Aloha-ppy in Hawaii and California

Any disappointment that Shane and I felt as we stepped out of the luxury cruise world and back into the grotty backpacker world quickly evaporated as we remembered that we were IN HAWAII.

We spent our first few days on the famous Waikiki beach, a tourist hot spot and a hive of activity. The area was packed with resorts, shops, and surfers. It was busy and hectic, but after almost three weeks in the middle of the ocean, we were ready for the sights, sounds, and hubbub of Waikiki. Even with the overcrowded beach, numerous shopping malls and busy hotels, the area had a distinctly Hawaiian feel. Statues of old Hawaiian leaders dotted the streets, and were decorated with flowers, leis and shells. In the evenings, the beach was filled with people watching free Hawaiian music and hula shows. We caught dramatic views of the sunset every night.

Waikiki beach

Watching the sunset from Waikiki beach

Free Hawaiian music and hula show

Waikiki was busy, but the town and its people still seemed to embody the Hawaiian concept of ‘Aloha’. Aloha means hello and goodbye, but it also means something more, which doesn’t have a complete English equivalent. It expresses love, a connection to nature, and a positive outlook on life.

Soaking up some Aloha

While we were very happy to be in Hawaii, our bank account was a little less than overjoyed. We quickly discovered that Hawaii is one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world. It is thousands of miles away from any other population center, and thousands of miles away from the United States, where most of its goods come from. The cost of living is much more expensive than elsewhere in the country, and many local people struggle to make ends meet. At the same time, hotels, shops and restaurants charge ridiculous prices, making Hawaii almost impossible to travel to on a budget.

For Shane and I, it was a shock. Accommodation, food and transport in Australia had felt very expensive to us, but Hawaii was in a different league. We did our best to keep costs down. Despite staying in a dorm room with no air conditioning and a shared mouldy bathroom in the cheapest hostel we could find, the bill came in at $92 per night for two beds. We tried to make our own food, but a trip to the supermarket proved expensive, with a quarter-loaf of bread costing around $4. We wanted to rent a car, but parking in Waikiki was extortionate, so we became skilled users of the Oahu bus network. We made use of free snorkeling equipment at our hostel and the natural beauty of the island, and found as many free activities as possible.

One day we hiked through the rainforest with some other backpackers from our hostel to see a remote waterfall. Another day we took the bus to Pearl Harbour and the Arizona Memorial. One morning we walked from our hostel to the start of the Diamond Head trail, which took us up into the crater of a volcano to explore what used to be a military base. We had a great time clambering through tunnels, and from the top took in an epic view of Waikiki and the surrounding areas, all for a $1 entrance fee.

Hiking through the rainforest

Manoa Falls

View of Waikiki from Diamond Head

On another day, we took the bus to Hanauma Bay, a famous snorkeling site. We spent the morning hiking up the steep and and completed the nearby challenging Koko Head trail, which involved climbing up a railway track and trying not to fall through the gap. In the afternoon, we made use of the free snorkeling equipment from the hostel and spotted an array of colourful fish in the beautiful Hanauma Bay.

Koko Head

Hiking the steep steps to Koko Head

Shane expertly avoiding the gaps in the railway track

View from the top

The long way down

Delighted the walk is over




Hanauma Bay

After a few days of hustle and bustle in Waikiki, we rented a car and headed up to the more isolated but more serene North Shore of Oahu. Once again we stayed in the cheapest accommodation we could find – this time a kind of plantation village, with old and dilapidated but generously sized wooden cabins, where we had our own slightly-falling-to-pieces room for a pricey $86 per night. Once again, we did our best to keep costs down by cooking our own food, making use of the available free snorkeling equipment, wandering the beaches in search of giant green sea turtles, and watching some very brave people surf some very epic waves.

Surfing the big waves

Sea turtle having a nap

We also enjoyed a free visit to the dole plantation, where you can see pineapples growing and purchase various pineapple-themed souvenirs and snacks. As part of our visit we had to try out the biggest maze in the world, which also happened to be shaped like a pineapple. This did incur a small fee but was worth it for an entertaining afternoon of pure pineapple joy.

Pineapples of different varieties

Inside a giant dole whip

On one occasion we did make a mistake by spending $40 each on a ‘movie tour’ at Kualoa Ranch, a private nature reserve, cattle ranch and filming location, because we thought (or were misled by their marketing material into believing) that Jurassic Park was filmed there. In fact, Jurassic Park was filmed on the island of Kauai, and just one scene (this one) was filmed at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu. While we had great fun recreating that scene, it was disappointing to realize that was it, and we regretted blowing our budget for what essentially amounted to a photo of us with a semi-famous tree.

An expensive but hilarious photo

This experience aside, we enjoyed our peaceful, tranquil time on the North Shore. We found plenty of deserted beaches, fun food trucks (though our budget wouldn’t stretch to a food truck meal) and friendly people. The Aloha spirit was alive and well, and we felt rested, relaxed and ready to fly to Los Angeles.

We touched down at LAX around 10pm, and met my parents at our hotel just outside the airport. While we needed little recovery time from our short haul domestic flight from Hawaii, they had endured a long flight, a long wait to pass through immigration and some serious time changes. In the case of my brother, he’d had to fly from Birmingham to LA via Dublin and London Heathrow (yes, in that order), so he was feeling particularly weary.

We spent our first couple of days chilling out near the beach and visiting a nearby shopping mall to replace as much of our well-used (falling apart) travel clothes as possible. We also visited some of our favourite eating establishments: Chili’s (a wonderful place with delicious honey chipotle chicken strips and a chocolate-volcano dessert), BJ’s (which makes the most delicious pizza ever, and a wonderful hot cookie with ice cream dessert) and Panda Express (a fast-food restaurant where the cuisine is loosely based on Chinese food, and you can find the extremely tasty orange chicken).

Family photo at Manhattan Beach, California

Having visited Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland in October last year, we were all very excited to return to the original and, in my opinion, the best Disneyland in the whole world, which can be found in Anaheim, California.

We had five whole days to enjoy the two theme parks (Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure), as well as the facilities of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel (Shane, Tom and I didn’t actually stay there but were able to use the pool and everything else – thanks Mum and Dad!). It was a busy five days, and involved early mornings to make the most of extra magic hours, as well as some late nights to watch the Pixar themed electrical parade and fireworks spectacular. Tom being Tom, he quickly made friends with some Disney employees, and somehow managed to keep a schedule that involved waking up at 6.00am to get ready for our day at Disney, and staying up until nearly 1.00am with his friends.

Disneyland 🙂

We had a fantastic time at Disneyland, never ran out of fun things to do over our five days, and discovered new and exciting attractions, such as the Frozen show in Disney’s California Adventure – an hour long musical spectacular featuring all the great songs from Frozen and some hilarious facial expressions from Olaf the snowman.


It’s a Small World (best ride)

“I don’t think two adults are meant to fit in here”

Our five days at Disneyland came to an end far too quickly. Before we knew it we were back at LAX and ready to start our marathon four day journey to the Galapagos islands, while Mum, Dad and Tom were flying all the way back to London. Saying goodbye to my family wasn’t easy, but we had a brilliant time on our LA mini-break, and it is now less than four months until we will be back home. Thank you to Mum, Dad and Tom for coming out to visit us 🙂

The last five weeks since we left Australia have been five of the best weeks of our trip around the world. We’ve had an absolute blast cruising across the Pacific, visiting French Polynesia (especially Bora Bora), chilling out in Hawaii and conquering Disneyland with my family. We are sad to say goodbye to our peaceful, easy way of life, and very sad to say goodbye to my family once again, but hopefully our bank accounts and our adventurous spirit will thank us for exploring a new continent.

Next stop: South America.


Crossing the Pacific Ocean

As we sailed away from Sydney, watching the iconic view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge fade away into the distance, I started to feel a little emotional. Australia had been our home for three months, and continuing our journey eastward marked a fundamental turning point in our journey. Although we were taking a rather long, meandering and somewhat adventurous route, we were now officially “on our way home”.

Sailing away from Sydney

Our last few days in Australia were also some of the happiest. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in the Blue Mountains, felt amazed by how fast time flies when you are having fun, and we (almost by chance) met up with our friend Emma from Durham University in the small town of Katoomba.

With Emma in Katoomba

From Katoomba we took a train to central Sydney, and enjoyed our final night in Australia with our good friend Grant, who we have previously travelled with in Central America. Grant took us out to Bar Luca in the city center to sample the best burgers in Sydney. Having tried the best burgers in Singapore at Potato Head, and the best burgers ‘in the world’ at Fergburger in New Zealand (definitely oversold – our Fergburger burgers weren’t even the best we had in New Zealand, let alone the world), Shane and I always welcome the opportunity to add another delicious ‘best’ burger to our international burger repertoire, and the ‘Blame Canada’ burger did not disappoint. We then went to the Opera Bar to enjoy picture perfect views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

With Grant at the Opera Bar

By the next morning the view of Sydney Harbour had changed. There was a giant cruise ship (the Celebrity Solstice) right in the center, spoiling the perfect view for hundreds if not thousands of tourists. For us, however, this cruise ship was so much more than a terrible eyesore contaminating the Sydney skyline. This cruise ship was our new mode of transportation and our  home for the next three weeks. The Celebrity Solstice would take us right across the planet’s biggest, deepest ocean to the other side of the world.

Giant cruise ship blocking the view (thanks to Grant for this picture)

Embarking on the Celebrity Solstice ship was like saying goodbye to one life and saying hello to another. As this particular cruise was a “repositioning” cruise (to move the ship from one place to another), it was a surprisingly budget-friendly way to travel for three weeks, but involved living a not-very-typical-budget lifestyle (ideal).Gone were the days of bed bugs, horrible hostel dorm rooms, $2 Hungry Jacks burgers and long, tedious car journeys through blank landscapes. Instead we were in for a life of luxurious accommodation, all-you-can-eat extravaganza buffets and constant entertainment aimed at the over 65s. We quickly adapted to our new surroundings, making the most of the endless food, and taking a dip in the pool and hot tub while gazing at views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Eventually it was time to set sail, and we watched as our new home slowly made its way out of Sydney, away from Australia and towards the big blue Pacific Ocean.

Relaxing on the ship in Sydney

The Pacific Ocean is huge. If all of the world’s land area were squished up together and put in one place, it would still be smaller than the Pacific Ocean. On average, the Pacific Ocean is 4,000 metres deep, but reaches down as far as 11,000 metres deep at its deepest point. Cruising across from Australia to the USA involves looking out over a large expanse of blue water for a long time, but long days at sea were punctuated with stops at some extremely beautiful (and isolated) Pacific islands, and by lots of fun in the sun on board our floating hotel.

We settled into a relaxed routine on our days at sea. We would get up around 8.00am, and hit the gym in an attempt to counteract the millions of calories consumed at the buffet (and to prepare for our upcoming trek to Machu Picchu). Then Shane would have breakfast and we would meet for a 10.00am ‘brainwaker trivia’ quiz, which despite being aimed at people born before 1950, we somehow managed to win on one occasion (I’m not sure what that says about our youthful mentality). At 11am, we would usually go to a lecture on some aspect of Polynesian or Hawaiian culture or history, delivered by the ship’s resident feminist historian Mary Amanda, and then it was time for lunch. We spent our afternoons relaxing at the pool, watching movies, attempting more trivia and sometimes taking part in other entertainment activities (such as the guests vs officers paper aeroplane competition, which saw Shane’s paper aeroplane sail through the hoop of destiny, winning the accuracy component of the challenge, but being sadly beaten in the distance element by someone with a little too much time on their hands who had spent days preparing his extra large aeroplane).

All-you-can-eat buffet

One of the swimming pools on board

Main dining room

Handwashing our clothes as usual because laundry was too expensive

Snails for dinner

In the evenings we would have dinner with another younger couple – Rahul and Neha – from the USA and UK respectively, who were also on their honeymoon, and then we would settle into some good old fashioned cruise ship entertainment in the form of a broadway-style show, comedian, or other variety act. The standard of these shows was a little mixed, but a particular highlight was show called ‘Euphoria’, which featured all of the Celebrity Solstice singers and dancers, seemed to be based on Sweden’s winning 2012 Eurovision song (‘Euphoria’, by Loreen), and contained a giant inflatable octopus. By the time the ‘entertainment’ was over, we were usually ready for bed.

Giant octopus in the show ‘Euphoria’

After a few days on board and a couple of stops back in New Zealand, we reached a monumental moment on our journey: we crossed the International Date Line.

The concept behind the International Date Line is central to the plot of Jules Verne’s book ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, where Phileas Fogg attempts to travel eastward around the world in 80 days. To win the bet with his friends, Phileas Fogg must return by 8.45pm on Saturday 21 December, but he is delayed. When he arrives at 8.50pm on Friday 20 December, he believes it’s Saturday 21st and that he has lost his bet by five minutes. Of course, because the International Date Line did not exist in 1872, he has added a full 24 hours to his clock as he has travelled around, but in fact, it’s still Friday 20 December, and luckily for him everything is fine.

