Bako, Sarawak: Malaysian Borneo for your bucket-list

I love Bako National Park.  Sadly, I was unable to stay overnight this time, but I recommend that if you possibly can – do so!  I also recommend you book well in advance to get a bed.

This park, which I believe is the smallest in Malaysia, and certainly the most visited because of the ease of access, from Kuching, Sarawak, is almost a different place when all the day-trippers leave.

At the bottom of this blog is a link to another story, with photos, that I wrote about Bako a few years ago after my first visit.  I’m still in love with the ‘ugliest animal you ever could see’ and of course the severely endangered proboscis monkey – most people have no idea that this monkey is even more endangered than the orangutan – once again, like many animals, in danger because of habitat loss.

A public bus from Kuching will take you to the dock where you can catch a boat to Bako.  Just remember, there are crocodiles in the water!


Here are some photos of those so-called ugly animals – I think ‘how could you not love the Bornean bearded pig’.

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The kiwitravelwriter reluctantly leaving Bako. photo by Chris Lambie
catching the boat to leave – by Chris Lambie (Australia)
arriving at Bako

here’s another blog I wrote, with more photos, about Bako

Put Oman on your bucket-list

‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.

The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.

In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.

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Turtles Galore … my bucket-list item achieved in Sarawak, Malaysia!

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population. The park includes the coastline and sea around four islands in southwest Sarawak: this area has 95% of all turtle landings in Sarawak.  I’m thrilled to stay overnight on two of them. One turtle arrived on the first island, ten on this one,  Talang-Talang.

I arrive on Talang Talang - photo by Gustino
I arrive on Talang Talang – photo by Gustino Basuan Sarawak Tourism Board

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-lived creatures, but only about one in one thousand eggs grow to maturity about 30 to 50 years old!

Ten turtles arrive overnight and I watch as they laboriously dig the holes for the nest, lay about 80 eggs, cover them up and go back to sea. We then see the forestry staff carefully dig them up, record the details,  and rebury them safe from predators.

I hope some of the sixty hatched eggs (that had been buried safely about 45 days earlier)  that I was privilege to count into the release bucket, are among those very low odds and return to this island to complete the process.

My photos tell the story. (There are no overnight photos for 2 reasons – one, I wanted to just enjoy the experience and two, it’s hard to photograph at night with no flash allowed!)


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A turtle may lay 10,000 eggs in her lifetime, but once they reach the sea, as few as 10 hatchlings will survive to reach maturity. Some don’t even get to the sea … ghost crabs and birds are always waiting for a meal to appear.

The Sarawak Forestry has conservation programmes at which volunteers can help (holidays with a purpose) : the eggs are either removed from nests and placed in guarded hatcheries, or left in place and guarded round the clock by Sarawak Forestry wardens. After 40 to 60 days incubation, young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

Please note: The Sarawak Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme is not suitable for everyone. Accommodation facilities are basic and everyone is expected to help with cooking and cleaning-up. Volunteers join a team of dedicated conservation experts whose mission is to monitor every turtle landing on the island and so help to preserve Sarawak’s natural heritage. Volunteers can expect a rewarding ‘Back to Nature’ experience but should bear in mind that the programme is not a beach holiday.

More Info 

And here is a not very good video of ‘our turtle’ being released 


Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!
Reef-balls similar to this protect the sea from nets and dredging. Great!


The Commercial Hotel and Blah Blah Blah!

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Before checking into The Commercial Hotel in Dargaville I grab lunch after spending time in The Woodturners Studio with NZ’s master woodturner Rick Taylor. Seems people here have a good sense of humour and I can’t resist eating at Blah Blah Blah in Victoria Street – the name alone called me in!

Dargaville sits on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River and is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and is the gateway to the Kauri Coast in Northland, New Zealand

Ernie starts the show!

The Kumara Box and Ernie are about 10 minutes’ drive (from Dargaville) heading south on Pouto Rd and once there, for about an hour I watch the live Kumara show!  Ernie, the kumara, shares his stories and interesting facts about the history and people of the Kaipara area and this much-loved, tasty, sweet potato. (Seems there are ten varieties grown but supermarkets only want 3 of them!)

