If you are going to Penang Island for art and heritage, a weekend getaway from city life in KL, or of course travelling through at your leisure, you won’t want to miss the northern side of the island.
Batu Ferringhi beach stretches for miles down the coast of the northern part of the island, and offering soft sand, various watersports and other attractions, is one of the most popular beaches in Penang. Park Royal Penang Resort is perched at an ultimately relaxed, secluded spot along the beach and within a short drive of the more lively Georgetown – read about my visit to the Park Royal here, so you can decide if it’s the place for you!
Batu Ferringhi is about 30-40 minutes by car (I recommend using Grab everywhere in Malaysia) from the airport and about 20 from Georgetown. Penang isn’t too large of an island, and the beach is along the coastal road on the north end.
Backed up right to the beach with its own access, Park Royal Penang Resort is a tropical paradise in and of itself, with expansive lawn space in the back, covered with sun lounges and palm trees. Laying in the sun tire you out? You can get a massage with a view at the small hut in the hotel’s own backyard, and grab a piña colada at the bar afterwards. Not to mention the beautiful pool, with sparkling blue water and surrounded by palm trees, luscious tropical plants and flowers that create a relaxing oasis. Just down the path is a kiddie pool for youngsters – even better.
The hotel has quite a few rooms, bigger and smaller; my room was clean, comfy and lovely. The bed was soft and, while I would have happily done more sleeping, I slept great while I was there.
Park Royal is a 5 minute walk from the Ferringhi Walk, a night market and bazaar with various stalls, selling clothing and trinkets, and food. It is nice to have a glance through while you are on this end of the island, but there is nothing here that you cannot also buy in the shops and markets of Georgetown, which arguably have a larger selection.
In My Opinion: I can’t decide which is my favorite; the beach or the pool. I chose to spend my time back and forth between the two, and just can’t get enough of the sun, so the lounge area all around the hotel is perfect, if you don’t feel like getting sandy. The breakfast is nice and the open restaurant looks right onto the pool. The hotel is clean, comfortable and has a very relaxed and isolated vibe, which I loved to escape to after busier times walking around and seeing the sights in Georgetown.
The inspiration for my trip to Rottnest Island began with a single jaw-dropping Instagram post of a bubblegum-pink lake, geotagged to be somewhere in Western Australia. My initial disbelief spiraled into an obsession to find the pink lakes of western Australia myself. After a few internet searches, I quickly discovered that the only pink lakes within reach of Perth existed to the north and south of Perth, each about 6-8 hours away by car. Knowing that I would only be in Perth for one week and unable to take a day to drive, I realized visiting these spots would have to go on my bucket list for another time (alongside tons of other amazing spots along the coast of WA – will definitely be back!) Eventually, a Google Maps search showed a pin on a small island off the coast of Perth; there seemed to be a “pink lake” on Rottnest Island! While countless blogs and travel websites mention the pink lakes of WA that I had found initially, I could not find any such description of those on the so-called Rottnest Island. Regardless, photos online of the island itself convinced me that it would be a gorgeous place to visit for the day, and so I decided I would go.
Lo and behold, Monday morning I woke up to a clouded and gloomy gray sky which only got darker by the minute. Despite the looming clouds, I made up my mind to not let a little bad weather get in the way of my adventures, so I headed out to the ferry terminal at Fremantle, one of three possible locations from which ferries leave to Rottnest (Fremantle being the shortest trip). I was questioning my decision to go ahead when some Perth locals on my ferry lamented what horrible weather they were having and what a shame I was seeing the island on a day like this… and when we caught air, bouncing clear off of our seats when we hit some of the bigger waves. The locals next to me told me a bit about the island, and about a local annual swimming competition, which runs 20km from the harbor to the island, through the open ocean!
