Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

Posts Tagged ‘ islands ’

Kangaroo Island Tour

Our first adventure on our second (and last) day on Kangaroo Island was to go koala visiting. Despite the island being called after a different Australian animal, there is actually a huge koala population there. I saw more koalas here on one day than I have ever seen in my life!

Kangaroo Island Tour - KoalasKangaroo Island Tour - Koalas

We drove to the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where we were free to wander among the eucalyptus trees at our own leisure, our heads craned backward, eyes glued upward at the tree branches. We didn’t have to go far to spot them – in fact we saw a mum and baby in a tree along the driveway!

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We had a whole week for our trip to Adelaide so we decided to spend two of the days on a trip to Kangaroo Island – I’m so glad we did as it was the highlight of our trip!

We wanted to make the most of our time so we booked to go with Adventure Tours Australia. My sister had been on a tour with them in Western Australia and had an excellent experience so we booked on the 2 day Kangaroo Island Explorer trip which cost just over $400 – and was worth every cent!

Starting bright and early on day 1 we were picked up from our hotel by a mini-bus and then transferred at the bus interchange onto a large coach to Jervis Cove where we would get the ferry to Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island Ferry

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In general, work/life balance for me is not an evenly dispersed kind of thing but more like all-consuming-projects punctuated with an annual travel adventure when I disappear overseas for four weeks. I used to want to balance it all out, but now I accept that I actually like life being ‘all on’ when I’m hooked on a project and then changing track and escaping somewhere else when it’s done. Something I could do better is managing my wellbeing across these times. I tend to burn out, thinking I’ll sleep/breathe/recharge later. Well… I really don’t really want to sleep/breathe/recharge once or twice a year. I’d rather that be an all of the year thing.

So I started looking after myself better. I cut down on chocolate (I haven’t eaten any since the 28th June 2015 actually). I didn’t let my morning bush walk slide off my schedule when I was busy, it has become a non-negotiable. I started a regular weekly yoga practice after years of patchy attendance, and I sat down to daily meditation. I’ve kept to it all pretty faithfully and the result was that at the end of a pretty big work project last year I needed some time out for sure, but I wasn’t an exhausted shell left barely standing. I had energy, so after my work trip to Singapore I hopped on a plane to Koh Samui and straight to Vikasa Yoga Retreat. I stayed for 15 days.

I found Vikasa through a Google search, it sounded promising with great Trip Advisor reviews and plenty of travel blog trip reports.

Yoga paradise at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

It is set into the cliffside on the west coast of Koh Samui, with the cafe/reception area sitting up the top and everything else – accommodation, yoga shalas and swimming pools – cascading down the cliff. That means steps – and lots of them! I didn’t find this a problem at all, though I’ve seen some complaints on tripadvisor about them. I think if you’re there to do yoga then a five minute walk up the stairs should be within your ability to manage. And where there’s a climb there’s a view – and this one is worth the effort!

They have multiple accommodation options which is a great way to make the retreat possible for yogis of all budgets. I contemplated the options but after my hard work I decided to treat myself to a balcony facing the ocean with the Ocean Room. My first impression of the room was that it’s a lot smaller than it seems on their website, and also nestled quite close to the other rooms/bungalows either side; the balconies line up next to each other with no privacy from your neighbors, you feel like you need to keep your window curtains closed for that purpose as well. It would just be perfect if they were more private, but having said, they were clean, had aircon, an outdoor shower, and as time went on and I became friendlier with my neighbors privacy was not such a concern.

One curtain I always kept open was on the window facing the ocean so I had a front row seat in the morning when the sun rose over it right in front of my bed! I’m an early riser anyway so when my eyes flicked open in the mornings and caught sight of the horizon changing color I always jumped out, made a cup of peppermint tea and sat out on my balcony for an hour as it rose.

Vikasa Sun Rise

Vikasa calls itself a yoga retreat, I would describe it as a yoga resort, a subtle difference, but resort more accurately infers the freedom you have regarding how much yoga you do. There are three outdoor yoga shalas; the weekly timetable of scheduled yoga and meditation classes for guests are all held in the White Shala which is large and breezy. It’s entirely up to you what classes you attend – if any, no one keeps track of you, there are no expectations.

White Yoga Shala Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I tried to do at least one meditation and one yoga class a day, though sometimes I managed all classes (which was up to 6 some days). I found this freedom great as the first couple of days I took it easier as I adjusted to the heat, but by the end I craved going to as many as possible, though sometimes skipped some due to exploring the island or just physically needing a break.

