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September 102014

Welcome to Mapping Megan! Scroll around the map and click on blog posts from destinations which interest you! Zoom in and out on the map to find more specific locations! Looking for the latest from the travel blog? Use the big black navigation bar at the top of the site to navigate to the blog!

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Where to Stay in London
September 102014

All in all, there are well over 1,000 hotels and hostels in London, and accommodation rates run high. Entering your travel dates into a hotel or hostel booking site brings up an endless list of options; an overwhelming chore to sort through each to find those which offer excellent value, a great location, and receive good guest reviews.

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Milan Fashion Week.
May 252014

With Milan Fashion Week rapidly approaching, a suggestion for a hotel in Milan, and a sightseeing side trip to a spot that needs some advance planning. The Grand Hotel de et Milan is splendid. If there are still rooms available during Milan Fashion Week, book it! The hotel is centrally located, and is super comfortable. The rooms are spacious, high ceilings, and have a very Italian, traditional feel.

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An African Safari is generally quite high on the bucket list of any traveler, and between Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia, there is no shortage of options or availability!

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While I now travel with my husband, I have spent the last 7 years travelling alone, and as a woman I am a huge advocate for travelling solo. I was never willing to forgo a trip just because friends didn’t want to come along, and the experiences I gained from travelling solo have done wonders for my confidence and really shaped who I am today. Not only does travelling alone completely push you out of your comfort zone, it forces you to interact with those who you wouldn’t normally interact with. You’re free to wander at your own will, and don’t have to compromise your bucket list or itinerary to suit the needs of others!

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Finding yourself surrounded by Black bears in the middle of the wilderness is probably a nightmare for most. Especially considering our car was parked 3 miles away and we were on foot! But instead of running scared, we crouched down in the grass, pulled out our camera’s, and began shooting.

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A 40 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen will land you on Mexico’s biggest island – Cozumel. This island is one of the world’s premier destinations for scuba diving enthusiasts because of it’s large, brightly colored reefs. Scuba diving and snorkeling here guarantees you’ll see all kinds of sea life, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Not a diver? No problem – you can snorkel, or take a snuba tour!

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We’ve all seen those movies where the plotline takes a character from a mundane life and transports them into a lavish fantasy of riches and wealth. We’ve all dreamed that we are in fact secret royal heirs, like Anne Hathaway’s character in “Princess Diaries”. Only in movies can we escape reality and dream of what it would be like to actually live as characters right out of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’….or so it would seem.

What if I let you in on a secret, and told you that this experience lives outside of the cinema, and can easily be yours to make your dream a reality. Come with me as I tell you how you can be transported into a life of decadence and pampering beyond your wildest imaginations.

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Rolling down our windows as we drove through Transylvania County towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, all we could hear was the sound of rushing water. Deciding on a whim to spend our afternoon at the waterfalls of Brevard was one thing, however deciding exactly which waterfalls to visit, we soon realized, was another.

With more than 250 waterfalls in Transylvania County, “Land of the Waterfalls” is a pretty accurate description for the area. I don’t know of any other place on earth which can lay claim to so many falls – and each is just as unique and spectacular as the next. In fact, Pisgah National Forest has so many waterfalls that many of them are not even on the map!

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The Blue Ridge Parkway is no ordinary road. A scenic highway connecting Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, “America’s favorite Drive” winds its way through 469 miles of Grand Mountains and seemingly endless vistas and valleys.

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The 2013 Burma season has kicked off and is already in full swing! Tourists will be roaming the streets looking to try new undiscovered street food, viewing ancient temples and riding some of the most horrible bus routes ever encountered by man!

The days will be hot and sweaty and with frequent blackouts; the heat is something that is difficult to escape unless you plan your Myanmar trip around the one event which is sure to keep you cool on those Hot Burmese days: The Thingyan Festival (April 13th to 16th).

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As the doctor prepared my knees for an injection on a cool spring day in Colorado, he looked at me skeptically when I told him I needed to be able to run from elephants and climb trees to escape charging rhinos.

He was probably thinking he needed to transfer me to a psychiatrist to address my fanciful delusions after he fixed up my knees. But that’s what the application form said when I applied to the Walking With African Wildlife volunteer expedition in South Africa through Earthwatch International. “I need this kind of mobility,” I told him.

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Vietnam has a passion for cycling. Though it’s a developing country, Vietnam is relatively safe and its roads are for the most part in good shape, making it an ideal region to experience by bike.

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Tucked away far to the north of Norway next to Greenland there lies a spit of land and ice in the Arctic Ocean. When I visited this archipelago, Svalbard, I expected to find a barren land of tundra, research stations, polar bears, arctic foxes, and ice floes. And in part, I was right.

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We sped across the ice, 187 feet above Paris. We took in breathtaking views of the city skyline while sipping warm hot chocolate on the ice. We braved the bitter chill to carve out figure eights high above the rooftops of the French capital, illuminated by the twinkling lights of the tower above us.

