Barefoot Tours - Atherton Tablelands



The man, the myth, the legend -  we were met my Barefoot Tours owner himself Captain Matty who picked us up outside our hostel ready to start the day. Now when I say picked us up, he literally picked each and every one of us up in a bear hug before hopping onto the bus ready to head on out of Cairns and up into the Tablelands. The trip consists of 5 main stops for swimming and cooling off, with a number of additional stops along the way to check out some of the hidden gems along the way. With even an average winters day here being 25-28 degrees, you'll find yourself wanting to jump into the icy water to cool off. 

Cathedral Fig

The windy road up to the first destination included a stop at a view point to look down at all the tiny people left in Cairns before moving onwards. It's about a 45 minute drive out of town, however not for those who are perhaps slightly hungover. With the road going round and round for a good half an hour, you may feel a little queasy without the help of residual alcohol. 

Once up on the Tablelands, the beautiful green pastures just roll on by. Doesn't quite feel like you're in Australia anymore up here. Of course, that only lasts a few minutes until you reach the Cathedral Fig tree found just a short walk from the main road. Looking like something out of Avatar, it's a pretty special stop to check out. Over 500 years old, the strangler tree is the perfect place for a cheeky snap and some shade from the sunshine.

Lake Eacham

The first swimming spot of the day, super quiet with few other visitors there's space to spread out on the grass in the sunshine and take a dip. With a swimming platform in one area, and steps down to another there's plenty of room. If you're not quite in the swimming mood yet though, not to worry as you can pass the time turtle spotting on the waters edge. Keep an eye out while you're swimming though, rumour has it you might see a crocodile if you're lucky.

Here is where morning tea is served, along with the most incredible fruit platter for the health nuts and cakes for those of us who have delayed the summer body for yet another season. Matty was proud to make sure it was known he always buys as much local produce as possible, from only the local suppliers to keep the money in the region. Bread from the local baker, fruits grown throughout the Tablelands. It was seriously awesome to hear how a small company was happy to pay a little bit more to their suppliers to keep it local than to go to the big supermarkets that don't always support the surrounding area. 

Millaa Millaa Falls

When you picture a waterfall in your head, this is pretty much what you think it will look like. Tall, loads of swimming space and the perfect place for the 'profile picture' that dreams are made of. Also home to where the famous herbal essences advert was created, it's near criminal to come here without giving the hair 'swoosh' a try. The water is pretty cold though I might add, so for girls you may want a bikini or swimsuit with a little padding to stop the awkward obvious nip moment. Have a swim, jump off some rocks, grab that perfect picture and be ready to lie in the sunshine for a little warm up before heading off to stop 4! Also, keep a keen eye out as sometimes you may spot a rare platypus in this area. 

Dinner Falls and The Crater

Another beautiful waterfall stop, with a short walk to a number of view points. For these agile on their feet you can climb over the rocks and get pretty close to the falling water as well, but make sure you have shoes with good grip or you may regret it. Here we stopped for lunch (included in the price), which consisted of more sandwiches, cake, fruit and other delicious treats. As you can imagine, this was all polished off pretty fast when you've got a group of backpackers faced with free food.

Josephine Falls

The best of them all! Here you can use the waterfall as a natural waterslide as it's so smooth! It can be a little bit of a mission to get into the water here, with either a jump between a few rocks or a careful climb. Luckily, we had Captain Matty to 'accidentally' push us in to make sure we avoided the rocks on either side. With the water being super cold as well, I can't imagine slowly climbing in would be much fun either. A quick swim across the pool gets to you to the best way to the waterfall, then just gather with a group or go solo, get on your butt and slide on down!

You can only swim in certain areas of the falls though, so please remember this! Part of the falls is sacred to the local aboriginal people and treating this with utmost respect it important. The team at Barefoot want to be able to keep bringing us lovely tourists here, and can only do so if we all keep our cool. Also, with strong currents & raging water, you wouldn't really want to take a dip in the other areas either! Enjoy the below 'in action' shot of us - thrilling stuff right here.

