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Category Archives:Australia/NZ/Oceania

Best Sydney Off the Beaten Track Spots: Neighbourhoods, Beaches, and Cafes

Ok so you’ve hit the biggest sights in Sydney and still have a couple of days to spare. You don’t just want to wander aimlessly through the CBD because, well, once you’ve seen it you don’t need to keep seeing it. You will quickly run out of things to do in central Sydney, so maybe you want to get off the beaten path and see Sydney like a local. Luckily for you, there is so much to see in Sydney in the neighbouring suburbs. And I know just the places.

This continues perfectly from my previous article on Sydney’s main attractions.

Newtown

Grungy, urban, hipster cafes, bookshops and clothes stores. May I introduce to you Newtown. The reason you probably don’t know this part of Sydney is because, when visiting a new city, no one ever goes anywhere based on one measly paragraph in the guidebook (I’ve seen it!). It is, however, a favourite suburb of the locals and is well worth an afternoon even if you are only in Sydney for a few days.

A short 10-minute bus ride south of the city makes the ease of access to enjoyment ratio perfect. Newtown is just a short bus or train ride south and is teeming with culture, creativity, cafes, and cool bars.

Newtown is a hotbed of international cuisines and you’ll find it all from Thai and Vietnamese, to locally sourced burgers and other junk. I love the greasy burgers of Big Daddy’s, which is set like a 1970s US diner. Mary’s is a dark cave of a bar with good beers and some great burgers. And the Newtown area (and surrounds) is also a hotspot for boutique breweries in the Newtown, so keep an eye out for Young Henry’s, Batch Brewing, Wayward, and Willie the Boatman if you’re a hop-enthusiast.

The University of Sydney just down the road is worth a walkthrough as well. As Australia’s oldest university, some of the architecture is from bygone eras. The Quadrangle and Grand Hall are particularly beautiful.

Newtown buildings along King street Sydney
Newtown buildings along King St.

Alexandria

While Newtown might be a local Sydney institution, Alexandria is the new kid on the block and is currently being transformed from an industrial wasteland to a trendy paradise, burgeoning with hip cafes to wake up to and relaxed bars to kick back in of an evening. That said though, Alexandria probably shouldn’t be your first priority if time is somewhat limited.

(While it does boast some of Sydney’s best up and coming café’s, prioritise Newtown and/or Surry Hills before making the foray into Alexandria. But of course, if it wasn’t worth visiting at all, I wouldn’t mention it all.)

The suburb itself is most certainly off the beaten track and while some places keep very busy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find tourists in the area.

One of the favourites of locals (and mine too) is the Grounds of Alexandria. The Grounds is more than a cafe, it takes up a whole block and has a few different areas including a sit-down cafe, a more casual, takeaway style cafe, coffee carts, a florist, food carts. They even keep some farm animals and their own horticulturist on site! It’s very unique, all in a rustic garden setting. People make the trek from Newcastle just to go here so you can bet it’s worth a train or a cab ride out from the city.

Grounds of Alexandria Sydney sign
Grounds of Alexandria. Well known by locals, not by tourists.

Around the corner is The Potting Shed, a less casual restaurant and bar that feels more like a garden party with hanging pots and greenery everywhere.

And when you get thirsty, The Lord Raglan can sort you out with some good, local beer. Owned by Rocks Brewing Co, their own beers are most common, but also feature some great rotating taps. And there’s also a handful of pinball machines for when the conversation dries up.

Related: if you’re driving to Brisbane, don’t miss my suggested road trip itinerary for all the best places to visit on the east coast.

Eastern Suburbs

The residential area of the Eastern suburbs is reserved predominately for Sydney’s elite. Passing a Lamborghini dropping kids off at school is fairly commonplace. Luckily for the rest of us, they do not hold the monopoly on the beaches and the views. Since the ‘Eastern Suburbs’ is largely residential I am defining the Easter Suburbs as anything from the beaches on the inside-south of Sydney Harbour, around the coast along to Coogee.

Most of the best things to do in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs (apart from being loaded and living there) are in fact beaches, so you know, just a heads up.

Seldom visited by tourists, Shark Beach in Vaucluse is the perfect beach to escape the hoards that Bondi shamelessly attracts. The calm water is great for families and for the more active, there are rocks to explore at either end.

