Thursday, 5 July 2012


So the day has finally come - this time tomorrow I'll be in Costa Rica! I'm finally packed and sorted now...I still can't quite believe that I'm going away for five whole weeks! I'm both excited and terrified. One thing's for certain: I wouldn't miss this for the world!

I'll be sure to update this blog as soon as I can, but due to the remote locations I'll be effectively out of communication with the outside world for the next month! No internet connection in the rainforest...

Well, I'd better be getting to bed, so I'll say goodbye for now: fare thee well, everyone! See you in August!

Emma :)

My Australian Adventure Part Two (the adventure tour)

Here's the second part of my Australian adventure last summer!

Saturday 20th August 2011

A long day, but so much fun! We set off to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, which was awesome. There were several talks and presentations on the beliefs, customs and way of life of the Aboriginal people - and we learnt how to throw a boomerang and spear! (or fail at it…luckily, I managed not to hit myself with it - or anyone else!) There were a lot of boomerangs and didgeridoos in the gift shop- too bad didgeridoos are so expensive! But I did buy myself a returning boomerang. :P Then we had some free time in Cairns to look around the market, before heading to “Reef Teach”, an information session on the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef. Really entertaining! (there are some seriously weird creatures in there…) Oh, and there are no jellyfish at this time of year, so that’s good news! Had a look around the shopping centre, which was cool. I also signed up to go scuba diving tomorrow- and skydiving on Monday. Yeah, I paid and everything. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. No backing out now…

I bought a souvenir!

Tonight was awesome too. We joined the Ultimate Party Bus pub crawl around town, starting at our hotel. Soooo tired now, but a great night!

Sunday 21st August 2011

Wow. What a day. Another early start (after last night- ouch!). We all boarded “Ocean Spirit 3” for a day of swimming and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef! And for a lot of us, an introductory scuba diving lesson as well! I confess to freaking out a couple of times- the prospect of plunging 10m underwater with only an oxygen tank to rely on for breath terrified me!- but I’m glad I went through with it, because it was so cool! Like watching a 3D video- only real! Everything was crystal clear- the corals, the fish…we even saw a stingray and a sea turtle! And found Nemo! I got a lot of photos, but since I used a disposable camera I have a feeling they won’t be very good, which is annoying. How many times am I going to get to see a close-up sea turtle?!

I was going to go snorkelling, but ended up falling asleep on the top deck! I was awoken by the boat rocking about- it might have been sunny, but the sea was rough, and if you stood at the front of the deck you got drenched by waves! It was hard even to stand up without falling over (stupidly, I attempted to walk downstairs, resulting in a giant bruise on my back where I went flying into the railing - fail!). But we saw a whale! :D Certainly a day of new experiences!

Bought myself some Internet credit so that I could let everyone know I’m still alive! Also watched fireworks from the balcony, and had a look around some shops. Everywhere seems to open really late! Oh, and wherever you go, you can hear bats! Huge flocks of them, squeaking really loudly, even as you walk down the street!

Now I’m bricking it about tomorrow! Skydiving?! Wtf was I thinking???!!!!

Monday 22nd August 2011

OK. So that sucked. Basically, thanks to the weather (windy day- again!) we couldn’t do the skydive! :( Feel like hell, too (no sleep last night!). A group of us went quad biking instead - I was awful at it, and spent the entire session convinced I was going to die, and ended up having to have someone else steer for me so I didn't cause a pile-up... Yeah, I’m not sure I’m cut out for this adventure stuff!

Rescheduled to do the skydive in Byron Bay. Eep!

