Recently Returned: Staff Travel Stories • Tales From Our Tours

Recently Returned: Freedom Staff Travel

Alec at Niagara Falls, Journey Beyond The Falls, Canada

Alec Has Recently Returned From Niagara Falls

On my last trip I drove up through New York State to the Canadian border. Our destination was Niagara Falls, a place I just had to experience for myself.

First stop was Niagara Falls State Park on the American side of the falls. it offers great views and a different angle to see the falls that not everyone is familiar with. I though that The Crow’s Nest in particular, offered an amazing perspective.

After hopping back in the car I crossed the Rainbow Bridge, which offers stunning views of the falls, while waiting to pass through immigration into Canada.

Once across, I parked up and wandered through Queen Victoria Park, alongside the Niagara River, until I reached the falls, which you can hear before you see. The roar of the falls is like nothing I had heard before. I don’ think that you can really appreciate the magnitude of the falls until you are just feet away from them.

The most amazing part of my trip, by far, was the ‘Journey Behind The Falls’, part of my Niagara Falls Adventure Pass. Having been given a neon-yellow poncho at the Visitor Centre, I was sent down a corridor, into an elevator to descend 125ft to the very base of the falls. I then walked through a long damp hallway carved out of the rock, right behind the falls. Some small sections were cut out of the cliff revealing a breathtaking view of the falling water.

Eventually, I came to a large opening in the rock, where you walk down a flight of stairs and then step out into the light, just a few feet away from the raging torrent. I could have spent hours here just watching the water crash down to the pool below us. A word of caution though, that neon-yellow poncho doesn’t keep you dry!

Emma in The Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Emma has Recently Returned from Queensland, Australia

I am just back from Southern Queensland. The Sunshine Coast is a destination for scenic coastline and rural hinterlands, perfect for a road trip. You can discover incredible beaches, coastal towns, waterfalls, and famously Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. Road tripping all around Australia’s Nature Coast is one of the best ways to explore, and you can start on the Sunshine Coast.

The main City, situated in the centre of the Sunshine Coast, is Maroochydore. It has everything from pristine beaches, coastal walks, restaurants, and great nightlife. Further along the coast is Coolum, which is one of my personal favourite towns.  Coolum gives surfer vibes with endless cafes and surf shops. Further North is Noosa, which is one of the most popular towns along the Sunshine Coast. You are spoilt for choice with luxury resorts located along Noosa’s River. Noosa also has a famous shopping street called Hastings Street with wonderful boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, and ice cream shops.

I often spent days exploring Noosa’s National Park. It is the perfect place to walk along the coast, a place to spot dolphins and whales and relax on the beaches. Little Cove is a stunning beach and protected from the wind, which makes it ideal for swimming. Noosa is also famous for surfing, especially during cyclone seasons. Boiling Pot, and Tea Tree, located in the National Park, and Sunshine Beach, are all great locations for surfing. 

I also explored the Noosa Everglades, which is one of only two Everglades in the world. The Everglades themselves are only an hour’s drive from Noosa and the drive takes you into the hinterland. The best way to see the everglades is by hiring a kayak or canoe. Not far from the Everglades is Rainbow Beach which is one of my favourite beaches in Queensland. Rainbow Beach is in a rural coastal town and has amazing, coloured sand cliffs. Above the cliffs are sand dunes and it is the perfect place to catch sunset or sunrise. I did attempt to sled down the sand dunes, which had mixed results. 

What I love about the Sunshine Coast is that there is plenty of hiking. Some of my personal favourites include Mt Coolum, which gives you a 360 view of the coastline on one side and hinterland on the other. The Glass House Mountains are also a favourite. There are 11 peaks in total and one of the most popular mountains to climb is Mt Ngungun.  I would often go for a walk with friends, and take picnics and watch the sunset from the summit. 

The Sunshine Coast has a special place in my heart and is not one to miss when visiting Queensland. With it being only an hour and a half drive from Brisbane, it is easy to access.

You can follow in Emma’s footsteps on our East Coast Islands & Sun holiday

Tessa, Travelling to Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Tessa has Recently Returned from Phi Phi Island, Thailand

I recently stayed in the Krabi area of Thailand. With its stunning limestone cliffs, crystal waters and longtail boats it is an area I didn’t want to miss on my Thailand holiday. I particularly loved visiting Railey Beach on a day trip, it was totally idyllic.

