Tour of Papeete

The capital city of Tahiti, Papeete, was our last stop in French Polynesia.  In the morning, we wandered around town to explore the local market, the cathedral, and strolled through the gardens at the Assemblee De La Polynesie Francaise.


After lunch, we took a tour of the island and stopped at 6 different sites: 

  • Taharaa point 
  • Venus Point
  • Waterfalls of Faarumai
  • Aarahoho blowhole
  • Vaipahi garden 
  • Maran Arahurahu 

The trip was about 5 hours long with quite a lot of driving.  Some of the sites were quick "instagram" stops and others were in areas that you could wander and explore a bit more.


The stop at the Aarahoho blowhole was particularly special.  When we arrived, we didn't see much to look at but fortunately we had a guide to point it out to us.  

When the waves crash into the rock-wall along the shore, the air is forced through a small tunnel that ends further up the shore.  Check out the video of Dom quickly discovering the impressive amount of wind pressure that comes out of the hole!


Every night, a bunch of food trucks gather in the square next to the cruise ship dock.  We took advantage of the opportunity to taste a local speciality called “poisson crue”, which translates to "raw fish".  The portion size was quite large so it was a good thing we shared.  The national dish is made of sushi-grade fish marinated in lime and fresh coconut milk - sounded so simple but it was SO fresh and delicious!  We would definitely have it again.

Kayaking and Snorkelling with Shark and Rays

After hiking Magic Mountain, we headed back to the Gauguin Pier to meet up with Jen's parents.  While waiting, we strolled to the local church to watch the church choir dancing and singing church-songs, with local instruments and style.  It was really beautiful.

We took a taxi to the Plage des Tipaniers on the North side of the island, where we rented kayaks from Tip Nautic for about $10usd per kayak/hour. 


We paddled out to a sandbar ~1km away and tied our kayaks to the floating anchors that were out there.  We put on our snorkel gear and hopped into the water to swim with the black fin sharks and the stingrays that typically hang out in the area.


After returning the boats, we hung out around the beach for a couple more hours and checked out the fish in the lagoon

The island of Moorea has 2 main bays.  The Western bay is named Cook's Bay, in honour of Captain James Cook, the first European to dock on the island in 1777.  Moorea is also the island where, 12 years later, the Mutiny on the HMS Bounty occurred with Captain Bligh.  
The Eastern bay is named Opunohu Bay, which means "stomach of the stonefish".  Stories of stonefish are common in the folklore of the island.  The extremely venomous stonefish like to bury themselves shallowly in the sand of the island's lagoon, making them very hard to spot. There are many stonefish hospital visits here each year because if you accidentally step on one while wading the waters, it can be very dangerous.  So it is highly recommended to wear shoes with thick soles and avoid walking near rocks/coral, when wading in the beautiful lagoons here! 


Fortunately the beach locals warned us which areas of the lagoon to avoid in particular and we also wore our sandals in the water just incase.  We managed to avoid any incidents with stonefish, but Dom did have a fun encounter with a Damselfish while trying to capture some pictures and videos in the lagoon!  Apparently these guys get very territorial during breeding season.. checkout his footage of "Damsel vs the GoPro":



Magic Mountain Moorea

We started the second day with an early morning hike up Magic Mountain since it was easily accessible from the Paul Gauguin dock.  The area around the mountain is privately owned, so we paid $2 usd/person to enter.  
The walk was along a paved road where tourist vehicles would occasionally pass by.  We spotted a number of different fruit trees along the way including mango, papaya, lime, and banana, unfortunately, since we were on private land, we were told not to pick any of the fruit.  After about 45 mins exploring the 3.3km hike up, we reached the 180m peak where we were rewarded by yet another beautiful view of the island and surrounding lagoons.
We overheard one of the tour guides explaining that Moorea is a volcanic island (an atoll).  All of the dramatically steep "mountain peaks" along the horizon, were all part of the volcano caldera.  The 2 large bays on the North side of the island are areas where the caldera collapsed, giving Moorea it's unique "heart" or "butterfly" shape when seen from above.  To learn more about how the beautiful atolls were formed, checkout this site: Formation of atolls and islands illustrated.

