All posts by richardpieper

Cebu Island

When we started round 2 of the adventure we came to the Philippines and stopped in on Cebu island but only made it to Cebu City and Mactan (the airport area). We saw the main tourist sights (the old fort, a ton of churches and the cross that Magellan planted in the 16th century). We shopped (as much as we do) the main district and sampled the infamous local lechon.

This time my good mate Brad had moved to town with his partner Nora and they were now living in downtown Manila (Makati really). So this gave us a few days of midweek catch-up while he worked and a weekend blowout to Cebu Island.

The thing that we really missed on our first visit to Cebu, and that has been bugging me ever since, was to swim with the whale sharks. So on this fact alone, we were destined to return. The island itself is about 200 kilometres long and 20km wide with coral reefs virtually surrounding its entire perimeter. 

We hopped an early morning flight from Manila, bounced to Cebu (70 mins), hired a car and headed to town as they had not seen the churches and Magellan’s Cross etc. The biggest challenge to this was trying to find a parking spot.

From then we started the 4-5 hour drive down to the town of Oslob. The distance is not that far (120kms) but the road and traffic conditions means that it is time to settle in for a long and stressful drive. Getting access to our hire car was in itself a nightmare. The Filipino systems are brutally inefficient. To achieve even the simplest of tasks can sometimes seem monumental. Yet other times things will run a smooth as silk.

Having negotiated the 5 hr drive, with Brad driving and the rest of us clinging on for dear life, we arrived at our hotel, which on first glance seemed idyllic. A beautiful spot overlooking the ocean, with 25 attentive staff grinning and welcoming us.

On the surface this hotel was amazing, but we would soon find out that it was far from ideal. Initially you are greeted by a grassed area on top of a cliff with a whale shark statue and the fading light of late afternoon sun. Next to the grass was a couple of beautiful blue pools surrounded by cabanas and tables. And then there was the check in. There were quite literally 25 of the friendliest people that you could ever meet smiling and greeting you at every opportunity.

But it seemed that it was not any of those 25 people’s jobs to get our room ready. Similarly it was none of their jobs to ensure that Brad and Nora’s room did not stink of sewage. Our room was a bunk bed with a TV and bean bags underneath it. This may be fine for the local crowd, but at six foot one the underneath area came to below my armpit, and to climb onto the bed I smashed my head. It was physically impossible for me to sit on my bed as I would have sconned myself on the roof. Anyway, the pool looked nice, so why don’t we head to there.

Brad and I settled in, ordered a beer and soaked away the stresses of the long drive and the inefficient staff. As the first beer seemed to evaporate, I then spent about 10 minutes trying to get the attention of one of the 25 staff that were milling about, in an attempt to replace and refill our beers. This became the pattern for every subsequent beer.

After about 15 minutes we tried to order round 3 to find that we had drank them out of the local San Miguel Pilsner. Five people at the bar stared at each other, unsure what to do. We suggested that we remained thirsty and that they should remedy this however between the five of them they remained stumped.

Totally perplexed as to what to do, I suggested that perhaps one of the 25 people standing around with their thumb in their ass could maybe go down the shop and buy a case or two to restock the bar. After some head scratching an several long conversations they agreed with my solution and 20 minutes later someone arrived with the proverbial mouse, proudly displaying it to us as they headed to the bar.

The sunsets were stunning and the moonlight over the water was amazing.

Whale Sharks

The next morning we were up early and out the door by 5 am, foregoing our free breakfast to be there in time to register for our whale shark experience. This is something that you must be there in person to do. So despite our 5am start, the volume of people saw us registering to board boat number 87. So we poked around the trinket shops, had some breakfast and even found a pretty decent cup of coffee.

There was about 10 outrigger style boats that held between 4 and 10 people on each that would paddle out to a mooring rope and give you access to the whale sharks. Here they would moor to the rope as smaller canoes would feed the sharks shrimp, ensuring that the sharks did laps in front of you. Each boat got a 30 minute viewing window, so at number 87, we were in for a bit of a wait. After sitting around for a while, by about 8am (bearing in mind the boatmen had breakfast in the middle of this) our turn came.

