Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane is the capital city of the Australian state of Queensland, it’s also the most populated. I’m writing this today as it’s snowing in London… Strange feeling to think I was there at the same period of the year in 2020! January is one of their hottest months. I’ll tell you why I love this place so much and share my experience below.

It all started in June 2006

It takes me back to when I was still a student, in my 2nd year of university. As part of the program, we all had to choose between a regular internship or work experience in an English-speaking environment. There’s nothing like an immersive escapade to practise a language! So I picked the second option and I didn’t do it the easy way… I could have just gone to England but I always loved Australia and it was a great occasion to finally go. That’s how I spent 6 months of my life there, from June to December 2006. Among all the cities, Brisbane was the best choice:

  • It’s on the Gold Coast with easy access to plenty of other cool cities around (Surfers Paradise for example)
  • They have more than 280 days of sunshine a year
  • It’s a vibrant city, known for its youthful vibes
  • There is a nice river to cruise along with an iconic bridge (even more stunning at night)
  • It’s a pretty safe city
  • There are a lot of green spaces, a super cool artificial beach and many places to eat, drink and socialise
brisbane story bridge

There are so many reasons to visit Brisbane, it was by far my coolest experience in my 20s. Immersing myself among locals and working there as a charity fundraiser (ideal job to talk to people!) definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say my level of English skyrocketed, I just got lucky I didn’t pick up the Aussie accent… But I kept the Aussie spirit in my head, dreaming to go back one day.

13 years later

Happy moments, good vibes, freedom feeling… It all came back to me. Time flies and it’s easy to be vacuumed into this big adventure called life. It was only in January 2020 that I had the occasion to go back and relive all these fond memories… with my fiancé this time. It was one of the stops during our road trip from Sydney to Cairns. We decided to stay 5 full days there, giving us enough time to suck in all the vibes of the city.

Memories vs New reality

It’s amazing how much Brisbane changed since 2006. South Bank was still under development back then, now looking amazing. They built more skyscrapers, new walkways, a big wheel… There was also a free ferry service to take you in and out the city (called the CityHopper), which we found amazing. It runs everyday from 6am until midnight and you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy great views. We definitely made the most of it. Below a picture of the stunning icons at night: the Story bridge and the Brisbane river:

brisbane story bridge by night

The 2010-2011 Floods

Unfortunately, there are some risks associated with a long river flowing through the city… Brisbane experienced floods in the past but the last time it happened was between my 1st and 2nd visit. Unprecedented and prolonged rainfall started in November 2010 in Queensland and continued into January 2011, causing river levels to peak at 4.46 metres. Approximately 200,000 people were affected by the floods state wide. In 2020, we saw many restaurants still displaying a high water line from this natural disaster on their facade. Back in 2006, I worked a few weeks in a restaurant that didn’t seem to exist anymore – Not sure if the flooding has anything to do with it but I remember it was located right in the middle of the most affected areas.

Mount Coot-Tha offers a great view of the city

This place is ideal to have a panoramic view of Brisbane city. Mount Coot-Tha is 287 metres above sea level and just 20 minutes drive away. Luckily, we had a clear view that day. There is a lot more to do over there than just admiring the views… You will find a lot of hiking trails to explore the area, so don’t forget to wear comfy shoes! Some are easier than others, but the time needed to complete them is indicated beforehand to avoid nasty surprises. You can also chill out in the café afterwards.

view of brisbane city from mount coot-tha

Australia Zoo, home of the crocodile hunter

When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. This type of place is vital to educate people at a young age and learn more about animals we’re responsible for. For the wildlife, we are their greatest enemy and their only hope! Located roughly an hour drive away from Brisbane, I’d say this place is worth a visit.

If you used to watch Steve Irwin on television, this is his legacy. His wife Terri and their 2 kids Bindi and Robert suffered a huge loss when he died, after being attacked by a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. I was actually in Australia when it happened…

crocoseum at australia zoo

Another thing I would mention about this zoo is how impressed I was with the African section! If I was a giraffe, a rhinoceros or even a meerkat for example (see below), I would love to live there. The space they have is huge, they can play, hide, run away… and stay protected without predators around. I would even say that being there made me feel like I was in The Lion King movie. The associated song stayed in my head all day.

meerkat safari australia zoo

Holding a koala is not allowed everywhere

Everyone has a soft spot for koalas… They’re so sweet, calm and soft, and you can only find them in Australia. But be aware that holding a koala is only allowed in 3 states (out of 8): Queensland – also known as the Australia’s koala-cuddling capital, South Australia and Western Australia.

It is possible at the Australia Zoo, I’ve done it myself. They have big claws but they’re such harmless creatures. They smell like eucalyptus (they eat so much of it!) and feel a bit like an old thick carpet to touch. You can’t really cuddle them for long, carers only let you hold them in a certain position. If you want to see koalas especially, the best place would probably be Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary though. It is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and is located just outside of Brisbane!

Do I see myself living there? Yes, if it wasn’t that far away from Europe… Among other Australian cities worth visiting: Perth & Melbourne.

Big Girl x

What It Was Like to Celebrate Christmas 2019 in Australia

kangaroo looking at us

A lot can happen in a year… I can’t believe we’re almost Christmas already as it doesn’t really feel like it. I never thought we would still be going through a worldwide pandemic by now but here we go! Anyway, the topic today is to go back to Christmas period last year when we were in the middle of our big adventure in Southeast Asia & the Pacific. In December 2019, we were visiting several cities in Australia and we were in Melbourne for Christmas. As far as I can remember, COVID19 was not worrying anyone just yet.

Christmas doesn’t mean winter for everyone

First of all, it was weird to celebrate Christmas during summer… Yes, December is a summer month in Australia, I struggled to get my head around it too. When you know their winter (June, July & August) is already quite warm compared to what Brits are used to, I will let you imagine what summer is like. We had temperatures above 40°C on multiple occasions and it was difficult to cope with at times! To me, Christmas happens during winter. People are happy if it snows because they can build a snowman, cosy up with a hot drink in front of a log fire, etc. I was certainly not used to wearing a pair of sunglasses instead! And apparently, Santa wears shorts over there. I still can’t recover from that.

How we spent Christmas day in Melbourne

Probably because of the weather, people don’t tend to lock themselves at home in Australia. They’re not vegetating for hours in front of TV like in England. They’re out and about, sometimes even enjoying a barbecue. We expected a quiet city with empty streets (like you could expect in London), but it wasn’t the case at all. After a quick video call with our families, we had Christmas dinner at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium. We thought it could be fun to eat in the middle of fish swimming around us. It was open on Christmas day and not too expensive.

