Labuan Bajo, Indonesia

 

Flying east from Bali, Indonesia across tiny islands ringed in gold and turquoise, over fishing villages and mountains you come in to land over yet another cluster of islands into Labuan Bajo airport, new, white and shiny. Soak it in. It's the newest building in 'Bajo! 

 

Straight away I noticed the striking difference in the faces of the Flores people compared to the Balinese and Javanese. They look almost exactly like the Timorese - Big wide smiles. Slightly curly hair. It felt so comforting. Reminding me of my time in East Timor in 2008. 

'Bajo is a growing port town and also the gateway to the Komodo National Park. The national park is a magnet for divers and adventurers alike. 

We specifically went to Bajo to do two things. See the famed Komodo dragons and to dive. We spent 7 days in Bajo, diving almost every second day.  A boat trip to most dive sites is around 1-2 hours. Our longest day included a guided walk within the National Park on the island of Rinka, a neighbour to Komodo. On the small island is a ranger station where the rangers live and base from - they have two main roles. Act as walking guides and to show the dragons The Rinka dragons are about 1/3 smaller than Komodo's due to evolution. Rinka's giant lizards are still 2-3m long. Our guide cheerfully informed us that they climb trees until they are too big then just hunt on the ground for small deer, birds and other Frankie sized prey. 

A day trip to Rinka can still fit in two dives later in the day however a trip to Komodo is about 5 hours one way from 'Bajo. With time not on our side as well as a hunger to dive in one of Asia's greatest sites - Rinka it was. 

Diving:

I can't talk about 'Bajo without talking about the diving. The best way I can describe the life around the national park - Prolific and Jurassic Park-like. Every fish, every Turtle, every Nudi was bigger, brighter and totally amazing.

We stayed with Blue Marlin in Komodo - can not recommend them as a dive company and lodging more highly. Loved it. 5 stars for me.

Check out my other travel posts : Here

Getting the Van ready for winter!

The Australian winter is upon us.

 

Here are two videos where I show where the van is up to:

I have added 1.7r value foil backed earth wool insulation

About 1/2 of a roll - full roll cost $90AUD at Bunnings

When the heater controls died I have not replaced them, opting for the manual control change over using a pair of pliers, I show you how in this video.

Check out my other Van posts here

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Getting there 

 

The Perhentian Islands are approx 25km off the north east coast of Malaysia, just south of the Thai border.

Flights are multiple times per day from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Biru, the nearest mainland airport. Then it is a 60km drive to the coast with any one of the friendly local taxi drivers. Before you depart KL, it is advisable to call your accomodation on Perhentian and confirm boats are operating to the island that day, particularly early in the season. We were caught out a bad weather front swept through as we arrived and no boats were operating.

Boats are either booked by your accomodation or tickets purchased at one of the local Kuala Besut ticket agents.

The boat ride from Kuala Besut to Perhentian is approx and hour. If the sea is rough be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Where to stay

We stayed on the ‘big Island’ Perhantian Besar at Abdul’s Chalets. Abdul’s afforded the best mix of location, privacy and quality.

Abdul’s has its own ‘home reef’ located within a roped section for snorkelling away from boats. Many other shallow reefs are within a 15 min walk of your front door.

Large parts of the big island are accessible only by boat and the hotel is more than happy to organise for you.

What to do

Anything in the water!

Perhentian is set up for watersports, be it scuba diving, snorkelling, turtle spotting, or relaxing on a beach.

Highlights

Calm water frontage

Lowlights

Not being told by our hotel that there was no boats operating, leaving us stranded in Kuala Besut - check with your hotel (particularly in shoulder season) about access.

Don’t forget to bring

Sunscreen and a towel

December Van Update

December has seen some big changes as every month seems to.

I have added an additional 100ah 12v AGM with some new fusing options.

There is now a fuse between the 2 batteries 50amp resettable, along with another 50amp resettable between the batteries and the load distribution fuse panel.