And we were not disappointed. The first sightings were from the boat as these huge mouths came up to the surface to feed. The huge heads, gaping mouths and spotted bodies are unmistakable.

Once moored to the lines it is into the water that you go. And now the real show begins. Armed solely with a mask and snorkel and a go pro your adventure goes to full speed within seconds of getting wet.

And then either your boat dude or your mates aim their go pro at you and you have evidence of one of life’s greatest experiences.

The reality is we probably shouldn’t encourage this as the act of the local fishermen feeding the Whale sharks makes them want to stay in Oslob and potentially domesticates them. This then messes up their migration cycle potentially impacting their breeding habits which may have a negative impact on reproduction.

But it is really cool.

Sardine Run

From here we headed down to the bottom of the island and partially back up the other side to the town of Moal Boal. This is a touristy town that was full of western tourists (as opposed to Oslob which was 70%+ local tourists). The town is famous for its diving and most of all for the Sardine Run and abundance of turtles.

We all got to see the millions of sardines swarming and schooling around us but sadly, my camera work was not good enough to capture it well so had to steal a couple of tourist shots. The turtles thankfully moved much slower and gave me some great shots.

Sadly the thing that they didn’t mention about the Sardine Run and Turtle experience was that the area was also swarming with jellyfish. The others managed to dodge it (mostly) but I got caught swimming through a swarm of them. This saw me applying vinegar at the restaurant afterwards and then taking anti-histamines that night as the buildup of toxins were having negative effects.

Kicked out

The next morning we were up for breakfast and I had recovered from all of my jellyfish stings. Jill had woken at 4am and could not get back to sleep so did some computer work while taking in the sunsets on offer.

As we all rose to join her (eventually) she alerted us to all of the reserved signs around our pool and the associated cabanas. I asked them what they were for and was told that they had a group of 35 people who were coming in as they had bought day passes at our resort. I asked him politely where were we to sit then if all of the areas had been reserved. He grinned at us stupidly and clearly had no way to answer. So I asked again, yet another grin.

In essence they had sold out the entire hotel to day trippers, leaving no room for the staying (and paying) guests.

Sumilon Island

Sumilon Island is found about 125 kilometers from Cebu City and the ferry to get there is about 5-10 kms south of the whale shark viewing area. The island is the first marine protected area in the Philippines and was made a fish sanctuary in 1974. Now it hosts a resort with an area of 24 hectares and is surrounded by crystal clear waters.

Having been all but kicked out of our place we hopped in the car and headed down here, took the ferry across and settled into the infinity pool at the top of the hill. After a while we migrated to the other side of the hill for the included buffet lunch.

The reason that we had to migrate was the fact that day trippers were removed from the main resort facilities at noon so that the paying guests got uninhibited access to their own facilities. Brad and Nora opted for all the activities (snorkelling, paddle boats etc) while Jill and I lazed by, near or in the pool.

Mama Mary

Typically referred to as the Simala Shrine this area is about 10 minutes off the main ring road and is the site of the image of Our Lady of Lindogon or more commonly Mama Mary. Devotees believe that this image is miraculous with claims that it has shed tears and it was credited with healing those with dengue fever back in 1998.

We came past on a Sunday , which meant it was manic. But it was a pretty impressive church, set high on a very scenic hill, surrounded by people selling religious icons. We saw the church but did not buy any of the trinkets.

House of Lechon

With Cebu being the home of Lechon, we could not leave before stopping into the most famous of the venues and settling in for some crispy porky goodness. Whole pig, roasted and served with spicy chilli sauce, how could anyone say no to that. Certainly not the four of us, so we settled in before our flight back to Manila.

Our time in Cebu (apart from our hotel) was incredible. The hotel looked stunning and was an Instagrammers paradise, offering great photos and awesome views. But as a hotel it barely functioned. Brad kept making Fawlty Towers references throughout our stay.

On the second night, we were lazing by the pool in the evening and Jill all of a sudden raised her foot and pulled out large sheets of plastic. It turned out that this was the pool insulation that was peeling off in long strips and just floating about the pool.

To be fair, the kitchen was good and the meals were lovely. The staff were friendly and polite but not attentive and totally incapable of problem solving. It was about $70 a night for our basic room and only $100 for Brad’s deluxe room.

