A Travellerspoint blog

Gili T : overhyped or a true little paradise?

Gili Trawangan, The bigger and more exciting Gili. A little group of three small islands of off the northwest corner of Lombok, Indonesia.

sunny 29 °C

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Most people (and yes with most people I mean all age groups, not just young backpackers with a low budget) spending a holiday in Indonesia, especially Bali and/or Lombok, will not escape to elusive call of “The Gilis”. Not only because the guidebooks or travel agent or their own brief internet research of “The 10 best things to see in Indonesia” mention it but because as a westerner (Bule) you get hassled and shouted at, by the local folk trying to earn an extra buck with selling transportation, if you want to go to Gili tomorrow.. Really. Honestly. There’s no escaping it. So why not, right? Even if it wasn’t on your own list of things to see. There must be a reason why everybody goes to the Gilis right? At least that what I told myself. So why not check out. So I did.
Basically you have the choice out of three, once you decided to go to the Gilis. First up is Gili Air, it’s the closest to Lombok’s mainland. It’s happening but quieter and maybe more midrange for accommodation and food, I had the feeling it’s more for families. Next is Gili Meno. Not that populated or built up at all, it’s also quite small, even more quiet but the beaches look awesome. Ideal for honeymoons. Then comes Gili Trawangan. Definitely the party island of the three. It’s not only the biggest, it’s also the most frequented by far. More than a hundred different kinds of accommodation from flash to budget, you name it.. you can find it on Gili T. If you want choice in accommodation and food, bars and music scenes… Even smoke(able)s and a certain kind of mushrooms are readily available. I can’t talk about the quality of those but it seems to make a certain kind of visitor happy. Because Gili T is bigger it also has more coastline. Trust me when I say it’s perfect place for walking, running, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling. Awesome snorkeling! Right of the beaches. All of the islands have this going for them by the way but I can only really speak of Trawangan as that’s where I spent most of my time.
With our travel style, it being a strict budget and trying to do the right thing at the same time, it became again apparent to us, we had to take the local angle. We figured out the local recycling system and returned plastic water bottles and empty glass beer bottles to little markets or the people we were ‘homestaying’ with. We got change back and made it easier for them yet again to make an extra buck as well. We got all of our snacks and toiletries in the back markets (not the ones on the main road, where prices are three times as much) and bought fresh fruit and a local brand crackers as snacks and breakfast. Soooo cheap. Home stays during high season on Gili T are expensive. Just haggle your way into almost half the price, without breakfast (which usually isn’t that great anyways) you can get a substantial discount. We haven’t encountered less than 100.000 Rpi on Gili T (other places it is more easy to get cheaper for obvious reasons), but it shouldn’t cost you more than 150.000 either for a very decent place. Meaning big bed (for a couple), good working fan and clean spacious bathroom. This translates into 10-15 dollars for a cheap room on Gili T. You can find these in the village on the south east corner of the island. With eating local food and going to the market at night (where dishes shouldn’t cost more than 25.000 (2.5 dollars), this being a lot of food including meat or fish, which makes it more expensive if you go vegetarian it will be A hell of a LOT cheaper. Don’t forget this is a holiday destination for Indonesians as well and things are a lot more expensive on the Gilis. Beer is the most expensive bit of your daily budget, that’s what it came down to for us. You could get the really cheap mixed drinks in the bars and they will get you there but they are also extremely bad for you. It’s poison basically. It’s not even Arak (Rice liquor), it’s some weird fake vodka and whisky and rum, it’s just not good. My stomach didn’t agree with it, so I stuck to beer. If you don’t overdo it, you can handle Gili T on a budget very easily.
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What I, personally, liked the best about the Gilis was that there is no traffic. No hustle and bustle from scooters, minibuses and cars. No real noise. No pollution except for the dust the horse carts kick up while passing you. You have your choice of beaches and there’s some pretty damn good ones. Snorkeling (and-or diving) is a must in this liitle heaven on earth. But what about the parties and all those youngsters trashing the place you ask? There wasn’t really much of that going on, honestly. Choose your accommodation wisely (away from the mosque and away from the main street and bars) and you’re golden. Go enjoy the magnificent sunsets every evening on the west coast, where the sun sets Gunung Agung (the highest volcanoe on Bali) on fire and have a two dollar big beer, while sitting on this beautiful white sand beach.
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It’s pretty magical. Do some snorkeling again the next day and some sunbathing, start a new book and go to the local Padang (restaurant with dishes on display) for a 5000 Rpi lunch, cause you figured out the system. That’s what locals pay for a portion of rice, sauce and vegies. Instead of going to yet another Indonesian run kitchen trying to make western sandwiches and burgers with chips for 50.000. Let’s just be honest, they are not good. Stick to what they know how to make and it will be a lot cheaper and a lot tastier.
This is how the sustainable part of our travel comes in. Stay with locals, eat like the locals, buy food from the locals… feed the local economy. That is always the rule, wherever you go. Waste management is a problem in Indonesia. Plastic is everywhere. Creeks, rice fields, banana plantations, even in front of the house you’ll frequently see piles of half burnt plastic. Some people deal with it and clean, others just don’t. Keep the beaches and pristine waters clean, set a good example and pick up after yourself. The locals will appreciate it. Watch out with sunscreen use while snorkeling over the reefs. (It damages the reefs, you can get the ‘good’ kind.) Don’t touch the turtles or break anything of the reefs or stand on them And the most important one. Always haggle. Don’t let them get away with trying to charge you 5 times the price things should be. It’s how they do business, even amongst themselves. Just play the game. Once you got the hang of it, you’ll feel a lot better and more confident. It’s hard dealing with the knowledge they will always try to rip you off. Don’t take it personally, fight back. Always do the math in your head for any kind of payment and check how much change you got back. There always that 10 or 20.000 they’ll try and sneak in there to put in their own pocket. Wages are low and people have other ways of supporting their family. Enough said, not? You can haggle over everything. From rooms, snorkel trips to dinner and a bottle of water in a supermarket. They’ll try and make you feel like things have a set price, but they really don’t. Another big problem is people don’t seem to understand the locals are muslim. Which means dress appropriately. Especially while walking through the village. Don’t come running back from the beach in your bikini, like I saw one girl do one day. I’m sure you can understand what that would feel like for a local woman to see every day outside her house. Transportation to the Gilis can be easy, fast and expensive or hard and slow and very, very cheap. It’s however you feel about it. We took the cheap way and it worked out every time but it’s not the stress-free way for sure.
I thought it was a pretty special place, but you have to treat it with respect and adapt to the locals. I can easily see the Gilis getting ruined by the highly increased interest in the last couple of years (some think it already is). It will only get worse and in my opinion it is already on the verge of being too much.
So if you are planning to go to the Gilis or are doubting if you should, I didn’t regret it in the slightest bit. I had a wonderful time and thought the place was amazing!

Posted by tinelhoest 20.09.2012 02:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged food fish boat bali diving hiking beach indonesia market locals jungle blue island sun beautiful paradise budget swimming muslim trail tourists cheap dive snorkeling tourism gili lombok homestays backpackers islam blue_water magical padang gilis gili_trawangan gili_air gili_meno banana_pancake gili's all_ages colorful_fish dive_shops

The Real Fiji Experience.

Our Time in Fiji well spent.