Watson’s bay is a fantastic day trip from the city. It’s one of those beautiful hidden places in Sydney that will combine amazing views of the bridge with the open ocean, cliffs and a serene beach since the best way to get there is by ferry from Circular Quay. The beach is a gorgeous spot for a swim, paddle and behind it is a large park to have a fish and chip picnic bought at the wharf. Across the park is The Gap – Sydney’s favourite place to commit suicide. The Gap is the start of a lovely walk along the cliffs with sublime views of Sydney Harbour, the Pacific Ocean, and of course, the magnificent Sydney skyline in the distance.

Watsons Bay Sydney with the Gap in the foreground and the city in the distance
Watsons Bay Sydney with the Gap in the foreground and the city in the distance

Gordon’s Bay is an alternative beach to experience and is situated along the Bondi to Bronte coastal walking track. The walking track itself is worth doing on a sunny day and Gordon’s Beach, being completed surrounding by perfect sun-baking rocks, is a great place to have a swim because you’ll need a break from the thousands of others also doing the coastal walk.

Surry Hills and Darlinghurst

Just to the east of the CBD lies one of Sydney’s hippest suburbs, with bakeries, ice cream parlours, cafes, a giant Coca-Cola billboard, and a plethora of unique drinking establishments. In fact, what it lacks in actual tourist attractions, it more than makes up for in cool establishments, people watching, and the knowledge that you’re hanging out with locals.

Surry Hills is great to explore on foot and if you visit on the right Saturday you might even be able to peruse the local Surry Hills markets. Reuben Hills or Single O are two of the best places for great coffee; the Local Taphouse is home one of Sydney’s best craft beer tap lists, and Bare Grill is one of my favourite places to grab a burger (my personal favourite is ‘the Trip’). Meanwhile, the gothic-themed Absinthe Salon will creep you out just enough for it to be a drinking experience you actually want to tell your parents about.

In Darlinghurst, the Wild Rover and Shady Pines Saloon are both unsignposted and hide down laneways behind plain doors. Shady Pines is my personal pick though for its incredible atmosphere, and it’s uniquely modern take on the saloons of the Wild West.

The Trip burger at Bare Grill on Bourke Surry Hills Sydney
The Trip burger at Bare Grill on Bourke Surry Hills Sydney

As Australia’s number 1 tourist destination and over 20,000 hotel rooms in the city, you can expect that there are some pretty cool things to see and do in Sydney. This is true, and you’ll probably see all 20,000 of these people if you visit Circular Quay on a sunny day. So I hope this has helped inspire you to get off the beaten track in Sydney and see some of the neighbourhoods most visitors overlook.Remember, while iconic, there is a lot more to Sydney than the Opera House, the Bridge, and Bondi.

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3 Day Brisbane Itinerary: The Ultimate Weekend Guide

Brisbane, known to locals as the River City. Known to everyone else as BrisVegas. Not because it’s a hotspot for gambling, more because it’s fun and the name lends itself to such a nickname. If you’re heading to the capital of Queensland for a few days, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite laneways in which to eat, neighbourhoods to drink, and I’ve even thrown in a bonus at the end.

Read on, comrade. Continue Reading

Byron Bay Travel Guide: Things to do in 4 Days

byron bay lighthouse on cape byron, Australia's east coast

Byron Bay has a real reputation as an easy going, forward-thinking, hippy destination with a dash of transient backpacker thrown in for good measure. It is this, but after spending 4 days in Byron Bay, I discovered its so much more than a place to smoke pot, grow dreads, and wear Aladdin pants.

My 4 days in Byron Bay showed me that it’s a town where bare feet are common, and foreign accents are more likely be serving you in a cafe than chatting amongst the waves.

It’s a town where every day is the weekend, (much like any town centred around tourism).

It has an extraordinarily young demographic too. I rarely saw anyone over the age of 35 walking the streets and working in the local businesses. For all the talk of people retiring here, they must just stay in their villas.

Located in Australia’s sub-tropics on NSW’s north coast, Byron Bay is a haven for foodies and thrillseeker’s alike. And with 2 craft breweries thrown into the mix, there’s even plenty to keep the beer-lover happy. The weather when Kynie and I visited was not ideal; it was overcast most of the time and somewhat rainy, so unfortunately that ruled out most water activities (of which there are plenty), but this is what we did do in spite of that.

