WILDTHG TRAVEL

Staying at The Park Royal Penang Resort

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Jun 18, 2017

If you are going to Penang Island for art and heritage, a weekend getaway from city life in KL, or of course travelling through at your leisure, you won’t want to miss the northern side of the island.

Batu Ferringhi beach stretches for miles down the coast of the northern part of the island, and offering soft sand, various watersports and other attractions, is one of the most popular beaches in Penang.  Park Royal Penang Resort is perched at an ultimately relaxed, secluded spot along the beach and within a short drive of the more lively Georgetown – read about my visit to the Park Royal here, so you can decide if it’s the place for you!

 

GETTING THERE

Batu Ferringhi is about 30-40 minutes by car (I recommend using Grab everywhere in Malaysia) from the airport and about 20 from Georgetown. Penang isn’t too large of an island, and the beach is along the coastal road on the north end.

 

THE HOTEL

Backed up right to the beach with its own access, Park Royal Penang Resort is a tropical paradise in and of itself, with expansive lawn space in the back, covered with sun lounges and palm trees. Laying in the sun tire you out? You can get a massage with a view at the small hut in the hotel’s own backyard, and grab a piña colada at the bar afterwards. Not to mention the beautiful pool, with sparkling blue water and surrounded by palm trees, luscious tropical plants and flowers that create a relaxing oasis. Just down the path is a kiddie pool for youngsters – even better.

The hotel has quite a few rooms, bigger and smaller; my room was clean, comfy and lovely. The bed was soft and, while I would have happily done more sleeping, I slept great while I was there.

 

Park Royal is a 5 minute walk from the Ferringhi Walk, a night market and bazaar with various stalls, selling clothing and trinkets, and food. It is nice to have a glance through while you are on this end of the island, but there is nothing here that you cannot also buy in the shops and markets of Georgetown, which arguably have a larger selection.

 

In My Opinion: I can’t decide which is my favorite; the beach or the pool. I chose to spend my time back and forth between the two, and just can’t get enough of the sun, so the lounge area all around the hotel is perfect, if you don’t feel like getting sandy. The breakfast is nice and the open restaurant looks right onto the pool. The hotel is clean, comfortable and has a very relaxed and isolated vibe, which I loved to escape to after busier times walking around and seeing the sights in Georgetown.

Life is Better in Bali – a Weekend on Nusa Lembongan

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Jun 10, 2017

If you’ve ever observed 73829 stag parties, steadily drinking their way through the classy establishments of Kuta Beach, Bali to the steady hard bass of Sky Garden’s electro lineup or the kitschy but irresistible dance anthems at Paddy’s Pub… you may be a die hard Bali goer… or you might be longing for an ever so slightly more relaxing, low key getaway. 

I have two words for you: Nusa Lembongan. Lembongan is one of the many small island getaways just a short boat ride from Bali, but is a bit further from the beaten backpacker path than say, the Gilis or Lombok. This is my third or fourth trip to Lembongan, and I’m already checking my calendar to see when I can fit in my next trip… why do I keep coming back? Because this, my friends, is paradise. Yes there are thousands upon thousands (literally) of remote islands with gorgeous pristine beaches in Indonesia (not to mention Thailand and beyond), but Lembongan just has a special vibe – maybe you’ll love it too, maybe not. But hey, either way, you’ve gotta see it at least once. I first discovered Lembongan while living in Jakarta, and desperately needing to escape to a beach every weekend, away from the deadly traffic (another story). It was love at first sight. 

This weekend, I returned to Lembongan for the first time in a full year, and it felt just like home. I chose to do this weekend trip as an easy getaway from my KL workweek, a great beach escape that still has an element of total relaxation and for my second weekend back in SEA, ease of familiarity.  

Flying out of KL late Friday evening, I arrived to Bali Denpasar around midnight. After clearing immigration and customs (sigh) I made my way out to the familiar throng of haggling taxi drivers, who  naturally triple their prices at the first glimpse of blonde hair. Despite my attempts to go lower, I managed to get a very kind older driver to take me for 80,000 IDR (note on taxi from airport to Kuta Beach: don’t pay more than 100k, though it will likely be challenging to find anything as cheap as a ride in simply because drivers claim the need to pay several additional tolls and fees associated with leaving the airport grounds). Part of my routine, I naturally told him to head to “Grand Barong Resort, Popies dua” (note my extensive knowledge of bahasa…….) The familiar decorative gateway in traditional Balinese style marked my arrival to good ol Kuta Beach, a grimy and horribly touristy, but undeniably charming desintstion in its own right. We trundled down Popies Lane 2, past all of the closed down trinket and souvenirs shacks lining the alleyway, the occasional partygoer wandering his and her way home.. somehow. Eventually, the lights of the Kuta party scene tellingly illuminating the street beyond and the unmistakeable din of the bar next door told me I was back. Amongst countless lovely, cheap, luxurious and anything in between options for accommodation in the Kuta Beach area or surroundings, I continue to return to Grand Barong for a few reasons, which may or may not be totally justifiable. I know EXACTLY where the hotel is, meaning I can even give a taxi driver directions from a certain point in Bali, and I know the surrounding area and where to quickly and easily seek out snacks, water, ATM and so forth. 

As the hotel is also a 3 minute walk from the main party street of Kuta, it’s certainly accessible if you’re looking for a stable place to stumble home to after a good rally at a night out. As I almost always took the last flight into Bali, it became a favorite activity of mine to walk down to this street to sit at one of the bars (playing the loudest music imaginable and with a sign in the back naming their house cocktails, including “Green Fuck, Boom Sex, and Dark at Surfer”. I would order a large still water and spring rolls, and just revel in the hilarity of how perplexed the wandering and inebriated bachelors became at my apparent sobriety, and moreso at the fact that this seemed intentional. They just couldn’t comprehend that I was “only in town for about 10 hours, just here to have a snack and head to bed.” (It’s still funny.) 

There are most certainly always cheaper ways to accomplish things in Indonesia, but for the sake of storytelling, I’ll tell you how I’ve arranged my boat trip. If you stay with various hotels on Lembongan, they may offer (and even reach out to you by email, for example) a round trip boat service from various points – including Sanur, the main harbor of Bali – often with car pick up and drop off on both ends of the trip. This is all usually offered (also available directly from Grand Barong) for 500,000 rupiah (about $35 USD). While you could get the boat trip for 300 and negotate a much cheaper version of transport to and from the harbor on your own (perhaps Grab, perhaps a friendly motorist with a scooter; plenty of them offer), the choice is yours simply for price vs. convenience. Arriving to Sanur Harbor, I grabbed some coffee and corn flakes at a nearby homestay-style hotel’s breakfast and waited for the ferry. If you haven’t been, the harbor is lined with many of the same exact shops that you will find in Kuta or other central tourism-heavy areas of Bali, selling swim accessories, batik and various trinkets and souvenirs, in case you feel the need to do some last minute shopping. There are a few different cruise companies that do shuttles to and from Lembongan, including Lembongan Fast Cruises and Marlin Cruises (I have been on both, recently on Marlin). To board the boat, you will throw whatever shoes you are wearing into one big plastic bin, so flip flops are advised. You’ll then hand over your baggage to be kept aside by the crew, sometimes on the roof – if you just have a smallish backpack, they’ll let you keep it on your lap during the ride. Some boats require a metal ladder to board, while others are accessible directly from the water after wading out, knee-deep. The boat ride only takes about 30 minutes as they are quite speedy, and then in no time, you are pulling up to the lovely little island of Lembongan!! 

