W is for… Walking!

Find Danielle’s account and George’s insight of the W Trek here, in one rather long blog post! Enjoy!

I am sure many of you have heard the phrase ‘so-and-so has learned to walk’ excitedly exclaimed from your parent-friends. Well, now I am going to excitedly exclaim the same: ‘George and I learned to walk!’ I can now officially claim to know this skill in the same way as those hardened hikers who, when they say ‘walk’, mean ‘backpacks on, camping stoves packed, scrambling over rocks in any weather’ kind of walking. We have learned to walk.    

The W Trek, Torres Del Paine, Patagonia: a hiker’s dream to which many seasoned trekkers come from all over the world. And George and myself kind of stumbled across it and said, on a whim, ‘let’s do it’ in a ‘well, why not’ kind of way. We started by going to one of the free talks detailing the well-known hikes of the area, with the sole view of doing perhaps one day of hiking, and two at the very most.  

However, the guide was so enthusiastic about the trek that we both left feeling a little more curious about the full ‘W’. I won’t claim to have been suddenly turned around on the subject, knowing my hiking skills are, well, zero to none (or, at least, they were). But after much toing-and-froing, in a very casual manner, we decided to go. So we spent the next day organising ourselves with everything we would need for the full 5-day trek.  

We cannot claim to be fully fledged hikers quite yet, as much as we would like to think ourselves so. We mutually decided, with no discussion needed, that carrying our own tents and sleeping bags might be a little too much on our first real foray into the trekking world. Don’t get me wrong, our backpacks were heavy enough with our five days’ supply of food, clothes and first aid equipment; we just thought it best to stop there on this particular occasion and not overdo it by attempting to carry the weight of our sleeping gear as well. 

So, with our tents at each camp booked, our buses to the park sorted and our meals carefully measured out and packed per each day’s requirements, we were set to go.    

Day 1:  

After an early start and a long bus ride to the park, our hike did not kick off until early afternoon. And boy, was it a baptism by fire! To say it was windy just does not even begin to scratch the surface.

W is for… Wind‬: 

At the information talk, we were given a very honest insight into practical issues of the walk. The guide was discussing the pros of walking poles, and I felt mildly expert with our experience from the Inca trail, knowing how they help your knees. She continued, “I also guarantee that you will see someone along the trail lying on their back like a bug because the wind can whip up under your backpack and flip you over. If you don’t want to be that person, I’d recommend walking poles so that you can anchor yourself to the ground with them.” We all pictured this in our minds for a moment, laughed nervously and then scribbled “WALKING POLES” on our scrap of paper. And double-underlined it.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

‪It took about five minutes into the walk for us to be hit by the strongest gusts either of us had experienced in our lives. I think we were both wondering what the hell we’d signed up for if this was going to be standard for the next five days. A plastic bag from Danielle’s rucksack promptly blew into my face (one of many belly-laugh-inducing moments). It was near-impossible to walk against; we had to just stand there, walking poles dug in the ground, face turned down-wind in a bid to avoid the dust. On day two, walking along exactly the same stretch, we were relieved to find that there was barely even a breeze. But on day three, not even walking poles were enough when I was blown sideways into a rock (my arm’s still bruised). ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

So, as we fought our way through our first part of the trek, and the first part of the ‘W’, we found ourselves laughing a lot – and laughing harder than I have at possibly any other time in this trip so far! Mostly for the effects of the wind, but also due to me, rather unfortunately, sitting down to rest on a innocent-enough looking patch of grass, to then discover said grass was actually covered in spiky thorn-like plants, resulting in George having to stop at various points of the trail to pick thorns from my backside, whilst I screeched in pain! (Luckily, the trail was quiet enough at this point that no one rounded a corner to see this spectacle – or to hear me exclaim: “Ow! You pushed it in!”)

 
And so, after roughly 5 hours of walking, we reached our first campsite. Our tent was set up, sleeping bags ready and all that was left to do was get our camping stove and dinner and get cooking. On the menu for our first night (as well as every other night in some variation) was pasta (or ravioli on our posh nights), powdered soup for sauce and a rather large serving of dried onions and powdered garlic. Surprisingly, and despite the cold and sloped ground we slept on, we had a pretty good night’s sleep – as we would find every night due to the exhaustion of the many hours walking per day. 

W is for… Water: 

One thing that added to the wonderful sense of being at one with nature, was that all the water in the park is drinkable. When we ran out of water, we simply filled up our water bottles at the next stream we passed. Bliss. 