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It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what lies beyond the Gran Canaria coast. With golden beaches and azure skies, the sun on your face and breeze in your hair, 2.2 million tourists flock to Spain’s Canary Islands each year for the ultimate sand-in-your-toes experience.

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DoubleTree hotels have been on my radar for a while now. After having won the DTour of a Lifetime competition I’ve been itching to stay at a DoubleTree property. Not only to bite into one of those amazing warm chocolate chip cookies handed to every guest on check-in, but to find out what to expect from the brand in South and Central America next year.

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Savannah, Georgia
September 272013

Savannah was our first stop on our recent road trip from Florida, and what a way to start the trip! It’s beauty and charm is something straight from the pages of a fairytale. It’s more romantic than Paris, it’s more friendly than Australia, and with more character than London.

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Myrtle Beach
September 262013

There are only a few times in a girls life where it’s appropriate to wake voluntarily at 6am while on vacation! One of those appropriate moments is to watch the sunrise over Myrtle Beach!

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Before you visit Antarctica you have an idea of what it might be like. It might be cold there. The landscape is likely to be white. You might see penguins. There’s a high probability that you might see snow. It can get windy. You might even get sea sick. Well forget all that, the only way to find out is to head there for yourself and see what the white continent is really like! So I did.

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Mapping St Augustine

Mapping St Augustine

St Augustine

August 192013

We recently spent time in St Augustine; America’s oldest and most historically preserved town! Click to watch the video.

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Willpower and endurance are the two most important qualities you must possess to be successful in reaching the summit. You need to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other even though you might be extremely deprived of oxygen and energy. You need to be able to convince yourself that you CAN do this even as others around you might be failing. You need to believe in yourself, and you’ll be halfway there! If you can do that – persevere in both physically and emotionally demanding conditions – I guarantee you will reach the top, and some of the most spectacular views you have seen in your life will be waiting for you. As they say, the hardest journeys are the most worthwhile!

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Costa Rica’s landscape and temperate climate lends itself to outdoor activity, and it is the perfect destination for anyone wanting to combine a love of the outdoors with an adventurous spirit!

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We entered Albania via Podgorico in Montenegro. I don’t know, there is something about the name “Montenegro” that made me think it would be stunningly beautiful – and the coastal area was, but then so are most coastal areas. The rest was not. Beautiful, that is.

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Daytona Beach is lined with high-rise resorts and hotels which boast hundreds of rooms each to cater to the mass tourism each year for both Spring Break and the Daytona 500.

We chose to stay at the Oceanside Inn which is “a comfortable beachfront hotel on the quieter side of Daytona.” “Quieter” translates into the more rundown side of Daytona, however we had no problem whatsoever with security in the area, nor did we have any problems with the “human element” of the area.

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We made it to Daytona Beach around 6pm with still 2 hours of daylight left to explore; courtesy of Florida’s amazing summers. It claims to be the most famous beach in the world, and probably comes close – nearly 200,000 students descend on the area each year for Spring Break despite the city of Daytona trying to discourage them. The 23 miles of Daytona Beach are some of the only in the world where cars are allowed on the sands – a tradition carried over from the days when motor enthusiasts would race on the beaches.

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This part of Florida has almost been forgotten about. So imagine our surprise last week when we decided to deviate from our Google Map and take the coastal drive to St Augustine, discovering an amazing untouched and forgotten coastline, which rivals the likes of the Great Ocean Road and the Road to Hanna.

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Sanibel Island
June 202013

Sanibel Island (Florida) has some of the most beautiful beaches in the US! Additionally, shelling is a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike, as the island offers some of the best shelling in the US, if not the world!

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Vegas Vlog!
June 172013

That’s what we get for waking up in Vegas!!

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I think we managed to find possibly one of the most disappointing “resorts” in theMetropolitan Resort, Orlando, as we made our way home from our East Coast Road trip.  The whole day had not really gone in our favor, and the “resort” didn’t make it any better.  I use the word resort in quotation marks, as having a nice pool does not make a 2 star motel a resort.

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Admittedly, they have a nice pool. But simply having a nice pool does NOT make you a resort!

I’ll start by admitting that we had failed to realize school had broken for the summer, and of course attempting to stay in Orlando meant we had driven straight into the tourist capital of the world…and driven in excruciatingly slowly as the traffic was appalling.

The resort was incredibly difficult to find, even with our GPS.  After having pulled into Austrian Circuit and not been able to locate the hotel, not even the concierge at the large resort we ended up at had a clue where it was.  We did eventually find it after realizing Austrian Circuit had two completely separate entrances.

It took 15 minutes to check in despite us being the only guests at the front desk.  The staff were very casual and incredibly slow – taking their sweet time to do god knows what behind the desk.  Having worked in hotel reception I still cant figure out what she was possibly doing to have taken so long to check us in.  Sadly wifi was only free in the lobby, and had to be purchased in the rooms, but that’s better than the majority of hotels around the world.  Not being bothered to walk to the lobby, can you believe I went a whole evening without logging on – pretty much a first for me!