Tuesday 23rd August 2011

Yet another early start- up at 5.30 to drive to Tully for a day’s white water rafting! Felt pretty crappy to begin with, but had an amazing time! We began our crazy trip downriver, the raft bouncing off rocks, all of us getting soaked! At one point, when we were heading towards a waterfall, our instructor told us to form a human pyramid! We (stupidly) obeyed! Despite our best efforts to hold on, we knew as we saw the water foaming beneath the waterfall that there was no way we were going to stay in the raft… and we all fell in. Spectacularly. No one was spared! Since we were all wearing life jackets, though, we floated to the surface of the water, and climbed back into the raft. I’m pretty proud that that was the only time I fell in. And I bought a USB stick of all the photos that were being taken as we raced through the rapids! They’re hilarious- especially some of our facial expressions!
What an amazing day! Totally made up for yesterday! :D

Wednesday 24th August 2011

Travel day- from Cairns to Airlie Beach. Wasn’t too bad I suppose- we watched Finding Nemo, which was pretty appropriate! And I read more of LOTR. I wanted to sleep, but it was too noisy! Still, Airlie Cove Resort, where we’re staying tonight, is really nice. Airlie Beach is small- literally two streets! We went to a shop that sells opals and didgeridoos, and we all got a free opal (worth $30!). And learnt to play the didgeridoo! Walked back to the chalet beneath the night stars- they’re so beautiful!

Thursday 25th August 2011

First good night’s sleep for ages! Had to check out first thing this morning, before we headed to the beach. Ocean rafting! An amazing experience- totally different from what I’d expected! The ocean rafts look like a (bright yellow) cross between rafts and speedboats, and they go really fast, bouncing over the waves! A thrilling ride through the Whitsunday Islands- I enjoyed every minute of it! We stopped for an hour’s snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. It was so cool- you could literally put your head under the water and you’d be faced with beautiful corals of all colours. The water wasn’t too cold, either. And we saw two dolphins and a manta ray! :D Wow…

Our next stop was Whitehaven Beach- appropriately named as it has the whitest sand in the world! So white that it looks like snow! Such a beautiful place…white sands, green forests, crystal clear turquoise water…paradise! A walk in the forest, then time to relax on the beach (and bury each other in the sand :P) Then back on the ocean rafts, to complete the loop around the Whitsundays! We saw a sea turtle, with its head and flipper above the water as if waving at us! We’ve definitely seen some awesome wildlife today! (including an army of solider crabs that disappeared into the sand when we approached them!) It’s been a fantastic day, and now we’re on the way to Fraser Island. We’re leaving most of our stuff on the coach, only taking one bag with us on the ferry. An overnight bus trip, yay. Sleeping on a coach isn’t fun- it’s impossible to position yourself so that you’re actually comfortable!
Friday 26th August 2011

Our journey finished at 6.30 am, when we were awakened (those of us who'd actually managed to fall asleep...think I might have dozed off for a minute or two!) by loud, very annoying music! Stiff and aching from the bus seats, we boarded the ferry to Fraser Island. Unfortunately it was raining. But we did see two dolphins on the way there. :) We had a hike through the rainforest for an hour or so. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, and there are some beautiful places to see- rainforests growing alongside sand dunes! No swimming in the sea here, though- the currents are too strong, and there are sharks! We checked into our accommodation, then did a 4 ½ km hike to Lake Wabby, a freshwater lake. On the way there we saw a dingo! Apparently we aren’t supposed to feed them, or they become a pest! The hike was okay, pretty wet though (yeah, it was raining constantly- even the people who didn’t go swimming in the lake got soaked!). Saw another dingo on the way back- it made off with a fisherman’s bag! Apparently they’ll eat anything… and might even attack! Yikes!

Saturday 27th August 2011

Another rainy day. My clothes and shoes are still wet from yesterday, and we left all our spare clothes and stuff on the mainland! Attempted to dry my shoes with a hairdryer. :P Yeah. Today we got on the bus for a tour of the island, down the 75-mile-long beach! First thing we saw was a dead sun fish (a giant thing that didn’t look much like a fish!). But we saw three dingoes (live), and one of them walked right up to our bus! They’re pretty cute, really. We saw the Maheno shipwreck, the rust-covered wreck of an old boat lying on the beach, and some beautiful coloured sand cliffs. Apparently, there were 72 different colours in some of them! And another dingo came up to us, and lay right in front of the bus! Apparently it’s unusual to see so many of them- maybe it’s the rain. :P

The shipwreck

Close encounter with a dingo!