  

Day 2: 

One of our longer days, Day 2 saw us retracing our steps back down the first length of the ‘W’ and continuing along the bottom, culminating in a 10 hour day. Luckily for us, the wind had died down a little and the sun was shining!

W is for… teamWork‬‬‬:‬‬‬‬ 

‪We had systems. Whoever was ready first, started to get the water boiling for the coffee and oats. Whoever wasn’t making coffee, would stir the oats. We took it in turns to lead the walking. (Twice, thinking Danielle was behind me, I exclaimed something ridiculous, only to quickly realise that I had an unexpected audience of Someone Who Wasn’t Danielle. The funniest was an over-dramatised exclamation of “Was that a COW?” – it was not.)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

‪Near the end of day two, when I was on the verge of tears at how painful my blistered toes were and desperate to arrive at camp, I whimpered to Danielle, “I need a game!” She immediately came to my rescue by starting to sing something (Song Association), and the distraction genuinely saved me from collapsing in a heap of misery. We arrived at the camp in what felt like no time (where I discovered that the nail of one toe had been digging a nice little hole in the adjacent one. Nice.)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

Day 3: 

Now this brings us onto the most difficult day; it rained, it hailed, we slipped, we fell hard, and we reached the summit to see only clouds for the few seconds we managed to fight the wind, before we swiftly headed straight back down on wet and slippy rocks. In hindsight, this was a funny day and I am glad we were able to experience the great variety of weather Torres del Paine National Park is infamous for. But, at the time, I was a little miserable, a bit wet, and a lot scared of falling over! As my previous post would suggest, I had reason to be nervous of falling and injuring myself, based on past experience; however, George completely surpassed me in that respect on this trip! It did give us a lot of laughs though (of course, only after I had checked she was ok…briefly).

W is for… Whoops: 

‪By the end of day two, I could hardly walk for blisters, and the preparation for the following days involved approximately ten minutes of bandaging per foot. In addition to being blown into a rock, I slipped and fell in my rush to find a suitable rock to wee behind, I fell backwards into a muddy bank and, in what Danielle describes as “the best one” (thanks, mate), a slip of the foot sent me landing flat on my face, head-first down the mountain, walking poles splayed. I couldn’t get up for a while but this was due to me laughing so hard. However, shortly after, it was Danielle’s turn when she slipped on a giant slab of slate, landing on her arse exclaiming “Ow! It’s hard!” Yep…that’s rocks.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

After reaching the bottom of the Frances Valley (or, in other words, the middle peak of the ‘W’), we still had 2 or 3 hours to go and this is where our musical theatre geeks came out in full force to get us through it! Now, not only are we practically pro hikers, we are also the creators of some wonderful time-killing games such as Song Association and Musical Theatre Links. I am sure we entertained some passing hikers with our top-of-our-voice renditions of pop and theatre songs – can you tell we are choir girls? As George said mid-hike: “This is how artistes trek.”  

W is for… Welcome‬‬: 

Seasoned hikers (and non-Londoners) may already be familiar with this, but we greeted, and were greeted by, everyone we passed. I’m sure we said “Hola”, “Gracias” and “De nada” (“you’re welcome”) to many native English speakers. We checked how far it was to go, we told people they were nearly at the top (“Ugh, thank God! That is the best news I’ve heard all day!”), and we stopped and chatted with the people we routinely bumped into along the way. It was a truly heartwarming experience to feel a sense of community with everyone on the trail, and to call one of the most beautiful places in the world “home” for five days.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

Day 4: 

This was our most enjoyable and rewarding day! Firstly, it was only 6 hours of walking – the time it suggested on the map! It was the first day we managed to hit the recommended time dead on – we were somewhat slower the preceding days. This meant that we reached our camp for the night at just 5 P.M. (three hours earlier than previous nights), were able to have an early dinner and, even better, an early night! Bliss! But not only that, the sun was shining on us all day and the scenery was beautiful. We even had an idyllic lunch spot at the edge of a river with small birds and butterflies flitting around us – truly a fairytale-like scene – despite the fact that, far from princesses, we were a little stinky, rather muddy and singing crude Book of Mormon lyrics in between bites of our now 5-day-old wraps – somehow we still found these appetising.

