Last year was another year of fighting hand over fist to make my dreams come true, but it was also a weird one! I can’t believe how many transformations I’ve undergone, and how many wacky turns my 2015 travel plans took. I’ve been an advertising executive in Melbourne, a tractor driver on a banana farm in Queensland, a solo traveller in Asia and New Zealand, then landed back home, worn out and jobless.
I’ve jumped out of a plane, climbed yet another volcano, swam with wild dolphins, partied all weekend in Berlin, drank a lot more than I’m used to, made some unforgettable new friends, and been so homesick that I flew home for two weeks.
There’s been lots of ups and downs, but many more ticks on the bucket list. So it makes sense to compile my favourite bits…
My 2015 travel highlights:
Seeing it in on Sydney Harbour
We splashed the cash and got tickets for a fancy FACT Magazine party on the roof of the MOMA… To be honest, all I can remember is that it ended the way most nights out in the Great and Powerful Auz did: wasted in a park at 5am, feeding the possums McDonald’s.
Swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
I’m serious. Kaikoura, two hours north of Christchurch is absolutely beautiful. Seals flap around on the beaches where South Island’s snowcapped peaks and craggy cliffs meet the ocean. But the reason I visited is because its one of the biggest natural whale and dolphin feeding grounds in the world.
For $170, Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura kit you out with a wetsuit and take you out on the ocean for two hours, which you spend snorkelling in the (freezing!) water was wild, curious dolphins whizz all around you. I didn’t even know stuff so magical existed before I researched New Zealand!
Stay tuned, because this warrants a post of it’s own, which has been sat in my drafts waiting to go live for too long now!
Our road trip to Mount Cook
Our four hour drive from Queenstown to the Hooker Valley via Highway 80 in October left us utterly speechless. My eyes were blinded by the bright sun, blue water and snow, and my mind was ringing with so many superlatives, yet I can’t think of a time when my soul was calmer.
I have about a hundred photos and pieces of advice to share from these few days, so again, stay tuned!
Following my stomach to Georgetown, Penang
I had a five day stop over in Malaysia between my flight out of Sri Lanka, and my flight to New Zealand, which I wanted to take full advantage of. I had a loose plan to get out of grotty Kuala Lumpur straight away and head to Penang for a day and a night to feast on the legendary street food and take in the culture, before speeding over to the Perhentian Islands to sunbathe for the remainder of my time.
But after a night spent drinking in the bars around Love Lane, a morning exploring Penang’s Chinese temples, heritage buildings and street art, and another evening taking in a street party which happened to be taking place right outside my hostel, I knew I was going to spend a full five days there. If you’re into food or art, you’ll be in heaven in Georgetown.
Not to be missed is daily trips to New Lane’s hawker stands to sample as many of the thousands of Asian dishes as you can manage, before a night knocking back 60p vodka and even cheaper beers with loud locals and fellow backpackers at Antarabagsa.
Yes, it rained. Yes, we were regrettably hungover. And yes, I felt like a big fat dumb tourist with the amount we were herded round on the trip I signed up for. I’m really not into this touristy ‘day trip’ stuff they do in New Zealand and Australia and much prefer doing it myself, but sometimes, it’s just the easiest, if not the only way.
With that aside, Milford Sound was what made me want to visit New Zealand in the first place, and has always topped my bucket list, so it warrants a place on this list for those reasons alone. When the sun did eventually come out, I felt like I was on the set of a movie.
And if you’re blown away by photos of Milford, wait until the drive there from Queenstown! My camera literally couldn’t capture the mind-bending, gargantuan landscapes we took in!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
My third volcano on my far-Eastern odyssey! 22km of otherworldly volcanic beauty and some pretty punishing terrain, which I’m actually desperate to return to in order to repeat, in New Zealand’s warmer summer months, between December and April.
I completed the Tongariro Crossing in October and despite it still being an utter dream, the famous turquoise and emerald lakes were partly frozen over, the usually red cone of Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom, for those familiar with Lord of the Rings) was dusted white and looked more like Mount Fuji (never a bad thing), and we had to wade through kilometres of knee-deep slow and freezing sludge in the South and Central craters.
Despite it being absolutely exhausting (I slept so deeply and for so long afterwards I missed my alarm, and my early morning bus to Wellington!), I can’t believe there were so many backpackers I met who didn’t bother with the Tongariro Crossing. It’s the essence of New Zealand, and the cheapest of all of the amazing walks you can do in the country.
Skydiving over Mission Beach
Can you imagine being the guy who jumps out of a plane, ten times a day, five days a week with people strapped to him for a living?!
I’ve written a full account of my skydive over Mission Beach here.
…And I saved the best ’til last.
Every single blessed day I spent on that island in the sun was a highlight of 2015. *siiigh*
Aaaaand since I’m the most prone to mishaps out of anyone I know, a few of 2015’s worst moments:
- Missing my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, and the connecting flight from Sydney to Auckland in October because I didn’t have the correct ‘transit visa’ for Australia… I was a resident there for a whole year goddamnit!
- Losing the equivalent of over two weeks earnings (about a third of my entire budget for New Zealand) on a new plane ticket for a flight a day later
- Having had no sleep for two days, being so tired when I finally did arrive in Auckland I left my debit card on the airport bus. Thankfully, I had a backup card in a different wallet.
- Paying a hairdresser in Auckland $300 for ballyage blonde on my ends, and ending up looking like this:
- Getting harassed in a bar and chased back to my hotel room by a hotel owner who claimed I owed him money for a room I didn’t stay in in Uppuvelli, Sri Lanka. I lost £15 to him, and I was completely alone at this point, so it was traumatic to say the least.
- Succumbing to jetlag so badly in Berlin (an hour before we were due to head out to Watergate – the club I’d been excited about visiting for months) that I couldn’t stop throwing up. Seriously guys – never underestimate the power of jetlag. It was worse than food poisoning. I still eventually made it out though, woo!
- Not holding on when my instructor screamed “HOLD ON!” after I fell out of my raft and down a two metre waterfall whilst white water rafting on the Kaituna river in New Zealand. To make matters worse, the raft then landed on top of me, and ran me over.
What’s in store for 2016?
My 2016 may not be spent in quite so many exotic locations. Indeed pretty soon, I’ll be back to the 9 to 5. But please don’t think that this means the dream, or The Wanderlist, is over. These last two years have opened up my eyes to a world of possibilities. I honestly believe anything can, and will happen from here.
One big resolution I’ve made for 2016 is to see more of this gorgeous continent I’m proud to call home. Instead of spending my weekends drunk and hungover in Leeds, I want to spend more of my free time exploring the UK. Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District are on my hit list, as is Amsterdam for Dekmantel this summer.
Anyway, whatever may be, it’s all kicking off in two weeks time, with a trip to Budapest!!
What’s getting everyone else through grim and grey early months of 2016?