasions have been vineyards again, cheese makers, you get the idea. This is particularly worth doing if you like wine, as down the east coast of the north island there are tons of vineyards to stay at! You’ll buy a bottle anyway so might as well get free accommodation AND a locally made bottle of something wonderful. I found the nicest Pinot noir I’ve ever had thanks to this scheme. Often the sites are rather secluded too so you’ll get great views of the stars too. 

Seriously this is one of the best things we found and signed up for! At $45NZD for a years membership you’ll make your money back if you stay at two places. 

Campermate 

You’ll probably get told about this by others too, but camper mate is an app that shows you everything you’ll need to know about whilst driving across NZ, including all the different camping sites (freedom, paid, powered etc) but also everything from spots with free wifi, public toilets (very useful to know even if you’re self contained), dump stations, petrol stations, shops, the list goes on! It’s free, can offer offline downloads of maps, and if you enable location services the app will chuck the odd deal at you for activities, accommodation, etc. 

Be aware though the camping sites listed are not exhaustive; there are loads more about, but it’s a good start. I also recommend reading the users comments for each place, especially if you’re a bit picky about facilities like toilets etc (this has been very useful for us when finding a place to stay, do they have toilets, and how far away are they). By reading comments from others we were able to filter out spots very quickly. 

DOC guides

The department of conservation have free guides for both islands which detail all their certified camp sites. These tend to range from ‘scenic’ sites at $5 per person to fully powered sites that could be up to $20-30 per person (note again, PER PERSON, not per vehicle). We’ve not stayed at many sites we had to pay for (see above) but if you want a bit more luxury (like in some cases a swimming pool, games room, proper kitchen and wifi) it might be worth a look. 

Camp near beaches or at marinas 

The more we’ve driven around, the more and more we’ve seen this. Marinas have a bunch of facilities for boat owners like toilets, dump stations and showers that you can make use of. I guess because loads of boat owners also camp in vehicles on long weekends away, often the marinas have no restrictions on freedom camping. 

Similarly, we’ve found toilet and shower facilities at loads of beach front areas! Just be aware of camping restrictions in these car parks (some said it was okay, but more often than not they don’t allow camping overnight). 

Swimming pools for cheap showers 

A great recommendation from some of our buddies camping a couple of weeks ahead of us! 

One of the difficult points of freedom camping is having a PROPER SHOWER! Our camper technically has a shower, but in reality this is the tap from our kitchen sink. Also with freedom camping you need to be VERY careful with what products you use for your hair and body so not to do any damage to local flora and fauna (NZ is VERY hot on this, so be aware and be careful)! 

Our mates suggested making use of public pools of which there are hundreds around the country! You pay around $8 for access but can have a great swim at a great pool, then a proper heated shower! 

The other alternative is just to find a lake and not use any products for free; my preferred method I must admit..

Food, glorious food (and drink)

New Zealand ain’t cheap for food, period! Comparatively, prices are very similar to London to be honest, with a meal for two at a mid range bar/restaurant being at least £15-20 each ($20-35 at time of writing) , and a pint of craft beer being about £6: we spent £60 our first night on two meals and 2 drinks each! The trick to keeping your costs low here is to cook for yourself in your camper (priced example below) 

Pack & Save

There’s loads (or heaps as the kiwis say) of stores around that you can shop at, but packNsave is by far the cheapest we’ve found. This is a real no thrills shop that’s a hybrid of an Asda/Walmart and cash and carry like Makro, but it does the job for sure! We’ve found that some items (standard things like spices, tinned produce or cleaning items) are literally HALF THE PRICE of other stores! 

New Zealand isn’t like the UK or USA where convenience stores are literally everywhere, you could drive 100k+ without seeing another store (or many other forms of civilisation to be honest) so I’d recommend stopping off each time you see a store and stocking up on the small bits. 

Another alternative I found was new world, which is more Waitrose. We ended up shopping in these a couple of times; they are definitely more expensive than PackNSave but if you’re careful on what you buy (see below) you’ll be okay. 

Veggie stalls and local markets 

Regardless of what shop you go to, fruit and veg is expensive. Surprisingly I found that a huge amount of produce is imported too, especially at the supermarkets! For example, a bag of grapes from Chile cost me $10, and imported avocados can often be $2 each. Fortunately people grow loads of stuff here, and often sell their produce on the roadside. 

