Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bali ~ Indonesia ~ the start ~ 23rd to 28th March

A popular destination with all tourists alike, Bali is known as the Island of Gods. To give you an idea of our impressions on Bali so far we would say it is a bustling island always on the move. From temple ceremonies to rice terraces, women with frangipani flowers in their hair, pulse-pounding surf at Uluwatu, Padang Padang or The Incredibles, enchanting Kecak dance performances at Uluwatu temple at sunset, stumbling on tiny offerings that appear from nowhere filled with rice or fruit, bright frangipanis and the smell of beautifully scented incence to the shrines in every rice field, next to sacred old trees, in every corner of all local businesses, overlooking intersections and dangerous curves in the roads.

We are not denying it, Bali is commercialised and we reckon in 10-20 years time Bali is going to be even more westernised that it is today. We are trying very hard to ignore the commercialisation and concentrate more on the true Bali. We spoke to a lady who visited Bali 20 years ago and this was her first time back. She said some parts she could hardly recognise due to the rapid changes that have taken place. With Macdonald's, KFC, Burger King, designer stores and the like popping up. It was a bit disappointing to see scores and scores of westerners eating here rather than trying out some of the traditional Balinese food. Most Balinese menus are not in English but for 10,000 rupiah = US$1 you can get a local sim card and use the Google translate app. Some Balinese can speak and understand English but most don't and you will need patience when conversing with those that have trouble understanding – you will eventually manage to communicate with them. Most tourists end up staying in fancy resorts or in Poppies 1 or Poppies 2 in popular Kuta away from the true flare that Bali has to offer. Its almost like they can't be too far away from their home comforts.

We read a lot of blogs, lonely planet and spoke to a few people on Bali. The best way to get around Bali is either on scooters, as there are thousands everywhere, or your own driver. We have heard and read about some horror stories on the scooters so we opted for a driver. Bali is small in size so you could drive around the entire coast in one day, it is possible. For US$50 you can get a driver for 10 hours to drive you where you want to go in Bali. Our driver is Ketut, a very popular name in Bali and one you will hear frequently. We found out that there are certain names you give to your first born, second born, third born etc.. Ketut is the forth born, however there are 3 other names that can be given to a forth born, Ketut is the most popular.

Kuta - 21st to 23rd March

We stayed in Kuta at Hawaii Bali for the first two nights. Location was not great as it was on a busy highway but after arriving in Bali after 10.30pm and hearing how bad the traffic can get we wanted somewhere close by. The Hotel is currently undergoing renovation and some extensions which is probably why we got a good price, however this never once distrupted our stay here. Probably not somewhere I would want to stay long term, one night is enough. We could not fault the staff who were friendly. The hotel was decorated well and clean. The swimming pool was a lovely 25 degrees, perfect in the evenings but not during the day when you want to cool off. We experienced our first taste of an Asian breakfast, which consisted of a choice of egg fried rice, brown rice, omelette, stir fried veggies and noodles and a Balinese style chicken soup with a boiled egg in it. We must say it was not our type of breakfast, we much prefer a platter of fruit or cold milk and weetabix but it was interesting to try it at least.

After seeing some of the driving and hearing the stories about scooters we opted for the safer option of a driver with a car, this may sound like you're losing some of the options to go see and do what you want but its great and the drivers are happy to talk to you and discuss different places to visit. Who knows we may end up getting a scooter where the roads are not quite busy as the ones around Kuta.
While waiting for our driver to pick us up we decided to walk around the area. Crossing the two way highway was rather scary to be honest. There are more scooters and motorbikes than there are cars and you constantly had to watch for scooters and motorbikes weaving in and out of each other and the few suddenly appearing from side allies or mounting pavements to join the main highway. All of them going at various speeds. Must have taken us at least 15 mins to cross the 4 lanes in total!

