Planning a road trip on the East Coast of Australia…

Travelling the east coast of Australia in a campervan is the perfect way to get to know this vast and varied part of the country and an experience that I can’t recommend enough. The freedom to go where you want to go, when you want to go, to stop somewhere on a whim, change your plans and sleep where you want is a wonderful feeling! This is my guide to planning a road trip on the east coast of Australia…

Campervan hire:

Our three-week adventure started in Sydney and ended in Cairns, covering a total distance of 2629 kilometres. We landed in Sydney, jumped in a taxi to Jucy rentals and picked up what was to be our home for the next three weeks, a green and purple campervan. This little beauty looked like it had been well-loved which made me like it even more!  We got given a quick briefing and then handed the keys. Our Jucy Van was compact but had everything we needed for our three-week journey. Bedding, pillows and towels were provided with the van along with pots and pans, crockery, cutlery and a map. The van had a small kitchen area at the back, which consisted of a camping gas stove, a cool box (powered by a leisure battery) and a sink. It also had a DVD player, but with so much exploring to do we didn’t get round to using it. Awesome campervan and an awesome company!

 

 

Things I took with me on the trip:

  • When planning for a road trip on the east coast of Australia, my first tip would be to pack fairly lightly as living in a van means you have limited space.
  • Guide books: Lonely Planet East Coast Australia and Cool Camping Australia – East Coast – I don’t know what we would have done without these two books. We found places we may not otherwise have visited and they really helped us out especially at the beginning of our trip when everything felt a little bit daunting.
  • Driving licence: Don’t forget this! Check out the Australian Government website for more information on driving in Australia with an overseas licence.
  • LED lights and torch: These were much needed as we stayed in some very remote campsites which were pitch black at night.
  • Keypod: We use one when we surf in the UK and I thought it would be perfect for Australia. It’s a small box, big enough to fit your car key in with a combination lock and padlock on top. It can be attached to the underneath of your vehicle and is perfect if you want to go for a swim or surf and don’t want to leave valuables and car keys on the beach.
  • Washing tablets: Although we could have bought these out in Oz I decided it was one less thing to spend our pennies on once we were there.
  • Resealable bags: Handy to store food in and to stop any beasties or bugs finding it!
  • Tea bags and sugar: Again something we could have bought in Australia but I just thought I would be prepared, and there’s nothing like a decent cuppa in the morning!
  • Anti – bacterial wipes: To clean down food prep areas in the van once we picked it up. You don’t know whose grubby paws have been on it before you! (Although the rental company did a very thorough clean it was just something that made me feel better!) They are also perfect for cleaning up after cooking.
  • Mobile phone and Wi-Fi Dongle: We were very lucky as our lovely friends Olivia and Jamie who we stayed with in Sydney lent us these – great for calling campsites in advance and Google mapping if you don’t have data to use abroad included in your phone contract.
  • We bought a USB charger to go into the cigarette lighter when we got to Australia. This proved priceless for charging our phones and camera batteries on the road.
  • I’m a big flip-flops wearer but I was so pleased I packed a pair of converse ‘just in case’ I needed them.  They came in very handy for bush camping. When it gets dark you never know what creepy crawlies are wondering around!  So I would definitely recommend packing some closed-toe footwear.
  • We took fairy lights and bought candles when we were out there, it added extra light to our camp and also made it look nice.

 

 

Sleeping:

National Park campsites:

National park campsites are the way forward for cheaper camping and for going back to basics. My advice is don’t be scared of long drop toilets and having no showers! I overcame this and experiencing these beautiful places, which can be off the beaten track and often with hardly anyone else around is awesome. It felt to us like ‘real’ camping. One tip my friend Liv gave me was to check under long drop toilet seats for spiders before you sit down! This was a great bit of advice, especially when you consider that most of the wildlife we came across were discovered in the long drop area! Liv did well at practicing her own advice….One night as we sat around the campfire in the Blue Mountains we heard screams coming from the dunny – she had found a nasty looking spider under the lid!  

You need to take your own water for most national park campsites and also need to pre book, although Black Rocks campground (one of our favourite spots) in Bundjalung National Park had signposts with a phone number to book upon arrival. Lots of these campgrounds can be found along very bumpy and long unsealed roads, but this adds to the fun! 

One night we parked up and slept on the side of a road, funnily enough opposite a campsite! It was quite a nice spot on the harbour front at Hervey Bay; we chose it as the car park just in front of our parking spot had a half decent public toilet that wasn’t locked at night. We had been on a whale watching trip which meant we didn’t get back until early evening and we had a lot of driving planned for the next day and got up at around 5am. Due to this we decided there was no point in paying for a pitch. Lots of car parks have no camping signs clearly displayed so they are of course a no go. I am not entirely sure as to whether we were allowed to camp on the roadside, but hey sometimes you’ve got to be a rebel and just live on the edge!

Head here for campsites in New South Wales: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Private campsites:

More expensive campsites were fantastic after a few days of staying in a national park or roadside camping where showers are non-existent.  So to pay for a campsite with showers, flushing toilets and even a laundry room was a small slice of luxury!  Most private campsites we stayed at had camp kitchens that were really well equipped with gas barbeques, fridges, ovens, sometimes microwaves, washing up facilities and plug sockets for charging electronics. Some even had free Wi-Fi, which was a big bonus.

For more information I’ve written a guide with all my favourite campsites to help with planning a road trip on the East coast of Australia: Cool Campsites on the East Coast of Australia.

 

 

 

The drive:

Driving the east coast is such a great way to see experience all the countryside and its differences as you head further up or down the country. The climate changed quite a lot from Sydney where there was a bit of a chill in the air to Cairns with its humid and very hot rainforest feel. I got bitten by mosquitoes further up the coast too. The temperature of the water also felt warmer as we moved further up the country.

On the drive we passed over hundreds and hundreds of creeks, we also passed sugar cane fields, plantations, rainforest, and ocean. It was interesting to drive through so many different towns like Rockhampton, with its quaint Victorian buildings making it look like it had stood still in time. Within the sugar cane fields were train lines, I loved watching the cane trains pass, transporting sugar cane to the plantations. There were also lots of banana farms up near Cairns and we also witnessed a few wild fires in this area; they were pretty scary looking.

There are plenty of opportunities to deviate from the main highway as sometimes the long straight road can get boring. All the way along there were brown tourist signs indicating an alternative route through places of interest and how many kilometers it covered before bringing you back onto the highway. We did this a few times; my favourite was the drive through the Glass House Mountains. The scenery was just incredible with bright red soil and the mountains looming high above the otherwise flat landscape. We stopped off at a great viewpoint for lunch and took photos; it was a lovely scenic diversion.

One thing to know about when driving in Australia is toll roads. These can be avoided but we ended up going through some in Sydney and then in Brisbane. They don’t cost very much but you need to make sure you go online or phone up to pay the charges. For NSW I used this website: myrta and for QLD: govia.  Phone numbers and websites are signposted as you go on the toll roads and you pay the charges by giving your car registration number along with the date and times you would have been on the toll roads. It is then automatically deducted from your credit or debit card, easy!

Although it is quite an obvious thing to say I would definitely recommend keeping an eye on your fuel as sometimes fuel stations were very few and far between. We often drove for an hour or two without seeing one. We tried to make sure that our fuel gauge didn’t drop below a quarter, that way we felt safe. Something else I should mention is that the Aussies are pretty strict on speed limits, so make sure you stick to them.

 

 

 

Rest stops:

We experienced a mixture of good and bad rest stops while on the road. Many with the words ‘Stop, Revive, Survive’ were brilliant, with toilets, gas barbeques and picnic benches sheltered from the sun. Some even provided free tea and coffee. Although, nice service stops turned into sparse truck stops with awful long drops on the Bruce Highway, north of Brisbane. So be prepared for some horrendous dunnys; hold your nose and don’t look down!

Two refreshment stops that stood out for me were Frosty Mango, serving, you guessed it all things mango. This was recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide I mentioned earlier. We bought a mango smoothie for the road, it was so good! Tooloombah Creek Roadhhouse an hour north of Rockhampton was also a great little stop off. We were greeted by a lovely lady who fueled up the van and told us a joke at the same time… “What happened to the beans that were travelling in Australia?… They ended up in Cairns!”… It made me laugh anyway! After a chat with this lovely lady we purchased coffee, two slices of her delicious homemade cake and continued on our journey. I really loved chatting to locals, who more often than not were very welcoming. Some also passed on useful information to us such as a fuel attendant in Byron Bay. I told him we were heading to Mission Beach at some point in our journey, he told us how nice it was and recommended a great campsite. A bit of local knowledge sometimes goes a long way.

