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.

 

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.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0265.JPG
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!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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 … Denia

When a good friend got married in Spain in May, myself and one of my favourite travel buddies decided to make the most of being there. We not only celebrated their marriage, but also explored the beautiful Spanish town of Denia, as well as some of the surrounding areas. We didn’t stay for too long; we had two full days plus two half days, but managed to squeeze a lot into a little time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stay:
We weighed our options and ultimately decided to rent an Air B&B. Whilst there were some beautiful hotels in the area, we felt like a Air B&B was the best option for us. Our apartment was located close to the Marina, not far from the Old Town and featured a stunning rooftop patio with views of the castle. One thing to keep in mind if you are staying in the area and renting a car is that parking in the area is pretty limited to street parking and the occasional car park, so be prepared for some narrow streets and parallel parking.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Other options:
Hotel Nou Roma
A couple of people who attended the wedding stayed her and having seen some of the pictures it looks lovely. Right in the middle of the Old Town of Denia, and within walking distance of pretty much everything in town, this boutique hotel should be a contender if you’re looking for something more in the action.
Hotel Los Angeles
Located a little way out of the hustle and bustle of the town, but right on the beach with stunning views, this hotel is definitely worth considering if you want something more low key and relaxing.
IMG_4176

See and Do:
We had a day and a half for exploring, in which time we managed to fit in a decent amount, including venturing a little further afield to visit Guadalest and Fonts De L’Algar.
Denia Castle
There is no doubt that this is one of, if not the main attraction in Denia. The castle dominates the skyline and watches over the city. Built in the 11th and 12th centuries there is a lot of history and beautiful details to explore. We just looked around the grounds and took in the stunning views that they offer, but there is a museum you can visit too. One thing to keep in mind is that they only accept cash for the entrance fee, which is three euro’s, so make sure you have some on you.
img_5508
Marina and beaches
Denia is a port town with ferries that run to Ibiza as well as other destinations. This means that there are miles of beaches to check out as well as the marina to stroll around and daydream about boating in the Mediterranean.

Stroll around town
One of my favourite things to do whilst on vacation is to just wander around the local area, and get lost in a new place. Denia is the perfect city for this, especially around the Old Town where the streets are narrow and the buildings are beautiful.

Eat and Drink
If you don’t go to Spain and eat all the Paella and drink all the Sangria are you even really in Spain? Within thirty minutes of checking into our Air B&B we were on our first glass of Sangria. As for Paella we went to Tasca Les Monges in the the Old Town, which was recommended to us by the Bride and approved by her Spanish Husband, win win.

Have you been to Denia? What was your highlight? Let me know in the comments.
Happy exploring.