In hindsight, I would say it was probably not the best decision we’ve ever made: the place was absolutely packed. Not only did it take us forever to move every metre, ditching an insane quantity of kids along the way, but the dinner experience was a bit underwhelming. If we ever have the occasion to do it again, we would simply go for a ride along the sea with a picnic. If we’re away from family on Christmas day, we might as well be away from a crowd of strangers too.

christmas 2019 in melbourne australia

During Christmas period in Melbourne – December 2019

What about Boxing day?

A cricket test match traditionally happens on Boxing day, people gather with friends and/or family there and spend the day eating (usually some junk food like hot dogs, fries, doughnuts etc) while supporting the Aussies playing against another country (usually either New Zealand, India, England or South Africa). The Boxing day test occurs every year in Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) as it’s the biggest stadium in Australia. It was also the biggest in the world until February 2020! As Brits travelling in Australia, of course we went there to live the experience.

melbourne cricket ground

Boxing Day Test 2019 at the MCG – Australia vs New Zealand

Christmas traditions around the world

It has always fascinated me how different this period of the year feels between countries. Now I can say I spent Christmas in France (where I was born and raised), in England (where I currently live) and in Australia (while travelling last year). Although I never lived in Japan, this is my mum’s native country and that’s where she experienced it during her childhood. I asked her what it was like over there at that time, but I’m sure it’s very different nowadays and I would love to spend Christmas in Japan some day and see for myself. Interested to read more about Christmas traditions in France, Japan and England? Check out my guest post on Merry’s blog!

Being in London during Christmas 2020

This year feels a bit like we have the cons of last year’s Christmas but not the pros. We’re still away from family but we’re not in Australia (and basically we can’t really go anywhere). We were supposed to be under relaxed rules for 5 days over Christmas but the Government changed their mind last weekend, given the worrying rise of infections in some areas. London has been put in tier 4, which feels like a complete lockdown and we’re not allowed to mix with another household. While isolation is perfectly acceptable when travelling, it feels a bit strange when you’re home! But like I said 2 months ago, it’s important to bear in mind this is just temporary. Let’s focus on what actually matters: being/staying healthy and being grateful for what we have.

Where in the world are you celebrating Christmas this year and what are you grateful for?

Big Girl x

New Zealand, On the Road From Rotorua to Auckland (Part 4/4)

Hobbiton windmill New Zealand

This is the final part of our road trip in New Zealand! Don’t forget to read the first 3 parts before, so you can get the full story:



Whakarewarewa

On the outskirts of Rotorua, we went to a living Maori village called…
Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopatauawahiao (no, I swear I haven’t just made that up). It means “The uprising of the war parties of Wahiao“. It’s been shortened to Whakarewarewa to make it easier to pronounce.

Maori village in Rotorua NZ

During our tour, one of us in the group asked the guide (one of the locals) what it was like to live in a village constantly full of tourists. He replied they got used to it during business hours. But they become a lot more territorial after 5pm when outsiders are not welcome anymore. They see the positive side of tourism though, as it helps them preserve their culture. It smells very strongly of sulphur in the air, like rotten eggs. They use the heat of the earth to cook their meals, which they also sell to tourists.

It was a real immersive experience! We also saw a Haka, traditional Maori dance performed by a local group living in the village. Close by, there is the largest geyser in New Zealand which naturally erupts at least once every hour: the Pohutu Geyser.

Hell’s Gate

Our last geothermal activity in Rotorua was the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park where we saw mud pools at a temperature over 100°C, hot pools even hotter than that, a sulphur lake and Kakahi falls among other things. The hottest pool in Hell’s Gate is at 122°C at the surface and 144°C at 1 metre deep:

Hells gate geothermal park

We even tried Maori carving and pushed the experience even further by getting a private mud bath, followed by a sulphur spa. Yes, we basically bathed in a stinky substance but it’s known to be good for you (or at least that’s what they say). We only found out later we should have kept our sunglasses on when bathing though. Our eyes were crying a lot and at some point we had to get out, it was hurting too much. We obviously couldn’t touch our eyes with our hands full of sulphur… Our swimsuits still smell like rotten eggs but I don’t want to throw them away because it reminds me of Rotorua. I’m not sure we’ll ever use them again though.

Hobbiton Movie Set

Rotorua is also the closest big city to Hobbiton Movie Set. It was just amazing to see a place where great actors filmed world famous movies! Hobbiton was set up in 1999 to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy but was then taken down. It’s only in 2009 that they rebuilt it for The Hobbit trilogy, this time with permanent material. There are 39 hobbit holes with different dimensions based on the needs for the camera angle. This is one of the top things to do in New Zealand’s North Island so it gets very busy. The experience gets fully immersive when they offer you handcrafted drinks at the Green Dragon Inn!

hobbiton new zealand

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

We also visited the Waitomo Glowworm Caves but it’s worth knowing you will not be allowed to take any pictures there. I was a bit disappointed at first but then realised I wouldn’t have been able to get any decent pictures anyway as you need professional equipment to capture the beauty of it in the dark. I remember feeling a bit claustrophobic down in the cave as it gets quite deep – 45 metres underground! – and there is no way to escape easily. But I would say it was worth the ride, even if you don’t get to see the worms glowing for very long (only at the end of the tour).

Bay of Islands

For the last part of our trip in North Island, we decided to go to Paihia so we could take a cruise from there and visit the Bay of Islands (which is a collection of more than 140 subtropical islands in total!). We navigated to Motukokako (also known as “The Hole in the Rock“) but we couldn’t pass through due to rough seas. The Captain said it was only possible for 30-40% of cruises.

the hole in the rock bay of islands paihia nz

It was not a big deal for us as what happened soon after was amazing: we first spotted a dolphin and already felt lucky… Until we saw more and more tagging along and playing with the waves created by our boat, hundreds of them! There were wild dolphins (not fed by humans) so they were here because they chose to say “Hi”. Magical… No picture would capture the moment better than our memories.

Auckland

Finally, we spent our last day of our road trip in Auckland so we went on top of the Sky Tower to look at the city from above. It’s the tallest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere but it’s actually not that tall… just a little bit taller than the Eiffel Tower. Up there at 220 metres high above street level, the floor is transparent so you better not have vertigo. There are various options to eat and drink too, we chilled for a bit at the Sky Café with a Lemon & Paeroa drink (aka L&P).

view from top of sky tower in auckland

That ends our road trip in New Zealand! We stayed in no less than 17 places across both islands and drove more than 5,000 kilometres via the most scenic routes we’ve ever seen. Now it’s fair to say it was exhausting to be on the road and sometimes we would have needed some days just to rest. There is so much to see in a limited period of time that it’s easy to forget about the importance of “doing nothing”, we felt like we had to make the most of it no matter what.

