Once in a lifetime travel adventures

Recently I read a post on the fabulous Kerry, Life and Loves blog about her once in a lifetime travel experiences. I love hearing other people’s travel tales and that post got me thinking back about some of the things I’ve done over the years.   So inspired by that here are few of my travel tales and once (or twice) in a life time travel experiences…

New Year’s Eve in Sydney

For as long as I can remember, I’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve on Sydney time. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing at 1pm (UK time) everything has to stop so I can watch Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks. It was a big part of my dream of visiting Australia and I can still hardly believe I’ve seen the new year in standing on Sydney Harbour twice.

The first time was in 2002 as part of my backpacking trip. I met some friends I had made on my travels over the previous three months at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair at 10am. We got the perfect spot directly facing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. On that exposed point sticking out into the harbour it was a long, chilly and windy day (just a few yards around the corner it was boiling) but the wait was worth every second.

The 9pm display (so the little ones don’t have to stay up too late) was cancelled due to the high winds and no one had any idea if the midnight ones were going to happen. Midnight approached but still no one had any idea what was going happen. Then a solitary flare went up from the bridge and we all held our breath and crossed our fingers. Then a riot of colour exploded from the bridge and all around the harbour. I think spent most the next 15 minutes asking myself if I was really there. Everywhere you looked fireworks were dancing across the sky. The fireworks off the Harbour Bridge were the highlight though. They look incredible on TV and even more spectacular in person. 15 minutes felt a very short time.

A different perspective

Once wasn’t enough so I returned in 2006 but this time I decided to try a boat on the harbour for the night. This way you don’t have to spend all day waiting in one spot. I picked the Glass Boat as I thought it would have more viewing room and be good if it rained!

Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about the rain. The boat departed around 7pm and was part of the Harbour of Lights parade where boats are decorated with special rope lights and sail around the harbour. This time the 9pm display went ahead and was a little taste of what to come. The theme this year was ‘A Diamond Night in the Emerald City’ to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Perfect for me as I was obsessed with Wicked at the time as it had just opened in London.

There was no worries with the wind this time and the display was just as spectacular as I remembered. Perhaps even better. This time fireworks were also being set of from the rooftops of some of the buildings in the city. Though maybe I just hadn’t noticed that last time. I really hope to make it a third New Year’s Eve in Sydney some day soon. There really is no better place to see in the new year.

New Year’s Eve in Sydney

Seeing the Sydney Opera House for the first time

No, I can’t explain it either. I just love the Sydney Opera House. Like really love it. I could sit in the Opera Bar looking out at the Harbour Bridge and watching the world go by forever. I dreamt about visiting Australia for years and finally one day I was there. I arrived in Sydney three months into my backpacking trip and seeing the Opera House in person was my first stop. Even now having been back to Sydney eight times, it’s still my first stop in the city. The day my stomach stops doing a little flip when I get that first glimpse of it guarding Circular Quay is the day I’ll stop visiting. I’m still surprised it’s not really white though :o)

I honestly can’t explain it. I guess it’s a symbol of Australia and being there makes me feel like I’ve achieved something, ticked off one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. Well that’s the only reason I’ve managed to come up with so far. Maybe it’s just because it’s an exquisitely designed building and the bar is nice?

One of my favourite spots in Sydney

View my Sydney in 7 photos for more images of this amazing city.

Looking up at the stars in New Zealand

As part of my backpacking trip I spent a night in the Abel Tasman National Park, right at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The park itself was pretty stunning, beautiful scenery with little bays and beaches. You know, New Zealand showing off as usual. But the highlight was yet to come.

I shared a cabin with a girl from the bus tour I was on (Stray, the hop on hop off bus, if anyone is interested). The bathrooms were were a short walk away. So getting ready for bed I stepped outside to head to the bathroom and literally lost my mind. The sky was covered with twinkling stars. All over. As far as the eye could see. It was like someone had just dumped a load of glitter all over the sky. With no light pollution it is mind blowing to see what is up there. So much so I had to go get my roomie to take look. Luckily she didn’t mind being woken up!

