Category Archives:Adventure

Ski Instructor Internships in Japan: What are they like?

I still remember the tiny specks of my mother, father, and sister waving (well, I assumed they were waving) in the distance as the airplane left the runway that day. This was my gateway to change: to a whole new country; a whole new environment; a whole new season. What was my action plan? A ski instructor course in Japan with WE ARE SNO – Instructor Courses.

That was two seasons ago and counting. Back to back winters are now all that I know. Summer, what’s that? Winter is where I can live the dream of making money through my hobby.

Looking back, I never would have thought that my obsession with skiing would mean that I would base my entire life around having the freedom to ski every day.

wearesno ski instructor internships

It all started with asking myself the prevailing question, “How do I ensure that I can ski each day and for at least 50 days every season, yet still make enough money to live?” A light bulb went off – I needed to become a ski instructor!

The Course

With that in mind I promptly signed up for a ski instructor internship course I had been thoroughly researching. The icing on the cake was the ‘guaranteed paid job upon completion of the course’ ambitiously declared in the description that I had highlighted and underlined several times on the brochure. A job at the end, what did I have to lose? With that weight off my shoulders, I launched into the journey of becoming a ski instructor and the different characteristics that came with that title.

A season of laughter, tears, hard work and more laughter with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. The whole experience easily topped my university days that others are so quick to claim are the “best days of your life.”  Definitely worth the investment and commitment when you consider a solid internationally recognised certification ensuring a great ‘foot in the door’ opportunity for anyone’s skiing career.

Working as a Ski Instructor

Working as an instructor can be challenging, but is also tremendously rewarding. Watching my group go from ‘never evers’ to linking ‘snowplough’ turns is one of the best feelings. In your first season you generally accompany the beginner skier groups. In my opinion, first-timers may not be the most stimulating, but are, without a doubt, the most rewarding group to teach. To see someone not only improve, but thrive on a small amount of direction makes it all worth it. Not to mention the fact that you play a significant role in their skiing journey, positive or not, it is enough motivation to put the effort in!

Yes, the pay may not be extravagant, especially when you start out, and you may be teaching on the beginner slopes on a bluebird powder day, but it’s a lifestyle choice at the end of the day. Although, you can consider all of the paid après ski appointments and delicious meals out with those that you teach, and private requests that may even take you to neighbouring mountains for a change of scenery – bonus!

Resort Life

wearesno ski instructor internships

The best part of my winter experience out of my ski boots was resort life. Resort life can be defined by any off-mountain activity that happens inside the town closest to the ski field that you worked.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to experience my ‘office’ life in Hakuba resort. One of Japan’s most vibrant skiing destinations.

Off snow, we dabbled in so many cultural activities I lose count. From Fire Festivals to Sushi Sundays, it was amazing. Tokyo is surprisingly close, so when you really want a break from the resort you can head into one of the craziest cities on the planet for a few beers!

Life after the Season: Travel

Of course, life as a ski instructor has some disadvantages such as being a seasonal career choice. Although, I didn’t really see this as a negative as I saw this as an opportunity to explore this beautiful country and stumble upon something fresh and new!

Looking forward I’ll aim to add a higher certification to my list each season to begin to pave the travel pathway through to the rest of the world. Until then, Japan will always be my second home and the place where I scored the best job on earth.

Contiki Europe: What it’s really like

It’s pretty much an Australian rite of passage that at some point in your 20’s you will jump on a Contiki tour bus, see way more countries than thought possible in a short amount of time, drink copious amounts of alcohol all while claiming to your friends and family back home that you are ‘finding yourself’.

contiki europe review

In 2014, 6 months after I had just turned 18, I headed off on my first big trip away from home and as scary as it was, I felt comfort that I was part of an organised tour and did not have to worry about where  was going to sleep each night.

The Contiki tour I went on was called European Contrasts and it saw us travel to 13 countries over 29 days.

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t tired or sick or hungover pretty much every day but contrary to belief, you actually do a lot more than drink! I had the best experience of my life in Europe and if you’re thinking of doing a Contiki tour soon, here’s my favourite things about these famous tours!

It’s not just all Aussies!

A big misconception is that you’ll be put on a tour with 50 other Australian’s which will feel like you never left home.

Although there is a big chance over a third of the tour will be from Australia, Contiki is also very popular with Americans, Canadians and Kiwi’s as well as people from the UK and even other European countries.

The range is normally quite diverse which is cool because then you get to make friends all over the world and you’ll never know when you’ll find yourself needing a bed to crash on in the future.

Everything is organised for you but the freedom is still there!

contiki europe review

When you book a tour, you get the advantage of knowing everything is booked and paid for and you can then focus instead on deciding if you’ll have pizza or pasta for dinner in Italy (the answer is always both btw) rather than how you’re gonna get from London to Paris.

However, each day you have the opportunity to choose what you want to do with extra optional activities that are provided or not provided.

You want to go paragliding in Austria, go ahead! If that’s not your thing, no problems! Our tour guide kept telling us, ‘it’s your holiday, you decide what you want to do’!

The themed parties.

Toga, tight white and bright, P party, just to name a few! Because Contiki own a lot of their accommodation around Europe, there is often plenty of time for themed parties! These are the best fun because where else in Europe could you seriously dress completely different and head to a club? Nowhere!

At the Contiki accommodation, there are often multiple tours staying here at the same time giving you a chance to party with new people every night in hilarious costumes!contiki europe review toga party

AMAZING SIGHTS with express entries!

Ever visited somewhere and been overwhelmed with what to do and where to go while you’re there? I know I always want to make the most of my time and have trouble fitting everything in.

On Contiki, you always get to see the best and most incredible sights and attractions of each city. This means you won’t have to choose between Vatican City and the Colosseum because it’s a definite you will get to experience both!

Also, because you are on a tour, this often means express entry. Say goodbye to waiting in lines for hours (let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that) and say hello to more time eating gelato!

Lastly, Contiki is the perfect taste of Europe!

Basically, you have 1-2 full days in a city then the next day will be a travel day with stops along the way. This is the perfect way to see all the major sites and discover the countries you want to explore further on your next trip.

contiki europe review

You also learn the places you don’t want to go back to in future (Liechtenstein I’m looking at you).

Some people don’t like the idea of being rushed so if this is you, maybe look at tours that don’t stop in so many countries however I felt most cities we has adequate enough time to see and do everything (apart from Paris that is, you can never have enough time in Paris!) For those first timers to Europe, Contiki is the way to go!

If you are thinking of doing a Contiki tour and have any questions, please comment below! Or have you done a Contiki and think I’ve missed something, would love to hear from you too!

3 Great Ways to Get Free Accommodation on the Road

There’s nothing quite like free, especially when it comes to travel. Jenny wrote a fantastic article about getting around Australia free of charge and so I thought I would pitch in and cover some of the ways to get free accommodation whilst travelling.

Couchsurf

Couchsurfing is a form of travelling where you stay on other people’s couches or if you’re lucky, in their spare room. In return it’s expected that when you’re back in your home town, you’ll host out-of-town travellers as well.

