10-Day Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island

Day 1

Our New Zealand South Island campervan adventure begins! We had an overnight flight from Melbourne to Christchurch so we arrived tired. We picked up our campervan and headed out for adventures. We purchased a DOC (Department of Conservation) campervan pass for $40 NZD which gives us free camping at certain sites for 7 consecutive days. SCORE! We drove about two and a half hours from the airport to our campsite. Any further we felt would be dangerous because of fatigue. 

After checking in, we decided we needed to stay awake until at least 20:00 so we were on a normal sleep schedule for the next day. We immediately made coffee on our stove in the rear of the campervan knowing caffeine would be essential. Next, we decided to get our blood pumping and go on an hour hike to see a waterfall.

After the falls we came back, took showers and cooked dinner. With our bellies full, it was going to be harder to stay awake for a few more hours. We decided to watch a movie involving extra-terrestrials (always keeps us awake). Finally, 20:00 hit so we rolled down the shades and swan dived into a wonderful deep sleep. Day one was a success. 

Day 2

We woke up refreshed and drove towards Mt. Cook. On the way we stopped several times to take photos around Lake Tekapo, a stunning turquoise glacier fed lake. We arrived at our campsite, parked, geared up and headed out for our 3-hour return hike on the Hooker Valley Track. 

On the journey we crossed over multiple suspension bridges with stunning views of rivers. One bridge even gave you a great view of the Mueller glacier and lake. Along the way, it started to get very cold, rainy and windy. Fortunately, we are prepared for weather like this! 

Finally, we reached Mt. Cook. Wow! It was well worth the small hike there. On Mt. Cook is the Mt. Cook glacier and at the base is the glacier lake with large chunks of ice floating about. 

After returning to our camper, we cooked dinner and watched the stars come out. It was amazing to get to see the milky way! We were too busy being in awe to take any photos of that! 😜 Happy day!

Day 3

Today we woke up to heavy rain in Hooker Valley so we checked our weather apps and found that Cromwell, New Zealand’s wine country, was the only region of NZ that was supposed to have beautiful weather, so of course we headed that way because who doesn’t love wine?

As we headed towards the grapes we stopped in Lindis Valley for a quick hike. The landscape was so beautiful! The mountains looked like they were covered in basil seeds and flanked us on all sides. 

When we made it to Cromwell we drove around through wine covered hills and found a great winery to do a tasting. This part of New Zealand is known for its world-class Pino Noirs so of course we had to try them. However, because of the sunny summery warm weather, we felt a white would be best! 

After relaxing for a few hours with a bottle of Pinot Gris we made our way towards our Queenstown campsite. When we arrived it was raining heavily, which made for a fun dinner cooking experience! With dinner done, we curled up with a cocktail and watched a movie. Perfection!

Day 4

Today was a beautiful day. The weather was sunny with a high in the low 70s, Brad’s idea of summer! Since the sun was smiling, we felt it was perfect for an all-day hike. 

We made it to Roys Peak just after eating lunch on the banks of Lake Wanaka. We started the first half of our 16km journey up the mountain and quickly found out the incline was steeper than we thought. Fortunately, the weather was perfect and the views, while hiking, went from great to amazing so more frequent stops were a must for more fabulous photos!

After 4-hours challenging ourselves on this uphill battle, we finally made it to the top! It was the first time either of us had been at the top of a mountain and could see nothing but other mountain tops all around us. We were on top of the world and we had it all to ourselves. 

Pushing through the pain, we let gravity take hold of us as we made our decent. The downhill journey only took us 2-hours. When we made it to the bottom we opened the back of the campervan and cooked a large, well deserved, dinner consisting of rice and spicy chicken curry. We had left over tortillas from last night’s tacos, so we improvised and used them as naan. Yum! 

Day 5

Today was the day for Milford Sound! We woke up and made the five-hour drive to see it. Along the way, we made multiple stops for photo opportunities. 

