post

Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.

I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.

We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself. We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the observation deck, 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.

Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.

We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque is the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail where it was originally invented in Raffles’ Long Bar. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are accessible to the public.

post

Myanmar (Burma)

Feb 21, 2016 – Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

The Volendam is docked about an hour’s drive south of Yangon in the port city of Thilawa, which is as far up the shallow Rangoon River as ships dare go.

My shore excursion into Yangon takes most of the day. Our bus is a bit dodgy, but our driver and guide are great, and the driver has a helper, so we are well-served, and we are offered lots of bottled water in order to stay hydrated in the heat. The drive from the port to the city takes almost two hours each way through very heavy traffic. As we leave the port through Thilawa, we encounter early preparations for a pagoda festival. There are circus rides, lots of food stands, and people everywhere despite the festival not starting for several hours. We cross the Rangoon/Bago River over the bridge into the city of Yangon, where we pick up a police escort. So for the rest of the day, we arrive at each location like rock stars!

Our guide explains that the change in spelling for the city of Yangon (from Rangoon) and the country of Myanmar (from Burma) was done by the past military government to correct historical misspelling of the two place names into English. She tells us land is very expensive in Yangon, development is sporadic, and is dependant on foreign investment and (in the past) sponsorship by the military regime. There are lots of homeless dogs, who obviously have to scrounge for food, however some are fed and adopted from the Buddhist temples, so they are referred to as “wat dogs”, after the Burmese word for temple.

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

First stop is the Sule Pagoda, which is right in the center of the city. We don’t actually go into the pagoda, but we get to hang around Mahabandoola Garden for a few minutes, where there are lots of street food vendors. Next is the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, where we have some time to shop or just look around this massive market right in the centre of the city. There are clothes, shoes, precious and semi-precious gems and jewelry, inlaid wood, fabric, cosmetics and all sorts of handicrafts.

I’m glad to get out of the market, and go for lunch at the very elegant downtown hotel, the Sule Shangri-La. We are served (family style) a lovely Chinese meal with our choice of beverages, including beer or wine. I have a very nice lager-style local beer, and dine with several of my fellow passengers at big round tables. After lunch, our police escort takes us to the National Museum for a quick look at several interesting exhibits, including the 8-metre-tall golden Lion Throne used by the last Burmese King. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight of a very full day. One of the wonders of the religious world, this Buddhist spectacle was built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is located on the top of Singuttara Hill, so it is visible from all over the city, since the golden stupa is 100 metres tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; the largest diamond is 76 carats at the apex! The top three components (the Diamond Orb, The Vane and the Umbrella) consist of some 86,000 jewellery items weighing over 5 tonnes. The decorations on the main stupa were recently redone, with the precious stones coming completely from donations. The pagoda is covered in gold plate (not gold leaf).

Everyone, including tourists have to take shoes and socks off and be modestly dressed before taking the elevator from the entrance to the main plaza that surrounds this huge pagoda. Since it is the middle of the day, the tiles are hot in the midday Sun, however since they are marble, it is tolerable providing you don’t step on the black ones! I work my way around the plaza, which has huge numbers of temples and shrines on both sides of the plaza.

The faithful walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction (as do we), stopping at shrines and temples along the way. In particular, there are Planetary Posts, or shrines for each day of the week (two for Wednesday), just like there are buddhas for each day of the week. Speaking of Buddhas, there are worship halls and temples for the many different images of Buddhas surrounding the main stupa. Free wifi is available in the southeast area of the plaza, near the south stairway entrance.

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Our last stop of the day is to see the Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha. Again, we doff our shoes and socks before entering the compound. This statue is 68 metres (223 feet) long. Buddha’s feet are decorated with astrology and other symbols. There are lots of wat dogs and their pups lounging around the compound.

Our trip back to the ship uses back roads after we cross the river, since our guide and driver want to avoid the local pagoda festival being held on the main road in Thilawa. I hear later from other passengers that they were caught for almost an hour in the festival congestion. Although the back road we took was a bit rough, we were back onboard the ship by 5PM.

