I can’t believe 2014 is over already.
I have been living in Sydney, Australia for nearly a year now and my, how time has flown by! It has been over a year since we finished our epic 13 month trip through the Americas although in some ways it feels like only yesterday that I arrived back in New Zealand, confused and broken. The beginning of the year was hard for me, readjusting to a more settled life after living on the road for such a long time. I also think that having to leave Canada again, my favourite country and spiritual home, didn’t help with the feelings of depression I felt.
Luckily after moving to Australia in January and a couple of months of getting used to being in one place, a place that I love at that, I found my happiness again. Sydney is a fantastic city and I have immensely enjoyed getting to know it better over the past year. There is still so much to see there and so many wonderful places to return to. I love being a local.
On the travel front, this past year has been a relatively quiet one for me but it was not without its highlights. As well as the big move to Australia and the two months it took to find a job there, I managed to still travel for a total of 2.5 months. I mainly travelled within Australia, but also spent time in Fiji, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and Lesotho. The year was full of fun times with old and new friends and family, exploring more of our new home and a lot of time on the beach, living the Australian life. Here are some of the highlights:
Finally getting to Cape Reinga
I have been meaning to visit New Zealand’s northerly most point for years but just hadn’t quite made it all the way up there. I was determined for 2014 to be the year that we finally visited, and we drove up there as part of a five day trip through Northland at the beginning of January. What we discovered was a beautiful region of white sand beaches, cerulean water and rugged natural beauty. Cape Reinga was even more incredible than I imagined. I loved seeing it’s iconic lighthouse and hiking down to a secluded rocky cove with killer views of the misty coastline and immense sand dunes. I only wish we had time to do more hiking. I will definitely be back to explore more of this incredible area sometime in the future.
Moving to Sydney and spending long summer days on the beach
I have lived in Sydney before, for a year and a half ten years ago before I moved to London. It has since been one of my favourite cities and one that I was very interested in living in again. Luckily Trav was on the same page and was excited to be moving to a country where we could readopt the outdoor lifestyle that we enjoyed in our home countries of New Zealand and South Africa. It took us a couple of months to get work due to the fact that we hadn’t worked for 18 months and it was over the summer period when a lot of people are on holiday and hence not hiring. The Sydney job market is also incredibly competitive as it is a very desirable place to live. There was definitely some stress during this time and it was frustrating continuously applying for jobs and signing up to recruitment agencies and hearing nothing back. But it also allowed us to spend every day on the beach, as well as walking sections of the world famous Bondi to Coogee walk which was right on our doorstep from our sublet in Coogee. We were also lucky enough to have amazing friends put us up for our first two weeks in their apartment in the lovely Northern Beaches suburb of Mona Vale.
Spending time with friends that I haven’t seen for ages
One of the many bonuses of living back in Sydney is being able to catch up with all my friends in Australia and New Zealand, some that I hadn’t seen for years. I visited one of my best friends from school and her husband for five days in the cute beachside town of Kingscliff on the Gold Coast in January, and although it rained the whole time it was so great to catch up. A few of my good Aussie friends that I met in London now live in Sydney and a couple of them have kids so it has been great to spend lots of time with them and their families, and it has also been fantastic to be able to support my friend Bec and her band by going to their gigs whenever possible around Sydney. We also have friends in Melbourne, Northern New South Wales and Perth, some of who we have already visited. That’s not to mention being closer to our friends in New Zealand including two of my best friends in Auckland and other close friends scattered throughout the North Island. We miss our friends in London but it has been so great to reconnect to all of our friends on this side of the world. One of my good friends from London is even visiting us in Sydney in March!
Chill out time in the rainforest near the hippy town of Bellingen
My friends Michael and Garry bought an incredible house with forty acres of rainforest near the small town of Bellingen, inland from Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales. I was lucky enough to spend three days up there in January and it was just stunning. Their house is a retreat in the forest and I felt instantly relaxed when I arrived. There is a gorgeous pool, hiking trails and a fantastic open deck where you can see the many birds and native animals while eating gourmet meals cooked by Michael. During my time there I visited waterfalls, world heritage listed rainforest, the small and friendly towns of Bellingen and Dorrigo as well as finding time to just enjoy the serenity of this amazing spot. I didn’t want to leave.
Hiking and Kangaroo spotting in Grampians National Park
We spent three nights camping in the Grampians National Park a few hours drive from Melbourne over Easter with friends. An area that I hadn’t previously heard of turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We hiked into rocky, bush covered mountains, encountered wild kangaroos and visited the tiny town of Halls Gap and its wonderful farmers market, all while spending time roughing it with good mates. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Finding the colours of Autumn in the Blue Mountains
Autumn is usually my favourite time of year but there aren’t many deciduous trees in Sydney so it just wasn’t the same as my autumns spent in New England, United Kingdom and British Columbia. But then we went to the Blue Mountains for a long weekend in April. For some reason there are a lot of Japanese Maples as well as other deciduous trees that have been planted there so we finally got to see all the glorious colours of this amazing season. I even got to have hot apple cider at a small Restaurant with a roaring fire that makes you feel as if you have stepped into the Green Dragon Inn in Hobbiton. I found my North American Autumn after all.