When we arrived in New Zealand in February 2020, there were no cases of coronavirus. But then a lot can happen in a few weeks… When we left 6 weeks later, people were asked to self-isolate and some couldn’t even enter the country. I think it shows how important it is to always prioritise projects that make you happy, don’t postpone for too long as you never know!

So… What country will you go to first when all travel restrictions are lifted? New Zealand?

Big Girl x

New Zealand, On the Road From Wellington to Rotorua (Part 3/4)

champagne pool at wai-o-tapu nz

The first thing you need to know about New Zealand is that North and South Islands feel like two completely different countries! When you’ll enjoy the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen in your life in South Island, the upper part of New Zealand is a lot busier in terms of population and richer in natural geothermal activities. This is part 3 of our road trip, make sure you don’t miss the other parts:



Wellington

Once we arrived in Wellington, it felt like we were back in civilisation after spending 3 weeks in vast landscapes. Despite Auckland being the most populated city in New Zealand, Wellington is the capital of the country.

Widely recognised as a symbol of Wellington, the cable car (which is actually a funicular) gives a good overview of the city. It takes 5 minutes to reach the top and it’s only 120 metres high. It’s also an easy way to visit the Botanic Garden, otherwise the footpath could be a bit hilly. I didn’t suspect Wellington to be such an arty city, taking street art to another level. We decided to follow a self-guided sculpture tour created by Lonely Planet. We got to see the weirdest installations, a bit like we were on a treasure hunt!

Whether or not you’re into museums, Te Papa Tongarewa (meaning “container of treasures” in Maori) is mind-blowing. New Zealand’s history is illustrated via Maori and Pacific cultures over 6 floors of interactive displays. I particularly loved the exhibition about Wold War I called “Gallipoli: The Scale of War“. It was powerful and realistic, with these big character models made by Weta Workshop. Also, it’s free to visit.

Te Papa Tongarewa, the scale of war

Thanks to New Zealand’s booming film industry, Wellington has earned the nickname of “Wellywood“. Weta Workshop is an award-winning special effects and props company. They’re responsible for great movies such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, King Kong, District 9, Avatar…etc.

We did a Weta Cave Workshop Tour but only managed to take pictures in the shop (for copyright reasons). It was very informative and super interesting, especially for film lovers. We also did the miniature effects tour, where they showed us how they fit the entire island of Thunderbirds Are Go under one roof. Again, no pictures allowed, but if you’ve watched this show when you were a kid, this is a must do.

weta caves workshop wellington

Tongariro National Park

Our next stop was Tongariro National Park where there are a lot of walking and cycling tracks. In summer the scenery is very volcanic, this is where several parts of The Lord of the Rings were filmed. We took the Sky Waka Gondola and reached an altitude of 2,013 metres. It seemed quite high, considering it was up an active volcano! But by the time we arrived at the top, big and thick clouds started to appear, visibility became close to none. We were asked not to wander too far away just in case they had to evacuate people quickly. Not an ideal day for a long hike, which was fine for us as we needed some rest anyway.

sky waka gondola nz national park

There are several reasons why people come specifically to Tongariro National Park. One of the main ones is to see the youngest of the 3 active volcanoes there, called Mount Ngauruhoe. Peter Jackson chose it to star in The Lord of the Rings, as Mount Doom, because of its perfectly symmetrical slopes.

Another one would be the famous 1-day hiking track Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which also features many filming locations in the popular trilogy. It’s also among the top 10 single-day treks in the world. If I have a regret, it’s that we didn’t do it… We felt knackered at that point of the trip, changing places every 2 to 3 days. It was more exhausting than we thought over the weeks and unfortunately we didn’t think we were able to walk that much in a day. This track is about 20 km long and can be quite steep at times. It’s still in my bucket list though!

Taupo

We then drove to Taupo, which lake has been created by a super volcanic eruption from approximately 26,500 years ago. It’s the biggest lake in New Zealand with 616 square kilometres of water – roughly the size of Singapore!

We sailed on it on a sunny afternoon as it’s also the only way to access the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings. In the late 1970s, Master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell wanted to mark the end of his 10-year training by carving the tattooed face of Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Maori navigator. The 10 metres high rock carving took him nearly 4 years to complete. He meant it as a gift to Taupo but simply didn’t ask permission to do it, which caused some disputes. That’s the reason why the eyes are not finished, so his ancestors don’t see the issues he has caused.

This was never meant to become a tourist attraction but now it’s a top rated experience. It was very peaceful and the perfect way to spend our first day in Taupo.

Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings Lake Taupo

Otherwise there is a small but fascinating museum in Taupo which features a carved Maori meeting house, historical displays of volcanic activity, a 15 metres long waka (boat crafted from a single totara log) and a quirky Maori gallery. There is also the Ora Garden of Wellbeing in the courtyard, a recreation of New Zealand’s gold-metal-winning entry into the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show. It’s a good backup plan in case it’s raining outside.

Don’t miss the waterfalls on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo, the Huka Falls are a natural hydro power: 220,000 litres of water per second barrelling over an 11 metres high waterfall. It’s quite impressive!

Rotorua

Our next stop was the stinkiest city I’ve ever smelt… I didn’t think you could smell a city but believe me, it’s possible. Rotorua – also called “Sulphur City” or affectionately “Rotten-Rua” – is a stop you can’t avoid in North Island. Not only because you need to experience the smell of rotten eggs constantly in the air, but also because there are a lot of places to visit, in and around it.

Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako Geothermal Park is a spectacular and very active geothermal area where you can see geysers, volcanic hot springs, mud pools… Probably the most impressive place I’ve ever seen. It takes roughly 1.5 hours to complete the loop but it was so stunning to watch we didn’t even feel all the steps we had to climb along the pathway. Due to the nature of this place, everything is unpredictable and we had to stay on the safety of the path at all times.

Orakei Korako geothermal park

Wairakei Terraces

After these spectacular views, we went to the Wairakei Terraces to relax: 3 hot thermal pools (at 31, 35 and 39°C) coming directly from the hot springs nearby (if you get too close, the temperature can go up to 50°C though). The water is full of silica, sodium, potassium, magnesium and plenty other natural minerals who contribute to healing and soothing your mind, body and soul. It’s recommended not to shower 4 to 8 hours afterwards so your skin gets the full benefit from it.

Wai-O-Tapu

The most famous geothermal park is probably Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Personally, I found that Orakei Korako was better and I would recommend that one if you have to prioritise. Wai-O-Tapu is so popular that it was full of tourist groups and apart from 3 major sites to see, the rest is pretty dull.

