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Rockhoppers to Reindeers – A Wildlife Guide to the Falklands

July 28, 2017

With more penguins than people and an island named after the sea lions that amass on its shores, the Falkland Islands are a wildlife destination like no other.

If there’s one thing that draws people from all over the world to visit the Falkland Islands, it’s the impressive array of wildlife that calls the southern archipelago home. Abundant in supply and diverse in nature, the fauna of the Falkland Islands is on par with that offered in the Galapagos, yet much more accessible and without the crowds to compete with!

Whether you’re a keen birder, a wildlife photographer, or a simply love seeing birds and marine mammals in their natural environment – the Falklands will not disappoint.

Falkland Island Penguins

There are five species of penguins that can be found in the Falkland Islands. The most common are Magellanic and Gentoo, followed by Rockhoppers and King, and less often the Macaroni. They’re all unique and all a pleasure to watch.

Their antics will kept you spellbound for hours!

Magellanic Penguins

Seemingly the most prolific, Magellanic penguins can be found burrowing into the soft peaty earth all over the Falkland Islands. These medium-sized black and white penguins are shy in nature, but if you keep your distance, some will happily pose for photographs. Their distinctive circular markings mean they are easily identified, even while hanging out with the Gentoos on the beach.

Gentoo Penguins

The mascot of the Falkland Islands – the Gentoo Penguin – is slightly bigger than the Magellanic, and much more outgoing. You’ll often find them surfing the waves, or walking the ‘penguin highway’ to their colonies inland. Gentoo penguins are also black and white but their orange bills and pinkish feet make them more closely resemble their larger cousins – the King penguin.

Rockhopper Penguins

Rockhopper penguins defy the clumsiness that penguins are renowned for, by deftly climbing the steepest and sharpest of cliff faces. Confidently hopping from one rock to another, their small frame and pink webbed feet scale the island’s walls to perch on rocky promontories overlooking the sea. Their bright red eyes are framed by a crest of spiky yellow feathers that make them look curiously coiffed (and a little bad-tempered!)

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni penguins look very similar to Rockhopper penguins and the closely related birds like to hang out together in the Falklands. There is a subtle difference in appearance between the two penguins though.

Macaroni’s are slightly larger in size than the Rockhopper. And their crest feathers are more vibrant in colour and more flamboyant in shape! Macaroni penguins have also been known to breed with Rockhopper penguins, creating a hybrid chick.

King Penguins

The largest of the penguins found in the Falkland Islands (and the second largest penguin in the world), King penguins are also the most impressive to see and hear!

The world’s most accessible King penguin colony can be found just 2.5 hours from the country’s capital, Stanley. Their prime spot at Volunteer Point in East Falkland makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.

Other Birdlife in the Falklands

With over 219 recorded species of birdlife in the Falkland Islands, I couldn’t possibly cover them all in one blog post, but let’s just say it’s a bird watchers paradise!

I loved seeing the monogamous upland geese fly around in pairs, the cheeky caracara who landed on my camera, the flightless steamer ducks waddling on the beach and the rock cormorants battling the wind as they tried to land on rocky ledges.

The outer islands are absolutely teeming with birdlife. I’m no birder, and yet I managed to spot 25 different species in just one afternoon on Weddell Island!

Here are a few highlights…

Black-Browed Albatrosses

Two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatrosses live in the Falklands and while a large number of them hang out on the harder-to-get-to Steeple Jason Island, I saw a large number feeding just off Weddell Island also. Their elongated wingspan of 200-240 cm is an impressive sight as they swoop in to land.

Black browed albatross flying over the sea, with onother albatross in background, South Georgia Island, AntarcticaSouthern Giant Petrel

As Jane from Weddell Island put it, ‘the albatross get all the glory, but the petrels are just as impressive’.

With a wingspan of up to 205 cm, they certainly deserve their fair share of the limelight. Effortless gliders, you’ll see these birds all around the coasts of the Falklands.

Striated Caracara

More commonly referred to as Johnny Rooks by the locals, these bold-faced birds are usually seen on the outer islands of the Falklands. You’ll find them wherever you find penguins, as the Johnny Rook is a ruthless scavenger.

Cheeky in nature, they aren’t afraid of humans and will take an interest in anything shiny. I even heard reports of them stealing sunglasses from unsuspecting visitors and a gang almost got away with my camera!

Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck

They may be flightless (due to their short wings), but the Falkland Flightless steamer ducks sure know how move! They use a combination of feet and wing paddling that allows them to move at speed on water. Even if in doing so they look rather peculiar!

“These clumsy, loggerheaded ducks make such a noise and splashing, that the effect is exceedingly curious.” – Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle.

Rock Cormorant

Aside from the comedic value of clumsy penguins, watching the incredible antics of the rock cormorants as they battled huge winds to land on barren cliffs was one of my favourite bird experiences. The skill these small birds show as they expertly hover and swoop will take your breath away – as will the sheer number of them!

Marine Mammals

The Falklands unique location and sparsely inhabited islands make them a magnet for marine mammals of all varieties! Although some are harder to see without the help of a boat, even visitors who don’t venture out into the unruly seas will get a chance to appreciate these majestic creatures.

Sea Lions and Elephant Seals

Sprawled out in the sand, bellies turned towards the sun and flippers lazily scratching their sides – you’ll find sea lions and elephant seals clogging the coastlines of the Falkland Islands.

Sea Lion Island is an obvious choice, with 95% of the Falklands elephant seal population hanging out here, but sea lions can be found on many of the other islands shorelines also.

Watch out as you walk through the tussock – disturbing a sleeping seal or lion may land you in hot water. They can move quicker than you think! But chances are, you’ll hear them before you see them – elephant seals in particular let out a guttural sound warning you of their presence.

During breeding season, males of both species put on a show as they battle for the right to breed.

Dolphins and Whales

The most commonly sighted dolphins in the Falklands are the Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. There are a four other species native to the waters surrounding the islands, but they are rarely seen close to shore. I was lucky enough to spot both Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins while on Weddell Island and they put on quite the show – surfing in the shallow waters just off the shore.

Many species of whale can also be seen migrating past the islands. If you look down as you fly around between the islands, you may just see a telltale dark shadow beneath the waves, or spot a blowhole shooting water high into the air.

Most whales pass by the islands on their migration route, but playful orcas are commonly found off the shores of Sea Lion Island for many months a year. They like to prey on the young sea lion pups, so are mainly present between September to February – when there are plenty in supply.

Introduced Species

Both the Patagonian grey fox and reindeer have been introduced to the Falkland Islands. The reindeer were gifted from South Georgia (who later culled their reindeer population) and the foxes were introduced from South America. They’re only present on two islands – Beaver Island & Weddell Island – and it was while visiting the latter that I laid my eyes on both species!


The wildlife of the Falkland Islands is as varied as it is astounding! I’ve never experienced something so unique, so magical, as seeing so many animals and mammals living in harmony with each other, the landscape, and with the human population of the islands.

If you only need one reason to visit the Falklands, the wildlife is it!


Thank you to Blogilicious and the Falkland Islands Tourist Board for sponsoring Nadine’s visit.  What an incredible experience!

Activities Adventure Destinations Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Fun & Adventure in Dubai – 9 Activities to Try

July 27, 2017

With its towering skyscrapers, fast cars and glitz and glam, one could be forgiven for thinking Dubai’s limited in what it offers the more adventurous travellers amongst us.  In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth!

