Dandenong Ranges

We had a day off from work today, the flat was already tidy and clean and the weather was beautiful so we decided to go exploring!

As much as we are loving Melbourne life, we knew that we wanted to get out of the city. We know how gorgeous Victoria can be from our experiences along the Great Ocean Road and today felt like a good day to get back to nature! We just googled national parks near us and Dandenong Ranges was one of the first to pop up. Beautiful forest only 45 minutes away by car, perfect!

One place that caught our eye was The William Ricketts Sanctuary, so that’s where we set the sat nav to head to first! Originally called Potters Sanctuary, it’s a piece of land on Mt Dandenong bought by Australian potter and sculptor William Ricketts in the 1930’s, on which he built hundreds of sculptures, inspired by the Aboriginal people, spirituality and nature. It was bought from him by the Victorian government in the 1960’s and made into a public park where William Rickett lived until his death in 1993.

Below are some pictures of his art that I took this afternoon, enjoy!

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I love this kind of ‘outsider art’ and think he was a wonderfully eccentric man with a beautiful soul and the world needs more people like him. Made me want to create my own ‘secret garden’ somewhere πŸ™‚

Afterwards we drove 10 minutes up the road to check out Olinda Falls, recommended to us at the sanctuary.

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Not the biggest or most impressive Falls we’ve visited in Australia but the walk to get there through the bush was pleasant and the sound of the water and surrounding kookaburras made it a lovely tranquil spot to just sit and take a breath.

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We had a bit of a lie-in so it was more of an afternoon of exploring rather than an entire day but we’ll definitely be returning to the Dandenong Ranges as there is so much more left to see and do!

On the way home we stopped at a lovely little tavern for delicious scones and iced coffee πŸ™‚
We also passed so many cute boutiques and cafΓ©s and shops that I know I could easily spend an afternoon strolling around.

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Definitely worth checking out if you’re nearby. Let me know if you’ve been and have any recommendations of what we should do next time, constantly on the lookout for stuff to do around Victoria at the minute.

xo

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We’re Coming Home.

We’ve made the bittersweet decision to leave Australia for good this July. Unsure of how to feel about this but it’s time to say bye bye to the adventure of a lifetime. It had to end at some point right?2015/01/img_7141-1.gif
Bailey has his best friends stag do at the end of July and then the wedding is in August so we definitely have to be home for that. Then September is my birthday and I know I want to be with my family and friends when I turn 24 after missing them last year. We also know we want to be home for Christmas 2015 and I can’t wait to just be reunited with my loved ones after 15 months away from them.

I’m excited to move into my own house and get decorating and setting up home again after living in a van for so long. I want to set up my own business too, I’ve had so many ideas pop into my head during our travels and they’re all written down ready to be executed (attempted at least) on my return to the UK. I’m excited for the future and the life we want to start setting up for ourselves.

But at the same time, I’m so anxious and sometimes sad about leaving Aus. I’m worried that we’ll regret not using the entire 24 months we could have stayed here working and travelling. I’m scared that none of my ideas will come into fruition when I return home, that my inspiration will disappear the moment I stop travelling. Mostly I’m worried that we don’t have enough time left to do everything we wanted to do in this beautiful country. We still need to visit Tasmania, Perth, Uluru, the west coast and Northern Territories. We’ve already accepted that the mini excursions we originally planned (Bali, Fiji and New Zealand) are going to have to be saved for another century.

I’m proud of us for all that we’ve done though. We’ve spent 15 months on the other side of the world, made some amazing friends, had some incredible experiences and seen some beautiful things. We lasted longer than anyone thought we would and we’re going to come home with a fresh outlook on life and a stronger relationship.

How homely can home feel after a year and 3 months away? Australia feels like home too now. Ugh! If only we had a teleporter and could just skip between homes whenever we felt like it (free of charge!)

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And the other half’s all….2015/01/img_7141-0.gif

I think I know that deep down we’ve made the right decision. Time to just suck it up and embrace the 26 weeks we have left. Let’s do this!

xo

First Christmas Away From Home

First of all, Merry Christmas everyone!!!!! Sending positive vibes and good juju to wherever you happen to be in the world today πŸ™‚ IMG_6980.JPGIt really is the most wonderful time of the year! With festive cheer, cheesy songs, good food, family time and lots of presents; what’s not to love!?

