Thailand – Day 7 & 8 – Koh Samui

My flight was at 8:10am so I had to wake up quite early (5:30am). I had breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was a delicious omelette, lots of bacon, roasted tomatoes, some nice cheese, and some coffee (real coffee, none of that instant stuff I’ve been having at most hotels).

I proceeded to walk to my gate, which was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. Security is very quick and well organized at the airport. On my way to the gate I decided to use the washroom and then something funny happened… you know how we take it for granted that there is toilet paper in every stall in the bathrooms in North America… yeah my luck ran out for the first time here… I was looking around and couldn’t find any and I thought to myself what the heck am I going to do. I then left my stall and was about to leave when I noticed a single roll with a sign above it near the sink. The sign says it’s to limit consumption of toilet paper… I wouldn’t agree because I took 4 times as much as I needed because I didn’t want to have to go back for seconds.

The flight to Koh Samui was on time and was very smooth. I took a time lapse video of the takeoff and landing of the flight. During the flight I was even served a real meal, even though the flight was only 45 minutes long; similar and just as impressive as my experience with Qantas in 2016 when I was in Australia.

After landing in Koh Samui I rented a Nissan Micra from National Car Rental for about $200 for the three days. I did this over renting a motorcycle for a variety of reasons; it was supposed to rain, and I didn’t want to die. The fatality rate on the roads in Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia is phenomenally high!

I drove around the entire island and stopped numerous times to see a bunch of temples, two mummified monks, a hike to a waterfall, and to eat some delicious Pad Thai.

One important thing that I have to mention that completely makes me sick to my stomach is the animal trekking that occurs all over Thailand, as well as the rest of Southeast Asia from what I’ve read. Today I saw a baby elephant chained up next to its mother doing a circuit at a trekking place called Na Mueang Safari Park. The elephants were miserable. Please don’t support any of these trekking places if you end up visiting Thailand. Even Bangkok Airways announced prior to landing I Koh Samui that they don’t support it and recommend to not partake in the activities.

i then drove to the resort I was going to be staying at for the next two nights; Bandara Resort & Spa, an Asian themed boutique resort. The check in procedure was amazing; I was greeted with a cool refreshing towel soaked in essential oils, and presented a delicious drink.

In the evening I had some Tom Yum soup, and was still hungry so I walked across the street to a pizza shop, which was delicious!

I ended the evening watching a fire show at CoCo Tams, which is known for its night life on the beach, which was an incredible experience especially with the great music!

The next day was a day of relaxation by the pool and on the beach. I even went for a traditional Thai oil aromatherapy massaged for 450 baht ($18)

In the evening I walked to the night market near CoCo Tams to check out what was for sale. You could purchase almost anything you could think of; $0.25 socks, $1 underwear, $50 knockoff Bose speakers, knickknacks, etc.

I then relaxed at CoCo Tams listening to the music before calling it a night at around midnight.

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Hawaii – Oahu & Big Island

I’m till trying to catch up on all of my blog posts. I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Hawaii. This was my second time visiting Hawaii, last time being my friend Marc’s wedding in 2016. This time I set out to explore Oahu and the Big Island.

Originally it was a solo trip for the first half, but on my flight was a beautiful woman named Myriam. Turns out she worked for the same airline (Air Canada) I was flying on and was also flying Solo because her friend had cancelled going on the trip with her. We got chatting and turns out we wanted to do similar things. She didn’t have a rental car or a ride from the airport so I offered to drive her to her hotel. We exchanged numbers and ended up meeting up the next day and ended up spending the majority of the rest of the trip together.

We travelled around Oahu for 5 days exploring the entire island, going snorkeling many times, drinking great drinks, eating great food, and visiting the very memorable Pearl Harbor site.

When it was time for me to go to the Big Island I asked Myriam what she was going to do and she said she’d come along with me to the Big Island. We travelled together on Hawaiian Airlines over to Hilo, picked up the rental car, got some groceries and proceeded to the rental house that I had booked. The house was absolutely beautiful, despite a slightly nosey host that lived above. Myriam stayed with me for a few days before we picked up my friend Krystylyn, who was going to stay for a week.

