Tripping through Indonesia on Trip Advisor – Ubud, Bali

   My last post, on Southern Bali was all about white sandy beaches and relaxing, a much needed remedy for the jet lag, induced by my 21-hour cross-Pacific flight.  I was now heading to Central Bali to meet my wife Sheila, who had just finished a rigourous 12-day trek through the highlands of Papua, and we had chosen Ubud for our rendezvous.

  Sri Sunari Guest House is located on the outskirts of Ubud. Surrounded on all four sides by verdant, green rice fields it is accessed by a  little footpath. We had used Trip Advisor, again,  to research our selection and secured our reservation with an email.  Our accommodations far exceeded our expectations. A delicious breakfast was delivered to our large deck each morning. The staff, in typical guest house fashion were attentive and helpful, pointing us in the direction of good restaurants and interesting activities. They also provided reasonably priced transport on a number of occasions.

  One of these recommendations was a unique Jegog performance, a form of gamelon music played on a variety of large and small bamboo instruments. The deep resonating sound was the perfect accompaniment to a captivating set of traditional dancing. I loved watching the intricate hand and foot movements, and the large-eyed facial expressions.

    We kept pretty busy while in Ubud and made full use of Trip Advisor reviews to plan our activities. Here I am doing something I love – cooking. The day started with a tour through a very colourful and busy morning market to learn about the various ingredients which we would later use in our Indonesian cooking class. Back at the kitchen,  we rolled up our sleeves, started chopping, and were patiently guided through eight different recipes. The reward at the end, of course, was a wonderful tasty and filling meal. We were sent away with a  booklet of recipes to replicate our culinary experience and bring back all those great memories.

We were now using Trip Advisor extensively in Ubud, successfully choosing our accommodation, restaurants and a variety of activities. All were great choices, with no disappointments, which naturally added to the overall enjoyment of our trip. In turn, I completed six reviews myself, for the Ubud region, and am now a Senior Contributor.

Our Trip Advisor Best Picks for Ubud -  Accommodation, Eating & Activities:

  • Sri Sunari Guest House - exceeded our expectations; attentive staff
  • Wild Ginger – we ate two great dinners here; good value
  • Sari Organik – excellent lunch in a serene rice field location
  • Jazz Cafe – good food and a great night of music
  • Paon Bali Cooking Class – a wonderful experience (see above)
  • Jegeg Bali Cycling Tours – an exceptional day; full value

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Tripping Through Indonesia on Trip Advisor – Southern Bali

  We’ve just returned from an incredible trip through Indonesia,  made all the better by a positive, first-hand experience using Trip Advisor.  Visiting five islands in five weeks, and on the fly,  we made almost a dozen accommodation decisions, as many restaurant choices, and even a few tour packages by going online.  Trip Advisor is a powerful social media/web-based travel planning tool, that provides information and reviews in real time, and we used this data to research our travel picks.  All were winners, with each adding unexpected, but multi-layered details to our  travel experience. Best of all, we had no disappointments.

Over the course of this  blog series we’ll share some of our experiences, from trekking through the highlands of Papua to the finding the best white, sandy beach we’ve ever seen.

   We’ll also share some of our strategies for using Trip Advisor, based on our experiences as B&B operators. Coracle Cove has received almost 60 Trip Advisor Reviews. We have a good understanding of both sides of the Trip Advisor equation, and used this knowledge to develop an effective strategy for interpreting the reviews, and then picking our Indonesian winners.

And just in case we do manage to inspire you to go to Indonesia, we’ll also share our Trip Advisor Best Picks (see below)

  Now back to our trip… the image at the top of the page was taken at Uluwatu, a cliff-hanging ancient Hindu temple, built over 1000 years ago. This west-facing directional-temple looks over the Indian Ocean, and I took this second image from the top row of the outdoor amphitheatre where I was sitting, just minutes before the start of a mesmerizing evening performance of the epic Asian folk tale of Ramayana.

