Kayaking in NYC: A paddle up the Hudson

When we were in New York last May, one of our to-dos was the circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan. Alas, I tested positive for covid when I landed, so we had to shelf that.

We were back in NYC for a couple of weeks again this year, and although the tides didn’t line up properly for the circumnavigation, Manhattan Kayak Company did have a separate 18 miles (29k) trip up the Hudson to the Palisades planned. Ecstatic, we booked it immediately for Sunday May 21.

Happily I was much healthier this time, and the weather was simply gorgeous (vs. the day before where it just poured buckets, or a year ago, when it was pushing 100 degrees in high humidity on expedition day).

We arrived at the boathouse right on time. The instructor hadn’t arrived yet and it seemed that everyone else were regulars who knew where everything was and got into their prep. Happily though, once the instructor, Ronald, arrived, he was most gracious, and quickly helped us pick out two carbon fiber sea kayaks we could borrow for the trip. We kitted up in neoprene long johns and splash jackets, and launched from the floating platform.

As I said earlier, the weather was beautiful. A super comfortable high 60s (mid teens in C) kinda day. But it was windy. Almost immediately, we crossed over to the Jersey side to get a bit of shelter from the strong gusts. I was in much admiration of the three intrepid souls on their stand up paddle boards.

Lovely paddle overall. We made it up to Palisades by 1230pm, and had a leisurely half hour picnic by the waters edge while waiting for the tide to turn. Then it was back towards downtown. Though the winds picked up, the weather had warmed up enough so we stowed away our splash jackets. The changed tides really aided us on the way back and we were nearly a full hour faster on the return.

Four days in Loreto, Baja California

What a magical four days in Loreto. It’s the start of the low season, where the whales have departed but the waters are still cold. But Jeff rates it as one of his favorite dive sites ever and I have to agree. Diving with the sea lions was such a delight (we opted to do the same dive site twice), and the visibility once we got down to the thermocline was stunning. Gorgeous formations and huge fishes and so many different species of fat nudibranches! Can’t beat the three different pods of dolphin sightings on our surface interval either. And this am, before we fly back, we snuck in a cheeky three hour sunrise paddle in absolutely glassy conditions. We’re already planning a return trip, maybe in the winter this time, to do a multi-day kayak and camping expedition deep in the middle of whale season!

We visited the island of Coronado off Loreto a couple different days, especially to dive where the colony of sea lions lived. We’d be huddled by the walls, staring at some nudibranch or other, when suddenly a dark shadow would swoop close by to check us out. Super cool!

I remember years ago watching an Imax show about dolphin, whale and mobula ray watching in the Sea of Cortez and had bookmarked the place as a must-go. So, since I went to San Diego for work the week before, we decided to extend the trip and make the short hop (1.5 hour flight from LAX) down to Baja. I wasn’t expecting an IMAX-level of wilderness display, but the enormous pod of frolicking dolphins was such a special treat to see. We enjoyed watching the pelicans dive bomb into the waters in the early morning for fish too.

Underwater, the area has one of the most diverse populations of nudibranches we’ve ever seen, and some huge ones larger than my hand! Also spotted the horn shark, which was fun, and lots of swimming bullseye electric rays.

Above water, the town of Loreto is a small one, and not particularly cheap. Maybe it was the restaurants we chose to eat at (based on reviews from Google, and whether they took card), but we found the prices more akin to prices in the US than what we’d expect of Mexico. We saw lots of American tourists (and a lot of US license plates). But our meals were most tasty.

My primary activity for the trip was to dive, although after I’d booked in the diving, I realised that Loreto is also a paddler’s haven. There were quite a number of outfitters offering multi-day kayaking and camping expeditions. Although, when I tried looking online, most of these places had already closed for the off season. I was able to find a private sunrise paddle offered by Sea Kayak Baja Mexico though, which turned out perfect for a morning outing before our midday flight. We had the option of either sea kayaks or stand up paddle boards, and we chose the latter thinking that it’ll keep us more dry and allow us a better vantage point for any sea creatures in the water. And we did spot a lone sea lion! Jeff also spotted a turtle and what looked like a manta ray passing under his board.

Up WA from Perth to Ningaloo

We’d originally planned to do a roadtrip up to Ningaloo in April 2020 with 4 other friends. Covid, of course, happened. The credits we’d gotten on our whale shark snorkeling tour expired this July, so Jeff and I decided to make a trip out of it earlier this April.

