Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Batu Caves: Malaysia

The Batu Caves are a Hindu Shrine just outside the city of Kuala Lumpur. The caves themselves have been there for close on 400 million years but only in the late 19th century were the shrines added.

The caves are instantly recognisable by the enormous golden statue which guards the foot of the stairway up to the caves. There are 272 steps (by my count) in total to reach the first cavern. On the way up you will be very unlucky if you do not see a monkey. They are quite playful with other and very fun to watch but you are advised not to get too close as they can bite. I did get quite snap happy around these little guys and have included my best picture on the post.

At the entrance you may find locals selling crafts and offering photo opportunities with reptiles which I thought was a little odd but I can also see how this would be a bit of a novelty to tourists. It was interesting to see how some local people have decided to try and cash in on a sacred shrine and that people still go to pray despite the camera flashes and added noise from tourists.

If you venture further into the caves you will see how it opens out and the ceiling gets higher. It is very dark and damp and has all the characteristics of any other cave until you move into the final chamber. Approaching the shrine itself is quite spectacular on a sunny day as the light beams down through the mossy vegetation which surrounds the open roof to the third chamber. You can look straight out to the sky above through the opening in the top of the chamber which is probably about 100 feet above. To be fair I was more impressed with the monkeys and the unusual cave than the shrines themselves as they do get rather overshadowed. It was also quite exciting not knowing what to expect when climbing the steps and entering this huge cave system. Regrettably, I have now spoiled this illusion for you.

I got there as part of a tour which included stops to a pewter factory and other historical places of interest but there are buses that go there from Kuala Lumpur itself. If you have not seen anything traditional, shrine-like or any monkeys then it is a good stop to make and tick a few boxes.


Friday, 28 November 2008

What Is The Flattest Country In The World?

Everyone enjoys an interesting fact or two so I thought I would do some research into the flattest country in the world. After a Google search, it did not take me long to discover the country with the lowest high point (the flattest) is The Republic of Maldives with a maximum elevation of 2.4 meters ! This really surprised me. How can an entire 300 sq km country be so flat? If I went to the sandy beaches of The Maldives and built a 2.5 meter high sand castle I would probably create quite a stir.

However the lack of gradient in the country is a great concern especially with rising sea levels widely thought to be caused by global warming. If the water raised only a couple of feet we could see a large number of the islands disappear. As it stands it is estimated that the sea level will rise by 59 cm by the year 2100 offering an uncertain fate for future generations. The Tsunami in 2005 did offer a glimmer of the damage rising sea water could do to this small nation. Although the wave only reached 9 feet in The Maldives (relatively small compared to elsewhere), it was enough to submerge the islands and cause lasting structural damage and contaminate the freshwater stores with salt. Many of the islands may have been partially protected by their coral reefs acting as a break water but these could be slowly disappearing.

If anyone has any travel related interesting facts or questions post a comment and I will look into the answer.


Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Humour From The Road

Firstly I will apologise for the poor quality of this photo. It was taken at dusk with a point and shoot so hopefully you would expect no more despite my best efforts to brighten it in photoshop. Anyway, the name of this shop tickled me which is slightly ironic seeing as it is in fact a coffin shop on a backstreet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"Fook Hing" when said out loud phonetically could be mistaken as quite a rude word in the English language. I will not write the word as it is quite offensive, so if you know what I mean keep it to yourself (that means no guessing in the comments section or I will have to moderate!) It was only when I said the name over in my head a couple of times I started laughing. It is probably not funny to a lot of people but it does appeal to my sense of humour.

Although this is not an outrageous example, it really opens your eyes as to words and traits that are be acceptable in one culture, can be totally misinterpreted and taboo in another. If anyone else has other photos similar to this I would love to hear. Also if anyone knows the translation of "Fook Hing" then please leave a comment. My best guess is it is a family name?


