After a very long and unexplained absence, I have decided to come back to my blog. Several things have prevented me from writing for a long time, but I have decided enough is enough, and I want to get back to doing this regularly.
One of the main issues I’ve had is having a full-on, full-time job with a couple of side projects which means my spare time is either spent typing on my laptop like a frantic maniac or trying out the new bars and restaurants that have sprung up in Birmingham since I’ve been away.
Another issue that I have had was quite hard to swallow. I absolutely loved writing about my trip and all the beautiful places I visited. Unfortunately, since being home I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to maintain an active travel blog when you are not travelling regularly. While I am all too happy to share photos and experiences of my upcoming trip to Taiwan – it won’t be nearly enough to maintain a platform.
I started thinking about other things that I love and my main, number two love after travel would have to be fashion. There’s no better feeling than piecing together a perfect outfit and feeling like a complete queen (although of course, everyone can be a queen, even in socks and sandals). I have therefore decided that this is going to be the main theme of this blog for the foreseeable future, along with other fun lifestyle things like how to make peanut butter balls (because peanut butter would probably come in third on the love list.)
I have also now launched my You Tube channel which you can find here:
I’m back! Finally, after much stress and many tears, my laptop was fixed by the lovely Anthony a Bad Apples for about one-tenth of the price that Apple charge for the same repair. Now that I have proven the popular theory that electrical items and liquids DO NOT mix, on with the blog!
Today I thought I’d comprise a list for you all. Before I went off on my travels, I spent hours and hours searching for lists like these in an attempt to prepare myself one hundred percent for the adventure that I was about to embark on. I ended up packing everything from three tubes of my favourite moisturizer, to a roll of duct tape (neither of which I used) so, I thought I’d create a list of the items / packing strategies I found most helpful during my gap yah.
Chose whether a rucksack or suitcase is more appropriate for the terrain on which you will be travelling most frequently.
I chose a rucksack and ended up crying and throwing it away in Japan as it gave me a severe case of costochondritis and I thought I was having a heart attack. If you are going to Australia, America, Japan, Korea, Europe or any country with pavements, I would HIGHLY recommend a hold-all with wheels or suitcase situation, especially if you have puny little girl arms like I do. If you do intend to take a rucksack, I can’t stress the importance of making sure it fits you properly and is the correct weight. For me, carrying an 80L rucksack on my back that at times weighed in around 25kg through scorching hot sunshine was absolute hell. However, if I had brought my 65L which is a much more appropriate size for my body then I probably would have had a much happier experience. British students, if you completed Duke of Edinburgh and you bought a rucksack that fit, just grab that one out of the loft, air it and take it with you.
A sleeping bag SHEET
If you have a fear of unknown beds but really don’t want to lug around a big and bulky sleeping bag then I would definitely recommend this option. A thin, cotton sheet intended to slot inside your sleeping bag on long camping trips will fit nicely in your bag, ready to whip out when you inevitably encounter your first revolting hostel (it will happen, my friends, just give it time.) If this fear does not exist in your life then I applaud you, but spending a week sleeping under a cozy duvet in a hostel before discovering that it has not been washed between you and the previous ten users just might possibly change your mind.
DO NOT pack flip-flops
If you are going to Australia. I was so eager to get to the sun and sand of Sydney that the day I booked my flight I skipped off down to Selfridges to buy myself a lovely fresh pair of comfy squidgy flip-flops. This experience was soured considerably when I arrived in Oz and discovered that my exact pair and others similar were being sold for about one-third of the price! Yes, I wore my flip-flops (or thongs, which still feels oh so wrong to say) on a daily basis, but if I had just waited till I got there then I would have saved myself some serious cashola (or just bought two pairs for the same price …)
Because guess what, some countries get cold in the winter. I was lucky enough to experience beautiful, blinding sunshine for most of the days I was in Australia, but that doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely freezing some of the time. I’ve mentioned before the common misconception that Australia is beautifully warm on a year-round basis, and unless it is practical for you to migrate to Cairns for the winter months then I would definitely pack a few warm clothes along with your shorts before you go. These are also helpful if you travel in Muslim countries, or places where you are likely to visit a lot of temples or religious buildings as you are almost always required to cover up to the elbows and knees, whatever the weather.
A tablet or laptop
If you have one. If not then I would highly recommend taking at least one other electrical item that you can connect to a Wi-Fi that isn’t your smartphone. For one, there will inevitably be nights when you just cant be bothered to get dolled up and go out with your roommates and will need Netflix to fall back on. Another is that accidents happen. I was unlucky/stupid enough to drop water on my laptop, but if it had been my smartphone and I did not have anything else with me then I would have had no way to contact home, book any trains or flights or find directions for the rest of my stay, and that would have been HARD. Also, if you are intending on a working holiday then having your CV and general other information stored on a laptop ready to send off to potential employers is a whole load easier than trying to sort yourself out on an old, slow hostel desktop.