semi-overcast 28 °C

Screw those backpacker itineraries, flashpacker resorts and cruiseboats… man, we saw the real Fiji or better Viti. (Viti = Fiji in Fijian.) What it really is like living in Fiji and it couldn’t have been a better experience.
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What I didn’t know was that there is some hardship to be had by about 70 percent of the population. You got to work hard out there to live your sustainable life on a tropical island. The luxury resorts on numerous tiny islands away from the main island (which is Viti Levu = literal translation = big Fiji) and the main cities (especially Suva, the capital) are all a tourist really gets to see. Happy Fijians greeting you and helping you out with anything you need. Lovely service, although a tad on the slow side. Fiji Time is a common saying here, I guess also known as island time. Time doesn’t really exist here. Things happen when they happen, so you better leave your western mentality and expectations behind. What you don’t get to see, unless you go out explicitly in search of it, is the real village life. How most of the Fijians still live these days. They don’t really need electricity and are fine with not owning a fridge (which in my opinion I couldn’t do without). Their main resources are limited in variety, but I guess they also don’t really mind. Life revolves around food, so farming and fishing is the main activity besides preparing and cooking. Seems quite simple, doesn’t it. Well it is, but there’s a beauty in it, that I as a western girl wish I could appreciate more. I noticed first hand, by my own experiences that I get quite restless while staying in villages for too long. They don’t really use downtime for personal need. There’s no such thing as reading a book for leisure and maybe if you’re lucky there will be one household that owns a TV. Computers and internet are a city thing and most villagers don’t know what Facebook is. Oh my lord, I can hear you saying… it is in reality a third world country. Well... yes and no. Most people would label it as such but I think Fijians really don’t mind the kind of life they lead. They are not in need of anything else. This is what it has been like for a while now and it works so what’s wrong with that. Everything you do or work for is in service of the local community. Everything is a communal possession. A great example of this is how any house is everybody’s house. People walk in and out, chatting, gossiping and sharing responsibilities such as caring for the little ones. Babies are adored, really I can’t put it in any other way then they are conceived as little gods and goddesses. Constantly being kissed and paraded around, an average baby in your average village is not alone for a moment. The complete opposite of how western babies grow up. They can’t be taught how to be independent fast enough! Fijian babies are cuddled and loved and passed around frequently. Everybody is everybody’s mother, father, big brother or big sister. Seriously, it blew my mind..
Although the city life is definitely different. I speak mainly of my village experiences on Vanua Levu, Viti Levu and Taveuni. Unfortunately that’s all we had time and funds for. Thanks to a friend of my dad back home in Belgium we were able to hook up with a local family and their extended family spread all over the country. We visited several villages thanks to them and on our own we managed to integrate in some more as well. It is a fascinating culture with old traditions still embedded in their everyday life to this day but missionaries have definitely succeeded in religiously conquering and transforming Fiji though. There’s about 6 different branches of Christianity present everywhere we went plus Islam in the bigger places and Hinduism as well. I don’t think you can find an untouched village anymore regrettably.
Even though the real Fijian food we had day in and day out, never disappointed us and is, if I may say so really yummy, there’s not much variation. As too be expected by being extremely isolated islands and it is a tropical climate after all. The main diet consists of Dalo (Taro), cassava and coconut. The coconut tree must be the most versatile around. They use every single part of it for cooking with, eating, body care products and building their houses and furniture, weaving hats, mats, baskets and fans with the palm leaves. There are a couple of green leaf vegetables, readily available and that made me happy but for the rest, unless it’s a village close to the sea and they get to fish every day, there is really not a lot to it. When you go visit people or a village, you bring them one of the following as gifts (Sevusevu) and they will be extremely grateful; canned fish or meat, cookies, sugar, bread, butter, soap and toilet paper. These are luxury items only available in shops and the cities. Wages are extremely low but I guess the cost of living is not that bad either, if you don’t buy beer and meat every day. The traditional Sevusevu would be or as they call it, Grog. Let’s have a little chat about Kava shall we? It is the original traditional drink for Fijians, pounded root of the peppershrub, mixed with water, it makes a muddy not so nice tasting drink. It’s their versions of drugs and alcohol (cause I haven’t really encountered anything else once off the beaten track). Granted you can find beer, wine, spirits and marijuana in the cities, but not as plentiful and besides Fiji Bitter or Gold (which is quite cheap) the rest is very expensive. Normal Fijians can’t afford alcohol so Kava it is. And trust me it is.. at all times and for any occasion possible the bowl comes out and the traditional half coconut shell used as a cup gets passed around. You better not be afraid of catching something when you go visit a village cause everything is made with the local water and food gets eaten with your hands and the kava bowl is shared. So once you get over the muddy numb-making taste of Kava, you might enjoy it and maybe after a couple of full cups you might feel a bit drunk, but it wears off extremely fast. So don’t get your hopes up. No, you haven’t found an cheap alternative to alcohol, forget about it. It makes you at best a bit woozy and very mellow. You will sleep great and the next day you might just want to do nothing and take another nap. On the other hand, I’ve heard Vanuatu has the strong and better stuff though. But I wouldn’t know myself as I haven’t tried it.
Fijians are basically the most hospitable people I’ve met so far (I think it can be said about almost any Pacific Island nation). There is nothing they would not give to you, because you as a foreigner are really honoring them with your interest and your visit. They will invite you in, just cause you are passing by, for tea, lunch or dinner depending on what’s going on at that time. They will make a spot at the head of the table for you (that is the head of the tablecloth on the floor, there is no such thing as a table in real Fijian households.) They’ll give you the best piece of meat and will give their beds to you if you are invited to stay the night. You’ll be proudly guided around and invited in and you’ll be shaking (lululu = official greeting/meeting) a million hands (because they all want to meet the –as it was in our case – white people). We’ve had young kids be afraid of us, starting to cry (cause they have never seen a white person before in their lives). We’ve had to smack away some little hands trying to peek into our bedroom, prying the curtains to one side in the evenings. Kids just being gob smacked when looking for the second time when they realize we don’t really belong in their village. Being stared at was definitely a common occurrence. We had the occasional better educated and worldly young ones flock to us and ask us a million questions in English about traveling and what it is like outside of Fiji. It was fun and new for the first few days but after a while there’s that guilt sneaking it’s way in and you start to feel a bit inappropriate for many different reasons. I’m sure those are feelings many of us would feel in those kind of situations and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable feeling them all the time because of the way we travel. From now on, we’ll be heading only to poorer countries and we will keep on hanging out with the locals, so I guess I better get used to it. Fijians are very respectful people. Unless you’ve been living with them for months and been seen as one of their own, you will not be allowed to do much. Offering to do the dishes or your own laundry are not going to be allowed. They will tend to you and try to make you as comfortable as possible. Adults won’t really ask about your life or pry into your business unless they really feel close to you which takes some time. Romantic gestures or kissing or holding hands are NOT done and it is very hard to tell how they actually go about dating and getting to know one another. I guess it all happens in secrecy. In one of the villages we visited on Vanua Levu we got the experience a real Fijian style wedding. Four days of full on organization and celebration. Pigs and cows were slaughtered and the best ingredients were used for making delicious food! We had squid in lolo (coconut milk) and lime, clams and grilled fish. Lots of meat and chicken curries, plus all the different kinds of fried bread for breakfast the day after the wedding. It was amazing!!! Not only the food but the teamwork of the village on display.
Let’s just say experiencing the real Fiji was a once in a lifetime thing and that I’m very satisfied with our choice of travel methods. I can go in search of the perfect beach and lazy around in Indonesia for a lot less money and that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing. I’m glad I went for an off the beaten track kind of experience in Fiji. Just cause it was SO worth it!
There will be more detailed entries of our adventures in Fiji coming soon.

Posted by tinelhoest 23.07.2012 20:07 Archived in Fiji Tagged islands food boat beach religion bus locals ferries resorts blue island fiji paradise taveuni viti_levu mamanucas buses coconut pacific guitar backpackers vanua_levu tropics suva hitchhiking couchsurfing ukelele nandi yasawas cassava pacific_islands viti real_fiji_experience fijians tropical_climate dalo tarot casava indo-fijians missionaries flashbackpers

Tramping in New Zealand

Why and how you shouldn’t pay all that hard earned cash on the Great Walks.

all seasons in one day

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First of all, I need to tell you guys a secret.
When I was about 13 years old, I did some hiking in Switzerland on a summer camp kind of ordeal. I liked it a lot (although my main memories of it are all about a certain boy of course, as it should be when you’re a teenager). But since then I’ve never really been into it or just haven’t had the chance to do much of it. When I met Connor, things changed. He got me back unto the right path. He revived that need inside of me of wanting to go explore nature more again. I’ve always loved camping, so why not go off into the bush and do it more often, yeah? If you would have told me four years ago that I voluntarily would carry around a backpack climbing up steep unformed pathways for 5+ days I’d say you were crazy. Honestly. But now… I love it!!! It gets you in shape first of all. And fast. Being surrounded by nature and not modern society is a plus as well. There’s nothing more satisfying then hearing nothing but water and birds and the wind in the background while reading, relaxing or even dozing off in the afternoon sunshine. The continuous walking in silence clears my head and I always feel like I have accomplished something big at the end of the day. Therefore I highly recommend hiking to everybody. Plus if you ever find yourself thinking about a trip to NZ, do NOT skip the opportunity to do some walking! You will not regret it. With its hut system and very well organized and marked tramps, NZ is the perfect place to get into it. It has never been so easy basically.
You’ll find yourself dealing with DOC (Department of Conservation – or as the locals like to call them sometimes; the Department of Contradiction, because of certain policies DOC has associated themselves with) a lot when getting involved with tramping while you are in NZ. They are responsible for informing and helping you out with anything concerning taking off on a tramp. You book your huts through them, consult weather and track conditions and in some cases you’ll encounter them on the tracks or in the huts and they will give you even more useful information.
Unfortunately a lot of international tourists have caught on to the great walks NZ has to offer and therefore they have become extremely expensive because of the demand for better facilities along the way. Today when you go to stay in a hut along one of the great walks, there’s…. wait for it… in the middle of nowhere… electricity (solar), flushing toilets and warm water. That’s not really tramping anymore, that’s just a luxury vacation. Not even mentioning that a lot of them these days pay guides to take them up (already really well marked seriously overcrowded pathways, why there is that need.. I do not know), carry their backpacks and cook for them at the end of the day…. Really…
The old romantic huts that had room for less people, yes, had more of a convenient setup though. A stove in the middle of the room, to keep you warm at night. In these fancy huts you are actually stuck in dorm rooms with no stove present. You have gas cookers in the kitchen area, which is weird as well in my opinion. You don’t need them. You should just bring your own gear and be fine, yeah? So every real tramper that is always packed correctly with all you could ever need, gets stuck paying 50+ NZ dollars a night to sleep in a fancy hut, they don’t want to sleep in to begin with (because they liked the old ones better) but you have no choice, cause you are not allowed to camp anywhere anymore. So what’s the solution to this problem, when you have no money and want to enjoy all of these beautiful tramps? Choose more low key ones and not the great walks. You have no choice sometimes and that really sucks. There is a couple of loopholes though. One being that the great walks season goes from November till the end of April. So basically outside the season you can still walk the great walks at the normal prices (but the weather conditions might screw that up for you, sometimes they take the necessary bridges to cross the bigger rivers out as well, which makes it impossible for you to complete them). Another loophole is you can only do parts of the great walk maybe connecting it to your own made up tramp. I say… boycott DOC’s great walk policy and walk the less famous ones. Most important first step in the right direction get a backcountry hut pass.
For example a couple of my memorable tramps are the Cass Lagoon Saddle in Arthur’s pass, Greenstone-Caples, Rees-Dart (including a day trip to Cascade Saddle – the most beautiful one I’ve done so far). It won’t be long before these will be classified as great walks officially too and become more expensive, cause they ARE that great. You can make your own track combinations in some places with an extensive system so you can avoid paying all that money and will only encounter real trampers and not the ones who expect their dinner to be cooked at arrival in the huts.
Both the South and the North island have an amazing amount of tramps and they will not disappoint you. Huts are becoming more expensive and they are banning camping out slowly but surely. It’s becoming an elite sort of thing to be able to do these great walks and that is ridiculous. I understand the need to keep things under control and make nature your first priority. I’ll be the first to agree. But it didn’t seem to bother anybody before. When you make the access and luxury less, you attract only the real folks who are doing it for the right reasons and know the etiquette of camping in the wild. By creating this fancy resort-walks you attract people who do not care and therefore you’re creating this problem by catering for stupid people. You don’t need a flushing toilet on top of the mountain!!! You need a shovel or you carry it out, it’s that simple.
There, I had my say. I’m one of those who is willing to pay for all the work DOC is doing, but not so they can built a resort on the top of the mountain. Give me my rustic little hut back.. They are the best. I have not been able to do or complete any of these Great walks because I did not have a couple thousand dollars extra saved to walk them. I just think it’s wrong. Luckily there’s plenty of other tramps that are more low-key but just as precious! Thank god for that! Let’s hope that will last.

