Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Best Bits So Far...

Ok. So here is a little list of the best things myself and/or the whole family have done so far... In our opinion. Most experiences the kids enjoyed with us, and are family-friendly. Some however, are strictly Mummy and Daddy only. That's what babysitters (ya-yas) are for! Some of these destinations are covered in more detail in destination mini-blogs contained within this site. Here we go in NO particular order of worthiness:

Mighty Mt Yasur on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Standing on this grumbling, rumbling monster was something I'll remember forever. The world's most easily accessible active volcano, it thunders and belches out giant rocks and clouds of smoke. The rocks usually don't make it passed the rim, so it's MOSTLY safe. But the tour guides check with scientists before taking a tour up (lucky for us!). We didn't stay on Tanna Island, but on Efate near Port Vila. The 1 hour flight from Vila and 1 1/2 hour trek by 4WD to get to Mt Yasur is very worthwhile. You pass lush rainforest and lovely villages, until you enter an alien-looking barren land, dotted with lava bombs. Leaving the car behind, you complete a short walk up to the rim. The Mt Yasur fireworks display has been on show in Tanna for the last 800 years! If you stay at Whitegrass Resort on Tanna you can do a night trek. I can imagine seeing the lava at night would be incredible. Next time! I probably wouldn't advise taking very young children here myself, as the sound and vibration of the ground would no doubt be frightening.  Also, it's not like there is handrails to stop errant toddlers from falling in either!  Our older children were 6 and 8 at the time, and it was no problem with them.

Mt Fuji and The Pirate Ships of Lake Ashi

Oh this was AMAZING! Probably close to the top of my travelling experiences. It was a bit of an epic trek I completed in one day, and I should have stayed overnight to experience it properly and soak in one of Hakone's onsens... But it was still incredible. You wouldn't believe how many different modes of transport this trip takes! I started out in Tokyo in the morning and caught the Shinkansen to Hakone-Yumoto, then the Hakone Tozon train takes you up the steep hills passed the onsens while performing several 'switch-backs. You then travel 211metres up a steep incline by cable-car from Gora to Sounzan station. THEN, you catch the majestic ropeway  to Togendai Station. Juring this leg, you pass volcanic steam rising at Owakudani, and on clear days see Mt Fuji!! It was beautifully clear on the day I travelled, and the view was unforgettable! At the end, Lake Ashi comes into view. On Lake Ashi, you can take a scenic cruise on one of the gigantic replica pirate ships across to some little villages for sightseeing. I stood high on a deck on one of these ships, gazing back at Mt Fuji. Looking over the beautiful scenery around me, the breeze in my hair, I really thought at that moment - It doesnt get any better than this! You can then catch a bus back to Tokyo.  If you stay in Hakone, and don't go back to Tokyo the same night (too gruelling), I would totally recommend this for kids of all ages. No reason they wouldn't enjoy all the different aspects of the trip, especially the Pirate ships!

The Ngong Ping Cable Car and the Tian Tan Buddha - Hong Kong

Ngong Ping Cable Car is a wonderful 5.7km ropeway that takes about 25 minutes. The cable car journey begins from Tung Chung, crossing Tung Chung Bay towards North Lantau Island. We chose to pay extra for the all-clear 'Çrystal Cabin'. It allowed 360 degree views as well as straight through the floor. This was a big hit with the kids. They were ON the floor, eyes glued, peering at the sea below us. I can't say enough about this. It was spectacular, stunning and just about every other superlative you can chuck in there. Just beautiful crossing the bay, and then you seem to rise up into the clouds. It was a bit cloudy when we were there, up near the top of the trip, and it really added to it I thought. Just when you think you're near, you rise up even more, and all of a sudden the cloud clears and the Tian Tan Buddha is before you. Jaw dropping literally. Once at the top there is a little village and the Po Lin Monastry. Next to that is the 268 steps leading to the buddha itself. Majestic.

The Whitsundays. Australia.

I may be biased but The Whitsundays has to one of the world's most beautiful playgrounds!. We love to base ourselves in Airlie Beach, and do the many day-trips out to the Reef or the Islands. The township also has a big man-made lagoon so you can swim all year round including stinger season. You can cruise out to Hamilton or Daydream Island, see incredible Whitehaven Beach (which very much lives up to the hype), spend a day on ReefWorld and so much more. If you choose to stay on the islands, we recommend Daydream Island as the better one for young kids. It has more shallow swimming pool areas, the living reef attraction and the famous mermaids! It just seemed more suited to our young family. Hamilton, however is fantastic for couples or older families.It is also home to the incomparable qualia resort. My hubby and I stayed their sans kids, and is is covered in one of this sites destination 'mini-blogs'.

