New Zealand – North Island with Stray (Day 32-43/207 Dec 1st – Dec 11th) Hahei and Raglan

Stray bus aka George the reindeer bus

Day 1 : Hahai

We left Auckland at 0730 and arrived at the holiday park in Hahai around 1500 after having a couple of stops for coffee and food shopping.

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TIP

Buy your food and alcohol before you arrive (pac n save in Thames) as it’s very expensive when you get to Hahei and not many shops around.

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We then went to hot water beach and spent an hour or so digging around in the sand and lounging in the fascinating hot water pools, you need to experience it to believe it! It can get up to 70+ degrees Celsius so make sure you find a half hot, half cold pool or it just gets a bit too much.

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TIP

Take a small spade with you as they can be pricy on the beach, a kiddies one will do unless you want to dig a Jacuzzi.

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Day 2

This was a ‘free day’ in Hahai. We walked from the hostel to cathedral cove which took a bit over an hour. The walk was picturesque; the cove and beach were lovely, luckily we caught it on a warm day so had a nice little sun bathe and swim.

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Day 3: Raglan

About a 6 hour drive took us into Raglan town centre where we had a quick mooch around and then went to the beach for surfing. Danielle hired a board as she’s done it before and I had my first ever lesson. The water conditions were great and I managed to stand up a couple of times…just!

 

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TIP

Word of warning: there were loads of people in the lesson and not many instructors so you don’t get a lot of 1:1 attention unless you ask or look for it.

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That night we stayed in a really cool hostel up in the hills called Kauri lodge; quite far from anything so you’d need transport to get here.

They run a sunset yoga session on an amazing platform on the hill overlooking the sea. Definitely worth the trek, we didn’t do it but it looked beautiful.

If you want to see glow worms at the lodge they line the left mud bank after dark… such an amazing sight.

 

 

 

 

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New Zealand North Island with Molden (Day 28 – 32/207 Nov 27th – Dec 1st)

As mentioned our very kind and generous friends lent us their super awesome Holden V8 Sandown and two man tent so we could go camping in the northlands of New Zealand.

1st stop

A lovely country house, looks like an old English country estate!

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Then driving about 3 ish hours from Auckland we arrived in:

Kawakawa and found some free camping.

We experienced the Hunderwasser toilets and behind these is a car park and small patch of grass where you can freedom camp.  Simple camping!

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We also experienced a local Sunday night in the only bar in town: cheap bourbon and cola and free pool tables with lessons from the local kawakawa billiards team.

2nd stop

(1 hour ish drive from kawakawa)

From Paihia where we took the ferry (return for $24) to Bay of Islands (Russell). Very cute seaside like village. We Camped in Russell at top 10 holiday park which was not the cheapest site ($42 for two adults) but was the nicest and closest to the pier where we were getting our dolphin boat trip from the next day.

We Booked the boat trip where you can swim with dolphins (if you see them). We were told this trip doesnt always spot let alone swim with dolphins so everyone had their eyes peeled. However, if you don’t get to see the dolphins don’t worry because seeing the beautiful bay of Islands by boat is still a wonderful trip and they give you a voucher to come back again.

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TIP

Use the money saving site bookme.co.nz in NZ and AUS to save money off loads of activities.

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In the last few minutes of searching for dolphins (its a four hour trip), we were so, so lucky and two very playful adults appeared jumping beside the boat!!! So after lots of screaming we all grabbed a snorkel and jumped in.

The water was so cold it was difficult to even breathe but made for an exhilarating swim and well worth it.  The dolphins swam with and around us for at least 30 minutes. WORTH THE SPEND.

BONUS; if you don’t get to see or swim with them you get a lifetime ticket to go back. Maybe organise your trip to pass by on way up to the cape and back again just in case.

 

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Sadly, we lost a lot of our photos and vids from the trip (memory card crashed) but we did have some decent footage of the dolphins swimming towards us unerwater, im sure you can find some on youtube just type in Russel eco dolphin trip.