Practising during the afternoon and evening tropical storms was a real treat. The rain thundered down and skittered under the roll-down shutters on the wind to land on my skin as I sweated away. The thunder boomed and the lightening sparked, it was magic. It rained probably half of the days I was there (September) but getting to practice yoga during the storms made up for the lack of beach time on those days. That and being curled up on a beanbag with a smoothie and a book in the cafe.

My favorite teachers were Simon, a South African born but now Koh Samui local who has a brilliant sense of humor and a very relaxed approach to practice, and Christian, a visiting London based yoga teacher who was more dynamic. The other teachers were all good as well, but as in life you click with some people more than others, which was the case here too.

Yoga Class at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I came to Vikasa alone with no worries as I travel solo a lot, however I will admit that on the second day I had a moment of doubt. I hadn’t yet clicked specifically with any one, most of those I met were there on the teacher training group and were already in close groups. On the second night I started chatting to an Aussie girl after class though and we had dinner together. Then I met a Danish guy, then a Singaporean girl and an Aussie guy, an American girl and a Dutchman… I was set! The group of friends I made and hung out with each day at mealtimes and inbetween classes really made my holiday. I had such a fun time then, yoga was rewarding in itself but bonding with like minded yogis was the best.

Together we took taxis to beaches on the other side of the island- to Chaweng Beach for drinks and junk food, to Bophut for delicious Thai food at the Happy Elephant. We walked to Crystal Bay to get massages, and went on a jeep jungle safari in the rain and mud (so much fun clinging onto the side of the jeep and being flung about) which also stopped at some jungle water slides plus a few other key Koh Samui attractions. We did the Just Jungle tour which avoided all animal attractions, something I feel pretty strongly about not supporting.

I spent some time exploring on my own too. I got a taxi to the far side of Chaweng and walked the length of the beach, which was a feat in the heat but I was really missing walking by then. The roads in Thailand do not make for a pleasant stroll as the motorcycles travel along the kerb as well. It’s tempting to walk with an eye constantly over your shoulder to make sure they see you. Chaweng is a long flat beach so I was able to get into my walking headspace and chill out, stopping to swim or lay down and read along the way.

Chaweng Beach

I remembered when reading about Vikasa, that there was a gym across the road – Sky Gym – where Vikasa guests can go for free with tokens given out at reception. So I checked that out as a walking option. An energetic music playlist was always pumping when I went, and there’s pretty much everything you need there, for me that was just the treadmill so I could walk! The cardio equipment is all lined up next to windows that give the gym its name – there is a fabulous view on the blue sky days, but even on the cloudy days like when I took this photo it’s pretty nice to workout in front of!

Sky Gym

On my last night, a group of us who were all on the verge of leaving Vikasa went to Bophut for drinks on the beach at the gorgeous CoCo Tams, which has swing seats at the bar and big beautiful cushions around low wooden tables on the sand by the water. After a few drinks we wandered around the markets buying random finger foods (I ate a deep fried cricket…!!!) and taking in the atmosphere with new friends who felt like old ones.

I returned back to Sydney feeling happy, healthy, stretched out and sun-kissed.

Selfie in Chaweng

It was a feeling that stayed with me a long time, in fact I have maintained a yoga practice much more intense than I ever have before, averaging 3-5 classes a week even 5 months later. If I ever get the chance to return I will. I just hope that when I do, I meet just as lovely people as I was lucky to meet this time.

Heart Buddha Vikasa Yoga Retreat

If you are wondering why my post is a lot lighter on photos than usual, it would be because about 24 hours after getting home to Sydney, I was walking along the beach and drowned my phone in a failed but spectacular leap of enthusiasm over the lagoon channel… I sadly lost all my holiday photos, all except for the four I had allowed myself to post on Instagram while I was there and the few I sent on Messenger to my Mum. It just goes to show, it doesn’t pay to have a complete social media break while away… Hope you enjoyed this reflection on my blissful yoga holiday.

Chaweng Elephant

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Bay of Islands

The next stop on my Kiwi travels was the Bay of Islands, on the north coast of the North Island. I travelled up on a backpacker bus which was good as we stopped a couple of places along the way.

The McKinney Kauri Tree in Parry Kauri Park is estimated to be over 800 years old! It’s 125 metres tall and 25 metres around – a bit too wide to fit my arms around!

McKinney Kauri Tree

 

We stopped at Whangarei Falls where it was drizzling with rain, but luckily I had my new goretex rain jacket with me. It was an expensive splurge (even at less than half price in the Kathmandu sale) but worth it.

Haruru Falls Selfie

There is a circular track that took less than 30 minutes to walk with a view of the falls from the top and then from down below.

