Interesting story here. For months and months since last year, our Kiwi bestmates in Qingdao, Tom & Charlotte, have been convincing us to come to N.Z. Their inception was successful and we decided to come with Charlotte to NZ for Chinese New Year vacation. We planned out a jam—packed and awesome two weeks in NZ.
……. However, today makes four weeks in NZ. When we arrived, news about the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan spread. We were notified week 2 from our school that the date to return had been delayed. Week 3 into NZ, we were informed by our school to return to China at the end of February.
While we like to always see the glass “half-full”, we must fully disclose some challenging aspects of being stuck in NZ. Starting week 3 in NZ, our school asked us provide online learning for our students. Without any school materials/computer/resources, this has been … interesting. We are doing our best, and our students are doing their best as well given the circumstances. Online learning has been a cocktail of Schoology, emails, WeChat group messages, students taking photos of work and sending it to us, WeChat video calls to our students, etc. While getting back into a school routine would be ideal for both us and our students, we have to make the most of the circumstances in an unforeseeable future.
Now for the actual glass half-full – if there was a place to be stuck doing work, NZ would top the charts. Mountains rise alongside coasts and gorgeous beaches. There is grass-fed beef, world-renowned Hawke’s Bay red wine, and hiking galore. Below are highlights from the first two weeks in N.Zed. – you know, the two weeks we actually planned to be here for:
We packed in some amazing adventures in these first two weeks…with the extra time we were able to add a few more! New post coming soon!
While we love traveling to new places, getting lost, and exploring, sometimes visiting someplace familiar is just as exciting. We found ourselves asking what we’d like to get out of our Christmas break from school. We wanted to go diving, yes, another liveaboard would be great. We also wanted to hike, eat great food, and recharge our batteries. After some contemplation we arrived at a conclusion…we were going back to Thailand.
Our first stop after a late night flight was Phuket where we were staying for a couple of days to relax on the beach and find a dive shop that could service and clean our very dirty regulators (when diving, a regulator is what you breath from). We had a great time on our rented motorbike driving around one of the most dangerous countries in the world for motorbiking. We got to explore parts of the island that we had not seen before including Old Phuket town and Chalong. While eating as much Pad Thai and Papaya Salad as our stomachs would allow.
We contacted our Thai divemaster from our last trip, Ping, and met up with him for lunch. It was great to see a familiar face and hear some stories about some of the amazing creatures he’s recently seen while leading groups of divers through the Samilian and Surin National Marine Parks. This got us very excited for dive trip that left the following day.
What can we say about liveaboards…If you’re a diver and just love to be in the water as much as possible, it is the way to go! Imagine staying in a hotel where the only thing you have to do is wake up, go diving, eat, dive some more, eat some more, then go to bed and start the process all over again the next day.
Some of the highlights from this trip were: Our first sharks! We spooked a white tip reef shark and saw it disappear into the blue and were also fortunate enough to see a beautiful leopard shark! We came across a family of cuttlefish, a few large octopuses, and a return visit to Richelieu Rock (a dive site made famous by Jacques Cousteau). Last time we were there, the current gave us a run for our money and we quite literally flew through the site. This time, our visit was calm, clear, and an absolute dream to dive; proving to us that there is value in returning to a dive site you’ve visited before as the conditions and creatures are always changing. We decided to make a video about why we love diving (which you can see in the previous post or on our YouTube channel). We had so much fun collecting the clips we needed to complete our storyboard.
Upon leaving our liveaboard trip, we stayed in Old Phuket Town for one night. This area of Phuket is a bit more touristy than the northern part of the island, but has it’s own unique charm. Our Airbnb host suggested that we check out the night market within walking distance, as it only happens once per week and it happened to be the night we were staying there. This was such a cool experience; we’re so glad that we took her up on that idea! It was definitely a shock to the system, walking shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other tourists but the sights and colors and delicious smells of the local vendors preparing various street foods made it all worth it! Some people might be turned off by “fighting the crowd” just to get some Pad Thai or Papaya Salad, but our recommendation is to relax, go with the flow, and keep your expectations to a minimum. This way, you can focus on what’s in front of you and simply enjoy being part of something so vibrant and alive. Many places we’ve been to create their own energy and if you can tap into that and let it take you, you’ll come out on the other side with a new understanding and deeper appreciation of the experience as a whole.
The next day, we hopped on a ferry to Krabi/Ao Nang. This was a new and previously-unexplored area of Thailand for us. The best way I can describe this area of the world to you is by posing a question – What is the most beautiful landscape/geographical feature you have ever seen? …. You would probably say a beautiful mountain range. Or crystal blue waters. Or a gorgeous harbor overlooking the sea. Or fine white sand…. Put all of those together and you get this region of Thailand. Crystal blue/teal water and fine white sand juxtaposed with striking pillars jutting up into the sky. This area is a rock-climbers mecca and stunned our senses from the moment that we arrived.
On our first day in Ao Nang, we did a 1-day speedboat tour to several known locations in the region, including the PhiPhi Islands. Quite a tourist thing to do, but we couldn’t complain about the views, lagoon swimming, and company 🙂
The next day, we took a water taxi (image above) from AoNang to Raleigh Beach. THIS is rock climbers’ heaven. We saw many rock climbers out and about on various routes. A little hike over from Raleigh beach gave us an off-the-beaten-path beach full of monkeys 🙂
The next day, we rented a scooter (and two helmets, not to worry mom) and drove out to a National Park known for its gorgeous trails and monitor lizards. We went out as early as we could knowing that each minute into morning was a minute hotter. The views were unreal and we did spot a juvenile monitor lizard on the way back down.
On the scooter back to AoNang from the National Park, we stopped for some scrumptious Thai food….
… and at another “tourist” spot. This is a hidden gem/unknown tourist spot in AoNang owned by a once-Ohio resident and her Thai husband. At the Cat Fish Farm, we each paid a small donation for some fish food. While walking along the garden, we encountered one crocodile, countless catfish, and the largest fish we have ever seen. You feed the animals along the way at your discretion 🙂
That evening was New Year’s Eve. We ate in downtown AoNang and did our best to stay up and usher in the new year. We arrived back at our hotel just before midnight and took the stairs up to the top floor. On the roof, we got a 360 degree view of all the fireworks down at the beach and surrounding hotels.
The next day, we took the long journey home. A taxi from the hotel to the ferry. The ferry back to Phuket town. A transfer car from Phuket town to the airport. Two planes back to Qingdao 🙂