australia · canada · new zealand · usa

My “Best Of” 2016

Well, 2016. I believe you’ve been quite the shitter for a rather large proportion of people on the planet.

Between political disasters and some seriously shocking celebrity deaths (think Alan Rickman was the worst one for me, although he’s probably sitting on a beach somewhere earning his 20%), it’s not been one of the best years.

The past couple of months have been pretty quiet for me on the travel front, but what a ride the rest of 2016 has been! After an incredible New Years in Sydney, I finished up working in Australia and we continued our adventures into New Zealand, back to Australia to road trip the east coast, and on to Hawaii and Canada for some epic hikes, lakes and mountains. And now I’m home spending quality time with friends I haven’t really been able to spend quality time with in many years.

Plus I’ve just spent a great Christmas with my parents for the first time in eight years, even while Storms Barbara and Conor battered us and left us without power for most of today (thankful that THAT didn’t happen on Christmas Day!).

All in all, 2016 hasn’t been terrible at all.

In this post, I’m going to cover all my favourite destinations, photos and moments as well as books, music and movies and much more!

I won’t be doing a “worst of” post because let’s face it, we’ve had enough negativity this year. Let’s focus on the good things!

My Favourite Destinations

I’ve had a blast in so many different places this year that it’s hard to narrow it down! Despite my non-descript feelings towards Sydney, we had a really enjoyable trip there third time around. Or do I include Melbourne, where we had loads of fun exploring new bars, running into old friends and fulfilling a life-long dream of seeing the F1 race? And where do I even begin with one of my new favourite countries, New Zealand?! Let’s begin.

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Fraser Island, Australia

Fraser Island was, unexpectedly, the highlight of our east coast road trip. Unexpected because actually, before we went to Australia we had never even heard of it. Very quickly we realised it was a staple on the backpacker route, but there was still one thought in the back of my mind: if it’s really that great, why has no one outside of Australia really heard of it?

Well consider my mind blown! We had an AMAZING time there, driving along miles and miles of sandy beach in a pink 4×4, chilling out by one of the most beautiful lakes, stopping by a shipwreck. Seeing a dingo would have been the icing on the cake, but even without that quintessential Fraser experience, it was still so much fun and we were with a great group!

(also fun fact: there’s a plaque dedicated to Eliza Fraser, after whom the island is named, in Stromness, Orkney!)

Read more: Driving on Beaches and Swimming in Lakes on Fraser Island

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Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington quickly became one of my favourite cities, and if I was to do a working holiday in New Zealand, this is where I’d make a beeline for first. While I much preferred the south island as a whole, Wellington just has a charm to it that we didn’t find anywhere else. It’s got a creative side, great bars, and loads of things to do that don’t empty your wallet (like the best museum in the southern hemisphere which is FREE!), unlike anywhere on the south island. It’s the Melbourne of New Zealand (weather et al), and I loved it.

Read more: Museums, Views and More Hobbiting Around in Windy Wellington

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Wanaka, New Zealand

I’ve hit a bit of a snag here, because I really want to include Queenstown. But Wanaka pips it to the post in almost every aspect apart from nightlife (and who needs that when you’ve got views like this?!). I loved how chilled out it was here, we spent hours by the dock watching the massive eels and I did my skydive amongst the best scenery in the world.

Read more: Is Wanaka One Of The Most Picturesque Places Ever Or What?

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Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver is another favourite city by far. It’s got so many sides to it that it’s hard to really get under the skin of it in a few days, but I loved cycling around Stanley Park, I loved that we could walk along and suddenly there’s some filming going on down some alley way, or we’d see something we recognise from a TV show or movie. We saw orcas and humpback whales which was absolutely incredible, we went to some really awesome and quirky bars, we went to some cool markets with dinosaurs, and we saw amazing sunsets on a beach. Everything about our trip here was awesome and I am really, really craving a return!

Read more: Falling In Love With Vancouver (and Tim Hortons!)

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Canadian Rockies, Canada

So I understand that this is a bit of a cop-out because I was trying to pick out one destination in the Rockies that stood out to me. The problem is, I narrowed it down to about five and couldn’t possibly take any of them away! The town of Banff is so beautiful it hurts. Moraine Lake is probably the most stunning place on earth (and THAT’S a big claim!). Peyto Lake gave me one of my favourite views of all time. But even when you leave Banff National Park, you’ve got the whole Icefields Parkway through Jasper, so it feels like a huge oversight to narrow it down to one national park, too.