Some of the coolest pictures we took were just random moments of Kevin yelling, “Pull over, I have to take this picture” as Brad swerved to the shoulder. A really neat detour was the mirror lakes. There was a slight breeze in the air, so it wasn’t still like glass, but the view was nothing to complain about. Only a little ways away and we would be to Milford Sound!

When we arrived, Milford Sound was very misty and visibility was super low. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to walk around and explore. We ended up cooking some spicy chilly for dinner and waited for the sun to go down. 

As the sun began to fall and the mist rise, the true beauty of the mouth of Milford Sound showed itself. With no one else around, we headed off road and walked right to the edge of the water and enjoyed the views all to ourselves

On the way to our campsite for the night we made a few more little stops while we still had light. Laying in our campervan looking through the moon roof at the stars again was a magical ending to this wonderful day.

Day 6

Today was a more relaxed day. We woke up to a little rain so we headed south to get away from it. Stopped for lunch along Lake Te Anau then went to the DOC (Department of Conservation) information center to see what new adventures we could find in Southland and Otago. 
We continued south east and took our time admiring how different New Zealand looks down south. 

We decided to call it an early day and head straight for our campsite. The campground was the most amazing yet. We were at Purakaunui Bay, steps from the beach with towering cliffs to one side and forest to the other. It was spectacular. 

After some food and wine, we relaxed and watched the sun go down. We were even lucky enough to see the amazing milky way again! Mother nature at its best!

Day 7

Our road trip today took us along The Catlins Heritage Trail and part of the Southern Scenic Route. 

We first journeyed to Waikawa Harbour for beautiful views while we chowed down on PB&J sandwiches. Next up was Curious Bay which was so incredible! It’s a 180-million-year-old ancient fossil forest with petrified trees from the Jurassic era.

We hung out waking the shores for a few hours admiring them while listening to the huge ocean waves crash against the cliffs. 

We then made our way to slope point and did a quick 20-minute hike through a sheep farm to the southernmost point of New Zealand’s south island. 

Continuing east, we made it to this lighthouse on Waipapa Point. Talk about a quintessential looking lighthouse. Hung out for a bit exploring the beaches nearby and saw a few sea lions hanging out on the beach! So, cool!

Our last few stops of the day were the 22-meter-high McLean Falls and the three-tiered Purakaunui Falls. We then headed back to our beach side campgrounds for the evening. Our New Zealand road trip has been so amazing so far!

Day 8

The pretties just keep on coming! Today we drove west and north along New Zealand’s scenic coastline. Our first stop was and hour hike to Jack’s Blowhole, a 55-meter-deep crevasse 200 meters from the ocean. It was a sea cavern that the ocean eroded to the point of it collapsing. 

Our next destination was Nugget Point. We came here to see Tokata Lighthouse but ended up falling in love with what laid beyond. These beautiful rock formations were giving us life! We love how they, so perfectly, trickle away into the vastness of the ocean. A real surprise and a fantastic treat. 

Next, we journeyed along the coast north, past Kaka Point and Dunedin City, to our campsite for the evening. This site was nestled in Trotters Gorge. Could not have asked for a better day.

Day 9

The Otaga Peninsula was our main goal today. We drove the winding roads along the beautiful coastline for almost an hour before heading a little inland and uphill to get to our hiking location. When we made it to Sandymount, we drank in the views overlooking part of the peninsula and knew this was going to be a pretty place for a hike. 

Our first stop on the hike was lookout point, the top of the hill. The view was obstructed by all the shrubs around so we didn’t spend too long there. Next, we made our way down and hiked along the edge of the mountain overlooking Sandfly Bay. An ironic name, since sandflys have been biting at us for the past 10 days. Who knew flies bit! 

As we continued along the edge of the mountain we came around to Lovers Leap, a bridge like rock formation over the ocean. We were the only ones there so we took our time to enjoy the peace. 

After our hikes for the day, we decided to head back into Dunedin. The city is a small town with a few spots to see, like the train station and church, but other than that not too much. We walked around looking at the art galleries, gift shops and street art. We settled in for a craft beer at a local pub in the city center while we charged our laptop and watched the locals stroll by.  

