Category

travel notes

Couple travel: a packing list

June 5, 2017

My husband and I are on a 6 month traveling sabbatical through South America, UK and Europe. We’re coming up to the end of our South America leg, so this post has been a long time coming! I promised a fellow Spanish class member and friend I’d share our travel packing list.

We hadn’t travelled for more than a few weeks in 8 years (UK and Europe for 3 1/2 months). So much has changed by the way of travel since that time. We now have smart phones, there are countless travel blogs and other new travel resources and apps, new bag designs, etc. True to form, I put in hours of research into what we needed to pack – what is useful, wardrobe tips and what was reasonable to take for the 6 months. I mostly looked at travel guide publishers and blogs and I couldn’t find an exact fit, so I created my own that suited our style and needs.

Striking a balance

I believe we’ve struck a balance between bare minimum and taking the kitchen sink. We needed to cater for various climates, from the near and below zero degrees, to summertime in Spain and Portugal. I will be ‘conferencing’ in the UK, so I needed to bring suitable clothing for that too. I also wanted to take a few supplies with me, such as enough facial cleanser, cotton buds and BB cream, mostly because I like to spend my days seeing and experiencing stuff, not hunting down the nearest pharmacy. And I suppose to lesser extent, I like a few, basic self-care rituals in my daily routine uninterrupted. I’m sure we break a number of ‘travel packing rules’ but I don’t care. I’ve taken advice on board and this is what I’ve come up with.

Luggage gear

I’ll start with our luggage bags. We set a limit – one check-in bag, one carry on and a small cross-body bag. I bought myself a new bag, the Osprey Meridan 75. This bag has so far copped an absolute flogging and is still going strong. There is the main, 55L convertible duffle, then the 20L detachable day pack. When I say ‘convertible’, this means that the bag has both wheels and shoulder straps for whenever I need to put the bag on my back. (So far, I’ve only had to use the straps once in the Amazon jungle.)

I’m so in love with this Osprey bag and I’m so glad I spent the $350 or so on the quality. My lightweight Antler suitcase is seriously running the risk of being replaced!

What I love most about this bag, particularly the main one, is the inside compartments so I can easily separate packing items, the sturdy wheel frame and the padding down the sides.

I’m comforted by these features as my bag is hurled into the luggage compartment of a bus or flown around by baggage handlers in airports. As you can’t lock down the day pack to the main bag, I check-in the main bag and use the day pack as my carry on.

My husband has a slightly bigger bag combination. On the morning we flew out, he swapped out his backpack for his Ripcurl wheelie duffle bag. Not something you’d see me doing! The switch has paid off, as rarely does he need to carry it, though I’m sure it will need replacing once we arrive home. I couldn’t tell you the volume of this bag, but I know it’s bigger than my generous 55L Osprey, possibly 80L (similar to this one). His carry on is an Osprey 26L hiking rucksack (black).

Now, the packing list!

travel packing

Tech gear

  • (my) DSLR camera, plus a couple of polarising filters and basic cleaning products.
  • 18-55mm lens
  • 70-200mm lens
  • (his) GoPro
  • Laptop
  • Kindle x 2
  • Mobile phones
  • Polaroid camera (for my journal), plus film
  • Noise cancelling headphones x 2
  • Chargers
  • Portable charger/battery
  • Mini tripod
  • SD cards x 2
  • External hard drive
  • Universal adapter (we ended up buying in Lima, Peru, because our old ones weren’t sufficient)

Clothing

We agreed that we weren’t the kind of travellers who’d bring only 2-3 pairs of socks or underwear. We’re all for a minimal packing list but this advice was taking it a bit too far for us. How does anyone survive on that small number and not 1) do laundry every night, or 2) smell a bit…off?? Plus, socks and underwear don’t take up a lot of room and can go a long way in making you feel fresh. Other than that, don’t ask me what my husband brought, but here’s my list. I’ve included some of the brand names, as oftentimes travel blogs link to brands we can’t get here in Australia.