Once I arrived to Rottnest, the day had already begun to brighten, with some of the clouds parting to allow little rays of sunshine through. I was instantly happier and so glad that I went ahead and chose to visit the island. I immediately headed for “Pedal and Flipper,” the most commonly-frequented bike rental shop on the island with a large garage full of bikes of all sizes. Once I had grabbed a helmet and bike, I was on my way. Not knowing how much of the island I would be able to cover before I had to turn in my bike by 5:00, I figured I would just explore as much as possible. The hope of seeing a pink lake was still fresh, so I went ahead and set off on my bike, with Google Maps pointing me somewhere towards the middle of the main part of the island. Once I headed down the central Digby Road, I didn’t have to bike very far before I came across a stunning sight: on my right, a deep blue body of water with – PINK around the edges! I had suddenly been plopped right into a fairytale, with wispy palm trees and cotton candy lakes, and I was loving every minute. The beginning of Digby Road is where I took most of my pictures, and as I continued along this road, the lakes only got pinker! As I learned from an oh-so-helpful billboard, the lakes get their (crazy) pink color from microscopic algae that grows on salt crystals, containing beta-carotene, a reddish orange substance that is partly responsible for the color. The pink lakes (also known as the salt lakes) are four times saltier than seawater, which reasonably attracts such a high concentration of the beta-carotene-bearing algae.
Tearing myself away from selfie upon selfie, I continued my ride and had an amazing day riding all over this beautiful little island off the coast of Perth. As I came to find out along my ride around Rottnest (Wadjemup to the local Noongar people, or simply “Rotto” to most locals), is well known for its significant population of quokkas! In case you don’t know, quokkas are (THE CUTEST AND CUDDLIEST) small native marsupials that appear to be something in between a large rodent and small cat-rabbit? The little guys of Rotto are either quite accustomed to visitors or just not shy, because they will indeed come right on over to check you out for any leftover snacks or just for a bit of a snuggle. Other wildlife of the island consists of many rare species of birds (you will see many trails indicating good places to spot these from, often pathways where bikes cannot go), and both Australian sea lions and southern fur seals, which you can spot frolicking and fishing off the shore of Rotto along the rocky coast.
Once I had ridden into central island in hot pursuit of the pink lakes, I decided to head to the north and skirt the border of the island counter-clockwise and try to make it all the way around to the east coast by the time I needed to return my bike. I passed bays, cliffs, beaches and rocky outcroppings by what seemed the dozen (there are something around 60+ bays surrounding the island!) and stopped to take pictures or wander down to most of them. Each and every place was spectacularly unique, and I could just imagine claiming a spot of the soft white sand for my very own during one of the hot hot days that Rotto is known for. A good book, the beach and crystal clear turquoise waters create the perfect recipe for an amazing vacation, staycation for Perthites, and anything in between. The second half of my day was filled with a bit more huffing and puffing, as I tried to cover as much ground as possible in between stopping to admire the views. Once I made it out to Cape Vlamingh, I only had about an hour left. Cape Vlamingh is at the westerly tip of the island and is home to a wildlife/eco sanctuary, which remains protected by a 200 meter boardwalk running out to the point, allowing visitors to enjoy the breathtaking views beyond the edge of the island.
After soaking in the amazing views at the west end, I took off again down the coast and made my last main stop before turning back to the central path back to the east coast; The Green Island. I am not entirely sure where this beach bay got its name, perhaps from the small rocks lining the coast. I was greeted by a group of five exuberantly jumping Indonesian bikers, all dressed for the occasion in neon yellow biking gear. I had missed this typical and familiar photo-on-a-tropical-beach-somewhere experience in Indonesia, where anyone with remotely blonde hair is bombarded for group photos with up to thirty people at a time. After we took our peace signs and smiley photos together and wished each other well, I enjoyed the peace of the beach and full force of the natural beauty of this remote paradise before jumping on my bike and pedaling my way back to the other coast.
I cannot even describe my experience at Rotto adequately… and I went on a cloudy, dreary day in comparison! I know that I simply must go back someday, and I would love at least one week to explore; just getting on my bike every morning, and riding where and when I want, seeing, feeling and experiencing the raw beauty of the happy little island. I recommend you do the same, and don’t forget to cuddle a quokka!