Wondering around we knew we weren't near the tourist area of Kuta, more like the local markets of Kuta. We only saw 4 other tourists wondering around. We came across a local store that had Absolute Vodka bottles lined up with petrol for the scooters in them. Later we understood through our driver that the petrol stations are not located close together so the locals sell the petrol for scooters in reused vodka bottles. We both laughed as its something we thought you only see in Africa. Most of the locals have their businesses on their scooters, either a small fast food box varying to selling live gold fish, other types of fish and even small lobsters in bags of water. Its amazing the lobsters haven't figured out to cut their way out. On our wonder is where we noticed the small shrines at every business and at every corner with small offerings made out of woven leaves with fruit, rice and bright flowers. Some left in the middle of the pavement as though magically appearing from nowhere. We learnt that these offerings are done 3 times a day usually before meals.

 Pet fish and lobster for sale on the back of a scooter.
 Scooter petrol station - no its not vodka!
 Salak fruit - skin is like the texture of a snake skin. Fruit needs to be boiled, then cooled. It tastes just like a poached pear. Texture of the flesh is different from a pear. Quite tastey.
Read about more interesting fruits here:
One of the many many shrines on the corners of the street or at every business. This is a slightly larger one.
 More local business on the backs of scooters.

After sweating our asses off in the humid heat from a 2 hour wonder and now looking like we had just got out a swimming pool, we returned to the hotel to cool off in the air conditioned room before Ketut picks us up.Once cooled off and Ketut has picked us up he takes us to a seafood restaurant for lunch. (Ketut seems to be a common name here in Southern Bali, it also means child number 4)

The Entrance to Kampoeng Seafood Restaurant
 We pick our seafood fresh as they are still alive but the cost is quite a bit more for items of the live menu!

 You order from the kitchen master who will help you order everything off the menu for a price!

 The jumbo prawns were fantastic
 Grilled White snapper with a spicy sauce!

We paid 400,000 rupiah in total including drinks. We thought that was cheap but in all honesty it was pretty expensive considering you can easily have lunch for less than 100,000 rupiah. We were serenaded by some locals who were really good. They asked where we were from and when we said South Africa the one says to us '' Ah wakaka wakaka'' from the football world cup. Ketut drove us around the south of Bali stopping off at Padang Padang for a quick swim before taking us to Uluwatu for the Kecak dance at sunset.

Padang Padang beach.

 More Padang Padang
 Pandang Padang again.

Kecak Dance at Pura Luhur Ulu Watu

The temple (Pura in Balinese) is set atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the surf below. The temple is for the spirit of the sea. We arrived just before sunset to see the Kecak dance that is performed here daily. We were given brightly coloured sarongs or sashes to wear.

The Kecak dance is regarded as one of the best known dances of Bali. The dance is not accompanied by musical instruments, instead a chorus of men sit in a circle and imitate the ''cak-cak'' sound effects to the dance while dancers perform an adaptation of an ancient ritual ceremony called Sanghyang that was held to purify a village during and epidemic. The Kecak tells the tale of the quest of hero Rama who came to earth to defeat the evil demon Ravana who had captured his wife Sita. With the help of Anoman, the white monkey and his army they search for his wife. Anoman destroys some of Ravana's palace but he is captured, his hands tied and the people of Alengka try to burn Anoman with a ring of fire but his magic power protects him. He manages to destroy the entire palace and Sita is saved.

Throughout the Kecak dance, the circle of men, all bare chested and wearing checked cloth around their waists, provide a non stop accompaniment, rising to a crescendo as they play the monkey army and the fight out between Anoman and Ravana.

The dance was quite something leaving us mesmorised. The chorus of the chanting men was brilliantly done. We can highly recommend the Kecak dance at Uluwatu.

 Kecak Dance.
  Kecak Dance.
 Kecak Dance at sunset.

 The white monkey is captured.

Uluwatu temple at sunset.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Encore of Oz 18th - 22nd March

18th - 21st March Airlie Beach to Brisbane Drive

We wished we could have rescheduled St Paddys day, as the day after we were getting ready for the next road trip back to Brisbane more for lack of being able to have a good shindig and a bit of craic! (This means good fun in Irish and if you dont believe me well pog my thoin)

After collecting beast our 5 person berth 1990s campervan that needed to be relocated to Brisbane we headed off for Rockhampton. Back on the Bruce Highway named after “Henry Adam Bruce” who was the state minister for works you can clearly see this when driving as they are always working on this road! Any trip on this road needs an extra hour for every three as the recent floods and trucks have taken their toll on the road, not to mention the works to widen and add bypasses etc.
Lunch we stopped in Mackay on the harbour wall southern breakwater road which stretches right out into the ocean, the area in general is very industrial and looks to booming as construction works were everywhere.

