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Category Archives:Destinations

My 16 Favourite Things to Do on New Zealand’s South Island

They call it New Zealand. Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. Whatever you want to call it, I just see raw, untamed natural beauty. With a few quiet cities thrown in for good measure, it’s an outdoor loving, adventure seeking, road tripper’s dream. Kynie and I rented a campervan and drove around the New Zealand South Island and these were some of the highlights from that 3 week road trip. Continue Reading

Sydney Railway Square YHA Review

Wherever you stay in Sydney it’s important to be as close to transport as possible because let’s face it, it’s not the most efficient city for getting around. Because of this, choosing to stay “in the CBD” still casts a wide net in potential sleeping points and surprisingly different experiences. The Circular Quay end feels the bustle of being right next to Sydney’s biggest attractions: the Bridge and the Opera House, while the Ultimo end feels a little more relaxed and reserved, especially as you approach Surry Hills or Camperdown.

Railway Square YHA is located at the Ultimo end of the city: away from the craziness of Circular Quay, but in my opinion, also more convenient, as it is right next door to Central Station. I had a 2 night stay there, as I was in town for the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular (GABS). Although the festival was at Olympic Park, I wanted to be in the city but connected enough to transport to get out and back easily.

The History

YHA are known for going above and beyond expectations. I’ve stayed at a few now and in my experience, the facilities are not just exemplary, but the site is often more than just a random building as well. Much like Sydney Harbour YHA, the YHA Railway Square is steeped in history dating back to the early 1900s.

The building is connected to Central Station and once served as the “Inwards Parcels Shed” for Australia Post. The parcels would arrive via tunnel direct from the Sydney Post Office, ready to be shipped around the country.

100 years after being built (1904-2004), the Inwards Parcel Shed became the Railway Square YHA. The replica carriage dorms sit at what they call “platform zero”, which was once in use at the station. If you look down between the dorms, you can see the tracks still there giving the carriages the genuine illusion of being on the tracks.

Close to Transport

When it comes to proximity to transport, you literally can’t get any closer than Railway Square YHA. 250 metres to Central’s departure hall, or mere inches from platform 1. And if you’re coming or going by bus, then Railway Square is practically at the front door.

I came by train and I strolled the short distance from Central, in behind the Adina Hotel, and through the doors of the former warehouse that houses the YHA Railway Square. The welcome was as friendly as they come and I was shown to my room: a private twin room in the far corner of the facility. (It was the top left window in the image below).

That’s the Central clock tower you can see in the background

The Room

The room was very basic, but anything more would have been a waste. There was a bunk bed with a double on the bottom and a single on top. I was there on my own and planned on spending most of my time out in the city so this suited me perfectly.

The only decision I had to make was “do I want the top bunk experience or a whole double bed?!”

I actually asked if I could have a couple of friends crash with me after the beer festival and the receptionist said that would be no problem at all (as long as they sign in when they do). It would certainly be very “cosy” with 3 people in there, but if you’re good friends and just there to go out in Sydney and get on it then it’s perfect.

Twin room at YHA Railway Square
Toiletries and towels are even provided in the private rooms!

The bathroom was nearby so even though it didn’t have an ensuite, it was not far to walk when nature called or to take a shower.

On this matter, the YHA was fairly full the weekend I went. The bathrooms never felt crowded and there was never a queue.

Importantly, the showers had really good pressure, coverage and heat: features that are often lacking at hostels. To me, that’s a sign that the owner actually cares that you enjoy your stay. The bathroom had heated floors too I’m pretty sure, which was noticeable in a cool May weekend.

Dorms

For those travelling with friends or wanting a cheaper option, there are plenty of dorms as well, of course. To keep with the station theme, some of the dorms have been fashioned into train carriages at Platform Zero; right next to platform 1 on the other side of the fence.

From the platform, it just looks like they’ve built a short building to look like carriages. But then as you walk through them, you notice that in between the two rows of carriages, the floor drops away to make them look like that are placed on the old tracks. It’s a very unique design and a fun novelty.