You’ll see loads of people selling produce like this. Seriously, stop at every place you see. Even if they only promote one fruit they probably sell more. The other day we bought a massive bag of peppers, courgettes and sweetcorn for $5, that would have cost way over $10 from any store! We’ve seen loads of people selling avocados (especially in the northland) for <$1 each too. 

We also discovered today that you can normally buy local meat for good prices. For example if you’re in an area that’s well known for beef rearing, hunt out the local butchers and stock up on mince (not fillet steak, that ain’t cheap anywhere). Just to give an example, I picked up some venison mince at a market in Dunedin for $5. That’s comparable with beef mince prices in supermarkets and half what you’d pay in a supermarket directly! 

Seriously though, whoever thinks you can’t cook awesome food for cheap whilst in a camper is clearly doing it wrong. Tonight’s dinner came in at $5 each, and was bloody delicious! New Zealand lamb chop steak (reduced at new world to $4 a pack) with locally ‘sourced’ rosemary (free), sun-dried tomato (pack n save), avocado (from a stall) and rocket salad, potato salad (pack n save), and homemade honey sesame and lime dressing. This probably would have cost $30 each minimum eating out!

Finally, a local veteran camper who just travels around New Zealand 9 months of the year with her husband (and cat) told us to make use of locally growing fruit. If it’s on public land, it’s free reign! She was very proud of the fact she had apple compote from freely taken fruits in her freezer.   

Shop seasonal 

You literally won’t believe the price of some produce when shopping around! I was genuinely shocked to find that limes were $30 a kilo! Have a wander around the local markets, generally there’s a farmer’s market every Saturday in most towns, and you’ll quickly see what the seasonal or local good are. 

Buying booze 


Beer is damn good here, but ain’t cheap! As mentioned previously a pint of something hoppy and wonderful will be about $12 in a bar, and a carafe of NZ white will be close to  $30, and bottles up to $50 easy. 

I bought a 6 pack of very nice India pale ale (BRB brewery)for $10; very drinkable and way more cost effective than going out to a bar to buy the same. Most NZ wines (it’s tough to find a bad one here) start at $10 a bottle at local stores, and probably $20 if you go to a boutique vineyard like you’d find on Okay2stay. 

Obviously to really save cash, just avoid the booze…. 🙄

General day to say stuff 

Buy a local sim

Wifi is EXPENSIVE HERE!! Even at campsites many places charge around $5 for 200mb, plus they throttle their connections so are in the realms of dialup speeds (remember dialup kids? No? Damn I’m old). The worst I’ve seen was in Milford Sound that was $100 too 200mb!!! When you arrive at the airport you can buy an 8gb tourism sim with 200 mins and 200 texts (both international) for about $80 or 3gb data for $50. As long as you aren’t desperate to stream Netflix every night this will be everything you need. Data connections seem to stay fairly consistent at good 3/4G, or nothing at all. Just be careful and turn off background app refresh, push notifications and mobile data use for non essential apps. We were using this sim as a hotspot for other devices and quickly mullered that $80 of data. To get more it’s $10 per 1GB, so watch out!

However if you DO want to watch Netflix….

McDONALDS for wifi!!!

Most restaurants We’ve found didn’t seem to offer wifi (and have tacky signs saying there’s no wifi, so talk to each other, etc). However Mcdonald’s does consistently across NZ and they are EVERYWHERE! They also don’t appear to throttle connections (we downloaded 9 episodes of stuff to watch in one stop with no issues), and don’t require any annoying authentication or sign up processes. Also, most Macca’s have a separate McCafe, so you can just order a coffee rather than feeling obliged to gorge on Big Macs every time you want to download the latest episode of House of Cards. We’ve absolutely RINSED this, and drunk some surprisingly good coffee in the process. 

Don’t try and do everything 
New Zealand is definitely the land of fun. There’s so much to do, but once you start signing up to do all off the fun, the prices really ramp up. We did a quick tally of the stuff we wanted to do on the north island alone and it was in excess of £1000 for the pair of us! Not backpacker budget friendly by any means…

I also quickly realised whilst there loads to do here, but do I actually have to do a specific activity here? For example, dolphin watching tours often cost in excess of $100, but I am going to Fiji next month where I can probably do for substantially less! We also found at the Catlins (south of the South Island) there were hector dolphins (super rare to see in their natural habitat) were visible from the beach! 

