Swimming with Dolphins

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For the last 20 years of my adult life I have wanted to swim with dolphins. I had the opportunity in Mexico when in Cabo San Lucas, but my travel companion had already done it so we opted to go snorkeling instead.

As I continue to travel and have plentiful opportunities to interact with animals I have developed more of a social conscience and have refrained from doing things that compromise various  animals’ welfare.

So when the opportunity arose to swim with dolphins in Kona, Hawaii – in the wild, not in some pool or amusement park I jumped at the chance!

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Sure I won’t have close up photos with me kissing a dolphin’s snout, and I won’t get to ‘ride’ along their backs, but an encounter with them in their natural environment would hopefully be just as unforgettable.

We chose Splashes Ocean Adventures, an eco tourism company that supports the welfare of the dolphins. Pods of spinner dolphins rest in the mornings after a night of hunting off the coast of Hawaii’s big island. With only 5 of us aboard our small vessel, with a guide and a driver we set off early in the morning.

I’m not the most confident snorkeler, or swimmer, so jumping off the boat off shore into the open ocean had the potential to completely freak me out. The first challenge was to find the pod of dolphins, which are half sleeping, half swimming south. Out boat then raced in front of the pod and we had mere minutes to get in the water, snorkel into their path and hope to see them and swim right above them. The company makes no guarantee to see or swim with dolphins (as you would expect with an in the wild encounter) so we were incredibly lucky to jump in and swim with them not once but 3 times.

Your behaviour in the water also determines how successful your interaction is with the dolphins. You need to keep quiet and just kick over to them, arms by your side. All of sudden the pod was coming and our guide jumped in, and our driver said ‘go now –  go now!’ and then I was in the water madly paddling towards them. The need to reach them in time quelled all fears I had of being in open waters and then there they were! Just metres under me. It was so quiet and peaceful under the water, one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. And then after a few seconds it was over and the pod has passed. A few metres the wrong way and we would have missed it.

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So lucky to have three chances to see these animals in the wild and so up close. It was definitely the highlight of the whole trip and we were so glad we chose this as our ‘expensive activity’ of the week, seeing as we could only afford one!

We the followed the dolphin experience with more snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay. Another fantastic experience and a chance to see more dolphins in the wild, jumping and flipping!


I was so glad to tick this item off my ‘bucket list’and have an authentic experience out in the open ocean. Highly recommended!

Travel Essentials … Rain Poncho

Umbrellas are a real pain when you travel. You don’t have enough hands, especially if you’re trying to take photographs. They can blow inside out and get broken, rendering them useless. And unless you can get those tiny fold up ones, they take up space.

A waterproof parka will do the job, but these are not suitable for warm humid climates that get frequent tropical downpours, such as Borneo, Bali, Bangkok etc, and probably a whole lot of other B places!  Its way too hot to wear parka especially in a downpour.

I like a lightweight waterproof poncho with sleeves, a hood and a zip or velcro. I had the best one ever that I bought for 4 pounds in Primark in London way back in 2007. It even had a bag you could stuff it into and clip the bag to your backpack or daypack.

Unfortunately I had that poncho stolen when my bag went missing in Bangkok airport. Sadly I haven’t been able to find one similar, well one that doesn’t cost a fortune. I was a bit spoilt finding one for only 4 pounds! Those plastic ones that they sell at theme parks and other tourists attractions are fine when you haven’t got anything else, but they tend to be a one use wonder.

Here are some styles I found that all look fairly lightweight. See details at polyvore.

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I finally found a zip up hoodie with sleeves at Crossroads for $20 on sale! It made its debut in Bali in July this year. It doesn’t have a bag but I feel I could fit it into a makeup pouch for travelling.


The Bangkokians love a plastic poncho, bonus points if it covers your bike too!


Me about to hike Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo in my trusty four pound poncho!


On a recent trip to Hawaii I still didn’t have a good poncho so had to settle for this plastic one they sold at Volcano National Park.


Looking very sexy in my poncho in Iceland. Boy do I miss that four pound poncho 🙁


Yangtze river

Ever since I read the book ‘The Story About Ping’ – a picture book about a little duck and his wise eyed boat, I have wanted to see the Yangtze River in Central China. So I was very excited when my G Adventures tour Essential China in 2014 included a 3 night, 2 day river cruise from Chongqing to Yichang.  After watching a documentary of a family who travelled China with their 3 kids, I was also keen to see the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam.


Cruise boat members disembark to visit markets and pagodas along the Yangtze River.


Sunset on the Yangtze. I never found any Pings unfortunately.


Boats with produce for sale glide up along side the cruisers.


Most boats we saw on the river looked similar to this cruiser. And they all looked like toys next to the mammoth cliffs.

Outr boat was comfortable, but in no ways fancy. We hadn’t paid top dollar so I wasn’t expecting a ‘Princess Cruises’ style boat. It was about 3 stories high, with a large dining room, a simple lobby, one main bar and lounge and some deck space with artificial grass and plastic chairs.