One good thing about slowly making your way around the world is that you never really encounter jet lag. Like Phileas Fogg, Shane and I have travelled eastward around the world at a gradual pace, and time usually shifts by just one hour at a time. When we cross a border into a new country, we often lose an hour of our lives. The effects of this are usually limited, but sometimes (particularly while driving on the Mongol Rally), we still had to watch out and be aware that shops, and hotel check-in would close an hour earlier over the other side of the border, and sunset would seem to come quicker every day.

Of course, this loss of time couldn’t go on indefinitely as we continued around the world – otherwise, like Phileas Fogg, we would end up a day ahead of ourselves by the time we made it back to the U.K. – so at some point time has to reset, and the result is an imaginary line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, half way round the world from the Greenwich Meridian. When we crossed the line, instead of setting our clocks forward by yet another hour, we set them back by 24 hours. We gained an entire extra day all at once!

In practice, this meant that for Shane and I, Monday 16th April happened twice. We got up in the morning, and it was Monday 16th April. We went to bed at night, and it was still Monday 16th April. We got up in the morning, and it was Monday 16th April (and so on). We took great delight in this, and celebrated by dancing the night away (on Monday 16th April) at the ship’s International Date Line party, complete with Beyoncé and balloons. Anyone who had a birthday on Monday 16th April was lucky enough to celebrate twice, and Celebrity Cruises provided copious amounts of cake, two days in a row. Shane also took great delight in continually asking the staff at guest services what the date was. All in all, a great time was had, and we thoroughly enjoyed our extra day on Earth.

Crossing the Date Line


International Date Line Party

Crossing the International Date Line also marked the transition from one side of the world to another. We were as far away from the Greenwich Meridian (and from home) as it was possible to be. From Tuesday 17th April onwards, we started moving closer to home instead of further away from it.

As if crossing the International Date Line wasn’t enough of a highlight, we then enjoyed three incredible days in French Polynesia. We had spent our sea days actively preparing for our arrival by attending lectures on the region’s history and culture, as well as by watching the Disney movie Moana, set in Polynesia.

Our first stop was the island of Tahiti. We docked in the region’s capital, Papeete, and were greeted to beautiful views of the green, mountainous landscape.

We wandered through the vibrant and colourful city of Papeete and picked up a hire car for the day, which allowed us to drive around the island in a loop and visit black sand beaches, white sand beaches, waterfalls, tropical gardens, caves and other hidden treasures.

It was hot and humid but it was also lush and tropical, with beautiful flowers around every corner.

Polyensian plants

Ancient religious site

Tahitian waterfall

Tropical plants

The next day we took a four-wheel drive tour around the neighbouring island of Moorea – smaller and less developed than Tahiti, but with equally beautiful mountain views. We visited a number of beautiful sights, including Magic Mountain, a pineapple plantation, a rum distillery and the famous Belvedere viewpoint.


Our floating home enjoyed Moorea as much as we did!

Magic Mountain, Moorea

Belvedere Viewpoint, Moorea

Pineapple plantation, Moorea


Our final day in French Polynesia was also our favourite. We stopped in the island paradise of Bora Bora. Bora Bora  has been on my list of places to visit ever since the scene in the movie ‘The Parent Trap’ where Annie (who is in California pretending to be Hallie), is caught making a phone call to Hallie (who is in London pretending to be Annie) in the middle of the night and explains her actions by saying she was calling her friend who “lives in New York, but is on vacation with her family in Bora Bora”.

Other than this slightly obscure reference, I had no preconceived ideas about what Bora Bora would be like.

It turned out to be the most beautiful place we have ever been. Even more beautiful than the beautiful islands in Thailand, and the beautiful deserted beaches in Sumatra, and the beautiful Lake MacKenzie on Fraser Island, and the beautiful Whitsundays, and all the other beautiful places we have been lucky enough to visit on this trip and all other trips we have ever taken

As it is so expensive to get there and stay there, Bora Bora has relatively few visitors. The water is completely clear. The sand is perfectly round and soft. The islands are mountainous and green. The colours are vibrant, and it is simply paradise.

Bora Bora

Loving Bora Bora

Swimming in the warm, shallow water

We took a snorkeling tour of the crystal clear waters, and were able to swim with more fish, sting rays and more sharks than we could count. Although the reef sharks and lemon sharks were smaller than scary great whites, they still had sinister expressions, white eyes and rows of sharp teeth, which still gave me a fright when they came straight towards me.


Sharky and Georg(ia)

Attempted shark selfie

Swimming with sharks

We also paddled in the empty beaches, and took a short trip to a private island where we had lunch on picnic benches in the sea, and saw stunning views of the whole area. “I think I have just taken the most beautiful photo anyone has ever taken of anything, ever”, I said to Shane at one point. The serenity and the beauty of Bora Bora blew us away, and if only we had wifi, I would have been googling “how can I move to Bora Bora” within the hour.

Not a bad picnic spot

“The most beautiful picture anyone has ever taken, of anything, ever”

Still loving Bora Bora

French Polynesia (especially Bora Bora) was the ultimate paradise, and is somewhere that despite the long journey time from home and the inevitable associated expense, we would really like to come back to.

The journey from French Polynesia to Hawaii involved five days at sea, but with the continued entertainment on board the Celebrity Solstice, it felt like it took no time at all to reach the Big Island of Hawaii.

We had two stops in Hawaii on the way to the ship’s final port of call on Oahu – the most populated Hawaiian island. First we stopped at the Big Island, where Shane and I hired a car to visit the Volcanoes National Park. We arrived at the perfect time – the volcano was starting to erupt so we were able to see some molten lava bursting up through the surface – but not enough to cause the damage to buildings, road closures and state of emergency which followed a few days later.

A small-scale eruption

We also walked through a lava tube, and hiked down into a volcanic crater.

Inside a lava tube

Shane in a volcano crater

We finished our day on the Big Island by visiting the famous ‘Rainbow Falls’ – which was a nice waterfall but missing its signature rainbow effect.

“Rainbow” Falls

Next we stopped at the port of Lahaina on Maui, which was a beautiful historic town filled with lovely shops and restaurants. It had a distinctly ‘Hawaiian’ feel, and it was difficult to resist buying a suitcase full of souvenirs. We settled on a surfboard-shaped chopping board, and left it at that.

From Maui, we stayed on the ship for the short journey to our final port of call – the island of Oahu – where we would be staying for another 10 days of Hawaiian fun. While we were sad to leave our luxury cruise ship (Hawaiian prices mean it’s back to a joyful non-air-conditioned dormitory for us), we were still delighted to be in Hawaii, and to have successfully crossed the big, blue Pacific Ocean.

A certificate for the impressive achievement of sitting on a boat for three weeks



After days spent gazing out at the ocean, enjoying a relaxed lifestyle on board a cruise ship, encountering the wonders of French Polynesia and ending up in the Hawaiian islands, I realized that any sadness or apprehension I had felt about leaving Australia had disappeared the moment we sailed away from Sydney. We had a wonderful time in Australia, but the new chapter of our adventure has well and truly begun.



There’s no place like home

As we come to the end of our time in Australia, we are very glad we’ve had the opportunity to see so much of this massive, exciting country, but also that we’ve had the chance to learn a little bit more about what it would be like to live here in the long term. While we still have nearly six months of travel before we have to return to rainy (or should that be blizzardy?) Brexity Britain, there are some things that we will (and other things that we won’t) miss about life down under.

  1. The weather

The weather in Darwin is very different to the weather in Tasmania, but overall the climate in Australia is warmer, sunnier and more consistent than the weather back in the U.K.

However, depending on where you are, the weather can also be more extreme and can cause problems. Cyclones regularly ravage northern coastal areas, while hot, dry climate of the Australian summer often leads to bush fires in the south.

Less extreme and less noticeable is that the ‘warm, sunny’ climate in Australia can actually make spending time outside more difficult. The intense sunshine, heat and humidity in the summer means that in some places, people rarely go outside at all. Warmer and sunnier weather might seem fantastic, but when it gets too hot and too sunny, it can be just as oppressive, limiting and debilitating as the cold can be in the U.K.

Warm and sunny day on the Great Ocean Road


  1. The wildlife

 Australian wildlife is exciting and unfamiliar. While the UK’s natural delights include pigeons, squirrels and foxes, Australia has kangaroos, platypuses, emus, echidnas, koalas, and many more unique and interesting animals. I can’t imagine ever getting bored of Australia’s animals, and with many of them easy to spot in their natural habitat, Australia is a paradise for nature lovers.

Cuddly koalas and skippy kangaroos aren’t the only animals you can find in Australia though. Australia is also home to a number of the most deadly animals in the world. If a box jellyfish or a cone shell stings you, you might die. If a venomous snake, a funnel web spider, or a blue ringed octopus bites you, you might die. If a cassowary, shark or crocidle attacks you, you might die.

This makes enjoying Australia’s beautiful beaches and wildlife areas more challenging. The presence of the box jellyfish means that you can’t swim in the sea between May and October in large areas, while the numbers of crocodiles roaming the rivers and estuaries makes camping near water a no-go. Australian wildlife may be more exciting than what we have back in the UK, but it’s also a lot more likely to kill you.

Wallabies are cute and fun

Snakes… not so much


  1. The space

With a population of 24 million (compared to 65 million in the UK), and a population density of 3 people per square kilometer (compared to 295 people per square kilometer in the UK), Australia is much less crowded than Britain. This has a number of benefits: houses are bigger, less squashed together and much more affordable; traffic is virtually non-existent, it’s never hard to find a parking space for your car, the air is fresher and less polluted, and the lifestyle is generally more peaceful and relaxed.

It’s also a lot harder to get around, the distances between places are much bigger, and there’s a lot of nothing. Outside of major cities, public transport is a fiction, and markers of civilization are virtually non-existent. Driving around Tasmania and even up the east coast, Shane and I would frequently drive vast distances without seeing a single building or another vehicle, and the Northern Territory and Western Australia are more remote still. When the main road up the coast was closed due to flooding, we thought we could just “go another way”, but in Australia there is no other way.

Such vast distances and remote locations have other consequences too. Living hundreds of kilometers from anyone else might sound like an introvert’s dream, but it’s extremely isolating, and difficult to get access to what we might consider to be ‘basic’ services in the UK, such as electricity and wifi. Of course, if you want to live the life of a hermit, the Australian wilderness might just be the perfect place, but you can forget about ever ordering a pizza for delivery again.

Nothingness – ‘The Great Inland Way’


  1. The capsicums

In Australia, peppers are called ‘capsicums’. I still don’t know why. They are also really expensive. Australians have a reputation for living a healthy, active, outdoorsy lifestyle, and while sport and physical activity are a prominent part of Australian culture, the proportion of people who are overweight or obese is actually higher than in the U.K.

This may be in part due to the price of healthy food. In Australia, you can get a BBQ cheeseburger at Hungry Jacks for $2 (or for free using some straightforward couponing), you can get a large domino’s pizza for $5, or you can cook your own food, for a small fortune. A pack of three small capsicums (peppers) cost $9. Or a small lettuce costs $3.50. You could buy four large domino’s pizzas for the cost of a salad.

At first glance, Australia seems like a public health paradise, but with stark inequality (especially between the indigenous population and the European settlers), a lack of active travel options outside of major cities, and the extortionate cost of healthy food, the healthy choice is never the easy choice.

Free swimming lagoon in the centre of Cairns

Very expensive capsicums / peppers


  1. The culture

One perceived disadvantage about life in Australia that some people have mentioned to us during our time here is the seeming lack of Australian history or culture. It is true that there aren’t many old buildings around (yesterday Shane and I visited an ‘historic’ church built in 1989. Yes, the ‘historic’ church was the same age as me), there aren’t many records of Australian history before Captain Cook arrived in 1770, and as much of the culture is derived from Britain, it doesn’t always feel that ‘different’ or ‘interesting’.

However, I would disagree that Australia is a cultural void. Evidence of Aboriginal art dates back 30,000 years, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural traditions are some of the oldest surviving traditions on Earth. The art, music and belief systems of Aboriginal Australians are unique, and inventions such as the boomerang and didgeridoo have become Australian icons.

The recent history and culture of Australia is also incredibly interesting and diverse, and is influenced by the geography and landscape, the convict history, and migration from a range of different countries. From Aboriginal rock art to the laidback ‘no worries’ attitude of modern Australians, it would be wrong to suggest that there isn’t a rich history and unique culture in Australia.

While it is fun to appreciate the relaxed, laidback Australian way, as someone who isn’t particularly relaxed or laidback, living here would be a bit like putting a square peg in a round hole. Over time, perhaps I would adapt, unwind and become a more easygoing soul. Or perhaps I would grow increasingly frustrated and miss the edginess of Britain. After all, there’s no place like home.