I also managed to snap up a 1000w pure sine inverter during the christmas sales - I haven’t managed to install it yet however I am thinking of just putting an anderson plug and use it occasionally.

Christmas to New Year - Mystery Bay

This time we trooped off to Mystery Bay on the NSW South Coast, just south of Narooma

 

 

The Mystery Bay Camp site is a bush campsite in a eucalyptus forest surrounding the bay. 

The site consists of long drop bush toilets and cold showers dotted around.

However being the self sufficient little chaps we are we had our 12v shower, a kettle and a bucket = warm shower  

We set up a tent to use as storage and to save our space as the camp site was so busy and we didn't want to come back and find others in our site.

As there is no Optus connection available, we used a prepaid $2 Telstra sim card in a wifi pod so we could we could still contact my family who were travelling for the christmas holidays.

Our days were filled with exploring the surrounding coast line, eating local seafood and sunning ourselves on the beach.

I could have guessed that it was all going too well! Coming back from coast, top of Clyde mountain we burst a coolant pipe.

 


Pulled over before motor seized without coolant, no Optus service. Used Wifi pocket again to Facebook message friend in Canberra, he coordinated with NRMA who attended, towed to Braidwood, NMRA replaced coolant hose and we were able to continue on our way home

November update: The Van's maiden voyage

As I sit here looking back over the progress on the van since we purchased her (it?) since August I am astonished with the changes. Full electric fit out, mattresses, storage, mechanical. All have been completed in this short time.

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Never being one that believes in starting slow, her maiden voyage was a 2 night, three day, 800km long weekend. Canberra to Bombala via Cooma was the first leg, camping just outside the town at a river known for its frequent platypus sightings. Sadly the river was up and not fury friends were sighted. 

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Being our first night we wanted to stay away from other people and chose to free camp, having a fully self sufficient.

The main learning we had from the first night was - sleep with your head to the back - while the fridge is quiet it does start for 2-3 min every 30 minutes. With your head at the rear you do not hear it at all.

We were up early and left our little river side spot, stopping at a local rest area to clean up and make breakfast. Nothing done by halves with Frankie on board. Toasted croissants with ham and cheese.

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By lunch time we had already arrived at our next overnight spot - Mallacoota, the northern most town on the coast in Victoria.

 

Opting for a powerless site a the local van park that dominates the towns estuary foreshore allowed us to have near uninterrupted water frontage. Why pay for a powered site when we make our own!

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All in all it was an 800km 2 night 3 day shake down. We worked out what worked well and what needed improving.

But more on that, next time.

Don't forget to checkout our social media channels for other updates:

 

October 2015 #vanlife update

 

So this this month saw the conclusion of a number of projects I had been wanting to bowl over.

I rewired every circuit in the house battery (second battery for the muggles). Adding a fuse block and a master 50A fuse.

I also added a voltage sensing relay between the van's alternator and the second battery to charge while driving.

I installed an Anderson plug on the exterior of the van to allow hookups to external solar panels when the van is in the shade.

External panels (40w) allow the van to be parked in the shade

External panels (40w) allow the van to be parked in the shade

External Anderson plug direct to battery allows external batteries or a mains DC battery charger to be connected with the doors closed

External Anderson plug direct to battery allows external batteries or a mains DC battery charger to be connected with the doors closed

The final project was the adding of two digital meters for solar input and one for output to keep an eye on usage. 

Digital read outs allow me to keep an eye on the system without lifting the hatch

Digital read outs allow me to keep an eye on the system without lifting the hatch

With the rewiring of the system I now have 3 12v cig sockets in the front and one in the rear all running off the house battery. I needed more other wise I would need to keep unplugging the 12 fridge to charge my phone or run a 12v fan.

