RESTLESS // Organ Pipes National Park, Australia

Tonight is one of those wonderful those wonderful nights when you knock off work knowing you have an exciting few days ahead – and even more so tonight as I am heading on my first holiday since starting full time work! Although we are only venturing overseas for ten days, the novelty of getting paid whilst I relax on a beach somewhere has not worn off on me yet.

Working full time these past six months has also motivated me to indulge in far more ‘treat yourself moments’, and last week such a mindset blew out into my spontaneous purchasing of a DSLR camera. Sure, I had been dreaming about the prospect of owning a half decent camera one day. But for some reason two weeks before going on holidays seemed like the perfect time to blow my savings.

However, I have approximately zero idea how to operate such a camera, so in an effort to learn I announced a spontaneous trip on the weekend to Organ Pipes National Park on the weekend. We had been here a few years ago, and I remembered it as being a beautiful piece of nature a stones throw from the city – it was about a half an hour drive from our place in South Melbourne.

The park itself is a small valley nestled beside a busy freeway and underneath one of the flight paths for Melbourne airport. However silence ensues once you descend into the small valley of the park. A small 1km track runs around the valley floor, taking you past three main features, all of which arose from volcanic activity in the area many a millennia ago.

The main feature, surprising enough, are the ‘organ pipes’. The pipes are hexagonal basalt columns, that have formed over thousands and thousands of year as the creek at the base has slowly worn away at the basalt lava.

The ‘Rosette Rock’ is a spectacular formation, with a similar history. I won’t attempt to pretend I know anything about volcanic rock formations here, because I really have no clue!

The final stop was the ‘Tessellated Pavement’, again of similar origins. Chris is obviously in deep thought about the construction of volcanic baltic rock formations. Or merely enjoying the serenity…

Climbing out of the valley after our small circuit of the park had me feeling like I had merely walked around the block. But on the other hand, the simple act of being outside and stretching my legs in the outdoors provided as much to me as going for a 10km hike. Sometimes, being outside is all you need.

And with that, I am signing off the technological world (well, not really, I love instagram too much) for our ten day holiday!

– Reanna

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE // Melbourne, Australia

Despite living in Melbourne for well over four years now, I still find myself playing tourist on a regular basis. Sure, Chris might roll his eyes when I stop to take photos of something novel in the city, but it is refreshing to see the place where you live through a new light.

Last weekend we ventured down to the strange, yet beautiful, Docklands precinct, to indulge in a dinner cruise. We received a voucher for Christmas, and we were 99% sure we were the only Melbourne locals on the boat.

The dinner and drinks on the cruise were as expected, but the highlight was definitely seeing Melbourne from the water – something we had never done before. The boat left Docklands and went under both the Bolte and West Gate Bridge, before emerging into Port Phillip Bay and heading towards St Kilda.

The views from the Bay were absolutely stunning, even the clouds that were hanging overhead didn’t impact the beauty of it.

Not featured – the dance floor directly behind our table.

Turns out my phone takes a pretty average night time photo – you will just have to imagine how wonderful the city looked at night.

One of the unexpectedly interesting parts of the cruise was going through the sea ports. There were a few container ships pulled up, and they are just as big in person as you would imagine.

Melbourne, I love you.

– Reanna

FINALLY, THE GREAT WALL // Gubei Water Town, China

During my first visit to China in 2015, I managed to travel nowhere near the Great Wall of China. When I began organising this trip to Beijing, visiting the wall (as well as my friend!) was at the top of my priority list.

There are numerous sections of the Great Wall that can be reached from Beijing, give or take a couple of hours. However, as luck would have it my friend’s university was organising a trip to Gubei Water Town, a tourist resort built at the base of the Simatai section of the Great Wall. I was able to join the trip, which worked out perfectly as we were taken directly to the town in under two hours via a private bus. So much easier than navigating public transport!

I was so excited when we got of the bus, as the town was covered in snow! It was only a small covering, but enough to have this little Aussie gal excited.