 

I hope this has given you a bit of an insight into planning a road trip on the east coast of Australia. If you have any of your own tips please feel free to add them in the comments below; I’d love to hear them. Writing this post has made me want to go back to the land of down under right now! With 1633 miles of the east cast of Australia explored I can’t wait to share the rest of my adventures with you all…

 

For more on Australia take a look at my other posts:

Five Things to do in Sydney

Whale Watching in Australia

Three weeks in three and a half minutes

 

 

What to pack for a glamping trip in the UK…

Us Brits are well known for talking a lot about the weather. This is because it can be so unpredictable, March can be good for sunbathing while August might bring torrential rain. We often experience all the seasons in one day too. So when it comes to packing for a glamping trip in the UK it can be tricky to know exactly what type of weather to pack for. Plus this type of adventure means you may need to pack lightly as your chosen accommodation could be tight on space. I've put together a handy list to help you get to grips with what to pack for a glamping trip in the UK.
Glamping:
Glamping is a more luxurious style of camping. I've stayed in some really cool glamping spots, a bus, a Shepherd's hut, a safari tent and campervans. Some have been more luxurious than others but they've all had the same theme: a unique place to stay whilst embracing the beautiful outdoors. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, especially if you aren't used to having to get up in the middle of the night and venture out to the bathroom like the Shepherd's hut I stayed in. But there are so many styles of glamping now from budget to extravagant there's something to suit everyone.
What clothes to pack:
  • Layers: for the ever-changeable weather you'll need t-shirts, long sleeved tops and jumpers for chilly evenings.
  • Leggings: I always pack leggings for relaxing in after a long day out exploring the local area.
  • Footwear: If it's the summer I pack flip flops and converse for the day and Ugg boots/warm shoes for sitting outside at night. If your accommodation is in a field and its been raining you might want to think about packing wellies.
  • Warm jacket: If you have a fire pit then you'll definitely want to be sitting outside under the stars - even in the middle of the summer the evenings can get chilly in the UK so pack a jacket.
  • Big socks: I love being cosy!
  • You might want to pack spare towels for the beach.
Other essentials:
  • Dry shampoo: If there's no electricity your hair dryer and straighteners will need to stay at home. If it's just a few days then I find that dry shampoo is my saviour.
  • Portable charger: Again if there's no electricity take one of these for charging phones and laptops. I just bought this nifty little one for charging phones it has enough juice to do 5 charges: Duracell Portable Power Bank.
  • A small mirror: You may have a bathroom with mirror in your accommodation but if not I always find packing my own mirror is essential for doing hair and make up.
  • Board games: If you can fit it in a game of scrabble is perfect for rainy evenings.
  • Fairy lights: Add a bit of cosy lighting to your setting.
  • Logs: If you have a log burner or fire pit you may need to buy logs. Check with your accommodation as wood may be supplied.
  • Torch: If lighting is limited it's always handy to have your own.
  • Batteries: For the fairy lights and torch.
  • Matches: They may already be provided so double check this.
Food:
Check what kitchen facilities are available before you go and if there is a welcome pack. Depending on your budget most kitchen essentials will be provided which means you can keep your packing list down.
  • Make a chilli before you go - perfect glamping food, easy to re-heat.
  • Buy essentials: Milk, bread, teabags etc.
  • I always take zip lock bags with me, as they are perfect for keeping open food airtight.
  • Marshmallows for the for the fire pit.
I hope this has given a bit of an insight into packing for a glamping trip in the UK. I'd love to hear what glamping adventures you have planned. Let me know in the comments below.
Happy Glamping!

 

My favourite UK Glamping spots:
Warmwell House Huts
Big Green Bus
Shaldon Beach Hut No. 1
For more on my Glamping adventures in the UK head here:
Glamping in Dorset
All Aboard the Big Green Bus
Beach Hut Living
Unique Places to stay in the UK
For Glamping further afield: The Ultimate Glamping Retreat in Bali

 

 

 

Travel Hammock Review…

Relaxing with a book in my travel hammock
When Cool Hammocks asked me to review their *travel hammock I racked my brains for a good spot to do this. Then I realised that as I live in the New Forest the answer was literally on my doorstep. So with a book and my hammock packed in my rucksack I went in search of a good spot to relax in. I chose Wilverley Inclosure as it’s always a nice place for a walk and a peaceful place for chilling in a hammock….

 

About the hammock:
The travel hammock comes in a variety of colours, blue, camouflage, lime and pink. I chose the blue. It rolls up to a really small size, great if you are packing light for a camping trip and to save on space when travelling. If it gets dirty it can be hand washed and is super lightweight.

 

How it works:
Having not put up a hammock before I was a little concerned as to how I would get on with it. But once I found some trees to attach it to it was really simple. Unroll it and then fasten it with the integrated ropes and hooks. The ropes are fully adjustable so wind them around a tree a few times and then fix with the hooks. That is literally it, fast and simple to use.

 

What I thought:
Having not owned my own hammock before I was really impressed. It was easy to put up and comfortable for relaxing in. I love how small it folds down and will definitely take it on my next camping trip.  It’s the perfect accessory for adventurers, even if you don’t plan to go any further than your back garden! To purchase your own travel hammock head to Cool Hammocks.

 

How to find my perfect hammock spot:
If you are planning a weekend in the New Forest and want to re-create your own chilled hammock vibes then stop at Wilverley Inclosure to find your spot. It’s a ten-minute drive from Brockenhurst and Burley. The Inclosure itself has a nice 2-mile round walk through ancient woodland. When you want to stop, find some trees and hang the hammock at a distance of roughly two thirds the length of the hammock. A hanging height of 6-8ft should do nicely. Finally, pick up your book and don’t forget the beer! Hammocks are permitted for use in the forest as long as they don’t damage the trees or endanger livestock.
To spend more time and explore this beautiful area why not stay over night at a campsite. There are ten in total in the New Forest, the nearest one to Wilverley is Setthorns. In the heart of the forest it’s in a gorgeous, secluded location just right for pitching up a tent and daydreaming in a hammock. Head to Camping in the Forest for more information.

 

*I was gifted my travel hammock in exchange for this review. As ever all opinions are my own.*

 

 

 

My 2018 travel highlights…

I always love reading other bloggers yearly round ups and I always enjoy writing my own. It’s a great way to look back and see all the positives of the year gone, especially if I’m feeling a bit miserable on a cold and rainy day in England! This year I’ve struggled with keeping on top of my blog, I’ve had the work/life/keeping a child alive balance to contend with so writing regular blog posts has been a struggle. Although this might mot sound like a big thing to some, blogging is a huge passion of mine and I’ve made myself feel really guilty for not doing enough of it. But onwards and upwards and into the new year, so I guess my first New Years resolution will be to write more.
I’ve had some amazing opportunities this year from writing for travel companies and working with some very cool brands. I work part-time as cabin crew and have been lucky to explore some fantastic countries. I’ve been to four new destinations this year, Cape Town, Peru, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Read on for my travel round-up of 2018.
January: California and Edinburgh
Matt, Emily and I celebrated the start of the new year up in the air as we flew back from our Christmas trip in California on New Years Eve. We had the loveliest Christmas with family, combined with 10 days exploring the Californian coastline. Starting in San Francisco we embarked on a road trip with Jucy campers. This was Emily’s first experience in a camper van and she loved it. From San Francisco we headed north to Point Reyes National Seashore. It was our first time visiting this part of Marin County and I was blown away by the natural beauty of the area. We stayed right by Tomales Bay, I honestly have never spent time in such a tranquil spot. Waking up to watch the sunrise over the waters edge certainly made jet lag a little bit easier and exploring picturesque spots such as Point Reyes Lighthouse and the Cypress Tree Tunnel were two highlights of our time there. If you’ve not been before I totally recommend visiting. From there the next stop was Monterey, we stayed in the area for three nights. More than originally planned as wild fires shut the campsite we planned to stay at on the beach in Carpinteria. It all worked out fine though and Monterey is a gorgeous spot and has plenty to do with kids. Carmel, the Big Sur, Morro Bay, Santa Monica, Carlsbad and Lake Jennings were all on our hit list too. Read more on our adventures in California here:
Adventures in California with Jucy campers…
Road Tripping with a baby in California…
Back in the UK I got to spend a day in Edinburgh, I love Scotland in the winter. The Royal Mile is a popular tourist designation in Edinburgh, home to Edinburgh Castle and loads of tourist attractions. There are also plenty of coffee shops to keep warm in. Mrs Macintyre’s Coffee House is one of my favourites, views out onto the pavement make it a perfect spot for watching the world go by. The pretty tea cups and saucers add a touch of shabby chic too. I also sampled some Edinburgh gin in a cosy Scottish pub.