Posted by tinelhoest 03.07.2012 18:12 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking camping huts doc tramping routeburn great_walks cascade_saddle rees-dart greenstone-caples milford_track backcountry_hut_passes

Hitchhiking in NZ

The easiest and cheapest way to get around... no doubt

all seasons in one day

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Many people would hesitate but eventually find an excuse to not stop when they see a hitchhiker alongside the road. The car is full.. Oh it’s too late now… or the most honest reasoning would be that they don’t really want to as it’s not easy to trust strangers. Some just ignore because they are plainly said not in the slightest bit interested in helping other people out. Well, all the above are very understandable. Except for the last one, those people need to re-evaluate their lives…
Connor and I have been hitchhiking quite a bit while we’ve been doing our around the world tour. We just stand somewhere safe, have a sign, plenty of room for the person to pull over, not too much of a speed limit, a friendly helpful population and voila!!! You got yourselves the most interesting way, sometimes most efficient as well, to travel around and connect with the country of your choice. I wouldn’t recommend it in all places, but I’ve personally done it in Hawaii, Australia (including Tasmania) and NZ and encountered nothing but friendly folks wanting a chat or wanting to help us out. But how about all those murders on the news involving hitchhikers? Well, think about it… usually it is the hitchhiker that is at risk, by getting into a car they don’t know, not the driver. Another thing to think about; tragedies involving hitchhikers will always reach the news because of its adventurous nature, it is news worthy. There are people disappearing, getting shot at, dying in accidents, getting raped or murdered every second of the day somewhere in the world, but those don’t always make it into the papers, do they??? I’d say you are perfectly safe hitchhiking if you are being smart about it. Just as you’re safe crossing the street using the crosswalk and the green light. Never had one dodgy person wanting to give us a ride. We are a couple though and Connor’s quite tall, but we look like legit decent travelers. We try not to look too scruffy or dirty and also to not smell too much. Which is pretty much impossible after coming out from tramping in the bush for multiple days, people must have thought we smelled pretty bad sometimes. I guess we could have bought a car and have spent half of our hard earned money on petrol getting around, but let’s be real. Our way of traveling would have put that car 75 percent of the time parked and forgotten somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Plus getting a ride with locals just gives you so much more valuable info and sometimes free food, alcohol and a place to stay even. What more could you want? Hitchhiking has proven extremely useful to us and sometimes was better than your average expensive taxi or shuttle service. As there are sometimes no busses at all to be spoken of in certain remote regions, it’s your only choice of transport anyways. I got used to it and still think it was the best way to travel around certain countries like New Zealand for example, where we were for the last 6.5 months.
Now we are in Fiji and the rules are different here. You can hitch with any vehicle but you are expected to pay the amount it would have cost for you to take the bus. As people are poor and busses are not many (in remote areas) and everybody who does have a vehicle is trying to make an extra buck or two. So the genuine hitchhiking is non-existent here, but that’s not throwing us off. We’re enjoying taking extremely bumpy and overly long bus rides. We’ll see how things will go when we get to our next destinations, but as soon as we have found a country where hitchhiking is done I’m jumping back on board!!

Posted by tinelhoest 03.07.2012 18:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland cities roads car road new_zealand nz friendly south_island north_island abandoned hitchhiking easy helpful thumb thumbing_it

“Aotearoa – The land of the long white cloud : Unplugged”

AKA New Zealand, most definitely one of my favorite places in the world.

all seasons in one day 12 °C

Out of our 6.5 months in NZ, we spent about 4 over the summer on the South island enjoying the beautiful scenery and doing some tramping (= trekking + camping = hiking). The last 2.5 were spent discovering the North Island which is poles apart. It’s like comparing chocolate and cheese, a saying we’ve heard Kiwi’s use frequently. (Kiwi= New Zealander) We’ve experienced this country in every single way possible and walked (or rather flew) away very satisfied and with, what we feel is, a correct view on a very isolated and enormously beautiful, friendly place on this planet. A country that has a very green image, but we know now that is not completely true.. When you hitchhike and stay with the locals, conversations are very enlightening . We had a blast traveling around this country, making new friends, meeting up with old friends, NZ will always keep a special place in my heart.large_548289_376..38362_n.jpg

Hitchhiking, helpXing, couchsurfing and tramping… is all (you need) we needed to get a real insight into what New Zealand is all about. We’ve stayed and worked on farms, climbed some mountains and saddles, did the real touristy bit when my dad came over for three weeks, cruising around the country showing him all the good stuff. We know Maori names for plants, trees and birds…We can tell the difference between a Kauri and a Puriri tree. We know how to recognize the call of the Kiwi bird at night (if it’s a male or a female – not a Morepork , which is a small owl who makes a similar sound) and how to spot one. A 85-year old Maori woman named Jean taught me how to weave different kind of flowers with flax, a native plant with big strong leaves of which they use the fiber it produces off for just about anything. Unlike Australia, where the possum is cute, well loved and considered to be a protected species, it is an all-around pest in NZ. The debates heat up massively at times for what the best method is to get rid of them humanely. It suffices to say that we’ve been offered to shoot some at many different occasions (which Connor successfully did a few times) and have been shown how to set up traps. It surprises me sometimes, when I think back, how much NZ actually has taught us. No need to say, it has left a huge impression on me. I loved the country, it’s amazing wild nature and especially the extremely helpful and friendly people. Basically I wish I could go back already..
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It’s the perfect country for the keen hunter or fisherman. Many pests to get rid of including deer (you can shoot as many as you like basically). So many unspoiled waters for fishing. I, myself caught a 15 pound snapper just of off the coast in the Far North (top of the North island), which a lot of kiwi’s have complimented me for as they themselves had never caught one that big before.

Here’s a little itinerary so you’d have a good idea of what we’ve done and where we’ve been during our time in NZ.

December, we arrived in Auckland made good friends with the Davis family (located on the North shore) and scooted in hurry over to the South Island, because the summer had arrived and the tramping season had officially begun. We wanted to take advantage of the good weather and start taking in that elusive grandeur that the Southern alps and Fiordland are famous for. Made a little stopover in Nelson to get ourselves sorted (where we exactly were going to start our exploring). We then decided on Arthur’s Pass for Christmas and New Year as there is always snow to be found on the mountain tops there and we hadn’t seen snow in ages! (It still feels weird being in the Southern hemisphere when it actually is summer when I’m used to seeing snow and ice for Christmas). So we worked in the Bealey Hotel for a couple of weeks, helping in the kitchen, working behind the bar, changing sheets. Not the most glamorous job in the universe but it had some fun folks to hang out with day in and day out (wink to our Argentinian friends, who are living it up for the snow season in Queenstown right now). Being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, immense wild braided river flowing right underneath your window, most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, admitted it was pretty awesome.. I’m trying not to forget to mention the local wildlife which pretty much only consisted of sandflies and Kea’s due to the altitude. Sandflies must be NZ best well kept secret. You don’t really hear about them until you actually encounter them. They are tiny little black flies that bite kind of like a mosquito. The bites are nasty and itchy though. Fortunately once you know about them and get used to them, you’d be able to outsmart them by covering up and spraying wrists and ankles especially (as they like those the best). Kea’s are the NZ’s ONLY alpine parrots. They are pretty looking and extremely inquisitive. They tried to fly off with one of my hiking boots one day at one of the campsites. They’re quite big and have very colorful wings (mainly green and a bit of red). We encountered them while tramping quite often. Terrorizing the neighborhood in packs, you have to watch out for leaving food out and they have been known to break into tents and cars… You’re asking me how? Very sharp beak and very smart, that’s how…