RE: the topic of cheaper transport, the 500k IDR that I have paid for the full return trip including pick up and drop off on both sides; as I never even have more than a small backpack for the weekend and if I stay at Cliff Villas, it is actually accessible from a path that runs up from the main harbor area alongside the cliff, past The Deck (my favorite cafe on the island!) and on up the hill, which I feel would honestly take far less time than the shitshow (excuse my French) that is usually the process of even finding, let alone waiting for, someone vaguely involved with your given tour company until enough straggling visitors are gathered to fill one of their transport trucks, after which they will drive you around the island and drop everyone off at their respective hotels, in no apparent given order (the beauty of Indonesia, my friend). All things considered, I think I’ll just say to hell with it and walk to my hotel next time, to get to my point. Anyway, transport was eventually found and I was dropped at Cliff Villas, to be greeted by a familiar peacefulness and breathtaking tranquility. There are only about 15 villas that, as the name suggests, perch along a lush green hillside with views out over paradise to the harbor, where one can see the small boats lazily making their way around, or dedicated surfers who have paddled out to an excellent spot to catch the rolling waves. There are two swimming pools at Cliff Villas, one down at the reception level (all outdoors) and one at the highest level, all the way up the stone staircase. This infinity pool is the ultimate definition of dreamy getaway, with chairs to lounge and sunbathe in surrounding the blue water, which in my opinion is the perfect temperature and with the same amazing view of the harbor and the rich tropical flora decorating the island. You could certainly make a day (or a week) of lounging by this pool, cocktail or fresh juice in hand. After saying hello to the pool and checking into my room, I donned my island clothes and rented a scooter from the hotel (they say 80k/day but I ended up paying about that much for 1.5 days because it was all the cash I had on me and my host preferred that over taking my card…) 

I navigated the familiar rocky paths out from Cliff Villas, which is quite tucked away, to the main road, and turned right – towards dream beach and the yellow bridge. I headed for the famed yellow bridge, the singular crossing connecting Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, its slightly less-developed neighbor but home to equally beautiful sights and experiences. I had read an article several months prior that during a religious festival, so many people had crossed the bridge all at once that it collapsed under the weight – fortunately, it seems to be up and running (rebuilt) again, even stronger than before, and just as yellow! A quick crossing brought me to the Ceningan side, and turning right at the first fork, I followed the small road that winds along the water for some distance, passing by small shops and houses, greeted by locals and passerby with a variety of waves, comments or confused expressions; perhaps at the prospect of a strange tourist riding a scooter in a bikini with a half silly smile pasted across her face. I kept following the road along until it too turned into rocks and dirt, and eventually came to a familiar pull out with a small sign indicating “Blue Lagoon.” Perhaps the spot had become more popular among travelers, or perhaps I just chose a busy afternoon, because the spot I once had gone to sit alone, staring out at the ceaseless waves, was now the backdrop of numerous selfies and snapchats. After spending a few minutes catching up with the lagoon, I backtracked just a way to “Le Pirate Beach Club,” as made famous per Instagram- I’m sure you’ve come across at least one photo of it’s cute turquoise beach huts in a precious row, facing the ocean. As Le Pirate isn’t only a place to stay, I try to stop by for lunch or at least a smoothie bowl every time I’m on Lembongan, because the food and views are too lovely to pass up. I usually sit down on the sun deck overlooking the water, in utter paradise, happily munching away at my hot pink dragonfruit smoothie bowl. 

Following my peaceful lunch, I returned to my scooter and rode my way back across to Lembongan, and headed for one of my favorite destinations on the island (and perhaps ever)- Dream Beach. I played around a bit, riding my scooter over the open expanses of dirt and the small ruts and hills across to the point where busloads (literally) of tourists were scrambling across the sharp rocks, taking pictures against the backdrop of ocean spray and sparkling water. I spent the rest of the day reacquainting myself with one of my favorite beaches in the world, and then made my lazy return to the hotel when I could tell the sun would be setting soon. I wanted to walk to my favorite cafe for dinner – The Deck Cafe – it is a perfect walking distance from Cliff Villas along a special path overlooking the ocean and nestled among flowers and shrubs and passing by various hotels, resorts and restaurants. The familiar whitewashed wood and hipster vibe greeted me at The Deck, where I literally haven’t ever had a bad time, nor a bad meal. I always sit downstairs at one of the sofa tables or the chairs along the bench directly overlooking the water and harbor, so I can have the full view of the gorgeous island and water and little boats. From here you can watch the surfers catching their first (or last) waves, watch cruises and fishing boats arrive to the harbor, and watch small private snorkeling and diving tours coming and going. The music, setting, menu and everything about this place creates the absolute best vibe, and I have to say the food is delicious from morning til night; I just don’t think you can go wrong. I munched on my dinner while watching the sun go down across a purple sky, simply happy to be alive. I walked home that night in peaceful quiet, watching the moon reflect off of the calm ocean, and because I had zero other commitments for one evening, I decided to go to bed – at a splendid 7:30PM – it just doesn’t get any more wild than that. 

Thanks to my extreme bed time the night before, I was up and wide awake by 7AM Sunday morning, and got to see the first surfers paddling out for a post-sunrise ride on the fresh new waves, with the mists of the night still fading into the rapidly warming morning. After preparing my things to check out that day, I headed for breakkie back at The Deck, which was once again gorgeous in the morning sunlight. After a wonderfully relaxing and delicious breakfast, I came back to my hotel and my scooter to head for a beach day. On my way back to Dream Beach, I stopped by the Leaning Tree boutique, just down one of the side streets near the turn off for Dream Beach. This boutique has an airy, effortless vibe and sells all of your bougie (but awesome) beachy necessities, from Bali style bikinis to clothing for women and men, to accessories, cute Turkish towels, bags, and even kitchen decor! I spent the rest of the morning and into the afternoon effectively posted up on Dream Beach, dipping into the strong salty current every once in a while to cool off. Sufficiently salty, sandy and sun kissed, I eventually rode back to my hotel, once more saying goodbye to a place I love so very much, but to be back again soon! 

As is the case with Sunday returns, it was the classic ferry to Bali, taxi to airport and flight to KL that eventually saw me into my bed, bleary eyed and already missing my sunny palm-tree paradise. 

Escape to a Secret Paradise – Koh Lipe, Thailand

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Jun 10, 2017

I was looking for a weekend getaway from KL’s clouds that would include sand, sunshine and beach; I had to look no further than Thailand, of course, and a friend had recently told me about a certain Koh Lipe, which was supposed to be amazing, tranquil and gorgeous – it did not disappoint. Here is my weekend tale to an absolutely dreamy and delicious tropical paradise, an easy ferry ride away from Langkawi, Malaysia!

 

My weekend started with a short hop with Air Asia from KL to Langkawi island; let me just tell you, they went ALL out for the domestic terminal at KLIA2 (not). If and when you fly domestically in Malaysia… indeed just take all escalators down until it feels as though you’re underground and just keep walking through that hallway… you will actually find your gate eventually, assumptions aside. After properly stocking up on chocolate, I was ready for my flight with all but my earphones, so unfortunately forgotten at home. Luckily enough, I ended up next to AND in front of an entire troupe of kicking, crying and screaming children, which as everyone knows is my absolute favorite. I’m not quite as bitter as I sound, but it was late Friday night and I’m JUST tryna get to the beach, people. Arriving at Langkawi airport was seamless enough; it is a relatively compact arrival hall with just a few convenience shops near baggage claim. I saw a few cars available on my GRAB app, so I went ahead and booked a driver (LOVE GRAB – it’s always my go to, especially if you can swing it from Airports as outbound airport taxi prices are ridiculously hiked up). As is now the routine, I was greeted as always with “only yourself/one person?” Since my most recent arrival in Malaysia (only 2 weeks ago) I have been greeted with a variation of this (“only you?” “You brave girl to be traveling alone”), or even questions as to whether I am scared by being alone. Fortunately I can say thanks to a spotless history of security while traveling to many places in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as a few others in SEA, I do feel perfectly fine, but as all the ladies out here know, it’s a completely different (and highly relevant) conversation; perhaps we can tackle that in a separate post! I arrived to my hotel for the night not quite sure where to go and figuring it was most likely closed for the night, but eventually found a reception that was open to check in. Never having traveled to Langkawi, I had no idea which part of the island was “best” to stay at, or what type of place to look for. Only staying for a few hours overnight I obviously did not want to spend much and ideally would have found a hostel, but by location, the de Baron seemed conveniently close to Kuah Jetty, where I needed to be the next morning at 8am for my ferry to Thailand!! 

