Monday, 25 January 2016

Wasting Time Willingly

Day 186- We were so happy to land in New Zealand and just in time to catch a taxi to Lucky Campers, 10 minutes before they closed. After the paperwork was complete, we got to meet her. She was an old gal and much wiser than our JP from Oz. We could see that she's been through a lot and had taken a few hits over the years but you know what I always say, every scar has a story, which means this babe has one hell of a lot of stories. When I asked the girl working the check in desk if our van had a name, she laughed in a unkind way while responding "no". I responded by assuring the clerk that I would be happy to name the van for her. But first, we needed to get acquainted with the ol gal and see what name would work... Oh and for some reason we knew she was a 'her' right from the get go. 

By the time we figured out where we were and where we were going, it was late and the sun had fallen. We found a park that our app described as, a free campsite, so we parked our girl up for the night and laid out our cushions for our first sleep in our new home. I will admit it was difficult getting used to a new van that was so different than JP and we had our reservations on that first night. 

I was already fast asleep when I heard a sound come from outside of our van. OH NO, had Charlie found us in New Zealand? Mike was still awake and quickly turned on a light to let the intruder know that someone was inside. The mystery man had driven up behind our van and turned his car off, Mike could hear him get out and walk over to us, then he tried to open up the sliding door where I slept peacefully. After our light turned on, we could hear him speaking in a foreign language and we could see him with a beer in his hand passing behind our van. This was not a park official! As soon as he had moved out of the way, Mike jumped in the front seat and we skidded out of there. Phew, we managed to escape another scary man, again on the first night of having our van. History was literally repeating itself. We found a caravan park up the road and soon realized that we had parked in one of the worst areas of Auckland. Luckily the nice lady Cindy working the reception desk welcomed us with a kind heart and showed us where we could park safely for the night. 

Day 187- Our van needed some adjustments before she would be able to perform for us so we went to The Warehouse (New Zealands version of Walmart) to outfit and better organize our home. Then we found a park and emptied the van of all of its contents. After lots of brainstorming and careful consideration we found the perfect spot for our clothes, food and other miscellaneous items. 

We had no time to waste so we hit the road and began to make our way up north. The scenery was already captivating and although my excitment in a new place can cause me to fall in love earlier then advisable, I knew that New Zealand was different and was in fact, true love. From our second day here I said that I would move to New Zealand in an instant. Not even a week in and I can't wait to come back. 

We drove through a small town called Puhoi that was charming and full of history. We found a cool pub in town that had its memories plastered on the walls and a great selection of local draft beer. They were also playing American college football so we settled in for a drink. 

We drove along the narrow winding roads, hugging the mountains edge for some time, all the while going up up up. Before we knew it we were lost in the clouds. 

We continued the journey north and found a free spot to rest for the night in Waipo. Without even realizing it we found ourselves parked outside of some incredible caves. After we set up our bed, we put on the head lamps and went exploring. We were instantly surrounded by bright, gleaming glow worms. They lit up the cave and all of its many creatures. Scary, but not scared...

After we were deep in the cave, we turned out our lights and let the glow worms impress us.

It was a much better start to our New Zealand adventure than our first night. We slept peacefully with no intruders to bother us. 

Day 188- We drove a bunch more, only stopping briefly in a town to buy groceries and a few more supplies for our van. 

We found a great little campsite right off the highway, surrounded by forest and a river stream cutting through the hillside. Picture our forest in Kananaskis country and add the odd palm tree. That's what it looked like. 

We made one of our favorites dishes from our campervaning experience in Australia and joined two fellow Canadians by their tent to drink wine and share our adventures. Dan and Mira lived in New Zealand a year ago and like many people who visit New Zealand, they returned to explore more of its hidden gems. They were a wealth of information and sent us a perfect, geographically organized, list of places we to see while in NZ. 

Day 189- We had a destination and we knew this would be the day we'd get to it. We wanted to make it to the most northern point in New Zealand. Apparently this destination gets a lot of attention and Dan warned us that there would be a lot of tourists. To avoid the hustle and bustle of the area, he suggested a campsite further south, where we could leave our van and hike in. It was just our style, so off we went. 

New Zealand is known for its wool and now I understand why. Healthy, happy sheep cover the land in every direction. We made friends with the three in the front. 

As we drove we noticed something different on the horizon. It looked like the grass was changing colour. Although it didn't make sense...the beautiful green mountainous terrain was suddenly beige. Upon further inspection we saw beautiful sand dunes in the distance. 


We ended our day at the Tapotupotu Campground where we paid for two nights at $25 dollars total. There were cold showers, semi clean bathrooms and a gorgeous view. It was quite funny because when we signed up for our campervan in Australia, I pictured us driving up to the beach every night to park our van. Although, doing so in Australia would result in expensive fines or pricey camp fees. Now here we were in New Zealand on our fourth night and we were already parked at the beach. Yay!

We were warned that the mosquitoes at this place were off the charts and it didn't take long for our night to become a bloody nightmare. I must have killed 50 mosquitoes in our van before we even went to sleep. Mike slept through this epidemic...