Basically, it's not your typical day out in terms of the 'must do in Australia' list. However, I think that's what makes it so great. It's a very chilled out, fun and adventure filled way to spend your day tailor made for backpackers & the understanding that anything too engergic may not be possible with the residual alcohol in your system from the night before at Gilligans. We had one of the best days, and Captain Matty seriously wanted everyone to have a good time, make some new friends and remind us ladies to steer clear of the dive masters (sadly, he didn't give me any advise on the skydive instructors though... opps!) 

Jungle Surfing in the Daintree



So I pretty much adore Australia, always have and always will. Maybe it's because us Brits just aren't used to getting any sunshine, so simply the vitamin D hit alone makes this place addictive. Either way, I was pretty excited to get up to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation as I hadn't made it up here last time. 

Being the oldest naturally ongoing rainforest in the world, it's a fairly special place and because of this, has world heritage listings and is recognised by UNECO etc. so is certainly a bucket list destination. A short drive from Cairns is the best way to reach it, and the team at Jungle Tours are great at helping get you there if you're not a local or don't have a car. 

Our day started with an early morning drive along what's known to be one of the most scenic highways in all Australia, rivalled only by the Great Ocean Road. This short 90 minute journey travels along the coast between Cairns and Port Douglas, and it's named the Great Barrier Reef drive for good reason! Being able to see so much ocean and rainforest from one road is fairly awesome. 

From here, the guys dropped us for an hour visit to Wildlife Habitat which is a wildlife refuge just outside the picturesque town of Port Douglas. Here you have the chance to feed the kangaroos and wallabies, and walk around in the exhibits with the wildlife, allowing you to pretty close most of the cute creatures Australia has on offer. Of course, the crocodiles and cassowary birds are kept at a slightly further distance!

After a cheeky morning tea and cakes, we headed north again to catch the Daintree River Ferry to the world heritage site. Sadly, a lot more stunning rainforest would be around today however early settlers to Australia cut down huge sections of it to farm land with sugar cane & cattle. While it's so great to now have protection, it does mean the scenery drastically changes at this point from open fields to the rainforest, rather than how it would have naturally been slightly more gradual. The ferry is very much a car ferry, so no getting off to walk around here! Within 5 minutes we'd already reached the other side and were off again to the sound of the Lion King soundtrack towards our lunch stop. 

Lunch itself is included and was actually seriously good! No packed lunch here but instead we were dropped at a cafe within the forest (felt like the middle of nowhere in the best way). Here we had a huge choice of options of sandwiches which were freaking HUGE! I think I'm still full over a week later... Absolutely delicious and set us up nicely for the main event, Jungle Surfing!

Sadly, as exciting as it would be to take on the jungle canopy on a surf board, this isn't exactly what we were doing - we were zip lining. The guys have set up a number of zip lines along the canopy up in the top of the tree tops so you can see more than just the forest floor. A serious highlight is on platform 3, where you can actually see out to the Great Barrier Reef from up high. The rainforest is the only place in the world where you can see two World Heritage sites at the same time, and be within 100 miles of the two most biologically diverse places at once - pretty awesome my fellow nerds!

After being hung by my legs off one zip line, and accidentally almost kicking my photographer off the platform, I think it was pretty safe to say while I hadn't had enough, the guides may have had enough of me! It was a seriously great activity, having done a number of zip lines before the lines weren't too fast or long so not the most adrenaline filled activity. However, being able to have seen the world's oldest rainforest from that angle can't be beaten!

My only slight disappointment was that being up in the treetops for quite a long time in humid conditions without access to water wasn't the greatest, so I'd recommend bringing a water bottle with you. Also, (rant time, sorry kids), it really pisses me off when companies charge you for pictures they take of you during the day. Here, the team kindly took snaps of everyone at they hang through the trees and try all the activities grabbing some awesome action shots that you can't always take of yourself. But sadly, they wanted $20/image OF MYSELF that they took. I know this is becoming standard practise with tour operators but I really think it's wrong. Since the day trip already costs $252 Australian Dollars RRP (£152 British Pounds) for just one day, it should include as many damn pictures taken of me that I'd like.