The “resort” was a 2 star motel, not dissimilar to a college building of dorms, with dark cement alleyways cutting through the middle of the building to provide access to the pool and tennis court.  Considering the state of the motel itself the pool was surprisingly amazing – and the best thing the motel had going for it.  I almost thought the pool was part of the Raddison which was next door.

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Metropolitan Resort

The room was comfortable and semi clean – perfect for a backpacker. The room itself was nice enough, but there were suspicious looking stains on the walls and furniture, there was no toilet paper holder on the wall so it sat on the bathroom sink behind you, and there were bugs in the shower when I turned the faucet on.  Shower water pressure is a big “make or break” for me, and unfortunately this wasn’t great either.  The bathroom fan sounded like a cat was dying and carried on like that until I switched it off and let the bathroom fog up instead for the sake of my ear drums.

That being said, the rooms were large, beds were incredibly comfortable and I loved that we could walk straight out the door to our car (the flip side of the being that people would walk right by your window all night).  It was also very centrally located – we managed to walk down International Drive and find dinner quite easily, passing multiple restaurants, bars and clubs on our way to Panda Express!

Breakfast was included and was pretty decent for a free breakfast, however the small room was overcrowded and I threw out my apple after the first bite.  The muffins and danishes were really good.

I wouldn’t go back to the Metropolitan Resort, but it was cheap – we paid $45 for the night + a $5 “resort fee”, however the majority of hotels in the area were similarly priced and we’ve stayed before in much nicer hotels for the same price.  If you’re just looking for a place to crash overnight and don’t really care about the room definitely consider the Metropolitan, but you can definitely find better value elsewhere.

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Standard Room

Have you stayed in Orlando before?  What was your experience?

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La Perouse Bay
May 272013

Not your typical tourist attraction, La Perouse Bay in the Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve on Maui is my favourite place in Hawaii. With stunning black sand beaches, crystal water lapping against a rustic coastline and remnants of lava from the last volcanic eruption in Maui, La Perouse Bay is an experience which is truly out of this world!

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Laguna Beach
May 172013

Our road trip through the United States was an absolute blast and we couldn’t have ended it in a better destination. We spent the last night of our honeymoon in Laguna Beach and I almost didn’t catch that flight home! I developed a truly deep love affair with Laguna Beach – it was everything that I had expected California would be and I can’t wait to go back!

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City breaks might be great, and country retreats and resort getaways are all well and good, but nothing ever beats an island escape – and the Solomon’s have nearly one thousand islands in Oceania for you to choose from! I have been lucky enough to travel to my fair share of islands in the past – I recently honeymooned in Hawaii, have explored the many islands which make up the Dry Tortuga’s, and have previously cruised through the majority of the Pacific Islands including Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia. The one place, however, where I would choose to return to first, would be the Solomon Islands – without a doubt!

The Solomon Islands is a hidden paradise. An archipelago of 992 islands in the Pacific Ocean, there is an incredible amount to see and do. The diverse marine life and WWII shipwrecks are a diver’s dream, the wild interiors of local village treks offer some of the most spectacular hiking in the world, and the Solomon Islanders have a really rich cultural heritage which is completely different to anything you will experience travelling through the western world. We were lucky enough while there to be treated to a special cultural performance from local Scouts which included music and dancing from the old age ‘Kastom’. The customs in the Solomon Islands are said to have been handed down from ancestral spirits through one generation to another, and they still form the basis of cultural values within the country.

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An old shipwreck on the shores of the Solomon Islands

Due to a deep and longstanding relationship with Australia, the Solomon Islands is a popular country for Australian groups who undertake aid projects. Due to a politically unstable history, the Solomons are a fairly un-developed nation. I first travelled to the islands in June 2011 with Scouts Australia where we volunteered for two weeks to repair the Honiara Red Cross School for Disabled Children. The capital, Honiara, is located on the largest island; Guadalcanal. During our time in the Solomon’s we were lucky enough to experience the culture of the Pacific Islanders first hand, and be shown the surrounding islands by local scouts. While the country is still recovering from an unstable political past, it’s a phenomenal place to travel to, and one of those which really changes you.

The country is very raw and very real. On our days off from the project we went trekking to the top of waterfalls and volcanoes, and learned how to cut down coconuts from trees which lined the beaches! I was wary when the Solomon Scouts handed us machetes for the coconuts, but we managed the task without losing any thumbs! After finishing work on “project days” we would all head pretty quickly to the beaches.

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Cutting coconuts!

The Solomon’s has 300+ days of good weather – but the heat is the first thing which hits you as you step off the plane – and it hits you like a brick wall if you’re not used to humidity! Luckily, the majority of activities on the islands are all water based! After spending two weeks in tents in the intense heat, a few of us spent extra time at the end of the project at one of the 5 star hotels – which, with the amazing exchange rate, was well within our student budget.