 

February: Gloucestershire and Mauritius
A trip to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with friends was a lovely way to start February. We stayed in a log cabin with Forest Holidays. Nestled amongst tall trees, big enough for two families and complete with a hot tub, I can’t recommend it enough. There is so much to explore in the Forest of Dean and plenty of picturesque walks. Biblins Bridge and Symonds Yat Rock were two of my favourites. It snowed while we were there too, it was such a novelty to be sat in the hot tub while watching snow fall down between the trees. I loved getting cosy inside by the log burner in the evenings too. Here’s what I thought of our time there: A log cabin break in the Forest of Dean…
I had a work trip to Mauritius in February, being cabin crew I only had 48 hours to explore but boy did I have some awesome adventures! The first evening was spent on a sunset cruise out of the harbour in Port Louis. It was a great way to get a different view of Port Louis and I loved having a few beers while watching the sun go down. The next day some of the crew and I set off to find hidden waterfalls and to see a bit of the island. The highlights of the day were stopping off at Eau Bleu waterfall, hidden off the side of a road near Curepipe it was an adventure just getting to it. Enclosed footwear is definitely recommended for the steep climb down to it. We were clinging onto tree roots wondering what we had let ourselves in for, but it was totally worth it for the beautiful views! Jumping off of Rochester Falls was an experience I won’t forget, being blessed by a Hindu priest at Grand Bassin and a refreshing dip in the ocean on the beach at Le Morne made the day an incredible one. If you are planning your own adventures in Mauritius here’s what I got up to: Chasing waterfalls and other adventures in Mauritius…
March: South Africa
In March I went to Cape Town for the first time. I had an awesome time there and with only 48 hours I crammed in as much sightseeing as I could. On the first day I explored Cape Point and took in the dramatic views of the coastline from the lighthouse, followed by a trip to Boulders Beach to meet the penguins. I had read so much about Boulders Beach so it was amazing to finally visit it in person. There are around 2,200 African penguins living on the protected beach, it’s such a picturesque place and to see penguins on the beach felt like such a novelty. Lunch at Camps Bay, steak for dinner, a tour of the vineyards in Stellenbosch and taking the cable car to the top of Table Mountain made this one of my most favourite trips of the year and has put Cape Town at the top of my list of my most loved places. For more on Cape Town head here: Things to do in Cape Town for first timers…

 

April: Jamaica and Cornwall
A quick 12 hours in Kingston, Jamaica gave me just enough time to take some photos of the gorgeous views from the air, have a beer before bed and get a spot of sunbathing in before flying home. A 12 hour stop over is often the reality of my job. Sometimes it’s so quick I often don’t get the chance to explore or leave the hotel.
Emily turned two in April so we marked her birthday with a trip to Bude in Cornwall. We stayed at Sandymouth Holiday Park in a static caravan, I have no shame in saying that I love a caravan holiday! It was brand new and with views of the sea was just perfect. We enjoyed blustery walks along the Cornish coast and lunch time beers on our terrace overlooking the sea. It even got warm enough for Emily to play in the outdoor splash zone at the holiday resort. It’s a great spot to head to with kids, there’s a soft play area, a pirate ship play park, an indoor pool, kids activities and  the beach is just down the road.

 

May: Peru
Another first for me in 2018 was a trip to Lima in Peru. I’ve yet to write anything up about my trip to South America but I had the best time. Lima is often overlooked as a must do destination as most be people fly into Lima and head straight to Machu Picchu. But there is so much on offer in the city, from the old town, to the markets and the food; there’s plenty to explore. I loved shopping in the Indian markets in Mira Flores, I came home with a gorgeous alpaca blanket and a few mini llamas for Emily! I explored the wonderful architecture of Lima’s old town, had my first pisco sour and also surfed. There is still so much of Peru I need to see, Cusco and Machu Picchu are at the top of my list along with sand boarding in the dunes at Huacachina…watch this space!
June: Menorca
It’s been years since I’ve been away with my parents so a family holiday to Menorca was so nice. I often feel like I need to go half way around the world but actually our trip to Menorca made me realise how accessible Europe is from the UK. The beaches and weather were amazing and we were there in two hours from London. Emily has got harder to ‘manage’ on an aircraft! Being two she wants to be on the move all the time. Even with new toys and books, there’s something about being on an aircraft that makes her want to investigate all the time rather than just chill out with an iPad in front her! So the shorter the flight the better right now for Matt and I!
Anyway it was the loveliest family holiday, we stayed in a four bedroom villa with a pool overlooking the Mediterranean in Punta Prima. Our ten days consisted of spending time by the pool, building sand castles at the beach, a few evening meals out and barbeques by the pool at our villa. Matt and I hired a car for a day while my parents looked after Emily so we could explore a bit more of the island. We had planned to go kayaking along the coast and explore the caves but due to bad weather the night before the sea conditions were too rough. Instead we spent the day leisurely stopping off at glorious beaches and strolled around quaint white washed towns. We stopped off at Cova D’En Xoroi, a bar in a cave, I discovered this place last year on a press trip in Menorca and knew Matt would love it. It’s a stunning place to watch the sunset and enjoy a glass of prosecco or a pomada. One very adventurous trip saw Matt and I along with my brother Chris and his girlfriend Sarah kayak a mile from the beach at Punta Prima to the tiny island opposite known as Black Lizard Island or Illa de l’Aire. There is nothing on the island apart from a lighthouse and black lizards. It was a brilliant little expedition and fun to walk around an uninhabited island.
July: Toronto
In July I got to tick Toronto off my list of must see places and with only 48 hours there I did a lot. On the first morning I went to Niagara Falls which was incredible. I did it in half a day and managed to squeeze in a boat tour going right up to the falls. I had dinner up above the city at the CN Tower, walked all over the city and got a boat over to Toronto Island. The views of the city skyline from there are beautiful.
August: Dorset and Mauritius
In August I turned 34, writing that makes me feel so old! To celebrate my birthday Matt booked at surprise trip for just the two of us to Dorset. I had no idea what we were staying in until we reached the door. Hidden in the Dorset countryside on the grounds of Warmwell House, amongst woodland and rolling hills was ‘Sika’ the shepherd’s hut. The weather was glorious and the trip was so relaxing. This was my first time staying in a shepherd’s hut and I loved every minute. It had a cosy double bed, a small kitchen area, a table and bench seat and a log burner. There was also a separate bathroom hut which I was really impressed with. Waking up in the morning with a cup of Dorset tea in such a tranquil setting was the perfect way to spend my birthday. We explored the Jurassic coast on a walk in between Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove and cooked under the stars on the fire pit by the hut at night. Glamping has alway been one of my passions and the shepherd’s hut really reminded me why. Check out what we got up to here: Glamping in Dorset
Not long after my birthday I had another work trip to Mauritius. This trip was spent relaxing by the pool, spending a bit of time at the spa with a massage, eating curry and watching the sunset on a boat trip. I often feel like I need to always be on the go and explore all the time but I realised on this trip that sometimes it’s ok just to slow down and also save the pennies a little!
September: Toronto and House buying
September saw me back in Toronto, I had so much planned but the weather was horrendous and it rained for the whole 48 hours I wasthere. I still got to see parts of the city I hadn’t already seen on my first trip though. A highlight was visiting the Distillery District. With its quirky cobbled streets it sits in complete contrast to the rest of the city. Dating back to the 19th century the gorgeous red brick buildings now house art galleries, boutique shops, bars, restaurants, micro breweries and tasting rooms. We stopped at Mill Street Brew Pub for lunch and to try their beers which are brewed on site. I also tried Japanese Sake for the first time at the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company.
Matt and I put an offer in on a house in the New Forest and had it accepted which we are over the moon about, we are hoping to complete in January. It needs some work doing to it so we can’t move in straight away but we are so excited!