W is for… the Worst Pun: 

Night four was mushroom night – a highly-anticipated dinner of pasta with dried mushrooms and mushroom sauce (soup). Whenever it was mentioned, one of us would throw in a godawful pun, but there isn’t mushroom to list them all here (sorry). However, we decided to save them up for what had now become ‘mushroom pun night’. As we added the dried mushrooms to our pot, Danielle kicked off proceedings with a shocker: “There’s no more room for these mushrooms!” Utter fail. But utterly hilarious.   

Day 5: 

On this day, we had the option of waking up at horrendous-o’clock, setting off pre-3 A.M., and walking two and a half hours uphill, in the dark, to witness a beautiful sunrise over the Torres (Towers) from which the park gets its name. Needless to say, we opted out of this dangerous trail, knowing full well from our previous days that we would likely injure ourselves at the least, and possibly fall off the edge of a mountain at worst. Luckily for us, a cloudy sky meant that the more eager trekkers informed us that the clouded view of the sunrise was in no way worth the early start and we were smug in our decision. So we set off about 10 A.M. for our final summit.  

Despite being a trekker in no way, shape, or form, I think I coped pretty well with the long hikes each day – there was no complaining from me. Until this final day. It just seemed to go on and on and on. And poor George got the brunt of my exclamations! For the last 20 minutes or so of this stretch, I am ashamed to say it was mostly four-letter words that escaped me, through breathless pants! Even on reaching the top, my spirits could not be lifted a great deal (evidenced in the below photo of me at the peak…) 

 

But on the final push down to the end of the trail, the musical games came out again and my spirits, and George’s, were saved! In fact, I’m pretty sure we practically skipped down the last 2 hours! And what a treat we had in store when we reached the finish line! Toilets in a 5-star hotel! Lunch and coffee in a 5-star hotel. And the judgemental looks that came with two smelly backpackers invading the tranquility of the guests of said 5-star hotel. But did we care? Erm… NO!   
 

Despite my somewhat hesitant ‘let’s go’ when we initially decided to do the full W Trek, I could not be happier or more proud that George and I managed to complete the 5 days with no hiccups, aside from a few minor injuries and sore feet. Our first real do-it-ourselves hiking experience was a resounding success. And we now own our own hiking poles so, clearly, we are committed to doing more! Thus, don’t be surprised if you see me rushing off for weekends in the Lake District on my return – I am a changed woman.  

No, you should still be rightfully surprised – I don’t think I am quite there yet. But I have been bitten by the walking bug just a little, so, who knows? Watch this space!  

W is for… Wise: 

‪At risk of sounding all wanky, five days of trekking without wifi allows for a lot of time to think. And being the deep soul that I am, I came up with a few things. I spent a lot of time on the trek wanting time to hurry up, wishing away the next two hours of walking so that we could already be at camp. Other times it was the opposite; I’d want there to be a bit longer til lunchtime so I could still look forward to it. Towards the end of the five days when time seemed to be flying, I wished we had more days left. And then, on day four, I thought about how this parallels with life and I thought actually, I’m happy right in this moment, right where I am. And I really was. But it took a conscious effort to realise that – and so it is with life.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

Some parts of the trek were hard. We’d anticipated most of this, so the uphill stretches didn’t come as a surprise. But I always expected it to be so much harder than it actually was. We’d reach the summit, and on the way back down I’d think, “Cool, we’ve done the hardest bit.” But I never realised I was doing the hardest bit at the time; it was only after, when I looked back.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

As we sat in the lounge bar of the fancy Torres Hotel in our dirty trekking clothes, surrounded by the guests who had the money to choose this luxury over camping, I sunk into the leather sofa with a grin on my face. Did I envy them? No. I pitied them. Because there are so many more opportunities to laugh in a tent‬.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

Danielle & George x 

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Christmas On the Road!

Bariloche, Argentina: basically a Swiss town in the middle of Argentina, or at least it tries to be. With its bountiful chocolate shops, St. Bernard dogs and alpine architecture, this sweet imitation town is beautiful in its own right. Hailing as the northern tip of Patagonia (though, technically, as far as I understand, it is not actually covered by Patagonia’s vast area), Bariloche was the perfect place to spend Christmas away from home. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Penthouse 1004, the hostel that was recommended to us, was the perfect choice for Christmas – this was the place that provided the true ‘homely’ feeling that lent itself to a happy remote Christmas.  