Motorbiking Moorea

After leaving Honolulu, we spent five days at sea before arriving at the island of Moorea, in French Polynesia.  

The cruise itinerary originally had a stop in Bora Bora, but in order to preserve the island's ecosystem, the authorities stopped allowing large ships to dock there anymore.  The itinerary was changed to stop in Moorea for 2 days instead.  This actually ended up being perfect for us as we were able to take more time exploring the island in more detail.

Dom was excited to finally travel to a place where he could speak French with the locals.  It sure came in handy for getting directions, understanding the motorbike instructions, and figuring out the local taxis!

On our first day, we rented motorbikes and drove the ~60km clockwise loop around the entire coast of the island.  


Our first stop was at the Belvedere lookout where you can see a view of Mount Routui.  The road to get up here was rather steep and winding - a bit unnerving since none of us had been on a motorbike in some time, but the warm scenic ride up was definitely worth it!

After travelling and hiking in so many different places around the world to see so many viewpoints, sunrises, sunsets, etc., we figured this would just be another typical viewpoint.  To our delight, this viewpoint showed us what an absolute magical paradise Moorea is.  We were all blown away with the stunning scenery.  The turquoise colours of the sea, the light mist, the lush vegetation of the forest - it was unreal.  It felt like we were on the beautiful island from Jurassic Park!  

We spent a pretty long time taking pictures here, but sadly, the pictures don't come anywhere close to conveying how magical and stunning the island felt in real life.


On the way back down, we stopped by the side of the road to see the local pineapple plantation.  As we strolled through the area, we could smell the sweet pineapple scent every once in a while.


The next stop was at the Routui juice factory where we sampled some juices and alcoholic beverages.  The Tahiti Drink - Strawberry Daiquiri was the best, so we bought a carton (for about $10cad) to enjoy on the ship.


Lastly, we stopped at the Toatea viewpoint where we saw a beautiful view of the Sofitel over-water bungalows hotel and surrounding waters.  We were amazed at how beautifully turquoise and clear the water was - the pictures of Moorea really don't capture how breathtaking all of the views were in!


We then completed the rest of the island loop to returned the motorbikes and taxied back to the ship for a late-afternoon lunch.  

There was a beautiful sunset over the island that evening.. the perfect way to end our adventurous day in paradise.

Honolulu

After Maui, our ship stopped in Honolulu.  

This was the final stop of the 9-day Vancouver-to-Hawaii leg, so the ship was super busy with passengers disembarking and new passengers embarking.

Since we were continuing onward to Sydney, we decided to spend a few hours visiting Honolulu.  Walmart provided a free shuttle bus from the pier to a Walmart near Waikiki beach so we took that into town and then had a relaxing day window shopping and strolling along Waikiki Beach while people-watching all of the beach-goers and surfers.  

Internet on the ship is rather slow and expensive (ie. $30 usd/day), so we also used the opportunity to find some free internet hot-spots to get caught up on all of our messages and emails, while Jen's parents got caught up on all of the latest photos and videos of their baby granddaughter 🥰.

Maui

After 6 days at sea we finally reached Maui where we stayed for 2 days.

On our first day we rented a car and went out to explore the island. Of course, we had to start our visit with a lunch stop at Costco to test their hot dogs and see their free-range chickens 😂.

Our main goal was to go up Haleakalã Mountain, but by the time we finished driving all of the switchbacks to reach the top of the mountain, it was completely fogged over and raining. Weird to think that only 30 minutes earlier, it was hot with clear blue sunny skies 😀. 

On our way back, we stopped near the start of the road to Hana, to walk around and catch some beautiful views at Twin Falls and Ho'okipa beach park.