Monday, 24 November 2008

Airline Economy Seat Prices Could Be Set To Change

If you have been paying attention when flying you will notice that some economy seats have extra or sometimes unlimited leg room just because they are at the front of an aisle near to the galley, or over the wing/emergency exit. If you have ever used a self service check in you may have noticed how customers are wise to this and that these seats get snapped up very quickly. However, this first come first served allocation system is quickly changing.

This month Singapore Airlines, which incidentally were voted the number one international airline in the Conde Nast Traveler Annual Readers' Choice Awards, have started to charge economy fliers for sitting in these roomier seats. Singapore Airlines charge £32 each way on all flights (except some short haul routes) for this privilege and could intend to add new categories to this pricing structure for economy seating. Air France have already introduced a £42 each way charge for the more spacious seats on flights to the USA.

This seems like a stunt the airlines have decided to pull during hard times to make extra money. If people are willing to pay for the extra room, who could blame Singapore Airlines for cashing in? I for one would not bother for a short flight but on a lengthier flight I may be persuaded. But what could this mean for you round the world ticket holders?

Well, if an introduction of extra seat categories in economy class is just around the corner, round the world ticket holders could be in for a rough ride. As these tickets offer such good value, you may get relegated to non aisle seats, on the back row where the seats may not recline, or worse still, next to the toilet. I had plenty of experience of this when I was flying on my ticket and did suspect that we were flagged up on check in and allocated less desirable seats.

So, would you be willing to spend that extra bit of cash for a better seat that you may have been appointed anyway under the current seat pricing structure? Or would you rather settle for saving the money and opt for something cheaper. Leave a comment to have your say.


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Top 5 Overlooked Travel Necessities

I think top 5 lists are very helpful to people trying to find good and concise information. Below is a list of the items I found most useful when I went backpacking but would not necessarily be obvious to the first time traveler. Hopefully you will learn from my experience. These are in no particular order.

1. Good pair of shoes:

Your number one priority should be getting a good, sturdy pair of comfortable shoes as traveling does mean you will be doing a lot of walking. Some people opt to buy proper walking shoes from an outdoors outlet such as millets or blacks which will guarantee good quality, that they will last a long time and will be waterproof. I however chose to take a comfortable pair of trainers which admittedly did wear out in Washington DC and started to let in icy cold water but were good while they lasted. If you do purchase a new pair of shoes I highly recommend wearing them everyday for a week before you leave to ensure they are comfortable and do fit your feet.

2. Swim shorts:

This mainly applies to men but I found these a very useful item of clothing. They can be used as everyday shorts, can help you out of a tight spot when you have no clean underwear (the netting becomes invaluable), and of course as swim wear. You would always find these at the top of my backpack.

3. Quick dry towel:

The pros of this item speak for themselves. They are light weight, small for efficient packing and dry in half the time of ordinary towels. If you have to leave early for a long bus journey and want that all important shower, this little gem will prevent you from opening your bag 10 hours later to find that the awful damp towel smell has spread to your nice clean washing. If you a larger person then you may find the dimensions of a quick dry towel challenging if you want to retain some dignity in a dorm. Let the good times roll.

4. Torch:

At some point on your travels you will find yourself in the dark scrabbling to find a light switch when you need the loo. I found that in South East Asia some guest houses and hostels had outside toilets and they were not very well lit. A torch can be a life saver when you need to be watching where you are treading if you know what I mean.

5. Locks:

Security can be an issue when on the road, moving from dorm to dorm and taking international and domestic flights. I recommend purchasing some small padlocks which clasps your zips together prior to going traveling. Be aware that they could be broken off at airports for security checks so maybe take a couple extra, it is your call. If you are traveling a lot in the USA, you can get special padlocks which also have a master key slot so the locks do not need to be broken at the airports.

I also took a light weight bicycle chain with me so that when I was out during the day I could chain my rucksack to the bunk bed frame so nobody could walk off with it. Remember if you loose your passport or credit cards it could be game over for your trip.

Let me know what items you found most useful when traveling by leaving a comment below.


