Aran Islands: A day trip off the west coast of Ireland

Located just a few kilometres off the coast of County Claire, marking the entrance to Galway Bay, lie the sparcley populated but amazingly historic Aran Islands.

There are three main islands - Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer.

Given the relatively similar names for the three islands, to make sure you are heading to the right one, just remember one of the islands has more land than the others - and the reminder is in its name, Inishmore.

Welcome on board the Happy Hooker.
Welcome on board the Happy Hooker. Photo credit: Dan Lake/Newshub.

My journey to the island took two ferries, as we swapped from one to another halfway. The second of the two vessels was called 'The Happy Hooker,' referring to her time as a fishing boat I'm sure.

One shouldn't expect a Cook Strait style of ferry ride, either. These boats were built to catch fish, us humans just so happened to be catching a ride. But this old rusted vessel just added to the experience. The loud, aging engine powered through the choppy seas, the cold and refreshing air smashing every trace of tiredness out of me.

Arriving on Inishmore, it's a short walk to the very small village made up of craft shops, a restaurant and a bike shop, and it's here I make my first stop.

"G'day mate, you after a bike, or...?"

Some 20,000km from New Zealand, at the Aran Bike Hire store, I was greeted by a Kiwi. Proof we are everywhere.

It's not compulsory or the law to wear a helmet when cycling here, but it is advised. Some of the roads are narrow, and you share them with the odd campervan and the occasional horse and cart.

Aran Islands: A day trip off the west coast of Ireland
Photo credit: Dan Lake/Newshub.

The road I chose to go down hugged the rugged coastline of the island and although I did see a few other people, it felt like I was on the island all by myself.

One of the main attractions on the island is the seal colony, and this road has a spot that gets you as close as you can to the wildlife.

Although it's amazing seeing these sorts of creatures living their best life in the wild, it was something else that came to be the highlight of my cycling adventure.

A small section of the roadside on the coastal road had become almost a miniature island in itself. It's made of carefully constructed stone towers that have managed to remain upright, despite the relentless winds coming off the ocean.

The Worm Hole.
The Worm Hole. Photo credit: Getty Images

My bike took me as far as Kilmurvey House, but the adventure didn't stop there. There are two amazing locations further on from this bike stop on the Southern coast of Inishmore.

The first is a clifftop fort that dates back to 1100 BC. One side of the fort forms a barrier to anything coming its way and has a sheer drop of more than 100m to the ocean.

Further along from the fort is what from above looks like a man-made swimming pool, but is in fact entirely created by the process of erosion and rock movement.

The Worm Hole, as it's known, has become more popular in recent years after it featured in a Red Bull diving video.

Aran Islands: A day trip off the west coast of Ireland

On some days, the water is calm and relaxing; but visitors are reminded of the dangers of getting too close. The water travels to and from the wormhole via an underground tunnel system that links back to the ocean and is susceptible to sudden bursts of ferocious swells.

After experiencing the windy, rough conditions of Galway Bay, there was really only one way to round out the days activities, a relaxing evening somewhere warm and cosy. Hotel Doolan is just that.

Don't be fooled by the unassuming appearance of the hotel from the road. This place is small-town accommodation at its best.

The staff not only know everything about the local area, they know practically everyone by name. Looking for a tour guide? They'll give ol' Johnny a call. Need ferry tickets?

They'll go fetch the owner from the restaurant. Need to know the time of the next ferry? They'll call their mate, the skipper.

The scenic cliffs of Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland.
Photo credit: Getty Images

It's that sort of place.

The day ended with an amazing meal at Fitzpatrick's Bar with traditional Irish music and a chat with the barman.

I spoke to him about the cliff walk I had planned for the following day and he knew all about it.

"So you have done the tour?" I asked him.

"No," he said.

"My dad does the tours."

Of course he does.

My visit to the area known as the 'Wild Atlantic Way' was brief, but it gave me enough of a taste to see how the area got its name, and how ancient and historic this part of the world.

The islands been shaped by millions of years of sea and sun - now they make an ideal place to get a taste for a region that's well and truly off the beaten track.