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 … Palm Springs

I have a confession to make; I have actually been to Palm Springs twice before, but never actually done anything more than sit by the pool and go to Walmart to collect camping supplies for Coachella. I decided it was time to rectify that situation and head into the desert. My mum was here for a few weeks, and as has become our tradition during her summer visits we try to go away as much as possible. We’d already been to Galiano Island and in previous years have gone down to Las Vegas, mainly because it’s cheap to get to from Vancouver and because we can eat, drink and lie by a pool there. This year we mixed it up a bit and decided upon a change of scenery, so we headed into the blistering Palm Springs sun.

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Beautiful Palm Springs

Stay:
I stayed at The Monroe which was pretty conveniently located at the north end of Palm Canyon Drive, which is the main strip in Palm Springs, so to speak. I found the hotel through booking.com and it had the dream combination of being reasonably priced and well reviewed! It was absolutely perfect for our stay as it had free parking, decent rooms and a great sized pool – win!

Eat:
I had so many delicious meals in Palm Springs, which actually surprised me a bit because I wouldn’t automatically think of it as a foodie haven … until now.
Lulu’s California Bistro
This place was huge, and had a menu big enough to rival The Cheesecake Factory, and some very strong cocktails.
Norma’s at The Parker
The Parker is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stepped foot in, and on top of that I had the most delicious french toast here, and it was honestly as thick as a ream of paper, no lie!
Workshop Kitchen + Bar
Super hipster, and super delicous, offering farm to table yumminess, tucked away in a cute little courtyard.
Koffi
There are a couple of these coffee shops dotted around the city, their muffins and iced coffees were amazing.
Great Shakes
Does what it says on the tin. I had the white chocolate cherry, and it was ridiculous in the best possible way!
Trio
Kind of like Lulu’s but on a slightly smaller scale. Their tagline is “Where Palm Springs eats” and that was good enough for me.
Ice Cream and Shop(pe)
Offering unique and delicious ice cream options with some cute gifts to shop at the same time. I had the pomegranate chip and it was beyond good.
Kings Highway at Ace
Cool vibes and a great menu full of food you want to eat. Their BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avacado, tomato) was absolutely scrummy!

* I’d read so many great reviews about Cheeky’s but sadly it was closed for August so I didn’t get to try it this time.

Do:
For such a tiny city I was really pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do in Palm Springs. Don’t get me wrong I was more than content to lie by the pool all day in the blistering sun, but also had the urge to go and do a bit of exploring. Looking back I feel like I had a nice balance of exploring and relaxing.
Aerial Tramway
The aerial tramway takes you all the way to the top of San Jacinto Peak. What makes this different from other gondolas and tramways is that this one rotates 360 degrees on the way up providing stunning views of the Coachella Valley and surrounding mountains. Once at the top there are stunning views to take in, as well as some hikes and all the classic National Parks information and learning centre.
Cabazon Dinosaurs
This place is so random and so completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The concept is really simple; humongous dinosaur statues by the side of the road. We didn’t bother to pay and go in, but just had a quick look around and took a few photo’s. It’s only about a 20minute drive from Palm Springs and I’d definitely recommend it as something quirky to check out.
Salvation Mountain
It’s a bit of a drive (about 90 minutes each way) but in my opinion, so utterly and completely worth it, plus you get to drive past the Salton Sea which is kind of cool. This place is magical and unlike anything I have ever seen before. I first saw Salvation Mountain in the movie Into The Wild and it’s periodically popped up over and over again throughout the years, I’ve had a hankering to go there ever since. I don’t think I could ever do justice to how special this place is, so I will just say that if you ever get a chance to go there, please do so.
Moorten Botanical Garden
I stumbled across this place whilst doing some Pintrest research before leaving, and it actually ended up being one of my favourite things from the whole trip. It is so unique and being able to look at the hundreds of different types of cacti all in one place is really cool. Plus this place is home of the worlds first ‘cactarium’ which is a beautiful greenhouse filled with cacti bathing in muted light!
Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
We stopped by here on out last morning in Palm Springs, because the bigger Palm Springs Art Museum wasn’t open yet and this place was, plus it was en route to the airport. There is free admission and it’s small enough that you can make your way around in around 30-45 minutes without rushing. This faction of the museum features temporary exhibits, and had some cool mid-century furniture on display whilst we were visiting.

I had such a great time in Palm Springs, and I know my mum did too. Palm Springs is such a bewitching place and is most definitely on the laid back side of things. There was a huge choice of great places to eat, and plenty of things to see and do that were all a bit different to things that you normally find to do when on vacation. To me Palm Springs is the kind of place where you can completely tailor your trip to suit your interests, which is kind of the perfect destination.

Leah Explores … Harrison Hot Springs

Every year myself and two of my best friends go away for the weekend. It can be a bit challenging as we all work together so there is always a bit of human Tetris involved for us to all get the weekend off but we always manage (well done Laura!) This year we decided that we wouldn’t go anywhere too far away and wanted to stay in Canada, because of the US exchange rate right now. We settled on Harrison Hot Springs, a tiny lakeside town about 90 minutes outside of Vancouver. We’ve all been before, but not for a while which made it fun to rediscover this little gem of a place.