Our next stop was Indian Head, which we climbed, to stunning views of the beach and sea. Got some awesome photos- saw a distant whale, a ray, and about three tiger sharks!! And the sun came out, too. :) We climbed back down and drove on to our next destination, Champagne Pools, where the sea crashes over the rocks and into pools that look like they’re full of champagne bubbles! I took some more photos - saw a few crabs in the rock pools. We finished the drive up the beach and headed back, stopping for a game of “Pippy racing”! There were these shelled creatures (like oysters), and we all had to pick one up. On three, all of us put them down on the sand, and whoever’s 'pippy' buried itself completely in the sand first won! (mine wouldn’t move; it just sat there looking like…well, a shell :P) We stopped to paddle in Ely Creek, a freshwater creek, then our last stop was for a 1 ½ long hour hike over sand dunes. Pretty tiring, but throwing ourselves off sandy cliffs was fun! Drove back through the mist, which was another experience (it looked like we were going to drive right into the sea!). There was an “ISV” themed party tonight, which resulted in some pretty hilarious costumes!

Sunday 28th August 2011

Another travel day- so of course the weather was nice! We got the ferry back to the mainland (dry clothes, yay!) and met Tony and our bus. Back to civilisation! (again) Unfortunately, our coach broke down en route to Byron Bay, and we ended up stranded at a service station for 5 hours!  It wasn’t that bad, to be honest- the weather was nice, so everyone ended up sunbathing and generally enjoying the sunshine (my sandals are finally dry!). I finished reading LOTR- The Fellowship of the Ring, and started reading The Two Towers. Did a bit of writing, too. :) At 5pm we finally set off again, arriving in Byron Bay around 9.30.We’re here for two days, and there’s a lot to do! Including (fingers crossed) skydiving…

Monday 29th August 2011

Interesting turn of events…Joe told us this morning that conditions were perfect for skydiving, and if we wanted to do it this morning instead of tomorrow, we could! And because we didn’t want to risk the weather changing unpredictably, most of us said yes!  So a minibus picked us up at 9.30, and we drove to a building near a field. We had to fill out forms, and queue for ages to hand them in…the suspense built! Then the first plane went up, and we watched each parachutist glide back to the ground! It was awesome! Nerves became excitement, and before long it was our turn to put on the harnesses (sexy :P), and get into the plane…Camera rolling! (yeah, I paid for a video too!)  A clear sky with barely a single cloud meant we had an amazing view as everything shrank to map-size and we flew over the sea. And then the door opened- a blast of cold air hit us! Go time- had a bit of a shock when a solo parachutist flung himself out the plane - there one second, gone the next! Then the first pair moved to the door…and were gone! And the next, and the next- the line disappearing each in the blink of an eye, and then it was my turn- before I could panic any more, we were over to the door and out of it! Freefalling- I was aware that I was screaming, my ears were popping- but it was AMAZING! The parachute opened, and I could breathe again! I looked around me in amazement…it all seemed unreal. Like a paper landscape- fields, forests, towns, beaches, endless blue sea…I admired it as we drifted down, underneath the parachute, waving at the camera. I was loving it- it wasn’t scary at all! In no time at all we were approaching the field, to land gently on the grass. I’d done it! I’d totally jumped out of a plane! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!! Haha, I was buzzing all day! I have a certificate to prove I did it, plus the DVD :D

These photos hardly do it justice...

Went back to the hotel to get ready for our surfing lesson on the beach! It actually wasn’t that hard to get the hang of the basics, but I got drenched because I kept getting swamped by waves! The surfboard kept attacking me, too. And I fell in a LOT.  But I managed to stand up- four times, and once for almost five seconds! I have a nice new collection of bruises, lol. But it was fun. :)

Tonight we had a barbecue at the surf school, which was cool. I’ve decided I like Byron Bay. :) Went on the Internet, too. Emails, facebook… told everyone about it! :D

What a day! I’m so glad I came here. I love Australia.

