A Travellerspoint blog


Christmas 2012

sunny 30 °C

As Canadian ex-pats living in Australia, we have a goal of doing a lot of travelling in Asia; and finally got started over Christmas 2012 with a trip to Bali. We only had a week to travel, which we knew would not be enough, so we decided to do a few things well, and leave some other sight seeing and tourist destinations for "next time".

We found a good deal on Living Social for a gorgeous and quiet resort in Gianyar (we were the only guests for 4 nights!), which is about 20 minutes from Ubud. The rooms, pool and hospitality at XL Vision Villas (http://www.xlvisionvillas.com/default.asp) was fabulous. We enjoyed a leasurely breakfast and swim in the mornings, before heading out in the afternoon for some shopping, culture and dining out in Ubud.

We met great friends from Canada at the resort, and they had already been travelling in Bali for about 3 weeks before we got there, so they were well adjusted to Bali life. They had also rented a car, which was great for us, considering that the resort is in a quiet, remote area. The traffic around Ubud is somewhat hectic with limited signage and plenty of scooters, but it was nothing compared with what we encountered around Seminyak/ Kuta and to the airport! (but I'll get to that). I tried to buy a sim card for my iphone so we could use the mapping and data, but despite a few hours and multiple trips to the phone shop, we couldn't get it to work out- and no one could figure out or explain why. In hindsight, we should have just used free wifi (available in most restaurants) to load the maps and gone from there.

The first things we noticed about the Balinese people was that they are very happy and welcoming; eager to assist with directions or advice, (I even had someone chase me down to tell me that I hadn't locked the car properly!) and even more keen to sell you something- but generally not pushy. They like to joke and laugh when bartering, and are usually willing to make a deal. Common phrases we heard while walking past shops included "for you, good price!" and "cheepcheep!" The shopping around Ubud is fabulous- with plenty of gorgeous wood carvings, statues, furniture, unique cultural clothing, masks, jewellry etc. We would generally start the bardering at half the verbalized price (there are no written prices, so it is assumed that they try to pick a price they think we would pay) which generally got a laugh and a "nooooo nooo", and a counter offer. The prices are fabulous anyway, so I often had trouble haggling over a few dollars, when it means so much more to them. If you like to shop, I'd recommend either taking only a few outfits and buying the rest, or at least getting an extra 5kg on your checked baggage allowance to come home. The shopping in the Kuta/ Seminyak area is generally well done "knock-offs" of common labels or sports jerseys, and customed designed t-shirts, so if you're looking for traditional Balinese items, buy them in the north.

There are plenty of cultural dances that take place every night in Ubud. One of our first nights there we watched a traditional dance in a temple in the middle of Ubud. The music was a variety of traditional instruments that seemed overwhelming at first, with little rhythm that we could pick up- but once the dancers came out it all seemed to fit very well together. The dancers moved so intricately to the music, with every gesture and movement purposeful and well timed. A few nights later, we enjoyed the Kecak "fire dance" which had only vocal music, completed by men (mostly elders) sitting in a circle around a small fire, chanting and waving their hands. A story was depicted with a few dancers, and ended with a sea of embers as a stomping horseman kicked and ran through the fire.

The monkey forest was a highlight for me with countless monkeys running, climbing and jumping around the trees. There are plenty of statues and a gorgeous temple toward the end. Our only negative experience was being bombarded by some ladies selling some wood carvings near the temple - they have access to a gate at the back. Once they had one of us stopped, there were soon a number of them surrounding us, not taking no for an answer. Once we agreed to buy anything they were trying to talk us in to more, and when they saw how much money was in our wallet they said that we had to give them more- it was a fairly uncomfortable experience that could have been avoided by being a bit more stern, and also having a little spending money available in a pocket or somewhere seperate from other cash.

We were lucky enough to be invited to Lembongan with the front desk manager from XL Vision Villas. We met him early one morning and hopped aboard the local fast boat at Sanur. It was a special occasion in the Hindu culture, and we were honored that he invited us to attend it with him. We visited his family's home on the coast, and soon had a handful of youngsters following us around. We had a quick dip in the ocean before changing to go to the temple for the event. There were men performing dances and skits, ladies balancing baskets on their heads to the table full gorgeous offerings; mostly fruit towers, flowers, incense, rice and "origami" style woven baskets and decorative pieces (http://visitbalionline.com/Offerings). We also got to see a cock-fight, which was a very unique experience, that I'm happy to say was over quickly without much gore.