Day 10

Today was the last day of our New Zealand South Island Road Trip before spending a few days in Christchurch then leaving. 

We woke up and started our 5-hour journey back to Christchurch. We figured we would make a few detours along the way to see random things that may have caught our attention but we quickly found out there was not much between Dunedin and Christchurch to see. We powered through the book we had been listening to and finished it as we made our way home. 

Reflecting on our journey around the South Island was a bittersweet moment. We loved all the beautiful things nature provided for us but we are excited to continue onward. Two more days in Christchurch then off to Sydney! Cheers! 

We are two en route for future road trips. Kia Ora

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5 Steps to see The Great Barrier Reef on a Budget

Before we left on our trip around the world we made a list of “must sees.” One must see that was on the top of our list was The Great Barrier Reef, a 2400 kilometer long stretch of thousands of coral reefs and hundreds of islands.  Thousands of fish, mollusks and starfish, multiple types of turtles, dolphins and sharks all call this wonderful place home. (click here to see 25 of our favorite great barrier reef photos we captured when exploring)

Now, it’s hard to speak about anything in Australia and associating it with the word “budget” because nothing comes cheap in the land down under. However, we were able to minimize our costs by following a few simples steps.

Step 1. Find a Cheap Flight in

Like all countries we visit around the world we always look for the lowest cost way into a country. To enter Australia, we flew on a budget airline, one-way, from Bali, a relatively close country. Because we were already so close this kept our cost down to $208 USD per person. A great deal, we thought, since flights from the states are easily five times this price. We saved even more money because our flight was the overnight red eye and there was no need to pay for lodging that night. Of course the consequence of that it we were super tired when we arrived into Cairns.

Step 2. Transportation to and from the Airport

Cairns is a small city and there is no public transportation directly linked to the airport. We often times find that it’s the same price as public transport and cheaper than a taxi to take Uber or Lyft into town, however, these companies do not operate in Cairns. It always amazes us how hard it is in some cities to get to and from the airport. With some quick research we found that the easiest and most affordable way to make the 3 kilometer journey into town is with the Cairns Backpackers Shuttle. They have a backpackers special that will take you to and from your Cairns CBD accommodation for only $10 AUD return. Be aware this has to be booked online at least 24-hours ahead of time.

Step 3. Affordable Accommodations

Cairns has accommodations that cater to the budget conscious individuals to the travelers who want to live in opulence while on vacation. Cairns is also an infamous backpacker friendly city. It seems like we are not the only people who have the dream of snorkeling or diving The Great Barrier Reef. We stayed in the Parramatta Park neighborhood which is known as Backpackers District because of the high concentration of hostels and guest houses. We stayed at Ryan’s Rest and was able to snag a private room with a shared bath for $38 USD per night. The backpackers district is also within walking distance of Reef Fleet Terminal, where all the tour boats depart from.

Step 4. Cook Your Own Food and Drink Wine

A cheap meal in Australia is around $15 AUD ($12 USD) per person, add a drink on top of that and expect a hole to burn in your pocket. This can quickly add up when eating three meals a day. Our advice is to head to the grocery store and stock up on the grub. In Australia, often times grocery stores are found in shopping malls. By doing this we were able to get our meal costs down to an average $5 USD per meal while still having a full belly! Going out in Cairns is another way to spend your budget fast. However, we did find that wine was good and cheap. So if you want to have that glass of wine with your meal, drink up! Cheers!

Step 5. Select the right The Reef Tour

This is where the bulk of your budget is going to go and that’s okay, you did not come to see The Great Barrier Reef and not experience it’s wonder. There is a plethora of companies that operate one, two, even three day tours of the reef and islands that accompany them. We opted for the 1-day snorkeling reef experience with Compass Cruises for $109 AUD ($84 USD) per person. Compass Cruises’ boats are slightly older than some of the others we saw on the dock but it’s not the boat we came to see.