Read more: Mountains, Lakes & Glaciers: Road Tripping The Canadian Rockies

My Favourite Experiences

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Working in an Australian outback pub

I realise that putting work among my favourite experiences is a little bit weird, especially when I didn’t actually have a day off in my entire time there. I spent six weeks literally in the middle of nowhere (50km from the nearest shop) and met so many wonderful characters that I’ll never, ever forget. I think I’ll always miss the nights spent around the fire drinking and the days spent watching movies between shifts. I’ll miss the Wednesday nights where the miners would come in before their changeover shift and we’d stay up drinking until 6am. I’ll miss the night skies that I’ve never seen so boldly anywhere else in the world. The wonderful hospitality of people I’ll probably never see again.

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Hiking the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail in Hawaii

I really had a great time in Hawaii, but none of it would have been the same without Sam, a really good friend of mine, living out there! She got to drive us around Oahu and see some of the most amazing sights we wouldn’t have seen on our own. One of them was this trail, which is the easiest hike I’ve ever done, yet one of the most rewarding.

Read more: Hiking Hawaii: Amazing Views Of Oahu

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Road tripping with strangers to Mount Sunday, New Zealand

When someone posted on the New Zealand backpackers Facebook group asking for suggestions on where to go from Christchurch on the days we were there, I jumped at the chance to suggest Mount Sunday. It took some convincing, but boy am I glad I did! They invited me along and we had the most spectacular day surrounded by snow-capped mountains and climbing an actual Lord Of The Rings filming location for free! We even caught the LOTR tour who were wielding ARAGORN’S ACTUAL SWORD and oh my God if I didn’t think I could fangirl. But even if you’ve never heard of Edoras, this place is WELL worth a visit, but bear in mind the last few miles are off-road.

Read more: A Day Trip To Mount Sunday: Discovering Edoras

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Going to the F1 in Melbourne

I’m not really a sporty person – I don’t mind watching football, but the only two sports I kind of follow are tennis and formula 1. Dad and I used to watch the F1 all the time when I was a kid, and one of the few video games I used to play on Playstation was the F1 game (our catchphrase was “you’re right there, Murray!” …no? Yeah, like anyone’ll get THAT reference!). So it was with a lot of fond memories behind me that I excitedly booked tickets to go and see the F1 in person! And it was such a good experience. We found a slightly quieter spot on a short straight, which actually meant that although we didn’t have a loud atmosphere (or a screen), we had a really good view while most free-standing view points only give you a split-second snapshot of the cars whizzing past. The downside was that when Alonso came off the track, we had no idea what was going on or just how serious it was. In fact, I posted on Facebook saying “we have no idea what just happened and we’re HERE” and friends were commenting saying “omg I can’t believe he’s alive after that.” We did get to walk the track after though, and saw the destruction of the wall he hit. My favourite part? Someone had written “Alonso was here 2016” on the wall. Only in Australia!!

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Sky diving over mountains in New Zealand

The plan was to do the canyon swing in Queenstown. Then I discovered bookme.co.nz and found an incredible deal on a sky dive in Wanaka. I’ve sky dived before, so it wasn’t on my must-do list, but I also know that Wanaka is probably the most incredible place you could do a sky dive in the world. Budget meant I had to choose. I chose the sky dive.

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Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns

Want to hear something ridiculous? We almost considered not going to the GBR. After a pretty disappointing snorkelling experience at the Whitsundays, I wasn’t sure if the reef would actually be that much better. Was I wrong or what?! It may be true that the reef is dying rapidly, but it’s still 100% worth doing; in fact even more so now that it’s becoming increasingly likely that it won’t always be there. My only regret? My underwater camera disappeared down the back of a seat in the campervan and COULD I find it the night before our snorkel tour? NO I COULD NOT. So I didn’t get any fantastic underwater photos and I am NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS. :'(

Read more: Cairns And Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef

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Driving a boat in the Whitsundays, Australia

Everyone was doing it. People were taking turns driving our boat as we sailed through the islands of the Whitsundays, and I was pretty keen to get involved but decided to wait until everyone had had their go rather than stand in a queue. By then, I thought I had missed my chance and we were out in open water – but I got offered the wheel, and every time I went to hand it back to the captain, he shook his head and told me I’m doing a good job! I ended up steering back to shore for well over half an hour, and even had to slow it down and wind through the breakwaters of the marina, avoiding all the passing boats. It was a pretty fun experience but I was convinced at the end that I was about to kill everyone on board!