A direct drive from Perth to Ningaloo would take 13 hours. A flight, 2 hours. But factor in the travel to the airport, waiting at the airport, then picking up car rental etc on the other side, we figured to do a more apples-to-apples comparison, it’d be 13 hours driving vs. 5 hours flying. In the end, we chose the road trip option, so that we could also stop along the coast to explore the different beaches.

The drives weren’t bad. We set off for Shark Bay early on a Friday. 8 hours ahead of us. Time flew by though, as we listened to podcasts and reveled in the wide open empty roads that stretched ahead of us.

Wide open highways

The thing about small towns though, is that there are only a couple of restaurants. And during the Easter Holiday weekends, hours are reduced. Happily though, the one pub that was open did takeout, and pretty decent fare at that. We brought it back to our Airbnb to enjoy and see the sunset, as it had a large airy deck overlooking the bush and the ocean beyond.

The next morning, we awoke early, eagerly anticipating our stand up paddle up the coast of Monkey Mia, towards Frances Peron National Park. The wind forecast in the morning looked mild – little did we know, this proved to be our only paddle the whole trip, even though we’d lugged our paddle boards from Singapore. Cycle Ilsa was developing up north in Broome, and the winds and swells were building up all week further down the coast.

But that was a future problem. Today, we had an absolutely stunning paddle. We put in at the boat ramp in Monkey Mia, in between the feeding demonstrations of the wild dolphins that resided in the bay. As we paddled up the coast towards the open ocean, the waters gradually got clearer, and we enjoyed spotting the different varieties of sting rays that skittered across the sandy bottoms, some over a meter in span. We also saw plenty of guitar sharks, and baby black tip reef sharks, particularly along the shoreline where we pulled up for a bit of a stretch. Turtles too, and a sea snake that gave me a bit of a start as it started to swim after my board when I passed it. But nothing got my heart racing as much as a 3m long tiger shark that swam right up and between mine and Jeff’s boards. Super fun paddle. We would have stayed out longer, had the winds not picked up. As it was though, we did get a really satisfying 5 hours on the water. ๐Ÿ™‚

The next morning, we continued our drive up the coast, stopping by Shell Beach, a stretch of coast filled entirely of Fragum cockles. It was stunning to see, particularly since we’ve long stripped our Singapore beaches of any sea shells.

That evening, we dined at MantaRays restaurant in Exmouth, our best meal of the entire trip. Good fresh fare and cocktails. (Aside: inflation has really hit Australia hard – our meals were super pricey. A couple of MacDonald’s meals + 10-piece nugget the night we arrived in Perth set us back AUD$38! And breakfasts at casual cafes consisting of 2 meals of smashed avo and 2 flat whites cost around AUD$70) And came out to a stunning pink and purple sunset.

Monday: The main reason for our trip – the famous Ningaloo Whaleshark swim. We started off with a snorkel in the inner reefs, so everyone could test out their gear and give the guides a chance to assess our comfort in the water before the hunt for the gentle creatures. The reef was stunning – lots of beautiful healthy looking bommies just teeming with fish. We spotted a couple of reef sharks and a turtle as well.

Then it was time to look for the whalesharks. We had a spotter plane overhead, and our pilot quickly pointed us to a couple in the vicinity. Our group of 20 were split into 2. Team A slid into the water first, quickly, after the photographer / in-water spotter directed them the direction in which to swim. They swam in a single file towards the solitary whaleshark, and then furiously kicked to change direction and keep up with it as it glided past them. Once the whaleshark had passed them, it was time for our Team B to jump into the water.

It’s sort of surreal. In the deep blue, we can’t see anything, but just blindly follow the directions of our guide. Until suddenly, a huge shadow materializes underneath or alongside us, gradually coming into focus until we can see its white spots. Then it’s an all out kick-fest, where we try to keep a minimum 3m from its sides and keep up with its graceful glide.

In seconds, it’s past us. We then bob in the huge waves, waiting for the boat to pick us back up and put us back in the water, ahead of the whaleshark for another swim past. Each team did it twice with this whaleshark, then it decided to descend into the depths.

Back on the boat, we listened to our spotter chat with the pilot overhead on the radio. He soon told us that he’d spotted a huge pod of at least 11 whalesharks in the water a bit further south, so our captain motored us over at once. We then did the same Team A B leapfrog into the water. It was super exciting. Even on the surface while waiting for the other team to have their turn in the water, we could see the large dark mass of the whalesharks on the surface.