 Our Campervan!
 Mackay Harbour for lunch
It was getting late, traffic and weather conditions along with various speed limits meant we were not going to make the national parks close to Rockhampton. We filled up for the last time close to Marlborourgh and after filling up with gas the low oil light, low coolant and battery light came on. We checked everything topped up the oil and headed off, as we had left the lights on while parked at the gas station so perhaps the battery was just a little drained? We drove on thinking the battery would charge however closer to Marlborough after flipping the lights to high beam we almost cut out, we pulled over to see what was going on now and thought about going back to the gas station however it wasn’t long and the engine started idling erraticly! After switching off we were now stuck as the engine wouldn’t start... This was now our worst nightmare 404km into day one and we were now stuck with a flat battery obviously the alternator had gone? We rolled back well off the side of the road as me pushing and Shev only using the handbrake to stop almost meant we ended up well into the trees, it was a bit of an incline. After a sigh of relief that we were well off the road we called for assistance.
We put out a lantern on the side of the road some 20m before the rest area we managed to pull into in case truck didn’t see us as they were all hurtling down into the dip where we were which actually improved our visibility thankfully.
After talking to the tow truck crew we had an ETA thank goodness as even though we had two batteries we didn’t have the tools to swap them out only a jack and tyre spanner.
Eventually after what seemed ages we had some crackers and cheese for dinner and the tow truck arrived, we spent the night in Rockhampton after all in the auto shops parking lot! Free camping and saved on fuel what a bargain!

 Tow truck finally arrived.
 Made it to Rockhampton by 11.30pm - we were knackered! Home for the night was at the service station.

 Sign posts we saw enroute to Rockhampton before breaking down.
 Some of the houses along the east coast.
It was lunch time the following day till our rental company and the auto mechanic settled on who was trying to overcharge and be a smart ass etc.. Amazing really as we had the politest conversations with both parties ourselves. Turned out that the alternator was fine the battery however had completely died and one off the cells had a dead short so it was never going to charge again.
We were ever so thankful for the repair and set off again for Hervey Bay!
Arriving at Hervey Bay no without any dramas was a relief except we had arrived late and now all the camping spots seemed closed we drove around the whale roundabout and the campsites a few times we called and got a spot that even had a jacuzzi...winner!
Hervey bay (pronounced Har – Vey Bay if you say Her – Vey nobody knows where that is in Oz!!)
Its a bit of a sleepy seaside resort without the beaches mind you as its all rocky not even pebbles for a beach,its great but best for a whale cruise or long relaxing weekend away.

 Hervey Bay
 Hervey Bay- Whales all year round!

Next stop was Brisbane and we needed to drop of the beast as well so we were quite eager to keep up the pace so we really only stopped for short pit stops along the way which was just as well as the rain pelted us along the way!
We made it to Brisbane with time to spare and off loaded at Chill Backpackers a friendly central location.

21st March A few things to do in Brisbane

We stayed at a very central backpackers with our own private room which was great to recharge after all our driving recently. Chill is located on Upper Roma street great if you want to get to meet a few other travellers and just spend a short time near the centre of Brisbane and the Southbank. For more than two nights I would want a better place maybe a pool and near the coast, perhaps we had been spoilt for choice being in the Whitsunday's and on the Gold Coast.
Once you start to walk around the Southbank the Botanical Gardens along with a few man made beach pools are great to walk around or have a picnic.

 Brisbane man made beach in Southbank.

Nuts n Bolts kangaroos in Brisbane!

22nd Airport

Our endless searching for where to begin in Asia took many nights and a few Airlines come up tops for this terrific part of the world if you're travelling from Oz. AirAsia, Tiger, JetStar and Scoot Airways surprisingly Virgin Airways put the best tender in for Brisbane to Bali one way. Now you can go cheaper if you fly Gold Coast to Singapore and Singapore to Bali however when you take into account the time and extra costs for accommodation, transport and extras its hard to beat a direct flight.

