Heron island ~ Queensland

Heron Island is about a 2 hour boat ride from Gladstone (500km north of Brisbane), it sits in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef and wasnwhere I spent a week whilst exploring Queensland during the COVID-19 lock down. Heron Island is only about 800m long and 300m wide and along with some amazing diving is home to about 200,00 birds (mainly shearwaters {or mutton birds}, egrets {or herons}, buff-banded rails, noddy turns, bar-shouldered doves and kingfishers). I didn’t visit during peak bird season, which starts early October, however the noddy turns had already started building (re-building) their nests so there are nests and birds in nearly every tree over the island and at night the birds would call and sing until about 10pm. The name of Heron Island refers to the Pacific reef heron which scientifically is an egret – so really the island should be Egret Island as there are only a few true herons that actually visit. Also it really isn’t an island – it is a cay – a sandy coral reef – so technically its Egret Cay! The coral sand and water around the island are absolutely stunning and so clear. Over the island there is a tropical forest and scrub and casuarina trees along the shore edge. The ecology of the island works perfectly between plants and birdlife – for example there are flowering trees on the island, Pisonia grandis, which bears sticky seeds/flowers that trap noddy turns, sadly the noddy turns eventually die trapped in the flower, however the Pisonia grandis uses the bird as fertiliser. As a human species, it makes me realise how insignificant we are but also the impacts we can have.

Casuarina trees
Inland tropical forest
An Egret chick – they can be born with either light or dark feathers (light or dark morph)
Pisonia grandis

The island is also a nesting site during November to February for green and some loggerhead turtles. The hatchlings start to emerge from January onwards. There are around 3000 turtles in the waters around Heron Island and every day that I dove I generally saw and swam with five or six. They are truly beautiful creatures to watch underwater. I also swam with a eagle ray one morning, which was a little intimidating but by the time I noticed the ray, it had swam past me. By the jetty there were also reef sharks, mantra rays and parrotfish. On the boat trip to and from Gladstone there were humpback whales and dolphins. There were beautiful angelfish, butterfly fish, clown fish and wrasse on most dives. The coral is bleached and for anyone that doesn’t believe in climate change, they should go for a snorkel and see what has happened as the water temperate rises causing the coral to expel. The bushfires earlier this year, which released so much carbon dioxide (which has to go somewhere!!!) has meant the ocean has once again taken the brunt of this disaster.

Eagle ray
Black tipped reef sharks
Parrotfish
Humpback whale

Honduras ~ Copan Ruinas

I only spent 48 hours in Honduras, entering from Guatemala and back into Guatemala enroute to El Salvador.  The bus left Antigua at 4:30am that morning to beat the morning traffic jams that plague the only road connecting Antigua and Guatemala City.  Along the way there were constant police check points and on some occasions the request to see the passports of all those onboard.  The border crossing from Guatemala directly into El Salvador (Sabanetas) is not open for foreigners travelling for whatever reasons.  I stayed in a small town called Copan Ruinas or simply Copan which is located around a main square with a white washed church which I soon found to be the welcoming sign and centre of most Central America towns I visited.  Copan has a western vibe, the locals wear jeans, boots and cowboy hats.  It was hot, it was humid and it was steamy.  The streets filled with colourful flags and cobblestone pavements.

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The evening in Copan was spent travelling about an hour along a bumpy, rural dirt road where chickens darted from the road and dogs lazed, undisturbed and unconcerned to the local hot springs.  This is where everyday life exists – men gather around the front of a simple home chatting; small farms with crops; green valleys and creek crossings.

The Copan Archaeological Site sits just outside Copan town.  It is a five minute tuk tuk ride to be exact.  Saul, who shared Copan Ruinas with me, was an interesting man – growing up in Honduras during the 60s and 70’s he experienced first hand civil unrest, violence and constant feeling of uncertainty.  The only constant in his life was music – playing the guitar, singing and learning English by listening to the popular 70s bands – The Doors, The Rolling Stones and his favourite, The Beatles.

This site is considered one of the most important Maya civilisations and is an Unesco World Heritage Site with much of the ruins still buried underground and untouched.  The main reason is due to lack of funding.  The ruins may not be as grand as those in Mexico however this makes the site much more intimate as visitors numbers aren’t high and it is quite haunting to wander through.

Its not exactly known why Copan was abandoned, however one reason that archaeologists believe is that the population grew so rapidly meaning agricultural resources were depleted. To combat this deforestation began around the area, along with further urbanisation to cope with demand, erosion through this mountainous area occurred which equaled flooded in the wet season.

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Next stop…El Salvador.

Guatemala ~ Antigua in uno day!

It was a very quick turn around time – I had to depart Leon, Mexico at 7am, still feeling the effects of a tequila fuelled wedding, fly to Mexico City, spend about 5 hours (which ended up being 7 hours) in the airport before flying south.

