Local dancing. Port Vila, Vanuatu

One of the questions i get asked the most, and probably the hardest one to answer, is ‘where’s the best place that you’ve been to?’
There’s no one answer for that; i end up listing every place i’ve been to! There are some places that I loved more than others, but i’ve enjoyed every single beach, island, town, all for different reasons, and there’s no one ‘best’ place.

It’s no secret that I absolutely love the warm, tropical islands – i’m a coconut, turquoise blue water, palm tree loving girl through and through. So naturally one would assume the islands would be the best place. But which one? All of them. The islands in Papua New Guinea are so different to the ones in Vanuatu. New Zealand is cold, so one would think I wouldn’t like it there. Nope, I loved it. I just won’t be moving there anytime soon!

Where have I been? Granted, I’ve only been to a few various locations in different countries close to home: Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. I haven’t been all over the world (yet!) but i’m working on it! Caribbean and Tahiti, hold tight, i’m coming for you one day.

So to answer the question, the best place i’ve been to is:

  • Rabaul, Alotau (PNG): The people here were so nice! The volcano’s in Rabaul left me in awe (i’ve never seen one before) and i’m still kicking myself I didn’t do the walk up one! And i was definitely in my element with the hot, humid and muggy climate.
  • Doini Island, Kitava Island, Kiriwina Island (PNG): The tropical islands of PNG. It’s a given that i’ll love anywhere that has palm trees and blue water so naturally I was happy to wander around the few market stalls that the locals had set up for us, then sit under a tree and enjoy the peace and quiet. Te only down side is that they didn’t have coconuts here. They did however have native tribe dancing and traditional canoes that they were happy to take us for rides on and fill our heads with some history!
  • Honiara (Solomon Islands): A built up town that is VERY hot and humid! It was the kind of town that you learned as you were walking back to the ship by yourself, that you probably shouldn’t be by yourself. Especially when I reached the ship to find it guarded by armed guards. Oops. It was intimidating and an eye opener to the fact that we sometimes take for granted/forget how ‘safe’ Australia is compared to other places. There’s a lot of history to the country and I would like to go back to explore more outside of the city center one day.
  • Lifou (New Caledonia): This place has THE BEST snorkeling i’ve done! It’s a cute little island where pretty much everything is in walking distance from the ship. Coconuts, market stalls and music. There are a few little places you can visit if you hire a car or catch the shuttle bus, like caves and grottos. You can take a walk up to an old church which has amazing views overlooking the ship anchored off shore and both sides of the island (it’s a hefty walk uphill though!). Snorkeling at Jinek Bay on the opposite side of the island is worth the $15 to do it. They charge for it so that there’s only a limited number of people swimming at one time to protect the marine life, and thank god they do. You don’t want to see something as beautiful as Jinek bays natural aquarium ruined!
  • Port Vila (Vanuatu): A lot of people who have been here think of Port Vila as dirty and boring. I see it as an incredibly friendly city who are just trying to get tourism back after being hit hard by Cyclone Pam in 2015. The crowds of taxi drivers wanting business as you walk off the cruise ship can be intimidating for first timers, but they’re harmless. They’re so many beautiful places if you venture out of the city itself. The blue lagoon, waterfalls, horse riding, turtle bay…i could go on and on. And you cant forget the duty free there – The Big Yellow shop in the city itself…don’t leave without visiting it!
  • Champagne Bay,Mystery Island (Vanuatu): The tropical islands of Vanuatu, and probably would be my first pick to go back to if I had to choose. Mystery Island lives up to its name. I’ve actually been there 3 times, but up until that third visit last year, I’d never been off the ship due to weather and it being cancelled. Apparently it’s a common occurrence so if you can get off there, you’re lucky! But it’s stunning. A small island with an ‘airport’ (airstrip and a rundown house saying ‘mystery island airport) in the middle. White sand, palm trees, some good snorkelling and various water sports. Champagne Bay has the bluest water i’ve ever seen, regardless of whether it’s sunny or overcast. There’s some coral reefs not far off shore that you can snorkel, canoes for hire, the usual market stalls from the locals and of course, my fresh coconuts. They also have locals cooking fresh local food like lobster and crab which i’m yet to true, but is apparently delicious!
  • Fiordlands (New Zealand): Probably the most stunning scenery i’ve ever seen! Absolutely freezing, but you’ll never picture a cruise ship as tiny until you sail through here. The mountain peaks towering closely on both sides of the ship, with waterfalls cascading down them and snow lining the tops, it’s spectacular.
  • Dunedin, Akaroa, Bay of Isles (New Zealand): Each little town was so different in their own way, but all so similar. Dunedin and Akaroa on the south island are a lot colder and wetter. Old but pretty towns with a lot of history behind them and beautiful landscapes. Bay of Isles (Paihia) on the north island is a lot more modern (and sunnier and warmer!) and a bit more of a tourist town that has a lot to do with fishing. Plenty of opportunities to go out on boats and fish and do water sports, and is a very tropical little town for NZ!
  • Auckland (New Zealand): I dont like big cities, but I really found a soft spot for Auckland. It’s not quite as big as other capital cities in Australia, and not as busy. It’s right on the waters edge so you can stroll down off the main streets and it’s not long before you feel like you’re not in a city anymore. The people are super friendly, there’s so much good food, and many places to buy authentic NZ souvenirs.