Experiencing the wonders of the Australian Outback
I have never been a big fan of desert landscapes, always preferring the lush, green places of the world. So needless to say the vast stretches of red desert smack bang in the middle of Australia was never high on my list of places to visit. But then my brother got a job as a tour guide out there and I thought, what the hell, I might as well visit while he is there. So I did. And I unexpectedly loved it. I hiked Kings Canyon, gazed up at a million stars while camping in swags, walked among the giant rocks of Kata Tjuta and watched the sun rise and set over Uluru as well as walking around it. It was an adventure and there is so much more out there in middle of nowhere Australia than I ever realised.
Feeding black footed rock wallabies in Alice Springs
As an animal lover, especially of cute animals, getting to hand feed tiny rock wallabies at Heavi Tree Gap in Alice Springs was a definite highlight for me. They come down from their home amongst the rocks around an hour before sunset as they know that’s when they will get fed. You can buy bags of feed for them from the Hotel Reception and they come right up to you to get it. There were about twenty of them, some with teeny tiny babies in their pouches, and they definitely weren’t shy! They held onto my hand while they ate, pawed at my knee when they wanted more and tried to jump on me when I sat down. They are up there with the cutest animals I have ever seen and I loved my experience feeding them.
Reconnecting with family during an unexpected trip back to New Zealand
While I was in Alice Springs my 94 year old Grandmother passed away after having a stroke. I was never very close to her but I loved her and was happy that I was able to make it back to her funeral after missing my beloved Grandad’s funeral when I was studying in London back in 2008. My brother and I flew back and went to the funeral up in the country town Matakana. All of my cousins on my Dad’s side were there, as well as their children, and it was the first time in years that I had seen everyone together. There was such a feeling of togetherness and although it was bittersweet, it meant so much to me to have that time with everyone. I hope we can have another reunion soon, but hopefully next time it won’t be for such a sad reason.
Enjoying the view from Audrey Wilkinson Winery in the Hunter Valley
To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed by the Hunter Valley. It was so dry when we visited in Winter and I found it all a bit bland compared to other wine regions I have visited in California, South Africa and New Zealand. But there was one thing that I was very impressed by, and that was the stunning view over the vineyards from the Audrey Wilkinson Winery. The wine was pretty good too.
Becoming a Penguin Warden in Manly
After finding out there was a Little Penguin colony in Manly and that you could volunteer to help protect them, I was counting down the days till I moved there and could be a part of it. It has it’s ups and downs but I love the feeling it gives me, knowing that what we are doing is helping protect them from harm. It also gave me a sense of community in Manly, my new home, and I love spending time with the fellow wardens who I have been rostered on with. It’s always great to get to hang out with like minded people. And penguins.
Finding Paradise on Nacula Island, Fiji
Truly an island paradise and with one of my favourite beaches in the world, Nacula Island was a highlight of all of my travels, ever. The people, the food, the landscape, the snorkelling, the beach – it was all first class. I don’t know if I have ever felt so happy as I did during my four days here. I will be back and that is a fact.
Snorkelling with Manta Rays in Fiji
We definitely lucked out during our time on Barefoot Island, the closest island to the channel where manta rays feed from May till September. We visited in October and after they hadn’t been spotted for two weeks, they came back for a couple of days that coincided with our visit. These majestic creatures are simply a joy to watch as they cruise slowly up and down the channel, feeding on plankton. What an experience.
Getting engaged and the luxury Four Seasons Staycation to celebrate it
After getting engaged on a rocky outcrop above a beautiful Sydney beach, Trav organised a luxury staycation in Sydney to celebrate. We stayed at the five star Four Seasons Hotel overlooking Circular Quay and enjoyed a weekend experiencing how the other 5% live. I have to say that I LOVED it. It was a very different way of travelling for us as we are budget backpackers most of the time, but after spending time in a five star hotel I know it is something I would like to do on occasion in the future. For a treat. Maybe more often if we one day win lotto.
Hiking and staying at the highest pub in Africa in Lesotho
Spending three days staying in the small village of Sani Top in Lesotho was a definite highlight of 2014. This small mountain kingdom that is completely surrounded by South Africa was my 50th country and one of the most interesting I have visited. To access the country we took a four wheel drive up the notorious Sani Pass, a rough dirt road that zig zags steeply up from the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa and into tiny Lesotho. We stayed in the highest pub in Africa and spent cold evenings by the fire drinking Amarula and days hiking through the vast high altitude plains of marshes and wildflowers. The local Basotho people were so friendly and curious and as the pub is located in their traditional village, we got an inside view into their life in this harsh climate. I will be writing more about my incredible time there soon.
Cape Town, the Mother City
What can I say about one of my favourite cities in the world that hasn’t been said before? It is even more stunning that you can imagine. We spent nine days there over Christmas and New Years and although it isn’t the best time to visit due to the crowds and the crazy wind that whips up at this time of year, we loved every minute. We saw baboons, ostrich, eland, dassies, seals and penguins in the wild, swam in the turquoise waters of some of the whitest sand beaches I have ever seen, browsed funky stores and markets, ate incredible food and did some gorgeous mountain hikes including one up the famous Table Mountain. This city is buzzing with energy and a mish mash of different cultures proudly call this city home. This was my second visit here and I know that there will be a third.
Reading back on my highlights makes me realise that this year has been a lot busier than I realised and full of wonderful memories. It may not have been as travel heavy as previous years but it was just as happy.
What were your highlights of 2014?