According to ‘Ernie’ the vegetable came to NZ via an American ship in 1850 where one of the crew gave three to a Māori – luckily he planted them and now they are a kiwi staple.

Kumara growing in NZ's 'kumara capital.'
Kumara growing in NZ’s ‘kumara capital.’

I enjoy a cuppa, (along with scones made with kumara) with this couple who almost fell into tourism and now thrive on their new job. They now leave it to others (family)to plant the 1½ million plants each year. The ‘train’ that takes guests around the farm was wisely not started up for just one person but I get a tour to see the farm and what I suspect is the smallest church in New Zealand on a quad bike. Note: bookings are essential to visit the Kumara Box and the vegetable has taken on a new life in my mind making shopping for them enjoyable.

Continuing south on Pouto Road I next visit Zizania Paper Products on Turkey Flat Rd where a weed (pest?) is being given a new life.

It seems the Manchurian ricegrass came into the area in either ballast water, or bricks from China which were then used to build stables – the rest as they say is history. Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia) is a giant semi-aquatic grass that has smothered riverbanks, invaded pastures, and run rampant through drainage channels in parts of the North Island from Northland to the Kapiti Coast – now it’s being used for beautiful paper. “It’s the only good thing about it’ I’m told, and Zizania Paper now creates acid-free papers for artists and other lovers of fine products – using also material from red-hot pokers; flax, cabbage tree, and of course in keeping with this area, kumara. See more on their Facebook page.

paper making from an unwanted weed
paper making from an unwanted weed
View from The Pavilion
View from The Pavilion


Alongside Zizania is The Pavilion – a one-Queen-sized bedroom, kitchen, and lounge is a  self-contained cottage that’s ideally placed for a relaxing stay in the area. A historic cricket club-house that was relocated here in 2006 and  sits nicely in the gardens with its lake – home to frogs, black swans and herons and other birds. However, my accommodation is already booked so I head back to town to the  John Logan Campbell kauri-built  Commercial Hotel, on River Road.

This is completely refurbished heritage-listed waterfront pub was built during  the 1880s, overlooking the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Peter & Pam Kelly spent some 35 years farming sheep and beef farming in the northwest of Dargaville before they took on the task of restoring this fabulous building. They’re people-people and with a love of travel they are the ideal hosts for this charming building – and the care with which it’s been restored is clear. I’m not surprised it’s being used for weddings and other gatherings!


My room was comfortable and with the room overlooking the river it was great watching the river traffic from there and on the veranda where I had a ‘cuppa’ with my hosts as the sun went down. This is an ideal starting point a road trip on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – the 800km circular route from Auckland that takes you around Northland, and the big sky here makes for fabulous photos too!

The (5-hour) Historic River Walk has the 1867-built Commercial as #14 on the map and says “perhaps a notorious watering hole but a historical part of the pioneer days – gory stories and a fascinating past.

detail - Commercial Hotel
detail – Commercial Hotel
Detail - Commercial Hotel
Detail – Commercial Hotel

This is my last night on my 2 week trip ‘up north’, so if you are planning to visit this fabulous part of New Zealand, I suggest you a search on ‘Northland’ in the categories to the right on this blog and find out about places that could be added to your must-see, must-do bucket-list.

The bombed - by the French - Rainbow Warrior masts are at the Dargaville Museum
The masts from the bombed – by the French – Rainbow Warrior  are at the Dargaville Museum

Many thanks to Destination Northland  for sorting out much of my trip and NZ Rent A Car  for the car. I took my TomTom GPS and was often told, when I took a side turning “Mate! Turn around wherever possible and let’s find a mean steak and cheese pie.” Perhaps you can tell I have a kiwi voice guiding me wherever I go!

My last blog (of this Northland series) will be about the award-winning Kauri Museum so come back in a day or 2!