 

Whangarei Falls

 

The falls drop 26.3 metres!

Whangarei Falls

 

Look how lush and green the forest is, just beautiful.

Haruru Falls

We got back on board the bus and continued on our way to the town of Paihia, a handy spot from which to explore the Bay of Islands. I had read about an overnight cruise around the islands called Rock the Boat which sounded like a lot of fun so I booked it in while still in Australia, but then I arrived to a wet and windy scene… and the news the boat had sprung a leak! It’a always disappointing when travel plans don’t pan out, but there’s always usually a bright side to find and in this case I’m glad that I wasn’t on the boat while the weather raged (bad) or when it sprung the leak (very bad).

Paihia

In hindsight maybe the Bay of Islands would best be left to the summer months when the weather is dryer and the water more inviting, however despite the wild start the weather did fine up enough the next day to head out on a cruise around the islands with our eyes peeled for dolphins. The ocean was too rough to go out past the bay so we missed seeing the famous ‘hole in the rock’ but dolphins we did see!

Bay of Islands map

The important question one must ask oneself when returning from an outdoorsy coastal holiday is ‘how many dolphin photos can one person take, seriously?’ The answer is ‘freaking hundreds’. Most of them random shots of water with maybe a hint of a shadow of a dolphin under the surface. After a massive photo purge, I still really want to show these ones.

Look how beautiful the mist looks in the trees on this island, with the first sighting of dolphins in the water.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

And then they came closer! Yay!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

Beautiful, graceful, happy dolphins.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

With a baby!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

The skipper spotted a sailing boat moored near one of the islands which is part of a youth support program. Young teens who are selected to be a part of the program live on board the boat for weeks at a time with no phones, junk food or other modern conveniences, while they learn to sail, fish and other life skills.

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

 

Our skipper pulled up close to the boat and sounded the horn to wake them all up. He said that sometimes the kids come out on board and will perform the Haka for the cruise boat. We waited awhile and then signs of life appeared. A bunch of happy but shy looking kids came out on board, and three stepped forward and launched into a wonderful display of the traditional Maori war dance. It was really brilliant, and so unexpected!

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

We kept on cruising… and we saw more dolphins!

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

We had the opportunity to jump off the boat at Urupukapuka Island to explore for awhile.

Bay of Islands Seagull

 

Urupukapuka Island

The colour of the water was so beautiful, and constantly changing.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

I headed for a water-logged path that ran past a ramshackle building, through a sweet gate and up a very steep hill.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Walk

I trudged up to the top and was rewarded with a breathtaking view across the water.

Urupukapuka Island

Back on the boat we started heading back to Paiha where we had started the cruise; finally the sun was out and putting a sparkle on the water for us.

Bay of Islands boat cruise

We were given the option to hop off at the tiny town of Russell if we wanted. I thought it sounded like a quaint place to visit so when we docked I hopped off with a small group. The skipper gave us ferry vouchers so that we could get back to Paiha when we wanted inclusive of the cruise price we’d already paid.

Russell was a really sweet place, but it wasn’t always that way!  This excerpt from the Russell Wikipedia page sums up some of it’s fascinating history:

When European and American ships began visiting New Zealand in the early 1800s, the indigenous Māori quickly recognised there were great advantages in trading with these strangers, whom they called tauiwi. The Bay of Islands offered a safe anchorage and had a high Māori population. To attract ships, Māori began to supply food and timber. What Māori wanted were respect, plus firearms, alcohol, and other goods of European manufacture.Kororāreka developed as a result of this trade but soon earned a very bad reputation, a community without laws and full of prostitution, and became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”.

Given how small and far away it is from everything it is unbelievable to think it was New Zealand’s first capital! It was also home to New Zealand’s first church and pub.

Russell - Bay of Islands

After about an hour we got back on the local ferry and headed the short distance across the water to Paihia. By this time the day was putting on a fine show for us and I can see how beautiful the Bay of Islands must be in the glory of summer.

Bay of Islands cruise

Back at Paiha the clear and sunny afternoon was too tempting to stay indoors so a long walk along the water and beach was called for.

Paihia Beach

Paihia Beach

 

I’m not sure what the story of these totem-like carvings are, but there was a row of them standing in the middle of an large reserve across the road from the beach.

Paihia Totem

I walked around the local library which is housed in a heritage home donated to the town by one of the earliest Anglican missionaries in Paihia.

Paihia Library

The Bay of Islands was a lovely place to visit, but best when the weather is dry and clear enough to enjoy the beautiful sights of the water and islands.