My final day started at 2am (midnight U.K. time!!) when I woke up fully and completely ready to get up. I'm rubbish at staying in bed when I'm awake, find it so frustrating and stressful, I know I ought to try to do it as maybe I'd go back to sleep, but I didn't do that, instead I got up at 2am. Completed the U.K. passenger locator form - all sorted now to re-enter the U.K. The form was fine apart from it asks you to take a photo of or upload proof of vaccination status via a single QR code, with instructions how to get this via the NHS ap but the proof of vaccination status in the NHS ap has 2 QR codes, one for each dose of vaccine! Maybe it only wanted the second one? I tried to upload the PDF that the ap provides (even though it has 2 QR codes in) but it wouldn't accept it as the file was "too small" and the camera wouldn't work to scan the QR code of the second vaccine either, so I had to skip that step - I think it's fine, I will just have to show proof of vaccination status at the border.
I left the hotel early and walked west along the coast to Hersonissos. It was a nice walk; you can't really walk "along the coast" in Crete as there is not a continuous coast path or promenade, there are sections where you can walk along the shore but they are punctuated by sections privately owned by hotels, or where the shore is rocky, high above sea level and built upon. However, there are roads running pretty close to the shore all the way to Hersonissos. I got to see a lovely sunrise over the water. It's much nicer to walk along the commercial strips at this time of the morning when they are mostly empty of tourists, save a few clusters waiting for pickups for day tours or airport transfers, apart from that only local people going about their business, presumably on their way to work or picking up bread from the bakery.
I was keen for a dip in the sea, which I had close to Hersonissos, but it wasn't as nice as swimming at Potamos beach the previous day, as the beach where I went in was small and seaweed strewn and slimy rock underfoot, not sand. I definitely prefer Mália to Hersonissos, Hersonissos is much more over-developed, with endless restaurants and stores selling tourist tat, in addition to Massive multi story hotels. Mália is touristy but it doesn't have the same giant hotels all the way along the seafront, it has more accessible shore and is much smaller so you can quickly get out of the touristy bit. It feels more genuinely Greek, I'm very happy with my decision to base base myself in Mália rather than Hersonissos.
Honestly if I returned to Crete I wouldn't choose to stay in either of these places, or book a package! I booked a package this time due to the last minute nature of the trip and wanting the extra security (& discount codes for covid tests); the only destinations in Crete for which there were packages in my price range were in this strip between Iraklio and Mália; apparently the holiday companies block book these hotels for the entire season.
Although it wouldn't be my choice of destination again, I don't regret coming here. It has been lovely to have a holiday, great to experience Greece for the first time and I have managed to find sites of interest, amazing scenery, to get out in nature and away from the built up areas and see a little bit of authentic Greek life despite being based in a very touristy part of the island.
A week wasn't long enough (it never is! 10 days minimum is the optimal length of holiday I think). Crete is a sizeable island with a lot to see and do, I explored a bit of the northeast corner (between Iraklio and Ag Nik) but I didn't visit the western half of the island, or the far Eastern bit, or the south coast. It was fine to visit using public transport although I can see why people recommend a car as the way to see Crete best - there were places I wanted to visit but couldn't as the buses were too infrequent (eg I wanted to visit the mountain village of Krista but the bus from Ag Nik to Krista left 5mins before the bus from Malia to Ag Nik arrived and the next one wasn't for 3 hours) or didn't go there at all. I felt like I spent a long time on buses or waiting for buses.
I'd like to return to Crete to visit the northwestern section including Hania, Rethymno, Samira Gorge; I'd also like to visit the area around Matala (south of Iraklio) which sounds like an interesting place and is a good base for exploring the significant archaeological sites at Phaestos and Gortyna - reckon I could do all of this using public transport again. I'd also like to visit the south coast but realistically I don't think this would be possible on public transport, so it would require a car and confidence to drive on the right, around hairpin bends up mountains... something for the future perhaps.
Overall, I've had a lovely week in Crete. It's piqued my interest to see more of Crete and more of Greece and to seek less tourist-driven and more authentic Greek experiences on my next trip. Sad to be going home today but so glad I came, it was more stressful and expensive than normal due to the covid regulations and tests but 100% worth it.