Airlie Beach

The gateway to the Whitsundays

Arriving into Airlie, and below, Magnums Backpackers Resort

After flying to Australia towards the end of the Christmas period and spending a once-in-a-lifetime New Year’s Eve in Sydney, I was waving goodbye to the group of friends I had arrived in Australia with to begin the second part of my 7-week adventure – 2 weeks travelling up the East coast of Australia from Airlie Beach to Cairns. I’d be meeting up with a friend from one of my Trek America adventures, who also just happened to be in Australia over New Year, and we’d be beginning our adventure together with 5 nights based in Airlie Beach from where we could explore the Whitsundays.

While I had never been to this part of Australia before, my friend had backpacked here as a gap year student years earlier and was keen to return, hoping to party less and appreciate it more this time around.

Our private hostel room

Despite both being in our mid-30s, we had decided to go with mainly budget accommodation for the 2 weeks in order to splash out on the excursions instead. We had opted for hostel accommodation – private rooms rather than dorms, at least -in Airlie and Cairns, breaking this up with 3 nights in a budget hotel in Townsville.

For our 6 nights at Airlie Beach, we’d be staying at Magnums Backpackers resort situated right in the town centre and within walking distance of the main marina.

Walking down to the seafront at Airlie Beach

We arrived into the area at Hamilton Airport on one of the Whitsunday Islands, my friend flying in from Brisbane and myself from Sydney, and then boarded a pre-booked boat, with our luggage checked on board, to the Port of Airlie. From here, we caught the local bus the short, but uphill, distance into town and quickly found Magnums not far from where we were dropped.

Airlie seafront, and below, Airlie Lagoon

The resort was set out around what felt like a tropical rainforest with tall trees and tropical plants growing all around the hut-like accommodation. Our upstairs room was like a box with a bunk bed in the middle, a small TV mounted on the wall and a small fridge in the corner but for the time we were planning on spending in there, it was fine.

There was a communal shower and toilet block just along the landing so we didn’t have far to to go at least. Wifi was not available in the room but could be picked up in a nearby communal outdoor seating area in the grounds – although we found the surrounding plants and trees, along with the humidity, made the area a haven for insects so even smothered in bug repellent, we had to limit the time we spent there!

Coral Sea Marina

Arriving late afternoon, we settled into our room then walked down to the seafront following the path along the front and out to Airlie Lagoon, a large outdoor pool. We’d taken our towels and swimwear with us and decided to cool off with a dip but were disappointed to find the water was heated too much to cool us down. This, coupled with the onset of evening bringing out the mosquitos, meant we didn’t stay long!

An evening stroll past the marina

After popping back to the hostel to change, we were now pretty hungry so wandered along the main street in Airlie trying to decide between the many bars and restaurants offering cheap food to backpackers and eventually settling on a filling bowl of pasta at Mangrove Jacks.

After eating – and making use of the free wifi! – we stopped off at the Woolworths store next to the hostel to pick up some snacks and supplies for the next few days before returning to our room for an early night.

Bicentennial Walkway

Before setting off on our Australian adventure, we had booked a multi-adventure ticket including a variety of excursions for our time in Airlie Beach – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a day of island hopping and a day sailing around the Whitsundays with a stop off at the famous Whitehaven Beach.

We had 4 full days in the area and had planned to keep the first day as bit of a relaxation day in and and around Airlie Beach. We’d talked about including some time at Airlie Lagoon in this but having been unimpressed on our visit the previous afternoon, we were now unsure how to fill our day.

On Shingley Beach

There were plenty of excursions and activities in the area being offered by various ticket agencies along the front, including kayaking trips out to see turtles and scenic flights, but it was too short notice to book for that day.

The scenic flights over the Whitsundays sounded especially appealing, so as it was fully booked for that day, we decided to book one leaving from Hamilton Island a couple of days later when we would be visiting there.

Scenic flight booked, we headed back towards Airlie Lagoon picking up Bicentennial Walkway, the path that winds its way along the seafront. We followed the path West past Coral Sea Marina and along to Shingley Beach. Here, we found a company offering kayak and paddle board rentals so we decided this would be a fun way to spend some of the day.

Kayaking out to a shipwreck

Hiring a 2-man kayak, we managed to paddle out against the current to the shipwreck we could see in the distance. We kept our eyes open for sea turtles along the way but unfortunately didn’t spot any. Feeling a sense of accomplishment reaching the wreck, we circled it a few times using our old skool waterproof single-use camera to snap a few pictures before paddling back to shore.

Walking back to a cafe we’d seen along the seafront for lunch, we then returned to Shingley Beach later that afternoon to give paddle boarding a go. Neither if us had tried Stand Up Paddle boarding before and we were both convinced we’d be hopeless at it and spend most of the time falling off into the water but after a quick lesson on the beach, we were delighted to find it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as it looked to clamber to an upright position on the board and stay there!

Paddleboarders at Shingley Beach

After a couple of laps of the small bay, we were actually a bit bored and ended up handing our boards back well before our full hour was up!

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and shopping for souvenirs before dinner at the extremely busy Hog’s Breath Cafe that evening.

