Exploring the heart of the Whitsundays

I remember first seeing Heart Reef on a card and thought it was beautiful, I even added it into a collage of a hearts on a Valentine card I made for John one year, never did I think I would get to experience it for real, since the age of 18 I’ve been in debt, so much so that travel until recent years was not a priority. So when the opportunity arose on my Working Holiday to Australia to visit the Whitsundays a little research later and I was on that flight across the reef. To make it more cost effective, we were travelling to Hamilton Island so took our crossing over from Airlie Beach with GSL Aviation incorporating the scenic reef flight, it cost us AUS $229 each. The scenery after taking off was stunning, but it took us a little while to get to the reef, then it emerged, wow when it’s commented on how travel photography is doctored and enhanced, nope this was exactly what we got, the vibrant colours, so beautiful, absolutely stunning. This is my favourite thing that we’ve experienced in Australia, it was so inspiring, I just wanted to dive straight into those beautiful turquoise waters. The reef looked like it was endless, it was as far as the eye could see. The pilot let us know we were going to be passing Heart Reef and to have our cameras ready, of course like an idiot I nearly missed it! John had to point it out for me, it was a lot smaller than I imagined, but is truly breathtaking. A natural formation of coral reef in the shape of a heart, located in Hardy Reef, was discovered in 1975 by one of Air Whitsunday’s pilots. As you are unable to snorkel or dive at the site due to it’s protected status, Heart Reef is best experienced from the air by helicopter or seaplane. Luckily for me we swung back past so I got a better view the second time! On the way back we also got to see Whitehaven beach, which was spectacular.
If you are short on budget you can take a reef flight for a cheaper amount than what we paid without doing the transfer to Hamilton Island, it is well worth the money it was definitely my favourite thing to see in Australia. I’d read that people see the wildlife – manta rays, turtles and dolphins and whales swimming in the sea, unfortunately I didn’t experience that, but would definitely love to go again and try out a helicopter ride. Just a tip for those who get travel sick, you make want to take some tablets before hand, I was fine until Heart Reef however the pilot made a few twisty turns, but after that felt a little queasy! Still one of the best experiences of my life – highly recommended!

 

Heart Reef in the Whitsundays

My favourite travel experiences!

I’ll be blogging about these experiences in greater detail, but wanted to put together a compilation of my favourite travel experiences. I feel so honoured to have experienced these things:

  • Seeing wild dolphins in Florida
    Mother and baby dolphin in Key West

    – I love dolphins so much, it’s fair to say every holiday (before leaving to go travelling) evolved around them! But, nothing had prepared me for the sight of wild dolphins, two natural experiences I had were just the best. The first time in Key West in 2014 and the second time in 2015 on a trip to Clearwater. Such amazing experiences, my heart lights up.

    Dolphins in Clearwater
  • Flying over Heart Reef in the Great Barrier Reef –
    Heart Reef in the Whitsundays

    Never did I think I would get to experience it for real, but the opportunity arose when visiting Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, when we took a scenic reef flight. The scenery so was stunning, the vibrant colours, so beautiful. The heart, a natural formation of coral was smaller than I imagined, but definitely my favourite thing to see in Australia.

  • Yi Peng,
    Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

    the sky lantern festival in Chiang Mai – Absolutely stunning, the sky was awash with thousands of sky lanterns all coming from different directions, and the river with krathrongs. Truly romantic, truly amazing night!!

 

  • Maya Bay – The Beach from ‘The Beach’ –
    Maya Bay – The Beach

    Doing my research on Thailand I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit the beach, whilst researching I’d viewed lots of articles and photos including that it had been CGI-ed and didn’t actually look the same. However experiencing it as the only tourists there was so amazing, the stunning white beach, crystal clear blue waters and tropical surroundings where a wonder, this is the best Thailand has to offer, everything I imagined from watching the film.

  • Meeting my favourite DJ,
    Paul Van Dyk at Genesis White, Sydney

    Paul Van Dyk – I’d been itching to go back and see Paul Van Dyk since seeing him at Gatecrasher in Nottingham a few years ago. I’d been in love with his music since I first heard a spine tingling track at the age of 15. When he happened to be in Australia at the same time as us, John and I attended Genesis White in Sydney in October 2016. It

    Meeting Paul Van Dyk!

    was a great night, his set had just ended, finishing with ‘For An Angel’ the very track I first heard of his, which engaged my love of his music. John spotted that Paul was right near where we were dancing, what seemed like an eternity, but was only moments later I’d spoken to him and had a photo – smile firmly plastered on my face for the rest of the night!

  • An engagement at Jervis Bay – I can’t write a post about my favourite experiences without our engagement being one of them can I?! It was Anzac Day 2016 and we’d took a day trip to Jervis Bayas had I’d read up on it’s beauty, we spent the day exploring the National Parks and pretty beaches.  We found a private beach surrounded by stones on one side and sat on a log and chatted whilst looking out toward the ocean. Just before the sunset John gave a little speech (I can’t
    Sunset engagement

    divulge too much information can I?! – I’ll embarrass him!), asked me to marry him. I accepted, we kissed and I confess to shedding a little tear! After that, we watched the sunset and took a few selfies with my princess cut ring, basking in love’s glow, before speaking to our families.

