Tuesday, July 24, 2012

White sands of Boracay

You can probably see a re-occurring theme here: tropical getaways! I admit, when making travel plans I do tend to gravitate more towards the hotter climates rather than the cold. Guess I'll have to change this one day but as the saying goes "if it's not broke, don't fix it".

This destination is dear to my heart. I was born in the Philippines but moved to New Zealand with my family when I was very young, so have grown up as a Kiwi but have never forgotton my roots. Boracay is one of the many islands in the Philippines and one that has always been recommended by locals and foreigners alike.

Boracay is a typical beach destination. Pure white sand, crystal clear waters, resorts, backpackers, restaurants and bars lining up along the beach. Every few hundred meters or so stages are set up where at night you can see fire dancing shows, live bands, live dances or concerts. There's always something to do. Like other beach areas, you can't go anywhere else for food or other necessities so prices are a little bit higher here at the local shops however, bargaining is accepted.

If you wanted to do a little more than just lazing on a beach, you can sign up to do either a full or introduction PADI dive course, rent out ATVs, participate in water sports or hike the local trails. As I was with family we did upgrade our accommodation to stay at the Boracay Regency Resort (which I highly recommend if you have the budget for it). However, there are many different priced accommodation with good facilities if you're willing to shop around.

At night, I recommend getting way from your hotel and try find a local restaurant for dinner. There are many different seafood buffets along the beach strip, which for a decent price you can eat as much fresh lobster, crab, clams, oysters, muscles and much more with some cheap (but good) cocktails on the side. Also, don't forget to try the local beer San Miguel or Red Horse...choose your poison!

A definitely cheap but great option if you are looking for that tropical holiday. Just head into Manila and you can catch a cheap flight across to Caticlan, where from there you take a banca  boat across to the island. The flight from Manila to Caticlan takes roughly an hour and the boat ride is about 20 minutes. Be ready to disembark into water rather than stepping onto a wharf!

Banca Boat

Boracay Regency Resort

The shopping strip on the beach

Boracay Beach

Aggie Greys Hotel and Resort

Just a short and sweet post about Aggie Grey's Hotel and Resort. You always hear people talking about the bad rather than the good, so thought I would be a little different and make sure people hear about the good as well.

I stayed here for about 5 nights and have never felt so relaxed. Aggie's has two options, the Hotel and Resort as well as their Hotel and Bungalows. The resort is located about 10 minutes drive away from the airport but right on the coast, on a man-made lagoon. Where as the bungalows are situated right in the heart of town, so both have their pros and cons. The bungalows are little older but I would say has more character, and has the traditional Samoan vibe about them as well. The good thing is that Aggie's do provide a free coach service between these two properties for their guests so you can get the best of both worlds.

All rooms at the resort have their own private balcony and face the beach. The rooms are clean and fitted with a mix of traditional Samoan furniture as well as being slightly westernised. Staff are very, very friendly and accommodating. They have four restaurants to choose from all having a different theme, cuisine and price range. Easy to say, all are delicious so it just depends on what your budget is really! They have a lagoon pool or you can opt to sit on their beach instead. There is a swim up bar in the pool or else, if you are on the beach they do have waiters walking around to take food and drink orders so you can just literally be a beach bum.

For those who want the full relaxing experience, they also have an onsite spa and massage place. You're welcomed into a half fale, and taken out to their open massage areas set out in their tropical bush. A perfect setting to relax and just take everything in.

I also managed to get an introduction dive in one day, which they take you out to their infamous 'fish bowl'. If you had wanted, you can also sign up to do a full PADI course here and get qualified. Their diving instructors are very professional and you know you are in good hands. I would definitely recommend doing this if you have the extra time.

Walkway from the reception area through to your room.

View from the beach looking to the rooms.

The lagoon pool, facing towards the beach.


View from the balcony

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Awesome adventures in Fiji

Living in New Zealand, during the colder months people generally flock to either South East Asia or the South Pacific. I opted for the cheaper option and headed to Fiji. Rather than staying on the mainland, I wanted to do some island hopping and see what the outer islands had to offer. Awesome Adventures Fiji (AA)  has a monopoly in the island hopping business. I mean, you can still get between islands yourself but once you add on all the boat transfer costs it’s best to have gone under one of AA’s packages.