  I would actually see portions of this traditional performance several  times over the course of our trip. I was intrigued by the story and captivated by the intricate foot and hand movements, and the meditative beat of the gamelon orchestra. The Kecak Fire Dance at Uluwatu was definitely a great introduction for me to the cultural side of Indonesia.

Interestingly however,  I would probably have missed this experience entirely, without the good advice from the small guest house that I found through Trip Advisor. Teka Tiki House, in Seminyak, Bali is operated by Jules, an ex-pat, Aussie school teacher and Donni, her Balinese husband.

I was attracted to Teka Tiki by the large number of good reviews they had received on Trip Advisor and based on the five days I stayed with them, they are well deserved. As a B&B owner I  always try to book into other B&Bs, because I know that I’ll get good, personalized service and lots of local information. Teka Tiki arranged drivers, provided restaurant recommendations, and even invited me to join them for a wonderful seafood BBQ at an out-of-the-way oceanside restaurant where the food was great and the evening sunset… well that’s for another blog. Stay tuned for the next instalment, and a few more of our Trip Advisor Best Picks.

Our Trip Advisor Best Picks –  Accommodation, Eating & Activities:

  • Kendi Kuning: Nusa Dua, seafood – excellent food and beachside location
  • Made’s Warung: Seminyak, Indonesian – good evening entertainment
  • Warung Bale Bali: Seminyak, Indonesian – quiet restuarant with good food
  • Kind Villa Bintang Resort: Nusa Dua – a perfect place to relax upon arrival
  • Teka Tiki Guest House: Seminyak –  great location, great value
  • Espace Spa: Seminayak – Ahhh…. the best answer to jet lag

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Falling for the Sunshine Coast – Part 2

There is a peacefulness about the Fall season. Maybe it just feels that way after a busy summer, but there are also some definite physical changes underway and I find it very relaxing.

I took this picture a few years ago on a first day of Fall, September 22nd. It’s mid-day, the water is a flat relective surface, and mirrors the white clouds floating above.

This picture was taken just a few days later, the early morning mist wrapping everything in a protective cocoon. The water is still,  with a few ripples from a passing boat.

The protective mist extends deep into the forest, releasing moisture laden droplets on everything, both large and small.

To see more of my images of the Fall season at CoracleCove, visit my website www.coraclecove.com where I’ve produced a short video of some of my other favourites … enjoy!!

 

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Walking Holidays on the Sunshine Coast – #3 – Foraging for Wild Mushrooms

It’s mushroom season on the Sunshine Coast. The few days of rain we had last week  have coaxed these delicacies of Nature to make their annual appearance. If you’re patient, and know what to look for, and where to look you will be rewarded. We found a small patch of these Coral Mushrooms with the help of Tyler Grey, owner of Mikuni Wild Harvest, who grew up on the Sunshine Coast.

We were in pretty good hands. Tyler has been foraging for wild mushrooms for most of his life, a passion that was handed down to him by his mother. That’s him on the right with my youngest son, Colin and they’ve just found a patch of Hogshead Mushrooms – a healthy handful that we enjoyed later that day in a savoury wild mushroom pasta, cooked with some garlic that I’d been drying in my cellar, and olive oil. That was all we needed – talk about letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

The ultimate find for the day, however, were the covetted Chantrelles (pictured below) and we were rewarded a number of times for our patience.

Mushroom Foraging is a popular Autumn activity on the Sunshine Coast and it seems that everyone has their own secret place or two.

The Second Annual Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival takes place this weekend in Pender Harbour. Several workshops on identifying mushrooms are offered and most of the local restaurants will be featuring wild mushrooms on their menus. If you’d like to get some expert advice on identification this is a great opportunity. Of course any opportunity to escape from the big city to visit the Sunshine Coast is always worth considering.  Happy hunting!!

 

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Walking Holidays on the Sunshine Coast – #2 – Birding at Sechelt Marsh

Sechelt Marsh has a winding trail around a small pond with a smaller island in the middle. The pond is fed by both fresh and tidal water, offering a rich habitat, and an abundance of ducks, mostly Mallards and other common species is usually present. The island offers a level of protection to new arrivals, and many rarer ducks have appeared including Canvasback, both the Redhead & Tufted Duck,and Blue-winged & Cinnamon Teal. Green Heron and Gray Catbird have also occurred.