We explored around the Big Island together before it was time for Myriam to go. I dropped her off at the airport, and then spent the remaining 5 days with my friend Krystylyn. We did a ton of snorkeling, ate some wonderful food, and saw some amazing sights.

Below are some pictures from this memorable trip.

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September 3rd 2016 – New Zealand Day 14

Today I had a nice lazy start to the day. I woke up around 8:00am without an alarm clock. I had turkeys “gobbling” to wake me up instead. I worked on my blog, made breakfast, and had coffee, before driving about one kilometre to the Waitomo glow worms.

Having rented my camper through a company called THL I was given free entry to any of the glow worm caves. I had lots of time so I decided to visit all three of them.
The first one, Ruakuri Cave, or “den of dogs” was first discovered around 400-500 years ago when the Maori discovered wild dogs and followed them to the cave entrance, where the wild dogs were trying to make their home.
The cave entrance was used by the Maori as a burial site, and is thus a sacred area that has now been protected. The cave was originally open to the public from 1904 until 1988, when it was closed due to a legal and financial dispute. It was reopened in 2005. A man-made entrance was built between 2003 and 2005 with an impressive spiral drum entrance, so that the sacred original entrance would not be used. This also make it the only wheelchair accessible cave in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cave tour started the amazing decent down this engineering marvel of a spiral entrance. I believe the height was approximately 20 metres tall, but don’t quote me on that.
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The tour then took the group through a maze of caves that had heights between 2 metres to nearly 20 metres tall. It was absolutely amazing. There were glow worms spread out in different areas of the caves.
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The limestone formations in the caves occurred when the region was still under the ocean, approximately 30 million years ago. The caves began forming when earth movement caused the limestone bend and nickel under the ocean and rise above the sea floor. As the limestone was exposed to the air it cracked and weakened allowing for water to flow through, slowly dissolving the limestone over millions of years, forming the huge caves.
The cave formations; stalactites (grow on the top) and stalagmites (grow on the ground) grew from water dripping from the ceiling or flowing over the walls leaving behind limestone deposits.
Glow worms are various groups of insect larvae and adult larviform females that glow through bioluminescence.
I then visited the Aranui cave, opened in 1911, which had more cave formations, some even more grand than the ones in the Raukuri caves! The Aranui cave didn’t have any glow worms though.
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The last cave was the original Waitomo cave, opened in 1889! This cave tour was really special. It felt like something out of a movie. The tour takes you through the caves, which people over the last 125 years have unfortuneatly ruined most of the cave formations. The tour gets very special after about 200 metres, because you then board a boat in the dark, which the guide uses guide wires to guide the boat through this most amazing array of glow worms. There was thousands upon thousands of glow worms and the reflection of them on the water below was out of this world. Sadly no photography is allowed in this cave out of respect of the Maori’s.
After the glow worm caves I decided to drive about a half hour away to Mangapohue Bridge, and Marakopa Waterfalls. Managapohue is the remains of what was formerly a cave, but mostly fell down.
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I decided to camp at the same spot as last night because it was nice, and close by. When I parked my camper the campsite manager Shelly came over and we talked for about an hour and she said to come over tomorrow morning and she’ll show me how the boat and the plane history and how they came to be at this site.
I had a fairly early night and ended up going to sleep at around 8:30pm.
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August 28th 2016 – New Zealand Day 8

Today I struggled to wake up. I was pretty tired, so I guess I must not have had a good sleep. I woke up at 7:30am and had a lazy start. I made myself eggs, cheese, and ham on toast for breakfast, served with a cup of coffee.

My first stop today was Hells Gate, which I tried to visit yesterday. Hell’s Gate is a geothermal attraction that has the world’s largest mud volcano, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, and about 30 hot pools. It reminded me a lot of my trip to Iceland, but also in a different way. Iceland had pools that were more blue/green colour in hue, and these one’s were more black/yellow in colour. It all has to do with the amount of sulphur, and the type of effluent. I opted out on a mud bath because I was going to visit some other geothermal attractions, and wanted to save my money for those.