When we arrived we found out that our older vessel was broken down and that we had been “upgraded” to another company with a nicer boat so unfortunately we cannot let you know how the boats were for Compass Cruises. What we can let you know is the crew was spectacular since they followed us over to our new ride for the day.

Our day on board was fantastic. We started with complementary tea and coffee. As we sipped our mugs on the way to the outer reef, the on board marine biologist gave a presentation explaining the reef and wildlife we could possibly see. Our excitement began to build!

After an hour journey we made it to Hastings Reef, a part of the outer reef. It was time to put on our sexy stinger suits (a one piece) and jump in to feast our eyes on The Great Barrier Reef! From the moment we entered the water we were hooked. We had over three hours of snorkel time in the water at Hastings Reef. Kevin was even the last one out of the water, he never wanted to leave. In the hours spent snorkeling we saw so much!  

Lunch on board was top notch. We feasted like kings while we headed to Jorgensen Patch, our second snorkel location. Here the waters were a little rougher and the reef deeper. We had do to a lot more free diving style maneuvers to get up close and personal with this beautiful work of nature. It was worth every moment since we were lucky enough to see a sea turtle! Cue the excitement dance!

After an hour of snorkeling we were properly tired for the day and headed back on board for the complementary wine and cheese on our way to the harbor. From the sunny weather to the attentive crew, we could not have asked for a more wonderful day of snorkeling The Great Barrier Reef.

We are two en route for more wonderful budget travel experiences.

How we spent 36 hours in the UAE

The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is best known for the larger than life skyscrapers that litter the skyline in every direction. It’s also known for being luxurious and expensive, two words that are a backpacker’s worst nightmare. In order to keep our budget in check we downed some coffee, put on our running shoes and set out to see the UAE in 36 hours. Enjoy the journey!

Hours 1-5

Our overnight flight landed in Dubai at 5:00am. As with most overnight flights we did not get any sleep. We made it through customs and into the taxi line to make our way to the hotel to drop off our bags and see if we could check-in to our room early for some shut eye. It turns out it was going to cost us $100 USD to do that, not in our budget.

We figured out the public transit system and boarded a bus to Jumeirah Beach to feast our eyes on the Burj Al Arab. It was the perfect place to kill some time and even take a nap until 10am (the time where we could check in at no charge).

The Burj Al Arab is the only 7-star hotel in the world. This luxury hotel is uniquely shaped like a sail and is built on the ocean at the edge of Jumeirah Beach, a white sand beach with crystal clear water. Talk about picture perfect!

Hours 5-8 

Finally, we could check-in to our hotel room. We hopped on a bus and slowly made our way up to the hotel room like zombies. We showered off the overnight travel and took a 4-hour power nap!

Hours 8-10

Feeling like normal human beings now, we made a spontaneous decision to hop on a 2-hour bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi which only cost about $7USD each way. There is not much to see out of the window between the two major metropolis cities besides desert, so we buckled up, put on some music and got a few extra hours to recharge.

Hours 10-15

After arriving at the Abu Dhabi bus station, we hailed a cab, surprisingly inexpensive in the UAE, and headed to the Grand Mosque. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world, topped with 82 white marble domes, so you can imagine how awe inspiring it was from the moment we arrived. A bonus was it’s free to get in and see!

As we explored around the Grad Mosque grounds appreciating the level of design and detail put into it, we noticed there was an upcoming free cultural tour. We thought, “What the heck” and joined in. The tour was the best thing we could have done. The guide took us around the Mosque explaining more about Islam, the design of the building and the meaning behind the elements incorporated into the Mosque.

One of the coolest things was when the man took us into parts of the Mosque only accessible when with a guide. We even got the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s largest carpet!

After a few hours exploring, it was time to say goodbye to the Grand Mosque and catch the bus back to Dubai. The two-hour journey back flew by quickly. We were still on a high from seeing such a beautiful site.

