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Traveling through Vietnam – 2017

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We boarded a boat on the Mekong Delta for a cruise to our home stay. We then swapped to sampans and sailed down the river let whilst drinking coconuts and soaking up the bliss. We arrived at the homestay where we were prompted to jump in a knee deep water filled mud pit to
Catch our own fish for dinner. Squirming through the fish and people filled muck I managed to successfully catch two fish in my basket. Lunch and Dinner was a feast where we tested the flavours of our freshly salvaged fish, and the unique mix of rat and snake. The rooms were rather stuffy with geckos running along the walls and the bathroom had practically a non pressurized shower . It was a rather rough night sleep so it was much to my relief to be heading back to Ho Chi Minh the next day.

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On the return we made a detour to the Cu Chi tunnels. I concurred my claustrophobia by entering the Cu Chi Viet Kong underground tunnels. Seeing the booby traps used on the American soldiers were brutal and sneaky. I was rather proud of myself for concurring 20m of Underground tunnels, despite my original refusal. Once back to the hotel we joined forces to do a scavenger hunt through Ho Chi Minh. We ate and drank our way to the rooftop bar.

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The morning began with a visit to the Vietnam war historical museum as well as the Notre dame cathedral and a post office designed by Mr Eiffel Tower. A magical flight sent us to our next destination of Nha Trang where we bused our way to the seaside hotel followed by beach side dinner celebrations for Erin’s 26th birthday. We were dazzled by a fire twirling dance routine like no other and drank Contiki special alcoholic bucket beverages.

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Rise and shine for the day of fun and relaxation ahead! We left the hotel to depart the wharf on board the Funky Monkey booze cruise. We jumped off the roof of the boat and snorkeled the clear waters seeking out colourful fish, starfish and spiky enemies hidden amongst the unique coral beds. I was in a mystical underwater world until I got stung on my arm by a jellyfish. I retreated to the boat for a sugar paste cure on my blotchy arm and a beer to numb the sting. Sunbathing, dancing, floating bar shots and a whole lot of fun made this day one of the best thus far. Us Aussies belted out waltzing Matilda and other countries paid a performance of their own.
Next on the activity list was a visit to relaxing, yet exciting and awe inspiring mineral mud baths and hot pools. Roaming from pool to pool and showering under waterfalls was the perfect way to end the day. It was a day almost impossible to comprehend due to the surreal beauty and complete utter enjoyment.

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A 4am rise to get to our flight to Da Nang then bused our way to Hoi An where we set off on a bike ride tour to the ancient town of Hoi An where we explored the Chinese and Japanese influenced architecture of this quaint, touristy town. We spent the remainder of the afternoon getting a custom clothing fitting whilst drenched in sweat from our prior exercise, recouping from travel via massage and Mani Pedi, refreshing pool dips and a dinner personally welcomed and served by the Chef Nando at Green Chilli restaurant.

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Today was a rather contemplative day in realization that the trip was drawing to an end. We had a free day to shop and eat to our hearts content. After a laundry pickup, bike drop off and a massage we made our tiered way to a simplified and delectable Vietnamese cooking class. It was the perfect way to top off the day and gave us the energy to explore Hoi An’s colourful lantern lit night markets, finished off with a floating river lantern release to make a wish to.

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We fare welled the beautiful city of Hoi An and took the Hai Van pass to Hue were we all were designated Cyclos which were a bike peddled from behind and you sit on the front for a scenic and fun form of transportation to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Temple sight. It was a view of intricate arches and designs of the once upon a time residence of the King. We saw his cast gold throne and many other sights to be taken in before a brief stop off to see the 7 story Thien Mu Pagoda where monks chanted behind the echoing zen gardens. Little time to rest as we prepared our appetites for the street food tour. We ate banana fritters, made our own fresh spring rolls and savored a fetus duck egg. We were incredibly satisfied after busing around to multiple food stops around the city and had a chill night in the hotel whilst the maintenance man fixed the leaking air conditioning system in our room.