Hawaii

Hawaii is an island state of the US that lies about 3,200 km off (southwest) the US mainland. The state is made up of 137 volcanic islands that comprise almost the entire Hawaiian archipelago.

There are eight main islands (Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi) with the biggest of the islands (Hawaii) giving the area its name. However Hawaii (the island) is more commonly known as the “Big Island” or “Hawaii Island” to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago.

The islands were originally settled by Polynesians sometime between 1000 and 1200 CE. In 1778, British explorer James Cook was the first (recorded) non-Polynesian to arrive at the archipelago prompting an influx of European and American explorers, traders, and whalers. This led to a virtual decimation of the indigenous community.

Cost

The first thing that we were told (and then were told repeatedly throughout our time in Hawaii) was that everything in Hawaii is 40% more expensive than it is on the mainland as everything must be shipped in. The cost of landing a container into LA is $6-700 but this balloons to $1200 to land it in Hawaii. As such, you are paying a premium for almost everything around.

This became evident while travelling around, not so much from the prices (which were high) but from the lack of staff. People could simply not afford to live there so had migrated to the mainland. Lower paying jobs were advertised everywhere we walked. Shop workers, waiters, cleaners, housekeeping and hospitality staff were needed everywhere.

Weed

As with almost everywhere in northern America weed is everywhere. You cannot walk down the street (anywhere) without being hit by a waft of weed at least every 10 minutes and more often than not, way more frequently.

Oahu (Honolulu), Hawaii

Oahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is best known for its beaches (notably Waikiki Beach), lush tropical forests, and culture. The northern shore of Oahu is considered the mecca of surfing, attracting professional surfers worldwide.

Probably the most important thing about Oahu is that it holds Pearl Harbour a site of immense historical significance in the US and the trigger event for the US to join WWII. On December 7th, 1941 at 7:48 a.m. the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. All 8 of the US warships in Pearl Harbor were damaged, and 4 of them were sunk. The raid damaged a total of 21 ships and resulted in the death of many people.

The next most famous is “Waikiki Beach”. While generally just described as Waikiki it is actually a series of beaches stretching the bay and covering around 3.2 km of the shoreline. The place is lined with hotels, packed with tourists and is obscenely overpriced. My memories of this place (from way back in 1996) was that it was the Gold Coast with shitty beaches. Interestingly, Jill’s impression of Waikiki was pretty much identical.

Our foray saw us landing on a Sunday to a very quiet and clean city that seemed highly functional. The roads were wide, clean, with footpaths and a well functioning public transportation system (albeit at reduced intervals being a Sunday). Bus number 20 runs right past the cruise ship terminal, through the heart of Waikiki and on to the famous Diamond Head Crater.

This volcanic remnant is one of Hawaii’s most recognised landmarks and covers about 475 acres. Common practise is to do the steep 3 km hike up to the top for the views.

I am not common.

Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the US. It was built between 1879 and 1882, and was once home to two monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Having been locked on a ship for a few sea days in a row, we were keen on getting off the boat and stretching our legs. So off we went hugging the shoreline and taking in the beautiful Ala Moana Park. After a nice hike, we ended up at the Ala Moana shopping Center which is the world’s largest open-air shopping center. Here we found a Yum Cha restaurant and had a much needed Asian food fix.

Hilo, Hawaii

Hilo is a town on (the big island) Hawaii and is mostly known for being the home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you are lucky (which we were not) this is where you can see the flowing and glowing lava.

Being very keen to see this we paid top dollar to join a tour that would take us to the National Park and more specifically to the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. The Kilauea volcano last erupted in September 2023 and recent (minor) earthquake activity had been measured in the area raising the likelihood of opening some fissures and providing the magic views that we were after. But sadly, we were just met with moonscape type scenes as we stared over lava fields and the caldera remnants.

The Wailuku River State Park was our first port of call to take in the Waianuenue, or Rainbow Falls. The Rainbow Falls cascade 80 ft over a lava cave that, according to legend, is home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina, the goddess of the moon. A morning visit will let you see the rainbow effect.

The Boiling Pots are a series of cascading waterfalls along columns that were formed from the slow cooling of basalt lava, these pools appear to be bubbling – almost as if they were boiling.