Tuesday 30th August 2011

Free day- mostly spent wandering around Byron Bay! Went in a lot of souvenir shops, buying souvenirs for people, and chilled by the beach for a while. I wish we were staying here for longer! 

Then- overnight bus journey no. 2, to Sydney! This time I actually got some sleep (though I did fall off the seat at one point!).

Wednesday 31st August 2011

Arrived in Sydney around 6.30 am. We couldn’t check into our rooms yet, so Joe and Ash took us on a tour of part of the city. It’s pretty impressive- high-rise buildings everywhere, but it’s beautiful too. Took loads of photos! We also went to Sydney Aquarium, which was awesome! Like a bigger, better version of the Sealife Centre, with dugongs, platypuses, penguins and sharks! First time I've seen a platypus; they're seriously bizarre creatures! 

A giant Lego Poseidon!

And a dugong! :D

Then we had a look around other parts of the city including Chinatown; Sydney's oldest pub; and the Harbour Bridge and Opera House! More awesome photos! And then we had our sunset cocktail cruise, which was pretty good :) Watched the sun go down behind the Harbour Bridge. :)
I can’t believe tomorrow’s our last day! :O

Thursday 1st September 2011

Last full day in Australia!!!!

First stop: Featherdale Wildlife Park! The best of all Australian wildlife- kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, koalas, flying foxes, wombats, tropical birds, a giant saltwater crocodile, various other reptiles (including the most poisonous snake in the world, the Inland Taipan!), and a lot more! Got to feed kangaroos, and have our photos taken with a koala! Took nearly 200 photos in total! And I was slightly tempted to smuggle the koala home! :P 

Then we drove into the Blue Mountains, stopping at Echo Point to take photos of the awesome views, including the “Three Sisters”. Then we got ready for some abseiling! Three cliffs awaited us- one a couple of metres high, another maybe 10m, and another about 20m! My first thought was, “No way am I going to do that!”- but I did! I got the hang of abseiling surprisingly quickly, and really enjoyed it! I even did the 45m/150ft high challenge, even though you couldn’t see how high up it was until you were literally hanging over the edge! Wicked. I’ve decided I’m a fan. :P Loved today!
Our last night in Australia. :( Some of us walked all the way across Sydney to take some last photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge! Walked back, tired but happy. Happy to be going home! On the one hand, this has been an awesome month, totally mind-blowing and worth every penny I paid for it- but I’m looking forward to going home and seeing everyone again.

Friday 2nd September 2011

Checked out of the hostel and boarded the coach for the last time. When we arrived at the airport, there were a lot of tears, especially when the time came to say goodbye to the people who were flying back to L.A.! Then the same thing a couple of hours later, as the people going to Fiji left. So that just left us- the people flying to London Heathrow. Onto our last plane, saying goodbye to Australia as we took off. 23 hours of hell.  Got no sleep, again! But read the rest of The Return of the King, finishing it just as we landed in Heathrow (pretty appropriate!) Home. At last.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My Australian Adventure: Part One (the volunteer project)

As I promised a while back, here's the first part of my travel journal, written whilst I was in Australia last summer. It's not exactly a literary masterpiece (and I apologise if there's any rambling in there!), but most of it was written whilst travelling on a coach or by torchlight!

Enjoy! :)

Saturday 6th August 2011

Well, I’m here - I’m in Australia! And it's been a long day! Well, two days, really (I’m more than a little confused about the date and time at the moment!) We arrived at Heathrow around 6pm, where we met up with all the other people flying from there- over 20 of us in total! Checking in, going through Customs, and a lot of waiting around! But we found the right terminal (easy to get lost in here- Heathrow’s massive!), and got on the right plane. Took off at 10pm. A 23-hour ordeal involving loud people and almost no sleep. Ended up watching films and doing about 20 sudokus. :P After 10 or so hours we stopped in Bangkok airport for about an hour (by then it was 9am - or 3pm there!), then back on board for another 11 hours! Arrived in Sydney at 5am (or 8pm in England! Where did Friday go…?). I’ve had two hours sleep in two days and I feel like hell! But I’m here!

