Fiji - New Zealand - Australia
I’ve had an incurable case of wanderlust for as long as I can remember. Even as a little kid, when I waved my older sisters off to travel across pretty much every flippin' continent on their respective gap years, I had the strong desire for adventure, a longing to explore, discover and feel real independence and freedom. It wasn’t 'til 10 years later, when I was doing my nightly ritual of scrolling bleary-eyed through Instagram, that I happened upon this photo by @lidiaontheroad - accompanied by the brilliant caption - which gave me the final kick up the butt I needed to book my flights the very next day.
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” - Anthony Bourdain
In September 2015 - after the kind of disastrous journey to the airport I thought only happened in movies, which included a traffic jam, tearing across roads in the pouring rain and catching the tube like a little drowned rat to Heathrow - I jetted off on what was to be the biggest and best adventure of my 21 years so far.
It’s hard to sum up three epic months in one concise(ish) blog but I’ll give it my best shot…
First Stop - Fiji, Koro Island
Whenever I used to hear the name ‘Fiji’ it would immediately conjure up dreamy images of lazy days on paradise beaches and evenings spent watching the sunset reclining in a hammock sipping a cocktail.
Having spent five weeks on project living in the remote village of Nokodu Mudu on Koro Island, I can tell you for sure that those 5* hotels you see in magazines are a façade of the real Fiji. Life on the island was not what I expected; it was both ten times more difficult and ten times more brilliant than I had ever imagined.
With breakfasts of corned beef and noodle soup, rats in the bedroom and beaches covered in dirty nappies, rusty metal and broken glass I had a hard time remembering I was in Fiji. However, the people totally lived up to expectation. Fijians are friendly, fun and - sorry the alliteration ends there - LOVE to party. Every night was spent in the village hall dancing, singing along to the village band and drinking copious amounts of ‘grog’ (‘gross’ would've been a more appropriate name), It’s the Fijian alternative to alcohol and is a huge tradition over there. Most evenings are spent around the grog bowl. It tastes a bit like drinking dirty water that’s had a load of ground pepper chucked in...probably because that’s exactly what it is! It’s made out of a grounded up Cava plant which is then put in a dirty cloth, from there water is drained through it into the grog bowl…and then you drink…*throws up*.
Weekdays were spent teaching at Nokodu Mudu Primary School and weekends were spent fishing, jungle trekking, hand washing our clothes in the river and sneaking off for a cheeky sunbathe (we had to wear t-shirts and floor length sarongs at all times in the village).
I had an amazing time in Fiji and - strange though it may seem - I wouldn’t change a thing. However, this kind of culture-shock trip is not for everyone. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday I would stick to the main island where there are countless hostels. The word hostel always used to fill me with dread but Fijian hostels can be really beautiful; it’s basically just a cheap resort.
My personal hostel recommendations would be: The Beach House (Coral Coast), Smuggler’s Cove (Nadi) and Uprising Beach Resort (Pacific Harbour). All three were cheap and clean with free breakfast, free activities and really lovely staff.
However, if you would like the real Fiji experience, and you want more of a reason to travel than just as a holiday, then I would highly recommend Think Pacific - the organization I went out with on my teaching/sports coaching project on Koro Island. They’re an amazing organization with a heart to improve the early learning education system in Fiji and increase the number of children leaving school and going into the specific jobs they are trained for and passionate about. Read more about their ethos and aims here: http://www.thinkpacific.com/pages/aims-in-fiji
Second Stop - New Zealand
As soon as I stepped foot off the plane in New Zealand I knew I would love it, and it’s since shot to my number one favorite and most recommended travel destination. I spent four weeks traveling the whole west coast of both the north and south islands and was completely blown away by the beauty and diversity of the landscape.
My highlights were:
- North Island -
Auckland - Mount Eden, Ponsonby, Sky Tower, Karangahape Road
Cathedral Cove - Coromandel (a great one for any Narnia fans!)