Sunset - see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.
Sunset – see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.

Far away places with strange sounding names …. the call of travel

I was only 2 or 3 years old when Vera Lynn sang the song about ‘faraway places with strange sounding names’ and it’s always resonated with me – no wonder I finally morphed into a travel writer!

While I haven’t been to China, I have seen the ‘castles in Spain’ and been ‘to Siam’ (Kingdom of Thailand) as mentioned in the lyrics sung by the popular, WW2 UK singer, Vera Lynn . (Lyrics below) I’ve also been to many other places around the world some with ‘strange sounding names’ – and if I haven’t been somewhere, you can guarantee it’s on my bucket list!

With all the travelling I do, I have found lots of luggage-type  odds and ends that helps keep my bag to the smallest size while making sure I can find my gear – and more importantly I don’t forget something vital – electronics have changed our travel needs (and or wants).

In 1995, when I started serious, long-term, traveling and writing I didn’t even have an email addresses let alone a computer or mobile phone. How quickly things have changed!

I’ve written about packing for plane travel before, but here are a few more tips for you so living out of your travel bag is easy;

  1. Buy a smaller bag than you think you need! This will help concentrate your mind on your NEEDS. (I always take too much when I’m traveling by car, from home, as I know I have space for all the just-in-case items – which should be culled.)
  2. Use organiser type bags or cubes so you can keep like with like. E.G. one mesh bag for underwear and socks. I also use airline toiletries bags for electronic bits and pieces.  And of course your toiletries need to be in small containers in a small bag. Keep any medication in your carry-on bag.
  3. And of course, rolling or folding? I believe rolling creates less wrinkles – in fact I sometimes roll clothes as complete outfits – usually clothes that are for ‘best’ or will rarely to be worn but are needed.
  4. A waterproof bag for keeping electronics/ passport/tickets can be useful if you will be on boats or during monsoon season. The same bag is great for keeping out sand in deserts or the beach.
  5. And, finally, keep all these in one bag along with lists of what’s needed for a ‘weekend’, a ‘month’, in a ‘hostel’ or a ‘5-star’ trip: and of course for that last-minute invitation to travel. Even with a list I can forget something in the last minute rush.

Here photos of my mix and match bags that I use when on the move – it all depends on the length of the trip, destination and of course the type of accommodation and transport.

Media needs a variety of bags .. for batteries, leads, chargers etc
Media needs a variety of bags .. for batteries, leads, chargers etc
Waterproof and dust proof bags are often essential
Waterproof and dust proof bags are often essential
My cat - Mista - is alert once these bags appear .. false alarm this time!
My cat – Mista – is alert once these bags appear .. false alarm this time!
I keep all my travel bag bits and pieces handy in one bag
I keep all my travel bag bits and pieces handy in one bag

What are your best packing tips? Add them in the comments for others to try for size.

See below for the lyrics to the song:

Faraway places
With strange soundin’ names
Faraway over the sea
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin’ names
Are callin’, callin’ me

Goin’ to China
Or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those faraway places
I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from a shelf

I start getting restless
Whenever I hear
The whistle of a train
I pray for the day
I can get underway
And look for those castles in Spain

They call me a dreamer
Well, maybe I am
But I know that I’m burnin’ to see
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin’ names
Callin’, callin’ me…

Lonely Planet names Christchurch 6th in the top 10 cities for your 2013 bucket list

Lonely Planet has chosen Christchurch as one of the world’s Top 10 Cities for next year in LONELY PLANET’S BEST IN TRAV2013, published today. This bookis Lonely Planet’s eighth eagerly-awaited annual collection of the best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year.

Ranked sixth on the book’s list of Top 10 Cities 2013, Christchurch is “rising from the rubble created by devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 with a breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair,” Lonely Planet says.

Christchurch, with a unique opportunity to rethink urban form, is bouncing back with a new energy and inventiveness,” the book says. “2013 will be an intriguing year to join the rebirth of this proud southern city.”Lonely Planet’s placement of Christchurch at number six on its list of ‘Top 10 Cities for 2013’ is being hailed as game-changing news for the city’s tourism industry.