I’ve been to Fiji twice, and twice I have gone with this company. Going to Fiji, I didn’t want the norm of sitting by the pool side or beach side at some 3 or 4 star resort, but more so get a taste of what the villagers life are like on these islands. Awesome Adventures is a touring company, however, it isn’t as ‘touristy’ as one may think. These packages offer holiday packages for budget and independent travelers, but I have also seen some family’s go with this company as well.

They own and operate their ferry, the Yasawa Flyer, and journey to nearly 20 islands in the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups. They also affiliate themselves with more than 30 resorts on these islands. The packages they offer are either pre-prepared or if you want a bit more flexibility then you can select their Bula Passes, which gives you vouchers for your transfers, accommodation and meals. You just book the islands or resorts you want to stay at as you go (subject to availability of course).

I think what they are running here is a great idea and having been back twice; those who have booked with this company are over the moon about the service they get and what they receive for the price- quantity and quality.

I’ll go over a few of the memorable islands I visited in the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups. The first two are my favourites and I would give my highest recommendations. All islands you visit will welcome you with a traditional Fijian welcoming song, maybe some leis and a nice cool drink. They either take you up to a wharf, or you get let out into about knee height water and you make your way to the shore from there (which I prefer, as it can be quite entertaining watching us foreigners try to find the best and most flattering way out of a rocking boat).

1)  Mantaray Island
The reason why I love this island are the staff who run this place are the sweetest people you’ll meet. All Fijians are like this, I’ve noticed, but here it doesn't seem forced or fake, it’s natural and real. The men also have some character and they know how to joke! This island is also very eco-friendly. They don’t have any flushing water; their loos are actually very fancy long drops! They use a composting technique and miraculously the toilets don’t smell at all!

As you pull up to the island, you know instantly that you have arrived into paradise. Long stretches of sand, coral reefs can be seen through the clear waters, hammocks, a bar and resting area right by the beach. There is thatched roofing and wooden structures to give it that natural, environmental feel. The thatched roofing is just for looks though, they do have corrugated iron underneath that just in case it does rain.

They have three room type options: dorm, double/twin with shared facilities or a double/twin with a private bathroom. The dorm room has about 32 beds, 4 beds in each little unit. It’s an open style type of dorm room and each bed conveniently comes with their own mosquito net. Even though it is quite open, you’ll find those staying here are considerate and quiet so not to disturb those that are there to just sleep and relax. The next room type up is just a basic double bed (or two singles), a sliding door to a balcony, a couple chairs, and a ceiling fan. All you need really if you don’t mind using the shared facilities. This is what I stayed in and loved it.

The food served here is amazing too! I was told the head chef used to be the head chef at a 5 star resort on the mainland...not a bad deal. I paid for full board, so breakfast, lunch and dinner included. Drumbeats signal when it’s meal times, a sound I looked forward to each day. Breakfast is buffet style, something hot and cold with coffee and water. With lunch and dinner, you could choose which option you had wanted off a list on the board. And I mean there are options, not just 2 or 3 but about 5 to 8 most days. A good selection too! You never go hungry in Fiji.

Here at Mantaray, they have two bars. The beach bar, and if it’s bad weather they relocate the party to the restaurant bar. Full selection of beer and liquor. Also, entertainment is put on nearly every night by the staff whether it be traditional Fijian dancing, or to have a laugh at our expense some limbo action. Party ends when the last patron goes to bed, whether it be in their room or on a lounger on the beach.

If you wanted to do a bit more than just getting your summer tan, they offer snorkeling trips, diving expeditions (beginner or advanced), arts and crafts, village visits, hikes and more. If you're the talkative type, you can just sit down with any one of the staff on the island and they are happy to tell you their life story over some kava (traditional Fijian drink made out of roots, can be quite potent depending on who makes it).