Stay
As I’ve already said Harrison is tiny, there are some small hotels and campsites around, however, most people, ourselves included, opt to stay at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa. This place reminds me of Kellermans from Dirty Dancing; everything is there and there are definitely some people who do not leave the resort. And to be fair, you don’t really need to. It has a spa, pools, bar, restaurant, shops and a coffee shop. There were some nice touches too, for example they had free afternoon tea out by the pools one day during our time there. Our stay was really enjoyable and I would definitely stay there again.

Do
Harrison is definitely a place for both relaxing and for being active, it’s such a small place that you will inevitably end up doing both. As the name suggests the town is home to some Hot Springs which definitely lend themselves to the relaxing aspect of the trip. On the other hand there are loads of trails around the area as well as abundant water sport options, and a ridiculously fun looking inflatable Total Wipeout style obstacle course out on the lake. Our stay coincided with the annual ‘Sasquatch Days’ which included war canoe races, activities and entertainment, and takes place every June.
We did the easiest hikes called the Miami Bridges trail which is a very leisurely (and flat) 0.5km meander through some trees, past some water and back to the hotel car park. Of course, when in Harrison you have to search out and take a picture with Bigfoot, see below. We also sat by the pool, enjoyed some cocktails and walked from one end of the town to the other, which takes about 10 minutes. It’s also worth taking the short stroll down to the source of the Hot Springs which is located a little way down from the hotel.

Harrison Hot Springs is so close to Vancouver that it makes it a perfect place for either a weekend getaway or even for a day trip. Like I said there isn’t a lot to do but that is the beauty of visiting Harrison. In all honesty we didn’t really push ourselves to do too much exploring, and that was kind of the whole purpose of the trip to relax and escape from the city for a few days. The hotel is so big that for the short time we were there we didn’t feel the need to venture into town for any food or drink. All in all I really enjoyed my few days there and will be back in the future for more relaxing and hiding away from reality, and maybe some more energetic hiking.

More information about things to do and places to stay in Harrison Hot Springs can be found on the Tourism Harrison website. Happy exploring!

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Leah Explores … Galiano Island

I’m the first to admit that I have not made the most of living in British Columbia or Canada for that fact, and have hardly seen any of this stunning country. Every year I make a promise to myself that I am going to do something about it, but the truth is, it’s pretty expensive to travel within Canada, especially if you want to go from one side of this massive country to the other. Therefore, I  have yet to really explore Canada. I finally made it to Galiano Island this past week whilst my mum is here visiting, and I can’t believe I haven’t been there sooner, especially considering how close it is to Vancouver.

Stay and Eat:
We stayed at the Oceanfront Inn and Spa, which is very conveniently located about a minutes walk from the ferry terminal. There aren’t too many hotels to choose from on the tiny island, but there are B&B’s and rental cabins all up for grabs too. The hotel itself is small and beautiful. Our room had an oceanfront patio, and was both spacious and comfortable,  as well as that our room had the BEST bathtub I have ever been in in my entire life!

We stayed pretty local with our eating (partly because we’re lazy, and partly because the island is so small) and had a delicious dinner at the Attevida restaurant which is part of the hotel, and offers stunning views of the water. We also tried the Sturdies Bay Bakery, located a two minute walk from the hotel, for a coffee and croissant for breakfast the next day, and then went back to the hotel and had some of their fire roasted pizza for lunch that was absolutely scrumptious. Finally, because it was lovely and hot it seemed like the best excuse to indulge in an ice cream at Scoops.

Things to do:
Galiano Island is tiny (27.5 km’s or 17miles) so most things to do there are either nature related – hiking, kayaking etc. – or based upon relaxation. We definitely leaned towards the relaxation side of things. Our hotel had a spa attached which we didn’t take advantage of this time (but would definitely do on a return visit) and this is definitely one of the main draws. I’m not going to lie, both of us are easy to please and were excited to have a look around and just relax.

Luckily for us, our hotel also offered Smart Cars for hire, which we took advantage off and set out to explore the island from one end to the other. There are some points of interest on the island, which include Montague Harbour as well as Bellhouse Provincial Park, Bluff’s Peak and Bodega Ridge. You can also pass right through the 49th parallel which is kinda cool. I definitely recommend embracing the adventure and “getting lost” because honestly, the island is so small you can’t really go wrong. We stumbled upon a lovely little secluded oceanfront area that was just a short walk along a flat trail.

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Beautiful Galiano oceanfront views

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Montague Harbour

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Bellhouse Provincial Park
Getting there:
As I already said getting to the Oceanfront Inn and Spa is beyond easy. Getting to Galiano Island is equally easy too. BC Ferries run a route to and from Tsawwassen daily, and depending on what time of year you visit there are more or less departures, the route takes about an hour. Galiano is tiny, and I don’t think a car is necessarily an essential, depending on where you’re going on the island and what you want to do. Taking a bike might be a better option, especially when you take into consideration how much the ferry costs jump up for taking a car. Walking and hitch hiking are pretty common on the island, so don’t be surprised if you see someone with their thumb in the air at the side of the road.