I arrived into a dark and somewhat murky Guatemala City before travelling out to Antigua.  It is always slightly concerning when you go to hop into the back of the taxi and the driver tells you it will be much safer if you ride up the front with him!  It was late at night and I was tired and in all honesty did not spend any time getting to know the city but Guatemala City gave off a vibe…a little bit sketchy, unlight streets with drums slowly burning away, abandoned buildings, you get the scene?

One day was all I could spare in the cobblestone streets of Antiqua, filled with colourful, colonial buildings, cloudy covered volcanos and tourists!  My day started with breakfast at Luna de Miel (on recommendation from my best friend Whitney who lived in Antigua) which had amazing crepes. I then found my way to the local McDonalds for a photo (again on Whitney’s recommendation) however there are no golden arches in Antigua! I was excited to find a trendy, vegetarian cafe which had a Third Eye Charka theme for lunch followed by a walk around the Parque Central – the gathering place for visitors and hawkers alike.  While I wandered I stumbled upon the English themed pub my travel buddy Kerry worked in while she lived in Antigua!

I tried numerous times for a photo of a cloud free volcano but today was going to be the day!  That evening I met the people I would be travelling with for the next 17 days through to Costa Rica.  Enjoy the pictures from sweet Antiqua…

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IMG_0176.jpgNext stop…Honduras!

Siquijor…the Philippines

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Siquijor, it isn’t the easiest tropical island to arrive at but that is half the fun! More and more I am enjoying travelling off the grid and being able to completely disconnect from the world and culture I live in and experience life a different way.  I am also enjoying travelling by myself and making my own decisions and proving I can go anywhere.  I also love the small connections that are always made along the journey; travelling alone;  I always feel that people sense it is easier to engage and say hello and start a conversation.

I flew from Brisbane to Manila direct with Philippine Airlines, it takes about 7 hours so an easy flight.  I stayed the night of my arrival in Manila in an airport hotel and then flew the next morning about two hours south with the airline Cebu Pacific to a city called Dumaguete.

IMG_4053Once I arrived in the little airport of Dumaguete, I took a taxi about 20 minutes drive to the port.

At the port I purchased a ticket on the next ferry to Siquijor for about $3.30 AUD.  I bought a corn cob from a local vendor for 30 cents. I also started chatting to a young lady called Karen.  Karen was travelling back to her home on Siquijor for the night to see her three children.  She works 6 days a week in Dumaguete in a call centre and supports her family which consists of her children, her mother, her aunt (who cares for the children) and her brother who is studying at university.  Karen would arrive home at about 4pm, see her family, eat, wash her clothes and then board the ferry back to Dumaguete at 6am the next day. In Dumaguete she lives in a boarding house.  Karen helped me board the ferry and showed me the best place to sit, we chatted and gave each other a hug as we said goodbye in Siquijor.

The ferry ride took 2 hours, it was fairly smooth being a large barge jam packed full of cars, motorbikes, boxes and containers.

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So after two days of travel, I finally arrived to the welcoming sign of Siquijor…I felt I had stepped back in time.  It was relaxed as family greeted passengers, passengers handed over plastic bags full of goodies from the mainland, dogs lazily wandered around, the tricycle touts weren’t yelling or forcing their bikes but patiently waiting for any prospective interest.

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I stayed in the southern rocky coast of the island and was treated to my first Filipino sunset…

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Joey, the dive instructor at the accommodation I stayed at, mentioned the afternoon I arrived that maybe I would like to try scuba diving. Maybe, I said, but I am happy to go snorkelling really and I have two books I need to read. No, he persisted, snorkelling you are looking down into the water trying to figure out what the ocean is saying, diving deep and breathing underwater, you are one with the ocean…I guess that is how I ended up spending my holiday studying for open water scuba diving.

Joey became my buddy for the week, I was the only guest diving so I was extremely lucky to have one on one training. He made me wake up at 7am most mornings to dive and then to study and then continue to learn skills in the pool.

I was quite proud of myself being able to fit my own air tank to the regulator and check the pressure, knowing how much air I had before I dived and how long I could dive for and rely fully on myself for my own survival under the water.

SCUBA is all about the breath. You have to take a long, slow inhale, followed by a slow, long exhale, over and over. It is something that is natural on land, but under the water it is always in the back of your mind.

I learnt to ascend slowly – 9 metres per one minute to avoid squeeze whether on the ears, sinuses, lungs or equipment. I was taught the hand signals of SCUBA; what to do if I ever lost my dive buddy; how to deploy a buoy; how to ascent in an emergency situation and controlled situation if I don’t access to air; how to clear my mask if it filled with water; how to take my BCD (buoyancy control device aka vest) off under the water; how to share the air regulator in case my buddy or I run out of air; the techniques to tow someone to rescue and how to read the watch (aka computer system) and compass. Phew!