2) Beachcomber Island
Now, most of you have probably heard of this island. If you have you may probably know it as the 'party island'. I can say this is true, however, it doens't have to be! You can choose to be a part of the nightlife there, or you can head away to a quiet spot on the beach away from that scene. Most of the guests are of the younger, wilder type but it still doesn't mean it can't be a relaxing place. The sand is white; water is clear. There are loads of water sports available here and this is the gateway to a day trip out to Monuriki Island, the island where Castaway was filmed.

This island is a little more 'touristy' however, I do like the vibe of it. The main dining/bar area has a good atmosphere to it and a couple nights a week they do a themed night, e.g. bbq dinner or hawaiin...etc. Buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a mix of Western and traditional Fijian. Also, the last few  days of the week a band comes to play and boy do they know how to play their covers!

Again, staff here are friendly and if he's still working there when you go, there is a barman called Claude who is the sweetest man you'll ever meet! He also knows how to make really good cocktails as well, so another bonus.

They have all room types here as well. Either dorm or private (each private room has an ensuite) or beachfront bungalows. All the rooms are very traditional Fijian but clean, spacious and comes with a mini-fridge and ceiling fan. All the beachside bungalows have their own balcony and hammock as well, a nice way to unwind after a day in the sun.

3) Nanuya Island Resort
Now, I didn't stay here but visited and had a look around. When I have enough money I definitely want to come back here and stay for a couple nights. It is a more resort style accommodation about 6 to 8 hours boat ride from the mainland and the rooms are beautiful! Being so far north from the mainland, the sand here is softer and whiter. This is also around the corner from Blue Lagoon, which is where the movie 'Blue Lagoon' was filmed, hence the name.

This resort is truly paradise. It is quiet, private and a haven for those just wanting to relax. There are beachfront bures or tree top ones. Personally, I would go for the tree top option. You do have to walk up a few steep hills and further away from the restaurant and beach, but the view from your balcony is definitely worth it. The bed faces the sliding door and balcony, leave the curtains open and you are waking up to paradise and wonder if life could get any better.

As per normal, staff are very friendly! And again, food is delicious! As this is more resort style it is a la carte and slightly more expensive, so this is definitely for those that are not on a budget and are happy to splurge a little bit. There is not much else to say here except you can either do everything, or do nothing. Your choice!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adventure Tours Australia

You know that moment in your life when after numerous efforts of entering a raffle draw, that piece of paper with your name on it finally gets picked? Well, this was my moment. I had won a trip to tour with Adventure Tours Australia (ATA). I was given a certain amount of money and could pick any tours that would equal up to that amount. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gone with them otherwise; it just made it easier that it came for free!

ATA is a tour company that has been established since 1992. Their motto is “small groups, big adventures”, which I truly believe they live up to. They have positioned themselves as the leading tour and transport operator in Australia offering packages that suit all budgets and tours that run throughout the country. They pride themselves with a reputation of excellence, innovation and reliability.

There were two of us travelling. After much deliberation we finalized our travel plans to stick with two of their most popular tours on the East Coast: the 3 Day Grampians and Ocean Road Explorer, and the Cairns to Gold Coast Explorer. We had picked these two tours out as we had family in Melbourne and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit the Whitsunday Islands. The next close picks were tours on the West coast between Perth and Darwin, so maybe next time.

All in all, we were with this company for about 14 days total so I’ll try summarize my time with them. I’ll start with the tour guides and transport as these were the same for both, then I’ll break it down per tour.

Also, random fact, we decided to go on this tour in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was also the same month where the big floods in Queensland happened. Fortunately for us, we were ahead of the floods by a day. If we were held up for any reason, we were sure to have been a part of the nightly news of stranded locals and tourists.

Following their motto of small groups, the average max number on any tour is roughly 15 - 20. Sometimes more if it is a larger or longer excursion. The buses they used on these specific trips are not the typical oversized coach but just a humble mini bus. They are slightly a bit older, but are air-conditioned (much needed for the tropical heat up north) and are comfortable. I’d say it’s cozy but I liked it that way, closer quarters meant it breaks the ice between fellow strangers and the rest of your time with them goes a whole lot smoother.