  • 1 x jeans
  • 2 x hiking pants (one pair converts to shorts)
  • 1 x trackies (Bonds)
  • 1 x denim shorts (Just Jeans)
  • 1 x skort (Kathmandu)
  • 2 x dresses (both can easily be worn with or without tights)
  • 1 x floor length skirt (Betty Basics from Birdsnest)
  • 1 x board shorts
  • 1 x sleep/ workout shorts (Bonds)
  • 1 x pair of swimmers
  • 4 x pairs of tights (Bonds and Voodoo)
  • 1 x knee length socks
  • 4 x thin socks (Bonds)
  • 4 x woollen/ hiking socks (Kathmandu)
  • 12 x underwear (Bonds and Under Armour – fabulous quick dry ones)
  • 1 x thermal long sleeve
  • 1 x thermal short sleeve
  • 5 x short sleeve shirts (Just Jeans, Under Armour and Bonds)
  • 2 x long sleeve shirts (1 x Country Road basic; 1 x Just Jeans lightweight print shirt)
  • 3 x tank tops (Miss Shop)
  • 2 x sports crop tops (Under Armour)
  • 1 x sports bra (Under Armour)
  • 2 x t-shirt bra
  • 2 x belts
  • North Face fleece jumper
  • JAG zip up hoodie
  • North Face waterproof warm jacket
  • black cardigan
  • lightweight, black blazer (for ‘conferencing’)
  • 2 x (lightweight, cotton) scarves
  • hiking boots (Merrell)
  • thongs/sandals
  • ballet flats
  • runners (Rocksport)
  • sunglasses
  • hat
  • gloves
  • beanie
  • a few pairs of earrings

We’re not the kind of people who can survive on three pairs of underwear.

Toiletries and first aid

  • the usual – facial cleanser, tone and moisturiser, BB cream, deodorant, body lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, dry shampoo, shampoo and conditioner, hair product, hair bands and bobby pins, razor, tweezers and nail clippers, blush, eye liner, concealer, eyebrow brush, mascara, cotton pads and buds.
  • glasses
  • contact lenses and solution
  • menstrual cup, cleaner and sanitary supplies for one period (buy more on the road)
  • medications
  • water purification tablets
  • voltaren
  • difflam
  • sunscreen
  • Advil
  • Deet/ insect repellent
  • assorted band aids
  • gastro medication and antibiotics
  • Hydralite tablets
  • Ural sachets
  • Vicks inhaler

Also, I packed a ‘carry on’ version of a toiletry bag in case my luggage got lost (which it did on the way to Quito, Ecuador). I have facial wipes, feminine wipes, roll on deodorant, a few bobby pins and spare hair band, contact lens solution and case, mini hair product and BB cream.

Other travel gear

  • collapsible water bottle
  • water bladder (for hubby’s hiking pack)
  • pencil case with a stamp set
  • Moleskine journal
  • Lonely Planet ‘South America on a shoestring’ (which is going home after this leg)
  • a few carabiners
  • mini sewing kit
  • duct tape (don’t laugh, surprisingly handy!)
  • door stopper
  • pillow case (I put my clothes-filled packing cube inside it on the Lares Trek to use as a pillow)
  • micro fibre towel
  • laundry bag and line
  • exercise band and tennis ball (for trigger pointing)
  • dry bag (13L)
  • sleeping eye mask
  • headlamp (Anaconda)
  • torch
  • ziploc bags
  • travel documents(!)
  • sleeping bag x 2

Wow! That seems like a big list! But surprisingly, fits. Well, at least into mine, with a few things put into my husband’s bags. 🙂 The first aid kit is packed in his, while I pack our spare toiletries. I carry the laptop and he carries my DSLR.

I think what people ultimately bring comes down to priorities and what they want out of the trip. For me, I  wanted to document the trip, particularly with a nice journal to write and paste things in. Also as mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to be doing laundry every few days. Other items are just plain common sense for where we’re going, such as a headlamp and dry bag for the Amazon jungle, medications and water bottle.

I have much more to say about the topic of travel packing and would love to share my tips soon on what we’ve found most useful, not so useful, my beauty products and maintenance, and wardrobe tips.

Stay tuned!

The Lares Trek

May 24, 2017

The Lares Trek in Peru was both the hardest thing I’ve done, and the best thing I’ve done in my life. The Lares Trek is a 33 kilometre (or 34, or 35, depending on who you speak to) hike over three days (two nights) and reaches an altitude of 4900m above sea level. The hike begins near Lares town and finishes in Ollantaytambo, before taking a train to Agnes Calientes for the night and seeing Macchu Pichu. My experience of the Lares Trek, 22 months post hip replacement, is a personal feat I’ll never forget. 