 

October: New York, Lymington and a spa break in Winchester
On a quick 12 hours in New York I had brunch in Times Square, did a bit of shopping and visited Grand Central Terminal. I know it’s just a train station but it’s a pretty impressive one! I also discovered the Grand Central food market which I didn’t know existed. I love a local market and this one really impressed me, loads of cheese, fresh meat, coffee, some tasty looking cakes, you name it, it was there!
Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Back in the UK, Matt and I were very lucky to be the first people to stay in ‘The Snug‘ in Lymington. My lovely in-laws have refurbished a two bedroom town house at the top of the High Street in Lymington on the edge of the New Forest. It is a Grade II English Heritage listed building with a beautiful interior. From the open fire-place in the lounge and bedroom to the roll top bath and Belfast sink, it has bags of character and charm. I loved being able to walk down to the quay in Lymington and with the forest a short drive away it’s the perfect spot for a mini break. I’ve written all about it here: Unique Places to Stay in the UK…
I also spent two nights in Winchester on a spa break with my lovely Mum. We got a great deal through Spa Seekers and stayed at Norton Park. The package included three 25 minute spa treatments, use of the swimming pool and leisure facilities, breakfast and dinner for the stay and lunch on one day. Norton Park is set among 54 acres of Hampshire countryside, it was a beautiful spot for relaxing in and such a nice thing to do with my Mum.
November: Fort Lauderdale, Florida and East Sussex
I’ve been to Florida more times than I can remember with work. Orlando and Tampa pop up on my roster most months but normally only as night stop. I’ve never really had much time to explore apart from inside the shopping malls, so I was really excited when a layover in Fort Lauderdale appeared on my roster in November. I worked with a really lovely crew who were all up for going on an adventure. We chose to go on an air boat trip in the Everglades, although after booking it through at the hotel I realised it was the Everglades Holiday Park we were going to and not the Everglades National Park. I loved riding on an air boat, it was an exhilarating experience whizzing through the wetlands. We were lucky to spot three alligators which was a very cool. Although I enjoyed the experience I’m not sure I would recommend the holiday park, I usually research before I book a trip but on this occasion I only looked into it afterwards. Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy buzzing about on the air boat but there were elements I did not enjoy. One was the ‘gator show, I knew this was part of the day so feel guilty that I contributed towards something that I didn’t feel was right. I may be getting myself into deep water by discussing things like this but I want to put my honest opinion out there to you all. I felt really sorry for the alligator who took part in the ‘show’, it clearly didn’t want to be there. I should explain that The Gator Boys who do the show rescue alligators that are found in residential areas, they would otherwise be ‘put down’. The whole thing just didn’t seem that respectful to me and their enclosure seemed pretty small. Perhaps I didn’t get the full picture on how these animals are cared for. Anyway I’m letting you know so you can make your own decision on visiting. Next time I would make a trip to the actual Everglades. Although I’ve moaned on a bit, I did really enjoy aspects of the day especially the air boat.
Back in the UK, Matt, Emily and I enjoyed the loveliest wintery break in Camber Sands. It was our first time exploring the East Sussex and Kent coast and we loved it. We played in the sand dunes on the beach at Camber, strolled the streets and ate cake in the beautiful old English town of Rye and visited Dungeness.
December: The Maldives and Mexico
My second to last trip of the year with work was a trip to the Maldives a few weeks before Christmas and oh my gosh what a trip it was. Two days on an island was absolute paradise. Snorkelling, sunbathing and stunning blue waters was such a treat! My beach bungalow had an outdoor shower which I totally fell in love with, showering while looking up at palm trees and blue skies was such a novelty. My last trip of the year is on New Years Eve, again with work, I’m off to Cancun in Mexico for two nights and will be taking Matt with me. It’s one of the perks of the job to be able to take someone with me. It doesn’t happen often so I’m really looking forward to having him with me while I’m working and I’m very excited to be in Mexico for the start of 2019.
What have been your highlights of the year? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below…
Happy New Year and happy travels for 2019!

Unique places to stay in the UK….

Shaldon Beach Hut No.1 - one of my favourite unique places to stay in the UK

Unique places to stay in the UK

I love exploring my home country and seeking out unique and unusual accommodation is top of my list when I’m researching a trip. Although small the UK has some awesome places to stay. I’m a huge fan of camping and glamping but I also love staying in a classy hotel.  So I thought I would list down my favourite places to stay in the UK and explain what makes them unique. Read on for some inspiration on a staycation with a difference…

 

The Big Green Bus, East Sussex

This awesome bus needs no introduction on what makes it unique.  Matt and I stayed on the bus for my 30th birthday with friends, we had the best time!  Parked up in the Sussex countryside the Big Green Bus has been converted into a cosy retreat.  It sleeps six, with two double beds and bunk beds upstairs, has a fully-fitted kitchen, bathroom, lounge area and an outdoor heated shower (there’s also a shower inside.) The lounge has a log burner and there are all sorts of original bus fittings. Upstairs the front area is decked out with original seats and a collection of books; it was the perfect place to chill out with a glass of prosecco or two.  Outside there is a campfire and a wood fired hot tub for hire. This has to be one of the most unique places to stay in the UK!  Read more on my glamping trip on the bus here: All aboard the Big Green Bus: glamping in East Sussex.

 

 

Shaldon Beach Hut No. 1

I loved staying in this dreamy little beach hut.  Nestled on the shoreline of the Teign Estuary in Shaldon with direct access to the beach it is the prefect retreat from the world.  The beach hut is compact as you would expect but it is perfectly formed.  Inside is a galley kitchen, bathroom, lounge with a sofa bed, under floor heating and a lovely mezzanine level with a comfy mattress.  Bi-folding doors open out onto a private terrace overlooking the beach and steps leading onto the sand.  On a sunny day it’s a beautiful spot to sit, read and watch the world go by.  Shaldon is a tiny village in Devon full of west country charm.  There’s plenty to explore and gorgeous beaches too.  I wrote a post all about it: Beach Hut Living…

 

 

Hollies Cottage, Cheddar

This cottage in Somerset has to be one of the cosiest places I’ve stayed in on my list of unique places to stay in the UK. Matt, Emily and I had a lovely long weekend in Cheddar, Somerset for New Years Eve in 2016.  This quaint cottage had an open fire in the lounge and a spiral staircase leading up to the bedroom.  Drinking champagne by the fire on New Years Eve while watching fireworks out of the window at midnight was a lovely way to see in the New Year.  The cottage location is fantastic, it was very quiet but just what we wanted.  Along the road from the cottage sits The Cider Barn, full of west country cider and lovely locals.  Cheddar Gorge and caves is a 10 minute drive along the road and the gorgeous beaches of Weston-super-Mare only a 40 minute drive.

 

 

White House Cottage, Port Isaac

I have never stayed anywhere like Port Isaac, the picture perfect Cornish village is like no other.  Made famous by the popular TV series Doc Martin, it can get very busy during the summer months.  But during the winter months it’s a quiet and tranquil place to stay.  There is no parking in Port Isaac itself so you have to park on the outskirts and take a short walk down into the village.  We stayed in White House Cottage a few steps away from ‘Doc Martin’s House’ on Roscarrock Hill.  There is no parking with the house so it was a bit of trek to the car park but when you have views as lovely as in Port Isaac it really doesn’t matter.  White House Cottage had beautiful views of the harbour and Port Isaac itself from its elevated position on the hill. Turn left out of the house and follow the narrow road up onto the South West Coast Path, beautiful views and stunning walks are literally on the doorstep.  Port Isaac itself has some gorgeous shops, cosy pubs and cafes to buy an obligatory Cornish pasty or cream tea.  Tiny alleyways and quaint fishing houses all add to the charm of this stunning Cornish retreat.  For more on what to do in and around Port Isaac click here: Port Isaac, the ultimate Cornish Retreat…

 

 

Hotel du Vin, Poole

Boutique hotels with unique rooms are what a stay at Hotel du Vin are all about.  Matt and I stayed in the Poole hotel for his birthday, it was a gorgeous mini-break.  Our room was so stylish and featured a roll top bath in the centre of the room.  I loved the attention to detail and the way the room was in keeping with the building which dates back to 1776.  On the quayside in Poole Harbour it’s in a fantastic location for exploring this lovely area of the south coast.  Hop on a ferry to Brownsea Island or visit the upmarket area of Sandbanks. Hotel du Vin often have some great deals, we reserved a room which included dinner and breakfast.  The evening meal was so delicious and a sommelier to help pair our wine with our meal was a very nice touch.  A weekend in Poole, Dorset has all the details of our dreamy weekend escape.