 
Arriving on 23rd December, aka Christmas Eve Eve, we were warmly welcomed into this hostel that felt distinctly like a mix of your grandparent’s house and Graceland’s Jungle Room – a little old, too much wood panelling and nicknacks lining every available surface. The staff immediately made us feel at home and the largely British crowd of travellers felt like an extension of your somewhat crazy family that you never see throughout the year anyway until you’re thrown together over the festive period. We immediately gelled with a few people that became the necessary Christmas friends that make holidays away from home that little bit less lonely.

We got stuck in with the Christmas party planning straight away and picked what dishes we would add to the mix on Christmas Eve, which is when Argentinians (and us, this year) typically celebrate Christmas. George and I made our extensive shopping list ready for the onslaught at the Supermercado the next day and got an early night in preparation. The morning of the 24th was spent food (and drink!) shopping, followed by me rushing around finishing my gift shopping (I don’t know how I was this last minute – I only had George to buy for!) and desperately trying to locate some Baileys because God forbid a Christmas without that stuff! I ended up settling for some Bariloche-made chocolate liquor that was actually every bit as good as Baileys (maybe).  

   

I can’t claim to have been the biggest help in the kitchen come the afternoon – I did wrap the ‘pigs’ in their respective ‘blankets’ – but really George took control in the food preparation department! I should also mention here that our idea of traditional Pigs in Blankets had to be adapted slightly by the limitation of what we found in the Argentinian supermarket – they became what I think could be the next big thing… ‘Cows in Sheets’ (or, more specifically, beef sausages wrapped in pancetta!) Our other dish was, perhaps, a bit of a cop out, but our Cheese Board was clearly popular as someone stole our Gouda straight out of the fridge!

The Christmas Eve festivities were really quite fun! We ate, we drank too much red wine and played the Cardboard Box Game which, for me, was the highlight! Most importantly, we laughed, we chatted and we shared in a Christmas with other transient people who might, also, have been similarly lonely were it not for the company of a hostel full of strangers.  

  
  
Christmas Day! A day I had, admittedly, been very apprehensive about in the build up. A day that I figured could easily have been spent sad that I was away from my family. But a day in which I learnt the power of the kindness of strangers. Christmas Day mass at Bariloche Cathedral was easily the highlight of my Christmas as, despite not following the entire service, given in Spanish, the feeling I had come the end was pure elation! There is something incredibly heart-warming about embracing strangers while sharing greetings of peace when you could have easily been feeling a little lonesome. On the merit of this alone, my Christmas Day was made!

    

The rest of our Christmas Day was pretty much occupied by food (and enduring the late-arriving hangover from the night before!) We enjoyed scrambled eggs and Bucks-Fizz for our Christmas Day brunch and, later, a lovely steak dinner with our newly-made friends.

Another high moment of Christmas Day was mine and George’s exchanging of gifts. They were not expensive or magnificent in any way, but they were thoughtful, all of them. I spent the rest of my Christmas evening colouring in the Frozen colouring book George had bought me! (I had been searching for a ‘mindfulness’ colouring book since arriving in South America to no avail!) After finishing off the chocolate liquor, it was time to wrap up our Christmas Day and head to bed.  

   
For me, Christmas away from my family, will never be ideal, but this Christmas is certainly one that I will never forget and all for good reasons. Of all the places we could have stopped for Christmas, Bariloche gave us everything we were looking for in a temporary home away from home. It was beautiful, quaint, different, and full of people that helped to make it special. I would gladly go back to Bariloche for all the things it has to offer, although I don’t think it will be next Christmas – you will find me happily at home with my family I should think! 

Danielle x

In a World of Pain: Mishaps and Misadventures of a Clumsy Traveller…

{I would just like to put a little disclaimer here: mum, if you don’t want to have to worry about me any more than you do, I’d suggest you stop reading now.}

We are over halfway through our exciting round-the-world trip! And, boy, has it been exciting! But it has not been without its mishaps – admittedly almost all on my part. So this is what this little post is about. Me and my bloody clumsiness!


I’m going to go ahead and start with a list of the various conundrums that I have stumbled upon thus far, just for clarity. Sure, the locations are exciting and exotic, but the misadventures that accompany them have, unfortunately, been rather less exotic:

1. Sydney: as I’m sure most of you know by now, within one week, I sustained a fractured rib on a whale watching boat from Sydney Harbour – result = 5 hours in A&E and 8 weeks recovery (until I was back to full sky-diving ability)

2. The Great Barrier Reef: 2nd degree burns to my legs – in fairness, this was due to my own stupidity and lack of sun cream!