My family LOVE Christmas. We have drinks, nibbles and board games on Christmas Eve. We hang the stockings we’ve had since birth at the end of our beds and still put out mince pies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer. I’m the oldest of three but that doesn’t stop me being the first to wake up every Christmas morning and waking everyone else up by jumping on them and singing carols. Christmas is one of the happiest times of the year for me and I look forward to it months in advance!

This year however, I’m not at home, and as stupid as it might sound to some people, I’ve been really sad the last couple of weeks. I’ve been in Australia for 8 months and I love it here but I would have given anything to go home just for 3 days over Christmas. I had it all planned out in my head, we would book flights secretly and just turn up and surprise our families and there would be tears of joy and it would be a YouTube video-worthy reunion. But reality reared it’s ugly head and put a stop to that. The flights are too long to go home for such a short time, and they’re too expensive to justify a fleeting visit. Plus, we just started new jobs a month ago and no way are you gong to get Christmas off in the hospitality industry…

So now it’s 7pm on Christmas Day and I’m sat writing this in our Melbourne shared flat (our housemates are away visiting family for the holidays) and I’m happy. Really, really HAPPY! After a little emotional breakdown last night and family and friends telling me to embrace the sunshine and make the most of it, I did, and it was awesome πŸ™‚

I woke up pretty early this morning to a Skype call from my dad and step-mom. Immediate Christmas feels. This was then followed straight up by a Skype call from my mum, step-dad, sister, step-siblings and their partners. Cue more Christmas feels. Then me and my gorgeous guy exchanged gifts, we also had gifts sent from his family and gifts from our housemates. Who can be sad when you have presents to open!! Check out the haul…
IMG_7032.JPGWe splurged a little on groceries yesterday so we tucked into caramel lattes and pain au chocolats for breakfast. DELICIOUS!

That was then followed by a pamper session using my new skin, hair and shower goodies (OMG, this Frank coffee scrub and balm stuff is ridiculous, everyone needs to try it. I’M SO FRICKIN’ SOFT!)IMG_6984.JPGIMG_6990.JPGOne of the things I was really sad about in the lead up to Christmas was the heat. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sunworshipper. I love that flaming ball of hotness up there in the sky.
But Christmas should be cold! There should be snow (or the threat of snow in the UK’s case) and everyone should be wearing warm pyjamas and big jumpers and fluffy socks. Hot water bottles and hot chocolates should be a necessity and I should not be sweating my (metaphorical) balls off in the middle of December!
However, we took our loved ones Christmas-Eve-Anti-Homesick advice and put our swimmers on, hopped in the van, and drove to Brighton Beach in Melbourne. And it was FABULOUS.IMG_7021-0.JPGIMG_7029-0.JPGIMG_7004-0.JPGIMG_6998-0.JPGIMG_7035.JPGIMG_7034.JPG There was nowhere near the amount of people we were expecting to be there so no overcrowding or fighting for a sunbathing spot. The weather was gorgeous and we just napped and topped up our tans πŸ™‚
There were no time restrictions, we didn’t have to be anywhere for lunch or leave to meet anybody, we just came back home when we’d had enough and tucked into some Camembert with caramelised onion chutney and crusty bread (mmmm, heaven.)

So to anybody else who has been away from their families for the first time this Christmas I hope you managed to have a lovely day anyway. I hope you embraced any cultural or seasonal differences and I hope you’ll be going to bed happy tonight.

To everybody who was (or is) with their families today, I hope you’re enjoying the silly family traditions you take part in every year. I hope you realise how lucky you are to be surrounded by loved ones and that you don’t take them for granted. I hope today is as peaceful, silly, fun or raucous as you wanted it to be and that you’ve ended 2014 with a bang πŸ™‚

And lastly, to my family, to my gorgeous girlfriends, crazy parents, incredible siblings and everyone else I love and miss back home; I’ll see you next year. And next year is going to be IMMENSE (coz we’ve got some catching up to do!)