Then another early night in preparation for an early start the next day. After a fun day in Airlie, we were now very excited for 3 days of excursions and getting out on the water around the Whitsunday Islands, starting with a trip to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow…

Rotorua and Hobbiton, New Zealand

Having spent an exciting morning black water rafting through the glow worm caves of Waitomo, it was on to our next destination in New Zealand’s North Island. I was visiting New Zealand as a solo traveller and so far, I had visited the Bay of Islands and explored Auckland alone before visiting the Coromandel and Waitomo as part of an escorted tour with adventure travel company, Haka Tours and today we were off to Rotorua.

The journey from Waitomo to Rotorua took under 2 hours and once there, we made our first stop at Agrodome, a farm and adventure park just outside of Rotorua.

Riding the Agrojet boat

After cooing over the cute goats and emus, we were given the opportunity to have a go on some of the park’s activities including the high-speed Agrojet boat. After watching some other group members taking a spin on it, I decided it looked like fun and before I knew it I was strapped in and being whizzed around the water track at full speed! The boat was great fun!!

At OGO Rotorua

After grabbing some lunch from the cafe, it was on to our next stop just down the road, OGO Rotorua, where some group members tried their hands at Zorbing – rolling down a grassy slope in a large, inflatable ball. While I decided not to have a go myself, we all had lots of fun giggling at the others as we watched them attempt to stay upright inside!

It was off to check in at our accommodation for the night next – the Rotorua YHA where we’d be in dorms for the night.

Our meal being cooked, and below, traditional entertainment before dinner

This evening, we’d be going out for dinner at a traditional Maori Hangi. After getting ready, we were dropped at the Mitai Maori Village. Here, we were shown our dinner being cooked traditionally in a pit before seeing a ‘Waka’, or ceremonial war canoe being sailed down the river then watching a traditional Maori cultural performance and Haka.

Dinner was then served to us followed by a guided bush walk to finish the evening with.

Arriving at the Hobbiton Movie Set

The next morning, we had the choice of white water rafting, visiting Hobbiton or exploring Rotorua. Although ideally, I’d have liked to have had time for all 3 options, as a huge movie fan who loves to visit movie sets and studios (read about some of the other movie sites I’ve visited on my travels here!), I had signed up to visit Hobbiton along with the majority of the group.

Hobbiton

We were picked up from a Lord of the Rings-themed store near to our hostel and taken to Hobbiton. The purpose set used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films had been left up after filming was completed and turned into a tourist attraction.

A hobbit house at Hobbiton

We were taken around the hobbit village by a tour guide, told a bit about the filming process, how the set was built, how it was used and stories from when they filmed and were given the opportunity to take photos of and with the hobbit houses.

While I’m glad I got to visit, I did find the tour very rushed with the tour group behind us hot on our heels the whole time making it difficult to get the photos we wanted.

Posing outside a hobbit house

I also found the guided groups to be too large and it was sometimes difficult to hear what the guide was saying. It is possible to take tours to Hobbiton from Auckland and I wished I had done this so I had the chance to white water raft or explore Rotorua that morning instead.

At the end of our tour, we got to visit the Green Dragon Inn for a glass of ale, cider or ginger ale included in our ticket price then it was time to get the coach back to Rotorua to meet back up with the rest of the group and begin our drive to Taupo.

Bubbling mud pools, and below, geothermal activity at Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland

But first we had one more stop just outside of town – Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland where we followed the boardwalk to see some of New Zealand’s geothermal and volcanic activity. Similar to Yellowstone National Park, we saw geysers, bubbling mud pools and pools of colourful boiling hot water all accompanied by the lovely smell of sulphur! It was really interesting to see.

It was a shame I’d not got to see more of Rotorua itself but I’d enjoyed my stay in the town and the varied activities along the way!

Waitomo, New Zealand

After spending time alone exploring the Bay of Islands and Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, I was now 2 days into a tour of the island with Haka Tours. This afternoon we had left the Coromandel behind and now we were journeying towards our next stop, Waitomo.

3 hours later, we arrived at our accommodation for the night, a small motel on the outskirts of Waitomo. I was allocated a comfortable 3-bedroom ensuite room to share with 2 other group members and after settling in, we met up with the rest of the group at the adjoining pub spending the rest of the evening eating, drinking and chatting.

Before we realised what we’d let ourselves in for!

I had taken a tour of New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours just a few months earlier and kept in touch with most of my group in a Whatsapp chat. As most of them had toured North Island with the company immediately before our South Island trip, I had made sure to ask them to recommend which optional extras I should book. There were 2 unanimous ‘must dos’ according to my friends – the Tongariro Crossing in Taupo and Black Water Rafting at the glow worm caves in Waitomo.

There were actually 3 options available to use for viewing the Glow Worm Caves – a boat tour, black water rafting or, the most expensive, time-consuming and high-energy option, an abseiling and caving tour.

I wasn’t completely sure what Black Water Rafting was but had done White Water Rafting a few times and loved it so taking my friends’ advice, I had upgraded my travel insurance cover (as apparently it was a higher risk activity than anything I’d previously done!) and signed myself up for it!

Finding out what was involved in black water rafting!

So the next morning, we were up early and those of us going black water rafting were picked up and taken to the headquarters of the Black Water Rafting Company. Once there, we were handed skin tight wetsuits, special boots and a helmet with a flashlight on the front to change into and led to a pile of black inner tubes to choose from.