Hours 15-24

We made it back to the hotel and crashed. Overnight flights always take a toll on us and we needed some proper sleep to fully recharge for the next day’s full adventure. Fortunately, we had had a hotel points left over from when we were working and had a good hotel pillow to rest our head on.

Hours 24–28 

Waking up feeling refreshed it was time to head out and explore Dubai! Our first stop, of course, was the Burj Khalifa! We booked our tickets a few days in advance because they sell out fast on the day of. Our time to head to the top was 1pm! Can you tell we are excited. The price for the tickets were around $34 USD per person, well worth the experience. 

The main observation deck is on the 124th floor. It is on of the highest outdoor observation deck in the world with some of the most breathtaking views.

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, standing at 829.8 m (2,722 ft), which means it towers over all of the other skyscrapers around Dubai. As we stepped up the the edge we looked out onto the modern city of Dubai our excitement elevated. 

All of the buildings looked like something out of Sim City when we looked out of the slits in the observation deck. This give you a great view of Dubai. It is hard to believe that most of the modern dar Dubai was built within the last 15-20 years. 

For an extra $34 per person you can buy a ticket that will get you to the 148th floor observation lounge, however, we didn’t think it would be worth it for us, our heads were already in the clouds from deck 124. 

Looking straight down when you are 124 stories up on an outdoor observation deck can put a knot in your stomach. It’s almost hard to make out the cars, let alone people, from up here. There is also a lounge on the 125th floor you can go up to and get a souvenir. 

Hours 28–29

After spending a few hours At the Top of the world drinking in the magnificent views, we headed back down in the super fast elevator and headed into the Dubai Mall for a cup of coffee and a view of the Burj Khalifa from the outside. 

The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world and is just as fancy as you would think. One of our favorite features in the mall was the 7-story waterfall with life-sized sculptures of men swan diving over the water. 

Hours 29–31

As the sun went down, all the pretty city lights started to illuminate the modern skyscrapers so, naturally, our next stop was do go and see the city at night.

The financial district of Dubai has some of the most unique architectural skyscrapers all highly concentrated. Taking the opportunity to practice our long exposure photography we enjoyed a few hours of picture taking and sight seeing. 

Hours 31–32

It is very easy to visit Dubai and just look at the modern skyscrapers and hang out on the beach (what we have done to this point)… so we decided to take the train to Dubai Creek where the Souks (traditional markets) are located. We didn’t have enough time to walk through them at night or take a Dhow (wooden water taxi) across the creek, but we were able to appreciate the views of the traditional Dubai.

Hours 32–34

Short on time, we headed back to the Burj Khalifa to see the fountain show from The Dubai Fountain. The show rivaled that of the fountain show at the Belagio in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

To us, the most impressive part of the fountain show was before and after when the Burj Khalifa, in all of it’s 2,722 ft, lit up in a spectacular show of lights. It’s indescribable the feeling we got when staring up a the tallest manmade structure and seeing the entire thing light up in every color of the spectrum. 

Hours 34–36

After the show we headed back to get our bags from the hotel and head to the airport, but not before one last view from the top looking back at the edge of the modern city. Who knows what buildings will be built here in the next 15-20 years. 

We are two en route for more fast and fun city explorations

Sunset at Tanah Lot, a Bali must-see

We landed in Bali not knowing where each day would take us. Something we found out quickly was Bali public transportation is not well connected or easy to use. What was easiest for us, and very affordable, was to hire a private driver for around $35 for the day and see multiple sites at our own pace. After asking around we quickly found out from locals and other travelers that seeing Tanah Lot at sunset was a must, so we put that on our list for the day!

Tanah Lot is rock formed just off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. At low tide, the temple is most easily accessible. Build on Tanah Lot is a Pura (temple) said to have been from the 16th-century. The temple is built in honor of the Balinese sea gods. 

Tanah Lot is one of seven sea temples that litter the coast of Bali. In addition to Pura Tanah Lot, we were also about to see Pura Batu Bolong. While this temple is not as iconic as Tanah Lot, it was a treat to be able to see another one of the sea temples. 