 

 

A campervan

If you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll know I love a road trip, especially if it’s in a campervan.  Matt and I used to own a Mazda Bongo campervan and had some awesome adventures.  We went to Scotland, Wales, Dorset and spent a lot of time in Devon and Cornwall camping in some beautiful places.  We also camped closer to home on the beach on Hayling Island once and drank rum and coke until the early hours!  I loved having a campervan, having the freedom to go where you want, park up in a beach car park and have a cuppa while doing a surf check and having a few beers in the evening by a fire pit…there’s nothing better!  One of my all time favourites to camp at is Incledon Farm.  Being a working farm you often find a chicken or farm cat strolling by your van or tent.  Incledon Farm is in a tiny place called Georgham, just along the road from Croyde in Devon.  It’s a short drive to all the nearby surfing spots and a lovely spot for camping. As far as unique places to stay in the UK goes a campervan is at the top of my list. It is perfect for a staycation with a difference, choose where and when you stop and explore the open road.  If you are planning a road trip in the south west  The Cornwall Camper Company have some awesome vintage VW campers available to hire.

 

 

Beach Retreat, Milford on Sea

Owned by my parents the Beach Retreat started life as a garage, my Mum and Dad have turned it into a stunning one bedroom apartment.  Light, airy and full of seaside charm they have done a wonderful job and created a perfect little place for two to relax by the sea.  It has its own private entrance and parking and comes with a lovely little welcome pack of coffee,tea, milk, scones and jam.  Located a short walk from the seafront in Milford on Sea and a 10 minute walk to the village centre it’s a fantastic place for a break on the outskirts of the New Forest.

 

 

The Snug, Lymington

The Snug can be found in the old market town of Lymington on the edge of the New Forest. It is a cosy, boutique townhouse which has been lovingly restored and really lives up to its name. Full of character from the Belfast sink in the kitchen to the fireplace in the lounge, it’s a luxurious little bolthole for up to four people. The bathroom is an Instagrammers dream with a roll top bath and metro tiles, it has been finished to perfection.  All the small details have been thought of too, the gorgeous New Forest Aromatics products all produced locally add the finishing touch to the bathroom and the welcome pack full of local goodies is such a treat! A stones throw from the High Street, the cobbles and the quay the location couldn’t be better.

 

 

Have you stayed anywhere unusual in the UK? If so, let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking for somewhere unique to stay….

Cool Campsites on the East Coast of Australia…

Cooking a chilli on the camp fire

Discovering cool campsites on the East Coast of Australia

From Sydney to Cairns the east coast of Australia is made for a road trip, with endless beauty from the ocean to the rainforest there’s so much to explore. Hire a campervan or car, pack up a tent and go on an adventure down under. There are some very cool campsites on Australia’s east coast, from pitches with beach views, to dreamy spots surrounded by nothing but rainforest. It’s such a fantastic way to experience Australia. I went on a road trip from Sydney to Cairns a few years ago in a campervan with Matt, we covered 1633 miles in 3 weeks. There were a few very long days of driving, sometimes 8 or 9 hours but it was always worth it for the for the adventures we had and the cool campsites we stayed at. Driving is such a great way to see the ever-changing landscape and climate as you go up or down the coast and having the freedom to decide where and when you want to stop is fantastic.

Most of the campgrounds we stopped at we only booked the day we arrived or we just turned up and inquired if they had space.  In high season it’s probably best to book in advance as pitches can get fully booked months beforehand. National park campgrounds are often cheaper than privately owned ones and often need to be booked before you arrive. They will have limited facilities but are an amazing way to experience the great outdoors; proper camping if you will. It is necessary to take all your own equipment including water and food to these campgrounds as there will not be anywhere to purchase anything nearby.  If you are planning a road trip on Australia’s east coast read on for my favourite campsites from Sydney to Cairns…

 

My favourite campsites on Australia’s East Coast:  

Euroka Campground, Blue Mountains National Park

The Blue Mountains area is a beautiful place to camp and Euroka campground is the perfect base.  Found along an unpaved road amongst the bush this spot is popular with cockatoos and kangaroos.  Facilities are basic with pit toilets and no showers.  Sites are unpowered and unmarked which gives the campground a natural feel and there are fire pits for cooking.  Bring water with you as there is none available at Euroka. It’s a tent only campground and is a popular one, so book before you go.  From Euroka walk to Nepean River and enjoy being in the Australian outback.  Visit Katoomba for a coffee and Echo Point Lookout for a fantastic view of the famous Three Sisters.  There is a cable car and scenic railway to really make the most of the incredible views here.  Wentworth Falls is an awesome place to stop for a hike and take photos of the gorgeous waterfall.

 
 

Racecourse Campground, Goolawah National Park

Set behind the sand dunes of Goolawah Beach, Racecourse is a relatively small campground with only 20 sites. I loved watching the sunset on the gorgeous beach and waking up to the sounds of the ocean. Be sure to go well equipped to this spot as it is fairly remote, but magical! Matt and I woke up very early one morning to watch the sunrise over the ocean. We parked up a short drive from Racecourse campsite on Point Plomer Road to cook breakfast. There were kangaroos in the field behind us and dolphins jumping in the ocean in front of us. It was an awesome spot for breakfast!

 

 

Trial Bay Gaol Campground

This is an incredible spot for camping, set on a peninsula in Arakoon National Park.  The ocean is right on the edge of the campsite and has some water front pitches. The facilities are top-notch with toilet and shower blocks, its worth noting that the showers are coin operated.  Trial Bay is a fantastic spot to see whales on their annual migration north in the winter and in spring on their way back south.  We saw whales during our stay here which was totally unexpected and an amazing experience. We also had kangaroos pass us by in the evenings while we were barbecuing.  If you love the beach and the outdoors then this cool campground is totally for you.

 

Calypso Holiday Park, Yamba

Yamba holds some really memorable moments on our road trip.  A small town with a fishing harbour and cool surfy vibes.  It was one of my favourite stops, so much so that we ended up staying an extra night.  Calypso Holiday Park has pitches and cabins right on Clarence River, a gorgeous relaxing spot with fantastic sunset views.  The town and beaches are all within walking distance and the YHA does a great breakfast.  Take the short drive to Angourie, the beach there is a National Surfing Reserve.  Stop by the Blue Pools for a dip or leap in from the cliff edge.

 

Black Rocks Campground, Ten Mile Beach, Bundjalung National Park

It took around 45 minutes to drive along a very bumpy gravel track surrounded by dense woodland to reach Black Rocks. This place put me on the edge of my camping comfort zone for sure! It is one of the remotest places I have ever stayed and most definitely ‘wild’ camping, I loved it.

Set behind the sand dunes of the stunning and untamed Ten Mile Beach the pitches are very private. Separated by woodland it felt like we were the only people there, apart from the faint murmur of voices somewhere in the distance.  Black Rocks is an incredible place to explore, there’s Jerusalem Creek for fishing, the coastline and miles of undisturbed bush behind the dunes.  Each drive in pitch comes with a bench and fire pit, the facilities are basic with only pit toilets and no showers. Be sure to arrive fully equipped and self-sufficient and take enough water for the duration of your stay.  I loved that there was no light pollution, the starry skies were out of this world and in the van at night you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face.  We got freaked out one evening in the dark too; as we were sat in our van having a few drinks we could hear a lot of rustling and something circling the camper…after a long time we spotted a possum by torchlight.  Not so scary after all, but slightly creepy in the dark, in the middle of nowhere!  This is a very cool campsite on the east coast and hands down one of my favourites of our whole three weeks in Australia.  If you like having your own adventures in complete remoteness then this is the campground for you.

 

Broken Head Holiday Park, near Byron Bay

This beach campground has awesome views of Broken Head Beach, a short stroll away.  It is around 7 kilometres from Byron Bay so it’s a nice distance to escape the crowds in high season.  Spacious pitches, not too close to fellow campers, a camp kitchen and BBQ area plus a camp kiosk mean it has everything you need.  The campsite is a short drive from Suffolk Park a lovely small town with a bakery, fuel station and convenience stores.  We couldn’t find a campsite with free pitches in Byron so this little gem popped up at the right time.  Byron is world-famous for its surf scene and the beaches are beautiful but it can get very busy so Broken Head is a great spot for a bit of tranquility.  We spotted dolphins in the surf here while swimming in the sea and said hello to some huge lizards near our van.

 

 

Noosa River Holiday Park

It doesn’t get more scenic than Noosa River Holiday Park.  Wake up to pelicans bobbing along on the river right in front of your van or tent and enjoy a barbecue with a glass of wine in the well equipped camp kitchen as the sunsets.  It is in the most perfect spot only a few steps from the sandy shoreline.  I’ve stayed in this campground a few times now, even if it is full the staff will do their best to accommodate you.  Matt and I once parked up in the overflow car park for the night among boats and trailers; we could still see the river from our spot!  The town, Hastings Street and Gympie Terrace are all within walking distance.  While you are in the area make sure you take a trip to Noosa National Park, it’s a stunning walk along miles of beautiful coastline.  Hire a paddle board and explore the river too, there are some interesting mangroves a short paddle across the river.  Go inland here to see the incredible Glass House Mountains and to visit the markets at Eumundi.

