Leah Explores … Canberra

I’ll admit it, I haven’t met a single backpacker so far who has told me they have been to Canberra, or that it is on their list of places to go. Even some of the Australians I have met so far, haven’t even been. So after a week of job hunting and feeling a bit blah about everything, I decided to pack up Bertha (my backpack) and head off on a weekend getaway to the ACT and see what Canberra had to offer. I’m not going to lie, my expectations were pretty low, I mean I’d literally not heard a single thing about the place. But, I figured that as it is the capital city it had to have something going for it.

House of Parliament
House of Parliament

Stay:
There wasn’t a load of options when it came to hostel accommodation in Canberra, in fact when I checked Hostelworld, I had a grand total of two options. I went with the Canberra City YHA. It was higher rated, in a better location and I know I tend to have good experiences staying at YHA’s. I managed to get a weekend deal through the YHA website, which included two nights accommodations, daily breakfast and a full days bike hire for $99. The hostel was nice enough, and on the empty side, which made a nice change coming from Sydney.

Do:
I checked my Lonely Planet guide before heading out, and it was without a doubt the smallest section in the whole guide book. I also went looking for inspiration on Pintrest and good old Google, but there weren’t a load of blog posts or guides available. I was so pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to do and see in Canberra.
Big Red Explorer Bus
A bit like your average hop on/hop off bus, except on a smaller scale, and much more personal. Michael was my driver and he was amazing. It takes you to all the main galleries and museums that you would want to see, as well as around the embassies, and down ANZAC Parade. Canberra is definitely a city where you need wheels, 2 or 4, so this is the perfect solution. The only downside of it, is that you don’t get long between pick ups, so you have to race through places. If you have more time you can make your ticket into the two day pass and solve this problem.
War Memorial
Without a doubt, one of the best things I saw in Canberra. This isn’t just a memorial, it is also a museum dedicated to conflicts from WW1 onwards including recent conflicts. It is not only incredibly poignant but full of interesting information about smaller battles that happened within larger conflicts. As well as this there are planes and a Japanese submarine to look at too. If you go towards the end of the day you can be there to experience them play the Last Post, which I imagine would be extremely moving.
National Library of Australia
Honestly, I was a little disappointed by this, the NSW State Library is magnificent and this one just didn’t quite live up to my hopes. They had an exhibit all about 1968, and also a permanent exhibit both of which were interesting.
National Portrait Gallery
I really enjoyed looking around here. There was a great mixture of photography and more traditional painted portraits, all of which were stunning. Definitely recommend stopping in for a look around.
National Art Gallery
The main draw for me here was the Cartier exhibit, which I happily paid $28 to see. It was absolutely stunning, and being able to see the tiara that Duchess of Cambridge wore on her wedding day was amazing. Sadly, I didn’t have time to look around the rest of the gallery, as I had to hop back on the Big Red Explorer, but it was pretty huge and looked amazing, with a good mix of art.
Parliament House
This was my final stop of the day, and I really enjoyed being able to wander around and enjoy all the art that was displayed. I stopped off at the Queens Terrace Cafe for lunch, which I would highly recommend, not just for the food but also for the amazing views of the Old Parliament House, ANZAC Parade and the War Memorial.
Lake Burley Griffin
Hire a bike and cycle around this spectacular manmade lake that is at the heart of Canberra. Choose from the East, West or Central Basin, or if you’re feeling sporty, you can tackle all three. The views are stunning and it’s the perfect way to see the city from a new perspective.

War Memorial
War Memorial

Getting There:
I took the coach from Sydney with Murrays, and it was a painless three and a half hour journey straight through. I went with Murrays as it was cheaper than the train or flying. And the same price as Greyhound, except they had a lot more departure options daily. It cost me $38 each way. I was also really lucky both ways as they didn’t charge me extra for having a second bag – thanks guys!

Lake Burley Griffin

Top Tip:
Pack light
Don’t take a backpack when exploring the galleries and museums. It is a huge pain, as you have to leave it in the cloakroom every time, which is free of charge, but still annoying.
Time your visit
Visit when parliament isn’t in session. Accommodation and transport is much cheaper. As well as this, the city is a lot emptier and getting into restaurants is so much easier.
Have wheels
Either a car or a bike, or a ticket for the Big Red Explorer are needed to best experience Canberra. There are a lot of things to see just outside of the city, vineyards and mountains but you’ll need wheels to get there.