Saturday morning, I was up and around at 7:30, donning only my bikini and a perhaps ill-advised neon yellow-embroidered sundress (but my favorite BIYA). Armed with my trusty Patagonia Black Hole backpack, GoPro and Canon (and chocolate), I was out the door and ready for weekend adventures. Somehow, I had what seemed the only Grab car awake on the island to my door within 4 mins, and he easily took me to Kuah Jetty (note: type in “Kuah Jetty Point” to apps like this for best recognition. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this so called “Jetty”, but what greeted me was a full on ferry terminal complete with the works of retail shops and travel agents. After conceding to just drink Sbux today I began wandering (aimlessly, no – purposefully), in search of international departures. I had already booked my return ferry trip to Koh Lipe online and had my print out confirmations (probably not necessary to print btw) – so I was thinking to head straight for the ferry. I was directed to return to the entrance and go upstairs one floor to where “bowling” is (classic Malay directions…) lo and behold, this upstairs hallway (floor one, by entrance to ferry terminal) is indeed the office of Bundhaya Boat Co. (you can also ask for Tropical Cruises). At the office, I filled out my Thai arrival card and got all of the necessary paperwork and tickets squared away. Eventually, the time came to board our boat and off we went to Thailand!! The ferry trip went by quickly and comfortably enough – again, tip for quickness: if you just have a small bag, hang on to it and sit nearer to the front, which has more leg room and ensures that you’ll de board first as well, meaning you also arrive to said tropical destination sooner than later. The ride was about 1.45 hours long, which I passed with a mix of reading (What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School – highly recommended), ‘napping,’ and staring aimlessly at the passing waves through a tiny window at my side. Part of the way into the ride, a classically strange movie was turned on and I couldn’t help but pay attention at parts… it was one of those “so bizarre, weird and pointless” things that I just had to, you see. If anyone happens to know the name and/or origin of this film, they should be awarded with something – it was properly sporting computer imaging capabilities firmly set in the 80s and the plot revolved somewhere along the lines of a mortal living in Egypt who, after some tie-ins with the demigod Horus (among several others), was on the quest to rescue his (already dead) beloved from (death) walking through the nine gates of the underworld… even Anubis was involved – it got real. Sooooo, let’s just say that I was embarrassingly attached to this plot line and still never know what happened, as before I knew it, we had pulled up about 100 meters offshore from the most picture perfect tropical drop of an island I could imagine. 

Classic Thai longboats with colorful ties on the fronts docked alongside our ferry to charter small groups of passengers to the island, and once we arrived, we were charged with the task of picking up our passports from the ferry company, who keeps them in transit to hand over ashore, then obtaining an immigration stamp from the border check. Did I mention, it started POURING rain as soon as we hit ground, which only escalated into a truly Thai monsoon-style deluge. Let me just take this moment to say, those travelers hanging around with dry bags have either just done a lot of snorkeling and kayaking trips or are brilliant and well prepared. Either way, get involved with that. I got lucky, still traveling only with my Patagonia Black Hole backpack – a life saver. It zips, then folds down, then clasps… and I think it’s either waterproof or pretty damn close to it, but everything inside – including all clothing but also passport, book and camera – stayed dry! 

Somehow, a kind woman from Mountain Resort singled me out and asked if I was going there; indeed I was. I followed her to a waiting pickup truck, into the front seat of which I was invited. Upon researching (albeit barely) Koh Lipe prior to my trip, I read several reiterations of the recommendation to bring cash with you, as there are no ATMs on the island and basically no place that accepts credit card. I awkwardly kept assuming that there would be somewhere between KL and Koh Lipe, surely, where I could either withdraw or change money… false. Perhaps because I flew domestically from Langkawi and/or just wasn’t searching that hard, I never did find a place to actually get my hands on some Baht. This luckily turned out fine for me in the end, because it also turned out that the longboat trips to and from the island and our ferry were either complementary, or included in something I had already paid for, and I was able to eat all meals at my hotel, which I added onto my room bill (and they take card at reception!) Problem solved, though if you are wanting to eat at some fun local places or purchase any souvenirs or anything, really, from the shops, bars and locales along the Walking Street or at the harbor, it would indeed be helpful to have some cash. 

Though my driver could barely see and had to continuously wipe down just one spot big enough to look out of on his windshield, we somehow made it to the other side of the island to the Mountain Resort. By the time we arrived the downpour had more or less calmed to a steady trickle, and I made my way soggily into reception to check in. I was given a lovely and typically Thai welcome drink, then ushered away to my room, which was one of the “Garden Suites,” aka small hut to myself with 2 twin beds and an open-air bathroom with shower and sink in the back. Once I had settled in, which didn’t take long considering my level of luggage, I decided that the best way to explore in good old Thai rain and humidity is in a swimsuit! On went the one piece, out came the GoPro, and out I went. First I had a quick walk around the grounds of the resort to see the different style of rooms and the swimming pool. I had a quick dip in the pool but let’s be real, the reason I came was for the beach. Down I went, to one of the most tranquil and lovely beaches I had ever visited. The hotel has a few hut rooms right on the beach, as well as several lounge chairs lined up for sunbathing. I kicked off my flip flops and decided to just have a walk and see where it could take me. I walked and walked, in and out of the beautiful clear water and happy to have my toes in the sand, stopping for the occasional photo with my ridiculously long extendo-selfie stick. My walk took me down the beach, eventually past more frequent beach huts, resorts, massage huts, bars and little snorkeling, diving and adventure outposts. I continued this walk as long as I could, but came to find that it couldn’t take me clear around the island, which I figured may even be possible at first. (Later realized I’m sure it would be possible at low tide!) By the time I returned to my beach at the north tip of the island, the sun had gradually started peeking through the clouds, and the day was getting hotter by the minute. I went to the upstairs restaurant for a lunch of Thai Green Curry and Vietnamese spring rolls, overlooking sunset beach. As the clouds cleared out overhead, the hot Thai sun illuminated the island’s beauty and everything just sparkled. Different hues of blue glittered in the channel between Koh Lipe and the mountainous Koh Adang, framing the sputtering longboats as they glided along – Locals and fishermen going about their daily lives. After finishing lunch I was headed for the beach. I lathered up with my good ol 50SPF (Southeast Asian sun is something else) and plopped down in my little claimed piece of beach a few meters from the crystal clear waters lapping at the shore. There were hardly any people at all on the island to begin with, and especially not towards the north end. It was magically relaxing to have a beach more or less all to myself and just not have to worry or care about sharing space or breathing room for once with hundreds of tourists. My afternoon didn’t evolve much from there, as I only took breaks from baking in the hot sun to take a swim. I read, napped, thought… all day until eventually, noticing more and more people joining me on this particular section of beach, I realized exactly why this tip is known as sunset beach. Travelers and locals alike straggled their way over to the beach to find their spot to watch a gorgeous sunset, some just sitting contentedly, some setting up their tripods for time lapse and breaking out the selfie sticks and even a drone – it was a fantastic sunset. After everyone has meandered back home and the sun had disappeared below cotton candy clouds, I picked up my beach things and headed back home. Considering Koh Lipe isn’t exactly party central, I was completely content with an (early!) night in, after having a quick shower spent dodging mosquitoes, moths and all of the bugs that had decided to make my bathroom their evening abode, I stretched out in bed for a bit of reading time before heading to sleep. 