We were never disappointed with the meals- the food is always fresh and tasty, and very reasonably priced. Be careful if you don't do well with spice, and do prepare for some "Bali belly" - it's best to bring medication and electrolyte repacements from home, as there is little english on anything you find at a local shop. We found the electrolytes particularly helpful as we were constantly sweating from the high humidity!

The most economical drink available is their local beer, Bintang, which is easily found at grocers and corner stores for around a dollar for a small or a couple bucks for a large. Wine and spirits are rather costly, so taking some from the duty free shops at the airport is a good way to get around the cost of that.

We spent our last couple nights at the Pelangi Bali in Seminyak (http://www.pelangibali.com/), which is a nice resort with a great beachside location, nice pool and restaurant that overlook the ocean. A decent buffet breakfast was included in the price, and room service was a cheap and tasty post-pub-night snack. If you are concerned by some of the recent news headlines about the dodgy nightlife culture in Bali, Seminyak is a good option. It is not quite as hectic as Kuta, and has some of the better (ie reputable) nightclubs in the area. After a quick search, we started out our night at the SOS (Sunset on Seminyak) rooftop lounge at the Anantara Resort, which would be a gorgeous place to catch the sunset, but we were a bit late for that. After a (rather pricey) cocktail, we headed out to Potato Head, which also gets good reviews- it's a very cool restaurant/ lounge with a large stage and swimming pool, but not much of a dance club, so after (a rather pricey) drink, we continued on. After speaking with the taxi driver, we decided to skip Ku De Ta, as it has a similar vibe to Potato Head, and we were looking to dance. He took us to a small club that had decent music and a lot of dutch people who were keen to get down (there are plenty of dutch tourists and ex-pats as Bali was a dutch colony).

Our last day in Bali was spent in heavy traffic between Seminyak and Kuta, surfing at Kuta beach (amongst the garbage that litters the water), doing a bit of shopping and touring of Kuta in the afternoon (where we received our first undesirable offers), and then in a stressful traffic jam between Kuta and the airport. We travelled less than 30km all day, and sat in traffic for over 3 hours... but, we made it in time, and most people at the airport were in the same position as us - frantically arriving and relieved to have made it! The airlines must be somewhat accustomed to people arriving late, as no one seemed concerned. To settle your nerves, I'd recommend checking in online prior to arriving at the airport, and giving yourself an extra hour to get there. There are plenty of restaurants outside the airport, but none once you go in. Once you arrive at the airport, your bags must be scanned before you can enter, and there are multiple searches before you can arrive at your gate.

The colours in Bali make gorgeous photos, and just such a lovely treat to see not only the lush green landscape, but their clothing and architecture is bright and beautiful. The only unfortunate experiences we had were seeing a puppy get run over, women and children begging for their livelihood, and garbage everywhere with no evidence of recycling. We felt a desire to help these happy, friendly people, and hope that the goverments of more fortunate countries (especially Australia and the Netherlands) will someday see the worth of assisting Bali with education and assistance on sustainable living practises and recycling depots.

I look forward to revisiting Bali to take a cooking class, do some hiking or cycling, visit Uluwatu and hike Gunung Agung at sunrise... but we'll have to plan for a time of year when it isn't quite as hot and humid!

Posted by Bleaklinson 00:24 Archived in Indonesia Tagged bali kuta ubud seminyak Comments (0)

NSW North Coast > Gold Coast

We've been downunder for a year now, and for our "Aussiversary", we decided to cross off a few towns on our ever-expanding "must see list". We scored a cheap flight to Brisbane a while back, and, after reviewing our budget, decided to travel to the Gold Coast for the weekend. The Gold Coast is the cheaper, and flashier, older sister to the Sunshine Coast, with heaps of shopping, bars, and set of amusement parks - there is plenty of options, aside from the ocean, for travellers of all ages... we spent most of our time on the beach.