The reason you would go to Wai-O-Tapu is to see Champagne Pool which is the largest hot spring in New Zealand, measuring 65 metres diameter and 62 metres deep. Water enters the pool from a deep spring at an initial temperature of 230°C before cooling to its upper layer temperature of 74°C… Hot! It has been formed by a hydrothermal eruption an estimated 700 years ago. The bubbles caused by carbon dioxide provide the Champagne like effect in the water. The orange rim around the edge contains arsenic and sulphur, as well as gold and silver.

champagne pool at wai-o-tapu nz

You’ll also see a crater filled with excess water from the Champagne Pool, a deposit of minerals being suspended in the water refracting the sunlight to create a very bright fluorescent colour. And if you take the longest walk, the furthest viewpoint from the visitor centre is Lake Ngakoro, it takes roughly 45 minutes to get there. This lake has a beautiful olive green colour that turns into an acid green when the sunlight breaks through the clouds.

There are so many cool things to see around Rotorua that I will finish talking about it in the next (and final) part of our road trip tomorrow. Hope you’re enjoying reading this as much as I enjoy writing about it!

Big Girl x

New Zealand, On the Road From Te Anau to Picton (Part 2/4)

that wanaka tree new zealand

Before you read this post, make sure you’ve read part 1 first (on the road from Christchurch to Te Anau). Our road trip in New Zealand is split between 4 posts and this is the second part:



Cardrona

We left our new sheep friends with regret to drive to our next stop. It was the opportunity to take the pretty scenic highway along the Lake Wakatipu. We did a small detour to have lunch at the famous Cardrona Hotel, the most photographed pub in New Zealand. People stop there just to take a picture of the façade… It’s one of the oldest and most iconic hotels in the country. Built in 1863 during the gold rush era, Cardrona Hotel represents an important part of New Zealand’s history.

cardrona hotel

Not far away, the Bra Fence in Cardrona is a quirky tourist attraction. The story begins at the end of 1998. Some anonymous women hung 4 bras on a fence for an unknown reason. It intrigued locals, then more women decided to add their bras on it. Every time though, they mysteriously disappeared (stolen by a bra thief maybe?). And every time they were removed, even more bras were added. The media spread the news worldwide and from 4 initially, you can now see thousands of them on the fence. This is how they now effectively raise money for Breast Cancer Foundation. Pretty cool and funny story, used efficiently for a good cause!

Wanaka

Once arrived at Wanaka, we went straight to see the Rockstar: a tree made famous via social media with the hashtag #ThatWanakaTree. It really is a photogenic tree, but it’s just a lonely tree in a lake. In all honesty, we were a bit underwhelmed by it. It was all about taking our own picture of it and then leave, as there was nothing else to do around. You probably saw this landscape before as a screensaver, if you use Windows (see header picture).

Wanaka also offers attractions like Puzzling World where we spent some time in all 5 illusion rooms. The tilted house was probably our favourite, although it seriously affected our balance! There was also a 3D maze attraction outside. We gave up on that one when we found out we would get stuck for about an hour…

puzzling world wanaka

Franz Josef Glacier

Our next stop was Franz Josef Glacier. It’s a small village far away from everything but close to the glacier of the same name. We decided to add a bit of action and discover the area on a quad bike. In hindsight, it was a bit risky as hospitals are minimum 2 hours away in case of an incident! We had pretty bad weather that day, but we would have ended up with dirty clothes anyway. Clouds were too low and we couldn’t see the glacier properly but we had a lot of fun.

franz josef glacier

As our next day in the village was still rainy and grey, we went to the Hot Pools to relax. They’re so much better when it’s cold outside. Hot Pools are very affordable in New Zealand so it would be rude not to. First, we had our own private pool for 45 minutes. Then, we got access to the 3 public pools. They were warmed at 36, 38 and 40°C, all in the middle of a rainforest. I would strongly recommended the experience. It was good enough to make us forget the village is on a fault line, which makes the risk of earthquakes a lot higher…

franz josef hot pool

Driving along the West coast from Franz Josef to Westport on the SH6 Highway is like a Kiwi version of the Great Ocean Road in Oz. We got the ocean on the left, cliffs and mountains on the right, and a long zigzag road with various speed limits. Just make sure you have a full tank of fuel, as you can be alone on this road for hours without petrol stations!

Hokitika

We stopped by a sweet seaside town called Hokitika on the way. Something is quite unusual there, from the art created with sticks on the beach to leftover pieces from centuries ago. There is The National Kiwi Centre where we saw some kiwis (the animal), but we were not allowed to take any pictures of them. This is a very protected species which live in the dark as it’s an nocturnal animal. They can be quite difficult to spot in the wild so it was an easy way for us to see some.

hokitika

Pancakes Rocks

Along the Great Coast Road (one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world), we also stopped at the Pancakes Rocks. They are still a mystery for geologists as to how they got their unique limestone layers. Seeing how strong the waves sculpt there rocks, they will probably change their shape over the years. It was simply stunning and is definitely worth a visit. And if their name make you fancy pancakes to eat, you’ll find a pancake house just over the road.

pancakes rocks new zealand

Westport

Westport was just a stop for the night as there is no other reason to stop there but to break up the journey. The next day, we crossed the island from West to East via the Lewis Pass, a very scenic high road through the mountains. We stayed in Hapuku where we found plenty of paua shells (also called abalone shells) on the beach when the waters were shallow. These shells have a range of colours from striking blues through to aquamarines to greens, with tints of purple and gold. They’re often used in maori jewellery.

Kaikoura

Our next stop was Kaikoura, famous for its seal colonies and whale watching. We didn’t see any whales but we did see seals in the wild, which was fascinating. They can live their lives close to humans in their natural habitat, we were lucky enough to approach two of them but they were sleeping deeply and we didn’t want to disturb them. They trusted us to leave them in peace, which reassured us people do respect their privacy.

kaikoura sunset

Picton

That marked the end of our road trip in South Island where we spent 3 amazing weeks visiting stunning places. This island is very vast and felt very empty at times. I’ve never seen such beautiful landscapes and it made me feel free, like humans haven’t tarnished that part of the planet yet (and hopefully will not anytime soon). It’s the perfect location to switch off and forget about any issues you may have. Unfortunately for us we had a time schedule to stick to and it was time to take the ferry and cross the Ocean to the North Island. The interisland ferry from Picton (our last stop in South Island) to Wellington (our first stop in North Island) took approximately 3.5 hours.

on the inter islands ferry at picton new zealand

If you want to read about New Zealand’s North Island, stay tuned for the next post – part 3 of our road trip!

