At the start of 2016, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to put everything into my photography for one year and see where it led me. Up until this point, I had been playing around, having fun but was at the stage where I pretty much had all the camera equipment I really required, so wanted to get out and travel and shoot as much as I could – around our own business and family commitments.
So as the year draws to a close, I am blown away by what a year it has been. I have met some incredible people and made some great contacts. I have been paid to travel to some unique and inspiring destinations – places I never would have gone to on my own, and I won the Choice Hotel Asia Pacific’s “Next Top Instagrammer” competition. So I think I have to say, all in all, it’s been a pretty epic year.
I have also been blogging more and upgraded my website to this new WordPress site which allows me more control with blogging and sharing my experiences. As part of this, I thought my final blog of the year could be my top 8 travel experiences that I have had this past 12 months. Just a quick wrap and I will give you my absolute number one thing that I would recommend if you ever visited any of these paces (which just quietly, I highly recommend you visit all of them). Oh and PS. There’s no way I could decide which was the best, so I am putting them in random order.
Number 8 – Hervey Bay
I was lucky enough to visit Hervey Bay twice this year, once with Choice Hotels, and the second time with Tourism Queensland. I was absolutely blown away with how beautiful this area is and how much there is to do. The food and restaurants, for a small “country town” were incredible. Such a high standard. Accommodation was fantastic (I stayed both times at the Oceans Resort in Urangan which was beautiful), and fantastic beaches. This all before you even venture over the Fraser Island to explore one of the largest Sand Islands in the world.
My number one thing to do in this region is easily a day trip to Lake McKenzie. The water is filtered up through the sand so is some of the clearest and purest waters I have ever seen, and the colour – WOW, pictures just don’t do it justice.
Number 7 – Country Victoria
In May I visited Country Victoria staying at the Lindenwarrah Winery. Coming from the Gold Coast, the autumn escape was just amazing. The weather was cool with foggy, crisp mornings and gorgeous blue sky sunny days. The trip was a combination of driving around the region exploring, as far as Bright, as well as cycling around to various wineries. This would have to be my number on thing to do, whether you have to hire a bike, or borrow one from your hotel (ours had ones available to guests free of charge), and explore the wineries, cheese factories and great restaurants of the area.
Number 6 – Tangalooma
Oh my gosh what can I say about this place that doesn’t sound like a cliche? Anyone that follows me on Instagram knows that I am a massive fan of Moreton Island. I made two trips there this year (not nearly enough), and never tire of how much fun I have. The island itself has white sandy beaches and endless sandhills to explore and adventure on, but my favourite thing is underwater. The waters are so clear and the snorkelling around the Tangalooma Wrecks is so good. There are billions of fish, situated just off the beach its a bit of swim but once you get over to the wrecks there are places shallow enough to stand at low tide. I would personally recommend a guided tour with Tangaloooma Water Sports as they will guide you around the best spots as well as save you from having to swim too much, you pretty much just float gently along with the tide with a boat to drop you off and pick you up.
Number 5 – Noosa
I’ve always been a fan of Noosa. I have been visiting there since I was a child, going up in the September School Holidays when the weather was still cold in Melbourne. I know, Hastings Street is busy and the beach can get packed in the summer, but I just love the vibe. I always stay in Hastings street so you can walk everywhere. It can be quite expensive too, but this year I stayed at the Mantra French Quarter on the other side of the beach road in Hastings Street and would highly recommend it. Great location at the National Park end and with a newly re-furbished pool area this year, it’s a great break from the beach at the end of the day. The price is a lot less than the ocean front places across the road with still a great location.
My number one thing to do is a swim in the Fairy Pools in the National Park. A bit tricky to find I must confess. I had directions from a local and still got lost as it’s not signed but worth searching out if you can. It’s about a 30 minute walk in from Noosa Heads before Hells Gates.
