Sapa was a trip we did not plan on. Originally we were going to skip this town on our visit to Vietnam, but we kept hearing great things about it and the people that lived there. One of our favorite blogs, theblondeabroad, had written about a trip to Sapa awhile back and it seemed great. We decided that if we could get the same guide that she was able to have, then we would detour to Sapa for a few days.
On our first night in Hanoi, our dormmate told us about a trip she had just been on to Halong Bay that she booked through a hostel nearby. When deciding our rough itinerary of Vietnam, Halong Bay made the short list, but there were SO many options when it came down to how you booked it. You can stay overnight on boats, go with tours, or book it all yourself, including the multiple means of transportation it takes to get there. We were thrilled when we met a girl who had a great time on an organized trip there that was budget-friendly, so we stopped researching and went to Central Backpackers the following morning to book our excursion!
Part of our Indonesia trip was spent on the island of Java. We were attracted to two volcanoes on the island: Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen. Each had an appeal to them and great reviews of the sights, so we spent some time finding the perfect guide to take us there. This was going to be an epic trip so we needed an epic guide to show us the ropes!
After some research/Facebook stalking/review reading, we settled on Pierrick Bigot as our guide for this trip. We found out about him from another travel blog when we were looking into trips in Java. Pierrick works with a company named IndoTravelTeam and takes groups on trips from Bali to Java to see these volcanoes. We opted for a 3 day, 2 night trip with Pierrick and some other folks who were out to see the same sights.
The remainder of our visit in Sydney (outside of our many beach journeys) was spent seeing some of the major sites of the city.
On Tuesday, we walked outside to a rain shower. We decided to hit up the Sydney SeaLife Aquarium – first, because it’s cool…and second, it would provide shelter from the rain. We took the train and made our way through Darling Harbour to the aquarium. It’s a super cute area, but unfortunately it was still pouring so we got our tickets and entered immediately. We saw some adorable penguins, jellyfish, tons of fish, sharks, sting rays, seahorses, dugongs (sea cows) and many more! Here are some pics we snapped throughout the aquarium.
After we left the Aquarium, the rain had not let up, so we decided to park it at a place for lunch and have some beers (shocking, we know). We settled on King Street Brewhouse on the wharf of Darling Harbour and hung out there a couple of hours. Once the rain cleared, we headed back to our hostel to get ready for our “Galentine’s date” (see what we did there?! ha). We had known that it was Valentine’s day and wanted to do something fun to celebrate….so therefore we booked a show at the famous Sydney Opera House. Yes, we are super classy. Oh, but wait, not to mislead you…we saw no Opera. We instead opted to get tickets to see a cirque-type show called Barbu. We were warned online that it was slightly racy and to be prepared for brief male nudity. Ha, we were sold.
We decided to get to the Sydney Harbour where there Opera House is located a bit early to snap some pics of us “dressed up” (hair down and blue jeans on). Sydney Harbour also is home to the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, so we couldn’t resist getting some pics with it in the background. We then went to the Opera Bar and sat outside and each had a few glasses of Rosé.
The show was fantastic! We were in the 3rd row right in front of the runway-type stage and the performers were incredible. It was not the giant production like a Vegas Cirque show, but in that way, it seemed even more dangerous. The show was full of daring acrobatic moves and, as promised, a bit of nudity. At one point, one of the male performers approached Kerry and danced on her a bit, leaving some sweat behind and 2 hysterically laughing, slightly intoxicated girls.
We ended the evening at a speakeasy type of bar called the Swinging Cat. We shared a charcuterie platter and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (because we clearly needed more alcohol). It was a great evening and we felt super lucky to get to see a show in such a famous place as the Sydney Opera House!
The next morning, we woke up (wearily) bright and early to catch our shuttle bus for our tour of the Blue Mountains. We only had to walk half a block to the meeting point, where we met our tour guide, Adam, owner of the small local tour company called Barefoot Downunder. The tour promised to be a smaller group, under 2o people, and take us on a really cool hike, as well as to typical tourist locations for pictures. The hour and a half (or so) drive out of Sydney was slightly rough (no fault of the tour company whatsoever) since we were rather hungover and thought at the time that we’d rather be on a beach being lazy. But here we were, being promised a 3 hour hike that no other tour company from Sydney takes people on…lucky us?!