I was very impressed with both our guides on the tours. The guides act as both the information holder and the driver. They are also the mechanic, chef and are stand up comedians. Both are born and bred Australians, are hilarious and were definitely one of the top things on my list of what makes this company great.

1) 3 days Grampians and Great Ocean Road Explorer
This started and ended in Melbourne city. This took us up to one of the oldest mountain ranges – the Grampians, where we did a challenging but rewarding hike up to the peak or what they call ‘The Pinnacle’. If you’re game you can stand on the end of a large bolder jutting over the cliff edge, it has spectacular views of the surrounding forests and nearby towns. Definitely a breathtaking sight especially if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day.

Our first night’s accommodation was at a lodge just down the road from the Aboriginal Cultural Museum, which we visited earlier in the day. As we had extra money to spare, we did end up upgrading to the double room option. Those with the upgrades stay at a different location usually just a walk away. We had dinner cooked at the back packers lodge- homemade spaghetti bolognaise and garlic bread. Juice and water are free and you just BYO alcohol. Being out in the bush, accommodation was reasonably clean and facilities were up to par. Walking back after dinner we came across wild kangaroos and joeys feeding as the sun set, and the night ended to us falling asleep to what sounded like a group of crazed monkeys yelling outside our window (which of course was just the sounds of cackling birds).

The second and third day was our journey back to Melbourne via the infamous Great Ocean Road. At the same time was also when Ms Oprah Winfrey was visiting, or so we were told. We did see many helicopters flying above but I’d like to think she was in one of them. I understand now why this road is so popular. The rock formations, the ocean side, and the endless wilderness is definitely not to be missed. After checking into our next night’s accommodation we came back to watch the sunset over the sea and return just in time before a storm hit. Accommodation for this night was superb. We were put in a motel, lots of space and very clean while the others were in a newly built backpackers lodge about 5 minutes walk away. I wouldn’t have minded staying there actually, the owners were lovely, a good common area, there were many showers and toilets and a decent sized kitchen with everything you need.

The last day was the trip back to Melbourne, with a few stops at notable landmarks along the Great Ocean Road. Lunch was served at a rest stop overlooking a local beach. This lunch wasn’t included in the itinerary but given to us out off the goodness of Bob, our guide. We came back into Melbourne city at about 5pm where we stayed for about 3 days before heading off to Cairns.

 2)     Cairns to Gold Coast Explorer
This tour is actually part of a longer tour which finishes in Sydney. We decided to stop off at Gold Coast instead as flights to our next destination were cheaper from Brisbane. This cut the tour down to 12 days instead of 14 and meant we missed out on Byron Bay, where we could have learnt how to surf.

We decided to fly in a day before the tour started to get a night’s rest before having to wake up early to get to the meeting point. We stayed at Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel and Resort. This is one of the main backpackers in Cairns located on the main road. It has options for both hotel and dorm style rooms. Each floor had their own kitchen and common area, which I thought was pretty neat. The rooms were clean, well furnished and had air-conditioning. We managed to also score a free pick up at the airport as well, which is only a 10 minute drive away. There is a lagoon style pool, tourist information desk and a club attached on the ground floor. Everything a party-goer needs.

Cairns is a quaint little town, a very laid back feel to it. Known for its beach lagoon and a starting point to travel to the Great Barrier Reef, you will find many divers, snorkelers and party animals day and night. There is also a night market in the heart of their town which sells everything from food to souvenirs, bargaining allowed. The beach lagoon is about a 10 minute walk from Gilligan’s and is a hot-spot for those who are not heading elsewhere to get their water fix.

Back to the tour- this was a jam-packed itinerary. It was great though! Even though most days we were on the go, there was never a dull moment. We did, however, miss out one stop on the itinerary due to the flooding situation in Queensland. One tour group was already flooded in this gorge and couldn’t get out so as a group we opted into an extra night stay at the cattle station.

I’ll highlight for you the best bits about this tour. Let me just start off with, Sam (aka Beaver), our tour guide. An awesome bloke with a lot of personality, charm and character. I must say, the best tour guide I’ve ever had and he will be hard to follow from here onwards!