From here we headed for Cape Reinga, stopping at some beautiful beaches along the way, including 90 mile beach!

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3rd stop

(Five hour drive from Russel)

Cape Reinga has a great little free camp area and an honesty box camp site for campervans and tents.  Be warned  its down a very long windy and dusty road so be mindful of the vehicle you’re in. You get to camp right next to the beach which is beautiful and there are lots of other campers.  This is quite nice if you have been driving without seeing another human for hours.  Some people were out surfing so take a board if you’ve got one!

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In the morning we took the short 20 mins drive to the cape Reinga lighthouse which is a great walk and awesome views.

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We then drove to the sand dunes surfing spot which is an hour or so south from the lighthouse.

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TIP

Hire your board before you get to the dunes (if youre coming from the south or just after if youre coming fron the north) for $10 as it is $15 when you get to the dunes.

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Be prepared for the best work out of your life in order to get up the dune.

It’s worth walking all the way to the top, taking in the spectacular view of 90 mile beach and doing the smaller dune a couple of times before attempting to throw yourself down the huge dune.  Definitely worth another slog up to get the amazing adrenaline rush on the way back down.

4th stop

We drove back down to Paihia and camped at a little hostel /campsite called the pickled parrot which was a sweet little spot.

On the drive back to Auckland we stopped to see some glow worms;

FREE glow worm caves. This was a great find using AA new zealand (great book) and maps.me (Cave Entrancege0://4deX9ZZjAz). This app is fantastic as uses a fraction of the storage than Google maps and can download vast areas. Downside is navigation is more challenging and the detail of the maps is limited,  however if you don’t have a data plan it’s great.

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We then got back for our final night in Auckland before starting the bus tour, stay tuned!

USA – Hoover Dam Grand Canyon South Rim (Day 4/207)

Day 4 we booked a trip to the Grand Canyon from Viator.

TIP

Use this site and book a few weeks in advance to get it almost 1/2 price.

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This trip entailed a pick up from your hotel in a shuttle and talking to the depot. You have to pay an administration fee for processing on top of your trip when there.

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There is a cafe here but is extremely expensive so buy/ make all of your bus snacks before you go.

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You jump on your bus and on our trip we went to Hoover Dam first. We got to stop off for 15 minutes on the way to run up the path and take a quick photo. Not really a lot of time but enough for a quick snap.

Back on the bus and a long trip to the canyon.

Disappointing:

We stopped to have lunch about 10 minutes from the canyon and had to wait nearly 2 hours for those people on the safaris, sky diving and helicopter tours.

There is definitely a better way to do this but hey,  this is the American way.

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We got to the canyon and had 45 minutes at the first point and another 45 at the second point.

This was everything before boarding the bus for the long trip home.

When back we split into shuttles and were dropped at our hotels.  This took 2 hours when it should have taken 1 as the driver was so indecisive.

Anyway,  the canyon was great and definitely a must see, just pick your operator well.

This was a GREY LINE trip to the South Rim.

Fiji 14-24 Nov 16 (Day 15-25/207)

Day 1-2

We arrived in Nadi airport on the 14th Nov after leaving LA on 12th. The 13th got lost in Bermuda, feeling sorry for everyone born on 29th February.

Tip 1:

* Buy your currency outside of the airport.  Most hostels/ hotels/ etc., will have a better exchange rate. Or just outside of customs.

Tip 2:

* BUY YOUR ALCOHOL AT THE AIRPORT – preferably before you arrive in Fiji.

You can however buy Bounty (58% volume) dark rum from the liquor part of the superstore, about $35 fjd (~£14) for a small shoulder.

We were missed from the pickup at 630am so had to wait for another car. We didn’t mind too much, just sat and slept a little more in the airport. They got us to the hostel in Fiji time, only stopping twice to have a 10 minute phone conversation and again to go to the shop… FIJI TIME, something you will become very familiar with.