Next stop was to the Thurston Lava Tube which was formed 500 years ago when when low viscosity lava formed a hard crust that thickened and formed a roof over the still-flowing lava. This lava tube is paved and lighted providing a safe and easy way to visit.

The tube itself is around 200m long and is a short stroll from the road. The access is down a steep path and the return involves some steps and a bit of an uphill hike.

Our timing for this (highly priced) tour was not ideal, but the biggest issue that we faced was the age and mobility of our fellow travellers. Despite clear descriptions of the levels of activity involved, there were at least 40% of our group who were not up to the walking, stairs and terrain that was involved.

This meant that it ran REALLY slowly, with excess time allotted for the old and infirmed. This also created major traffic jams behind the slow and doddery and meant that some of the more interesting items we were simply told about, as we were forced to drive past them without stopping due to the time and mobility of those on board.

King Kamehameha is credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810 during a time of increasing western influence (Captain Cook).

His legendary strength and ferocity as a warrior was tempered by his diplomatic skill and his love for the Hawaiian people.

As you would expect, the tour finished at a series of obscenely priced trinket shops but not before stopping at some natural vents where the water meats the thermal rocks and produces steaming vents. This was of course billed as the location for your own private facial.

Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawaii

Kauai is another of the Hawaiian islands that has been nicknamed “the Garden Isle” thanks to the tropical rainforest covering much of its surface. The dramatic cliffs has made it a popular destination for the filming of many Hollywood movies.

While there was not too much here to play with, it was the prettiest of the islands that we visited and would top the list of places to go back to in Hawaii. We bounced around the local township (Nawiliwili) and checked out the local beach.

Further examination revealed that if we had gone a little further afield there was the usual Hawaiian activities of snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, waterfalls and rafting all on offer.

On the whole our adventures in Hawaii were nice. The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly and the beaches are OK. Being Aussies we are spoilt for beaches and our level and idea of what makes a good beach is considerably more elevated than most.

Americans and Guns

This is a bit of a sideline more than anything else. While sitting on our incredibly overpriced and slow tour of Hilo with the oldies there were a bunch of people smoking in the National Park (mostly weed). So one couple next to me queried me as they thought that it was illegal to smoke within the national park. At this point they went into a long diatribe about how bad it was and that the rangers should stop it.

Their solution was that the rangers were highly armed, so they should be able to stop the smoking within the national park. At this point I turned around and looked directly at them and asked if they really believed that the park rangers should wander about shooting people for smoking. Their response was that the rangers had guns. I then asked if they seriously thought that that was reasonable.

At this point I turned away from them and made a loud statement that I was so glad that we lived in Australia if this was the American attitude towards responsible gun use. They did not talk to me again.

French Polynesia

Polynesia is the area of oceanic islands from Hawaii in the north, to Rapanui (Easter Is) in the east to Aotearoa-New Zealand in the south.

Polynesia (from the Greek for “many islands”) is a collection of over 1,000 islands spread over a region of the Pacific Ocean covering an area equivalent to North and South America combined. Polynesia was first populated some 3,000 years ago, when a people known as the Lapita journeyed eastward from New Guinea, arriving first in Tonga and Samoa.

Roughly 2,000 years ago, these Polynesians journeyed across thousands of miles of deep ocean to populate the Cook Islands, the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, Hawai’i, Easter Island, and finally, New Zealand.

There, in what’s known as the “Cradle of Polynesia,” a distinctly Polynesian culture developed over the course of a thousand years.

Early Polynesians probably journeyed all the way across the Pacific to South America. That’s the only ready explanation for the presence all across Polynesia of sweet potatoes, which hail from South America. Further evidence: Throughout Polynesia, the word used for sweet potato is kumara—the same word used by the Peruvian Indians in South America. © The Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

French Polynesia is five separate groups of islands (the Society Islands Archipelago, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands and the Austral Islands). It is made up of 121 individual islands and atolls within these chains.

They sit in the South Pacific Ocean about half way between Australia and South America. Combined they stretch over 2,000 kilometres and have a total land area of 3,500 square kilometres, with a population of a bit over a quarter of a million.

The Society Islands include the major islands of Tahiti, Moʻorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Huahine. The archipelago is believed to have been named by Captain James Cook during his first voyage in 1769.