I either slept really damn well or my body was just revolting against “too much” weekend sleep, because I was wide awake before 7am. Greeted by warm rays of sunshine, I dragged myself out of bed and back into my bikini. I went to the hotel breakfast at Mountain Resort, and once again ate a lovely meal overlooking a surreal and idyllic scene of sparkling blue water, luscious green islands and soft white sand. After breakfast, I was back on the beach to soak up a morning of sun, and by noon I was feeling pretty crispy (my favorite, I won’t lie). Knowing that I had to show up early for passport check at the isIand’s immigration center, I packed up and arranged to be dropped off at Pattaya Beach. Once I arrived, I was given my boat ticket and told to wait about 2.5 hours to get my passport stamped and then board the ferry back to Langkawi. The strip of perfectly soft white sand was imminently tempting, so sure enough I unrolled my beach towel, lathered up with another layer of sunscreen and claimed a spot right there in front of the ferry and immigration offices. After about ten minutes and after two boatloads of new tourists arrived, it became apparent that no amount of my nonchalant reading and actively “fuck off” attitude would deter random tourists from including me in their “arrival” selfies and kicking sand as they shuffled past in chattering hordes. Ok fine, time to move. Here I was anyway, at 3pm Sunday on the most picturesque, perfect sunbathing paradise imaginable and too crispy to even stay in the sun any longer. I claimed a small patch of sand in the shade and read until our ferry arrived, and a small disheveled group of us were ushered onto a Thai longboat. Sputtering slowly out across the crystal clear waters, we pulled away from beautiful little Koh Lipe, and it was difficult to even imagine I had actually been there, and I wished I didn’t have to leave yet!

The ferry ride back to Langkawi took a bit less than two hours and was relatively seamless, spent chatting with a cute pair of American ladies who had known each other since childhood and had vowed to take at least one fun trip together every year after their children had grown up. Upon arrival, I must have been a sight because I certainly had every security officer looking me up and down like something rather strange that had washed up on shore, and the nice Malaysian man in charge of the ferry tours gave me an incredulous look as I exited security still wearing only a sarong around my waist and bikini – after being quizzed only on Katy Perry songs after the guard discovered my home is California, rather than about the contents of my bags or purpose of my visit. Get used to it. After stopping off to get the utmost basic caramel macchiato (ugh), I jumped into a taxi with surprisingly no need to haggle, and headed for the airport. I’m sure you can guess the way the rest of my weekend proceeded – it included flight, taxi, shower, email, sleeeep. What a dreamy weekend! 

Adventure to Rottnest Island – Things you must see in Western Australia

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Mar 21, 2017

The inspiration for my trip to Rottnest Island began with a single jaw-dropping Instagram post of a bubblegum-pink lake, geotagged to be somewhere in Western Australia. My initial disbelief spiraled into an obsession to find the pink lakes of western Australia myself. After a few internet searches, I quickly discovered that the only pink lakes within reach of Perth existed to the north and south of Perth, each about 6-8 hours away by car. Knowing that I would only be in Perth for one week and unable to take a day to drive, I realized visiting these spots would have to go on my bucket list for another time (alongside tons of other amazing spots along the coast of WA – will definitely be back!) Eventually, a Google Maps search showed a pin on a small island off the coast of Perth; there seemed to be a “pink lake” on Rottnest Island! While countless blogs and travel websites mention the pink lakes of WA that I had found initially, I could not find any such description of those on the so-called Rottnest Island. Regardless, photos online of the island itself convinced me that it would be a gorgeous place to visit for the day, and so I decided I would go.

 

Lo and behold, Monday morning I woke up to a clouded and gloomy gray sky which only got darker by the minute. Despite the looming clouds, I made up my mind to not let a little bad weather get in the way of my adventures, so I headed out to the ferry terminal at Fremantle, one of three possible locations from which ferries leave to Rottnest (Fremantle being the shortest trip). I was questioning my decision to go ahead when some Perth locals on my ferry lamented what horrible weather they were having and what a shame I was seeing the island on a day like this… and when we caught air, bouncing clear off of our seats when we hit some of the bigger waves. The locals next to me told me a bit about the island, and about a local annual swimming competition, which runs 20km from the harbor to the island, through the open ocean!

 

Once I arrived to Rottnest, the day had already begun to brighten, with some of the clouds parting to allow little rays of sunshine through. I was instantly happier and so glad that I went ahead and chose to visit the island. I immediately headed for “Pedal and Flipper,” the most commonly-frequented bike rental shop on the island with a large garage full of bikes of all sizes. Once I had grabbed a helmet and bike, I was on my way. Not knowing how much of the island I would be able to cover before I had to turn in my bike by 5:00, I figured I would just explore as much as possible. The hope of seeing a pink lake was still fresh, so I went ahead and set off on my bike, with Google Maps pointing me somewhere towards the middle of the main part of the island. Once I headed down the central Digby Road, I didn’t have to bike very far before I came across a stunning sight: on my right, a deep blue body of water with – PINK around the edges! I had suddenly been plopped right into a fairytale, with wispy palm trees and cotton candy lakes, and I was loving every minute. The beginning of Digby Road is where I took most of my pictures, and as I continued along this road, the lakes only got pinker! As I learned from an oh-so-helpful billboard, the lakes get their (crazy) pink color from microscopic algae that grows on salt crystals, containing beta-carotene, a reddish orange substance that is partly responsible for the color. The pink lakes (also known as the salt lakes) are four times saltier than seawater, which reasonably attracts such a high concentration of the beta-carotene-bearing algae.

 

Tearing myself away from selfie upon selfie, I continued my ride and had an amazing day riding all over this beautiful little island off the coast of Perth. As I came to find out along my ride around Rottnest (Wadjemup to the local Noongar people, or simply “Rotto” to most locals), is well known for its significant population of quokkas! In case you don’t know, quokkas are (THE CUTEST AND CUDDLIEST) small native marsupials that appear to be something in between a large rodent and small cat-rabbit? The little guys of Rotto are either quite accustomed to visitors or just not shy, because they will indeed come right on over to check you out for any leftover snacks or just for a bit of a snuggle. Other wildlife of the island consists of many rare species of birds (you will see many trails indicating good places to spot these from, often pathways where bikes cannot go), and both Australian sea lions and southern fur seals, which you can spot frolicking and fishing off the shore of Rotto along the rocky coast.

 

Once I had ridden into central island in hot pursuit of the pink lakes, I decided to head to the north and skirt the border of the island counter-clockwise and try to make it all the way around to the east coast by the time I needed to return my bike. I passed bays, cliffs, beaches and rocky outcroppings by what seemed the dozen (there are something around 60+ bays surrounding the island!) and stopped to take pictures or wander down to most of them. Each and every place was spectacularly unique, and I could just imagine claiming a spot of the soft white sand for my very own during one of the hot hot days that Rotto is known for. A good book, the beach and crystal clear turquoise waters create the perfect recipe for an amazing vacation, staycation for Perthites, and anything in between. The second half of my day was filled with a bit more huffing and puffing, as I tried to cover as much ground as possible in between stopping to admire the views. Once I made it out to Cape Vlamingh, I only had about an hour left. Cape Vlamingh is at the westerly tip of the island and is home to a wildlife/eco sanctuary, which remains protected by a 200 meter boardwalk running out to the point, allowing visitors to enjoy the breathtaking views beyond the edge of the island.