 

Ferns Hideaway Resort, Byfield

This is most definitely a hideaway. Found in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rainforest, friendly wallabies and fruit bats. Camping at Ferns Hideaway comes with complimentary use of kayaks to explore the stretch of privately owned creek. Matt and I absolutely loved paddling along the creek and exploring this hidden spot. Pitches aren’t marked out, you chose where you would like to park up. It is a lovely, small site with with a camp kitchen, clean shower facilities and welcoming owners. There is also a swimming pool and restaurant on site along with a handful of log cabins. If you are looking for a unique campground on the east coast of Australia then Ferns Hideaway is it.

 

 

Big4 Whitsundays Tropical Eco Resort, Airlie Beach

I loved the laid back vibes of Airlie Beach, we stopped here to go on a Whitsunday Islands boat trip.  The pitch we stayed on at this Big4 site was partly shaded by tropical plants, perfect for keeping the van cool.  A camp kitchen with two fridges and gas barbecues, plus a playground, swimming pool and clean facilities make this a great spot.  A trip to the Whitsunday Islands is a must when on the east coast of Australia.  Whitehaven Beach is a well-known beauty spot on Whitsunday Island, pure white sand and sparkling turquoise ocean make it a picture perfect paradise.  Book onto a day trip or jump aboard a sailing boat for a longer trip on the water.

 

Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village

This campground is very convenient for the beach which is just over the road and my gosh what a stunning beach it is. Miles and miles of golden sand backed by palm trees, it is a breathtaking spot. We stayed at Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village for less than 24 hours but had a really nice time. The facilities are well-kept and there is a swimming pool and camp kitchen.  Mission Beach is popular for sky diving, trips to Dunk Island and exploring waterfalls. Around 40 minutes north of Mission Beach is the gorgeous Etty Bay, it’s a small, secluded beach with a café and a caravan park with cabins, powered sites and tent pitches. We went in search of the cassowary, a shy bird known to live in the area.  Sightings are rare, so to see one on the beach would be fantastic; unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to find one when we were there.

 

 

NRMA Cairns Holiday Park

This campsite wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, everywhere was full so from what I can remember it was one of our only options. It was pretty packed and pitches were quite close together, but the facilities were clean and it had a great camp kitchen and a pool. It also had a little veggie garden which you could help yourself to, a nice little touch. Cairns is the place to be to see the Great Barrier Reef. I will never forget catching a glimpse of it for the first time; crystal clear waters and colourful corals. Snorkelling above the reef and spotting a turtle was an incredible experience.

 

Once you’ve found and booked your campsites on the east coast of Australia, head to my post: Planning a Road Trip on the East Coast of Australia for tips on what to pack and what to expect on your adventure. 

If you have time check out this short video of my first road trip down under: Three weeks in three and a half minutes.  

If you are looking for ideas on things to do in Sydney I’ve got a post all about it here: Five things to do in Sydney.  

For whale watching here’s the lowdown on an amazing day trip: Whale watching in Australia.

 

Glamping in Dorset…

Our stay in a Shepherd’s Hut near the Jurassic Coast:

I love a spot of glamping so when Matt surprised me with a birthday trip to Dorset I was so excited.  Even as we pulled up to the very grand Warmwell House I had no idea where we were going to be staying. Serena greeted us, we grabbed our bags and followed her through the beautiful grounds to our home for the next two nights.  A clearing in the woodland revealed ‘Sika’ the shepherds hut. Serena was so welcoming, she gave us a tour and invited us to explore the gardens and maze. She also suggested a visit to the kitchen garden where we could help ourselves to vegetables. Such a lovely little touch.  Glamping in Dorset was going to be a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday.

 

 

The Shepherd’s Hut:

Our two night stay did not disappoint. The hut came with everything we needed and every little detail had been taken care of.  At one end was the cosy double bed with plenty of storage underneath and a very neat table with built-in bench seats. At the other end was the kitchen with everything you could need for a glamping escape. This included a sink, hob, crockery, cutlery, biscuits and some Dorset tea. The log burner completed the coziness of the hut and we loved cooking dinner on the fire pit under the stars.  Behind the hut was a large cool box, logs and bins. Sika has a separate bathroom hut with a huge shower and one of the best composting toilets I have ever used. Matt said his main concern when booking somewhere was the toilet. He knows I’m a little bit fussy with these things after some of the horrendous long drop toilets we experienced when camping in Australia! But I was pleasantly surprised with this luxurious little bathroom and its cleanliness. If this is something that worries you, don’t be put off as Warmwell House has got it covered in a very clean and hygienic way! The setting is beautiful and although very close to all of Dorset’s main attractions it felt secluded from the world, very private and peaceful.

Things to do in Dorset:

Warmwell is a short drive from the beautiful Jurassic coast so over the two days we explored Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. We walked along the steep coastal path in-between the two, taking in the beautiful views and stopping for a much earned pub lunch and cider at the Lulworth Cove Inn.  In the afternoons we indulged in the art of doing nothing and relaxed at the hut. Reading and soaking up the afternoon sun with a celebratory glass of champagne and two gorgeous evenings by the fire pit. It was the perfect birthday treat.

Dorset is fantastic for walking and hiking and my favourite thing to do is to combine this with pub stops! The walk from the picturesque village of Worth Matravers to Winspit Quarry on the coast is a fun one. The disused quarry is right on the cliff and the views out to see are gorgeous. Don’t miss the Square and Compass pub, apart from alcohol the only food on the menu is pies and pasties. There’s a quirky fossil museum inside too. It’s a great stop after a long walk. Komoot has a list of their top 10 best walks around Worth Matravers, worth checking out for planning adventures.

Durdle Door is another famous beauty spot on the Jurassic Coast, it’s a steep walk down to the beach but the views are beautiful.

For something a little different, head to Sculpture by the Lakes an outdoor art venue set in 26 acres of Dorset countrside.

‘Sika’ is charming, cosy, shabby chic and luxurious all at the same time.  If you are looking for a glamping retreat in Dorset that ticks all the boxes then this is it and having the Jurassic Coast on the doorstep is simply wonderful.

For more glamping inspiration take a look at my other posts on unique places to stay: 

All aboard the Big Green Bus: The Ultimate Glamping Retreat

Beach Hut Living

Unique Places to stay in the UK

What are your favourite glamping spots? Do you have any recommendations for glamping spots in Dorset? I’m always looking for recommendations on unusual places to stay so let me know in the comments below.

 

 

A Log Cabin Break in the Forest of Dean…

A luxurious log cabin in the woods:

I’ve just got home from a four night break with Forest Holidays in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.  We stayed in a luxurious log cabin with its own private hot tub nestled amongst woodland.  The weather was perfect for cabin living, bright crisp, chilly mornings and some snow which made a dip in the hot tub even more fun.  There was nothing but the rustling of leaves, birds tweeting and squirrels foraging in the undergrowth.  It was so peaceful.  Matt, Emily and I stayed with our friends Sam and Graham and Emily’s best baby buddy Heidi.  Set over two floors our log cabin had four rooms, two doubles, one with an en suite and two twin rooms.  We packed our own travel cots for the girls who had a room each.  The cabin also had two family sized bathrooms, this meant there was ample room for us all to spread out.  A spacious lounge with log burner and a floor to ceiling window overlooking the hot tub was a gorgeous place to relax.  Plus a kitchen kitted out with everything imaginable for self catering made our stay a very comfortable one.  Our log cabin also had an outdoor decked area with table, chairs and barbecue.  We spent our days exploring the local area, followed by a soak in the hot tub and cosy evenings playing scrabble in front of the fire.  The Forest Retreat, a café/bar area, reception and a small shop was a short stroll through the woods and across the meadow.

 

 

What I liked about Forest Holidays:

  • Someone checked the water quality and cleaned our hot tub everyday.  A rubber duck was placed on top of the cover to let us know it was ready to use.
  • The hot tub water is changed before each new arrival.
  • The Forest Retreat was perfect for buying take away drinks, fresh bread and supplies.  We also bought wood here for the log burner.
  • We loved ordering ‘room service’ to our cabin through the menu on the tv.
  • A small kitchen starter pack containing bin bags, a sponge and enough dishwasher tablets for the duration of our stay was a nice touch.
  • Ample towels were provided along with some for the hot tub.
  • We had stair gates for our little ones.
  • I loved the underfloor heating!
  • Choosing dates in between school holidays and being low season meant we got a great deal.  Check out Forest Holidays for prices and locations.