The winding loop passes through trees and bushes surrounding the Marsh and can be good for a wide variety of passerines at any season. Recently, this has been the most reliable location for Black-capped Chickadees which are presently colonizing the Sunshine Coast. A White-throated Sparrow was seen several times this past winter (2011) Porpoise Bay, which is adjacent contains many species of waterbirds in winter, and the mud flat at the head of the bay is good, at low tide, for shorebirds in the summer and fall.

I always enjoy making several loops around the Marsh, both for the exercise as well as the opportunity to see something I may have missed.

Sechelt Marsh is located just north of the town centre at Porpoise Bay. More information about birding on the Sunshine Coast can be found at http://www.sunshinecoastnature.com/

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Walking Holidays on the Sunshine Coast – #1 – Sargeant Bay

It’s birding season and when the skies cleared yesterday afternoon, I set out with my camera and tripod in hopes of capturing some of our recently arrived visitors. Unfortunately the wind was conspiring against this, and I was a bit early in the season, but who cares, it was a good excuse to spend some time in one of my favourite places.

If you’re looking for a place where you can enjoy a walk in solitude, Sargeant Bay is pretty well guaranteed. It has been a favourite of mine for a long time.  A perfect horseshoe-shaped bay with piles of driftwood stacked haphazardly along the pebble beach… and more often than not, I’ve had the whole area completely to myself.

Sargeant Bay was established as a provincial park in 1990 after a decade-long, heated struggle by local residents to prevent an outside investor from developing it. The plan was to  subdivide the property into 145 lots, dredge out the bay and build a large marina. A prime example of paving paradise to put up a parking lot and local Sunshine Coast resident Joni Mitchell would have been proud of the efforts to prevent this from happening .

The park can be reached by following the main highway from Sechelt for about 5-minutes, turning off at Redroofs Road, and following this for another 3-4 minutes. There are two parks actually. The upland section is an extensive network of well-planned connecting trails. The lowland section has a trail along a raised berm with the curving pebble beach on one side and marshy wetland on the other.   The combination of boreal forest, saltwater and wetland provides a rich habitat for birds with 157 species identified in the park

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Falling for the Sunshine Coast – Part 1

When I was working, the Fall season always seemed like a glass half empty.  But, now that I get to play all year round, I have time to appreciate its true beauty. I find myself looking forward to its approach, knowing of the opportunities to  capture its many colours…  like these golden leaves floating with some kelp in the bright, low lying sun.

But it’s not just the changing colours of the leaves. The sunsets (and sunrises) during the Fall season are a much celebrated event. I won’t try to explain why this happens; it’s just the magic of the season. As each day draws to a close, there is an eager anticipation, watching the sun tuck behind the hills to the west and waiting for the colours to emerge.

I captured the image above  on a Halloween evening, two years ago, and then just a couple of days ago, this image of the same hillside presented itself.  I’ve been using the camera on  my iPhone quite a bit lately and used the HDR function to take the picture.  I’m quite pleased with the result. The two pictures of the same scene seem like mirror images, with the vividly coloured clouds like brackets on each side of the hills. I’m not sure which I prefer – which do you like?

To see more of these images of the Fall season at CoracleCove, visit my website www.coraclecove.com where you can see a short video of some of my other favourites … enjoy!!

 

 

 

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Jazz on the Sunshine Coast

We get to listen to a lot of good music on the Sunshine Coast and the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival is one of my favourite events. Mix great jazz of all styles with very, very small venues and you have the phenomenon that is the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival. And how about those venues… waterside restaurants and pubs - it just doesn’t get any better.