January, we said goodbye to Arthur’s pass and went more south. Through the Canterbury plains, through the Southern Lakes region, Lake Tekapo, Twizel, Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Some glaciers and hitchhiking rides later we made it to Wanaka and really started to get a feel for the South Island. Queenstown was next and we stayed in this area for about a month. Working on a farm just outside of Glenorchy 45 minutes north from Queenstown at the top of the lake there is an substantial amount of South Island beauty to be found. Anyone ever going to Queenstown should rent a car for the day and explore more north. Much better than only a visit to the super famous action capital of the country. Seriously, don’t stop at Queenstown, get your ass up there. Until this day this is still one of my favorite places in NZ. Riding horses (who almost guaranteed were in the Lord of The Rings movies, as they were all filmed in this area), tramping the different valleys and mountains are still part of my most memorable accomplished activities. This region borders Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Park which are world famous for their great walks. We did some 5 day tramps and they are indeed Great… It’s a magical place. large_552088_376..77999_n.jpg

February, we met up with friends and went to Abel Tasman national park for my 30th birthday. Did some sightseeing and camping at Golden bay and tramping.. Success! After a very fun week hanging out with our American friends from home, we needed to get down to the more Southern part of the South Island as summer was threatening to disappear on us soon. Made our way down the east coast, saw some penguins and seals and weird looking boulders on a random beach. Crossed through more dairy farm country and landed in Invercargill for a while. Worked at a very hilarious hostel, waiting out the rain. Got to Te Anau and realized how immensely beautiful and wild this country is.. again. Did some tramping around Lake Manapouri and got on a very successful Doubtful Sound day cruise. Oh my…. That was an incredible experience. Dolphins came by and said hi… waterfalls were plenty..there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the water was quite calm and we were able to get out into the Tasman Sea in our little boat to have a look back onto Fiordland…. One Word: Breathtaking.

March, we finished our time down south and made our way back up to Christchurch (6.5 months in NZ and I did not feel ONE earthquake, which is very rare, as going to CHCH basically guarantees you one…. It was earthquake central for the last 5 months and will be for another while they say.) We spent a marvelous time on the Banks Peninsula, learning how to look for Paua (abalone) and huge green lip mussels for dinner. Learned a bit more about Maori culture and took my dad later back there to go camping on the beach in one of the spectacular looking bays. Flew out to Auckland to go get my dad from the airport, jumped in a little cheap campervan and started a 5000km adventure on both the North and South Island showing him, what we thought was, the best NZ had to offer… in about 3 weeks. It felt like a success afterwards… but in comparison to the way we normally travel, it was way too fast and not enough time. The glowworm caves in Waitomo stick out in my memory though and Rotorua’s smell! Should have spent more time in Kaikoura as the dolphins and seals and tramping opportunities were plentiful! Our Milford Sound trip turned out to be the most divers one we could have ever hoped for. We had rain, snow and hundreds of thousands of waterfalls in every shape and form to admire during the first half of the day driving from Te Anau towards Milford Sound. That road is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Once we got on the boat, the sun decided to come through so we had a good view of the very famous and picturesque Mitre Peak before encountering more dolphins, seals and an amazing amount of rainbows. What good karma us three must have, cause good god.. for a minute there before we got on the boat the outlook didn’t look very positive.
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April, we dropped Dad off in Auckland and put him safely back on a plane to Belgium and had a good rest at our favorite family’s place. Stayed on the North island from now on. A fishing trip to Coromandel got us some yummy fish dishes for a while.. the amount of fish we caught fed us for a week! Northland was next on the list and we really lived the good life up there… Digging up Kumara (sweet potatoes), went fishing some more and looking for seafood almost every day. Had a good night out with some local Maori boys in Hokianga (who picked us up hitchhiking and in return we picked up little bit of the local dialect – chur brew!). Went looking to catch a ride on a boat to one of the pacific islands in Whangarei and in the Bay of Islands, but decided we weren’t done yet with NZ.
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May, Hawkes Bay and Napier is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. Drove a quad on the beach at low tide to go see Cape Kidnappers from up close. It was starting to get real cold now. Not cold like European standards for winter but frosts started occurring overnight and frequent Southerlies (wind) made it chilly. It was no longer comfortable camping, so we were getting excited about leaving on a jet plane to Fiji! Finished off some tramping in the centre of the North island in the shadows of the mystical three volcanoes who by now had very snowy tops, which made for exceptional picture taking. Got a good view of Mount Taranaki and enjoyed a steep tramp halfway up the mountain. Too much rain and cold weather made us go up north again.large_532857_420..33668_n.jpg

June, ending our NZ adventure with one of the best helpX experiences we’ve had so far. Between Thames and Paeroa, in the Maratoto Valley (bordering Coromandel peninsula) we planted heaps of little native trees and had spiritual bushwalks hugging some Kauri trees. Learning how to correctly do Light Clay wall stuffing and talk to fantails. My wisdom tooth started to act up and it was decided that it had to be surgically removed (I’m writing this 10 days after this has been done and it still hurts! My jawbone was drilled into… trust me when I say mind-blowingly painful). Then after saying bye to the Davis’s and getting a new tattoo, we finally jumped on a plane to Fiji.

It’s warm and coconutty here…. And I miss kiwiland.. (fail) Smiles!

Posted by tinelhoest 03.07.2012 17:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow queenstown fishing boat snowboarding wildlife hiking locals fiji sun new_zealand dolphins camping milford_sound maori lotr south_island north_island seals hunting hunter doubtful_sound hitchhiking glenorchy lord_of_the_rings tramping couchsurfing helpx far_north

The Land of the Long White Cloud has taken me.

Aotearoa aka New Zealand has taken me hostage. All I want is more and more.. of epic adventures situated in this magnificently beautiful country.

all seasons in one day 18 °C

There is not enough time in a day.

I still need to sleep as well and once in a while chillax and watch a movie. This country is filled with too many things for me to want to do.
You must forgive me for not writing about all of our little adventures separately. Things are different here in this one. Not at all like Australia.

I fear that for the next month or two there'll be heaps of excitement and loads of moving around as well. So keep your eyes on my facebook page if you want to keep being updated with our progress. We do put our pictures up there once in a while and in massive amounts. So please do have a look and if you have any questions. Ask away.

And I, Tine Lhoest-Anderson, promise, sincerely, that I will write a highly successful and complete piece about my adventures in NZ. Soon.

here are the links to the many pictures taken by myself and my lovely husband of our travels in Kiwi-land so far.

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Love,

Tine

Posted by tinelhoest 29.02.2012 21:09 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown island friends south north new_zealand adventures pictures kiwi glenorchy tramping facebook kiwi's great_walks farmwork

The Rainbow Coast, Western Australia.

And who was it that said Seattle was rainy? Try the Great Southwest of Australia. It's called the Rainbow coast for a reason. Our 5 months in Albany, Western Australia.

Okay. First of all, I will apologize. Forgive me for forsaking my blog entries for the last 3 months. It may not be a decent excuse though, but I have been working my - now very much in shape - butt off, thanks to biking several kilometers in and out of town everyday for work.

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What can I say about Albany? The first words that pop in my head are grey, rainy.. and windy. But I'm not doing this town any justice at all. It has a stunning coastline and after all it is winter here. And what a mild winter it is in comparison to what I'm usually used to. I can hardly complain. It just makes me miss home more. That's all.

We lucked out basically. Five months in a wonderful house, stocked with all the herbs and spices and basic cooking supplies that I could ever need. With a magical veggie garden in the back, where all our daily needs for fresh greens are met. The two chooks, who don't really need looking after at all. They already realize, they are living in paradise. They've stopped laying eggs for a months or so, but now one of them is getting back on track so who could blame them for anything? And then there's the orange tree... even if there's no sunshine most days, the tree is making us feel loved at least. Never tasted such fantastic freshly squeezed orange juice in my life! But the best perk about this gig is.. the three boxes in the back room filled with VHS's from the nineties. What better way to spend your dark, cold, lonely nights?

So this house-sitting thing is working quite well for us actually... probably better then we could ever have hoped. We knew when we arrived in Australia, running out of money was going to happen at one point (it being so expensive here and all). When we figured out this overly expensive country came along with equally high wages, we knew we were going to take advantage and soon. But how to go about all of this you ask? No worries. Working Holiday Visa? Check. And that's all you need. The rest just takes a bit of smarts and effort and maybe some persisting as well. We were initially worried about a place to stay while we would be working. Rent prices were scaring us quite a bit to be honest. So we came up with two options. One: Find work that would include accommodation and maybe also food or.. Two: find a house-sitting gig in a place where finding jobs would be easy - easier. Both are equally as hard to find. So when we found this ad online for a 5 months long house-sitting job in a reasonably sized town along our planned travel route, we jumped on it immediately. We managed (somehow) to convince a 70 plus year old couple, who spend the winter up north every year, to let us take care of their house while they were gone for 5 consecutive months. Needless to say we will be eternally grateful to Harry and Val. They are the ones responsible for us putting away large amounts of money on our bank accounts at an extremely fast rate.