Join us as we explore the best places to head in Dubai if you’re looking for a break from the high-life and a taste of adventure…


Escape Rooms – Phobia

In the past we’ve shared with you our love of escape rooms and, unsurprisingly, in a city where everything is bigger and better, these guys have rooms to match!  With two different sites in Dubai and a range of cutting-edge rooms on offer, Phobia are leading the way when it comes to escape rooms in the UAE.

We attempted to find our way out of their ‘Vault‘ room and though it was challenging, it was a heck of a lot of fun!

Set in the middle of a nuclear zombie apocalypse, players are challenged with overriding the bunker systems in a bid to escape before the oxygen in the room runs out – sure, once you’re out safely you’ll potentially be confronted with a world full of zombies but what can you do?

The danger may be staged but the challenge and fun is 100% real!

Hot Air Ballooning with a Twist – Platinum Heritage

Perhaps one of the most surprising adrenaline rushes we’ve ever had was experienced whilst hot air ballooning in Luxor and though we didn’t find the time to head up with Platinum Heritage, the experience remains top of our Dubai wish-list.

They’ll whisk you away into the depths of Dubai’s desert and allow you to take to the skies alongside their majestic falcons, before finishing up your morning with an incredibly luxury breakfast and dune bashing in 1950s Landrovers.

Without doubt, a once in a lifetime experience in the desert.

High Ropes – Aventura

Rising from the sand, in between the ghaf trees, Aventura is a high ropes course that offers something for everyone.  From simple courses for young children (and those a feeling a little less adventurous) to those that will challenge even the bravest of adventurers, it’s worth kitting up and getting active outside in Dubai.

Safety is paramount at Aventura where they employ a fail-safe carabiner system – this means you can take to the course without any concerns for your safety.

Maximum fun, minimum fuss!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewThe Largest Inflatable Park in the World – Aqua Fun

Dubai is hot.  The ocean is marginally less hot, but hey, sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the UAE!

Within easy reach of JBR, our favourite Dubai beach, you’ll find Aqua Fun – the world’s largest inflatable park.  Backdrops for fun just don’t get better!

Water Parks – Waterslides for the Bravest of the Brave – Aquaventure

Dubai provides adventurous visitors with two main waterparks – Aquaventure and Wild Wadi and though both are potentially worth a visit, one of them stands head-and-shoulders above the other.

It’s a big call but Aquaventure would easily be the best waterpark we’ve ever visited and, we believe, up there as one of the best in the world.

Sky Diving – Skydive Dubai

There’s really no rush that compares to your first skydive and where better to do it than over the iconic Palm?

With incredible views of the Arabian Gulf and well-known sights including the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, jump sites really don’t get more impressive than this!

Hyper Reality – The Void

If you’re looking for some uniquely-Dubai fun, head along to The Void at JBR for a futuristic virtual-reality experience.

With proton guns on high-alert and a computer-animated world all around you, this glimpse into the future of video games is a must-try activity in the city of the future.

Speedboat Sightseeing – Xclusive Tours

If you’re new to the city or are wanting to show guests around, a speedboat trip out around The Palm ticks all the soft-adventure boxes whilst showing off some of the best parts of Dubai.

The boats are zippy but stable and as you race around the key Palm landmarks, your skipper will fill you in on all of the facts and figures involved in constructing this man-made marvel.  It’s a wonder of engineering and definitely worth seeing up close.

Theme Park Fun – IMG Worlds of Adventure & Dubai Parks and Resorts

Though not quite up to the same standard of theme parks in the United States and Europe, Dubai’s had a good go at building exciting parks, aimed at keeping the whole family entertained.

IMG is the largest indoor theme park in the world, providing a welcome respite from the Arabian sun, whilst Dubai Parks and Resorts is the newest player in the city and largely based outdoors.


Dubai has a lot to offer visitors, entertaining tourists far beyond the shopping malls and tall buildings for which the city is known.  From a gentle introduction to adventure, through to excitement for the biggest adrenaline junkies, Dubai’s just the ticket.


Looking for adventure in Dubai?  Pin this post for future reference!

The best fun and adventurous things to do in Dubai, UAE. Sky diving, escape rooms, water parks, hot air ballooning and more - all of the activities you need to book in the city!

Supplemental photos from KlookPlatinum HeritageTrip AdvisorArabian Business, and YouTube.

Activities Adventure Chernobyl Destinations Ukraine

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – 10 incredible photos to inspire your visit

July 17, 2017

On April 26th, 1986, the world came to know about a small town in Ukraine.

Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is no longer known as a town but as the location of the largest nuclear power plant accident in history.  Late night testing-gone-wrong decimated the area, causing significant long-term health effects for residents and costing billions to ‘remedy’.

Visiting the site that released 400 times the radiation of Hiroshima bomb may seem like an odd vacation choice but for the past five or so years, adventurous tourists have been able to do exactly that.

A visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is to literally take a step back in time to 1986.  Toys are left strewn on the floor, as are handwritten notes and Soviet newspaper articles.  This is a glimpse into not only a bygone era but one behind a once-iron curtain.

We will be following up with information regarding our visit but before we do, we wanted to share a few photographs to give you an idea as to what awaits those who visit this incredible site.

Without doubt, a visit to this site is not for everyone.  The history there and the opportunity to explore an abandoned area whilst gaining such an insight into the past was too hard for us to resist though.

Does a visit to Chernobyl interest you?


If you are considering a trip to Ukraine be sure to pin this post!

The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986. These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.

We were taken into the Chernobyl exclusion zone by Go2Chernobyl – tours leave from Kiev daily.

Activities France Paris Reviews theme park

Disneyland Paris & Walt Disney Studios Park – A Must See in France?

July 3, 2017

The one brand in the world that really needs no introduction.

Disney.

The happiest place on earth.  Where dreams come true.  Where fantasies come to life and where big kids become small again.

As a child it was always a family dream to one day visit Disneyland and when it did eventually happen, I remember it being an absolute bucket-list moment for us all.

I’ve since gone on to visit Disneyland in California a number of times, finding each visit as magical as the last.

It’s unsurprising then, that when we booked our dates in for Paris, a visit to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park was top of my to-do list!

With high expectations, we set off on the train (an incredibly easy way to get to the parks) to see if our Parisian Disney dreams could live up to our past experiences.

Disney – A Step Above

Disney set the benchmark for theme parks the world over – they consider things other parks wouldn’t dream of.

Worried your children might see another Mickey floating around the park?  Don’t be – there’s only ever one of each character out on duty at a time (and they’ll never talk for fear of voices sounding different or ruining the magic).

Have you ever wondered just how they make Main Street look so long (and the iconic castle centre-pieces so far away)?  Forced perspective!  As you move further down Main Street, the shops become wider making everything appear further away than it really is.

As you walk from area to area, keep your ear to the ground.  In doing so, you’ll notice subtle sound-effects that change to reflect the theming of that part of the park.

They really do think of everything!

Two Parks – One Pass

Between Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park guests are able to enjoy the majority of classic Disney favourites and a number of new rides and though you can pick just the one park and stick to it, we always recommend the Park Hopper tickets.  They give you maximum flexibility to come and go as you choose.  Bounce around to avoid the lines and make the most of your favourite rides!

The Rides You Can’t Miss

A perennial Disney favourite, Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris (known as Starwars Hyper Space Mountain) is the fastest of all five incarnations (46mph in just two seconds!) and it’s also the only one to go upside-down.  Unfortunately it was closed for our visit but we love the original and can only imagine how awesome this version would be!