There’s no place like home!


Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef

When we’d returned our microvan and finished our time in New Zealand, Shane and I flew back to Australia. We had a few weeks to spare before we continued travelling east across the Pacific Ocean, and we wanted to spend them in Australia’s sunshine state: Queensland.

This wasn’t our first visit to Queensland on this trip. We had already stayed in Cairns, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but since we’d spent our time gardening, applying for jobs and generally finding our feet the first time round, we decided to return to soak up the sun, cruise around tropical islands and dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

We spent our first few days enjoying the hospitality of our friends. First we paid another visit to Brooke, Luke and their son Emmett, where we re-acclimatised to the Gold Coast’s warmer weather, swam in Currumbin Creek and helped little Emmett to fine-tune his new walking skills. Next we drove for a couple of hours up to the Sunshine Coast, where we stayed with our friend Lee and his new wife Amanda in their beachfront apartment, and enjoyed the sunshine, sea and food in their local surf club.

Back at the Gold Coast

Shane and I with Emmett, Brooke and Luke

Bonding with Emmett

With Lee and Amanda in the Sunshine Coast

After a leisurely walk around the beaches of Noosa Heads, we continued driving north. Our next stop was Rainbow Beach, a pretty (and deserted) beach, with colourful sands, beautiful sunsets and a thriving backpacker community. We used Rainbow Beach as a base to explore nearby Fraser Island; the largest sand island in the world.

Despite what we know about the abilities of a small car to conquer any terrain, we weren’t allowed to take our little hired Hyundai i20 onto Fraser Island to drive around ourselves, as it was deemed unable (by both the rental company and by the Fraser Island rulebook) to handle the sand. Our options were limited to hiring a four-wheel drive vehicle ourselves (very expensive), or taking a tour in a big four-wheel drive bus.

Having had plenty of off-road and sand adventures just a few short months ago, we decided to save the money and take the sand-bus. This worked out well – we were picked up from Rainbow beach, taken on the ferry and shown the best spots on the island. We even got a free (well, included) lunch. As well as driving along the beach, one of the highlights was a visit to Lake Mackenzie: a ‘perched’ lake, which contains only rainwater, is not fed by rivers or streams, and does not flow to the ocean. The sand at the bottom of the lake is pure silica, which is beautifully white, soft and powdery, and stops the rainwater from draining away, while the water in the lake is so pure that most animals can’t live there. Not content with a little paddle in the lake, I decided to get some exercise and swim over to the opposite bank. This was further away than I thought, so I ended up making us a little late for lunch, but it did mean I got to enjoy my very own pure and private beach on the other side.

Our Fraser Island ‘bus’

Lake Mackenzie

Spotted a dingo

A red creek on the island made of sand

From the sandy delights of Fraser Island, we continued our journey further north to the small town of 1770. Between Shane and I, there was some confusion over the town’s history. We both agreed it was named 1770 because Captain Cook had landed there in 1770, but while one of us (who shall remain unidentified) thought it was the first place Captain Cook landed in Australia, the other was convinced Captain Cook had first set foot on the Australian continent at Botany Bay in Sydney. As usual, one of us was right, and 1770 turned out to be the second place Captain Cook visited, but the first landing in Queensland.

Today, 1770 is a small town known for its calm swimming beach on one side and its rougher surf beach on the other. We stayed at an interesting hostel, which claims on its website to be “so much MORE than a hostel”. Indeed, it seemed to be part-hostel, part-commune, where most of the residents were living for free in return for some very minor help around the place. It was similar to the ‘workaway’ concept which Shane and I benefitted from in Redbank Plains, only without the ‘work’ bit.  As most people were long-term residents, it had quite a cliquey feel, and knowing we were subsidizing everyone else’s living costs meant I wasn’t particularly inclined to stick around.

Captain Cook monument, 1770

Imagining Captain Cook discovering Queensland in 1770

We had a long drive to our next destination so stopped in a little town called Marlborough for some food and a bed for the night. Marlborough was in the middle of nowhere, had a population of 350 people and there was one place to stay: the Marlborough Hotel. Our room for the night was cheap but it definitely wasn’t luxurious. We stayed at the back of the pub, where no one was overly welcoming, there was no wifi to speak of, and the electricity went off in the middle of the night and didn’t come back on. At 7.30am, a lady came into our room (I was still in bed), to tell us that we needed to be out by 9am. “But… it’s only 7.30, right?” I asked. “Well, yes” she replied. It felt as if we’d left the East coast of Australia and disappeared into the outback 40 years ago. We left, and hoped for a swift return to the present day.

“Marlborough Hotel”

Unfortunately things didn’t improve on the next phase of our journey. We drove to Nebo, a small mining town about 100 kilometres inland, where our friend Annabelle is working at a mining camp. As we had been in no hurry to hang around Marlborough, we’d left earlier than planned, so decided we would have time to stop off at any interesting places on the way.

Sadly, we didn’t see anything to stop for. There wasn’t a single car or building for the first 100 kilometres of our journey, and not many more after that. The land was flat and dull.

When we reached Nebo (nearly three hours before we could see Annabelle), we found there was nothing to do there either. The town had a population of around 850 people, and although there was a museum, it was only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. We had arrived on a Friday, so were out of luck.

Thankfully we had a lovely afternoon with Annabelle, exploring the town’s main attraction (the pub), and taking pictures with giant diggers, which made it well worth the little detour to Nebo.

Shane and a giant bucket

Attempted selfie with Annabelle

When we’d said goodbye to Annabelle, we continued our drive back to the coast in order to explore the Whitsundays.

I could write an entire blog post about our sailing trip to the Whitsundays, but to summarise, we essentially spent two days and one night on a rickety, smelly old boat in the pouring rain (thanks to Cyclone Nora), with a racist, sexist, generally unpleasant Captain. Between eyeing up the 18 year-old girls and telling disturbing stories about his great grandfather who is famous for murdering Aboriginal Australians, Captain ‘Kev’, also got very angry with all of us (the paying customers), for not laughing hard enough at his jokes or responding to his sexual advances. Lovely.

Sadly because of the rain and the extra rain, the Whitsundays weren’t looking especially spectacular. We tried to snorkel but saw mostly dead coral, and stopped at Whitehaven beach, which was beautiful but stormy. It was a big disappointment, as sailing around the Whitsundays was something I had really wanted to do, but by the end of the second day I was desparate to get back to dry land and away from horrible Captain Kev.

Overlooking Whitehaven Beach

Shane rocking his sexy ‘stinger’ suit on Whitehaven Beach

As we continued our drive further north, the rain continued to fall. Stopping at McDonald’s in the small town of Ayr, we met up with another friend of ours from the U.K. and were reminded how lucky we were to have a car. That is because Dave, an old friend of mine who I worked with at Deloitte and travelled with in Southeast Asia back in 2009, has CYCLED from London to Australia, (read his excellent blog here) and is now completing his journey by cycling from Cairns down to Sydney. While we were complaining about the rain while travelling at 100 kilometres per hour inside our nice, dry car, Dave was out there (and is still out there) braving the elements and ploughing on with his epic journey. It was great to meet up with Dave after so many years, and to compare notes on Central Asia, long-term travel and the pros and cons of investing in bitcoin.

A McDonald’s meeting with bitcoin billionaire and cycling legend, Dave Bennett

Back on the road, we realized we had a problem. We had planned to drive another 300 kilometres north to Mission Beach, but the rain was still falling hard, and some helpful signs on the highway revealed that the road we needed to take was flooded and closed.

“Oh well.” Shane said, “We can just go another way.”

I studied the map hard, and then studied it again.

“The thing is,” I replied, “there is no other way.”

Australia is huge, distances are vast and the population of North Queensland is fairly sparse. While at home, or even driving through Central Asia, it is fairly easy to find an alternative route from one place to another, in Australia there is highway 1 (which circumnavigates the entire country), and in some places, there isn’t a lot else.

We drove as far as we could along Highway 1 until the road closed at Townsville, and stayed the night there. The next morning the road was still closed, the rain was still falling, and no new roads had opened up over night. We could stay in Townsville, waiting and hoping that the road might open in the next few hours or days, or we could skip Mission Beach, head inland and take a long and painful route up to Cairns and Port Douglas – the next stops along our route.

As our plans at Mission Beach had involved… well… going to the beach, and a trip to nearby Dunk Island (and going to another beach), and it wasn’t really beach weather, we decided to push on inland rather than to stay in Townsville indefinitely. Our new route was a significant detour (as, really, “there is no other way”), and added about 500 kilometers on to our total journey. It also involved experiencing a bit more of Australia’s vast landscape of nothing, although since meeting up with Dave I have a newfound appreciation of just how much worse all that nothing must be when you are cycling through it.

After a quick overnight stop in Cairns, we made it to Port Douglas, where we could rest, relax and enjoy snorkeling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Highlights included seeing a giant green sea turtle, two sharks and getting a photo with a jellyfish. We then spent two days in the Daintree Rainforest, enjoying the boardwalks, cruising for crocodiles, and sleeping in a kind of jungle camp with a swarm of mosquitos for company.

The Great Barrier Reef

Jellyfish selfie

Daintree Rainforest

In the jungle

Not as fun as it looks

Shane loving the giant leaves


Leaving the Daintree Rainforest and the jungle camp behind us and returning to small but civilized Cairns, we were relieved to say goodbye to our insect friends.

Little did we know that our insect woes were only just beginning…

We arrived in Cairns and checked into an interesting hostel, called Geckos Backpackers. We had stayed at Geckos once before (for one night as an emergency stop on our way to Port Douglas), and had found it to be an OK place. For the same price as two dorm beds in pretty much any other hostel in central Cairns, we could get a twin room at Geckos, so we put up with the slightly weird owner (and the slightly weird vibe in general) for the sake of having our own space.

We stayed there for five nights altogether, and planned to spend our days snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, and completing a few last minute jobs before we embarked on our voyage across the Pacific Ocean. The first night passed without incident, but on our second day, I started to notice a few nasty and extremely itchy insect bites on my arms and legs. I had noticed a few flies and mosquitos in the kitchen where we’d been cooking our meals, so decided to lather myself with insect repellant, wear long sleeved tops and trousers, and stay away from the kitchen as much as I could.

On day three I woke up covered in red, itchy bites. Now they were all over my feet, legs, arms, hands, and shoulders. I even had some on my face. I counted well over 100 bites in total, and the itchiness was unbearable. I also started to wonder where these bites were coming from – had a mosquito from the kitchen found its way into our room and devoured me? Or perhaps there was something living in my bed?

Something is eating me…

Despite travelling to over 60 countries and staying in hundreds of cheap, grotty backpacker hostels, I have only ever had one prior experience of bed bugs. One night in Morocco, my friend Rhiannon and I got into bed, and then noticed several tiny red insects scurrying across the sheets and making their way on to us, in order to enjoy a tasty meal. We jumped out of bed as quickly as we could, found the hotel manager (who had enjoyed a little too much to drink, and blamed the bed bugs on some Italians), had our pyjamas washed for us and swiftly moved to a new room, where we lay in bed cautiously acting as human bait and watching for more bugs. Thankfully, we escaped without being bitten, and never saw another bed bug again.

This time, I couldn’t see any bugs. No tiny red ones, no big black ones… nothing. I lay in bed, acting as human bait, waiting to spot an evil little bed bug. Still nothing. I discounted the bed bug theory, slapped on even more insect repellant, and went on with my day.

Later that afternoon, I was sitting on my bed, writing this blog, when I felt itchy again. Despite the layers of insect repellant and the obvious lack of any flying insects, a new series of bites was starting to appear up my arm.

I turned to Shane:

“Whatever it is that’s biting me, it’s living in this bed.”

Another human bait / bug-watch ritual commenced, and eventually, I found one. Just one solitary bug, very different from the ones I’d seen in Morocco, crawling across my bed. We trapped it in a cup, and googled images of bed bugs. It was definitely a bed bug. We went down to see the hostel owner, who took one look at my bites and knew immediately what the problem was.

A solitary bed bug

“Which room are you in?”, he asked.

“Room 12”, we replied. He didn’t say much more. It seemed as though this might not have been the first bug problem he’d had in that room, although he didn’t spare us a lecture on how “backpackers bring these things in”, suggesting that this was all my own fault.

We’d already paid for our room upfront in cash, and there were no spare rooms available that night, so Shane and I spent the night in his bed, hoping that the bugs wouldn’t travel over. Unfortunately, his bed wasn’t a bug-free zone either, and after a thorough inspection Shane discovered two bed bug colonies: one living in each of our mattresses.

Bed bug colony

That night we were finally moved to a new room, but we didn’t want to risk bringing our new friends with us. We learnt that bed bugs die in the heat, so we left all of our possessions in our hire car for the day, hoping that the sun would heat them up to the bug-death temperature of 50 degrees. Then we washed them and dried them on hot temperatures, just to be sure. The lovely, helpful hostel owner gave us some money for the first load of washing (we had to do two), but nothing for the dryer and still insisted on charging 50 cents for washing powder.