We stayed in Smugglers Cove Resort in the 36 bed dorm 😮.  It was a nice resort with the bonus of a great breakfast included such as pancakes,  porridge,  fresh fruit, etc. They do other rooms as well which we heard are much nicer.  The massive dorm is a bit of a shocker, in more ways than one.*
NOTE* it appears that a lot of the dorms all over Fiji suffer with bed bugs so be prepared.

The views were fantastic and water like a 50 degree bath.

Walking down the beach we found these amazing clams; when the wave retreated, 100’s were left exposed half way up the beach. It was fantastic to see them burying into the wet sand.

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The next day we took a trip to Nadi town in a taxi which cost $10 fjd (~£5) one way. Booked by the hotel, it’s probably much cheaper to get a street taxi if at all possible.  We took the bus home which was $1 each – bargain. Quick ride, you see lots of scenery and get to ride on the beach.

Nadi was a great experience,  lots of shops, local people and food.

Tip 3:

* Don’t stop to shake hands and talk to everyone.  They will try and take you into their shop to drink Kava and buy expensive things. Be friendly but not overly inviting. Wear sunglasses.

We went to the little curry shop recommend by lonely planet; enough for two to share for a light lunch.

Spotted the beautiful Hindu temple at the very end of the road.

 

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We scoured the streets for the locals market where you can find great fresh fruit and vegetables and then drank street water from a street tap (we didn’t die which is a bonus).

We did manage to find a couple of cheap supermarkets in front of the bus station where you can get most foods, snacks and alcohol from.

Getting on the cheap bus home was a great local experience… they drop you back at your door for 1/10 of the cost of the taxis.

Near smugglers cove there is a supermarket that is reasonably priced.  Alcohol is very reasonable here also, we’d recommend black heart rum premix (7%) or Woodstock bourbon premix (8%).

Lastly there is an Asian restaurant called Grace Road. It’s cheap and absolutely amazing healthy food. You get free rice refills and is BYOB.

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Day 3-9

The main attraction in Fiji, in our opinion, is heading out to the islands. There’s a free shuttle provided from just outside the hostels to port denarau where all the ferrys to the islands go from.  This leaves at 0715 arriving at the port around 0750.

We had a pre – booked ferry/accommodation/food pass so it was quite simple getting on/off the ferry *

*Tip: book your ferry pass before you go, unless you know exactly which island resorts you want to do. The accommodation can easily be sorted out on the boat but all depends on availability. We would recommend 4-6 nights on islands altogether, it’s quite feasible to do most islands in one night. Anymore than this and you start running out of money/sun-cream/excitement for snorkeling and the sound of drums before your allowed to eat. This sounds like madness…how could you get bored on an island, but its so hot that you cant spend that much time in the sun!

Each island resort is all inclusive, fussy/delicate eaters be warned! There is no choice, start training your immune system now.

*Tip: take plenty of suncream and hand wash/sanitiser.

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Island 1 (two nights )

Wailealea: lovely dorm room with mosquito nets, good food portion sizes and really friendly staff. Massive thumbs up! Our favorite resort.

Great activities: snorkeling with reef sharks, guided hike, kayaking. If you’re on the activities pack you’re allowed to pick two.

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Island 2 (two nights)

White Sandy: not such a great room but still ok, edible food, friendly staff (until one of them threw a crab on the fire for a joke). Beautiful (white sandy) island but be warned about the flies on this island!*

Activities:coral reef snorkeling ( you only get one at this resort).

*Tip : Korovu is another resort just next door: much nicer, cleaner, has a pool!! And they are taking 1 coconut but for some reason awesome adventures don’t advertise and the resort really want more people so if you get given white sandy, request Korovu instead!

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Island 3 (2 nights)

Nabua Lodge: really picturesque island with perfect white sand and crystal clear water. Sadly the resort didn’t live up to the island. Really small portion sizes and very average food. Staff were miserable and seemed annoyed to have anyone staying with them.

Activities: blue lagoon snorkeling,  cave trip, village trip, massage (you get to choose two).

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Island 4 ( 1 night)

Mantaray: we booked this as an extra night, not included in our pass as we had been recommended by people back in the UK.