He first took us to see some kangaroos, which were really cute, but we opted to not exit the shuttle bus because the only one near us was a male and honestly…he kinda looked scary! Then we got to the entrance of the National Pass Hike in the Blue Mountains. We unloaded and set off on the hike, walking alongside Adam and getting to know more about him and his company that he and his wife started. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the hike, learning about tons of species of trees and plants surrounding us (Adam majored in horticulture at university), and saw about 10 awesome waterfalls along the way. We also sweated out tons of booze walking up about 1,000 stairs (not exaggerating).
Then we drove into Leura, a quaint town in the mountains. Here, people had the option of buying lunch in one of the many cafes, but we had packed a lunch, so we enjoyed it on some grass in the shade. We were ravenously hungry, and our lunch of salami, cheese, crackers, fruit, hummus and carrots hit the spot!
Adam took us next to see the famous “Three Sisters” rocks, and we also learned to play the didgeridoo. When we had first heard this word, we thought it was going to be some game, but it wasn’t a game. It was a long wooden tube-like wind instrument that you blow into and for us non-professionals, some oddly terrible sounds came out. Adam played one and it sounded really cool though.
We went to several different lookout points, including Pulpit Rock Lookout. The views of the mountains and canyons were stunning! We snapped some cute pics near cliff edges.
The trip ended back in Sydney, where we all had a drink (included in the tour!) together and mingled with Adam and the other day trippers. The bar was called Side Bar, which coincidentally was located within our hostel! We were wiped by the end of the day, but oh so glad that we had selected this particular tour of the Blue Mountains. In the end, we didn’t need another beach day…since FIJI was up next on our agenda!
~Jenny & Kerry
Our first order of business upon arrival in Australia was to visit some beaches. We had read and heard a lot about different beaches in Sydney and we were eager to see them all and work on our tans. Some of the top beaches we had heard about were Manly Beach, Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach. Each had their pros and cons and we were determined to experience them ourselves.
Once we arrived in Sydney we settled into our hostel in the CBD and prepared for the next few days. We met our roommates and started talking to them about things to see and do in the city. After asking if they had tried any of the beaches in town, we were told that Manly Beach was the best bet. So the decision was made to spend our first full day at the beach.
On Sunday we got up and headed out to see Manly Beach. It required a train ride down to the wharf and then a ferry ride over to another part of town.Typically this could add up on costs, but since we had our Opal cards for transportation, our max charge for the day was a whopping $2.50. After a 30-45 minute ferry ride, we arrived at our destination and wandered through an adorable town full of restaurants and shops to arrive at the beach.
Given that it was a bargain transportation day, the summer AND a Sunday, the beach was extremely crowded. However, it was beautiful, full of great people watching and had killer waves. We spent several hours at the beach reading, playing in the surf, watching the tourists and locals, reapplying sunscreen and even watching an ad hoc air show!
The next day we tried out a Coastal Walk that our guidebook had suggested. This is a walk that is 6km and works its way down the coast, starting at Bondi Beach and ending at Coogee Beach. Once again, we put public transportation to use to get to our starting point (this is one of our favorite things about big cities… we cannot say enough about our love for great public transportation!)
We started at Bondi Beach and figured the best thing to do would be to really experience the beach by laying out and tanning. The downfall of this was that we did not want to get off our butts, put on tennis shoes and start walking up a cliff. After about 2 hours we talked ourselves into continuing on and headed out to start our walk.
We headed up some cliffs and got great views of Bondi Beach from afar, as well as stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. We continued onwards and saw Tamarama beach, which was incredible, but we talked ourselves out of another 2 hour detour and ventured onwards. Our next stop was Bronte Beach where we had lunch and another tanning detour. Our lunch was an elegant tapas platter that we packed in our backpacks… salami, cheese, crackers, carrots and hummus! Once we were re-hydrated and stuffed with tasty snacks, we checked out Bronte Beach. Our favorite part about this beach was that there was a part of the beach that was blocked off by rocks and formed a natural swimming area that was safe from the waves. It was really difficult to walk away from this beach and continue on our journey, but we did it so we could see the infamous Coogee Beach that was located at the end of the walk.