In the water, on at least a couple of occasions, a whaleshark would cruise us by. Then, as we bobbed in the water waiting for the boat to pick us back up, a dark shape would suddenly materialize from the depths, and we’d have to kick like mad to get out of the way as a whaleshark would surface from the depths, its mouth agape to feast on the plankton.

It was a ton of fun, but the swells were getting larger, and I started to get nauseous. Haha I sat out the last swim, contending instead to run to the bow of the boat to watch a large 7m whaleshark swim right underneath us, before running to the stern of the boat to puke. Haha.

Good times nonetheless!

We’d wanted to take our SUPs out for a paddle + snorkel the next morning, but the winds had picked up even more overnight. We decided to check out the eastern side of Ningaloo Reef, by Bundegi Boat Ramp, to see if it was a bit more sheltered. No such luck. On top of that, the beach was closed, due to a sighting of a 3m long salt water crocodile in the area the day before. Lol, no thank you!

Happily though, the beach closures extended only around the headlands, up until the turtle hatchery, so we went towards the western reef to Lakeside, which was all the locals’ favorite reef (vs. the touristy famed Turquoise Bay that all the guidebooks raved about. We did to go to Turquoise Bay at the end of the day too, but as the locals had promised, this was a beach better suited to enjoy the beautiful turquoise waters than the reef, which was a 100m swim from shore and not particularly appealing in the late afternoon with a strong gusting onshore wind.)

The snorkeling at Lakeside was indeed stunning. We’d arrived early, so were one of a few couples in the water. There was a medium-strength current going northwards, so we slipped into the water on the southern end of the beach and spent a glorious 1.5 hours in the water, admiring the healthy corals, sharks, rays, and turtles.

Afterwards, we drove down to Oyster Stacks next for more snorkeling. This rocky shelf beach was crowded, but the reef was close to shore and in shallower waters. We spent another hour luxuriating in the underwater Eden. The water was a cool 24 degrees, a balm against the increasing temperatures on shore.

Next, we drove to the southern edge of the Cape Range National Park within which the Ningaloo Reef was located. There was a short 2km trail up the Yardie Creek Gorge. In the summers, temperatures can soar past 40 degrees, so there were dozens of signs along the way exhorting that we carry at least 4 litres of water per person. I think the temperatures were around 33 degrees or so for us, but the winds were cooling, and the humidity was low. Beautiful short walk, where we spotted a couple of rock wallabies and a line of trees full of bats taking shelter from the sun. Briefly toyed with the idea of taking out our paddle boards to go up the creek, but the wind was strong even in the canyon, so we contended with admiring the view before driving to cool off in Turquoise Bay.

We’d signed up for what I thought was the Navy Pier dive on our last day in Ningaloo. But I’d made a boo boo and booked a reef dive instead. Lemonade – due to swell build up, that dive would have been cancelled anyway (the dives and whaleshark swim tours the following few days were to be cancelled as well, as Cyclone Ilsa neared land further up north). The dive instructors said that the visibility at the pier was down to below 1m. I could imagine – our two dives by the Lighthouse were the murkiest I’ve ever experienced! We could barely see a few meters in front of us, and Jeff and I lost sight of our small group at the end of the first dive after we’d lingered a behind to admire an octopus we’d spotted. At least there wasn’t a current, so we just surfaced to get back to our boat.

Our trip was drawing to an end. We drove back south the next day, to Kalbarri. Even that much further south, the winds were intense gusts of up to 45 knots. So we kept the paddle boards safely stowed in the car, and did short strolls in the beautiful red rocks of Kalbarri National Park instead, and along the coast in the afternoon.

It would have been super cool to paddle down the Murchison River in the Kalbarri National Park, though I hadn’t planned for that. Looks like there are options though!

Then, last morning in Western Australia. We had a 6 hour drive back to Perth, where we’d catch our flight back to Singapore. But first, a quick pit stop by Hutt Lagoon on the way, one of the famous pink lakes in Australia. At 9 am in the morning, we could see more of the reflections of the partly cloudy skies above rather than the bright bubblegum pink of the lake, but it was still beautiful.

So there, slightly over a week up the coast of Perth to Ningaloo. It was a real treat to snorkel in such beautiful and pristine reef, and to see so many whalesharks up close.