Then I also learnt about pressure, decompression sickness, what a bar is (absolute/ambient pressure), how many bars are in a tank of air, how many bars are at 10 metres or 20 metres and the relative pressure changes in sea water and so on.

After the breathing, the next rule of SCUBA is too never panic. You simply cannot panic. I panicked when I got water in my mask, my nose got full of water, I forgot to breath in and out of my mouth. The problem is, is that you simply cannot swim back to the surface, you have to ascent slowly otherwise damage can be done. I had to breath, calm myself down, remember my techniques and then take action. SCUBA is kind of like life I guess. Breath, relax and somehow you can get through it.

I completed my written exam (48/50) and 5 dives. I saw some stunning coral, fish (clown, stone, frog, butter), shrimp and sea snakes. I had a clown fish swim up to my face and dart and swim around me. I looked up and saw 17 metres of water above me.

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Clown Fish
Photo Courtesy of KHR

Siquijor is a small island, the coastline is approximately 102 kilometres in circumference.  The highlights are it’s beautiful waterfalls, beaches, jungles and diving locations. It has a reputation as an island of black magic, voodoo and witch doctors. There are many witch doctors who live on the island who assist patients with herbal medicines and then there are the black magic doctors who can place curses and hexes on others.

I went for a walk one afternoon from my accommodation.  I don’t think the villages get many blonde, white women wandering along the dirt road.  There were straw huts and concrete homes scattered in corn fields, nearly every home had a bull or cow tethered to a tree, a pig, some goats and chickens. I came across a group of young teenager boys playing basketball and some little kids playing marbles.  The old men in the small shop waved and said hello, there were boats moored along the sandy beach and men were cleaning and preparing fish. There was a Catholic church – 95% of the 95,000 population are Catholic.

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I took a tri-cycle tour of the island and first up visited the century old enchanted Balete Tree. It was here that sorcery was once performed.  There is also a spring that flows from the Balete Tree and these days a pool has been formed where you can place your feet in the water and have fish nibble away at your skin.  It is a little on the tourist side and was very busy the day I visited.

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Cambugahay Falls were next to be visited and are absolutely stunning! The water is crystal clear and warm and so soothing. There are three seperate waterfalls. The falls are worth the 135 steps to get down.

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I then travelled around to Salagcloong Beach for a swim.  INCREDIBLE!  The water looked exactly like it does in the photos.

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Lazi Church was an interesting place to visit – the church was built in 1857.

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And then there was the rice paddies…

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So there you have it…Siquijor!

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Easter in the Country

I headed out to Roma, Western Queensland for the Easter long weekend.  My parents live on a property and it is where I was born and raised. It is a decent drive if you aren’t used to it, but 480 kilometres can be done in about 5.5 or 6 hours depending on how many trucks you have to overtake or how many coffees need to be consumed.

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Condamine Highway, the back way

Home is about 300 acres and cattle are run most of the year depending on whether there is decent feed (grass) or not.  It has been a good season of late with some much needed rainfall over last couple of months so there is plenty of buffle grass.

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The back paddock

The week before I arrived my parents bought 40 heifers which meant we had some yard work to do over the Easter break!

I was in charge of writing our property name and phone number on the ear tags that would be placed in each of the heifer’s ear…in case they decide to sneak under a fence or flood way and get on the road. I also ensured each heifer felt special with their own personalised message…

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We use a four wheeler and buggy to round up the cattle and push them into a “wing” (two fences running adjacent to each other) which leads into a small paddock that then leads into the cattle yards.  This time the heifers were happy to trot along and it didn’t take much to get them into the yards.

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Holding Pen # 1

There are three holding pens in the cattle yards to help separate the cattle and to push them through the cattle crush to then be ear tagged and drenched.

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Holding Pens # 2 & 3

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Holding Pen #3

Everyone has a job in the yards…

Mum: push the cattle one or two at a time into the crush.

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Cattle Crush

Me: shut the sliding door on the cattle crush, mark the count tally.

Dad: open the crush and get the heifer’s head into the crush.

Me: spray the heifer from neck to tail with a drench that stops the flies hanging around them.

Dad: ear tag the heifer.

Dad: open the crush and let the heifer out into the first holding pen – after I give them a pat!

Me: set up the ear tag gun and open the sliding door on the crush.

Repeat 40 times…or 41 times when someone accidentally lets one go through the crush 😉

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Happy Heifers!

It is hot and hard work and sometimes a heifer doesn’t want to go through the run or into the crush or turns around in the crush which slows the process down.

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My biggest concern is animal welfare (Dad loves the fact that he raised a “greenie” lol). There are no electric jiggers used to push the cattle into the yards, we only use poly pipe to prod the cattle as they move at their own pace up to the crush (the cattle are never hit).

There is no yelling, loud noises or slamming of gates to ensure the cattle stay as calm as possible and are not stressed.  There is always one or two head that get worked up and it is a matter of taking a break to let the whole herd calm down.