We stayed in the Beachcomber Resort in Surfers Paradise; one of many high-rise apartments that line the coast. We had an amazing view, but the suite is need of some renovations... nevertheless, the balcony quickly became a favourite hangout while we were in the room, tirelessly watching and listening to the waves. Even though we didn't spend much time in the Gold Coast, we enjoyed being in the central hub- an easy walk to plenty of restaurants and shops; even my first (okay, and second) Starbucks in about a year!

It's an amazingly long beach- endless in either direction. Beach walkers/ runners, swimmers, surfers, photographers, and those who just love an ocean view will not be disappointed. But, if it's serenity you are looking for, it's worth taking a drive...

We drove south along the coast, and stopped at a few beaches and lookouts along the way. We found a quiet stretch of beach near Danger Point, in Tweed Heads; but there are plenty of similarly beautiful spots. We continued along the coast to Lennox Head to watch the rugged right handed break at the famous surf point, Lennox Point, from Pat Morton lookout on the hill south of town. Then we stopped for some amazing pizza (at the only pizza place in town- Lennox Head Pizza and Pasta), and good-hearted NSW hospitality, as we snugged our table up and shared conversation with a neighbouring table to get out from the rain.

A friend from Canada, who lives in Brisbane, travelled down with his surfboard for another day trip, this time down to Byron Bay. We had an amazingly lazy afternoon at Main Beach- I have never seen so many surfers! Because of the wave direction, most surfers walk along the beach back toward The Pass, so its a steady parade of everything from preschool aged grommets to beginners taking lessons, to those who've surfed for longer than I've been alive. Even if you don't surf, take a walk out to the lookout at The Pass - the ocean is a gorgeous tourquoise colour, with huge rocks for it to splash in to. You can also see down toward Cape Byron, the most easterly point in Australia. Rumours are that there's plenty of hippies, backpackers, lots of good shopping, restaurants and pubs, but we were too busy at the beach to notice.

We have already had discussions about "the next time". We're happy to have seen the Gold Coast, and will likely return for a weekend away, but because we're more into nature than nightlife, we will probably rent a camper van and spend a bit more time in northern NSW.

Posted by Bleaklinson 21:05 Archived in Australia Tagged byron_bay gold_coast lennox_head tweed_heads Comments (0)

Port Stephens

We have lived in Salamander Bay, a suburb of Port Stephens, for about 9 months now. Although the term Port Stephens actually refers to the waterway, it is the most common collective term for the many suburbs that surround the inlet. The southern aspect (where we live) is also referred to as the Tomaree peninsula; and by locals simply as "the bay". It is a quiet area, except on school holidays and long weekends, as it is a popular tourist (and retirement) destination for Sydneysiders. It is 2.5 hours north of Sydney, a little over 1.5 to the Hunter Valley, about 45 minutes north of Newcastle, and 20 minutes from the Newcastle Airport at Williamtown.

There is a local bus service, but it is limited, so it's best to have a car. We like to start our tours at the Gan Gan Lookout, up Lily Hill Road (turn at the white whale). Because its shows a 360 view, it's the best way to get acquainted with the area. You can see down the port past Soldiers Point through to the inlet between Yacaaba and Tomaree heads, as well as the open ocean and stockton sand dunes past Anna Bay towards Newcastle.

Soldiers Point to Nelson Bay is all flat, protected water. There is an active marina at Soldiers Point, and water access along the road throughout the area; some are a bit marshy in low tide - but still great for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. The beaches near Nelson Bay are Bagnalls, Dutchies and Little Beach. There is excellent scuba diving and snorkelling off Fly Point as well.

Nelson Bay has shops and restaurants scattered across the bay-side village, and a good visitor information centre; it is the hub for tourism. The tourist info centre also has a handy booklet (Bushwalks around Port Stephens) for those interested in doing some exploring of the Tomaree National Park, wetland reserves, or any of the other hikes (bushwalks) in the area. The lighthouse has a nice view, a small museum, and fabulous tea house for a cuppa or a light meal.