Feb 22, 2016 – Monday – Yangon, Myanmar

I spend most of the day aboard the ship at the dock, and leave at 4:30PM to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. The traffic is very congested south of the main bridge across the river, but we arrive at the pagoda in time for sunset when the lights illuminate all the gold on the structures. One benefit of visiting at night: the marble tiles on the plaza around the pagoda are cool. Yesterday, I was burning my bare feet as I walked around the pagoda in the midday Sun. The Moon is full, making this evening even more picturesque.

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

While walking around the pagoda, a young Burmese man strikes up a conversation with me, asking about my country, how long I am staying in the country, how I got here and where I’m going after leaving. He speaks very good English, so we have quite a conversation. Two monks also approach me later on, although they speak poor English. They have similar questions as the young man posed, but they also want me to go with them for some reason. Of course I decline, since I have no idea what they want, and I have no intention of finding out!

This evening, the Thilawa Music & Dance troupe perform traditional Burmese music, dance and acrobatics onboard the ship. Their music is kind of screechy, but the performances are very interesting and the costumes are ornate and colourful. The last number involves two guys inside a giant elephant costume! I take video of portions of the performance.

 

post

Walking tour & Paris at Night

September 18, 2014 – Thursday – Beaune to Paris, France

We leave the hotel in Beaune this morning and make the short drive to Paris, catching our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Sylvain drops us off a block away from our hotel and drives away for the last time. He was a great driver and was very good-humoured as well. Hotel Muguet is probably the nicest hotel we have stayed at on the entire trip, and I get to stay two extra nights here, leaving for home on Monday. I have a room facing the courtyard, so it is nice and quiet, and it’s air conditioned, which is needed to cope with Paris’ muggy weather right now.

We arrive a bit after noon, drop our bags off at the hotel, and quickly regroup to go on a walking tour of Paris and get an orientation of how to use the Paris Metro. First stop is Sainte Chapelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel, located near the Palais de la Cité (City Hall), on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris. It is currently being restored, but is very impressive both inside and out. It was built to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ, and functioned as his personal chapel.  It is very ornate inside; decorated in gold and huge stained glass windows.

Map of photos taken in Paris

Map of photos taken in Paris

Next stop is Notre Dame Cathedral, an historic Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. It is huge, and is an example of French Gothic Architecture, but not as impressively decorated inside as Sainte Chapelle. In fact, the interior is rather shabby in spots, showing the wear of so many people trouping through it. It was among the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports), which are particularly spectacular when the building it lit at night. There is a huge plaza in front of the cathedral. We regroup here and take the bridge across the Seine to the Latin Quarter.

We have dinner on our own in the Latin Quarter before regrouping at Pont Neuf for an evening river cruise on the Seine. We see many of the bridges on the Seine lit up at night, as well as Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and a multitude of bridges as we cruise along the river. There are huge numbers of people partying along the river. Many are just hanging out with bottles of wine, while others are in semi-organized dances.

The cruise along the Seine at night makes for an impressive end to a very long and tiring day. After returning on the Metro, we are all glad to arrive back at our hotel.

post

Bacharach & St. Goar

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

We arrive in the small town of Bacharach located on the Rhine River after driving the whole day from The Netherlands. We are staying in Hotel Kranenturm, a 700 year old structure which was one of the towers along the wall around the town. It was part of the city’s original rampart wall, and is just a few metres from the train tracks. Kurt and Fatima run the place. Fatima decorated the hotel, and Kurt is the chef.

I draw the room at the top of the tower (Prince’s Room #18), which means I have the most stairs to climb, but end up with one of the funkiest rooms with the best view of the river and the town and hills. Our group have drinks on the patio while the trains scream past us, and we also have dinner together in the hotel dining room.

September 3, 2014 -Wednesday – Bacharach & St. Goar

JoeTourist: Bacharach &emdash; Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

After breakfast in the hotel, we go on a walking tour of Bacharach with Herr Jung, an 83-year-old ex-schoolmaster with a great sense of humour. He takes us through the dark history of WWII from a German boy’s perspective (he was born in 1931). He was quite emotional at times, and everyone was very receptive to his message. He also led us on a walking tour of the town, highlighting the wine growing (which the region is famous for), the historic wall around the town, and interesting anecdotes about his personal friends and acquaintances.