 

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Leah Explores … Brisbane

I’d heard a lot about Brisbane before getting there and the majority of it wasn’t great. One girl basically looked at me like I was mad when I said I had four days there, assuring me that I could do everything in half that time, and many people I spoke to had missed it altogether on their east coast travels. But I wanted to go, I’d worked with a girl who did her semester abroad there and absolutely loved it, and as always the FOMO won!

Stay:
I stayed at Bunk, and really liked it. It wasn’t in the most central of locations, but it was in a cool area, and it was still easy to get around the city. I had decided to treat myself to a 4 person deluxe female dorm, as I needed a break from the wet towels on the floor that boys tend to have a habit of leaving. The room was nice, with an en suite and lockers,  although I experienced the squeakiest bunk bed I have ever encountered in my life. The hostel give you 30minutes of free wifi a day and then after that its $2 for 24 hours. They had a daily free breakfast and a bar attached to the hostel.

Do:
South Bank
This was definitely my favourite part of the city, it was a great place to just wander around and take in the sights. Make sure you stop by the Brisbane sign (for the ‘gram if nothing else ;))  and also check out the artificial beach/lagoon.
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Brisbane Wheel

I don’t know why I always go on these ferris wheel type things, because as soon as they start I remember that I don’t particularly enjoy them! I would describe the Brisbane Wheel as a poor mans version of the London Eye, and is normally one of those tourist traps that I would avoid. However, Brisbane isn’t exactly a touristy city, and there isn’t too much else to do there. Its a 12minute ride with commentary, and if you do decide to do it check out Groupon first. A nice lady told me to get my ticket from Groupon as I was lining up and saved me $8!
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Mount Coot-tha
Honestly, by my Vancouver standards, I don’t know if I would call this a mountain, maybe a really big hill … I mean the bus drives you right up to the top… But, it does provide beautiful views of the city, river and surrounding area’s. Once at the top there are a few trails to do if you fancy, otherwise there is a cafe and a restaurant. I managed to get there and back on the same bus ticket and have a drink and muffin at the top.
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GOMA
Or the Gallery Of Modern Art is just a bit further along the South Bank nestled behind the State Library. It is free to get in unless you want to see the featured exhibit, which I wasn’t particularly bothered about, and has three floors to explore. Definitely worth checking out.
Eagle St Pier
This is the perfect spot if you want to go to a nice restaurant, and do a bit of people watching. There are loads of restaurants and bars dotted along this part of the river, which also happens to be one of the City Hopper stops.
Botanical Gardens and Roma St Parklands
If you want somewhere nice to just have a wander around, I would recommend either or both of these places. Both are free to get into, and both have the option of free guided tours too. I preferred the Roma St Parklands to the Botanic Gardens as there was a bit more diversity and variety between the different sections which I really enjoyed. That said, the Botanic Gardens had plenty to see, and was easy to get around in a short time.
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Queen St. Mall
I’m not going to lie, it was nice to be able to look around some decent shops again. There is nothing particularly special about the Queen St Mall area except it’s pretty big, and if you’re looking to spruce up your backpack wardrobe this is the place to do it.

Getting Around:
The city has it’s City Hopper Boat which is a free service and takes you to six stops along the river. This was literally a lifesaver getting around, and also a great way to take a free river cruise. Just don’t get confused and jump on the City Cat which is not a free service and will charge you!

All in all, I quite enjoyed my stay in Brisbane as it was nice to be back in a big city again after so long. It definitely isn’t a tourist city, and sadly the girl who looked at me like I was mad was correct, I definitely could have done everything in two days. Definitely a weekend destinations. It’s a weird one, I could have been quite happy staying there longer, if I had a job or something else to keep me there, but also quite happy if I never weren’t back there again. It’s a bit of a generic river city, that is just missing that special something. That said I do think it is a bit of an underrated destination and is definitely worth considering if you are doing the east coast, a lot of the “attractions” are free and it definitely breaks up the middle section of the journey.

Leah Explores … Noosa

I hadn’t done too much/any research on Noosa before getting there (shocker) except speaking to some people I was travelling around Fraser Island with, who had already been. There were a lot of mixed reviews. Some people hated it, others had really liked it, some preferred other places they’d visited. I arrived with literally no expectations.