Big Girl x

New Zealand, On the Road From Christchurch to Te Anau (Part 1/4)

New Zealand Lake Tekapo

New Zealand has been in my travel wish list for so long… But it’s so far away from Europe! When we put together our entire 6-month trip, it was the country we had the most fun planning. There are so many possibilities on where to go! We started by establishing a priority list of things not to miss, helped by some Kiwi colleagues. Then we created an itinerary, before booking accommodation in every place we wanted to visit. We contemplated the idea of renting a van for such an adventure… But finally decided to sleep in a proper bed along the way. We completed our road trip in New Zealand within 6 weeks. There is so much to say that I’m splitting our experience in 4 posts:



Christchurch

We started off with Christchurch, biggest city in the South Island (despite being very small). It’s a peaceful place where we relaxed for a few days, after spending 4 weeks on the road in Australia. The climate in New Zealand was perfect for us, sometimes a bit chilly but pretty much always sunny. We needed a jumper as well as a good pair of sunglasses!

The earthquake that devastated Christchurch in February 2011 destroyed their cathedral. While the entire city is still going through a 20-year rebuild process, the Transitional Cathedral serves as a temporary cathedral. It’s also known as the “Cardboard Cathedral” because cardboard tubes have been used in its construction. The street art is also very present, locals have been adding many colours on empty walls with creativity! We had an awesome view of the city from the top of Mount Cavendish by taking the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car is a must do, Lyttelton Harbour is stunning with all its various colours.

christchurch gondola new zealand

Lake Tekapo

What followed next was probably the most beautiful place that exists on Earth: Lake Tekapo. This is why it’s so important to book your accommodation early enough, the campsite we stayed at was in an amazing location so it was fully booked very quickly. We rented a mini chalet there, but the site offered various sorts of options: from delimited space for tents, parking area for campervans, to chalets like ours, from the smallest to the poshest version (usually for bigger groups or older people).

Lake Tekapo has that beautiful turquoise colour thanks to the surrounding glaciers. I wish this place was just around the corner so I could go there when I need to meditate. The Church of the Good Shepherd is the most photographed church in New Zealand. There is also a dog statue to pay tribute to the value of the Collie dog, without the help of which the grazing of the mountainous area would have been impossible.

church good shepherd lake tekapo new zealand

We drove up to Mount John (1,031 metres above sea level) and walked the final part to get another amazing view of Lake Tekapo, next to Lake Alexandrina (left on the picture below). It showed us even more how this turquoise colour is unusual compared to a non-glacial lake!

lake alexandrina and lake tekapo from mount john summit

Mount Cook Village

On our way to Mount Cook Village where we were going to stay, we decided to do a quick detour and drove along Lake Pukaki for about 40 km. It’s as stunning as Lake Tekapo with the same turquoise colour but twice bigger! Then we did the Hooker Valley Glacier Walk (3-hour hiking track) which was a bit more challenging than anticipated. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand and the Southern Alps offered amazing scenery, enough to keep us going while we were suffering (it was quite hot that day). There were 3 wooden suspension bridges in the track which were very wobbly… I can imagine how icy and slippery it could be during winter so I’m glad we did it in summer.

mount cook trail new zealand

Queenstown

On our way to Queenstown, the access road to The Remarkables was very scenic! It’s one of the highest public road in New Zealand with about 1,500 metres above sea level. Our little car was struggling and we were worried the small engine would overheat. A 4X4 with a powerful engine would have been more appropriate. The Remarkables is the name given to the magnificent range of mountains we can see from the city, very popular during ski season but also very “remarkable” in summer!

the remarkables mountains queenstown new zealand

Queenstown is definitely the place to go if you like extreme sports. There is a great cable car, the Skyline Gondola, which is the steepest I’ve ever been on. It looks like they cut an alley of pine trees on the mountain to build many crazy activities like bungee jumping, luge, paragliding, mountain bike trails… And the views on top are simply unreal: we can see Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, all at the same time:

queenstown lake wakatipu

If you’re more into chilling out, there is a really cool place to go to: the Onsen Hot Pools. This spa is a kiwi twist to the Japanese bath tradition called “onsen”, it offers relaxation with stunning alpine scenery. The pure water straight from the surrounding mountains is naturally rich in magnesium, detoxifies the body and mind. Add it in your bucket list if you’ve never been there!

Queenstown could be a very romantic place too! We were there during Valentine’s Day… So we indulged ourselves with a modern Japanese restaurant called Tatsumi Dining who designed a special menu for the occasion. Apparently Kiwis love celebrating this day as it was fully booked!

Arrowtown

Then we drove 20 minutes to visit Arrowtown, which is a historic gold mining village where the architecture keeps the heritage of the area intact. This is also where you can find a very unique cinema: the Dorothy Browns. There are only 2 rooms which can only fit a small group of people each, plus a bar and a bookshop so you can read books while you’re waiting for your movie session. There was an intermission in the middle of the movie, which we didn’t expect at all! Enough time for a nice break to go outside or order more drinks for example. We loved the concept. Finally, the sky was so clear that we could see the Milky Way when it got dark… I’ve never seen so many stars, words can’t describe how beautiful it was.

Te Anau

Our next stop was properly in the middle of nowhere, roughly 15 km away from Te Anau in a very isolated independent small house. We had 250 hectares of land to play with (the equivalent of 500 football pitches if it helps), only sharing it with 2,000 sheep and 100 cows. It was probably one of our best memories! We initially chose to stay there to visit Milford Sound but unfortunately the (only) road to access it was completely flooded and closed for the entire month. We also had the remains of a tropical cyclone coming our way, these sort of things you can’t control. So we just decided to use this time away from civilisation to unplug properly, taking advantage of our isolation for a few days!

sunset at te anau with sheep

That’s it for today! Stay tuned for the second part of our road trip in New Zealand featuring many other cool places!

Big Girl x

Our Road Trip in Australia, From Sydney to Cairns

our road trip in australia

Rather than taking the plane again to the next big city, we decided to drive all along the East coast of Australia, from Sydney to Cairns. You need 3 things for the perfect road trip: time, a good car and a good partner. Australia is a vast country and sometimes you drive for long hours on very lonely roads with nothing around, you need to stay focused as wildlife doesn’t warn you before they cross your path. From Sydney, we stopped at 8 places before we made it to Cairns. For us, everything was planned ahead just to make sure we stuck to our budget and time frame but also to get the best accommodation in advance.

Stop 1: Port Macquarie (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia port macquarie

Our first stop was a city known for its lighthouse, you’ll get a stunning view from it. There is also the only hospital for koalas in the world in Port Macquarie. Only 4 paid employees and more than 150 volunteers are doing a great job to preserve this threatened species. They were particularly busy as it was in a middle of the bushfire crisis. Otherwise, you will find the Breakwall along the Hastings River, displaying painted rocks that people originally created for an art competition in 1995. Nowadays, anyone can contribute their own way with diverse messages on it. I spotted one that I liked, saying: “Maybe you’re the lighthouse in someone else’s storm”.