Saturday, 22 November 2008

Island Hopping: Krabi, Thailand

Thailand has hundreds of islands to explore, many of which are isolated with undisturbed coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and are a dash of paradise in the Indian Ocean. It is very popular among tourists to take boat trips tours to several islands in one day to catch some sun, sea, and sand. This past time has been coined as “island hopping” and is something I took to when I visited Krabi in Thailand.

Many island hopping tours operate from Krabi, a beach front town in southern Thailand. In the mornings many people gather on the beach ready to board the numerous boats which are about to set sail for the day. The trip I did made five stops in total and took roughly 30 minutes by motor boat to get to the first one. After quite a rough journey we reached Pi Leh Lagoon and jumped over the side with snorkel gear. The boat drivers threw bread over the side which attracted thousands of colorful fish which would sometimes mistake you for bread and nibble at your skin. This did feel odd at first but as long as you were not too close to the bread you were okay. Interestingly this was one the locations Leonardo Di Capri was filmed while making the movie “The Beach”.

We set off at sailed to Maya Bay (Another film location for “The Beach”) and moored in another cove with a beach for a morning of relaxation. The water in the cove was incredibly warm. It was much like slipping into bath water much unlike the unearthly temperatures you experience on the UK coast.

After making a quick stop off at Monkey Island to give some very hungry monkeys their banana lunch we proceeded onto have our extensive buffet lunch on Phi Phi Island which was thrown in with the price of the tour. It was all you can eat rice, noodle, chicken and vegetables and really hit the spot.

The afternoon and final stop was spent on Bamboo Island which had long stretches of white beach and really made you feel like you were in the middle of nowhere. This was mainly a relaxation and snorkeling spot depending on how energetic you were feeling.

Island hopping does allow you to see some undisturbed Thai islands and get very sun burnt all in one day. Although we did move between several islands the day did not feel rushed and importantly there was plenty of choice and time for lunch. Ask a local or your hotel/hostel reception for the tours they recommend and look into where they take you and what you do to find something that suits.

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Friday, 21 November 2008

My Top Travel Photo

I went travelling back in 2007 for four months and touched down in 4 continents. I took over 2500 photos and printed them all costing only £60 which I thought was quite a bargain. However, the photos of Niagara Falls at sunset stood out above the rest as being the most stunning, and I am actually quite proud of the shot.

It was taken from the American side looking over to Canada, and shows the American Falls on a very crisp winters evening in December. I use a normal point and shoot camera, so nothing flashy (no pun intended), but think I got as good a result as any SLR. At the risk of sounding a bit pretentious and artsy fartsy, I do like the way the fading light catches the spray coming off the falls.

The picture beat close contenders from the Grand Canyon at sundown, a view of the mountains across Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, and the lagoon on Muri Beach in the Cook Islands.

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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Alcatraz: The Night Tour

Once upon a time the San Francisco Bay harboured America’s most hardened criminals including Al Capone and Robert Stroud. The infamous US Penitentiary nicknamed “The Rock” was operational from 1934 – 63 before closing from the lack of funding. Today Alcatraz is considered a national treasure and tours of this illustrious island operate from Pier 33 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The tours vary but I chose to do the night tour as it includes special programmes and presentations featured only at night. As I took was in San Francisco in late November early December the night tour started with Alcatraz in the daylight, then faded to sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge and finally you got a view of the lights in downtown from aspects rarely captured by the average visitor.

Alcatraz at the best of times is a creepy place, but especially at night. The rows of cells are dead quiet, still, and everything is untouched and as it was from when it was a working prison. You get a 45 minute audio tour telling you tales of the escape attempts, riots and day to day life on The Rock. The tour draws attention to bullet holes, half dug tunnels and blood stains from events that unfolded at Alcatraz. If you are quiet you can hear music and traffic from the bay area and can imagine the torment the prisoners must have endured everyday knowing that freedom was only a stones throw away. You get to wander the prison at your own pace visiting the cells, kitchen, solitary confinement, the hospital and the officer’s quarters. If you walk down Broadway (the central row of cells) you can imagine what it must have been like to be an inmate being led into your cell for the first time with hundreds of eyes on you. If you have ever seen The Shawshank Redemption you may have a clearer picture of what I mean.