The Coastal Walk has taken a slight detour in the past year due to storms, so we actually had a detour away from the beach and through an old cemetery that was quite eerie yet beautiful. We passed another swimming pool/beach, walked up what seemed to be never-ending stairs, then walked/hiked up a giant hill, then complained a lot about how we were never going to walk again, then kept walking.
Finally we arrived at Coogee Beach. It was a larger beach and pretty full of people, with plenty of amenities close by, though it was far from our favorite beach along the hike. We partly wished we had stayed back at Bronte and spent the rest of the day there, however we felt accomplished to finish the entire walk. We stayed at Coogee for awhile until the sun started to set and our skin was over it all.
The good news is that we were only 2 days into our visit to Sydney and still had a lot more to see and do. Until next time…
~ Kerry & Jenny
When we started planning our New Zealand adventure, one of the top things on our list was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Not bungee jumping, not sky diving, not jet boats nor zorbs. Instead it was a 19.4 km hiking trek that drew us to Taupo.
We arrived in Taupo on January 30th and had three nights booked at Tiki Lodge, our hostel for a few days. We had already booked a round trip bus fare for Tuesday to provide transport between our hostel and the crossing.
Tuesday started early with a 5:50 am bus pickup, then a drive to the start of the hike. We were given a map with timelines on when we should be at major points and also some slight threats on our bus home not waiting for us if we took too long.
We had made some friends on the bus, Justin and Mark, so we started the hike with them. Mark lives in Auckland and had done this hike before, while Justin was visiting New Zealand from Canada. We trekked with them for awhile before they left to summit Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom). We bid them farewell, wished them luck on the steep climb and vowed to meet up for drinks soon.
The hike went through so many different changing climates and views; it was spectacular. We spent the second half of the hike with Zoey, a sweet girl from the UK that was staying at our hostel. We took turns snapping photos, laughing as we fell, swapping stories and adding and removing layers of clothing.
All in all, the trek took us right at 7 hours with minimal stops to gobble up sandwiches, fruit and drink lots of water. We definitely made time to stop and soak it all in and take photos for everlasting memories.
We were wiped out on the return trip back to our hostel and had a quiet evening relaxing.
The next day, with sore feet and legs, we decided to take it easy and walk to Huka Falls, which is a long group of beautiful blue rapids in Taupo. We laughed on our way because what we thought would we a leisurely walk turned into quite a hilly one, but as is typical here in New Zealand, it was full of beautiful scenery.
Walking back from the falls, we stopped at some hot springs to take a dip in the warm water (in hopes that it would feel good for our worn out muscles). There was quite a crowd there, and we saw a couple floating around on an air mattress… hey, whatever works, right?!
Another post coming soon…All about our time in Napier visiting Kerry’s friend, Mandy!
~Kerry & Jenny
In late September I had the chance to backpack the Grand Canyon and camp for a few nights in the Canyon to celebrate my uncle’s 60th birthday. Earlier in the year my uncle had reached out and said he had a permit and asked if anyone wanted to join – and my Brother-in-Law and I quickly jumped on the opportunity. Neither of us had been before, let alone been presented with the chance to backpack and camp in the Canyon. We had no idea what to expect.
Our trip started with traveling into Phoenix and then driving to the National Park. Tim and Dave picked us up at the airport, we saw cacti with arms and we ate pizza. We arrived at the Grand Canyon and did the normal tourist thing… went to viewpoints and took selfies. And said “holy shit that’s big”. Dave and Tim pointed out some of the trails we would be hiking through the visit. And I smiled and nodded and said “Oh wow! I see it!” (I didn’t really see any of them… this place is huge).
Next we headed to the trailhead we would exit on, to see it. But the weather had other plans. Storm clouds rolled in and we had a pretty wild experience. Thunder. Lightning. Intense fog. Pouring rain. It was awesome! We were really happy that we got a hotel room for the night before we started our hike. So we did the logical next thing and bought beer, checked in and got our gear ready.