So work, work, work.... What does it feel like? After a couple of years of indulging ourselves in a rather relaxed way of living - traveling the world and not having to worry much about money. It feels a bit numb to be honest. People might think of us as the escapist kind. Not wanting to settle down, not wanting to tie ourselves down to certain responsibilities. Some of you out there would call us cowards for not wanting to deal with the real world (as they would call it). Which I understand. Completely. But see it from our point of view. Why not take advantage of the limitless possibilities out there? Why not get to know this planet for real before it's too late? We just want to have fun and experience all what is out there as much as possible. What's so wrong with that? We'll get tired of it at one point. We'll settle down. Just not yet though... It's way too much fun being a global nomad..

One place where I work at is the Royal George Hotel. A bartending job will stay the same wherever in the world you may find yourself. So it's a good skill to fall back on. This bar in particular has an immense amount of history. This whole town does by the way. What makes the George a different kind of pub to work at is the old fellas. It's a good old local kind of pub. Nothing fancy. I've got my regulars that come in everyday and they are amazingly entertaining and splendid company. The times they have made me giggle with their wild stories from the good old days. I've heard Robert Plant and Neil Young anecdotes from a former musician suffering from severe tinnitus. Or how about this other fella that one day decided to fill me in on a certain part of his past. "That time I almost went to the slammer for nearly killin me own brotha." That was one of the more heartfelt ones. There was still sadness and pain to be read on his face while he tried to explain. In his defense, his brother did take off with his fiancee while he was at sea. Most of these guys once used to be fishermen or working on the rigs or for the Navy. Now most of them are retired and meet up with each other in the pub almost every day. Every single one of them is adorned with plenty of visible tattoos and even though they might look like rough oldies not to be messed with to an outsider, to me they all are cuddly bears with a heart of gold. To see them all lined up sitting at the bar next to one another, mumbling and cursing a lot (ooh yeah... they curse a lot) with their free hand (the one not holding the beer) cupping their ears trying to catch what their neighbor just had said, because the batteries in their hearing aid might have run low again. You just have to see it for yourself, it's very endearing.

Albany was the right choice to make. Even though I did run into some trouble with a local business owner thinking, because I was a backpacker, that must mean he had a freebie to take advantage of me. Well guess what? I might be a backpacker but I'm not a stupid one. Shame on those who try to scam us out of our hard earned money. Luckily I caught on to it from week number one and made my way out of their as fast and confrontational-free as possible. Karma will have it's way.

So yes. I would recommend to every young backpacker looking for another adventure to come to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa and to work their butts off. If they are smart about it, they will walk away with a huge sum of aussie dollars to spend nice and slow in less "dearer" countries.

3 months down. 2 to go.... then it's back to singing my favorite tune. "On the road again..."

Love and Peace,

A Flemish Girl Down Under.

Posted by tinelhoest 05.08.2011 09:41 Archived in Australia Tagged winter australia work north money western_australia orange orange_tree working oranges aud albany exmouth couchsurfing cira's royal_george_hotel housesit housesitting chooks veggie_garden mild_winter working_holiday_visa whv

Mining for Opal in Coober Pedy, Australia!

Frontier life in the Opal Mining capital of the world.

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Our first venture into Central Australia. Where copious amounts of flies and mosquitoes are your worst nightmare and water is scarce. Coober Pedy, situated a 1000 km north of Adelaide along the Stuart highway is a place literally surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing in every direction. It’s a place for outcasts and adventurers. A place where real rebels can feel at home. After crowded coastlines and busy, polluted cities, our true outback adventure starts here.

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Coober Pedy is known for its opals and dug-out houses and thus has placed itself on the tourist map. Opalized fossils of dinosaurs are world famous finds in this territory. Opals are basically gems from a long gone desert sea. As most of Australia was underwater up until 120 million years ago. Pieces of opal show a brilliant spectrum of colors which is quite unusual in a stone. It has the unique ability to split white light or ordinary sunlight into beautiful colors and is therefore extremely rare and valuable. So can you blame all these opportunists still trying to live the dream?

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Coober Pedy supplies about 80percent of the world’s requirement for opal. It all started with this young fellow about a hundred years ago, looking for some water for his family’s exhausted form of transportation, their camels. He stumbled upon something shiny and precious looking. Not long after, people starting digging and holes, that seemed no longer useful for finding opal, were used as housing..
We stayed with an Austrian Opal Miner in his large and very comfortable dug-out. We helped renovate an extension to the house in return. It was a true Coober Pedy experience, which people usually pay big bucks for.
The Aborigines didn’t name it ”White man in a hole” for nothing. ( Kupa = white fella / Pedi = hole in the ground).

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Thursday night, everybody goes to the local pub, including us, and the locals are extraordinarily friendly. This is where we got asked to sign “The Petition”. The company in charge of the electricity and water supply in the area had just announced that it would raise its prices about 300 percent…We had just read about it in the local newspaper and thought it was an outrage. How dare the government not do anything about this! These folks, who obviously don’t have a choice, are already paying unaffordable bills. Coober Pedy is one of those places where buying a simple thing such as a bottle of water will set your travel budget seriously back. Have a look at these beer prices.

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Even though all of the folks we met and had conversations with, were all very genuine and warm hearted, there was one thing that struck us as unusual. Here in the middle of nowhere, far into the outback, nobody seemed to speak highly of the ”Black Fellas”. We had encountered the Aborigine culture in the cities, seen the art work in the museums, heard their story over and over again and agreed that it was very sad indeed. So when we arrived into this part of the country where their numbers were far greater and the chances of seeing and experiencing their lifestyle were very real indeed, it turned out to be a bit different than we had expected. The first thing you see when you enter Coober Pedy is an abandoned city where aborigines aimlessly walk along the streets, sometimes sitting in groups gathered in the little shade a tree in the parking lot could offer. People usually try to avoid being outside for about 8 or 9 months out of the year during the hotter part of the day. The indigenous people though don’t really seem to mind and they don’t seem to care about their appearance either. There’s a certain sense of entitlement hanging in the air and I can surely understand why. It’s a complicated situation with a probably equally as complicated solution, but so far all the Australian government has been doing is throwing a fair large amount of money at the Aboriginal community. Some of them certainly didn’t mind coming up to us, to ask for a few dollars as if they were homeless and then immediately afterwards went inside a bottle shop (liquor store) to buy a cheap cask of wine. Alcoholism, certainly seems to be the major issue within all communities across the country. We were told that what you see on the streets are the outcasts. They have been kicked out of their communities because of bad behavior. These communities seem to keep to themselves though and we have yet to go visit one of the many found scattered around the outback . We heard nothing but good things and are certainly looking forward to finally meeting some of these exceptional people. There were many stories told to us by different locals about the many incidents that had occurred involving that one kind of Black Fella. I guess it’s the same anywhere right? Us, White Fellas try and stay clear from the troubled ones as well now, don't we? It’s all relative in the end.

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All in all, I’d say our Coober Pedy excursion was a major success. We found some opals… I’ll admit it was in our hosts backyard, though. They were the chunks he didn’t value much and had thrown away. They still looked like little treasures to us!!

Cheers!

Flemish Girl.

Posted by tinelhoest 22:56 Archived in Australia Tagged desert outback hot flies mining backpacking dust nothing opal mosquitos helpexchange.net coober_pedy opal_mining dug-outs opals black_fellas white_fellas renovate renovation petition

The Great Ocean Road.

South-west Victoria, Australia. Hitchhiking, camping and hiking.

It must certainly ring a bell when you hear someone mention "The Great Ocean Road". If it doesn't.. What if I mention the Twelve Apostles? Does that sound familiar? Well, as we’ve experienced last week, pretty much the whole world knows about it and it is THE major tourist attraction in Victoria, Australia. Tour buses of every size cramped full with little Asians passing us by every minute, while we are standing on the side, of what for the most part is a one lane windy 243 kilometers (150 miles) long coastal road, with our thumbs up in the air. It stretches from the cities, Torquay and all the way west up to Warrnambool. The road was built by returned soldiers and is the world's largest war memorial, dedicated to casualties of World War I. Honestly, nobody really talks about this important historical detail. What the GOR is famous for is the limestone rock formations, which are slowly crumbling into the ocean. There aren't really twelve apostles, it’s more like 8. In recent years, a couple of these important landmarks collapsed, one actually with tourists still one them. The London Bridge incident anecdote was told to us by a friendly local giving us a ride. Now called the London Arch, cause there’s no longer a connection with the mainland, that’s the part that gave way in 1990. No one was injured, but it left two tourists stranded until a helicopter came to rescue them.

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Originally we would have liked to walk the Great Ocean Walk. A 104 km walk starting in Apollo’s Bay almost all the way up to the Twelve Apostles. Instead we chose for a combination of hiking and hitchhiking. It turned out to be a very eventful 3 days, filled with amazing sights along the way and unexpected experiences. The first day was spent trying to get out of Melbourne as quickly as possible. We used public transport to get to Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road. Bell’s beach, a world famous surf beach was the first thing to check out. The weather was perfect for surfing and we did get to see locals have a try at some nice tricks. Our first ride was with a surf dude, with his over-friendly pup in the back of his 20 year old van, just making his way back home from Bell’s Beach. I thought that suited the start of our trip. There are a couple of free camp sites along the way but they were mostly located of the road for quite some kilometers. Finding camp spots wasn’t an issue. Rides on the other hand proved to be a bit more difficult. Lots of tour buses and tourists in rentals. We basically relied on locals to give us rides and they did, only our waiting times were a bit longer than what we were used to.