After our walking tour, Sylvain drives us to St. Goar, a nearby town along the river where we do a walking tour of the Rheinfels Castle. This huge, historic castle was originally built in 1245, and withstood multiple sieges. The French invaders finally took over the castle without a fight and promptly destroyed most of it in 1797 during the French Revolution. Although the castle is considered to be in ruins, it is still very impressive as it sits on a hillside overlooking the Rhine River. A hotel is part of the castle.

Before we take a KD Rhine boat from St. Goar down the river to Bacharach, Jennifer leads us into playing “the name game” in the town square. We go around the group round-robin style, adding our names to the list of names, which everyone then has to recite (as a group). Of course, the list keeps getting longer, but the repetition helps us all remember each other’s names. The people in the square not in our group are amused by our antics!

The cruise down the river is great, since it gives us all time to rest our weary feet, and see the Rhine Valley and all the little towns, vineyards and numerous castles from a fresh perspective. We see: Loreley Rock (remember the old song “Sweet Loreley”?), Gutenfels and Schonburg castles, Liebfrauenkirche church, Burg Pfalzgrafenstein (a castle in the middle of the Rhine River), and the Oberwesel tower.

We arrive back in Bacharach late in the late afternoon. I go out with some of the group to a little restaurant on the main street only a block from our hotel and have a nice Jagerschnitzel, some Rhineland white wine, and a cappuccino to finish. Germans seem to serve cappuccino with a dollop of crème on top, so I have to ask for “plain, no crème”. Our all-American group is a lot of fun to be with, and this evening is no exception!

September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg

After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked, and we are off down the highway to Bavaria.

The advice from Rick Steves to pack light is a valuable lesson to be learned by travellers taking his tours, since there is no porterage and the hotels often have no elevators! Rick Steves tours do not issue name tags…you are expected to make an effort to remember everyone’s name.

post

Tahiti, French Polynesia

March 5, 2014 – Wednesday – Tahiti, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Off the Beaten Track: Tahiti by 4-Wheel Drive, which is another tour using 4X4 trucks, but this time to explore the interior of Tahiti. We drive along the north coast of Tahiti from Papeete to the Papenoo Valley, and then head inland up to the base of one of the volcano calderas, now covered in lush tropical vegetation, with a river and waterfalls. The river is used for hydropower generation, although the dams, reservoirs and power stations are very small by British Columbia standards. We return using the same route, marvelling at the huge rough surf crashing on the rocks and shoreline. Our final stop is at an outlook over Mataval Bay and its black beach, with the capital of Papeete and island of Moorea behind.

After lunch, I venture out to walk around Papeete for a few blocks. Everything is closed today, since it is Ash Wednesday (and Missionary Day), both a civic and religious holiday. There are a few restaurants open and a few tourist shops, but otherwise the city is closed for the day. The Vaima Shopping Center was newly opened when I was here in 1978, but it is closed for the holiday like most other retail. The afternoon heat is a killer, so I return to the air-conditioned ship.

JoeTourist: Tahiti &emdash; Tahiti Ora folkloric dance troupeThis evening there is a special folkloric Tahitian dance troupe the Showroom aboard ship: Tahiti Ora. They are top-notch, high-energy performers, and the room is packed for their single performance. After the show, the rain is pouring down outside. We have been incredibly lucky during out time in French Polynesia, since this is their rainy season. We seem to have been perpetually a day ahead of serious-looking rainstorms. See my photos of our scenic cruise along Raiatea and Taha’a for some major clouds and even a funnel cloud!

post

Guayaquil, Ecuador

Friday, December 9, 2011 – Day 19 – Guayaquil, Ecuador

Since I am staying aboard ship today, after breakfast I go outside to take photos from the Lower Promenade Deck and Deck 6 Forward as Rotterdam sits docked near Guayaquil. The Guayas River is an interesting and active transportation network. There is a dredge working practically alongside the Rotterdam, pumping river sludge onto a nearby island. The Ecuadorian navy ships glide by on a regular basis. There are a steady procession of private boats and tugs cruising by the Rotterdam, with people waving and taking photos, almost as though they never see cruise ships regularly. I make good progress reading my book in a recliner on the Lower Promenade Deck, and then later inside in the Library.