After the audio guide you can head to off to the special presentations only available on the night tour. The guides give talks about topics such as the most famous residents at Alcatraz, everyday life, escapes, riots and much more. They will also be happy to take any questions.

The night tour is slightly dearer at $30.50 (adult) than the day tour but only by $6. It lasts for around 2 hours 30 minutes and is the number one thing to do in San Francisco. In peak season tours are normally sold out so book in advance or go off peak to ensure you get a place. Oh, and there is a gift shop on the island for all your Alcatraz merchandise.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2008

San Francisco Voted The Top US City

This week Conde Nast Traveler announced the Winners of the 21st Annual Readers' Choice Awards this week. The awards are designed to celebrate and identify the best destinations, lodgings and transportation in the travel industry. Altogether over 32,000 readers voted to help compose the list so us the public can see where and with whom we should be spending our hard earned cash.

The most incredible statistic and achievement came in the announcement that San Francisco became the top US city for the 16th year in a row edging out close rivals New York and 2nd place Charleston. I find this no surprise as I have never heard a single visitor say a bad word about San Fran. It has relatively warm weather all year round and there is plenty to see and do. The only downsides of the city are the fog which draws in quickly obscuring the view across the bay of the Golden Gate Bridge and the steep hills that you have to climb to go anywhere. Still, this city has plenty of character and charm and is good for backpackers and people searching for a little bit of luxury. Check out my next post to see the top 5 things to do in The Golden Gate City.

In the remainder of the categories, Bangkok won top Asian city, Sydney top Australia/Pacific and Singapore Airlines received best international airline.


Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Experiencing an Earthquake in New Zealand (2007)

On 15th October 2007 at 12.29pm an earthquake measuring 6.8 hit the south island of New Zealand 60 miles north west of Queenstown. At this time I must have been traveling by coach south towards Queenstown from Franz Josef glacier which I had climbed the previous day. Remarkably I did not feel the initial quake perhaps because I was on a coach but I did feel the after shock.

It must have been the early hours of the morning when I woke up in my bunk bed to find the entire room shaking. The bed frame was vibrating and swaying from side to side and the light fitting was rattling hard. Being from the UK where earthquakes are rarely even felt, I could not understand what was going on. I initially thought I was on a boat and the engine was running despite not having been anywhere near a boat in quite sometime. It took a couple of moments for me to come to and rule that out before an after shock crossed my mind. The rumbling lasted for a good minute before it stopped but not at any point did I think “oh my god it is an after shock, I’d better get out of bed”. I laugh at that now as I am sure New Zealanders are trained from an early age to run to the door frame.

The earthquake did inconvenience me slightly as it caused an avalanche on the road down to Milford Sounds but it could have been a lot worse. I am very pleased now that it did not hit when I was climbing along a crevasse on the Franz Josef glacier because if the ice had shifted then, I may not be here to tell the tale.

If you have experienced and earthquake or even the one last year in New Zealand, leave me a comment and let me know.

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Monday, 17 November 2008

Culture Shock: A visit to Tokyo, Japan

Prior to my travels I had not flown further than a summer holiday to Greece and so visiting Japan as my first stop as a backpacker really was being thrown in at the deep end. After enduring (and I mean enduring) an 11 and a half hour Virgin flight to Tokyo from the UK the first shock was the jet lag. Having not got a wink of sleep partially due to the lack of leg room in economy and the anticipation, I arrived at 9am unbelievably drained and totally unprepared for another full day.

It did not take long to realise that I was completely out of my comfort zone in every respect. The first thing I noticed was the intense humidity; something I had not experienced to that extent before, nor did I on any other point on the trip. The second thing was the maze of underground lines into and around Tokyo which I knew I was going to have to ride with a huge back pack on the tail end of rush hour. I took the underground from Narita Airport to central Tokyo where I had booked a week in a traditional style Japanese bedroom. I found navigating the tube was difficult at first but the colour coded train lines helped and there were some English signs, but these would vanish quickly if you strayed too far from the busy parts of the stations.