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Seeing as Hue is considered more of a transit city we pushed on and flew to the Capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi. It was slightly reminiscent of Ho Chi Minh as we drove over the bridge with the hazy city in the distance coming into view. We checked out the local sights including the temple of literature and Parliament House.
A satisfying lunch stop with a mocktail and duck dish followed by a free afternoon to sleep, shop and meander around this new unexplored city. Erin, Olivia, Amy and I had sushi for Amy’s birthday dinner and after sat by the mosquito ridden lake, reminiscing on the trip.

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I woke to the day of ANZAC day where I listened to a bagpipe version of amazing grace on my iPod in the dark of the hotel room and reflected on the sacrifice of our troops who had fought in all wars but in particular, here in Vietnam. It is quite a special day for me and even more memorable that I got to be in this country for it.

Halong Bay here we come!

We sailed into the awe inspiring, mountainous, lagoon-like bay. We adored the spectacular view from atop our Junk Cruise Boat with cocktails in hand. The excitement was evident with the mass amount of photos taken and resistance to leave the top of the boat to return inside for a seafood lunch with the most amazing view. Afterwards we boarded separate boats with our own personal rowing man who took us through a cave that lead to a surrounding mountain range rising up out of the water. Monkeys jumped between trees and the water glowed aqua green. It was so serene and unbelievable to witness. We then walked to the top of a beach bay to witness a view of boats and green lumps of rock protruding from the glimmering blue below. Once we made our return back to the bottom we refreshed ourselves with a well earned dip in the cold waters whilst others played beach volley ball on the sand.

The night on the boat was drinks all around whilst watching the sunset, eating dinner, singing Karaoke and amusing ourselves with each others fancy dress costumes.

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Our final day/night of the tour! Asia you have not let me down with the surprising sights. A final adventure for the trip meant walking through sung sot caves. Initially i felt apprehensive due to claustrophobia however it was a rather wide open and not too deep cave. The stalactite roof and walls made the space look otherworldly. Once we had scrambled our way out a view of the bay welcomed us and many other tourist attempting to get that money shot. A final meal on the boat where we resisted the idea to leave the beauty but ended up sailing our way back to land.
After a 4 hour bus trip back to Hanoi we rested up before heading to our final family dinner at Lanterns restaurant where we sat on floor cushions under a sea of lanterns above us. We reenacted the image of the last supper and marked our memories by writing on the walls of the restaurant. This was totally allowed for reassurance purposes! After fare-welling a few friends before their early morning departure, we checked out hangover bar where we drank from piggy bank buckets and puffed on Shisha’s

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An early rise to farewell some more of the crew flying out, was followed by a much needed nap until midday. It was blissful to not have to rush anywhere after breakfast and meander our way through the city streets, eating Banh Mi, drinking weasel coffee and having an hour hand a half massage with Sarah! We wrote a letter to the best tour manager I could have hoped for; Rachel, and met the remaining travelers for dinner at a well recommended restaurant called Cau Go.

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That was it. The end of the most amazing trip rolled into a month. I made some incredible new friends, had unbelievable experiences, ate strange and delicious foods, faced fears and pushed myself far outside of my comfort zone. I came to Asia to learn to not take things for granted, but somehow on this last day in this generous, kind hearted and friendly country of Vietnam, I find myself feeling like I’m taking the experience for granted. I’m feeling rather undeserving of such a special experience and of all I have received, kind of like I’m not really worthy to be treated as well as I have been. I never aimed to be complacent by the end of this trip but that’s pretty much how I feel. I’m ready to go home. As I’m laying in my darkened hotel room at the Hong Ngoc Dynasty Hotel I’m thinking that I don’t have the importance to have doors opened for me as my presence approaches, or smiles from poor children in the marketplace, or to be reviewing a peaceful massage, or to be allowed to take selfies with such precious wild creatures that are the Asian Elephants, or be rowed along in the heat by a frail Asian woman whilst I drink coconuts, or viewing moon bears in an enclosure, or contributing to wastefulness, tourism, and sweat shop workers. Asia, you have been the most beautiful continent but at the very same time, incredibly concerning at the amount of poverty I’ve witnessed and how westerners have practically taken over the culture of this land. It’s a sad truth but in ten years down the track, Asia may no longer be what it is today. I mean I hope it can be even more beautiful than what I’ve witnessed, because it’s been the most astounding and eye opening trip of my life. I appreciate the time spent here more than I can currently comprehend, I just wonder if I deserved it.