 

After soaking in the amazing views at the west end, I took off again down the coast and made my last main stop before turning back to the central path back to the east coast; The Green Island. I am not entirely sure where this beach bay got its name, perhaps from the small rocks lining the coast. I was greeted by a group of five exuberantly jumping Indonesian bikers, all dressed for the occasion in neon yellow biking gear. I had missed this typical and familiar photo-on-a-tropical-beach-somewhere experience in Indonesia, where anyone with remotely blonde hair is bombarded for group photos with up to thirty people at a time. After we took our peace signs and smiley photos together and wished each other well, I enjoyed the peace of the beach and full force of the natural beauty of this remote paradise before jumping on my bike and pedaling my way back to the other coast.

 

I cannot even describe my experience at Rotto adequately… and I went on a cloudy, dreary day in comparison! I know that I simply must go back someday, and I would love at least one week to explore; just getting on my bike every morning, and riding where and when I want, seeing, feeling and experiencing the raw beauty of the happy little island. I recommend you do the same, and don’t forget to cuddle a quokka!

 

Stay wild xxx

Road tripping New Zealand – Driving Across North Island in One Weekend

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Mar 10, 2017

 

I’ve been told time and again that the South Island is the best place to be in New Zealand; it has the best views, the prettiest scenery… the greenest grass. Well, I haven’t made it down there yet (it’s on my list), but I can now happily say I’ve seen a pretty good portion (at least geographically speaking) of the North Island, and it’s still amazing.

 

If like me, you happen to find yourself on North Island and want to explore but are a little strapped for time, hopefully my adventure will provide you with some helpful inspo for a quick, but action-packed trip across the north.

 

Starting in Wellington, NZ, I needed to arrive in Auckland by Sunday night and wanted to see as much as possible. Originally, it was my plan to do the Alpine Crossing hike in Tongariro National Park, just outside of Taupo. After a bit more research, I learned that not only does the hike (as it should of course) take a comfy minimum of 8 hours, one should (must) also be properly geared up, prepared, etc. Equipped only with lifestyle Nikes (lol) and a frattagonia, I figured I’d at least need to rent some gear. While this was most likely possible, I came to the conclusion that in order to enjoy the weekend to the fullest without being rushed nonstop, it would be smarter to save the hike for another visit to NZ, when I have plenty of time to immerse in the nature, hike around as much as I want and actually spend a few days around Tongariro. (It looks amazing though, if you have a little more time in this area- I’ve heard great things!)

 

After realizing the extent of my time crunch, I looked for activities and stop-offs that would be fun to explore but wouldn’t necessarily take the entirety of a day, and ended up with a fabulous itinerary; here’s what I did over the weekend.

 

Saturday

The drive from Wellington up to Taupo is lovely in and of itself, winding in between cute little towns, one-street villages and rolling green hills. Be sure to stay focused on the road, because the beautiful views can get distracting. I chose to rent a car in Wellington, which could be dropped off in Auckland – a car allowed me to go wherever I wanted, whenever… it was absolutely worth it to me for this kind of trip, and unless there is a major barrier to renting a car, it’s the way to go. It took a little over two hours to reach Taupo, where I had booked a one night stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo. I first saw Lake Taupo from the road, which is the major lake for which Taupo is famous. A monstrous blue gem, the lake is gorgeous and home to all manner of fun activities.

 

Since I hadn’t pushed to leave super early Saturday morning, I arrived late afternoon into Taupo and began looking for things to do still that evening. I had heard about the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo, and found an evening sunset cruise still available to visit them. Having a few hours before the cruise, I asked about any hot springs nearby, since the area around Taupo is renowned for its geothermal activity and plethora of hot springs. It turned out that Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort is right next door (a 5 minute walk) from the Hilton, so I walked just down the road to the public hot springs. There is a small entry fee for unlimited day access to the pools, which are well-maintained in a lovely landscaped area, including trees, plants, waterfalls and even waterslides, for kiddies and adventurers. I spent at least an hour soaking in the warmth of the vividly turquoise-green pools, amazed at the natural temperatures (allegedly cooled down by necessity to make it possible for people to swim!)

 

Later, on to Lake Taupo for some evening exploring: It is easy to drive down to the harbor (Redoubt street), and park along the water where all of the boats are docked. There are many ways to see the carvings throughout the day, including by several types of boat or even kayak. I went on the sunset cruise with a company called Ernest Kemp; a relatively small group of people is taken out on the lake in an adorable little green tug boat, and the sunset cruise included pizza and (seemingly unlimited) beer or wine, tea or coffee… pretty fancy stuff, folks. The cruise takes about two hours total, reaching the carvings just in time to catch the last of the daylight and circling back with a gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun, painting streaks across the evening sky.

 

*I was not able to fully explore the Taupo area, but it is most famous (apart from the lake itself), for its geothermal attractions, including hot springs, pools and waterfalls. According to my own quick research, top picks for the area include Haka Falls, Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa, and Otumuheke Stream Spa Park. Unfortunately my trip was too quick to explore all of these, but they are on my list for next time; I would love to do a relaxing hot springs crawl of sorts around Taupo; if you are looking for more tips, the Great Lake Taupo website is quite helpful.

 

Sunday

After a relaxing arrival to Taupo and a lovely evening, I got a good night’s rest and woke up for a delicious fresh breakkie at the hotel, overlooking a misty Lake Taupo in the distance. I got around early to make the most of the day, heading out from Taupo and up north towards Rotorua. A little over two more hours north of Taupo along the “Thermal Explorers’ Highway” lies Rotorua, another area famed for its volcanic and geothermal activity. There are plenty of fun things to see and do around Rotorua, but if you only have a few hours, you must go to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Waiotapu is a Maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. I spent close to three hours total at Waiotapu, taking the long path (of three options based on which thermal attractions you would like to see and how long you wish to take) to see all of the thermal craters and lakes, and then afterwards stopping by the boiling mud pool. For more detail on Waiotapu, see my blog post about it here.

 

After exploring Waiotapu, I was back on the road towards Rotorua proper. On my way through, I stopped at Polynesian Spa, a developed and fully landscaped geothermal spa that sits directly on the banks of Lake Rotorua, with amazing views across the water. The pools in the spa come from various natural sources in the area, some of which are exclusively sourced by Polynesian Spa and are only accessible there. For example, the “Priest’s Bath,” which for centuries served as the bathing site for local Maori, who long acclaimed the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the acidic water. Information about the baths claims that people have long traveled to Rotorua and to these baths specifically to reap such health benefits as relief from arthritis and rheumatism, or even to seek “eternal beauty,” which is said to grace those who bathe in the nearly magical water.

 

Refreshed from my R&R stop at Polynesian Spa, I headed on down (up) the road for what is basically the middle of nowhere in the north island to nowhere other than The Shire, of course. I debated as to the real importance of visiting the famed Lord of the Rings filming spot, but in the end decided that if I was going to be so close, I simply couldn’t and shouldn’t miss saying hello. So, a few hours and many luscious green rolling hills later, a tiny country one lane road brought me to the parking lot of Hobbiton. I did question Google Maps every once in a while, especially when the road became narrower and the hills became more dense. I had a feeling I was on the right track, however, when pulling around a corner I happened upon a (honest to God) wizard (?) with a small horse (?) seemingly taking photos alongside the road (WHAT). Hobbiton is – well – quaint, and as expected, a bit on the touristy side. For the die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, the tour guides invite you to reenact any scene you like from The Hobbit, and a video playing inside the tour bus on your short jaunt out to the hobbit houses explains a bit with footage about the making of the film and how the land was originally found by the director, in the middle of a beautiful New Zealand farm. It was interesting to learn about the film and its history, and about just how much of a production it became for the countryside farm; instead of monetary backing from the government, the director was instead offered help and manpower from the military, which assisted in building roads on set and through the hills of the farm. This eventually drew (unwanted) attention to the ongoings on an otherwise unassuming property, and eventually the surface tales would no longer satisfy curious neighbors; once people found out what was really going on, the project had to even establish a no fly zone above the farm to avoid the occasional helicopter trying to get a peek from showing up on camera! After the tour of Hobbiton and plenty of selfies with Bilbo’s house (although don’t expect to see a fully-furnished Hobbit hole… the insides of the houses were all constructed and filmed in Wellington), we were taken to the Green Dragon pub, set in a shockingly idyllic valley, where the golden sun dances across the verdant hills and plays magic on the small lakes. How can you not feel like you really are a hobbit, or living for real in this fantastical world? After enjoying a leisurely beer at the Green Dragon, we were escorted back to the entrance and of course exited through the gift shop, where available for sale you will even find the Ring, inscription and all, and an “elvin cloak,” as made famous by Gandalf in the movie. While I consider myself somewhere in between a die-hard fan and ambivalent aficionado of the movie series, it was still very enjoyable to visit Hobbiton, and definitely something that I would recommend once. You can decide for yourself if you cant live without a second trip back.