Piha - Black sand beach and coastal cliff walk
Waitomo Caves - World famous glow worm caves
Hobbiton - SO GOOD. Also near Mount Maunganui (beautiful beach town to stop and relax for a day or two)
Wellington - Great for bars, coffee shops, the lovely botanic garden and the Te Papa Tongarewa museum (and loads more, but I only had 48 hours!)
- South Island -
Franz Josef glacier and village - *praise hands emoji*. So beautiful.
Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea - You will not believe this is real life.
Queenstown - A traveling-New-Zealand MUST. If you come back from New Zealand having not visited the adventure capital of Queenstown you will be mocked for all eternity.
Abel Tasman National Park - would advise getting there by kayak, an amazing way to experience the park.
Lake Tekapo - It’s huge, beautiful and home the the Church of the Good Shepherd - the most photographed church in the whole of New Zealand and features an altar window that frames stunning views of the lake and mountains. If you visit the church on a clear night you also get the most incredible clear views of the milky way, an opportunity for some incredible time-lapse footage for any videographer/photographers.
Mount Cook - I just briefly stopped to take photos at the base of Mount Cook as we continued on our road trip. I was surprised to find you can get right up to the base by car and being the highest mountain in New Zealand it really is an awe inspiring place to stop for a picnic.
Tangariro Alpine Crossing - if you’re a keen hiker this is a breathtaking (literally and metaphorically) 19.5km walk. You will also stumble across Mt Doom if any of you LOTR fans need an incentive!
There is SO much more to New Zealand than my list above, and I’m sure the recommendations are endless. All I can say is that when you think it can’t get any more beautiful, you turn a corner and stumble across yet another incredible scene.
Action point: bump New Zealand up to number one on your travel list if you haven’t yet been.
Final Stop - Australia - Sydney, Melbourne, Sunshine Coast
By the time I reached Australia, a few months into my trip, I was craving a holiday centered around beaches, coffee, shopping and great food...and that’s exactly what I got. I spent most of my time in Sydney and Melbourne, with a lovely little break to the beautiful Sunshine Coast in the middle.
It'd be too long to go into detail about Sydney and Melbourne as they’re so brilliant and diverse. I've focused instead on Melbourne's famous coffee culture with my recommendations..
King of the Castle - Geelong: This industrial chic beauty is an hour's drive outside of Melbourne city centre but SO worth it. If you’re planning a trip along the Great Ocean Road then definitely make a pit stop here. And aim for breakfast time, trust me.
Brother Baba Budan - Little Bourke St, Central Melbourne: This was my first experience of the new kid on the coffee block in Melbourne: the "magic”. My friend took me to Brother Baba Budan, and ordered herself a "magic”. I have to admit I was skeptical at first as it does sound slightly hallucinogenic (or just plain pretentious). But after a little more explaining from the barista - who obviously took pity on my juvenile java knowledge - I ordered myself a “magic”, and dang did it taste good. In theory it is just a glorified flat white, the magic part being just an extra shot. But, let’s face it, it’s far more fun to ask for a magic at your local cafe!
Wide Open Road - Brunswick, Melbourne: This place summed up for me what Melbourne brunch is all about. Great coffee, tasty food and cool, industrial vibes. The beautiful airy space also provides a welcome break from the all-too-often cluttered inner city coffee hang outs. Plus, an added bonus is that you're able to watch the roasting process in the work room next door through the glass wall whilst sipping on your magic, a subtle reminder that the coffee you're drinking is as fresh as it gets!
My Perfect Pacific Playlist
Finally, it's not a traveling trip without an epic playlist. Here are the albums that kept me going on the long bus rides, sleepless nights and walks between places with free wifi, and that have the power to transport me back with just an opening bar when I hear them now.
Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind
Fickle Friends - Velvet EP
Hillsong - Empires
Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear
Bright City - Bright City
First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar/Stay Gold
Justin Bieber - Purpose
Happy adventuring, I wish I was going with you.
For the dreamer - For the adventurer