Peace, love and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

xo

The Great Ocean Road

*late post, ooops*

So I felt like the absolute luckiest person a few weeks ago! Hopped in our little blue Betsy and hit the Great Ocean Road for a 3 day road trip before we officially settled into Melbourne life and new jobs for 6 months. If you are coming to Australia, or if you are already in Australia, do not miss The Great Ocean Road. Every minute of the trip was just breathtaking. Here are my highlights πŸ™‚

Loch Ard Gorge

Stunning gorge, you walk down to the completely sheltered inlet of water which is perfect for swimming. It’s part of a lot of guided tours but again we were lucky enough to avoid the crowds!
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The Grotto

Very cool rock formations created by the sea. Lots of little rockpools to look at.
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Aireys Inlet Lighthouse

Sweet little town, one of the first places we stopped at. Has the cutest lighthouse and incredible views out over the ocean. We also stopped for lunch in an American style diner here and it was delicious and not too spendy πŸ™‚
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Sheoak Falls

Wayyy less touristy than Erskine Falls, but it’s smaller. However it’s a nice little walk to get to it, and when you get there it’s really magical, you’re basically standing down a sinkhole and there’s a large pond/small lake that you cannot tell the depth of. It’s peaceful and tranquil with the little waterfall running straight over the edge of the rocks above.
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12 Apostles

Probably one of the most famous natural landmarks in Australia, the 12 Apostles did not disappoint! I was so awestruck we actually visited them twice, the first day in radiant sunshine and the 3rd day under some cloud coverage. They looked magical both times. We were lucky enough to be travelling independently in our little van so we were able to work out what times the coaches would arrive and miss most of the touristy crowds, it might seem super snobbish, but I can’t stand forcing my way through hoards of people and having to duck every second step to avoid photo bombing πŸ™‚
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Erskine Falls

A huge waterfall surrounded by foliage. We were lucky enough to go the morning after a storm so there was tons of water running down making it all the more amazing. However the rocks were still wet and slippery from the rain, so if you’re going to venture off the set path wear good shoes or risk broken bones!
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We also saw our first koalas in the wild! Just make sure you’re looking up in the trees and you see their furry little butts! My camera is not good enough to have captured any pictures of them but they are definitely there!!

We are now settled in Melbourne and have been for almost a month, I miss the vanlife already but we’ll be back in the road soon enough! So for now let me know if there’s anything I missed on the GOR or that you recommend for our time here in Victoria!

Follow me on instagram: neonwanderlust – I post regularly on there even when I’m being very bad and slow on the blog!

xo

The Whitsunday Islands

I just had the most incredible 3 days, in the most gorgeous of surroundings, with the most spectacular weather (and not bad company, *wink wink* to you, boyfriend)

Our Australian roadtrip took us up to Airlie Beach (beautiful in itself, but that’s for another post) and from there we visited the wonder that is the Whitsunday Islands.

The 74 islands that make up this ‘tropical paradise’ (clichΓ© but true) off the northeast Queensland coast are actually mountain tips poking out from the coral sea. A feast for the eyes, sandy beaches slope down into the crystal clear ocean that leads off to the horizon in every shade of blue imaginable. There are no crashing waves or undercurrents thanks to the shelter provided by the Great Barrier Reef, so the waters are almost still and perfect for swimming and sailing.

We were staying at Seabreeze Holiday Park and the receptionist there was more than happy to set us up with lots of information and brochures on trips and tours we might be interested in.

There is so much to choose from it can be a little daunting but after some careful research and maths we settled on cruisewhitsundays. We had a budget of $250 AUD per person set aside specifically for the Whitsundays and we wanted to get the most for our money. We found they do a deal where if you book 2 day trips you get 10% off and if you book 3 day trips you get 15% off! On top of that our campsite offered 10% off camping fees if you book through reception and you also got 1 night free if you stayed for a week, which we did!

Day 1 we booked a cruise to take us to Long Island. The views of the islands as you passed them were spectacular and all the http://www.cruisewhitsundays.com boats have free tea and coffee facilities, perfect for those early morning starts! When you arrive you are a day guest at the resort there, with full use of the facilities. We started off with a bush walk when we got there, we had heard good things about the views you get from the top and thought it was better to do it straight away before the day got hotter! The views did not disappoint!