If you’re after a rollercoaster style ride that builds up to an amazing ending, be sure to check out Big Thunder Mountain.  It starts off fairly sedately but the last blat is incredible – I won’t ruin the surprise, just make sure you check it out for yourself.

Keen for another coaster?  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a bit rickety but it absolutely makes sense given the theme of the ride.  The queuing area is especially well appointed and the ride itself excerpts some fairly major g-forces on riders (with a surprise towards the end!)

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith was the ride I was most excited to try out at Walt Disney Studios Park.  The take off was incredible but I must admit that I found the rest of the ride a bit uncomfortable – probably a combination of the number of earrings I wear (they don’t go well with roller coasters) and the fact that we’ve been spoilt with more modern coasters.  The music was well-matched though and as a dark ride, it’s a great introduction for those wanting to ride a bigger coaster without seeing what’s in front of them.

Though we ran out of time to jump on, we’ve also been told by friends that Crush’s Coaster is great fun.  This spinning, wild-mouse coaster is suited to the whole family and would make a great addition to your day if you have the time.

… and saving the best to last, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was our absolute favourite ride between the two parks.  Like the original, it’s impeccably themed and run by cast members that never once break character.  The ride itself features a number of significant drops – enough to bring on the butterflies in your tummy but not so much so that it’ll put people off – it’s a balance that can be hard to find but is done perfectly on the Tower of Terror.

It must be said too – let’s all cross our fingers that one day Splash Mountain is added to Disneyland Paris.  What a ride!

Make Your Day Even More Magical – Practical Tips

It’s practically impossible to have a bad day at Disney but there are a few things you can do to improve your experience.

It’s All in the Planning…

Unfortunately even Disney can’t work real magic and this does mean that from time to time you’ll find rides out of commission.  They post the expected ride closures ahead of time, allowing guests to thoughtfully plan any potential visits.

Pro tip:  Check the opening times, expected ride closures and any special events for the day of your visit on the Disneyland Paris calendar.

The Fast Pass – Your ‘Golden Ticket’ to Disney

Though we visited on a Monday just before the school holidays in the hopes of finding the parks relatively quiet, it wasn’t to be.  With rides ranging from a 45 minute wait time up to 1.5 hours or so, the Fast Pass would normally save the day in helping to get guests through lines (without the headache of actually having to wait in line).  The concept is fairly simple – when you first enter the parks, make a beeline for the ride that you’d most like to ride, scan your ticket and pick up your Fast Pass.  This fabulous little ticket will, for-all intents and purposes, hold your space in the line at a certain point in the day whilst you head off and enjoy other attractions.  Simply return within the given 30 minute window and jump yourself to the front of the queue via the Fast Track entrance.  

Unfortunately for us, the day we visited ended up being so busy that all of the Fast Pass tickets were snapped up early and we only managed to get our hands on one each.  There’s a limited number of passes up for grabs each day – after all, if everyone in the park could take one for every ride, nobody would get ahead!  This is great in the sense that everyone has a fair shot at jumping to line (unlike in some other parks, like Six Flags Magic Mountain and Thorpe Park, where guests with deep pockets can buy their way to the front time and time again) but it does mean that you’ll struggle to benefit from this place-saving technology on particularly crowded days.

Let’s face it though, you’re at Disneyland – there are much worse places to be standing in line!

Minimising Your Wait Time

Whilst in the parks, try to pick up as many Fast Passes as you can.   Failing that though, use the following tips to try to avoid the lines as much as possible:

  • Upon entering Disneyland Paris, turn right first towards Discoveryland.  The majority of Disney-goers head to Frontierland (the first zone on the left after Main Street) so by starting at the other end of the park, you’ll avoid many of the larger lines off the bat.
  • Consider the hours of operation.  Disneyland Paris is open a fair bit longer each day than Walt Disney Studios Park and as it’s the experience that most visitors are there for first and foremost, it makes sense to pop across to the Studios first.  Not only will the lines likely be shorter there first thing in the morning but you’ll be guaranteed to tick off your must-see rides, leaving the rest of the day/evening to explore Disney.
  • Be smart about lunchtime.  Most visitors to the parks dine between midday and two – not only will the lines at the food outlets be longer then but the lines for the rides will be shorter.  If you’re able to, plan in either an early or late lunch and make the most of the quieter periods around the parks.  Alternatively, if your tummy is grumbling, you may like to consider heading to Disney Village where you’ll find fewer visitors.  We speak from experience when we say it’s probably worth walking another 5 minutes to save spending 20 in another line – the food cues certainly aren’t as entertaining as the ride ones!
  • Make the most of parade times.  Queues are generally shorter then as most of the guests will be enjoying the paradise as it snakes its way through the park so it’s a great time to hit the rides.
  • Catch the train around the park but do so from Frontierland, Discoveryland or Frontierland.  You’ll find Main Street to be the busiest station in the park.
  • Mums and Dads, don’t wait twice!  If you’re travelling with a little one that’s too small to ride, you can avail the ‘baby switch’ policy – just ask a cast member for information.
  • Splurge and have the parks to yourself.  If you choose to stay onsite at one of the Disney hotels, you’ll be allowed into the parks before and after everyone else, plus you’ll have the added bonus of being able to return to your hotel to relax when things get busy (and then be able to pop back across when the lines die down).

Regardless of the park you step foot into, Disney really do a magical  job of their theming and in creating a truly immersive experience for the whole family and their Paris parks are no exception.

Though the parks are smaller than their American counterparts, they’re a great introduction to the world of Disney!

If you’re visiting France, be sure to allow yourself time to visit Disney.  After all, it’s the happiest place on earth and who’s not looking for that?


Off to Disney or know someone that is?  Pin this post to return to these park tips!

Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!

Thank you to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park for providing us with a one day park hopper pass for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Take a Break from Reality in Dubai – The Void

June 8, 2017

Dubai‘s known for pushing boundaries so where better to introduce a new form of hyper-reality.  Combining digital and physical worlds, guests are transported into Ghostbusters: Dimension – the question is though, is it worth your time?

Located on the shore of The Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), The Void is hard to miss – brightly lit, perched on the edge of the sand, it doesn’t give many clues away as to what’s hidden inside.

The Void – What’s it all about?

THE VOID uses Hyper-Reality — a combination of physical sets, real-time interactive effects and virtual reality — and its RAPTURETM hardware to create sensory and emotional immersion. The RAPTURE series includes a head mounted display, a vest with 22 points of haptic feedback, a BACKTOPTM gaming computer, and the multifunctional Mark IV gun. Each stage is modular and built for experiences that are mapped digitally over the physical space.

In layman’s terms, guests get geared up in digitally-connected vests and helmets (that incorporate both headphones and digital virtual-reality goggles and make their way into a world that merges the physical with the digital.

As soon as the headsets are dropped, your friend standing beside you takes on a new form.  Each player pops up on the display as their chosen avatar, moving in time to their real actions.

When you reach for a door handle, you’ll feel yourself really touching one – only you’ll see a digital version of it (and a digital version of your own arm).  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the sensation, but once you do, you’re in for a great time!

With a vibrating proton blaster in hand, players make their way through this bizarre new world completing challenges as they go.

We weren’t certain of what to expect going into The Void.  It was our first experience of fully-immersive virtual reality and due to the secretive nature of the experience, there’s not a great deal of information available online.  Cameras aren’t allowed in the game itself and even if they were, it would be impossible to photograph the imagery you’d see through your headset.

We were pleasantly surprised by just how easy it was to move around through the experience – the gear itself was light-weight and the VR experience was well matched to the physical elements around us.  We were warned that some people feel a little disoriented or dizzy at the start but nobody in our group of four experienced this so I think it’s fair to say that most people will be unaffected by this.

