Snorkeling in Coral Bay

A hard coral at Coral Bay

A hard coral at Coral Bay

For Christmas  break I headed to the west coast of Australia for a week. I was meant to go on a road trip stopping at all the major sites between Perth and Exmouth, but due to a hangover-induced oversight I lost my driver’s license at the Darwin airport. After a couple of hours of pure panic at the Perth airport, I realized I could get a bus up to Coral Bay and actually have a pretty good trip regardless of the lack of rental car.

So, after a 15 hour bus trip I arrived at the tiny town (pop. 190) in WA and settled into the friendly Ningaloo Club hostel. The next day the staff directed me to the best snorkeling spot, which happens to be just a few meters off the beach. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can literally walk into a coral reef. Absolutely stunning.

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Litchfield National Park

The view from above of Florence Falls - complete with rainbow - in Litchfield National Park

The view from above of Florence Falls – complete with rainbow – in Litchfield National Park

The final stop on my 10-day tour of the Top End a few weeks ago was Litchfield National Park, a popular weekend getaway for Darwin residents and home to loads of glorious waterfalls and swimming holes. Of course I took advantage of as many walking tracks as I could, one of which winds for about 5km along Florence Creek in relative peace and quiet.

Another highlight of Litchfield is seeing the incredible magnetic terminte mounds. These termites use the magnetic forces of the earth to orient their cathedrals to optimize exposure to the sun. And, of course, the above ground portions of the nests are a gigantic 2+ meters high.

At the end of this tour I settled in Darwin to begin a job for five months – I need to recoup a lot of the money I’ve spent in Australia! It certainly isn’t as cheap here as it was in Asia and South America, and I don’t even want to share how much I’ve been spending. So my blog may be quiet for the coming months, but I’ve got a big trip to WA planned in December and I’ll be sure get my camera ready.

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Edith Falls

The view of Edith Falls from Leliyn Lookout in Nitmiluk National Park

The view of Edith Falls from Leliyn Lookout in Nitmiluk National Park

North of Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park is Edith Falls, a cascading set of waterfalls and plunge pools. There is a short walking path that goes up to a lookout over the upper pool, as well as several longer walking paths which I didn’t have the opportunity to do. As usual there were plenty of beautiful flowers and interesting critters around to ogle. This was the last stop on the leg of the tour up to Darwin and the scenery was getting greener and greener.

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Scuba Diving Tweed Heads and Shag Rock

Up close and personal with a wobbegong carpet shark at Shag Rock, a dive site off North Stradbroke Island

Up close and personal with a wobbegong carpet shark at Shag Rock, a dive site off North Stradbroke Island

My first Australian diving experience was based out of Brisbane and North Stradbroke Island in Queensland. First I did a Nitrox course with Dive World at Tweed Heads. Although there isn’t a ton of amazing reef life, there were some impressive schools of fish and a cute Buddha statue to be seen. There were some heavy currents so it was hard to take pictures, but I did snap a few.

Then I ventured off to North Stradbroke Island to dive with Manta Lodge. I did two days of diving there, both at Shag Rock which is a site just off their beach. I saw a few rays there as well as wobbegong sharks and massive schools of butter bream. It was an awesome experience thanks to the great staff at the lodge and it got me all geared up for my Great Barrier Reef liveaboard next week!

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Scuba Diving in Koh Tao

The Yank without a Chain scuba diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

The Yank without a Chain scuba diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

I got my PADI open water diving certification in Turks and Caicos in 2005 and had grand plans to dive all over the world. Unfortunately, for various reasons it didn’t quite work out that way and I only went on a handful of dives before focusing my interests elsewhere. So when I came to Thailand and heard that there is beautiful, cheap diving on Koh Tao, I knew I had to take full advantage of it.

I got a recommendation from a German friend for Crystal Dive Resort, so I booked a few nights there without doing much research about other places. It definitely turned out to be a good choice. The afternoon I arrived I took a refresher PADI course in the pool to review scuba basics like buoyancy, removing your equipment in the water, clearing your mask, etc. Afterward I felt confident to start fun diving.

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The Kong Lor Cave

Boarding the boat to begin the trip down the cave

Boarding the boat to begin the trip down the cave

I’d heard from several people that the Kong Lor cave in central Laos was a highlight of their trip in Southeast Asia, so I knew I had to make it a priority. For a place that is on so many “must see” lists, I was surprised on how truly rural and undeveloped the area around the cave is. The town of Kong Lor is just one long street that has a handful of guesthouses and restaurants, no internet access, and hardly anybody who speaks English. It was a very pleasant and peaceful place to spend a few days.

It wasn’t too difficult to get to, as I took a direct tourist bus from Vientiane that I booked through my hostel. The bus dropped me and the four other westerners off in front of a guesthouse about a kilometer away from the cave.

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