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Get Up!

Once the heifers has gone through the crush and have a bit of a think about what just happened they are pretty content.  When the whole herd has been through the crush, they are all let back out in the paddock.  They will probably be mustered again in a few months and drenched again – fly is really bad at the moment – and there is nothing worse then seeing cattle fly blown.

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“The Wrangler” inspecting the newly tagged and drenched heifers

The next morning I woke up and the heifers were hanging around outside my bedroom window!

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So what else did I do for Easter in the Country…

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Checked out how much water was in the Creek

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Pippy

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Rode the four wheeler with the Big Girl

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Inspected the grading work…

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Walked Jack the Horse up into the House Paddock so he could be drenched and get a brush

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Took the Buggy through the long grass

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And enjoyed the sunsets…

White Rock Conservation Park

A surprisingly hard hike for a lazy Sunday morning…

I drove out to the ‘burbs of Ipswich on Sunday morning for what I thought would be a wander in the bush for a few hours, little did I realise I would be hiking up hill, through bull dust, scrambling up rocks and having a good ol’ sweat – 101 bush walking – be prepared!

A warning – White Rock is busy on the weekends – I was lucky to have found a car park to start with and when I noticed all the families (aka screaming kids) out for a walk I thought I may have picked the wrong place to enjoy a peaceful hike. However I am glad I stuck with White Rock as it was a challenging walk with a “worth it” view at the end.

There are two short loops at the start of the trek that lead to Bluff Lookout and Little White Rock Lookout.  They are worth checking out, however I found there were large groups of rock climbers practicing their skills so it was noisy combined with the families.

Bluff Lookout

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Once I got to the actual White Rock Hiking Track (above) (it took me about 30 minutes after going around the two loops) there were less families (the families that I did see had complaining kids as it is a long and hard trail) and whilst I still saw a lot of people there were times I was alone.  I’ll also note that Saturdays is Park Run day and this trail forms part of the 5 kilometre run.

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The trail is classed as Challenging (Grade 5) which is different to what the map I had printed said – Moderate (4).  The trail also loops around White Rock, the map depicts that you walk in and turn around and walk out, I did get slightly confused.

Anyway I set off and for most part the trail is walking on a four wheel drive track full of bull dust that follows the Six Mile Creek which can get rocky. It is peaceful with gum trees, grassy scrub and birds calling out but hot in the sun.  At the first intersection I turned left (follow the sign posts).

I walked for an hour and came to another intersection (below) and went right.

This heads up hill around the “back way” of White Rock.  It is steep but steady and rocky.  There isn’t a lot of shade either. It looks like this…

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This leads to a rock formation (not White Rock) and gets quite high with some nice views.

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I scrambled up to a large rock…

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I climbed up and over and found this…

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It was a relaxing place to stop, catch my breath, have a drink and eat lunch.

I climbed back down and continued to White Rock which is spectacular!

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White Rock is a really cool sandstone, rocky outcrop with numerous hidden caves.  It is requested that you do not climb White Rock.

It took me 30 minutes to do this loop (including lunch and exploring White Rock) and hike down hill on steep stairs (good for conditioning!) back to the intersection.

It then took me another 30 minutes to walk back to the carpark.

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I followed the yellow trail

How long:  the track I took is about 8 kilometres return (including the 2 smaller loops and the White Rock loop).  It took me 2.5 hours to complete.

How to get to White Rock: from Brisbane head west to Redbank Plains and set your GPS for School Road, White Rock. The last kilometre is a dirt road, the trail starts in the car park at the end of the road. There is NO access from Centenary Highway.

Disclaimer: this is a rough guide only and my own personal observations, this is not intended to be any sort of official guide and I am by no means an expert. White Rock is a remote area with un-fenced rock faces and cliffs – don’t take an unnecessary risks and stay on the track. Make sure you are well prepared and take water, know your own fitness levels, know what the weather will be on the day you hike and do your own research.

 

Cruising the Maldives

November 2017…cruising the atolls of the Maldives

*this blog is best viewed on a desktop device

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It wasn’t the kindest way to start an idealic cruise through the Maldives, a 1:30am wake up call, a 2.5 hour drive from Uluwatu to Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport and a 1 hour flight to from Sri Lanka to Male (capital of Maldives), but by 9am local time I was boarding the Gahaa, my home for the next week, and heading to bluest of blue waters in the Maldives.

I met the crew of the Gahaa upon boarding – Moosa as Captain, Sham as Guide, Nazrul as Chef, Maahil as Waiter and Alam as Room Boy.  There was also Sarah, Nikki, Glennis, Claire, Andrew, Maria and Lee travelling with me, we all knew each other as we had traveled together in Sri Lanka the week before.

It didn’t take long once we left the harbour of Male (capital of Maldives) that we saw our first pod of dolphins. We all squealed with excitement as we watched them jumping and diving in and out of the water and basically having a fantastic time, such beautiful animals…it was going to be a glorious week!