 The challenges themselves were entertaining and though I won’t give too much away, there’s a part of the experience where the (digital) wall of a skyscraper falls away, leaving players afraid of heights clinging onto the handrail for dear life.  The scene felt incredibly realistic and was a real highlight of the game for me.

Hyper-Reality – The way forward?

Our experience at The Void was unlike anything we’d tried before and for that reason alone, it was absolutely worth doing.  The technology they employ is beyond belief and to step into the future for fifteen minutes was a real treat.

As we left, Nathan commented that he’d have loved for the experience to have run a little longer, which I think says it all.

The Void is a great addition to The Beach and a must-see stop on your visit to Dubai, the city of the future.


Should you want to visit The Void in Dubai, tickets are available online for AED110 per person.  Advance booking is suggested.  Guests must be 12 years of age or older and 120cm tall to participate.

Looking for something different to do in Dubai?  Pin this post!

Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Void had us along to review their hyper-reality experience.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Athens Food Greece

Alternative Athens: The Tastiest Way to Get to Know Greece’s Capital!

June 6, 2017

Jade and her husband, Mark have decided that there’s practically no better way than to get comfortable with a city than to do so on a food tour – we couldn’t agree more!  Read on for their review of Alternative Athens and to gain a little insider’s foodie knowledge about this incredible city.

Walking to meet our guide outside the perfectly distinguishable Public store in Syntagma Square, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fond I had become of Athens and its quirks in just a matter of days. I found a new juxtapose on every corner. There is an undeniable scent of fresh Mediterranean air in an obviously overpopulated city, deposited from trees growing through narrow brick footpaths. Footpaths that were backed by the exterior of new and ancient buildings, none excluded from the marvellous jumble of spray-paint tagging and street art.

Remembering the countless times I had read comments similar to ‘you only need one day in Athens’ online made me contemplate the reason for this. I wondered if the Acropolis overshadowed mainstream tourists from looking past the city’s centrepiece. Or was it time-limited cruise ship itineraries favouring the islands, that tried to justify such an intense focus solely on their ancient structures? Perhaps something else?

Either way, by the time we reached our meeting point, my belly rumbling for it’s morning portions, my expectation grew. We’d been on a food tour before so with an idea of what awaited us and a hungry tummy it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait for our gastronomic exploration to begin!

Love food tours?  Check out our review of Wake Up Reykjavik in Iceland and Eating Italy in Rome too.

When I had found the Delicious Athens Food Tour online my attraction to the tour description was instant; specialty foods, all time Greek classics yet unknown to me and a chance to explore the ‘belly of the city’ with a local? Sign me up! Backed up by Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, glowing reviews and mentions in top media and publishing companies I knew this was how I wanted to see Athens.

What better way to explore a city than by its best cuisine?

Returning a smile from a new arrival nearby who fumbled in her bag for a laminated sign, I knew we had found our guide. Tania was quick to introduce herself with a warm and heartfelt ‘welcome to Athens and the morning tour’.

To our surprise and delight Mark and I had Tania to ourselves for the morning. We set off immediately, quickly chatting like old school friends catching up after travels.

Tasting Athens – Why Food Tours are the Best Way to See a City!

Not holding back, I endeavoured to sample everything offered.

Up first: Greek Coffee.

Sitting in a local’s favourite restaurant run since the 1960’s (and for the second time in my life) I had a mug of coffee. Surprisingly, I liked it! Brewed in a traditional Biriki made of Copper, I opted for the sweetest version (I hate to think how much sugar…) while hubby indulged in the full bitter flavour of a traditional coffee.

Tania explained how the drink was more often referred to as being Turkish; due to the 400-year Ottoman ruling in Greece many culinary traditions were now shared between the countries, their true origins lost in time. Guiding us on taking the last sip, Tania explained the ancient art of coffee fortune telling and helped us give it a try.

Our next stop saw us wander through an indoor gallery of upmarket restaurants before turning and stopping roadside at one of the many bread carts found around the city. We sampled a mid-morning Koulouri, mirroring local habits.

Reminding me of something between a pretzel and a bagel, the sweet, firm bread, looped in a large circle was tasty and easy to eat on the run. No wonder this was the Athenians mid morning go-to.

While discussing local Athenian lifestyles and sharing our own eating traits and favourite foods our adventure continued.

Stopping at a well loved whole foods and organic store we were taken to a table waiting with all sorts of treats ready for our inquisitive mouths. We sampled tasty cold pressed olive oils, a delicious vinegar made from sour cherries, feta served with olive oil and again with thyme honey (oh so rare and flavoursome) along with a beautiful smooth wine made from an ancient Greek grape, thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1970’s.

Before leaving we had a chance to look around the store. Check out these fantastic seasoning postcards I found. If only I could send them home to New Zealand!

Loukoum, the Greek version of a Turkish delight was up for trial for us.

We made our way to a store dedicated to products made from mastic; a resin gathered from a mastic tree produced on the Greek island of Chios. I loved the buttery texture of this Greek sweet (nothing like the chocolate covered Turkish delight produced by mainstream confectionary companies) but I am still unsure if I liked the flavour of mastic. It was unlike anything I had tasted before; one of those flavours where you need to go back to it another time (or more) before making your final decision.

Have you ever indulged in traditional handmade baklava?

Our next stop displayed trays full of different kinds of baklava sprawling through cabinet windows in an unsuspecting bakery. Layers of paper thin pastry and finely chopped nuts soaked in just the right amount of sweet honey to give a gooey bottom and crisp crunch on top. I wanted to pocket a handful of each tray! there were so many options to choose from – check out that chocolate baklava.

Incredible!

Having had our morning coffee boost, carbs, cheese and pastry it was time to get serious.

Our next stop was hyped by Tania as we walked; no matter what time of the day there could be a queue because the food was so good, an Athenian favourite. Souvlaki.

The best in town came from a relatively inconspicuous store, mid-block, fronting a pedestrian walkway with simple seating out front.  Able to purchase the meat sticks from the window on the street it oddly reminded me of a school canteen.

That souvalaki though! Beautiful tender bites of pork perfectly seasoned and the squeeze of lemon just topped it off. Had there not been more of the tour to go I would have gone back for seconds… and probably thirds.

To help burn off some of the food we had consumed before our next stop we diverted down a back alley to check out the meat, fish and veg market in Omonia.

Tania warned us before entering that it would penetrate the senses and boy was she right. It was loud, wet (so be careful underfoot) and it had all the expected odours. She also gave us a heads up that the traders might catcall young ladies who walked through, explained that is was harmless but checked we were comfortable to continue (of course we were). Now I can’t understand Greek but I could tell the difference between prices and products being yelled and the catcalling, I could only guess what they were saying, but we had a laugh about it and carried on our merry way looking at everything on offer.

Up next, my absolute favourite from the morning, we had a serving of bougatsa. Freshly made in the café we visited, we were lucky enough to see the chef’s effortless skill building the next batch for the oven. A custard, cream and semolina mix (flavoured perfectly with orange zest) was parcelled in crunchy, icing dusted pastry, I couldn’t get enough of it!

As full as I was, I ate it all and wanted more. Impressed with the dish, Mark and I grabbed a piece of bougatsa several times later in our trip, but none rivalled our first taste of this delicious pastry from that beautifully decorated café in the back streets of Athens.