They are genuinely outside though, and while you might think being this close to the tracks would be noisy, the YHA staff actually told me that they built the carriages specifically to block out most noise. And besides, they are right next to the interstate tracks that are much quieter than the busy commuter trains.

Carriages on Platform Zero at YHA Railway Square Sydney
Through the frosted glass is Platform 1

Facilities

At all hostels, you expect the rooms to be bare bones – that’s how you know they are keeping the prices affordable. Railway Square YHA is filled with common areas for those inevitable times when travelling you just need some downtime, but want to be somewhere more interesting that your bed.

There is a large lounge filled with couches near reception, which is right next to the kitchen, and the theatre. There is also no shortage of sitting spaces dotted around the property for when you might want to relax, but don’t want to be amongst the commotion of the large common area.

The traditional goon box left in the theatre on a Sunday morning
Beanbags in the hallways at Railway Square YHA
Beanbags in the hallways

Then of course when the sun is out there is a deck with deck chairs with a view of the city.

There are fußball and pool tables to challenge your mates, and daily activities that’ll help you meet some people, get free food, and explore the city. These are all advertised on the blackboard next to reception.

YHA Railway Square sun deck

Whats on at Railway Square YHA this week

The Good Vibes

Beyond the things to do and people to meet, Railway Square YHA has put in some real effort to make sure that the facility is not just a Plain Jane affair. If there’s a spare wall, they’ll whack on some artwork. There are photos of Australian landmarks everywhere, but a lot of the art is just painted straight onto the wall. It’s all pretty unique and will turn your head every time you walk by.

Artwork on the walls of YHA Railway Square I feel good today YHA Railway Square

Fun stuff nearby

Being close to transport is great and all, but sometimes you just want to go for a wander. Central Station, and by extension Railway Square YHA, is right on the precipice of Surry Hills with quite a few good places for food, beers, and coffee:

  • Keg and Brew is an old English style pub with timber furnishings, hanging glassware, and over 20 craft beers on tap.
  • Royal Albert also has a great craft beer selection, but with slightly less character – great chats with the barman though in my experience.
  • Single O and The Reservoir both have great coffee and breakfasts, and
  • Chur is renowned in Sydney for doing great burgs.

For me, Sydney’s Railway Square YHA is all about the location. I loved being able to walk to Surry Hills, but I also loved getting the train back to Central Station after a big night out and not having to walk far to my bed.

You can’t ask for much more than that, but they offer it anyway.

I was a guest of Sydney Railway Square YHA, but of course all opinions are my own.

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Two Adults on a 4 Day Disney Cruise in the Bahamas

disney cruise castaway cay header

Kynie and I are both pretty big Disney fans. Perhaps Kynie a little more than me, but I’ve certainly been known to watch an animated cartoon or two in my time. We’ve been to Disneyland both together and separately. So while researching things to do after our time in Miami in 2014, the moment I suggested a Disney Cruise in the Bahamas I knew there would be no turning back.

The fact that we didn’t have kids at this point in time meant nothing to us in regard to the cruise. It wasn’t even a consideration. It wasn’t until we were questioned by just about every single person we told did we consider that maybe it would be a bit weird; two adults on a Disney cruise without kids. But you know what? As we initially expected, it was completely fine, almost better.

Disney Wonder leaving Miami Beach

Continue Reading

5 unexpected highlights of visiting Las Vegas for the 4th time

I went to Las Vegas for the first time in 2011. It was me with a couple of buddies who were young and on a road trip around California. I visited a few weeks later without them as part of a 2-day tour from LA to the Grand Canyon. I then visited for a third time in 2014 with my wife. And late last year we found ourselves back in the States and made our way back to Vegas to catch up with some of the same friends as visit 1, plus a few extras.

Suffice to say I love Vegas. The energy and grandeur is like no place on earth. The night sky lights up with scale replicas of some of the world’s best-known attractions. And you can carry beers from one casino to the next as you seek out new places to play cards.

Everything about it is brilliant.

This most recent time in 2016, I was able to explore a little more than I had before because a) I’d done a lot of the common Vegas attractions before, and b) because I had 4 days there instead of 2. Here are some of the highlights from my most recent trip that made it all the more memorable.