The process for getting started in couchsurfing is fairly simple: just visit couchsurfing.org and create a profile. The trust system is built on getting references from other people and the easiest way to get a reference is to host other people. If you’re already on the road and don’t have this luxury, take a look at some of the events happening in your area. There are usually meetups, language exchanges and nights out happening; just get involved, make some friends and hopefully you’ll pick up a few  references while you’re at it.

House Sit

House sitting means looking after someone else’s home (and usually pets as well) while they’re away. You might have done this for friends and family, but did you know there are online communities where people ask others to come and house sit for them? You can have an entire house to yourself for free in return for looking after the property and usually carrying out a few chores such as pool cleaning, collecting the mail and dog walking.

Australia is actually one of the best countries to house sit in, not only because hotel and hostel costs are significantly more expensive than other parts of the world, but because so many homeowners use house sitters when they go away. TrustedHousesitters.com for example, one of the largest house sitting websites, currently has more than 350 Aussie house sits available, around three times as many as other countries such as the US and Canada.

As with couchsurfing, the system is based on references. You can add references from previous employers and landlords; however references for previous house sits obviously hold more value. To get started the best thing to do is to get in touch with friends and family and let them know that you’re available to house sit, should they need someone and in return could they give you a reference.

Wwoof

If you want to escape the city life for a bit, have a go at wwoofing, otherwise known as working on organic farms. Here you help out on a farm for a few hours per day (usually around 3-4) and in return you get accommodation and usually at least one meal per day.

The attraction of wwoofing isn’t so much the free accommodation – you are working for it after all – but rather the experiences you get. You could be doing anything from working on a vineyard to herding sheep or working on a vegetable plot– the WWOOF Australia photo gallery gives a good idea of what sort of experiences you can expect.

If you aren’t interested in farm work but are willing to work for a few hours in return for your accommodation, check out helpx or workaway, both of which have a more varied mixture of jobs that includes everything from farm to computer programming work.

Article written by James

How to Explore Australia Free of Charge

Australia is a haven for all who visit; the beautiful beaches, terrific architecture and magnificent wildlife. So who fancies seeing this for free? It’s now possible and readily available. One-way car rental is a system by which you act as the shipper for rental companies rather than them spending extortionate amounts of money on transferring vehicles between their branches.

It will be seen by many as a very strange form of volunteer work but this is certainly not the right way to view this unique opportunity. It is travelling in an extremely cost-effective and rather fun way. See why travelling around Australia in this way will be a truly memorable (and cheap) experience.

Cost Cutting

Fundamentally, the greatest benefit of this method of travel is the saving on cost. You can travel from Darwin to Sydney, from Sydney to Melbourne and so on for simply the cost of your food and drink. All you have to do is drop the car off at the main airports and then you are free to explore at your own leisure.

Insurance, petrol and the car itself is provided; all you need to do is sit back, relax (if you aren’t driving) and let the Australian air caress your face as you investigate its abundant beauty. For non-Australian back packers lets say, this is the ideal way to make the cost of the flight back.

Hitch a tent wherever you please and use the services that companies such as Transfercar have on the table. It is truly a brilliant scheme and one all budding travelers should give considerable thought to.

Be different

Everybody these days is travelling or wants to travel. Inter-railing is becoming the new Ibiza and a gap year working in Africa is so frequent it’s the becoming the norm. Spruce it up a bit people, for the same cost of a 2 week inter railing pass (if you book far enough in advance) you can backpack around Australia! There are a million things to do and you get to experience them first hand as you are physically in the driving seat.

It is a brilliant opportunity and extremely cheap if you plan it coherent and correctly. Remember it is a win, win situation for both yourself, the organizer and the rental company – so make the most of it!

No Limits

This method of travel really does allow you to explore the depths of Australia. While you have an end destination (The Airport) what you do after that is completely up to you. The sense of freedom when driving a car is unparalleled, especially in a country so rich with wonderful sights.

Whether you are on a soul finding mission alone or on a world tour with your soul mate, exploration of this nature is an incredible option. Moreover if you love Sydney (lets say) that much you can always return (free of charge) for another week if you so wish. The beauty is in the flexibility and if you are a keen traveler then flexibility is a godsend.

The World’s Coolest Staircases

Stairs manufacturers in Europe don’t have to look very far for inspiration. With low cost airlines, some of the world’s finest staircases are only a stone’s throw away. If you travel a little further afield you will find even more examples of the world’s most artistic and architecturally impressive staircases.

1. The Spanish Steps, Italy

Climb Rome’s Spanish Steps from one piazza to another to reach the late renaissance church, Trinita dei Monti. The 138 steps were designed by two Italian architects and funded by a French diplomat, yet still managed to pick up the word ‘Spanish’ in their title. The strikingly beautiful steps are so named because they connect to the adjoining Spanish Square. The Spanish Square got its name from its proximity to the Spanish Embassy.

Spanish Steps, Rome
Spanish Steps, Rome

2. The Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

The steps ascending the world’s largest religious monument are so steep that you may be tempted to use your hands to climb to the top. Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple when it was built in the 12th century. Today it is a Buddhist temple and is the largest tourist attraction in South East Asia. In some places the steps are so worn that they have been given a semi-permanent replacement, complete with handrails to help you up. For more steep temple staircases, check out the Mayan temples in South America.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

3. The Vatican Museum, Italy

With broad steps and creative bronze decorations, the double helix staircases of the Vatican museum intertwine like a DNA strand. Often incorrectly referred to as the ‘Bramante’ stairs, they were actually designed by Giuseppe Momo. The 1930s masterpiece is one of the most photographed staircases in the world. Whether you are viewing it from below or looking down from above, it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Vatican Museum staircase
Vatican Museum staircase

4. Umschreibung, Germany

Umschreibung, meaning ‘Rewriting’, is technically a sculpture. The steel structure is a unique 9-metre tall staircase that spirals into infinity. The architectural treasure cannot be climbed because it does not lead anywhere. The Olafur Eliasson creation simply exists to awe passers-by in the KPMG courtyard.

Umschreibung, Germany
Umschreibung, Germany

5. Mount Niesen, Switzerland

The Swiss Alps get the prize for the world’s longest staircase. At 11,674 steps, this challenging climb was once an access route for tram service personal. Today it attracts athletes in for an annual race. Rumour has it that one fit sprinter managed to ascend it in one hour.

Mount Niesen staircase, Switzerland
Mount Niesen staircase, Switzerland

6. The Longchamp Store, New York

The spectacular staircase in the Longchamp Store in New York must be the most architecturally impressive, artistic staircase ever designed for a retail store. This engineering masterpiece was designed by Thomas Heatherwick who was briefed to design a staircase that would attract people to the upper floor. The stairs consists of a series of ribbon-like modules, each curving into a slightly different height. To give the structure fluidity, the handrails are composed of customised curved glass panels. The glass appears to be draped over the stairs like a fabric. The design team liken the staircase to a landscape with a hillside and a waterfall.