We made our way down to get a closer look at this beautiful Hindu site. We were not able to go onto the top of the rock to see the actual temple, just onto the stairs. However, before being able to enter the steps of the temple we had remove our shoes and receive a blessing to prepare us to enter the holy site.

The blessing is called a rice blessing. First, water is sprinkled across your forehead with a brush, then rice is placed on it and finally, a plumeria flower place behind your ear. Kevin decided to partake in the blessing.

Brad decided to sit it out to relax and do some people watching. It didn’t take long for Kevin to receive the blessing then walk up the 25-steps and see the ocean go off into the horizon. 

For the next hour, we wondered around the rocky coastline enjoying the views of the ocean. As we wandered around, waited for the sun to go down, we came across the best little spot to enjoy the sunset from. 

As the sun went down we realized why seeing the sun set over Tanah Lot is a must-see when visiting Bali, Indonesia. The way that the sky turned beautiful shades of purple and orange were a real treat. 

An added bonus to where we decided to enjoy the sunset from was there were stagnate pools of ocean water left by high tide which allowed for some of the most beautiful sunset photos. We love the way Tanah Lot and the sunset reflect off the water. We are so glad we listened to other’s advise and made it to see the sunset over Pura Tanah Lot. 

We are two en route for more must-see sites

Thai Street Food, enough said!

Part of experiencing Thailand is eating the street food! Out of everywhere in the world we have visited and all the travelers we have had the honor to meet, everyone is in agreeance that Thai Street food is the best in the world. From hot and spicy to sweet and savory here is our picks for the best of the best in our Thai street food experience.

1. Tom Yum Goong Noodles

Tom Yum Noodle is a very popular dish in Thailand. With its intense flavor combination of sweet, sour and spicy it’s hard not to love.

2. Pad Thai

Probably the most well-known Thai dish, Pad Thai is a staple of Thai street food. It is a combination of stir fried noodles, fried egg, shrip, firm tofu, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, pepper, and red chilis poured over flat rice noodles. Often topped with fresh shallots, peanuts, sprouts and banana blossoms.

3. Chicken Stir-Fry in Oyster Sauce

This is a simple chicken and vegetable stir-fry tossed in oyster sauce and served with steamed rice. Anyone could make this is about 3 minutes which makes it the perfect on-the-go street food. 

4. Pineapple Fried Rice

Probably the second most well known Thai dish with expats. This dish is the perfect balance of sweet and savory. Generally this dish is served in a pineapple half filled with rice, shrimp, pineapple, cashews, garlic, onion, red chilis, raisins, egg, and peas that have been tossed in soy or fish sauce. 

5. Khao Pad Gong

Khao pad gong is another simple street food dish. It’s a basic stir-fry with the addition of tomatoes, cucumber and coriander leaves. Ofter served with fresh shirmp you have to open yourself. 

6. Thai Basil Chicken

This is the dish to go for in order to feel the heat! It’s a simple mix of chicken, basil, shallots, garlic and fresh cut red chilis tossed in a fish sauce and served with steamed rice. The fresh cut red chilis are everything you want for a powerful punch of intensity.

7. Mango Sticky Rice

At first we didn’t know what we were going to get when we heard we had to try “Mango Stick Rice.” However, this Thai dessert is so delicious in every bite. It is fresh cut mangos eaten with sticky rice topped with coconut milk and sometimes rice crispy or toasted sesame seed.

8. Thai Rolled Ice Cream

Ever since we saw a video of someone making Thai tolled ice cream, we knew we had to find some!  It is milk with you choice of flavors and fillings stirred and chopped with metal spatulas on a frozen slab. It is then spread into a thin sheet and scrapped off into rolls and packed into a cup. It was then topped with whipped cream, more goodies, and sauce. Delicious! 

9. Coconut Ice Cream

This is exactly what it sounds like! It’s the perfect blend of cream and coconut ice cream served in a coconut half and drizzeled with chocolate sauce and coconuts. 