Eiffel Tower Experience

The cornerstone of the Paris Hotel and Casino, the one-third scale Eiffel Tower replica dominates the Las Vegas Strip. By day it stands boldly, towering over the Bellagio fountains and by night it lights up like a beacon, a perpetual reference point.

Las Vegas from the Eiffel Tower Experience Paris Hotel and Casino-sm

I took the chance to actually go up the Eiffel Tower replica this time; I got some discounted tickets on Groupon. And while the view is a little different to that of the real thing, it is no less dramatic. We went up at night and were treated to an impressive vista of the entire strip – the Linq High Roller and beyond to the north, The Aria, the Luxor and more to the south.

However, the highlight of the Experience is being able to watch the Bellagio Fountains dance the night away with the best seat in the house every 10 minutes.

For me, it’s one of the best things to do in Las Vegas for the non-gambler.

Discovering Downtown LV

Downtown Las Vegas is a completely different experience to the Las Vegas strip. The Strip is long and feels unbridled to the point of exhaustion (in a 100% good way). Downtown is contained mostly within the Fremont Street Experience: a comparatively short, covered street bounded by low-rise, historic casinos, live music, and the obligatory flashing lights on the ceiling and on every surface possible.

Fremont Street Experience Downtown Las Vegas

Just like the Strip, Fremont Street is great to wander. Grab a roadie from a convenience/souvenir store or sit down at a bar with a cheap margarita. My group chose – actually I’m not sure what casino we chose. But the margaritas were strong and cheap.

Make sure to visit the shark tank in the Golden Nugget and if you visit in summer, bring your swimmers to take a water slide through it. You can take a brewery tour at Banger Brewing, see a what a million dollars cash looks like at Binions Casino, or enjoy some of Vegas’ best pizza and craft beer menu at Pizza Rock.

Finding Craft beer in CVS

While this may only be special to beer lovers from Australia, being able to not just buy beer, but excellent beer in a local pharmacy was something dreams are made of. Buying long necks of Lagunitas and Goose IPA was something of a novelty. Buying a big can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA and drinking it while walking down the street then inside another casinoa at midnight was something that is not just illegal, but impossible to do in Australia.

I recognise that this is not exclusive to Las Vegas within the USA, but the novelty was heightened by the magnitude that is Las Vegas.

Las vegas strip New York New York

Seeing the strip from the air

If you know anything about Las Vegas you will know that it was built from nothing, up out in the middle of the desert. It is near nothing and all electricity needs to be generated nearby, and water piped in from far away just so the extreme consumption of each casino and individual can be satisfied in the city.

Nothing exemplified this more than seeing the city from the sky. The whole region is flat and sandy, with the exception of Red Rock Canyon. Then there is a small section of odd-shaped high-rise buildings in the middle. It is truly something special to see and is equally spectacular in the day as it is at night.

Las Vegas Strip from the plane

I think it was so memorable for me because when you’re walking along the strip, you can usually only see a few casinos at any one time, and you feel dwarfed by them. You see exactly what the architects want you to see from the strip, and this is what most people see most of the time.

But in the air, you see it all. You can see the scale, and you can see the layout. You also get a sense of how trivial it is. I mean, I love Las Vegas, but it truly is excessive. From the air, it just looks so small.

Getting immersed in nature at Red Rock Canyon

I went to Vegas to enjoy the lights, the ridiculousness, and play some blackjack while drinking free beers – as usual. However, my highlight this time was indeed a day hiking out at Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is a natural, rocky wonder just 30 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard. Over 20 hiking trails of varying difficulty extend from the one-way ring road.

Red Rock Canyon summit

The hike my group chose was Calico Tanks and we couldn’t have selected better. It wasn’t a difficult hike and it took us through some incredibly vivid rock formations, winding its way through a canyon valley until finally reaching the end: a beautiful panorama of a flat Clark County with the Las Vegas Strip visible in the distance.

Have you been to Vegas? What was your favourite discovery or unexpected highlight?

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