My favourite view is from Mount Tomaree. In under a half an hour you can climb the southern head of Port Stephens, which has a well developed trail and stairs. The mountain was initially developed as a military outlook during the second world war, and there are a few gun emplacements and other evidence of Fort Tomaree that remain, but I think the view is the best motivator for the climb. There is a nice view of Shoal Bay and Nelson Bay; a great view across to the northern side of the port (Yacaaba Head, Tea Gardens, Hawks Nest); lush islands in the ocean; Zenith, Box and Wreck beaches towards Fingal Bay; Fingal Island and lighthouse; and a distant view of the Stockton dunes.

Fingal Bay is a nice, family friendly beach. It is a semi-protected bay, so there are areas with calmer water, but also some small to medium sized waves for body boarding or beginner surfers. There are surf-lifesavers on patrol, and a new club will be opening soon. The area between Fingal and Boat Harbour is all part of Tomaree National Park; there are plenty of nice trails through here with great views, such as Big Rocky (consult the bushwalking guide).

Another great spot to view the open ocean (including the whale migration) is Boat Harbour, Fishermans Bay, and Anna Bay; Morna Point is spectacular. One Mile Beach is somewhat protected, and is great for surfing (especially beginner and moderate). Birubi Beach is awesome. There is nothing but 32km of sand between there and Stockton Beach, in Newcastle. The surf is larger here, and there are always experienced surfers and kite-surfers taking advantage of the consistent (and big) swell. Both Birubi and One Mile are patrolled. Stockton dunes are accessible by 4 wheel drive; there are various guided tours, including activities like sandboarding and camel rides.

Port Stephens is also a great place to watch dolphins, and whales (during migration). There are dolphin cruises (year round) and (seasonal) whale watching tours; you can bundle tours to do a dolphin cruise one day, and a sandboarding tour the next (for example). However, there are so many dolphins around that you will probably see some without doing a tour- especially on the ferry between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens. It's a pedestrian only ferry (bikes are also allowed), but there are nice short walks, including going to Jimmy's Beach in Hawks Nest. There is excellent fishing as well - basically any and all water sports are done in Port Stephens.

The inland area is speckled with farms, most of which sell their produce (or eggs, nuts etc) directly from the farm or at a roadside shop. There are a few local wineries, and Murray's Brewery - a cute hillside brewhouse with award winning beers and decent menu for snacks or lunch (kitchen closes around 4). Murrays has recently opened a full pub in Manly which we visited in September, and confirmed that it is just as tasty in both locations!

Kangaroos and koalas live throughout the area; particularly in the national park (and on Nelson Bay golf course). There are many tropical and oceanic birds (even penguins) to watch and listen to as well; our favourite is the kookaburra, who routinely laugh at dusk and dawn. I could go on, but the long and the short of it is that Port Stephens is an amazing place for anyone who appreciates the outdoors. What it lacks in night-lift, it makes up for in stunning nature... and I feel lucky to be living here right now.

Posted by Bleaklinson 23:55 Archived in Australia Tagged newcastle port_stephens nelson_bay tomaree Comments (0)

Winter in Australia

I started writing this a couple months ago and abandoned it. But, here we are, in early August, and we're still feeling the chill... indoors at least.

I think back to when I was sorting and packing my clothes to be sent to Australia. I wondered how often I would actually be wearing pants, sweaters and long sleeved shirts. I kept hearing the voice of my future employer (who is originally from Melbourne) say that since moving to Port Stephens, "I haven't worn trousers in a year!". So, I left most of my work pants and sweaters at home. It was so warm when we got settled that I remember unpacking said clothes and thinking "why did I bring so many pairs of socks?!"

Well, I'll tell you why. While our average highs stay in the mid to high teens for winter, the overnight lows dip into the single digits - which sounds great, until you live in a house without central heat and no insulation. That's right- homes in Australia are poorly insulated if they're insulated at all, and generally have no permanent heat sources (unless you live in the far south or in the highlands). We managed to find two electric heaters at garage sales, and use them when we're desperate. We use them fairly sparingly because they are very inefficient, and with a new carbon tax coming into effect, we didn't want any surprises. So, generally, we just layer up (I have been known to wear a toque, 2 long sleeve shirts and 2 jumpas), sit under blankets, and consume a lot of hot drinks.