So there you have it. That’s my answer to ‘the best place i’ve been’! I’ve probably also forgotten a few places too.
My ‘favourite’ place would be one that I would go back to over and over again, regardless of how many times i’ve already been, and would probably have to be Champagne Bay/Mystery Island/Vanuatu. As much as I love exploring new places, I’ll always be a tropical climate kind of girl!

Far north Queensland adventures (Sept ’18)

Airlie Beach

Home sweet home! No, i’m not talking about returning home. I’m talking about finally getting to board Sea Princess again after 6 months. I’ve been on this ship 3 times now and turned out i knew quite a few staff from previous cruises, so it really did feel like going home, in a weird way.

I got on the ship no dramas and found my way to my cabin on deck 6 eventually. 30 minutes later, i had already managed to lock myself out of my cabin (by leaving my key card in my room, like one of those hotel room key cards). My room steward hadn’t even had time to come around and introduce himself yet, so our first meeting was him finding me standing sheepishly outside my room. I don’t think he knew what he was in for! Lucky for him, i was to be changing rooms in 4 days time. Lucky for me too, as i discovered soon after just how annoying my ‘neighbours’ were going to be! They started playing Christmas carols and singing along very loudly. Then would have their tv volume up to what sounded like the highest possible. I’m confident the people up on deck 12 could hear them! An hour later after muster drill I would come back to my cabin to a lovely note on my door saying: ‘close your door quieter, we’re trying to sleep’. If you didn’t know….you can can close your door as quietly as possible but it will still make a loud clicking noise. But what to do.. (besides putting a note back on their door saying ‘listen to your Christmas carols quieter, it’s only September and I’m trying to sleep’!)

The 4 day cruise from Auckland to Sydney was actually the end part of a 106 day world cruise. So 98% of the passengers on-board had gotten on the ship in Sydney 102 days ago and been all around the world and were just about home. Maybe that’s why my neighbours were grumpy. But it also meant that 99% of the population onboard were also aged 70+. I was definitely in the minority! But besides the fact that the dance floor was pretty much non existent and everyone was in bed by 10pm, it wasn’t all bad. I met some lovely old couples who had some awesome stories to talk about while we sat at the bar and listened to music, and the bars were not busy at all so I was never short of a seat! The sea’s weren’t as rough as I was hoping for so I was a little disappointed about that! My thermostat in my cabin was also broken, so for the entire 4 days (the coldest 4 days at that!) it probably would have been warmer sleeping up on deck by the pool. Apparently i’m not very good at complaining enough to get things fixed!