Stay wild xxx
I’ve been told time and again that the South Island is the best place to be in New Zealand; it has the best views, the prettiest scenery… the greenest grass. Well, I haven’t made it down there yet (it’s on my list), but I can now happily say I’ve seen a pretty good portion (at least geographically speaking) of the North Island, and it’s still amazing.
If like me, you happen to find yourself on North Island and want to explore but are a little strapped for time, hopefully my adventure will provide you with some helpful inspo for a quick, but action-packed trip across the north.
Starting in Wellington, NZ, I needed to arrive in Auckland by Sunday night and wanted to see as much as possible. Originally, it was my plan to do the Alpine Crossing hike in Tongariro National Park, just outside of Taupo. After a bit more research, I learned that not only does the hike (as it should of course) take a comfy minimum of 8 hours, one should (must) also be properly geared up, prepared, etc. Equipped only with lifestyle Nikes (lol) and a frattagonia, I figured I’d at least need to rent some gear. While this was most likely possible, I came to the conclusion that in order to enjoy the weekend to the fullest without being rushed nonstop, it would be smarter to save the hike for another visit to NZ, when I have plenty of time to immerse in the nature, hike around as much as I want and actually spend a few days around Tongariro. (It looks amazing though, if you have a little more time in this area- I’ve heard great things!)
After realizing the extent of my time crunch, I looked for activities and stop-offs that would be fun to explore but wouldn’t necessarily take the entirety of a day, and ended up with a fabulous itinerary; here’s what I did over the weekend.
The drive from Wellington up to Taupo is lovely in and of itself, winding in between cute little towns, one-street villages and rolling green hills. Be sure to stay focused on the road, because the beautiful views can get distracting. I chose to rent a car in Wellington, which could be dropped off in Auckland – a car allowed me to go wherever I wanted, whenever… it was absolutely worth it to me for this kind of trip, and unless there is a major barrier to renting a car, it’s the way to go. It took a little over two hours to reach Taupo, where I had booked a one night stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo. I first saw Lake Taupo from the road, which is the major lake for which Taupo is famous. A monstrous blue gem, the lake is gorgeous and home to all manner of fun activities.
Since I hadn’t pushed to leave super early Saturday morning, I arrived late afternoon into Taupo and began looking for things to do still that evening. I had heard about the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo, and found an evening sunset cruise still available to visit them. Having a few hours before the cruise, I asked about any hot springs nearby, since the area around Taupo is renowned for its geothermal activity and plethora of hot springs. It turned out that Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort is right next door (a 5 minute walk) from the Hilton, so I walked just down the road to the public hot springs. There is a small entry fee for unlimited day access to the pools, which are well-maintained in a lovely landscaped area, including trees, plants, waterfalls and even waterslides, for kiddies and adventurers. I spent at least an hour soaking in the warmth of the vividly turquoise-green pools, amazed at the natural temperatures (allegedly cooled down by necessity to make it possible for people to swim!)
Later, on to Lake Taupo for some evening exploring: It is easy to drive down to the harbor (Redoubt street), and park along the water where all of the boats are docked. There are many ways to see the carvings throughout the day, including by several types of boat or even kayak. I went on the sunset cruise with a company called Ernest Kemp; a relatively small group of people is taken out on the lake in an adorable little green tug boat, and the sunset cruise included pizza and (seemingly unlimited) beer or wine, tea or coffee… pretty fancy stuff, folks. The cruise takes about two hours total, reaching the carvings just in time to catch the last of the daylight and circling back with a gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun, painting streaks across the evening sky.
*I was not able to fully explore the Taupo area, but it is most famous (apart from the lake itself), for its geothermal attractions, including hot springs, pools and waterfalls. According to my own quick research, top picks for the area include Haka Falls, Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa, and Otumuheke Stream Spa Park. Unfortunately my trip was too quick to explore all of these, but they are on my list for next time; I would love to do a relaxing hot springs crawl of sorts around Taupo; if you are looking for more tips, the Great Lake Taupo website is quite helpful.