Have a think about what you can only really do in NZ and what are your priorities and work from there. Obviously, skydiving over a glacier isn’t something you can really do in Thailand, so I’d probably prioritise that one for here. I did this, and they had to cancel because of bloody clouds!! 😫😫

New Zealand is definitely a place where you can do some seriously unique things for little money. Don’t think for a second the only thing you can do here is bungee jump or skydive!


Consider sacking the tours off

One thing we quickly picked up on though is the tours are disgustingly expensive! For example a kayak trip to cathedral cove is $100 but you can hike for 90 mins for free, or even snorkel around! We also rented a body board for the sand dunes in the north for $15 instead of doing a tour for $55 . Similarly the hot springs by Rotorua can quickly cost you $50 but there’s loads that locals make use of that are free. Basically, do your homework, ask the locals for advice (people are very friendly and accommodating here) and save yourself a fortune. 

Some things are simply unavoidable though. Abel Tasman for example is inaccessible by road, you have to get a boat there, and there’s only one company doing boat tours to the park. We decided to do a hike on the park with the boat drop off and pick up (also including a quick seal spotting tour) that still cost $60 per person, but that’s less than $150 for a day on kayaks.

Basically, we found if we hiked/ walked rather than a comparable activity like kayaking or cycling we could do the same stuff but for free (in most cases). Also, google stuff in advance!

Bookme.co.nz

If you are set on a tour but tight on funds, I’ve found deals for trips and tours up to 70% off. They are mostly last minute but that’s no drama. It seems to work like groupon so you’re effectively buying a discount code to use at checkout when buying the actual tours, so be aware. 

iSite freebies and AA guides

NZ is literally covered in tourist information sites or iSites as they are known here. Raid all the guides and books, they all have discounts inside for attractions (some up to 25%)! 

When you arrive in New Zealand pick up the arrivals AA guide. It’s absolutely packed with discounts only available in that guide that cover both islands. We ended up using loads of them. Likewise check out the regional guides available at iSites across the country. They have other discounts in but are full of info on must see beauties. 

And there you have it! Hopefully these tips prove to be of some use to you. We reckon we’ve saved over $2000NZD at least by sticking to some of these steps over the past five weeks, hopefully you will too! 

New Zealand, North island: The land of the long white cloud ☁️ 🇳🇿 

This is a really tough blog to write, especially as I feel like we’ve seen and done so much in the past couple of weeks exploring the North island. New Zealand is a country I’ve always been fascinated by. I’m not really sure why to be honest, apart from I’ve always really liked the idea of going somewhere where you can ski in the morning and surf in the evening. Whilst New Zealand does offer this (you’re never further than 100km from the ocean here) it offers so much more; way more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll start by saying this: THIS COUNTRY IS AMAZING. 

We’ve been exploring in our trusty camper, who we’ve nicknamed Leroy (for no reason really, just because). Our trusty steed has been our accommodation, kitchen and home the past couple of weeks and he’s done us proud every step of the way. Whilst I’m somewhat biased clearly, I can’t really imagine exploring this awesome country any other way! It’s so nice having the freedom to literally park up or go anywhere as we please. What I can say straight away is I wish we had more time (and money) here; 40 days to do both islands clearly won’t be enough! 

New Zealand is so well known for its array of adrenaline fuelled activities, but I honestly think the thing I’ve enjoyed more is the landscape. This place is mesmerising at every turn! The mountain ranges that cover the majority of the country are absolutely breathtaking. At so many points I felt like I was in a country totally untouched by mankind, there really are so many points where all you can see is countryside, mountain range, beach or river. Both Kelly and I have had to rack our brains constantly to find a word to replace “wow” as we are both saying it way too much. Seriously, you cannot fathom the beauty of this place unless you see it with your own eyes. 

We had just over 2 weeks to see as much of the North Island as possible. Although NZ is minuscule in comparison to its big brother next door, driving around isn’t a quick exercise. The roads meander up, down and around and through the mountain ranges making 10km take 30 mins in some cases at a push. The roads are all maintained exceptionally well, but being in a converted VW van with an extra 200kg of worktop, kitchen and beds dumped in slowed us down somewhat. Regardless, driving around NZ is an experience in itself. These are by far the most enjoyable and visually pleasing roads I’ve ever driven hands down. If you ever asked me to drive a minimum of 4 hours a day anywhere else I’d tell you to do one! Here I’d go as far as saying it’s utterly enjoyable (apart from in Auckland, that just reminded me of my dreary daily commute up the a12 to work!). On one of our first days, we drove up and down a bunch of monsterous mountains, through a rainforest (where we stopped to see one of the oldest and biggest trees in NZ), across an old glacial flat, alongside rivers containing some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen, along the spine of a peninsula parallel to a beach spanning 90miles, and finishing up the day sleeping out overlooking a vineyards sloping farms. You just don’t get that anywhere else! We both said separely we feel like we’ve driven through about 5 different countries and two film sets in one day on more than one occasion! There are far too many photos to put up of the landscapes, but I’ll do my best. 