We reached Sydney 4 days later and because of customs had to disembark. I was also changing cabins that day (thank god, i was sick of feeling like it was Christmas time in America with my cold room and Christmas carols still being played through my wall!). I wanted to have a look around Sydney (and buy some more clothes since i now knew that my already heavy suitcase was still under weight for my flight home!), but was cold and rainy. Why does it always rain when i go there?! So i got off and made my way to, where else, but McDonalds for another sausage mcmuffin. Then I wandered around, getting myself lost and eventually winding up at creperie. I LOVE crepes, especially classic lemon and sugar ones and it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible, to find them back home. So I treated myself to 2 giant lemon and sugar crepes and a large salted caramel thickshake before heading back to the ship. I’d decided it was too cold and wet to stay out. I also don’t really like Sydney that much anyway. Way too busy and bustling for me – Sydney is the furthest thing from warm and tropical!

By the time 4pm and the sail away party came around, the sun had finally made an appearance, and although still cold, the party band (from the Caribbean and plays a great variety of dance music, reggae and classics) did their thing and i finally got a taste of the dance floor. I’m not usually confident enough to get up and dance by myself unless I’ve had a lot of drinks, but once they started playing ‘hot,hot,hot’ and everyone started doing the ships dance routine, i couldn’t help but get up and join in. Which then led to the nutbush, macarena, cha cha slide and just a general good time. The age group had decreased significantly and there were a few more younger people and families to keep me company!
2 days later, we arrived in Brisbane where we finally got some warm weather and sun. Brisbane is home, and we had docked at a terminal which is away from absolutely everything, so i stayed onboard and took advantage of the fact that i could get a lounger next to the pool and had the bar to myself. That’s the only problem with nice weather and a younger crowd; it can be almost impossible to get a deck chair by the pool and bar unless you stake it out at 9am!
I caught up and had lunch and a drink with a friend who i’d met on my cruise back in March, which was nice, and I spent a lot of time over the next few days at sea relaxing by the pool and taking line dancing classes!

We reached Willis Island a couple of days later, which turned into a full on busy day! The ship doesn’t dock here, it’s what known as scenic cruising and we just cruise by slowly. Willis Island is a TINY island in the middle of the ocean about 500km off the coast of Cairns. All it has a BOM weathering station on it, and 4 people live on the island to monitor it. When Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011 it went right over the island and destroyed it. It’s since been
​rebuiltal, and the bird life surrounding the island was amazing. I hadn’t seen a single bird since leaving Brisbane, and suddenly we were surrounded by albatross, shearwaters and terns.
That day, it was Oktoberfest on the ship, so naturally, i was keen for this! It was quite a warm day and after a bit of ice carving in which it took me the entire 20 minutes to realize that the carving was not actually a headless koala but a cockatoo, we did some german knee-slapping dancing and a few other routines, which did in fact include the good ol’ chicken dance! I then found my self a part of a steiner (a giant beer glass) holding competition. 4 girls had to hold the 1L glass full of water arms length out, at shoulder height for as long as we could. The last one standing won free beer. Well I would like to say i won this…but realistically i actually came 3rd. It was a lot harder than it looked in my defense! We then spent the rest of the afternoon dancing to Exxile (the Caribbean band) by the pool with our drinks and getting sun-burnt.
That night was rock n roll 60’s night and was a night of more dancing, and again i found my self a part of a hula hooping competition. I also didn’t win this and missed out on a free bottle of champagne. I seriously would have practiced my hula hooping skill and strengthening my arm if i knew i’d be doing all this! Safe to say i slept well that night!!!