On a side note…

Goodness me! It feels good to be back at the laptop writing again! I haven’t posted in what, two months?! To be honest, it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all. Over the last couple of months on our traveling sabbatical, I’ve been quite content writing in the pages of my journal. I intentionally didn’t place pressure on myself to blog and after a break, I’m happy to be here. Documenting my experience doing the Lares Trek was a ‘must do’ for the sabbatical, so here goes….

Like many others who do the Lares Trek, the Inca Trail or any other hike that pushes personal capabilities and boundaries, this feat had its own significance for me. I wanted to challenge myself and re-gain belief in myself and what what I’m physically and mentally capable of these days.

The journey for me, started years ago. At the time of the Lares Trek earlier this month, I was 22 months post hip replacement. My post-op recovery of hiking whenever we had the time, pilates, yoga and barre classes, plus the previous five months working with an exercise physiologist worked together in preparation.

Perthes Disease

At 14 years of age, I was diagnosed with Perthes Disease in my left hip. I was a competitive, national level gymnast at the time, and back then, Perthes Disease and even hip disorders generally, were largely unknown nor understood. There wasn’t much that could be done by the way of treatment at such an age, so I had to just ‘live with it’. I carried on with life as normally as I could, even doing a three month overseas trip at 22. From here though, my hip – movement and flexibility, declined more and more rapidly, until I had enough. The pain in my hip would wake me up at night and I couldn’t enjoy a night out, or even a walk around the local markets. My hip was a constant source of pain, not only in the joint itself, but in my lower back and right knee too. I managed to hide most of it at work and from those not within my circle of family and close friends. I still had much to be grateful for, don’t get me wrong, but doing something became a matter of quality of life. I wanted my active lifestyle back and I knew that one day, I wanted to be an active Mum and have active pregnancies. I knew something could be done, so I sought it out. In 2014, I saw my surgeon in tears. Three years later, I’m a brand new woman. But coupled with my losing Mum 2 1/2 years ago, I had a way to go in regaining some self-belief.

Day 1: 9 kms

I started the Lares Trek optimistic. A slight incline for most of an afternoon. I replayed my exercise physiologist’s voice over and over again in my head- engage through the core, push through the heel. I was tracking towards the back of the group (of 18 year old whipper-snappers with too much energy), but I didn’t mind too much at that stage, enjoying the scenery and visits through the local villages.

We could take about 6kgs of gear in duffle bags, in addition to our day packs, and these were loaded onto mules and horses. Porters are generally not used on the Lares Trek. We packed minimal clothes, basic toiletries and our sleeping bags.

The food was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe the creations the cooks came up with in the middle of nowhere! We didn’t go hungry. Soups, pancakes and local dishes. And I fell in love with muña tea, an Andean mint tea that assists with digestion and coping with altitude.

camping site

Lares Trek, Day 1: campsite

We slept in tents at community campsites run by G Adventures. We rented small air mattresses and used our packing cubes filled with clothes as pillows. Though relatively comfortable for where we were and tired, for the life of me I could not sleep.

Day 2: 14 kms

I knew Day 2 was going to be brutal. After the briefing, I felt even more nervous and scared. I guess my mindset wasn’t the greatest from here. The plan was, starting at 7.15am and 3900m:

3 hours uphill to reach a lagoon

2 hours uphill to reach the summit at 4900m

1 1/2 hours downhill to lunch at approximately 2pm

2 1/2 hours downhill to camp

I’ll note here that I started the Lares Trek after two weeks with a cold and taking cold and flu tablets. The altitude played havoc with my sinuses and within an hour, I struggled to breathe but I was managing.

lares trek hiking

Lares Trek, Day 2: getting there…

I went slow, tried to find my own pace between keeping moving and enjoying the scenery around me. The aforementioned ‘whipper snappers’ almost ran up the mountain and set a ridiculously fast pace. Because I wasn’t keeping up with them, despite my own limitations and setbacks, I felt like I was failing. I began to think I wasn’t good enough to be there and that I hadn’t done enough to prepare for the challenge. The guides would frequently ask me if I was ok, which added to my frustration. (though I understand it’s their job) I still found some determination. Whether this was out of mental toughness or an inability to ask for help, I couldn’t say. All I needed was to go slow. The guides reassured me that going slow and to enjoy was the way to do the Lares Trek, but each time they asked me if I was ok seemed to go against this. I felt like something was wrong with me.