Anyway enough of the driving. This is what we’ve been up to the last 15 days. 

Auckland/Browns bay

We had a couple of mates to meet up with who are also traveling. They were staying with a mate who had co ownership of a bar in an Auckland suburb. Meeting up for a quick pint resulted in a night on the sauce indulging in some pretty fantastic food and spending more in one night than we did at any point in all of Asia; a good way to start NZ clearly! The following day we tested our freedom camping (free camping basically) and parked here, attempting to remove any hint of jet lag and just soaked in this for a view! 


The day after we explored the coastline with a rather hungover Oli, had a dip in the sea (slightly colder than Thailand) before starting our trip further up north towards 90 mile beach and the most northern point of the country. To break up the journey, we stayed at a brewery called Hallertau, a fantastic brewers with an equally good restaurant and bar. The next day, we endured the 6 or so hour to hit the cape, and stopped to see the biggest tree in NZ; this thing was HUGE at nearly 3m radius and 50m tall.


 We were fortunate enough to stay at a boutique vineyard overlooking the cape. We obviously had to enjoy a bottle of their vino and ended up chatting to the owner of the vineyard all night. Pretty awesome 😀. 

Cape Reinga/90 mile beach. 

90 mile beach isn’t actually 90 miles sadly; l have no idea why it’s called that. Regardless it’s pretty bloody long! In fact it’s the longest peninsula in NZ, and ends at cape Reinga, a sacred Maori area where it’s believed spirits of the dead sail off to the motherland (called Hawaiki). Cape Reinga is also the most northern point of New Zealand, there’s literally nothing out from the cape for thousand of miles, and we couldn’t have been much further away from the UK at this point. 

When we got to the cape, there was actually a traditional Maori funeral ceremony being held there. Obviously we didn’t get involved or watch/ film, but it was quite a sight to witness. One thing I love about the Maori culture is its connection to wildlife and nature, and this was even more apparent during the ceremony. 

After an hour or so enjoying the sites of the cape we drove back down the beach to another astonishing site; sand dunes! Now I didn’t expect anything to match the dunes I’ve experienced in the UAE but these were damn impressive, especially when sandwiched between beautiful green mountain ranges and a stunning coastline stretching as far as you can see! This was definitely something that couldn’t be missed. Kelly and I obviously boarded down the dunes (I may have climbed the biggie too and jumped down that at full pelt). What a cracking thing to do, and the sites over the highest dune were something else! To finish up this end of the trip, we drove to another peninsula (Karikari) to ensure we were close to Waitangi for the national celebrations the following day. 



 Waitangi (Waitangi day)


We were really fortunate to be in Waitangi for Waitangi Day, a kiwi national holiday celebrating the birth of New Zealand following the signing of the treaty between the Brits and Maori. We were somewhat warned off experiencing this celebration at Waitangi as (according to locals) it’s rife with protest normally. To be honest if this was classified as protest I’d challenge the locals to go to any major city around the world and see what’s going on right now! Yes there was some obvious resentment to this new era of New Zealand but I’d hardly call anything protest! Overall, the day was filled with brilliant cultural experiences, including traditional song and dance, obviously the haka, and Maori tribes bringing the traditional boats (waka) into the shore. This was a great thing to witness and really gave us an insight into traditional Maori culture. Below are a few videos I captured of the activities. 

To finish off a cracking day out with even better weather, we drove further down the coast to a neighbouring town to experience some more history. We stumbled across the oldest British built stone building and an area that was once a Maori settlement, before settling in for the night ahead of another day of driving. 

Coromandel peninsula 

This peninsula is famous for the ocean drive and its stunning beaches. It certainly didn’t disappoint! We drove pretty much the east and west coast of the peninsula, only just missing the tip due to time constraints. Again the sights experienced on this drive were unforgettable. It was another classic of every turn we took we were blown away once again. 