We hit Port Douglas the next day and i fell in love with this little town! Very tropical, palm trees everywhere and the bluest ocean i’ve ever seen! I had lunch at a lovely little seafood cafe overlooking the beach and palms, and then wandered down the main street looking at the shops, before heading back to the ship. The ride over to the shore from the ship on the tender however was the equivalent to being on a bucking bull! I dont get seasick and i love rough seas, but even i was a bit concerned sitting on top on a tender boat with no back rest as we rolled through the waves on a 40 minute trip over. Still, it didnt stop me from trying to take a selfie with the ship in the background and almost losing my phone into the ocean as we rolled over another wave. They canceled the tender service and started using the big catamarans from the shore to bring people back. Even that was a fun ride back with the waves! That afternoon back on the ship really made me feel like i was holidays. You know how in summer when you’ve had a long day at the beach, you’ve gotten some sun and you finally get home and out of your wet, sandy swimwear. You have a cool shower and then relax in the warm afternoon with a cold beer? That’s the afternoon i had. Out on deck with a cold beer watching the boats bring the rest of the passengers back and I was in heaven.

The next day was Cairns. I have to be honest, it wasn’t my most favourite place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but just so built up and city like compared to the other places. We docked at the terminal this time so it was an easy walk off into the town. I made my way to the shopping center to have a look at the shops first, then wandered down to the lagoon for a swim. That’s the only downside to far north Queensland, is that you can’t swim at the beaches due the risk of crocodiles, and in the warmer months, stingers (jellyfish). A lot of places have man made lagoons, or man made beaches instead. I liked this part of Cairns, it was the most tropical part of the town. I actually ended up having a free fortune reading by a strange homeless looking guy. He approached me, and while i was decided whether i should run, he told me about my future and what i should expect. Strangely enough, everything he told me was what i had been thinking about right before he turned up! Now, i don’t know if i believe in fortune readings and psychics, but he was scarily accurate! Well, besides the fact that he thinks my husband will be someone who works on a ship!
By time i headed back to the ship, storm clouds were building and by 4pm, it was actually freezing!

Last stop before home: Airlie Beach. I loved it as much as i did Port Douglas, if not more! It’s a very touristy kind of town; one main street with a lot of souvenir shops, backpacker hostels, pubs and bars and more populated than PD, but not as much as Cairns. Palm trees everywhere, blue water, a man made lagoon…it was paradise. I walked the 1km along the coastal boardwalk to get to town from the ship, taking in all the sights of the ocean and marina and i didn’t realize how hot it was. I attempted stand up paddle boarding for the first time in my life…and i spent more time in the water than i did on the board that i may have well as just gone swimming – but it was good fun! I continued on and went for a swim and lie by the lagoon, and had lunch at one of many pubs on the esplanade. This was the one place that i was actually sad about leaving, so I enjoyed it by drinking the bottle of $5 moscato that’d bought in town and watching the best sunset we’d had to date!

We had two days at sea traveling back to Sydney, and i pretty much spent them basking in the sun and making the most of it as it was going to be getting colder as we headed south again, and eating as much as i could stomach of the buffet food! We had a bit of whale action as they swam up right next to the ship and frolicked around. It was an amazing sight to see. There was country and western night where I got to put my line dancing classes to the test. We also had a balloon drop party on formal night which is always fun! There’s something about dressing up and dancing the night away and then having a whole of balloons drop down on you! Unfortunately I didn’t win the free cruise they were giving away in a single balloon…i didn’t have much winning luck this cruise!

I always hate the last night of a cruise. You’ve made so many friends and get into a routine. For example, i had become friends with the bartenders at a bar and they knew i loved the wasabi crackers that were in the rice cracker mix. So every afternoon at 4pm i’d head there for a drink and they would have just wasabi crackers sitting there waiting for me that they had picked out. I’d sit there for a bit a chat and then head off, get changed, have dinner etc. Then i’d head back later in the evening and an older couple who I had gotten to know and had taken me under their wing like a granddaughter, would be there and we’d have drinks and a good laugh with the bartenders while the band played. It’ always sad on the last night saying goodbye to everyone. You see the same people every day for 2 weeks or so, that you do get to know them (and you either love them or hate them!) and you become like a community. Some people/staff you do end up crossing paths with again on other cruises, and that’s always exciting.
This cruise ended up being amazing, i fell in love with some amazing places in my own backyard that I didn’t know existed and met some awesome people (as usual!) and there will definitely be more stories in the near future!
In the mean time, until my next one, i’ll try and recap the last few cruises I’ve done on here too, so stay tuned!