One goal I had set out for myself was to spot some koalas in the wild. There are heaps of them to be found around the Kenneth and Wye river area and the Otway National park. So we got a ride into Wye river with a local delivery guy and he told us to go to the back of the camp grounds and look up in the trees. And there they were. My first koalas! They’re usually found hanging around or dozing off in the bigger eucalyptus trees.

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We had to do at least a part of the Great Ocean Walk and decided to tackle the last bit towards to Twelve Apostles. We started at the beginning of Port Campbell National park, where all the good stuff is to be found. The sky finally cleared up and it was the perfect day for a much needed photo shoot of the most important part of the GOR.

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After about 7 kilometres of walking along the magnificent cliffs (with all of our stuff on our backs going up and down the whole time may I add) overlooking the Great Southern Ocean, the Twelve Apostles came in sight. Unfortunately the Great Ocean Walk doesn’t go all the way up to them, so we had to hike a bit along the highway. The first big sightseeing stop of significance was the Gibson Steps. They take you down to the beach, so you can really admire the height of those cliffs and some Apostles in the distance. If the tide is out enough you can walk along to the rest of them, keeping in mind you have to get back in time, there’s no way back up on the other side of the ridge. (I actually think there were signs and it wasn’t really allowed, but we saw folks doing it.) Hitchhiking from one point of interest to another (as they are quite close to one another) wasn’t that hard. It has to be said though the place was over-run by tourists so we didn’t get rides that fast.

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Finally we made it to The Twelve Apostles! They are pretty impressive to see from close by and it was all definitely worth it. Even though we still think it has nothing on the Washington coast though. We should start calling it the Ten Thousand Apostles and rename the 101, The Great Wild Ocean Road.

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The next amazing place was The Loch Ard Gorge. The gorge is named after the ship "The Loch Ard", which shipwrecked at this location. There still is a cemetery you can go visit there. An extensive walk all around the place is highly recommended. Some incredible formations make for some very interesting views.

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The Great Ocean Road and all of it’s wonders ends officially in Warrnambool. There is still much more along the way to see only we didn’t have a vehicle at our disposal, so we had to be content with what was accessible to us and take the rides that were offered to us.
In conclusion, everybody knows what The Twelve Apostles are and would recognize them in photographs. Well having seen them with my own eyes (and we worked hard to get there by hiking the last part of the Great Ocean walk), I can honestly state that the whole area is damn spectacular and they are truly one of a kind. Another great little adventure completed successfully.

Signed,

A Flemish Girl Down under.

Posted by tinelhoest 24.03.2011 01:25 Archived in Australia Tagged twelve_apostles melbourne victoria great_ocean_road hiking surf locals wild surfing geelong loch_ard_gorge camping backpacking backpackers surfer hitchhiking torquay koala's kenneth_river wye_river great_ocean_walk warnambool bell's_beach

Tasmania Unscripted.

Hitchhiking around Tassie. Using alternative, sustainable methods of traveling. Hiking, camping, hitching, couchsurfing and Helpxing around the beautiful Isle of Tasmania. When they say Tassie’s got it all, they really mean it when they say All…

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Until about 15 years ago, before an opportunist real estate agent made a documentary about Tasmania, this particular state of Australia was almost forgotten. When talked about, it was more commonly known as a joke. Nowadays mainlanders and your odd foreigner are buying up land like their life is depending on it. Granted, it is a good investment. It makes prices skyrocket and it’s no longer affordable for the average person with a serious interest in the country lifestyle. Cause that’s what Tassie is all about. It’s still a place where small villages rule and the local communities are going strong. Front doors do not need to be closed and neighbors help each other out without being asked. This could all be gone in the nearby future.

Anyways, the diversity of this island called for some serious exploration, so that’s exactly what we did. After our initial two weeks in Hobart (See previous blog entry Life in Hobart, Tasmania), we started our hitchhiking adventure around the island. We didn’t really have a plan, but we did pinpoint a couple of destinations along the way. The first was the Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay. Which turned out to be a magnificent little adventure. (See previous blog entry called Camping at Wineglass Bay.)
Next we were heading more north up along the east coast towards the Bay of Fires. Critically acclaimed by Lonely Planet (I’d never heard of it.), thus worth checking out in my book. Hitching to St. Helens was interesting. We almost got stuck in the middle of nowhere until a car stopped way ahead of us with screeching tires, putting himself in reverse and speeding backwards coming to a halt right in front of us. This is going to be interesting we though to ourselves. Turns out they were a lovely couple, providing us with a ride all the way up where we needed to be. After some much needed fish and chips in town, we got to know a kiwi couple living out their campervan. They took us up to the Bay of Fires and we camped in a pretty fantastic spot right next to the beach together. It’s exactly what we expected it to be. Endless perfect white sand beaches, red rocks and clear blue water all the way for miles and miles.

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Sometimes these HelpX hosts fall through and you are put in, what we thought at the time, a rather luxurious position. Extra free time to go scout the island. We reconnected with another host, who took us in last minute for a couple of days. Just because he could and wanted some extra company around. Andre has this little paradise tucked away in the middle of nowhere and we would have wanted to stick around for a lot longer, but as you can guess, there was still plenty to see in a limited amount of time, so we had to say our goodbyes way too early. Tassie seems to be a lot of firsts for me. Catching my first fish and shooting my first riffle! Target practice was awesome and a good skill to have in case the world goes apocalyptic on us and I’d have to survive by killing some scary zombies.

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Next was Launceston (aka Launie by locals)! Nothing much to do or see there. Another big city, I mean oversized village, but this time on the northern part of the island.

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Some lovely couchsurfing and a visit to the gorge later and we were on our way to Deloraine. This was where we were going to base our visit to Cradle Mountain out of. We thought we were pretty lucky to have found these awesome hosts. They were tremendously accommodating and we owe much to Graeme and Geraldine. Without their help we wouldn’t have been able to experience how beautiful this region actually was. Not to mention their house! Perfect example of using recycled and readily available materials.

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Cradle Mountain was gorgeous, we saw our first wombats (alive and not as road kill, very important detail). An initial 20 minutes of blue skies was the start of our 3 day planned hike. Then trouble began to rise to the surface or rather come down on us. Icy winds, snow storms and pathways turning into rivers wasn’t exactly what we were prepared for. We do have some warm clothes in our backpacks but no mountaineering gear though. So after drying out all of our stuff in one of the shelters, we decided to cut the hike short and make our way down to the sunny valley of Sheffield, a town famous for its murals.

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We followed the Tasmanian trail (Devonport to Hobart, north to south, straight across) for a bit and camped out in a forest nearby town. And what a fabulous alternative that was. The pine trees very much reminded us of home. The distinctive Eucalyptus trees are basically the only vegetation we’ve been seeing here so far in Australia.

Hitchhiking is definitely more easy in Tassie because of the small island mentality. We thought it was never going to be as easy as Hawaii again (Where hitchhiking is a very common way and very much accepted to get around the island. See previous blog entry The Big Island of Hawai'i), but Tasmania has proven to be the most helpful and trusting place. We stuck our thumps up once again and crossed the state in less than four hours making it all the way down to Woodbridge, to our last HelpX place. Another hidden little piece of paradise with a gorgeous view of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island.

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Dagmar, our host made us feel at home instantly and I know, I didn’t really feel like leaving at all. We meet many folks the way we are traveling and a lot of them we won’t remember, but once in a while there’s someone you will want to keep in contact with and maybe one day visit again. Dagmar is definitely one of those. We’ll miss her and her crazy nonetheless extremely lovable pups. Because we are traveling, there’s no time to get a dog ourselves any time soon. So it expresses itself into a lot of love for all these puppies we meet along the way. Bonnie especially, she kept us busy taking us along for her extensive swims. She could be a little neurotic but such a beautiful Stafford terrier. She definitely did a good job at keeping us entertained. You had to watch out though or she would have taken off by herself and swam all the way to Bruny Island.

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One other animal we encountered for the first time in Tasmania was the black Tiger snake. They seemed quite scary to me and I didn't realize Tasmania is much populated with all kinds of Tiger snakes. They are extremely venomous, but locals succeeded at making me less nervous with stories of their encounters and bites that they knew of. When they hear or see a human, they will make their way out of there, as they are not big fans. Only when you step on one they’ll bite and the chances of the venom actually making it into the wound are small. So when I actually saw a few over the next couple of days in the backyard and surrounding areas, I remained calm and couldn’t be bothered less. (That last part is a lie.. I still freak out of course. What do you want? I'm from Belgium. Last time I checked no venomous creatures to be found there.) Though I will admit I banged a couple of pots together to chase the first one I saw away…

Our last night in Tassie was spent camping on the waterfront in Devonport, waiting to leave on the ferry the next morning back to the mainland. A beautiful sunset was our goodbye gift.