At our final check in the lady asks have you got a return flight? We answer no we do not? The lady pauses and says well I cant let you fly without a return flight...
It was time to do my best ever John McEnroe..You cannot be serious??(if  only I had had a tennis racquet to vent anger with as well) She then starts to explain that if we get deported back it will be to our last port of exit so Brsibane Australia all expenses paid courtesy of Virgin wow who knew you didn’t have to pay for a return??
So after much delegation of how its not a legal requirement we can get a visa in Indonesia and why didn’t Virgin have this information on their website when they offered us such a great flight deal we couldn’t refuse??
Eventually after explaining to the lady at check inn that we were not just some travellers that will get stuck in Bali or deported and that we had funds to support ourselves, she decided to let us travel!
Well we were elated at the news as missing the flight would have really put a spanner in the works.

We were a little sad to be leaving Oz the people are fantastic and we had made some really great friends in the 5 months of being there. We have been fortunate enough to have been able to travel around Oz and see some incredible sights. Australians you are one lucky bunch to offer such diverse outdoor lifesytles and its right We also really enjoyed staying with Shev's cousins and it has been an emotional roller-coaster for her after being reacquainted after so many years.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Airlie Beach & Whitsundays 12th – 18th March

Our first glimpse of the ''Whitsundays'' was as we came over a hill top from the small town Prosepine. Crystal blue waters, tropical islands in the distance, bright clear blue sky and recent shipwrecks from the bad weather a month ago. All that escaped our minds was WOW! Nothing could prepare us for the sheer tropical humidity either. We were sweating by the time we walked from the bus stop to Magnums, our accommodation. Airlie Beach is a small town but extremely busy for the size of it. A town this small anywhere else in Oz would be considered a one horse town but here it is a different story. The first impression of Airlie Beach is it is backpackers central and super super chilled out. Everyone is friendly and helpful. It is merely a stepping stone to the Whitsunday Islands and should definitely be a stop off for anyone travelling in Oz.

Magnums is a little gem. It is set in a tropical back yard off the main strip and amazingly quiet. The rooms are very basic but that is all you need especially when you have the sunny weather and natural beauty outdoors. For once we planned it right and we were here to experience the Whitsundays at the right time when it was not cyclonic weather, which is what it has been for the last month according to the locals! Excellent!

 Airlie Beach
 Airlie Beach
 Airlie Beach

For the first 2 days we decided to chill out as we have 6 days here. It was meant to be 3 but somehow our relocation camper van we were driving back to Brisbane was allocated to someone else. Long story short we managed to get another relocation deal after a painful negotiation but the camper van would only be available 3 days later, thus giving us 6 days in Airlie beach. We lazed about at the lovely artificial lagoon most afternoons. Water being cool and inviting under the hot sun.

We decided we wanted to check out the islands so we took a wonder down the small strip, mainly all tourism companies with their best day trips and overnight sailing deals to the Islands. We can say their so called deals are outright expensive. Day trip for one person was coming in at a minimum of $120 while the cheapest overnight sailing trip was closing in at $310 each! Most of the touring companies we went into to ask about the island trips went straight for the expensive in our case but a deal in theirs! Most were very unaccommodating for budget travellers and pretty much had that expression of '' that is the price – take it or leave it''.

After being bombarded with all the different options and ridiculously priced packages we decided to find something else that would be cheaper that these touring companies were not telling us. And we did! At one of the touring companies while standing and looking at loads of brochures we found one right at the bottom for camping on the islands. The transfer to the island is per person and ranges from $60 to $120. The amount of time you spend camping on the island does not matter, you just need to pay national parks fees of $5 per person per night. If you don't have any camping gear, gear is provided, everything from a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, cutlery, gas burner, free water (as much as!) and snorkelling gear for $40 for the first night, then $20 per night there after. Stinger suits are hired separately ($5 per day). Cheap deal in our opinion! So that was it we were going camping. Upon booking we heard the skipper of the boat was not taking his boat too far due to the tail end of a cyclone going to hit the islands soon. He claimed he was more concerned about the waters and wind. But we got the impression that they perhaps did not want to take us out further. Oh well so we decided to get to South Molle Island to a place called Sandy Beach for $60 return each. So that was it we were all booked and looking forward to a bit of camping on the islands.