Some of our favourite days were spent exploring World War Two Wreckages. The Solomon Islands Campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of WWII, and as such Honiara has an amazing open air war museum where the remains of aircraft used during the war have been transported, untouched. Shipwrecks from the same time period can also be seen beached on the shores of Guadalcanal.

After having walked the streets and immersed myself into the culture of the islanders I returned home with a new appreciation for the small day to day privileges we take for granted and expect in the Western World. You return home with a new appreciation for life; and you never forget how people in one of the most struggling nations had so much to offer a tourist! The locals went out of their way to show us their islands and integrate us into their culture for the few weeks we were there. I would go back to this friendly, welcoming nation in a heartbeat and highly recommend the Solomon’s for your next island escape!

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La Jolla Cove
April 172013

La Jolla Cove, San Diego’s most desirable spot for kayaking, snorkeling and diving, has become home to California’s largest seal and sea lion population. La Jolla Cove is free and completely open to public access – no trip to California will be complete without visiting, and I guarantee you will never see a seal and sea lion colony anywhere like this in the world!

Visually, the cove is breathtakingly. Somewhat hidden with alluring curves and caves, it is often cited as the most photographed beach in San Diego.

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Sandbash!
April 172013

Sand bash 2013 ran from April 5-14 on Fort Myers Beach in Florida!

This years competition saw sand sculptors and beach lovers from all of the globe congregate on Fort Myers beach to compete in, and bear witness to, the first ever all women’s sand sculpting event.

Competitors represented The United States, Canada, Italy, Netherlands and Australia, while supporting breast cancer awareness.

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Swamp Meg
April 172013

Join us as we explore everything the Florida Everglades have to offer!!

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While we love travelling, and writing home to brag about our adventures overseas, seeing cool places, meeting great new people, and experiencing amazing cultures, there are going to be places that just don’t do it for you.  Malibu, California, really didn’t do anything for me; disappointing since I had been itching to get there!!

The drive from Los Angeles to Malibu was surprisingly breathtaking – we drove the US 101 N for an hour which took us through Rocky Oaks Park and the Zuma/Trancas Canyons.  Stunning mountain scenery.  This was, however, the highlight of the Malibu experience.

I obviously had over inflated expectations about glitz and glamour; Hollywood stars, hot mums, surfer dudes and Pamela Anderson (apparently she lives right by Zuma beach)!  I had researched the previous night addresses of multi-million dollar properties in order to get my celebrity fix and was pretty excited about hitting the beach.  While Malibu is home to many Hollywood movie stars and others associated with the entertainment industry I seriously don’t know why!!

The city is located on a very narrow strip of the Pacific Coast Highway, while the houses are indeed spectacular they are located so far into the canyons and so far up narrow cliff faces that access to the beach would be a venture (and also locked inside gated communities like “The Colony” which thwarted my celebrity house drive by idea).  Unfortunately public access to the beaches were very rare and mostly hidden, however we did manage to hike down 3 flights of stairs to take a walk up one of the narrow stretches of beach.

I’ve now realized growing up in Australia has spoiled me in terms of my expectations of what constitutes a beach!  Malibu had sand, calm water and a lot of seaweed, which was sad as I was looking forward to some kind of atmosphere!  Laguna Beach was what I was expecting from Malibu in terms of glitz, glamour and atmosphere – there will be a video blog about my love affair with Laguna coming soon!

We had a much more enjoyable experience later that day at Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier.

Manhattan beach was everything I expected from California and met my apparently over hyped Australian expectations of a beach!!  It has atmosphere, million dollar houses right on the beach, waves, hot mums and surfer dudes!!…although no Pamela Anderson.  Recreational facilities line the beach – play equipment for kids, beach volleyball courts, separate sidewalks for joggers and cyclists and even gym equipment in some segments of the jogging tracks!  I would live on Manhattan Beach if I could!  Go here instead of Malibu!!

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Manhattan Beach. Photo Mike Jerrard

Santa Monica Pier just oozed fun and satisfied my craving for beach atmosphere!  It’s a large double jointed pier (a 100 year old landmark) which includes a family amusement park, beach restaurants and cafes, buskers and street artists as well as arcades and your general amusement stalls.  When we arrived we stood around for a while to watch the filming of a pilot for a new cheer leading TV series called “Bounce”.  It was everything I expected from LA and should not be missed from your itinerary!!

We based ourselves in Los Angeles at the Shelter Hotel which was great value for money and extremely central to the majority of LA locations.  We enjoyed the hotel for it’s incredible value for money – cheap nightly rates, free parking, free wifi, large spacious rooms and friendly laid back staff; customer service was amazing.  The hotel is very edgy and hip with a lot of personality – room didn’t include a fridge – but did include modern amenities like an IPod docking station and flat screen.  I would recommend it as luxury backpacking or if you’re just looking for somewhere nice to crash at the end of the evening.  We were planning on going back at the end of our round road trip but stayed at LA airport instead to catch our early flight.

Check out Flickr or Facebook for all of our photos from California!