Our final stop was at a local taverna where we sampled a beautiful honey soaked baked cheese dish sprinkled with sesame seeds and a platter of traditional dips. The baked cheese was gone in seconds (it was so tasty) and sampling the dips, I really enjoyed the tzatziki (yoghurt dip), but found the fava (puree of fava beans and olive oil) and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) were full of flavour but not so much to my taste.

Walking Athens

Over and above tasting all the amazing food, we got an insider’s understanding of the underbelly of modern Athens. We discussed recent history and local practices as Tania confidently navigated us to each stop. Walks between stops were short and easy, occasionally dodging a cat, bike or car along the way.

As we walked we heard how internal migration patterns in Greece were changing and tired areas were becoming reinvigorated as new trends came and went through the city. Tania shared her love for all things Greek and what she liked about guiding – she had such a passion for sharing her culture with others that it was hard not to be moved.

During our journey there were other gems we saw along with way, like the tiny shop from where all of the bread carts selling koulouri were stocked. We walked through Euriopdies street and ogled all the dried meats, spices and herbs displayed in the shops, ducking in to take a closer look and smell. We meandered through Psirri and the Square of the Heroes, hearing about its Mafia-like history and recent gentrification. I desperately wanted to return for dinner at one of the quaint restaurants under the trees. We stopped for photos with a decorated Greek music cart, commonly featured in older Greek movies.

Tania enlightened us on just how much more there was to Athens than the ruins it was famous for and I was left wishing we had more time.

Ending in Monastiraki, a great place to explore, people watch and browse the bustling shops it was time to say goodbye. At our last stop Tania gave us a helpful map of Athens and promised to email us recipes so we could try our hand at making some of what we had sampled. As promised we received a easy to follow PDF by email and bougatsa is on there. I can’t wait to give it a go!

Needless to say our morning with Tania lived up to the hype and I have been recommending this tour to others wholeheartedly ever since.

Best done at the start of your trip so you can orientate yourself easily through the best parts of the inner city, I implore you to join Alternative Athens on their Delicious Athens Food Tour.

Mark on a map all of the restaurants and areas your fantastic guide will point out so you can continue your gastronomic adventure on your own.

I only wish we had more time to do so – there was just not enough room in my tummy to sample all of the food we wanted to pocket on the way!

Honestly, if you miss this tour you are missing out on some of the best secrets, tastes and gems Athens has to offer… and nobody wants that, do they?


Do you have a taste for seeing what really makes a city tick?  Pin this post!

Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Find the best restaurants, cafes and foodie secrets. Food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Hidden hotspots, food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?

Thank you to Alternative Athens for hosting Mark and Jade to review their Delicious Athens Food Tour.  As always, all thoughts are their own – as you can see though, they had a ball!

Accommodation Activities Dubai Expat Life Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Stopping Over in Dubai – A Newbie’s Guide

June 4, 2017

Dubai truly is the epitome of luxury, the cars, the buildings, the hotels and the attractions.  It has so much to offer! If you haven’t visited or you are planning to visit read more to find out how to spend a weekend in Dubai.

Living as an expat in a different country is exciting but just like any other country, you get caught up in daily routines and life in general.  In the end, a lot of things are the same as they would be if I was still living in my home country.  I still spend the last day of the weekend frantically trying to get my lessons planned (only the day has changed from a Sunday to a Saturday), I still spend every day after school battling myself to get to the gym (only now the gym is in my building and I don’t really have any excuse – regardless though, I’m the queen of making them), I still spend the evenings cooking dinner and getting lunch ready for the next day and I still binge watch My Kitchen Rules.

Even though I live in an exciting and exotic location, life still goes on.

Every now and again though, I’m reminded of what an amazing place I do live in.  These moments are sporadic but they energise me and remind me to count my blessings.  In those moments, it strikes me just how lucky I am to be living this awesome life!

Dubai is one of places for me.

Every time we start to approach the Marina area and the high-rises emerge from the plains of sand I think how cool is it that I live in the UAE?!  It’s amazing that in around an hour and half I can drive to Dubai and experience all that this amazing city has to offer – people from all around the world dream of visiting and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.

Regardless of what brings you to Dubai, whether you live locally or are stopping off on the way somewhere else, this guide is for you.

Have fun, soak it all in and, when you’re done, waive the city goodbye, knowing that in a few years it will look substantially different – there’s nothing quite like it.

What to do in Dubai

Dubai is not short of fantastic things to do.  To some, this city is a shopping paradise but look beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.

The following are just some of my favourite ways to while away the time in this incredible city.

Sightseeing on the Water – Splash Tours

Splash Tours is a fairly new company based out of Dubai Marina that offer jet boat tours around the Palm and Dubai Marina – and man is it fun!  Before embarking on our journey we had imagined a tame, leisurely round-trip sightseeing tour.  The only thing we managed to get right was the round-trip part!

It was a thrilling adventure that had some of our fellow passengers white-knuckling the seats in front of them.  With the boat traveling up to 30 knots (around 55km/h), at times we felt like we were flying through the water.  If this doesn’t sound exhilarating enough, the twists, turns and 360’s definitely got the blood pumping!

The best part?  Not only were we jetting around The Palm but we were soaking up all of the iconic Dubai sights too.  With stops in front of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), Atlantis the Palm, and the Burj Al Arab (the first seven star hotel in the world), a speedboat tour from the marina is the perfect way to tick all of your touristy boxes.

Not sure what all the buildings are or have questions along the way?  Don’t worry, they’ll have you covered with their knowledgeable onboard tour guide.  Ours was more than happy to provide us with facts and interesting information along the way – we’ve never had so much fun learning before!

Most importantly, we didn’t feel in danger at any time.  The crew were professional and we felt safe and secure every step of the way.

My only advice, apart from booking this tour immediately, would be apply sunscreen before setting out as the Middle Eastern sun is strong and there isn’t a lot of shade on the boats.

Dubai Museum

Dubai hasn’t always been 100% glitz and glamour – far from it in fact.  To gain an insight into life before the Emirates discovered oil, head to Dubai Museum.  There you’ll develop a surprising understanding of the emirate all housed inside the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort.

The displays recreate the way in which people would have traditionally lived and worked in Dubai and also explore the previous uses of the fort.

It’s informative and interesting to see how Dubai looked before all the high rises – it certainly didn’t always look as it does now!

Souks

Dubai is known for its luxurious hotels and expansive shopping malls but to your average person, not so much for its traditional souks.  If you’re visiting this amazing metropolis, you’ll no doubt want a taste of Arabic culture though and there’s no better place to get it than at one of their traditional markets.

Located across from Dubai Museum, you will find the textile souk which is a little like stepping back in time.  This is a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs for your family or just to peruse the colourful and vibrant displays.  The textile souk is still full of fabric shops and tailors ready to create a masterpiece, along with stalls selling beautiful pashminas, bright glass lamps and your typical tourist souvenirs.

Friendly bartering is expected and the way to ensure you get the best bargain.

From the textile souk you can catch a long boat across Dubai Creek (they are frequent, inexpensive and leave once the boat is full).  Once on the other side of the creek, you will find yourself in Deria, the oldest residential area in Dubai.

The short walk from the docks had us questioning if we were still in Dubai!  This is a side to the city that is rarely seen – the buildings are run down, the markets sell various wares (trinkets, school bags, material, abayas and an assortment of goodies) and, unlike in the malls, the shoppers aren’t locals – chances are they’re either tourists or some of the many expats that you will find living and working in Dubai.