Longchamp staircase, Spring Street, New York City
Longchamp staircase, Spring Street, New York City

7. The Kauri Tree Stairs, New Zealand

Ancient Kauri is wood that fell from Kauri trees and was preserved for thousands of years in New Zealand swamps. The largest known ancient kauri log ever to be extracted was used to carve out a staircase as a centre piece for a carving workshop. The staircase took over 500 hours to chain saw and carve. The tree lived for 1087 years before it fell 45,000 years ago. It is the oldest, and perhaps the only, staircase to be carved into a log.

Kauri Tree Stairs at the Ancient Kauri Museum, New Zealand
Kauri Tree Stairs at the Ancient Kauri Museum, New Zealand

8. Loretto Chapel, USA

This elegant staircase is famous for two mysterious reasons: its origin and its construction. In 1878 when the sisters of Loretto chapel prayed for a method to ascend to their inaccessible choir balcony, an unidentified man arrived at the door with just a few simple tools. He told the sisters he could construct a staircase but only in complete privacy. Three months later the staircase was complete but the man disappeared without a trace. Upon inspection, the sisters were fascinated to discover that the 20 foot spiral structure, that makes two complete 360o revolutions, has no apparent central support. There are no metal nails or glue, just wooden pegs. The origin of the wood is apparently untraceable as it appears to be made from an extinct species of tree.

Loretto Chapel staircase
Loretto Chapel staircase

9. Bridge-stair, Switzerland

When falling rocks destroyed the rope bridge over the Traversinertobel gorge in Switzerland, Jurg Conzett and Rolf Bachofner designed a unique alternative. Known as the ‘bridge-stair’, the 56 metre bridge of stairs connects two areas of different elevations.

Bridge Stair at the Traversinertobel in Switzerland
Bridge Stair at the Traversinertobel in Switzerland

10. Malwiya Tower, Iraq

Constructed in 852 and standing 52 metres high, the Malwiya tower is one of the oldest mosques in the world. A spiral stairs wraps around the outside of the sandstone tower. The lack of handrails makes this a dangerous climb.

200px-Great_Mosque_of_Samarra
Malwiya Tower

11. Cedar Creek Treehouse, USA

Rated as one of the world’s top 10 most unusual hotels, the Washington-based Cedar Creek Treehouse is located 15 metres above ground in the canopy of the mountain. The only way up and down is via a terrifying wrap-around staircase that ascends a neighbouring tree. The staircase leads out onto a precariously high rope-bridge that links to the treehouse.

cedar-creek-treehouse-main
Cedar Creek Treehouse

12. Tiger & Turtle, Germany

The Turtle and Tiger staircase is a steel and zinc sculpture that looks like a rollercoaster. It is situated on a height offering unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. It was designed by Heike Mutter and Ulrick Genth and it took 8 weeks to construct.

Tiger and Turtle, Germany
Tiger and Turtle, Germany

Article by Jenna Crotty.

Thailand – Take to the Waters!

Looking to try something new? With over 3000km of coastline and countless rivers, Thailand is a premiere spot for water sports in South East Asia. Whether it’s surfing or snorkelling, white water rafting or sailing, no matter what strikes your fancy, there’s an unforgettable experience waiting for you in The Land of Smiles. Boasting a year round tropical climate, and prices that won’t break the bank, there’s no better place to take to the water!

Divers surfacing - Phi Phi islands, Thailand
Divers surfacing – Phi Phi islands, Thailand

In the northern region you’ll find wild mountainous jungle and enchanting waterfalls, alongside vast rice fields. To the south, you’ll indulge the senses with pristine beaches and limestone outcroppings towering over Palm Tree plantations. And you’ll always find something strange and exotic on the bustling streets of the City of Angels – Bangkok. Each distinct area has a personality and charm all its own, providing the foundation for unique memories, and because of the infancy of many of these sports in Thailand, be assured that you can easily find plenty of roads – or rivers – less travelled.

Scuba tanks
Scuba tanks

The south of Thailand is famous world-wide for its SCUBA diving, a sport which provides a door into the underwater world. A tank of oxygen strapped to your back is your key to unlock a delightful inner space adventure. Experience new and different sensations, and gain a perspective that brings with it a cool mix of quiet reflection and exhilaration. The shores of Thailand offer some of the most stunning scenery in the world, above and below the water line. Lush limestone islands jutting out of warm turquoise water, colourful soft corals and even a local whale shark population; Don’t forget to pack or hire an underwater camera, you won’t want to miss out on the photo opportunity of a lifetime.

Prefer to keep your head above water? Cable Skiing on specially built manmade lakes is quite popular. The obstacle courses will offer a challenge to just about anyone who crosses their path! Grab a paddle and helmet and get ready to ride the rapids, white water rafting on one of the many rivers in the north. Enjoy the simple relaxation as you skim the surface of the water paddling a kayak or canoe. Put some wind in your sails, windsurfing, kite-boarding or even cruising on a yacht. Hire a jet ski for a ride down the coastline in the south. Paddle your way across flat water or down the face of gentle waves on a Stand Up Paddle board, or carve some gnarly swells surfing off the west coast of Phuket. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!

A few factors one should consider when planning a trip to Thailand; How much time do you have available? A short trip is satisfying, however, I would recommend spending as much time as you can in this amazing country, especially if you plan to travel long distances over land. Bus and train travel are my favourite ways to absorb the countryside but not if you’re time poor as both modes of transport are notoriously slow. Next, think about the climate. Thailand has two seasons in the south (hot: March- May / rainy: June – February) and three in the north (hot: March – May / rainy: June – February / cool: November to February). Certain times of year are better to visit certain areas; for instance, a trip to the North during the rainy season, will not be as fruitful as going there just after the rainy season ends, when the rivers are swollen and perfect for rafting. Always check the local weather forecasts. Interest in a specific water sport will effect what region you decide on. Let’s take a look at the different regions we will explore together; The North (everything north of Bangkok), The South (everything south of Bangkok), and of course the capital city itself.

Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand

Located 700 km’s from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north. Arriving by train in the beginning of March I found myself roaming the streets, just as the hot season was starting to take a hold on the country. The northern part of Thailand is great for an escape from the heat during the hot season and subsequently locals, and tourists alike, flock to the north at this time of year. Heading north out of town on a hired motorbike, we settle in for a long and exhilarating, if not slightly terrifying at times, ride ahead of us. Armed with plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent we cruise north to a town called Pai, a well-known rafting and kayaking epicentre 80 km to the northwest. Hugging the curves of the road, zipping through the jungle dotted with a handful of subsistence farming communities, we occasionally gazed to the horizon where a red sun hung low in a hazy sky. Upon our arrival in Pai, we quickly booked a hut on the riverfront, a serene and intoxicating home-base.  As the water levels were low, we were happy to take a kayak tour down the Ping River. Paddling in rhythm, slowly meandering down the river, a gentle hum of Cicadas in the background, our local tour guide informed us on many of the native plants and animals in the area. As we entered into the more rural areas, we exchanged smiles and waves with the locals on shore, who were always friendly if not a bit surprised to see foreigners. Kayaking is a great way to get closer to nature and explore remote areas, but I’ll have to go back just after the rainy season ends in late November for an exhilarating white water rafting experience. You can also organise bamboo raft tours, which is an excellent way to see the river and local hill tribes as well.