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Santa Monica Pier. Photo Mike Jerrard

Where have you gone that just didn’t do it for you? Where should we go instead?

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Mexican Border Vlog
March 302013

Hola!! We drove from Arizona to San Diego on a route which saw us snake along the Mexican Border. Our poor little rent a car nearlly over heated from the intense desert conditions!!!

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PatricIan in Africa
March 242013

Awoke at 6am to witness the sun rise over the Moroccan coast and the arrival of the ship in Casablanca. Overcast and raining, with minimal visibility, so I went back to bed. When I did get up an hour later, I witnessed to coolest parking yet – a couple of hundred metres going sideways. Very cool.

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We couldn’t visit Arizona without making a stop in White Tank National Park and hiking off the beaten path through the desert. Hiking amongst road runners, hundreds of saguaros, mountain lions (which we didn’t see thank God!) and Coyote’s had a very looney tunes feel to it!!!

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We all enjoy a good roadtrip. If you’re planning on travelling to Vegas and will already be in LA you should drive. This is why!

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Hollywood Sign Vlog
March 172013

You can only get up close and personal with the Hollywood sign by foot, hiking along the Hollyridge trail – roughly 45 minutes. We followed these directions from “Hollywood Sign Trip” website:

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The question posed on facebook was “you mean they’re real??!!”. While the roadrunner may be the star of the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon they are also very real!! Their very swift movement as featured in the cartoon series is also very real!! (They can run up to 17 miles per hour – which for those of you who think in kilometres is roughly 27 km per hour).

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Now to dispel the myth of the “glitz and glamour” of Hollywood. I had heard that Hollywood itself is very dirty – it is. Hollywood Boulevard however was fantastic fun. It was great walking the walk of fame; walking with our heads down scouring the street for famous names we recognised out of the almost 2,500 pink terrazzo stars inlaid with the names of famous celebrities.

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One thing I love about Canberra is the wealth of wildlife. You wont see kangaroos jumping down the streets in Sydney (granted, the majority of roo’s in Canberra become roadkill), and you wont see wombats barreling down alongside the road in Brisbane! And where else have you ever seen a perfect Australian Coat of Arms?!

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The Road to Hana, Maui
February 202013

The Road to Hana – Maui. Hawaii’s version of Australia’s Great Ocean Road; an absolute must. Make sure you have car insurance though; it’s a road which is wide enough for one and a half cars, with cars (and semi trucks and petrol tankers!!) coming from both ways – editing the video blog together this week!

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Maui Lava Tube Vlog
February 172013

While in Maui we spent a day driving the Road to Hana. Along the way we stumbled across the Ka’eleku Cave – better known as the Maui Lava Tube.

Apologies for the shaky camera…don’t think I’ll be vlogging from an i-pod again!!

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Kennet River Koalas
February 82013

Kennet River, Victoria, is the best place to get up close and personal with Koalas in their natural habitat while driving the Great Ocean Road Australia. Take a drive up Grey River Road; it will be the highlight of your trip!

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Keep the Solomon Islands on your radar.  The Islands have been the centre focus of weather radars around the world today, after a major 8.0 magnitude earthquake jolted the islands with small tsunami waves hitting the coastlines.  Sadly a handful of lives were lost and many villages on Santa Cruz Island were flattened; the tsunami warning has now been cancelled.

The Solomon Islands, while still recovering from an unstable political past, is a phenomenal place to travel to, and one of those which really changes you.  Well, I may have returned the same person after my trip, but that’s not to say I didn’t learn anything.

The Solomon’s are very raw and very real.  After having walked the streets and immersed yourself into their culture; volunteered with the red cross school and walked the Pacific coastline; waded out to the shipwrecks and walked through war sites from WWII; you return home with a new appreciation for the small day to day privileges we take for granted and expect in the Western World.  You return home with a new appreciation for life; and you never forget how people in one of the most struggling nations had so much to give for a tourist.  (Plus the scenery is stunning and 5 star resorts are cheap!).

My rating for the Solomon’s: Diamond in the rough.

Virgin Blue flies Brisbane – Honiara return on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting from $700

Experience the amazing culture of the Solomon Islands

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The killing fields used to be an orchid, so is actually a really beautiful place. Just walking through you would never know that the indents in the ground were actually mass graves that were later dug up and that the tree you are finding shade under was used to beat children against until they were dead. When you actually read the signs and list to the audio tour, you start to realise that it is a terribly sad place where horrible things were done, and the scraps of cloth on the ground and white bits of shard on the ground are bits of clothing and bone.

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Our first day on the Larapinta Trail saw us hike into some of the hardest terrain I have ever encountered…and I climbed Kilimanjaro!! Click for video.

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Rained in and stuck in a tent in the middle of nowhere (Serpentine Gorge) we waited for both the rain to pass and for our hiking party to appear! We waited for 3 days!

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We hitch-hiked out from Serpentine Gorge (Australian Outback) after our missing hiking party arrived on day 7 of the Larapinta Trail!