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The Republic of Maldives is a chain of 26 atolls (or large coral formations) strung along the Indian Ocean south of India and west of Sri Lanka – 200 of the Maldives’ islands are uninhabited and 80 of the islands are lived on. The population sitting at about 360,000. Islam is practiced.  The main industries are tourism and fishing.

We cruised for about five hours the first day passing atolls (where you can really notice the different shades of blue – it is even more stunning than in photos), small islands and over water bungalows. We anchored in what felt like the middle of the ocean, a very calm ocean, there was nothing else around. It was surreal.

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There was enough puff left in the sun for us to tackle our first snorkel, which would be part of our schedule for the week – 2 snorkels every day in different locations. We climbed aboard the bouncy dingy with flippers, goggles and Go-Pros in hand and headed to the drop between the sandy, crystal clear waters and the darker deeper water where the coral clings to.  My initial thoughts, the water was incredibly warm.

The shallow islands and coral reefs are home for about 700 species of colorful fish and other marine life and snorkeling is one of the best ways to glimpse this underwater world – I was amazed by what I saw so quickly after jumping into the water, so many fish and even a turtle.

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Day 1 was Male to Vaavu Atoll (ocean anchor) 

I woke at 1am the next morning to the boat gently rocking with the wind that had whipped up, the crew scurried around to “batten down the hatches” literally and close the port holes.  My bunk (more details at the end) looked into a port hole so I could see the lightening in the distance, not long after the rain came.

At 6am I rose to an overcast day and the sound of the engine kick in as we started cruising towards Dhigghi Resort, which took about 2 hours, having breakfast of toast, french toast, fruit and omelettes along the way.  We also got a surprise to see Pilot whales swimming.  We were all fooled into thinking it was another pod of dolphins, however Pilot whales are more docile and they glide gently in and out of water as opposed to diving up and down.

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We anchored outside of Dhigghi Resort mid morning and had the opportunity to swim with Nurse sharks.  SHARKS! Nurse sharks generally feed on small fish and are sedentary in nature, preferring to live along the bottom of the sea floor so an attack is quiet slim, however a shark is a shark so whilst nervy it was exhilarating!  There was probably about 50 of these beautiful creatures swimming around us, they weren’t worried about us, so I tried my best to not be worried about them. It was definitely an experience I can say I have done.

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After the mornings excitement we continued to cruise south and anchored at Hukuru Sandbar. We swam from the boat into the dark blue waters into stunningly white water.  This is what dreams are made of…no words needs…

I am just going to leave this here…

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The water was warm and crystally clear, the sand was soft and white and yes it was all ours.

But the day two didn’t finish there, after a couple of hours of bliss, we swam back to the boat, had lunch and cruised for about an hour to Hulhidhoo Reef for another spectacular session of snorkeling – there was massive schools of tiny fish and I saw an eel and an Angel fish.  Back on board we traveled to Bodumohoraa and anchored for our second night next to a now uninhabited island and a surf break. I could the sounds of the surf rolling in over sand.

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We took the dingy over to the island and walked around.  Sadly this island attracts all the wash of the rubbish; which is a shit load; and is extremely disappointing.  The rubbish is from a combination of tourists, cruise ships and locals.  The island had been lived on but is now abandoned, the eerie silence was still left…

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Day 2 was Vaavu Atoll to Dhigghi Resort to Hukuru Sandbar to Hulhidhoo Reef to Bodumohoraa 

The next day, after a relaxing evening and being gently rocked to sleep a few of us jumped from the boat and did a couple of laps to wake up before breakfast.  What a way to start the day!  We saw another pod of dolphins as we cruised and this time the dolphins swam right up against the hull of the boat. We left Vaavu Atoll and cruised out over the surf and into the deeper water.  We took the dingy out for our first snorkel of the day and it one of the best days we had for marine life.

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I saw three eagle rays, a small reef shark, a turtle, a lion fish, an octopus, an eel, a sting ray and so many different types of fish life.  I wasn’t quick enough (or GoPro savvy enough to capture everything).

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We arrived at Diggaru late in the afternoon approaching on dark and stormy weather meaning instead of anchoring out in the ocean we moved into the island’s harbour and anchored there for the evening.

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After the storm passed we went to visit the island of 1000 people, 119 kilometres from Male.  Diggaru has an ambulance station (which is the only vehicle on the island), a school, a grocery stores, a fish market, sports ground and homes.

The island is powered fully by diesel generators and they have a large stockpile of diesel which is barged in about once a month.  In each home there is a water tank for fresh water.  The streets are sandy but clean, tidy and loved.  There are seats at the front of houses for socialising and chatter. The colours are delightful  pinks, purples, blues and greens giving off tropical vibes.  There is a chief in charge of the island.