Engagement selfie!

 

Bizarre travel experiences!

Look out for our short series on our travel experiences, here is the first, the most bizarre:

  • Who’s going to get the chicken head? Really you eat chicken head?! Certainly one of the most bizarre meals I’ve ever been served up, nope don’t fancy that one much!
Anyone for chicken feet?!
  • Anyone for chicken feet?!
    Tasty huh, the helpx host we were staying with said they were like crisps to Chinese people, not sure that planet she was living on! Whilst she gobbled them down like they were the tastiest morsels on the planet, I cringed at the curled talon nails on the end of the feet. Gingerly I tasted them, sure the sauce she had cooked with them was tasty, but I just could not get past trying to pull off the muscle like tendons with my teeth! John on the other hand was a bit more adventurous, but we giggled to ourselves afterwards why on earth you would want to eat them!
  • Nail clippings and locks of hair for Loi Krathrong – Loi Krathong is celebrated annually in Thailand on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, where it’s traditional to decorate and float a basket on the river. Traditional krathong are made from a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant, however modern krathongs can be made of bread, which can disintegrate and be eaten by fish.
    Our rose and orchid krathrong

    Our rose and orchid krathrong
    The krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. The candle venerates the Buddha with light, while the krathong’s floating symbolises letting go of all one’s hatred, anger, and defilements. People sometime cut their fingernails or hair and place the clippings on the krathong as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions and negative thoughts. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. Legend says if a couple releases their krathong together, they will meet and fall in love again in the next life.

    Sticking to tradition, earlier in the day I’d snipped some of John’s hair and my fingernails (gross huh! I figured they were better than toenails to carry around!) and put them in a tissue in my bag. We searched the stalls for a pretty krathrong and chose a medium sized one decorated with roses and orchids. We headed down to the river and added our nails, hair and a gold coin, lit the candle and the incense and John took it down to the river bank to float off. Not sure if that technically means we’ll be together in the next life, but I wasn’t tempting falling in!

    Thousands of krathrongs being floated in Chiang Mai

    Between the river full of the floating krathrongs and the sky awash with floating lanterns it was so pretty! I’m not sure I’ve got rid of all my anger, but a few months after I did manage to get a job that has benefitted us financially. As for together forever, well we’ve since got engaged six months after, but I’m happy to just live in the now than worry about the next life!!

  • Finding glass in your foot years later! – Gross, not technically travelling, but John managed to find a chunk of glass in his foot from when he’d stood on glass in the sea in Thailand years before. How he hadn’t noticed it before I’ll never know, pretty gross huh!
  • Living with a porn star wannabe in Sydney – My first introduction to the attention seeking bimbos of Sydney. Living in a share house this nightmare crawled in with her boyfriend at 3am in the morning, woke the house puking, singing (badly) at the top of the voice til 4 or 5am, listening to the same song on repeat (I’m still drove insane to hear it to this day!), screaming match with a boyfriend whilst she was falling over and sounded like an elephant and then proceed to let the whole street know she was having a shag. Really, how your boyfriend didn’t know you were faking your moaning and screaming for 20 minutes I do not know (or maybe it just made him feel like a superstar?!), someone put a sock in her gob! The noise, I’ve never heard anything like it and (please) hopefully won’t ever again!
  • Tubing in Laos – John’s adventure, pretty fun, alcohol combined with tubing down a river, health and safety, erm let’s not go there!
  • Picking a restaurant in Ashfield, Sydney – lamb spine, duck feet, curdled cold blood soup, me thinks I prefer Westernised Chinese food!

Exploring Sydney’s Night Noodle Markets

We’d been planning to go with friends anyway, but I got the dates mixed up and thought it ended 6 days later (it actually ends Sunday 23rd October 2016), so a meeting in the CBD allowed an impromptu visit. If you don’t want the crowds I’d say head to Hyde Park earlier on, given that it was only a Wednesday night it was pretty damn busy with large queues. Our next trip might have to be later night after weekend drinks. Times vary, opening 5pm weekdays and 4pm weekends, closing between 9pm/10pm, with Saturday nights until 11pm. Entry is free but it’s probably important to point out that it’s no cash, pay on your card or buy tickets. John was a little disappointed about the lack of noodles, sure they were some noodle choices, but much more other choices (over 40 stalls), which I actually preferred. Bags were searched on entry, as you cannot bring your own alcohol. A bottle of wine averaged $35 spend, clever campers had brought blankets to sit on, whilst there was a decent amount of tables and chairs, there wasn’t enough by far. Citi customers had their own special areas, so definitely worth bring your card if you are a customer.