Now, I’m not sure what I did expect from the tour but what I certainly didn’t expect was to have to leap from the top of a waterfall into the river below. Backwards. Landing in my inner tube! Upon finding out exactly what was involved in the black water rafting experience, a few of us (ok, all of us!) in the group started exchanging worried looks – You want us to do what?!

We got to practise outside first, all nervously lining up then standing as near to the edge of the small waterfall as possible, back to the river behind us, jumping backwards aiming to land lying down in our inner tube. I watched the first few group members go first, all successfully landing in their tubes and floating off down the river before scrambling back out. Soon, it was my turn and somehow, I managed it straight away too!

Carrying our inner tubes through the caves

Practise over, we were told to hook our tubes over our shoulders and lead off to the cave entrance. Now I knew there’d be caves involved – they’re glow worm CAVES, where else would we be going?! But I’m not sure I’d realised that caving would be involved. Squeezing ourselves along with our tubes through narrow, dark passages underground with nothing but the light on our helmets to guide the way.

But it was too late to back out now so I dutifully followed the rest of the group and our guide into the darkness.

Once in the cave, we scrambled down the dark damp recesses until we heard water in the distance. It go louder until we realised we were at the top of a waterfall with an underground river running below. It was a much higher waterfall than the one we had practised on above ground. Wanting to get it out of the way, I volunteered to be the first to leap off backwards into my tube. Somehow, I again managed it without injury. Landing in the cold water flowing below and drifting off down the river, I grabbed onto the wall to steady myself and wait for the rest of the group to also be sat in their tubes in the river.

In the caves of Waitomo

From this point, it was less strenuous and more like a lazy river in the dark! Led by our guide, we drifted through the cave system along the underground river until we came to the glow worm caves. Here, we formed a train, all grabbing the ankles of the person behind us. We were then asked to all turn the flashlight on our helmet off so we were in complete darkness.

Being at the front, I was then led through through the caves by the guide and pulling the rest of my group behind me. The darkness surrounding us was suddenly lit up by what looked like a million stars shining brightly above us – glow worms! And suddenly all the stress of clambering through the caves and leaping backwards off waterfalls before seemed worth it!

As we left the caves and then Waitomo behind to head for our next stop of Rotorua, we were exhausted but extremely glad we’d all gone through with it.

Black water rafting through the caves of Waitomo was certainly an experience and one I’d absolutely recommend to anyone. As our one week tour of North Island came to an end a few days later, we all agreed that seeing the glow worms in that way was definitely a highlight of the entire week!

The Coromandel, New Zealand

Having toured South Island with them just months earlier, I was about to embark on a 7-day tour of New Zealand’s North Island with small adventure tour group Haka Tours. After a few days travelling solo in the Bay of Islands, I was back in Auckland at the company’s own Haka Lodge hostel to meet the rest of the group and begin our adventure.

Once the formalities were out of the way, the tour bus was loaded up with our luggage and we were ready to depart for our first night’s stop in Whitianga.

The Coromandel

We drove out along the Coromandel Coast stopping at a few beaches along the way including Waiomu as well as stopping at some viewpoints overlooking the coast.

Once in Whitianga, we split into 2 groups to take it in turns to visit Bay Carving where we would get the chance to make our own traditional bone-carved pendant.

My group went to look around the town, passing most of the time in a small cafe getting drinks and ice creams until it was our turn to have a go at making our pendants.

My completed pendant

We were given a selection of shapes to choose from including a fish hook and koro (spiral) and the significance of each shape was explained to us to help us decide. Then we were given a rough version of that shape and guided through the process of sanding in down to it’s finished shape and glazing it to perfect it before it was put onto a black string for us to take with us and wear as a souvenir.

Walking to Cathedral Cove

After completing our pendants, it was already early evening so we went straight to our nearby hostel where we were staying in small dorms that slept just 4 of us.

That evening, we did a group cook in the hostel kitchen rather than going out for food, a few of us heading back to the local supermarket after to grab some sweet treats for dessert!

The famous archway at Cathedral Cove

The next morning, we were going to visit Cathedral Cove where most of us had signed up to go sea kayaking. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and after an overnight storm, the sea was still to rough and our kayaking session had to be called off. Instead, we parked near to Cathedral Cove and took a short walk along the coast path to get there.

On the beach at Cathedral Cove, and below, at Hot Water Beach

The walk along the clifftop offered plenty of pretty views along the way and when we reached Cathedral Cove it was instantly recognisable from the Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian.

The quieter end of Hot Water Beach

After spending some time on the beach, it was on to our next stop along the Coromandel Coast – Hot Water Beach.

This beach is famous for providing natural hot springs – if you can put in the effort to dig through the sand to get to the hot water!

Experiencing the hot water of Hot Water Beach!

Visitors flock to the beach either side of low tide armed with their spades (you can hire one from some of the local shops and cafes if you don’t have one with you!) and dig out their own burrows to sit in filled with the hot water that bubbles up from under the sand. The of the beach where the hot water is found was already packed when we arrived and we struggled to find a space so instead, decided to visit one of the local cafes for lunch.

After lunch, we returned to the beach and had a go at digging for some natural hot spring water, finding enough to at least all put our feet into but deciding against digging our own bath sized hole to sit in like many people had!