3. The Amazon Jungle: one bruised knee from falling into the Amazon River and one bruised bum from rolling down a hill in the jungle

4. Bolivia Salt Flats: this one I actually blacked out from the pain of! When all I did was fall down a gravel hill onto my funny bone! (FYI – not so funny!)

5. Mendoza Wine Region, Argentina: after completing a successful bike ride accompanied by wine, I managed to fall over a log, bruising and cutting my shin.


So that’s my list up to this point (and, hopefully, but not likely, my definitive list until I return home!) As you can see, these mishaps did not occur on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, nor skydiving in New Zealand, and not horseback riding on a farm somewhere. No. I fractured a rib on a supposedly ‘gentle’ whale watching trip; I’ve slipped down numerous, yet insignificant hills; I survived a tipsy bike ride only to trip on a log getting up from the lunch table; and I even rolled down a slope in the Amazon, sustaining a bruised bum from an actual stick up my arse! None of these injuries were really caused by doing anything of any remote adventure. It’s when I let my guard down. I’m pretty sure George has had enough of picking me up from the floor and handing me an alcohol wipe for my grazes at this point! Every time something else happens, I say “no more!” And then tomorrow comes and, behold, there’s another bump in the road ready to send my flying!

IMG_9837
I have figured out the predominant issue that many of my injuries have in common: I have no grace in falling! When I go, I go down hard and, thus, injure myself pretty bad each time. Sometimes I wonder if it’s God’s little joke: sure, He watches out for me on the big things but ‘hmm.. I wonder if she’ll see that log laying there?’

Honestly, I’ve had enough! I’m fed up of having legs with bruises to rival a ten-year-old boy’s! I’m done with the humiliating, graceless falls in front of groups of strangers (and, despite what my mum has been trying to teach me for years, falling in front of a man is no way to gain his affection! – although, evidently, it does point out the true gentlemen who offer their assistance!) All I am asking is, please, no more injuries! I severely hope I am not tempting fate in writing this!

But, anyway, none of these mishaps have dampened my spirit! It’s going to take more than some cuts and bruises to stop me adventuring further! But, in the meantime, if you could all pray for my wellbeing – that’d be a big help! Thanks.

Danielle x

Travelling: the other things

Travelling is about places. They lead you to make plans, book flights, quit jobs (…get stressed ordering stuff you don’t need on Amazon, which you throw out once you get there). In the run-up to leaving, the places I’d be visiting dominated my mind’s landscape, filling me with anticipation and excitement. It’s what I talked about incessantly before I left, reeling off country names as if I were about to pop to Tesco for them.

Danielle and I have visited beautiful sites, listened to commentary, taken photos, and done the activities that we ‘ought’ to have done because we were there (and handed over a small fortune in the process). The majority of the time (and obviously excluding Stewart Island and the godawful ferry journey: see previous post), it was worth it: sea kayaking at Abel Tasman national park, taking a helicopter and hike up Franz Josef glacier, cruising the breathtaking fiord of Milford Sound. These are the things I’ve talked about when people ask me how it’s going and what we’ve been up to.

Milford Sound

But there are other details that deserve a mention, details that contribute more to our experience and, most importantly, our happiness, than we give them credit for. What has made me smile most on this trip isn’t a landscape or an activity; it’s human beings.

The crew

I probably didn’t need to come half-way around the world to play board games with a bunch of Europeans, but equally, I didn’t cry with laughter whilst climbing a glacier.

We paid for a comedy night in Melbourne, but we didn’t pay anything for the infinitely funnier experience in Auckland of Danielle finding a snail on her pillow at 4:30am. It was a bit much to process at the god-early hour (“A what? There’s a snail?”) but it quickly became hilarious once we’d woken up.

One thing travelling affords you is time. Time to hang out, talk, play games, get to know people. People who would otherwise pass you by, or who you’d struggle to fit into your hectic schedule of work and pre-planned social activities. Travelling gives you time to just be, and to be with people. I’ve noticed how it’s the exact opposite of travelling on the tube in London, where you make a beeline for the emptiest  carriage and the greatest possible distance between your seat and the next person’s. Here, you don’t avoid people; you gravitate towards them. Once you’ve made your  dinner, you look for a table with other people on it and sit there. And nobody thinks it’s strange, because in the absence of close friends and family, everyone has an appreciation for other people, and an understanding that being together is just…happier . You don’t sit and chat to people in the evenings to ‘catch up’, you sit and chat just to be with them. And what’s so nice is that you don’t need any excuse, other than being human.