Auckland firsts (Sept ’18)

Auckland city

I just got back from my latest cruise a couple of weeks ago, and am still suffering from cruise blues. Yes it’s a real thing! You’re sitting at home wondering what you did with your life before you went away. How did I handle making my own breakfast,lunch and dinner, or my bed? Where’s the little chocolates on my pillow every night?? What do I do instead of heading to bar each evening before dinner to chat to my favorite bar tenders and have them make my favorite cocktail without me even having to ask??? It’s a tough life on-board a cruise!

That was the 8th or 9th cruise I’ve done. I’ve lost count these days. However, it was the first time I’ve flown internationally. And doing it all by myself (i’m also someone who is not really a fan of flying to top it off). So this was going to be a bit of an adventure just getting to the ship, which would be waiting for me in Auckland, NZ, before heading back across the ditch to Sydney, then up to Brisbane, and continuing to the beautiful Airlie Beach, Cairns, Port Douglas, Willis Island then back to Sydney.

I mentioned in the last post that it was the customs officer who made me realize i’m a cruise addict! I arrived at about 6pm after a rough landing that felt like the pilot forgot where the brakes were, so  I was feeling quite anxious and nervous not knowing what to expect next; I’ve watched a lot of Border Security so I know what they do to people who look nervous and suss! Anyway, the guy asks me how long i’m in NZ for, I say a day and tell him i’m cruising home.
“Would you say you’re addicted to cruising?” he asks. Uh do they have all this stuff on secret file or something? How does he know how many I’ve been on?! I tell him how many i’ve done and he tells me i’m definitely addicted and sends me on my way. I’m happy, i made it out of the airport to my shuttle bus and not onto an episode of Border Security!

7.30pm and i finally make it to my questionable hotel right int the middle of the city that looked nothing like what I booked, and with a receptionist who spoke everything bar english! The beds were basically in the kitchen with a random pipe sticking out of the wall, and the toilet pretty much IN the shower. I had to leave the door open to shower because there was no light in there, and in turn allowed all the water from the shower to go all over the bedroom/kitchen floor. And then had a very wet floor whenever i need to go to the bathroom. Thankfully I was only there to sleep. I walked out onto my ‘balcony’ (i use that term loosely) and had an amazing view of the Auckland Skytower lit up, so wasn’t all bad. Although the daytime view….I woke up to a view resembling a warzone!

I left my 22kg suitcase with the hotel the next day while i wandered around Auckland. It was a lot colder than i was expecting, but just as pretty. It’s not super big, and it’s got all the usual shops you’d find in a city – I’m not a city girl at all (grew up in Melbourne) but there’s something about Auckland that I like and i enjoyed my day walking around. I admit, the first stop i made was breakfast….at McDonalds. I know, i go to a different country and eat exactly what i can get at home. I’m a sucker for sausage mcmuffins though! I shopped, checked out the ship docked at Queens Wharf, and just took in all the sights before heading back to the hotel,then struggling down the streets of Auckland city with my 22kg suitcase in tow, and my excitement building higher than the SkyTower.

One thing i did notice, was my accent! I felt extremely Australian…I would walk into a shop and they’d ask me how I was going, and whenever i replied I would almost start laughing because for the first time in my life I could  actually hear my accent! And the money! All the coins are the opposite of our Australian ones. $1 coins are the size of our $2 coins and vice versa. Same with 5c,10c etc. Quite often I felt like i was being that annoying customer taking forever to find the money and just wanted to hold the coins out and be like “here, take what you need”!

So that was part 1 of my adventure, I managed to navigate myself successfully to my hotel in another country in one piece by myself! Stay tuned for the next part.