A credit card
In the real world, credit cards are evil. In the travelling world, you will not meet a better friend. If you are going to a lot of different countries, you will be dealing with a lot of different currencies. Visa cards from British banks can charge you anywhere from 2-8% service charge. (I’m not sure about other places but I would hazard a guess at it being a similar situation.) If the foreign cashpoint also charges for withdrawal, this is not good news for your tight traveller budget. With a credit card, this service charge is removed and exchange rates are often a lot better, meaning you lose less unnecessary money to the banks while you are away.
Sun cream in a factor below 50 if you want to tan
If you are travelling to South East Asia, this will be less of a problem but Australians are, quite righty, very particular about their use of sun cream. Australian residents are obviously exposed to a whole lot of sunshine and UV rays throughout their lives and it is pretty hard to find sun cream below a factor 50. If you do manage to locate it then it can be pretty pricey. Tanning is absolutely impossible for me unless I’m wearing 20 or under so if you have a similar problem then I would definitely recommend picking some up from the boots three for two before you leave blighty.
Headphones or earplugs.
Hostels can be very, very noisy places. Even if you are staying in a very remote hostel, or one that caters to older customers to avoid partying teenagers, I can absolutely guarantee that you will be met at some point be an extreme snorer. It can’t be helped, it’s just a fact of life but it used to wind me up so badly that I would not be able to sleep at all. On these nights I was so very happy that I had thought to pack some small in ear headphones, and I would urge you to do the same. This way you can block out the snoring / sleep talking / coughing / similar of your roommates and drift off to sleep to a soothing symphony of your choice.
A Bum-Bag (or Fanny pack)
Seriously, this was my number one item I could not have lived without. I was mocked endlessly before we left for buying such a hideous item (although, to be fair, it was white leather from New Look and I thought it was quite stylish.) It came in handy on a daily basis, especially in airports where you need your passport and boarding card to hand at all times. It was also great for journeys where I wanted to shove my rucksack into an overhead locker but still wanted my phone, iPod and personal documents upon my person. Oh and for taking on nights out and being able to hold a drink in each hand, hehe.
You will definitely need padlocks for all manor of things when you’re away, especially if you’re staying in hostels. As much as we would all like to think that everyone we are sharing our rooms with is one hundred percent lovely, you have to remember that you can’t know everyone properly after a couple of days. You may make the best of friends with any number of people in your hostels, but it definitely can’t hurt to keep your things locked up, and most hostel lockers require your own padlock to keep your stuff safe. If you buy an TSA approved lock you can double up and use it to keep your suitcase secure too, which is a big plus if you’re flying through underdeveloped airports where crime is rife.
I hope this list was a little bit helpful for those of you heading off out into the world! If you want to read more from me then give me a follow.
On our third day in Osaka, Jake and I ventured to Dotonbori. It was here that we stumbled (quite literally after a couple of beers) across a Sega mega arcade. Tipsy as we were, we were drawn in by the fairytale-esque music and bright flashing lights of the UFO machines. My experience of UFOs, or “grabbers” as we affectionately call them in my family, consists largely of the pier in Weston Supermare, and the time my Mom heroically spent a lot of time and change to win me a Dipsy doll. My inner child popped right out at the sight of the magical, mystical machines offering all kinds of mysterious Japanese toys for me to take home and love. Being a man, the responsibility obviously fell to Jake to win such a prize for me. In England, “grabbers” are just designed for you to lose over and over again, eating up your change and upsetting your children, but in Japan it is a completely different story. The more people win, the more the crowds watching are drawn to try themselves, resulting in a difficult but not impossible game. Excitedly, I changed a 1000 yen note into coins and we looked around for our best chance of winning. Our attention was captured by a strange egg-like creature sitting upon a stick. His rubber ring had already been shifted by another unlucky player so we leapt at the opportunity. After a few attempts, Jake managed to knock the ring loose and “Egg” fell into the prize pit. After a lot of whooping and cheering, we collected our prize, bagged him and went to find the train home. On the metro I decided to research the strange creature who had quite literally fallen into my life, and my love for Gudetama was born.
Gudetama, or “lazy egg” in Japanese is a character created by Sanrio, who also developed the hugely popular “Hello Kitty”. If you’ve had a bit of a bad day, or you just love things that are disgustingly cute, just pop Gudetama into your YouTube search bar and settle down for an hour or so of giggles and awws.
Since we’ve been in Japan, I seem to have accumulated quite a collection of Gudetama goods, and I wanted to share them all with you. I’ve had a lot of Gudetama fans asking where I got things on Instagram so, here is a selection of my items and where to find them!
First off, there is a TBS store in Tokyo Station. Exit out of the Yaesu Central gate and follow the signs to the shops on BF1. There is a massive variety of kiddy type stores here, and if you’re an overgrown five year old like me, you are guaranteed to love it! From this shop, I tried to stick to more “sensible items” IE things I could use and not just stare at lovingly. I ended up with a November 2015 – July 2017 planner, a pen and a wallet with a stretchy strap to attach to your bag (very useful for spare change and Passmo / Oyster cards.)
