Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Just off the coast is a huge underwater canyon system and its nutrient-rich waters attract Sperm whales all year round. Humpback whales and occasionally Blue whales can also be spotted as they pass through the area during their annual migration.

We pulled up at a lovely beachfront campsite and after watching the sunset, we fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The next morning we headed into town and walked along Kaikoura’s peninsular walkway. There were some fantastic cliff top views and tons of seals lazing on the beaches below.

Instead of whale watching, we opted for the more interactive experience of swimming with wild Dusky dolphins. Dusky dolphins are one of the most acrobatic species of dolphins and they are very sociable; often swimming in large pods of up to 500 dolphins. To attract the dolphins’ attention we were told to dive down, swim around in circles and make strange noises. We might have looked and sounded a bit odd, but it seemed to do the trick! We were surrounded by tons of inquisitive dolphins and even spotted a couple of dolphins mating. It was an amazing experience and it seemed like the dolphins enjoyed the interaction too!

Once we were back on dry land, we walked along Ohau Stream to a small, picturesque waterfall that becomes a sanctuary for young seal pups in the winter months. The pups spend the day playing in the stream while their mothers are busy hunting for fish in the sea. It was well worth the 5 minute walk to watch the adorable pups splashing around and waddling over the rocks.

Next stop: Wellington, New Zealand

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Malapascua & Oslob, Philippines

Malapascua is a small island off the northern tip of Cebu and is a great place for scuba diving. It is one of the few places in the world where seeing Thresher Sharks is almost a guarantee. In one day alone James saw 3 types of sharks: Threshers, Hammerheads and White Tips. Not bad for a day’s diving! While James explored the underwater world, I enjoyed a few lazy days relaxing on the island’s beaches, often getting befriended by the local children.

After a few days in Malapascua, we headed back to Cebu and travelled south to Oslob. Oslob has become a popular destination due to the Whale Shark Tourism. Each morning the sharks are fed krill and plankton and the free meal means it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will show up. Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the world and can grow up to whopping 12 meters long!

It was an amazing experience to be able to snorkel alongside these magnificent creatures. They are so graceful and I was completely taken aback their size, especially being so close to them. Unfortunately the free food is affecting the whales’ migratory patterns and they are staying around the area for much longer than normal. So although this was a great day, I feel bad that the whales are being affected and are starting to rely upon the free food.

Next stop: Anda, Philippines

El Nido, Philippines

El Nido is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines and for good reason too. The town itself isn’t the most attractive; it’s overdeveloped with buildings crammed into every inch of space, but the surrounding scenery is spectacular! The area is famed for its imposing limestone karsts, stunning islands and emerald lagoons.

We booked on to a boat tour (Tour A) to explore the surrounding islands and hidden lagoons. The area reminded me of Halong Bay in Vietnam, but was possibly even more impressive due to the jaw dropping colour of the water. The highlight was kayaking around one of the lagoons surrounded by towering cliffs and watching the small fish and jellyfish lurking beneath us.

The next day we hired a scooter a rode 45 minutes out of town to the beautiful Nacpan beach. The beach was surprisingly quiet, with barely another person in sight and the sweeping white sand was fronted with amazingly blue hues. This is without doubt our favourite beach of the entire trip, not something I expected to find so close to the tourist hub of El Nido.

Next stop: Malapascua, Philippines

Port Barton, Philippines

Port Barton is a laid back beach town on the beautiful tropical island of Palawan. Palawan is probably the most naturally beautiful island we have visited during our trip so far, with stunning beaches, clear blue sea and untouched mountainous jungle. A huge contrast from the bustling capital city of Manila, which has a very American feel.

Our first stop in Palawan was at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River in Sabang. The underground river is over 8km long and was thought to be longest underground river in the world until 2007, when a 153km underground river was discovered in Mexico. The striking emerald coloured river flows through an impressive cave system, home to hundreds if not thousands of bats and swifts. As we floated through the cave our guide pointed out several rock formations including ‘the naked lady’ and ‘the Virgin Mary’.

Whilst in Sabang we tried the local delicacy – Tamilok. These woodworms are found inside rotting mangroves and are served raw with a dash of lemon and sea salt. Although they don’t look too appetising, they were surprisingly tasty; I even went in for a second helping!

Our next stop in Palawan was at Port Barton; a lovely beach side town on the east cost of the island. It was a great place for a few days relaxation, island hopping and trekking to the nearby waterfall. Our island hopping tour took us around the nearby islands, to untouched beaches and several snorkelling spots. The snorkelling wasn’t much to shout about in comparison to Indonesia or Thailand – unless you are a fan of jellyfish that is! We must have seen 20 times as many jellyfish as we did fish, but we did get lucky on our last snorkel and spot a turtle and a stingray.

The following day we decided to trek to Pamoayan Falls.  It took us around an hour to get there, aided by small handmade signs which led us in the right direction on the jungle trail. After a hot and humid walk, we were very glad to reach the waterfall for a refreshing dip. It was the perfect place to spend a few hours swimming and cliff jumping in the middle of lush jungle.

Next stop: El Nido, Philippines