Number 4 – Mackay
Mackay was the trip I took as part of the Choice Hotels Competition in July. It’s not a place I ever would have thought to visit but now I have been, I just can’t wait to go back. As the start of the Whitsunday Islands it has a tropical feel but what I really loved was that it wasn’t overly commercial or touristy. It felt more like a big country town with some great places to eat offering home made produce. It also has Keswick Island just 34km North East of Mackay which – although I didn’t get the opportunity to visit is now high on my bucket list.
My hands down number one thing to do is set the alarm for pre dawn and take the 30 minute drive north to Cape Hillsborough and watch sunrise with the Wallabies who come out from the forest to feed. One of the most incredible wildlife experiences Australia has to offer. Better still, stay at the Cape Hillsborough Tourist Park which is located on the beach right where this occurs. Also a great beach for swimming and bush walks through the area.
Number 3 – Lady Elliot Island
The only way to get to Lady Elliot Island is by small sea plane from the mainland. You land on a grass airstrip that pretty much splits the island in two. It’s a tiny little island, only about a 5-10 minute walk from one end to the other and what really surprised me was how basic it is. The accommodation is more like cabins at a caravan park and there is one central area for meals. If you are looking for a 5-star beach resort holiday, this place is definitely not for you. But what I absolutely loved about this island was how everything was focused on conservation and education. Even right down to notes on the bar telling you the impact of simple things like asking for a straw for your drink. It is one of the best places I have been and once you get under the water, I was totally blown away by the marine life. There is the option to snorkel or dive and with both, you can experience Manta Rays, reef sharks (not dangerous I was assured) turtles, and so many varieties of fish it was a kaleidoscope of colour.
Obviously some sort of underwater activity is my “must do” recommendation here, but my absolute favourite was swimming with the turtles in the lagoon. I spent 2-3 hours at a time just following them around. The lagoon is quite tidal so there are times of day where it is closed – make sure you check this out each morning.
Number 2 – Japan
I was lucky enough to have two weeks in Japan earlier in the year, with one week skiing in Niseko and one week exploring Tokyo. What an absolutely beautiful country. The people are so gentle and helpful, although I must say I was surprised how few people spoke English in Tokyo. Tokyo as a city was so clean and easy to get around, the train system made travelling to all sorts of locations very easy. I was staying as a guest of Shangri La Tokyo – located right next to Tokyo station it made it very central. Was also an easy walk to the Ginza district which was fantastic for shopping and sightseeing. Highly recommend this hotel. Service was exceptional, views incredible, but most importantly, location was spot on.
There are so so many things to do in Tokyo, it is so rich in history and tradition, but my favourite was a visit to the the Asakusa region. It had a great market full of Japanese souvenirs and street food, The Sensoji Budhist Temple which is the oldest temple in Tokyo, great street shopping and the lane ways and streets were a photographers dream with the colour and history. You could also get on the ferry from here and take a ride down the river – we went to Odaiba, another region worth a visit to and the ride on the river gave a great perspective of Tokyo.
Number 1 – Whitsundays
Although I said I didn’t have a favourite trip of 2016, I honestly think my trip to the Whitsunday’s in July really was the best. Mainly because it ticked off a few bucket list items for me, and one of my favourite things to do is explore the underwater world, so snorkelling in the Whitsunday’s is one of the best places in Australia for this. It was also one of my first official jobs with Tourism Queensland. Having the opportunity to work with such a great team has been one of the highlights of my year.
On our trip to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday’s, we had some incredible experiences, but my absolute most favourite was a heli ride out to the Heart Reef and then Whitehaven Beach. This is something that I have wanted to do for so long, having seen so many pictures of the reef and I wasn’t disappointed. I would highly highly recommend splashing out for this incredible tour. So worth it. We were taken with Heli Taxi Airlie Beach and they were just incredible. Finishing off with a Champagne and Seafood lunch on Whitehaven Beach it topped off the best day.
Well that’s my last adventure for 2016, but I already have some great plans for 2017 so can’t wait!