The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Photo of the Day: Skipper's Canyon, New Zealand

Skipper's Canyon with Nomad Safaris on my recent trip to Queenstown, New Zealand. The trip makes a great half-day adventure through one of New Zealand's most scenic drives. You can catch a few Lord of the Rings film locations along the way too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Photo of the Day: Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Wanaka is located on New Zealand's southern island. It makes a picturesque stop on drives from the western coast to Queenstown.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Photo of the Day: Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, at a northern tip of Northland, New Zealand. To the right are rocky ledges, and to the left an expansive, sandy-white beach. The lighthouse is often visited as part of a tour to the ancient Kauri forest and a drive along Ninety Mile Beach and the sand dunes (often used as a film location for shows like Legend of the Seeker or Xena and Hercules).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Photo of the Day: SobeRing Thought, Beer of Hobbits

SobeRing Thought, the official beer of Lord of the Rings, was drunk by the actors on set while filming. Peter Jackson wanted an authentic experience to inspire the actors so, I'm told, he bought a local Brewery and crafted a beer with something like 1% alcohol. When filming was over, so the story goes, he sold the brewery back to the owner. I'm told that Harrington's is a brand of Speight's. I tried a bottle myself (pictured here in front of the Misty Mountains or rather The Remarkables in Queenstown) and honestly it tasted pretty bad. It was a bit like club soda with a few teaspoons of beer added. SobeRing Thought is quite hard to find--I'm not even sure if it is still actively brewed--but I got my bottles at the Nomad Safari shop in Queenstown earlier this year. I haven't heard whether the beer is in use on the sets of The Hobbit, but it is quite possible.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Photo of the Day: Wellington Art & Architecture

One of the many city sculptures backed by beautiful architecture
 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Photo of the Day: Sky Tower, Auckland, New Zealand

The Sky Tower is an telecommunications observation tower open to the public in Auckland, New Zealand. The tower is the most recognizable architectural landmark in the city and located on the corner of Victoria and Federal streets. Part of the Sky City complex, it has adjoining restaurants, bars, hotels, a casino and a bus station. From the top of the tower, visitors can see incredible 360 degree views of the city, harbor and offshore islands.

What are you waiting for? Book your hotel and head to Auckland this weekend! Visit Tourism New Zealand’s website for more information too:

Note: The Weta Cave outlet at the Sky Tower, which sold souvenirs from the Lord of the Rings movies, is now closed. Visit the cave in Wellington instead.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Zealand Wildlife Photos (Part 2 of 2)

Below are a few more wildlife photos that I took on a recent trip to New Zealand. I tool the first 8 in Dunedin, a refuge for penguins, seals and the Royal Albatross. I saw all of these with Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours, and highly recommend them for your visit to Dunedin.

A crested Penguin in rehab at Penguin Place.

A New Zealand Fur Seal taking a nap.

A Yellow-eyed penguin baby taking a nap while it waits for its parents.

A yellow-eyed penguin waiting for mom & dad to return home with dinner.

An adorable Welcome swallow.

A young Yellow-eyed penguin up close.

New Zealand fur seals fighting over the best rock to sun on.

A Royal Albatross in flight.

A pair of Pukekos, a friendly and inquisitive native bird, in Rotorua.

A rare Tuatara at the Wellington Zoo. Tuatara are native to New Zealand and highly endangered. They are not a lizard. Rather, they are the sole living representative of a group of reptiles distinct from snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodilians. It actually has a third eye covered by a scale in the middle of it's head! The exact purpose of the third eye is not understood.

Shags nesting in a cliff-face.

A learned a long time ago that zoos are a great way to see the local wildlife in any country. Many zoos (outside the US) specialize in local wildlife collections. Auckland Zoo has fantastic enclosures with local birdlife (including a walk-through Kiwi enclosure).

Need to book your New Zealand hotels? I recommend Agoda for the lowest hotel rates world-wide. In Dunedin I stayed at LivingSpace and LOVED it.