However, from Krabi, I got a boat to Phi Phi Island to stay a night. This was definitely the highlight of my holiday. When I imagine Thailand, Phi Phi Island is what comes to mind. The waters were that perfect turquoise colour and the beaches were breathtaking. Staying for a night was a good option to wake up early and visit the beach whilst it was quiet and take it all in. Whilst there, I also hiked to the top of Phi Phi viewpoint, where I saw the Island from a different perspective, and made me love it even more. It was a steep hike but totally worth it in my opinion! There was a certain buzz across the island, it had a special atmosphere that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. I will make sure to visit Phi Phi Island again on my next visit to Thailand.

You can follow in Tessa’s footsteps and stay on Phi Phi Island on out Thai Island Dreams holiday.

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Rowan has Recently Returned from Kentucky, USA

I did the things you are supposed to do in America on my week in Kentucky; drove a pick-up truck, went to the baseball, drank whiskey at the bar, way past my bedtime…

…and then so much more I hadn’t anticipated; kayaking down a mine, bourbon blending, zip-lining… I even stroked a Breeders’ Cup winning racehorse, that earns more in a morning at the stud farm than I do in a year!

There really is a wonderful diversity of experiences on offer, without having to travel too far. Mammoth Cave National Park is only around 1 hour 20 minutes south of Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, or the same distance north from Nashville, in neighbouring Tennessee.

Despite the clue in the name, the sheer size of Mammoth Cave still took me by surprise. As did our Park Ranger’s banter, considering his very official uniform!

Cumberland Falls were spectacular; a genuine beauty spot with far fewer visitors than lesser waterfalls I’ve visited. Red River Gorge was equally gorgeous. We climbed a natural stone arch to gaze across undulating forest, threatening to burst into Autumn colour.

Downtown Lexington had good vibes, with trendy, but welcoming restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, Covington mixed ‘small town charm’ with superb views of ‘big-city America’, Cincinnati lying just the other side of the Ohio River.

I’d recommend Kentucky. Unsung, authentic America.

You can explore Kentucky on our Kentucky Bourbon & Bluegrass fly drive holiday.

Abbie in Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Abbie has Recently Returned from Broome, Western Australia

It is always hard for me to pick my favourite place that I’ve visited in Australia, but one place that stood out for me on my most recent trip is Karijini! You may not have heard of it, but it is the second largest national park in Western Australia and I discovered this place whilst on a road trip northbound up the Western Coast from Perth to Broome.

We started the day by setting up our camp with our ‘swags’, in true Aussie style! We then headed out to explore the beauty of the National Park. Everywhere we looked the views were breathtaking, with deep gorges, red layered cliffs, and emerald waterholes.

After hiking through the red sands and taking in the scenery, we had time to swim in the stunning waterfalls, secluded swimming spots and even jump into the gorges. After all the adventure of exploring Karijini, we watched the sunset at our camp and slept under the stars. A truly special experience.

You can also visit Northern Western Australia on our Untamed Kimberleys holiday.

Matt in Margaret River, Western Australia

Matt has Recently Returned from Margaret River, Western Australia

Wineries every few hundred metres, luscious greenery, open roads, the sun beating down. This isn’t California. It’s the Margaret River region in South-West Australia.

After a 3 hour journey from Perth, we stopped for a few nights in the nearby town of Yallingup. Meaning ‘Place of Caves’, it certainly lives up to the name. A tour of Ngilgi Cave was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had in Australia. We were guided by a member of the Aboriginal community (Josh), who’s ancestors used to use the cave as a sacred place, as well as a means of cover and safety. Topped off by a Didgeridoo performance by Josh, emphasised by the incredible acoustics in the cave, is something I will never forget.

What I love about this region is the mysteriousness and wonder of the caves, which contrasts so well with the world famous wine culture. The blend between Aboriginal and modern history is appreciated, they’re as important as each other. Caves Road is the perfect stretch of road for wine lovers. Everywhere you look, there are wineries, vineyards, and shops with local produce. It really felt like we were in a movie. It’s a relaxing route, which can be done slow-paced as part of the South West Corner self-drive.

Vasse Felix is a world-renowned winery, with wines you will most likely find in the supermarkets in the UK. It’s fascinating exploring the vineyard, how the wine is made, and of course tasting it! A unique setting, the winery and cellars are covered in greenery, hiding itself amongst the background. A must-see for any wine lover in Australia.

You can visit Margaret River on our Perth & South West Australia holiday.

Freedom Destinations' Nancy in Fiji

Nancy has Recently Returned from Fiji

It’s not just the Fijian Sunshine that warms your soul as you step off the plane. The locals ooze warmth and kindness as they greet you with their infectious, friendly smiles. You can’t help but feel welcome and relaxed from the moment you arrive at one of the top ten most scenic airports in the world, and the stunning scenery just keeps getting better as you venture out towards the pure white sands of the Coral Coast, less than an hour’s drive away.

