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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

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.

Marina Bay Sands hotel

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. Our group have passes to go to the Observation Deck, some 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 high vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos in Singapore, 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 Cloud Forest - Gardens by the Bay
The Cloud Forest – Gardens by the Bay

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. After lunch, we see the gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque, 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.

Joe with a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel
Joe with a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail while our group relaxes in Raffles’ Long Bar where this cocktail was originally invented. 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 open to the public.

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Rotorua to Te Kuiti

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

John beside the Pouakani Toara Tree
John beside the Pouakani Toara Tree

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today. Along the way near Mangakino, we stop to see the Pouakani Toara Tree. We stop at the nondescript entrance located on Highway 30, and walk for 10 minutes to see this giant tree in the forest. It is immense…similar to the trees we saw in Costa Rica on the jungle walk. It is the largest Totara tree recorded in New Zealand, so it is certainly worth a look. Speaking of looking, the tree is so large it is difficult to see the whole thing from the forest floor.

We drive beside Lake Whakamaru and climb a viewpoint for a grand perspective of the lake and valley below. Massive Mount Pureora claims the horizon to the south as we drive westward to the little town of Te Kuiti.

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! 

Sheep on the hills behind the Te Kuiti B&B
Sheep on the hills behind the Te Kuiti B&B

We knew this 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, but I can’t say we enjoyed ourselves.

Limahuli Gardens, Kaua’i, Hawaii

January 17, 2001 – Limahuli Gardens, Kaua’i, Hawaii

This botanical garden is located in Ha’ena, near the end of the north shore road. Be sure to allow yourself over an hour (two hours is better) to explore these botanical gardens. You don’t have to be interested in plants to appreciate the rare window to ancient Hawai’i which Limahuli Gardens offers its visitors.

Only basic facilities are available: composting toilets are located at the visitors’ center, drinking water is supplied along the way, and a guide book is part of the modest admission fee. Mosquitoes can be a problem in this wet area (Skin-So-Soft is provided), and rain showers are frequent but usually brief (ponchos and umbrellas are provided). Please stay on the well-marked pathway provided, and be sure to stay hydrated by sipping water from each station where it is provided for your use. Parts of the path are steep, and may not be suitable for those with mobility issues or certain medical conditions. Access beyond the parking lot for those who have limited mobility can be a problem, so check with the facility for current info.

Makana Mountain towers above Lumahuli, and was given the name Bali Hai by the producers of the movie South Pacific. In Hawaiian “Makana” means “gift”, giving us a clue to the importance of this mountain in ancient Hawaiian life. Makana was used for the ‘oahi fire-throwing ceremony, where light, dry logs were set aflame and flung off the mountaintop. The strong winds would carry the firebrands as far as a mile out to sea. This ceremony was reserved for very special occasions.

Pohaku-o-Kane means Stone of Kane. Ancient Hawaiian legend tells us this rock is very significant. Kane (the rock) and his brother and sister were rolling around on the ocean floor long before humans inhabited Hawaii. They all liked Kaua’i and decided to stay here. His brother and sister fell asleep on the shore nearby, but this rock was determined to climb to the top of the ridge. He tried and tried, but each time he fell back until Kane (a Hawaiian god) helped him to the top of the mountain ridge. In return, the rock promised to remain awake and watchful, and report everything he saw to Kane. Personally, I believe the legend – what other explanation can there be for such a large rock to be perched so precariously atop a high ridge, and remain there for so long?

Lumahuli is a special place which gives me good feelings. Take the opportunity to rest for awhile at the Lookout. Gaze around to fully appreciate the natural beauty, and soak up some of your own good feelings from this place to carry with you in your travels through these special islands.