The next place I found a supply of Gudetama goodies is a magical store called “Kiddyland” in Harajuku. This shop is incredible and has everything from Snoopy to Star wars. It is also the most reasonably priced place to buy Gudetama goodies in my opinion, although to be fair, not many things should reasonably cost you over £5 anyway. From here I got some amazing Latte Art stencils to float in coffee. I also picked up a Gudetama bed shirt which was on sale, and my first Gudetama key chain!
Around Japan and particularly in Tokyo, there are a lot of Gashapon or “twisty” machines aas I fondly called them. These are basically tiny vending machines with goodies from your favourite character inside (think twenty-pence bubblegum machines and similar.) I can’t tell you the exact location that I picked up all of these as I have been to many, but they are absolutely everywhere and you should have no problem finding them if you are looking. Insert your 100 yen, twist, and cute Gudetama keychains / stickers / other will be yours. All of these keychains were from “twisty” machines, except for the Halloween themed Gude which was free from 7-Eleven!
The last and very best Gudetama souvenir I have also came from Kiddyland. I nearly cried when I saw him and genuinely could not restrain myself from picking him up and paying for him. He is a Gudetama Christmas angel, complete with crown and tutu, to put at the top of my Christmas tree this year!
And so concludes my Gudetama haul! If you need any help locating your lazy-egg goodies, leave me a comment below! Do you love Gudetama as much as I do – or more?!
Going feral for three days on Fraser Island quickly became a strong competitor for funniest three days of my life. If you only have a few months, or even a few weeks to explore Australia then it would probably be my number one recommendation. Working out the logistics of the trip however, was not my favourite. It involved trawling a lot of different travel agents who seemed intent on getting us to pay an extortionate amount of money to get drunk on a tour bus. This might have been our thing back in 2011 but for this trip were looking forward to getting up early, shocking I know, and cramming as much into each day as physically possible. Knowing from experience that heavy drinking and early mornings do not a happy couple make, we took the plunge and booked our trip independently. After a swift Google search we decided to go with Fraser Dingo, who will not only allow you to rent the car, but will also provide you with camping equipment (tent, stove, sleeping bags etc), and a detailed plan explaining the best times to visit different locations around the Island. As a most of the driving will be on the beach, a lot of your schedule will be subject to how far in the tide is. If you do decide to go independently like we did, I suggest you make sure you are where you’re supposed to be at exactly the right time to avoid losing the hefty damage deposit you will have to put down for your car! If you are young, free and a lover of goon (google it) then the best tour company we consulted was Drop Bear as they allow you to drive the cars yourself, rather than sitting on a bus (i.e.: minimum fun)
When we were all booked and ready to go, our first task was food shopping. There are very, very few places to purchase food on Fraser, and if you do find anywhere it will be very overpriced. You will also have to bring your own water, as you will inevitably stay at a campsite that is basically just a bit of grass at the side of the beach. If you do your supply shop with a frugal friend (Louie Jacombs, I’m looking at you) then I suggest you gently encourage them to stretch their budget a little further than they may initially want to. I say this because, after a very long and tiring day, setting up a tent and then sitting down to eat a pack of $1 chicken noodles is just not appealing in the slightest. Seriously, none of the meals I ate on Fraser were nice (see picture evidence below) so make sure you have a few tasty snacks up your sleeve!
Top recommended unhealthy Australian snacks: Salted caramel TimTams, Rocky Road Dairy Milk and Starburst jelly babies!
If you’ve read blogs or stared enviously at friends’ pictures before making your own trip to Fraser Island, you’ll know there are three main attractions – Eli Creek, Champagne Pools and Lake McKenzie. Our itinerary gave us suggestions on which of these to visit at which times, and we followed it because we definitely didn’t know better than the nice man who’d been doing it for thirty years. Our first stop was Eli Creek and it was so much fun! The creek is freezing and perfectly clear so just jump in and enjoy. Some tours provide rubber rings for guests at Eli Creek so if you can get one cheaply from K mart or similar before you go then this would be great fun as the creek has a lazy river effect.
Our campsite for day one was one of the more sophisticated campsites on Fraser. It had a toilet and coin operated shower block and one of those possum infested communal stoves that are common all over Oz (think Shelly Beach or the Noosa River.) Here we managed to pitch our tent before sunset and cook a fairly decent meal of pasta and pesto ( I even managed to sneak in some circuit training before bed!) However, tent life is always hard and getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet can be absolutely terrifying, especially on Fraser where there are posters about Dingo danger slapped on every available wall and surface. For these instances, a large camping torch is a must. Take one, we didn’t and we very much regretted it.