My parents have a 1 year old 31lt Waeco 12v CDF-35 fridge they are giving to us so we theoretically can go off grid for weeks (food and relationship pending :D ) 

Videos to come 

#vanlife #vw

Update 2. Sept 2015 Van update

I recently uploaded a new video to show you the progress since the last video.  

Some highlights include:

  • Finishing the interior upholstery, moving from gray vinyl to a dark blue interior that is really nice and gives a warmer feeling. 
New interior and mattress covers

New interior and mattress covers

  • Additionally we have received the mattress covers for the folding mattress that forms the bed of the van as well as curtains to block out the light. 
  • The large Fiamma wind out awning was installed that doubles the living space as well as allows outdoor cooking.

Van featuring its new F45 FIAMMA awning  

Van featuring its new F45 FIAMMA awning  

Quick update on the Van

It has been a busy few months working on the van.  The interior is almost up to scratch with the covers for the mattress being the only roadblock before its first test.  

 

The front windscreen that was cracked from left to right because of a rust bubble has been removed and repaired.  

 

Brand new windscreen! 

Brand new windscreen! 

The last piece that I am looking for to make it perfect is a side awning that does not require roof racks. This is proving to be more ellisive than I had imagined.   Any ideas?

 

Side awning needed  

Side awning needed  

Gear Review: Knog Qudos GoPro Companion Action Light

 

No longer is the capture of your action adventures dependant on the sun being your only light source.

Encapsulated in a unit smaller than your GoPro, the Knog Qudos is the perfect companion to keep your action being recorded long after the sun goes down.  The added bonus of being waterproof to 40m makes it perfect for projects like my DIY Scuba GoPro Tray. The aluminium exterior acts like a large heat sink keeping everything cool and happy.

The Qudos has multiple modes to adjust brightness and light speed, allowing you to control your shots in any scene or location – whether deep underwater, high in the sky, or anywhere in between.

  • Output : 70 - 400 lumens
  • Dimensions : 31 x 70 x 40mm.
  • Weight : 150g
  • Materials : Die Cast + CNC Machined Aluminium heat sink and optical grade lens.
  • Battery : USB Rechargeable Lithium Polymer
  • Burn Time : Up to 4 hours.
  • Waterproof : The [qudos] action is IP68 tested and waterproof up to 40m.
  • Compatibility : For use with GoPro Hero 2, 3, 3+, 4 and action cameras with a GoPro conversion mounts.

 

 

Introducing our new project - a 1998 VW Transporter T4 - I guess we are joining #VANLIFE

A while ago I wrote about #projectsailboat. This was a desire to learn more about the “systems” of a boat prior to purchase. Such as a means of producing power (solar), storage options in limited space etc. Greater discussions with my partner led us to move away from the idea of a boat - we simply would not get the use of it, being some 150km from the ocean. The next option was a camper - we enjoy camping and exploring but due to weather this limits our options. A camper would extend the 'season' as well as offer a support vehicle for scuba diving. After much searching we settled on a relatively old 1998 VW camper van. It had been roughly converted - allowing us to add many of our own touches. The video below gives you a look at the van after we have had it for only 2 weeks.


Check out the video and don't forget to like, comment or subscribe.

Gear: Scuba - Second Hand BCD Self inflating

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I have just finished washing and putting my dive gear away following another day of double fun dives on the South Coast of NSW. For me this was dive 18 & 19.

Fresh from my tropical dives of Phi Phi Island in Thailand (and admittedly filled with false bravado), I kitted up just before the first dive as I have always done.

As with most of our club fun dives, today we were entering from the rocks so I added air to my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) and entered the water with the rest of the group. After the usual awkward aqua-aerobics that is putting on your fins in a slightly surging wave group we pushed away from the rocks to the decent point. My BCD was making a funny sound and I thought “hmm maybe I have an air leak from an air hose”, I had my buddy check and she confirmed there was no visible air leak.