Get Your Bearings

The Byron Bay “CBD”, if you will, is centred around Johnson Street, and 6 blocks off to the side. This is where the bulk of the Byron Bay restaurants, bars, and boutiques are situated and is probably where you’ll spend most of your time when not at the beach or your accommodation. You’ll get your bearings pretty easily after just walking around it for a day or two (it’s really not that big).

At the top of Johnson Street is Main Beach, and along to the southeast is Cape Byron, the most easterly point of mainland Australia. To the north is Belongil Beach.

Things to do in Byron Bay

Like I said above, the weather wasn’t great for most of the activities that Byron is best known for. I’ll still list them in the interest of giving you ideas and inspiration, though, for the sake of completeness.

Lighthouse Walk

The beacon on Cape Byron is the lighthouse, which looks over the town and looks out for ships at sea. There are roads that can take you directly to the lighthouse carpark, but if you want to get active, there’s a great walk that goes from the bottom of the Cape out to the lighthouse and back. It’s 3.7km, is pretty hilly but is a great way to see the town and the lighthouse.

Most Easterly point on the Australian mainland - Cape Byron

Turtle Watching

I saw a few brochures on this, and I know that my friends over at the Fit Traveller have recommended a turtle watching tour in their own guide. There’ a small island just out from the beach (you can see it from the headland) and apparently this is where a lot of sea turtles live and a great place to spot them in the wild. I expect snorkel and dive equipment would be provided by your tour.

Byron Bay Markets

There are a lot of markets hosted at Byron. While it changes depending on the day of the week, and the week of the month so check the official Byron Bay tourism site to know which ones are coming up when you’re there.

We went to the Byron Bay Flea Markets at the Youth Centre on Saturday. It’s a great initiative where young people are given a free stall with the incentive to make some money. They were pretty small – mostly young people selling their old stuff – but I did pick up some great novels for $2 a piece.

The Beach

This one goes without saying. Byron Bay is first and foremost a beach town. You can tell this by the sheer number of surf shops are around in the CBD. The beach will most likely be a central part of your stay here so prepare accordingly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me because of the weather but I think this just means I need to go back now!

Belongil Beach Byron Bay

Best places to eat dinner in Byron Bay

It’s really easy to eat well in Byron Bay. I put this down to the lifestyle of the locals, who tend to be health centred with a focus on sustainability; two characteristics I saw at most places we ate. But don’t worry, we still found ways to eat poorly!

Main Street Burger Bar

As I said, Byron is well known for its hippie organic vegan culture, and it is so easy to slip into one of these by accident, but don’t fret meat lovers, there’s plenty for you too. There are a few burger joints in Byron, but Main Street was so good we had to go there twice. The patties are thick and juicy and the toppings are plentiful. I added pickles and mustard to mine because I like it American-style and the second time I got the special topped with onion rings and hot sauce. It was literally dripping with goodness.

Main Street Burger bar original burger

Treehouse on Belongil

Located a few k’s away from the main strip, the Treehouse is set behind Belongil Beach in a quiet, largely residential street. It’s a very relaxed indoor/outdoor setting with live music most nights.

Treehouse is a semi-outdoor restaurant with an eclectic mix of what can only be described as 1970’s furniture, including an old box television and chairs that would have adorned your grandparent’s dining room. They have live music on most nights of the week, but this won’t start until about 8.

The treehouse is known for their pizzas and the list is long and varied. In my opinion what makes or breaks a pizza is the base, and this base was something special. It’s a thin base with a crispy, doughy crust that I just wanted to pick at it, even though I was already stuffed to the brim.

1970s Furniture at Treehouse on Belongil

Miss Margarita’s Mexican Cantina

Miss Margarita’s sits at the top of Johnson Street with diners spilling onto the sidewalk 7 nights a week. They serve some of the finest Mexican I’ve ever eaten outside of California. I had three mixed tacos with beef, pork and fish. It was so good I even looked past the fact that there was a healthy serving of coriander on it. A must visit when in Byron.