The ship leaves the dock precisely at 3PM; backing up beside a couple of docked container ships before turning around mid-stream to head out into the navigation channel. The Guayas River soon widens out considerably, and I see dolphins, Egrets, Pelicans, and other shorebirds. There are people in dugout canoes with primitive sails, and others in powerboats along the way. There are also lots of freighters anchored out in the river. I assume they are waiting for dock space. Among the numerous islands, there are some big shellfish growing operations – no doubt they are producing shrimp or crayfish. It takes Rotterdam almost four hours to clear the river and enter the saltwater of the Pacific, so we can be on our way to the next port of call, Manta, Ecuador.

My friends and I have some Becks beer on the Lido pool deck, which is very pleasant since the weather is warm despite being overcast. We decide to dine al fresco, having a simple meal from the Lido buffet as the ship proceeds down the Guayas River. A lovely way to end a day at leisure, as darkness descends.

post

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Sunday, November 27, 2011 – Day 7 – Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Although this is my fourth time visiting Costa Rica, this is my first time in Limon. I came closest to Limon on my first trip to Costa Rica when I took a boat up to Tortuguero National Park to stay in the jungle for a couple of days.

I signed up to take a shore excursion today, but I’m glad it doesn’t leave until 9AM because I am having a tough time getting motivated this morning. After having some breakfast and my cappuccino, I am finally ready to get out there. When our group leaves the ship to go on our excursion, we discover we will be transported in a big, honkin’ tandem wheeled bus that is so high off the ground, we have to climb a set of stairs that folds down out of the back of the bus. It is air-conditioned and the seats are quite comfortable. There are big windows, and I’m happy the bus is only about half full, so there is lots of room to spread out. Another bonus is the weather – no rain, but overcast so it’s not too hot. The locals tell us the last few days have seen pouring rain, so we are lucky, since the good weather holds for the whole day.

Eric is our guide and Jose is our driver. They are business partners, and built this vehicle from scratch on a GMC truck chassis. We head south along the coast and then turn inland, traveling along the Banano River past the little community of Bomba, which is where the pumping stations are located for Limon’s municipal water supply. We driver further along the Banano River and then stop for a walkabout. Eric points out all sorts of flora and fauna, include the Golden Orb spider, a Balsa tree, and a red Poison Dart frog.

JoeTourist: Puerto Limon &emdash; Ticos swimming in the freshwater near the Caribbean coastal beachWe carry on along the river and then turn off the road into a banana plantation, where we stop to have a snack and listen to Eric as he explains all about the banana business. Eric mixes a drink called a “Missile”, which is a local liquor called Guaro, a squeeze of local (sweet) lemon, and topped up with Fresca. I prefer to have a local Imperial beer, but those who try the Missile say it is very smooth and refreshing. The good weather is still holding as we return to the ship by 1:30PM. As we travel along the coast there are many Tico families swimming and playing along the shoreline since it is Sunday. Of course they all stop to wave when they see our bus – a bit of a contrast from my experience in Colombia, where the locals either ignored the tour bus or just stared at us.

It is a welcome relief to get back on board the ship, which is really starting to feel like a home away from home. We depart on time, with the First Officer piloting us this afternoon. We now head for the port of Colon to transit the Panama Canal tomorrow morning.

post

Te Kuiti & Waitomo Caves

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday -Rotorua to Te Kuiti, New Zealand

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today.