We collected our suitcases, then the various groups split up to go to our individual projects. Two groups, including ours, were going to fly to Brisbane, so we waited, talking, in the airport for a couple of hours. The flight wasn’t too bad- after that 23-hour one I’ll never complain about flights again! Awesome views from the plane, anyway (I had a window seat for once!), of the Australian coastline. Then we arrived in a very sunny Brisbane! We met our project leader at the airport, and met the rest of our group, who had flown in from America. Then we met the people in charge of Wild Mountains Trust, with whom we’d be working for the next two weeks. They drove us through the wild outback of Australia…it’s so pretty! Endless fields of cows and horses, forests spreading for miles over mountains, low hills…and we left the main road and followed a winding track uphill, into the mountains themselves! The views are stunning! The first thing we saw, halfway up the mountain? A koala sitting in a tree! Seriously! It was so adorable! And apparently there are snakes around here, too… And I’m living here for two weeks - I still can’t believe it!

We did some introductory activities and got to know the building and the area. We’re going to be sleeping in A-Framed wooden huts on mattresses with sleeping bags and pillows - pretty basic accommodation! And there’s no heating. God, it’s cold! Well, it is winter here. And we’re in the mountains. Good job I brought a lot of warm clothes! Still, we’re here. And I slept through my first night- for 11 hours!

Sunday 7th August 2011

Woke up marvelling that I’m actually here, on the other side of the world! The weather was sunny, for a wonder- warmer than England! So… today, we went for a walk in the rainforest! Saw so many plants you can’t find in England, including stinging trees (“stinging nettles on steroids!”) and eucalypts. We had a talk on Wild Mountains and what we’re going to be doing over the next two weeks. Wild Mountains is an education centre which promotes sustainable living, which is why everything is recycled and reused, and nothing is wasted- the centre also operates on its own water and power supplies. Also, the meals are exclusively vegetarian (a bit of a shock for most people! I’m the only vegetarian in the group!)

The setting is beautiful, too. The sub-tropical rainforest of Queensland, on the border of New South Wales (we saw the border- it’s rabbit-proof, since rabbits are a common pest in Australia due to a lack of predators!). We also climbed up the inside of a hollow tree, which was an experience! (It was full of spider webs…) We also encountered various animals, including a gecko, and a lot of creepy crawlies! Several people have been bitten by ticks already!

This afternoon, we did a workshop on effective communication, and discussed what we’ve learnt since arriving. Other than that, we discussed the timetable for “chores”, and learnt to croquet. Or fail at it, like me. Oh well. We stayed in the hall for a bit, huddled around the fire (the only source of warmth!), then went on a walk to look for glow worms!

Monday 8th August 2011

To start our second day we each had to find a private spot in the forest and sit there for a while, just observing what’s around us. A lot, that’s for sure! We’re in the Australian bush, surrounded by acres of eucalypt forests and rainforests…I could think of endless words and none could quite describe what it’s like. I’d say it was peaceful- there’s no traffic around for miles, and not even a whisper to suggest that there’s anyone else around- but there’s so much life- from the tiny insects in the grass (of course, some of them aren’t so tiny- such as the spider discovered in the campsite toilet!) to the laughing kookaburras in the trees above. Seriously, they sound like monkeys!

Already I’ve learnt so much from being here. I thought it’d be hard to live like this, but it feels almost liberating. Far from the frantic noise of cities, cut off from the outside world, without even a phone signal…Technology doesn’t exist out here in the wilderness. And I have to say I’m loving it.

Today we:
  • Played a hilarious game this morning, “Wizards, Giants and Elves”. Basically a more interesting version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, only with more potential for injuries (especially when playing on gravel!)
  • Shovelled a lot of gravel and rocks into the back of a truck (and learnt how to shovel properly! Unfortunately having the coordination of a one-legged ant led me into some slightly ridiculous scenarios including tripping over my own shovel. Clearly my clumsiness has followed me here…)
  • And had fun riding in the back of the trailer! Justin’s mad driving, along with the winding forest path, made it an experience! And we saw a wallaby! (I’d better make sure I have my camera next time!)
  • Succeeded in making part of a gravel path in the clearing to park cars on- a great team effort!
  • And helped with the weeding, removing invasive weeds from the forest! (and discovered some extremely weird mushrooms that spit smoke at you when you touch them!)