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Stay:
I stayed at the YHA Halse Lodge hostel, one of the girls in Rainbow Beach had recommended it to me. Location wise, you cannot beat it, it’s literally a 2 minute walk to the beach and the main street which is filled with shops and restaurants. It’s a wooden heritage style building, which features a large upstairs balcony and a large common area, bar and restaurants downstairs. They have a welcome meeting on your first night there where you are given a free glass of wine (yay!) I was also upgraded from a 16 person dorm to a 5 person which I was extremely happy about. The rooms were pretty standard and had lockers in which was nice, and the bathrooms were always clean. They also had a dinner special for guests which was $10 for a pizza and beer!

Other options hostel wise in the area is Nomads which is a bit further up by the bus station, I’d heard good things about there, and it is the place where everyone (who is a backpacker) goes to go drinking each night.

Do:
Noosa National Park
This is right on the doorstep of the hostel, and one of my favourite things I did whilst in Noosa. There are loads of trail options and different points and beaches to stop at along the way. I did the coastal trail which was stunning, and went out to Hell’s Gate and back. I walked past the Fairy Pools, which due to the high tide and crashing waves, no one was braving. There are ample beaches to stop at along the way, and depending on the time of year you could very easily spot some wildlife out at sea, or as I did on the trail.
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Eumundi Markets
These are on twice a week and well worth a visit. Imagine a farmers market, now quadruple it in size and you’ve just about got an image of the Eumundi Markets. This sprawling set up has everything from jewellery to dumplings, tarot readings to pet food. You can easily waste a few hours strolling around, looking at all the stalls and getting lost amongst the jumble of vendors. You can get here on the local busses, just check for bus times online.
Everglades
Noosa is the only other place in the world apart from Florida to have Everglades, so I thought I would check them out. I opted for the Bar-B-Canoe tour which included a BBQ lunch, boat tour through the Everglades and then a Canoe ride back. I’d never canoed before and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, even when I was caught in torrential rain (what’s new!) I booked through the hostel and saved $10.
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Beach
Sitting on the beach in Noosa on my first day there was probably the first time I really felt like I was in the Australia I had dreamed about from the UK and Canada. The sand is soft and white, the water is blue, there are palm tree’s and a broad walk, and surfers just casually running in and out of the water. Just be careful if you go in the water as the current is so ridiculously strong, that the lifeguards patrol on jet ski’s constantly and I saw at least two people get pulled out the water by lifeguards whilst I was there.
Surf
There are surfers wandering around barefoot everywhere in Noosa, and if you are so inclined there is no shortage of places to rent surfboards, or take lessons.
Relax
Noosa is a proper little beach town and has quite a lot going for it compared to some of the smaller beach towns I’ve been through so far on my travels. It is the perfect place to just kick back, relax and eat good food.

Eat:
Betty’s Burger and Concrete Co.
I kid you not this is the best burger I’ve ever eaten, sorry In’n’Out! The food is so good here, make sure you try it if you go. I went early and was glad that I did, because when I walked by later there was such a huge queue to get in there.
Aroma’s
I went here to hide from the torrential rain, and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a Parisian style bistro which is perfect for people watching. I got a cocktail and portion of fries which was huge.
Nitrogenie
Definitely the most scientific and delicious ice cream I have ever eaten. They mix liquid nitrogen with the ice cream mixture and ta da you have the smoothest ice cream you’ve ever eaten!
Acai Bro’s
For delicious Acai bowls you cannot beat Acai Bro’s, they have a huge selection of smoothies, bowls and raw treats.
Cafe Le Monde
I took myself for brunch here on my last day in town, and was not disappointed. A really cool place to sit with a book and a delicious coffee, and munch on some yummy food. 

I can’t recommend Noosa enough, I absolutely loved it there. To me it felt like a mixture between Laguna Beach and Carmel with a surfer vibe thrown in for good measure. It is the perfect place to go and relax, enjoy nature and eat good food.

Leah Explores … Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals call it, is a small island located just off the coast of Townsville, and just a short 25minute ferry ride away! The majority of the island is national park, but it’s one of the few places that you can see Koala’s in the wild.