We won’t be staying at Geckos Backpackers again. If you are ever in Cairns and looking for cheap backpacker-style accommodation, I suggest you don’t stay there either.

We are now back in the Blue Mountains for our final days in Australia, soaking up the sun and walking some beautiful trails, before we embark on our three week Trans-Pacific cruise back to New Zealand, French Polynesia, and Hawaii.

The Three Sisters at the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains

Our extra four weeks in Queensland haven’t been exactly what I expected. Rather than blue skies, beautiful beaches and a longed-for ‘holiday within a holiday’, the weather has been dominated by cyclones, the beaches have often been off-limits, and we have been confronted with power cuts, nothingness, bed bugs and racism/sexism/general unpleasantness that we didn’t expect. There have been good times as well as challenging times, but I am glad we returned to get the ‘full Queensland experience’, as it brings home the fact that while we have really enjoyed our time in Australia and there are some truly beautiful places, it’s not always sunny, it’s not perfect, and ultimately, it’s not where we want to live forever.

Nonetheless, since we first touched down in Cairns on New Year’s Day three months ago, we have had a brilliant time. We’ve driven nearly 12,000 kilometers around Australia and New Zealand; all the way between Cairns and Melbourne, around Tasmania and from Christchurch to Auckland.

Our route around Australia and New Zealand


We arrived unsure of our plans for 2018 (and for the rest of our life), and we are leaving with more clarity, more confidence and more certainty about the immediate and longer-term future.

We are now entering a new phase of what has become our round-the-world honeymoon: a trip across the South Pacific Ocean.


Driving around New Zealand in a microvan

“What’s wrong? “, Shane asked me. “You’re not saying anything and you’re not moving.”

“I just need a moment.” I replied.

“To adjust to our new standard of living?”


With a small and scattered population and eye-watering accommodation prices, we decided that the best way to travel around New Zealand would be to rent a campervan. I scoured the Internet for the best deals, and finally found an affordable option. I pre-booked a microvan (essentially a car with a mattress and a few accessories), and on our third day in New Zealand, Shane and I ventured out of Christchurch city centre to an inconveniently located campervan rental agency to collect it.

We went through the paperwork, discovered that none of the campervan “extras’” (essentials) were included in the cheap price (“oh you want bed linen? That’s $30 extra. You want a fridge? Or even an icebox? You can forget about that”), and were given a little picture of the microvan with all the existing damage marked with a ballpoint pen. Practically every part of the picture was coloured in. “Why did they bother doing that?” asked Shane, as we left the building and looked for our new home.

The “microvan” was in fact a Nissan Wingroad – a small station wagon, manufactured in 2006, imported from Hong Kong or China and with over 250,000km on the clock. Despite being ten years younger than Martha, it had been battered around and felt about ten years older. It was bigger than Martha, but a lot smaller than… well… a campervan, or even a microvan. It was considerably smaller than, for example, the Hyundai Tucson we hired in Tasmania, which had made no claims whatsoever to have a ‘van like’ status. We hadn’t hired a microvan at all. We’d hired a normal sized car.

Shane loving life in our “microvan”

Before we left Christchurch and started our road trip, we made a stop at New Zealand’s premier budget department store, ‘The Warehouse’, to pick up the “extras” (essentials) that apparently didn’t come with the microvan. It was at this point that I found I wasn’t ready to get out of the car and face the reality that was our new disappointing microvan existence, and had to have a little moment to myself.

Driving around New Zealand immediately felt more familiar than driving around Australia. The roads were narrower, the roadside animals were less exotic, and the weather was considerably colder and wetter. Depending on the scenery and the weather, it felt as though we could have been in rural parts of the U.K. or Ireland, rather than on the other side of the world.

Punting on the Avon in Christchurch, New Zealand (19,000 kilometres from Stratford)

On our first night in Christchurch we spoke to a local taxi driver, who had family in the U.K. He had just returned from a visit to Manchester, and assured us that summer in Christchurch was “far, far colder” than winter back home. Fully adapted to temperatures of 30 degrees plus, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but as time went on and the Beast from the East covered the U.K. with snow (in March), we came to the conclusion that although it was cold in New Zealand, it wasn’t that cold.

Christchurch itself was an interesting city, still very much recovering from the 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and caused widespread damage. We happened to visit Christchurch on the seventh anniversary of the earthquake, and as well as visiting the city’s museums and botanic gardens, we stopped by the earthquake memorial (185 white chairs, where each chair stands in place of a a person who lost their life), the “cardboard cathedral” (a temporary cathedral structure with a significant amount of cardboard cladding), and the city’s “container mall” (where shops, restaurants and even banks have relocated to containers while the city is rebuilt). Many of the buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake still stand in some form today, so walking around Christchurch felt like walking around a living museum, with reminders of the earthquake around every corner.

185 white chairs – Christchurch earthquake memorial

Original cathedral

“Cardboard cathedral”

Bank in a shipping container

From Christchurch we headed down south to Oamaru, famous for its steampunk museum (steampunk = a sort of science fiction about technology and designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery) and antique shops. We then continued to Dunedin. We looked for (but failed to spot) the elusive albatross, saw a lone penguin lounging on the beach, enjoyed New Zealand’s version of Cadbury world, and wandered around enjoying the street art and the number of ‘Scottish’ and ‘English’ shops (the name Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh). In the evening we found a free campsite where we parked our microvan and settled in for a chilly night’s sleep.


Free campsite

Dunedin street art

Dunedin street art

Our next stop was Milford Sound; a beautiful fjord within Fjordland National Park, where we had booked a short cruise and kayaking trip to enjoy the spectacular mountains, waterfalls and glaciers. On our way there, we were hit by a serious storm. The wind was strong, and torrential rain poured from the sky all day. Camping in the evening was a challenge; it was freezing, very wet and we had to sprint from the car to a small shelter in order to cook ourselves a meal, while the wind blew in our faces. We wrapped up in all our clothes, looked around at what was supposed to be a ‘scenic’ campsite, and saw only mist and rain.

Miraculously, the next day we woke up to a completely different view. The rain and wind disappeared, the sun shone, and the dramatic scenery lit up around us. We made it onto our cruise and then into our kayaks, and had a brilliant day sailing and kayaking through the fjord. Despite the fact that it was significantly warmer and sunnier than the previous day, I was still freezing cold. I had misunderstood the clothing instructions for our cruise and kayak excursions, and came dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. The air temperature was about eight degrees with a cold breeze, while the water had come straight from a glacier and was just above freezing. Everyone else wore trousers, warm socks, jumpers, coats, gloves, hats and scarves, but not I. Although I couldn’t feel my arms and legs, I still managed to have a nice time.


Another night in a free campsite followed, and by the next day we were desperate for a shower. We drove to Queenstown and stayed in a real campsite, making the most of hot showers, sheltered indoor areas and patchy wifi.

Known as the adventure capital of the world, and home to the first organised bungee jump, Queenstown was a small town perched on the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by mountains. There were no shortage of activities on offer; rafting, canyoning, climbing, jet boating, sky diving, jet skiing, paddle boarding, trampolining, ziplining… you name it, you can do it in Queenstown. Shane and I love adventure activities, but there was so much choice (and the prices were so high) it was paralyzing. We opted instead to take a gondola to the top of one of the mountains nearby, and to luge downhill.


We both loved rattling down the hill in a little luge, although while I simply aimed to stay upright and alive, Shane had a need for speed and did his best to beat me (and everyone else) to the bottom. Luckily we survived, and were able to take a chairlift back to the very top to do it all again (and again).

Luge track

Five luge rides later, we sat at the top of the mountain, watching people paraglide down to Queenstown. It was a beautiful day, and it looked like a great way to travel. It wasn’t long before I signed myself up to do the same, while Shane took the gondola back down to the bottom to wait for me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that paragliding was not scary at all. Yes, we had to run off a mountain, but the air caught us and we glided down peacefully and effortlessly. Having seen someone swinging around upside down earlier, and declareing “there is no way I’m doing that”, once we were flying things felt different and I was excited to try a few tricks. Shane, watching me come down, assumed that the person doing the tricks could not possibly be me, but took photos anyway because it looked cool.


Paragliding over Queenstown

From Queenstown we headed north up the west coast to glacier country. It was an interesting drive past a ‘bra fence’, some beautiful lakes and mountain scenery, and we got caught in the odd New Zealand traffic jam.

Bra fence

Lakes and mountains

Lakes and mountains

Lakes and mountains


New Zealand traffic jam

Once we made it to the glaciers, we found the weather was once again not on our side. It was freezing, it was raining, the wind was howling and a thick fog hung in the air. We found the road to one of the glaciers completely closed, and tried to access various viewpoints but saw only cloud and mist. We endured another night of microvan camping in the middle of nowhere, timing our cooking and our toilet trips according to when there seemed to be the least amount of rain, and hoped that a better and brighter day would follow.

It didn’t. If anything, the weather seemed to get worse overnight. We woke to more rain, more wind and more view-obscuring mist and fog, but decided to try and make the best of the day and to see what we could. Having had no luck spotting the glacier from far away, we walked for about an hour and a half through the glacier valley in the rain, fog, wind and even an icy cold river, to get as close as we could. We saw the glacier (sought of), and then headed back through the river, through the rain and the wind and the mist, where we enjoyed a hot drink and a trip to the glacier hot springs to warm up.

Walking to the glacier in the freezing rain

Our best view of the glacier

The next day the weather was still not our friend, and when planning our route to our next destination (Abel Tasman National Park), we found that another storm was on the way, and the roads we needed to take were closed.

Instead we visited Nelson Lakes National Park, where the storm wasn’t likely to hit and the roads were open. We enjoyed a lakeside walk, visited the weird museum of wearable art and cars (half wearable art, half classic cars) and then spent the rest of the evening in our little microvan, hiding from the swarming sand flies that covered the area and bit us no matter how much insect repellant we wore.

Nelson Lakes National Park

Toadstall spotting at Nelson Lakes

“Wearable” art

“Wearable” art (my fave)

“Wearable” art

“Wearable” art

The following day we took a scenic ferry ride over to the North Island, and arrived in Wellington. We took a much needed break from our microvan, stayed in a beautiful airbnb apartment, and enjoyed the luxuries that come from living somewhere that isn’t the middle of nowhere, such as visiting a decent supermarket, having wifi and feasting on delicious burgers.

Our time in Wellington was spent avoiding relentless wind and rain, wandering along trendy Cuba street and visiting New Zealand’s Te Papa national museum, where we learnt about the recent and interesting history of New Zealand. We also avoided the rain by going to the cinema for the first time in well over a year, and dropped by the Weta caves where special effects for the Lord of the Rings and other movies are created.

We took our time driving up from Wellington to Rotorua, admiring the scenery, stopping at the Huka Falls and enduring our microvan life. Once we reached Rotorua, a small city set on the edge of a lake and known for its geothermal activity, we were able to stay with Shane’s friends Darren and Rachel, and once again escape our confined existence.

Our days in Rotorua was action packed. We visited various geothermal features (boiling mud, steaming lakes, champagne pools, geysers, and my favourite – the bright green devil’s bath), had another go at lugeing down the nearby mountains, played crazy golf, went swimming in ‘kerosene creek’ (a hot river), and Shane, Darren and Rachel went mountain biking.

Steamy lake

In the steam

Boiling mud

More steam

Erupting geyser

Champagne pool

Acid lake


Another planet?

The devil’s bath

The last stop on our New Zealand roadtrip was the city of Auckland, in the north of the North Island. At last, the sun shone as we strolled around the city. We learnt about the city’s history on a free walking tour, and stayed in the seaside suburb of Devonport where we visited the navy museum and underground defence tunnels.

A sunny day in Auckland!

It took us three weeks and 3000 kilometres to drive from Christchurch in the south of New Zealand to Auckland in the north. As we prepared to return our microvan and return to Australia, we weren’t feeling too sad to leave behind our sense of isolation, cramped surroundings or the cold and wet weather, but we would miss the dramatic scenery, endless walks, adventurous activities and the harmless wildlife.

Driving around New Zealand in a microvan was an experience, and while Shane loved every minute of it, I am relieved this particular section of our trip has come to an end. Little did I realize that this was only the start of our wet weather woes. We were welcomed back to Queensland with rain, rain and more rain, as we managed to hit monsoon season and tropical thunderstorms.

Way under down under

I was first inspired to visit Tasmania by the cartoon ‘Taz-Mania’, a 90s TV show depicting the adventures of Looney Tunes star Taz (a Tasmanian Devil), along with his extended family, friends and enemies on the island of Tasmania.