After our visit to Hot Water Beach, we stopped at a few more viewpoints but then it was time to say goodbye to the Coromandel and begin the long drive to our next destination, Waitomo.

Auckland, New Zealand

Walking through Albert Park

Having had a few hours to familiarise myself with the area surrounding my Auckland hotel before departing for the Bay of Isles just a few days ago, upon my return to the city, I quickly found my way back to the centrally-located Ibis Styles from the coach station.

Wandering through Auckland Domain

I’d arrived back in Auckland from Paihia with with most of the day still to spare so after dropping my bags and freshening up, I was keen to get straight out and spend the afternoon exploring.

Above, and below, at the Auckland War Memorial Museum

I decided to walk through Albert Park and towards the Parnell district of the city then into Auckland Domain, another of the city’s parks and home of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I spent the next few hours exploring the museum which had an extremely varied collection of exhibits on New Zealand’s history.

Above, and below, at the Sky Tower

After visiting the museum, I walked back to the city centre and bought a ticket for the observation deck at Auckland’s famous Sky Tower to enjoy the views over the city and the surrounding area.

Mission Bay

The next day was my last day in the city and I’d be moving from my hotel near the waterfront to the Haka Lodge hostel in the less-central Ponsonby area of the city as that is where my tour would start from the next morning.

Short on time, I decided the best way to see the as much of Auckland as possible would be on the hop on/off tour bus.

Passing the Parnell Rose Gardens

The bus had 2 routes which crossed over in Auckland Domain at the War Memorial Museum. Route one took me out towards Bastian Point where the bus stopped at the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial. Hopping off, I walked down to the nearby Mission Bay beach then back to the memorial from where there were some pretty views of Auckland city and across the bay.

Crater at Mount Eden

From here, the bus took us through the Parnell are of the city, passing the Parnell Rose Gardens and towards Auckland Domaine for a stop at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I would be switching bus routes here and had some time to kill between uses.

As I’d already visited the museum the day before, I instead took a stroll to the park’s Winter Gardens and had a quick look around before making my way back to the bus stop.

Passing Eden Park Stadium

The route two bus took me out to Mount Eden where I hopped off again to explore. Mount Eden is Auckland’s highest volcanic cone. The bus couldn’t drive to the summit so instead dropped us further down and I made the walk to the top from where there were some great views of Auckland’s skyline.

Back on the bus, we passed Eden Park, New Zealand’s largest sports stadium and home of the All Blacks. Then it was back to Auckland Domain where I swapped back onto a route one bus.

Visiting Parnell Village

The route one bus took me back into the Parnell district where I hopped off in Parnell Village, grabbing some lunch, browsing the stores and visiting the nearby Holy Trinity Cathedral. Then it was back towards Auckland’s waterfront and to the stop I’d got on at in the morning.

It was late afternoon so after picking up my luggage, I caught the bus down towards Ponsonby and found my way to the Haka Lodge hostel.

It had been a busy couple of days in the city and I felt I’d seen quite a bit of what it had to offer but now I was looking forward to starting my tour of the rest of the North Island.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

After spending an amazing week touring New Zealand’s South Island with small group adventure tour company Haka Tours, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned to explore the country’s North Island. Luckily, I had the opportunity to go back less than a year later so immediately booked myself of Haka Tour’s 7-day North Island trip.

Arriving into New Zealand at the end of 5 weeks spent travelling in Australia, the last 3 of which had been mainly spent travelling solo, I was looking forward to joining a group tour and the company it would provide but first of all I had just under a week to spend in New Zealand alone before meeting my group in Auckland.

The beach in Paihia

Seeing as I’d be flying to Auckland, I decided to spend a night there before travelling north to the Bay of Islands, part of North Island I’d not be visiting as part of my tour, for 3 nights before returning to Auckland for 2 nights ready to start my tour.

Looking out from Paihia waterfront

Despite catching a relatively early flight to Auckland from Sydney, by the time I’d got through airport security and worked out how to get to my hotel using public transport, there wasn’t a lot of the day left so I spent the evening familiarising myself with the area around my conveniently-located Ibis Styles hotel and a stroll along Auckland’s waterfront.

Arriving in Russell

The next morning, I was up early to walk the short distance to the coach stop near the waterfront to make the 3 hour bus journey to Paihia. Once there, I found my way to the YHA where I’d be staying in a private en suite room for the next 3 nights.

Russell waterfront, and below, exploring in Russell

Once settled in, I took a walk down to the seafront and around the small town of Paihia. Realising there wasn’t really much to do in the town itself, I made a spur of the moment decision to catch a boat across the Bay of Islands to the town of Russell.

Long Beach, Russell and below, following the trail to Long Beach and back to the waterfront

The crossing, passing all the small islets and islands which give the Bay of Islands its name, took only 15 minutes and after arriving at the picturesque harbour, I took a stroll along the waterfront and browsed in some of its shops before following the signs to the trail to Long Beach.

After spending some time sat relaxing at the pretty bay, I wandered back towards the waterfront to catch the boat back across to Paihia.