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Afterwards we headed straight to the pool to cool off with a swim and a cocktail once the pool bar opened.

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Lunch is included and you are given a voucher when you book that we took up to the pool bar. The menu they offered us was huge with a good variety of options. We both went for burger and fries, his a steak burger and mine being filled with grilled veggies (it was good to see a few vegetarian options!) We were surprised to find that the voucher also got us a dessert each, he went for a chocolate ice cream Sunday and I had a fresh fruit pavlova. We both had a brilliant day, it was the best of both worlds, bit of adventure in the morning followed by a relaxing afternoon.

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Day 2 saw us aboard another comfortable boat, with free tea and coffee, cruising around the Whitsundays with some informative and sometimes entertaining commentary from the onboard staff. Halfway through the cruise you stop at Whitsunday Island and are ferried across to the beauty that claims the title of Australia’s number one beach. Whitehaven Beach stands out for its pure white silica sand, which is always cool to the touch, even on the hottest of days. You get around two hours beach-time so we jumped straight in the ocean on arrival, swam for a bit, tried out our new snorkels, and then spent the second hour lying on the beach drying off. When we got back on the boat the staff had afternoon tea all laid out for us, a buffet with fresh fruit platters and scones with jam and cream that were sooooo good (we had 3 scones each and didn’t even feel guilty!)

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Day 3 was probably our favourite day. We knew what we were doing in terms of checking in at the harbour and we knew where to sit to get the best views on the boat and get ourselves settled with our complimentary hot beverages! We booked to spend the day at Daydream Island and it really was dreamy. We had arranged to have our lunch at ‘The Bakery’ so followed the signs that way even though most people who got of the boat seemed to be going the other way. Turns out we made the right choice, we ended up by a swimming pool with practically no other people around for the whole day (which meant we could mess about and take stupid pictures haha), we bagsied the best sun loungers with pool infront of us and the sea behind and the weather was beautiful (as always!) We sunbathed and swam and at one point had a monitor lizard pop out to say hello (I thought it was a snake at first and freaked just a little trying to wake the Bailey.)
When we handed over our lunch vouchers the lady informed us we had $40 between us to spend on what we wanted at the bakery throughout the day, which turned out to be wayyyy more than anybody needs for lunch. We got 2 veggie wraps and a chicken wrap, 2 lattes, a croissant, an iced jam scroll thingy, 2 time-out bars AND 2 Freddos!
Later on I went down to the sea and snorkelled. The water was super clear but the beach on Daydream was pretty much all coral and I didn’t bring jellies to wear so it hurt my feet.
We just had a really lovely day. It was the perfect end to 3 amazing days in my new favourite ‘tropical paradise’.

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The Mathsy Bit πŸ™‚
Budget $500 for 2 people
Day 1 = $99pp
Day 2 = $89pp
Day 3 = $99pp
Total = $574
Take away 15% = $487.90
Then we got an extra $20 back on our camping costs (remember one night was already free!)
So that’s $467.90, for 3 days worth of sailing and island hopping around the Whitsundays, including food and A/C coach transfers to and from our campsite!
That’s a saving of $144.10 over the cost of the trips and the campsite costs. Not too shabby πŸ˜‰

As always my only regret is not taking more bloody pictures! But you are so busy having fun it’s easy to forget, and we’ll always have the memories!

I would love to hear other peoples experiences of the islands so share links to your blogs or just let me know what you did below πŸ™‚

xo

Capricorn Caves

Last weekend we were planning to stay along the coast somewhere near Rockhampton. However the campsite we had planned to stay at in Kinka Beach was closed when we got there at 4:30pm (even though we called ahead and they told us check in was open until 5pm!) We ended up staying at a motel for the night. The lady at reception was lovely and the room was clean and the bed was comfortable. We had our own bathroom and kitchenette and it felt like a bit of luxury away from the van.

After we checked in we walked across the road to check out the beach. It was very different from the beaches we’ve seen so far along the coast, more rocks and shells instead of soft sand. It was overcast too but I thought that just made it seem more magical!