I got off at the correct station and spent an hour of wandering around trying to decipher the hotel’s address, and eventually asked for help from an old Japanese lady who did not speak any English whatsoever. She then led like a lost puppy to the hotel. The traditional room consisted of a mat and a pillow in a room I barely wide enough to lie down in. I did at this point wonder where my £20 a night actually went.

The next activity was lunch. I did know what to expect so I trudged along the road back towards the underground station passing a couple of local restaurant/bars which looked far too hot and dark. Many places interestingly had the food on dishes in the windows as you would do clothes in the UK but nothing really looked too appetising and I decided to throw in the towel and settle for a KFC. I am quite ashamed that I did not sample any Japanese cuisine in Tokyo. However in my defence it was not always obvious what the food on offer was because there were never any English translations and even if there were I would have still needed to choose carefully. I even struggled to find a vending machine that sold coca-cola or any recognisable brand.

On the positive side I did manage to navigate out to some temples, get lost in a forest trying to find a giant Buddha, see the lights at night in Shinjuku and I also saw a traditional Japanese wedding at a temple which was a bonus.

I did enjoy my time in Tokyo despite feeling much like an alien. I only saw 6 other westerners in the whole week I was there and they were in Disneyland. Children on the underground did stare at me but that did not bother me too much. I would recommend Tokyo to anyone as it is so different to anything you will see but perhaps not as your first stop as the culture shock can be overwhelming. The language barrier was the toughest as very few Japanese speak any English at all which did surprise me. I had a phrase book but found it quite useless as I could not understand what they were asking and therefore there was a lot of pointing on my behalf. Oh and I am living proof that fast food for a week does not keep you regular!

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Whale Watching at Kaikoura, New Zealand

The best place to go whale watching in New Zealand is Kaikoura on the south island which boasts a 95% chance of seeing a whale. The company Whale Watch that runs the tours is based on the sea front at Kaikoura and actually offers an 80% discount on their tours if you do not see a whale. They have very modern boats that are extremely comfortable. On the way out to the spotting site they play a video on a big screen which also gives you stats on the depth of the water below.

The most common whales to sight in the waters around Kaikoura are sperm whales which dive to tremendous depths to feed and then resurface every 15 minutes or so. The boats on the tour track the whale’s movements and time their decent to ensure you will get a good viewing. As many whales are migratory creatures, you may see different whales depending on the

time of year you visit. Humpback whales and pods of orca can sometimes be spotted in the months of June and July and occasionally a blue whale. You may get to see playful dusky and hectors dolphins or perhaps a wandering albatross.

The tour lasts about 3.5 hours and will cost $145 NZD for adults and $60 for kids. The tours operate weather permitting but always show up to check. When I went there were quite large swells until we got out to the drop off but then became calmer. If you do suffer from sea sickness then I would recommend taking a tablet prior to your tour. You may be lucky enough to see whales and dolphins on the inter island ferry which runs between the north and south islands but for the best chance Kaikoura is the best bet and highly recommended.

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Saturday, 15 November 2008

Is The Pound Actually Strengthening?

The answer is yes! but only down under. Anyone looking for cheaper travel this winter should be heading to the southern hemisphere where the pound has actually strengthened. Although the pound has fallen in price against the US Dollar, reports show it has gained in value in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. Backpackers and holiday makers looking to take advantage of this may want to hold out buying their flights for just a moment because as the price of oil falling, it is likely that airlines will drop their hefty fuel surcharges and lower ticket prices.

This seems to be a bit of good news in what seems to be dark days for he pound and British holiday maker. It will be interesting to see whether people do decide to travel further next summer to cheaper location and boycott visits to the USA or mainland Europe. I would argue that people will still go to these locations but will save harder than before. Holidays and travel are something the average person does not cut back on as it is sometimes the only time they can escape British weather.