As we descended, my buddies started slowly sinking as they should but I could not go below one metre. I was weighted the same as other successful dives but was unsure why I could not drop down to the bottom at 7m. Luckily one of the Dive Masters (DMs) for the club dive was on hand and clipped an extra weight to me.

After getting down with my buddy we set off on exploring the underwater landscape - my video from Australia Day 2015 is shot at the same spot


I noticed my buoyancy was not very stable - all in one direction - UP. It was at that point I realised what the funny sound was on the surface - the safety valve on my BCD letting air out as it had over inflated. I know I only put a squirt or two in prior to entry and now the BDC was continuing to self inflate while diving - slowly but still inflating. to top this off my DIY Dive Tray was beginning to loosen and the camera and light set up was wobbling. I could not let go of it for fear of losing both GoPro and my brand new Knog Qudos Dive light. Review coming soon.

 

This dive was rapidly turning into a cluster. I was not in any immediate danger due to the relatively shallow depths - however I did need to continuously dump air from my slowly inflating BCD.

At the 35 minute mark I pulled the pin. I was not enjoying myself, so knew it was time to end the dive. I indicated my intentions to my buddy and the DM and up I went - metres from the accent point - perfect.

I still managed to record a great clip of a sleepy Port Jackson Shark snoozing on the sandy bottom.


The second dive was much easier as the issue was known, after the dives I discussed the issue with the DMs and they indicated that one solution would have been to disconnect the low pressure inflator hose and manually inflate the BCD with my mouth - all stuff every PADI diver is trained to do - I didn’t know I could disconnect it underwater - I know now for next time!

I will however be taking my BCD in for a service soon to fix the problem.

 

PROTIP: Why having mobile data can ruin a holiday

No coverage 1
No coverage 1

I know it is an agreement that most people would assume is 180degrees from my normal position, but here it is - Having a mobile internet connection definitely negatively impacted on our holiday.

This trip was very different to the 2013. During our time in Myanmar in 2013, there was 1 mobile provider with expensive access (a sim card alone cost $100 AUD). However this time, there were at least 3 providers with relatively cheap - including sim and 5gb for approx $30 AUD.

How did it negatively impact the trip? I hear you ask. It was not until we were in Myanmar, after having travelled to Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur and Genting Highlands in Malaysia that I realised I was spending a lot of time looking down (at my phone) and not up and out.

Maybe it is just me, but I suspect it is a wider concern for people around my age, especially in the west. We have almost instant access to anything we want online, usually via the screens of our mobiles. This post is not meant to be a mobile bashing piece, but I did want to highlight what I missed out on.

I know within myself that if I am going some where that has no connection at all, that is totally fine, I prepare. I lived in East Timor for 6 months in 2008 which when you said you had ‘good internet’ meant that you did not have to share the dialup connection with 4 others. Also mobile data was unheard of. I can cope with that - for a period at least. My issue is when there is a hint of connection, a fleeting blip of connection, I become obsessed with getting the news, Twitter and Facebook on that tiny connection.

This was the case during the 250km, 5 hour car ride from Yangon, Myanmar to the very west coast at Ngwe Saung Beach.

Looking back, it was an issue totally of my making. I was excited to test out one of Myanmar’s new carriers along with staying connected.

I missed out on bonding with my fellow travellers, along with seeing the countryside change as we moved from the lush Irrawaddy Delta into the dryer west coast. Seeing villages that have never had mains power connected, yet use 150w solar panels on top of their palm-fron roofs to power lighting and in some cases a 12v TV to watch football.

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Tips for offline travelling

These are some if the things I have done in the past that have helped me enjoy travelling with while remaining offline

  • PODCASTS

If you haven’t already gotten into podcasts, you are missing out! Podcasts are downloadable audio clips. Usually radio segments or audio blogposts. For travelling I prefer things that won’t date. So I don’t listen so much to my nightly news podcast from home, rather I listen to a science or history podcast.

iOS has a podcast app built in, however I prefer DOWNCAST and have set it to only grab new episodes while connected to wifi.

