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Komodo Island, Indonesia

March 11, 2016 – Slawi Bay, Komodo Island, Indonesia

Stepping onto Komodo Island is like stepping back in time. The Komodo Dragons are fascinating, and ruthless killers. These large monitor lizards and the Komodo islanders coexist on an inhospitable island in the Indonesian archipelago.

We anchor in Slawi Bay, and I go ashore in the tenders at 9:15AM to join my excursion ashore to see the Komodo Dragons. When we arrive at the ranger station, we go for a hike along the trails in small groups escorted by guides and park rangers. Some people pass out in the heat and have to be packed back to the tenders and the ship, since it is exceedingly hot. Of course, it’s not as if we weren’t warned about the conditions ahead of time. Fresh water is scarce on Komodo Island. The islanders collect rainwater during the rainy season, but otherwise they survive on very little water. Of course, we are supplied with lots of cold, bottled water before we leave on our hike.

There is a young female Komodo Dragon near the ranger station where we assemble, so everyone takes photos. As we walk through the bush, we see large green Imperial pigeons, hear the noisy Friarbirds, and spot a couple of deer. There are some striped snails, and a wide variety of plants and trees on the island. As we approach the water hole (which is dry), we see three medium-sized Komodo Dragons. We also spot a larger Komodo Dragon resting in the bush as we leave the water hole area. So in total, we see five Komodo Dragons.

Komodo Dragon monitor lizard at the water hole with tongue extended, Komodo Island, Indonesia

Komodo Dragon monitor lizard at the water hole with tongue extended, Komodo Island, Indonesia

Komodo Dragons are just really big Monitor lizards. They are carnivores, preying on the deer and wild pigs that inhabit the island. They are at the top of the food chain, and they also sometimes eat their own young. Komodo Dragons are good swimmers and, for short distances, quite swift on land. One Komodo Dragon will bite its prey, inflicting injuries and causing massive infections in the wounds with the bacteria found in their saliva. Once the prey is dying, all the Komodo Dragons in the area will come to feed.

There are about 1,100 Komodo Dragons on this island, and they inhabit other islands in the area as well. They are originally from Australia, where they grew even bigger, but they are no longer found there.

I’m glad our little hour and a half trek is over by noon, and we can return to the comfort of the air-conditioned ship. Slawi Bay is very pretty, with glassy water, surrounded by green hills, and a white, sandy beach with nobody on it. I think Komodo Island and some of the other Indonesian Islands are on par with French Polynesia when it comes to spectacular shoreline scenery. The captain is seriously annoyed with people throwing money at some boys in dugouts beside the ship as he tries to manoeuvre the ship out of our anchorage. Dolphins escort us out of the bay as we make an early departure at 3PM.

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Langkawi, Malaysia

Feb 26, 2016 – Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi is a lovely island, which is a destination for tourism and a duty free area in Malaysia. I can see why Australians in particular come to this SE Asian destination. My shore excursion today involves bats in caves and exploring a mangrove for eagles.

After driving to the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, we board small boats and zoom around the mangrove channels to see a fish farm (setup for tourists), the Langkawi Eagles (brown colour) and Sea Eagles (black and white) taking food in the channel, and exploring the bat caves. The little bats are asleep during the day, but they do a great job of keeping the bug population down. There are Long-tailed Macaque monkeys lurking around the entrances to the caves, where they try to steal tourists’ water bottles, since their only other source of water is to climb to the tops of trees for the fruit to be found up there.

Other than getting a headache from the fumes of the outboard motors, I had a great day!

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Eiffel Tower

September 20, 2014 –  Saturday – the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Base of the Eiffel Tower & the Champ de Mars

Base of the Eiffel Tower & the Champ de Mars

After breakfast, the Rick Steves tour is officially over. I say goodbye to the tour members in the lobby who are leaving today. I meet Jennifer’s boyfriend, who lives in the south of France. I end up spending most of the morning catching up with my journaling, sitting in the lobby just chilling out a bit. I chat with a few tour members who are staying in Paris for a few more days. Some are staying in other hotels, so they are moving this morning.

