Taking a giant leap off the side of a cliff into a rock pool below was exhilarating - and a great way to kick off my time in North Africa.
Before I arrived in Morocco, my mind linked it to images of the desert. And that's exactly what you'll find. But a little bit of exploration, and a 45-minute drive, took me and my comrades well away from the dry terrain and into a paradise oasis of blue pools and waterfalls.
Paradise Valley is a hidden gem, outside the village of Tamaraght, where the desert road climbs, dips and bends into a valley of palm trees, rock pools and crystal clear water.
A bit of hard work is involved to reap the benefits of the valley. But even with a solid, 30-minute hike in the sweltering Moroccan summer heat, there are plenty of rock pools along the way to cool the sun's bite.
The trek is well worth it. We finally came across larger and deeper rock pools, and threw ourselves off heights of five, eight and 12 metres into clear waters below. If leaping from cliffs into narrow rock pools isn't your thing, don't worry - you can loll on a rock before slipping gently into the water.
Hours were spent lounging in the cool water, watching fish swim by and trying to wrap my head around where I actually was in the world.
It's not only the scenery that stole my attention. Each day in Morocco I noticed the local's relaxed attitude, something I was eager to adopt. A country with Islam as their main religion comes today with many opinionated thoughts and assumptions. My advice: put those aside and keep an open mind. As I explored this culture a little deeper, I discovered a kind, happy and relaxed place. Morocco quickly became one of my favourite places.
There seem to be less worries in Morocco than in our westernised society. They seem to have more time for life's simple joys. They seem to care less about having the latest gadgets and the biggest house.
Our driver to Paradise Valley stopped to pick up a man hitch-hiking on the side of the road. Why wouldn't we help an elderly man get from point A to B? But in the western world we would be hesitant to help.
The kindness here felt so refreshing and I encountered it throughout my journey. I found myself to be the happiest I had ever been, in a country completely foreign, surrounded by desert on one side and ocean on the other.
We survived for a few weeks on little money, enjoying the local crepes and vegetable tagines. As for possessions, all I really needed was a surfboard. I spent my days surfing, reading, doing yoga, walking through town, learning about the culture and exploring - which included driving dune buggies into the mountains. I wore the same clothes nearly every day.
My advice for travellers to Morocco is to stay away from the tourist traps and get out of the cities. I spent just one day in Marrakech, because I wanted to slow down, not feel rushed and try new things.
Coming back to a westernised society was a shock. Everything was available at our fingertips; malls were crawling with hungry shoppers. They say culture shock bites when you return home. I found this to be true.
When life gets overwhelming, I often think about my time in Morocco, where I saw how experiences mean more than possessions. When I've saved some more cash, I won't be hitting the mall. I'll return to Morocco, with my surfboard and the clothes on my back.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Agadir and Marrakech are both six-hour flights from London, which is accessible from Australia via numerous airlines including Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. Or you can take a flight to Marrakech and Agadir from most European cities, usually with a quick stopover.
STAYING THERE: The Lunar Surf House is hostel-style accommodation with the option of shared or private rooms. The hosts, a Moroccan and Australian couple, provide a Moroccan style breakfast (free) each morning, and dinner (5 euros; $A7.50) each night. The surf house is located in Tamraght, a short taxi ride from the larger city of Agadir, or a four-hour bus ride from Marrakech. Visit www.thelunarsurfhouse.com/
PLAYING THERE: Tours to Paradise Valley can be taken with a guide from Lunar Surf House in Tamraght if you are staying there. The tour is a full day (30 euros; $A45)). Sahara desert excursions are also available through the Surf House.
If you have a short stay in Marrakech you can take a day trip with a local guide to the Atlas Mountains through Atlas and Sahara Tours. Different packages are available depending on what you would like to see and do. Visit atlasandsaharatours.com/
The writer travelled at her own expense.