Day two consisted of getting up early and finding Champagne Pools and then remaining there for a lot of the day. You’’ll want to pack your sun cream for this one boys and girls or you’ll end up looking a little like this:
No-one wants that, do they? There is little to no shade at the pools so keep your sun cream handy. The water itself is beautifully warm and clear, perfect for lazing around in for as long as you can afford to. Our second night of camping was even more feral that the first. The tent was pitched right on the beach, and after the sun went down it was completely pitch black. Once we had set our tent up our evening consisted largely of babysitting a sunburned Chelsea who remained, hot and shivering, in the back of the Jeep. When I eventually settled down to sleep I was so tired I had no trouble drifiting off almost straight away, however, I was cruely awoken by none other than a Dingo sniffing at my head through the tent wall. This experience terrified me so much that I was unable to sleep properly for the rest of the night, but resulted in me getting out of the tent super early and catching the sunrise on the beach, magical!
On our last day, we were faced with a dilemma. There is only one petrol station on Fraser Island in the Kingfisher Bay Resort, and we were running low. We had two objectives left on our list, Lake Wabby and Lake Mckenzie. We reached Lake Wabby in good time, but we were very low on petrol by this point. The drive from Wabby to Mckenzie would have left us stranded, with little to no petrol, and who knows how fun pushing a 4wd up a very sandy beach would have been! Faced with the thought of having to give up on Lake McKenzie, the main reason I wanted to go to Fraser in the first place, I threw the mother of all strops and basically demanded we go back for more petrol while the tide was low! Apologies all round, but I REALLY wanted to go.
See? Beautiful! Lake McKenzie was a gorgeous place to chill out for the afternoon and a brilliant place to swim as the water is so clean and fresh. We also spent a great deal of time trying to exfoliate various parts of our bodies and clean our teeth with the white sand as we were promised we would be able to do. Not entirely sure that this worked but it was definitely a lot of fun trying!
Despite the trials and tribulations of camping, rare chances for a nice shower and absolutely no Wi-Fi or mobile signal, the benefits of Fraser outweigh the negatives by millions, and I really would recommend it to anyone as one of the top ten “must do’s” in Australia!
Have you been to Fraser? Did you enjoy yourself, or were the crazy conditions and Dingoes too much for you?
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Those of you that know me well will know that usually, anything Disney or universal is really, REALLY not my thing. However, in this instance, I was willing to give it a go, partly because of Jakes endearing, childlike desire to go on the back to the future ride, and because of Harry Potter World. I have loved Harry Potter since the age of about seven (like most young brits) so, in the interest of Butterbeer we headed into central Osaka and got on the train to Universal.
Universal is really easy to get to. It’s advertised everywhere and it’s just three short stops away from central Osaka Station and four stops from Shin-Osaka, which is where we were staying. Universal in Japan is a very local thing. Tickets cost 7,000 yen and a one year unlimited pass costs 12,000 yen – you do the maths. All day we had an amazing time people watching, as large groups, young couples and pairs of friends were wondering around in matching themed costumes. We are still unsure as to whether this was for Halloween, or just because the Japanese love dressing up. Either way it was a lot of fun bumping into various groups of minions and Mario and Luigis.
Harry Potter world did not disappoint in any way, shape or form. To everyone that thinks Universal’s interpretation of Butterbeer is disgusting – I say this claim is outrageous! Butterbeer was the single most delicious drink I have ever tasted (except, perhaps, Patron xo Café) and if I closed my eyes could well imagine that I was sharing a drink in the three broomsticks with Harry, Ron and Hermione (lol – imagery.) If I’d not been on a budget I know that I could have easily spent a lot of yen on various Harry Potter merchandise, although I probably would have struggled to choose between a stuffed Hedwig, a Sorting Hat and a wand from Olivanders. As it was, I exercised tremendous self-restraint and came away souvenir free.
As it was the 1st of October when we went to Universal, there were a lot of Halloween themed things going on throughout the park. After six PM the lovely, safe back to the future ride shut and became a Ju-On (remember The Grudge? Yep, her) themed ride – which was actually terrifying! When we exited the ride there was a woman dressed up as the grudge howling in the exit and one unlucky man ran away from her so fast he fell on the floor and skidded down the exit slope! (He was ok – we checked.) There were also lots of actors dressed as zombies in the “Zombie Zone” which appeared after dark. These delightful beings would stage the murder of tourists in a fake car and then run through the crowd brandishing chainsaws that were incredibly realistic – they even smelled of petrol! The whole night was hilarious and really put us in the mood to seek more Halloween fun during our stay in Japan.
Altogether, the park is a lot smaller than the ones in America, but it packed a great punch all the same. During our seven-hour stay in the park we managed to go on six rides as a lot of the time was spent queuing for the Hogwarts ride – much to Jakes dismay. Our favourite ride was the Hollywood ride, which can also be ridden backwards. This was a high-speed rollercoaster, which had no scary upside-down bits, a massive bonus for wimps like me! When it felt like we had got our moneys worth, we hopped on the train and headed back to our apartment.