Really tired (almost fell asleep on the floor this evening!) but had a great day!

Tuesday 9th August 2011

It’s bloody cold! Woke up at 6 am freezing! Yeah, we have to get up early, but considering I’m still jetlagged I keep falling asleep at 8 pm so I wake up early anyway. Today, I joined the group paving the amphitheatre they’re building in front of the main hall. We had to shovel a lot of gravel (cue more shovel-related drama!), then pack it down by jumping on it and bashing it repeatedly with a brick! Then we had to level it (a ridiculously time-consuming process!) and arrange the bricks on top. No cement yet, but it looks pretty impressive so far! Other groups were oiling, painting, and cutting bamboo. Then we all went to do more weeding. We’ve certainly discovered some weird animals today. A leaf insect (looked like a dried-up leaf!), a gecko, and even a dead snake! (headless and tailless. Seriously! God knows why…) And saw another koala, officially named Jim. :P

Paving progress!

I read more of The Hobbit this evening, sitting by the fire, until I actually fell asleep- on the floor! For about two hours! Frozen to death when I woke up- the fire was dying and there was hardly anyone left there! So I walked back to the campsite on my own. Through the forest. At night, with only a torch. It was pretty scary- I kept expecting a giant snake to lunge out of the bushes and attack me! But I made it back without freaking out- go me! Slept through the night, too.

Wednesday 10th August 2011

Woke up frozen to death again. I’m wearing two pairs of extra-thick socks, thermal top and trousers, three layers, fleece, gloves…and I’m still cold!

This morning I actually managed to do a bit of writing! Character planning for my new story :) Then:

  • Our first activity took us into the rainforest, where we constructed “wo-boys” on the track to stop rainwater flooding it! More shovelling. At least dirt is easier to shovel than rocks!

  • Went on a walk to see some waterfalls. Trekking through the rainforest made me feel like a real explorer, haha. :P
  • Then continued with paving the amphitheatre. Finished paving the first layer! At last! And, on the way to Whiptail clearing to pick up some more bricks, we saw FIVE wallabies! They just popped up all over the hill! I’m so annoyed I didn’t have my camera!
  • Another hour’s weeding...yay.
  • We all watched a short film, “The Economics of Happiness”, which was really interesting (though I confess to falling asleep once or twice- damn my messed-up sleeping pattern!). It was about how big corporations are money driven instead of focusing on what’s important- making sure future generations actually have a planet to live on! I think my inner eco-warrior has been reawakened!

Thursday 11th August 2011

I had a pretty good day! Began with more paving (oh joy!)- half-finished the top level now! Plus collected more bricks. And it rained, for the first time since I’ve been here. I guess the weather isn’t that bad. It can get pretty warm during the day, actually (and the sun is blinding!)- It’s too bad the nights are so cold!

Saw another koala! This one was so close! It was sitting in a tree just around the corner from where we were paving, and as we watched it decided to do a massive JUMP to the next tree, and climb all the way to the top! We were left staring in amazement! It’s the most active I’ve ever seen a koala! (all they ever really do is eat and sleep usually!) 

Friday 12th August 2011

Can’t believe it’s been 8 days since I left England! Today was pretty good- spent it cutting bamboo and collecting wood to patch up the gaps in the A-frames! Oh, and our game of “Cat and Mouse” this morning was hysterical! This evening we all played the “Hat Game”! I’ll try to explain the rules, but it’s a little complicated! We were divided into two teams, and everyone was given three pieces of paper. We had to write three random words down without letting anyone else see them. All the pieces of paper were put into a hat. Each team took it in turns to send someone up to pick out words from the hat, and in the first round, we had to tell our team about the word without actually saying it! If they guessed it, the person then drew another one, and continued until a minute was up. This carried on until we’d got through all the words in the hat. Then in the second round we were only allowed to say one word, and our team mates had to guess from that what the word we’d drawn was. Again, this continued until we’d got through all the pieces of paper. Then in the third round, we weren’t allowed to say the word, we just had to act it out! As you can imagine, it was pretty funny! (with some of the words people decided to put in the hat…) A hilarious night!

