bora-bora-lagoon-tour

Bora Bora lagoon tour: money well spent

When we landed in Bora Bora, we were worried. Really worried.

It was the worst weather we’d seen in the Pacific. And I’m not talking about the tropical storm with torrential downpours and billowing breakers kind of bad weather, which is wretched but at least dramatic. I’m talking about miserable damp-towel, grey skies and sodden ground kind of bad weather. The sort of bad weather that signifies winter (and autumn and spring and often summer) in London – the sort of tedium we were trying to escape.

“I’m sure it will burn off,” I said confidently to Kia, not entirely convinced by my own optimism.

Luckily for us, it did burn off… after three days! Continue reading

most visited countries in the world

The world’s most divisive destinations

Should we or shouldn’t we go?

There are some travel destinations that no matter how picture perfect their landscapes or how much history steeped in their ancient lands, will always provoke a strong reaction in traveller circles. Whether it’s for political, geographical or social reasons, these divisive destinations will likely divide opinion for a very long time.

Below we look at some of the most contentious and divisive destinations that rightly or wrongly pull in the tourist crowds year after year. Continue reading

first time in india

49 quick tips for your first time in India

During my first time in India, I was a relatively inexperienced traveller: I was overwhelmed by its beauty and stunned by its poverty, just as any first-time visitor. The second time I went to India, I expected to be more familiar with its various vagrancies. In reality, I was overwhelmed and stunned just as before. That said, second time around, I managed to avoid making (some of) the mistakes I made before. When I go back again, and I will go back, I hope to make even fewer mistakes. I’ll never fully understand this vast and contrasting country (that’s what makes it so alluring) but I have gathered some wisdom ­I can share – some obvious, some not. My list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s enough to get you started. Continue reading

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How to take better travel photos

I’ve been involved in photography in one way or another for 12 years now. At university, I studied photography and video and went on to work as a camera operator followed by seven years of teaching photography at secondary school level. More recently, I have sold my landscape and travel photography online and to various publications and now, while travelling, it has become my only source of income which is somewhat terrifying! Along the way, my photography has constantly improved and I hope will continue to. If you’re a budding travel photographer, start with the tips below on how to take better travel photos. Continue reading

auckland-layover

8 things to do with an 8-hour Auckland layover

We recently had a long Auckland layover between Tonga and our onward flight to Rarotonga. We hate to miss an opportunity to see a bit more of the world and another stamp in our passports made this an opportunity too good to pass up. The friendliest custom officials in the world and easy transport connections meant that we could make the best of our time in Auckland (despite the London-esque weather) and still have time to relax and make our onward flight. Here’s what we recommend on a limited timeframe during an Auckland layover . Continue reading

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga feat img

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga was a truly humbling experience that very nearly didn’t happen for us! But luck was on our side that day.

It was late October, approaching the very end of Tonga’s whale watching season. We had been delayed in Samoa about a week longer than expected and arrived in Tonga just two days before the last day of the season. Desperate not to miss our opportunity to swim with whales, we hastily flew north to the Vava’u Islands, one of the best places to see the humpbacks. These majestic creatures migrate north from the Antarctic every summer to breed in warmer waters, heading back as soon as their young are strong enough for the journey. Continue reading

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The second-best seats on the best flight in the world

The best flight in the world is surely over the Tongan archipelagos of Vava’u and Ha’apai, streaking across the bright blue skies with glorious views below.

We’ve been on the road for three months now and taken 15 flights and counting. Ever since we first left continental Australia there’s been some breathtaking aerial views from our windows across the Pacific thousands of feet below.

In general, we have reserved air travel for international journeys, using inter-island ferries instead for domestic trips. However, we were short of time in Tonga and weren’t prepared to spend 24 hours or more travelling between the island groups. Continue reading

natural wonders of samoa

5 unmissable natural wonders of Samoa

Samoa is made up of two main islands, ‘Upolu and Savai’i. We split our time evenly between the two and were never short of activities to fill our days. Despite its tiny size, the natural wonders of Samoa are vast. I suggest hiring a 4WD on each of the islands and spending a day driving round and taking in the natural landscapes along the way. The roads are quiet and pretty much hug the coast on both the islands making it almost impossible to get lost. (I say ‘almost’ because I had Kia as my navigator…) Continue reading

samoa-beach-fale

The Samoa beach fale: a million-dollar view without the price tag

Samoa doesn’t have much in the way of luxury accommodation. Apart from a spattering of three-star resorts spread over the two main islands and a motley collection of motels and lodges in Apia, there is only the Samoa beach fale left to choose from. On first impression, they may seem a bit basic but scratch the surface and you’ll find beauty and tranquillity to match the most luxurious of resorts.