From what I could gather from the limited English information about Gubei, is that the town is actually a rebuild in the style of traditional Chinese water towns. The town is a ‘resort’, in the sense that one has to buy a ticket to enter the town. There are shops, food stalls, roaming entertainment and museums, rather than locals living in the area.

The Great Wall in the distance! I was basically crying from excitement at this point.

We left the tour group and headed straight for the wall. I am so glad we did, as by the afternoon clouds had set in around the mountains.

We decided to save our money and ‘experience’ the wall by climbing along to all ten watchtowers, rather than catching a gondola to the top of the wall. This turned out to be the best way to see the wall, but also the most exhausting hike! The wall was incredibly steep, and less well kept than other sections of the wall. As a result, the steps were crooked, narrow, and a bit all over the place! At the same time, this made the wall feel a bit more authentic, as it wasn’t crawling with tourists and rebuilt.

After the first few watchtowers we stopped for a picnic lunch. Despite being freezing cold in the water town, after hiking for half an hour we were all ripping off our layers, beanies and gloves! It certainly got the heart rate pumping.

I basically couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole time, even through the pain of hiking! The wall was so much more than I imagined, with such stunning views of the wall sprawling ahead for miles, the mountains, and the snow covered forests.

As I mentioned before, there weren’t many other people on the wall, which meant we were able to get some amazing uninterrupted views.

Everyone else we did see was struggling as much as us though! These photos don’t do justice to how steep this was.

Best. Day. Ever.

After spending a few hours hiking to the top, and back down again, we were in desperate need of a break. We had a coffee stop (and wifi, gotta upload all those photos!), before spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring the town.

An absolute novelty of the town to me was the purpose built design of the ‘snack street’. Numerous street vendors sold traditional snacks (pancakes, skewered meat, tofu, cakes, etc), which were only worth a few dollars each. However, the street was completely cash free – every transaction and order was placed through ‘wechat’, a kind of messengers/facebook/eftpos hybrid app that seems to do just about everything possible in China. I would have starved if my friend hadn’t been there and able to use wechat!

We made one last trek to get this stunning night time view of the water town, before heading back to the bus. Totally worth stretching our legs one more time.

Whilst Gubei Water Town is a bit difficult to get to via public transport, it is totally worth visiting to check out the Simatai section of the Great Wall, as well as exploring the town itself. So if you are ever in Beijing and considering which part of the wall to visit, consider Gubei!

– Reanna

“TOO MUCH IS AS BAD AS TOO LITTLE” // Beijing, China

With a metro population nearing that of the entirety of Australia, Beijing was like nothing I have ever experienced before. Looking at the metro map everyday was overwhelming, and I was always worried about getting lost! Thankfully after a few days in the city I managed to gain a bit of confidence, but I always kept screen shots on my phone of what metro lines I needed to take to get to my destination, and a screen shot of a map – I didn’t have internet on my phone!

When heading to the Lama Temple, which these photos are from, my carefully curated map directions on my phone turned out to be somewhat confusing, and I was sure I was lost when I emerged from the metro! After a few minutes of wandering around looking for a map or a sign, I saw some Western tourists heading down a street and followed them. Thankfully, they appeared to be heading in right direction and I eventually found my destination!

I would have been devastated if I didn’t find the Lama Temple, as it was one of my favourite building complexes in Beijing. It is still an active place of worship for Tibetan Buddhism, so it was quiet and full of the smell of incense. The buildings were a wonderful mix of colours, blending together across the complex.

It is recommended not to photograph inside temple buildings, so you will have to imagine the giant gold Buddha in one of the last buildings!

…Dragon turtles!?

After a quick coffee break, I ventured down the road to the Temple of Confucius.

I admittedly knew very little about Confucius before visiting the temple, and I surprised myself by spending most of my time there in a museum in one of the side buildings reading about his teachings. The title is one the many quotes of Confucius that I noted down.