After passing the markets crammed with what feels like a thousand different ethnicities and being hounded by the shop assistants to snap up their best deals, you will find yourself at Al Souk Al Kabir.  Here there’s a perfume souk, spice souk and the infamous gold souk, so plenty of opportunities to test out your new-found bartering skills.

Pro tip – if you’re not interested in making a purchase, a friendly but firm la, shukran (no, thank you) will see you left in peace.

While I wasn’t in the market to purchase any jewellery (it was slightly out of my price range) it’s a great way to spend some time  If you are looking for something shiny to take home, you’ll want to note that each jewellery piece has their weight written on the tag – this will determine the price depending on the gold prices for that day.

Burj Khalifa Fountains

A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a visit to the Dubai fountains!  They put on an incredible show every half hour from 6pm, at which time the fountains burst to life, dancing in time to the booming music.  The tunes normally alternate between English and Arabic.

The back drop of the Burj Kahlifa is nearly as mesmerising as the fountains themselves and it still astounds me how talented the technicians must be who create the sequence and how much time they must put into planning out these phenomenal shows.

The fountains get very busy and, at times, finding a good spot can be challenging, as everyone vies for the prime spot with the Burj Khalifa in the background.

Pro tip – Head into Dubai Mall where on the second floor you will find several restaurants that have fabulous views overlooking the fountains.

Be sure to check out this guide to the Dubai malls so you can decide upon the other malls you’d like to visit during the course of your trip too!

Brunch

This is one of the favourite past times of western expats living in the UAE and though you may think you know what brunch is, you may just find yourself surprised.  The term brunch is significantly different in the UAE.

Brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair that lasts for around 4 hours and generally falls only on Friday afternoons (our weekend).  The hotels that host these events are often the epitome of luxury.  The food is  usually so incredible that it’s hard to hold yourself back and with an amazing selection of top-notch international cuisine, why would you?

If you find yourself in Dubai on a Friday I would recommend trying out this favourite past time for yourself.

More Time up your Sleeve?

If you have more time in Dubai there is a plethora of activities for you to explore, including but  by no means limited to the following:

  • No trip to the middle east would be complete without participating in a desert safari, you will find yourself absolutely enthralled or terrified while dune bashing in 4WDs, once at your desert camp you will have the opportunity to dress like the locals while eating Middle Eastern cuisine and participating in whole array of different activities.
  • For nature lovers, check out Green Planet or Miracle Garden – both might take you by surprise within the concrete jungle that Dubai is.
  • If shopping is more you thing (and let’s face it, this is Dubai) check out Dubai Mall (which has a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall), Mall of the Emirates (which also houses an indoor ski slope) and head to Outlet Village to try and get high quality brands at discounted prices.
  • Or for a dose of excitement, there are countless possibilities with Skydive Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Waterpark and Aventura just being the tip of the iceberg.

Getting Around

The fastest and most convenient way to get around Dubai is by taxi.  They are well priced but be sure to enquire if they know how to get to your location before departing – if not try another taxi.

In other parts of the world, it might be surprising to find taxi drivers unsure of their own routes but buildings shoot up so quickly here, roads change in a flash and many taxi drivers are new to the country, so allowances certainly have to be made in the UAE.

Uber is another option but this will be dependent on your internet access in order to book one.  I’ve found Uber to be just as fast and often cheaper so it certainly is a good option.

Whatever you do, try to avoid the unregistered taxis at the airport – jump in one that’s sign written as they’ll always use the meter and you’ll be sure to pay a fair fare.  That is, assuming you picked someone that knows where you’re going.

During peak traffic times, which can be hard work in Dubai, it may be quicker to take the metro.  Dubai Metro is made up of two lines and covers an extensive part of the city.  Make sure you purchase a ticket before boarding as these driverless trains don’t have ticket conductors onboard.

Where to Stay

For this weekend staycation we opted to stay at the Amwaj Rotana.

I have a soft spot for the Rotana brand as on moving to the UAE I was housed in the Park Rotana for just over a month.  It was my first taste of the luxury that you grow accustomed to in the UAE and the customer service blew me away.

I was very eager to find out if the Amwaj Rotana would live up to the exceptional customer service I’ve come to expect from the Rotana brand and they didn’t disappoint.

Location, Location, Location

The Amwaj Rotana is located in the heart of JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence) which is a stone throw from The Walk – a beautiful part of Dubai.

The Walk is a stunning outdoor area with plenty of al fresco dinning, boutique shopping and a beautiful promenade that has plenty to offer with parks, carnival games, a free public beach and even an outside gym facility.  It’s a great place to spend a day or an evening, provided you don’t start to melt with the heat and humidity that Dubai is known for in the summer months.

Checking out the Amwaj Rotana

Amwaj Rotana was built in 2010 and is one of the largest hotels located in JBR.  It has 301 rooms and suites spread over 25 floors, with each of the modestly decorated rooms being bigger than your standard hotel room.  The enormous beds are so comfortable that you will find it hard to get up in the mornings and, incredibly, every room has a balcony with unobstructed views of the stunning Arabian Gulf and Palm Jumeirah.

The hotel facilities will ensure that you have a memorable stay.  Aside from the standard facilities offered by hotels, the Amwaj also offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to popular shopping malls in Dubai, a car rental service, an on call doctor and a hair and beauty salon.

Recreational activities include a fully equipped gym (with 24 hour access), a jacuzzi, sauna, spa, steam rooms and for the little ones, Flipper’s Kids Club.  My personal favourite was the pool which I was absolutely fell in love with.  Not only was the water perfectly refreshing but with its location on a bridge that spanned the road, you were literally swimming above Dubai’s traffic!

Without doubt though, the highlight of my stay was the level of customer service.  The staff were amazing, so friendly, professional and went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one.  It was impressive how we were greeted by name everywhere we went in the hotel and in a city as big as Dubai, it’s a small touch like that that makes a hotel feel a little more like home.

How do you really judge a hotel though?  Everyone looks for something different in their perfect stay but I’m a real sucker for hotel slippers.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with them – I really need to stop collecting them as I have far too many knocking around home!

The first thing I usually do on arriving at a hotel is locate the complementary slippers, kick of my shoes and slide my tiny feet into them.  For this reason I’ve decided to accompany any accommodation reviews with Sarah’s slipper rating.

With that said, Amwaj Rotana slippers come in at 4 stars (out of 5).  The only factor letting them down is I have tiny feet (UK size 4) so the slippers were swimming on me.

Everything about this hotel hit the spot for us – from the comfortable rooms to the high-pressured showers and everything in between.

Did Someone Say ‘Food’?

Within the Amwaj Rotana, there are plenty of options for fine cuisine.

For our visit, we settled on Rosso, an authentic Italian restaurant.  Being a bit of a foodie, I was very impressed with the menu and the gorgeous outdoor setting, made all the better by a portable air conditioning unit.

Aircon outside – don’t we live in an amazing time?!

The wait staff were attentive, knowledgeable and eager to make sure our evening was one to remember. Their suggestions on what to order were spot on and the only disappointment we experienced all evening was not having enough room for dessert.

To start we shared a traditional antipasto which was absolutely gorgeous and included a selection of Italian pork cold cuts (hard to find in the UAE), mixed grilled vegetables, olives, melon, figs, and bocconcino cheese. This all came accompanied with parmesan, pesto and a scrumptious focaccia.

After our generous starter I was feeling full but with a mushroom and truffle risotto truffle I found it in me to push on through – someone’s got to do it, right?