Whitsunday Islands
If you ever head towards northern Queensland, it is a MUST that you visit the Whitsundays. It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, tropical reef and fish galore. The waters are warm and clear, the sand powdery white. If you can, get onto a chartered boat or catamaran that will take you to Whitehaven Beach, THE most beautiful beach I have ever been to yet. The picture below says it all but it also doesn’t do it justice. While wading through the shallow waters, we could see baby sharks and stingrays swimming idly by. The sand is tiny grains of white heaven, so soft and so clean.  Random fact: If you have ever seen the movie ‘Fool’s Gold’, this is where they filmed the scene where Kate Hudson throws out all their treasure onto that white sand strip.

Kroombit Cattle Station
They say that the Whitsundays should have stolen the show, but my two or three nights here was definitely the best memory I have about this trip. A family run operation, they allow tour groups with ATA and their affiliates to stay at their 10,000 acre cattle station. The facilities are a bit more basic here but you do get to unwind, relax and get back to nature. Here we tried our hand at riding horses, goat mustering, cracking whips and clay pigeon shooting. If you want, you can also go quad bike riding.

We were welcomed with a slow roast of some kind of meat. We were told to just try it and he may or may not tell us after what it was. All we were told was it was some animal he had accidently ran over on the way to work! We all tried it anyway as it smelled delicious. Luckily, it also tasted as good as it smelled and went for second and third helpings. Anyhow, we managed to find out that it was just deer meat. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Also, every night you get the choice of steak or another meat for dinner, as you can see I can't remember what the other meat was as I never chose it. Having fresh steak from a cattle station is the best kind of meat you can have! Food served here is home grown, homemade and mouth-watering.

For the second to last night, we got taken out to a local campsite where we shared tales around a bonfire and slept under the stars. Here we were given a taste of the local bushman's recipe of damper and baked beans cooked out of a hot can over a lit fire. The toilet situation is a little nicer than what you might be thinking. No, it wasn't a dig your own hole situation. There was one toilet out there in a homemade corrugated iron tent, but you still had to fill up a bucket of water if you did need to flush. This is where the rule of “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” is enforced.

Fraser Island
We ended up having our Christmas Eve here at this big resort style accommodation on the island. We were taken over to the island on a bus on a ferry! It’s still quite a rugged place, no roads or ‘downtown’ areas. Dingoes roam freely and the highway is the strip of sand on the beach which is how the buses get into and out of the accommodation. This island is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its flora and fauna. We were taken to the end of the seventy-five mile beach where we could hike to the peak, overlook the edge and if the water isn't churning you can see sharks feeding in the waters below. This is also home to the beautiful Lake Mackenzie, a fresh water lake, and Lake Wabby.

We were then taken back to Rainbow beach where we ended our last night have a big Christmas spread put on by the hostel and Beaver. Drinks, laughter and some goodbyes were said before we were taken to Gold Coast the next day.

Definitely an eventful trip. I noticed this tour is very popular in the UK so most of the tourists came from England and Ireland, one American. On the whole, a great tour, great people and great memories.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EPIK and South Korea

If you are trying to look for more information about South Korea, or teaching English here I do have another blog which I will update a little more often than this.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Inspiration and motivation

So I've just created this blog as an extra push to travel the world more. This may stay blank for a little while, while I get everything together. At the moment I am currently living away from home, home being New Zealand,  and have based myself as an English teacher in South Korea. Once I have something more substantial to write I will update this blog about my adventures, which will then hopefully kick start this into a fully-fledged travel blog.

I hope to travel to as many countries as I can over the next couple years at least, or as long as my bank account will allow me. Until then, I'll keep planning and hopefully soon I will start adding more posts.

I hope to write as I leave each country. I would rather have a full, uninterrupted experience of each place before I share my thoughts with you rather than updating as I go along. I feel this may come out cleaner and clearer rather than a collection of rambling posts about one country. Anyway, I don't intend for this blog to be anything spectacular, but just something to share my journeys and memories with other fellow travelers. Follow if you like, or carry on. Either way, I won't mind ;-)