As I walked back to the harbour at dusk the Call for Prayer sounded…

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Day 3 was Bodumohoraa to Diggaru 

The cruise after waking on day four was as smooth as glass, all the colours of the water were alive as we moved through the hot morning’s sun.  Breakfast was crepes and I realised I hadn’t had a shower or washed my hair since boarding, relying on the daily swims of salt water to clean me.  We arrived Fenbo Finolhu for a snorkel in the warm water, then departed and ate lunch of pasta, vegetables and deep fried cheesy balls.  I read a book on the deck and listened to the chef in the background sing Indian dance songs.

We arrived shortly after at a small uninhabited island and dingyed-it to land. There was rubbish around the island and we picked up a few bags of jump to help combat the never ending battle.  It was then followed by hours of lazing in the silky sand, feeling the soft waves lap and watching tiny fish dart around…as well as enjoying the storm clouds roll in once again.

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Dinner was served back on the boat – a feast of freshly caught fish (tuna) from that day, vegetables and curry and as always fruit was enjoyed as dessert.

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Day 4 was Diggaru to Fenbo Finolhu 

My body clock roused at sunrise and I climbed to the top deck to have a quick yoga session in the hot, cloudless sky before we set sail to a sandbar in the middle of nowhere.  I walked the length of the thin bar and as the tide changed the sand virtually disappeared.

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We arrived at Fulidhoo Island after a snorkel, lunch and a 2 hour cruise.  Fulidhoo is a tourist island – there are resorts, a dive shop, souvenir shops and you can even buy an ice cream.  We walked the island, home to about 400 people and saw the school, boat building workshop, basketball court and mosque.

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We were treated to a Bodu Beru (big drum) performance of traditional folk music. A group of men (and some women) sing to the rhythmical beat of drums till they reach a crescendo and stop abruptly.

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We even got to meet a stingray “rangler”, a lovely local to Fulidhoo who took great pleasure in showing us his prides and joys which even enjoy a scratch under the chin! #ripsteveirwin

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Day 5 was Fenbo Finolhu to Fulidhoo Island 

The next morning we arrived at a prime turtle habitat and in the rainy weather we jumped into the water to snorkel.  The area we explored has been bleached and the coral is dead, however this means the algae grows in abundance and the turtles love feeding off algae. It didn’t take long and I was swimming within arms reach of a wild turtle – what a feeling! I think I counted about 8 of these beautiful creatures.

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It was a surreal way to finish a journey of a lifetime…it was also slightly sad to know we had to make our way back to Male the next morning.  However we were treated to a perfect sunset to finish a week of cruising.

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Day 6 was Fulidhoo Island to outside Male   

Day 7 was travelling back to Male 

The logistics:

The Gahaa had 4 double rooms, a crew quarters, kitchen, outside dining area, top deck and front area.

Inside each room was 2 x bunk beds, a cupboard, a fan, window, hatch and a separate bathroom (with sink, toilet and shower over toilet).

The Gahaa ran on diesel fuel (which can sometimes get a little stinky and noisy) and holds enough diesel to last the whole week (there are no sails) so no need to stop for a re-fuel.  At night the generator (run on diesel) kicks in so there is a low hum at all times.  The fridge runs on the generator as well.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0352.We didn’t need to purchase food anywhere along the journey, all the food and fruit lasted us. The crew caught fish.  We ate lots of vegetables, pasta and curries. Nazrul, the Indian chef was fantastic and we did not go hungry. He even baked us a chocolate cake for smoko!

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I travelled with a G Adventures tour in November which is the start of the dry season in the Maldives, however it was quite rainy and cloudy when I visited.

I have never spent more than a few hours on a boat at a time and childhood memories  of fishing trips at Bribie Island did haunt me. However after an initial feeling of sea sickness while we were anchored in Male harbour I felt pretty good the whole way and gained my sea legs.

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Bali 3.0

What I checked out in Bali the third time around…

Stay:

Bingin Beach – approximately 20 kilometres south of Ngurah Rai International Airport (which at the moment can take up to 2 hours travel time via car due to road works and heavy traffic congestion).

Check out Bali Retreats for amazing villas and boutique accommodation to stay in.  I stayed at Jabeki which had 2 x 1 bedroom villas which shared a stunningly crystal blue pool…I timed it perfectly and for the most part had Jabeki alone so no-one else was in the pool – yay!  It is currently off season (January) in Bali due to the wet season so rates are very low for what you pay for – $130 AUD per night with breakfast included.

Bali Retreats seem to manage most of the villas around Bingin and I noticed quite a few of the accommodations were along the same road as Jabeki – there are plenty of accommodation options along the cliffs too however as a tip you must be prepared to walk up and down as cars can only drive so far.