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Stuck in the middle of the Northern Territory after attempting to hike the Larapinta Trail we finally made it to Stanley Chasm! Click to view video.

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After climbing Uluru (Australia) and failing to fall from the rock we hiked into Kings Canyon. Crank the volume for this video; sorry about the wind!

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After the steepest climb of our lives we made it to the top of Uluru, and completed this video blog! Apologies for the wind at the top…crank up the volume!!

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Samara Beach in photos. We sea kayaked to remote islands in the Pacific, were transported in the back of a truck to Mel Gibson’s property for a beach shin dig, had surfing lessons among amazing waves, and had an amazing time doing absolutely NOTHING with a book by the pool for a whole day. I think they call that relaxation or something…it’s still a bit of an unfamiliar term for me but I’m slowly accomplishing it!!

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Osa Wildlife Sanctuary is a very secluded sanctuary which is only reachable by boat – a 45 minute ride from where we are. It’s run by an American woman who originally started a bed and breakfast on a similar site until a few abandoned spider monkeys came to stay. The sanctuary has up to 120 animals, the majority of whom roam freely around the forest, some of whom are being treated for being released back into the wild, and some whom are there now for life. Their main attraction so to speak is a spider monkey called sweetie.

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Today was our first day of actual volunteering (as opposed to training) and so we split into groups. My group of 6 headed out to sea to spend the day with the dolphins. Although we only found two dolphins for the entire day, breakfast had given us enough energy and sugar to last the day on the boat…Danishes with condensed milk and caramel sauce!! Sugary goodness is always the best start to a day! I was in the mood originally for fruit loops after walking out of the shower to see a toucan perched on our balcony, but I’ll settle for Danishes!

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Volunteering as conservationists in Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers

We were all excited about working with and tracking dolphins for the day; having spent the last two days getting muddy and sweaty in the forest, today we would be spending on the water, in the sun!  While it was amazing, 12 people in the boat was quite crowded.  We had four people crammed onto three person benches and three people sat at the back with the driver.  Today is our last day of ‘group training’ though, and so over the next two weeks one group of 6 will be working in the forest while the other group of six will be out on the boat.

Life jackets were handed out as we pulled away from the shore, all thanking god we were wearing footwear as the mangrove roots on the beach were quite sharp and you couldn’t miss them!  I’m yet to come across a sand beach in Costa Rica – they’re all rock and mud.

Dolphin Training

It was two hours on the boat, taking notes every half hour of any change in the animal sighting, before we found dolphins.  The information we record when we’ve found dolphins includes GPS location, time of day, how many, how many groups, the age range (whether babies, juveniles or adults), and the behavior they are displaying. Dolphins have four behaviors, social, foraging, travelling or logging, and the dolphins we found were both foraging and being social.  We gather the information in order to record their behaviors for research purposes as well as to compile enough information to help implement protections in the area and stop the development of a tuna farm, which would interfere with their breeding and take their food source away.

We spent an hour with a group of about 20 juveniles, and as the water was quite clear we could see them perfectly.  I was sitting on the front of the boat dangling my legs in the water willing the dolphins to come up and touch my feet – didn’t happen, but they got within reaching distance.  We were told the reason why we don’t touch the wild dolphins is because it would be like meeting someone for the first time and within 5 minutes running your hand up and down their back and stomach…fair call! But they were definitely showing off for us doing jumps and turns and zigzagging through the water in front of the boat.  They’re extremely beautiful creatures!

Dolphins in Golfo Dolce

We spent lunch on a beach in the middle of the Pacific which turned out to be where one of the seasons of survivor was filmed – and then our group leader (Danji) made an amusing show of saying ‘let Survivor begin!’ and started to take the boat out to sea pretending to strand us!  It probably wouldn’t have been too bad, as we would have been able to wait out the storm under the mass of jungle!  Instead the storm came in as we were sitting on the boat and we sat as icy cold rain pelted us on a diagonal slant for an hour.  The boat was completely open; however the shade cloth which normally shielded us from the sun didn’t do much to stop the rain!  The rain had stopped by the time we got back to the cabins; however it took a while to get out of the beach as the mud had turned to quicksand and we were constantly prying our feet from the seabed!

Our afternoon activity was arts and crafts…which were a lot better than expected!  A local jewellery artist came in and helped us make a variety of handcrafts with clay and beads – a lot of us made necklaces, and the rest made Costa Rican animal souvenirs.  I put together a dolphin on a jagged rock, which actually looked like a dolphin!  I was proud!  When we went to paint our creations after they had dried, however, I accidentally over poured into the lid and brown varnish/paint went all over my hands!  It’s taken a full day and a half to get the staining off my skin, and my fingernails (it’s currently 9pm on the 17th, so two days later) have faded to a now fluro orange.  Hot look!  Maybe by the end of the tour it won’t look like I have extremely dirty, moldy nails!

Costa Rican Cultural Activities: Arts & Crafts

Have you watched the video documentary about our time volunteering in Costa Rica?