For those unfamiliar with this charming offering, a fale is basically a small wall-less wooden hut on stilts with decked floors and a thatched roof. Palm leaf louvre shutters can be dropped to provide shelter and privacy but apart from that, they’re pretty open. Oh, and I should probably mention that they’re usually located over the most pristine turquoise waters and glowing white sands you’ll ever see! Continue reading

Mount Yasur volcano

Trekking Mount Yasur volcano

The first few weeks of us had been active enough. We’d hiked, climbed, caved, canyoned, kayaked and more. It would have been perfectly acceptable to spend a few days lounging on a beach on Tanna Island, soaking up the Pacific sun. However, you don’t go to Tanna without seeing the “Old Man” that is Mount Yasur volcano, and we were no exception.

The imposing volcano dominates the skyline and can be seen from almost everywhere on Tanna. Whether you’re skidding across the ash plains that surround the volcano or watching the smoke plumes drift out to sea, there’s no escaping the commanding influence Mount Yasur volcano has on the island and its people. Continue reading

Diving with turtles in Samoa feat

Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa

Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa was a unique experience. Getting up close and personal to underwater wildlife like this is just incredible.

“You’ll either love it or find it extremely depressing,” reads the guidebook description of Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary.

I’ve never been a huge fan of zoos and captive wild animals, so when I read about the chance to go diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa at the sanctuary I decided to pass. Maybe I’d get a chance to see them in the wild… Continue reading

great-travel-books

10 great travel books to read on the road

Having spent hours, perhaps days, on long journeys with our heads buried in books, we select 10 great travel books to read on the road.

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Ernest Hemingway

When talking about Ernest Hemingway and travel books you’ve got plenty to choose from. I’ve gone for The Snows of Kilimanjaro as it holds a little bit of sentimentality for me. I read the short story just before I climbed Kili back in 2010. It didn’t help me with my climb and it’s not exactly full of optimism, but it’s a great read reflecting the time and culture that Hemingway was embedded in – for good or for worse.

2. Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell

Not exactly another cheery tale but Orwell doesn’t do cheery. Whether you’re a socialist or a nationalist you can’t help but be moved by Homage to Catalonia Orwell’s personal account of his experiences from his time in Spain during the Civil War. His description of Barcelona after the Communists’ initial successes is uplifting and full of hope for the left-winger among its audience (including me). If you know your history then you know that unfortunately it doesn’t end so well for the lefties.

3. Kon Tiki
Thor Heyerdahl

Kon Tiki is a (fairly) modern day tale of adventure and bravery on the tropical seas if there ever was one. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl and his six-man Norwegian crew set out to prove that Polynesians migrated from South America as opposed to Asia during pre-Columbian times. He thought the best way to do this was on a raft. A raft modelled on and built from designs and technology available at the time. Oh, and the trip was 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean. What a man.

4. Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson

If you’re British, this is laugh-out-load funny. Relentlessly. I don’t know if it’s as funny if you’re not British – you’ll have to let me know. Apart from its hilarity, Notes from a Small Island gives a great insight into British culture and mentality, as viewed by an outsider. Not to mention great descriptions of a cross-section of British towns, cities and regions always described in satirical detail. Quite heart warming all round, really

5. Around the World in 80 Days
Jules Verne

It’s a classic! How could it not be in here? I had a bit of a mad Jules Verne obsession when trekking across Norway a few years ago and read about ten of Verne’s tales. Around the World in 80 Days is a great a place to start. A rip-roaring adventure from the 19th century full of quaint references and some questionably political correctness! Good old-fashioned dream-of-travelling-the-world fun!

6. The Last Place on Earth
Roland Huntford

I love this book because it offers a deep and methodical insight into the contrasting preparations and expeditions of Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole. Both made it, but only one survived. However, The Last Place on Earth controversially highlights how this was written in the wind and destined to happen from the start. The book is deeply critical of Scott, hence the controversy. From reading this it’s a wonder he even made it out the English Channel!

7. South
Ernest Shackleton

South. Just reading the title makes me shiver. They don’t make ‘em like they used to! The South Pole had gone to Amundsen and Scott in 1911 and 1912 respectively, but there were still trophies in the Antarctic up for grabs. Shackleton, unfortunately was not going to win one on this endeavour. Beset by problems from the off, this is a tale of human endurance in the face of adversity if there ever was one. Marooned on the Antarctic continent, Shackleton leads his team on a harrowing three-year quest for survival.

8. Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer

In 1996 eight climbers were killed and several more injured on Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Krakauer was one of the lucky ones. By Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air is a chilling insight into what it was like to be on the mountain during those godforsaken nights. As a climber and adventure-junkie I rather foolishly hold onto the dream of summiting Everest one day. After reading this, I’m not so certain I will.

9. On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does
Simon Garfield

I love maps. I can’t help it. This isn’t just about maps though; it’s more a reflection on travel and exploration over the ages. It also touches on the way people, and travellers in particular, engage with the world around them as they journey from one place to another. On The Map is a bit geeky for sure, but thoroughly entertaining and informative.

10. Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

I just re-read Treasure Island for the first time since I was a child and had to put it in. It’s still great. Just the names evoke the anticipation and excitement I felt as a child of what I was going to do when I grew up. Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Ben Gunn and a tale of buccaneers and buried gold are what young boys’ dreams are made off. Well, they were for me anyway.

buses in Samoa

Pimp my bus ride: Samoan buses are a unique experience

Samoan buses are uncomfortable, noisy and won’t run on time. But that’s the fun of it! Even if you have nowhere to go in Samoa, take a bus somewhere. 

We wanted to get out of Apia and head to the south coast. We’d heard the waters were incredible and there were some great natural sights to see. Taxis are expensive and as we are on a budget the bus was the answer. We’ve taken plenty of buses across the Pacific islands now, but this one was a little bit different. Continue reading

reasons-to-travel-slowly

5 reasons to travel slowly

“We should do something,” said Kia, squinting in the sunlight.
“Like what?”
“I think there’s white water rafting close by. Or maybe ziplining.”
“Yeah,” I said, lying back. “Yeah, we should.”
“We should,” she repeated and then, with a leisurely yawn, fell back on her beach towel.

If our first month in Vanuatu was allegro, then Fiji has been more andante but really who can blame us? Fiji’s outer islands (which include the sets of Castaway and Blue Lagoon) are some of the most beautiful in world. In fact, the ‘garden island’ of Taveuni might just be the most picturesque island I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

awkward-travel-moments

6 excruciatingly awkward travel moments

We’re all aware that travel is supposed to be about exploring the globe, meeting amazing people and finding yourself. The web is littered with blog posts about life-changing and eye-opening moments. However, it’s not all heartening tales and romantic anecdotes.

I’ve been around the backpacker’s block and I’ve had several excruciatingly awkward travel moments; the sort of experiences that are so cringeworthy, you just don’t know where to look or what to say. Here’s my list of the top six. Continue reading

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City girl, country boy: camping together for the first time

I’ve always been impressed with Kia when it comes to outdoor adventuring. Ever since our first big trip when we spent a day hiking through the Cambodian jungle beneath torrential downpours, Kia has proved remarkably resilient.

We’ve since hiked to the top of slippery peaks, caved in pitch-black darkness deep underground and waded through icy cold rivers in the highlands and she’s always handled it with grace and mettle.

In fact, when it came to skydiving she put me to shame, barely even flinching as she launched herself out of a plane from 12,000 feet. She has certainly earned her stripes, so I figured it was time to put her to the test and go camping together for the first time. And what better place to do it than a tropical beach? Continue reading

Leaving-the-teaching-profession

Leaving the teaching profession

It’s Friday 12th September. Usually, I would have just finished my second week back at work teaching at an east London secondary school after a five-week summer holiday. New exercise books would have been distributed and sullied with fresh graffiti. The students’ (and teachers’) initial enthusiasm at the start of a new year would be beginning to wane. And, if it hadn’t happened already, I would be starting to regularly raise my voice in anger at the students’ general indifference as their first coursework deadlines start to loom. Continue reading

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu

Exploring the dark depths of Millennium Cave in Vanuatu

We’re two weeks into our long-awaited round-the-world trip and already in the midst of a haze of activity. So far, we’ve had a day at Vanuatu’s annual horse-racing event, Kiwanis, swum beneath Mele Cascades waterfall, kayaked to Erakor Island and explored it barefoot, gone diving for the first time ever, seen the wreck of the SS Coolidge and explored the dark depths of Millennium Cave in Vanuatu. Next on the agenda is a trip to the tiny island of Tanna where we plan to hike Mount Yasur, one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world – meaning we’ll get closer to lava than ever before. Continue reading