Long weekend in Taipei

Somewhat spontaneously, we decided to do a long weekend in Taipei at the end of March. Every other person we knew seemed to be going, and with the reopening post Covid and loosened restrictions, it seemed like a good time as any.

We didn’t want to take any vacation days, seeing that we had an upcoming trip up the Western Australia coast to Ningaloo in April, and so decided to take the red eye into Taipei, arriving at dawn Thursday, whereupon we’d head straight to the hotel, and work a full day from there. Sometimes, we think we’re still in our 20s…

Somewhat surprisingly, we held up. We had time to stroll to a scallion pancake place for breakfast, before diving head down into work. I’d blocked off time for lunch, and so headed out to a beef noodle place for lunch and to buy back for Jeff. Benefits of working remotely – we get to enjoy the local cuisine!

Iconic Taipei 101

In the evening, we grabbed a cheeky cocktail and some snacks at a quiet joint, Fuzzy April Bar, then took a cab over to the Raohe Night Market. Compared to when I last visited three years ago, the crowds were a lot thinner. This being Jeff’s first time in Taiwan though, he partook in some stinky tofu, which he declared tastier than durian. The travesty.

Jeff said he actually enjoyed the stinky tofu

Friday, another full day of meetings, but with time enough blocked off to go in search of another beef noodle store at lunch. Ate a little too much, but man, the Taiwanese make some of the tastiest beef noodles. Beautifully al dente noodles with melt in your mouth brisket and tendons. Just drooling a little recollecting.

Beef noodles that were so sinfully satisfying

In the evening, we walked to a speakeasy recommended by Notion AI. Haha, I’d actually used it to help plan my Taipei itinerary, right down to the neighborhood to stay in that would have fast internet for remote work. It did a pretty great job actually – we double checked the recommendations against Google and everything stood up. This might be our way forward from now for trip planning! Anyway, enjoyed a drink at Key Company, where to get in, we had to guess who the 2023 Oscar best actress winner was off a rack of keys, then use that key to enter.

Dinner at Mume was the highlight. Every course was delicious and for the price, we thought a really good deal. The portions were just right too – I didn’t roll out feeling overstuffed, as I usually do.

11 years married!

Saturday, I was too lazy to plan an itinerary and figure out the public transportation, and so just hired a private driver to bring us to the attractions in the outskirts of Taipei. Do those touristy things.

It turned out a good idea since it was misty with rain all day. And we could doze in the backseat to catch up on much needed rest.

Honestly though, not sights I’d visit again or highly recommend. Yeh Liu was this super commercialized boardwalk around the coastal geographic formations that reminded us of the Bondi to Coogee walk, which we enjoyed for free. Shi Fen was an old mining town we stopped at so we could light up sky lantern along the rail road tracks. I felt marginally guilty we were littering the countryside with these lanterns – though the guide assured us that the locals were paid to help retrieve them. We also stopped by other mining towns like this little place that was full of cats – good for the cat lovers to take their gram, and Jing Gui Shi for a bit of a stroll through the verdant forests.

The highlight of the day was the squeeze through the narrow and crowded alleyways of Jiu Fen, also the inspiration for the popular animation Spirited Away. Haven’t watched it myself since I’m not a fan of anime, but it did remind me.of an Asian Diagon Alley. Pity though, that most of the little stores hawking mouthwatering snacks only took cash, and we hadn’t withdrawn enough, and so had to really prioritize on what we wanted to get in the end.

In the evening, we met up with Jeff’s old college buddy for dinner at a swank Chinese restaurant on the 46th floor of a tower right by Taipei 101. The storm earlier had caused a fog to set in, completely obscuring our view, but happily cleared up by the end of our meal.

Jeff had initial grand plans for a hike Sunday morning, but given the forecast was more rain, we opted instead for a tour of the Grand Palace Museum. I didn’t mind to be honest, since we were flying home that evening and I’d rather not sit in sweaty clothes all day. Plus, the museum was fascinating, and we zoomed through most of the exhibits in 2.5 hours before decamping to Tarroir for another delicious and value for money omakase meal.

All in all, it was chill way to explore a new city, sample the local cuisine, and we’re very grateful we have the ability to work remotely!

Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

Originally, our plan was to stay at a beach side resort, bring our SUPs and explore. I’d just booked the long weekend trip in a hurry, and promptly forgot about it.