There is plenty of overpriced restaurants inside the park, as can be expected with any similar enterprise, but there was also a lot of snack stalls that offered reasonably priced bites. We picked up a giant turkey leg and a mummy dog, as well as various other small drinks and snacks whilst managing to remain within budget. One thing to watch though, as an international tourist, is that nowhere in Osaka seemed to accept MasterCard or any international VISA, except for the 7bank cash machines. This has not been a problem since we have been in Tokyo, and MasterCard is accepted at all venues within the park, but if you want to get some food in Universal city then make sure you take some cash as it is impossible to get food anywhere – even in McDonalds!
All in all I really enjoyed my day in Universal Osaka and it surpassed many of my expectations. IF you go during October, dress up, and make sure that you are there after dark to get your full fill of Zombie fun!
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One of my very favourite days out of the whole four months I spent in Australia was the day that Jacob and I took a boat out to the Neptune islands to dive with great white sharks. Before I went down under I had several people telling me that this was one of the highlights of their trips. How I laughed in their silly little faces about the fact that they had willingly jumped into shark-infested waters with only a flimsy aluminium cage to protect them. Who in their right mind would put themselves in such danger? Well, we did, and it was incredible.
The main place to dive with Sharks in Australia is Port Lincoln, which is a little bit out of the way from just about everywhere. We took a seven-day road trip from Melbourne through Adelaide there and back, and incorporated the Great Ocean Road too, which was a good way to do it. We hired a little yellow Hyundai Accent from Hertz and it was a whole lot of fun! The drive through the Great Ocean road to our first stop, the Kaniva Midway took ten long hours. The first four flew by as we were completely enamoured with our new car, and with the gorgeous scenery, but times quickly changed and we were soon guzzling down the lucozade in an attempt to remain alert on the one very long straight and dark road that took us to our first destination.
A note about Kaniva
If you opt to take on this crazy drive then staying in Kaniva is a great halfway point between Melbourne and Adelaide. The Kaniva Midway is a cute, clean and cosy old-school motel that will make you feel as if your car is actually a DeLorian and you’re back in the 80s. Don’t expect to find any food here past 8pm though, as you will be sorely disappointed. Kaniva becomes a ghost town as soon as the sun goes down, so it’s a cup of tea for dinner and then straight to bed situation if you stop here!
The next day we hopped back in the car and drove an easy three hours to our next stop in Adelaide. We made the most of our full day here by visiting the Cleland Wildlife Sanctuary – which was a great experience! Not quite up to the standard of Lone Pine sanctuary in Brisbane, it was still a lovely place to see animals roaming free and be able to feed and play with them. Here are some pictures of us meeting some of Aussie’s best.
After Adelaide came a full day of driving to Port Lincoln. This took us seven hours and we arrived pretty late at night. Our hotel, The Pier, was cheap as we were watching our budget, and for £6 a night each we got a reasonably sized room with two comfy single beds and a shared bathroom. We also decided to book this hotel due to its affiliation with the company we were diving with in the morning, as we were able to get picked up by a nice warm mini-van, rather than try to navigate our way to the harbour in the cold and dark!
Morning came and we awoke full of nerves and excitement. We were picked up by our guide and driven the short distance down to the Port Lincoln harbour. Before I actually went to Australia, I naïvely believed the notion that it was a tropical paradise that is “just a bit chilly” in winter. Let me just shatter that illusion now – Australia in winter is FREEZING. Seriously, it is so freezing cold, especially in South Australia, you will barely be able to breathe before 9am, and this day was no exception. If you choose to take the plunge (if you’ll pardon the pun) and dive in winter to get the best chance of seeing some sharks, then make sure you take lots and LOTS of layers on the boat!
After much research, the company we decided to dive with was called Calypso Star Charters, and you can find their website here. There were so many reasons I chose this company, from their Advanced Eco Tourism accreditation, to how helpful the lovely lady was on the phone when I rang to enquire about pricing, and I am so glad that we decided to dive with Calypso. This company differs from others operating in the area because of its license to bait. This means that throughout the day the crew chum the water around the boat with meat and fish to attract sharks near to the cage. Other companies operating in Port Lincoln use music and vibrations to try and attract sharks to the perimeter of the boat. I followed my sharky logic on this one because, lets face it, every shark is going to follow the smell of a nice juicy fish over a few musical vibrations. Another great thing about Calypso is that if you want to see the sharks but are just that little bit too nervous to dive, you can join the crew and divers on the boat as an observer, and pay to join the dive team whilst you are out there if you can gather up the courage!
After being picked up, we were served a hot breakfast and coffee and tea. The crew were hilarious and super friendly and incredibly matter of fact about handling sea sickness, providing bags for all. The two-hour ride out to the Neptune islands was very choppy, so if you do get sea or motion sickness like we do, I definitely recommend getting your hands on some kwells or other sickness tablets before you even think about setting foot on the boat if you want to hold onto your breakfast. There’s only so much nausea relief that can come from standing outside and watching the horizon!