The Tuamotu Archipelago are a chain of just under 80 islands and atolls that constitute the largest chain of atolls in the world, extending (northwest to southeast) over an area roughly the size of Western Europe. Their combined land area is 850 square kilometres. The major islands are Anaa, Fakarava, Hao and Makemo.

The Gambier Islands are a group of islands that are remnants of a caldera with islets and a fringing reef. They are generally considered separate from Tuamotu due to different culture and language.

The Marquesas Islands are one of the most remote in the world with Mexico (about 4,800 kilometres away) the closest continental landmass.

The Austral Islands are the southernmost group of islands in French Polynesia with a population of around 7000 across almost 150 square kilometers.

Our foray into French Polynesia was to take us into the Society Islands particularly Raiatea, Tahiti and Moʻorea but missing out on Bora Bora and Huahine.

Raiatea Island

 Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands, after Tahiti. It is widely considered to be the birthplace of Polynesian culture. Regarded as the ‘sacred’ island and birthplace of the gods the island houses numerous archaeological treasures.

The first island in the region to be inhabited, it is also home to the most spectacular and important marae in the Polynesian Triangle.

A marae is a fenced-in complex of carved buildings and grounds that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribe) or whānau (family).

According to the blurb, the marae of Taputapuatea, was once the center of religious and political power in all of Polynesia, including Hawaii, New Zealand Easter Island and the Cook Islands.

The island has a regular population of under 13,000 people. Our landing saw us greeted by the typical bands, flowers and dancing displays before being let loose on a pretty small, but incredibly clean and friendly township.

There was not a lot to do in town and we had not booked a wider island tour so we wandered the streets, checked out the (exorbitantly priced) shops and generally just poked about the very pretty township.

We found our way down to a local swimming spot, not far from town, and had a fantastic dip in the ocean pool. As some of the first off the ship, we were among the first to the swimming hole and had a great half an hour before the hordes began to descend on our little hidey hole.

Sadly we (well Jill really) had a clash with (possibly) the worst type of human being that exists, the bogan Aussie mother. She and her tribe of boganettes came in and took over the entire area, moving other people’s stuff around so that her mob could have the shady area under the tree, despite others beating them to the location. And from here when Jill called her out for her rudeness she then wanted to pick a fight.

A charming display of Australians on vacation.


Papeete, Tahiti

Papeete is the small (under 30,000) capital of French Polynesia. The name Papeʻetē means “water from a basket”. It has a tropical climate with a distinct wet and dry season.

Our entry to Papeete, Tahiti was less than stellar as we arrived on a wet and rainy Sunday. As is usual on a Sunday throughout the highly religious Polynesian region, everything is shut and very little is going on. This meant that in no way did we see the best of Tahiti and more particularly Papeete.

But what we did find, was yet another incredibly clean township, beautifully maintained and filled with a friendly and welcoming population. As almost everything was shut, there was very little to amuse ourselves with other than to wander through the immaculate parks and gardens that were on offer in the township and more specifically along the shoreline.


An amazing thing that we discovered was an area between the shoreline and the Marina (only a few meters wide). Here the Tahitians had been submerging artificial reefs in the already developed areas to try and encourage the sea life and coral back into the areas that they once likely inhabited.

While the town was closed, Tahiti did treat us to one of the best sunsets that we have had for quite some time.

Moorea Island

Moorea is one of the most scenically striking islands in French Polynesia. and was our last stop in French Polynesia. Located only ten nautical miles from Tahiti, it is easily accessible and a favorite destination for couples, families and locals.

We had a snorkelling tour organised which saw us off the ship and on a smaller boat for a snorkelling adventure. The first thing was to head back to the boat to watch the show put on by the local Spinner dolphins. So we saw several small groups of dolphins leaping from the water and doing various types of acrobatics along the way. This was also the way our Maldives day went so the early signs were that this might be a good day out on the water.

Next stop was to a small area that had a ton of sting rays and black tip reef sharks. And there were plenty there to see and they were not shy with the humans.

As usual, I was one of the first out of the boat and while trying to climb down the stairs an overly inquisitive stingray of about a meter diameter decided that I was his friend and tried to mount my leg while I tried to enter the water. My knowledge of stingrays is limited, but I do know that one of them killed Steve Irwin.