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So in conclusion, Tasmania is ranked high on my favorite places in the world list. It still has it all. Cozy little villages, beautiful beaches, mountains, an abundance of lakes and part of it, the west is still wild and uninhabited. But most of all, I liked the friendly islanders.

Dear Tasmania,

Please don’t ever change.

Sincerely,
Flemish Girl.

Posted by tinelhoest 15.03.2011 23:53 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset hiking mountain tasmania gear camping hobart snake ferry recycle hitchhiking devonport helpexchange helpx tassie deloraine cradle_mountain hitching woodbridge tiger_snake stafford terrier bonnie recycled_materials

Camping at Wineglass Bay.

The Freycinet peninsula - National Park, East Coast Tasmania.

Stunningly beautiful Wineglass Bay is probably the most populated tourist attraction in the whole of Tasmania. Hoards of colorful campervans and tour buses unloading visitors of many different origins and ages, indicate that you’ve arrived at a pretty special place. We hitchhiked our way up the east coast all the way from Hobart to this overcrowded, yet still amazing destination in about 2 hours and a half. Which for us was probably a personal record. Several times along the way, we barely had our thumbs sticking out in the air or a car had already stopped to offer us a ride. To make sure you understand exactly how smoothly this hitchhiking trip was, we beat the same campervan three times. Every time after we got dropped off and they had spotted us yet again, they waved at us. But still no ride from them though. I thought they would have gotten the message, but then again we could have been sending out the wrong one. Obviously we had gotten there without their help and pretty damn fast.

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There’s a moderate hike involved to get to the lookout point, which gives you a massive overview of the area and the Bay. To actually get there, there’s another hour or so, depends how fit you are, down the hillside. By then you don’t really need to worry anymore about being overrun by other day hikers. Only about 30 percent makes the effort to hike down to the beach, which is a shame. We planned on camping 2 nights on the peninsula. Unfortunately we had to stick to one campsite, on Wineglass beach, as we didn’t have a place to leave all of our stuff we didn’t need behind. So we hiked in with all that we own on our backs.

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Pretty heavy, let me tell you that but we made it without panting too much. First thing we encountered, when we arrived down at Wineglass, was the wallabies. Uninformed selfish tourists (screw the rules for a picture, right?) have been hand feeding them. In return creating these tame daring little wallabies. One cheeky big one, probably that huge because of the easy food access, just carelessly hopped over to where I was sitting next to the tent with the open daypack containing our lunch in between my legs. The mischievously cute daredevil had his nose down the backpack before I even knew it. Now, you have to realize this was my first close encounter with a wild marsupial and I noticed the size of his claws. Especially the sharpness of them. So naturally, not knowing if it potentially could act up and decide to scratch my face, I didn’t dare to push it away. I got up and yelled no at it, like it was a dog. Hilarious to onlookers, but I did the trick.

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The whole peninsula is a not to miss destination on your maybe future Tassie trip. Plentiful of wondrous hikes, beautiful camp spots and an abundance of local wildlife. One hike we did easily, was to walk across the thin part of the peninsula to Hazards Beach on the Great Oyster bay side. At once, after your arrival on the beach, you understand why the naming of the place involved oysters. Thousands of oyster shells, some very pretty and shiny, some almost fossilized, cover the entire length of the beach. It’s hard when you’re backpacking around and have to resist taking some extremely glittery ones home with you to show to your family or just as a remembrance of an amazing time spent on the Freycinet Peninsula.

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There’s a steady flow of young backpackers and old and wise local hikers, passing though Wineglass bay’s camp site every day. (Certainly during peak season) It’s from one of those locals, we heard why precisely this gorgeous bay is called Wineglass. Back in the day, they used to trap whales into it, to slaughter them more easily. Therefore the bay, shaped like a wineglass, colored blood red during these events. Like a glass of red wine. Sad story, yet it is part of the local history. It’s just not so fun to hear when you have an imaginative mind like I have. Anyways.. Hooray for the Sea Sheppard, who actually just anchored in Hobart. Alas even though we are in the area (very, very close), we won’t be able to go pay them a visit and give them a pat on the shoulder. The local ‘FBI’ has closed the area off and is continuing to investigate the ships. Anyways.. Well done, boys! I heard there was a party in one of the local Salamanca bars. I bet they have lots of groupies by now…

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The last morning, we woke up relatively early and started to hike out before the sun got too high. It was a very special feeling to turn around, glance one last time over Wineglass Bay and see that the only footsteps you could see, were yours. It was an unusually quiet morning. You could hear merely hear anything but the sound of the calm small waves rolling in. It probably only lasted for another hour before another day of being overrun by tourists began. I put my faith in the Tasmanian park rangers, to keep this wonderful place safe.

A Flemish Girl Down Under.

Posted by tinelhoest 08.03.2011 23:24 Archived in Australia Tagged beach camping national_park wineglass_bay freycinet_peninsula wallaby

Life in Hobart, Tasmania.

One week in a full sized town house and one week on a boat in the marina. How's that for a taste of the Hobart Lifestyle.

Imagine living the good life on an small island just south off of the coast of Australia. And all the way, almost on the south end of that island, there is a town. Big enough to call a city, but lets be honest and call it a supersized village. It goes by the name of Hobart. The island was originally named Van Diemen's island, but these days people called it "Tassie", short for Tasmania. I'm quoting a television advertisement now, that airs frequently here in Australia; "Hobart, the way life should be."

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It doesn't necessarily have a proud history, especially if you look back to what happened to the indigenous people, the Tasmanian Aborigines, but it does have lots of character. I can tell you that much. As almost every other town in this country, Hobart started off as a penal colony and got to where it is nowadays without too many hick ups. A beautiful town set smack in the middle of magnificent surroundings... Tassie is not a bad place.. No, no.

Thanks to Helpexchange, the organization we use to travel around the world, we got to be introduced to Lynne and James (plus family). They needed some help with fixing up a town house, they were planning on renting out soon again. They got us set up very nicely, so we could do the work while living in the house by ourselves. Their generosity and trust in us, made this definitely an authentic "How is town life in Hobart like?" experience for us. So after a week of exploring Hobart and finishing the work, we moved on to their not so shabby boat named Intuition, located in Sandy bay marina.

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Same story here, we got very nicely set up and spent time sanding the wooden railing. It was a majorly fun yet different experience. Usually we get a separate bedroom or something similar, to see as our temporary home away from home, while staying at these HelpX places. This time it was a bit grander and worth writing home about for sure. I found out I don't really get seasick, but I do got a bit of a case of land sickness. Every time I would get on the mainland, I'd feel a bit unsteady on my feet and woozy in the head. As long as I kept moving, everything was fine though.

Hobart is the friendliest town we've been to so far in Oz and the fact it's surrounded by lots of water, doesn't make it a terrible destination either. On Valentine's day we spent an extremely sunny, afternoon boating around. I got to catch my first fish EVER.

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Simply awesome.
That's all I have left to say.

Sincerely,

a Tassie lovin' Flemish Girl.

Posted by tinelhoest 28.02.2011 13:51 Archived in Australia Tagged water boat tasmania sun hobart harbor sunny townhouse colony intuition tassie wooden_boat_festival north_hobart penal

A tale of Tipi's and kangaroos.

Learning all about Sustainable living. Straw bale buildings, compost toilets and rainwater catchment system.

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When I arrived at Sue and Don’s, I was ecstatic. Located just outside of Daylesford, Victoria. A charming small town, where tourism is it’s only big income. Property value is skyrocketing and sadly enough, unaffordable for the normal working class. The springs are what’s making this town renowned for its spa’s and health centers.

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I was finally out of the city, completely surrounded by nature. The best part was I’d be camping on their magical property in one of their majestic tipi’s. Tipi’s or teepees, the verdict is still out, but both are considered correct spelling. So I’m going ahead with what I think reads better. Already during the first night, I realized their knowledge of sustainable living was vast and they were all about sharing and providing us with even more reading material. An open fireplace in the middle of your tipi, smoldering while you doze off is a very relaxing, authentic experience. Sue and Don have a significant affinity for native American spirituality. They host spiritual unity gatherings on their property and attended them in The States as well. They also do work with local aboriginal cultures and are very much in tune with their Australian heritage. Truly beautiful people.

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Their property, a whopping 40 acres, has a river running through it. Which makes it a very inviting place for all the local wildlife. A family of kangaroos is to be spotted often and the occasional wallaby at dusk. The indigenous birds will sing you awake, especially the over eager Kookaburras and many colorful varieties of the cockatoo family. There is something to be said about being woken up by the thumping sound of kangaroos passing right outside your tipi. Other wildlife, I was not so keen on meeting for the first time, were the spiders. I do not recommend trying to go to sleep in a bed where a huntsman was lurking around just 5 minutes before. I’m still get the creeps just thinking about it. I saw a bunch of big spiders and okay, they were all harmless. They are so big and ugly and fury though.. So when in Australia, always check under the blankets, clothes and shake out your shoes in the morning. The famous poisonous red back can be found everywhere but apparently he’s slow and never comes out of his dark little hiding spot.