The final activity of the day was the Daintree River Cruise to check out some of the local reptiles, pretty exciting stuff. Along the coastline up in Northern Australia, you're unable to swim in the sea due to the salt water crocodiles, and the same is said for most of the rivers. After taking this river cruise it does become kinda clear why. They literally pop up all over the place, and as the water is so murky, there are likely quite a lot more below the surface. Seeing these living dinosaurs in the wild is always fairly special, so it's a really awesome way to end a really great day in the Daintree before the drive back to Cairns. Sadly I didn't have time to spend a night in the rainforest here, but it's safe to say I'll be back to Cairns and the surrounding area very soon thanks to a special someone. 

Huge thanks to the team for taking us out, the guides with Jungle Tours are probably some of the friendliest I've had with a genuine desire for everyone to really love their little corner of the world. 

Olympus Tours - Dominican Safari



While I adore hitting the beach as much as anyone, I can't hack it for more than a few days without going stir crazy! With that in mind, I always have to find an island which has loads going on nearby to give me some things to try out while having a relax and the Dominican Republic has not disappointed. During my time here, I've hooked up with Olympus tours who run Punta Cana Tours to try out their famous Supreme Safari which shows off the local flair of this beautiful island nation. 

The day started with a ride in a super truck, the best way to describe it is for you to picture a monster truck with a trailer on the back for us to see the view. Heading further away from the beaches towards the lesser beaten track of the tourist trail, our first stop was a local ranch. Here we had a chance to hop onto horseback and meander down to see some of the fruit trees growing in the fields including mango's and many others! Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried my Spanish isn't what it used to be so I couldn't quite catch the names of the other exotic fruits, but most were one's I hadn't seen before which is always a treat!

From here, we also had the opportunity to see how cigars are made and learnt all the differences between them. Of course, we learnt that the Dominican cigar is much superior to the Cuban cigar but I'll have to wait until I reach the shores of both islands to be able to compare for myself! This stop also included a visit to a local art gallery, where you could purchase beautiful canvas's of typical Dominican artwork such as beach-scapes and interpretations of workers on orchards, sail boats and more. I can't help myself when there's a chance to bring something beautiful back with me, so I purchased rather a few which were rolled up for me to pop in my suitcase and re-canvas back home for my wall along with others from around the globe. 

Nest stop was over to Basilica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia which is found in the town of Higuey in Punta Cana. This catholic cathedral is really something else and was the true highlight of the day for me! With my global treks I get to see a lot of places of worship and some truly stand out, with the Basilica here joining that list. As you can see from the photographs, it certainly has a presence in this small Dominican town as it towers over! We could even see if from the mountains that we travelled up next.

With a quick stop at a local foot market to see fresh food stalls containing fruits, vegetables, meat and even a few locals playing a rather rowdy game of dominoes, it was onwards and upwards off the roads and into the countryside a little further. 

During the trip, the guides really enjoyed talking to us about all the communities we visited, and gave us every opportunity to support them through purchasing their herbal medicines, homemade cooking products and tips for leading the horses if you required it! By doing this, it meant that we could give back to not only the tour guides, but to a number of small & isolated villages which struggle more to gain from the biggest import the island has; tourism. This was highlighted on our next destination when we visited a small village to meet and chat with everyone!

This was the village we stopped to dine in on a local lunch of Dominican specialities which shouldn't be missed while overlooking a river below and enjoying the view of never-ending mountains and jungle. 

Once fed, it was onwards to our final village stop through coffee and sugar plantations, with some hefty off road driving which couldn't have been more amusing! With an open bar onboard, I'd recommend bringing an empty bottle with you to get a bartender to top you up in as the open glasses meant spilling delicious rum everywhere.

In this village, our guide Jonathan coached the local girls on how to talk to a group trying to help them boost confidence and join the tourist trade so popular here, and it was heartwarming to see! They talked to us about what they grow, and how they turn it into products to sell such as vanilla essence, chocolate and coffee. 