I skip lunch and walk over to Easy Pass Tours to pick up my prepaid, priority entrance ticket to the Eiffel Tower. It is great to walk past the lines of people waiting to buy tickets, breeze through a priority security line, and zoom up to the second floor in the main elevators. Following the Easy Pass instructions, I wait in line for the smaller elevators that take people to the top of the tower. This takes about 20 minutes, but finally I’m at the top, and have absolutely beautiful clear and sunny weather for my time up there. I take lots of photos, including a few selfies, and then descend back down to the second floor for a look around before returning to the ground.

The priority ticket from Easy Pass Tours is well worthwhile in my estimation, since it saves so much time and aggravation. I walk back through the Champ de Mars – a beautiful park with the leaves falling from the trees. There is a Family Day celebration going on, so there are lots of people, kids and dogs around this afternoon.

I previously arranged to join some of the tour members for dinner this evening. We have reservations at Le Bosquet restaurant, which is recommended by the Rick Steves guide. Seven of us end up going out for dinner, and by all accounts everyone is pleased with the food and service.

Today was most enjoyable, and I really appreciate the much slower pace from my days on the tour!

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Oahu, Hawaii

February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.

I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.

We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide George explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.

2014 Oahu North Shore photos map

Oahu North Shore photos map

Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.

We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing. There are lots of surfers riding the waves. Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.

The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.

February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

2014 Honolulu photos map

2014 Honolulu photos map

I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.

I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.

Collection of photos of this visit and my previous visit to the Honolulu area in 2010.

I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.

The Road to Hana

Nov 27, 1995 – The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii

Road to Hana map

Road to Hana map

My friends and I drive our rental car north from Kihei, around the outskirts of Kahalui, and then southward on the northeast coast of Maui to the little town of Hana. This all-day drive is legendary, mainly because the paved two lane road twists and turns along the scenic coastline. This is also the wet side of the island of Maui, so be prepared if you decide to do this drive.

NOTE – If you plan to use the guide below, the intersection of Dairy Road and the Hana Highway is mile number zero. Each paragraph below displays the mileage number in bold at the start of the narrative. Watch for the highway markers along the way, since they are keyed to these same distances.

Before you leave for this driving tour (or preferably before you leave home), download an audio driving tour of the Road to Hana. Search for “Hana Highway audio tour” on your favourite media site. Many of these tour products are actually apps that run on your smartphone, and include more than just narration. Features such as: GPS location, maps, photos, and nice music are often included. All are modestly priced at $5-$10.


Workers in the fields cutting cane by hand in 1983

Workers in the fields cutting cane by hand in 1983

3.0 – Sugar cane fields have been a part of the Maui landscape since the 1860’s, when a market was found for sugar in the California Gold Rush. Maui currently has approximately 50,000 acres of sugar cane under cultivation. Sugar mills still operate here, in the midst of the swaying sugar cane fields. When the cane fields are ready to be harvested, they are set ablaze in order to get rid of most of the foliage, since the sugar is in the stalk. The sugar mill processes the cane into molasses, which is then trucked to Kahalui harbour, where it is shipped to the mainland for further processing.

5.0 – Paia is a plantation town, and is the first town encountered when heading west from Kahalui. Windsurfers are now becoming the main industry for this former sugar town, since the north shores of Maui in this area offers superb onshore winds. This is your last chance to fill up with gas. If the Paia gas stations are closed, return to Kahalui to gas up before proceed further. You have over 100 miles (return trip) of highway ahead of you!

8.0 – Hookipa Beach is a mecca for surfing and wind surfers. Surfing is said to have been invented by the ancient Hawaiians. Mama’s Fishouse is located near here, and serves some of the best seafood to be found on the islands. Expensive, but recommended.

9.4 – Waikamoi Ridge trail is a short walk through the lush forest.

9.8 – Waikamoi Ridge pool and bridge is a good place to have a swim in a tropical pool.

11.0 – Puohokamoa Falls waterfall and pool.

12.0 – Kaumahina State Wayside Park – restrooms and rubbish bins. Good view of coast, and Honomanu Bay. Pandanus grows here, and is used for baskets and mats, and was used for clothing by the ancient Hawaiians.

12.3 – Honomanu Bay “The Bay of Sharks” – there are 1,000 foot waterfalls above the bay. Not suitable for swimming. The road starts to narrow at this point. Please beware of large trucks. Wait until you are almost past the bay, where there are some good pulloffs for viewing.