Friday, 14 November 2008

98% Silica: The Purest Sand in the World

The white sands of Whitehaven Beach stretch for over 7 kilometers along the largest of the 74 Whitsunday Islands off the east coast of Australia. The world famous sands of Whitehaven Beach are quite possibly the purest in the world, in fact so pure that the sand squeaks under foot and cannot be beaten for exfoliating the skin and removing impurities. As an area of outstanding natural beauty, people are forbidden from taking the sand off the beach to take home despite the fact one could make a fortune by selling it as an excellent skin exfoliation product.

The beauty of the Whitsunday islands is extraordinary. It is a very popular stop for travelers moving along the east coast of Australia. You can get yourself on a yacht or maxi boat from Airlie Beach, sail the bluest waters you will ever see, and dive beneath the waves to see the most lush underwater environment in the world; The Great Barrier Reef. If you want to relax with a beer and a BBQ and watch a true Aussie sunset then look no further than cruising the Whitsundays.


Thursday, 13 November 2008

Ryanair To Go Trans Atlantic

This week the budget airline Ryanair, typically known for its incredibly low air fares to Europe, announced plans to offer flights to the USA for as little as $12. They have secured landing space in New York, Rhode Island and Baltimore with new locations to be considered. To compensate for the low prices, Ryanair hopes to recoup its money through foods sales, duty free, and in flight entertainment.

Ryanair will have to splash out for a new fleet of aircraft for the long haul flights which will be difficult to budget for in the current recession. We will have to see how this story unfolds to see if Ryanair can deliver this feat. I cannot imagine a trans Atlantic flight being particularly comfortable on a budget airline but it still may be a popular option for those trying to save a few pennies.


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Around The World In Economy Class

I booked a round the world ticket with the Flight Center back in 2006 for £1400 inc. taxes. I knew this was an economy ticket but was still extremely impressed with the price considering our route took us 29,000 air miles and I have seen budget tickets to Australia alone for £749. I was definitely not expecting top notch anything for the money I paid but there are three things I look for in a good flight.

  • Firstly you must have adequate leg room to allow you stretch out. Even better is to have an aisle seat where you can spill over and block the gangway.

  • There must also be good films and entertainment available with a decent view of a screen.

  • Possibly the most importantly is a tolerable cabin of fellow flyers. This means no young children, stag parties of people sleeping and dribbling on your arm.

My round the world ticket used the Star Alliance Group. There are a number of airlines in this group including Air New Zealand, Thai Airlines, and Singapore Airlines each of which I flew with using an economy ticket. I was impressed with all of these airlines as they fulfilled all of my criteria mentioned above on most of my flights. The majority of the time I got to the airport early enough to choose my own seat, had an on demand entertainment service with my own screen (something I was very impressed with as I only held an economy ticket), and most importantly had a good cabin full of quiet passengers. Well this was true for all but one journey when we were seated next to the entire group of contestants of Shipwrecked 2007 flying back with us on a 9 hour flight from the Cook Islands to LA. They were seriously hyperactive and partied the whole way back; not great for a night flight.

The best airline I experienced from the Star Alliance was Singapore Airlines. The leg room in economy was brilliant, there were on demand movies and the food was great and that is something I do not normally say. It was a total contrast from our first flight with Virgin from London to Tokyo where the leg room was non existent and was generally an awful flight. This could be because at 11 hours it was 3 times longer than my previous longest flight to Egypt.

I also took budget flights in Australia and the USA using Jet Blue, Delta and United. Many of the USA internal budget flights I found quite pleasant as the planes were never particularly busy and the journeys in comparison not too long. In contrast, the Australian internal flights did not seem to be as spacious and it was quite cramped. I think this is probably because there are more budget airlines in the states and they fly more frequently than in Australia.

It is possible to circle the globe in economy class. It does have its uncomfortable moments and you do wonder what treats are being handed out behind that curtain in first and business class. We did sometimes get lumbered with the seats on the back row where the chair did not recline the full way and the rows next to the toilet but we still got from A to B. Who said backpacking was supposed to be luxurious anyway?