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Queens Birthday – Long Weekend

So what else is there to do on a public holiday, other than get out and explore in amongst nature. Firstly I spent the day with my good friend Holly, where we drove down the twisted road surrounded with lush ferns and rain forest bush-land. The sun flickered through the canopy, casting dancing shadows as we made our way to the Megalong Valley Tea Rooms. Lunch was so nice as we scored a snug seating spot right next to the wood fireplace, as we drank our tea and coffee and chatted about adventures experienced and to come. With energy replenished, we set off on a rainforest bushwalk where we tiptoes over rocks amongst the coursing waters. Afterwards we fare-welled each other until next time. Later that afternoon, I continued my energetic streak with an incline walk with my mum to watch the sun set over the shadowy valleys below.

 

 

 

The following day (Queens Birthday) entailed my brother and I spending one and half hours stuck in traffic before reaching Mt Blackheath, with a few deviations along the way. The afternoon rays were sublime, soaking up the majestic views of the Kanimbla Valley below. Once we had tiered ourselves out and adventured enough to earn an appetite we went home and had a little experiment with Astro photography.

Sometime you don’t need an expensive holiday to shake things up. I’m constantly discovering and exploring new inspiring locations in my own backyard. Here’s to many more long weekend adventures to come!

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Laos and Cambodia

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The day began with a hungover bike ride to a temple Barack Obama had once visited. We revived our fortunes and attempted to lift a bronze Buddha above our head for good luck. The bike ride continues past the Mekong river and to the Ock Pop Tok silk worm weaving gallery. Once we had admired the beauty and skill involved in the fabric making process we trekked on for the ultimate hangover cure. The much anticipated Kuang Si Falls were a surreal sight and utterly mesmerizing with the aqua blue course of water pooled amongst layers of clay-like natural slopes. The swim there felt like paradise on earth and I was much regretful to leave them. A brief viewing of the markets and Moon Bears rescue sanctuary led us to board the bus to return to the motel to prepare for the later Luang Prabang chilled out, night markets and extravagant street food.

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Sleep was not taking priority today as we rose at 5:30 am to offer sticky rice Alm’s to the vivid orange Monks. It was quite the cultural experience before we set off to make our way through the hazy, scenic hills to Viet Vieng with a sky view lunch at high altitude and a loo stop with more than a view imaginable!
Our hotel lay by the bank of the Namsong river with monumental mountains weaving up and down the pink, hazy horizon. After some cocktails and some social time by the pool watching the sun go down for the day, we took part in a returning of the souls ceremony. The soul retrieval ceremony returns the soul to the persons body and restores harmony. We cleansed ourselves with a shot of whiskey and a blessing bracelet symbolizing purity as a traditional end method to the Buddhist chants of praise.
Onward to dinner and a well reviewed eat out known as Jacks Irish Pub. It was a pleasure to eat westerner food and a yummy hamburger and chips for a change of Thai food.

 

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Today was the perfect opportunity to skip out on a rough and hot Kayak trip down the boggy river and slippery, mosquitoes filled caves. Instead Amy and I recovered and enjoyed some simple pleasures of eating by the pool all day, taking awesome poolside photos and simply relaxing and taking in the crazy past 11 days of the trip. It was just what I needed in order to regain some energy before we departed our hotel once again to set off to the Capital of Laos, Vientiane.

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Vientiane was our next stop where we un-pilled off the bus into the draw humid heat to visit a temple made with gold as well as mesmerizing roof illustrated art and the third giant reclining Buddha I had seen thus far. A storm had brewed in no time and we found ourselves racing a few Km’s back to the bus for shelter. Slightly drenched we made a stop to the COPE Center which rehabilitates Laos people with missing limbs from scatter bombs that had been dropped from the US strike in Vietnam war days. The repercussions of this have since resulted in Laos struggling to recover the country and farmland that remains riddled with un-exploded bombs. It was a sore sight at the museum however we all donated money to the cause.
We stopped off at the Arc De Triumph replica in the Laos Capitol and climbed the heat filled twisting stairwell to the view below. Dinner felt like a taste of home with sushi for appetizer, pizza for dinner and coconut ice cream from the night markets for desert.