After waiving goodbye to the kids and their pet iguana, it was off again to the final stop on our off-roading tour - the beach! Unfortunately for us, the rain hit hard just as we arrived and with the winds came some strong waves so after a chance to stroll around we hopped back onto the truck after getting slightly soaked to head back to our accommodation for a cocktail or two!

The Kiwi Experience



The Kiwi Experience - over the years it's been known by many cheeky nicknames and has built up a legacy that is rather well known around the world over the most 25+ years. The big green buses are now something of an icon rolling around New Zealand with a quite a few backpackers hitching a ride, convincing us all to try some of the countries best adrenaline activities on offer! For me, it encompassed everything I want to get out of a cracking trip - new experiences, the ability to learn about a different culture, a flexible method of moving around and the perfect way to meet new like minded travellers!

The Kiwi Experience was the first tour styled trip I tried, and I have to say I was a little apprehensive at first. I was used to simply using public transport to go wherever my little heart pleased, whenever it pleased. Of course,  I was able to compromise somewhat by using Kiwi. It's a hop on / hop off bus so you're not restricted to following the umbrella wielding tour guide from point to point on a rigorous schedule of site seeing and tourist shopping where they get a cut of everything you buy, but a more flexible way of travel. Essentially, if I arrived at one of the stops and didn't want to leave for 3 months or so, I could stay until I was ready to move on. All the passes (I think) are valid for a year from activation so you're good to go for as long as you want with 365 days of starting!

You won't find a tour guide with Kiwi, you rather have a 'driver guide' who encompasses everything - your in house DJ, driver, a hub of knowledge containing everything you'd want to know about New Zealand, your way of booking accommodation and activities, a new friend, a motivator (when you're about to jump out of a plane with a crippling fear of heights they're fairly awesome), the person helping you gather firewood for your beach bonfire and so much more. My list could go on forever! These guys really are superheroes and can do everything I swear. Obviously, with the trip being hop on / hop off styled, you change driver all the time as the buses move on while you stay, but with the 5 or 6 I met, all were equally as awesome as the next. They'll get as involved as you want them to be, so if you really don't want interaction they will leave you to it if that's what you'd prefer - but when someone has that much knowledge on a country why wouldn't you pick their brains?!

I also found that if a few of us on the bus wanted to see somewhere that perhaps isn't on the route, they'll do their best to work it in for you if other travellers don't mind. The guys also take you on some stunning walks to break up the driving days a little. They truly go above and beyond! When I wasn't sure how to hire a car for a day to visit another stop, our guide, 'Cuddles', simply gave me his phone and suggested a few companies for me to look up, then helped me book the best value one! I also wanted dropping off about an hour outside of Christchurch which isn't a planned stop to stay with family, and the driver at the time was more than happy to go slightly out of the way to drop me off!

But let's not beat around the bush, if you're not a people person, don't get on the bus. This is made for people who want to meet other like minded travellers, experience some new adventures and get to know a new country. Don't, however, get confused between being shy and a people person! It's perfect for those who are a little nervous about meeting others as you get the opportunity to meet a new friend along the way without it being forced with individual introductions by a tour leader - they're always so awkward . But if you're idea of hanging out with lots of people for a few weeks straight, and staying in hostels on a regular basis is like living through a scene from a Tim Burton movie - maybe just hire a camper van...

I'd also say it's not for the more seasoned traveller. This isn't to say you won't absolutely love it as I did, but I know that everyone has their own idea of how they like to travel. For me, I sure do love going out solo and getting myself into trouble, but it is sometimes nice to just take the easy route sometimes which is what Kiwi Experience can offer. A few people seem to think it's too much of a 'party bus' or just for young travellers; something I didn't find at all! I had more early nights watching sunsets while having a beer on the beach than I did partying, I think we went out maybe 4 times the whole time I was there, mainly in Queenstown. When you've got New Zealand scenery around you, not many people want to waste it hungover even on this 'party bus'. It was much more tame involving regular evenings of shared cooking, exploring new walking tracks and a couple fish & chip takeaways soaking in the evening heat. While I travelled at 20, I was the youngest by a fair few years most of the time, so if you haven't been on the buses yet - simply stop saying it's for 18 - 22 only as it's realllllllllllllly not. The oldest person on one of the buses was something like 58.