We were a bit caught-off-guard to discover that most of the parking lots charge $35 USD to park a rental car overnight in Lahaina!  We drove around for quite a while and luckily found a place called Republic Parking on Dickenson St. where they only charged $20 - by that time, it was getting dark and we were getting hungry so we thought it was quite a bargain! 🤪

On the 2nd day, we went out snorkelling but had mixed results. 

We tried to see the turtles in Napali Bay, Honokeana Bay, and Kaanapali Beach but with no real success.  From the beach, we could see lots of turtles coming to the surface for air, but once in the water, the visibility was about 3 feet so you couldn't see the turtle until it was right in front of your face!  The waves were quite rough in Honokeana Bay, so it was a bit scary to get into and out of the water.  You had to time yourself just right so that you wouldn't get slammed into the rocks by the big waves and currents. 

Before returning to the ship, we stopped in Lahaina to window shop and admire the massive Banyan tree. If you look at the picture, it looks like a little forest with several different trees, but it’s actually all part of same single tree - each of the "trees" were aerial roots that branched off, rooted themselves, and continued to grow into separate-looking trees over time. 

Back on the ship, we enjoyed a 5-star view while eating a late-afternoon snack at the Windjammer cafeteria. 

Quick stroll in Seattle

After being stuck in Calgary for the past couple of years, we got the travel itch and decided to join Jen's parents on a cruise from Vancouver to Sydney on the Ovation of the Seas.  Our first port of call was Seattle. 

We had already done most of the local tours and attractions when we were here 10 years ago, we decided to just take a bus into town and stroll along the wharf, through Pike place and, of course, have a Starbucks coffee.  Seattle hasn't changed much from what we remember, except that sadly it seemed like there were a lot more homeless people in the streets this time :(.

Our last "new wonder of the world" - Mexico

Our friends Guy and Cynthia had a week of vacation in March so we decided to travel with them and experience a Mexico all-inclusive resort. 

It’s definitely not our typical style of travel, but we were looking for a hassle-free vacation and settled on Mexico because it was a short flight and was nearby the final "new 7 wonders of the world" on our checklist.  Note: We still haven't seen the Pyramids in Egypt, but those are now considered to be on the "old wonders of the world" list. 

We stayed in Riviera Maya on a resort called "Catalonia Riviera Maya”.  It was a pretty nice resort with most of the amenities you would normally expect.  We had fun relaxing, eating, reading, snorkelling, kayaking, and participating in some of the hotel’s activities.   We also decided to book 2 hassle-free excursions with Sunwing: Coba Express, and Chichen Itza / Cenote Maya.




Coba
"Coba Express" was a quick half-day tour to a somewhat-less-touristy ruin called Coba, located 2.5 hours South of our resort. 

Here are a few fun facts we learned about Coba: 
  • Coba means "plenty of water". 
  • The first ruler of Coba was a woman
  • Coba had about 5000 inhabitants during its golden years
  • The rulers were "gods" and would modify their physical appearance to look like gods. They gave themselves tattoos, sharpened teeth, wore complex costumes made of feathers, and pressed their heads between wood pieces to have cone-shaped heads. 
  • The rulers also controlled their subjects through their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy - they were able to predict eclipse occurrences and used that knowledge to install fear in their subjects.
  • Mayan had a really complex set of numbers - it was base 20, whereas ours is base 10 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_numerals
  • The 2012 end-of-the-world calendar was the end of one measure in their number system 
  • Cenotes, the Mayan's primary source of drinking water, contains a lot of calcium carbonate. It was estimated that the life expectancy of Mayans was about 40 to 50 years old as they would get kidney stones from the water.

Chichen Itza
We drove Northwest for about 3 hours and visited the Chichen Itza site for ~2 hours.  We then visited a Cenote on the return back. We chose to take a smaller van tour and it was worth it as we arrived at the touristy site well before all of the giant buses, so we were able to see the site with fewer tourists. 

