Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Port Stephens: Marine Park & Lighthouse

November and December are always the worst blog months for me because I'm usually doing NANOWRIMO and there are lots of family birthdays and holiday events. And now I've started a second job! Although I'm not writing as much as I want, I do still have a backlog of videos! Don't forget that I do have a Youtube Channel (Click HERE), a home for all of my trip videos, as well as travel tips and conversations with some of my favorite travel buddies! 
Here is the latest video I posted; more footage of my Australian adventure :) 

We spent our last day in Port Stephens and Nelson Bay buying postcard and wandering around the Marine Park working our way to the Lighthouse. It was a on-and-off-again cloudy and rainy day, but the views were still worth standing in the chilly air and a little rain.
At the top of the incline, where the lighthouse and lighthouse museum is, there's also a little darling cafe! It's called the Inner Light Tea Rooms. (I'm telling you, Australia has some of the most charming and unique cafes). You can sit, have food, and simply look out over the water and the birds are really bold, they'll get so close to you for a bit of food. 

If I lived in Sydney, I would defiantly make some routine trips to Port Stephens/Nelson Bay and Salamander Bay to escape for the weekend. It's close enough to drive to, and yet far away enough that you feel as if you're truly on vacation - although you're only a few hours away. 


 Connect with me on Instagram: @Wildechildyup

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

ABQ International Balloon Fiesta 2017


For the longest time I've been dreaming of going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This year I just decided to knock this item off my "Travel List" (you know, the list of places and things that inspire you to get up and go). I put the balloon fiesta on my list for a reason, so why not go? There's a point in time when you get tired of dreaming of something and want to see it in real life, up close and personal. 

Don't forget to check out the video below. It brings to life all of the colorful beauty that is the fiesta!




I bought a ticket online before leaving, they were $10 each (but there are various packages and offers on the website). Honestly, it's more expensive to catch a ride the balloon park than to get tickets. 

Seriously, transportation to the park was THE WORST part. If I wanted to catch a ride on the coach buses near my hotel it would have been $45 round trip...um, no thanks. The International Balloon Fiesta is a very big event in Albuquerque and luckily my hotel also offered a transportation deal. Leaving from my hotel I paid $10 each way, so the total was $20 round trip. This was such a great saving, I would always make sure you know what your hotel is offering before putting down money for a taxi, Uber, or coach bus.

I arrived at the Balloon Park around 5 am. It was still pitch dark and freezing. There were shuttles transporting people from the parking lots, camp ground, and museum to the launch field and vendor stalls. The day I went was "Canon Day", which meant that the day was sponsored mainly by Canon. In the Canon tent I got to borrow one of their many great cameras for free, and the bet part was that I got to keep the memory card! I picked an easy point and shoot HD camera, which was great for all of the pre-dawn photos and capturing the laser light show - which I my other camera couldn't pick up. 

(Dawn Patrol)

There are two sessions per day; the morning session and the night session. I went to the morning session. Around 7 am Dawn Patrol starts, which is a few balloons standing ready to take off  and illuminate the dark. The sun starts to rise and other balloons start to get laid out and ready to go up in the air. Loading up on hot chocolate, I was ready for the show!




Once the sun starts rising all of the other balloons begin to take to the air. Some of them are competition balloons and some are paid rides. I didn't get in a gondola for a ride, but a couple did tell me that their ride was $400 - pretty steep for me! I was happy enough to watch them repeatedly take off and land around the launch field.




No matter where I went I was surround by these giant colorful balloons and I didn't really get an idea of exactly how many there were until I saw them all in the sky.



There wasn't any wind when I was there, so the balloons were able to just hang above us and not drift too far until the maneuvered away from the launch field. The morning session ends around 11 am and the balloons spend the morning floating all over Albuquerque, the next day I could see them all over downtown and Old Town. 




Once the launch field was cleared and most of the balloon drifted away I went over to the International Balloon Museum, just up the hill from the field. The outside roof of the building was shaped to look like a balloon. 


Inside is the history of weather balloons, hot air balloons, a bit of space exploration, and a gift shop. It was nice to look around, but that wasn't why I was in Albuquerque. The hot air balloons were the high point of my trip to New Mexico and, although I almost froze out there in the pre-dawn temps, I don't regret a second of this trip. I think it will always be one of my favorite solo adventures and I wouldn't hesitate to go again.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Port Stephens 4WD Sandboarding & Camel Ride

As you know, my flight to Australia was delay for a whole day, which meant I lost a whole day of fun. Once the plane touched down in Sydney Amie and I rented a car and drove to Port Stephens to catch up on the time we lost. One of the best ways to get through jet lag is to fight through it. Don't go to the hotel and sleep, get out and get moving. Do stuff. That's exactly what I did. First thing on my list: sandboarding! 




Birubi Beach is a was not at all what I expected. It was a little difficult finding the designated location for the Port Stephens 4WD check-in. Once we found the little road leading down towards the water we found the paved parking lot, two sandboarding companies (4WD was one of them!), and a service that gives camel rides. 



We jumped into the 4WD vehicle for a bumpy ride over the dunes to the designated sandboarding location a few minutes away from the parking lot. From this spot we could still see the car lot and the beach area, but if you looked with your back towards the ocean all you'll see are sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Birubi was a lot larger than I expected and I know that there is also a "Tin City" tour there (11 kilometers of beach driving to "Tin City", a small makeshift fishing village that emerges from the dunes like a mirage" - 4WD website), but we didn't take advantage of that activity. 