And here I am on a set of stairs, wondering if it is going to move so I can jump in the water without landing on it and pissing it off. Long story short, it didn’t move, I shoved it aside and jumped in the vicinity of clear water (and did not get barbed). From here on we were set upon by stingrays (likely looking for food) and had the Black Tip Reef sharks swimming much closer than I had imagined that they would.

The next stop was to a pretty flogged out coral garden that was more trampled than garden. But the water was clean and there were a few small parrot fish bobbing about. But sadly not a shadow on the Australian offerings. A bit later on we got to see (but sadly not swim with) some turtles as the boat bobbed along close to shore.

French Polynesia was nice. It was very pretty, well maintained and beautifully clean. Added to this it was obscenely expensive with some fairly limited cuisine options (at top dollar). The waters are clean and the people have a great attitude towards littering with none to be seen. And importantly, they really seem to care about the oceans and the state and health of the waters.

It was nice to see (on a cruise ship transiting) and we would happily come back, but it is unlikely to ever feature as somewhere that we would aim to come to again. It is a long way from anywhere, with not much on offer and while it was great to see, we would not pick this as a destination island, preferring many others long before this.

New Zealand

New Zealand is somewhere that both Jill and I had been to several times (although separately). My first foray was in my early teens and in a former life I used to come here twice a year for work.

But all of this was before the website and the thought of capturing our experiences.

Needless to say that in our multiple visits (each) we had seen quite a bit of New Zealand and had (for the most part) enjoyed our forays thoroughly. Some of the highlights included:

Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, and venue hall renowned for being bicultural. THe five main displays represented include Art, History, Pacific, Māori, and the Natural Environment. 

No trip to NZ is complete without visiting the stinking mess that is Rotorua. The geothermal pools are interesting enough as are the cultural displays, you just have to abide the rotten egg gas that takes over the town.

And of course there was the stunning Mt Cook, the location of my first real (and most embarrassing) snow experience.

Waitomo is known for its underwater streams, lakes and caves covered by stalagmites and stalactites. But the star of the show is the lightshow provided by millions of glowworms (found exclusively in NZ) the only light in the cave.

And my personal favourite was Lake Taupo. This is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia (about the size of Singapore) and is the crater of one of the largest volcanic eruptions earth has seen in the last 5000 years.

In addition to the main sights of New Zealand the place is just generally stunning.

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is an area in the Northeast of New Zealand that is famous for its natural beauty and as one of the most popular fishing, sailing and tourist destinations in the country. The Bay of Islands has 144 individual islands but our visit saw us tendering in from the cruise ship near the small town of Paihia. Paihia is a tiny town of under 2000 people but (as with most of NZ) is very pretty and a very civilised place to visit.

I guess the thing that threw us the most was the cost of things. On Early glances, the cost of living in New Zealand is considerably higher than that which we enjoy in Australia (even taking into account the exchange rate). Now it may have been that we were in a small tourist town, but the prices in the shops were considerably higher than we would pay for the same items back home.

The township itself was small but lovely. A launching point for further exploration of the Bay and the surrounding Islands it centres around the dock and a small one block of shops and restaurants. On the day we arrived the local market was set up, with all of the expected tourist trinkets on offer.

The main claim to fame of Paihia is that it is just down the road from the historic Treaty House at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

This is the location that marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. On 6 February 1840 the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs) signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty is an agreement, in both Māori and English, where they agree to jointly found a nation state so that both parties would live together peacefully and develop New Zealand together in partnership.

Just west of Paihia is Haruru falls and a short boat ride away you will find the quaint township Russell which was the first seaport and permanent European settlement in New Zealand. While on a boat you can also get to the aptly named ‘hole in the rock’ at the tip of Cape Brett.

Being New Zealand and in a place named Bay of Islands, needless to say there is a ton of water based activity on offer. This includes cruising, sea kayak tours, scuba diving, fast jet boats, yachts, catamarans, fishing trips, and even tall ship sailing.