That little tale leads nicely onto the next memory…

Stargazing in Queenstown, New Zealand

I had wanted to go stargazing for so so long and it was 10 years since that Abel Tasman night. I had tried before in Australia at Uluru but the trip had been cancelled as there was too much smoke in the air from nearby bush fires. Luckily I did not have to worry about that in New Zealand.

Climbing up the luge track, 750 meters above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, I kept everything crossed for the perfect night sky. And what a night it turned out to be, pretty much perfect for stargazing. Not a cloud in the sky.

Our guide for the night was fabulous, so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. As there are no night flights and little light pollution over Queenstown, she used a laser to point out (or rather circle) the highlights of the southern skies including the Southern Cross. We also spotted the International Space Station. To get a closer look there were two professional telescopes that we all took turns looking through.

It was such a great night that we actually overran our time slot and they started to turn off all the lights and shut down. Luckily we made it back to the Skyline complex so didn’t have to sleep up there. A cup of hot chocolate to warm up was the perfect end to a starry night.

If you ever visit Queenstown make sure this is on your list of things to do. Honestly it’s one of the best things I’ve done in New Zealand and given the amount of amazing things you can do in that country that’s really saying something. 

Obviously, no chance of a stargazing photo so here is a mountain photo taken from the Skyline instead!

View over Queenstown

Dolphin and Whale Watching

I’ve loved dolphins for as long as I can remember so I try to take every opportunity to watch them in their natural environment. So far I’ve seen dolphins a few times in Australia and New Zealand. I could watch them jumping and playing around all day. I’ve probably had a 70/30 success rate on the trips I’ve taken so have been pretty lucky. Although a few trips turned out to be just a long day on a boat (I’m looking at you Sydney and Auckland).

I’ll never forget my first glimpse of a whale, two things struck me. One, they are huge. I mean really f**king huge. Majestic is probably a better word. They make you feel very small and insignificant. And you can hear them. Either expelling air when they surface, when they breach the water or slap their fins or tail on the water’s surface. Wasn’t really expecting that. It’s quite something.

I’ve managed to see see Orca Killer Whales off Exmouth in Western Australia, Sperm Whales off Kaikōura, New Zealand (no easy feat when they can dive for up to 90 minutes) and humpback whales off the coast of New England.

It’s really sad to think of the damage we are doing with the plastic in our oceans. I’m sure if everyone got a chance to watch dolphins and whales in their natural home they’d think twice about the plastic they use. At least things finally seem to be changing.

Dolphin swimming in sea
So hard to capture! Can just about see a dolphin here

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

One of the things I was most looking forward to when backpacking around New Zealand was the glaciers so once I reached Franz Josef there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity of a closer look.

As many activities in New Zealand are weather dependant I planned for a few days. That turned out a good shout as the first attempt was cancelled due to the poor weather. Thankfully the weather had improved the next day so after a 15 minute helicopter flight we were on the glacier. We spent 2 1/2 hours or so wandering around the glacier exploring the ice walls and crevasses with our guide chipping out steps when necessary.

It’s kind of hard to put into words what it was like up there and very difficult to grasp the size. The picture below kind of sums it up. If you look closely you’ll just see my tour group on the ice. We look totally irrelevant.

Photo taken from helicopter of group of people standing on the Franz Josef Glacier
Can you spot us?

My trip was quite some time ago and I’ve recently been reading about how much the glacier has been retreating. It sounds like it is quite different from when I went, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long ago really. Hopefully it is just a temporary blip.

Bungle Bungles – Purnululu National Park, Western Australia 

I’d never heard of the Bungle Bungles until I was travelling around Western Australia in 2002 but with a name like that I wanted to find out more.

The beehived domes were only ‘discovered’ in 1983. Although they were formed around 350 million years ago. I couldn’t get my head around that then and I still can’t now. How did we not know about them? It wasn’t really the right season but I managed to find a trip from Kununurra that included a helicopter trip over the park.

It was definitely not a backpackers budget trip but I thought I might never get back there so it was a price worth paying. 