The day arrived for our camping. We managed to move one nights accommodation to our last night so we could fit in 2 days camping on the island. Armed with our backpack and a small cooler bag of food for 2 days we caught the bus to Shute Harbour. We were met by a chilled out guy called Phil, who was taking us out to our island and still in the process of obtaining his skipper's licence. They had been delayed taking another lot of people out to another island for camping. We got started on our journey with Phil our Kiwi guide and the Ozzie skipper. Finally we got onto the boat with all our stuff and camping gear. The boat ride was not long at all and soon we were on our own island, deserted beach with Mount Jeffreys overlooking our little bay.

 Shute Harbour

 Just been dropped off on the beach! Waving good-bye to our boat...

Sandy Bay as the name suggests is not sandy. 70% of it is coral washed up on shore. It should be renamed Coral Bay. The sand appeared only when the tide went right down. We pitched our tent and set up camp. No showers, no surprise there but plenty of ocean :) We took a walk to the end of the beach where there were some rocks to try out some snorkelling. We got on our stinger suits – our onesies! It was quite funny. Stinger suits are required due to the box jelly fish in the waters. The signs of warning are everywhere. See the pic for the interesting facts! Snorkel gear on and we ventured into the water. Unfortunately there was zero visibility! We still had a paddle and swim about. A bit disappointing for the snorkel but we lazed on the beach in the sun for a bit.

 Camping gear...
 Camping spot! 
 Sandy Bay! South Molle Island

Our stinger suit onesies!

We had been told that South Molle island has some amazing walking tracks that provide some breath taking views. We set off at about 5pm for a 8.5km return walk to Spion Kop. Clearly the path has not been walked on in ages as not even 300m on the track we came across this massive spider web right across our path. No spider, but we figured there would be more spider webs. Dave found a long stick and cleared the first web out of our way. Less than 10 meters and another spider web, not as big as the first but still in our way. We certainly weren't going to take any chances of just walking through them as we all know Australia has the biggest this, the most poisonous that, most deadliest this etc etc.... So Dave walked ahead of me waving his long stick or in this case we joked about it being his ''wand'' like something out of Harry Potter or my knight in shining armour! The walk up the mountain was easy going, the path had been cleared in such a way that it was not a too difficult walk – only the spider webs were our obstacles and definitely not for those that suffer from arachnophobia! It was amazing how the vegetation on the island changed as we walked. Apart form the small incline at the start with the trees and spiders, the first 1.5km was tall waist-high green grass, blowing about in the strong gusts of wind, and hundreds and hundreds of Cyclades dotted everywhere. The views across the other side of the islands looking directly at Whitehaven Islands was as described to us ''breathtaking''! Once we reached the highest point we started to descend into pretty much a humid tropical jungle, small streams flowing down the mountain, tropical plants, beautiful colourful butterflies, even more spider webs some with small spiders that had yellow and black stripes (getting goosebumps typing this out) and plenty yellow crested cockatoos! Can't seem to go anywhere in Oz without finding them squawking in the tree tops. What a complete scenery change! As we made our way through the jungle and out towards our final 1.5km to Spion Kop the sun was starting to set but we were met with a full rainbow over Whitehaven Island. We don't want to leave this place ever – we started talking about starting our own camping touring company too just so we could stay in this tropical paradise! The sunset itself was spectacular, brilliant oranges and pinks illuminated the few clouds in the sky with the odd blue sky poking out in the background. It was a moment that will be remembered forever for the both of us. I don't think we will ever forget the view of a full rainbow on one side of the island and the sunset on the other. This is what made Whitsundays so magical for us. We love this place!
 South Molle walk - view was amazing

 One of the spider webs.
Love this motion shot - it was incredibly windy on the one side of the island.
 The view towards the other side of the island.
 Some of the variety of spiders we found enroute!
Hmmm bright colours are not good - right?

The faces we come up with after a few attempts of no no and look at the lens! :)

 Sunset near Spion Kop.