I spent my first evening on a beautiful Coral Coast beach taking part in a traditional ‘mouth numbing’ Kava drinking ceremony, which was both fascinating and fun, as I sat back with the group watching the sun set over the South Pacific Ocean.

I didn’t think the Fiji highlights could get much better than the diverse rainforests and gorgeous reefs of the Coral Coast on the main Island of Viti Levu, until I took the short boat trip across to the Mamanuca Islands.

You truly are spoilt for choice with an array of luxury resorts amongst the 20 islands, boasting powder white beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and hidden lagoons.

As you step off the boat you are met with a sincere greeting, often accompanied by the heartwarming, Bula Maleya welcome song (which did not make me cry every single time…… honest!)

As well as being surrounded by pure paradise and attentive, abnormally happy people, you can expect to eat some of the freshest, most delicious cuisine imaginable. My favourite being a traditional dish called Kokoda. Served in a coconut shell, the Mahi Mahi fish is marinated in citrus, coconut milk and spices and is utterly delicious.

The beauty of these islands is that you can do as little or as much as you like. With a huge choice of water sport activities on offer, including scuba diving or snorkelling on the stunning reef and various cruises further a field to more ridiculously breathtaking islands, you can explore until your hearts desire or simply chill out and feel all your troubles melt away into the soft Fijian Sand whilst you bathe in the warm sun.

You can follow in Nancy’s footsteps on one of our Fiji Holidays.

Lonnie in Tasmania

Lonnie has Recently Returned from Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania has the most spectacular mountain, freshwater lake, and coastal scenery in Australia, and I got the chance to experience them all with a group of agents that travelled to Tasmania from all over the world.

We flew into Launceston and began our travels down the East Coast of Tasmania stopping in St Helens where we walked along Binnalong Bay and made our way to the Bay of Fires. The granite rocks splashed in orange lichen are amazing to see!

Another stop I can recommend is Bicheno, the home of the Blowhole – you have to be careful not to get soaked by the waves, and you can also see the beautiful penguins return from the sea around dusk.

Foodies will love the vineyards, orchards and dairy farm shops along the route, and the stunning Freycinet National Park will amaze nature lovers. If you love getting out into Tasmania’s wilderness then a hike to Wineglass Bay has to be the one for you!

We finished our Tasmanian experience in Hobart. We had a day trip to Bruny Island which was an unexpected highlight for me! I loved this island, the oysters, the history, and the white wallabies!

For a different perspective we took a scenic flight from Hobart over Freycinet National Park where we experienced Wineglass Bay from the air and were lucky enough to see whales! Tasmania has so much more to offer, I will definitely be visiting again!

You can follow in Lonnie’s footsteps on our Tasmanian Wonders Escorted Tour.

David in British Columbia, Canada

David has Recently Returned from Canada

Colleagues scoffed when I talked about a Canada motorhome holiday through the Rockies at the beginning of May. “You will freeze” they said, “and so will your water tanks”. How wrong they were. Western Canada had its warmest spring in a decade with clear blue skies and daytime temperatures up to 20 degrees – and the scenery was simply fabulous.

My wife and I started with three days in Vancouver, not in the motorhome, but in a comfortable downtown hotel. This friendly waterside city has lost none of its charm. Most attractions were in walking distance or accessible by public transport. A day exploring Stanley Park and the Capilano Bridge were definitely our favourites.

After that it was off to Calgary and the start of our motorhome adventure. Our first 3 nights were spent in Banff and I am glad we did. This holiday town is small but there are plenty of activities and eateries for visitors. A trip on the Banff Gondola cable car is a must, providing spectacular views over the still snow covered mountains.

An hour’s scenic bus ride from Banff is the glacier fed Lake Louise, a sparkling turquoise lake praised in all the guidebooks for its outstanding beauty. However, although the sky was blue, the lake was not, being stubbornly covered in thick ice – perhaps May was a little early!

Between Banff and Jasper is the Icefield Parkway, an unforgettable, world famous drive. All around were forest clad, snow covered mountains towering over thunderous rivers, cascading waterfalls and ice-cold lakes. The chance to hike on the Athabasca glacier at the Columbia Icefield was too good to miss.

You can follow in David’s footsteps in our Best of Canada’s West Motorhome holiday.

Gemma next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

Gemma has Recently Returned from Sydney, Australia

I was invited to join a group of UK travel agents for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of Sydney, Australia. A visit to Sydney must be on everyone’s ‘Bucket List’, so it was amazing to be guided around some of the sights.