As the date drew closer though, I thought to do a bit more research, and found that in Phuket, Phang Nga was the premier bay to go to for kayaking. We could bring our SUPs, but it seemed more trouble than it was worth, and I didn’t have time to dig into the logistics and area maps etc. So, I defaulted back to our original plan from April 2020 before Covid shut everything down: going with Paddle Asia.

They have trip dates advertised on their site, but none fit our schedule. Happily though, the owner, Dave, was more than happy to accommodate, pairing us up with another guide, Mr Har, who, along with our own long tail boat, would guide us around the bay.

If you don’t love crowds, and love being in the outdoors, highly, highly recommend kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. Unlike overrun Krabi and Phi Phi Islands, we had the entire bay to ourselves, save the occasional fishing boats that we passed by. Granted, because we’re in the bay, the waters aren’t as clear as Krabi or Phi Phi, but during this period of the year, whale sharks do venture into the bay to feed. Alas, we didn’t spot any. Haha.

We’d booked a 2-day kayak tour, and at the end of day 1, our long tail boat picked us up to drop us off at a local resort on Phang Nga. It was basic, but had a hot shower and a comfortable bed, all we needed. We strolled 8 minutes along the bay front at sunset to a shack serving up cold beer and satisfying Thai food for dinner.

The winds had picked up overnight when we awoke, and we could see white caps on the water. No matter, the captain charted a new course, bringing us to a group of islands on the leeward side that we could explore, including a couple fun caves.

We had a blast, and kayaking in Phang Nga Bay again certainly is on our list of to-dos; hopefully we can find another long weekend in the new year!

Weekend paddle boarding in Krabi

On a whim four months ago, we decided to book in a long weekend in Krabi. At the time, our year end had stretched out as an empty canvas with little or no activity. Within weeks though, I’d booked in a work trip to Barcelona right before, and another work trip to India right after. What had seemed like a lazy getaway now seemed more stressful than it was worth.

But it was worth it. Travel almost always is in the end. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ Our flight to Krabi was uneventful and quick, and we’d booked a private car transfer to Ao Nang Beach so it was a comfortable half hour car ride. Once at the beach, we didn’t have long to wait for a full quorum of 8 passengers to board our long tail boat for the ride across to Railay Beach where our hotel was. From conference to paradise in an afternoon!

We’d brought our paddle boards with us, so we’d have the flexibility of exploring wherever and whenever, so, we got up at 5am the next morning in time to paddle out for the sunrise.

It was too overcast for a gorgeous sunrise, but we luxuriated in the early morning calm. No long tail boats with their noisy engines around us; the water was still and glossy in the golden light, and the beaches stretched out, silent and clean.

We had a most relaxing two and a half hours just paddling around and back the tip of West and East Railay Beaches, and under the overhanging eaves of the stunning limestone towers jutting out of the emerald green waters.

In the late morning, after breakfast and a few work calls, we ventured back out again, this time with our snorkels. By this time, the beaches were already filled with sunbathers and swimmers, the area completely transformed. Still a beautiful paddle, but we looked forward to easing into the water to cool off from the baking sun.

Alas, what seemed like an incredible watery Eden from above turned out to be more of a desert underwater. The water was warm, way too warm to support the corals that blanketed the sea floor. Most of them were dead, bleached or covered in algae. While there were fishes, they were sparse. We only spotted a stingray the entire trip, no turtles, eels etc.

Another morning, another sunrise paddle. This time, we crossed the 5km from Railay to Ko Poda. At this time of the day, the crossing was beautiful – flat glossy waters. We had the island entirely to ourselves too.

What a small world! Our friend saw our post about being in Krabi, and she’d texted saying she was staying in the northern area too. We didn’t think we’d bump into each other, but she and her friends spotted two paddle boarders at Ko Poda early Saturday morning, who turned out to be us! We caught up briefly in Railay later at lunch, when her group stopped by for a meal on their island hops.
I loved this little tunnel on the tip of Railay that we could paddle through. We did that three times, and also waded through once at low tide when we went for an afternoon snorkel
Sunset at West Railay. The storm clouds were menacing on the other side of the camera, with flashes or lightning every few seconds. We were prepared for the evening of rain though, and had already finished dinner and were ready to shelter in our villa for the evening lol
Our last morning, Sunday, we decided as a change to let our paddle boards dry off and rented a double kayak instead.
We paddled over to nearby Tonsai, to watch climbers tackle the imposing limestone faces. We’d both been to Krabi separately more than ten years ago, and then, had focused the trip around climbing. This time around though, we were content to be on the water.