Saturday 13th August 2011

Awesome day :) We left the hall this morning, and drove back down the mountain, back towards civilisation! And we got to see more of Australia :) Got some nice pictures of the beautiful scenery we passed- mountains, fields, forests, even (in the distance) the sea! And saw a kangaroo! Only for a second, but wow! And I finally got a phone signal! Yay! (even though it was about 2 am in England :P) We went on a hike through the rainforest at Lamington National Park, which was amazing- it was like walking through the set of Jurassic Park or King Kong! Some of us got to see a funnelweb spider (yeah, the one with the poisonous bite :P), and I think I saw a bandicoot! Also climbed into some caves (if it has a “Do Not Climb” sign…hehe) Took some awesome photos. Well, until my camera died. A great day, though I was pretty tired when we got back.

Sunday 14th August 2011

Another awesome day. Most of us went on another hike to the waterfall on the border with New South Wales! A “short hike” (according to Richard!) turned into a full-day expedition, up and down a LOT of steep slopes. Every time we thought it was over, another one appeared! We found the waterfall, but decided to climb over the border to get a closer look at it. Another epic trek through the rainforest! At several points we had to cross the river, balancing precariously on stepping stones (it’s a miracle I didn’t fall in…) and even crawling across this giant log that was suspended across the river!

Living dangerously!

Had a campfire outside the hall tonight, which was pretty awesome. 

Monday 15th August 2011

Today we all went back to Whiptail (where we saw the first koala!) and did various jobs. I was part of a team who were attempting to move a caravan which had been there for 12 years! We had to remove anything that was fixing it to the ground, then use some ropes to create a pulley system so we could move it without it rolling downhill! Once the caravan was free, we had to help turn it around. It was like a game of tug-of-war! But our triumphant moment came when we finally succeeded. Victory for the Caravan Crew!

Tuesday 16th August 2011

Today was Lantana Bashing day- time to get rid of all those nuisance lantana plants that had been swamping the other plants and trees! We also did some more bamboo cutting, and planted over 70 trees! Proud to have done my bit for saving the rainforest :D It was freaking hot though; I could hardly see for the sun! Did quite a bit of story planning in the evening. Continued discussions on “Extreme Croqueting” :P Also finished reading The Hobbit and started on the first Lord of the Rings book, whilst sitting around another campfire beneath a starry sky. Nice :)

I can’t believe we only have two days left here!

Wednesday 17th August 2011

I’m going to miss this place. It’s so nice, sitting here in the middle of the forest, not a sound save that of the birds (kookaburras are so loud! Though not as loud as koalas at night…they sound like tigers! Seriously!). I do want to see the rest of Australia, but it’ll be weird being around so many people I don’t know.

Today we continued with the road we started last week- more shovelling gravel and rocks, and wild rides through the forest in the trailer! More wallabies :) I still haven’t caught one on camera!

Watched another short film, “The Story of Stuff”, which was about consumerism. So much of it resonated with my prior-held beliefs about the current obsession with technology and upgrading- why on earth do people feel the need to replace their mobile phones every few months?! And it pointed out the dire consequences if we continue living as we do now. Hmm. Some people would do well to take its message!

We played the “endangered species” game this evening, which was pretty funny. And the Hat Game, again! Honestly, it’s impossible to act out the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”! Lol.

Thursday 18th August 2011

It’s raining. And cold. But it’s the last day… I guess this has been an experience!

Final day of paving the amphitheatre- finally finished the top level (covered in mud though!). This afternoon we all cleaned the hall from top to bottom- pretty thoroughly! And talked about what we’ve learnt in the last two weeks. I think what the people at Wild Mountains do is amazing. I’m going to miss this place.