Some suggested long form or serial type podcasts include

SERIAL

FINISHING LINE

STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS

  • EXTERNAL POWER

We have all seen them, those zombie like creatures that are huddled around the one or two powerpoints in airports and bus stations. Don’t be one of them, seriously just don’t.

Fortunately I was travelling through Asia, with its huge electronics markets and picked myself up a 20,000mAh external battery, The size of a small shoe can be a downside, however I can steer clear of a powerpoint for days. A 5,000mAh would do most people, I am not most people :D. You can read more about my battery obsession here.

  • OFFLINE READING

I am always seeing videos, news articles or blog posts that I think “I would love to open that, but I just don’t have time at the moment to watch or read it now”

Well that was before Pocket came into my life. it downloads all the text from a post along with the embedded pictures for offline reading. I smash this every time I am flying or laying on a beach reading.

Coupled with free services like IFTTT you can even set up rules for social media such as “ Every time I fav a tweet with a link, I would like you to save it to pocket for reading later” which is a personal favourite of mine. As for videos, you still need to be online for those, however you will not lose them.

  • REMEMBER YOUR PHONE IS MORE THAN AN INTERNET PORTAL

There are so many undervalues apps and features that work fine offline and are a lifesaver for travellers. Whether it is offline google maps for Android, or HERE offline mapping in iOS, your camera with geotagging, watching movies that you have pre transferred.

With a little planning ahead there is no need for mobile data and no need for mobile data to eat into your holiday

Thailand: Scuba Diving Koh Phi Phi from 3 angles

During our recent visit to Thailand I was fortunate enough to dive some of the most amazing places. Funnily enough they all centred around Koh Phi Phi Don in the middle of the Andaman Sea

I did not know this at the time, but the dives from Phuket and Ao Naung both required 2 hours of travel each way by boat. Not as horrible as it sounds as both trips were fully catered!

Having learnt to dive in the cooler waters off South East NSW, the 30 degree tropical waters were a real shock. All the dive guides could not believe ever diving in the cold temps of 18-24 that I dove here.

I will let the images speak for themselves. I will however add - I did not take them. The local dive guides thankfully have far better skills than I and provided them either for free or at a small cost.

The dive shops I dived with, I could not recommend highly enough. There were some shocking reviews on trip advisor about some shonky operators, particularly on Phi Phi Island.

I dove with:

The Dive, Ao Naung

Phi Phi Diving, Koh Phi Phi AKA Phi Phi Island

Aussie Divers, Phuket

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi has the best of both worlds - fantastic rainforests and amazing beaches and watersports. A huge proportion of the island is rightfully protected as a GeoPark ensuring protection and eco management. 

 

How we got there

Langkawi was our first destination after flying overnight Sydney to Kuala Lumpur. A quick transfer to the new KLIA2 AirAsia terminal saw us on our way for a quick 1 hour flight to the beautiful and relaxed island of Koh Langkawi

Things we saw or did

Here are some of the AMAZING activities we go up to:

Day sailing on a 40ft Catamaran with Rampant sailing that included laying about in their jacuzzi net behind the boat or laying in a hammock suspended between the hulls while anchored in a protected cove for lunch. Not to mention the open bar on board. Itis not hard to see why these guys are rated as the Number 1 thing to do in Langkawi by TripAdvisor

½ Day kayak tour of the mangroves within the GeoPark including a visit to limestone caves and the fish ‘farm’ located at the base.

A not to be missed trip up into the rainforest on the Langkawi Cable Car giving you a spectacular view over the beaches and islands.

A visit to the state symbol at Eagle Square featuring a huge Brahminy Kite statue.

How we got around

We quickly compared the prices of hire cars versus a scooter for the duration of our trip. The scooter was the easy option as I was licensed internationally and had ridden a fair amount before. Also it allowed us the ability to park just about any where.