 

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We left Vientiane to fly to Phenom Penh where we immediately went to the killing fields which was incredibly tragic to witness, particularly the mass graves and human remains. There was a center tower the was pulled sky high with skulls displayed behind glass platforms. I felt really emotional thinking how anyone could commit such genocide against their own country just to fit the structure of communism. The brutality displayed in images at the the s1w museum was overwhelming as well. Wandering through the somber grounds and seeing the tiny confined cells that victims were left to suffer was very confronting, but eye opening to become aware of such past atrocities. It was sobering and made me feel incredibly fortunate of the life I live and made us all feel a lot more appreciative of our lucky lives and all the opportunities we have since and yet to be offered.

Part of the group went to the rooftop at dusk where a steaming Jacuzzi overlooked Cambodia’s vibrant city below. A suggested eating spot was such a pretty sight at the titanic restaurant which was scattered with fairy lights and sat by the riverside. Cocktails and a 4 course menu preluded to a rooftop bar to play pool with the boys and followed by a fun night on the sweaty dance floor at pontoon bar.

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The morning was a perfect opportunity to get a pedicure and wander around the riverside and Royal Palace with Cara before we boarded a plane to Siem Reap. Once in Siem Reap we arrived at the citrus scented Frangipani Villa hotel and made our way to the pool for a congregational dip. Refreshed as possible we didn’t stay out of the water for long as we convoyed in tuk-tuks through the bustling, neon night where we were ambushed by street goers in their annual new year festivities of a huge water fight. We got rather drenched on our way to the Bug Cafe. Once we had a chance to dry off we ordered share plates to eat our way through a selection of deliciously prepared critters. This included sampling scorpion, tarantula, crickets, silk worms, ants, water-bug and snake. Surprisingly edible and rather satisfying.

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The day began early at a rise of 4:30am to watch the sun rise over the Angkor Wat temple. It was a beautiful sight despite the view been obscured by the crowd of tourists and selfie sticks. It was baffling to see how intricate this massive 900 year old temple of worship had been completed. Steep stairs, hot sun and plenty of photos was led by a visit to the Angkor Thom temple sight where we got a nose to nose selfie with Buddha. We convoyed in tuk-tuks to the final sight of Ta Prohm aka tomb raider sight. The fascinating relics and passageways of stone had been swallowed by twisted tree roots and I felt like Lara Croft, that is if she was raiding tombs amongst a selfie frenzied crowds of people.. nevertheless it was all a sight to be taken in and cherished, whilst mentally blocking out what had no ancient significance. It was the biggest relief to lay down after that long, hot, food deprived morning and to regain my energy, I had a massage to restore my weary body.

Quad bikes were next on the list. We rode amongst the local streets dodging cows, dogs and motorcycles as we made our way to dust ridden tracks and open farmland with the sun setting across the green paddocks. It was the best feeling leading the group in a convoy of adrenaline filled fun. On return we prettied up for our last night as a group. After dinner Amy and I braved the Khmer New year festivities as we dodged our way back to the motel, through the water fight and talcum powder to the face. The expedition home was short lived as we got caught up at Yolo Bar, and got our face painted with neon colours. After Amy and I were dead from battling our way through the mass crowd on pub street, and being chased by men with water guns down the dodgy night streets, bed was most definitely the ideal option.

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An emotional breakfast farewell to Layla and others before departing again, this time for our final leg of the trip and off to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Once settled in we met the new group for dinner at Barbecue Garden Restaurant where fairy lights and red lanterns were laden amongst the trees above. We cooked our own food on hot plates on our table and mingled with the newbies.

The extraordinary countries of Laos and Cambodia were awe inspiringly beautiful, but at the same time the horrific history that once had taken place make these newly developing countries fascinating to see just how far these generous and joyful people, have come out of their dark past.

Thailand – My First Solo Overseas Travel

Watch My Thailand Travel Video Here!