We are staying in Simply the Best B&B, a farm stay located in small community of Te Kuiti, which is located just a few minutes’ drive from Waitomo and the famous caves. This B&B offers pretty basic accommodation, so I’m not sure I agree with the name! We knew it was a farm stay (our first on this trip), but we were unprepared for our rooms having no closets or dressers, and having to share a bathroom. Their website states “3 double rooms with private bathrooms”, however only one of the three rooms has an en suite, and that room was not offered despite us requesting it. Also, there is no wireless Internet. The back bedroom my friends are staying in is very small – essentially only having room for the double bed, with nowhere to sit and relax. My room is a bit bigger with two single beds, a sofa, and two chairs, however it appears to be a converted TV or family room. It has a sliding door instead of a real door, which means I have limited privacy and no security.

Despite these negatives, Margaret, the B&B operator is a real gem. She is exceedingly helpful, and makes our stay in this part of the North Island rewarding. Margaret recommends two restaurants in town, so we pick the first one and give it a try for dinner this evening. The Riverside Lodge is in a lovely location right by the river; however it is basically a bar that serves food. There are smokers all around, so we sit outside on the patio. Everyone looks at us as though we are from outer space and the service is exceedingly slow (we wait an hour). The food is good once it arrives.

Nov 4, 2010 – Thursday – Te Kuiti

The day starts badly, since Margaret makes us instant coffee this morning. She also serves us a continental breakfast instead of the full English cooked breakfast we have had at all the other B&Bs so far. The fresh fruit and rhubarb compote for the cereal is nice, and the endless toast and homemade preserves are appreciated, however the instant coffee is dreadful.

Marokopa Falls

Marokopa Falls

At Margaret’s urging, we drive out to the coast on Highway 37 to Marokopa, where there is a black iron sand beach. The beach and estuary area is quite spectacular. On the way out on the highway, we also stop to see Marokopa Falls, which is 15-20 metres high…an amazing sight. On the return trip, we see Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a land bridge caused by a river eroding limestone to punch a gorge through the rock. These are both great sights, and they are no cost. On our way home, we checkout the Waitomo Caves, but don’t go in since Margaret has booked us into the competing outfit Spellbound, which she promises is a better glow worm cave experience. We check out the competition while we are here, and find the rates are significantly more expensive than Spellbound. After we return home, Margaret makes us tea, which is very much appreciated.

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

We go out to a nice restaurant tonight called Kai Cafe, which is run by a local young man and his French wife (who does the cooking). The meals are a blend of French cooking and local tastes. I have the Filet steak, which is a “Scotch” cut (unlike any filet I’ve had in Canada), however it is a very nice steak cooked to order, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and accompanied by roasted potatoes, fresh steamed green beans, and a grilled tomato. My friends rave about their main course selections as well.

Pavlova is offered for dessert, which we all agree is better than the Cherries Jubilee we were served aboard ship in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a Cappuccino, which is nicely made. The young man who runs the place is thrilled that we are happy with our experience. I add my favourable rating after returning home. Now called: Bosco Cafe on TripAdvisor

Nov 5, 2010 – Friday – Waitomo Caves

JoeTourist: Glowworm Caves &emdash; Exit to caveToday after breakfast, we leave for a 10am booking at Spellbound, the glow worm cave and dry cave tour located in Waitomo. It only takes us 10 minutes to drive from Te Kuiti, and the tour starts promptly at 10am – ending around 2pm. Our guide Norm gives us a terrific experience along the way. First he drives us about 20 minutes west of Waitomo to the entrance to a private cave which has a stream running through it. We don a hardhat with a light, get in a zodiac boat and slowly go into the cave to see the glow worms. We learn these are actually maggots, however they are tiny. They do indeed glow, and glow brightly enough to light the inside of the cave once we turn off our headlamps and become dark adapted. The glow reflects off the water, and I can see the other 12 people in the boat.

Norm hand propels the boat using an overhead cable, taking us within a few metres of a small waterfall before returning us to the landing. We then walk back to the entrance, leave our hardhats, and walk a few metres to the “coffee shop” where Norm makes us instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate made from hot water stored in thermos. Biscuits to dunk complete the offerings. Toilets are also available nearby. There are wild Turkeys roaming in the pasture as we walk for five minutes to the dry cave, where Norm tells us he was one of the founders.