After a wander around we decided to pick up a roti from Mamaks Village. At $7 it was a plain roti served with a curry sauce. Unfortunately we couldn’t make out what the other flavour cuisines were and so we went with the cheapest safest option. The guy making and spinning the rotis was pretty cool to watch and the sign stated ‘Sydney To Flying Roti’! The roti was pretty good, I’d probably prefer if it hadn’t been folded so many times before being fried as I really enjoy the thin crispiness. The sauce was average, it had a little kick but lacked the depth of the sauces we’d had with roti at Spice Alley. All in all we were happy with our purchase, but would be a little more adventurous if we visited this stall again.

Flying roti at Mamaks Village
Tasty roti!

Onward to another stall, where we decided to order the vermicelli bowl and prawn rice paper rolls at Mama Made. We choose the pork with the vermicelli – the pork was super tasty, underneath was salad and then vermicelli noodles with a broth, this was a little disappointing, we were hoping for some mixed up concoction. Next up was the prawn rice paper rolls, I’ve been wanting to try these for a while but wasn’t so fussed, they were filled with plain noodles, salad and some sort of prawn patty with a satay side sauce, all in all not a good combo and I wish we’d had the spring rolls instead.

Pork vermicelli bowl from Mama Made

Prawn rice paper rolls from Mama Made

After that we had the potato spirallised on a stick, I just love these and usually pick them up at food festivals and Universal Studios. They were $6 each or 3 sticks for $15, I wish I’d had 3 as they were pretty tasty! This stall had the best variety of flavours I’ve seen offered, the variety of flavours included the obligatory Aussie chicken salt, plus BBQ and lemon pepper or you could go all out and have all (I think about 7 or 8 choices!). I chose the salt and vinegar, but being a vinegar fiend I could have done with a bit more. I often find these have never been cooked quite to perfection – I guess they are throwing them out to deal with supply and demand. This was pretty cooked and crispy, but an extra minute in the fryer would have made it perfection.

Tasty!!
Cocktail in hand – enjoying a cup of Pimms

We ended the evening with a cup of Pimms in the prettily decorated Pimms garden. A cup was $8 and a jug $30, for Sydney prices we didn’t think $8 a cup was too bad. Although full of ice, there was a decent amount of liquid in the cup, not exactly strong, but I was disappointed that they’d added ginger ale, I figure that was to make up for probably not much alcohol being included. It was garnished with a slice of orange and a slice of cucumber, I would have preferred strawberry and mint, but given it was floating on top of the ice I doubt it made much difference to the flavour. For anyone seriously into their Pimms, I’m guessing it was Pimms No 1, as we didn’t see any other choices. It was however refreshing, but as the only ‘cocktail’ at the bars I was a bit disappointed in lack of choice. There were more options for beers, wines and soft drinks.

One of the highlights was the rainbow drop cake at Harajuku Gyoza, which I imagine is so popular due to the novelty and that it’s gluten free. I’d like to try one next visit, but didn’t feel it was worth the wait. It looks like a large drop of jelly, like some sort of molecular experiment! This stand was a huge hit with the Octodog also being popular – three potato octopuses on a stick, I was tempted to get one, but the pork gyozas I wanted to try from that stall had sold out so that’s also on the to-do list for next time!

For those avoiding gluten we did also spot a gluten free doughnut stand. Another sweet treat which was totally instragramable was the waffle of a stick, coming in a variety of toppings decorated with a cocktail umbrella, these looked pretty tasty. Another hit of the night was the Messina stand, dubbed the ‘Very Very Good Lucky Fortune Bar’, which looked interesting, definitely need to try the caramel version, but I was a little put off by the coconut gelato it was partnered with. Black Star Pastry also looked another hit for those with a sweet tooth.

On the savoury side of hits, Daniel San was selling flavoured chicken and pork on a skewer – will be back for one of those! Hoy Pinyo was also another hit selling chicken satay skewers. BAO Stop was pulling in the crowds for it’s duck fries ($15), which looked pretty good, but we’d just had Dirty Trailer Trash fries loaded with pulled pork and a variety of sauces the weekend before at Reuben & Moore at the Westfield Mall, so decide to give this one a pass (at least until next time!). They also had a tray of interesting looking slider type buns, 3 for $20, which I’d also like to try.

All in all we enjoyed our night and hopefully we’ll be back again before it ends this year. We’ve been quite disappointed with some of the food festival events we’ve been to in Sydney, so were happy that this one had a lot of choice despite some of the large queues. They could definitely fit in a few more stalls, which would assist. I’d love to see a proper cocktail bar at next year’s event as I’m not the biggest fan of beer and wine, and sure it’s do really well.

Hola!

Hi, welcome to my blog, I’m Lisa and have been travelling the world with my fiancé John.  Together we’ve been to Australia, Denmark, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and the USA.  Individually we’ve been to other places too (Crete, Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Laos, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal and Prague) and we plan to have many more adventures!  We are currently in Australia.

Cocktail in hand is dedicated to my travel adventures and the things I love.  It will also feature guest posts to inspire you with your travel plans and take that leap yourself.  Hope you enjoy it!!