What I thought Tasmania would be like

It also had a catchy theme song, starting with:

“Welcome to the land that’s way under down under,

The sky’s always yellow come rain or shine…

Down in Taz-Mania, come to Taz-Mania”

And ending with:

“Down in Taz-Mania, come to Taz-Mania. We mean you!”

So, of course, we had to go.

As Tasmania is “way under down under”, the temperature is usually a few degrees cooler than mainland Australia. After seven months of near-continuous summer, any temperature of less than 20 degrees celcius now feels cold to us (this does not bode well for the future), so we wanted to visit Tasmania while it was still summer in the southern hemisphere. It also happens to be conveniently close to Melbourne, so the end of our road trip from Brisbane to Melbourne seemed like an ideal time to start a new road trip around the island of Tasmania.

Our trip started on an interesting note when I had an email from an airbnb place we were planning to stay in at the end of our week in Tasmania:

“Hi Georgia

Thank you for booking our room overnight. This information might be useful to you during your visit to the Tasman Peninsula:

There are limited options to eat out on the Tasman Peninsula. There are a couple of small outlets about 5km away selling fish and chips, pizza, home made pies etc. Both of these close at 6pm.

If you plan to cater for yourself, stop at Sorell, a town about 70km away on your way from Hobart to pick up some supplies from the supermarkets, butchers, bakers etc.

***There are no supermarkets or large stores after Sorell.***

Please note there is limited phone signal coverage on the Peninsula (and in much of Tasmania). If you have a choice, pick Telstra, and if you are using a GPS on your phone that way not work either.

I hope that helps! 🙂 “

It really did help. From Cairns down to Melbourne, we’d never found ourselves far away from a big supermarket, almost always had good phone signal and and had no trouble finding food late at night. In rural Tasmania, life was a little different.



We flew into Hobart and enjoyed a couple of nights in a real bed before picking up our “campervan” (a hire car that we were planning to sleep in the back of on an air mattress). Our main activity in Hobart was a visit to MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art).

MONA is the largest privately owned museum in Australia; it’s essentially a rich man’s private art collection, and it has a reputation for being a little bit weird and a little bit controversial.

Having spent the extravagant sum of $50 AUD (about £28) each, we were able to take the ‘MONA’ ferry direct from central Hobart to the door of the building, and venture inside. We were expecting the museum to be strange and unusual, and it didn’t disappoint. The building was a work of art in itself. The gallery was inside a three level underground cave cut into a rock. Once we found our way down to the bottom, we discovered we were contained in a maze-like structure, with no labels and no explanations of where to go or what to see. Thankfully we were given a special electronic device, which cleverly works out which art works you are near and can give you information if you want it, but with installations all over the place, just viewing the art was a challenge in itself.

Near the beginning of our MONA experience, Shane and I walked up to what looked like a Georgian house with old fashioned wallpaper and furnishings, and entered a museum within a museum: the Museum of Everything. The Museum of Everything is a travelling institution, which originally opened in London in 2009 and showcases the work of ‘ordinary’ people (non-academic artists, people outside the ‘art-world’, work by artists with disabilities, people producing art from inside hospitals or prisons, people making art for themselves rather than for it to be displayed in a gallery… the list goes on). It challenges conceptions of who has the right to become an artist, and whether art is something extraordinary or is it an ‘ordinary’ form of creative expression. Can everything be art? But does that mean nothing is art? And so on.

As a philosopher, obviously I loved it. It was like a maze within a maze, and I got lost there for hours. There was even a library midway through, so that you could sit down, have a break, and read a book. It didn’t take long for Shane and I to lose each other, and the Museum of Everything was only one corner of MONA.

Outside there was a lot more to see, mostly along the themes of death, sex and a whole lot of weird. Shane and I didn’t find each other again until the end when we made it out of the cave and back onto the ferry to Hobart. As well as wrestling with navigation difficulties and big philosophical questions, we had also contended with large numbers of other people, whom we hadn’t expected to find in this hard-to-get-to corner of Hobart, Tasmania. It turns out that Lonely Planet named MONA the best modern art gallery in the world in 2015, and that 25% of all visitors to Tasmania make a trip to the museum. Along with an influx of cruise ship visitors, MONA has boosted Tasmanian tourism and helped to make Hobart into the next big trendy place to be.


The following day, we picked up our ‘hotel on wheels’ (a Hyundai Tucson), and took a trip to K-mart to pick up an inflatable air mattress, some sleeping bags, plates and cutlery. Accommodation in rural Tasmania was too scarce and expensive for us to stay in hotels and motels, and purpose-built campervans were also too expensive to hire, so Shane came up with the brilliant idea to ‘create our own campervan’. The cost of renting a big Hyundai Tucson was little more than the cost of renting the cheapest available car, while the camping essentials from K-mart cost us less than $50. Now we were able to stay in campsites cheaply, or wild camp for free.

Hotel Hyundai

As we started our first big drive to Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania, we started to experience the issues that come with rural isolation that we had been warned about. Phone signal began to drop in and out, supermarkets, towns and all marks of civilization disappeared, and signs warning us of “no more petrol for the next 100km” popped up in their place. I had a little nap while Shane drove, and when I woke up I asked what I’d missed. “To be honest”, Shane said, “there’s been a whole lot of nothing.”

We hadn’t even picked a nice day for the drive. It drizzled constantly, what might have been beautiful scenery was buried in cloud and mist, and the wind didn’t stop blowing. It felt more like an Irish summer than an Australian summer, and sleeping in our car started to seem less attractive by the minute.

But we made it to Strahan in one piece and spent our first couple of car-camping nights in a proper campsite, so that we could gradually re-acclimatise to life without the comforts of a real bed. Strahan proved to be a small and sleepy town, famous for its proximity to Sarah Island, a notoriously harsh prison island. We enjoyed a trip to the nearby Hogarth Falls and also saw Australia’s longest running play, ‘The ship that never was’, which told the true story of an escape from Sarah Island, and involved an uncomfortable amount of audience participation.

Hogarth Falls

The thriving metropolis of Strahan


Cradle Mountain

From Strahan we headed straight to Cradle Mountain, considered to be the “jewel” of Tasmania, and one of Australia’s most beautiful national parks. As we drove along towards the park entrance, we saw various stops for scenic viewpoints, but something was missing. Rain was falling, clouds hung low in the air and there were layers of mist obscuring everything we were hoping to see. The view was just a grey cloud.

We stopped in the park’s Visitors Centre and debated whether to continue with our planned day out in the mountains or whether to abandon it there and then. We voted to continue, brave the cold, mist and rain and complete a couple of the area’s well known walks – a circuit of the lake, and the ‘enchanted’ walk through some kind of forest, which I chose based on the name alone.

As we started our circuit of the lake, Shane got his camera out to take a few photos. “Why take photos of the mist now, when it will probably have cleared when we get back round the lake? You can take photos then”, I suggested to Shane. “Will it have cleared though?” Shane replied, and I had to admit that as the rain poured down on us and the clouds continued to roll in, it didn’t look all that promising.

Shane taking his best shots

We completed our lake circuit (the view did improve slightly during the walk), and moved on to the ‘enchanted’ walk, which took us through a pretty forest past a babbling brook. It did look like something out of a fairytale, until we spotted a mystery snake curled up beside the path.

Better views by the end of our walk

Mystery snake

More pleasant wildlife here…

Eventually we escaped rainy Cradle Mountain and decided to look for somewhere safe that we could sleep in our car, preferably for free. After driving for quite a few kilometres and not seeing anywhere suitable, we pulled into a strange mural-covered town with the aim of asking for advice, but ended up spotting a sign to an ‘informal campsite’. This turned out to be a secluded spot in a forest by a river, not far from a place amusingly named “nowhere else”. In the morning I took advantage of the natural resources on offer and had a small wash and swim in the nearby river.

“Nowhere else”

See the “facilities” at the “campsite”….

Morning bath and wild swimming spot


Bay of fires and Freycinet National Park

Over the next two days we continued our routine of driving and car-camping for free, stopping at Cataract Gorge near Launceston, and at the Bay of Fires on the East coast of Tasmania. The Bay of Fires was a spectacular region of white sand beaches, icy turquoise water and orange-coloured rocks, and was given its name by Captain Tobias Furneaux (who accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage in 1773), and saw the fires of Aboriginal people on the beaches.

Shane relaxing at the Bay of Fires

Bay of Fires


We then drove down the coast to Freycinet National Park, where the rocks were no longer orange but a pretty pink colour instead, and the beaches were just as spectacular. We hiked down to Wineglass Bay and I stuck my toes in the sea. Despite being warm from the sun and our walk, it was still too icy cold to venture any further in.

Dangerous pink rocks

Iconic view of Wineglass Bay

Too cold for a swim at Wineglass Bay

We spent the evening watching the sun go down over the sea as we prepared our car for another night of car-camping right by the beach.

Car-camping in Freycinet National Park


Port Arthur

On our last day in Tasmania we headed down south to the legendary settlement of Port Arthur, a town and former prison for ‘secondary offenders’ (convicts who were sent to Australia and then committed further crimes once they arrived). Although the majority of the buildings that once made up the settlement have been destroyed in various bush fires, there was still a lot to see and learn about at the site.

Port Arthur was one of the strictest prisons, and was once known as the “inescapable prison”, as it sits on the Tasman peninsula off Tasmania, a long way from mainland Australia. It was also famous for its shift from physical to psychological punishment, which led to many prisoners developing mental illnesses from a lack of light and sound.

It wasn’t the cheeriest of places but it was interesting to see the prison buildings, learn about the history, and to take a boat out into the sea to catch a glimpse of the separate prison for boys and the ‘island of the dead’, where anyone who died inside the prison camp was buried.

Port Arthur

Later that day we drove a short distance to Eaglehawk Neck to find our airbnb for the night. Sure enough, as the instructions we’d received at the start of the week suggested, we had no phone signal, there were no supermarkets and nowhere was open after 6pm. We grabbed a quick plate of chips from the Port Arthur general store and settled in for another night off-grid. After five nights in the car and three nights without any facilities, it was lovely to take a shower and go to sleep in a real bed.

Over the course of a week we could only skim the surface of Tasmania. The island is about the same size as Switzerland or Ireland, so there is a lot to see and a lot of ground to cover, but with a population of only 500,000 (nearly half of whom live in Hobart), there is also a lot of ‘noting’ to see too.

Overall, our trip way under down under was a success. Visiting Tasmania allowed us to see a different side of Australia, with plenty of rain, limited phone signal and its own unique devilish wildlife.

Little did we know that the weather, availability of supermarkets and quality of phone signal was about to get even worse as we left Tasmania behind and flew to our next destination: New Zealand.

On the road again: from Brisbane to Melbourne

It had become clear during our gardening stint in Redbank Plains that we would need our own wheels if we wanted to see the best of Australia. Outside major cities, public transport options were few and far between. We found a ‘budget’ car rental company, who apparently specialised in “older, cheaper” cars,  picked up what seemed to us like a perfect, brand new car (complete with cruise control, electric windows, air conditioning and even usb ports to charge our phones), and started to drive south to escape the heat of the Queensland summer.

Our first stop was the beautiful Gold Coast, where we stayed with our very generous and accommodating friends Brooke, Luke, and their 15-month-old son, Emmett. We first met Brooke and Luke on an overland trip in Africa, and last saw them when they came all the way to Ireland with their new baby for our wedding last April, so it was fantastic to see them again in their wonderful home on the Gold Coast. They put up with us dropping by at short notice and staying for several days, and even showed us the sights and entertained us while we figured out our next move.

With Brooke, Luke and Emmett

The Gold Coast was one of our favourite places so far. We could have stayed there forever. The weather was beautiful (the heat was much more manageable when we could return to the air conditioned oasis that was Brooke and Luke’s house), we had great fun checking out the local theme parks, the beaches were stunning, and it felt like being on holiday all the time. “Maybe we should stay here for a bit longer after all”, we thought, but with no job offers forthcoming and the rest of the Australian continent to explore, we bid farewell to Brooke, Luke and Emmett, and continued our drive towards the southern states.

Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast

It didn’t take us long to drive from the Gold Coast to Sydney. We stopped in Byron Bay, expecting to find an interesting, quirky, alternative place, but instead found a town centre full of expensive touristy shops and cafes. Despite the lack of “vibe” we had read about in the Lonely Planet, the beach was beautiful and we followed Brooke and Luke’s suggestion to walk to Cape Byron lighthouse, which sat at the most Eastern point of Australia, and the most Eastern point of our journey so far.

Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay

Really far east

We arrived in Sydney the following day, and despite the fact we have both visited the city before, we went into full-on tourist mode. We sought out views of the iconic harbour bridge and opera house. We had lunch up in the Sydney Tower Eye and visited Madame Tussauds, the zoo and the Sydney aquarium thanks to Christmas presents from Shane’s family. We visited Bondi beach and walked the 6km coastal trail to Coogee Beach. Aside from a failed visit to the Blue Mountains (mist, mist and more mist), we enjoyed the ocean views of Sydney, and then continued on our way.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sunset views

Excited to be at Bondi Beach (also note the new excellent Spongebob Squarepants T-shirt)

Taking in the view on the Bondi-Coogee coastal walk

The next few stops were a blur of small towns, nondescript motels and weird and wonderful attractions, some of which were more impressive than others. The Fitzroy “Waterfall” (with barely a trickle of water) and the Kiama “Blowhole” (really, it was just a wave) were among the less successful. The Eden Killer Whale museum proved to be more of a hit, as it told the interesting story of an unusual partnership between humans and killer whales, and we also enjoyed Phillip Island, just off the coast of Victoria, where we were able to sit on the beach once the sun had gone down and watch little fairy penguins running from the sea to the shore after their day out fishing.

Trying to spy water at Fitzroy Falls

Kiama Blowhole (wave)

Initially we bypassed Melbourne to continue our drive along the Great Ocean Road to the town of Warrnambool, where we planned to meet up with our friends from a previous travel adventure: Heather, Russ and their three children Casey, Cara and Ella.

We stopped at the small town of Torquay on the way, known for its fantastic surfing beaches and for marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. It was a warm day, and the sea was sparkling. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for a swim, but the beach was populated with tanned twenty year-olds with perfect bikini bodies, and I suddenly felt way too old and uncool to participate. “I don’t like it here”, I said to Shane, who instantly read my mind: “Why? Because you’re not cool enough?!” Obviously this was a stupid reason to avoid the beach, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I didn’t belong.

My concerns weren’t exactly alleviated when we returned to our hostel and got chatting with our (younger, more glamorous) roommates. “Where have you come from?” one asked, so I told him all about Phillip island and going to see the penguins. “Oh, right.” He said. “Phillip island… how was the surf?” I looked at him blankly, struggling to articulate that I had absolutely no idea, because a) my surfing skills have not improved since my unsuccessful attempts to stand up on a surf board in Bali, and b) there were FAIRY PENGUINS on Phillip island, which were surely much more exciting.

Torquay and Bells Beach aside, the Great Ocean Road was everything we hoped it would be. We left Torquay as early as we could and had the spectacular twisting road all to ourselves for a couple of hours before the hoards of other tourists descended. We stopped to spot koalas in the wild, eat fish and chips by the beach, and to swim in the sea (where no cool kids were around to judge my pasty, very imperfect body, or my lack of surf skills). We also stopped at the 12 apostles (although I could only see about nine). There were hundreds of people swarming around, trying to get a glimpse of the big limestone stacks off the coast. Meanwhile, I stared off into the distance trying to understand what all the fuss was about. “But… they’re just rocks?” I said to Shane, slightly confused. “Yes”, he said, “but it’s a thing”, and proceeded to take a few hundred photographs.

Some of the 12 apostles / rocks

Later than day we arrived in the town of Warrnambool, and met our friends Russ and Heather for the first time in nearly nine years. While our lives are very similar now to how they were nine years ago (we are still together, still off travelling, still technically homeless and unemployed), life has changed a great deal for them, as they now have three lovely children: Casey, Cara, and Ella, who we were excited to meet. Russ and Heather cooked us a delicious meal (which made a welcome change from our usual cheap fast-food fare), and we spent the evening reminiscing about old times. The next day we went for a walk along the beach with Russ, where we spotted Warrnambool’s resident seal, and then we left Warrnambool to drive back to Melbourne.

We spent a few days in Melbourne, staying in a cheap but less than desirable hostel filled with backpackers who seemed to sleep all day and party all night. We enjoyed a free walking tour around the city, saw the main sights and of course had to experience the all-important Neighbours tour and visit Ramsay Street. We also met up with Jess, another travel friend, who took us to the trendy spots of north Melbourne. We ate amazing burgers in a tram carriage stuck on top of a building and drank cocktails on rooftop bars. Not content with one night on the town, Shane also met up with his cousin Robert in an Irish bar in St Kilda, where plenty of Guinness was consumed.

At Harold’s Cafe on the Neighbours Tour

Trendy street art in Melbourne (and an escaped budgie named Loretta)

We spent about two weeks driving from Brisbane to Melbourne, which wasn’t anywhere near enough time to see everything, but did give us a chance to glimpse the highlights and catch up with friends and family living down under.

Driving across Australia was very different to driving through Central Asia – with near-perfect roads, no borders and a car that basically drove itself (sorry Martha), we felt as though we were living the high life. Of course, the costs involved were also very different, and if hadn’t been for our friends (especially Brooke, Luke and Emmett who put up with us for days on end), it would have been astronomically expensive compared to our time spent driving Martha across Asia and camping on the side of the road.

We did, however, pick up a few money-saving tips and tricks to help us out with the next part of our journey: from Melbourne we flew to Hobart, way under down under, to embark on a week of car camping around Tasmania.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day… but is it a new life?

We arrived in Cairns, Australia at six o’clock in the morning on the first of January 2018. We had a hostel booked for a week, and no further plans.

For the first time during our trip (and maybe even for the first time in our lives), we had no idea where we would be the following week, the following month or the following year. 2018 stretched out before us a blank canvas of possibility. While some might see this as freeing and exciting, as someone who likes to have a plan at all times, I found it uncomfortable and challenging. I quickly set to work trying to fill in the blanks, apply for a job and set us up for a temporary life in Australia.

While the sun shone over beautiful Cairns and the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef beckoned a few miles from the shore, I barely left our hostel. A new phone was purchased to replace the one that had been stolen in Bali. Sim cards were ordered, tax file numbers were applied for, bank accounts were opened and CVs were updated. But as I tried to distract myself from the endless chasm of time that stretched ahead, our vision of living and working by the beach while simultaneously saving up to continue travelling started to crumble bit by bit.

Beautiful Cairns

First, it became clear that Shane wouldn’t be able to get a job.

Young people aged 18-30 are able to apply for a “working holiday” visa to work and travel in Australia for up to a year. The visa comes with certain restrictions:

  • you can’t work for one specific employer for any longer than six months
  • you have to pay more tax than ordinary Australian residents
  • if you want to stay for a second year, you have to complete three months of “specified” work, which usually means working in a rural area doing a job that Australian residents don’t want to do (such as fruit picking or farm work).

While I was able to successfully apply for a working holiday visa, Shane has now reached the grand old age of 34, and so was too ancient to be in with a chance. Over a year ago, the Australian government announced plans to change the age limit to 35, but as of the 1st of January 2018, this still hadn’t happened, and it is still unclear when or if it ever will.

There are other ways to work in Australia as an old person, but unless you are a doctor, or blessed with Australian citizenship, most of them involve spending a great deal of time and money going through a long and laborious immigration process – something we weren’t particularly keen to pursue unless we were sure we wanted to commit at least semi-permanently to a life down under. The only other option was for Shane to obtain an employer-sponsored visa, but after some extensive searching and enquiries, it became clear that this was a dead end. The Australian government has announced plans to review the employer sponsored visa programme to try to reduce the number of migrants like us coming to live and work here, which has put employers off recruiting people like Shane.

If we were going to live and work in Australia, I was going to have to pay the bills.

I stepped up the job search and we relocated to Brisbane – a bigger city, with more job opportunities than small but perfectly formed Cairns. We spent a day wandering around the city and then moved to the suburbs.

The cost of living in Australia came as a shock after six months in Asia. While a private room with a pool and ensuite bathroom a few minutes’ walk from the beach had set us back £10 a night in Thailand, we were lucky to find two beds in a dorm room for £30 in Australia. Food wasn’t much better. We tried to make use of the kitchen facilities in hostels and cook cheap food to save money, but I nearly fell over when I saw the price of vegetables. It wasn’t long until we were hooked on an unhealthy diet of Hungry Jacks burgers (which we discovered you can get for free if you fill in surveys online), and 50-cent ice creams.

While looking for work, we didn’t want to burn through our savings unnecessarily, so Shane signed us up to a website called “workaway”. The workaway website connects people who are willing to work for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation with hosts who are looking for volunteers to help with a range of tasks. We trawled through the website looking at adverts from smiling people in the Brisbane area who were willing to offer us a bed and some food.

Most people were looking for help with childcare, either in a full-time nanny capacity or as an add-on to other tasks. I swiftly ruled those out, which left us with a few interesting options. We were tempted to live on a banana eco farm with two twenty-something year old women who were looking for “freedom seekers who like getting naked in nature”, but were put off by their strict vegan diet and the lack of any nearby supermarkets to purchase an occasional non-vegan fix. Then there was the couple who wanted to create a team of workaway-ers to help create an eco-community, which sounded interesting, until the warning mid-way through their advert that “we do not eat at McDonald’s or drink coca cola. If you do then this isn’t the place for you”.

The best option was clearly to live with an older couple called Bob and Karen, who wanted some help with their garden. In exchange for three hours of gardening for five days per week, they would feed us and give us a place to sleep. Shane wrote to them, and before we knew it we moved into our very own caravan outside Karen and Bob’s house in Redbank Plains, South Queensland.


On our first morning, we left the caravan at 5am to start gardening. We started as early as we could to escape the hottest temperatures of the Queensland summer, which frequently reached the heady heights of 38 degrees. As we started to gather up our tools and check out the garden, Bob warned us to be careful of snakes. Shane and I looked at each other, a little wary. “Are the snakes here… poisonous?” I asked, not sure whether I wanted to hear the answer. “Oh, yes!” Bob replied. Great.

We stayed with Bob and Karen for two weeks, and began to settle into a routine. Every morning we would start gardening between 5 and 6am, which involved pulling weeds, trimming hedges, spreading woodchip and spotting interesting wildlife (ants, spiders, and legless lizards). By 9am we were usually finished, so we would shower (it was already 30+ degrees by this time), and sweat it out in our caravan. I would apply for jobs, and Shane would watch youtube videos. By around 3pm we were usually hot, bothered and bored, so we would venture out for a little walk under the sweltering sun to the local shopping centre to bask in air conditioned bliss, and then have dinner with Karen and Bob before starting again the next day.

Our caravan-home outside Karen and Bob’s house

Shane and his rake

Squishing down the weeds

Shane trimming the hedges

Two weeks later

The days were broken up by some by some trips out and about with Karen and Bob – they took us for doughnuts one morning after gardening, and another day we went swimming with them at the local free lagoon. In what was to become a common (and very welcome) theme, we also met up with some friends from a previous travelling adventure: Anni and Shane, who live in nearby Springfield (now with two children: Matthew and Evie), and Amy and Jasper, who usually live in the Netherlands but are living on the gold coast for eighteen months (also now with two children: Melanie and Nikki).

Meeting up with Anni, Shane, Matthew, Evie, Amy, Jasper, Melanie and Nikki

While it was great to see our friends, to have a routine and to be looked after by Bob and Karen for a while, our long-term plan wasn’t progressing so well. I was finding it hard to identify jobs that met my visa criteria, paid well enough to support Shane and I (as well as to save for future travel), and that were interesting and in some way relevant for my ideal future career in Public Health. When I did find a job that fulfilled these strict criteria, I would spend hours filling in applications only to hear (at best) silence, and (at worst) rejection. At the same time, Shane had watched the entire latest series of Peaky Blinders and was already bored. Several months of continued boredom for Shane while I slaved a way at a job I didn’t like that probably wouldn’t paid the bills didn’t seem like a good way to spend the next six or more months. We agonized over what to do: stay and try to make it work? Or cut our losses and continue travelling?

We checked our bank accounts, our air miles accounts, and looked at a map of the world. We worked out how much time we had until we needed to be back in the United Kingdom before our friends Hannah and Stefan get married in October. We researched flights, cruises, overland trips and campervan rentals. When it came down to seven months of work for me (and seven months of boredom for Shane) in beautiful but expensive Australia, or seven months of travel around Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and South America, everything started to become clear.

We started our plan B by renting a car, and driving from Brisbane to Melbourne.



The highs and lows of our life on the road

What a year it’s been. In 2017 we got married, left our jobs, rented our house out and set off in our little gold 1996 Nissan Micra (better known as Martha) to start a brand new adventure living out of backpacks and seeing the world. Martha took us across countries and continents all the way to Mongolia and to Ulan Ude in Russia, and she survived tricky terrain, long distances and dodgy fuel without a single issue. Shane I also survived extreme temperatures, crazy bureaucratic border crossings and terrifying driving conditions, and we still loved each other at the end.

At the Mongol Rally finish line in Ulan Ude

From Ulan Ude we took the basic but interesting Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok, and then embarked on a trip around the Far East, discovering culture and karaoke in South Korea, cup noodles and Disneyland in Tokyo, and meeting my parents and brother for an epic sea voyage from Tokyo to Shanghai.