What surprised me wasn’t that I felt this way, but that I was quick to believe all these things about myself.

The altitude took effect near the rest point at the lagoon at around 10.30am. My glutes had fatigued beyond reckoning. And I knew I was compensating with my quads and lower back. This ‘less than perfect’ scenario, falling short of my high expectations of performance wasn’t good enough. I had pushed and pushed but my head got the better of me.

I thought I was tougher. My husband thought I was tougher. The truth was, I felt the enormous weight of everything I’d been through over the last 2 1/2 years on my shoulders. I was ready to curl up behind a rock somewhere and cry.

In my slightly dazed, frustrated and fatigued state, I agreed to be put on a horse to the summit. I didn’t want to let the group down, despite letting myself down in doing so. I took the horse on and off for the remaining 1 1/2 hours to the summit. (Yes, the estimate was 2 hours but the whipper-snappers took less time.) I had to walk when the way was too steep and too dangerous for me to be on the horse. On the horse, I was first in our group’s procession and often alone with the spanish speaking horseman who led me. The horseman was a sweet and gentle soul, aged in his fifties and wore sandals. His hands were calloused but I took his hand each time I climbed on and off the horse. And each time, he’d put my feet in and out of the stirrups.

After everyone reached the top, we did an offering to Mother Earth, or Pachamama with coca leaves, managed a group photo before the hail and snow storm battered us.

The downhill trek to lunch and the campsite passed relatively uneventfully, apart from my stunning tuck-and-roll down the mud in the forest. No video, sorry. Luckily, I still had my poncho over me from the snow storm, so minimal damage was done.

That evening I beat myself up. I failed. I cheated. I didn’t complete the trek.

Day 3: 11 kms

An easy day, all downhill. A day for reconciliation and making peace with myself. My mind was left to wonder about, and conclude a couple of things.

  1. I may not have been a strong as I thought I was, but I am stronger for having gone through it. I now have a better sense of how far I’ve come post Mum and hip replacement; a better sense of my capabilities and who I am as a person. I may be beat down from time to time, but I always pick myself up.
  2. ‘Going well’ can only be measured relative to your own self. Every time my husband encouraged me and said I was ‘going well’, I didn’t believe him. (That was sh*tty of me, wasn’t it?) That was because I was comparing my progress with the young whipper-snappers. I was going well, relative to what was both for and against me. Each of us has our own story, our own set of circumstances and challenges. No one else can compare. So the next time you think you’re not going well in life, in career, whatever, re-assess by looking at your journey so far.

I may not have been a strong as I thought I was, but I am stronger for having gone through it.

lares trek

Lares Trek, Day 3. Feeling a bit better about my efforts, I brought out the Nikon. Finally.

I thought about the horseman and wondered, ‘what if he was sent by Mum?’ As a kid, my Mum would saddle her horse and lead me and my sister out for rides at her Dad’s property. She’d place our feet in the stirrups, ensured we were sat properly, holding on. In some way, I thought perhaps the horseman was Mum lending me a helping hand. Maybe she thought it was something she could do, being so far away. I hoped she was proud of me.

After lunch on the third day and before we all left for town and the train up to Agnes Calientes, my husband gave the horseman our remaining bag of coca leaves for looking after me. Locals chew coca leaves for extra energy. He took the bag gratefully.

macchu pichu

The reward…Macchu Pichu, Peru.

 


I’d like say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone – family, friends, colleagues, for encouraging me on this journey and inspiring me to keep going. I wouldn’t have achieved this much without you all.

I’d also like to give a shout out to physio, Chris Brady, for referring me to the fabulous Dr Malisano; Stephen Boyd Physiotherapy, and exercise physiologist Rachel Evans and physio Flick at Inspire Health Services. Go team! Thanks so much.

Thank you to my husband for allowing me to use his photos in this post. 🙂

Best bits of Tasmania

October 4, 2016

Tasmania is home to amazing tasting seafood and produce, natural sights, plenty of spots for a romantic picnic, as well as some of Australia’s finest wine and whisky. So I couldn’t, not share the best bits of our honeymoon to Tasmania. Here are my travel notes….

