In May’s edition of Tourist in my Town for Blank GC Magazine, Sarah Tayler explores the world of indoor skydiving.

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What’s not included in that all-inclusive luxury cruise

You’ve got a butler.  The fine dining’s covered. Sarah Loughlin explores the extra charges that can still crop up on an all-inclusive luxury cruise.

What do you give the cruiser who already has everything? That’s the dilemma of luxury cruise lines chasing a well-heeled client who just expects a butler, champagne on ice and a restaurant run by a celebrity chef.

All-inclusive has become the latest catchcry. But all-inclusive fares may still end up costing you more than you think.

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The Gold Coast’s Outback Spectacular

Read the December 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I went for dinner and a show at the Gold Coast’s Outback Spectacular.

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tourist-in-my-town-outback-spectacular

NEWS: Cruise River Insurance

Companies such as Scenic, Avalon, and Viking have teamed up with travel insurance companies to create specialist cruise insurance which will now be sold as part of your holiday.

From 2017 any cruise booked with Scenic will include a River Cruise Guarantee which will cover you for any delays, diversions, or cancellations whilst cruising. Read More…

Summer Cycles: A Two Wheeled Olympic Adventure

Sarah Loughlin follows the 2012 Olympic Road Race Route to explore the beautiful Surrey hills, the River Thames and the Royal Parks.

There is nothing better than sailing past standstill traffic on your bike, feeling very smug from the cycle path, taking in a bit of sun and fresh air, while the angry car dwellers stare at the long line of vehicles in front. This summer holiday why not leave the car at home and see a bit more of the world than the bumper of the next car!

Over 10,000 athletes from 204 countries took part in the 2012 Olympic games in London, which will go down in history as the first games to feature female athletes in all sports and from every competing country. Great Britain finished third overall with Silver medal in the woman’s road race from Lizzie Armistead, and two medals from the men’s time trial. With the next Olympics in Rio already upon us, its time to get on the road and explore the road race route of London 2012!

Day 1: Redhill to Kingston (16 miles) Arrive at Gatwick – take a 15-minute train to Redhill and pick up your bike from C and N Cycles (www.candncycles.co.uk – advanced reservation recommended). Kingston is a historic market town with fantastic riverside bars and restaurants, make sure to arrive in time for dinner at Stein’s (www.stein-s.com) and enjoy some Bavarian goodies in their riverside Biergarten to give you energy for your next leg!

Day 2: Kingston to Richmond (4.5 miles) Today’s short ride will take you through the magnificent Richmond Park with the long wild grass and roaming deer. Why not pack a picnic and enjoy views out over London from the top of the hill.

British Cycling London Olympics 2012 / Photo Credit: Phil O'Connor

British Cycling London Olympics 2012 / Photo Credit: Phil O’Connor

Day 3: Richmond to Hampton Court (23 miles). Get an early start today and arrive on The Mall in time to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Take a leisurely ride back through Richmond Park to Hampton Court, another stunning riverside location.

Day 4: Hampton Court Palace and Gardens. Enjoy a day off the road and explore Henry VIII’s beloved palace, built as we now know it in 1540, it is packed full of fascinating history. If you are visiting during the festive season make sure to book in for a ghostly carol singing tour of the Palace at night and go ice-skating in the grounds. If you are here in summer check out the open-air cinema, or the famous Flower Show.  

Day 5: Hampton Court to Guildford (21 miles) Todays journey takes you through the pretty riverside town of Weybridge on your way to Guildford. Guildford has a lovely cobblestone town centre with plenty of shops and bars to choose from. Head to the Weyside, a traditional English riverside pub and stock up on energy for tomorrows ride. 

Day 6: Guildford to Box Hill (15 miles) Almost on the home straight, todays ride is much shorter. Take a leisurely lunch in at the White Horse in Shere, a charming English Pub set in a 15th century farm house, and location of Hollywood film ‘The Holiday’. With a full stomach its time to head to Box Hill. Legs at the ready, this is a steep one!

Day 7: Box Hill to Redhill (10 miles) Congratulations you have now completed the London 2012 Olympic cycle route! Jump on the train back to the airport and rest those weary legs.

Total = 89.5 miles

British Cycling London Olympics 2012

Source BBC.com

Dracula’s: The Retro Vampt Experience

Read the August 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I visit Dracula’s on the Gold Coast to see their brand new show Retro Vampt!