There were many, many statues of Confucius dotted around the complex!

The Temple of Confucius was also connected to Guozijian, a former imperial college, being the highest form of education during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Of course, being next to the Confucius temple, you can guess what they were studying!

After a bit more exploring of the area I headed into central Beijing to wander down Emperor’s Avenue and Dashilan (or Dashilar, if you speak with a Beijing accent!) Street, the main shopping district.

I decided I was in need of a warm place to sit and do some planning with wifi, so I desperately tried to remember the location of a coffee shop my friend had taken to me earlier in the week. After unsuccessfully trying a number of small, side hutongs, I almost cried when I stumbled across the coffee shop. Once I had settled down with a coffee, I discovered my friend was also heading there to study after his classes, so we ended up spending a few hours chatting!

The coffee shop has a rooftop terrace, providing the above view over the hutong buildings, giving a different perspective to the old, winding streets.

Whilst wandering down old hutongs is certainly stressful if you don’t know where you are doing, it certainly gives a fantastic perspective to everyday life of Beijing locals who live in the old houses. I discovered a bit more about the history of hutongs in Beijing during my stay, but that day is yet to come…

– Reanna

AMBER // Jaipur, India

Looking back on all my photos is making me all the more ready to head off on another trip! Which is all the more hard when I think about the fact that I have just started full time work, and it is going to take me a few months to save up some annual leave. But I guess the perks of finally being an ‘adult’ is that I do get paid leave, and I can actually plan holidays in advance. That’s what being an adult is all about, right?

Returning to the colourful world of Jaipur, after a quick stop at the Wind Palace, we continued up the distant hills by tuk tuk to the Amber Palace.

We stopped at the bottom of the palace and had magnificent views up to the sprawling complex.

It was a bit of a hike up, with the added bonus of having to avoid elephants (a very touristic, and sad, form of transport of the hill) and vendors trying to sell you various knick knacks.

Once in the palace, we were treated to wonderful views of the surrounding hills. The hill in the above photo even included a wall that looked a little bit like the Great Wall of China.

The very sad looking elephants slowly making their way up the hill.

Our tour guide forced Chris and I to have a couple photo! Which I am admittedly grateful for – we are terrible at being in photos when we travel!

One of the most spectacular parts of the palace was the Hall of Mirrors, a very different version to the similarly named place at the Palace of Versailles!

Whilst being quite well restored, the palace also included faded paintings and walls, that really added to the ancient feel of the place.

On our way out, our tour guide took us down to a tunnel that extended several kilometres up the hill to a neighbouring fort. We didn’t have the time to explore, and I am not sure I would have wanted to spend such a long time underground!

We caught a local bus back into the city, which was certainly an experience! We had one more stop before having a free afternoon – Jal Mahal, or the Water Palace. Unfortunately the time of day we arrived was not the best for getting a great photo!

The afternoon was free for us to explore the markets and do some shopping, before heading back to the hotel for dinner and a ‘rooftop party’. The party was really just drinking cheap beers on the rooftop terrace, but our tour guide surprised us by organising a local musician! It was a really fun night, and a great way to wind down after the walking around the hectic downtown markets.

Jaipur, you are beautiful!

– Reanna

AS THE SUN RISES // Varanasi, India

Reflecting back on our time in Varanasi now, I think the sunrise was far more beautiful than the sunset on the Ganges. We were truly lucky to experience both, and each time we went offered a different perspective on this wonderful city. The river bank was swarming with life both at 8pm at night, and at 6am in the morning, as people traveled from all over India, and the world, to come and pay their respects or bathe in the water.

After another abrupt awakening in the form of a tuk tuk ride, we boarded another boat and slowly made away along the river as our tour guide explained some of the history of the Hindu religion.

It was slightly foggy as our boat journey began, but it gradually began to clear as the morning became lighter.

People were bathing themselves in the Ganges at the numerous ‘ghats’, or riverfront stairs that mark a place to bath in the river. We also passed a location where bodies were cremated in the traditional way.