Staircase carved into a Kauri tree

The next morning I was up early to walk down to Paihia’s waterfront where I’d be meeting my coach for a day tour to Cape Reinga, the most north-westernly tip of the peninsula. Our first stop after leaving Paihia was at the store Ka-uri Unearthed which, as well as offering a cafe and conveniences, sells furniture carved out of Kauri trees. Highlight of the store was a staircase carved out of a giant Kauri tree.

Above, and below, 90-mile Beach and the Hole in the Rock

Next, it was on to the area’s 90-Mile Beach, a huge expanse of sand (and actually only 88km/55 miles long!) on the northwest coast of North Island leading down to the Tasman Sea. From here, we could see the Hole in the Rock, a rock formation lying just off the coast.

After leaving the beach behind, we drove the short distance to the Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes for part of the tour I was really looking forward to – sandboarding!

Sand boards ready to use!

I had sandboarded before at the Lancelin Dunes near Perth but there we were given long, thin wooden boards to sit on and ride down the dunes whereas here, we were given boogie boards and shown how to lie on them on our stomachs as if we were bodyboarding in the sea and ride down the huge dunes head first, dragging our toes in the sand behind us if we wanted to control our speed.

Climbing the giant dunes to sandboard down

Like with my first experience of sandboarding down the dunes in Lancelin, actually getting to the top of the dunes to start our descent was a huge challenge and it felt like for every one step I was taking up the dune, I was sliding 2 steps back!

Once at the top, it felt pretty high up and the way down looked pretty steep so it took a while to pluck up the courage to give it a go but after watching a few other members of the group give it a go and survive, I finally plucked up the courage, keeping my toes pretty much permanently jammed in the sand behind me as I went!

Coastal views walking to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, and below, the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean

It was fun and I’m glad I gave it a go but once back at the bottom of the dune, I couldn’t face climbing all the way back up again and decided to spend the last 5 minutes watching the rest of the group sandboarding down, some at break-neck speed!

A lunch stop was next and we stopped at a local cafe where a canteen style-buffet was provided included in the price of the tour.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, and below, walking to the lighthouse

Then it was on to Cape Reinga itself, at the tip of the peninsula. Here, we followed the coastal path down to the lighthouse at the end. The coastal views along the way were stunning and looking out we could see the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, a different shade of blue on each side of the join!

We made one more stop on the way back to Paihia at Gumdiggers Park, an ancient buried Kauri forest. Here, we followed a looped track past a giant Kauri log and through an old gum field with a recreated ‘gumdiggers village’ to learn about how the resin extracted from the ancient trees.

Hole in the Rock boat tour in Paihia

The next day, I was off to see another Hole in the Rock, this time the one off the coast of Paihia in the Bay of Islands. The boat took us out past all the small islands in the bay.

Along the way, we spotted dolphins and watched as they swam alongside us!

The Hole in the Rock

When we reached the Hole in the Rock, we took a few trips around it and even through it before turning round to head back to Paihia.

Taking the boat through the Hole in the Rock

On the way back, we stopped off at Urupukapuka Island, walking up to the highest point there to see the view over the Bay of Islands.

Walking from Paihia to Waitangi

Once back in Paihia, I decided to walk up to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, home of the Waitangi Treaty House where the Treaty of Waitangi, the document that establishing the British Colony of New Zealand, was signed in 1840.

A ceremonial ‘waka’ (war canoe), and below, exploring the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

After visiting the museum and exploring its grounds, I followed a nearby trail along the Waitangi River to Haruru Falls.

The next day it was time to say goodbye to Paihia and get the coach back to Auckland.

Haruru Falls, and above, following the trail to the waterfall

I had really enjoyed my few days in the Bay of Islands and was glad I had taken the time to visit this beautiful region on New Zealand’s North Island.

Adelaide and Kangaroo Island

Needing to justify another trip to an already much-visited Melbourne for a concert, I decided to spend a couple of weeks beforehand exploring parts of Australasia I’d not been to before. Travelling alone until I reached Melbourne, I eventually settled on a one-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island followed by a few days in one of only 2 Australian states I hadn’t visited before, South Australia. I’d be spending just 2 nights in the city of Adelaide giving me just one full day and most of the following day with a late evening flight to Melbourne.

Arriving in the evening after a rather bumpy flight from Christchurch via Sydney, I checked into my city centre Ibis hotel accommodation and headed straight to bed ready for an early start the next day.

Upon the advice of an Australian friend back in the UK who once lived in Adelaide, I had decided to spend my full day on a trip out of the city to Kangaroo Island. I had booked myself on a full day escorted tour and just needed to be waiting across the road from my hotel for the coach to pick me up early the next morning.

Seals along the path down to the beach and, below, seal spotting at Seal Bay

Once on board and the rest of the passengers picked up, we were taken on a rather long drive to the ferry terminal to catch the boat across the sea to Kangaroo Island. It was a cool autumn day and with the sea being rather choppy, I mainly stayed inside on the ferry, grabbing some breakfast from the on-board cafe and settling in for the 45 minute ride. Once there, we were met by our drivers for the day and invited on board our assigned minibus to begin our tour.

A seal lazing under the boardwalk

Stop number one was at Seal Bay where we battled our way through the rain and strong winds along the boardwalk and down to the beach for a bit of seal spotting. The seals were everywhere – along the path, under the boardwalk, on the beach and in the sea and despite the weather, I loved spending time on the beach watching the seals clambering out of the sea and waddling up the beach to find shelter under the boardwalk!