Eventually, we made it to our spot amidst the Neptune islands and the waiting game for the sharks to arrive began. The Neptune islands are a popular location for shark spotting and cage diving in Australia because it is where the seals come to mate. In wintertime, a higher seal population equals a higher chance of spotting a great white searching for his tea and this day certainly did not disappoint. While we were waiting for the sharks to arrive the crew kept us occupied, handing out snacks and giving us a bucketful of information about their beloved white pointers. There was literally no question they could not answer. They all had a great sense of humor so the two hours we were waiting flew by and as soon as they saw a shark coming near to the chum they notified us immediately. We were split into five groups to dive and each group got around a 45-minute session. I was in the second group, so I got to watch as a group of four Scottish lads climbed into their wetsuits and entered the cage. As ominous as this may sound, the whole procedure was actually incredibly calm. Every time a crewmember would move chum around in the water, a shark would glide gracefully past until about four were gathered around the boat and cage. Seeing the first group bobbing around inside the cage looking completely protected by the bars really put my mind at rest, however, if you think this might freak you out rather than soothing you (perfectly understandable) I’d definitely suggest asking to go first!
Before I knew it, it was our turn to get into the cage and I was a ball of nervous energy as I climbed into my wetsuit. We were also given scuba hats and gloves as it was so cold, but if you dive in summer you may not need these added extras. One by one we were shown how to operate the breathing piece and then, go pros in hands, clambered into the cage. Being in the actual cage was an experience like no other. As a (very) inexperienced diver (I had never even had a go at using breathing apparatus before this point) the first thing I had to concentrate on was getting used to the feeling of being completely submerged in water, yet still able to breathe. If you have a Padi or are a keen diver this will be absolutely no problem for you, but it is something I struggled with for the first few minutes. (Jacob actually said he found attempting to keep his breathing steady through the apparatus was actually more stressful than seeing the sharks!)
Swimming around the cage were a LOT of tuna so after a few minutes of looking round I was able to let my guard down and just enjoy the peaceful serenity of the complete silence under the water and watch the fish swim by. Then, out of nowhere an amazing, sleek, five meter shark glided towards the cage. This beast was incredible, it’s fins were perfectly formed and its body was covered in scratches and dents from fighting but it looked completely majestic from where I was floating. Despite all the videos I had (stupidly) watched of sharks aggressively swimming at the cage, at no point during the entire experience was I worried about one of these things attacking me, or even opening their mouths. From our vantage point under the boat we could see sharks coming from all angles, and our original whopper was eventually joined by about four more. I spent a happy half an hour videoing and taking pictures of the sharks. It was only after my Go-Pro battery died that I began to really feel the motion of the cage being bashed around on the side of the boat and began to feel scared, not of the sharks, but of the idea that the cage may come away from the boat where it was fastened! Although this was absolutely ridiculous (the cage has lots of buoys attached to it so even if anything did happen, you would be safe) I decided enough was enough and climbed out of the cage. Above water I was happy to discover that I had managed to remain under the water for a full forty-five minutes, and just a few minutes later Jake and the rest of my team emerged safely from the cage too.
The rest of the day passed smoothly with all teams getting to dive and experience the presence of the six sharks that swam to our boat throughout the day. We enjoyed taking pictures from the side of the boat and learning about the White Pointers from the crew. To be honest, I could have probably done it every day for several weeks and still not get tired of it, there’s something about seeing a giant killing machine glide peacefully past your boat that just does not get boring.
After each team had completed their dive, we headed back to shore. The sea was like a possessed beast at this point, with huge waves crashing in all different directions. Despite this, the crew made us feel incredibly safe and kept us informed at all times about what was happening, as well as explaining the effects that different weather conditions have on the sea. When we pulled safely back into the port, we were met by our minibus driver and deposited safely back to our hotel. We had been fed well on the boat and didn’t have to go and find dinner, as we were so full! This meant that we were free to spend the entire evening binge watching our go-pro videos and excitedly instagramming and messaging our families about our experience.
Calypso Star Charters provided an incredible day for us from start to finish, and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone that has a Shark Dive on their bucket list! You can find their Trip Advisor here and they can be contacted by phone, or you can just book online.
Would you take the plunge and swim with the Sharks?
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Japan is the last destination of the mega trip and we have decided to do it in style. Why? Why not?! Japan is somewhere Jake has always dreamed of visiting and as soon as I started reading guidebooks and travel websites I too became obsessed with the culture rich, beautiful, crazy country.
We flew to Osaka from Seoul ICN airport with peach airlines on a nice (as it gets) smooth flight and landed at around 4:30 pm local time. After going through immigration (we were STILL not asked to prove onwards travel despite this being a noted visa requirement) we collected our bags and headed for the airport station to try and find our apartment. This is where we started to realise that travel around Japan was going to be a very confusing experience. To get from KIX to our apartment in Shin-Osaka we needed to take only one train. Because of the language barrier, it took us about thirty minutes to get ourselves sitting comfortably on the right one. The train was incredibly fast (it wasn’t even a Shinkansen – still awaiting THAT experience!) and got us to our station in around 45 minutes. We then had to locate our apartment. Although it was just a three-minute walk from the station, the fact that nothing is written in English, not understanding the three, very confusing Japanese alphabets and the fact we are generally rubbish with directions) made the process very, very painful. We reached our apartment, threw down our things, showered and hit the sack.