With my brother Tom in Miyajima

After Shanghai we started our travels around Southeast Asia, clambering up rice terraces and hopping across islands in the Philippines, escaping floods in Vietnam, and relaxing and learning to scuba dive on the islands of Thailand. We trekked through the jungle and climbed volcanoes in Sumatra, admired the architectural highlights of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, attempted to surf in Bali and kept a safe distance from giant dragons in Komodo.

On Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi

30 countries, 45,000 kilometres, seven weeks of driving, 60 hours on a train, 20 hours on planes, and too many hours on buses. There have been so many amazing highlights, but there have also been a few low points. Here, Shane and I each give our honest account of the best and worst moments of our trip to date.

We’ve written this separately, without any discussion or comparison, so any similarities or glaring differences of opinion are completely coincidental.

Georgia’s highlights:

  1. Off-road racing in Mongolia – August 2017

Two days before we reached Ulaanbaatar, we encountered the section of the Mongol Rally we were most worried about: a 270 kilometre stretch with no roads whatsover, which had claimed the lives of many healthy and happy cars before us. To our surprise, Martha didn’t just survive those 270 kilometres, she loved them! Discovering that Martha was essentially made for Mongolia was a fantastic moment – a moment which confirmed her superiority over all other cars, and a moment which made us feel as though this big trip across Mongolia had always been her destiny. It was also fantastic to drive those last kilometres with the friends we had made along the way, especially team Kiwis Crossing, who had been with us since Barnaul in Russia.

With Taygen and Martha in Mongolia

Which way?

Rather than the worst roads of the Rally, those 270 kilometres turned out to be the best roads for Martha, and for us. We had some great days of driving, and our nights spent camping with other teams in the wilds of Mongolia, and with a local family in their ger, were the cherry on top. The feeling of achievement that we had made it all the way to Mongolia, combined with Martha’s seamless driving off-road, made these couple of days in Mongolia the highlight of the Mongol Rally. We will miss Martha forever, but will always be grateful we have those memories of her racing along and creating her own path in Mongolia.

Camping in Mongolia


  1. Korean BBQ and fried chicken in South Korea – September 2017

Visiting South Korea was without doubt one of the highlights of our trip. We loved the ancient palaces, the vibrant neighbourhoods and the clean and efficient public transport, but most of all, we loved the food!

Stunning Seoul

Hilarious times in the trick-eye museum

Korean BBQ was an excellent discovery. We ate at restaurants with BBQs built into the tables, and were given plates of meat to grill ourselves and eat with a variety of side dishes. It was delicious. We also discovered the local staple of ‘fried chicken and beer’, which is as simple as it sounds, but often involves chicken cooked in a delicious sweet and sticky sauce. Even the snacks we ate in South Korea were fantastic: we ate delicious pork meatballs at a food market, and we ate chips covered in a ‘sea of cheese’ (three different types of cheese, plus onions, plus bacon, and some kind of yoghurt).

Korean BBQ

All in all, Korean food was a revelation, and I can’t lie… we have kept a look out for it everywhere we’ve been since. First meal in Japan? Yes, we ate Korean food. How about Vietnam? Well, we found Korean food. We did eat Japanese and Vietnamese food too, as well as plenty of local food in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, but wherever we were, Korean BBQ and fried chicken was difficult to resist.

  1. Tokyo Disneyland and meeting my family in Japan – October 2017

We spent a week in Tokyo visiting temples, weird museums, owl cafes and everything in between, but nothing could beat Tokyo Disneyland. It is, of course, the happiest place on Earth, and Tokyo Disneyland had the full Disney atmosphere and the classic rides as well as incredibly friendly staff, efficient systems and creative visitors who know how to dress for Disney fun. As well as the traditional Disneyland, we visited Tokyo’s Disneysea, an entirely new park with amazing theming and some new and exciting rides.

Tokyo Disneyland

This was also my favourite part of the trip because my Mum, Dad and brother Tom flew out to meet us for Disney time, and it was great to spend time with my family 🙂

Missing my fam


  1. Getting up close and personal with orangutans in Sumatra – November 2017

It was worth a treacherous trek through the Sumatran jungle to come face to face with orangutans in the wild. In total we saw nine orangutans, including one male orangutan who is usually hard to spot, and several babies. We were really lucky to see so many orangutans, and they came within touching distance of us. It was a fantastic experience.

Hanging out with orangutans in Sumatra


  1. Diving and dragons in Komodo – December 2017

Another wildlife highlight from Indonesia was visiting the Komodo National Park, where we saw Komodo Dragons, giant green sea turtles, huge manta rays and various other aquatic animals. As well as the amazing wildlife, I overcame my fear of scuba diving and started to enjoy spending time under the sea. Komodo was a wildlife paradise, and I wish we’d spent longer taking it all in.

Backing away from terrifying Komodo dragons


Georgia’s low points:

  1. Sleeping in Martha in a dodgy truck stop in Istanbul – July 2017

A combination of extreme tiredness, driving for hours, losing our EU roaming capacity (and therefore our ability to navigate) and taking a wrong turn down a toll road (and not knowing how to pay the toll) made for a bad first day in Turkey, which quickly turned into a bad night when we couldn’t find anywhere to camp. We ended up parked at a dodgy truck stop trying to sleep in Martha. Not only was this boiling hot and uncomfortable, it also led to me getting bitten about 30 times by mosquitoes, and waking up at 5am screaming because someone was trying to get into the car. This was the first time I thought “I want to go home”.

  1. Driving all night through a desert sand storm in Turkmenistan – August 2017

It’s hard to believe anything could be worse than the long, bureaucratic nightmare that was crossing the Caspian sea, but  the low point arrived when we completed the 18-step Turkmenistan immigration process only to be told by officials that we had to drive straight to Ashgabat that very night. This meant driving for ten hours through the dark on very little sleep, trying to navigate a huge sand cloud, avoid camels and stay on the ‘correct’ side of the road, which seemed to change at every junction. There were many moments where I felt as though we couldn’t go on, but we were luckily to have three other drivers from other Mongol Rally teams with us to share the pain.

Dodging camels before it got dark


  1. Arriving in Manila – October 2017

We arrived in Manila at 5am after a four hour flight from Shanghai, where we’d said goodbye to my family. Manila was not the easiest or most welcoming city. The traffic was terrible, as was the pollution, and the poverty and inequality were shocking. We tried to escape the worst of the city by getting some much needed sleep in a pay-by-the-hour hotel, which turned out to be pretty seedy. Unfortunately, even though we left Manila after just one day, we had to return twice more. The Philippines isn’t the easiest country to travel around, so everywhere we went involved a trip back to our least favourite capital city: Manila.

Traffic and grime in Manila


  1. Suffering from peanut poisoning in Sumatra – December 2017

One night in Sumatra I accidentally ate a burrito filled with peanuts. As I suffer from a mild (or at least, previously mild) peanut allergy, this wasn’t ideal. I spent the next 48 hours with terrible vomiting and diarrhoea, barely ate anything and had to use one of the worst toilets I’ve ever seen in the middle of the bus journey to Padang. I missed out on “the best beaches of our trip” (Shane’s words), and felt generally rubbish for a significant amount of time. I still don’t know who puts peanuts in a burrito, but I haven’t eaten one since.

The pristine beaches I didn’t see because I was throwing up peanuts

  1. Losing my phone to scooter snatchers in Bali – December 2017

While I sat on the back of our scooter trying to navigate from Kuta to Canggu in the dark, congested streets of Bali, my phone was snatched from my hand and we ended up lost in the dark, with no idea how to get back to our surf camp. I spent a whole day mourning the loss of my phone, marvelling at how often I used it in everyday life. Without it, I couldn’t set an alarm (or even tell the time), use a torch, work out currency conversions, communicate with anyone, use a map, take photos or sort out booking confirmations for our trip.

Going nowhere fast in Bali

Shane’s highlights:

For me, choosing the best and worst moments was a challenging task. I find it difficult to make decisions at the best of times, and visiting 30 different countries in six months has left us with so many great and not-so-great memories. I found it really hard to narrow this down to just five best and five worst moments, but I have done my best:

  1. DRiving in Mongolia – August 2017

The roads in Mongolia were supposed to be some of the worst in the world, and as we approached Mongolia we started to hear horror stories from the teams ahead of us. Cars were being destroyed, people were getting stranded, and expensive tow trucks were being procured. We expected this to be the toughest part of the Rally, and at the back of our minds we were both worried that we (and Martha) might not make it to the finish line.

Instead, it turned out to be the best part of the Rally. We drove on gravel surfaces and desert surfaces at speeds over 100 kilometres an hour, and Martha just slid around when we needed to turn. Slower speeds made Martha shake, as if we were going over a washboard, so we went as fast as we could, and Martha loved it.

Driving with other teams in Mongolia

No road? No problem!

We also joined other teams for the drive to Mongolia. This was because we were worried about breaking down, and about getting lost somewhere in the wilderness. With no roads, and no obvious direction to go in, there was a risk of breaking down and not being found for days, or forever. This turned out to be a great decision. Having other teams with us for this part added to our adventure, made it more fun, and let us enjoy the epic views without worrying about breaking down. If anyone from those other teams are reading, thank you guys! It was our teammates from Kiwis Crossing who also suggested that we stayed in a ger – one of the best experiences of our trip. We’d seen ger camps across Central Asia, but had never been inside one. While there are a few tourist ger gamps in Mongolia, we were lucky enough to stay with a local family. They cooked for us, tried to communicate (we are still looking for Michael), and we got to see how they live day to day. We now know there is no such thing as knocking when you enter a ger – everyone is always welcome – and the night we stayed there were many local people popping in to get boiling water for their pot noodles, asking for a cigarette, and of course, having a look at the weird tourists who had chosen to drive tiny cars halfway across the world.

Driving, driving, driving

With Georgia, Martha and our Mongolian ger


  1. Sleeping in a pod – October 2017

I didn’t think I would like sleeping in a pod. It was Georgia’s idea to book a night at a capsule hotel in Japan, so I went along with it. It turned out to be amazing, and was probably the best night’s sleep I had this year (maybe because Georgia was in a separate pod somewhere else!). As an engineer, I like it when things work efficiently, and a capsule hotel feels as though it’s been designed by an engineer. There are no frills – just a great night’s sleep. We had everything we needed for the night – towels, slippers, toothpaste, and even pyjamas. The temperature was automatic and was set to the optimum sleeping temperature. The pod was nice and big; it wasn’t claustrophobic at all; and it had a small dimmer switch and charging outlet. The hotel had a common area for anyone wanting to work, hang out etc. but the pod area was just for sleeping and silent, just like a hotel should be.

Very happy with my pod


  1. Cruise from Tokyo to Shanghai – October 2017

We looked forward to this cruise from Tokyo to Shanghai for months. When we were hungry during the Mongol Rally, or when we bored of eating “mash in a cup” on the Trans-Siberian railway, thinking about the food opportunities on the cruise kept me going. The cruise was really good, and the destinations were amazing. I love history, and it was so interesting to see and learn about the history and culture of Japan, as well as the effects of the second world war and the atomic bombs.



  1. El Nido’s Cabanas beach – November 2017

After many weeks of driving, city hopping, sight seeing, hiking through rice fields and constantly moving, we arrived at El Nido in the Philippines. We were not overly impressed with the beach in the town. When the tide comes in the beach disappears and when the tide is out there are some many boats in the water it can be difficult to swim. We were told about another beach, which was supposed to be better. It was about 15 minutes away on a tricycle. Neither Georgia nor I are ever keen to spend money, especially on visiting a beach when we have a beach right in front of us, but on this occasion, we coughed up the £2 (very expensive by Philippines’ standards), and took a tricycle ride to the beach.

The beach was about a kilometer long. It was filled with white sand, there was barely anyone there, and we enjoyed ziplining across to a neighbouring island, having a drink under the coconut trees, and watching the sun go down over the horizon. I am not a beach person, but I really did enjoy our time here and I even managed to sit and relax for a couple of hours. It was how I imagined paradise, and was a great place to unwind and recharge before we travelled on to the hectic cities of Vietnam.

  1. The food – july to december 2017

Over the last six months we have tried some amazing food, which we would never have eaten in the UK or Ireland. We often stick to what we know, but on this trip we had to eat what the locals ate, and most of the time we loved it. The highlights would be the kebabs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the black tea and sweets in Central Asia, The Mongolian BBQ in Mongolia, Korean BBQs and fried chicken in Korea, spring rolls in Vietnam, and chicken sate with nasi goreng in Indonesia.