Boracay Pub Crawl - Boracay Island, Philipines.

Oh this one was STRICTLY mummy and daddy... Not everyones cup of tea, but we found it so much fun. So much dancing and drinking and silliness and drinking! You get the picture... Alcohol poured straight from a bottle down the throat. Oh yeah! Ridiculous party games on White Beach, bar after bar, and drinking games punished by more ummm drinking!. Sober types NEED NOT APPLY. This is a night of clean, trouble-free (was not sleazy in the lightest, and no dramas) but entirely drunken fun, FUN! Party with many different nationalities, and age isn't an issue at all.. We encountered all ages, mainly Filipinos and Koreans, but there was a smattering of Aussies, Poms and, as usual, a few Viking countries rate a honourable mention (anywhere there's drinking to be had you'll find Aussies, the English and Norwegians normally). Can I get a Boracaaaaaay... Pub Crawl! is the battle cry. And you are given a canary yellow t-shirt to wear as a momento (Im thinking this also makes it easier for the tour guide to try and keep increasingly drunk and enthusiastic tourists together as you make your way from bar to beach to bar - easier to spot stragglers and strays!) 

Helicopter Tours. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown's surrounds is probably the most beautiful place we've ever been. We flew with The Helicopter Line, and Glacier Southern Lakes Co. over spectacular Alpine scenery. Featuring dramatic views of the Southern Alps, Aspiring National Park and the ancient icefalls of glaciers. We did an alpine snow landing, and a Glacier landing in the Forbes Mountains. We saw the beautiful Rees and Dart River Valleys, Skippers Canyon as well as Lake Wakitipu's Northern shores, and  Milford Sound and enjoyed a landing there. This is probably the all-time family favourite travel experience to date. Like something out of a travel show literally. Better than the brochures. Absolutely 100% pristine, beautiful and unspoilt. We will go back again. Mark this down on your bucket list. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!

Bohol Island. The Philippines.

Bohol is a 45 minute ferry ride from Cebu City in The Visayas. It is home to the amazing little bug-eyed tarsier, a tiny caniverous monkey-like creature.

We visited them at a sanctuary on the island. No touching is allowed, but  they are not behind cages. I was a little concerned my girls were going to try and grab the cuties, so was extra vigilant. Those little mouths are full of razor-sharp teeth too, I wouldn't like a bite! This is not a world-class sanctuary by any means, but your admission price does go towards conservation of these creatures. DO NOT patronize other unscrupulous operators on the island who let you handle them for photos. Handling is almost always fatal.

Another attraction on the island is the bizarre, but beautiful 'Chocolate Hills'. So named because they turn brown and look like Hershey's Chocolate Kisses in summer. There is said to be 1200+ of these mysterious mounds. Scientists aren't exactly clear on what they are, but one local legend is lovely. Said to be the dried tears of a giant Arogo, who fell in love with a simple mortal girl Aloya, and was devastated by her eventual passing. There are another couple of local legends which involve ummmm.... giants poop... hmmmm I think i'll stick with the first one!

There is also a tour on the Lobo river we recommend here. You float down the river on a barge while enjoying a simple buffet lunch and live music. Along the way you stop by other barges featuring local river tribes dancing and singing for donations. You can do all these things and easily be back in your resort in Cebu in one day with children. There is also accommodation on Bohol to suit all budgets as well.

AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping and Nzone Skydiving Queenstown.

Back to Queenstown again.  I really did love this place. So anyway, when in Queenstown... do what every other crazy person is doing over there - throw yourself out of, or off something at every available opportunity!! Another Mummy and Daddy only activity obviously! There is plenty for the kids to do in Queenstown too. Next time I'm going to try the Nevis Swing. Google that if you want to see some real stomach-churning adrenalin at it's best. I thought my body had probably had enough on this trip. I was standing in line for the Bungy behind two 65 year-old English ladies who were on a 'Bucket List' trip around the world - awesome!! I asked if they were nervous, and they said they felt they didn't have much to lose at their age. Good on them I say. Yeehaw Grandma!!....

Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary & Klias Wetlands Probiscus Monkeys. Borneo.