Our second stop of the day was Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

A koala high up in the eucalyptus tree and, below, kangaroos on Kangaroo Island!

The weather had thankfully started to improve and we followed the sanctuary’s Koala Walk trail , soon spotting the cute koalas tucked high up in the eucalyptus trees as well as kangaroos lazing in the grounds.

We continued our journey across the island and into Flinders Chase National Park where we stopped at the visitors center and then at Bunker Hill Lookout before continuing down to the coast and the Remarkable Rocks.

Here, we followed the short path down to the strange rock formations and spent some time exploring and taking photos.

Admiral’s Arch and, below, following the boardwalk to Admirals Arch and back

Our final stop of the day was at the nearby Admiral’s arch, also part of Flinders Chase National Park. Here we followed the boardwalk past Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and down to view the naturally created rock arch.

The views of the coast from the boardwalk were really beautiful and we spotted more seals, this time lazing on the rocks as the sea crashed in around them.

At the South Australia Museum in Adelaide

After a busy day, it was time to be dropped off back at the ferry terminal to catch the boat back across to the mainland where we were met by a coach to take us back to Adelaide. Back at the hotel, I was exhausted after a fun but long day.

I’d enjoyed seeing some of the highlights of Kangaroo Island but wish I’d had time to make it a longer, overnight stay there to spend more time exploring what it had to offer.

Autumn at the Botanic Gardens

The next day, I checked out of my hotel and headed off to spend the day exploring the city before catching my flight to Melbourne that evening. After grabbing some breakfast from a nearby cafe, I walked to Adelaide’s North Terrace to visit the South Australian Museum. The museum was free to enter and housed a variety of Natural History exhibitions including a huge collection of Aboriginal Australian artefacts.

The museum is situated right on the edge of Adelaide’s Parklands and after my visit I wandered along to the nearby Botanic Gardens to explore. The park looked really beautiful with the autumn colours of the trees.

The River Torrens and, below, wandering along the river in Elder Park

Next up, I walked to Rundle Mall, Adelaide’s shopping district to browse the stores, pick up some last minute souvenirs and find somewhere to have lunch at then down to Victoria Square with its fountains where I was surprised to see a variety of lawn games including swing ball and skittles set up on the lawn for passers by to play with!

From here, I took a walk up to Adelaide’s Elder Park, taking a stroll along the River Torrens, across the bridge and looping back into the city. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and catch the bus to the airport in time for my flight. I’d enjoyed my day strolling through the city getting a glimpse of what it had to offer and I’d like to return to Adelaide in the future maybe as a base to explore the region further.

Goodbye Trek America

My top 5 memories of travelling with Trek

Regular readers will know I’ve been a bit of a cheerleader for Trek America, a small group US tour company aimed at 18-38 year old solo travellers which I credit with changing my life by quashing my fears and doubts of travelling alone, instilling my love of small group tours and adventure travel in general and leading to me forming many lifelong friendships. So it was with great sadness that I met the news that the company had been disbanded, another casualty of the effects of Covid on the Worldwide travel industry. Trek America wasn’t a baby in the World of escorted touring having started offering its unique adventures across the Americas all the way back in 1972, but global travel restrictions along with the logistics of how to operate group tours which essentially consist of up to 15 individuals crammed together on a minibus for much of the time in a World of social distancing, eventually made the business unviable.

Message breaking the news on the company’s social media pages

At the grand old age of 34, I took the plunge and booked myself onto the 3-week Trek America Southern BLT tour, my first foray into solo travel and group tours and I loved it so much that I returned to the States just a few months later to join the company’s 3-week Northern BLT Trek. Since then, I have travelled with them through Alaska and introduced my sister-in-law the joys of small group travel when I won 2 places on their Deep South Tour. While I’m now more likely to plan my own self-driven road trips with some of the many friends I made on Trek and the news of the company’s demise came *just* as I was too old to join onto any more of their tours anyway, I still felt a huge loss at hearing its fate and especially thinking of all those who now won’t get to go through the experience of touring with them.

So to celebrate its existence rather than mourn its loss, here are my top 5 memories from the 4 tours I took with Trek America!

5. Partying in Vegas

Just three days into a 3 week trip, our stop in Vegas is mainly memorable because, unusually, it wasn’t how I’d ever spent my time in Vegas before.

The Bellagio dancing fountains

Playing drinking games in the hotel followed by piling onto a ‘party bus’ on which we spent our time on board hooking up our own ipod and singing and dancing along to the cheesiest of cheesy pop tunes. Then catching the last 2 shows at the Bellagio dancing fountains before karaoke at an off-Strip dive bar until the early hours.

And yet we were still up reasonably early the next day to make the most of everything else Vegas has to offer. Only on Trek.

4. Learning about Civil Rights in Memphis

At completely the other end of the spectrum to the time I spent in Vegas on the Southern BLT but equally unforgettable was the afternoon I spent in Memphis on the Deep South BLT at the National Civil Rights Museum.

At the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Hotel, Memphis

Compelling, humbling and thought-provoking, the museum took us on a journey through the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the US and Worldwide including a deeply moving look at the events leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King before seeing the room where he died. A sobering experience.