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Exploring Golfo Dolce
January 122012

Once we got to the lookout point, however, we had a clear view of the Pacific – an endless, still Ocean which faded into the sky with so many different shades of blue fading into each other than I even knew existed; the dominant coastline was a steep forested rocky shore. We all stood mesmorised by the stunning view, forgetting that our bodies were aching from the steep walk up…even the dog had collapsed!

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Bungee Costa Rica
January 102012

Saturday was an eventful day…when I jumped from an 85m bridge into one of the most beautiful valley’s you had ever seen!

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Lessons in Costa Rica
January 32012

Our initial lessons were learnt before we even made it to school. The half an hour walk taught us many things about Costa Rica:

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Two days at Disney, and then two days at Universal Studios.  I’m fully aware that I’m about to commit blasphemy, however Universal Studios topped Walt Disney World ten fold!!

Divided into two parks themed on Hollywood, we took a day at each.  The rides were on steroids…I’ve never been on rollercoasters so insane or fast in my life; the detail in each different world was amazing; we walked through Jurassic Park to Harry Potter World where everything down to the cobbled streets and the light-posts, even the trash cans were as you would think they would be in Hogwarts!

From there to Hoovile (cat in the hat) where everything was so colourful and happy you nearlly wanted to throw up…Disney on steroids!!  I couldnt stop grinning the whole day – when we entered LoonyVille, it was actually like you had stepped into a LoonyToon!!  I loved it!

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Jurassic Park, Universal Studios!

There was just so much to do an see and it was all spectacular – even the waiting rooms…for the Harry Potter Ride although we were in line for an hour, the line snaked through Hogwarts Castle, through different rooms where the pictures on the wall actually moved and spoke to each other, where owls flew above our heads and holograms appeared to make us believe we were actually there.

Once on the ride, my God!  With 3D glasses on you’re flying through Hogwarts on a simulator broom, with life size dementors flying at you, and at one stage we went through the forrest from book number two, would shoot around a corner into a giant 20 foot tall spider…which unfortunately was not part of the simulation – the creation of it was physically there!!  Definately one of the best rides I’ve been on!!

Hogwarts

Hogwarts School, Harry Potter Land!

We saved the water rides until halfway through the day, laughing at the people wearing poncho’s walking past us…however it was they who were laughing at us after we got off the rides…the signs said ‘warning…may get wet…even soaked’, however we didn’t pay much attention.

The signs were right – we got SOAKED!!  We went on one of the craziest rapid rides I have ever been on – we figured out the reason we needed seat belts after jumping into our boat!!  Some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time!

Universal goes all out on their water rides!

Yep…soaked!

That was adventureland.  The next day we hit Hollywood Studio’s – which was more of a showcase than full of rides like adventureland.  We sat in on horror makeup shows, went on the ‘Jaws’ ride…boarded a boat with 20 odd others only to be terrorised on our cruise by a very life-like shark!!

As much of a Disney fan as I am I would definitely recommend Universal Studio’s above and beyond Disney.  Disney is definitely a must do – but Universal Studio’s is Disney for adults – we had a blast!!

I genuinely havent had this much fun since I was a kid!

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Christmas in New York City
December 152011

There’s only one way to see all of Manhattan at Christmas: walk it! Manhattan is a very small, thin island and relatively easy to navigate on foot. Because it’s so small, instead of building out, they have built up, so we often found ourselves craning our necks as we were walking through the streets staring up in awe at the height of all of the sky scrapers!!

We made our way to Rockefeller Centre to see the famous 70 odd foot (25 odd metres) Christmas tree, and if you couldn’t tell it was Christmas you were blind.  Let me tell you, New York goes all out!

We walked past 5m high nutcrackers which had been lined up in the streets, giant displays of Christmas balls, Christmas lights in a row where each individual light was bigger than myself and Mike put together – and you had characters from Walt Disney World walking the streets randomly collecting money for various charities!  EVERYTHING sparkled!, and everything was larger than life!

Characters from Walt Disney World!

 

We made our way past Radio City Music Hall, noticing along the way that NYC really is a city full of cabs!  It was odd to see a vehicle other than a yellow cab on the road…although we did pass quite a few limousines!

Michael, who showed us around the previous day, had told us that he had moved to New York a few years back and initially arrived with his car.  He parked overnight in a ‘No Parking 8am-6pm’ spot, and at 8.06am chased the tow truck down the busy NYC street.  With the car being worth $1000 and the bill from the city totaling $800 he apparently took the deed down to the car yard and signed it over to the City of New York…he has never owned a car since!

Michael, also being one of New York’s top real estate brokers, was shocking us with the rent prices of apartments in central Manhattan…shocking as they’re on par with Canberra rent prices…if not cheaper!  He did an extremely good job at selling New York to me!!

Hailing a cab in New York!