Along the peninsula is a famous beach called hot water beach. This part of the north island is the start of the geothermal highway, where hot pools and geysers are pretty commonplace. On this beach, if you dig a hole, you’ll quickly burn your feet with super heated water! The common activity here is to dig a jacuzzi sized hole and mix sea water with the hot stuff to make a comfortable pool. Sadly this is only really possible at certain points during the day when the tide is right, and due to turning weather we got it wrong: instead we had to accept a casual burning of our feet in the rain. Regardless it was quite a thing to experience! To finish up a long day of driving we headed to cathedral cove, another must see piece of landscape, hoping to start the following day with a hike along the shore. Sadly, the weather turned on us again, so we got stuck in the camper enduring a thoroughly soggy evening. The weather stayed like this the majority of the following morning so we abandoned plans and got on the road again.  



Hamilton/Waitomo

Kelly had set a must see attraction at our next stop, the glow worm caves in Waitomo. 

En route, we stopped In a tiny city called Hamilton, mainly to get a feel for a generic kiwi city. As I said, this place is Tiny! By English standards it would be a small town, and definitely smaller than my home town of Colchester! Regardless, we had a nice wander around getting a feel for the place, which is soon to host a two week arts festival, something we’d both have loved to have experienced. After killing a couple of hours we drove straight to the caves. 

These historic caves are honestly like looking up at the stars, and are definitely a unique experience! The glow worms illuminate the caves with a wonderful blue/green Hue that covers the whole ceiling and obviously shine beautifully bright when in total darkness. We actually rode through the caves on a small man powered boat in complete silence which really added to the experience. Sadly no photos allowed in the caves but this is what it looked like. 

Cambridge 

Considering we both met, studied, worked and lived in Cambridge, we had to really! Cambridge (NZ) is actually the equine and cycling capital of NZ, and even has its own velodrome! We were here to meet Kelly’s old school friend Becks though, who emigrated a few years back and is now married with two kids. After a night camped by a picturesque lake we ventured back to Cambridge to meet her. 

It was great to find out more about life in NZ and in Cambridge, and to spend time with the wee family. We actually ended up having a night out on the town, enjoying far too many drinks at a cracking craft beer bar. Needless to say my head hurt somewhat the following day. Oh well, more fun to be had! 

Hobbiton

I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!!

Now I’ve got that out my system



Time I got my geek on! Obviously if you’re in the north island you have to stop here. When the Hobbit trilogy was made, the entire set of hobbiton was permanently rebuilt to size. They’ve done such a great job making this set so lifelike, they even employ three full time gardeners to keep the place looking tidy, and growing the monster pumpkins like you see in the initial scenes of the first hobbit movie. 


It’s quite ridiculous that all of this was done just to film for about ten seconds, but I’m glad they did. Visiting hobbiton was definitely a must do on the list, even if it was experienced slightly hungover 😵 


Rotorua 

The land of the geothermal wonders! Rotorua is famous for geothermal activity like acidic pools and geysers, traditional Maori activities, and fun stuff like Zorbing! It should also be famous for being the smelliest place on earth! Sadly we couldn’t afford to do all the fun (story of our life out here) but did we manage to experience the cultural wonders in the town. Bizarrely, an old friend from high school who now lives in Queenstown just happened to be sat at a bar on eat street with her family, so we agreed to do some stuff together the next day. We agreed to head to Te Puia, a sacred Maori site that is made up of geysers and a traditional Maori arts workshops. The stuff that is carved out of wood is pretty spectacular, and it’s great to see the art form kept alive by sites like this. The array of geysers are obviously very impressive too!


As we’ve obviously had far too many days doing far too many strenuous activities 😜 we booked into a geothermal spa just outside the town called Waikite valley (in our defence we only spent a night here as it was only $10 more than a normal paid camp site). What a cool thing to do though! There were 6 different pools all using the naturally heated (and cooled) mineral water. Out of the ground, the water is at boiling point so has to be naturally cooled via waterways etc. We spent a good few hours getting wrinkley the night we arrived and the next morning; bliss! 