I stayed in the Sea View Bungalow – downstairs there is a lounge area and direct access to the pool and sunbeds, upstairs is a king size canopied bed with a deck overlooking the ocean and paddock.  There is a seperate, outdoor bathroom to the rear of the bungalow – everywhere is lush, green plants and frangipani trees…

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Made and Ketut are the caretakers and were onsite the whole time and cook and housekeep.  As mentioned breakfast is included and the banana pancakes were the bomb. Lunch and dinner can be provided if requested. Made also organised a scooter and can assist with a driver or taxi.  The only catch – there are no kitchen, fridge, tea, coffee facilities within the actual villa – only purified water is provided – Made and Ketut will need to make a cuppa for you (which is no biggie).

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I loved waking every day to ocean glimpses and the cows in the adjacent paddock.  The cows had wind chimes around their necks so it was like listening to meditation music as they munched away happily.

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Beach:

The ocean is a mere 2 minute walk through a gate and the cow paddock…the views are stunning! Dreamland Beach to the north and further on Kuta and Seminyak (I could see the glow of their lights at night) plus Mt Batur can be seen on a clear day. Padang Padang is to the west and the surf break the Impossibles sits out front.

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Getting down to the beach is fun and a workout…it was a matter of walking down random, narrow alley ways, mossy steep steps and past decorated temples and warungs (small family owned restaurant).

The beach itself…as I mentioned in previous Bali posts…it is a Bali beach – expect glass, plastic, thongs, timber, stray dogs and more.  However there is a still beauty about it and swimming on low tide can still be enjoyable.  Along Bingin Beach itself is reef. There are numerous large, volcanic rocks and caves to explore and scramble through and around depending on tide times – the beach is still a cool place to wander. Warungs, guesthouses and “ding doctors” (surfboard technicians) line the foreshore and haphazardly cling to the cliffs – I love the craziness of it all.

Weather:

January is wet season.  Basically October to April is classed as the wet monsoon and May to September is the dry season.  The wet means cheaper accommodation prices, less people around and possible wet and windy weather.  It poured rain the first day I arrived, however I still went out and explored.  The following days were sunny and mild temperature wise, followed by some cloud, it either rained for a bit or it got extremely hot and humid – some days were bloody windy – a couple of nights there were awesome tropical storms – I couldn’t pick what each day would do weather wise, but it didn’t worry me. I remember when I was in Bali June/July 2016 (so dry season) and it was stinking hot and it rained like crazy – who knows!

Yoga:

There are a few options for drop in yoga around Bingin and Uluwatu – I practiced at The Temple Lodge which also provides a spa, accommodation and restaurant. It is well worth visiting  this place for lunch or a juice – the rainforest jungle and timber doorways that lead to a jaw dropping view of the Impossibles is incredible.

Christina, who hails from Italy, holds daily yoga sessions at 8am lasting a sweaty 90 minutes for 120,000 R ($12 AUD) – mats, cushions and blocks are provided. I did a couple of cool inversions and learnt some new poses. It is a really calm space – shiny concrete floors and lushness.

The Temple Lodge is left off Jl. Pantai Bingin Road and around a couple of back alleyways – via scooter I followed the random signs!

The Cashew Tree also hold yoga classes on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8am – I didn’t get a chance to attend.  I also noticed signs for classes at Mu, which is next to The Temple Lodge, however I didn’t have time to visit.

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Surf:

Because I totes hanged ten while over in Bali…my travel companion did however.  I’m advised the prime time to surf the Bukit Coast is dry season. As previously mentioned the Impossibles were out the front of Jabeki…a nice 10 minute slog down hill. The Impossibles break over a small reef (booties are required!) but onshore winds ruined any great opportunity for the surf to fire up, however many locals and visitors definitely jumped in for any possible swell.

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Further around to the south is the Padang Padang break and then the Uluwatu breaks. It is definitely a must to have a fresh juice at Single Fin and watch the guys (and some chicks) ride Ulu – it is absolutely stunning up there looking over the ocean on a sunny day.

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Food/Cafes/Resturants:

I forgot how amazing the food and cafe/restaurant vibe is in Bali and I was so excited by the scene around Ulu – the choices are endless and variety incredible – I ate vegan/vegetarian without any issues at all – I actually felt healthier eating in Bali then what I do here in Brisbane. My recommendations:

  • The Cashew Tree
  • Casa Asia
  • Buddha Soul 🤙🏼

  • Trattoria Uluwatu

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  • The Mango Tree
  • Bukit Cafe 🤙🏼
  • Drifter Cafe
  • Outside Corner Cafe

Scooter:

The only way to get around without having to use a driver or hail taxis and to be honest I didn’t really see many taxis around including Blue Birds.  I didn’t use GoJek (ride sharing app – like Uber but you are picked up on the back of a scooter) so not sure if it works well around Ulu or not.

Made organised the scooter and it was delivered to Jabeki for the bargain price of 70,000 R ($7 AUD) per day.  The scooter was dodgy AF and had had a hard life but had a board rack and went hard.