It is a superb cave with a walkway that goes for perhaps 300 metres or so. There is a large gallery, some air shafts, other entrances to see, and of course lots of stalagmites and stalactites. There are also some animal bones: some you would expect such as farm animals and possums; however there is also a skeleton of a Moa, an extinct bird which had a trachea, hip bones and big thigh bones. After exiting the dry cave, Norm takes us on a drive over some farmland along the ridgelines, and finally returns us to the starting point.

This evening we return to Kai (now called the Bosco Cafe) for our last dinner in New Zealand (and of the trip). I have the fish of the day (Snapper), which comes with oven roasted potatoes, green beans, and a very nice pesto topping, as well as some salad around the plate: a quite novel presentation with the salad. When we return to the B&B I get serious about packing – tossing out heavy paper and other stuff that is now useless. We settle our accounts with Margaret for our stay, however she only accepts cash, so that makes it a bit inconvenient. All the other B&Bs accept credit card payments.

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – New Zealand to Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave for the Auckland airport by 8:30am.

Hilo, Hawai’i

October 20-24, 2009 – Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii

Hilo is on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. which is the wet side of the island. Although the temperatures are nice and warm, it rains in Hilo virtually every day, and the area has the tropical vegetation to prove it. Hilo is a contrast to Kailua-Kona on the other side of the Big Island, since it is less tourist-oriented, giving the visitor a glimpse of the Old Hawaii.

Kilauea Volcano is less than one hour’s drive south from Hilo, so I made several trips to see the sights in Volcanoes National Park and nearby areas in my rental car.

The North Coast of the Big Island is rugged, tropical, and mostly inaccessible, however the road along the coastline north from Hilo provides easy access to some of the gulches and valleys, rivers and streams, spectacular waterfalls, and of course the coastline itself before the road veers off to Waimea. Stopping along the way will provide you with a glimpse of how Hawaiians live day-to-day.

The Imiloa Astronomy Center is located in Hilo, and presents astronomy to visitors using interactive displays, a planetarium, special exhibits, and ties astronomy to Hawaiian customs and culture. Imiloa is run by the University of Hawaii on behalf of the big multi-national observatories located atop Mauna Kea. Worth a half day visit. Admission charged.

Hilo Bay & the shoreline along Kalanianaole Avenue presents fascinating vistas of the geography surrounding Hilo, so it is a good idea for visitors to familiarize themselves with the bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. There are numerous civic parks along Kalanianaole Avenue, and all are only a few minutes drive from anywhere in Hilo. Tidal ponds provide safe and easy access for everyone to play in the ocean, while just a few metres away are rocks and surf to challenge even the most capable swimmers and surfers. Coconut Island, Banyan Drive and Liluokalani Gardens are all interesting destinations worth spending some time at…in fact, take a picnic lunch (“sack lunch” in Hawaiian), and plan to spend the day exploring Hilo Bay.

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots Pools are both located right in Hilo on the Wailuku River, which flows into Hilo Bay. Although not as spectacular as other falls and rivers you might find on the Big Island, they are easy to get to, and certainly worth a look.

Despite being an amateur astronomer, I didn’t manage to visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. It is a fairly easy drive from Hilo, and offers free nightly star gazing from this station located at the 9,500′ level on Mauna Kea. Please note, the big observatories are not located here – they are near the summit at the 14,500′ level! If you plan to go to the Visitor Centre, take a winter coat and check their website to ensure the weather will be clear. It may be raining in Hilo, but it could easily be clear on the mountain (or vice versa). I did visit the top of Mauna Kea and the observatories a few years later in 2014.


JoeTourist: Hilo &emdash; Breakfast at the B&BOctober 20-23, 2009 – I stayed at the Old Hawaiian Bed & Breakfast for four nights. The place is situated in a nice part of town near the Wailuku River, and is owned and operated by Lory & Stewart Hunter. Lory’s superb breakfasts are served on the lanai (patio), and include fresh fruit smoothies, fresh baked pastries, cooked eggs, tropical fruit cocktail, and of course, Kona coffee. There are three rooms to choose from, and all guests share access to the large lanai, telephone, fridge, microwave, and high speed wireless Internet. There are no televisions in the rooms, so bring a notebook computer if watching videos or the news is important to you. JoeTourist recommended.

post

Johannesburg to Hazyview

October 27, 2008 – Monday – Johannesburg to Hazyview

We board our coach after breakfast this morning, and end up waiting for a half hour while a couple pull their bags apart in the parking lot looking for something terribly important.  Eventually we leave and learn our “Coach Captain” (driver) is called Phineus.  He proves to be a very good driver: good-humored, and always on time.  Our bus is quite new, very comfortable, air conditioned, and has a washroom and a fridge.