Borneo is a wondrous place. I really enjoyed Kota Kinabalu and a Tiger Beer on 'The Waterfront' watching the sun set over the South China Sea (or Philippine Sea depending on who you talk you). It's the natural attractions that really set this place apart from anywhere else in the world. But don't get me started on Palm Oil Plantations. Flying over Borneo was the only time in my life I've felt the need to cry as I arrived at a new destination. Destruction of paradise as far as the eye can see in every direction. An absolute disgrace. However... what jungle that hasn't been detroyed is amazing, and home to some of the most incredible creatures on earth (what's left of them). Go and see them... unfortunately with Palm Oil greed, who knows how long they'll be here for. Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is a centre where they take in orphaned or injured Orang utans and try to rehabilitate them with a view to releasing them back into the wild. It was a moving and wonderful place I cover in my mini-blog on Borneo. Similarly the Klias Wetlands Monkey-Tops Safari river cruise we went on, also covered in my Borneo blog. Cruise a beautiful river on the wetlands, and spot Probiscus monkeys and macaques. We then came back for dinner beside the river before embarking on a night-time trip down the river to watch the fireflies light up the trees beside the water.. stunning.

Honourable Mentions... 

  • Uluru and the 'Red Centre', Australia. Beautiful, and I really did get a lump in my throat and think 'This is Australia' and all that.. Why isn't it in the section above among the best things I've done??? Something about standing many kilometres away behind a fence, with coach loads of other tourists and a warm plastic cup of wine in my hand, left me slightly underwhelmed. All the same, it is one beautiful chunk of rock. I would like to try the 'Dinner under the Stars' next time.
  • Ocean Park, Hong Kong.  This is an amazingly good theme-park. Carved out of a mountain-side, and set over a few levels, this is very different to a 'western' style theme-park - which is why we liked it. A panda exhibit, fantastic aquarium and great rides - one of which tipped me upside down so I had a great view of the South China Sea while riding it! The littlies liked this park, but they also loved Hong Kong Disneyland, which was good as well. Ocean Park definitely caters for adults and teenagers better however - Mum had a great time! One word of warning, take your own snacks. The snacks are Chinese fast food at it's ummmm most interesting. Fried, crunchy, dehydrated squid and octopus and delights like that. I was willing to give it a go, but the kids were all less enthusiastic.
  • Gold-Coast Theme-Parks, Australia . We live near here, so probably take it for granted a little. But for anyone else, it's surely one of the epicentres of theme-park fun IN THE WORLD. Something for everyone all within a short drive of each other. Dreamworld, Seaworld, Movieworld, Wet-n-Wild and WhiteWater World.  The Australian Outback Spectacular, an outback-themed dinner show is also there. Dracula's, the Gold Coast's famous Cabaret Restuarant is nearby, as well as a couple of different Putt-putt parks. The Q1 Skypoint climb, Australia's highest external building climb, is not far. A perfect destination for adults and kids alike. So much to see everyday, and if you get tired, spend a few relaxing hours at one of the many glorious beaches. Mum and dad can try their luck at Jupiters Casino later! An all-rounder of a destination, and popular with tourists from all over the world.
  • Whale Watching Hervey Bay, Australia.  Fabulous. We were not disappointed. Lots of Whale and breaching action. Very memorable. These days expect your boat/cat to be well-appointed, have a spotter-plane and provide an included buffet lunch or morning/afternoon tea etc. If not, book one that does, as there is plenty of first-class operators. The whale-watching season generally runs from July to November.
  • Robinson Crusoe Island, Fiji. We did a day tour from a resort on Vitu Levi's Coral Coast. One of the better day-trips available. It was a lovely cruise down a river across the open water to the Island. There we had a lovely 'Lovo' style buffet lunch, and watched one of the best Polynesian dance shows I've seen with fire and knife dancers. Plenty of activities available. You can join in, or just laze on a truly beautiful beach with crystal clear water. Both us, and the kids really enjoyed our day. 
  • Windows of The World, Shenzhen China. This wacky place is the strangest theme-park we've ever been too. A park in Southern China, just over the border from Hong Kong filled with giant replicas of the world's greatest attractions. You can arrange a Shenzhen Economic Zone Visa for a single day-trip from Hong Kong to see this place. I'd just book a tour through your Hotel like we did, and they arranged it for us. It's more reliable than just turning up at the border and trying to arrange one. It's definitely incredibly zany and worth a look. Some attractions were alright, others were astounding. The stand out is The Eiffel Tower replica. CRAZY! It's huge.. around 1/3 the size of the original I believe (the real one must be absolutely enormous! - I haven't had the pleasure yet) and you can catch an elevator to the top. We all loved it! 

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