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After visiting Hells Gate I drove to the next geothermal attraction that I wanted to visit called Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Waimangu is the only geothermal system in the world whose surface activity can be traced down to an exact day, in this case June 10 1886. An extremely violent volcanic eruption occured, causing a series of craters and allowed geothermal fluid already present underground a direct passage to the surface of the earth. I took a one and a half hour walk through the valley and saw the beautiful Southern Crater, Frying Pan Lake, and Inferno Crater. Southern Crater was formed during the 1886 eruption and is about 50 metres deep. The crater isn’t active, and is thus a cold pool except for some warm ground and some small mud pools at its north-eastern end.

Frying Pan Lake was formed on April 1 1917 when Echo Crater erupted, causing a deep and enlarged crater that quickly accumulated water. The lake is fairly acidic, with an average pH level of 3.5, and is fairly hot reaching boiling temperatures at the surface of the lake. There is a small river that flows from the north-eastern side of the lake.

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My personal favorite was Inferno Crater, which is a pale blue lake that is highly acidic, with a pH level of 2.1, and a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius. The lake follows a complicated rhythmic cycle of shallow recessions occurring every few days, followed by deeper recessions at longer intervals. It’s common behaviour is to overflow for two to three days, recede about eight metres for about fifteen days, partially refill over three to four weeks, oscillate for a while, and then overflow again. White silica deposits make where the overflow level is.

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At the end of the walk a bus can pick you up, but the bus only runs every hour or so. I was lucky and arrived only a few minutes before a bus arrived.

After catching a bus to the top I was in need of some food because it was way past my lunch time. I had an apple and an orange, as well as a ham and cheese sandwich.

I wasn’t sure what to do next so I checked the GPS provided with my camper, as well as Google. I got quite a bit of information that interested me. My first stop was Ohaaki geothermal power station. I wasn’t allowed to enter, but I took some nice photo’s of the plant. When I was in Iceland you were allowed to have geothermal power plant tours at their power plants. I went on two with my father when I was there last year. Ohaaki is unique because it is the only power station of its kind in New Zealand, with a 105 metre tall natural draft cooling tower. The other power plants all use fan coolers, or water cooling. The power plant was originally constructed in 1989 and had a generating capacity of 104 MW, but over the years this has declined to 65 MW, due to a decline in the steam field. This is common with geothermal power plants. A way to mitigate this is to re-inject the effluent back into the ground when done with it, or to use a blended cycle co-generation, where smaller turbines run off intermediate and low pressures leftover after the main turbine has extracted what it can from the steam.

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My next stop was Aratiatia Rapids, which had a short five minute walk to a lookout to see the rapids. Technically the rapids are not always prevalent due to the dam constructed for the Aratiatia hydro-electric power station in 1964. The dam construction meant that no water flowed over the rapids, but several times per day the dam gates are opened which restores the rapids to normal operations. These rapids are also used by local companies for white water rafting.

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After visiting Aratiatia Rapids I headed towards Taupo Lake, which is where most of New Zealand’s geothermal power stations are located. I stopped at Wairakei geothermal power station and took a few photos. This is the largest geothermal power station in New Zealand at 161 MW. It uses all the latest technologies such as effluent re-injection, and blended cycle co-generation. I also took a photo of the bridge next to the power station, because I thought it looked nice.

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The last stop of the day was Haku Falls, which are fast and furious. While I was photographing the falls a jet boat was blazing around at the bottom with some pretty thrilled customers screaming and laughing.

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It was time to find a place to sleep for the night. I picked a great spot right in front of Taupo Lake on the north shore. I had a beautiful view of the sunset, a few hundred ducks as company, and even free wifi!

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August 27th 2016 – New Zealand Day 7

Today I woke up at 7:30am. For breakfast I made an egg skillet with a bunch of vegetables, served with coffee.