Really fantastic resort, can immediately see the difference from the family/locally run resorts and the commercial ones. Would recommend this resort for those on holiday, not necessarily travellers as the activities are more expensive and it’s harder to meet people as its so big. It was great fun though and we were there with a few people we had met on the islands before. There were great clean dorms although really far from toilets, good food with a big menu choice which we hadn’t encountered before.

Acrivites: we didn’t do any here as we were not on the package and run out of money but we heard the sunset cruise was really good but the snorkelling nothing special.

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Our resort tips (from our experience and word of mouth on the boats);

-Wailealea

-Korovu

-Long Beach

-Octopus

-The two barefoots

Obviously they are all beautiful islands and your time will be what you make of it.*

*Tip: ask other travellers for advice what to do / where to stay. Get involved with and speak to the locals on the islands!

Also each island has their own version of the BULA dance 🙂 so try and get to know each one. The best part of island life really was getting to know the locals who lived there and all the other traveler’s. You have every meal altogether so its nice to sit and chat, we met so many great people and got some great tips for the rest of our trip.

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Las Vegas (Day 1-3/207)

 

The journey begins!!!! Vegas baby !

We had a great start to the journey as it was Norwegian airs’ inaugural flight to Las Vegas to they had complimentary drinks and cakes before we got on the flight 🙂

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When we arrived in Vegas, we got a bus to the hotel….which took about 2 hours, luckily we got a good tour of the strip! Shuttle bus huts to the strip are at the airport as you walk out, surprisingly small airport so pretty easy to find.

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If you’re tired or in a hurry get an uber (normal taxi’s are expensive) and the shuttle (we took transbell) takes agessssss as it goes around every hotel to drop off,  unless you have a central strip hotel, and there’s a tonne of traffic.

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On the first night we set off for a walk down the strip…The strip is massive; top to bottom is about 4 miles and takes a whole day to navigate one way so maybe split it into sections so you can enjoy it over a couple days rather than rushing through.

The best places to go that we found; Take the monorail to see the different hotels from the Bellaggio. A little quicker and fun way to get about, it’s free:)

-Bellagio fountains

-Bellagio gardens

-Luxor

-Excallibur

-Mandalay bay hotel

-Flamingo hotel (see the flamingos)
-Planet Hollywood (go see Britney… so fun).

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The next day we went to The Linq and went on the highroller (we got a good deal on show tickets plus the highroller and open bar ticket). This was great, the view is fantastic and we got a bar for just the two of us with unlimited drinks for 30 minutes… being Brits we definitely took advantage ;). Would definitely recommend this open bar ticket, well worth the money and a lovely bar lady from Rhode island.

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After finishing all our cocktails, we went to see Britney woooooo:

Going to see any show is a must in Vegas. We went to see Britney which was incredible, really good all round show; she plays all the classics, great dancers and costumes.

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We also really wanted to go to one of Vegas’ clubs, and when we were there the chainsmokers were playing. There are always great DJs in Vegas, we got tickets to see the chain smokers in Omnia (in Ceasers Palace). It was a great venue,  smallish club and ram packed but great sound. The club entry is very reasonably priced but the drinks are a killer so have a few before.

The chandelier dropped and moved with the massive beats really fun to dance under!

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TIP

Water is $10 for about 250ml and $25 for a single shot and mixer.

We didn’t get bag searched so could prob sneak something in, or get drunk before ;).

Another must do is Freemont street (at night as the lights are brill) and play some craps (stand next to someone nice and they will teach you). The casinos are a little cheaper around this area for the min bets so it’s great if you’re a novice and are a little intimidated at the big hotels.

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Lara and Dani’s backpacking adventures.

We thought we would share our trip details so you can live vicariously through our awesome adventures or start planning your own.

We hope our blog can be both interesting and useful in your thoughts or plans for travel or just daydreaming at work. 

We have both always wanted to travel and so have nervously and excitedly resigned from our job roles to take 7 months to see the world (or at least some of it!), before getting back to our much loved careers.