A view of the Everglades from the boardwalk at Kirby Storter Roadside Park
The Everglades is a 1.5 million acre swath of wetlands in Southern Florida. There are two main highways that cut through the preserve – the Tamiami (Tampa to Miami) and I-75 (Alligator Alley). Tamiami is generally considered the more touristic way to see the sites, as there are several stops with walking paths along the way. It’s easy to see alligators most times of year and there are tons of bird species as well. My favorite walking path was at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park as it was a bit quieter and more secluded than the other areas. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, there are also extended walking trails for longer camping trips.
The little town of Ochopee is a nice stop along the way if you’re doing a road trip. You can see the smallest post office in the United States and grab lunch at Joanie’s Blue Crab, a divey local joint with lots of fried seafood on offer.
The natural infinity pool of Gunlom Falls in Kakadu Natioanl Park
After our Mary River cruise we finally made it to Kakadu National Park, a sprawling 20,000 square km area (that’s half the size of Switzerland!) whose geological history extends millions of years and human history of over 40,000 years. Of course you can spend months exploring the park and not see everything, but the tour I was on just hit two highlights: the rock art of Ubirr and the swimming holes at Gunlom Falls. Both were extraordinary and I hope to make it back to Kakadu during my months working in Darwin. During the wet season the waterfalls are even more stunning and the wildlife is even more abundant.
A view of the hills of Pai
From Chiang Mai it’s just a 3-4 hour bus ride up to Pai, a small mountain town filled surrounded by waterfalls and hot springs. I spent a few nights there as a break from Chiang Mai and had a lovely time staying in a quiet bungalow with resident chickens. I rented a motorbike for the first time ever and drove on the left – also for the first time ever! It was a challenge, and in retrospect it may not have been entirely smart to go off by myself for the day, but I survived the experience.
I loved hiking in the Muang Pai stone forest – a site that’s not commonly mentioned among backpackers but I saw some signs on the road near the elephant camps so decided to stop. The changing colors of the leaves and the crunch of the winter ground reminded me a lot of hiking back home. That is, I was reminded of home until I stumbled upon a bunch of banana trees!
I also had a fun night celebrating Australia Day at SpicyPai hostel. There was a delicious BBQ and good company. Nobody, though, not even the Australians, could explain what Australia Day actually is.