There is no doubt that Tasmania is fast becoming a top honeymoon spot. If you spot them in a sale, flights (from Brisbane) are relatively inexpensive. You can easily pace your trip with a hire car. And Tasmania is one of the very few places I’ve been where you can, if you wanted to, plan your trip once you arrive at the airport. Travel brochures in Hobart Airport are of high quality, with maps and information of what to do and see. These, with assistance from the Discover Tasmania website, it’d be difficult to go wrong with a spontaneous trip to Tasmania. You can see a lot (and yet not enough) of Tasmania in a space of a week. For our honeymoon, we were back for more Tasmania upon discovering its beauty last October.

A cabin in Sheffield

We were able to book our first two nights in the cabin where my husband proposed last October. The cabin is a beautifully converted goats shed, situated on a farm a few kilometres away from the Sheffield central township. The farm smell, fresh country air calmed the senses, and with a fireplace, a cosy couch and views to Mt Roland from the back deck, the cabin was perfect for recovering from the wedding. Knowing we were on our honeymoon, the AirBnB hosts welcomed us back with a bottle of Tasmanian bubbly and chocolate.

mount roland, tasmania

Tamar Valley

Taking our time to cross from Sheffield to the east coast, we spent half the day visiting our favourite wineries in the Tamar Valley – Bay of Fires, Pipers Brook and Jansz, where we sampled some of their more recent creations. Tamar Valley is an easy drive, north east of Launceston. Also along the way, we visited the biggest lavender farm in the southern hemisphere, Bridestowe. Unfortunately the lavender were sleeping for the winter, but the lavender coffee and chai tea were worth the stop.

Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay

The Freycinet and its surrounds are a ‘must do’ in Tasmania. The Freycinet Lodge provided the base from which we explored the area. Breakfast included, heated bathroom floors and a fine dining restaurant complete with cocktail hour, the Freycinet Lodge was superb value for money. (Even more so when we discovered a discount for being with RACQ!)

There are plenty of walking trails to explore in the Freycinet. We started with an easy stroll up to the local lighthouse, followed by a 6km hike up to the lookout over Wineglass Bay and down to the beach itself. I think the photos speak for themselves!

wineglass bay

View of Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park.

lighthouse view

View from the lighthouse, Freycinet National Park.

beach in tasmania

Friendly Beaches, Freycinet National Park.

Devils Corner winery and cellar door have recently completed renovations and now feature live music, food as well as cellar door wine tastings. There is also a viewing dock where you can look out over the winery and Freycinet. Definitely worth a stop for lunch and a vino or two.

winery

View from the deck at Devils Corner Winery

 

Mt Wellington

I hadn’t seen snow since the last time I visited Mt Wellington, way back around 25 years ago. My husband hadn’t seen snow. We had a few hours in the morning free before heading back to the airport and our flight to Brisbane. A trip to Hobart shouldn’t be without a visit to Mt Wellington.

Mt Wellington is only a 30 minute drive from Hobart city. Thankfully, all the roads were clear to drive all the way up to the summit. When we arrived though, the wind chill brought the temperature down to minus 10 degrees (celsius), the coldest I believe I’ve ever experienced. Unfortunately the weather was quite overcast and we were unable to see Hobart from the summit. The wind was almost enough to bowl you over. But of course, the obligatory snowballs were thrown.

mount wellington snow

Summit of Mt Wellington, Tasmania.

What else did we see?

st columba falls, tasmania

St Columba Falls, Tasmania.

bay of fires

Bay of Fires, East Coast Tasmania.

 

Tasmania is one of those places in Australia that are genuinely underrated. Some people were surprised to learn we picked Tasmania for our honeymoon. But those who haven’t been can’t fully comprehend or appreciate what you find there. As you drive from one stop to the next, the scenery changes so frequently, Tasmania is a bit like seeing Australia, but all in the one state. Tasmania’s fascinating convict history is visible almost every where you go. Tasmania is not so ‘out of the way’ as you might think, especially if you live on the east coast of Australia. A direct flight is only two and a half hours from Brisbane. And just one week is long enough for a mid-year break.

There is still much to see of Tasmania. Our next trip will be to explore the West Coast.

n-t-relaunch_post-sign-off

Favourites of Margaret River

June 21, 2016

Far out, I can hardly believe almost a month has flown by since our little getaway over to Perth and Margaret River region in Western Australia. Last month’s ‘pre-wedding getaway’ was our second visit to Margaret River. Our first visit was nearly five years ago, when we added a few days following a conference at which I presented for work. The Margaret River region has changed quite a bit in the space of that time, the most noticeable being the popping up of breweries that now exist on a tourist trail along with the wine.