After a relaxing arrival to Taupo and a lovely evening, I got a good night’s rest and woke up for a delicious fresh breakkie at the hotel, overlooking a misty Lake Taupo in the distance. I got around early to make the most of the day, heading out from Taupo and up north towards Rotorua. A little over two more hours north of Taupo along the “Thermal Explorers’ Highway” lies Rotorua, another area famed for its volcanic and geothermal activity. There are plenty of fun things to see and do around Rotorua, but if you only have a few hours, you must go to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Waiotapu is a Maori word meaning “sacred waters,” and is an active geothermal area at the southern area of the Okataina Volcanic Center in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. I spent close to three hours total at Waiotapu, taking the long path (of three options based on which thermal attractions you would like to see and how long you wish to take) to see all of the thermal craters and lakes, and then afterwards stopping by the boiling mud pool. For more detail on Waiotapu, see my blog post about it here.
After exploring Waiotapu, I was back on the road towards Rotorua proper. On my way through, I stopped at Polynesian Spa, a developed and fully landscaped geothermal spa that sits directly on the banks of Lake Rotorua, with amazing views across the water. The pools in the spa come from various natural sources in the area, some of which are exclusively sourced by Polynesian Spa and are only accessible there. For example, the “Priest’s Bath,” which for centuries served as the bathing site for local Maori, who long acclaimed the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the acidic water. Information about the baths claims that people have long traveled to Rotorua and to these baths specifically to reap such health benefits as relief from arthritis and rheumatism, or even to seek “eternal beauty,” which is said to grace those who bathe in the nearly magical water.
Refreshed from my R&R stop at Polynesian Spa, I headed on down (up) the road for what is basically the middle of nowhere in the north island to nowhere other than The Shire, of course. I debated as to the real importance of visiting the famed Lord of the Rings filming spot, but in the end decided that if I was going to be so close, I simply couldn’t and shouldn’t miss saying hello. So, a few hours and many luscious green rolling hills later, a tiny country one lane road brought me to the parking lot of Hobbiton. I did question Google Maps every once in a while, especially when the road became narrower and the hills became more dense. I had a feeling I was on the right track, however, when pulling around a corner I happened upon a (honest to God) wizard (?) with a small horse (?) seemingly taking photos alongside the road (WHAT). Hobbiton is – well – quaint, and as expected, a bit on the touristy side. For the die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, the tour guides invite you to reenact any scene you like from The Hobbit, and a video playing inside the tour bus on your short jaunt out to the hobbit houses explains a bit with footage about the making of the film and how the land was originally found by the director, in the middle of a beautiful New Zealand farm. It was interesting to learn about the film and its history, and about just how much of a production it became for the countryside farm; instead of monetary backing from the government, the director was instead offered help and manpower from the military, which assisted in building roads on set and through the hills of the farm. This eventually drew (unwanted) attention to the ongoings on an otherwise unassuming property, and eventually the surface tales would no longer satisfy curious neighbors; once people found out what was really going on, the project had to even establish a no fly zone above the farm to avoid the occasional helicopter trying to get a peek from showing up on camera! After the tour of Hobbiton and plenty of selfies with Bilbo’s house (although don’t expect to see a fully-furnished Hobbit hole… the insides of the houses were all constructed and filmed in Wellington), we were taken to the Green Dragon pub, set in a shockingly idyllic valley, where the golden sun dances across the verdant hills and plays magic on the small lakes. How can you not feel like you really are a hobbit, or living for real in this fantastical world? After enjoying a leisurely beer at the Green Dragon, we were escorted back to the entrance and of course exited through the gift shop, where available for sale you will even find the Ring, inscription and all, and an “elvin cloak,” as made famous by Gandalf in the movie. While I consider myself somewhere in between a die-hard fan and ambivalent aficionado of the movie series, it was still very enjoyable to visit Hobbiton, and definitely something that I would recommend once. You can decide for yourself if you cant live without a second trip back.