Read more: All Aboard The Freight Train: Sailing The Whitsundays

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Road tripping the Canadian Rockies with my family

I feel incredibly blessed that my aunt & uncle kindly offered us a road trip around Banff & Jasper national parks! They were planning to go anyway (otherwise I would NEVER have asked them to!), but they shifted around the dates for us and were completely flexible for us which I’m very grateful for. We saw some incredible sights on the trip, including the entire 144 miles of the Icefields Parkway. Unfortunately weather interrupted some of the views, but that can’t be helped!

Read more: Mountains, Lakes & Glaciers: Road Tripping The Canadian Rockies

My Favourite Photos

As well as some of the photos already posted above (that Hawaii one gets me every time, along with any I’ve taken of Wanaka and Mount Sunday!), and my post of my top 50 photos from our travels, I have some really incredible photos from our travels this year. I don’t have an “amazing” camera (a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera) but I think it does a pretty good job.

Here are a few more of my favourite photos from 2016…

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The Bondi to Coogee coastal walk is pretty spectacular in places!
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We were casually walking around the Sydney Opera House when we came across a SEAL!
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Couldn’t you just imagine living here?! Hobbiton is magical!
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The city of Rohan. Edoras (aka Mount Sunday) sitting pretty amongst the mountains.
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Oh Wanaka! A perfect autumn shot.
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A beautiful day in Queenstown, New Zealand.
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Horseshoe Bay in Bowen, Australia
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A koala on Magnetic Island!
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I should have put this in my favourite experiences. Getting up at 5am (not a favourite experience) to hang out with kangaroos on the beach at sunrise! Cape Hillsborough, QLD
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A misty Lake Louise.

My Favourite Music

If there’s anything I love more than travel, it’s music. 2016 has been one of the BEST years for music that there’s been in a while (and one of the worst – RIP Bowie, Prince and George Michael!). This is partly down to the resurgence of one of my favourite genres. Billie Joe Armstrong said recently that he wants to kill the term “pop punk”, well sorry man but it’s back in a big way this year!

Here are some of my favourite albums of the year.

Green Day – Revolution Radio

Green Day are one of my favourite bands of all time, but I’ve been pretty disappointed with them for… well music-wise, almost a decade now. Revolution Radio is the best thing they’ve released since American Idiot, not that that’s saying a lot for me. There are some killer tracks on it though, and none that I really want to skip. A lot of the songs could have been taken straight off Nimrod or Warning.

Favourite tracks: Still Breathing, Forever Now, Troubled Times

Blink 182 – California

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who’s never really been a huge fan of Tom Delonge? It feels strange without him and I really didn’t think it would work, but it DOES. Because this album is amazing and feel-good and you don’t even miss his voice! Matt Skiba is a great replacement, and kudos to such a big band for pulling off a new line up like that.

Favourite tracks: Left Alone, She’s Out Of Her Mind, Kings Of The Weekend

Metallica – Hardwired To Self Destruct

I’ve always loved certain Metallica songs, but I’ve never really… got them as a whole. This album though? I’ve literally been playing the first half on repeat since it came out. Only the first half? I mean the second half is good, but HOT DAMN THOSE RIFFS. They just never stop being good. I think it’s a universal opinion that Metallica haven’t been good for a lot of years, which just makes this album even better.

Favourite tracks: Atlas, Rise!, Moth Into Flame, Now That We’re All Dead

Busted – Night Driver

Sorry? I’ve just gone from Metallica to Busted, that’s weird, right? Well I hate to tell all of you who thought I had a shred of musical integrity for a minute, but Busted are my favourite band of all time and I am SO stoked they are back. But why isn’t this at the top of the list? Because it doesn’t sound like them at all. There’s still an inkling of them in some of the songs, but they’ve changed their sound to a very ’80s sounding electronic pop and well, it’s taking me a while to get used to. But every song has a killer melody and they’re still some of the best songwriters in pop.

Favourite tracks: New York, Without It, Easy

Avicii – Stories

I realise this came out last year, but I only really got into Avicii in a big way this year. Most people I know are shocked that I love him, but are any of his songs NOT catchy?! It’s no secret that this is the sort of music that will haunt your travels, so is it any surprise that half of Avicii’s music brings back some truly amazing memories? As albums go, I think I prefer True, but this has some crackers on it… and if you need any inspiration, look no further than the backpacker-esque video for The Nights!