It turned out to be a great 3.5 day escape. Not too long, not too rushed. And now we’re looking forward to the next long weekend we booked in December, this time to Phuket, and again with our paddle boards!

Two glorious weeks in Greece

It’s hard to pick a highlight from our two week trip to Greece. But the day we had the most fun was undoubtedly when our last full day in Santorini, where, after a week of strong winds, the wind finally died down and the clouds dissipated such that we were able to get out onto the water for a leisurely kayak exploration of the black and white beaches of Santorini.

Our guide for the the kayak trip, Kalliopi, runs the tour on her own as a small family operation, similar to Laura at Sydney by Kayak when she started. Like Laura, she places a lot of emphasis on the lux customer experience. We were served freshly made cups of espresso when we arrived, and kitted with cute backpacks loaded with a gourmet picnic set, including cute bottles of olive oil and oregano so we could season to taste our chilled cucumber, tomato and feta cheese salad. Post paddle, as we waited for our rides back to our accommodations, we relaxed with a glass of her family’s delicious Rose.

But more than the service, the kayaking was incredible. I’d asked, on the off chance that we had the option to when I booked, if we could use single kayaks instead of the standard doubles. Kalliopi acquiesced easily after ascertaining that we were regular paddlers, but it was only we arrived that she confessed that this was the first time she’d given guests the use of her single kayaks. Indeed, she only had two single kayaks, reserved for herself and an assistant guide, but I guess we’d also lucked out because there happened to be two young kids on the trip, so she made the executive decision to let Jeff and I paddle her singles while she and Nicolas, an assistant guide, each took a child. In a single, Jeff and I enjoyed the flexibility of exploring the little nooks and crannies while snapping lots of pictures of the other haha.

The scenery was gorgeous. As at Milos, where we spent another beautiful (if occasionally rainy) day paddling, the soaring cliffs we paddled past was ever changing, with striations of lava rock, pumice, sandstone, red rock lined with iron, and rock tinged green with copper. There were dozens of little sea caves that we paddled by and sometimes popped into as well, including a super fun L-shaped tunnel that we squeezed through. The water was a startling aquamarine and clear, where the bottom didn’t drop off, we could see the huge boulders and schools of tiny fish darting around.

When we stopped for lunch, Jeff and I pulled on our snorkels and plunged into the brisk waters for an invigorating swim. It was glorious how calm and clear the waters were, and I daydreamed about staying by the Agean seas for an extended period of time, so I could enjoy daily swims like these.

The Agean waters are famed for its clarity, thanks to the coarser sand which doesn’t cloud the water as much

But otherwise, the rest of our time in Greece was just as eventful.

Although the forecasted gale-force winds led us to cut our planned 3 days kayaking in Milos short, we were still able to enjoy a fun day on the water with Sea Kayak Milos. It was a little too cold for a cheeky little swim, but it was great exploring the sea caves in our cosy group of consisting of one other guest A (who lives in Switzerland and kayaks on her own in an Oru too) and our guide Dario, an Italian who has spent the past three summers guiding Milos.

Dinner at Nostos Restaurant in Milos – it was so good, we went two nights in a row

Since we’d shortened our stay on Milos, we rebooked to go to Santorini earlier by ferry, and this turned out to be an excellent decision firstly because we added a stay at Pyrgos, a quiet hilltop town set away from the more crowded (yes, even in October, which is supposedly the shoulder season) coastal towns from Fira to Oia. Secondly, it also gave us time to visit the ancient cities of Akrotiri and Thera. As a fun bonus, instead of a car, we rented an ATV to get around, and it was a blast revving up the many switchbacks that led up to Thera.

Exploring the much quieter streets of Pyrgos
The famed white buildings of Oia
We also drove our ATV to Oia to see the sunset. Not pictured – the crazy crowds. I can’t imagine what it’d be like in the summer! We left before the sun fully set, in part because the crowds was getting to me, and in part because I didn’t want to ride the ATV back to Pyrgos in the dark

On Santorini, we also did the stunning Fira to Oia walk, which we likened to the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney on steroids.