The following day we had booked onto a Maori cultural evening with a company called Tamaki. From the moment we got on the bus to the site we were having a great time. Our bus driver was the most entertaining I’ve ever endured and had the whole bus in stitches! The rest of the evening consisted of experiencing a traditional welcome ceremony, learning to do the haka (badly ill admit), learning about traditional Maori dance, and enjoying a feast cooked in a traditional hangi (I am so building one of these when I grow up. Overall it was a brilliant evening that I’d highly recommend to anyone visiting rotorua 

 

Taupo

Sadly our time in Taupo was cut somewhat short thanks to another bout of bad weather. We were hoping to spend a couple of days here but we arrived to wet weather and only had one day of predicted clear skies the following day, so had to change our plans. regardless, taupo is a cool place. Lake Taupo was formed after a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago; its the size of Singapore! Seriously, you can’t fathom the size of this place. Whilst we didn’t really get to enjoy the area properly, it was great to experience the black sand beaches and strangely enough, the black swans and ducks! Bit weird…. en route to taupo we stopped off at a local recommendation, Hukka falls. This rapid area is flodded with hundreds of thousands of litres of water a minute thanks to a dam system further up stream. The water was a beautiful blue Hue and it’s really quite a sight! See for yourself below. 


Tongariro Alpine Crossing 

This is without a doubt the highlight of my time in New Zealand so far, and the reason why we had to abandon taupo. We’ve done some tough hikes to date on this trip, but this won the award for the steepest and generally most impressive! 

This hike was made globally famous (to those not into hiking) from the lord of the rings movies, as mount Doom and mordor scenes were filmed here. After getting agreement from Kelly to spend Valentine’s Day here (seems the perfect way to me) we spent the day hiking across some of the most unique and breathtaking landscapes in New Zealand. This was totally out of this world! At points we felt like we were on the surface of mars, at others we were in Australian bush, then quite simply stomping up an active volcano (or 3)! 14 miles, 1km of elevation, and 6.5 hours later we’d completed this epic hike and felt very proud of ourselves! Again, if you ever visit NZ, you HAVE TO DO THIS! 


Wellington 

After a full day of driving, we hit our final spot on the north island. This is by far the quietest capital city I’ve ever been to! Seriously, we drove in and didn’t even realise it! Regardless, Wellington is a really cool city. We spent an afternoon on the waterfront enjoying the local activities like open air salsa classes and very cool bars and restaurants. To be honest the waterfront itself, let alone the inner city is beautiful in itself and well worth an explore. It all hinted of a quiet waterfront area of London, but maybe 20 years ago. Either way, a very nice place to base ourselves for a couple days. I was lucky enough to meet up with two mates from the UK at different points. It’s such a nice experience; meeting up with people you haven’t seen for years on the other side of the globe. 


The museum in Wellington is another must visit site. I’d go as far as saying it’s probably the best free museum I’ve ever been to! On our first day in the city, we stopped into the ground floor to get a feel for the place, and saw some fantastic exhibitions all about the local and unique wildlife, flora and fauna, geology and landscapes. To top this off they’ve also got a real collossal squid on show, and a full exhibition on how they came to capture it (it was dead before capture, don’t worry). The following day we explored the incredibly harrowing and unique exhibition on the kiwi involvement in world war 1. This included some incredibly detailed models of those who fought that stood well over 10ft tall, alongside all the emotive displays about the atrocities that occurred. The whole museum was absolutely stunning; yet another must see. 

So as you can see, we’ve had a terrible time here so far! In all seriousness, I’m utterly blown away. I have full on caught the kiwi bug and can see why so many others do too! Even when hacking it down this place still seems to be somewhat stunning (I’m sure sun worshiper sweeney would disagree). I can’t wait to see what the South Island brings, as friends who have done it say it raises the bar yet again with natural beauty

Chiang Mai- A very different Xmas

We’ve had a very weird bunch of emotions seeing you all gearing up for xmas around the world. Normally the routine is the same year in year out; go buy a tree, spend a day decorating the house, work xmas parties, getting the family together for a massive gorge on wonderful over indulgent grub followed by a food coma, maybe a few very lavish drinks (maybe even too many of these) and the mandatory dog walk around the village. For me and many of you I’m sure, xmas is all about the family and spending quality time together. Both mine and Kelly’s family live overseas and She’s not spent xmas with all her family for six years now, and because we were planning this trip we couldn’t afford to travel to the Emirates to see my family last year, so spent it at home in Essex together with her brother and partner (who were travelling Europe and happened to be in the UK at the time). It was really nice to take charge on all the xmas preparation, but it’s just not the same without all the family together.

This year though, we spent Xmas in Chiang Mai, a northern Thailand city, surrounded by glorious mountain ranges. We actually arrived in Thailand on the 19th, following a rather touch and go transfer from Siem reap to Bangkok and a flight to Chiang Mai that we ended up nearly missing due to the visa check. We both agreed at the start of our planning that we needed to do some epic things around Xmas to keep our minds off being away from family and that we did! 