Favourite tracks: The Nights, Waiting For Love, Broken Arrows, Ten More Days

For some of my favourite songs at the moment, check out my Spotify playlist below! Feel free to give it a follow as I’m sure I’ll update it pretty regularly! :)

My Favourite Books

I have to admit, I’ve been an awful reader this year. I spent almost half of the year living in a hostel where something was going on ALL the time (and I worked the rest of the time) so it was impossible to do anything leisurely like read. So I’ve only got three books that I really want to put on this list – and they’re all kind of travel related.

Lauren Juliff – How Not To Travel The World

I was a bit late with this book, as I was desperate to read it as soon as it came out but it wasn’t released in Australia! Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps is one of my favourite writers, and this book did not disappoint. It covers many of the incidents that her readers have already read about, but in more depth. It begins with a dramatic prologue about her experience with a tsunami alarm in Thailand, but the real beginning starts right there – the beginning, and how she almost missed her very first flight. At every turn, something else goes wrong for Lauren, but it’s her positivity at the end of it that really shines through – the fact none of it has put her off travel, she hasn’t given up, and she’s found amazing things in her life along the way. I could barely put this down until I had finished it!

Nevil Shute – A Town Called Alice

My aunt recommended this book while we stayed at their lakeside cabin, and I devoured it during our stay there. It’s set mostly during and after WWII, and follows the story of a British girl who goes off to work in Malaya and becomes a prisoner of war. She’s sent to march, along with around 50 other women and children, hundreds of miles to seek sanctuary, and quickly becomes the leader of the group throughout the illness, hopelessness and death that plagues them (it’s not really a lighthearted read!). Along the way, she befriends an Australian man, who she believes dies after he tries to help them. After the war ends, she comes into a lot of inheritance and learns that he may not be dead, so she travels to Australia to search for him and eventually uses her inheritance to build up his lacking hometown to be a “bonza” town like Alice Springs.

It’s a little old-fashioned in its writing at times and I really wasn’t sure if it was going to be for me in the first few pages, but as soon as she begins recounting her experiences in Malaya, it’s fascinating. The story of the group in the war is loosely based on a true story about a Dutch woman, and it’s really quite inspirational.

Charley Boorman – Extreme Frontiers: Racing Across Canada

I must admit: I’ve never seen or read Long Way Round or Long Way Down, Charley’s famous adventures with Ewan McGregor. I picked this book up in the library and just finished it, and although I’m not a huge fan of his writing, he has a really likeable personality and his adventures are pretty phenomenal! It’s all on his TV show of the same name, which I really need to watch now! (and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to watch a Channel 5 show before…)

He experienced so much on his trip from the east to west coast of Canada, and it’s put a few things on my list. From chipping off a piece of iceberg to put in his rum, to climbing Mount Fable, to taking part in a bootcamp for Mounties, he’s done some really cool things. He takes part in a rodeo, learns how to rope with a cowgirl, goes caving under Vancouver Island, canoes down Bloodvein River, finds a piece of dinosaur bone and does some loop the loops over a mountain. Every moment of his adventure is an enthralling read!

My Favourite TV Shows

American Horror Story

I’m nowhere near up-to-date, so no spoilers please! We binge-watched most of this in the hostel we lived in, and I absolutely love the first two seasons – Jessica Lange puts on such a stellar performance in both, and I’m so sad she’s not a part of it any more. Murder House is just awesome the whole way through with great characters and some fantastic plot twists that had me hooked from the word go, whereas Asylum is all levels of creepy as f**k and unrelenting in its shock moments (also: you’ve heard correctly, the whole aliens thing is stupid). However, the plight of Sister Jude is probably one of the best character developments in any TV show. Not a huge fan of Coven but I’ll plough through the rest of the seasons and see what I think…

The Flash

Ahhhhh, we got into The Flash in a HUGE way last year, but I’m putting it on this year’s list too! This is probably the most we’ve got into a TV show since The Walking Dead (and I much prefer it to Arrow, eek!). Every character is brilliant and relateable (don’t you just wish Joe was your dad?!), the plot twists and turns like nothing else; even the villains are likeable. Honestly, this is what a comic book show SHOULD be, and while DC are severely lagging in the cinematic universe, they’re racking up a lot of points with their TV shows instead. (that said, we are enjoying Jessica Jones rather a lot!)