From the moment you walk through the gate at Dracula’s you are transported into a spooky immersive theatre performance. Met at the door by ghosts and ghouls, you are then taken inside the Transylvanian castle in groups to begin the evening. I won’t give away the surprises, but since the renovation there have been some new additions, so prepare for a fright or two before you reach your table! Read more….

Dracula's Retro Vampt Experience

You Don’t Have To Run Away To Join The Circus

Read the July 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I learnt how to fly, somewhat gracefully, through the air on a circus trapeze…

I must have driven past Circus Arts at the side of the M1 a thousand times, always thinking “I really must give that a go.” Then one sunny Sunday afternoon I finally got around to it. I was going to take a trapeze lesson. Not being the most coordinated of people I had little to no expectation in terms of results, but as the saying goes, you should try everything once apart from incest and folk dancing. Read more…

TOURIST IN MY TOWN: YOU DON’T HAVE TO RUN AWAY TO JOIN THE CIRCUS from Sarah Loughlin on Vimeo.

Sarah vs. Shark: Surfing Down Under

With the recent rise in Shark attacks both in Australia and other parts of the world Sarah Loughlin finds out just how Sharky it really is out there.

The most dangerous thing about surfing in Jersey was the chocolate milkshakes from El Tico’s. Those things were seriously addictive. Learning to surf in the UK seemed a tremendous feat at the time, but looking back the worst thing that could happen was you would get a weaver fish, or be washed up on the beach a bit battered and bruised.

Growing up in the England I had never given sharks much of a thought. But the recent move to Australia has bought these issues to the front of my mind. The week we moved over to the Gold Coast, a surfing mecca, was just after World Champion Surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa. Mick is from the Gold Coast, and can often be seen out on the water when he is in the area.

Surfer Shark View

What I probably look like to a shark.

Just How Sharky Is It?

There have been record numbers of Shark attacks in the last few years on both the West coast and more recently the East coast of Australia. In 2015 there were 22 recorded shark attacks on humans in Australia, this is double the amount recorded in 2014, and higher than the yearly average of 13. Of the 22 attacks, only one was fatal, and seven of the shark attack victims were uninjured. NSW has the highest rate of attacks with 14 recorded in 2015. Experts have many theories about why this might be, and are equally unsure as to how to deal with the problem. From increased helicopter patrols and lifeguards on previously un-manned beaches, to more controversial solutions such as shark culling and shark nets. Some reports say that one of the most influential factors to the increase in attacks is the increase in population. The more people there are in Australia spending time in the water, the more chance that a shark attack could occur.

Facing My Fear

Before heading in to the water I wanted to find out exactly what I was up against so I caught up with Josh Fuller, a pro surfer who now runs his surf school from Kingscliff, NSW. One of the first things Josh explained is that is it a small selection of shark species that are normally involved in shark attacks; Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Great White Sharks. Most other species are completely harmless. Josh explained that there are risks involved with surfing, as there are with most sports, but if you take the time to learn about basic ocean safety you are more likely to enjoy surfing and stay safe in the water.

One of the first Aussie phrases I came across moving over here was ‘Sharky’. Not commonly used in other parts of the world, I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant. ‘It’s more of a feeling’, explains Josh, ‘when the sky is grey and overcast, and the water looks really dark, it just feels sharky’. One of the first points covered in Josh’s ocean safety run down is to avoid surfing at dusk and dawn, as this is feeding time for sharks. After our pep talk on the beach I was ready to hit the surf.

Surfing Dbar NSW

Heading out for a solo surf in Dbar, NSW. Sarah 1: Shark 0.

Splashing about in the shallows in the warm, clear waters it was hard to imagine that there were huge predators swimming probably not that far away. Josh explained that although sharks are often close by, the number of attacks on surfers compared to the number of surfers is very low. After picking up a few tips from Josh on my technique and spending time in the water with a local, I felt confident that I could take to the beach on my own, but I still couldn’t get the thought of sharks out of my head.

To get over my fear I wanted to see what was going on under the water, and get a feel of what might be lurking underneath me. I felt that if I could see one up close I wouldn’t be scared anymore. It’s more the fear of the unknown than anything else. Sort of like falling off your bike for the first time when your a kid, once you have done it, and it doesn’t hurt that bad, and you don’t have to be scared of it.

turtle cook island NSW

Swimming with Sea Turtles @ Cook Island, NSW.