Bay of Plenty

The next morning we had moved on and found ourselves in the Bay of Plenty staring at Mount Maunganui and the town of Tauranga. Tauranga is a small beach town of about 130,000 with beaches, hot saltwater pools and an extinct volcano ringed by winding walking paths.

The bay is a large bight stretching 260 km and containing numerous islands. According to local Māori traditions, the Bay of Plenty was the landing point of several migration canoes that brought Māori settlers to New Zealand.

We hopped off the boat and circumnavigated the town taking in all there was to see (with the exception of walking to the top of Mount Maunganui). Tauranga is a narrow neck of land with the Mountain dominating one end. It is full of tourist accommodation and the associated cafes and restaurants that go with them.

The town is stunningly clean and very enjoyable and the natural beauty abounds. It was a bit too cool to venture near the water (although many were donning wetsuits and going in). It was a lovely little spot that reminded me a bit of the CQ town of Yeppoon (only colder).

The natural beauty of New Zealand can be found around every corner. The place is literally stunning. There is very little that can be found in New Zealand that is not postcard worthy. This was lost on me on my first ever trip (in my teens) but has not been lost on any of the subsequent trips.

Seven Continents in 4 months

We did not aim to do this, but it is just the way that it happened.

Starting our year off on a cruise headed for Antarctica (a long held dream) we found ourselves starting our year spending New Years Eve floating off Copacabana Beach in Brazil after having already spent some time taking in the sights of Brazil.

Having done that, we spent the next little bit bouncing around South America as we headed towards Antarctica.

This saw us visiting Uruguay (Montevideo) and Argentina (Buenos Aires, Puerto Iguazu, Puerto Madryn, and Ushuaia) then Chile (Punta Arenas, Valparaiso and Santiago).

This saw us dumping the boat and continuing on land in order to see the absolutely magical Iguazu Falls. 

But before that, our Antarctica exploration took in Drake Passage, Gerlache Straight, Dalhan Bay, Paradise Bay and Elephant Island.

We saw icebergs, glaciers, seals, whales and penguins (on icebergs) and basically fully ticked the Antarctica experience box fully.

From here it was back to bouncing around South America after we hopped off the boat in Valparaiso (Chile). We experienced our first ever earthquake (5.0 magnitude) before heading back into both Argentina and Brazil to take in both sides of the absolutely amazing Iguazu Falls.

The South American bounce continued with forays into Paraguay (Asunción), Bolivia (Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Samaipata), back to Argentina and Chile before heading back up to the US flying into Miami. After some time in Miami we continued our journey on another cruise ship that took us into the Caribbean, South America and importantly into some previously unvisited Central American nations.

So leaving Miami our first port of call was into Costa Rica for an up close and personal experience with sloths, and then on to Cartagena (Colombia) for yet some more wildlife encounters.

A few more Caribbean islands (Bahamas, Jamaica) and it was back in Miami readying ourselves for a decent sort of Transit to Europe. Nothing too silly this time around just a quick visit to France and Portugal.

Before heading off to Northern Africa for bit to see Morocco (with a special stop off to visit Casablanca) and then on to Tunisia.

Leaving North Africa it was back to Europe to stop into, and be totally blown away by Malta. And then on to Turkey where we were shocked by the prices.

But despite the prices charged in Turkey, we did get to see some global bucket list items (Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia).

From Turkey it was a quick dash to Asia (Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam) to catch up with mates, before heading into Australia for a snappy 48 hour turnaround before hopping on the next boat out again.

And that was it. New Year’s eve watching in the new year from Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro and by the 12th of April we were in Australia having touched down on every continent. Once again, it was not something that we planned or aspired to do, just the way that the cards fell.

But an interesting little sideline to our ongoing adventures nonetheless.

Vietnam (again)

Having finished the Cambodian sampler with the Ballinger’s we hopped a plane to Hanoi to do a quick Vietnam sampler. Upon arrival a bus and ferry saw us back over to Cat Ba Island. We loved this place the last two times that we had come and the price was so low that we had to come again.

Cat Ba Island

Now is probably a good time to mention that the price WAS so low, but now it has gone up over 300%. Don’t get me wrong, it is still cheap, but the days of $ 10 a night rooms are gone. Sadly also gone are the cheap food stalls by the bay. They have been shoved off over the hill leaving only the overpriced tourist options in the heart of town. While some of these are ok, most of them are very much the same, leaving a hole when it comes to variety.