Today was a slow lazy drive down to Rotorua. I stopped along the side of the road for lunch before continuing on my way to Rotorua. My first stop was the Government Gardens where I spent a considerable time walking around and admiring the buildings.
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There was a path near the Government Gardens that followed along Lake a Rotorua that I took. The path followed the thermally active area on the south side and brought me to an area called Sulphur Point. The view was quite spectacular and reminded me a lot of my Iceland trip a few years ago. Iceland has a very special place in my heart and now New Zealand does too! I’m quite fascinated with geothermal activity!
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I continued along the path to a beautiful spot that had a lot of ducks and birds. They were very used to being around humans so didn’t mind getting up close. I got a few cute photos of them.
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After this I got back in my camper and drove to Okere falls. I did pass a sign on my right side for Hells Gate, which I planned on going to after, but more on that later.
Okere Falls had a few lookout points on what was about an hour return trip. My sister had gone on a white water raft down these very falls earlier on in the year when she visited New Zealand. The views were spectacular and the rafting looked like it would have been a lot of fun. I showed up too late in the day to do any rafting, but the views were still good. There was previously a hydroelectric power station here for Rotorua with an installed capacity of 200 kW. The power station was decommissioned in 1939. The river and falls are a very popular spot for white water rafting now!
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Further along the trail I came to some steps called Hinemoa’s Steps which led me down to Tutea’s Cave, where Maori women and children would make their way down by rope to hide out in times of war.
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I continued along the path to Trout Pool, which wasn’t all that exciting. It was time to head back to the camper! Upon getting back to the camper I decided I should investigate Hells Gate, but by the time I arrived I was told that I wouldn’t have enough time to view it and enjoy it. They told me to come back at 9:00am tomorrow.
It was now 5:00pm and time to find a parking spot. I found a quiet spot where only three campers were allowed to park in Rotorua. This area was the most most desirable spot because it was free and didn’t smell like sulphur like the majority of other spots.
My sister told me that Rotorua was a great place to get some really good savoury pies, so I went out in search of some, but sadly Rotorua seems to shut down after 5:00pm, except for the one block designated for night life. There was only very expensive  restaurants ($30-40 plates) open when I went searching. I took a pass, but instead prepared myself a really nice chuck steak with roasted garlic, and roasted vegetables. I had a nice 2011 bottle of Merlot to pair with it, and it was delicious!
Tomorrow I will explore Hells Gate, and more geothermal activity in the area, before heading to Lake Taupo!

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August 22nd 2016 – New Zealand Day 2

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I decided to set an alarm clock because today was a fair amount of driving. I made myself a skillet of vegetables and eggs, and then hit the road. The first stop, only a few kilometres away, was Whangarei Falls. The view was absolutely spectacular! There was a 1.5km circular loop to view the falls from beneath, which I took. I tried to get some good photo’s from below, but the sun wasn’t angled properly and it was fairly misty.

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The next stop roughly an hour away was Pahia, where I parked my campervan and walked around for about an hour. There was a really pretty church called St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

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The next stop, which I came across by accident, was Haruru Falls. These falls were fairly short, but quite wide.

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After visiting Haruru Falls i put Cape Reinga in my GPS, and started heading towards there. It was going to take roughly about 2.5 hours, but I knew I would come across other things along the way. The first place I stopped at was Coopers Beach, where I made myself some coffee and Thai curry soup, which was absolutely delicious. I have quite the love for Thai food, so this hit the spot!

The next unscheduled stop was 90 mile beach. My sister had told me about this, and lets just say words can’t even describe this beach. The beach is spectacular! Each entrance to the beach is very different. The south is miles and miles of beautiful white sandy beach, and the north is lots of massive sand dunes.

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After visiting 90 mile beach I visited Houhora, and Rarawa Beach. Houhora had a nice view, and Rarawa Beach had some of the most beautiful white sand I have ever seen.

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The next stop, which I came across was the sand dunes on Te Paki stream road. I’m exceptionally glad that I visited this because I saw a beautiful bee hive collection along the way, and the sand dunes were even bigger than the ones I have seen in Nevada. The views from the top were spectacular. I even rode a sand board down a steep one! Sand boarding is a lot of fun, but a bit scary, because you have no control over the speed!

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The last and final stop of today was Cape Reinga to watch the sunset. The sunset was quite beautiful, and the pictures don’t quite do it justice. It was raining out at sea, so it was blocking a fair amount of the sun, but some was still shining through.