Three Blue Ducks at The Farm

More than just a cute name, The Farm is an actual working farm, 6 kilometres from the city centre on an acerage growing a long list of foods, all of which are used in the kitchen. The farm has a florist, an organic general store, a takeaway section and a sit-down restaurant. The takeaway has things like gourmet sausage rolls and pies as well as burgers and sandwiches, while the restaurant is full service with gourmet meals such as pork, beef pies and mussels and a choice of craft beers and over 50 wine taps!

Kynie and I went for a wander while we waited for our table (it was packed) we came across black pigs and piglets but there are also poultry and cattle.True to Byron style, it’s a very laid back place to have a picnic in the grounds or enjoy some fine food.

Best coffee and brunch in Byron Bay

Bayleaf

The best coffee I had in Byron. Single farm beans roasted locally. So good I had to have a second; a rarity for me. The place was packed with locals and visitors alike which is always a sign of a quality place and food matched this. I had the granola, which was a delicious mix of oats, nuts and seeds with yoghurt and rhubarb compote. Not something I’d usually go for, but when in Byron.

Fancy cold brew at Bayleaf Byron Bay
Fancy cold brew at Bayleaf

Combi

Another vegan option, Combi is decorated with a semblance to a coffee cart construction with full timber panelings, an awning, and “windows” through to the back area. The coffee was solid but they have also an epic list of super smoothies.

Combi Cafe in Byron Bay

Folk

Folk is hipster, organic, vegan eating at its finest. The menu is simple, the coffee good, and even if you laugh at vegans like me, you’ll even find something on the menu to like (tip: it’s the pancakes!). That might be a bit tongue in cheek, but if you put aside your desire for meat for one meal, I’ll guarantee you’d enjoy anything on the menu.

It’s certainly not the sort of place you’d expect to find attached to a Discovery Parks holiday park, but low and behold it is! This definitely doesn’t take anything away from the charm though, as the cafe looks out over their own lawn and is absolutely is its own space set apart from Byron. And it’s so spacious I doubt it would ever feel crowded.

Folk Cafe Byron Bay

The Top Shop

Past the footy fields and well away from the main busyness of the Town Centre is The Top Shop, named, presumably for the hill that it sits on at the foot of Cape Byron.

Top Shop represents everything you know about Byron Bay. The coffee is good, there’s a huge selection of food, all guaranteed to fill you up, and largely very healthy. We had granola bowls and bircher muesli and it was so filling and delicious it was actually one of the few places we visited twice.

Best places to drink in Byron Bay

Mez Club

This sleek Moroccan themed bar oozes style and is perfect for a few cocktails after a big day of shopping. Despite not having a single homage to surfing or the beach, the bar stills retains a certain cheerfulness one would expect at a sandy feet bar, which I think is owed to the generous usage of white walls, light coloured timbers and cane furniture.

The cocktail list is extensive and the happy hour quality, which runs from 5-7 every night. I enjoyed a local, (and purple) “ink” gin and tonic. The perfect drink to quench a sunkissed thirst.

Gin and tonic at the Mez Club Byron Bay
Gin and tonic at the Mez Club, infused with natural plants to get the colour.

Stone and Wood Brewery Tour

I booked a tour of the Stone and Wood brewery a few days before. These usually sell out so this is important. They said to get there a bit early and being ever-obedient that’s exactly what I did. I rocked up to the tasting room and when I said I’m here for the tour the girl behind the bar responded with “are you driving?” and handed me the first of 7 beers. A requirement of the tour is to try all the beers.

The week I was in Byron was very cloudy and at time rainy. Thankfully, the sun finally decided to peep out from the clouds so I enjoyed the green coast lager in the sunshine that to this point had been largely missing from a place famed for its sun and waves. The lager was crisp and sweet, surprising for a lager, and perfect for drinking in the sun. A highlight was actually trying a beer direct from the fermenter and it’s honestly the freshest tasting beer I’ve ever had.

Stone and Wood Brewery Tour Byron Bay

Byron Bay Brewery Tour (weekends at 2pm)

The Byron Bay Brewery is located in the Byron Bay Arts Centre. It’s a super random location, the complex hosts concerts and also has a backpackers attached, and the brewery is a tiny fishbowl of a room next to the bar area.