My TOP TIPS for sandboarding: 

#1 Do NOT put your phone in your pocket. You'll be finding tiny granules of sand around the case edge for the next seven days; a weird little annoying souvenir. 

#2 Don't wear socks, there's no point since they strongly suggest you take your shoes off - and who wouldn't want to feel the nice warm sand between their toes? Socks would just collect sand.

#3 Leave the purse in the trunk of the car. Or if you're worried about leaving important things in the car park, bring a backpack-type bag so you can keep your things clean and with you at all times!



4WD provided water, which was great. Although we went in August (which is winter in Australia), it was still pretty warm with the sun shining bright overhead and climbing to get to the top of those dunes takes a great deal of energy. I felt like I was on a StairMaster. Between the strong winds blowing the sand around and the steep dunes, it was a total body work out just getting to the top. 


If you want to see all of the action for yourself, I've inserted a video I made about the experience. Take a look ⇊


                                       

On the way back we were going to head to the Airbnb, but Amie talked me into checking out the camel rides. Oakfield Ranch was set up near the car park, so there's no need to search them out, they're very easy to find. We actually first saw them when we can into the parking lot. 


After sandboarding the camels were resting and waiting for the next riders. Fortunately for us, we were the only people around at that time and we got all of the camels to ourselves - which meant we had the pick of the litter.  I'd never ridden a camel before and I was a little nervous, but it turned out to be something I was very glad I experienced. 


The ride was another great way to see the sand dunes and we veered towards the beach and got to ride among the waves coming up to the shore.



 At Birubi point the ride lasted about 20 minutes. Online I saw that there are other rides you can take at other locations, like the hour long sunset ride at Anna Bay. I think 20 minutes is the perfect amount of time to spend in a camel saddle. 



The camel ride was fun and not something I ever expected to do in Australia (when I think of Australia I don't typically think of camels...). Now that I've done it I don't believe I would ever do it again. It's a one and done type of activity. However, I would definitely go sandboarding again!



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Australia Bound - Dallas Layover 😱

I was racing to make my connection from Dallas to Sydney when I got to a very empty gate. The Qantas representative at the desk smiled and handed me some papers and explained that my flight to Australia has been delayed for 24 HOURS and they were putting us all in a hotel with food vouchers. This was the last thing I wanted to hear! But there was nothing anyone could do but go to the hotel, sleep in a bed, and eat hotel food until we got more information and a departure time. 
I appreciate that Qantas put us up for the time we were delayed, but what I did not appreciate was that  there were no notifications or emails ahead of time to inform us that our flight was not going out on the date and time intended. Also, there was no one helping us at the hotel. They did not send representatives to inform us about updates. The only information we received was that the check-in desk would open at 6 pm. All day my fellow Australia-bound voyagers and I stood at the arrival and departure boards in our hotel lobby checking to see if there was an incoming flight and to see if our flight would mysteriously show up with a gate number. There are somethings in which Qantas excelled, however their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. 


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Off to Australia!



It feels so good to be off on another adventure! I'm visiting my friend, Amie, in Sydney and she's going to show me the locals live in this beautiful city. I've never been to Australia and I'm very excited to make some lasting memories, write new blog posts, and film new videos! Make sure you subscribe to my Youtube Channel, follow the blog, or even connect with me on Instagram (Wildechildyup) to keep up on the updates, adventures, and fun times! 

Get to know my good friend Amie in this video we did a while ago (before she even left for Australia) about our different traveling styles: 




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Planning for Australia: Visa


One of my favorite Netflix shows is Border Security; USA, Canada, and the Australian one. Among the smuggling and blatant disregard for the declaration process, other major issues that arise tend to revolve around visas.  Either it's fake, or they are not a "genuine tourist/student", or the holder did not realize that their visa has expired. Really, there is no excuse to skip this VERY important step, if this is a step you need to take, when you are about to travel.  As I mentioned in "The Worst Common Travel Mistakes", a visa can truly make or break a vacation.

I'm an American with a passport, so I can easily travel pass the Canadian border. Planning for Australia was my chance to determine the difficulty of the Australia Visa Application.

Which One?

The Australian government website has plenty of visa options available - and they know it! A first timer, like myself, can get a little overwhelmed with looking through all the types of visa, especially when some are very similar. You have to consider the requirements of each visa, as well as the short-term or long-term time spans, and prices. Which one is THE ONE?



 The Australian visa site takes the guess work out of this whole process with a few simple question determined to direct you to the one you need. 



As a short-term American visitor, my results were:

⇨Electronic Travel Authority (subclass 601)
⇨Work & Holiday Visa (subclass 462)
⇨Visitor Visa (subclass 600)




I picked the electronic option since it would be a faster process than the others offered. This option was also less than $20 USD. 


Filling Out The Application

The electronic visa allowed me to easily fill in my information right away. The form took about two minutes, tops. All you need is your passport.

Confirmation

The electronic application I was confirmed by email within the hour and the whole process was complete. The process will be different and take more time with other visa applications, like the one that requires you mail in documents and they have to put the visa in your passport. That was something I also wanted to avoid mainly because of the time it would take. I was very happy with the online application process. 

In the end, the whole procedure was very easy. The carefully planned website was easy to navigate and utilize. The intuitive questions helped me to get the task done correctly and quickly, instead of spending the day second guessing myself and worrying if I overpaid for the wrong thing. 

Be sure to do your research before you leave. There's more than visas on this government site. If Australia is your next stop, take full advantage of the abundant resources the site has to offer!



Monday, July 24, 2017