The rest of the drive up to Auckland was done as the sun went down, painting the sky with streaks of vivid purple, orange and red – theres just nothing like a New Zealand sunset. Unless it’s an Aussie sunset, but still. From there, I cant say too much about the scenery but it was a good drive up, pretty soon made it to the city and checked in for a much needed snooze. Overall, choosing to drive across the North Island was a fantastic decision and I saw some amazing things. My only wish is to spend much more time in each place, and perhaps explore much more along the way! Several weeks spent just exploring NZ is definitely on my bucket list.
My roadtrip at a glance:
Wellington, NZ to Auckland, NZ (2 days)
Wellington to Taupo
Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo
Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort
Taupo to Auckland
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland & Mud Pools
Polynesian Spa at Lake Rotorua
Hobbiton Movie Set, Matama
A quick 15 minute drive from downtown Wellington, Zealandia Ecosanctuary is an oasis amongst the craziness of Wellington city, and a welcome reprieve from the weekly grind. The history and story behind Zealandia is intriguing; as the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, it has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area, 6 of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years. This all in line with their extraordinary mission to restore Wellington’s valley forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state.
The fence of Zealandia allows a remarkably rare blend of birds, reptiles, insects and more to thrive and flourish, living wild within a ruggedly gorgeous jungle valley stretching across one square mile. Keep your eyes peeled, and your camera at the ready, as you never know when you will confront a red-beaked Takahē sidling along down the path (I never did, sadly). Don’t get me started on the insects… let’s just say you most likely hope you do not have any run-ins with these knarly dudes (how do insects that big even exist?!)
After being plopped into one urban jungle after another (and loving it of course), I always jump at the chance to immerse myself in some real nature, even if just for a little while. Walking through this wonderland of green, sweet silence punctuated only by breezes and a wild symphony of bird calls and insect humming, watching the sunlight stream through feathery ferns – I could stay here for hours.. and hours. You may want to! Whether you are a seasoned bird watcher or a Wellington drop-by visitor, Zealandia has something for you – there are many different pathways and combinations thereof, so you can make your trek as long, short, challenging or relaxing as you like, and just revel in the pure loveliness of this very true sanctuary.
Find more info about the park at http://visitzealandia.com
STAY WILD xxx
Brisbane’s renowned Gallery of Modern Art is turning 10!! Happy Birthdayyyyy to GOMA! Several striking exhibits are claiming a home at GOMA for the celebration, and they are not only incredible, intellectual and meaningful, but pure fun – I visited GOMA twice within one week in Brisbane and would keep going back and back to see (and hear!) more of this unique museum.
Sugar Spin – You, Me, Art, and Everything
Headlining the celebrations of GOMA’s 10th birthday is the exhibit ‘Sugar Spin,’ featuring over 250 contemporary artworks exploring light, space, architecture and the senses. Large scale and immersive works invite visitors to interact with and appreciate these incredible works of art that fully plunge one into an exploration of our complex connection with the natural world. An effort to reach deeper understanding of the art leads one into meaningful discovery, while the installations themselves are necessarily fantastic and fun even superficially. Here are some of my favorite experiences of Sugar Spin:
Stroke the furry wall:
Entering GOMA, I was immediately confronted by an expansive FURRY WALL-literally. This thing crawls up the wall to a height of about 15 meters, and it looks a bit like Monsters, Inc. exploded everywhere inside the museum. Aka, IT IS F*@#ING AMAZINGGG. Go stroke the furry wall, just get involved. Snuggle it, cuddle it, pet it… whatever you feel like, but just enjoy it! This oasis of happiness is made of multicolored synthetic hair (a lot of it), by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir (Shoplifter) and is titled Nervescape V. Bright, strange, immersive and even grotesque, this fuzzy phenomenon will draw you in and keep you for a while, if nothing else for some of the best insta pics you’ll ever take.