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So after my fairly smooth flights from Singapore then to Bangkok, I arrived to the airport at night to find my baggage had still been left at Singapore, my transfer from the airport to the hotel was nowhere in sight and the following day having my iPhone dropped in the pool and caused me to have a breakdown due to lack of technology. However, guess what? Everything works out fine in the end despite my bouts of concern. I caught a dodgy taxi to the motel by myself, my luggage to much relief made its way directly to my motel room and my phone miraculously recovered to relatively full health. Let’s just say that everything that could go wrong so far, probably hasn’t even occurred, considering how lucky I’ve been. I’m guessing that my lucky 1111 angels are looking out for me.

Ok, so that was the low lights, but you know I’m so incredibly proud of how brave I have been! Just getting here has been a feat on its own. Concurring so many fears to the point my Anxiety is non-existent.

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So some highlights of the first day alone include, meandering the chaotic Thailand streets with Amber, eating a delicious cafe breakfast with the most delicious Iced tea. Exploring the Grand Palace and Pho Wat (giant reclining Buddha) in all is sweltering glory. Taking a wild tuk-tuk to a unicorn cafe where we met Erin and dressed up in unicorn onesies and ate burgers and fries and slushies. I made my first solo tuk-tuk ride back to my motel. then afterwards met Amy, Kaylee and Elise for some authentic chicken pad Thai in the bustling street in the origins of the amazing dish itself, washed down with a refreshing Thai beer (Sangi). We ventured to the roof top pool, met Olivia and swam beneath the Bangkok night sky and soaked up the moment that was pure luxurious bliss and contemplating on the day just been and the many adventures to come.

Continue reading “Thailand – My First Solo Overseas Travel”

The Icy Blue Continent – Antarctica

When people ask me have I traveled overseas before, I tend to reply with; “Not really.” I suppose that’s not a very clear answer as I try to dodge the question. I think because saying I have been to Antarctica as a 12 year old, is a little unbelievable, even for me. Anyhow, from the collections of faded memories I try to recover, I recall it as a life changing, two week adventure.

I Voyaged with my Mother and Auntie to the Antarctic Peninsula. As a pre-adolescent I was slightly naive and I designated all the technicalities of reaching our destination to my mum. We flew to New Zealand for a brief stopover, then to South America; Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a culture shock, humid and I experienced my first feeling of jet-lag. As we later explored the angelic city, we saw a street magician who babbled some Spanish words and insisted for me to surrender my woolen jumper to him. He then scavenged a box of cigarettes from a spectator, where he proceeded to light a handful of them up and puff them into my jumper. I would have sworn that my beloved, colorful clothing item would have combusted into flames, but fortunately it had not a hole! Only the stench of tobacco laced within the fabric. He handed my intact jumper back to much relieved me. I later discovered wool isn’t flammable anyway, some sort of magic trick… At least the shock value was there for an Aussie child tourist!

I took a lot of interest in learning the Spanish language as we proceeded to Ushuia, known as the end of the Earth. The contrast to Buenos Aires was most certainly the temperature, despite it being Summer. I built a snowman out front of our quaint little motel atop a hill. I loved waking up to steaming hot croissants with jam and butter in the morning and the people who own the little B&B were so lovely. The misty snowy mountains surrounding the bustling, wharf-side town were breathtaking. Some of the Adults who were to be boarding the tour met us for a few fancy restaurant visits. I remember everyone raving about one restaurant called Kaupe, where we went and ate lots of bread and ordered lobster! This was rather thrilling, wining and dining, minus the wine… though I felt quite sophisticated as a kid in amongst this adult world. Speaking of food in Ushuia, I adored the delicacy of french fries drenched in creamy Mayonnaise, and Helado de Chocolate. My souvenir for my trip was a rather expensive Grey Alpaca wool Poncho that I couldn’t part with.

 

We boarded the Polar Pioneer ice-breaker, with Aurora Expeditions as we set off for the next few days along the rough, stormy and treacherous  Drake Passage, toward the Peninsula of Antarctica. I had a stomach of steel and only threw up once in the dining hall after attempting to stomach breakfast. Most of the time navigating the Drake passage I would sleep in our bunk-bed room. When I was brave I would attempt to walk down the swaying hallways laced with brown paper sick bags for those queezy, unfortunate expeditioners. Or the best view was from the Bridge of the ship. Watching the bow of the icebreaker thrusting high and low into the deep blue, casting magnificent sheets of white waves, heavy against the glass of the Bridge platform.