Pender Harbour is a collection of small, friendly communities joined by a highway but more connected by water. Its days go back as a fishing community and it was much easier to get around by boat. The nautical influence continues, like this mural on the side of the community hall which hosted  yesterday’s event – a series of four one-hour performances ranging from a tight sextet playing old gold jazz to my favourite, Van Django’s punchy gypsy jazz.

Van Django is influenced heavily by the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt who played at the Hot Club in France during the 1930′s. Here they are tying it all together with a last minute rehearsal just before going on stage. It was an extra bonus for me to sit and listen in this casual setting.

This was the fifteenth annual Jazz Festival hosted by Pender Harbour and it’s easy to understand why it has become an annual destination event for a crowd of jazz lovers from across the Pacific Northwest. Mark your calendar for next year – the third weekend in September.

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Hidden Grove on the Sunshine Coast – a story of survival

The history of Hidden Grove is described as one of survival… survival from natural fires of several centuries ago, which has left charred bark up to a foot thick on the largest Douglas firs. More recently, the area was scheduled for logging, but meeting stiff community resistance, it has been saved again.

Today these precious 125 acres have been set aside solely for recreation.  Less than 5-minutes away from our bed & breakfast, they provide our guests both solitude and a re-connection with nature.

 

Shortly after leaving the parking area you’ll notice several cedars which have undergone a limited bark stripping. The trees are unharmed, and members of the Sechelt Indian Band use the cedar bark for traditional baskets, regalia and clothing.

The main trail rises gently , passing rocking ourcrops and mossy plateaus and brings you to the Ancient Grove, a concentrated group of tall, stately firs.  Some of the old growth have been dated as much as seven hundred years old. Partial logging in the late 19th century has left many larger second growth trees like this.

 

The network of trails, created entirely by community volunteers has been very thorough with signs like this at each intersection, so it’s impossible to lose one’s way. On a recent walk, we followed the “Northern Loop” and were able to complete this section in just under an hour. There are also connector routes leading to the adjacent Sechelt Heritage Forest, and my wife Sheila, and her two hiking partners spend a couple of hours walking these trails three mornings each week.

 

Be sure to keep your eyes moving, both up and down, as you never know what you might see. I used my iPhone for all of the images in this blog and was generally quite pleased with the quality of its 5-megapixel camera. I was pretty impressed with the detail that I was able to capture on this fungus.

 

So, how good is that… a walk in solitude through a beautiful forest that’s only 5-minutes away,  and a chance to do some photography – sounds like the perfect outing for me!!

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Photography Courses on the Sunshine Coast

I took a great photography course recently on the Sunshine Coast, led by award winning photographer, Duane Sept, who specializes in wildlife and plants and whose photography has appeared in many publications around the globe. Duane lives on the Sunshine Coast when he’s not working and travelling, and we were very lucky to have him for this course.

The course was an introduction to macro photography and it was just the tonic I needed to re-charge my own photography.  If you’re like me, it’s often difficult to get out exactly when the right light conditions present themselves.  My life, especially during the summer, doesn’t work that way. With macro, however, anytime of the day will work because it’s so much easier to control the lighting that falls on your small subjects, and, there’s an abundance of interesting subjects from your own back yard to nearby parks.

The first thing we learned was how to take our cameras off Auto.  In the huckleberry image above, manually opening up the aperture setting created a shallow depth of field. This eliminated the background clutter, allowing the red berry to pop out. Learning how to manually control both aperture and shutter speed allowed me to capture this difficult shot of the iridescence of the shell without the shiny white surfaces blowing out.

The full day course provided a good mix of classroom instruction together with eight different stations to put our newly gained knowledge into practice. Having somewhat mastered the manual settings on my camera, I was now able to use some compositional skills, working with the leading lines of this scallop shell. A small piece of black felt was the only other “equipment” needed.

This was a great day for me and I feel like my photography has been re-charged. There are so many interesting places on the Sunshine Coast for photography, from the seashore and into the forested woods. With a few macro basics under my belt, I’ll be casting my eyes both up and down looking for more interesting subjects to photograph. Duane will be offering this course again, as well as a more advanced one and I’ll keep you posted on the details.

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