I love truffles and can’t get enough of this tiny-but-expensive mushroom.  I usually find restaurants to be a bit stingy with the truffle but not in this case!  The risotto was full of rich flavour; it was creamy and cheesy and had truffle mixed throughout the whole dish – not just served on the top as many places do. I would wholeheartedly recommend this dish to anyone dining at Rosso’s.

I can’t wait to head back again to experience their scrumptious food, outstanding service and relaxed setting.

Dubai – Stop Over or Fly Through?

Is Dubai somewhere you should consider visiting?

Absolutely!  Whether you live locally, are on holiday or are making a quick stopover, Dubai has something to offer for everyone. It has glitz and glam that will wow you, inviting beaches, high end shopping and theme parks that rival some of the best in the world.

Above all where else can you experience a modern city with a traditional twist?

It’s a truly vibrant city that knows how to put on a good show!

The best time to visit is in the winter months where you can really experience everything the city has to offer without those hot rays beating you down.

So, next time you are flying through this international hub, think about making a stop to explore fascinating Dubai!  You might just surprise yourself.


Love Dubai enough to stay?  Check out these ten tips that Gabby wish she knew before making the move to Dubai.

Planning a trip to Dubai?  Pin this post!

Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!

Thank you to the Amwaj Rotana and Splash Tours for hosting Sarah for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Hiking World’s End: Sri Lanka’s Overlooked Scenic Gem

May 5, 2017
World's End Sri Lanka hike

Though World’s End at Horton Plains, Sri Lanka is not as well known as the towering Adam’s Peak, it is frequently ranked as the top hike in the country.   We took to the trail ourselves to find out more about this somewhat-hidden highlight.

Located within one of Sri Lanka’s many national Parks, Horton Plains would feel at home within the pages of a New Zealand nature book.  With gold-flecked grass, ferns and flax as far as the eye can see, you really could be excused for thinking you’ve somehow arrived in Aotearoa – fortunately for us though, this was 100% Sri Lanka.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeOne of the Best Views in Sri Lanka

If there’s one thing you visit World’s End for, it’s the spectacular views out over the surrounding valley and mountains.  Though this beautiful country is anything but short of great hiking tracks, World’s End is accessable to most people making it a great choice for holiday-makers.

The track itself completes a loop and can be approached from either side.  From the entrance, Mini World’s end (which is practically as beautiful as the main attraction) and World’s End is a 4km walk, at which point you continue through to Baker’s Falls (2km) and meander back to the start (3.5km).  All in all, the circuit is 9km of absolute beauty.

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewIt is worth noting that the sheer cliffs of Horton Plains lack railing.  Though hikers benefit from incredible unobstructed views that would be roped off elsewhere, you’ll need to keep an eye on how close you get to the edge.  With drops of 300 and 1,200 metres respectively, few people who come unstuck live to tell the tale.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeHiking World’s End – How Challenging is it?

Though Adam’s Peak is considered the most recognised hike in Sri Lanka, World’s End, its lesser known companion, is frequently recognised as the best one around… plus it’s a whole lot more manageable thanks to its relatively flat profile.

The hike itself is absolutely gorgeous and not particularly challenging.

Don’t get me wrong, this hike isn’t a walk in the park but if you have a moderate level of fitness, you’ll complete it without any problems. Even if you’re totally lacking fitness, you’ll still be fine – just take your time and consider skipping the walk down to the falls.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeLet’s Get Practical – What You Need to Know…

Though hiking boots wouldn’t go astray, World’s End is certainly manageable in trainers and comfortable clothes.

Throw a small bag on your back and whatever you do, remember your camera! If, like us, you have a drone, leave it behind though – they don’t allow them anywhere in the national park.

There is a small shop that sells snacks and drinks at the end of the hike but the Sri Lankan sun can be strong and though the walk isn’t particularly challenging you’ll still want to be well prepared.  We took a couple of water bottles each and some fruit to snack on… and then stopped by the shop for some celebratory roti and fizzy when we were done!

This national park is keen to protect its gorgeous wildlife as best they can and for this reason you’ll be made to disguard any unnecessary plastic before you start the hike.  You can save time by leaving anything you don’t need in the car (including the plastic labels wrapped around your water bottle).

To get into World’s End you will need to pay the entrance fee which is approximately 3000 Sri Lankan rupees (or USD20).  It’s not the cheapest of days by the time you pay for your ticket and transport (which we’ll talk more about below) but it’s absolutely worth it – presuming you’re not travelling on a budget, that is.

You’ll want to plan your route and timing around what you want to see out at World’s End too.  Not far into the walk you’ll be faced with the choice of turning left or right – left takes you to Mini World’s End first whereas a right turn will direct you to Baker’s Falls.  Both routes come with their own adventages and disadvantages but we’d recommend starting with Mini World’s End to ensure you get there before the mist sets into the vally.

Clear, unobstructed views out from the cliff-faces normally show themselves between 6am and 10am but as with everything in nature, there are no guarantees.  As a general rule though, the earlier you can make it out there, the more likely you are to be rewarded with clear views (though if you ask me, mist engulfing the valley would be pretty amazing too!)

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewGetting to Horton Plains

World’s End is smack-bang in the middle of a national park and because of this, normal cars are not insured to drive the roads.  This means that you’ll probably need to hire a local van or tuk tuk to get you into the starting point of the track.

We organised the required return transport through Red Dot Tours for USD50 and together jumped in the van from Nuwara Eliya.

Our departure time was bright and early in a bid to beat some of the crowds and the harsh midday sun.  Though we had planned to leave town at 5am, our drive to Nuwara Eliya took longer than expected and we connected with our driver just before 6am.

If you’re able to be in Nuwara Eliya closer to our scheduled time of 5am, we’d definitely recommend it. Yes you’ll have a hard time getting out of bed but it will be worth it to have the amazing lookouts to yourself!

Though we were originally a little hesitant to scrap our planned hike up Adam’s Peak in favour of World’s End, we could not have been happier with our decision.

Horton Plains was drop-dead gorgeous, an enjoyable, manageable walk and lets visitors have a little taste of New Zealand (without the hassle and expense of flying half way around the world).

It’s certainly worth juggling your Sri Lankan itinerary to swing by Horton Plains!


Know someone that enjoys hiking?  Pin this post!

Sri Lanka's best hike, World's End, takes in gorgeous views, bush, rivers, waterfalls and more. A must-do on your Sri Lankan itinerary! Looking for an easier hike than Adam's Peak? World's End is absolute natural perfection and the best part?  It's a hike that anyone can manage in two hours!

Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Hanging on by a Thread: Reviewing Aventura – Dubai’s Nature Adventure Park

April 29, 2017

As summer’s oppressive heat descends upon the United Arab Emirates everyone starts heading inside, seeking refuge in air-conditioned havens… that generally means one of the Emirates’ mega-malls.

Not so fast though!

What if we told you that one of the best physical adventure activities in Dubai has adjusted their hours to allow adrenaline junkies to make the most of the cooler mornings and evenings?

Located not far from Dubai’s city centre, Aventura offers five rope courses amongst the natural Ghaff tree forest in Mushrif Park.

The variety of courses allow guests to push themselves regardless of their level of fitness or thirst for adventure.  From courses targeted at younger children and those not so keen on heights to ones that present a massive physical challenge high off the ground, there’s something for practically everyone.

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewSafety First

Having completed a number of high rope and climbing courses now (check out our review of Ras Al Khaimah’s via ferrata), we’re relatively handy with a carabiner but even if you’re not, you’ll have nothing to worry about at Aventura.  Thanks to the employment of CliC-iT smart carabiners it is impossible for any guest to be up on the course without being clipped in and though they take a little getting used to, the peace of mind is absolutely worth it.