Margaret River is a beautiful part of Australia’s south-west corner. You have the best of both worlds – the coastline and beaches are 15 minutes away from the township and the countryside, where you’ll find farms, breweries with a view and vineyards. The easiest way to get around is by car.

In late May and September, the times of year we’ve visited, are cool in the mornings and evenings, but reaches 20 degrees celsius during the day. Layers and a good jacket will see you through.

There’s something rustic, honest and raw about the Margaret River region. Earthy notes are in the wine. The beer is unrefined. There’s no being ‘on show’. What you see is what you get in Margaret River. You either appreciate the region or you don’t.

I’ve been meaning to compile and share some favourite things to do and see in the Margaret River region since our last trip. Here they are.

Accommodation

We loved staying at the Heritage Trail Lodge last month. The place is just far enough away from the township, but is still a walk away. The back of the rooms look into the surrounding bushland, which you can walk through on one of the marked trails. Continental breakfast is included in the room rate. Plus it happens to be next-door to a brewery and across the road from a whiskey distillery.

Another place where you’ll really feel ‘away from it all’ is at the Harmony Forest Cottages. The cottages are a fair way out of town, about 20 minutes south and are well separated from each other. You’ll need to take your own groceries and drinks for your home away from home.

Wineries and breweries

If you’re a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River is your place. Margaret River wineries also make a decent white wine – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. My favourite wineries:

For a tour where you don’t need to appoint a designated driver, I’d recommend Top Drop tours. These tours are small, taking only up to six people at a time. This means you’ll have more time talking with the people at the wineries, maybe even the winemaker themselves, and learn more about what makes Margaret River wines special. Also, being a small group, you’ll be able to visit more of the boutique wineries, rather than the big, commercial ones.

On our last trip, we visited a few breweries but two stood out.

book beer

Beer at Colonial Brewery with a book by a local author, Margaret River.

 

Sights

On the coastline I recommend checking out the surf and surfing action at Surfers Point and the breaks on either side. On a clear day, the beach is stunning. Blue water, waves curling over nicely, but I wouldn’t go in. Far too cold for my liking. Then there’s Hamelin Bay, on the way down to Augusta. And Leeuwin Lighthouse, the most south-western point of Australia. This is where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet.

surfing

Surfers Point, Margaret River

 

cape leeuwin lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Augusta, Western Australia.

A little inland you’ll find caves. Just head onto Caves Road when you’re out of the Margaret River township. There’s Jewel Cave, Lake Cave and Mammoth Cave.

Adventure

Mick from Margaret River Climbing Co. will look after you for a half day or full day of rock climbing, abseiling and caving. We did a full day with Mick on our first trip back in 2011.

climbing

Getting ready to climb. Photo courtesy of Mick at Margaret River Climbing Co.

 

cave

Caving in Margaret River. Photo courtesy of Mick at Margaret River Climbing Co.

 

All three were a challenge (there were tears) but the tour satisfied the ‘active’ part of us and was a great way to see and get in touch with Margaret River surroundings. I gained a bit of self-confidence and self-belief that day. Caving is something I won’t do again though.


Planning a trip to Margaret River? The region’s tourism website is one of the best I’ve seen in Australia, so I recommend doing a bit of exploring there for inspiration and bookings. Happy travels!

Best bits of Bali

June 2, 2015

After a short hiatus from blogging, details (and exciting news) of which will follow this post, I thought I’d collate notes from my travel journal to share my first experience to Bali.

To set the scene, March was #hisfestivalof30 and the trip to Bali followed the week we spent in Samoa. Time in Bali was shared with a few mates and in among the surfing, there was a bit of exploring, seafood and, I can’t remember the number of Bintangs by the villa pool.

Bali was also our first experience using AirBnB. Instead of a resort, we booked a private villa in Seminyak that was serviced daily. Divide up the cost among five of us and my share for a week was under $300. The booking was made without a hitch and communication with the owner/host was sufficient to make our arrival seamless and our stay enjoyable. The villa was enormous with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, about the same number of sitting areas, a pool and a fridge to fill with our own food and drink. The space was more than enough to cater for privacy needed by two and a half couples. On our first day, the host introduced us to a driver who turned up each day thereafter for the whole week. Our very own Ketut (see ‘Rhonda and Ketut’) became one of the group, celebrating the boy’s 30th birthday. Now I’m not expecting a similar level of service every time we book with AirBnB, but certainly the experience provided enough confidence to consider the service in the future.