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

White Water Rafting In Rotorua, New Zealand

I always wanted to try white water rafting on my round the world trip and was told Rotorua was the best place to do it. The rapids are located just outside the main town which is relatively large compared to other towns in New Zealand. I was picked up as part of a group and taken out to the river where we had basic training and got kitted up in wet suits and helmets. We were all given our own oar too so you can get actively involved in the rowing; you are not merely a spectator.

I thought the course at Rotorua was incredible although admittedly I did not have anything to compare it to. The surroundings were lush and green and the water crystal clear and fresh. The leader of our boat explained there were 14 sets of rapids and 3 waterfalls ranging in height from 3 - 7 meters. Initially I could not imagine how we were going to descend down a 7 meter drop in the raft but found out it was just about possible if you held on tightly and take a deep breath. It can be hard work to stay inside the boat as you need to wedge yourself in the raft, keep your head down and hold onto your oar all while taking the drop so the fitter you are, the easier you will find it.

The leaders were definitely into white water rafting and always up for a good time. They let us get out the raft and float along in the rapids and provide excellent shots of you rafting and descending the falls. You are in the water for roughly 30 minutes and it is definitely action packed from the word go. Also, just to add extra drama, you disembark at the 'point of no return' as if you miss it you are heading for a 20 meter drop.

White water rafting in New Zealand has really got me into the sport and I would love to raft in other locations around the world. I hear there are some good opportunities in Canada and on the Colorado River.

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Monday, 10 November 2008

Searching For Giant Clams At The Fruits Of Rarotonga, South Pacific

The Cook Islands consist of 15 major islands in total with the capital being considered as Rarotonga. Rarotonga is surrounded by coral reef meaning the waves break about 100 meters out at the furthest point. This leaves a lagoon and calmer waters perfect for snorkeling and canoeing. Undoubtedly the best snorkeling spot is at The Fruits of Rarotonga which lies to the southeast of the island on Muri Beach. I went to find this area with a couple of people I met ultimately in the search of giant clams. We had the directions 'snorkel to the end of the coral and then swim left' which I thought rather vague but decided to give it a go anyway.

From the shore The Fruits of Rarotonga just looks like calm waters from the beach but beneath the surface is a vibrant and colorful ecosystem. The coral itself is absolutely stunning and incredibly diverse. The variety of species is amazing and huge cauldrons of coral are dotted around. As you weave through the reef you will see countless species of fish just going about their lives, octopus, starfish and small clams.

After an hour of taking it all in, we decided to swim out to find the giant clams but it began to rain hard. We came to the surface and due to the severity of the down pour it was not obvious which way was back to land and which was out to sea. We had to tread water for several minutes before the rain eased up and we could swim back. Unfortunately we never found the giant clams but were very impressed with The Fruits of Rarotonga as a whole. As there is not much else to do on the island other than relax or canoe, The Fruits of Rarotonga should really be explored.

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Sunday, 9 November 2008

M&M World Las Vegas. Only In America ....

If you like chocolate lover and a shopaholic then why not drop in at M&M World. I discovered this little delight while walking up and down the strip in Las Vegas. The shop has 3 storeys of mouth watering goodness and hundreds of products sporting our little M&M character friends. You name it, clothes, toys, accessories, kitchen ware, it is all there, oh, and of course chocolate.

On the top floor there is a whole wall dedicated to chocolate and peanut M&Ms in all the colours of the rainbow (of course they all taste the same, only different coloured shell). The setup is dangerous however, as it is self service and you pay by weight so keep close tabs on what you are doing. For those of you who have just won big at the blackjack table this will not be an issue.

I was quite surprised at the amount of interest in the M&M merchandise in Las Vegas as you can see the little, and often big, yellow bags in everyone's hands. It was by far the most popular stop off for shoppers that I could see and there is plenty of shopping competition is Vegas believe me. There are three M&M World shops in the USA at Vegas, Orlando, and New York at Times Square and opportunities to get photos with the characters themselves. It is entertaining, different and tasty!