Stranger Things

Hey guys, remember that week or two that EVERYONE raved about Stranger Things? Well we, like everyone else, binge watched it in less than 24 hours and IT WAS GREAT! Winona Ryder was fantastic and rightly deserved every accolade she got, but what really stood out to me was the kids’ acting. And they’re all so talented and likeable in every respect! I mean have you HEARD them sing?! Anyway, if you haven’t got yourself caught up yet in the hype, or the upside-down, it’s only eight episodes long so it’s really just a long movie and it’s WELL worth checking out. It’s the perfect mix of scary, sci-fi, comedy and drama, and it’s so 80s it’s basically guaranteed to make you smile.

Planet Earth II

I almost forgot that some TV shows are real, and in places it’s hard to believe that this is! I, like everyone else on earth, absolutely love David Attenborough and I was hugely excited for this. Of course, Attenborough only really plays a tiny part in the show. What really made this series was the groundbreaking technology, the never-seen-before shots of animals we never even knew existed, and the incredible filming of natural dramas (you’ve all seen that iguana running away from the snakes, right?! We were literally on the edge of our seats shouting at the TV during that entire scene!!). Honestly, if you have any interest in the natural world whatsoever, you will find this fascinating from start to finish. The BBC have truly outdone themselves (I suppose they needed to do something to draw attention away from their disaster over Top Gear!).

Now someone wrap David Attenborough in bubble wrap, PLEASE! 2016, yer not havin’ him!

My Favourite Movies

While this year has been pretty awesome for particular movies, I don’t feel like I have many to include in this (and they all seem to be Marvel).

Deadpool

Oh come on now, who DOESN’T love Deadpool?! While I don’t think you should get your gran to watch it, or put it on over a family Christmas, this movie is just awesome from start to finish! The whole fight scene on the bridge is some of the best cinematography I’ve seen considering how lighthearted it actually is. It’s probably the most ridiculous movie ever made, if I’m honest. Yet it works SO well – it’s a pretty dark story when you think about it, so to make it so casually hilarious is no mean feat. Also: no one could have pulled this off better than Ryan Reynolds. Thank God he was willing to give Deadpool justice after THAT X Men movie.

Captain America: Civil War

On a (slightly) more serious side of superhero movies, Marvel also brought out their best one to date! I am definitely Team Cap and the introduction of the new Spiderman was done really well and brought some additional humour to a franchise that was just starting to get serious (apart from Ant Man!). I also surprisingly loved Black Panther. And let’s face it, this beats the crap out of those two DC superheroes who decided to fight for no reason and then stop fighting because their mothers have the same name. Yeah… less said about that one, the better. (still haven’t seen Suicide Squad though. Should I?)

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

As an avid Harry Potter fan, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one. We know none of the characters, and it’s all going to be Americanised which – no offence Americans – feels a little icky after we’ve familiarised ourselves with an entire world that feels so British (or at least European). But you know what? I really quite enjoyed it! It really is opening a whole new world of magic with the relationship with muggles (sorry – nomajs), as well as all the beasts, and I loved the fact that there was a muggle as a main character! It felt like we could really be part of the unfolding story. I definitely don’t think this is going to be the best film in this series, but it’s an excellent starting point and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

Doctor Strange

Okay, okay. One more Marvel movie (can you tell I’m a Marvel girl?!). Because this one REALLY surprised me! I didn’t know much about Doctor Strange, I had no idea if it was going to be funny or serious, and I wasn’t sure how Mr Cumberbobble would fare in the Marvel universe. What really struck me was the visual effects were second to none. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a pretty film in my life! The whole concept I thought was really cool, and it definitely adds a new dimension to the Marvel universe that could make it really interesting.

Tell me – what have been some of your highlights of 2016?! Your personal favourite moments, your favourite books and movies? Any songs that really remind you of this year? (cue apocalyptic music…)

If I don’t post again before New Years – have a great one, wherever you are in the world!

Disclaimer: a few of the books / CDs / movies etc link to Amazon where I earn a commission on anything you buy. This goes towards the running costs of my site and are purely recommended by me as things I love this year! (if I was all about commission, I wouldn’t have included things like Doctor Strange that haven’t come out yet…!)

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