The next day we woke up refreshed. We decided to spend the morning doing general life admin that no one wants to really take responsibility for whilst travelling, namely washing, finances and booking onward travel. When we eventually made it out of the apartment it was about three-thirty pm, which still left us three hours of sunlight to do some sightseeing. We decided to head to Osaka castle and boy are we glad we did.
The castle was absolutely beautiful and the grounds were full of autumn plants. There are lots of information boards written in English with a detailed description of the castle’s history and its restoration. We stayed at the castle and watched the sun set. From our vantage point on the castle wall we could also see the cityscape, which provides an amazing metropolitan contrast to the natural atmosphere that surrounds the castle. When we had had our fill of history we hopped on the train and headed back to our district.
On our first day we discovered that Japan is king of the convenience store. We popped into our local supermarket, expecting it to be like any normal co-op or 7 eleven experience. We were wrong. It is common in Japan to grab your dinner from the local ‘Konbini’ and take it home with you – ready to eat. Our local Familymart provided a full coffee service, a choice of several chicken dishes and many variations of the classic bento box. The checkout staff the heat up your chosen meal in the microwave or one of the fryers that bizarrely sit behind the till. Despite the initial weirdness of this situation, we soon realised it would play to our advantage, as we were both rapidly running out of money! We ate dinner at our tiny dining table and then headed to bed early, ready to head to Universal Studios the next day!
Although Bali wasn’t the first stop on the mega trip, it kept popping into my mind as the first place I wanted to write about. During my time in Australia, the notion of a trip to Bali was met with a scornful tut. A common misconception in Australia is that Bali is inhabited almost entirely by rowdy drunken tourists. Bali has been my dream destination for years so I wasn’t going to let this snobbery put me off – I just knew it would be amazing. My interest was born when it was the destination of choice for the final of a series of America’s Next Top Model (those who know me know that my love for Tyra Banks will never die!) so despite the negativity that seemed to surround the smiling island, I put on my game face and got on a five hour Jetstar Flight to Denpasar.
The second we stepped out of the airport, it felt like we were in another world. I had travelled from England straight to Australia so the most “foreign” thing I had experienced up until this point was nearly hitting a kamikaze kangaroo with my car. Here, we were greeted with stifling heat and a tsunami of taxi drivers. They surrounded us like drones the second they saw our backpacks, pulling on our luggage and shouting at us. This brings me to my first piece of advice about Bali, that we could not have lived without during our three- week stay.
Always, ALWAYS Bluebird.
Balinese taxi drivers are insistent and annoying, but not particularly threatening. This being said (like every taxi driver on the planet) they will not be able to resist the opportunity to try and extract an extra few thousand rupiah from an innocent first-time tourist, so hold onto your money and be careful. Bluebird taxis are metered, and the company is very reliable so you can be sure that you are getting charged a fair price to your destination. To avoid the crazy crowd at arrivals in Denpasar airport, especially if you are an obvious tourist like we were sporting backpacks, hats and shortshorts, you might find it useful to head up the stairs and exit on the first floor. Here you can wait more comfortably for a Bluebird to drive past. We were told there was a Bluebird taxi rank near arrivals but this either didn’t exist, or we were too overwhelmed to see it. Also be aware that every taxi driver under the Balinese sun will paint their car blue and decorate it to look like a Bluebird. Bluebirds have “The Bluebird Group” written on the windscreen and are LIGHT blue. If you do not manage to find one, always be certain to agree on a price with a taxi driver BEFORE you get into the cab, to avoid being ripped off at your destination.
Our first port of call was the Neo Hotel in the centre of Denpasar. We arrived late and after our colossal faff at the airport we were exhausted and ready for some food, so we dropped our bags and asked the hotel staff for the nearest late night food place. The only option was a McDonalds about a ten-minute walk away, and our rumbling tummies demanded that we take it. We stepped outside and were faced with our second problem:
Denpasar has no pavements
To a seasoned traveller, this is probably no issue at all, but if you are fresh out of a western country this might be one to watch. We struggled enormously for those first few days in Bali, tiptoeing around the road edges and trying to avoid the 1.5 million motorcycles and scooters that drive the island’s roads every day. The best advice is just to walk. This became much less of a problem once we reached Seminyak, and if you choose to stay in Kuta or Ubud you should have no issue navigating the recently constructed pavements. If you are stepping off the beaten track into Denpasar like we did, then just be road-confident. The bikes don’t want to hit you either!!