Board games

Travelling is the most human form of existence I’ve experienced. On a biological level, we’re social animals, so the act of sharing food and bedrooms and always having people around actually feels…natural. Far more so than the isolated existence that cities like London cultivate.

I opted to stay a couple of extra days in Kaikoura after Danielle, along with the friends we’d made, left on the bus for Wellington. Kaikoura is beautiful: there’s coast, mountains and a quaint little town.

Kaikoura

It was…nice. And it was also a bit boring. I went and got my hair cut. Because none of it meant very much without having someone there to share it with. I thought I’d appreciate the time to myself, which I did for around half an hour. Maybe it’s because I’m an extrovert, but I don’t believe going off alone is a way to find yourself; I believe other people help lead you towards yourself. Whether that be laughing on the bus; giggling as you attempt to salvage burnt halloumi from the bottom of the frying pan; voting over the more creative answers whilst playing Scattegories (‘Things in the sky beginning with O’, Danielle: “Old birds”); making vegetables a la ketchup; re-living torturous ferry journeys whilst trying to work the oven in the new hostel; uniting when you’ve decided that somewhere is just rubbish all round (Kathryn before leaving Stewart Island: “That was the worst muffin I’ve ever had”); breaking all the rules of the New Zealand version of Trivial Pursuit so you actually get some points; singing on the bus; seeing the funny side of being stood in the woods in the pitch black looking at glow worms (Ollie: “If there weren’t any glow worms, it would just be a bunch of people stood in a bush”); being altogether unimpressed and confused by the presence of motorbikes in the hardware store; being excited when the dorm rooms have indivuidual bed lights and/or enough plugs; finding it hilarious when people so willingly conform to stereotypes (Juanjo, the moment you strolled in with nachos will never cease to make me giggle); feeling heart-warmed to see Danielle, Kathryn and Tamara back in Queenstown after spending an awful two days on a cruise with Mauritz (see blog); and having someone sympathetically listen to the woeful tale of said cruise while you’re still reeling from it (thanks Tamara).

When I told people I was “going travelling”, the inevitable first question was always, “Where are you going?”. I’ve quickly realised that by far more relevant are, ‘Who are you going to meet?’ and ‘What are you going to learn?’ And perhaps, ‘Where’s the free food shelf?’

George x

Saying goodbye to Australia…

I’ll be honest, that was quite a hard goodbye. Goodbye to Australia, goodbye to family, and goodbye to this leg of our trip (well, almost). After an amazing three weeks on the East Coast of Australia, I am not ready to leave. But before I fully say these goodbyes, let me recap on some of the greatest experiences of my life that all took place in the last three weeks on my first truly solo venture.

George and I parted ways in Kaikoura, NZ in mid-October (this was always planned before people think we’ve had enough of each other already!) I was very excited to return to Australia; I had an East Coast tour booked as well as time with family afterwards. As soon as I landed, I was thrown into the busy schedule of my 10-day tour.

It was jam-packed with wonderful activities, kicked off with canoeing in the Noosa Everglades to our remote campsite where we hiked to a vast and beautiful sand dune. After canoeing two hours back the next day in the pouring rain, we then made our way to a farm stay where we attempted to sleep under the stars in a swag (the rain hindered our efforts and we ended up sleeping, crowded, in a hard-floored barn). For me, this was an awesome moment; joining everyone around the camp fire to eat meals in our cowboy hats! We then had two nights on a maxi-yacht, sailing the Whitsunday Islands. This was a great experience, having never sailed before. The best part of this trip, however, came right at the end, in Cairns. We took a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef and it was truly breathtaking. I spent the whole time in the water beaming from ear to ear with undiluted, pure joy. It was genuinely one of the greatest experiences of my life and something I will never forget.

  
However, this incredible trip also resulted in the absolute worst sunburn I have ever had and lead to me spending the next week or so either unable to walk properly or at the pharmacist/doctor’s getting them seen to! Luckily it was during this time that I was able to spend a week and a half with my family who made sure to look after me!

First, I flew to Hervey Bay to stay with my cousin, whom I hadn’t seen since she left for Australia over a year ago. This was awesome as we got to spend time together and talk for hours on a deeper level than we probably ever have. I love how close our vast family can be even when we live on other sides of the world!