So, the highlights!

Reading by the villa pool.

Poolside reading, relaxing and hilarity

There are times when you need to just be. You need to take a moment, or an afternoon, to really soak up the experience of being somewhere else. A time when the company of friends or a good book means more than rushing around and seeing things in a new place. The week in Bali was not only about having my first look at the place, but it was also about celebrating a significant milestone birthday. So the trip meant as much about being with mates as it was taking the first look at Bali.

Day trip: Uluwatu, Padang Padang and seafood dinner on the beach

The day started with the boys battling it out for a wave at Uluwatu while a girlfriend and I watched on with our cameras (and getting too distracted by our conversation we didn’t capture many hard earned waves), Bintangs and a spectacular view.

Late lunch at Ye ye’s restaurant we found by the road, on the way to Padang Padang beach. A dip there was then followed by finding a spot at a seafood restaurant on the beach in Jimbaran. A walk away from where our driver Ketut dropped us off, locals were on the beach – some playing soccer, some counting their catch for the day, others packing up their fishing gear or casting nets out into the water. Fishing boats lined the shore. Bintang brought to me, I took the tripod out to experiment with capturing the sunset. Dinner was accompanied by a small band singing Crowded House and Elvis Presley. (I know, eclectic right?)

A Balinese sunset

A Balinese sunset, Jimbaran.

Komune Beach Club

We arrived in time for breakfast with a view. While the boys were out chasing waves, us girls lazed by the pool, read our books, indulged in girl talk and a pedicure. One of those perfect, ‘nothing’ mornings. Feeling spoilt, I could have sworn it was my birthday. Lunch with Pimms wrapped up our time at Komune before the business end of the birthday took place.

Birthday surf for the boy. Komune Beach, Bali.

Birthday surf for the boy. Keramas, Bali.

Komune Beach Club was about a 45 minute drive from our villa in Seminyak and is attached to a resort. Day guests are welcome. Food and drinks can be ordered from the restaurant or the waiters by the pool.

Rice terraces of Ubud

Once again our driver, Ketut, took us out for a day trip, this time up to Ubud. The drive was longer than expected, a couple of hours at least with the ever present traffic, but eventually made it up to a restaurant for lunch with a view of rice terraces. Beautiful yes, but I felt a little underwhelmed. I felt like a tourist being brought to where everyone is shown “the rice terraces”. I felt surely there was more to them. The serenity, the feeling of being completely removed from the hustle and bustle just wasn’t there. I was expecting middle of nowhere. This was a time when I knew I hadn’t done enough (read: any) thorough research to scout the best places to enjoy this (could-be) beautiful place.

bali rice terraces

Rice terraces of Ubud, Bali.

Those feelings aside, the spectacle for the afternoon was provided by myself, who managed to fall into one of the rice paddies. Narrow walkways between the paddies while capturing the sights with my camera proved not a good mix. Not as deep as I thought the paddies were, but the suction on that mud meant I needed rescuing. Absolutely mortifying at the time. Pretty funny now. I couldn’t move. I feared I’d lose my thongs (flip flops, whatever you might call them). Butt in the air, camera around my neck, I knew I just made it as a typical looking tourist. The boyfriend fished for my thongs with his bare hand. Oh, the stench!

There are parts of Bali that are stunning, if you take a moment. Something that is difficult to do in a place that is always rushing, chaotic and crowded in parts. I found you need to be off the streets of Bali to appreciate the place. Bali wasn’t top of my travel ‘to do’ list and I’m in no rush to visit any time soon. Sale flights and cheap accommodation makes Bali a destination to enjoy with others.

Best bits of Samoa

April 12, 2015

Beautiful Samoa.

There is little wonder why after just a few days, you’d want to bring home the simplicity and ease that comes from life here. A slower pace, an appreciation for the smaller, often thought-to-be insignificant daily pleasures, is what you’ll find in Samoa. The sun rises. The sun sets. And in between you fill the day with intention, free from distraction and ‘busyness’.