If you have your own transport, Mae Ngat Dam is a twenty five minute drive from Chiang Mai where you’ll find lovely houseboats available for accommodation and kayaks for hire. Many tour companies operate out of Chiang Mai that can take you to Pai, Chiang Dao, near Chiang Rai or to the Nan region, all of which have excellent single or multiple day kayak and white water trips. Closer to Bangkok, Ayutthaya has some exciting kayaking options, and a great way to see the temples and stupas near the river banks in the former capital city. You can also look into the Kanchanaburi region, which offers scenic trips of the River Kwai and is only a few hours northwest of Bangkok.

With so many river systems and tributaries, the north of Thailand is a treasure trove for freshwater fishing. Aside from the rivers there are a variety of fishing holes and lakes that any angler would be foolish to miss. Some of the world’s largest freshwater fish have been caught in Thai lakes and rivers. Fishing is a huge part of Thai culture and is brightly reflected in Thai cuisine. There are many different traditional styles of fishing to be found, don’t be afraid to ask the local fishermen for some tips.. Some of the species that you can battle wits and strength with are Alligator Gar, Arapaima, Freshwater Dorado, Monster Pacu, Chao Phraya Catfish, Mekong Catfish, Giant Snakehead, Striped Catfish and Giant Siamese Carp. Growing in popularity by the minute, Bungsam Lan Lake, just forty minutes outside of Bangkok, is a fisherman’s heaven. The tour operators here can provide you with a wealth of knowledge concerning best bait mixes, tips on equipment and how to handle large fish (they might even give you a recipe to use with your catch!).

Big Buddha, Phuket Island
Big Buddha, Phuket Island

As we travel south, we may lose and/or find ourselves in Bangkok. A recent and unexpected addition to the city, the capital city now has a Flow-boarding centre. You can catch a continuous wave right in the heart of the city! Unlike surfing, you ride an artificial wave, allowing more time to concentrate on balance and perfecting tricks, rather than swimming out in the ocean, waiting for a swell. There is also a Cable Ski lake not far from Bangkok, and you can find many tour operators that can organise your trip on Khao San Road. Once labelled “Venice of the East”, there is an extensive network of canals (khlongs) throughout the city. The Chao Phraya River is a central artery for commerce and travel in Bangkok and believe it or not, it’s possible to kayak in the river, watching the city slide by! There are also many river cruises available and offer a brilliant way to discover this vibrant city.

A ride in a boat going down the khlongs is not to be missed. The largest Khlong in the city, the Saan Saab, is an ideal place to catch a water taxi ride. Not your average boat ride; whiz beneath low hanging bridges watching the crew members quickly duck, feel the spray of the water in your face, experiencing how the locals commute. Unsure if it classifies as a’ water sport’ Songkran, the festival of water is one of my favourite watery activities! The celebration happens all over the country, but the colossal water fight that unfolds on the streets of Bangkok is my personal favourite. Expect to be soaked and expect to love it! Songkran occurs at the beginning of the hot season, (April 13-15) and is a fun way to beat the heat! Three solid days of water fights all over the city… watch out for kids throwing buckets of ice water. Refreshing? Yes. Shocking? Very! Make sure to stock up on Sangsom and have a blast!

Leaving Bangkok behind, let’s head down to the eastern seaboard. First stop, Pattaya, home to a multitude of water sports and a spectacular nightlife.  If you’ve never tried Kite Boarding or Windsurfing, Pattaya is a great place to learn, the conditions are great most of the time, and there are plenty of places to have a coldie with your mates afterwards (trust me, you’ll need one!). If the winds aren’t cooperating, hire a jet ski anywhere along the beach, or soar above the landscape for a bird’s eye view, on a quick parasailing ride. I would recommend going to some of the offshore islands, if time permits, where the water is a bit cleaner. Koh Samet, an island southeast of Pattaya has some incredible sailing opportunities. A bit further south east is the gem of the eastern seaboard, the island of Koh Chang. Arriving on the island via ferry from Laem Ngop, near Trat, we catch the local bus to Hat Sai Khao where we rent a motorbike and head south towards our first dive site. The southern end of the island is not quite as touristy as the more well know dive sites at Koh Tao, or Phuket, and still offers first-rate dive sites. June through October is a great time for diving this area and be sure to keep your eyes open for playful dolphins and inquisitive turtles.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

On the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand let’s take a quick visit to the seaside town of Hua Hin. It’s worth doing a weekend trip here, or a rest stop on the way from Bangkok to Phuket. Water Skiing and Kite Boarding are available here, and you can rent inner-tubes on the beach for a lazing about in the gentle surf. Continuing south, you’ll want at least a week (if not more) for the adventures ahead in the lower Western Gulf, home to the infamous islands; Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. True paradise on Earth, and excellent for almost every water sport imaginable! Ferries link all the islands to each other and to the mainland, making travel here convenient and relaxing. For the SCUBA enthusiast, Koh Tao is the place to be. Kite boarders and windsurfers will find good conditions on all three islands but the time of year dictates which side of the islands have better wind. Kayaking is readily available at all the islands and surrounding areas as it is grown in popularity in the last few years.

If you’re looking to get rural, you can arrange a trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park from Koh Samui. The park is made up of over forty islands and is largely untouched, great for Kayak, Snorkel or Scuba. Back on land heading south west, take some time to visit the lovely Khao Sok National Park. You can book single and multiple day Kayak trips through the jungles on the Sok River. True wilderness at your fingertips, you’ll hear the call of monkeys in the distance, pass ancient limestone cliffs and caves, glide by waterfalls, and if you’re lucky you might see a Great Asian Hornbill soaring overhead. The early morning is the best time for spotting wildlife.

Phuket is The Pearl of the South and it’s easy to see why when you first lay eyes on the surrounding natural beauty. If you only have a short amount of time in Thailand, Phuket is the perfect place for you, as it offers the largest variety of sports in one location. If you are looking at doing multiple activities in different places on the island, not to worry as Phuket is a relatively small island and great for motorbike riding. Regardless of what you are searching for, or where you stay, you won’t need to ride far.

Floating down a river in Northern Thailand
Floating down a river in Northern Thailand

The tourism industry is in full force on the island, and there is a tour package for just about anything you can think of. It won’t be hard to find the activity that you’re after and with so much to choose from, it can be difficult to make a choice! A piece of advice, with so many tour operators, it pays to do some homework to make sure your guides are qualified, equipment is in good shape and that you are getting the best value for money; do yourself a solid and shop around first. A bit of research will help optimise your valuable time. If you aren’t the ‘tour’ going type, you can hire gear and explore independently, just make sure you know your surroundings and can take responsibility for yourself.