Who knew Trek could be educational.

3. Monument Valley in the snow

A magical visit to Monument Valley a week into the Southern BLT. After an unexpected snow storm suddenly hit as we visited the Grand Canyon, it was on to Utah where we found the snow getting deeper and deeper.

Staring out at the vast beauty of a snow-covered Monument Valley

Despite the weather making it impossible to do the complete tour of the Navajo Tribal Park site, the snow made the visit even more special bringing a serene calm over the area. And underneath a clear blue sky with the sun shining on it, the famous red rocks poking up from the valley floor looked even more beautiful covered in the heavy, white snow.

Still the moment from the tour we talk about the most.

2. Seeing Mount Denali in Alaska

A glimpse of Mount Denali on a scenic flight over Denali National Park

Not strictly a Trek America memory as although I booked the tour of Alaska with them, I was transferred onto a tour with their sister company Grand American Adventures, but it still felt very much like Trek so I’m going to count it!

The highlight of a trip full of highlights, this expensive tour extra was worth every penny as we flew in a light aircraft over Denali National Park and finally caught sight of the until then elusive Mount Denali.

Only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park get to see Mount Denali and the weather had not been on our side while touring the park so having it suddenly come into view as we flew over the park was an amazing surprise and a strangely emotional experience.

Even without the appearance of Mount Denali, the scenic flight over glaciers and the Alaskan Range, followed by a glacial landing, was a wonderful, once in a lifetime, experience.

1. Wyoming & Yellowstone National Park

Rafting down Snake River, Wyoming and above, hiking in Grand Teton National Park and horse riding in Wyoming. Below, spending time in the epic Yellowstone National Park.

Despite it being a very National Park heavy tour, nothing could have prepared me for sheer beauty and spectacle of Yellowstone National Park. From bison and bear sightings to colourful canyons and of course, the famous geysers and geothermal activity, never has my jaw dropped so may time in such a short amount of times.

If it looks amazing in the photos, they don’t do it even the slightest justice. The park has to be seen to be believed. And as if that wasn’t enough, we continued from the park through its home state of Wyoming visiting the neighbouring Grand Teton National Park where we were met by more breath-taking scenery before spending the rest of our time in old west-style town of Jackson horse riding in the mountains and rafting through the rapids of Snake River. The one state on the tour I couldn’t wait to return to!

There are hundreds of other memories I could have mentioned from my Trek America trips – line dancing the night away in Nashville, listening to a jazz band play as we floated down the Mississippi on a New Orleans paddle boat, spending the day exploring the valley at Yosemite National Park, watching the sunset over Lake Tahoe, hiking in the amazing US National Parks, visiting the studios Elvis recorded at in Memphis… not to mention all the amazing food we ate, fun nights out we had and all the interesting places we stayed in.

Thanks for all the memories Trek America, you will be missed.

Find links to read about my adventures travelling across America with Trek here.

Franz Josef, New Zealand

I was nearing the end of a one-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island with small group adventure tour company, Haka Tours. The tour had began in Christchurch with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown and Wanaka and now we had 2 nights left and were driving north to Glacier Country.

Beautiful coastal view on the way to Franz Josef

As the Haka Tours bus took us from Wanaka towards our destination of Franz Josef, there was a visible change in the scenery as we entered Mount Aspiring National Park and the New Zealand rainforest and the vivid autumn colours that had dominated our views so far were replaced by deep hues of green.

Coastal drive

Before leaving, we were all advised to invest in some bug spray to use as we reached the tropics and as we got out the bus at our first stop, Fantail Falls, we were all glad to have taken this advice as mosquitos swarmed near the river.

Ocean view

Fantail Falls was a pretty and easy to access waterfall in Mount Aspiring National Parks. After spending some time taking photos, we took a short drive to another waterfall, the taller Thunder Creek Falls.

It was another couple of hours or so drive from here to our motel in Franz Josef, the only other stop we made along the way was a a viewpoint over the coast.

Our limo awaits

That evening, our guide told us there was a surprise night out arranged for us all and after checking into our rooms, we met up to find a limousine waiting outside our motel for us!

The limo took us up and down the high street a few time before dropping us at the Blue Ice Cafe, a bar that was actually just a short walk from our accommodation.

Church in Franz Josef Village

Here, we found a tray of shots lined up for us and after some good ‘pub grub’ food, we spent the evening entertaining ourselves playing pool along with games on the Nintendo Wii set up by the bar staff!

Walking through Franz Josef village, the glacier in the distance

The next morning, we were off to visit Franz Josef glacier. Some of the group had booked helicopter tours and ice-walking trips to get a bit closer to the glacier while the rest of us would be following the walking trail out of Franz Josef village to the base of the glacier.

Hiking to the glacier

After grabbing some snacks and sandwiches to take with us, we set off. It was a mainly easy walk to the glacier over rivers, through the rainforest and past waterfalls with the glacier in view most of the way.

Waterfalls on the way to the glacier and below, nearing the glacier

After taking plenty of photos, we ate lunch near the glacier before retracing our steps back to the path.

With plenty of time to spare before meeting the rest of our group back at the hotel, we decided to follow the Douglas Walk path, hoping it would lead us to a suspension bridge we had glimpsed sight of from the glacier.