 

The rest of the drive up to Auckland was done as the sun went down, painting the sky with streaks of vivid purple, orange and red – theres just nothing like a New Zealand sunset. Unless it’s an Aussie sunset, but still. From there, I cant say too much about the scenery but it was a good drive up, pretty soon made it to the city and checked in for a much needed snooze. Overall, choosing to drive across the North Island was a fantastic decision and I saw some amazing things. My only wish is to spend much more time in each place, and perhaps explore much more along the way! Several weeks spent just exploring NZ is definitely on my bucket list.

 

 

My roadtrip at a glance:

Wellington, NZ to Auckland, NZ (2 days)

Day 1:

Wellington to Taupo

Lake Taupo

Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo

Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort

Day 2:

Taupo to Auckland

Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland & Mud Pools

Polynesian Spa at Lake Rotorua

Hobbiton Movie Set, Matama

New Zealand’s most amazing natural wonders – down the rabbit hole at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

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Mar 6, 2017

Have YOU ever fallen down the rabbit hole? How about one that ends in boiling pools of neon yellow goop? If this sounds up your alley, head on out to Rotorua, New Zealand. Let’s talk about Waiotapu – what does it mean? Waiotapu is a maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. Thermal – indeed, quite self-explanatory. Wonderland – aptly titled, because between the unsettling and unnatural (but 1000% natural!) colors, the 100 degree+ temperatures (Celsius) and the crazy landscapes, this beauty will have you feeling like Alice for sure… perhaps after the “eat me, drink me” encounter.

 

There is no shortage of beautiful wonders to see at Waiotapu, so I would allow at least 2 hours for your visit, if not a bit more. If you’re up for an early start, the Lady Knox Geyser (allegedly) awakens every morning at 10:15AM (unfortunately I visited in the afternoon, so cannot confirm this lovely experience but am hoping to see it next time!) The park is well-landscaped with clearly defined paths for visitors, and plenty of signs indicating where really not to step or leave the indicated path given the high temperatures of the ground and steam coming out of the thermal caves. Visitors are able to choose which path (of three main options) they wish to follow, namely a shorter track (walk 1) that takes you to the main attractions of the Central Pools and Champagne Pool, a middle ground (walk 1 & 2) offering some additional sights, and then the full extended trek (walk 1, 2, & 3), which, while not at all more difficult or arduous, provides so many surprises along the way and an unforgettable end view. Estimated lengths and times of walk 1 is 1.5km, 30 min; walk 2 is 2km and should take 40 min, while walk 3 is 3km and should take about 75 min. I was unsure which path to take at first because the guides in the welcome center sound rather ambivalent but say of course it’s all very interesting, may as well go all the way for some additional nice photos… but if you take away anything from this writing, do the full circuit walk!!! It. Is. Amazing. And so SO worth it. My last minute decision to do the entire path because (why not, I was already there) turned out to be an excellent choice, and once you complete the first half with main attractions, a significant chunk of tourists with their impending selfie sticks have already circled back for the entrance, leaving you alone to wander amongst the nature alone with your thoughts, camera (ok, perhaps a selfie stick of your own), and some really breathtaking views.

 

What you’ll see

Along any walk you choose, you will pass a huge variety of wonders, including thermal caves spewing steam, bubbling ominously from their depths, and a lovely sulfuric smell… yum. All of these caves and pools you will see throughout the course of the day are results of time, and location in one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. Here are some of the park’s highlights, and my favorites:

 

Artist’s Palette: After earthquakes caused the Champagne Pool to tilt, mineral laden water flowed over the flat, causing this multicolored display of chemical beauty. Orange, bright yellows and surreal greens and blues paint across the water as mineral deposits are spread around by the wind.

 

Champagne Pool: arguably the most famous attribute of Waiotapu, the Champagne Pool occupies a crater that was formed during an eruption 700 years ago! Purportedly the most violent eruption that the world has seen in the past 5,000 years, ash was seen as far away as the skies of Europe and China. What’s going on to make it these crazy colors, you may ask… let alone the “champagne”-esque bubbles? Well, let’s just say there’s some knarly chemistry going on, to say the least.

            For my science buffs: the water enters the pool at a temp of 230 degrees Celsius and cools within the pool to around 74 degrees, with a pH of 5.4, making it slightly acidic. The gas bubbles rising to the surface are C02, the orange colored edge containing arsenic and antimony sulfur compounds rich in minerals including gold and silver.

 

Lake Ngakoro: This is the enormous, stunning lake that greets deserving visitors at the end of their trek (on the long walk). Crisply turquoise, the lake lures one into its beautiful depths. Take your time just looking, soaking in the beauty, and enjoy life for a moment.

 

Devil’s Bathtub: The most intriguing (perhaps most disturbing) feature of Waiotapu may in fact be its most tranquil (in terms of chemistry and volcanic activity, anyway). Also sitting in a crater caused by eruption likely centuries ago, the stagnant liquid of Devil’s Bathtub is an astonishingly (anyone have a better word?!) neon yellow/green, resulting from sulfur deposits that rise to its surface. LOVELOVELOVE. Stay wild, Waiotapu- seriously.

 

Mud Pool

Ok, you’ve seen all the craziness that nature has to offer. You’ve seen 100 degree steam rising from a bright green pool, a small lake properly comparable only to Gatorade, and wonder upon wonder of geothermal amazement. Stop right there. You simply cannot drive away from Waiotapu without first driving just beyond their main parking area… back towards the signs pointing out “Mud Pools.” A visit to Waiotapu simply would not be complete without seeing Rotorua’s famous boiling mud. It’s just as magical as it sounds, I promise. Go ahead, I dare you to jump in (just kidding, please don’t. As one of the kind fellows that welcomed us implored, “if you want to keep your legs, please refrain.”) The mud occupies the site of a once-volcano which eroded in the 1920s, leaving a rather mysterious and captivating pit of bubbling and boiling goo (which, by the way, is the source of many luxurious cosmetic products including a killer face mask!). Laugh, point, take some pics… try to predict when the next big bubble will come- that’s all, folks.

 

Whether you’re traveling NZ solo or bringing the whole fam damily, this place is MAGICAL, and you need to go. Now. Go see these whimsical wonders and feel your jaw drop- dayum, Mother Nature.

 

 

*Getting there: Waiotapu is more or less smack in the middle of New Zealand’s north island, and nearly equidistant from Taupo and Rotorua. I visited Waiotapu en route from Wellington to Auckland via a night over in Taupo- a quick drive down “Thermal Explorers’ highway” is accessible and easy the next morning. From my experience, having a car to see around NZ is simply preferable, because you avoid uncertainty, get to see all of these tucked-away places, and of course, can see what you want, when and how and you travel on your own terms. J

A Breath of Fresh Air – Escape the Concrete Jungle for a day at Zealandia

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Feb 28, 2017

A quick 15 minute drive from downtown Wellington, Zealandia Ecosanctuary is an oasis amongst the craziness of Wellington city, and a welcome reprieve from the weekly grind. The history and story behind Zealandia is intriguing; as the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, it has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area, 6 of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years. This all in line with their extraordinary mission to restore Wellington’s valley forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state.