The next morning we had an early breakfast and took the shuttle to South Kaibab Trail to start our hike. Initially us newbies were anxious and going into photo overload, but soon we set into our stride and took in the amazing views. I kept remembering what Dave told me the night before: Remember to look up and take in the views. You spend a lot of time looking at your feet when you’re going down.
The group consisted of some hilarious, sarcastic companions (and sometimes liars): Unkie Dave (the birthday boy, my Mom’s brother), Tim (Dave’s buddy), James (Brother-in-Law), Ebay (deceptively quick at hiking the Canyon) and myself (I think I’m really hilarious).
What really caught me by surprise was how far down the Canyon goes. I know it sounds absurd. But I kept thinking we were almost there… to find out we weren’t even 1/3 of the way down. We powered through and kept on truckin’, snackin’, snappin’ photos and applyin’ moleskin here and there (mostly me).
We finished the hike and stayed in Bright Angel Campground for two nights. This is an absolutely stunning location in the bottom of the canyon, where you can look up the Canyon walls and enjoy every minute of it’s beauty. There’s also a Canteen nearby that serves beer… which is essential because I LOVE beer. We set up camp and headed to the Canteen to down some cold ones before they shut at 4 for dinner. We also played Cards Against Humanity. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to play this game with… we all have the same terrible sense of humor that not everyone can appreciate.
We spent a lot of that evening staring up at the sky. If you haven’t seen the stars in the Grand Canyon, you haven’t seen the stars. Amazing!
The next day we went on a day hike to Ribbon Falls. This hike was about 12 miles round trip and included the Unkie Dave-deemed “Big Ass Hill”. It was a beautiful day and the Falls were crowded but also stunning. We all got in and enjoyed a shower/bath in the cool, clear water and also took advantage of some photo ops. On the hike back we all stepped it into high gear in order to make it back to the Canteen before last call at 3:45.
Saturday night I got to take a short yet unique hike over to the Silver Bridge which was a once in a lifetime experience. We stood on the bridge in the dark, listening to the Colorado River (aka Chocolate Milk River, per Unkie Dave) running below us, looking up at the outline of the Canyon walls and the stars. Not only that, we saw some Rim-to-Rim hikers make their way down the Canyon by watching for their head lamps. I will never forget this night!
Sunday we headed over to Indian Gardens Campground for our final night in the Canyon. The day hike took it’s toll on some – sore legs, warm weather, lots of uphill and sand… but mostly the lack of beer. We made it and settled into a nice shady spot in Indian Gardens and admired how unlovely we smelled. Up next was a quick hike out to Plateau Point and a few more group photos. Then we relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine while we took in the beauty of the Grand Canyon. It was also suggested that we come back for sunset, so we hiked back and had some snacks before visiting again for sunset.
Ebay bid us farewell as he had to go back to the real world and the rest of us spent time debating how much food we had to save for the next day vs. how much we could shovel in our faces immediately. Then James and I grabbed some essentials (aka GoPro) and headed back to Plateau Point. The views did not disappoint. We took some “oh shit I’m falling into the Canyon” photos which my sister did not appreciate, along with about 100 photos of the clouds and sunset. Amazing. Relaxing. Everything you expect this beautiful place to be.
On our final morning we packed up camp and finished the last 4.5 miles out on Bright Angel Trail. All of us were feeling great and practically skipping up the Canyon walls. We made sure to take the time to enjoy the view and take it all in. Once we finished, we celebrated with beer (are you seeing a trend here?) while admiring our horrendous body odors. The best part is I made the mistake of taking my shoes off in the car 🙂 Oops! After we were all out of the Canyon and beer had been consumed, we headed to the showers to clean up before driving back to Phoenix. Best 8 minutes of my life… warm water, soap, clean clothes. We were fresh and clean, but out of the Canyon and I was ready to go back in.
I was incredibly lucky to get to go on this trip with an amazing group of guys that were fantastic guides (turns out visiting the Grand Canyon with folks that have hiked it MANY times makes life a hell of a lot easier). The Grand Canyon is absolutely stunning and if you have not been yet… GO. NOW. I am already planning my next visit back and will be making Jenny join me. Not only was it a highly amusing trip, but I forged some new friendships and that makes all the difference. People that enjoy the same things as you are great people to have in your life.
Until next time…