 

What I didn’t like:

  • The table in the kitchen was too large, it was a struggle to move around if more than one person was in the kitchen at same time.
  • The stair gate wasn’t great.  Although it was fixed in place for us, it ended up coming loose and unsafe so we took in down.  This is probably something we should have mentioned at check out.
  • Check-in is at 4pm, for an early check-in from 2pm we had to pay £35.  I thought this was a little on the steep side.
  • There was no ice-cube tray…sounds like a minor issue but ice is very important for a G&T!  We got creative and filled egg cups with water.  But for such a well equipped kitchen it is something I would have expected to find.

 

Things to do in the area:

This was my first visit to the Forest of Dean, I hadn’t realised there was so much see and do.  From caves to waterfalls and hundreds of hiking trails I definitely need to go back to explore more.  Beechenhurst has a café, children’s play area, a sculpture trail, climbing tower and Tree Top Junior.  The café does a delicious sausage baguette and cup of tea too.  Symonds Yat Rock is a must visit, the viewpoint is set high up above the River Wye and has gorgeous views.  Biblins Bridge is fun to cross, the rope style suspension bridge is set over the River Wye.  Only 6 people are allowed to cross over on it at once.  I must admit I wasn’t overly sure about crossing over, but it turned out to be fun!  It’s an adventure in itself getting to the bridge, start at Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint and walk down into the valley.  The walk is sign posted and is around 2.8 miles.  Jump on the little ferry by the Saracens Head, but double-check it’s running before commencing the walk as I don’t think it operates all year round.  Once the other side of the river head for Biblins campsite.  For more detail on this walk click here: Symonds Yat Rock to Biblins.  We were unable to do the walk as we hadn’t bought our rucksack carrier for Emily, but we had a lot of fun trying to find it in the car.  Unable to pinpoint an exact location on google map, I did some research and discovered we could get to the bridge through Biblins Campsite.  We drove for a few miles along some very tiny lanes and eventually picked up signs for the campsite.  We parked up and walked down a very steep track in the woods for around a mile until reaching the bottom of the valley and the bridge.  Matt and I underestimated how steep the walk back up would be, a screaming, over tired Emily and two very sweaty parents pushing a buggy for a mile uphill was not a pretty sight! I found a great blog post from Family Days Tried and Tested about their Biblins Bridge adventure, they have some great images of their day out. If you have time it is worth driving over the border into Wales.  We visited Brecon and absolutely loved the views of snowy mountainsides and driving on roads with not a soul around.  If you are looking for a good soft play by the way there’s a fab one just before Brecon called The Play Barn.

 

Adventures in California with Jucy Campers…

*Thanks to Jucy for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible.  Find out more at Jucy USA and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.

 

I LOVE a road trip; since Matt and I sold our campervan we’ve not had much of chance to go on van adventures. So when the opportunity popped up to plan a road trip with Jucy Campers in California we jumped at the chance.  This was our first road trip with Emily who is 21 months old, so we wanted to make sure we did it right.  The Jucy Trailblazer was the perfect size to accommodate the three of us without feeling too big.  At night, Emily slept in the main part of the van with me, while Matt slept in the penthouse. We hired a car seat from Jucy as ours did not make it out on our flight from London, it cost a very reasonable $40. We found it took a bit more organisation to camp with Emily than we had been previously used to when it was just us; but we soon got into the swing of things. Emily loved hiding up in the penthouse and really enjoyed the freedom of exploring the campgrounds we stayed at.  I love Jucy’s vans, you can’t miss the green and purple branding, it’s a real head turner. We got asked about our van by passers-by a lot, it seems it is quite an uncommon thing to see a small campervan in America. Big RVs with pop out sides towing cars are a very popular choices and made our Jucy van look like a baby in comparison! One huge positive of having a smaller vehicle is that it is perfect for navigating the small and winding national park roads as well as being able to fit into any campground or parking space you like. It might be compact but that doesn’t mean there is no space in these eye-catching beauties. Let me tell you more….
The Trailblazer sleeps four, the roof pops up to form ‘the penthouse’ and inside there is a very comfy double bed. A ladder attaches to the outside of the van for very easy access and it all zips up tight making it very cosy at night. I loved waking up in the morning, unzipping and admiring the view. If there is only two of you then sleeping up top means you can leave the rest of the van set up for ‘day use’. Downstairs the van has two bench seats with a fantastic amount of storage underneath and a table which can be stowed away too. The kitchen is in the boot and comes equipped with everything you need. Storage cupboards, two gas stoves, a chiller and a sink. Pots, pans, crockery cutlery and a bottle opener are all included. As is a duvet, pillows, blanket and towels, this is a great bonus as I’ve found in the past that this is something that not all hire companies provide free of charge.
For more tips and tricks on camping with little ones check out my blog post all about it: Road Tripping with a Baby in California.  Read on for planning, packing, the route and our favourite spots…

 

Planning a road trip in California
First things first choose a rough route, you can book campgrounds before you go or if you prefer just rock up and see if there are spaces available. During peak seasons I would definitely recommend pre-booking campgrounds as popular ones often get reserved months in advance.  Reserve California is brilliant for booking national park and state beach campgrounds.  Search in the area you want to stay in and it’ll show you all the nearby campgrounds, it has an interactive map too.  Visit California is a great website for planning and researching your road trip in California.
It’s always a good idea to check driving rules and regulations in the country you are visiting. In America they drive on the right hand side of the road and you can turn right on a red light. Also check tolls, these can be paid for online.  If you are planning on driving over the Golden Gate Bridge make sure you pay for the toll using this website: goldengate.org
I always choose campgrounds with pitches that have a fire pit, there’s nothing like cooking on a fire by the beach or keep warming on chillier nights while stargazing.
There are often ‘camp hosts’ at campgrounds, they live on site and are there to help. You can usually purchase firewood from them for your campfire too. A lot of pitches in national park and state beach campgrounds come with benches and fire pits.
I find buying all your essentials once you’ve picked up your camper is a really good idea.  Head to a supermarket for all your food supplies and firewood.  That way you know you have everything you need for your road trip without having to worry about stopping later on in your journey.
It’s a good idea to buy water and keep a supply with you as national park and state beach campgrounds don’t always have drinking water.
Be sure to fuel up well in advance of getting low. Sometimes fuel stations can be few and far between, especially in more remotes spots such as Point Reyes National Seashore.
Our Route:
Starting in Marin County we picked up our van in Oakland and dropped it off in LA.  Both collection and drop off was really straight forward.  From Oakland we drove north to Point Reyes and worked our way down the coast towards San Diego, covering over 1000 miles in 7 days. *The route we chose had to be adapted slightly due to the wildfires in California and because of part of the Big Sur being closed after a land slide last
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.
 
Point Reyes National Seashore
After picking up our camper in Oakland we headed up north to Point Reyes National Seashore and stayed in an area called Inverness. This part of California is unlike any other I’ve been to before and reminded me of the Scottish Highlands; I guess quite fitting with the name Inverness too. Inverness felt like something out of Dawson’s Creek, dreamy sunrises over water inlets with rickety old wooden piers and rolling hills in the distance. It was so very tranquil, the days were sunny, if a little chilly and in the evenings all you needed was a jacket, beanie hat and campfire to warm up. Don’t miss the Cypress Tree Tunnel, it’s a very popular spot for photos and produces a very Instagrammable image! Point Reyes Lighthouse is also a must visit, the 308 steps are well worth the climb down and back up again. The views of nothing but uninterrupted ocean are out of this world. During whale season it is the perfect place to sit and stare out to sea on the lookout for these majestic creatures.  At certain times of the day the lighthouse is open so you can have a look inside and learn a bit about its history.
The walk up to the lighthouse has incredible views of the rugged coastline, even on a foggy day you can’t not be impressed by the untouched beauty of this place. A short drive from the lighthouse near Chimney Rock elephant seals lazily snooze on the shoreline. This was on our itinerary but we completely forgot to stop there, so make sure you do!
I’d definitely wear layers on a trip here, the day started off warm but quickly changed to fog and drizzle.  We warmed up after climbing back up from the lighthouse but quickly chilled down again.
Monterey
On the way to Monterey we chose our route so we would get to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, It was such an awesome experience to drive over this iconic structure.  We of course found somewhere to stop for photos too.  There are viewpoints either side of the bridge, we stopped at Fort Baker.  Check out Seven Places to Gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge for more locations.
Monterey is a gorgeous seaside town famous for sea lions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. Take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf and say hello to the sea lions, spend half a day exploring the aquarium and grab some lunch on Cannery Row. The waterfront street was once home to sardine canning factories and has kept much of its old industrial charm. I loved the aquarium and taking photos on Cannery Row, although a little touristy it was nice to soak up the atmosphere.
The Big Sur
This part of Highway 1 is undeniably one of the most stunning drives I have ever done. Rugged coastline, turquoise ocean and miles of open road. This stretch of the drive is pretty remote, forest on one side and coast on the other. *It’s worth noting that part of it is currently closed due to a landslide in 2017. But don’t let this stop you from planning an adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway, it can still be done. Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls are both beautiful must sees, the whole route is just so scenic and a photographers paradise. Plaskett Creek Campground opposite Sand Dollar Beach is a wonderful camping spot. Pitches come with a bench and fire pit. The campground has basic facilities with no showers but it’s worth it to be able to wake up to amazing views and complete silence. There are a whole host of campgrounds and lodges to stop the night at as well as eateries, we loved Big Sur Roadhouse.
If you are driving from the north you can still explore a lot of it and visit the famous natural landmarks dotted along the route. It is currently closed at Ragged Point. Either turn back on yourself or take a detour along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road back onto Highway 101, although the latter may not be the safest route to choose. The road is narrow and winds up through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. The views are stunning but it is often only wide enough for one car and with a sheer drop off the edge of the road it is definitely not a route for larger vehicles or the faint hearted! We chose to drive back on ourselves and pick up Highway 1 at Monterey.  Check this website for updates on the road closures along the Big Sur: bigsurcalifornia.org
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.