Friday 19th August 2011

An emotional morning! We finished packing and tidied the A-frames, before carrying all our luggage up to the hall. I bought some Wild Mountains postcards, including one of a wallaby (I never did get a picture!). Viv gave us all medals (with croqueted chains!)- mine said “Best Hiding Ability” (for the missing money!). 

We all said our goodbyes as we all got into the bus for our journey to the airport. Away from the wilderness (though several people got bitten by ticks at the airport!) And we were off again- en route to Cairns! For the Adventure Tour :D A pretty good flight- got to see the Great Barrier Reef from above!

Our team leaders met us at the airport and drove us to the hostel. It’s AMAZING! More like a hotel than a hostel - it’s huge, it even has its own swimming pool, bar and nightclub!

Review - The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)

"My name--my True Name--is Ashallayn' darkmyr Tallyn. I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her. My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl..."

To cold faery prince Ash, love was a weakness for mortals and fools. His own love had died a horrible death, killing any gentler feelings the Winter prince might have had. Or so he thought.

Then Meghan Chase--a half human, half fey slip of a girl--smashed through his barricades, binding him to her irrevocably with his oath to be her knight. And when all of Faery nearly fell to the Iron fey, she severed their bond to save his life. Meghan is now the Iron Queen, ruler of a realm where no Winter or Summer fey can survive.

With the unwelcome company of his archrival, Summer Court prankster Puck, and the infuriating cait sith Grimalkin, Ash begins a journey he is bound to see through to its end--a quest to find a way to honor his vow to stand by Meghan's side.

To survive in the Iron Realm, Ash must have a soul and a mortal body. But the tests he must face to earn these things are impossible. And along the way Ash learns something that changes everything. A truth that challenges his darkest beliefs and shows him that, sometimes, it takes more than courage to make the ultimate sacrifice.

(Cover and description are from Goodreads)

Amazon UK

I loved this book - I'm thrilled to have finally got to read it, and it was worth waiting for!

Julie Kagawa never ceases to amaze me. The first three Iron Fey books were so amazing that part of me feared that the fourth book - which is written from the perspective of Prince Ash, rather than Meghan - wouldn't live up to my expectations. And they were high: the ending of The Iron Queen was one of the most heart-wrenching I've ever read.

When Meghan became the Iron Queen, Ash was severed from her forever, as no traditional fey can survive in the Iron Kingdom. He swore an oath to find a way to join her, and bound by that promise, he embarks on a desperate journey to earn a human soul, to become mortal. But things are never simple in Faeryland. He is forced to join forces with Puck, his sworn enemy; the unpredictable Grimalkin; the Big Bad Wolf – and with someone he thought long dead. The quest takes him through the deadliest corners of Faery, from the River of Dreams to the tangled Briars, and finally to the End of the World. Forced to do battle with such horrifying creatures as the bloodthirsty Hobyahs and the sinister Forgotten, the group find that such enemies pale in comparison to the seemingly impossible challenges Ash must complete to gain humanity – and his greatest enemy of all could be himself.

Beautifully written as ever, The Iron Knight is a strong follow-up to Meghan’s journey to become the Iron Queen. We follow the exiled prince closely in his journey, learning more about the central characters and the history of Ash, Puck and Ariella. Terrifying, heartbreaking, both sad and uplifting, this is another emotional roller-coaster, as Ash faces temptation and loss as he is forced to choose between his past and his future – and his nature and that which he once despised. Can fey truly become human – and at what cost?

Wow, is all I have to say. Julie Kagawa has a gift for manipulating the emotions of her readers, and I was completely swept away. Ash's character is explored more in-depth over the course of the novel and he is far from the cliche ice-prince he once appeared to be. I found myself turning the pages feverishly, desperate to know whether Ash's love for Meghan would triumph over the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And  this is coming from someone who's not generally a fan of romance! The series has a perfect ending here - and this is definitely one I'll be rereading.