We also spent a day cruising and walking up to summit of the volcano, and lunched on the nearby island of Thirassia, where we had a cold but beautiful little swim by the beach.

Sunrise over our gorgeous hotel, Agali House, in Santorini, where we spent every sunrise and sunset on our spacious balcony, looking out upon the caldera and the volcano – lots of steps to navigate, but great morning workout!

And I’m glad we tacked on a few days at the start of our trip, driving inland to Delphi and Meteora. In Delphi, we visited the seat of the temple of Apollo, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, which we spent a morning hiking down to, past an ancient aqueduct and sprawling olive groves.

One of our most delicious and beautiful dinners – To Patriko Mas in Delphi, overlooking the valley abutting the Gulf of Corinth. Best moussaka of the trip!

In Meteora, it was as if we’d stepped into the set of Game of Thrones, where incredible monasteries perched on top of soaring boulders – but of course it’s art getting inspiration from real life. These Eastern Orthodox monasteries date back to the 14th century, and of the 24 that were originally built, only 6 remain today, overseen by an ever diminishing group of aging monks and nuns – only 50 left. It’s also a climbing mecca, and we gawped with envy at the tiny speck of climbers inching their way up the steep rock faces.

Of course, we kept a couple days to explore Athens, or more accurately, the area surrounding the Parthenon. Everyone else had told us not to spend too much time in the city as it is a dump, but honestly we had fun wandering around – visiting the Acropolis Museum which houses the statues and friezes from the Acropolis, to climbing the hill to visit the famous site just after sunrise, to the various ruins that lie in the shadow of the Acropolis. We had fantastic and cheap meals in Athens too, and pre-dinner drinks in cute little bars.

It was a great two weeks. We reckon, just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. And now that we’ve a taste of kayaking in the stunning Agean waters, we’re already plotting a return, eyeing this time the Northern Sporades island of Skopelos!

Weekend in Yosemite

Back in May, where, off the back of my company offsite in Monterey, a group of 7 of my coworkers and I spent a weekend in Yosemite.

Fun times. We rafted, went for short easy walks, and just generally had a blast and enjoyed one another’s company.

Afterwards, I met up with Jeff in Chicago at our friends’, our first times back since 2015! Short trip to organize our wine cellar, and proper wine-soaked dinners with old pals, just like old times.

To NYC next, where I got laid low for a bit with covid, but happily, I didn’t have much symptoms, and so, when released from quarantine, still managed to catch up with friends and family there before we headed back to Singapore.

Water time in Sydney

Before we moved from Sydney in 2018, we’d toyed with the idea of getting a short term rental up by the beach, say Manly, for a couple of months, where we could could indulge in early morning swims or paddles. We never did make that work then (although we couldn’t complain, since where we lived in Waverton, we had access to a private jetty from which was a short paddle to the Opera House!). But this trip, we decided to make Manly our base, and found a cute Airbnb that had a gorgeous view of Manly and Shelly Beach.

In the mornings, we enjoyed strolls along the beach, marveling at the crowds of active folks already out jogging, playing beach volleyball, surfing and swimming. We lead a super sedentary lifestyle in Singapore by comparison.

Our goal was to relax, and get in as much water time as possible. We made it out to Spit Bridge twice, to get in some quality kayaking time, as we’d signed up for a 50km circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan in New York City end May (yay for travel again). It was fun to paddle the old routes, out to Balmoral and around Middle Harbour – brought back memories of my training for the Murray Marathon. I haven’t used a Euro-blade paddle in far too long though, having gotten used to my Greenland paddle, and so suffered from numb hands pretty much the full 3-4 hours we were on the water. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

But since we’d lugged our paddle boards all the way from Singapore, we also made sure we got plenty of use out of them. We went out for a couple paddles in the North Harbour, in front of the Manly ferry terminal, and explored all the little coves and beaches. We were very tempted to paddle across to Balmoral and Watsons Bay, and even to the entrance of the Gap, the last of which we’d not even broached by kayak before… but we’re not the most confident of SUP boarders yet, and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. Next time! But we did bring our boards to the Manly beach-side on a day when the surf looked much smaller than usual, and had a blast trying to catch small waves at the break point just outside Shelly Beach. Goals for next time too – surfing on SUPs!