Stocking up on supplies in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Many cup noodle options in Japan


Shane’s lowpoints:

  1. Dealing with drunk angry Russian miners on the Trans-Siberian railway – September 2017

We took the Trans-Siberian railway from Central Russia to Vladivostok on the East coast; a 60 hour journey in cramped third class. Most of the journey was actually great, and even though we didn’t speak any Russian and nobody in our carriage could speak any English, we used hand gestures and google translate and managed to have a few conversations. One night, however, was a little scary. There were two Russian gold miners who travelling East for work sleeping on the bunk opposite mine. Drinking alcohol is prohibited on the train, but they managed to hide their vodka bottles and drank about two litres each. One of the men became quite aggressive. We couldn’t understand what he was saying, but the other passengers were becoming concerned. Eventually, his friend persuaded him to have a lie down, and the vodka took over and he fell asleep. I noticed he had left a large pocket knife on the table, so while he was sleeping I hid it from him, in case he intended to use it. In the morning he had to get off the train, and almost missed his stop. As he was about to get off, I handed him the knife, and gestured to explain that I had just found it on the floor. He thanked me, and left the train. Luckily the night passed without a major incident, but it was not the sort of train journey we are used to.

The calm before the angry Russian storm


  1. Sleeping in Tokyo Airport – October 2017

Over the last few months and 30 countries we have slept in all manner of places: buses, trains, cars, hostels, hotels, gers, tents, and pods, to name a few. However, sleeping in an airport has to be the worst. Public transport in Japan shuts down after midnight, and taxis are horribly expensive, so after a late night flight to Japan we planned to stay in the airport and get the train to the city the next morning.

After a full day of travelling we were pretty tired, so walked around the entire airport to find a few seats together where we could lie down. This wasn’t easy, as everybody else seemed to have the same idea. We eventually found a space, but due to arm rests and various other anti-sleep chair designs, we couldn’t lie down properly. Georgia managed to contort herself into a position so her feet went under the arm rest, but in no way did it look comfortable. I resorted to trying to sleep sitting up, but there were quite a few distractions. The lights were on, the airport was busy, people were coming and going, and we had all our possessions with us which we did not want to lose. I tried to sleep, but it was a very, very long night. While Georgia had a little snoozed, I just watched the clock tick and tick.


  1. Learning to surf – December 2017

Surfing is something I have always wanted to try. Surfers always appear to be super cool; they appear in Beach Boys songs and Baywatch episodes, and a person carrying a surfboard has appeared in many a great sunset photo.

So, in order to achieve my life’s ambition, we booked into a surf and yoga camp in Bali for a week, where we would have surf and yoga lessons everyday. The first day of surfing was good, apart from the constant need to pull plastic bags off my face that were floating in the water. The sea in Bali reminded me of a competition in Ireland, where school children designed clothes for people out of rubbish. Walking out of the sea in Bali, any one of us could have been modeling those items – we were covered in everything from crisp packets to plastic bags, and everything in between.

The second day of surfing wasn’t nearly as good as the rubbish-bin experience. The waves were bigger, and a lot further out. To get to the waves involved 15 minutes of lying on the board, paddling out to the waves. By the time I got there I needed a rest! When I eventually caught a wave (and inevitably fell off the surf board), I then had to turn around and paddle back out. This was torture, my arms were killing and my inner arms were getting completely raw from rubbing on the outside of the board. After an hour or so of this and being continually hammered by the waves I made my way back into shore. When I confessed I hadn’t had the best time, the instructors warned that surfing is actually 90% paddling, and paddling is meant to be fun. This made me question whether surfing is really for me.


  1. Being asked to pray on a plane – December 2017

We boarded a flight from Labuan Bajo on the Flores island back to Bali. The plane was quite large, and seemed fairly modern, like a standard Ryanair Airbus A320. As we were taxiing out on to the runway one of the air hostesses asked for quiet and started to speak in a different language. I thought maybe there was a birthday onboard or a special announcement. She then repeated what she had said in English. She requested that everybody would take a quiet moment to pray in our own way for a safe flight and safe arrival of the plane into Bali. As an engineer I found this a little troubling, surely good maintenance and a competent pilot will ensure our safe arrival into Bali and hopefully they are not relying on prayers alone! It all seemed reminiscent of an episode of the Irish comedy series ‘Father Ted’.


  1. Breakfast – July to December 2017

I love breakfast, and having a cooked breakfast is one of the main things I look forward to when staying in a hotel or a B&B. On this trip I have discovered that I don’t really like breakfast – I only like Irish, English, continental or American breakfast. While most of our accommodation has been of the basic, budget variety that rarely includes any extras (like breakfast), we have also stayed in some nicer places – including a five star hotel in Turkmenistan, and a boutique hotel in Bali. When staying in nicer places, I looked forward to breakfast time and some seriously delicious items to tuck into. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. In Turkmenistan we found cereal, coffee, hard boiled eggs, croissant shaped bread and some type of jelly, which wasn’t quite what I’d been dreaming about. In Bali we woke up on Christmas day, excited for our “international” breakfast, and found fried rice and fish curry. There was nothing wrong with eating bread, rice and fish curry for breakfast everyday, but I really missed a familiar full Irish.

It’s tasty, but it’s not breakfast

We’ve had some seen some amazing sights and had some incredible adventures over the last six months. While we’ve also had a few challenges thrown at us, the good times have definitely outweighed the bad. Driving a tiny inappropriate car to Mongolia and travelling on cramped trains, tiny tricycles and rickety boats has pushed us out of our comfort zone, and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. Encountering new lands, new foods and new experiences hasn’t always been easy, safe or secure, but it has always been rewarding, exciting and life-affirming, and we can’t wait to do it all again in 2018 🙂

We will keep the updates coming from the land down under, but if you’d like to catch up on any of our blog posts from the last six months, or to subscribe to our blog, please click here.




Jurassic Park meets Finding Nemo in Komodo National Park

Ten days of trash, trauma and traffic on the overrated island of Bali had left me tired of Indonesia and tired of travelling. As we prepared for our trip to Komodo National Park, I was somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, but tried to embrace the positives – at least we wouldn’t be in Bali any more.

Getting to Komodo National Park turned out to be much simpler than I’d anticipated. Travel websites and blogs gave the impression it was a very remote and hard to reach destination. There were suggestions that we should take a lengthy combination of ferries from Bali to Lombok and onwards, which would be cheap but basic and logistically complicated. The journey would take days, and the thought of it almost made me abandon our Komodo venture altogether.

Instead, I found another way. Many companies offer day trips to the Komodo island, as well as to popular dive sites and surrounding islands in Komodo National Park from a small town called Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. You can fly direct from Bali to Labuan Bajo (or you can also fly direct from Jakarta); the flight from Bali takes one hour and costs £50 (including baggage).

The only downside was that we had to fly with an Indonesian airline that didn’t meet EU safety regulations (in this case Nam Air). As we boarded the plane, I looked around for any signs of impending doom. The plane looked a little bit old and a little bit rough round the edges. I studied the safety card carefully and noticed there were only four life rafts; two for the people at the front, and two for the people in the middle. None for the people at the back. Thankfully we were seated right in the middle, so I had high hopes of survival in the event of a water landing. Otherwise, though, everything seemed OK. That was until a few minutes before take-off, when one of the flight attendants suggested that we all should take a quiet moment to “pray for our safety”. Comforting.  Thankfully, the flight was short, and the plane made it through the journey without incident. Labuan Bajo’s small airport was just a five minute car ride to the harbour where we stayed at Blue Marlin Komodo: a small hotel and dive centre right by the sea.


Taking a moment to “pray for safety” on Nam Air

This made everything really easy. Blue Marlin organised our dives and our trip to see the Komodo dragons as well as our accommodation, and what started as an epic voyage from Bali over various islands on uncomfortable ferries turned out to be one of the most simple and straightforward mini-trips of our adventure so far. We turned up at Bali airport, checked in for our flight, boarded the plane, landed at Labuan Bajo, and were picked up and taken straight to the hotel where our equipment was sorted out and our schedule confirmed for the next couple of days.

View from our room at Blue Marlin in Labuan Bajo

Komodo National Park is known for its giant dragons that wander the islands of Komodo and Rinca, but also for its diverse and impressive marine life. Both the dragons and the oceans are considered hazardous: the dragons can and do attack people, and if they bite you a slow and painful death may follow. The ocean has its own perils: strong and unpredictable currents which can quickly whisk you away without warning. Having only just completed our open water course, Komodo National Park wasn’t an obvious ‘next step’ for our brief scuba diving career, but Blue Marlin had a special ‘beginners boat’ for those of us with limited experience, which took us to the safer, shallower dive sights.

Despite the fact that danger lurked around every corner, I instantly felt more relaxed and peaceful when we arrived in Labuan Bajo. On the short journey from the airport to the town we saw real life trees, rather than just shops, bars and litter! Despite being a fairly touristy town, Labuan Bajo was quiet and chilled out. I realised quickly that I’d made some grave errors in our travel planning: we should have spent a short time (or no time) on Bali, and much longer on Flores and in Komodo National Park. I’d got it all the wrong way round.

On our first day in the national park, we hit the sights hard, with two dives and a trek around Rinca island to see the Komodo Dragons. At 7.30am we climbed aboard a speedboat named Toby. Toby was a little rough but he was speedy, and transported us very quickly around the islands. We reached our first dive sight after less than an hour, donned our wetsuits and equipment, and did our first ever backward rolls off the boat into the water.

A picture perfect island and dramatic dive sight

Unfortunately, it took us a while to get going. We tried to descend under the water, but both Shane and I stayed stuck to the surface. We tried everything – making sure we had no air left in our buoyancy control device, adjusting our breathing and kicking down under the water. Nothing worked. We were wearing longer wetsuits than on our previous diving experience in Thailand, and so we were more bouyant than we expected. Thankfully Toby the speedboat returned to us in a flash and brought us some more weights so that we could finally get down under the sea.

Once we were under, we were greeted by a dramatic underwater world, with beautiful corals and plentiful fish. I managed not to panic, and was grateful that we were diving with Melinda, a calm and patient dive master who didn’t get annoyed with us for misjudging our weight requirements and taking forever to descend. Unlike in Thailand, I finally started to relax and actually enjoy the scuba diving experience, and our next dive later in the day was just as good.

Starting to enjoy being underwater

After we had completed the two dives, Toby took us on to Rinca island, where we met an experienced ‘dragon guide’ who led us on a short trek around the island to see the Komodo Dragons. He carried a big stick ‘for protection’ and showed us how close to the dragons it was safe to stand (although even that was a bit too close for me). We saw the majority of the dragons lazing around in a little village on the island, hoping for scraps of food and relaxing in the shade, but when we set off for our trek, the adventure really began.

On the move…

It started to feel as if we were in a real-life version of Jurassic Park. We walked through a forest area, and it wasn’t long before we saw a little dragon running across the path in front of us. We held our breath and started to look around us, wary of dragons camouflaged in the bush who might have their eye on us. Aside from another baby dragon, the rest of the dragons we saw in the forest were thankfully fast asleep near their nests. They looked like some kind of cross between a crocodile and a dinosaur. Some of them were really big – several metres long – and they all looked a bit evil. While I was excited to see them, I wasn’t too sad to leave them behind again, and to get back on the boat to Labuan Bajo.

We weren’t alone in the ‘Jurassic Park’ style forest

Getting a little bit scared

Day two brought a different boat (this time we were on Hugo – the slower ‘beginner’s boat’), and two more dives at safe and shallow locations. While our first dives in Komodo National Park had been great, the next two were truly spectacular. It was like being in Nemo’s reef: we saw giant green sea turtles and huge manta rays, some of which swam right up close to us. The coral reef was vibrant and beautiful, and we saw more species of fish than I could name. When we came up to the surface, one of our diving companions remarked that this was “as good as it gets”, and we felt incredibly lucky.

Click here to watch the manta rays swimming with us!

I realised I had also discovered a new love of scuba diving. The anxiety and panic I’d experienced in Thailand was a distant memory. We were lucky to dive with Melinda twice, who reminded us of the important safety information, hand signals and breathing techniques which I’d forgotten, and kept me stress-free at all times. Obviously seeing manta rays and turtles didn’t hurt either!

After an amazing few days at Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park, it was finally time to say goodbye to Asia and hello to our new home for the time being: Australia.

The last six months have been filled with everlasting weekends, amazing adventures, great people and fantastic food. We’ve visited 30 different countries, driven 15,000 kilometres in a 1996 Nissan Micra and survived 60 hours on the Trans-Siberian railway. We’ve dealt with crazy bureaucracy, disappearing roads, erupting volcanoes, terrible floods, angry Russians, and peanut poisoning. We’ve slept in a car, in a tent, in a yurt, on boats, in a hammock, and even in a swinging egg, as well as inevitably on planes, trains and buses. We learnt to scuba dive, surf and tried yoga, and we’ve eaten our body weight in kebabs (Central Asia) and fried rice (South East Asia). While it hasn’t always been easy, it has always been an adventure, and we’ve never, ever suffered from the old Sunday night dread.

Our trip so far

Please keep an eye out for our next post, highlighting the best and worst moments of our trip so far. To catch up on  any of our previous posts, simply click here and select a country we’ve visited or have a browse. We are planning to keep our blog updated in Australia as we enter the next phase of our adventure, so please do keep following us at Thank you for reading 🙂