We started our time in Chiang Mai with a very chilled out couple of days, getting the lay of the land of the small city and he central old quarter, starting off with visiting the Sunday night market. Now if you’ve been anywhere in South East Asia, you’ll think you’ve seen markets; they are all pretty similar. The standard wall to wall stalls selling beer singlets, coconut bowls, street food to satisfy the masses, and everyone offering a “special price only for you” on everything. I’ve got to say though, this market was really different. We didn’t get hassled once to buy anything, the stuff covering the streets really seemed to be locally produced and good quality, even the clothing, which had a traditional Karen influence (Karen people aren’t Thai, but live in the mountains off the standard grid of main Thailand). The food obviously is amazing. Cambodian cuisine really bored me to be honest, and tasted like dull Thai influenced food with no chilli, but this street food really smacked in the face of Thai spicy (not something to be messed with)! Because were travelling for so long we seldom buy anything, but experiencing the markets is an important part of the places were visiting, so has to be done!

The next day we took a walking tour by ourselves of the temples. There are literally hundreds of them! Thailand is 95% Buddhist so they do temples in a big way. I know it sounds awful, but after two days exploring the Angkor temples we felt somewhat underwhelmed. I don’t want to do a disservice to the the beauty of these temples but after that it’s tough to appreciate them in all their glory. Still, worth seeing them. Kelly learned to make bracelets and necklaces whilst on the island in Cambodia and really wanted to make stuff on this trip, so we spent the afternoon exploring the haberdasher markets for materials, followed by a tour of the artistic markets. I must say, the artwork we saw being produce was truly stunning; if we can, I’ll definitely be coming back here just to stock up on art (once were proper grown ups and own our own house obviously)! That evening, we discovered a quality street food market that reminded me of the street feast setups in London (but with much better food). This was a great place to spend the evening; embracing the local cuisine but delivered to a higher standard than that you simply find on the streets or small cafes and restaurants. To top it off, there are loads of really excellent musicians playing covers of western artists, which were top quality. If you’re in Chiang Mai at any point, I really recommend visiting the Ploen Ruedee Night Market.

To really kick off the days running up to xmas day, we totally filled our days with fun: Had to be done really

Cookery school

I love to cook, and I really love to cook Asian food. I’ve been reluctant to do cookery classes so far on our trip because to be honest, they’ve been really generic. I do not want to pay to be shown how to make bloody spring rolls! Thailand was always going to be the place where we did a class. We decided to book onto a course with Basil cookery school. There are again hundreds of cookery schools in Chiang Mai, but this was a great price, and included a great array of dishes to please any foodie! Our coach, Pim, was so bubbly and had a cracking wit and sense of humour. To top this off she could COOK!

We started the day buying our produce from a local market then spent the day cooking everything from curry to pad Thai, stir fries to salads. Kelly and I strategically planned our dishes so she did the stuff we love to cook, and I focussed on the new stuff that was mainly seafood. It was all so good and was some of he best food I’ve made of this style. I’ll definitely be making my own coconut milk from now on!

Jungle trekking around Chiang Mai 

Before we set off to India, we agreed we wanted to do a jungle trek. We found an eco tour run by Pooh Eco Tours that sounded right up our street, so booked on about nine months ago. I am so glad we did!

We spent 3 days with 6 others and our guide Ropuu. Day one started with a ride in the back of a Hilux to our starting point, followed by a trek around some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Ropuu, a traditional Karen tribesman who moved to Chiang Mai to earn some cash, was absolutely fantastic at showing us all the traditional, weird and wonderful things you find in the jungle, including what they eat (basically anything that moves). Now I’m all for trying new things, but when he started munching baby spiders after he shoved his hand in a nest was one step too far for me. Day one ended with an epic hike up a mountain to arrive at the Karen village we’d be staying at.

We spent the night with the villagers, preparing a wonderful dinner made up of local produce and the herbs we had foraged on route. Perhaps the best part of the night though was the sky. I’ve never seen the moon or stars so clearly; words really can’t describe how clear it was and how mesmerised we all were. Regardless of this, we were all in bed by 9pm ahead of a hectic second day.