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We were originally planning to stay there for 3 nights but after seeing the beach decided there wasn’t much for us to do around that area so hit the road again. We were driving along the Bruce Highway when we saw signs advertising the Capricorn Caves and decided to take a detour.

When we got there we found they had there own campsite complete with power, showers and cooking area for $35 a night and we decided to stay. The ladies we got talking to at reception were wonderful and booked us on the regular waking tour of the caves and then also got us booked in to do some adventure caving and abseiling the next day! Not what we had planned for the weekend but definitely more exciting!

The walking tour of the caves was brilliant, even though it was Friday it was quiet so we had the tour guide all to ourselves. The caves are really spectacular, especially the one they call ‘the cathedral’. The acoustics in there were amazing, she played some music for us and gave us a bit of a light show whilst we sat in the pews. People get married there almost every weekend and I can understand why, really good atmosphere!

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On Saturday we went back down to reception to meet the girls who were going to take us abseiling, I was scared witless but they were wonderful! You start out on an 8 metre drop which sounds like nothing but is scary from the top! My legs were shaking like jelly but we both did it and moved on to a 25 metre drop where you don’t even go down to solid ground you drop down onto a rope bridge in a cave! I felt like Lara croft, and am gutted I didn’t think to give someone my phone to get pictures from underneath!

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Afterwards we went back to reception to get all geared up in boiler suits and safety gear ready for our adventure caving!

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It was awesome! no good if you’re even slightly claustrophobic but I loved it! Managed to squeeze through all the smallest holes including ones called ‘rebirth’ and ‘caesarean’ (names are a clue to how tight the squeezes were!) Again, I regret the lack of photos taken, but I was having too much fun and it was too dark down there to et any good shots anyway.

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Highly recommend a visit to the caves for anyone travelling near there, well worth it, and not too expensive for how much you do, in comparison to similar activities throughout Oz!

And an extra thanks to the staff, all the ladies who looked after us were fabulous πŸ™‚

xo

Toowoomba Carnival Of Flowers

This Saturday we had the day booked off to visit the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers 2014 and we bought tickets to the adjoining Ergon Energy Food & Wine Festival.

It was pretty busy when we arrived at 10:20am but we found a good parking space easily and walked the 2 minutes to Upper Queens Park. The park itself was in full bloom, they must have had so many gardeners working on the flower beds in preparation to the festivities!

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IMG_3962.JPGJust outside the park there was a funfair set up, complete with rides, ring toss and candy floss (the Aussies call it fairy floss!)
We went on the Saturday so we also got to see the classic car competition! Bailey was oo-ing and ah-ing at engines but my favourite was the pretty pink Cadillac and the pistachio VW combi. There were some absolute beauts that would be perfect for a glamourous roadtrip… *starts daydreaming*

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IMG_3918.JPGThen we wandered over to the Food + Wine Festival. We got a free souvenir tea towel on arrival which made me super happy because I love crap like that. There were tons of stalls with food and drink, most of them offering free samples, so we wondered around nibbling at things for a while. There were tents set up with shows throughout the day, gardening talks and tv chef demonstrations. There were also floral artworks displayed all round and on the main stage there was live music all day.

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IMG_3948.JPGMy favourite free activity was making my own floral headband with fresh flowers! They give you a plain alice band, selection of freshly cut blooms and pipe cleaners to attach them with. I had loads of fun and wore my headband with pride for the rest of the day!

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Later in the afternoon was the big parade! Again, we were lucky to have chosen to go on the Saturday, I didn’t know when I planned it but it’s the only day during carnival that they have the parade! Some of the floats were really clever and awesome, and then there were marching bands and acrobats inbetween. Lots of fun for a family day out πŸ™‚

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There was so much to do and see and do that we missed quite a lot, we didn’t go round and do a tour of the winning gardens from the garden competition even though I saw pictures and they looked incredible! We also had work really early on the Sunday so had to leave before getting to see the fireworks or evening concert which I’m sure would have been awesome!

All in all it was just a nice day out, the weather was sunny and hot, everyone was friendly, the food was tasty and everything was prettified with flowers!

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Would definitely recommend it to anyone who might be in the Toowoomba area next September, maybe get a ticket for the whole weekend and stay in the area to really make the most of it πŸ™‚

xo