The first thing you see as you enter the bar area is 6 large conical steel fermenters. At first, I was a bit confused as to why the long shell of a bar was so empty, but then I discovered the back outdoor patio.

I grabbed a schooner while I waited for the tour to start, which began with an overview of the brewing process. It was all pretty base level stuff for anyone without a shred of knowledge of how beer is made. The brew room is surprisingly small, with a mill, a mash tun, lauter tun, two carbonators and a kegging machine. The tour concluded with a rundown of the beers. 6 samples in total, all free. I’m honestly unsure if there’s a cost for the tour. All I know is I didn’t pay, and I got 6 generous samples at the end. The Lively One (IPA) and The Bold One (India Pale Lager) were favourites with special mention to The Pale One (pale ale).

It was a bit of a disappointment to learn the brewery is owned by Lion Nathan, especially since it’s such a small scale brewery. But the product is quality so it’s not like they’ve sold out the brand so I got over it pretty quickly.

Byron Bay Brewery Tour

Sticky Wicket

Sticky Wicket is a pretty standard sports bar, with some mostly average beers on tap (Cricketer’s Arms, the house beer is owned by Asahi). BUT, and it’s a big but, they have a pretty phenomenal happy hour. Schooners of Cricketers Arms lager is $5, jam jar cocktails are $10, and the wings (oh the wings!) are $1. This is good value in Australia and the wings were good enough for me to come back 2 nights in a row.

Jam jar at Sticky Wicket

Railway Friendly Bar

The Railway Friendly Bar is a large country style bar with covered outdoor seating in the form of picnic benches. There’s a decent selection of boutique beers on tap and one of the most comprehensive menus of pub grub I’ve ever seen. Everything from burgers, pizza, pasta, steaks, seafood, and schnitzels were on there, plus a bunch of stuff I forget about. It wasn’t super cheap, as far as pub grub goes, but it was pretty good quality and very healthy serving sizes.

Music was provided by a local blues musician Dan Hannaford and he was awesome. Next time in Byron I’d definitely be looking up where he’s playing next.

Did I miss anything? What was your favourite place or thing to do in Byron? I’ll add it to my list for when I return.

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Sydney to Brisbane Coastal Road Trip Itinerary

sydney to brisbane road trip

Sydney is the undisputed gateway to Australia so unsurprisingly receives the most tourists of the country. But there is an entire coastline just begging to be explored to the north of Sydney up to Brisbane and beyond. I’ve lived on the coast my whole life and have travelled up and down it times too numerous to count and the good thing is that not once have I ever seen it overrun by tourists.

The coast is full of cities and towns, each a different size, each with its own quirks and character, and of course, each with multiple beaches. Beaches will be a common theme in this post so strap yourself in, I won’t be ignoring them just because they are everywhere! Continue Reading

7 Spectacular Drives on New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand is made for road trips. In fact, the South Island, in particular, is made for road trips because there is one major highway that loops the entire island. With nature at the core of the attractions of the Island, hiring a campervan is an absolute must in my opinion. I hired a 2 berth with my wife in May, and even though things got pretty chilly, I would not have done it any other way.

If you’re not sure what size campervan is right for you, check out this handy guide Campanda have put together.

We just loved the fact that when we’d had enough driving we could wait for a sign to the nearest campground and pull off. Or if we were rolling into town, we just found the closest RV park so we could use the facilities and recharge the batteries; both figuratively and literally.

Being a relatively small island with mountains in the middle surrounded by the coast (obviously), the New Zealand South Island boasts some pretty spectacular roads. I rarely saw more than single lanes, since much of the roadway snaked around mountains. It was a great novelty and very pretty, but I can imagine that would get pretty tiresome if you lived there.

As we drove, there was a constant theme all over the island. I kept thinking to myself that “this town was pretty unremarkable, but the drive in between points A and B was spectacular”. Not every town, obviously, but it happened frequently.

Here are 7 of my favourite driving days I had in my 3 weeks there.

Picton to Nelson

The road from Picton to Neilson is absolutely astonishing. It winds its way up through the mountains along the north coast and gives increasingly beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds. For those with limited time or money, driving west from Picton along Queen Charlotte Drive in a campervan is an excellent introduction experience to the sounds.