We kissed under the Rockefeller Christmas tree, and took in the amazing decorations around the ice skating rink – life size golden angels glittering above the rink, nutcrackers towering above skaters  – but then because of the cold we kept moving!  We moved past the Empire State Building, and straight down 5th avenue …where I was banned from entering with dad’s emergency credit card, although I maintain that one pair of Prada heels left in my size constitutes an emergency!!

I didn’t know where to look first – do we head into Tiffany’s and check out the diamond jewellery, or wait in the line which snakes around the corner to go into the Prada store, head into Armani to purchase dad something to take away the sting of the future credit card bill, or saunter into Louis Vuitton to trade in my Kmart handbag…these were real problems!!!!  We didn’t even get near Macy’s or Bloomingdales as there were hundreds of people queued outside waiting to get in for the Christmas sales.

How much damage can I possibly do with this?!

We escaped the glitz and glamour of 5th avenue before doing too much damage to the bank account and found our way to Central Park where we took a lovely stroll and I scared off locals by trying to do an impression of the squirrels that were scampering around us.

We passed on the temptation to take a horse and carriage ride through the park, were amused by a sign that said ‘Warning – Thin Ice’ in front of a pond…of flowing water…and then headed to Wollman’s ice rink to pretend we were in Serendipity…except in the movie John Cusack didn’t have to pay entrance fees!

We ice-skated for half an hour in Central park with the New York Skyline for a backdrop before moving on to take a stroll through the upper east side before grabbing a hot chocolate at the Serendipity café.  There was a 2 hour wait at the café so we went to Starbucks instead!

Skating in Central Park!

We headed to the United Nations to see if my photo was up.  Earlier in the year I won bronze prize in Scouting’s Asia-Pacific Photo Contest which this year was dedicated to 2011 being the international year of volunteering.  The photo is being put up in the headquarters at the UN in New York!

 It wasn’t up yet … and I was quite looking forward to being the loser who was taking a photo of a photo of herself!!  We were impressed that we had made it through the whole day on foot without getting lost once.

I love the way New York is set out – in a grid, with a very definite layout.  It’s so incredibly easy if you know you’re on the corner of 3rd and 45th and need to get to 5th and 47th all you have to do is go two streets down and 2 across!  So while the skyscrapers are intimidating the city is extremely easy to get around! I found New York to be a very walk able, potentially very livable city!

With a 5am start to head to the airport the next day we went back to the hotel, however New York hasn’t seen the last of the likes of me!!

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Being 11pm on a Saturday night in New York the traffic from the airport was pretty hectic – the air was full of December chill and the streets were full of hundreds of drunk Santa’s who had been out on the annual Santa Claus Pub Crawl…we drove past frosty the snowman humping a santa at one stage…welcome to New York!!!

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3 Irishmen, a South African and an Australian go Canyoning in the Swiss Alps…not the start to a joke, just my Thursday in Kandersteg. We caught a train to Interlaken to hit the canyons.

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Saturday in Sweden marked the last day of the 22nd World Scout Jamboree. A secret visit by the King and Queen of Sweden…

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We reached the northern most tip of the Australian continent after 2 hours of some highly entertaining 4wd-ing through varied terrain covered with an intriguing mosaic of eucalypt woodland and rainforest. A 15 minute walk then lead us through more rainforest and over a heap of rocks to the tip.

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The first thing we noticed when we got to gunshot creek…one of the many challenges of the telegraph track…was the large tree in the middle of the creek which had been turned into a shrine with car parts claimed by the passing. Number plates, signs, alternators, car door frames, you name it were nailed to the tree!

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Driving to Cape York
June 242011

This morning we took on the telegraph track. For the first 3 hours we managed 3k. Yes, for those mathematicians out there that’s 1k an hour! We spent half an hour walking and clearing out a huge river crossing which had extremely large drop offs. Jacintas legs turned to clay in the process!

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The humidity admittedly was better than expected, but seriously, who turned up the sun??!! Within minutes we were all itching to rip off our jeans and ‘Canberra clothes’ for relief from the ‘simmering’ temperature!

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Mystery Island

Mystery Island

Small isolated Island in the Pacific Ocean.

March 162011

Mystery Island is an island with picture perfect sandy pathways that lead to white beaches edged with coconut trees and crystal clear lagoons offering great snorkeling. The Island was used as a World War II landing strip for the allied forces, and there are no roads, no shops and no stress!! There are also no inhabitants – no-one lives on the island as its considered taboo to do so…the locals come across from nearby Aneityum for the days that ships call into the island.

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Cruising Through Lifou
March 142011

Lifou is…amazing! It is a commune (an overseas territory of France) in the Loyalty Islands Province of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. The island has one of the most diverse landscapes I have ever seen – from limestone caves to white beaches and coral reefs teeming with brightly coloured marine life.

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Atlantis the Palm, Dubai
August 172010

My very first video blog about my time spent in Dubai! The quality of my videos has improved since 2010!

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Megan Donoghue reviews the recent Kenyan Moot and the impact it had on Kenya and the participants from all over the world.

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