Stop 2: Byron Bay (4 hour drive)

australia byron bay

A lot of travellers stop in Byron Bay for the beaches and the atmosphere that I would qualify as hipster. The Cape Byron Lighthouse offers a really nice walk with great views of Tallow Beach and a pathway to the most Easterly point of mainland Australia. If you’re not really into surf, you wouldn’t necessarily love this place as much, but there are some pretty cool trendy restaurants too.

Stop 3: Surfers Paradise (1 1/4 hour drive)

australia surfers paradise

Surfers Paradise was not new to me, I’ve been there before and I loved the vibes of this busy city… It literally is a paradise for surfers, as its name indicates, quite dangerous for swimmers if I’m honest, but the beach itself is stunning. Go on the 77th floor of the Q1 Tower Observation Deck and you’ll be able to see the Gold Coast all the way from Byron Bay to Brisbane. It’s simply amazing and probably the best viewpoint I’ve ever been to. It’s not really a place you go to relax though, the city is busy and there is always something going on.

Stop 4: Brisbane (1 hour drive)

australia brisbane

Brisbane is where I lived, back in 2006… I was only 21 at the time, I was using a working holiday visa and didn’t care about how difficult my paid-by-commission job was (I was doing door-to-door for charities), I was just so happy to be in Australia. This is pretty much where I learnt English, there is nothing like full immersion. I’ve had so many good memories in this city, so we stayed there almost a week to add even more memories, together this time. Brisbane definitely deserves a full post so I’ll write about it in more detail another time!

Stop 5: Noosa Heads (2 hour drive)

australia noosa heads

After we left Brisbane and on the way to Noosa Heads, we stopped at Australia Zoo for its famous Crocoseum and because my partner used to watch Steve Irwin on TV when he was a kid. When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. You can also hold a koala – it’s allowed in Queensland but forbidden in some other states – if you fancy your picture taken with the most adorable Australian animal. Also, the safari part of the zoo is incredible, you feel like you’re witnessing a scene of the Lion King in real life. It’s one of the best zoos in Australia and really sets the bar high!

We originally planned to stay in Noosa Heads to access Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. We heard about this place so much that it was very frustrating when we realised we didn’t book ahead properly enough and that we had no choice but to give it a miss. It’s very tedious to organise a full trip and sometimes you miss some parts of it. This is what happened to us at that time, lesson learnt for next time! Instead we went for a wander along Hastings Street which seems to be full of beach-style clothing shops and restaurants. Noosa Botanic Gardens were empty at that time of the year.

Stop 6: Seventeen Seventy, or 1770 (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia 1770 kangaroos

Once arrived at 1770, we stayed in a secluded place surrounded by kangaroos. This area was home to the Aboriginal group before the arrival of Europeans. On 24th May 1770, James Cook had set foot on Australian soil, landing at the south point of the bay. This is a very quiet and peaceful small town where there isn’t much to do, but it was a nice place to rest before the longest part of the trip the next day.

Stop 7: Airlie Beach (8 hour drive)

flooding in airlie beach road

This was the riskiest part of our plan… So much driving in one day! I imagine most people use a campervan and sleep in the middle of nowhere to break it down in smaller parts. We experienced 700 km of nothingness, just plenty of wildlife coming up from nowhere: frogs, lizards, turtles, kangaroos, emus… And just to entertain us, we had various road signs reminding us how “fatigue kills” (probably also boredom as you just follow a straight road for hours). The weather was very changeable too, from clear sky to heavy downpours. When it started to get dark, that’s when it became really dangerous. We arrived at Airlie Beach safe and sound but mentally exhausted.

We were not really lucky with this stop as our 2 day stay had bad weather pretty much all the time. Australians never complain about the rain though, because they need it so much! We had a full day plan to go to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands but it got cancelled due to the weather. Some roads were closed due to flooding so we couldn’t even visit the area by car (and don’t even think about crossing on foot, it’s full of crocodiles!). So we decided to do a Scenic Flight instead and luckily we managed to find an hour window where the weather allowed us to fly. We had an awesome view of the Great Barrier Reef from above (the famous Heart Reef is only visible from the air), as well as the Whitehaven Beach which has the reputation of being the most beautiful beach in Australia.

Stop 8: Townsville (3 1/2 hour drive)

the pier restaurant in townsville australia

The only reason you would stop at Townsville is to access Magnetic Island, a ferry will bring you there within 25 minutes from the harbour. Once arrived, we hired a 4X4 to drive around the island but we didn’t realise how badly the roads have been affected by various flooding. Some parts of the road even collapsed so sometimes we had no choice but to leave the car behind and keep going by foot to access some remote areas. All the efforts we had to make to access those places all paid off with plenty of incredible views. The island is really full of scenic spots!

Stop 9: Cairns (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia cairns

Finally, we made it to Cairns! “In the middle of nowhere” would be a good way to describe where we spent our last few days in Australia. We had access to a huge green space, beautiful mountains in the background and a nice creek full of fish and turtles. This part of Australia is very humid and tropical, fresh water is not lacking and they don’t suffer from bushfires. We found the weather there similar to Southeast Asia, a good aircon makes a big difference. Fun fact: I’ve never seen so many bats than in Cairns, at day or at night. In the high street we just had to look up to see them everywhere!

Don’t forget to visit Kuranda if you’re in Cairns. The 35 minutes drive to get there is a visual feast: tropical coastline on one side and the rainforest on the other. Kuranda village offers many things, from local market to wildlife experience. The Aboriginal influence is strong via street art and various shops. It’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the history and heritage of Australia.

All in all, it’s a bit risky to have a tight schedule when you’re road tripping, you never know when something unexpected could compromise your entire plan… We got lucky! I would still recommend doing it that way to people who already have a return ticket back home, it removes the stress of running out of time. People say: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination… So it’s important to plan it well! For us this road trip took 4 weeks, 9 stops and 3,700 km all in all. Have you ever been on the road for so long yourself? Or are you planning to do it soon?

Big Girl x

Being in Sydney During the Disastrous Bushfire Crisis

I wish I was able to use a title a bit more positive about Sydney… Like for example: “Sydney, the most popular city in Australia”. But it wouldn’t reflect our experience there, the timing was just wrong. We had our next few months of travel already planned ahead, and a couple of friends who lived in Sydney told us the city was not so impacted. The Government was debating whether or not to go ahead with the NYE fireworks, creating controversy… I should have known 2020 was going to be a shit year by the way it’s been celebrated! We were initially excited to be in such a cool city for NYE but at the end it was a bit underwhelming.