10. Pint of Chang Beer

No street food list would be completed without enjoying a golden pint of Chang beer. It’s cheap, good and cleaner than the water, so drink up! Cheers!

We are two en route for more enjoying more of the worlds best street food

Discovering the Ancient Ruins of Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka has been full of surprises. It was never on our “must visit” list of countries. However, when taking a gap year to see the world we knew we would have to be open to going where the cheap flights, busses, boats, trains or cars would take us. We are so glad that one of those flights landed us on this special tear-drop shaped island off the Southern coast of India. 

One of the major highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka was getting to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa, we know, it’s a mouth full to try and say. Polonnaruwa is a city in the North Center Province of Sri Lanka. At one point, like many other cities in Sri Lanka, it was the capital of the country. In fact, it is the second most ancient capital. Today it is a mass of ruins crawling with cute little monkeys and travelers like us exploring the past. 

We decided the best way to explore this city was by our favorite means of transportation, the bicycle. We would recommend this. For only 300 lkr per person (about $2 USD) we set off to explore the ruins…or so we thought. At the entrance we were turned away because we did not have a ticket. It turns out that you have the by the tickets from the Archeological Museum 1km back into town. After shelling out 3750 lkr ($25 USD) each, we biked back to the entrance and started to discover the 5 areas of this wonderful ancient site. 

1. The Royal Palace Grounds

This part of the city contains the Royal Palace, Council Chamber and the Kumara Pakuna (bathing pool). They say first impressions are all you get and we were wowed. 

The Royal Palace was thought to have been a 7-story high palace in it’s time but now only stands as a three story ruin. Records saw there use to be up to 1000 rooms in this grand palace. A fantastic way to start our exploring.

The Council Chamber was where the King’s throne use to be. As you walk the few flights of stairs you are greeted by two stunning carved lions.  

We would not suggest taking a dip in the stagnant bathing pool, however, it was awesome to see the remnants of how this civilization would gather in communal bathing. 

2. Quadrangle 

The Quadrangle was one of our favorites. The entire area is sacred ground so we had to remove our shoes and hats. Shoulders and knees are not supposed to be shown either, so out of respect, people will wrap a scarf around their waist or throw a shawl over their shoulders. Sri Lanka is a hot country and the ground you are walking on is stone and gravel, so at times we would need to find a shaded spot to cool our feet off. 

The vatadage in the Quadrangle is an 18 meter round relic house. Their are four entrances that lead to the central chamber which houses four Buddha statues. At the base of the northern entrance is a moonstone that is the best in all of Polonnaruwa.

The Thuparama Image House is one of the few buildings where you can see a roof still intact. This building has survived for over 900 years and takes some maintenance to keep up appearances. 

Atadage Dalada Maligaya is where the Tooth Relic of the Buddha was kept in Polonnaruwa. This would have been a very sacred place where people would have come to worship and meditate. The Velikkara pillar of inscription tells the story of protection of the Relic of the Tooth. 

Sathmahal Prasadaya is the most popular square shaped stupa in all of Sri Lanka. It’s seven-stories high and is a defining structure in the Quadrangle. 

Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is a building featuring fine stone carved pillars shaped like a stork topped with a lotus flower. They are a fun and unique feature in Polonnaruwa. 

Gal Potha is the “Stone Book” which tells of King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196). It describes his life as the ruling king and why he was eligible to be king of Sri Lanka. The stone is 26’10” x 4’7″ and weighs around 25 tons. Pictures is the side showing a beautiful carving of two elephants showering the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. 

3. The Outskirts

These few sites were a little off the beaten path but we had bikes so it was not a problem hitting all the spots. 

Shiva Devale No. 2 is the oldest structure in Polonnaruwa and is virtually unchanged from when it was constructed.

Manik Vehera is one of the oldest stupas (a domed shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) in the ancient city. It is small compared to the other stupas in Polonnaruwa but still packs a punch. 