Visit Tourism New Zealand’s website for more information too:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Exclusive from Ba To: Ground Zero for the Mysterious, Deadly 'Plague' of Quang Ngai, Vietnam

For at least a year, reports have come out of Ba To District, Quang Ngai Province, in central Vietnam, about a mysterious disease which causes skin to callous or die and flake off, and cause internal organs such as liver and kidneys to fail. The latest count is well over 200 individuals suffering from the disease and more than 25 dead. However authorities have admitted to under-reporting fatalities in order to prevent public panic--so the actual numbers could be much higher--we just don't know.

Ba To is a very remote district and few foreigners have visited the area since French-colonial times. It is located in the southwest corner of Quang Ngai Province, bordering the provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai and Binh Dinh. As I am one of the few outsiders who actually has spent significant time visiting the district, I thought I should share impressions and photos of the area, particularly if it could assist anyone who does wish to aid the local people.

View from the western Central Highlands along Highway 24, down into Ba To district. US servicemen and South Vietnamese officials used this main route through the district to travel from Kon Tum (or Pleiku), east to what is now Highway 1 along the coast.

Most residents of Ba To belong to the Hre ethnic minority. The Hre are one of several 'lost tribes' of the ancient Champa kingdom. They are left stranded and isolated as the Vietnamese kingdom pushed southward and their Cham brethren fled south toward Nha Trang, West to Kon Tum, or by see to Hainan Island (China). The Hre participated in building The Long Wall of Quang Ngai, which partitioned the Vietnamese from the Hre. The wall begins in the north of Quang Ngai province and follows the mountains and rivers south into the province of Binh Dinh. Here they are pictured at a ceremony last year to inaugurate the wall as a national monument.

Beautiful scenery in Ba To District.

Tree ferns in a landscape much resembling New Zealand.

The Hre of Ba To District live in compact villages on hilltops surrounded by rice paddies.

The Hre in Ba To previously practiced animism. Now many are Christian (Protestant). 

Hre culture contains elements common to other hill tribes (such as spirit houses or the brewing of ruou can--rice wine in large jars) as well as the Cham. Sacred wells, as also constructed in Hoi An by the ancient Cham (though little-known) are central to their traditional Hre culture.

A Hre village overlooking rice paddies.

A hot spring bubbling up in Ba To.

The Ba To Insurrection Museum. Ba To was historically a Communist stronghold and a notable uprising occurred here against the French at a mountain outpost. The government rewarded local revolutionaries with a museum and infrastructure improvements at the district capital. To their surprise and dismay however, many local residents have since converted to Christianity, which the government views as a political threat, claiming that Christian minorities 'are following America."

Traditional clothing and implements crafted by the Hre and on display at the Ba To museum.

A wine jar, fishing baskets (for mountain streams) and metalwork crafted by the Hre in Ba To District, Quang Ngai. 

Hand-crafted metal gongs are a popular musical instrument among Vietnam's hill tribes. They are often played in religious ceremonies and festival gatherings. Various sizes play different tones.

Baskets and weapons made by the Hre in Ba To. The two largest are worn on the back and used for foraging in the forest. The smaller are used for carrying seeds and small plants in farming.

One of the most troubling questions about the Ba To 'Plague' is why the government hasn't done more to find the source of the disease. State-controlled media has claimed that the government has sought assistance from the World Health Organization and the USA. However, officials from WHO and the US have repeatedly stated that they have received no such requests. The reason for this is quite obvious to me: the government doesn't want foreign agencies to see the intense persecution of local Christian minorities.

The other question is why hasn't the government considered the most obvious possible causes of the disease (particularly since no known cases have spread beyond the district), namely poisoning from mining. The surrounding districts are known to be sources of bauxite and gold, and both are mined legally, and illegally, and produce deadly toxins in the process. Does someone in power have a stake in it?

All photos copyright Adam Bray 2012.