Celebrating the start of 2020 in Sydney – Pyrmont Bay

At that time, Australia’s Black Summer due to the unprecedented bushfires was all over the news. It did prevent us from exploring outside of Sydney as it was really not recommended or safe to do so. But even in the city the sky was smoky… It’s not like we could enjoy our accommodation either, it was by far the most expensive and at the same time the smallest room we booked in our entire trip! We couldn’t breathe in, we couldn’t breathe out, we felt a bit like we were suffocating in this city and it was difficult for us to fully enjoy our stay. That being said, we couldn’t let that jeopardize our chance to be there so we tried to make the most of it anyway. Who knows when we will go to Sydney again.

Sydney Opera House

Coming from a family of musicians, I’ve been immersed in classical music since a young age, so I was pretty happy to see the most famous opera house in the world other than on a picture. It needs to be heard too, not just seen, so we went inside… The theatre we saw “La Boheme” in didn’t look as impressive as we expected, but the acoustics were brilliant. Sydney Opera House offers 7 performance venues which seat between 210 and 2,679 people.

Sydney Opera House – Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House on one side, the Harbour Bridge on the other, and in between lots of ferries coming in and out: Circular Quay is a busy area. From there, you can go to many places but you better not be sea sick as most options require taking a boat. We also saw several big cruise ships stopping there. Due to the shape of Sydney, it’s often quicker to take the ferry to go pretty much anywhere.

The Harbour Bridge

If you take the ferry and go to Manly, you’ll have a choice of plenty of nice little beaches where Aussies seem to go for a chill. We went there for the scenic walkways and ended up doing 3 hours of hiking along the cliffs. It was a bit steeper than expected but the view was so beautiful that we didn’t really feel the pain. We even met a water dragon on the way.

Water Dragon at Manly

A few km East of Sydney CBD, Bondi Beach is a worldwide famous ocean beach which features Sydney’s most famous pool: the Icebergs. Waves from the Pacific ocean regularly fill it in and it’s quite entertaining to watch. I imagine it must be quite cold (hence its name?). I’m not a good swimmer so I didn’t really fancy trying it but it was fun to watch people regularly being taken out by strong waves! No wonder why this swimming pool is the most photographed in the world…

Icebergs at Bondi Beach

Finally, the cat lovers go-to place would be the Catmosphere Cat Cafe… They offer cinema sessions where you can watch a movie surrounded by cats. When we were travelling and needed our cat fix, this was the solution for us! It’s pretty much like a therapy session, you get comfy, you watch a nice movie, plenty of cats come to cuddle or play with you and they also offer a very good variety of drinks. If you also love cats, then trust me and go.

“Catflix” session at Catmosphere

As usual, I’ll add below some extra points worth mentioning if you’re thinking of visiting Sydney. These only reflect my personal opinions:

  • The first thing that blew our mind when we first took public transport in Sydney was the interchangeable seats in trains… You can move them one way or another, depending which way you want to face. Brilliant! Why don’t we have that system everywhere in the world?
  • Chinatown is a very interesting place to go. There is Paddy’s Market where you can buy literally anything (1,000 stalls selling all sorts of things at good prices). Above it, we found a great arcade hall where we played plenty of games and had good fun. Finally, the Street Food Night Market is the place to go for food! I really liked the vibes there, I even had a roti canai prepared in front of me.
  • The Sydney Tower Eye is the highest point of the city. We like seeing panoramic views of cities from above so of course we went there but it’s not that impressive. Sydney’s icons already stand out even from the ground. It’s so popular that the queue is always big so not ideal if you don’t have much time.
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens are only a few minutes walk from the Opera House. It’s super nice to wander around there!
  • In my opinion, don’t waste your time at the Taronga Zoo. It’s only a short ferry away from the city centre but if you’re not staying a long time you should definitely prioritise other things. We found animals didn’t have much space and compared to wildlife parks we visited in Asia, it did not compare.

To conclude, I would say Sydney is worth the visit if you dream of going to the Sydney Opera House (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007), you want to see friends who live there or if you just want to tick that big city off your travel list. Whatever your reason is, you need to have the budget for it though! If we ever go again, I think we’ll try winter instead.

Big Girl x

Melbourne, One of the Most Liveable Cities in the World

Actually, Melbourne has ranked THE most liveable city in the world seven years in a row until 2017, based on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Index. Since, Vienna (Austria) has stolen the spotlight but Melbourne is still a close second. If it wasn’t that far away from Europe, it’s definitely a city I would see myself living in… It has a weather I can cope with and gives access to all sorts of Asian food due to its proximity to Asia. What’s more to ask?

A sunny day in Melbourne

Skyscrapers are rising everywhere in the city, we rented an Airbnb on the 62nd floor just to see what it was like. Maybe because of the height, we didn’t have any balcony – It would have felt quite dangerous anyway. This is the view we had from our flat:

View from our flat on the 62nd floor – We’re practically flying!

On top of everything that’s going on within the city (rooftop cinemas, high streets, artists coming from anywhere in the world… etc), I also love Melbourne because of its variety of food options. The iconic Queen Victoria Market offers tons of fresh products (it’s only the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere). It really is a paradise for foodies! There is a very strong Asian influence too so one of the things we miss the most is a Japanese chain you can find mostly in Asia-Pacific, a Pepper Lunch classic: beef, egg and rice that you sizzle yourself on a super hot iron plate…

Pepper Lunch

And if you want to find a place a bit quieter and further away from the vibrant city, Albert Park is the perfect place to go. You have a stunning view (probably the best view of the city?) and you can cycle around the lake in peace, away from the crowd.

We stayed in Melbourne during Christmas season last year… Which means we were able to attend the Test Match that traditionally happens on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was Australia vs New Zealand last year. I’m not particularly fan of cricket but it’s worth going just for the experience. And why not order a hot dog just to feel like a local?

Boxing Day Test 2019 at the MCG

What I want to tell you next is probably my favourite experience in Australia: driving along the Great Ocean Road. It’s the largest War Memorial in the world, dedicated to soldiers killed during WWII: 243 km of zigzag road along the South coast of Australia. We did 12 hours of driving that day. In hindsight, we should have done it over 2 days, it’s a very long drive and stopping somewhere overnight would have allowed us to visit more places along the way.

It took us 7 hours of driving to reach the most popular spot in the Great Ocean Road just before sunset: the 12 Apostles. They were actually never 12 but 8 limestone stacks, created by erosion due to the extreme weather conditions in the Southern Ocean. They’re now only 7 as 1 collapsed in 2005.