The Pabalu Vehera stupa is one of mystery. It is unknown when and who built this unique shaped building. Traditionally stupas have only four image houses surrounding them, however, Pabalu has nine.

4. Northern City

The largest area in Polonnaruwa is the Northern City. Here is where you will find notable sites such as Rankoth Vehera, Kiri Vehara, Alahana Pirivena, and Lankatilaka temple.

Ronkoth Vehera is huge. It’s a 54 meter high stupa whos name translates to “Golden Pinnacle Stupa.” It is one of the most iconic stupas in Polonnaruwa.

Lankatilake temple houses a colossus size carving of the buddha. The power of it’s grand scale is matched by the remaining walls surrounding the sacred ground. Across are the monastic ruins of Alahana Pirivena where the monks would have lived.

Kiri Vehera, or “the milk stupa,” is only 30 meters tall but is hundreds of years older than the more recognized Rankoth Vehera. It is estimated to be from the 6th century BC. 

5. Gal Vihara

The final area of the ancient royal ruins of Polonnaruwa was a site to be seen.

Gal Vihara is a buddhist rock temple with four buddhas carved from a single piece of granite rock. It is considered the best example of carvings from it’s time. 

Not knowing what to expect as we rode the bus from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa turned out to be an awe inspiring experience. Even though the day was scalding hot and at times we felt exhausted by the sun, we had a fantastic time in Polonnaruwa. 

We are two en route to more ancient discoveries

Adventure to Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher

We started our journey waking up at 5:45am to get ready and head out the door by 6:15. Its times like this where we are glad to have perfected the “shower and go” routine. After walking 20 minutes to St. Andrew’s Church in Dublin to catch our coach we departed at 6:40am. 

On the way to the cliffs we passed by a large field where they filmed the scene in Braveheart where the Irish army runs down and join the Scotts! Where’s the blue and white face paint when you need it. As we continued or trek onward we had a proper Irish soundtrack in the background, fiddles, flutes and all. The tone for the day was set. 

A few hours later we made it to the Cliffs of Moher! It was a spectacular day with clear blue skies and shining sun. A day like this is a rarity in Ireland and one we would relish in. Upon arrival we set off on a 45 minute hike along the cliffs. 

  The view we were welcomed to as we waled up to the Cliffs of Moher
The view we were welcomed to as we waled up to the Cliffs of Moher
  The view we were welcomed to as we waled up to the Cliffs of Moher
The view we were welcomed to as we waled up to the Cliffs of Moher

The first stop on our hike was O’Brien’s Tower. It was built in 1835 as an impressive tea house. It is now the tallest point on the cliffs and is used as an observation tower. Near here the cliffs rise around 214 meters (702 ft.)

  O'Brien's Tower
O’Brien’s Tower

After a quick stop at the tower we continued on our hike. At some points we were hiking right along the edge of the Cliffs. Every now and then our breath was taken away with those picture perfect moments. 

 Brad hiking along the edge. 
Brad hiking along the edge. 
 Views as we hiked
Views as we hiked
 Came across this on our hike
Came across this on our hike
 Look how tiny those people are in the distant on the edge
Look how tiny those people are in the distant on the edge

The path was a slick and muddy so we both got a little mud on our hands, down the legs of our pants, and a good amount on our shoes. They say not to get too close to the edge because the cliffs can come crashing down, but we couldn’t resist. 

 Kevin dangling his feet over the edge
Kevin dangling his feet over the edge
 You wouldn't want to fall off the cliffs 
You wouldn’t want to fall off the cliffs 

Even with a slip here and there, we had such a blast. We made sure to take our time and enjoy the scenery. The end of our hike came to a crux with a view we will never forget.  

 The day was so clear you could even see the Aran Islands off in the distance. 
The day was so clear you could even see the Aran Islands off in the distance. 

After spending some time relaxing with a great view, basking in the sun, and listening to the waves crash against the cliffs, we made our way back to the start. It was time to hop on the coach and head off for more sightseeing. 

We are two en route for more Irish adventures.