The sun disappeared pretty quickly and soon darkness was creeping in a bit too fast for our liking and we still needed to get back to camp which was 4.2km away! Out came the headlamps and torches and we set off into the dark jungle... We were so glad we cleared the spider webs out the way as it made the walk back that much quicker and then round the next few curves and in the dense trees we heard a huge squuaaawk squuaaawk yes you may have a guessed birds a huge flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, we really think these birds represent the voice of birds for Oz as most places we have been if you hear the Squuuuaaawk its a big white and sulphur crested cockatoo in a tree probably biting the branches off!
Next we were dodging some huge frogs on our path. There must have been at least one frog every 2 meters and dead centre in the middle of the path looking at you and only when you nudged them did they even think of moving. Dave was expecting one to jump into me while walking and probably hoping for me to squeal something terrible! It would have been funny but there was no way those frogs were coming anywhere near me – remember the whole Australia has the biggest, deadliest, most poisonous – yeah that made me ensure a frog was not going to jump into me! At the end of our dark jungle trek before heading out into the open grass our lights caught a glimpse of another massive spider web just off our path, with the most ugliest, deadliest, nasty looking spider EVER! It almost had the skeleton shape shell like a crab with a few markings. Urrgh! Dave urged me to take a picture, with me trembling going what if it can jump... We eventually got a photo and we keep looking at it only to have the hairs on the backs of our necks stand on end and tingles go through our spines. Check the photo – maybe you might get a similar sensation??

 This is the spider we were talking about! Still raises the hairs on the backs of our necks! We checked it out and we seem to think its an Orb-Weaving spider and is described as low risk and non-aggressive. Only thing there is 109 different species of the Orb.
 Massive frogs!
At last we made it back to our camp at about 8pm it was pitch dark but warm and it felt good to be back looking at lights in the distance of boats made us feel as if we were not completely alone . Great walk – interesting in the dark too! After a much needed steak and some red wine we headed for bed as the wind was starting to pick up a bit. We were woken at 1 or 2 in the morning to the wind, our tent cover flapping wildly and pretty much almost half the tent being lifted by the wind. Any stronger and we would have been blown away with the tent. The rest of the night we listened to the howling wind. The next morning the wind was still blowing strong so we decided to go back to the mainland and arrange a snorkelling tour to part of the Great Barrier Reef. Yes we decided to cough up the cash for the tour but we figured that this was a once in a liftime opportunity and why the hell not.

We opted for an Ocean Rafting tour, $120 each for a full day tour, two snorkels near Hook Island and lunch on Whithaven beach. The tour was the best day out. The Ocean Rafting guys were fun and full of humour. It was almost as if they were experiencing the tour for the first time. They spun the boat round in circles, hitting their own wake from the outboard motor managing to get most of us airborn off our seats and in a combination of laughter and thrilled screams.

The snorkelling was fantastic, plenty of fish and some huge 50odd kg ones swimming round us. The biggest highlight for the both of us was swimming with a turtle, something that we both wanted to experience. Such graceful creatures.

 Shev underwater poses!
Dave underwater poses!

There was one guy who was just high on life itself always making sure everyone was smiling and having fun and basically a big kid himself. When we got to Hills Inlet to view the Whithaven tidal sands he told of us ''you got a headache you take a pill, you got a cold you take a pill, you give the doctor your mind and money and you take a pill, me I'm from New Zealand I've never taken a pill, maybe the recreational ones hahaha''.
Hills Inlet was something else, beautiful crystal blue and turquoise water with white sands swirling in the water. Just simply natural beauty. We had lunch at Whithaven beach while trying to chase off the somewhat brave seagulls diving down boldly in an attempt to get food off your plate. Some people managed to loose some of their lunch too! What a fantastic day out.

 Hills Inlet - Swirling tides and sands

 Dave and the guy high on life trying to get in close to a small shark.

It turned out our last night in Airlie Beach happened to be St Paddy's day. There were a few people donning the St Paddy's day outfits and hats. We had a few drinks at Magnums bar while a live band was pumping out some great tunes. We wanted to have a party but since we had 450km to drive to Rockhampton the next day we called it an early night.

Whitsundays was one of the best places we have been to in Oz. What an amazing bit of magical paradise! Ozzies you are one lucky bunch to have something so spectacular at your doorstep.

Here is one of the highlights of our trip we hope to get a few more great videos like this one! It is with OceanRafting in Airlie Beach a great day out with a good crowd.