Heading out on the boat to Cook Island, a local diving spot known for being a bit sharky, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see a shark, but at the same time I felt like hunting them down was asking for trouble. Never the less I hopped into the water and sunk down with the dive instructor to have a look around. I will never tire of diving and seeing at the marine life going about their business, swimming about, its mesmerising. About 10 minutes in, almost forgetting why I was there, I saw one. Small, but most certainly a shark, it swam by in the distance, not giving us a second glance. After thinking of nothing but sharks for the last few weeks, it seemed almost an anti-climax to have the shark be so uninterested in us.

I blame my irrational fear of Australian wildlife on being addicted to Steve Erwin’s TV show. Before I moved here I imagined that everything in Australia would kill you as soon as look at you. But with one fatal shark attack per year in Australia you are far more likely to come to a sticky end using a vending machine!

To get out surfing on the Gold Coast visit in2surf.com.au and book your lesson!

Dbar Suring NSW

Having caught approximately three waves in my surfing career so far, here is one of my terrific paddling.

 

Hawaii: Sandy Beaches and a Turquoise Ocean

Sarah Loughlin’s top tips on where to stay and what to do on two of Hawaii’s most popular islands.

In Waikiki, the relaxing sound of Hawaiian music floats on the breeze. You can hear it as you walk the busy shopping streets, relax on the beach or wait for your next wave surfing in the bay. It has been Hawaii’s most popular destination since the first hotel was built in 1901. Read More…

Tree Top Challenge and a Half

Read the June 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I spent some time in the rainforest at Mount Tamborine, being outdone by small children…

There is nothing like spending time in the rainforest, with the lush green leaves as a backdrop, and the birds as your soundtrack for the day. Living on the Gold Coast it’s easy to take for granted that we not only have white sandy beaches and warm water year round, but we also have miles and miles of hinterland to explore. Right on our doorstep. Read More…

Tree Top Challenge Gold Coast

Discovering Jersey: Channel Islands, UK.

Sarah Loughlin’s top tips on where to stay and what to do in Jersey this summer. Read more..

Jersey Channel Islands UK

Gold Coast: Girls’ Night In With A Difference

Read the May 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month learn about Wine Group and Co., a company that runs fun informative wine workshops on the Gold Coast!

I really like wine. But I usually choose my bottle the way I pick a horse at the races, based on the appearance and an interesting name. Like any sort of gambling this sometimes pays off, and sometimes results in a $20 bottle being relegated to cooking wine. Read more….

Educational wine workshop Gold Coast

 

 

To see more of my Blank GC Tourist in my Town articles click here.

 

Spoil Yourself on Mount Tamborine

Read the April 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine.

This month I’m exploring Mount Tamborine in Queensland to find the best spa’s and afternoon tea on the Gold Coast! Read More…

Things to do in Gold Coast

UP, UP AND AWAY

Read the latest edition of my monthly column in Blank GC! ‘Tourist in my Town’ features fun, interesting things for locals to do on the Gold Coast each month.

Sarah Loughlin looks the coast from a new perspective with a hot-air-balloon trip to remember. Read more…

 

RIMG0683

Ballooning in Lamington National Park, Queensland.

French skiing destinations within driving distance

Sarah Loughlin picks her top three resorts to drive to from Jersey

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Time to hit the piste!

Sun, Surf and Yogis

Sarah Loughlin ventures to Taghazout to check out the world famous waves and the developing surf culture in the small Moroccan town.

There is nothing in life both as thrilling and frustrating as surfing. After spending the winter battling through the frosty waves in the Channel Islands, trying to get the hang of this new hobby of mine, I thought I would take my own advice on learning a watersport and add a bit of sunshine to the mix!

Taghazout, a small fishing village turned surfers paradise, is about an hours drive from Agadir Airport. Having never been to this part of Africa before I had no real idea what to expect. The village itself is bustling with people, cars and mopeds and the small square is surrounded by restaurants, and surf shops. The coast is not as picturesque as other places I have visited, but it has a great atmosphere; local families, tourists and surf schools all mingle together on the long sandy beaches. The snack-sellers on the beach are a bit intimidating at first, as they can be a bit pushy, but are actually very friendly and provide much entertainment with their haggling and joke telling. The macaroons and candied nuts they sell are perfect for a post-surf snack!