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It was 6:30 now so I had to find somewhere to stay for the night. The GPS in my campervan has all the camp sites in New Zealand listed, so I looked on the GPS and found one close by that was actually right on the beach near Cape Reinga for only $6. Tapotupotu camp site is on the honour system, but I was honest and paid (well I was 10 cents short…). I made myself a salad for dinner, and had some leftover pasta.

I figured out a few things about my campervan that didn’t quite make sense earlier on. I was wondering why my waste water tank wasn’t registering anything so I went outside and looked, and it appears that Britz forgot to close the waste water valve. Don’t worry because it is only grey water; the toilet is separate! I closed the valve and now everything is functioning properly. I also figured out why my hot water heater wasn’t working, and fixed that. I had an air bubble in the system. I had a nice hot shower, and then settled into bed.

Tomorrow I’m going to head back towards Auckland, and I will need to find somewhere to fill up with water as I’m down to less than 25 percent. Britz recommends every 2-3 days that I visit an actual full service camp site. These camp sites typically cost $15-20 so I will try and stretch to 3 days whenever possible.

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August 12th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 3 of 10

Today we got to wake up a bit later than usual; this time we had to be on the road by 8:00am. I woke up at around 6:00am, and did my blog on my laptop, and then took photo’s of the sunrise. Alex asked me if I had vegemite before and I said yes but I thought it was disgusting. She said most people do it incorrectly, and that I should try it the way that she does it. She said the trick is butter, and way less than you think you need. I tried some and I liked it quite a bit actually.
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We got on the road a bit late today because of some arguments over who wanted window seats, and who wanted the front seats. Finally we got on the road around 8:15am. Our first stop was Adelaide River to refuel and get some coffee. Adelaide River had a lot of people flee to it from Darwin in 1942 when Darwin was attacked.
After refueling we headed towards Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls, with a few stops along the way. We also learned a lot of pretty interesting facts from Alex. To get to Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls we had to drive on Rum Jungle Road. Rum Jungle Road received its name from the nickname that a group of men received when they failed to show up for one of their rum deliveries. Rum deliveries were frequent nature during the gold rush, and a group of gentlemen were doing rum runs in the area, but failed to show up one day for one of their deliveries. Turns out they drank all the rum and went on a three day binger, and were have said to be caught in the rum jungle, and thus the road they frequently travelled received that name.
Along the way to Buley Rockhole we also passed some purple Turkey Bush, which can actually be used as a natural insect repellant by rubbing the leaf your skin. Some people even use the plant as a hallucinogen. Next we passed some magnetic termite pounds. They point north and south, with flat sides to the east and west. The sun shines on them in the morning and afternoon, and keeps the mound at an almost constant temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. The termites that build these mounds eat grass and dirt, and use their poop, grass, dirt, and saliva to build their mounds. We also learned that authentic Didgeridoo’s are made from wood that termites have eaten the inside out. Eventually we came to Buley Rockhole, where we swam for a white, and then we went onto Florence Falls, where we swam for a while, and took a short walk through a heavily treed and plants area.
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After that we went to Wangi Falls for lunch, where we had wraps made from leftovers, as well as some tuna, corn, and bean mix. I made my wrap out of leftover sausages. After lunch I helped wash dishes, and pack up the truck. We then went swimming in the lake underneath the falls. The water was actually quite warm compared to the other places that we stopped at, as well as quite shallow. A few of us then got coffee, and treats for the journey back to Darwin.
Alex dropped us off at the Youth Shack, where we are going to stay the night until the next leg of the journey. Five of our group of 16 will not be joining us on the next leg. I checked in and got the key to my private room, which I’m very glad I upgraded to because some of my tour travel mates showed me their rooms and they were really bad. Alex phoned ahead and got us some seats for dinner at a place called Monsoons, where for $15 I purchased a rump steak with beer, which was delicious. Ten of us ended up showing up for dinner, which was nice. We had dinner, had some drinks, and I said bye to the people that had to leave for the airport to go elsewhere. I also ended up doing some laundry, because I doubt I will have time or the capability to do it on the next two legs of the outback tour.
Check back tomorrow for the next part of my adventure!

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