Amusingly while refuelling I did manage to lock our only set of keys for the scooter under the seat. Before full panic over took the situation a young local service station attendant with particularly small hands managed to get his hand under the seat and retrieve the keys. A lesson was had and in future scooter keys will be on a lanyard!

Food we ate

As with most South East Asian countries, I highly recommend eating in small local cafes or tea houses and street food where ever possible. This ensures your tourist dollars stay in the local community as well as would provide you with fresh good local food. Being Malaysia, I could not pass up fresh hand made Roti, the local hotplate cooked bread that is eaten with many meals. Langkawi also has a strong middle eastern population so there is no shortage of abab stands as well.

How we got connected

As with most connected travellers, if there is a connection available at a reasonable speed and reasonable price we will connect. Because we have little need for calling while in Malaysia we chose a prepaid provider that would offer us the maximum data available. We used Internet of Xpax that is a user of the Celcom network within Malaysia. One of the benefits was that should be go over our included data we were provided 3 30min windows a day to access as much data as we could use.

I would always suggest buying local sim in each country as it is astronomical the chargers providers from home charge to roam - much less use data. The website below is full of crowd sourced information relating to costs and access in each country.

http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com

Interesting facts

The entire island of Langkawi is tax free. There is no tax on luxury cars, alcohol, chocolate etc. Think a whole island duty free. Frankie was able to purchase 1lt of Vodka for the equivalent of AUD$10.00

Trailing a new posting style for AsiaTrip2015

As promised, I will be still posting about this trip through Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. However I wanted to trial a new style. While other bloggers talk about things to do and see, I will write about the things we have done, places we ate - these are not things written in a guidebook that some one has regurgitated - we actually tried them so can talk honestly about them.

I will be using these main themes with others being used on a place by place basis. Let me know what you thing.

In the mean time head to Facebook, instagram or twitter and search #asiatrip2015 and you will see some of our live postings on those sites.

24 hours  with Lifeproof's new iPhone 6 plus waterproof case - the "Nuud"

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After many months of waiting finally LifeProof has released a limited number of their waterproof iPhone 6 plus case line.

I was lucky to snap one up and express shipped it from the US. It arrived today.

After a few hours use, I made a shocking discovery. LifeProof have made the charging port hideously small. My former iPhone 5’s LifeProof had a somewhat limited size hole but I found a number of cables that fit and made my entire EDC kit around that.

However the iPhone 6 plus LifeProof case will only accept cables “that are originally provided with the product” i.e. the original white cable. I rarely use these cables. They break to often and are too long for my every day needs.  I am now left with a plethora of lightning cables that are only usable for my iPad.

Hmm the hunt is not on for a 10cm narrow cable. Preferably before 27 March as we depart Australia.

UPDATE: on day 3 the two very tiny clips that keep the waterproof door closed over the charging port completely snapped off and were found on my bedroom floor. I super glued them back on, however I no longer have confidence on the waterproof nature of the door. I have requested a replacement from LifeProof.

Count down on for Asian holiday 2015

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I have been looking forward to this trip for about 18 months. 

This trip will take us to the following amazing places:

  • Langkowi - Malaysia
  • Kuala Lumpour - Malaysia
  • Yangon - Myanmar 
  • Bangkok - Thailand
  • Phuket - Thailand 
  • Krabi - Thailand 
  • Chiang Mai - Thailand


Do you have any places you suggest we "must check out" while we are there ?? 

House update: We finally have internet & Garden Update

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Internet

Since moving in in October 2014, we have been waiting for the NBN.

It was not until a “complex wide BBQ” that I was informed that some people in the complex had access to a separate Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) system, that had not yet moved to NBN. We have now connected to that system that offers 200gb / month. Sadly after already 5 days of connection we have used nearly 50% of our allowance.

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All this for under half the cost of the 3G system we were using just to book flights etc.

Garden looking amazing

Frankie has done wonders with our small court yard. It is now both functional and pretty.

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