Galiano Island was absolutely beautiful and I honestly cannot believe I haven’t been there in the five and a half years I have been living in Vancouver, especially considering how close it is. I would definitely like to go back and do some more exploring, and maybe even some hiking. Because of it’s proximity to the mainland it is a great option for a weekend break as well as a day trip. It is is the sort of place where there is a stunning view around every corner, and a great place to relax and unwind. Happy exploring!

 

Leah Explores … Carmel

Carmel-by-the-sea is a small beach city in California, but what sets it apart from every other beach city in California (and lets face it, there are a lot) is that this place looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. The buildings are quaint and distinct, and there is a small town feel this idyllic beach city, I’ve looked at pictures and read all about it, but actually seeing it for myself was a whole other experience.. This place is both stunning and surreal. Post whale watching in Monterey my cousin and I drove 10 minutes south to Carmel-by-the-sea, for a stroll around the town, some lunch and some beach time. This tiny beach town is the perfect spot to visit for the afternoon as it’s small enough to navigate in just a few hours. That said, I think it would be absolutely amazing to go there for a mini break and just completely relax.

There are some super cute independent shops to look in as well as some more well known brands dotted throughout the main strip of town. I definitely recommend looking in Carmel Bay Company for some super cute gifts. There were so many places to eat at we felt a bit spoiled for choice, we settled on PortaBella restaurant which offered Mediterranean inspired cuisine, and had a delicious Croque Monsieur; a perfect spot for refuelling. Before we left we grabbed some yummy coffee from Carmel Coffee House. The Carmel Bakery looked full of deliciousness but I was so full after lunch I didn’t need any temptation. Whilst the town itself if cute, for me the beach was really the highlight. White sandy dunes lead into the Pacific Ocean and the views are just incredible. The weather wasn’t even that great whilst we were there but this place still took my breath away.

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I definitely suggest taking a trip to Carmel if you are in the area, just to see the beautiful city for yourself. As I’ve already said it’s a small place and there isn’t a ton to see and do, it has a more laid back pace to it, but that definitely works to it’s advantage. Have you been there? What’s your favourite thing to do? Favourite place to see? Let me kn0w in the comments. Happy exploring!

Leah Explores … San Francisco 

I have been wanting to go to San Francisco for so long, and I finally made it happen! Luckily it more than exceeded my expectations, and all the hype my friends had had was not misplaced. I had two and a half days in the city, and although I covered a lot I feel like I hardy scratched the surface, which in my opinion is the perfect excuse to go Hotel Mark Twainback and explore more in the future.

Stay:
I stayed at the Hotel Mark Twain which was conveniently located just a few blocks away from Union Square. It was pretty reasonably priced (for San Francisco) given the location. It even had a secret garden tucked away out the back that was the perfect place to sit and sip a coffee and hideaway from the city for a little while. The staff were also helpful, when it came to advice on directions and places to avoid, and there was a helpful guide book in the room that listed some local restaurants and bars. I would definitely stay here again, the bed was comfy, the place was clean, there were some quirky touches and like I already said the location was pretty great.

Getting Around:
San Francisco was a surprisingly easy city to navigate, and the public transport was pretty easy to master. I did a lot of walking whilst in the city, mainly because it is my favourite way to explore a new city and stumble across something unexpected. I used the BART to get from the airport to the city, which cost $8.95 and was painless. I also took the MUNI  a couple of times, which is $2.25 for a 90 minute transfer. Leaving San Francisco to head to San Jose I used the Caltrain, which was painless, and cost $12.95, the journey took just under two hours and was a great way to head into the Silicon Valley area without hiring a car. Of course the most fun way to get around is on a cable car, it was $7 for a single ride which was all I needed to do. However, it is worth bearing in mind that for $20 you can get a day pass and ride as much as you like.

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The most fun way to get around.

Things to do:
There is so much to see and do in San Francisco, I feel like what I saw was just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll admit I went into full tourist mode, in an effort to see as much as I could in the little time I had. In my two and a half days in the city I managed to see Alcatraz, Union Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coit Tower, Ghiradelli Square, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Lombard Street, Chinatown, the Ferry Building, Twin Peaks and to squeeze in a ride on the infamous cable cars. I also did a Vantigo Tour which was a great way to see the city in a more authentic way than some of the bigger tour buses, and the tour guides were insightful and hilarious. The tour also took me to some of the places that were on my list but I knew would be a bit tricky to get to, which was super convenient.
My highlights were definitely seeing the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, the views from Twin Peaks, riding the cable cars, and of course seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in person.

To say I loved San Francisco would be a huge understatement. I ran out of time to do all the hundreds of things that I wanted to do, but I am definitely looking forward to going back in the future, exploring some of the neighbourhoods in more depth, and ticking more things off my San Francisco bucket list.