The west coast of the island is typically better for surfing and the east side better for diving, but this can change with the weather. Whichever side you choose, consider starting with renting a Stand up Paddle Board and take in the coastline, getting a feel for the island and the surrounding water. It was late May when I stepped off the bus in Phuket and the waters were looking good off the east coast, so I decided to go on a 3 day live aboard dive trip around Phi Phi Island. The scenery in this area is even more striking than the pictures we’ve all seen! I think if I had more time to spend, I would have booked a week-long trip to the Similan Islands north of Phuket in the Andaman Sea.  Boat life is truly the life for me, and with such calm waters, it’s an enjoyable trip even for land lubbers! There are several dive trip options, ensuring you can find a trip that suits your needs and itinerary. In the last decade or so, windsurfing has taken off in Phuket and provides an extremely satisfying rush and requires very little gear. There are quite a few operators that hire gear and offer lessons. For the novice; when you stand up and feel the force of the wind and sail for the first time, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

With so much to see and do in Thailand, just remember you could travel here for your whole life and still not see it all! We have only just skimmed the tip of the iceberg on our travels together. Not only are water sports physically and mentally challenging (not to mention FUN), the simple act of being on the water builds a connection with the Earth. If you think about it, water is something that touches all of our lives; and experiencing the power and beauty of this natural element can only foster awareness in our planet and the forces of nature. Thailand is an unforgettable country and will no doubt grab a hold of you. Find out for yourself what’s around the next corner, live life to the fullest, and don’t forget to bring a towel!

 Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog. And click here to check out her amazing new travel photography page! 🙂

Maui’s Finest: Costantino Studio & Lahaina Surf Experience Art, Surf, Music and Inspiration!

Costantino Art Studio
Costantino Art Studio

It’s known as the “Valley Isle”, and it seems impossible that anyone could make this tropical island paradise more enchanting than Mother Nature herself… but the artists at Costantino Studio in Lahaina have managed to do just that! And it’s not only the artwork that sets this private home studio apart. It’s the family that runs it and the engaging atmosphere that will keep you coming back for more.

Following the footsteps of his late father, renowned painter Ralph Costantino, Auggie and his wife Steph and their son Carlo bring to life a collection of vibrant and colourful original abstract works which they display at their home on Front Street in Lahaina. They’ve carefully transformed their backyard into a gallery full of surreal magic and whimsical pleasures. Sheltered beneath a majestic Mango tree, an ever rotating collection of paintings frolic, inspired by the spirits of the island.

Any chance you wanted to learn how to surf on your trip? Well, look no further as Auggie has been surfing his whole life and runs Lahaina Surf Experience. Maybe you think that you’re not cut out for surfing, well think again because Auggie can literally teach anyone to surf! His down to earth style of teaching and one on one instruction is a great help to those of us who are a bit timid. He’s a delight to hang ten with and will probably impart a handful of wisdom to you while watching the sets roll in. A fantastic day out that you will never forget, mark my words.

The perfect combination of art, surf, and lifestyle, the Costantino’s will quickly make a genuine impact on your Hawaiian holiday. Make it a top priority to visit Costantino Studio and in the meantime check out their websites, browse the extensive collection of paintings, and tell them that TravelGoss sent you!

Costantino Art Studio & Lahaina Surf Experience

1057 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, 96761

https://www.facebook.com/CostantinoArt?hc_location=stream

http://www.costantinoart.com

https://www.facebook.com/LahainaSurfExperience?fref=ts

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Voluntourism in Vang Vieng, Laos

 

Blue Lagoon Huts
Blue Lagoon Huts

Vang Vieng sits nestled between enchanting limestone spires that house massive labyrinths of intricately carved cave systems. Monkeys sing out from the neighbouring jungle, as the traditions of many hundreds of years continue on in peace and tranquillity. However, in the lasts twenty years, the town has gone from a relatively unknown river-front village in northern Laos, to a bustling tourism hotspot. And it’s easy to see why so many have gravitated to this delightfully breathtaking town. Hordes of people flock to the area each year to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and partake in the infamous tubing on the Nam Song River. But with so much growth in the area, in such a short amount of time, and with relatively no infrastructure, the local environment has suffered the consequences. At this very moment, more land is being clear-cut in order to expand or build new hotels to accommodate the ever-growing number of visitors. Luckily, the S.A.E. Lao Project has set out a new and exciting program for the surrounding area’s conservation – and they need your help!

Located in Nathong Village, just 7km outside of Vang Vieng, S.A.E. Lao Project is a place for volunteers to immerse themselves in the local culture while giving a helping hand to the community. I had the opportunity to meet, and have a chat with, the owner of this facility and was amazed with what I heard. Bob was born in Vang Vieng and over the years had witnessed first-hand the changes that have been taking place in the area. And although the tourism industry created jobs for the local people, there are also many environmental problems that have been created by that same industry. Bob has taken a stand and vowed to build a positive community centre with a focus on environmental sustainability. A hub for innovative and creative thinking, S.A.E. Lao Project has many objectives; from teaching sustainable building practices and waste management systems, to teaching children and young adults English, as well as creating jobs for Laotian people.

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

When travelling through Laos, you’ll notice many places that sell traditional handmade textiles. Most of these places pay extremely low wages to the people who actually make these wares. One of the first things that jumped out to me at S.A.E. Lao Project was that the textiles here were slightly more expensive than the ones I had seen previously at stores in town. Bob explained that part of his vision is to pay the craftsmen who make these items a fair wage for their efforts.

SAE Lao Project
SAE Lao Project

Weaving these intricate designs takes time and skill and the people who make them should be compensated fairly, not just the owners of the stores who sell them. There was even a weaving station on the grounds that a local woman was using and it was such a treat to watch the process of how these beautiful objects are made. With so many of the people in this area living below the poverty line, it feels good knowing that the money spent here on these textiles will actually go to the artist who made them.

If you have a chance to visit Laos, why not spend some of your time giving back to community? The area around the S.A.E. Lao Project grounds is the perfect backdrop to an unforgettable holiday. With the crystal clear turquoise waters of Blue Lagoon and the famous Poukham Cave system just minutes away, you’ll never be far from adventure!  A very rewarding and uplifting experience, volunteering at S.A.E. Lao Project will enable you to enjoy a different side of Laos, a more genuine side. You’ll have a chance to interact with the local people and learn about the local culture instead of just observing as an outsider. Be a part of the solution, and check out the opportunities available at S.A.E. Lao Project today!