I then took my very first Greyhound bus down to the Gold Coast to spend a relaxed week with more family. A chilled out week was exactly what I needed and Coolangatta, with its laid back atmosphere and early nights, was the perfect place to be for this. I spent every day with my family, enjoying meals together and days out and I just loved being in the company of people who know me well (especially after travelling for two months and getting to know people from scratch on a daily basis – which, in itself is fun and exciting but a break from this was also nice). I treated this week as a ‘holiday from travelling’ – enjoying nice meals and Prosecco most nights!

Even before we left the UK, once this period with my family was booked, I knew I would have trouble leaving. It would be like leaving home all over again and, in fact, I think I dealt with leaving home better than leaving Australia! So it was no shock that I felt homesick on leaving my family but that didn’t make it any easier. With the mix of leaving them, and knowing I was leaving Australia for the last time, as well as knowing that we only have about a week before leaving this part of the world, I was quite the picture of ‘homesick’ at Brisbane airport early on that Sunday morning. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s the missing home that got me. Of course I miss my family but I think what hit me more was the fear of leaving the places I have come to be familiar with over the last two months. I could easily spend longer in Australia and New Zealand and I am not quite sure that I am ready to leave! In no way does feeling homesick make me want to stop having any of these incredible experiences; it’s just that it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming being on your own on the other side of the world. All is expected and all will pass and I will go on to embrace and enjoy whatever comes my way next.

Whilst I am very excited for South America, I am also slightly apprehensive as I know it will be quite a culture shock in comparison to the easy, home-like fit of the last couple of months. But bring it on! A big part of me cannot wait – I just hope I get the opportunity to come back to this part of the world in the future – there is still so much to explore!!

Danielle x


To hell and back on a ferry…

I think it’s fair to say that boats have not been my friend on this trip and, despite our last blog post detailing the wonderful experiences we have encountered so far, the mishaps and misadventures should not go unmentioned.

It all started one week into our travels on an innocent whale watching tour. I won’t go into tremendous detail but, with a combination of high winds, massive waves and an unruly driver, I found myself flung from my seat and, long story short, the day ended with five hours spent in a Sydney A&E department and a fractured rib on my part.

My boat nightmare, however, did not end there. Our ‘Deep South’ trip in the last few days saw our entire travel group sign their lives away mid ferry-crossing in genuine fear that we would not reach our destination before meeting the perils of the Pacific Ocean. Let me paint you a picture: we wake up early to board the bus, greeted by grey skies, dark clouds and strong winds. After some long, tedious hours on the bus, we arrive in Invercargill. No description will encompass the dire bleakness of this town so just take my word for it. We reach the ferry terminal in incredibly high winds and sheets of rain, unsure of whether or not we would even be able to cross. Just to be clear, we had been promised a beautiful, natural environment on the other side with amazing bird life and the chance to see kiwis in their natural environment. We had no reason to be jaded at this point and so we were willing to risk the ‘bumpy’ ferry to Stewart Island. Man, if I could turn back time.

Admittedly, the incident with the whale watching has made me particularly nervous of any potentially rough sea crossing so I was a bit of a mess from the start. What I mean is, I spent the entire hour journey staring intently at the feathered pattern on my rucksack, maniacally repeating the mantra ‘you are ok, your bum is still on the seat, you will not fall again’ over and over, whilst simultaneously (and very irrationally) wishing the boat would capsize just to escape being on it any longer. Due to the fact I did not look up from my bag for the entire hour, I was oblivious to the drama that was unfolding around me. In every direction, people were being sick, waves were crashing over the entire height of the boat (‘ferry’ was not an accurate description of the fishing boat-type vessel we found ourselves on) and George, sat one seat away from me, relaxed towards the end of the journey only when she had inwardly made peace with the fact that she was going to die before reaching our destination. When we eventually did reach the other side, every face I could see was white, some with a genuine tinge of green.

So, whilst we had made it to our destination alive, what greeted us was not the tranquil, natural beauty we had been promised. In short, Stewart Island was the sleepiest, most dull place we have visited (George suggested using the word ‘shithole’ here – I was trying to be a little more descriptive but, ultimately, she is exactly right) and damn-well not worth the hell we had entailed to get there!