Once we had concurred the rough seas, waters calmed and we sailed into the Weddell Sea in search for land. Glistening icicles formed on the ships Port and Starboard. Humongous icebergs came into sight and once the mighty vessel anchored, clean gumboots and not so trendy sunglasses were sported to avoid the harsh, white glare of snow-blindness. We boarded the zodiac rafts which fit approximately 10-15 people and we were transported around ice sheets to set afoot on the wondrous land. The Snow was so crunchy and powdery. This time, I was unable to make a snowman as there is little water content in the Antarctic snow, it simply doesn’t stick together so snow angels was the best bet for me.

Penguin colonies echoed with the chatter of these unique, waddling birds. Chinstraps and Gentoo’s were common. I never saw Emperor penguins, but apparently they are very large. I viewed Antarctic Albatross, Petrels and Terns in flight. Leopard, Crabeater and Weddell seals bathing on the pebbly shoreline. Back aboard the Polar Pioneer, an announcement over the speaker was that there were a pod of Hourglass Dolphins frolicking afront of the ships bow. I raced to the bow to witness the amazement of dozens of inquisitive, black and white dolphins, leaping and diving along side us. Comparably amazing was seeing an enormous hump back whale breaching the cold depths under the boat and leaping into the air right in front of us. I was in the Bridge and I was fretting that the hefty mammal would land on the bow.

The bow of the boat was not too cold surprisingly. I wore shorts and a tee-shirt outside on the occasional days. It was Summer in the South Pole therefore the Sun would never entirely set, only during the night hours was a temporary sunset/sunrise.

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Other highlights that come to mind include, visiting the Historic Mawson’s Hut, standing atop an iceberg, swimming in hot springs in Deception Island, camping on the ice overnight, wasting time in the cinema room, as well as sitting at the bar, eat pretzels whilst writing and illustrating comics.

Not so highlight’s included, missing the onshore visit to the scientific weather station, because I was asleep and mum didn’t wake me up! That would have been the only opportunity to meet people who actually live in Antarctica! Another annoyance was being too young to use the ship’s sauna room. Ah the hard life of a youth. Although I admit being a kid among adults and traveling had its perks. I did get a little spoilt with my giant Toblerone from the airport and my Toy Gund horse Cisco to cuddle with on my return flight.

The Aurora Expedition crew put on a final BBQ for us 60+ voyagers on the stern of Polar Pioneer. After a group photo we bid farewell to each other, our unique travels and the icy, blue Continent, known as Antarctica.

Keara.

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Mount Victoria Falls

One overcast morning, Jessie and I spontaneously took the beaten track (literally) to set afoot upon an adventure to Mount Victoria Falls. We reached the end of the road and were pleasingly greeted by the simply breathtaking, vast view of the Grose Valley. After encountering a few tourists alike, we began our steep decent to reach the base of the valley. The Falls were simply stunning. Layers of rock streamed paths and torrents of cascading water across the face of the waterfall. Below we got in touch with nature, discovered bright orange yabbies, and cooled off in our own private rock pool beneath Mount Victoria Falls. After our discovery of this natural wonderland, it was not so pleasing to leave it behind to make our way home. However, it was well worth the steep trek back up, as we finished our explorations with a satisfying pub feed at Hotel Imperial, Mount Victoria.

Sydney Harbor Cruise

 

Earlier in the year I attended a friends birthday in the city cruising around the beautiful Sydney Harbor. We crashed through waves on our gallant white yacht under the Harbor Bridge. We drank our way across the waters to Athol Bay, where we dove into the fresh, green waters. It was blissfully refreshing to unwind with fun-loving company, whilst lusting upon some fine looking mer-men on the beach shore. We attempted to stand up on a paddle board with medium accomplishment at that, so we made our way back on atop our unicorn and duck flotation devices to rest our slightly intoxicated selves.

With well wishes and Birthday hurrah’s  we finished the evening off at Cargo Bar in Sydney’s Quay to top off an epic outing.