Arrive at the great international airport in Christchurch

“To have such a respected world-wide publication single out Christchurch as an exciting, vibrant place to visit is an incredible boost for Christchurch,” says Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter.

“It is priceless recognition of all the hard work that has gone on in Christchurch since the quakes and has the potential to make a huge difference to the speed at which our tourism industry recovers.”

Christchurch is the only New Zealand city to make it into Lonely Planet’s annual Best in Travel publication and was singled out by Lonely Planet for the way it was “bouncing back with a new energy and inventiveness”.

“New Zealand’s second largest city is rising from the rubble … with a breath-taking mix of spirit, determination and flair,” Lonely Planet writers say. “The recovery effort is well under way and 2013 will be an intriguing year to join the rebirth of this proud southern city.”

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is thrilled Lonely Planet has picked up on all the exciting things happening in Christchurch and is actively promoting the city to the travelling public.

“The creativity and determination Christchurch people have shown since the quakes means we now have a city like no other in the world. There’s a real energy and buzz in Christchurch which will intensify as the rebuild ramps up so it is an exciting time to visit,” Mayor Parker says.

Associate Minister of Tourism Chris Tremain said “It’s a real coup to get Christchurch included in the list of top 10 cities for 2013. As a regular user of Lonely Planet when I am travelling myself I fully understand the significant value of this recommendation.’

“Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel is all about setting the travel agenda for the year ahead,” says Lonely Planet’s Asia Pacific Sales & Marketing Director Chris Zeiher.

“In making our selections, we focus on each destination’s merits and the unique experiences they offer travellers.”

“We believe 2013 will be a great year to visit to Christchurch and experience the amazing energy of the city in its rebuilding phase,” Mr Zeiher says. ( see many more photos and stories I’ve written about pre and post quake Christchurch on this blog)

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities 2013 are:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Amsterdam
  3. Hyderabad
  4. Derry/Londonderry
  5. Beijing
  6. Christchurch
  7. Hobart
  8. Montreal
  9. Addis Ababa
  10. Puerto Iguazú

✪ The Top 10 Countries to visit in 2013: Sri Lanka, Montenegro, South Korea, Ecuador, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Iceland, Turkey, Dominican Republic and Madagascar.

✪ The Top 10 Regions to visit in 2013: Corsica, The Negev; Mustang, The Yukon, Chachapoyas & Kuélap, The US Gulf Coast, Carinthia, Palawan, Japan’s Inland Sea and Campania.

✪More than 35 events mapped out month by month in the 2013 Travel Planner, from the Special Olympics Winter Games in South Korea to Fiestas de Quito in Ecuador.


  • 208pp, full-colour, 180mm x 145mm, paperback
  • RRP: $29.99
  • Available from all good bookstores

My 4-kilogram(9lb)bucket list – your travel dream list | Kiwi-travel-writer: A freelance,blogging travel-writer

How do you create a fabulous bucket list? by numbers or weight? check this out!!

My 4-kilogram(9lb)bucket list – your travel dream list

This second edition of Lonely Planets photographic journey through every country in the world has 100% new content and has to be my ultimate bucket list – a list that’s measured by weight, not numbers!

This will be my coffee-table reference book  so I can dream over and sort out  my travel plans – until the next edition of course! Well done Lonely Planet.

The Travel Book devotes  a double-page spread for  every country in the world by:

  • Taking a glimpse into each destination from a traveller’s perspective
  • evoking the spirit of the place
  • showing  817 stunning images
  • describing what you might see and feel, eat and drink
  • giving  books, music or films to help prepare you for the experience
  • detailing events, objects, and people: all central to the country
  • and presents  curious, little known facts

NOTE: The first edition of this full-colour, photographic journey through every country in the world was published in 2004 and sold more than half-a-million copies globally. See here where you too can buy your copy for your own personal bucket list.

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