In the rainforest

The path took us through more rainforest and to Peters Pool, a small but pretty lake which reflected the surrounding scenery and then on to Douglas Bridge, a suspension bridge across the Waiho River. While not the bridge we had seen from the glacier earlier, it was still fun to cross and we made sure to follow the ‘5 persons only’ instruction written on the bridge’s entrance!

From here, some of the group decided to continue on in their search for the other suspension bridge while the rest of us decided to turn around and walk back to Franz Josef village. Once there we sat out in the sunshine having tea and cake at a small cafe waiting for the rest of the group to get back.

We met with the rest of the group late afternoon and all swapped our stories from the day. All tired after the day’s excursions, we were delighted to find out that we would be visiting the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools to relax for a while.

The suspension bridge across the River Waiho

Then, as it was officially the last night of our tour, we all went out to a local restaurant for one last group meal together.

Arriving in Hokitika

The next morning, we checked out of our Franz Josef motel and boarded our Haka Tours bus for the last time. Our tour of New Zealand’s South Island would be finishing this evening back at where we started, the city of Christchurch.

But instead of taking the tour bus the whole way there, we would be taking the TranzAlpine train for the last leg of the journey!

Above, and below, Hokitka Beach

Before arriving at the train station, we made a lunch stop in the coastal town of Hokitika. After grabbing some food and browsing in some of the town’s jade stores, we made our way down to the beach. Hokitika is home to a large beach full of driftwood and local artists had fashioned this driftwood into various sculptures covering the sand.

The sculptures made great backgrounds for our photos and with it being the last day of our tour, we made sure to get a few photos of the group together.

Above, and below, driftwood sculptures on Hokitika Beach

From here, we continued on until we reached the train station. We waved goodbye to our tour guide for a while – he’d be driving the bus back to Christchurch and would meet us at the other end with our luggage for a proper goodbye – and waited for the train to arrive.

Above, on board the TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch, and below, views along the way

The TranzAlpine is supposed to be one of the World’s greatest train journeys and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The journey took us past amazing scenery passing river gorges and through the Southern Alps then across the Canterbury Plains before arriving in Christchurch. Here we were met as planned by the Haka Tours bus and it was time to say goodbye to some members of the group who were leaving that night to catch flights.

The rest of us would be staying over at the Haka Lodge hostel on the outskirts of the city before departing the next day.

It had been an unforgettable week and I’d enjoyed my time in New Zealand so much, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned, next time to explore its North Island!

Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Wanaka

I was about half way through a small group tour of New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours and so far, had spent a few days exploring Christchurch before journeying to Lake Tekapo and then on to Queenstown.

Stopping off in Arrowtown

After a busy few days in Queenstown, we were making a late morning departure for Wanaka where we’d be staying in a hostel situated right on the lake.

Leaving later than planned after some of the group’s morning excursions finished late, it was already pretty much lunch time so we made a stop at the nearby Arrowtown.

For me and a few other members of the group, this was our second visit to Arrowtown that day after we had stopped as part of our Lord of the Rings locations tour that morning.

Old West style building in Arrowtown

Then, we had mainly spent time down by the river, driving through the actual town without stopping, so it was nice to have some time to explore the pretty American gold rush-style town this time.

Whilst there, we grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a local cafe, which I followed with a boysenberry ice cream, before jumping back on board our bus to continue to Wanaka.

Down by the marina in Wanaka

We didn’t make any more stops along the way until we reached Wanaka’s skydiving centre. Braver members of the group had signed up to skydive over Lake Wanaka that afternoon.

The rest of us waved goodbye to our nervous but excited friends as we continued our drive to our accommodation and as we wished them luck we were both relieved it wasn’t us but also wishing we had the nerve to join them!

Above, and below, an autumn stroll alongside Lake Wanaka

After checking into my private en suite room at our hostel, I sat out in the common area admiring the stunning view of the lake from the floor to ceiling window. Joined by some other members of the group, we took a late afternoon stroll down to the lake and along the lakeside path before looping back to the hostel and sitting out in the autumn sunshine awaiting the return of our skydiving buddies.

That evening, we walked into town to Mexican restaurant for dinner, staying for drinks after.

Stopping to take in the view while cycling alongside Lake Wanaka

We had just one night in Wanaka but wouldn’t be departing until early afternoon the next day.

A few of us made plans to meet early to make the most of the morning and hire bikes to ride a circular route along the lake and back.

Above and below, views as I cycle at Lake Wanaka

The path along the lake was pretty flat and easy to ride along and made plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the beautiful views and take way too many photos. The lake looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine surrounded by the the golden-leafed trees.

Cycling past Wanaka’s Puzzling World attraction

Eventually, the path turned away from the lake and along the road up a huge hill and back to Wanaka town where we passed the Puzzling World attraction. It looked like it would have been a fun place to explore if we’d had more time!

Above and below, spending an autumn morning cycling at Lake Wanaka

From here it was downhill back to the lake and we returned our bikes and met the rest of the group to check out of our hostel. We just had time to grab some lunch before it was time to load up the bus and depart.

We made a stop for one last look at Lake Wanaka before continuing on to our next destination, Franz Josef.