Stay:
I stayed at the Base hostel which had a two night deal which included, return ferry fare, welcome drink, a dinner and a breakfast. I really liked this hostel, the rooms were all A frame cabins, which definitely helped with the overall aesthetic, not that it really needed any help there! The hostel was right on the beach, there was a pool, and the bar and kitchen was pretty decent too! There were plenty of b&b’s, Airbnb’s and hotels on the island as well if you didn’t fancy the hostel life. I would also recommend the YHA Bungalow Bay, which I went to when I went to see the koala’s and it looked really nice there too

Do:
Hire a 4×4 or Barbie car
We had the option to rent the car for 24hours or six hours. We opted for six hours as we were leaving the next day, and it was more than enough. It was so nice to have the freedom to go and explore, especially as Magnetic Island isn’t bustling with tour busses. Even better was that our 4×4 was a banged up little Suzuki ready for off roading, it was so nice to drive something a little banged up instead of a brand new car for a change.

IMG_7560Rock Wallabies
Without a doubt one of my absolute highlights of Magnetic Island. From dusk onwards in the Arcadia area of the island the rock wallabies come out from the rocks and are totally cool with all the tourists there. The wallabies are nocturnal so the later you go the more there are. We went around 5pm and there was a decent amount. Take some veggies to feed them and they will come and eat right out of your hands.
YHA Bungalow Bay Koala Village
Ever since my first enchanter up in Kuranda I will take any opportunity I can get to hug a koala, hence my trip to the Koala Village. There are three tours a day which last for two hours and are led by an expert, and includes holding a small turtle and lots of information It costs $29 for the tour, and then an extra $18 if you want to hold the koala and have a photo. What was great was that they let you take photos on your phone too, so you had digital copies straight away. I also got to stroke a wombat and take a selfie with a koala called Hagrid. You can also if you’d like have breakfast with the koala’s here, check their website for more details.

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Hike to Hawkings Point
We did this the first night we arrived in time for sunset, and it was beautiful. After a bit (a lot!) of confusion about where the trail actually was we found it and trekked up to the top. Take plenty of water, if you do this. This was the first time I’d done any sort of hike in this level of heat and humidity and it took it out of me more than usual. The views from the top are insane, especially just as the sun slips below the horizon.

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Enjoy the coast
I didn’t do it, but there were plenty of places on the island where you could snorkel or scuba around the island. As well as that there were so many beautiful beaches you’d be hard pushed to not find one that suited you. Drive around and find a secluded spot for a spot of relaxation.

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Magnetic Island definitely wasn’t on my radar of places to go in Australia, until I got here and started talking to other travellers who had already been there. I absolutely loved my time there, especially as for the majority of it, I had such little phone reception that my phone was permanently on “SOS only” which was a nice change to completely switch off. I highly recommend a trip to Magnetic Island if you’re in the area, even if it is just for a day, it’s definitely a place I would like to go back to. 

Leah Explores … Cairns

If you read my 2018 Travel Plans post you will have seen that I’m spending the year in Australia, and I decided to kick start this year in Cairns. I have to admit that I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Cairns. I was only planning on staying here a few days; finding my feet, seeing the Great Barrier Reef and a few other things and then heading on down the coast. Except when I went to open up my bank account the lady informed me that it would be two weeks for my new bank card to be mailed, and that I could have it sent on elsewhere but then they would have to cancel this one and reissue it. Cue my unintentional two week plus stay in Cairns.

Fitzroy Island

Stay:
I stayed at Globetrotters Internatonal, it was a little further out of town and not a crazy party hostel, both of which appealed to me. It was really clean, pretty cheap, had free daily breakfast, free dinner twice a week, nights out, a pool, laundry and loads more. Two particular highlights for me were that one, there were no bunk beds, and two, they had fridge lockers for no extra charge.
There are loads of hostels throughout the city so you are not spoilt for choice, Giligans is the obvious choice for a party hostel if that’s your cup of tea. And if you fancy something a bit more luxurious there are ample hotels as well. I would advise staying away from the Novotel as the tree’s outside are literally overflowing with millions of bats. I would also say that accommodation with a pool isn’t essential as the lagoon is so easy to get to and absolutely beautiful.