The 12 Apostles

A little bit further away, there is a stack which used to form a double-span natural bridge but the first span collapsed in 1990, thanks to erosion. It used to be called “The London Bridge” (due to its resemblance to its namesake in London), but it’s now called the London Arch. I wonder what they will call it once the second span will eventually collapse too…

The London Arch

It’s impossible for me to summarise our 2 weeks in Melbourne in a single post, I would have too many things to say. But below a few more places to visit and some additional facts about this awesome city:

  • Some trams offer free travel to city sights and attractions, with audio commentary on points of interest along the route. A complete journey takes around an hour, it’s a free and easy way to have a quick overview and decide what you want to visit!
  • Eureka Skydeck will give you a 360° view of Melbourne, the lift takes you at level 88 in less than 40 seconds. And if you feel silly – I mean, courageous – you can also try the Edge experience: a glass cube which projects 3 metres out of the building, 285 metres up, while you’re in it. I still don’t know how I convince my fiancé to do it…
  • One thing you notice in Melbourne is the variety of street art. Graffiti, drawing, posters, stickers… Hosier Lane is famous for its colourful pathway that made Melbourne’s urban art scene known across the globe.
  • If you like mini golf, don’t miss Holey Moley Golf Club where the décor is impressive, from the sweet candy walls to the spooky room…
  • We spent Christmas day at Sea Life Melbourne and it wasn’t a good idea. Not because of the place itself but because it was super crowded that day… We kind of expected an empty attraction but it was all the opposite, Christmas is apparently not a day people stay at home in Melbourne!
  • At the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, you have an attraction called Punting on the lake where you feel like you’re in Venice. It’s very relaxing and informative!

Melbourne is indeed a very liveable city, I can’t find anything I don’t like about it. But maybe spending 2 weeks there is not long enough to have the full picture. If you live(d) there, I would love to have your feedback!

Big Girl x

Perth, A Great Reason To Visit Australia’s West Coast

After Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bali, we flew to Australia with the aim to visit several coastal cities from West (Perth) to North-East (Cairns). The country is so big that it’s not really possible to travel from a big city to another without taking the plane (unless you have a lot of time!) so we decided to make the most of each place we visited. We started off with the west coast and stayed 10 days in Perth.

Perth City

I’ll start by saying that we were so relieved to leave the heat and humidity we had in Southeast Asia since the beginning of our trip. A month spent sweating like never before was becoming a bit difficult to cope with (we’re from London, remember!) and we were really looking forward to a drier climate at least. Perth is a super cute city with some tall buildings but not in an overwhelming way, and many pretty pathways along the Swan river. It feels small and big at the same time, there is a free bus within the city but it’s probably a good idea to rent a car if you also want to discover the surroundings.

Kings Park War Memorial, with a view of the city in the background

It’s a dynamic city with cool events being organised, we were really happy to just sit on the grass and watch a Christmas Symphony Orchestra with locals. It was free to access for everyone and there were a lot of food stands around to give us more summer vibes – in December. Also, Perth has amazing sunsets. You can see it from parks, rooftops, or even walk along the coast. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a cormorant drying its wings.

Waiting for the orchestra to start in Langley Park

Perth is a bit isolated from the rest of the country, with no easy way to go anywhere (Indian ocean on one side and the Australian outback on the other) but there are many places to explore within driving distance. The wildlife is amazing in Australia, who doesn’t like a big cuddly koala for example? In Caversham Wildlife Park, you’re not allowed to touch them but you can take nice pictures. If you want more proximity with animals, there is a pathway among kangaroos too where you can feed them directly from your hand.

Sleeping koalas at Caversham Wildlife Park

Now I’m sure you’ve heard about quokkas… They’re famous for their constant smile on their face and their selfies with celebrities. Take a ferry from the harbour and head over to Rottnest Island to see them! We attempted to cycle around the island but it was so hilly and hot – around 40°C that day with no shade at all – that we eventually had to swap the bikes for the hop-on/hop-off bus instead. The island is surrounded by stunning beaches, you can go for a dip or just enjoy the scenery. Many quokkas live on this island (estimated between 12,000 and 15,000) and are really easily approachable. You just have to give them a berry you picked up from a tree and they’ll let you take a picture! You’re not allowed to touch them or feed them anything else though. The flora and fauna is under protection.

Smiley quokka willing to take a pose

Rottnest Island is very popular and therefore particularly busy so I would also suggest the slightly less popular Penguin Island. There are no quokkas there but wild penguins, pelicans, albatross… And maybe a few lizards. Penguins can be hard to spot in the wild but there is a conservation centre with an indoor pool to help penguins who wouldn’t survive on their own. This species is the smallest in the world, they’re only 30 cm tall. The ferry to get there is a very nice few minutes trip, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!

Penguin island – Conservation Centre

Only 30 minutes drive away, there is another city often associated with Perth due to its proximity: Fremantle, famous for its fish & chips. You can feel the British influence there! But portions are HUGE, Australians do eat a lot. There isn’t very much to do there other than restaurants and shops near the port but it’s still worth a visit.

Was it for only 1 person??? Yes, it was…

Finally, below some additional random facts about Perth and thoughts on our stay:

  • The city of Perth offers free wifi around the CBD, quite convenient when you’re not using a local sim card in your phone.
  • There is also a free bus service called CAT (Central Area Transit), operating 7 days a week, apart from Christmas day.
  • We found fresh gluten free doughnuts in a market that we haven’t found anywhere else…
  • The Bell Tower is one of the world’s largest musical instruments, located in Barrack Square (5 minutes walk away from the CBD). We’ve seen lots of love locks attached to the fence there!
  • There is a shopping arcade in Perth called London Court with many small shops inside and a big clock at the entrance. It almost felt like we were back home for a moment!
  • “The Blue Boat House” is considered the Australian icon for Asian tourists. It’s just a boathouse but it’s painted in blue and is quite photogenic so Asian tourists come to Perth just for the purpose of taking a selfie in front of it! Social media can be quite powerful… You might have seen it among your Windows screensaver options too!
  • Perth is known for being the most isolated city in the world, but it’s also the sunniest with no less than 8 hours of sunshine a day in average.
  • One thing we wanted to do but couldn’t do is visit the Pinnacles. There were some fires blocking the route to get there… It happens when the weather is particularly dry. Unlucky this time but it’s a good excuse to go back someday!

This is another city we can’t wait to go back to, whenever it will be possible… Here’s a little secret: we watched all episodes of MAFS Australia just to recognise the places they were filmed in, it was our guilty pleasure. It says a lot about how much we miss this country. Tell me what you like or dislike about Perth if you know this city!

Big Girl x