The following day we had the ordeal of the return journey which to say we were all dreading would be a great understatement. Again, we dealt with the massive waves and the filling of many sick bags but, truthfully, this trip was not as bad. We were all just relieved to be back on the mainland and have all solemnly vowed never to return to Stewart Island.

So, as I said, my track record with boats on this trip has not been great – I decided against the white-water rafting this afternoon, at least until my rib has healed! (George, on the other hand, has braved the waves!) I am slowly beginning to overcome this newly-developed fear though. I am pushing myself to go on journeys which can be guaranteed not to be rough – yesterday, I went on a speedboat to see some icebergs and I survived! Unfortunately, with New Zealand being made up of islands, we have not escaped the perils of sea voyage yet but we can only hope that the worst has passed. Wish us luck!

Danielle

Starlings fly south for the winter…

It has officially been one month since we landed in Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the world, after booking our flights not six weeks previously. We now find ourselves in the second country on our itinerary; I am currently writing this form a cute, independent café in Queenstown, New Zealand! The last month has been jam-packed and crazy fun and has gone unbelievably fast! 

As a quick introduction for those of you who may only know one half of our travelling duo, George and I first met four years ago at my first ever choir rehearsal with the Starling Singers where George had been singing for a year already. We have since been singing together in choir for 4 years and we don’t plan on stopping on this trip! George had been planning this round the world tour for quite some time as a solo venture but when she asked if I would like to join her for her 6-month trip, I jumped at the chance. We both quit our jobs in London, booked our flights and here we are, already a 6th of the way through our journey.  

After a three-leg flight via Doha and Singapore, we landed in Sydney on the 3rd September. This is where we had our biggest chunk of time so far and, I have to say, I loved the city. Coming from the busy hub of London, George and I both appreciated the laid-back nature and slower pace of Sydney. We got straight to exploring and hit all the major attractions while we were there: we climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge (a personal highlight), saw a show at the Sydney Opera House and tasted the good grape juice the Hunter Valley region had to offer, among many other things.

Our next stop was Melbourne, attracting us with its artsy vibe and cool coffee shops. We made great use of our limited time here, taking two day-trips, one along The Great Ocean Road and the other to Phillip Island and the famous Penguin Parade. The Phillip Island tour was a real highlight for both of us and George still holds this up as her best day in Australia. Our last day in Melbourne was, admittedly, largely spent madly planning the New Zealand leg of our trip as we had no concrete plans for when we landed the following day. However, it all came together and made us realise just how quickly things can be planned whilst travelling. We found ourselves in Auckland with a Stray bus pass in our hands that would get us around pretty much the entire north and south islands in as little or as much time as we wanted.

So, from Auckland, we travelled north to the beautiful Bay of Islands where we enjoyed the incredible scenery and the best weather of our trip so far (Australia is surprisingly cold in September – guess we should have done more research ahead of time!). We spent a couple of nights in the quiet seaside town of Paihia where we also got our first taste of Maori culture. After this, we headed for the south island on an exhausting overnight flight; luckily the south island is so breathtakingly beautiful, our energy was restored in our first bus trip straight after stepping off the plane!  

Here is a whistle-stop rundown of our south island journey so far: Kaikoura brought us within touching distance of hundreds of fur seals and led us on a scenic coastal walk in this small fishing town; Picton was another cute little port town with long walks and the best beach I have found to sit and read my book; Abel Tasman provided what I consider to be probably my favourite day so far with a stunning 3-hour trek and a 2-hour kayak through the national park, followed by seeing thousands of star fish on the beach at low tide – it really was magical; Franz Josef was our next major stop and what a stop it was – a helicopter ride to the famous glacier with a 3-hour trek on the ice was unlike anything I have ever done, just an incredible experience. I honestly cannot get over the immense natural beauty of New Zealand that comes with every turn we take in this awesome country.


    
And now I find myself in Queenstown, looking out onto the pedestrianised, shopping streets, lined by the amazing Southern Alps in the near distance and cannot quite believe I am on the other side of the world, the six month trip now well underway. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful and buzzing town to write our first blog post in; such was the inspiration of the town that I decided to write the whole month’s rundown in one sitting! If you have made it this far, thank you for sticking with it – I promise the next posts won’t be so long and, now that the ball has started rolling, they should come much more regularly than once a month! Until then, tomorrow’s flight takes us Songbirds to Milford Sound and onto the deep south of the south island (apologies for the cheesiness of that sentence – it had to be done!) Anyway, on we go… 

Danielle x