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Back to their awesome straw bale house built about 11 years ago. The front part has two stories, the upper one is their bedroom apartment and the ground floor is the open kitchen living room area. Attached in the back is a large room, work and storage area, where they make their fabulous tipi’s. Everything works on solar energy and rain water catchment. All toilets are compost toilets and the shower was definitely something else. Beautifully decorated with some recycled tiles and other broken porcelain pieces. I gave it a shot as well, trying to make the second outdoor compost toilet in the back of the property look nice. I think the shower still rocks more though!

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There are many unfinished projects scattered around the property. As they hold workshops for learning how to strawbale, many are left that way. That’s where we came in. We finished rendering the greenhouse and energy storage shed. There’s nothing more fun than mixing the cob render and splashing it on the walls with your bare hands! I can’t get enough of it. So what if I am still five on the inside, dying to play in the mud at all times? When we moved the chicken coop to the opposite wall of what could be considered their inner courtyard next to the main house, the chooks seemed a bit confused. At first they loudly made their way into their new home, having a look around, discussing whether they were content with the new arrangement or not, promptly laying their eggs. Though later at dusk they didn’t seem to realize that was their new sleeping place as well. So we had to gently carry them inside and put them to bed for a couple of nights before they seemed to finally understand what had happened. For some unknown reason these chooks loved picking at styrofoam. We made jokes about it all the time. For example if there would ever be a radio show contest of "Guess what this sound is?" and it would be chooks picking at styrofoam, we'd immediately all recognize it and win the first prize! Please let it be a trip to Hawaii... I miss that place..

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Don is also the timber bending expert and runs a wood bending factory in Creswick. As this is a very rare yet extremely skillful profession, people come on tours to check his mad skills out. The Veggie garden was in need of some lovin’, bursting with lots of artichokes almost ready for consummation. They told us artichokes grew particularly well here, so once they found out it was good for pretty much everything, they started growing lots and lots.

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Right before we got there, this particular region in Victoria had suffered from severe rains and floods, leaving the really cute little cottage at the end of the property damaged. The two other helpers decided to stick around for a while and clean it up. Sue and Don gave them permission to do so and stay for as long as they wanted. This was indeed one of those places you’d consider staying at for a bit longer. I know we seriously thought about it. Good times on the gorgeous Victorian countryside. Good times spent with wonderful people.

Love and peace,

Flemish Girl Down Under.

Posted by tinelhoest 14.02.2011 02:08 Archived in Australia Tagged victoria green house cottage kangaroos native_americans cockatoos cob wallabies rendering tipi's teepees

The monster that is Cyclone Yasi.

It seems the apocalypse decided to start off in Australia.

Update:

Everything's fine!! Yasi lost most of his feared force, hitting the coastline. It stayed a category 3. Everybody's safe and that's the most important part! Only material damage, like we all hoped for.

The largest deadliest Tropical Cyclone ever known to living generations in Australia, is heading for North Queensland as I’m typing this entry. Nothing but warnings, details about the storm coming and safety guidelines for the people staying behind in the cyclone’s target area, are non-stop repeating on the news channels. Next to the cyclone, Australia is suffering from more than a dozen large bushfires and the water of the previous floods are still moving and flooding new areas. What the heck is going on?? Should we all start kneeling down and praying? Or like the 90 year old lady who just answered that question by a reporter on the news.. What can you do? Nothing. At least she’s realistic?

My question is to those backpackers trying to stick out the category 5 cyclone in the only hostel still open in Cairns. What the hell are you guys thinking? Maybe it’s hard to find a bus or a train out, but why aren’t you hitchhiking your way out of there? You think an overcrowded hostel is going to keep you safe? You think this is going to be a good travel story for back home? Come on.. I’m dreading to hear the news tomorrow morning. It’s projected to start hitting hard around 10pm and supposed to have a category 3 effect for the following 12 hours. They are saying it will go inland after hitting the coastline for another 450 km. All with winds going about 200-300km/h. Anything could turn into a deadly missile. Are you kidding me? That sounds dead serious and terrifying. Remember those images on the television of hurricane Katrina. All those folks stuck on their roofs, trying to get out? How about those evacuation centers, that are cramped full and turning people away. What are they supposed to do? Are those centers even safe? I got to stop thinking this way.

Let’s all send out positive thoughts towards the soon to be disaster area. Let it only by material damage and nothing else. Pray to the weather gods, things will calm down rather sooner than later. Luckily we have a good head on our shoulders and went south as soon as we realized what an extreme summer it was going to be up in Queensland. This could be the most significant storm in modern history and I’m certainly not looking forward to it.

Good luck Queensland!

Flemish Girl Down Under.

Posted by tinelhoest 01.02.2011 23:55 Archived in Australia Tagged north hostel queensland cairns backpackers wind cyclone yassi category

The Rules of Packing your Backpack.

Need help deciding what to bring and what not to?

Stop packing right now! Get rid of all that crap in your backpack , please.. yes, I’m talking to you. Toss everything out and let’s start over together. No more dilemmas and almost panic attacks. I’m here to help..

First of all, it is a backpack you’re trying to pack. Think about it. That means everything you put inside of it will be carried by you and you alone on your own back. That will stop you from trying to stuff more useless objects in there, will it not?

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Okay, now that you realized the most important rule, we can go over the basics. Clothes, toiletries, camping gear (optional), electronics (optional, although I doubt that these days there’s still people traveling without a camera or cell phone). Long term travel or short term travel, it doesn’t really matter. You’ll still need all of the same things.

Let’s talk clothes first. Most of you take half of your closet with you on holidays right? You should see some of those girls and their backpacks, I’ve encountered in hostels before. They carry like 10 pairs of shoes around with them! Why? I’ll admit it’s definitely everybody’s biggest problem, trying to pack light. Even I made mistakes in the past, but I learned from them and here are my positive results. One pair of flip-flops and one pair of sneakers/hiking boots, five pairs of underwear, a sports bra, 4 pairs of socks, 1 short summer dress, 1 long summer dress, 1 bikini, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of jogging pants, 2 tops, 4 T-shirts, one long sleeved shirt, 2 hoodies, a hat and a light but big scarf. Now this is not much at all, I know, but they are all very versatile pieces of clothing. Plus I can still look very trendy, despite what you’re thinking. For example my scarf has been used as a knapsack, picnic blanket, towel to lay on on the beach, head wrap for the sun, sarong and scarf for when it gets colder. Dirty clothing can always be washed in a sink with a piece of soap or a bit of shampoo! Don’t carry around all of your dirty clothes inside your bag for too long. It will start to reek fast! Another thing I’ve learned from my first long term backpacking trip, is to take your favorite clothing with you instead of your old, ripped up stuff. It’ll make you happy and not want to go shopping all the time :).

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Toiletries are also a necessity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be smart about them! What I personally have with me at all times is a toothbrush and toothpaste, 2in1 shampoo/conditioner (preferably organic), one comb or brush, one bar of soap, 1 razor (a girl’s gotta shave her legs once in a while), tweezers, nail clipper, cotton swabs, body butter, lip balm, sunscreen, hair bands, mascara, tampons (of course!), baby wipes (they’re good for everything, especially during camping trips), small first aid kit, Iodine tablets (for producing drinking water), anti-mosquito spray (preferable organic), painkillers and anti-histamines. I can swear to you, I don’t need anything more than this. I am, after all, traveling non-stop. I can always go to a local department store if I need anything.

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If you plan to go hiking and camping, you might want to make your pack a bit lighter of course. Make some space for water and food. We decided to take camping gear with us this time around and have found it very easy to make the extra space available in our backpacks. A marvelous tip for finding discount topnotch camping gear is going to your local specialized Outdoor’s shop and check if they have garage sales. This means returned items from unsatisfied customers for less than half the original price. Sometimes there is something wrong with it, but usually it’s more because it’s too small or short or the wrong color. That’s where we went looking (REI, Seattle) and got a super fancy tent,

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2 sleeping mats and 2 very comfy and warm sleeping bags for a total of 300 bucks. I can tell you that the price of it all together new would have been more than double that price. We also have a flashlight, pocket knife, a small one burner gas stove and one small pot and recently acquired forks. You don’t need more, well maybe a book, but that’s pretty much it.

By now, we have gotten the electronics part down as well. You could easily travel without a laptop but I personally can’t, so we have a netbook and a small external 1TB hard drive that we carry around with us. Connor can’t go without taking fabulous photographs everywhere we go, therefore we have a fairly new digital camera with us as well, plus a cell phone. Don’t forget the most important part. A internationally convertible adaptor for charging your batteries. We have a wonderful little thing that does it all in one.

Time for the last tips. A couple of things you wouldn’t think you’d need, but will prove to be super useful. Rubber bands (multiple uses), ziplock bags (for waterproofing or just space saving), pillow cases (separate the inside of your backpack into compartments or just as a laundry bag), a rain jacket is never a bad idea either or a journal to keep track of your adventures. Have a small rucksack with you as well for carry on purposes or as a day pack. We also save a lot of money on having or own water bottle. Instead of buying water all the time, we fill ours up pretty much anywhere.

Well, I think that’s about it. I hope this was helpful and please, if you have questions.. ask away!

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May you all have many grand adventures without too much back and/or shoulder pain!

Love and Peace,

Flemish Girl.

Posted by tinelhoest 01:05 Tagged backpack camping back discount backpacking rei weight toiletries shoulders garage_sale electronics

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