Day 2 started early thanks to the rooster under our hut deciding we had to wake at 330am, (at least we got to see the sunrise I guess) but was followed by a wicked breakfast and with even more beautiful landscapes, followed by some pretty treacherous declines for about two hours. We were jointed by a few of the tribesmen, and the cutest little puppy, who stayed with us for the next two days (Kelly was very happy about this). Climbing up a mountain is tough, but climbing down through the jungle is arguably more difficult! Like our hike in Kep, really were many points I thought if we slipped, we’d have a real problem. Fortunately the tribesmen who joined us made us all bamboo walking sticks which literally saved us! After about 4 hours we finally reached the bottom alongside a lovely waterfall, which we obviously took full advantage of! An hour later trekking through the river, we reached our stop for the night, a bamboo hut. We spent the next two hours making plates, cutlery, and cups out of locally cut bamboo, and prepping another cracking dinner of yellow curry, sweet and sour veg and bamboo steamed rice. This was amazing for me, as everything we made ourselves and cooked in bamboo. It will never cease to amaze me how much you can do with bamboo, it’s such a versatile natural resource in total abundance in Thailand!

Our final day was again, stunning landscapes galore! The first two hours involved crossing rivers, climbing up waterfalls, through caves lit only by bamboo torches, rice paddies and land used for raising cattle. We finished the day with a seriously epic climb up another mountain that was seriously tough! Kelly was a machine, especially considering she was ill for the whole trip! Over the 3 days we trekked for 13 hours, 15 miles, 1km up and about 900m down. It was bloody difficult, but my god was it amazing! 

Seriously, I can’t recommend this tour group higher. We had an unforgettable three days and because of the group size it was such a good price!

Xmas day with elephants

When you come to Thailand, you’ll see thousands of elephant tours. We did loads of research into a tour, because so many mistreat the elephants. Contrary to the believes of many, riding elephants is not good! DO NOT DO IT! Elephants are not built to withhold weight on their spines, and this does serious damage. Also the process for training elephants to do such things is known as “the crush” involves some horrendous activity literally designed to break their spirit. If you want to learn more watch this video (trigger warning, it’s not nice). So many places that offer rides keep the elephants chained as well as generally treating them badly, we were determined to avoid this at all costs!

We booked with elephant jungle sanctuary, a group who only run eithical days with elephants. There’s no riding them, painting them (yep, this is a thing) or anything that causes these fabulous animals distress, you literally feed them, bath them, feed them some more and just enjoy being with them. I later found out that these elephants actually roam the jungles, and just know to come for food around 10am. Whilst this domestication isn’t perfect I appreciate, only 20% of the elephants in south east Asia are truly wild; a shocking statistic!

Wow though, these guys were incredible. I know they are big but when you’re right next to them they are so much bigger than I appreciated, even the babies! I unfortunately had a close call with one when it decided to charge at me as I was the only person in the mud bath. Obviously this wasn’t the animal being mean, but wanting to play, but it was a close call, and bloody scary! Again, I really recommend doing something like this. It’s not the cheapest day, but feeding these guys costs $20 a day EACH so I had no issue paying for this day. Yet again, something I’ll never forget.

Xmas day in the sun

We were really fortunate to meet some quality people at our hostel who we immediately gelled with, so went out for a traditional Xmas lunch of curry on Xmas day. I think it’s safe to say our 2am finish the night before meant we were all quite happy to have a slower day than usual! Whilst spending part of the day with these awesome people was great, and I’m so grateful to meet them, it’s not the same. We definitely didn’t feel like it was Christmas. 

However, in traditional (or nor ) Xmas fashion, Kelly and I went to get inked! I’ve always loved tattoos, especially when done well. This trip has shown me how beautiful some tattoos can be, so I decided I wanted one for sure! My family and I have talked about a family tattoo for ages, so this had to symbolise something about them, but I also wanted something about my game changing time in Asia, and to symbolise travel.

Kelly got two, cause you know, she’s greedy and stuff. One like me was to symbolise family and our time in Asia, but the other is to symbolise life. She’s had a disgustingly tough few years, with family death all over the globe, family emigration and general separation, a pretty nasty car crash and a bunch of other things.and this symbolises a new chapter of NO WORRIES! Also if you know her, she’s a Disney obsessive, so it had to be Disney related really.

So as you can see, a pretty average and generic Christmas for us! All jokes aside, this is not one we will forget soon! We’re now in Pai, north of Chiang Mai, to have a few days embracing our inner hippie. Sadly due to the new ink we can’t make the most of our infinity pool overlooking the mountains, but it’s a very cool place none the less. We’re literally staying at a circus with some seriously talented people. I’m working on my slack line.