Be a bird watcher for the day:
A room on the second floor of GOMA has been reserved solely for one of the most peculiar and lovely exhibits of GOMA’s 10th birthday- the finch room. This live work is the magic of artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, who initially trained as a musician and composer before turning his hand to the visual art, perhaps the clear impetus for this very sonically-oriented work. The cheerful chirping of colorful finches, flitting back and forth between wire hangars and little wooden boxes, permeates a mellow soundscape, creating a meditative and pleasant sound and surrounding. I could have spent hours in here, mesmerized by the beauty of the birds and the sound itself; this artist knew what he was creating indeed.
Sleep with giants:
WOAH- wait, what?! This was more or less my initial reaction when walking into the exhibit room hosting In Bed, by Ron Mueck. A life sized (psh-NO-bigger, much bigger than life-sized!!!) woman lies in a bed on the floor and I swear she just watches you as you approach her. Is she content, tired, troubled… even pained? Not quite sure, and neither is anyone else. The plaque explaining the work actually examines these very questions, and comments on how the realistic nature of the work allows the viewer to perhaps interpret the work as they will, but leaves the true nature of the woman’s mood a mystery. Let’s just say it’s incredible, but I wouldn’t want to be alone with this one after hours… let’s not relive Night at the Museum.
Wheeeeee! Meet you at the bottom!
Slide down one of two tube slides that connect the third floor to the lobby – c’mon, you know you want to. Just don’t be carrying your cameras or pet poodles- they won’t let you on with too many loose objects. Artist Carsten Höller is behind this installation, with a purpose to reexamine expectations about art, i.e. what place does a giant slide have in a serious art museum?? Well, who cares. It’s awesome.
Stare into the depths of Anish Kapoor’s works – either the giant red circular piece, occupying its own room on the gallery floor – or his more minimal blue piece in the same room as a giant dragonlike snake skeleton, alongside several other striking works.
Dance with magical horses:
Immerse yourself in Herd, the fantastical group of horses brought to life in a backdrop video and through human performance. This vibrant room is brought to life by sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave, and is one to spend some moments in. Walk down the rows and look closely; each horse is so unique and beautiful, and just from a short glance, I experienced so many different observations of the art, from interpretation to feeling and even noticing how the different fabrics of the horses’ headdresses are reminiscent of several specific cultures.
Revisit your childhood love of LEGOs!
On the top floor of the gallery, thousands of white Lego pieces have been joined by visitors to form and reform an imaginary and spectacular cityscape; you can place the Legos however you wish and can build any shape or structure that you want, thus creating and re-creating the idea of cities in Olafur Eliasson’s interactive The cubic structural evolution project.
Go on, check out GOMA and wish it a Happy Birthday while you’re at it! Summer is a fantastic time to visit, but Sugar Spin is amazingly worth the visit. (Ok, ok, I am indeed overly obsessed with the giant technicolor fuzzy wall, but WHO ISN’T?!) This place is on Trip Advisor’s top ten list for a reason, but that doesn’t make it a tourist trap. If you are remotely interested in art or just want to have some fun with a few hours in Brisvegas, I would highly recommend a visit.
I would love to hear in your comments below about your own experiences at GOMA or how you feel it compares to other modern art houses, and what your favorite aspect of art and museum viewing in a foreign place is; what is the meaning of traveling to see art for you? Is it meaning, experience, visual, or something else?
To all my fellow globetrotters, I am sure that many of you have already been using Bloglovin’ for a while… I’m a little late to the scene but happy to get started and join an amazing community of travel influencers and inspirers! I love how integrated and accessible Bloglovin.com is for following and organizing your favorite blogs, across all themes and industries! Of course being a huge fan of travel, most of my top favorites on Bloglovin’ are from the travel realm… and I plan to join the ranks as one of the most unique and creative blogs, offering worldwide travel inspiration with an insider’s look at the path less traveled in amazing locations around the globe.
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