JoeTourist: Johannesburg to Hazyview &emdash; Freshly ploughed farm fields - red dirt

Freshly ploughed farm fields – red dirt

As we roll through Pretoria and onto South Africa’s national road system, we can see this is an excellent transportation system, with toll booths on certain sections.  The M4 divided highway takes us past Cullinan (some famous diamonds mined here), Witbank (surface coal mining & refining), Middelburg and Belfast (forestry & farming) before we turn off and end up in Lydenburg.  Most of us go to Wimpy’s for lunch – a fast food joint, South African style.

South Africa is home to the largest man-made forest in the world (140 sqkm). We learn that Pine trees are harvested after 10 years, with the trees growing to 12m high. Eucalyptus are also used in some areas, however they require more water, so they are falling out of favor. We see a steel mill just outside of Lydenburg.

JoeTourist: Johannesburg to Hazyview &emdash; Eroded rock formations on the Treur River at Bourke's Luck Potholes

Eroded rock formations on the Treur River at Bourke’s Luck Potholes

Panorama Route – Our first scenic stop is the viewpoint at the Blyde River Canyon, where we can fully appreciate the 800 metre drop to the canyon floor. Across the canyon are the “Three Rondavels”, huge round rocks that look like African huts. Our next stop is Bourke’s Luck Potholes, where the Treur River has eroded strange cylindrical potholes in the sandstone.

Our last stop in this area is God’s Window, a dramatic vantage point to view the Drakensberg Mountain escarpment with beautiful views of the lowveld, and even Kruger National Park is visible on a clear day. This is where the quirky movie The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) was shot.

JoeTourist: Johannesburg to Hazyview &emdash; View of the Lowveld and escarpment from God's Window

View of the Lowveld and escarpment from God’s Window

We arrive late in the afternoon in Hazyview after our first full day on the road. Hippo Hollow Country Estate is located on the tranquil Sabie River, where the resort’s namesake hippos regularly graze on the front lawn. My cottage is quite luxurious, having a king sized bed on the main floor and two single beds in a loft. My patio overlooks the Sabie River. There are very few mosquitoes, which seems strange with all the vegetation around and the slow flowing river only a few metres away…not that I’m complaining!

JoeTourist: Hazyview &emdash; Shangaan River Club - the Chief

The Chief

7pm – Shangaan River Club – This is a cultural experience that is staged right on the grounds of Hippo Hollow, consisting of tribal drumming, singing and dancing, followed by a traditional African feast. The chief of the local village is the master of ceremonies, and he introduces his troupe of orphans who sing and dance. He is very animated, talking to us for well over three quarters of an hour before the performance begins.

He explains how he is personally responsible for the care of the orphans, many of which are the result of AIDS killing both of their parents. They support themselves by this arrangement with the Hippo Hollow Country Estate, so I’m pleased that Thompsons has chosen to include this performance in the tour. I shoot some high definition video using “night mode” on my Canon HV-20, which works quite well until I run out of video tape! Despite this glitch, I have enough video to capture the event.

The feast of culture served buffet style after the performance is very good. There are lots of choices from the usual soups and salads, as well as a nice selection of African meat dishes that are served from traditional cast iron pots. Fruit, dessert, and drinks are also included. This is all served under a massive boma, or thatched building right next to the performance area. It wasn’t just our group who were taking in the feast, however the staff coped with the crowds quite efficiently. All of my group seemed to enjoy themselves, and everyone left the tables fully satiated.

JoeTourist® recommends the Shangaan River Club.