For me, the most fun I have is cruising on a bike…turning down unmarked alley ways and seeing how far I can get before having to turn around or even better coming out onto a cliff overlooking the ocean. It is also the thrill of swerving around dogs and roosters and chickens!

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To fill the tank, petrol is generally 10,000 R ($1 AUD) – I put 20,000 R worth in over 5 days – look for the road side stands…petrol is so classy these days, I mean when it comes in an old white wine bottle or even more fancier, a whisky bottle – recycling glass at it’s best – love it!

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Day Tripping:

I booked a driver with a vehicle through Chilled Bali Drivers – look them up on Facebook or Instagram. Intan has done an amazing job setting up her own business in a such a male dominated industry.  Their vehicles are well maintained and my driver, Peter, was safe, played fairly decent music and knew his way around – even taking some really beautiful back roads through rice paddies.

Tegenungan Waterfall

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Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)

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Tirta Empul

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Tegalalang Rice Terrace

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Uluwatu Temple

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Uluwatu Cave

So until next time Bali…

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A photo-journal of Sri Lanka

October & November 2017…travels of Southern Sri Lanka

Saturday 28/10/2017: my first glimpses of the eastern coast of Sri Lanka over the Laccadive Sea, home to 22 million people

Sunday 29/10/2017: Sights of Negombo

The fourth largest city of Sri Lanka and “beach” town north of Colombo.  I travelled the small but interesting town via tuk-tuk to escape the steamy and hot weather.

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St. Sebastian’s Church (Roman Catholic) constructed in 1936 – Sri Lankans practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity

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Fish Market – the country’s second largest and a major industry of Negombo

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Dutch Canals – the Dutch ruled Negombo in 1644 and used the mazes of canals to ferry goods in and out

Negombo Lagoon – boats docked at the ready

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Agurukaramulla Raja Maha Viharaya (Bodhirajaramaya) – Buddhist Temple with a stunning 6 metre long reclining Buddha

Clockwise: Negombo’s beaches; sleeping dog; friendly cow; shop front; Sanath Jayasuriya wannabe (yes, it was a 6)

Monday 30/10/2017 & Tuesday 31/10/2017: Kandy

Kandy…a busy, hilltop town with a refreshingly cooler climate and misty mountains, it was the capital of Sri Lanka in the 18th century

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Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic – Buddha’s Tooth cannot be seen – it is kept in a gold stupa, however worshippers still value the importance and provide offerings (below)DSC_0904

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Wall Murals inside the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic

Kandy Streets and Kandy Lake constructed in 1807

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DSC_0943DSC_0952thumb_DSC_0966_1024Traditional Sri Lankan Folk Dancing and Fire Twirling

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Wednesday 1/11/2017: travels to Ella

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It is a stunning drive with waterfalls along the winding roads

Tea plantations dominate the countryside and the picking is typically done by woman who pick up to 25 kilograms per day, earning on average $8 – $10 Australia dollars per day.  Tea workers generally live in houses provided on the plantation (top right)

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The train journey from Nuwara Eliya travels high into the hilltops passing villages, farms, tea plantations and Horton’s Plains – a plateau that sits at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres…the mist and fog create a mystical feeling as you pass rainforests and sneak views of vistas – I departed the train at Bandarawel just after sunset and continued by bus to Ella

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Thursday 2/11/2017: Ella

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Ella – backpacker heaven…quirky cafes, bars

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and downpours!

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Little Adam’s Peak – hiking through tea plantations and a small village, the path diverts upwards through rocks and spinifex grass to the peak where Buddha watches over- it was hot and humid, followed by mist and a cool change and later on a massive down pour

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Rawana Falls – outskirts of Ella

Friday 3/11/2017: National Parks & Safari Rides

It was an extremely long day visiting two national parks, waking up at 4am and arriving at the hostel around 10pm.  Udawalawe is home to 500 elephants – the largest population of elephants in Sri Lanka and also peacocks, water buffalo, birds, crocodiles, water monitors, mongoose, samba, wild boar and hares covering 30,821 hectares of open, grass lands

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Yala National Park

Yala…an afternoon safari after having lunch and cruising through roads in a safari ute; the weather was extremely hot and humid and the sky to the west was brewing with stormy clouds combined with dust…however I did manage to see one leopard enjoying an afternoon nap!  Yala is an extremely important sanctuary for leopard conservation.

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Wetlands with Elephant Rock in the backgroud

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47 lives taken by the tsunami that hit the beaches of Yala on 26 December 2004; no animals were injured or killed, it is believe all the animals sought shelter on higher ground

Saturday 4/11/2017: Unawatuna and Galle

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Unawatuna = beaches, excellent surfing conditions and sunsets…

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#nofilterrequired

Galle – occupied by the Portuguese in 16th century, the history is still very visible in the incredible architecture and cobblestone streets

Clockwise: cafe vibes; cricket in Galle; local life from local bus; bamboo painting and fish markets