15.7 – Keanae Arboretum – giant bamboo, and many other native flowers and trees are easy to see. You will spot gum trees, impatiens, and many more plants as you take this gentle walk through the grounds. A camera is a must. After seeing the arboretum, carry on down the highway a short distance, and take the road to the left leading down to the Keanae Peninsula. The Ihiihiolehowao na Kaua Church (built in 1860 of lava rock) is worth seeing, as is the rugged black lava rock shoreline and pounding turquoise water. Turn left back onto the highway, to continue your journey.

NOTE – at mile marker 16, the highway number changes from from 36 to 360, and the mile markers start over at zero.

18.2 – Turn left into the village of Wailua, where you will find 100 year old St. Gabriel’s Church. Drive down the road further until you see the “Dead End” sign, and turn right. Drive for a short distance on this private road to see the lush taro fields, cattle, and beautiful Waikani Falls in the background to the southwest. When coming out of this road, do not turn right (dead-end)! Turn left, back to the highway.

22.4 – Puaakaa State Park – beautiful tropical pools, trails, etc. The most rainfall occurs on this part of the Hana coast – up to 365 inches of rain per year. Have a look at the water viaduct, which were built near the turn of the century by Chinese labourers. These viaducts and irrigation ditches are managed by the East Maui Water Company, which supplies water from this “wet” side of Maui to the sugar cane and pineapple fields on the drier side of the island, in the valley where the city of Kahalui is found.

25.1 – Nahiku – there are many fruit and flower stands between here and Hana. Why not stop and sample?

32.0 – Waianapanapa State Park, just past Hana airport. Say awhile, and walk around this interesting park. The shoreline has some spectacular natural arches, blowholes, grottos, and of course, the vivid turquoise water. A beautiful black sand beach is an easy walk down the trail to the shore. Turn left back onto the Hana Highway – you are almost at Hana!

33.4 – Hana – “land of the low-lying sky”. Isolation ensures that Hana is mostly unchanged. Once you get to the Y intersection (where the police station is located), first take the lower road to Hana Bay. Snack Bar, pier, and Kauiki Hill – a site of many battles. Turn left after leaving the bay. The town of Hana has one hotel (the Hana Maui Hotel), several churches and two stores.

 

The road between Keanae and Hana was built of stone in 1927, and was paved in 1962. The Hana Highway has 56 bridges, and over 600 curves!

Unless you simply must see Oheo Gulch, I would recommend turning back after seeing Hana.

51.7 – Koki Beach and Hamoa Beach – Alau Island is just offshore, and is a very picturesque “tropical island”, as well as being a bird sanctuary. Hamoa Beach is one of the most beautiful in Hawaii. Double back, then turn left back onto the main road. NOTE – Mile markers start counting downward beyond this point. The road becomes even narrower now – less than one lane wide! Be prepared to pull off to allow oncoming traffic get past you, and proceed very slowly.

46.8 – Wailua Falls 95 feet high.

44.0 – Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) – although there are not seven pools here, this is the common name for this lush tropical area.

43.0 – Kipahulu – Palapala Hoomau Church (built in 1857) and Charles Lindbergh’s grave.


Travel Tips

  • If you are driving the Hana Highway to the town of Hana, you should depart by no later than 9:00am. If you plan to travel past Hana to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) area, give yourself an extra hour (minimum). If you are leaving from the Lahaina/Kaanapali area, leave no later than 8:30am…earlier if you are going past Hana.
  • Take food with you for a picnic lunch and snacks along the way. Take water and/or soft drinks as well. There are no food stores once you pass the town of Paia, until you get to Hana.
  • Gas up your car by the time you get to Paia. There are no gas stations until you get to Hana.
  • If at all possible, have two drivers available to share the driving duties. (You will have to arrange this ahead of time with your car rental agency.) There are many sights to see along the Hana Highway, and there are often no places to stop – therefore the driver will miss much of this beautiful drive. Also, driver fatigue and stress can easily set in along this road, due to the many sharp turns, narrow lane widths, poor surface, rainy weather, steep drop offs, and other road hazards.
  • If you are considering going past Hana to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) area, double check your car rental agreement. Some forbid travel past Hana on this road.
  • Plan to encounter delays along the route. Delays are not uncommon, since the Hana Highway requires constant repairs by road crews.
Please don’t let these cautions deter you from travelling the Hana Highway. It is well worth the trip!