About 4-5 months ago, at the end of our summer, when we were still getting by most nights with just a sheet, or occasionally a light blanket, there was a sale on doonas (comforters/ duvets). The response I received was "I'm boiling at night- why would we need a doona!" Again, famous last words... we now have flannel sheets and 3 blankets on the bed, and are keeping our eyes open for end of season sales.

Possibly even more frustrating is that the water tanks are also kept outside, and it can take a few minutes for the water to warm up. So, it's either a quick wash in frigid waters, or running the water excessively to wash up comfortably. It all seems a bit backwards, especially in a country that is so warm for so many months. Thermal heating doesn't seem to be all that popular here, which again, seems a bit wasteful. But if they'd just insulate...

Our winters are warm enough to dry laundry outside (except when there's a long rainy spell). It's not uncommon (or psychotic) to be wearing shorts on any day of the winter. I am sitting outside in shorts and a singlette (tank top). We still see barefoot shoppers. Golf courses and lawnbowls are still operational. We played touch footy (rugby league). We've gone mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving... which led me to finally understand the logic behind Ugg boots - the ocean is preeeettydamm cold and after being in it, my feet come out white- enter Uggies.

While we joke about winter being non-existant here, and that people whinge about weather that really isn't that bad, it is all what you get used to. This is the coldest winter in 12 years in NSW. The locals say its the coldest in recent memory; my favourite 90 year old says its the coldest year since he moved to Port Stephens over 30 years ago. This has been the warmest winter (by at least 40C) either of us have experienced, yet we too have been known to use the words "freezing" and "bloody cold" this "winter" as we jump around to build body heat... inside our house.

Posted by Bleaklinson 22:06 Comments (0)

The Olympics

I have always been a bit of an Olympic nut. I love the inspirational stories of determination and grit. This year, living abroad, I knew it would be a different experience. I tried to keep an optimistic outlook, saying I was looking forward to seeing some different coverage, and watching a team with more medal hopes without having to watch American broadcasting. What I didn't realize is how much I'd miss is the Canadian coverage. As the games have come to a close, I thought I'd give some insight on being a canuck, experiencing the Olympics downunda.

We knew that the Australians would have high expectations; their culture is highly influenced with sports. The Aussies are rather vocal about their expectations of athletes across many disciplines both at the Olympics and in other international competition, (swimming, rugby, tennis, cricket...), and athletes are often vocal (okay, braggarts) about their potential and expectations of themselves. In some cases, it backfired. The swimming team, despite promises of gold, was disappointed not only by a 4th place finish in the mens 4x100m, but with no individual gold medals at all (first time since '76). Others, like the golden girl of the hurdles, Sally Pearson, showed the world that a white girl can still win a sprint, and has had the same coach since highschool! But, after having "Advance Australia Fair" play on mental repeat, I actually started to sing "O'Canada". I needed to see more Canadian coverage.

The internet has been helpful, but it would only give recaps and photos of medal winners. It made me realize what an amazing job our sportscasters to of educating us on many of our athletes, regardless of medal expectation. We also get interesting cultural and history stories of the area hosting the games. I think if the Australian broadcasters did some of this, it would reduce the pressure on their athletes, and make the Olympic experience more enjoyable. (Bare in mind, we have only one source for the Olympics (NBN) on free tv, and other options are available on paytv)

It is rather impressive that a country of 22 million people would be disappointed in 35 medals (only 7 gold!)... it is also somewhat annoying. But, there's no mistaking the benefits to doing well at an Olympic games and how it relates to having an active population; they feed off eachother. Sally Pearson was motivated to join athletics by Cathy Freeman's performance in Sydney in 2000; and now she is motivating other young Australians to do the same. I think that some of what is missing in Canada is the encouragement and desire for a society to not only to be active, but to be competitive in sports... and win!

A majority of the stories that were important in Canada were not even discussed on Australian media (for example, the women's soccer fiasco and the mens 4x100m bronze DQ), which I guess I should be happy about, because most of them were tales of disappointment. But still, I feel like I was missing out on something Canadian. I suppose I should have gotten that TSN app after all...

Posted by Bleaklinson 23:40 Comments (0)

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