The staff out on the course are well trained and with a comprehensive, hands-on training before you head out by yourself, chances are you’ll be feeling pretty confident.

It is also worth noting that the course is fairly exposed, being nested amongst the trees rather than sheltering beneath them – because of this we’d recommend taking plenty of sunscreen along with your glasses and a hat, especially if you’re visiting when the sun’s at its strongest (as we did – eeek!)

High Ropes for Everyone at Aventura!

Once your training starts you’ll have three hours to bounce around any of the routes that take your fancy.  Our group of four completed three courses in total (in addition to the initiation course), each with their own differences.

Explorador

With an average height of 3 metres, Explorador is the perfect starting point for your high ropes adventure.  The course isn’t particularly difficult but it’s a great way to find your feet and adjust to the carabiner system.  It also gives a good view out over the more difficult Aventura and Thriller routes, allowing you to plot your next course.

If you’re feeling a little nervous, this is definitely the place to start!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewThriller

Running alongside Explorador, Thriller stands at an average height of 8 metres above the ground.  Described as having a low difficulty level but towering height, this is a course that will divide your group.  Physically it’s a walk in the park but if you’re afraid of heights it’s sure to challenge you.  Just remember, there’s no way you’ll ever come unhooked – this course is 100% mind over matter.

Once you’ve raced through Thriller you’ll be ready to test yourself in every sense of the word.  Aventura does a great job of that but if you’re short on time (or looking to escape the sun, as we were) then head straight over to the Extreme course.

Extreme

Aptly named, the most difficult course at Aventura is just as high as Thriller but also offers a massive physical challenge.

Seriously – this course is not messing around.

From wobbly rock-climbing walls to a 25 metre Tarzan jump.  Swinging cargo nets to pegs barely big enough to fit your feet on.  This is a course that will challenge every muscle in your body.  It’s hard work whilst still being tremendous fun – just make sure you skip arms at the gym the day before if you want any chance of making it through!

Though we came off the course with aching muscles and dripping from a number of hours under the hot sun, it was hard to wipe the smiles from our messy, wind-swept faces.

Next time you’re lining up a trip to the mall, why not opt for something different and head to Aventura to soak up a gorgeous Arabian sunset instead?

After all, the mall’s not going anywhere!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai review

Weekdays: Open from 2.30pm until 7.00pm

Weekends: From 8.30am until 10.00am (last briefing) + from 2.30pm until 7.00pm.

Summer timings are from April until end of June 2017.

Stay tuned to Aventura for their special evening sessions, running 7.00pm to 10.00pm.


Dubai's full of amazing tourist activities but here's one you won't have tried! Aventura Adventure park has something for everyone. Which course will you choose?

Thank you to Aventura and Tish Tash for inviting us along to review Aventura.  As always all thoughts are our own.

We suggest you take advantage of the new summer hours to keep out of Dubai’s crazy summer heat – we visited around midday and instantly wished we’d booked later in the day!

Adventure New Zealand

Anything But a Light Paddle: White Water Rafting Down the Kaituna River (and the Largest Commercially Rafted Waterfall in the World!)

April 22, 2017
Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New Zealand

Kiwis sort of have a track record of being a little crazy, and white water rapids seem to bring out the worst of us as seen here and here, however could I really call myself a travel blogger if I didn’t jump on every opportunity to try out as many of the activities New Zealand has to offer?

Probably not.

So when my partner mistakenly tells me I would NOT be gate crashing a boys day out before his best friend got married (keyword here mistakenly), of course I jumped on board for white water rafting in Rotorua, before heading to Cambridge for the gorgeous wedding of our two friends.

I’m going to say it right away, I have not a single regret and thoroughly enjoyed the escapade, however it did leave me a little shaken.

I’m not the biggest adrenaline-junkie around but I do love giving things a shot.  I also have this strange habit of going gung-ho into these sorts of activities feeling no fear, but then once I actually experience them for what they are (e.g. a little bit dangerous) I’m left questioning my sanity.

I have to admit, this was definitely one of those times.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWe booked with Kaituna Cascades, a really fun group of guys, who look like they truly love their job. We signed up for their highest grade of rafting, a choice I thoroughly recommend.  It’s not overly exerting, it’s not particularly dangerous and the views are beautiful.

The trip takes you down (up?) the Kaituna river, through ‘historical’ rusty old power plants, beautiful inlets of water, cliff sides covered in classic Kiwi foliage and sends you careering through some stunning green water.

But let’s be real here – you’re not going white water rafting for a peaceful row through scenic vistas!

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re the kind of person looking for the next opportunity to be pushed around, thrown about, tipped upside down, and in one unfortunate instance, smashed pelvis-first into a rock.

Ok. Maybe you aren’t looking for that last experience – but don’t worry, I’ve got some tips at the end to hopefully keep you bruised-pelvis free…

For my first experience white water rafting, I would say this was definitely a good fit. While it has a pretty significant waterfall drop at one point (OK, it might just be the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world!), as white water goes this was pretty easy-going and a good starting point for anyone who, like me, might be afraid of getting the technique wrong.

When it comes down to it, there’s really nothing to it but to listen to your instructor and do as much shouting as you can – and you will shout!

But wait – what was that I said about a smashed pelvis??? Don’t worry, no bones were broken, just a serious bruise and that’s definitely avoidable.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWhile the guys at Kaituna were awesome and made sure they did the utmost to ensure we all had the best time that we could, I still ended up getting hurt. Which I suppose is what you risk – or even hope for – when doing something like white water rafting.

There were two spots on the trip where they said we could get out and swim; the first being a lovely gorge-like area of the river, and the second being um… right before a waterfall.

So that first one sounds great, right?! And it was. It was like being swirled around in a giant pool – a pool surrounded by nature and people laughing from exhilaration.

That last one, though? Um, not so great. We all jumped at the opportunity to dive back in the water after the fun we had in the gorge!  Just quietly, I think the instructor was keen to get us in too, as he didn’t manage to get us to flip the boat going down the big waterfall.

In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t the most strategic place to get out of the raft though?

We all found ourselves careering towards the waterfall and despite the instructors’ best efforts to call us back to the boat, our swimming was no match for the current. In the end, one of us went down the waterfall by himself – a fairly scary experience I would say – while my partner and I were instructed to hold onto the side of the boat as it went down.

Now, I’m not an expert – as I said this was my first time rafting – but holding onto a boat as it goes wherever it pleases down a rocky waterfall? It was less than ideal.

Not only did we have the full force of the current, but also the full weight of the boat on top of us.  Both Michael and I were slammed against the rocks and then dragged across them.

Honestly, the experience shook me quite a bit and from there I was kind of keen to get out of the water.

Regardless of this, I thoroughly recommend the Kaituna Cascades guys and I absolutely recommend trying out white water rafting.  I’d just encourage everyone to be a little bit more wary of when you get out of the boat. Oh, and please, PLEASE don’t hold onto the side of a raft as it slams its way down a waterfall.

Just trust me on this one.


Off to New Zealand?  On the hunt for adventure?  Pin this post!

Find out what it's like to go over the biggest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. New Zealand, home of adventure sports should be next on your list! Rotorua, NZ

As this was a last minute plan, I didn’t have my GoPro on me but I would like to give a big shout out to Jacob Laukaitis who went down the river with us and got some awesome footage. He hasn’t put the clips into a Youtube video but when he does you can find them here, or see a bunch of his awesome travel shots on his Instagram account.

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