Owner: Bob (Sengkeo Frichitthavong)  [email protected]  [email protected] 

Website: http://www.saelaoproject.com 

‘Like’ them on Facebook for news and updates: https://www.facebook.com/saelaoproject?fref=ts 

 

 Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

A Trip Back in Time – Broken Hill & Silverton, NSW, Australia

I’ve always been enticed by the seductive and mystical quality of wide open spaces and the rich earthy tones that only a desert can provide. Big skies, majestic views, and fortune welcome all those who heed the call. People have been drawn to this area for hundreds of years, seeking a better future in many different avenues. First it was mineral deposits that lured people out this way. Nowadays it’s the scenery, the isolation, the escape from society and the freedom that comes with that. It’s the chance to look back into the remnants of days gone by while absorbing the present moment, which draws tourists out to Broken Hill and its ghost town neighbour, Silverton.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silverton used to be a bustling mining town, until a larger mine was built in Broken Hill. Most of the residents and even some of the buildings were moved to Broken Hill, leaving the bare bones of a town behind. A handful of abandoned buildings are still scattered around in Silverton. There are about 60 people who call Silverton home today and their tenacity and charm will quickly win you over. Broken Hill and Silverton have an unbreakable historical bond that carries on to this very day, as both towns have become a well-known backdrop for a slew of popular movies  such as “Razorback”, “Mad Max II”, “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, “Dirty Deeds” and the list goes on.

A true-blue mining town, Broken Hill is full of historic frontier architecture, and a majority of the roads are named after various minerals. On Chloride Street, you’ll find the Silver City Mint. This fascinating art gallery boasts a wide variety of beautiful silver jewellery created by local artists, a selection of gourmet snacks, and ‘The Big Picture’ by local painter, Ando – a magical painting that captures the essence of the outback of NSW on a canvas that is almost 100 meters long!

Silver City Mint

66 Chloride Street,

Broken Hill NSW 2880

(08) 8088 6166

http://www.silvercitymint.com.au/

Just 12km out of town you will find the Living Desert State park; home to 12 intricately carved sandstone sculptures, brought to you by artists from all over the world, which stand tall atop a peak overlooking Broken Hill.  The area is quiet and meditative, mesmerizing and inspiring, with the perfect surroundings to reflect that groovy feeling. A fantastic place for hiking, having an afternoon BBQ, and the bird watching here is top notch. You can easily organise tours of the park from Broken Hill, or drive there on your own. Opening hours: between 9am -5pm (Mar-Nov) and 6am 2pm (Dec-Feb).

Broken Hill has heaps of accommodation options available to suit every need and budget range. I spent a weekend at the West Darling Hotel and loved every minute of it. Perfect for travellers who are looking for something unusual that has heart and character (definitely not for those seeking luxury). The cracked, faded, and peeling paint on the walls, the warped floorboards, the haunted feel of the long corridors, the wrap around balcony where you can almost see the 1800’s come alive, all added something special to the whole adventure!

West Darling Hotel

Argent St (Corner of Oxide Street),

Broken Hill NSW 2880

(08) 8087 2691

To find out more about attractions and accommodation in Broken Hill, follow the link below:

www.visitbrokenhill.com.au

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo get to Silverton; there are a few busses and tour companies that will take you out to Silverton for the day. You can easily book this from Broken Hill however the freedom of renting a car will do you a number of favours, as there is too much to see in Silverton for just a day trip! On your way to, or from, Silverton make sure you allow time to take a camel ride at Barrier Ranges Camel Safaris. The camels here are actually related to the ones that you saw in the Mad Max movies! There are a few different options ranging from half hour jaunts to half day trips and even longer trips can be arranged as well. They also offer nightime moonlight rides, which I’ll make sure to indulge in the next time I’m out that way. The tours are very affordable, informative and fun, and surprisingly the camels are very easy to ride. You’ll instantly fall in love with these beautiful docile creatures that are perfectly suited for the desert. And don’t worry – these camels have been trained not to spit… I asked!  The owner even makes his own handcrafted saddles ensuring a comfortable ride, and I must say I found it to be much more comfortable than riding a horse! Located 25km from Broken Hill on the Silverton Road, just before the town of Silverton.

Barrier Ranges Camel Safaris

Ph#: (08) 8088 5316

Mobile# 0418406377

http://www.silvertoncamels.net/Barrier_Range_Camel_Safaris.html

When you arrive in Silverton you’ll certainly be hungry. Take a load off and grab a bite to eat at the famous Silverton Hotel. A real hot spot for filmmakers, many movies and countless commercials have used the Silverton Hotel as their stage. My favourite band INXS stopped in here in 1992 and there are a few pictures of the band visiting the hotel on the wall, along with hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos of various movies shot in the area. Enjoy the simple Australian fare, great service and atmosphere while admiring the unforgettable surroundings. And if you time it right, there is a one-of-a-kind stage in the back courtyard that hosts live music fairly regularly, giving you a chance to let your hair down with the locals – an experience not to be missed! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A must-see for all visitors to Silverton is the Mad Max Museum. For anyone who’s seen Mad Max II, this attraction will absolutely blow you away! A true celebration of an important facet of Aussie culture, the museum is great for fans and lookie-loos alike. I recently had a chance to chat with prominent Silverton figure, and owner of the Mad Max Museum, Adrian Bennett.  He’s hands-down one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met in all my travels. Truth be told; I’d never even seen Mad Max II before I visited the Museum! However, I heard the story of a man who moved his whole family here from England with the intent of opening a museum dedicated to Mad Max II in the area where the movie was filmed. The story struck a chord with me immediately and I knew I had to see it with my own eyes. For a person to follow their dreams so unabashedly and have the courage to fly in the face of convention against all odds is a rare and beautiful thing. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to take part in such an exceptional place. Here, Adrian shares with the TravelGoss community some of his favourite things about the area and a few of his most memorable moments at the museum:

“Owning and running the museum has been a joy since the doors opened in 2010. We have met some incredible people and make new friends on a daily basis. We have had some great shows filmed at the museum and meeting famous people from TV has been a real honour for us. Many of the original cast and crew from Mad Max 2 have visited the museum with still many others I’ve met, promising to call and see us. One of the biggest highlights for the museum was in September 2012 when Mad Max 2 villain Vernon Wells visited the museum over a 2 day period. This was such an incredible experience and a real honour for me as Vernon was my hero from the film and to think that 31 years after I first watched the movie not only would I build a museum where the movie was made but also have one of the stars of the film come and visit is sometimes still hard to comprehend!”

“When ordinary people end up in an extra-ordinary situation it sometimes makes you wonder why, and since I arrived in Australia there were certain coincidences that happened in my ‘journey’ to the outback that made me wonder if certain things were just meant to be! All of these coincidences came together, to bring me to one of the most beautiful and unique places in Australia. Of course you could say I was biased purely because I was drawn to Broken Hill and more-so Silverton because of my fascination with Mad Max 2 which was filmed in the area but, it goes way beyond that for me now.”