 

The fence of Zealandia allows a remarkably rare blend of birds, reptiles, insects and more to thrive and flourish, living wild within a ruggedly gorgeous jungle valley stretching across one square mile. Keep your eyes peeled, and your camera at the ready, as you never know when you will confront a red-beaked Takahē sidling along down the path (I never did, sadly). Don’t get me started on the insects… let’s just say you most likely hope you do not have any run-ins with these knarly dudes (how do insects that big even exist?!)

 

After being plopped into one urban jungle after another (and loving it of course), I always jump at the chance to immerse myself in some real nature, even if just for a little while. Walking through this wonderland of green, sweet silence punctuated only by breezes and a wild symphony of bird calls and insect humming, watching the sunlight stream through feathery ferns – I could stay here for hours.. and hours. You may want to! Whether you are a seasoned bird watcher or a Wellington drop-by visitor, Zealandia has something for you – there are many different pathways and combinations thereof, so you can make your trek as long, short, challenging or relaxing as you like, and just revel in the pure loveliness of this very true sanctuary.

 

Find more info about the park at http://visitzealandia.com

 

STAY WILD xxx

EATING BRISBANE – Foodie Hotspots of Brisvegas

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Feb 9, 2017

It’s a hot hot summer here in Brizzy and I’ve been roaming in search of even hotter eats. Tourist, yes-absolutely, but I’m not just settling for any fish n’ chips, people. I’ve done the research and tried the tucker around Brisvegas, and am bringing to you some of my faves. Whether you’re in search of a quick coffee, nice dinner or just to satisfy your sweet tooth, this list is a good place to start.

 

HARAJUKU GYOZA

If you are looking for a (slightly crazy) yum and fun restaurant where you can eat “little bundles of happy” (the famous gyoza), Harajuku is your spot. Modeled after a traditional Izakaya (old skool Japanese bar with food), Harajuku incorporates all things yum, fun, and happiness. The wait staff greets you with an enthusiastically happy greeting (war-cry?), and you will hear it if someone is having a birthday… so will the neighbors. Big appetite? No worries, as they say at Harajuku, if you are like the Japanese salaryman with “appetite big like Godzilla,” you are invited to order again and again, and share with a friend. J

Insider’s tip: all the gyoza are actually delicious- the lemongrass chicken is particularly flavorful, and you MUST, I repeat must, try the NUTELLA gyoza with vanilla ice cream. Whoever invented hot Nutella wrapped in dough is my hero.

 

ESPRESSO GARAGE

Sure, Brizzy isn’t quite as coffee-obsessed as Melbourne, but it does take its joe seriously. Aptly named Espresso Garage is a rustic hole in the wall serving up a variety of delicious coffees; a great place for your morning caffeine fix, and while there’s no room for seating inside, they have plenty of tables outside to relax and enjoy a snack. A plus: the food options, ranging from buttered raisin toast to “The Big Breakfast,” are oh so slightly-more reasonably-priced than what seems to be the typical for Aussie cities, so you’re not leaving with a hole in the wallet. EG is right in the heart of South Bank, nestled in between the vibrant and quaint Stanley Market and Little Stanley streets, and a 5 min walk from the South Bank boardwalk along the river.

Insider’s tip: (applicable to all Aussie coffee stop-offs)- if you order an “ice(d) coffee,” don’t go thinking pike place on ice; there is a 90% chance you’ll wind up with a dollop of ice cream in your joe. If you want to avoid this, just add “without ice cream, please” to your order – to be sure because hey, ya just never do know.

 

 

EDEN GARDEN INDIAN CUISINE

If you happen to be craving Indian and you are nearby South Bank, look no further than Eden Garden. I found this place by a rather circumstantial google search, and though there are many Indian restaurants throughout the CBD and even several in close proximity to Eden Garden, it was rated with the most stars, and the food was true to the ratings. Boasting delicious traditional “home cooked” style food, this place claims the “best naan in town” (they surely must have the most flavor options), and to top off the experience, is themed in a fun cricket décor, with cricket balls wedged into one entire wall of the restaurant.

Insider’s tip: try the veggie ‘chaat’ samosas, and the garlic naan!

 

POPOLO

This chic and fun Italian restaurant with a view of the Brisbane river lives up to its name; “Popolo” means people, and this place is all about friends, good food, and good vibes. A mix of indoor and outdoor seating creates a warm and friendly vibe, and creatively delicious Italian fare tops off a pleasant evening. Though an excellent place for people to come together, it is cozy to visit as a solo traveler and diner, and you will feel completely at ease. The menu strikes a balance between innovation and “the good stuff” that you know and love, and expect to find on a vaguely Italian menu.

Insider’s tip: for a simple dose of goodness, try the pumpkin ravioli!

 

DOUGHNUT TIME

Whether to stuff something sweet in the mouth of a whining toddler, impress a tinder date, post to your snap story or simply revel in the magical sugary overload that is Doughnut Time, this place is sweeping Oz – and it may not be a coincidence that they are serving up some of the easily most instagrammable bundles of sugar (and joy) in the nation (world?) Where do I even begin- there’s too much goodness here and in an effort to not get carried away, let’s stick to the basics. Amazing doughnuts, covered in deliciousness, with even more craziness materializing in the form of oreos, crumbles, sprinkles, M&Ms and other goodies atop these little monsters. You could probably close your eyes and play doughnut roulette and still walk away with a grin on your face. Don’t forget, D.T. does milkshakes as well! Sadly, I was informed that they stopped topping their shakes with mini doughnuts (sniff), but they still load them up with an excessive amount of sugary fun to get you through whatever it is prompted you to intentionally seek out that much sugar in the first place.

Insider’s tip: Don’t go too soon after dinner, so you can maybe order 2? … idk, you know the drill, people.

 

JIMMY’S ON THE MALL

If you get caught wandering Brisvegas well past sunset, or maybe even going for a late swim at Street Beach pools and you suddenly get hungry, what are you gonna do? Head on over to Jimmy’s on the Mall for your late night (or even early morning!) fix. I am actually not too well versed in the late night eats scene of Brisbane, but I was personally struggling to find a place to eat dinner one evening after I was told by restaurant after restaurant that they had long closed their kitchens or were only open until 10:00PM. A few places keep their doors propped until midnight, sure, but Jimmy’s? OPEN 24 HOURS!! This is no haphazard solution to your Thursday night drunchies, though; Jimmy’s is a lovely two story stand-alone restaurant in the middle of the Queen St. Mall, close to the heart of Brisbane’s CBD. Think comfort food, with a short but sweet menu offering a happy range of plain ol’ good tucker that will keep you happy and of course, save you from going to bed hungry!

 

So go on… start munching!!!

Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk – Sydney’s Best Coastal Walk!

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Feb 5, 2017

In my book, sand between my toes, sunshine on my face and saltwater is more or less all that it takes to make me happy. A Saturday at the beach is a Saturday wonderfully spent, and what could possibly make it a more perfect weekend than to enjoy not just one, but several of Sydney’s gorgeous coastal beaches. Albeit coming from a tourist’s fresh perspective on the city, the coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach is a total must-do, and something that may just bring you back time and again (I’ve already been twice for a relatively short time in Oz!)