After our morning trip along the Ganges, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and yet another attempt to get cash. Eventually, after wading through masses of locals waiting to exchange old notes and trying to communicate with bank managers, we managed to successfully get cash out at the second bank we visited. Using an ATM has never felt so victorious!

After basking in our glory, Chris and I jumped in a tuk tuk our tour guide hired for us and drive about 20 minutes away to Sarnath, an area known for its collection of temples. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us out the front of the above Chinese Temple, and from there we made our way up a hill, passing by other sights.

My favourite temple was possible the Sri Lankan temple, due to its colourful collection of flags.

The next temple was dedicated to Jainism, an ancient religion neither of us had heard of, which originated in India.

Of course, I became distracted trying to take a photo of the numerous chipmunks.

Next, we visited the Sarnath Excavated Site, which featured archaeological ruins and the giant Dhamek Stupa. The Dhamek Stupa is the circular mound in the above photo, and is said to mark the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon.

Wandering around the site also gave us a view over the fence into the nearby deer park.

Eventually we made our way back to our patient tuk tuk driver and headed back into Varanasi for lunch. We had another sleeper train ahead of us that night, much to everyone’s delight!

Admittedly I didn’t know much about the city of Varanasi prior to visiting, but floating along the Ganges was a wonderful experience, totally worth the pain of catching sleeper trains to get there!

– Reanna

SUNNIER DAYS // Cairns, Australia

Chris and I have been dreaming, scheming and discussing a holiday for months, and last week it finally came into fruition! Holidays used to be far easier to coordinate, but since Chris has started working full time and I am doing my honours year as well as working in a part-time job (on a contract), aligning our schedules is now a lot harder. We had initial dreams of a week or so away in Bali, but once my exam timetable was released that was thrown out the window. After a week or so of checking out flights and Chris applying for holidays, we settled on Cairns. All in all it work our perfectly, not too mention I have been wanting to visit the Great Barrier Reef for years. Plus its future is looking dire thanks to climate change and crappy governments, so it was high time to travel north!

Cairns was a lot further north than I realised, being a three and a half hour flight from Melbourne. No complaints here though, as we were treated to 28 degrees and sun on our first day. With no plans for our first day, we entertained ourselves by walking along the Esplanade and taking in the views.

In the afternoon we opted for a swim at the Lagoon, which looks over the beach. Far North Queensland has so many beautiful beaches, but only a few are viable swimming locations thanks to local fauna, including crocodiles and jelly fish.

To make up for not going to Bali, we headed to a Balinese restaurant for dinner. Our banquet was absolutely delicious, and the dessert platter was so epic I had to take a photo.

The next day we had booked a tour out on the Great Barrier Reef. There were so many options and tour companies to choose from that it was beginning to stress me out, but in the end we choose Seastar Cruises, and they were definitely a good choice. Tour groups are limited to 36 people, so you don’t have to worry about crowded boats!

Our first stop was Michelmas Cay, a small sand island populated by thousands of birds. After a few safety briefings we were taken to the shore to begin our first reef session. All our equipment, including wetsuits, were provided, and staff members gave optional tours of the reef, highlighting various aquatic features.

Staff were also equiped with underwater cameras, so we were free to enjoy our day without trying to capture every moment on camera. They were pretty snap-happy though, capturing this dashing image above.

Underwater photos are not our strong point.

We saw so much amazing sea life at Michelmas Cay, and at our second location of Hastings Reef. The highlight for me was the turtle you can see a few images above, as well as the numerous giant clams. It was such an amazing experience, and I am so grateful that we were able to enjoy it with perfect weather. I was worried about freaking out whilst in the water (I am terrified of sting rays, and most ocean related things in general), but thankfully I was so engaged by the experience that I was able to enjoy the day, as long as someone was always nearby.

We arrived back in Cairns happy, sunburnt, and damp, but it was worth every moment!

– Reanna