“One of the most incredible things to witness is the sun setting at the beautiful Mundi Mundi Lookout just 5 kms past Silverton where the curvature of the earth can clearly be seen!  Even the walking trails are incredible and not knowing what wildlife is going to pop up and greet you is also an added bonus for that photo opportunity. The area is rich with history and full of great characters with stories to tell. It’s also a must for stargazers, something I do often due to the perfectly clear night sky out here in Silverton. Just being surrounded by the great Australian outback and bushland in every direction gives you a sense of freedom that everyone should experience.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I think the area has a magical magnetic pull on people, it’s why artists and musicians and movie makers come here. For film makers it has the perfect backdrop, clear light and just an all-around great looking place which has everything to offer them for those perfect shots. Artists are spoiled by the incredible landscape and peaceful surroundings in which to work and the great history and people of the area supply enough stories for the lyrics of any song. It’s sometimes hard to explain why a place is so special, you really have to experience it for yourself and see why so many people fall in love with this stunningly beautiful place.” – (Adrian Bennett)

Mad Max II Museum

Sterling Street

Silverton, NSW 2880

Mon – Sun: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mad-Max-Museum/113085982075455?fref=ts

On the edge of town, you’ll find the Silverton Cemetery. Take a glimpse at the hard truths and harsh realities the local mining families would’ve faced out here in the 1800’s; things like Typhoid epidemics, mining disasters, unsafe, overheated and cramped working conditions, fibrosis and emphysema due to poor air circulation in the mines, all this took a toll on the residents of Silverton. It’s a place full of powerful stories. I found that visiting this small cemetery gave me a perspective on what life out here would have been like and made me appreciate just how much easier our modern life is. It’s an eye opening experience to spend a moment to realize what it actually takes to dig these minerals out of the earth that so many of us have taken for granted for generations.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Silverton, I recommend Penrose Park. The site was built in the early 20th century for miners and their families to have a place to relax and escape the hardships of the times. Fully equipped with powered caravan sites, campsites, and dorm style cabins, Penrose Park is a wonderful place to spend the weekend with the family and friends. The park is absolutely teeming with wildlife, the air is clean and the owners are very friendly and helpful. The perfect spot for a picnic, a BBQ, or even a game of tennis!

 

Penrose Park

Lot 34 Silverton Rd

Silverton NSW 2880

(08) 8088 5307

http://www.silverton.org.au/penrose.htm

For more info on Silverton visit:

http://www.silverton.org.au/

*How to get there:

Broken Hill is accessible by a limited service of Regional Express flights: http://www.regionalexpress.com.au/

Countrylink offers train service from Sydney to Broken Hill:

http://www.countrylink.info

Vline offers service from Melbourne to Mildura, (then arrange bus to Broken Hill in Mildura):

http://www.vline.com.au/

*There is a shuttle bus, and tour companies that operate between Silverton and Broken Hill.

If you have the time available, and access to a vehicle, this area makes a spectacular destination for a road trip from major cities such as Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne. The effort it takes to get there adds to the satisfaction of a genuine outback experience! No matter how you choose to get there and away, rest assured that Broken Hill, Silverton and the surrounding area will easily find a way into your heart!

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

An Out of this World Experience in Broome, Western Australia

It’s easy to forget, with our busy day to day lives, that we are actually riding around on a planet in an unfathomable infinite universe. On a clear night, away from light pollution, it never ceases to amaze me, the sheer magnitude of the heavens. As my focus turns to the sky it seems to soothe and comfort, reminding me that whatever my problems may be they really and truly are insignificant in the face of the grandeur of the celestial reality. At Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours located in Broome, Western Australia, you’ll gaze at the splendour and immensity of the cosmos, while learning a bit about ourselves and our planet’s place in this intricate web of energy. We’re all intrigued by the galaxies above us, and with Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours, you’ll learn to recognise the constellations and planets, allowing for a much broader perspective on our own existence.

Astro ToursI met Greg while volunteering on Sea Shepherd’s vessel, the Sam Simon. I was completely blown away with his lexicon of knowledge. In just a few days he had made a huge impact on my understanding of the night sky, and helped me to realise that there’s a strange synchronicity within the cosmos. His friendly demeanour, inherent curiosity, and refreshing outlook on life, is contagious and he will surely help you see things in a way you’ve never experienced! I had a chance to pick his brain for the TravelGoss community and here is what he had to say:

Greg Quicke: “Stargazing is a sure way to tune into the universe. Simply getting out there under the stars is enough. Looking outside of yourself is healthy and encourages you to be more of who, and what, you truly are. We are connected with the universe, and all we need to do is become aware of this. The aboriginal people of Broome and the Dampier peninsular have many stories about the stars. They use them as seasonal indicators to know when the stingrays are fat, when it is time to catch goanna, and when to go fishing.”Astro Tours3

“The celestial events that happen every day, every month and every year are the most profound ones. The earth turns, the moon goes around the earth and the earth goes around the sun. If you tune yourself into these very simple cycles that are in our lives every day, you will achieve enlightenment. The good thing about enlightenment is that there is always further to go, more to learn and greater things to be.”

“Broome has some of the cleanest and clearest skies on the planet. Getting only a little distance out of the township is enough to get out of the light pollution caused by archaic and poorly designed street lights. Broome has 300 clear nights a year. We are close enough to the equator to see all of the southern hemisphere and most of the northern hemisphere.”

“Astro Tours was established in 1995 with one telescope and a desire to share. Today we use a fleet of telescopes to help put beautifully switched-on people in touch with the universe on a regular schedule of up to 6 nights a week from April through to October and November and sometimes if the wet season lets us, up into Christmas. As well as regular 2 hour shows run just out of Broome, Astro Tours is often invited to do Kimberley coast stargazing trips on exotic cruise boats. We run corporate events, school events, and our mobile fleet of telescopes will go anywhere that we are invited to set up and guide people through the amazing night skies of the Kimberley and beyond.”Astro Tours2

Bookings can be made by email through the website at www.astrotours.net. You can call on 0417 949 958 and you can find Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours on Facebook. Greg also offers backpackers discounts for group bookings! So if you’re looking for a new adventure in Western Australia, take a trip with Greg that will absolutely be out of this world! And make sure to mention that TravelGoss sent you!

 

 

Ph#: 0417949958

Email: [email protected]

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greg-Quickes-Astro-Tours/167670281850?fref=ts

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

4WDing in Victoria, Australia – You’re Never Too Old to Play in the Mud!

Home to a cornucopia of incredible wonders, beyond the tourist traps and well-worn paths, the state of Victoria truly is ‘the place to be’. With a wide variety of terrain from forest covered mountains, to arid deserts, to coastal plains, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to relax and escape the pressures of daily life.

4WDing is mucky business
4WDing is mucky business

And what better way to get away from it all, to see what lies around the next corner, than exploring one of the many off-road trails Victoria has to offer. Dust off your camping gear… it’s time head out to the country for a 4WD adventure in The Garden State!

Out on the trails, it’s the sense of freedom and discovery that will quickly carve its way into your soul. Leaving the pavement behind and boldly going where most vehicles simply cannot go, affords a true pioneering experience. Enjoy a place without traffic lights or stop signs, and the speed limits are enforced not by cameras but by your own driving skills and how much of a beating your rig can handle. Of course, it’s not all about driving… Take some time to call ‘home’ that never-before-seen campsite you’ve just stumbled upon. Crack a coldie with your friends and howl at the moon, or tell ghost stories with the family around a campfire.

