A Day in Da Nang

We arrived into Da Nang after a short but slightly unnerving early morning flight from Hanoi. The flight took off in a huge thunderstorm making for a rather turbulent start to the journey, although thankfully the second half of the flight was much calmer and we arrived in one piece.

The third largest city in Vietnam, Da Nang is known for its long stretches of sandy beaches. Given this, we decided to head straight to the beach after quickly checking into our hotel. We took a taxi to My Khe Beach which stretches for 20 miles along the eastern side of the city. After arriving at the beach, we wandered across the soft white sand before hiring some sun loungers from Viet Sin.

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Koahsiung City

After our brief visit to Taichung, we continued our journey along the west coast of Taiwan to the port city of Kaohsiung, which is located in the south of island. Our journey to Kaohsiung took considerably longer than expected, with a mixup at the ticket counter leading to us taking the local train. Although considerably cheaper, the train stopped seemingly every five minutes, and almost doubled our journey time to over four hours. 

After eventually arriving, we took a short ride on the city’s metro to the impressive Formosa Boulevard Station, which was just a short walk from our hotel. Located in the centre of the station’s concourse is the beautiful Dome of Light art instillation. This is made up of 4,500 glass panels, making it the largest glass work in the world. 

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Beautiful Boracay

After another short flight, I arrived into Caticlan Airport which is on the northern tip of Panay Island. From here it was a short tricycle ride to the ferry terminal, where I boarded an ancient looking Bangka for the journey across to Boracay.

The famous holiday island has been the Philippines most popular tourist destination for many years, however it was closed by the Government in April 2018 to counter the damaging effects of overtourism on the environment.

After significant improvements were observed, the island reopened in October with new regulations limiting the number of hotels and tourists that can visit the islands, while many beachside bars and restaurants have been permanently closed.

Once I had checked into my hotel, I made my way to the famous White Beach, which is the reason the island originally became so popular. The beautiful beach stretches around 4km along the western side of the small island, which covers an area of just 10km2.

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Island Hopping in El Nido

With Rachael leaving me to explore the Philippines alone (long story), I began my weeklong visit with two days exploring El Nido.

El Nido is located at the northern tip of the island of Palawan, making it the perfect location to explore the 45 islands of the Bacuit archipelago.

I spent my first afternoon in the small town relaxing on the beach, which was surprisingly empty. However, this soon changed as it reached 4pm and the day’s island hopping tours began to return to land. Before long I was surrounded by the traditional Philippine Bangka boats and their disembarking passengers.

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I spent the evening in the busy Happiness Beach Bar, enjoying some excellent middle-eastern food and very cheap San Miguel beers. Despite it seeming like the party was only just getting started, I returned to my hostel relatively early in preparation for my own island hopping tour the following day. Continue reading

Relaxing in Langkawi

We decided to reduce our travelling time by booking a flight to Langkawi, which takes just 35 minutes from George Town. Despite the short journey time, Rachael still managed to sleep through the entire flight. 

Langkawi Island is the largest in a cluster of 99 islands that are located around 50km from the Malaysian mainland. As we made our approach into the island, we were treated to the sight of beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches, which we couldn’t wait to get a closer look at.

After a short taxi journey, we arrived into the islands’s main resort town of Pantai Cenang. We had managed to time our visit not only with the Malaysian school holidays, but also with the LIMA ’19 Airshow. This is one of the largest such events in Asia, and meant the island was inundated with visitors.

Undeterred, we decided to go straight to the beach which surprisingly was almost completely empty. We found a nice spot on the waters edge, where we spent a few hours working on our tan. After complaining about the freezing ocean waters in Australia, we had the opposite problem here with a swim in the lukewarm water failing to cool us down. 

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Penang Island

After a great time in the Highlands we returned to the coast, taking another bus several hours north to Penang Island. The large island is connected to the mainland by several bridges over the narrow Penang Strait.

Located to the northeast of the island is George Town, which is the second largest city in Malaysia and we decided to base ourselves here during our visit. Much like Melaka, the city’s historic Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is full of narrow streets and colonial style buildings.

The city is also well known for its collection of street art, and we begin our visit with a self-guided walking tour around all of the most popular artworks.

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Dunedin and Central Otago

The city of Dunedin is the second largest in the South Island, and well known for its Scottish heritage and large student population. We spent several days exploring the city and the surrounding Otago region. 

As we arrived into the city, we immediately noticed the large number of well preserved historic buildings. Most impressive of these was the railway station, which dates back to 1906. It is the starting point for the popular scenic train journey inland to Taieri gorge. With the train set to depart soon after our arrival, the station was busy with tourists. 

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Just a short walk from the train station is the city centre, which is marked by an unusual octagon shaped plaza. This area is home to a number of civic buildings including the Town Hall and Public Art Gallery, as well as plenty of busy cafes and restaurants.

On one of the adjoining streets we came to the First Church of Otago, an imposing church which is definitely the most impressive we have come across during our travels. After looking around the church, we found a shaded spot in the grounds to relax and enjoy some lunch.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the rest of the city’s compact centre, checking out some of the shops along the bustling George Street. This was followed with some great burgers from the very popular student hangout Re:burger.

Dunedin was more welcoming to campervans than other cities we have visited and we stayed in a council run facility, just a short walk from the centre. Waking early the following morning, we made the short drive to Flagstaff Lookout, which is located in the Port Chalmers area of the city.

It seemed like we were the first visitors of the day, and we spent some time admiring the the great panoramic views over the city and across the bay to the Otago Peninsula.

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Nearby to the lookout, we found Dunedin’s most unusual claim to fame. Baldwin Street is the world’s steepest residential street, and is of the city’s most popular tourist destination, having even made it onto coach tour itineraries.

With the campervan definitely unable to handle the 35% gradient of the street, we had no choice but to climb to the top by foot. Deciding to make it more interesting, we attempted to run to the top, much to the amusement of several other tourists who decided to film us.

We managed to reach around halfway before our legs gave up and we had to stop. After taking a minute to catch our breathe, we struggled the remaining way to the top, all the time wondering why anyone would buy a property on the street! 

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Leaving Dunedin behind, we continued north for around an hour, before arriving at Moeraki Boulders. After parking at the visitor centre, we walked down onto the beach and towards the large spherical boulders that are spread out across the sand.

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The boulders are formed from hard, compacted sediment, and have been exposed by the erosion of the softer surrounding coastline. There are over 50 in total, with the largest measuring over two metres across and weighing up to seven tons.

We spent some time wandering around the boulders, before returning to the visitor centre where we found a great cafe, complete with wooden deck overlooking the beach.

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Our next stop along the coast was at the small town of Oamaru. It was another beautiful day, and before exploring the town we parked and had some lunch while overlooking the small harbour.

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Oamaru has some of the best examples of Victorian architecture in New Zealand, with most of this located within a specially designated Victorian Heritage Precinct. It felt like we had gone back in time as we wandered along the narrow streets and into the quaint antiques and craft shops.

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The town’s other claim to fame is the Steampunk HQ gallery and museum, which has led to Oamaru being labeled the ‘Steampunk capital of the world’. For those who don’t know (we didn’t either), Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that features Victorian era technology. We didn’t go into the museum but did take a look at some of the interesting coin operated contraptions located outside.

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We ended a relaxing afternoon in Oamaru with a visit to Scott’s Brewery. It was clearly a popular spot with locals, and we soon discovered why after sampling some of the great beers on offer.

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After an enjoyable few days of driving along the coast, it was time to head back inland towards Mount Cook National Park.