Last month (March 2015) my boyfriend and I headed to Samoa for a getaway just for us. It also happened to be his birthday month and so, a destination for good surf was a must. A chance to have a break from everything of late, have time to ourselves; be and explore another place together. I show you our best bits of our experience in Samoa.

About Salani Surf Resort

Salani Surf Resort caters for surfers, as well as their partners and families. A maximum of 12 surfers, you’re guaranteed a spot on the surf break a short boat ride away. The set up – the surf guides and mooring lines for boats out on the surf break, was ideal for myself as the designated photographer. The boats are equipped with radios, so when I had enough of taking photos (or had run out of battery), the surf guide just radioed in another to come get me. I didn’t feel pressured to be out there for the entire time my boyfriend was out surfing. The mooring lines made the boat feel more stable than at anchor and where they’re positioned, it’s hard to take a bad shot. The waves break and curl around the reef. A surfer in a barrel, if breaking at the right time, can come right towards the boat. *snap* Done. Or, like me, you could sit and watch the waves and surfers do their thing.

Salani surf, Samoa.

Salani surf, Samoa.

The accommodation consisted of raised bungalows situated along the river mouth and are serviced daily. The rooms are fitted with ceiling fans and air conditioning which invite a comfortable, after-lunch nap. Our deck overlooked the river and captured a nice breeze in the late afternoon, perfect for reading a few chapters before the call for dinner. Our meals (excluding drinks) were also included in the package.

Salani Surf Resort, Samoa.

Salani Surf Resort, Samoa.

The drivers are friendly and knowledgeable of the surf breaks, beaches and other touristy places, such as waterfalls and the To Sua Ocean Trench. And with the lovely ladies from the kitchen looking after me with cocktails in the evening, we had a very pleasant stay at Salani Surf Resort.

Sight-seeing

When the boyfriend wasn’t out surfing, or I wasn’t lazing with a book and a few cocktails, we took excursions to see a bit of the island. On the day we arrived, it was a Sunday and the locals’ day of rest. There is no surfing on Sundays. Instead, we enjoyed what the equivalent of the (Brissy) ‘Sunday sesh’ at a bar on a beach.

The 'Sunday mesh' equivalent: beers and good company at a beachside bar.

The ‘Sunday mesh’ equivalent: beers and good company at a beachside bar.

Fuisipia Waterfall is a must-see. Approximately 55 metres tall, the view from the top spanned across the lush, green forest to the ocean.

Fuipisia Falls, Samoa.

Fuipisia Falls, Samoa.

Togitogiga Waterfall is much smaller, take the togs (swimmers, bathers..) as it’s also a swimming hole. It reminded me of Mossman Gorge up in North Queensland. The water equally cool. I took my time ‘climatising’ before fully submerging.

You can’t go to Samoa without seeing the To Sua Ocean Trench. It is probably one of the most recognisable and photographed spots on the island. What caught me off guard was the height of the ladder to the bottom and the pool. I’m afraid of heights. I’ll admit there were tears, but step by step, I eventually made it down the 15m. (Note: I suspect my fear of heights doesn’t stem from height itself, but more of a lack of belief in myself that I can do it.) Mid-afternoon turned out to be the best time to go as we had the pool to ourselves for the almost an hour we were there.

ToSua Ocean Trench, Samoa.

ToSua Ocean Trench, Samoa.

When you go see the attractions, be sure to bring cash. A small payment is required to the village for access.

An undisturbed, simple beauty of the South Pacific.

Samoa is peaceful. The people happy and polite. I was always greeted with a smile. The Samoan people are also conservative and religious, which I appreciated. Ladies, cover up. Don’t wear a bikini through the village or at other public places, unless you’re swimming. The villagers look after each other and value is placed on family time, marked by a bell that would ring in the evenings signalling curfew. A sense of community can be found with a friendly rugby match on the beach or at a sports ground. (They love their rugby. Their 2007 Rugby 7s champion team feature on the $10 note.) The roadsides are clean and tidy – the hedges are trimmed and colourful, the retaining walls are weeded.

Getting to Samoa

Virgin Australia flies direct, from Brisbane to Apia. The flight is approximately five hours. The flight times are a bit odd, in terms of the time of day, but the alternative is a stopover in Auckland and an additional five hours travel time.

Salani Surf Resort is a bit over an hour’s drive from the airport. There are resorts around Apia that are closer. Transfers were included in our package from World Surfaris.