We also got in a few swims from Manly to Shelly. The water temperature was a cool but comfortable 21+ degrees. Most days, the rains and surf rendered the water silty, so visibility was not the greatest. But we did have one beautiful day on Sunday when the sun was out in full blast, the winds calm, and the surf small, when the ocean looked like a beautiful swimming pool. We spotted baby dusky whaler sharks, tons of fishes, blue groupers and rays.

We had friends come out to Manly to hang with us a few different days, which was tons of fun. Our last evening though, we decided to venture back downtown to meet up with friends, and enjoyed riding the ferry at dusk back to Circular Quay. That sight never gets old!

Glorious vacation; till next time Sydney. โค

Adventuring in Australia: Weekend up by Cudgegong River

Australia was one of the second wave of countries to announce their re-opening to travelers back in November last year. Immediately, we booked tickets. We quickly found out though, that that plan was a soft launch, just for Singapore citizens, and did not include expats residing in Singapore (like Jeff). Then, Omicron hit, and while borders remained opened, travelers now had to do a mandatory 3 day quarantine at their place of residence before they were allowed to leave. In the end, we shelved those plans, and contented to staying in Singapore for the holidays.

Happily, we’re over that hump now (and hopefully it’s firmly in the rearview mirror). With borders re-opened – this time fully – we used the last of our carry over vacation days from last year to revisit what we regard as our second home.

Landed in Sydney on a bright and sunny Thursday morning, in time for a quick stroll around the quay before we settled down to work

We’d come in right before the ANZ long weekend, perfect to plan a weekend getaway with some friends. The Monday before though, after obsessively following the weather forecast, over a Zoom call, we reluctantly changed our plans to camp at Mungo Brush up in Myall Lakes, given the gloomy 8mm of rain projections every day of the long weekend. Happily, Dani found alternatives out west, and we easily swapped out our plans to explore Cudgegong River, west of Mudgee.

It was so, so, so lovely to be back on the water with these kayaking mates. This time, Jeff and I brought our standup paddle boards instead of kayaks, and Dani brought along her racing SUP for us to play around with (along with her trusty Elliot kayak and Oru Coast). We had the most marvellous afternoon paddling around together on Saturday afternoon, just like old times, before we returned to prepare a delicious hot pot meal and to lounge by our campfire and admire the stars and milky way overhead. Just like old times.

It’s always a special treat when one travels with friends who love to cook! For Sunday brekkie, we made french toast with fresh berries and mascarpone with vanilla and maple syrup. SO GOOD. Washed down with fresh moka pot coffee – we were nicely set up for a long day’s paddle!

The day’s paddle started off lovely. Though it was mostly cloudy, the winds were low and so made for a nice leisurely paddle to our lunch spot, a tiny brushy island on which we found a small clearing. Delicious build-your-own wrap lunch of roast chicken, pickled daikons, cucumbers, tomatoes, rocket, ham, and tuscan mix. Mm.

The wind picked up just as we finished lunch though, and sent white caps spraying in whichever direction. Initially, we’d entertained continuing up the river to explore, but very quickly decided with the strong headwinds, that it was more prudent to start turning back.ย What a mad struggle – especially for me, a semi-novice stand up paddle boarder! The winds were pushing us backwards at least 3 km/hr, and I’m on average just clocking in 4 km/hr on my board. Lol. After at least 45 minutes of full out paddling, I looked back and we were barely 1 km away from our lunch spot. Gah. Looking at the time, I decided that if we wanted any chance of returning before sunset, I had to get a tow assist.

Enter Garry! He gamely pulled me behind his kayak for a good 7km. And though the sun finally came out right at the end, and the winds died down, I was too spent from trying to hold my own end of the tow to volunteer to unhitch from his kayak. Huge kudos to Jeff for pushing through on Dani’s racing board, badly skinning the tops of his toes kneeling through the wind in the process.

We were pretty wiped out by our 17 km paddle – no thanks to the epic winds coming back – and woke up sore the next morning, but it was a beautiful sunny and calm day on Monday that a bunch of us simply had to take the crafts out for a last spin. We ventured up to what we thought was a cove at the end of lake, but it turned out to be a fun little creek that we could meander up for quite a distance, alongside curious cows.

To end off the trip, and to take further advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, we stopped by Lowe Wines in Mudgee for a bit of cheeky tasting, and walked away with four bottles. Just couldn’t resist.

Another amazing Aussie bush weekend for the books! So grateful for the lovely company as well. Our hearts are full.