The first activity was to do a run around the island on one of the electric golf buggy type transports. This started in the hospital cave and went on to the Trung Trang Cave. After some time spelunking the caves we buzzed about the island before returning for dinner and a few drinks.

Next day it was off on the boat to visit Halong Bay with all of the usual inclusions (candle rock, turtle rock, kayaking, swimming, the fishing village etc.) along with a landscape dotted with karsts. Sadly, the levels of smog and pollution has made the concept of having a blue sky virtually impossible.

I must say that this trip to Cat Ba and Halong Bay was disappointing and will probably be our last. It has become even more touristy (if that is possible) and the level of pollution is making the place unpalatable. At our first stop for a swim, not one person on a boat of 35+ people was willing to get into the water due to the state of pollution. The boat moved to a new spot and then a few braved the waters.

Hanoi

From Cat Ba, it was a five hour journey to Hanoi where we checked into a local house (AirBNB) in the heart of oldtown. This saw us in behind the shops down a tiny alley. Once settled we started by hitting the usual haunts on yet another day when the old folks destroyed the children. First, it was off to the lake and a trip through the Tran Quoc Pagoda then a wander across to St. Joseph Cathedral before hiking down to Train Street.

After a drink and having a train try and run us over we walked back to the heart of the old town for a meal. But on the way we took the scenic route passing by (but not entering) Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the palace, the opera house and the war museum. This walk saw one child being carried while the older two dragged themselves along as if they had circumnavigated the globe on foot (bearing in mind that the first 5 hours were sitting in a car transiting from Cat Ba).

The evening was spent blitzing the night markets and just generally experiencing old town Hanoi at night, something that continued the next day too. The new thing for us was to jump in and do the full tourist routine and attend the water puppet show. This is typically something that Jill and I run from, but it was pretty good.

The days were spent exploring, with a particular focus on the infamous egg and coconut coffees that are on offer in Hanoi (something that almost all of us got stuck into).

Hoi An

Leaving Hanoi we were off to Hoi An and Danang to explore. Some airline rescheduling issues made our attendance almost irrelevant as we were on the ground for less than 24 hour before having to leave. Our travel buddies got to stay and play but we were virtually there and gone again.

But before we left we managed to find time to blitz the food stalls and have ourselves some quality Banh Mi, Cao lau noodles and white rose dumplings.

The Cao Lau noodles cannot be found anywhere else in Vietnam as the noodles can only be made with lye water from a local well. Cao lau noodles are thicker than normal rice noodles and topped with pork, herbs, a little fragrant broth and rice crackers. The white rose dumplings get their name from the way that the white rice dough falls into a rose-like shape when they are steamed, these are filled with shrimp or pork and topped with crispy garlic.

Time being short and all, Jill and I left the Ballinger’s for their holiday while we headed on to Australia to start on the next leg of this seemingly endless journey. As Hoi An is the home of the Vietnamese tailor shops we left our friends being measured up for a wardrobe refit and with a heap more exploring to do.

Siem Reap (Cambodia) again…

Well we’re back in Cambodia and back in Siem Reap again.

This time it was to play host and hostess for long time friends Boof and Bec and family. Having spent heaps of time together over the years the subject of holidays arose and their experiences had been a little more flash (and therefore more expensive) meaning that they were less frequent.

So in a chat (before we even left) we suggested trying Cambodia and Vietnam which would be more budget-friendly than their previous attempts (in France etc).

A plan was hatched and the timing was set to coordinate with the Easter school holidays to minimise disruption for the children. So the first port of call was to be Siem Reap in Cambodia to let the kids run up and down all over the temples for a few days.

But first we had to eat and drink and sample the night markets, just to get into a taste of Asia. So we hit the street stalls, pub street, night markets. We shopped, grazed on weird and unusual (for the kids) foods and just generally soaked up what was on offer.

The next morning it was up and into a couple of tuk tuks and off to visit the temples. Given the time of day that we set off, we boycotted Angkor Wat as it was peak hour and did that later in the day. I did a full temple breakdown last time around so will ignore that and just show some of the highlights of the day’s exploration.