First was a flight in the tiniest plane I’d ever seen, a six seater. I actually ended up sitting in the co-pilots seat (!) and sat on my hands most of the flight just in case I knocked anything. The views over the park were spectacular and we caught a glimpse of the Bungle Bungles before landing on a tiny dirt track, sorry runway.

We transferred to a helicopter for the flight over the Bungle Bungles. First thing I noticed was that helicopter had no doors. Yes, you read that right. NO DOORS! Somehow I ended up on the edge.  Once I’d gotten over freaking out it actually turned out to be a blessing. The temperature on the day was nudging 44 degrees – the hottest I’d ever experienced – so the breeze from the doorless helicopter was a welcome relief. Plus it made for some good photos with no reflection from any windows.

The trip lasted 30 minutes and we flew over gorges and the beehived domes. It was pretty spectacular. 

The remainder of the trip was to the Argyll Diamond Mine. Sadly they never let us off the bus to look for diamonds though!

Beehive domes of the Bungle Bungles
The beehive like domes of the Bungle Bungles

Walking around the base of Uluru

When thinking about Australia Uluru must be one of the first images that springs to mind.

I’m not sure anything can prepare you for that first view. Saying it’s huge is completely inadequate. Doesn’t even come close. Not one bit. It’s pretty hard to be believe that only a third or so of it is visible. Two thirds are underground. Ridiculous. I still can’t get my head round that.

As part of the trip I was on the group was given the choice of viewing the sunrise (which would not have been good due to the bush fires) or getting to ‘The Rock’ an hour or two before the crowds. We chose the latter and had the place to ourselves.

I did the base walk, 5.8 miles around the edge of Uluru. It took two and a half hours and for most of it, it was just us and ‘The Rock’. It was so peaceful and really quite magical. It was a little different to what I had imagined. A rock is a rock eh? I wasn’t really expecting all the little caves, ridges and holes. I guess at around 600 million years old a little wear and tear is to be expected!

Strolling round The White House Gardens, Washington

I’ve always been interested in US politics (not sure if that is good or bad things these days) so Washington DC was always high on my travel wish list and it didn’t disappoint. My friend and I picked a weekend around her October football fixtures for a short city break. We didn’t know until we arrived but it was the weekend that the new Martin Luther King memorial was being dedicated having been postponed from August due to Hurricane Irene. To commemorate this there was lots of events around the city. 

Our first morning and the sun was shining. It was hard to believe it was autumn, it felt just like a summer’s day.  We headed straight to The White House and discovered the gardens were open. This happens twice a year – once in spring and once in autumn- and it was our good fortune that it fell on the weekend we visited. After all the necessary security checks we walked in. Strolling around the south lawn of The White House was definitely a once in a life time experience. You can literally go right up to the door (as seen by the picture below).  You also visit the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, Rose Garden and The White House kitchen garden.  It was an amazing experience.

Other highlights from that weekend include watching Obama’s motorcade take him to the memorial dedication – we were waiting to cross the road but had to wait for 15 or so minutes for the motorcade to pass. I lost count of all the cars. Visiting JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery and going inside the Capitol Building were just some of the highlights of the weekend. Walking around Washington to the sounds of Stevie Wonder playing a free concert is something I’ll never forget. 

Standing outside The Whitehouse
The Whitehouse Fall Garden Tour

Ice Skating in Central Park, New York City, USA

Ok so I guess this one is a bit cheesy but it has to be done. I’d been lucky enough to visit NYC a few times before but mostly in the spring and summer. This time we managed to time a visit in December, just two weeks before Christmas.

I hadn’t been ice skating for about 20 years but hoped it was just like riding a bike and you don’t forget. After a wobbly start it all came back and I managed not to fall over. In fact, my friend had to drag me off the ice in the end. I could have skated around all afternoon!

People ice skating in Central Park
A rink with a view

Seeing the world concert by concert

So I wasn’t sure if I should include this. However, a friend pointed out to me recently that I never mentioned the band I go to see on my travels so I thought this was as good as time as any to out myself.  