There are walking tracks and various aquatic tours through the sounds but they were all expensive and time-consuming. We were keen to keep moving and having now driven this road I do not feel like I missed out seeing the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds.

Marlborough Sounds along Queen Charlotte Road between Picton and Nelson
Along the Queen Charlotte Road

Blenheim to Renwick

Blenheim and Renwick are both fairly unremarkable towns, but what lies in between is around 45 wineries, all enjoying the soil and sun that prime for growing sauvignon blanc grapes. If you’ve ever heard of the Marlborough sauvignon blanc, this is where it is from. As you approach the region you begin to see a small vineyard here and a slightly bigger one there. But when the bright yellow bushes (during autumn) flank your van on both sides, you know it’s time to pull over and start wine tasting.

Vineyards through Marlborough wine country

 

Te Anau to Milford Sound

The drive to Milford is touted to be one of world standards. In fact, the drive itself is World Heritage Listed. To be honest, it doesn’t start to get really good until about 20 minutes before the Homer tunnel. The first hour it mostly farmland and rolling hills, and granted, this is very pretty. But you don’t get world heritage listed for having rolling farmland.

But as the hills fade away in your rear view mirror they are slowly replaced by mountains that shoot up right beside the road. And with mountains come rivers. Keep an eye out for good stopping locations by the river, which is filled with boulders large and small. This makes for very interesting white water flow patterns down the stream. Great to look at through a moving window but I would have loved to find a good spot for a tripod and long shutter the shit out of that bad boy.

Mountains along the Milford Road near the Homer Tunnel
Mountains along the Milford Road near the Homer Tunnel

Motueka to Golden Bay

The road out from Motueka was stunning, but nothing prepared us for the view and the ride that awaited us up Takaka Hill. To get out to Golden Bay you must cross this hill and at 792 metres above sea level is no easy feat. The road winds its way uphill steeply and sharply, but the lookouts that you can stop at on the way up are breathtaking and make it all worth it.

The way down the other side is much the same, but with a different view and despite the adventure, you are glad that after 25 kilometres of winding your way up and down the mountain that the road is straight again.

Comically, the speed limit up and down the hill is 100 km/h. That speed is ludicrous because I don’t think we topped 35km/h the entire length.

Highway 60 over Takaka Hill New Zealand
Highway 60 over Takaka Hill

Westport to Punakaiki

The drive south from Westport is spectacular and if possible, make sure you do this drive in the day time. Highway 6 continues on right by the beaches. For the majority of the route you will have ocean and beaches to your west and extreme mountains on your East, so convince your travel partner to drive this leg and keep that camera handy.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki New Zealand South Island
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Haast Pass

The Haast Pass is another incredible drive. The road drives through a valley and essentially follows the Path of the Haast River. So you have enormous mountains on either side of you and the deeper you get into the pass, the bigger, more snow capped, and more beautiful these mountains get. To do anything but stare out the window in awe would be a sin.

Mountains and field by the side of the road in New Zealand South Island
Haast Pass. Long shutter photo, taken out our van door while stopped in traffic.

Makaroa to Lake Hawea

This route is actually a direct continuation of the Haast Pass on Highway 6. But it was so different and so beautiful it 100% deserved its own section.

As we came out the other side of Haast Past we began to follow Boulder Creek. Highway 6 took the form of a riverside drive. The bright blue ‘creek’ in the foreground and the mountains of the Southern Alps in the background made for a very interesting drive. I was actually amazed at how blue the river was. Obviously more glacier water.

After finally turning away from Boulder Creek, we crested a hill and were again awestruck by a Lake Hawea. I am already beginning to see why they call this the Lake District. Lake Hawea was an instant camera grabber and thankfully some smart person had the foresight to put in a couple of lookouts along the drive because there would be a lot of accidents from people either gawking at the lake or trying to be a photographer and driver at the same time. In fact, back near Makaroa, I did see a sign that read ‘high level of accidents next 20km’. Well yep, that would seem about right.

Lake Hawea on the way south to Wanaka New Zealand

New Zealand is an incredible country with natural beauty in all forms literally around every corner. This list could easily be doubled and the quality would remain because the landscapes on which most every road is built are just stunning.

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