Roaming On Road Trips

For years, the girls have been trying to organise a weekend away in the Hunter Valley but our busy and conflicting schedules – coupled with the fact that when we last tried, our accommodation went into liquidation the weekend before we arrived – made it next to impossible. Until last weekend.

We finally locked in three days we were all free and set our sights on a morning/afternoon exploring Pokolbin, followed by a couple of nights in a beautiful retreat to enjoy some quiet time with our newly purchased wine, cheese, and chocolate. Reality actually exceeded expectation and we had a wonderful time.

Leaving bright and early on Saturday morning, we made the following stops before heading to our home away from home for the weekend:

– Mooney Mooney Rest Area
– Maitland (for food supplies)
Hunter Valley Chocolate Company
McGuigan Cellar Door
Hunter Valley Cheese Company
Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese (which was also our lunch stop)
Tempus Two Cellar Door
De Bortoli Cellar Door

I honestly cannot recommend Smelly Cheese highly enough. While it’s tiny and absolutely crammed with people, they have an amazing selection of cheese, condiments, cured meats, oils, crackers, etc. We spent almost $200 on things almost exclusively for the weekend. No regrets about the $25.00 sliver of French brie, it was AMAZING.

We stayed at Donnybrook Eco Retreat, in the Hillview/Valleyview tents, and it was absolutely perfect. Not only was it less than 30 minutes from welcoming that we didn’t actually leave again for the whole weekend. We’ve been glamping several times and this was easily one of our favourites to date, the attention to detail and homely touches made all the difference.

Sweeping views of the surrounding countryside; a wicker swing chair; large and comfortable beds (with chocolates on each pillow!); a gas barbecue; a fire pit (with wood and kindling provided); ensuite bathrooms for each tent; a deck area with outdoor furniture; and (my favourite) a yurt between the two tents which served as a kitchen or communal dining area. The two bar fridges came fully stocked with fresh farm eggs, bacon, jam, butter, milk, juice, pancake batter, and delicious homemade chocolate slice!

One of my favourite parts was waking up to the sounds of birds echoing through the valley – such a great incentive to get up and enjoy the sunrise. And the beautiful colours at dusk made for some excellent reasons to go exploring. Definitely made this Girls Weekend well worth the wait.

A Saturday on the South Coast

Every now and then, I’ll tag along with one of my friends who likes exploring areas of Sydney (and beyond) that have randomly popped up in one of her social feeds. We never know if the effort is going to be worthwhile but, at the very least, the adventure will make for a great story.

One Saturday, she picked me up at 5am and didn’t drop me home until 7pm. Everything in between was soaking up the south coast of NSW, including sunrise, beaches, hikes, cliffs, rocks, ocean, waterfalls, and sunset, as well as some of the most beautiful roads and scenery:

– Sea Cliff Bridge
– Port Kembla beach
– Nellie’s Glen
– Kiama Blowhole
– Bombo

We hugged the coast, we went inland; we saw the ocean stretch on for miles, we saw trees stretch up for metres; we saw the ocean creating salty spray and crashing waves on the rocks, we saw freshwater winding its way through the forest and cascading down in beautiful waterfalls; we saw the sunrise out of the ocean, we saw the sunset behind the mountains.

It’s hard to believe that just 60-90 minutes out of Sydney lies such varied and stunning scenery. From the beautiful engineering feat of the Sea Cliff Bridge to the gorgeous colours from a sunset at Bombo quarry, this was a gorgeous day. Who says you can’t wanderlust after your own backyard?

A Pirate’s Life For Me (Occasionally)

Despite my parents meeting in the Navy and having an affinity with the open water, my sea legs have let me down on two ocean-bound occasions. The first was when said parents encouraged my brother and me to join them as they sailed their yacht from Rose Bay to Kogarah Bay. We both spent all the time beyond the heads unceremoniously sick over the side while I’m sure our kin questioned their paternity. The second was when my best friend and I finally made it to the Great Barrier Reef but the water was so choppy that the majority of us lost our breakfasts before we even arrived.

That’s all very well and good, but what does that have to do with cruising? Please understand my full dilemma when one of my best friends proposed the idea of a short cruise for her 40th Birthday. There’s no way I would have turned her down (partly due to friendship, partly due to the explorer within, partly due to FOMO) but the idea of being trapped on a ship at sea for three nights with my track record was not an ideal scenario.

I am happy to report that I made it! I was not ill (or even really queasy) and it was a wonderful weekend away. All the assurance I had been given in regards to the size of the ship making it a mostly smooth ride were on point. In fact, I’d highly recommend it for something different and am glad to have crossed “cruise” off my experience list. Would I do it again? Probably not, unless it was another short one (at a bargain price) or the destination called for it (eg. Antarctica). I think more than four nights would get pretty repetitive (mostly in terms of activities and food) and I’d rather save time at sea by taking a flight.

That said, I had a great time. Sailing out of Sydney Harbour on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon was a wonderful way to kick off the getaway. And it’s pretty great to spend a weekend watching ocean sunrises and sunsets; being mesmerised by the ocean without land in sight; trying lots of different types of food (in casual or more formal settings); and I am always up for a round of bingo or trivia.

#FlashbackFriday: Lounging and Lazing in Las Vegas (2016)

It surprised even me to learn that my most-visited city in the United States is Las Vegas. I am far from the typical party-goer I associate with those who love and embrace the ‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas’ mantra. In fact, I pretty much go there almost exclusively to relax.