Carmel by the Sea
We briefly stopped in Carmel en route to Morro Bay. I adored this up-market seaside town, full of quirky side streets and oldy worldy homes. Clint Eastwood was once the mayor of Carmel, he also used to own the Hog’s Breath Inn, a quirky pub in the town. Don’t miss Carmel Bakery, they make delicious sandwiches and the array of cakes and sweet treats inside are to die for!
Morro Bay
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Morro Bay as we arrived late afternoon and left early the following morning. We camped at Morro Strand State Beach Campground, overlooking the beach and Morro Rock; it’s a lovely spot. I loved getting cosy by the campfire while watching the waves roll in and waking up to the sounds of the ocean. Being able to step straight onto the beach was awesome and Emily loved hunting for sand dollars.
Carlsbad, Encinitas and Cardiff by the Sea
We spent a lot of time in the Carlsbad area as we stayed with family for Christmas while we were on our road trip. I adore the surfy town of Encinitas, every other person is a surfer and there is a brewpub on every corner. Our favourite was Bier Garden, Baja fish tacos with a beer here while watching the world go by was a real treat! Cardiff has beautiful beaches, the famous Los Olas Mexican restaurant and a campground on a bluff overlooking the ocean.  Carlsbad is a great spot for stand up paddle boarding. We picked up boards at Sun Diego surf shop, first time rental is just $2 for a board and wetsuit. It’s two blocks to the beach so you might need a couple of rest stops on the way but it’s well worth it. We spotted dolphins and seals while on our paddle boards which was amazing to see!
Lake Jennings
The campground at Lake Jennings is another of my favourites, overlooking the lake it’s a peaceful spot with gorgeous views. Around 30 minutes drive east of San Diego the lake is a great base for exploring the city. Reserve a pitch overlooking the water, get the campfire going and relax with a beer in hand.

Packing essentials for camping:
Tea bags: Always at the top of my list for camping, you can’t beat a proper British cuppa!
Torch, tea lights and fairy lights: It’s handy to have a torch to light up your camp at night or to get to the toilets when it’s pitch black. Tea lights and fairy lights are of course optional, but I love making the van and our bench look a bit shabby chic and cosy in the evenings.
Anti-bac hand wipes: Good for cleaning the ‘kitchen surfaces’ and for your hands when cooking. Also a good cheat instead of washing up!
Zip lock bags: Handy for storing open food and keeping your van tidy.
Portable charger: Good for charging your phone, although the Jucy vans have USB ports so you can easily charge on the road.
Although there is ample storage I’d definitely recommend packing as lightly as you can. A lot of privately owned campgrounds often have washing facilities so there is the option to do laundry on the road.

 

There’s nothing like a road trip in a campervan. Having the freedom to go where you like and when you want is the best. Plus being able to stop at anytime along the way with all the essentials in the back is an awesome way to have an adventure. California was made for road trips and Jucy vans are made for exploring!

 

 

Road Tripping with a Baby in California….

*Thanks to JUCY campers for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible.  Find out more at www.jucyusa.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.

 

Roadtripping with a baby in California…in a campervan. It might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you plan it right it’s the best way to explore and a fantastic way for kids to enjoy the outdoors.  We’ve done a lot of road trips over the years; our last one with JUCY was back in 2013 in Australia and New Zealand. This trip was a bit different as we now have Emily who is 20 months old. Planning involved choosing shorter drives with more stops and campgrounds with good facilities.  We chose to hire a campervan with JUCY as we had used them before and loved the compact size of their vans.
One thing that I love about JUCY is that they provide everything you could possibly need to camp very comfortably. Pillows, duvets, bed linen and towels are all included as is kitchen utensils, crockery, cutlery and the kitchen sink. Not all camper companies provide all of this. For an extra charge you can hire camping chairs, sat nav, car seats and add-on mileage packages.
The trip didn’t get off to a great start, after landing in San Francisco I received a text from our airline to say our car seat hadn’t made it on our flight. Not good for a road trip! After the initial stress we hatched a plan, rather than wait for it to arrive which would ruin the beginning of our adventure we chose to hire one with JUCY. We found a taxi company who provided car seats to get us to the Jucy branch in Oakland and on arrival explained our problem. The lovely JUCY crew were so accommodating and had so many seats to choose from. At $40 for our whole 19-day trip it was a bargain.
The JUCY Trailblazer Van:
So let me tell you more about our van. We hired the JUCY Trailblazer, its compact size is perfect for winding national park roads and means you can park up anywhere and fit into pretty much any campground you fancy. This seems to be quite a unique concept for America as it’s all about the huge RVs that are the size of buses! We loved the size of this van, it was comfortable to drive and didn’t feel too big. The Trailblazer sleeps four, two in the roof and two in the main part of the camper. Inside the two bench seats convert into a bed and in the floor there is tons of storage space plus a table for use inside the van. The roof pops up with the turn of a handle or with the push of a button and reveals the comfiest double bed with canvas sides. The kitchen is at the back in the boot and comes complete with cupboard space, a chiller, sink and two gas stoves. There is everything you need from cutlery, to pots and pans, crockery and most importantly a kettle for a cuppa and a bottle opener for beer! I should mention the campers also come with DVD players.  Emily and I slept in the main part of the van while Matt had the roof ‘penthouse’ all to himself. This set up worked well and it meant that there was plenty of space for Emily to move around in her sleep!

Useful tips and tricks:
Pick up your van and head straight to a supermarket to stock up on essentials, food, water, baby food, alcohol, (definitely an essential when camping with a toddler!) etc. We found this really useful to do before we set off, that way we knew we had all our supplies with us.
Hire a car seat or take your own, if we hadn’t needed ours for the car journey to and from the airport in the UK I would definitely have just hired it through Jucy.
Be sure to have a good supply of water with you as a lot of campgrounds, especially national park ones don’t have water on site. There are no on site stores either so it’s a good idea to take everything you’ll need with you. If you camp at a private campground that’s not owned by the National Park Service they will often have a camp shop with a few basic supplies.
We booked our campsites in advance but you can often turn up and enquire about availability. Some campgrounds only offer walk up sites while others have to be booked months in advance as they are so popular.
Be flexible, if you don’t have fixed dates, book campgrounds as you go along.  Although now we have Emily we prefer to pre-book, but it’s sometimes fun to change plans and head somewhere different. Our plans altered slightly due to the wildfires in California
I would definitely recommend getting to campgrounds early in the afternoon to get set up and organised.  On a few nights we were racing against the light and nearing Emily’s dinner time so it was sometimes a bit stressful. I struggled to get used to living with Emily in such a small space for the first few days but once we got organised and into a little routine it all worked out perfectly. She had so much fun checking out her new little home and loved exploring the penthouse.
Cooking was really easy, Emily enjoys a lot of finger food so we could whip up a little buffet style meal for her straight from the chiller or use the camping stove to heat up something warm. The kettle came in handy to boil water to heat through her bottles and she loved eating at the bench by the campfire.
We factored in our drives along our route to fit around Emily’s daily nap, which worked out really well.