Staying in central Denpasar gave us an advantage, as we were able to head over to parts of the Island that would have been so accessible from Seminyak or Kuta. We had a lovely day visiting the Ubud rice paddies, monkey forest and Tanah Lot temple. This twelve-hour long trip into which we crammed the vast majority of our Balinese sightseeing (bad tourists) inspires my third advice nugget:
Tanah Lot is NOT the temple on all the post cards
We spent an (extortionate) $40 USD each on a customised tour that took us to four of the places around the island that we were desperate to see, stopping off at some other interesting spots along the way. We justified our extravagant spending by adding up the cost of travelling to these places separately each day by taxi, and decided it was worth the price. Our tour was with a company called Bali Bliss Tours (you can find them here) and they were brilliant! We decided that we wanted to visit the rice paddies in Ubud, the Monkey Forrest in Ubud, the Tegenungan Waterfalls and Tannah Lot water temple. All these places were definitely worth the visit, and I am super glad that we spent the money. The rice paddies are just beautiful, especially if you love taking photographs and watching locals at work. For a very small fee any of the workers will be keen to lend you their traditional hat and basket to try, and pose for a photo with you if you enjoy that kind of thing! We were happy just to grab a fresh coconut and watch the world go by. The monkey forest was also an experience I will probably never forget. The monkeys are hilarious to watch and incredibly friendly (I could have stayed there all day) and the babies were absolutely adorable. If you walk through the forest with bananas, you are sure to attract a lot of attention, but be aware of monkeys jumping from all directions! (One particularly unfortunate monkey made a leap for my arm whilst I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera and ended up getting monkey-punched as he scared the hell out of me!)
Our final destination of the day was Tanah Lot, a beautiful water temple situated just off the islands main body of land. Tannah Lot temple is beautiful, serene and amazing to photograph during sunset, however, it was not exactly what we were expecting!
If you go to Bali looking to visit this bad boy
then Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is your guy.
THIS is Tanah Lot:
Despite being a completely different destination to the one we had intended to reach, we had a lovely evening watching the sunset with our tour guide Katut (who was a lovely, informative fellow). It was a great end to a wonderful day.
During our stay in Denpasar we had to take taxis to a lot of our destinations, especially in the evenings. This turned out to be a blessing rather than a curse, as we relied on reading a LOT of trip advisor reviews to find restaurants that we wanted to eat at. This meant that we rarely ended up having a bad meal during the entire ten days. We made the decision to stick to restaurants instead of street food whilst in Bali after we saw a lady from a chicken stall washing the carcases in a puddle! We were also slightly paranoid about contracting the dreaded “Bali Belly” although we magically managed to avoid this – much yays. Here is a list of the restaurants we enjoyed the MOST during our stay in Denpasar, all around a 15-20 minute taxi journey from our hotel.
La Mexicana in Cangguu – beautiful cheap sharing fajitas and well made margaritas – as well as a free pool table! Staff here are very friendly and helpful, and speak good English. La Mexicana holds a special place in our hearts as this is where my carnivore boyfriend tried his first ever capsicums, onions and rice – and has never looked back!
Barbacoa in Outer Seminyak – This restaurant serves small, share style dishes inspired by traditional Indonesian flavours. A little on the pricey side if you are on a budget, we went here twice, once on our first day in Denpasar and once on our last day in Seminyak, as a special treat because we enjoyed it so much! My favourite dish was the Scallops whilst Jacob enjoyed two rounds of the suckling pig, which stands in the middle of the restaurant, to be marvelled at in all its glory.
Sarong Restaurant in Kerobokan – This was probably my favourite place we ate in the whole three weeks in Bali. The food is a blend of Asia, and they use spices from Indonesia, Malaysia and India to create a beautiful range of curries. Cocktails here are also incredibly premium (we LOVE hunting for amazing cocktail bars on our travels) and feel a lot more expensive than the price. I ate butter chicken here (because I am the world’s biggest spice wimp) and Jake ate a Malay chicken curry. They were both absolutely delicious. The Premium ice tea is also a must try if you are a mixology geek like we are!
All in all, I am happy with our decision to spend a week of our Bali trip in Denpasar, as it encouraged us to move further afield from the places we discovered whilst in Seminyak (a separate blog post will be coming about our experience here!) If you are new to the Island, I would definitely recommend it, as staying off the track so often walked by British and Aussie tourists not only means that you will encounter completely unique experiences, but also allows you to bond differently with locals that are not used to seeing tourists in their home villages. Bali definitely surpassed my expectations as being a dazzling jewel in the pacific ocean, and I hope that one day I can return and find all the places that I did not have time to discover on this trip!
It’s not often that I like to keep a pre-determined tagline, but this is a good’en. I decided to start this blog because I love reading about other peoples experiences and how they cope with the daily joys and challenges of travel (and life in general.)I LOVE writing about mine, but keeping my travel tales locked in a journal sitting at the bottom of my much-hated rucksack isn’t really helpful for anyone (except myself in ten years time when I reach for it to remind myself about the good ole days.) SO – I’ve decided to publish them, because who doesn’t want a little help here and there along the way?
Need to know which taxi company where is best? I got ya. Need to know which restaurants food gave me the worst stomach cramps ever experienced? I got ya. Best beaches, bars and swimming spots? I got ya. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my weird little blog and explore the world with me from your sofa (or bed or seat on the train…. You get the gist…)