Our first day was spent at at Taronga Zoo, including a Sanctuary Tour and the Wildlife Retreat. Did you know that you can choose to stay overnight in Taronga Zoo? We had a chance to roam around the zoo and meet the animals up close. All of the staff were very knowledgeable and incredibly passionate about the work that they were doing to protect the animals.

You can travel to and from Taronga Zoo on one of the many ferries that cruise Sydney Harbour. It is a cheap and accessible mode of transport that provides a beautiful view of both the Opera House and all those taking on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.

It was a very educational trip and I will definitely be returning to Australia in the not too distant future. I will be sure to visit Sydney again as there was so much more to see and do.

You can follow in Gemma’s footsteps on our Sydney, Rock & Reef holiday.

Rebecca & Zoe at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Rebecca & Zoe at Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

Rebecca & Zoe have Recently Returned from Kenya

The most incredible thing about arriving in Kenya is that you fly over Nairobi National Park as you approach the airport. So, even before you have reached the ground, you can spot giraffe, zebra and other wildlife from out of the window!  

Our visit started in Nairobi where we were fortunate to be able to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Sanctuary. It was magical to be so close to African wildlife and it was to continue over the next few days. 

After a day in the city, we set off on a four-day safari. Our first stop was Lake Nakuru for an afternoon game drive followed by lunch, overlooking Lake Nakuru, a serene backdrop. From there we drove to Lake Naivasha for a night’s stay and early morning drive. At sunrise we were able to see thousands of flamingos that turned the shore of the lake pink.

We finished our Kenyan Adventure in the Masai Mara. It is difficult to comprehend such a vast reserve so full of wildlife. Seeing elephants and giraffes walking though the Masai Mara at sunset and a lioness with her cubs are special memories that will never be forgotten.

You can follow in the footsteps of Rebecca & Zoe on our Treasures of Kenya safari.

Ellie in Australia's Red Centre
Ellie at Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia

Ellie has Recently Returned from Australia’s Red Centre

I was lucky enough to take part in an amazing trip to the Red Centre in Australia, a real bucket list destination for me.

Flying into the Red Centre was an experience like no other, seeing the vastness of the red desert and then the magnificent Uluru for the first time was just incredible. I was fortunate enough to spend three days learning more about the indigenous culture, enjoying amazing sunrises and sunsets, eating the locally sourced produce and being fully immersed in my surroundings.

The highlight for me was experiencing Wintjiri Wiru. We started by enjoying cocktails and canapes whilst watching the sun set and seeing the changing colours of Uluru was absolutely incredible. Then, when the sky became dark, the drones illuminated the night sky and I became fully immersed in the ancient Mala story which has been passed down through centuries by the Anangu people. It is an experience not to be forgotten.

You can follow in Ellie’s footsteps and experience Australia’s Red Centre on our Outback Safari tour.

Justin in Vietnam
Justin in Mai Chau, Vietnam

Justin has Recently Returned from Vietnam

I am just back in the office after an incredible 17 days touring through Vietnam.

Starting in Hanoi, we embarked on a magical tour, travelling the length of the country – from the lush green rice fields of Mai Chau and serenity of Halong Bay in the North; to the historic Imperial capital of Hue, the pristine, golden sand beaches of Da Nang and narrow, lantern-lined streets of Hoi An in the centre; before heading to the modern capital Saigon, the bustling floating markets of Cai Rang and the fascinating waterways of the Mekong Delta in the South.

The highlight for me was venturing to mountainous Mai Chau in the North of the country, where we explored the patchwork of paddy fields, visited the stilted homesteads of the Lac community and enjoyed a cold beer on a jetty-like structure which jutted out into the paddy fields looking out across the valley.

Follow in Justin’s footsteps on our 5 day Wonders of Northern Vietnam private tour.

Richard in Damaraland, Namibia
Richard in Damaraland, Namibia

Richard has Recently Returned from Namibia

I love travelling in Africa, so the opportunity to experience a self-drive in Namibia was too good to turn down. Although I hadn’t travelled to Namibia before, the good signposts and lack of other roads made navigating a car around the country relatively simple. Some of the driving distances can be long, but the ever-changing scenery more than makes up for it.

Watching wildlife in Africa is always memorable and I did spend a couple of hours watching a large herd of elephant drinking and splashing about in a waterhole within Etosha National Park, but it is the sunsets in Damaraland that were the most dramatic. Climbing up to a rocky viewpoint, we were able to sit each evening and view the dramatic ‘moonscape’ change from orange to red, as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Simply stunning.

The landscapes of Namibia are truly amazing. If you have ever seen the photographs in travel magazines, they don’t really do the country justice. The scale of everything is just epic. There is much more in Namibia to explore and I would return in a heartbeat.

Richard followed the route from our Namibian Highlights self-drive holiday.