As those who have been following my previous surf posts will know, I am not a great surfer, I am not even a good surfer. So I had arranged lessons via Surf Maroc; a surf school started by Ollie and Ben, two English surfers, back in 2003. Our surf class was an interesting mix of nationalities and people from different professions and backgrounds. Chatting on the beach at lunchtime was almost as educational as the surf lessons as I learned about the best bars to visit in Krackow, and how the Swiss school system works.

Being largely self-taught I have no concept of ‘surf chat’, and so for the entire first day I assumed wave ratings must be the same as ski slope ratings; green wave must mean beginner wave. I was mightily confused pushing myself into tiny white foamy waves as my teacher yelled from the beach at me to catch a green wave. On day two it clicked, green wave doesn’t mean beginner wave at all, it’s super cool surfer lingo for a wave that has not yet broken. You have to have good timing to catch these as opposed to white waves (the foamy ones), thus they are the mecca of intermediate surf waves.

Part of my problem, like most of the beginners I meet, is that waves are terrifying. Going head on with a huge unbroken wave while attached to an eight foot cumbersome floaty board was seeming more ridiculous the more I thought about it. But I had got this far, board in hand, I was determined to make it out to find one of these sought-after green waves. Alas it was not to be, and I went back to the beach in search of some candied nuts.

Back out in the surf again and I was constantly amazed at how patient and enthusiastic our teacher was with us, despite our consistent face plants into the beach. When my arms had run out of juice he even let me hold on to his ankles so he could paddle me outback to meet the rest of the group – now that is service! Surf Maroc employ a lot of local staff from Taghazout and surrounding villages; this helps improve the local economy and quality of life by providing jobs as well as offering training and opportunities for young entrepreneurs, who sometimes go on to open their own surf businesses. The teachers at Surf Maroc, who have all grown up surfing in the area, have great local knowledge which is huge benefit to the customers. They always managed to hunt down the waves, despite the forecast being not so great, and made sure we were in our wetsuits and out surfing before the beach got too busy.

One interesting thing about holidaying here is that Taghazout is a dry town, as a European this is a bizarre concept. But actually it was quite nice, I drank more Fanta than dentists would recommend,IMG_1055 but it is the perfect place if you are planning an alcohol detox! You can buy alcohol in some near by hotels such as the Paradis Plage who have a great beach bar as well as beach side yoga sessions. Outside Paradis Plage the locals bring their horses and camels and you can ride down the long peaceful beach. The surfing in Morocco was great, but it was nothing compared to riding a Camel on the beach at sunset, I felt like a Princess riding through the desert on my trusty steed (one can dream).

If you like a post surf yoga session, Surf Maroc offer classes on their yoga balcony set into the cliffs at the Taghazout Villa. It was quite honestly the most relaxing place I have ever been. As the sun set over the sea, the sound of the waves crashing rhythmically into the cliff was the perfect accompaniment to the session. There is weekly schedule of post-surf evening entertainment at Surf Maroc , the BBQ on the balcony of the Auberge was a nice way to socialise with your surf group out of your wetsuit!

IMG_1097If your weary arms need a break from all that paddling why not head to Paradise valley; only a 45-minute drive from Taghazout. As you drive in to the valley there are cafes and restaurants dotted around next to the river with the tables and chairs in the shallow streams so you can keep your feet cool while you have a nice Fanta. A short hike from the car park at the top brings you through the trees into the valley, where you will find locals having big family days out, preparing and cooking their tagines on the rocks. There are also make shift shacks selling fresh tagines and cold drinks. You won’t be offered a menu, you just ask what they have (normally two different types of tagine!), they are very good value and the food is great.

Renting a car is very reasonable from Agadir airport, petrol is cheap and it’s not to difficult to navigate your way around. Make sure to keep some change handy for the car guards who will watch your car while parked in town or at the beach. If you don’t fancy driving, airport transfers are included in Surf Maroc’s packages and they offer excursions to Paradise Valley. The packages include everything but the flight which you will have to book yourself. If you are booking in advance try Easyjet for direct flights from the UK, or Thomson Flights can be really good for a last minute flight deal. The peak season for Surfing in Taghazout is November – April, so get booking for your mid-winter sunshine now for the best flight deals.

Happy Surfing!