Eat:
I was feeling pretty flush when I arrived in Cairns, as it was my first stop and had money burning a hole in my pocket, therefore instead of fully embracing the hostel life I had a few “treat yo’self” moments.
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Caffiend
This was actually recommended to me by my bestie who is the research queen. And she didn’t let me down, it was absolutely delicious. I had a Flat White and avocado toast (#basic) and trust me they didn’t disappoint.
Pantry 15
Just a little further along from Caffiend is Pantry 15 which also offers instagram worthy eats. I had their signature coffee and it was insanely decadent in the best possible way!
Blackbird
This place is tiny and tucked away down a little mall/alley but oh my god do they do amazing coffee! Totally worth searching out!
Tokyo Dumpling
I’d read about this in my Lonely Planet guide and went their for an early dinner one night, where I had the dumpling set meal, which included a miso soup, rice and 12 dumplings of my choice.
Lilypad
I went here after reading about it on another blog post about Cairns and I am so glad I managed to get a table and eat there. The portions are ginormous (I had enough to take home for dinner, and pretty reasonably priced too. But most importantly the food is absolutely delicious!
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Do:
Cairns is described as a gateway town and I totally get it. With the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree right on it’s doorstep the city itself kind of gets overshadowed by these natural wonders.
Great Barrier Reef:
You can’t really come all the way up to Cairns without experiencing the largest living thing on earth. I went out with Passions of Paradise on their giant catamaran and had an amazing day. They take you to two different reef locations depending on the conditions that day. You have the option to scuba (if you’re certified or do an intro dive) or snorkel. They provide you with all the gear (stinger suits included!) and feed you ample amounts of food throughout the day.
Waterfalls:
I went with Uncle Brian’s on their Fun, Falls and Forest tour, which took me to Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa (aka the Peter Andre and Herbal Essence waterfall) and finally Lake Eacham. Unfortunately we experienced the most insane rain that I have ever seen, which meant a lot of the planned activities had to be cut short and couldn’t go ahead as planned for safety reasons. I still had an amazing day and would love to go back to experience the falls and lake in all their beauty, not half submerged under raging rapids.
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Esplanade and Lagoon:
You can’t go on the beach or in the ocean in Cairns due to the crocs and stingers, but they have the most beautiful lagoon and esplanade broadwalk which hugs the beachfront. Taking a stroll from the hostel into the city along the esplanade became an almost daily occurrence for me, not just because it’s beautiful but also because it meant that I didn’t have to walk past the tree’s full of bats!
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Fitzroy Island
If you take a 45 minute ferry from Cairns you end up on Fitzroy Island which just happens to be home of the best beach in Queensland, and the whole of Australia; Nudey Beach. I basically took the trip just for this beach and I wasn’t disappointed, it was exactly what I imagine paradise to look like. It’s a 20minute hike from the ferry terminal and so worth it. There are plenty of other activities you can partake in on the Island; kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking and snorkelling. There is also Foxy’s bar for lunch and drinks if you don’t choose to have the lunch option with the ferry package.
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Kuranda & Surrounding Area’s
I really wanted to take the Scenic Railway up to Kuranda and then the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back down, but due to the cyclone there were landslides and so no train for me. I instead hired a car and made the trip up there, skipping the cable car journey too. Kuranda is a artsy little village nestled away in the middle of the rainforest. It’s a cute place to wander around and there are plenty of stalls to browse and shop from. There is also a Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, the Kuranda Koala Gardens, Birdworld Kuranda and the Rainforestation Nature Park close by as well, so plenty to keep you busy in the area. If you’re going that way I would highly recommend checking out Baron Falls which are absolutely stunning, and can be accessed by the train, or you can hike there or do as I did which was drive there and then hike to see the falls.
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Palm Cove
Located a 30minute drive north of Cairns, Palm Cove is an absolute paradise. I ventured here the same day as I went to Kuranda, and happily spent a few hours strolling along the beach and soaking in the stunning scenery. Palm Cove is a little beach town that gets it’s name from the palm trees that line the beach. I actually discovered this place as it was on a postcard I sent to my friend, and I figured if it was good enough to make it on a postcard it had to be worth checking out in real life.
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Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t “hate” Cairns, and there was definitely plenty to do there, but I definitely think it’s the sort of place you only need to visit for a few days, by the end of my two weeks I was more than ready to head on somewhere new.