Though we hadn’t come for boat luxuries, it was all about the sights! We left Chongqing (the world’s largest city area with 31 million people – and yet I’d never heard of it before this cruise) on CHINA’S NATIONAL DAY. Yes because in a country of a billion, in a city of 31 million let’s also add the amount of tourists swanning about for national day celebrations. It was almost peaceful getting out of the city and motoring down the river past farms, rock formations, mountains, canoes. Well peaceful until you rounded a corner and Bam! Another city, with a good hundred thousand people. Bridges like the ones below were quite a common site after hours of countryside.




After our first night on the river we awoke to the special experience of cruising through the Three Gorges, or as the Chinese translation said “The Three Georges”. I swiftly named them George Michael, Prince George and Boy George. We grabbed some prime locations up on deck to watch the spectacular scenery.

Recent rains had left the river brown, unclean and full of debris. But the dramatic rock formations and cliffs certainly took my mind off the river’s state. The cliffs are absolutely towering, and only when boats and houses were in the picture could you actually get an idea of the actual scale and size. A misty humidity haze followed us for most of the day, but I could not stop snapping hundreds of photos like below of the landscape that greeted us around every bend.


We didn’t stop at this temple complex, which was probably a good thing, I mean just look at all those stairs!


Absolutely towering.


All along the river were little crevices and tributaries.


Sunset on our second day on the Yangtze.

After the second dramatic day of cruising past The Three Georges Gorges, our third day was a day trip down a tributary of the Yangtze, past some ancient burial coffins wedged in the cliffs to a random touristy stop, complete with souvenirs and a show. I had seen (in the documentary of the family) this really cool side excursion on small, raft like boats that were dragged down narrow tributaries of the yangtze with traditional guides and taken to traditional villages. I was so excited then at the prospect of our day trip. Alas, we just moved (with 100 or so other people) onto a large ferry which then chugged down a medium sized river, under some more Power Bridges (as I called them) to a tourist village and then back to our large boat. Not quite what I had in mind but I guess the term ‘optional day trip excursion exploring the tributaties of the Yangtze’ is pretty vague.

And had I not seen the documentary I would probably have not had any expectations of what the experience would be like! A typical travel caution; sometimes the things with the highest expectations turn out to be the biggest let downs and I leave feeling that the whole experience was overrated. And usually when I have no idea about a destination and no expectations, it turns out to be the best!

Signs of the World – Elevator

One of my favourite things to photograph when travelling around the world is weird and wacky signs. Asia always has a smorgasbord of sign opportunities, especially when translating  signs into English for tourists.

On my first afternoon in Beijing, China, I noticed this very specific ‘Elevator Rules’ poster in my hotel. Of course we then took photos of us being silly and disobeying the rules, favourites included ‘no leaning’ and ‘press buttons lightly’!


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Red Road, Hawaii Big Island

On our recent trip to Hawaii, we stayed in a flipkey accommodation on the Puna Coast near Pahoa. On a Wednesday night, after seeing the black sand beach at Kaimu and visiting the night markets, I drove the long way home up Highway 137, also know as the “Red Road”.

The sun was setting and the road was fairly deserted, which was lucky as it can get pretty narrow. As you drive under the various tree tunnels it also gets quite dark. I almost ran over two wild pigs that ran out in front of my car.

Now a proper paved road, the ‘Red Road’ got its original name from red cinder pavement used in the past to create the surface of the road. The route takes you right past the ocean and lava cliffs, with many spots to pull over and explore the cliffs and swimming spots, the most famous being Kehena Black Sand Beach, where clothing is optional and the climb down is rough. Since I was on my own doing this drive, and it was getting dark, I didn’t want to climb down to the beach and have some sort of accident (which is highly likely)  so I chickened out, and just looked at it from the car park above. We would be visiting other black sand beaches on our trip so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The trees that create tunnels on the road are just amazing, you’ll want to pull over many times to get photos. It was much darker under the foliage than in these images.

I ended up detouring down a very narrow and dark tree lined street to get back to Pahoa, but you can follow the dirt track all the way up to Hawaiian Beaches, past recent lava fields and past more remote and secluded swimming spots. We drove the dirt track during daylight hours, in search of a swimming spot called ‘Natural Lava Swimming Pool’ but even with specific directions we didn’t find it. Instead we drove on to the Champagne Ponds and Kapaho tide pools.

After driving the Red Road I wasn’t going to attempt another off road adventure up the dirt track in a hire car, on my own, after sunset!


Sunset with black beaches and palm trees


The bumpy winding road of Highway 137


Incredible tree tunnels that you may be lucky enough to have all to yourself


Plenty of spots to pull over and explore the cliffs


I never got up early enough to see sunrise, but it would be spectacular from this side of the island.


Dense foliage, where the two black pigs scurried into after crossing the road right in front of me.


Another spot with palm trees silhouetted agains the sunset


Further up Highway 137 you cross some lava fields


This view was seen from the dirt beach access road from Hawaiian Beaches to the paved section of HWY 137.


My ‘ wrong turn’ road, looked ominous but did lead me back to Pahoa!


Lava cliffs just metres from the road


A sign in the front yard of our Hawaiian Beaches accommodation.


Sunset over the Pacific


I never grew tired of looking at the palm tree views


A panorama of the cliffs at the end of our street.