 

Getting there:

You can of course start the walk from either end, or anywhere along the way.. I chose to start from Bondi Beach, at the quintessentially fabulous Bondi Icebergs club. If you are coming from Sydney CBD, a quick metro ride to Bondi Junction Station and a short bus from there to the beachfront lets you soak in some of Bondi’s beauty (and heat!) before heading off. I always love visiting the graffiti wall (always new and amazing art up), watching slack-jawed as 6 year olds tear up the skate park and inevitably lead me to question how I ever thought I had a shred of athletic talent, and then maybe even catch some rays or wave jump at the beach before heading on up to icebergs.

 

Once you’re at icebergs, whether or not you hang for a while (only $5 AUD) for full day access to pools and facilities, head along to the back on the middle level (where you see all the selfies taking place along the handrail overlooking the ocean pools) and your coastal beach walk path begins right there! Now you’re off for a gorgeous trip- as an insufferable tourist and photography addict, I do the beach walk at least equipped with iPhone and GoPro – I haven’t yet lugged my bigger camera around, mostly because I’m just there for the experience. Also, it’s likely (and I highly recommend it) that you’ll stop off at each beach, bay, or lookout to enjoy the views, take a dip, sunbathe… or who knows, catch a stray game of beach cricket or volleyball! In this case, especially if doing the walk alone, you may not want to be bogged down with extra (and valuable) baggage.

 

Should I run a marathon to prepare?

I mean, sure, go for it – probably not needed. I would place the beach walk firmly in the scenic category, not even really lapsing into challenging and certainly not dangerous, though I definitely think that you are secretly getting some great exercise regardless! While the entire walk is conveniently paved, there are lookouts, rock pools and other fun scenic spots that require a little scrambling, and the walk involves inclines and a good amount of stairs near Gordon Bay… I’ve seen ALL sorts of people, with all sorts of companions (animals, children, baby strollers, etc.) do this walk, but definitely would be a good idea to wear comfy walking gear/shoes. I’ve done the walk twice in bikini and flip flops, but I’m also a beach bum… your call.

 

What to Bring: The Essentials:

Well, back to my photography/beach bum spiel- this is really a personal choice, but remember you’re not hiking Mt. Everest, and not hiking at all, for that matter. Bikini and flippy floppies? FINE. Cutest of cute sundress, sunnies, heels (ehhhh?-seen it done, but not sure where they were going with that) and a derby-ready hat? SURE- you do you, just please if there’s one thing you take away from this, remember the damn sunscreen. I could devote an entire post just to the SUN here in OZ (which I may just do, btw), but it’s really. Not. Fooling. Around. Those people who “don’t need sunscreen” because they “never burn” or when they “just go on a walk…” NOPE. Please wear it, stay safe kids. And who wants to be a lobster smothered in aloe unable to shower for 2 days anyway.

 

My bringalong list: iPhone (battery pack optional), GoPro, sunscreen, sarong/coverup, flipflops/runners, toggles(aussie for bikini/swimsuit ;), sunglasses and/or hat. Beyond this, go crazy, bring a great book and find a nice nook in the cliff pools overlooking an insanely gorgeous view! Bring your inflatable flamingo or unicorn!! (but just… don’t).

 

What to DO along the way:

Depending on how much of your day you want to dedicate to the walk, there are endless options awaiting you. For me, the scenery, sunshine, slight exercise and a dip every now and then at a different beach is the perfect formula, but for the extra-actives, why not start with a surf and skateboard, do some swimming along the way, and end with stand-up-paddle boarding at Gordon’s Bay or Coogee Beach! The walk essentially consists of six “sections”:

 

Bondi to Tamarama: Scenic views

Tamarama to Bronte: watch the surfers, more scenic views. There are picnic areas and parks along both of these, as well as training parks for the runners/fitness lovers! While Tamarama is quite small, Bronte is larger and quite popular among families. The Bronte pools offer another ocean pool experience with a small jumping rock, which, even though most frequented by ten year olds, is still tempting to all of us.

Bronte to Clovelly: You’ll hit some uphills here, and most noticeably walk right smack through the famous Waverly Cemetery. I make sure to hit this part of the walk well before sunset… perhaps you will share my sentiment once you see this bit of the walk for yourself. Once you get into Clovelly, you’ll start seeing the Clovelly beach clubs etc. and a lawn bowling court which was home to the first-ever game of lawn bowling that I’ve ever witnessed played by people under the age of 70- go team.

Clovelly to Coogee: Stairs and hills are involved, and the view will be amazing from atop Gordon’s Bay, also popular amongst divers and paddle boarders. You will notice a small sign before going up a long flight of stairs to continue your walk for the “Underwater Nature Trail,” essentially a trail marked by cement and chain that can be completed in around 30 min underwater. This is definitely on my list as soon as I break into the diving game!  As you arrive to Coogee, you will see “Ocean Baths”- I wasn’t positive what these were at first, but they are actually fantastic natural pools formed by some rock outcroppings and ocean, creating a lovely bathing area! Family and adventure-junkie friendly, this place is a gem.

Coogee Beach: As you near Coogee (the end of your journey, unless you plan to continue your beach walk on to Maroubra), you will be able to hear it from the insane level of noise emitting from Coogee Pav; the pav is a bit of a hybrid between private beach club and South Beach bar, featuring the widest possible range of patrons, from just-off-the-beach bikini clad hooligans to bejeweled and grey haired couples. Regardless of the style, one thing is certain: the sangria is flowing, merry is being made, and you will sure as hell hear it.

 

If the idea of trying to blend in at the Pav seems somewhat overwhelming to you at the moment, head on down along the beach until you come to some stairs-directly across the street from these are several restaurants, starting with Little Jack Horner, a pick of mine. This street has a pretty solid range of choices, from trendy seafood dishes to Thai and Brazilian BBQ to the “Brookie”- a brownie-cookie filled with intense gelato… obviously a must. My move after the walk is usually to find my way to some food, grab dinner and as the sun is setting, take my Brookie, ice cream or dessert of choice to the beachfront and watch the waves roll in as the sunset turns the sky to cotton candy.

 

Getting (home):

If you are heading back to Sydney from Coogee, it’s just another relatively easy bus to Bondi Junction Station and train back into town. By this time, nobody cares how many clothes you (aren’t) wearing, how crispy your legs are or how much sand you track in behind you, so you shouldn’t either. Just soak in the happiness from a lovely day of those gorgeous views, amazing beaches and good, good vibes.

Happy New Year! Looking Back on 2016

by , on
Dec 31, 2016

While many people (I must say me included) are happy to bid adieu to 2016, I must count my lucky stars, for it has been an amazing year to me in many ways. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is travel.

 

At the time of this writing (Dec 2016) I have visited a total of 21 countries – (not many, compared to some of my travelbug peers, I know!) – and hope to make this number grow significantly in the coming months and years!! 11 of those countries have been newly added to my list, just within the year 2016! I am hoping to (at least) match that number, (or double, or more!) in 2017. My most favorite new spots of the year were Indonesia and London <3

 

My travels this year have taken me mostly around Asia, Europe, and the U.S., and I continue to encounter amazing new experiences, places, cultures and people everywhere I go. I am so excited to finally start my travel blog so that I can share some of these experiences with an amazing community of passionate and inspiring people who love travel and adventure just as much as I do.

 

Travel has been a powerful force in my life and recently, shaped who I am and shown me who I want to be. It has taught me a love so deep and pure- for our earth, for all of its beautiful nomads, and for life. Reflecting back on the past year, I would not trade my experiences for the world. I am full of hope for the new year, and for all of the amazing opportunities it will bring. I wish each and every one of you all that Is happy and wonderful in 2017 – may you be strong, kind, wise, happy, productive, and may all your dreams come true (I think they will!) In the meantime, enjoy what is to come on the new blog, and keep traveling! I would love to hear about some of your own adventures in 2016 – keep in touch or comment about your own favorite experiences 🙂

 

Happy Happy New Year!!!! And, as always…

STAY WILD
XXX