I won't get too into discussing the routes as they hit a full range of New Zealand hot spots, and you can check out in depth information appearing under the Oceania tab for each one of these destinations. You can also see a route map from my trip which encompassed all but the 'Deep South' section that Kiwi Experience run, this may have changed though by the time your reading this! The true highlights for me however was the Bay of Islands as this was my first experience I took part in, and also the Milford Sound!

Top tip for booking your Kiwi Experience pass - there is always one on sale. I think very few people actually pay full price for the passes unless they want a particular pass or are buying a shorter route. The long trips are amazing value with the sale packages, and it doesn't matter which pass you have as it's just one route that's travelled, it just depends on the add on's you've bought and the start / finish point you have that changes the price. 

My end note for you guys if I haven't emphasised it enough already? If you want to meet a cracking group of people while travelling New Zealand this is the perfect way to do it. I've made lifelong friends and travel buddies who live all around the world. I've met a fair few of them in different places around the world and each one of them played a part in encouraging me to try a new adventure activity while out there. I skydived, black water rafted, tackled raging rivers and so much more. So I guess the only question left to ask is what are you waiting for?


This post was not sponsored by Kiwi Experience and has been written to share a good experience with readers. Where sponsorship has been provided for a review, this will be fully disclosed. Cover image and route map provided by Kiwi Experience on request.

Oh! So Croatia


STYLE

Backpacker


I think the question is can I rave about Oh! So Croatia anymore than I already have on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram? Probably not but I'm going to try. This trip was the perfect combination of culture, beaches, national parks and partying. It works SO well because the owner, Nina, is a backpacker herself and understands how to do it right - she's created a trip that she would pay for and enjoy as a traveller. It's not the famous Croatia sailing holidays, but I actually found this a bonus as you could see the country around you and not just the beaches while drinking 24/7 (although, the bus comes with free beer and cider so if you want to be intoxicated throughout the journey you are entirely welcome). It also has a price tag of around £500 LESS than your average backpacker sailing trip in Croatia so can I hear you say bonus?

The passes are designed to be hop on / hop off and is super easy going, you can start and end in any of the cities listed on the map below. The point is that it's designed to be as flexible as you want it to be, which can only be a plus in this day and age with so many plans and schedules to keep. If you can't get to Zagreb for the start of the trip, no worries you can join in elsewhere when it suits you. It also means you get new people joining all the time which always equate to new friends!

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This trip isn't designed as a guided tour, where someone holds your hand the whole way. You don't have to think about any travel within the country as it's included, and a lot of activities are available to do with the group, but there isn't a tour guide. You have a tour buddy who can help and advise you on anything Croatian, but they are not there to take you around every city and every restaurant so expect a lot of time when you'll be without a guide. The groups will always be at least 15 though so you'll never have to be alone if you don't want to - perfect for solo travellers and for me personally, I prefer this style a lot more!

It's a also a backpacking trip at the moment guys, so it's hostels and shared bathrooms. You can have a private room in most locations but it isn't guaranteed so be happy to share your space like in any hostel or backpacking trip.

So I chose to start in Zagreb, the capital city and at 8am we were introduced to the bus and the group to start our Croatian Adventure. From here we travelled an hour or so to a beautiful vineyard for a morning of wine tasting and a Croatian style breakfast - safe to say we all got chatting once the booze started flowing. The vineyard, Vuglec Breg, was stunning and it's awesome that Oh! So Croatia can arrange this exclusive private visit for every group as it's really rather swanky. Your eyebrows may shoot up at the thought of morning drinking, but hey - you're on your holidays so pipe down and have a glass!