I love going to gigs and love travelling so doing both together is the best of both worlds.  I’ve been lucky enough to see Madonna in Toronto, Britney Spears and NKOTB in Las Vegas, Noel Gallagher in Perth, Australia, Olly Murs in Auckland and Sydney and Take That all over the place.

23 years ago I wrote to a girl I found in the Take That fan club newsletter who was requesting pen pals (yes when you had to write to people instead of tweeting or what’s apping). I sent a letter off and the rest is history. It’s kind of weird how you can hit it off with someone you’d never met and feel like you’ve been friends forever but we did. We’d managed to meet up a few times over the years both in London and down under in Perth and Adelaide. However, we had never seen a show together. I’d almost given up hope until 2017 when it finally happened. It was well worth the wait!

Just to relate it back to travel I also got to spend some time in Perth, one of my favourite cities in Australia  : o)

Friends because of these guys

Next time.. Experiences that didn’t quite make the cut – maybe I’ll do a part two one day…

  • Taking in the view of New York City from the top of the World Trade Centre (1998/2016)
  • Watching the Ashes in Australia in 2003 and 2006/07 – let’s not mention the score.
  • Watching the Ashes in Australia in 2003 and 2006/07 – let’s not mention the score.
  • Visiting Pin Oak Court in Melbourne (aka Ramsey Street) and Palm Beach in Sydney (aka Summer Bay)
  • Two days on Fraser Island – our guide saying he always played the Australian National Anthem when finishing his tours of the Island, only for Men at Work’s Down Under to start blaring out. Cheesy I know but it worked.
  • Helicoptering over Niagara Falls.
  • Sipping cocktails overlooking Bangkok at the top of the Banyan Tree Hotel
  • Watching Robbie Williams play the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City (1998)

It’s been great taking a trip down memory lane. I’d kind of forgotten some of the things I have done, some feel a lifetime ago now. So thanks Kerry for that fabulous post.

If you have reached the bottom of this post, thanks for sticking with it. If you have any favourite travel memories I’d love to hear them. Just use the comments below.     SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

6 thoughts on “Once in a lifetime travel adventures

  1. Megan says:

    These are fantastic! I’ve loved reading them and look forward to reading your next post with even more of them!
    I completely understand that feeling about arriving in Circular Quay in Australia! The ultimate ‘Wow, I’m here!’ moment! x

  2. Sarah P says:

    So lovely to read your memories as it brought back so many of mine too.
    Circular Quay was the first and last place I visited on my travels as I was in awe of it every time I went there. And those NYE fireworks really are the best in the world. I remember the wind of 2002 and having to keep everything crossed the midnight show would happen (especially as we’d paid a lot of money for dinner with champagne and perfect viewing area at a restaurant on circular quay!!)
    I never got to do the heli hike with you in Franz Josef as I flew on to Fox Glacier and did the heli hike there, meeting up with you a day or two later.
    Highlights for me would definitely include Queenstown with the luge and bungee swing (I think you were the one who took the photos of me!).
    I’d forgotten you’d gone to the Melbourne Grand Prix, although now you mention it I remember it well as you couldn’t find your passport and for an awful half an hour thought you weren’t going to be able to go!
    Anyway, thank you for the trip down memory lane. Happy days xx

    • emmaonline says:

      Yes I remember our NZ days well haha. Though I forgot about almost losing my passport!! Can you believe it is 15 years! I honestly don’t know where the time has gone. Great days eh.

  3. kerry says:

    Ohhh My Goodness! Honestly, this made me so emotional reading this as I too have experienced so many of these. It made memories come flooding back. Wow. I agree with you whole heartedly on the New YearsEve in Sydney, there is something so amazing about it isn’t there. The New Zealand glaciers too, I can remember just looking up at them in awe. I have so enjoyed this post Emma, I am so, so pleased that you felt inspired by my one. I have thoroughly enjoyed walking down memory lane with you xxx

    • emmaonline says:

      Thanks. Made me a bit emotional looking back actually. Forgot how many thing have done over the years. Made me want to plan few more things though!

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