Plenty of time to relax
Plenty of time to relax

In Victoria you will find trails for all skill levels from novice to expert, in an assortment of different landscapes, each with its own specific challenges. Bunyip and Wombat National parks are great for sliding around and getting muddy… And I do mean MUDDY! The Alpine Region to the northeast of Melbourne is wonderful for longer trips with many river crossings and steep inclines and declines as you traipse across the mountain ranges. This area has stunning views that would almost make you believe that the whole world has turned into a forest! In the northwestern part of the state, you will find sandy trails at Little Desert National Park and gorgeous rock formations surrounded by red dirt in the Grampians National park. Going off-road allows you to travel to remote parts of the state that most people never see. Relish at a unique chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat.

Victoria's Alpine Region offers the perfect backdrop for adventure activities
Victoria’s Alpine Region offers the perfect backdrop for adventure activities

Don’t own a 4WD vehicle? Just visiting Victoria? Not to worry! There are a handful of 4WD tour operators in Victoria that will assist with everything it takes to get you started. Among them I recommend booking a trip with: Mountain Top Experience (03) 5134 6876. www.mountaintopexperience.com . They have their own fleet of Land Rover Defenders for hire, to give you a taste of driving on your own. You can book day-trips or weekends, they will cater to your needs. They offer tag-along tours for folks who have the vehicle, but might not know where to go, and they also offer driver’s training courses for people seeking guidance. They will surely teach you how to read the road, providing an excellent introduction to the sport.

Travelling in the bush, one of the most important things is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Try to anticipate any potential problems and have a solution ready. Things which are vital to bring with you on your journey include:

Don't forget your maps!
Don’t forget your maps!

– Regional Maps: Don’t risk getting lost! You can get maps of ALL off road trails from: Melbourne Map Centre: http://www.melbmap.com.au

 

– Jerry Cans (20Liter): There are no petrol stations in the outback, so make sure to bring your own!

– Tow straps: Always a good thing to have; they will not take the place of a winch, but can prove extremely helpful in recovering stuck vehicles.

– Hand-held CB radios: Stay in touch with the rest of your group, they can alert you to upcoming dangers or help if you should need assistance.

– Rope: When you’re bouncing around on the trails, so are all of your belongings. Secure everything you can with rope for a safer and quieter ride.

– NO Glass!: Should you decide to bring beverages of any kind, do not bring glass as you might soon find broken glass shards littering the back of your vehicle after an unexpected bump in the road.

– Air Pressure Gauge: A simple and very inexpensive piece of equipment, but will be very helpful when you deflate your tyres to enjoy more gripping ability. Make sure that all 4 tyres have relatively the same air pressure. (Usually between 12-20PSI, depending on the vehicle and terrain)

– Things to remember: Check the weather before you head out. Rivers can rise faster than you think and a sudden change in the weather could become an issue you’d rather not have. When in doubt, do NOT attempt; only drive trails and obstacles that you feel confident with. No one wants to have their vehicle delivered home on the back of a tow truck! When it comes to river crossings, take time to check the depth in several places. Remember that there may be obstacles submerged that you cannot see. A snorkel is very much preferred if you are frequently crossing water.

Whether you have your own vehicle, or are thinking about getting one, a great way to get started in the sport is to network. One thing you will definitely notice is the sense of community with 4WD enthusiasts. I find this aspect of the sport to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things about it; a subculture unto itself. These are some of the most helpful sites I have found and regularly use:

– Aussie 4WD: Database of enthusiast groups as well as information regarding tracks and vehicle specific groups.

http://aussie4wd.com/groups/     or     www.facebook.com/aussie4WD

AusJeepOffRoad: Networking tool for Jeep and other 4WD enthusiasts. Plan trips, get advice, find parts and deals on all things ‘off road’. This site has EVERYTHING you need to get started.

www.ausjeepoffroad.com     or     www.facebook.com/ausjeepoffroad

– Melbourne 4×4 Owners: www.facebook.com/groups/360205937357314/

The owner of this site, Alicia Newman, is very active in the 4WD scene in Victoria, and gives us a few hints for our future trips:

Make sure before you hit the trails that you go prepared. A good recovery kit and some basic tools are a must to carry. Never hit the trails alone as you may get yourself into a situation that you can’t easily get out of, especially if you don’t have a winch. Neerim/Gembrook areas have a range of trails, from beginner all the way to advanced levels, for you to test out your vehicle’s capabilities and your own driving skills. Get out as often as possible, it’s the best way to learn how your truck drives and also gains you more experience and confidence in all sorts of terrain.”

Nothing gets in the way of a 4WD
Nothing gets in the way of a 4WD

When you own your own vehicle, it pays to find a shop that specialises in 4WD modification, so you can rest easy with the peace of mind knowing that you and your rig are in capable hands. For Jeep modifications, I highly recommend Double Black Offroad: The ultimate one-stop-shop for Jeep Wrangler JK owners. (17/150 Chesterville Rd, Moorabbin, Victoria, (03) 9553 0744). One of the owners, Bill Barbas, took a minute to discuss some of his own 4WD endeavours with us here at TravelGoss.com

What was your first off-road vehicle?

Bill: I’m embarrassed to say it was a Holden Frontera. It was a disgraceful vehicle… I modified it and modified it, to try to keep up but then it just gave up. Then after that I got a Suzuki Samurai, went crazy with that, became president of the Suzuki club, ended up with one on 34” tyres which was a bit of a weapon! That was good fun!

What are your favourite things about 4WD in VIC?

Bill: Going to places where my mobile phone doesn’t work. Being able to relax, sit around a campfire, and do some good tracks, especially in winter with the mud that we have down here, it can be quite interesting. Labertouche, Warburton, Neerim, Bunyip, Toolangi, the Otway Ranges, the High Country; we don’t need to drive far to have a bit of fun. We’ve got a lot of places within an hour, hour and a half [of Melbourne] which are quite challenging.

Do you have any tips for first-timers?

Bill: Research, research, research… It really pays to start with a solid platform. A lot of people will buy a vehicle with the idea to get into the sport, like I did with the Holden Frontera, thinking I could keep up with Land Cruisers and Patrols and clearly I couldn’t unless I sold my house to modify the thing. That’s why the Jeep JK is such a good vehicle to start with. It’s the perfect foundation to build your rig on. The JK is so easy to modify, and easy to put big tyres on without a lot of work to make them capable. Even the short wheelbase, a 2” lift and 33” tyres in the right hands, is an absolute weapon. We have some customers’ vehicles that are modified to the hills, but if the driver doesn’t know what they’re doing, it won’t make a bit of difference. We’ve been on some trips with some stock Jeeps and it just amazes me how far they go. www.doubleblackoffroad.com/main.php www.facebook.com/doubleblackoffroad

Exploring the wild lands of Victoria requires no more than a healthy sense of curiosity and adventure! Fun for all ages, 4WD opens the world up and allows us to travel beyond our modern civilization and society to a place where nature is still the dominant force. It helps strengthen our problem solving and navigational skills, makes us more aware of our surroundings, while providing a new social platform for us to network with other like-minded individuals. Now you have a great excuse to go somewhere new, to see what’s hidden in your own backyard in this amazing and diverse state. Take the drivers wheel and become the master of your own expedition!

Read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

 Click on images below to see them in full size.