After getting really rather drunk, we hopped back on the bus to head down to the world famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is pretty special and definitely isn't one to miss when in Croatia if you can help it. The scenery is spectacular, with vast lakes in the middle of dense woodland complete with waterfalls and varied wildlife. Unfortunately, you can't swim in the crystal clear waters of the park but it's still make sure you spend a few hours walking around, it’s the oldest national park in Europe and you only need to look at the pictures to understand why it's worth your while. Rent a boat and row around a few of the lakes or hop on the mini ferries that laze along the river to rest your feet after walking around. 

This brought to a close our first day and we drove to the town of Novalja on Pag Island, famed for party beach Zrce. Now this is a sure place to go if you like to party all night as it doesn't really kick off until 1am, and you'll want to hit the supermarket before you go as it's not the cheapest place to get alcohol in Croatia (however keep in mind that your average G&T will only cost you £1.50 in country, but - as always, it's even cheaper buying beforehand). Your bus buddy will either come with you to party all night long or may help organise some taxis for you while they take a break, but you'll be in a large group so you'll be safe no matter what. They'll always recommend which clubs to hit and will make sure you're ready for a wild night!

Pag island is pretty dead vegetation wise and is mainly covered in rocks - the locals refer to it as a moonscape which I would say is fairly apt! While here with Oh! So Croatia, you'll have a chance to see the beautiful beaches it has to offer, quad bike it's vast landscape to get to even more beaches and party like crazy if you want to! You also get the option to head to a traditional restaurant to eat some incredible octopus baked in a traditional Croatian style, followed with a shot or two (or ten if you want) of Rakia, a very strong local drink! But if you're a veggie or not a fan of seafood, don't sweat it as they also offer other meats, salads and local cheeses!

After a few days on Pag, the bus took us down to Zadar for a few hours roaming the old town before relaxing a little longer on another beautiful beach. After dining while the sunset, we meandered down to Šibenik! This was to be our base for the next few nights and from here we could chill out at a range of beaches, kayak to islands or take time to party all day by the pool, complete with DJ and a waitered drinks service (all this while backpacking - SCORE). We also spent a day at Krka National Park, another beautiful nature reserve complete with waterfalls and a snake or two! Unlike Plitvice, you can swim here among the waterfalls and relax in the clear waters of the Krka river. But don't worry, the snakes don't hang out in the lakes where you can swim! 

Our final day was spent travelling to Split via Trogir. Trogir is another stunning little seaside town which has a magical old town, complete with a harbour full of yachts that's not to be missed! As always you can hop on a boat and see the crystal clear waters all around you, or just relax with a drink in the bar. You can also check out the Kamerlengo Castle and  I can highly recommend doing your souvenir shopping here as it'll be cheaper than Split but still excellent stuff!

I would love to tell you more about Split but unfortunately I had to head back home before having a proper explore. I will definitely be back though and I plan to hit Hvar, Brela and Dubrovnik - I’ll let you know when I have more inside info next year.  

Croatia as a country has known some hardships, the war that broke up Yugoslavia devastated the people here. They've been working hard over the past few years to rebuild themselves as a top tourist destination so they can share their beautiful country with us. I had a chance to speak to some Croatian nationals who told me about their childhood that consisted of hiding in the basement regularly to hide from bomb drops and gunfire. Visiting Croatia now however you couldn't feel safer and it really is a gorgeous country with charming locals! I love that by travelling with Oh! So Croatia, we're supporting a Croatian company and the local tourist industry, being shown the true Croatia by Croatian nationals. 


There are a range of trips you can do with oh! So Croatia but unfortunately I only had 8 days so I started at the beginning and ended in Split.The passes however, run all the way down to Dubrovnik and you can get involved with other awesome activities such as white water rafting! I seriously recommend you check it out so follow the link to Oh! So Croatia and book. I really didn't have enough time on this trip and it's the best way to see Croatia in full, from national parks to party beaches and the true Croatian countryside! 


Photographs by Talento Productions


This post was not sponsored by Oh! So Croatia and has been written to share a good experience with readers. Where sponsorship has been provided for a review, this will be fully disclosed.