Factoids (from our guide):
  • The entire site is 27 sq. km - we only visited about 3 sq. km of it
  • Guatemala was the heart of the Mayan culture which included Belize, part of Salvador, and part of Mexico
  • The main temple is oriented to the 4 cardinal points.  It took 1 or 2 generations to complete and was finished around ~1100 AC.
  • Only the High Priest was allowed to go up the temple
  • Only the ruler, high priest, and some merchants, were actually allowed to live within the city. Regular people lived outside the city.
  • The site was populated for about 1000 years
    • At around 400AC, people started moving from Guatemala to the region around Chichen Itza
    • Starting ~200AC, conflicts arose in the region.  
    • By 1470 AC, the site was completely abandoned, and Christopher Columbus arrived in America 24 years later.
    • The Spanish arrived in the area in 1526 AC
  • Historians think that the region was abandoned due to a big drought around ~1000 AC 

Lastly, and probably the highlight of our excursions, was the Cenote. Cenotes are underground caves and the one we visited was huge.  Here we rappelled 23m down into the water to swim and play for a while, then experienced a Mayan blessing ceremony, and had a traditional lunch before heading back to our resort.

While we were in Mexico, reports of the first presumptive cases of Covid-19 in Calgary had begun.  We were fortunate and returned to Calgary on March 7th - just 1 week before Calgary declared a state of emergency.

Vietnam 2019

This year, Jen started a new job that gave her the opportunity to work for 2 months at the office in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. 

It was an unforgettable experience and she had such a great time meeting her Vietnamese co-workers who were so kind and welcoming. They gave her a taste of the local way of life and work culture in Vietnam, and showed her some of the best local restaurants and foods in the area around the office.  They also went on a company trip to Rạch Giá and Nam Du Island.  It was such a privilege to have this opportunity to meet and work with such an amazing and fun group of people!

Jen's parents and Dom also came to visit Vietnam for a few weeks!
We did the usual Mui Ne + Hoi An visits, met up with friends, and enjoyed the Vietnamese food. 

On this trip, we did 2 new things that we hadn't done before: 

1) Lantern Making 

In Hoi An, we took a class on how to make Vietnamese lanterns. It’s a 4-hour class where you frame and cover the lantern with the fabric of your choice!  It was really enjoyable and we were all very happy with our creations .

2) Bà Nà Hills 

On our way back from Hoi An, we stopped in Da Nang to visit the Golden Bridge. It’s a popularly Instagrammed bridge held up by a pair of giant hands.  The actual bridge is just a small portion of a bigger complex/park, which is built to have the look and feel of a European city. A 20 minutes gondola brings you up to the village (a nice place go if you need to escape a zombie apocalypse). We took time to explore the area and enjoy the relaxing scenery. 


A trip to Vietnam would not be the same without seeing people manage to transport something on their scooter, which would think is impossible!

Dubai

We were worried that a 16-day cruise would be really long and start to get boring, but it passed super fast and before we knew it, the last days of our cruise were sadly upon us. 

We arrived in Dubai around 2 PM and were greeted by a lovely landscape view of the Burj Khalifa towering over the skyline.

We hopped into a taxi to visit the tallest building in the world and surrounding attractions. Along the way, we saw some of Dubai's amazing architecture and were in awe seeing the large number of active sky-scraper construction projects underway. 

At the Dubai Mall, we strolled through the surrounding areas and went inside to see some of the mall attractions like the Aquarium and the indoor waterfall. We grabbed a bite to eat while watching the world's largest light and sound show on the Burj Khalifa.

The next day we departed the boat and left our travel companions behind 😢 to continue their cruise to Singapore. 

We strapped on our backpacks and went to explore “La Mer”, a new sea-side resort area close to the ship.  It was really pretty, but crazy hot!  We spent a couple of hours exploring and then headed back to the airport to made our way to London.. and back to reality.