Huh?! Relax?! In Sin City?!

Yes.

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a lot of the things on offer in and around the area (Grand Canyon, shows, Hoover Dam, walking The Strip). But it was while I did these things that I realised I really wasn’t interested in the yard glasses, poker games, gun ranges, pool parties, nightclubs, and bottomless shots.

I’d much rather be in the Venetian’s Canyon Ranch Spa Club. I’d rather be enjoying an uninterrupted view of The Strip from the top floor of Treasure Island. I’d rather be soaking in the tub of a marble bathroom at MGM. I’d rather be wrapping myself in a fluffy bathrobe in a suite at The Cosmopolitan. I’d rather be enjoying the opulent bed and luxurious bedding at ARIA. I’d rather be indulging in the extensive room service menu at the Wynn.

Which is the reason it’s usually my last stop on a US trip or a round-the-world ticket that passes through the States. It gives me a couple of days to rest up, recharge, and reflect on the trip, as well as unwinding and preparing for the journey home. No horrible hangover from this Las Vegas layover:

 

Intensely Inspiring Iceland

On our last big trip, Iceland was probably the country I was looking forward to most. I’d been to the UK and the USA previously and we weren’t spending long enough in Singapore to treat it as a real destination.

At first, it seemed like an interesting stopover between London and New York City but the more I investigated, the more intrigued I became. So many stunning natural wonders and phenomenon made our measly five days seem like a joke compared to how much time it would take to fully explore this Nordic island nation.

We chose to drive ourselves as tours would have either meant a less intimate experience, a more expensive trip, or the frustration of not being able to do things at your own pace. After spending five days driving in terrible weather and in the snow (with no prior experience of icy conditions), I don’t think we would do that again. It was an amazing way to see the many beautiful sights Iceland has to offer but it’s worth investing in a driver or a professional tour guide to avoid being utterly terrified on the open road.

At one point, we were crawling down an 80km/h main road at 30km/h because the snow was thick on the ground and still falling, visibility faded in and out with the fog, and the wind was blowing a gale. But then we’d look out the window and see white mountains with streaks of blue where waterfalls had frozen. We’d drive over bridges where clear water was trickling underneath and tiny icebergs were floating with it. We’d see bodies of water frozen over and wonder how thick the ice was and if it would hold our vehicle, should we go sliding down the embankment.

The weather in Iceland changed so quickly and so drastically that I’m glad we didn’t get any further from Reykjavik than Vik because I’m not sure if we would have gotten back in time for our flight. One morning was glorious and sunny, hours later the rain was pelting down and just hours after that, there was a thick layer of snow across all the green meadows we had driven past earlier. The extremes meant we got to see how beautiful this country was in sun and in snow. Absolutely spectacular.

My top five moments from our five nights in Iceland:

  1. Seeing dark and angry waves foaming and crashing beyond just beyond snow-draped plains.
  2. Standing in the warmth of the Blue Lagoon with a silica mud mask under a starlit sky as snow started falling.
  3. Basking in the wonder of Gullfoss, a spectacular waterfall surrounded by ice and snow in the waning light of day.
  4. Winding our way through mountains, roads, and fields draped in snow before reaching the summit and seeing the ocean, dark clouds looming overhead, and the light of the setting sun illuminating it all.
  5. Spending the night in a bubble in the middle of a forest as snow fell on the pine trees around us.

Gliding Down the Great Ocean Road

Two years ago, I finally visited the Great Ocean Road with some friends. While I was most interested in the destinations I had pinned out (Cape Otway, 12 Apostles, Lorne, Apollo Bay), I didn’t expect that one of the greatest pleasures would be in the drive itself. Lush green meadows, tree-lined roads, sheer cliffs on one side and ocean (in the most spectacular shades of blue) on the other.

As an avid explorer, I very rarely return to places I’ve already been but, this past weekend, I did just that and found myself back on one of the most scenic drives I have ever taken. Just an hour south of Avalon airport, the rural country roads give way to breathtaking scenery and the views from the car areΒ almost as wonderful as those from the stops along the way.

Last time, we focused on the road between Lorne and Port Campbell. This time, it was Geelong to Lorne. We stayed at Aireys Inlet, did some paddle-boating in Anglesea, stopped off at Queenscliff, Barwon Heads, and Bells Beach, and trekked along the coastline in between.

Given my affinity with lighthouses, I was most excited to be staying right beside Split Point Lighthouse, which Australians of a certain age may recognise as the one made famous by Round the Twist. Our holiday rental featured sweeping coastal views from each bedroom, as well as the kitchen/dining/lounge area and outdoor deck, which made for plenty of photo opportunities.

In our two nights, we saw stunning sunrises, sunsets, tidal changes, and had one beautifully clear night, on which I captured my first ever starlit sky. And, following on from such a fantastic stay, we’ve decided this will be our annual retreat. It’s serene, stunning, and simply spectacular… After all, what’s the point of discovering amazing places if you can’t go back to enjoy them?

Idling By On the Isle of Wight

With two weeks in London, there was always going to be a trip of some description on the cards. We all love travel, we love seeing places we’ve never been before, and we absolutely love being in each other’s company. So the obvious choice was squeezing five adults into a car to road trip down to Isle of Wight – accessible only by ferry! Two nights and we saw some of the most incredible sights; I still can’t believe that an island so small had so many varying landscapes.