Day 190- We started the day early, knowing we had a big hike in front of us but Mike never misses a chance to make like a hobbit and chill out in a tree for a bit. 

Our hike would take us up and over the mountainside, along the beach cliffs and down into the sand before we would get to Cape Rienga, which is the most northern point in New Zealand. The return trip would be 10kms and an estimated 6 hours. Mike and I knew that when we came to New Zealand we would be hiking our way around the country. We hadn't been very active in the past couple months, so we needed to channel our inner Ed Keith to keep us motivated on our jouney. If Mike's grandfather in his 90's could hike some of the worlds more strenuous trails, we needed to step it up! Minutes into the journey we were blessed with the most spectacular views. 

That is me perched on the edge of that mountain, overlooking the ocean below. 

The heat was blaring down on us and there were no spots to get some shade. So by the time we made it to Cape Rienga, I was starting to loose energy fast... Neeeeeeed waaaaaaaater!! Not sure if you can see how red my face is in the photo below but I'm pretty sure I was near fainting. The little girl behind me happily skipped past us and up the hill with way too much energy. That is so not fair! 


What you see below is the meeting of two oceans, the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. You can actually see the two different currents creating a line across the waters surface.

Everybody loves a lighthouse. 

Nice, Vancouver made the sign.

The most northern point of New Zealand.

Behind us are the sand dunes that we saw from the day prior. At this point I really wasn't looking forward to the 5km walk home. 

We finished the hike in 4 hours, 2 hours faster than the estimated time. Yay! I am positive Mike would have done it way quicker without me huffing and puffing behind him but I am his there's that. 

We cooled off in the ocean after the hike and went out on the rocks at low tide to find some sun heated tide pools. We found some hot ones but they were only deep enough to sink our feet and bums into. Tiny shrimp swam quickly onto our skin and bit at what I am guessing was our dead skin. Trust me... anyone who knows my feet, knows that those shrimp were having a field day. I once had a vietnamese lady on a beach insist that I get my feet scrubbed because she couldn't believe a lady would let her feet get so worn. What can I say? 

Anyhow, we finished off the night by killing many more mozzies, while watching Jessica Jones do some damage of her own. 

Day 191- Our friends Dan and Mira gave us some direction to a secret local spot where we could camp for the night.  To keep this place a secret, I won't give the exact details oh how we got there. In order to get inside, we needed to pick up a key from a small town nearby, with the key in hand, we drove to a side road that was blocked by a gate. Our key opened the secret gate and we drove into our exclusive camp site for the night.  Yes, the sign below me is blurred out, my commitment to keep this place secret is matter of national security! 


Right across the water from us is the finest white sand deposit in the world! Yup that's right, in the world and we had a front seat view all to ourselves. 

We were also surrouded by these puffy flowers that I enjoyed watching sway in the wind.

We had the whole day to ourselves and nothing in the way to distract us or steal our attention. No wifi, no people, no coffee shops and no media of any sort. We bought some hand fishing lines and attempted to catch dinner from the ocean. We learnt that fishing from salt water requires no license, which meant we were free to catch as many as we wanted. I say that as if we would need to monitor our catches and potentially even release some back into the ocean had we caught too many... 

Turns out that wasn't a problem at all... because we didn't catch anything. Well that is not entirely true, we caught a ton of seaweed. After two hours of solid effort we gave up. Once the tide went out... far far out, we took the advice of Dan and Mira and went foraging for clams. There were too many to choose from and it was way too easy, so we limited oursleves to 50. 


After letting them soak in salt water for 2 hours, to allow them to spit out any excess sand and mud, we boiled some water and stood by to watch them 'pop' open one by one. That's how you know they're cooked. 

I had never actually eaten a clam before so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. We mixed them in with our pasta and ate them all up. I wouldn't say that clams are something I'll ever crave in the future but the experience of catching our own food was awesome and something I would definitely do again. About a week after this night, we met a local at a coffee shop and told him of our experience foraging for clams. We showed him a photo of our clams and he said with an exotic reggae-esk Mauri accent, "those aren't clams, those are cockles!", I immediately looked at Mike with fear burning in my eyes at the thought of eating something we weren't supposed to. Although it hadn't made us sick so I really had nothing to worry about. Turns out cockles are a smaller version of clams...which means in a sense we still went foraging for clams. Phew.


The rest of our night followed much like our day, wasting time willingly.  

Day 192- We set out early for a big day of driving to make our way down to Auckland. We stopped for a visit at 90 mile beach. Crazy to imagine a beach that is 90 miles long, with beautiful fine sand, surrounded by a dense forest. 


Many cars can be seen driving along the beach from town to town but we didn't want to risk getting our gal stuck in the sand. 

Just a little something that caught my attention. Mike says gross but I find it kind of cool.

The ocean was angry and the waves were curling on top of eachother. 

It was a long day of driving before we finally made it to Auckland and once we arrived we were struggling to find cheap/free accomodation. We ended up paying $40 bucks to park our girl at a caravan park near the outskirts of the city and slept the night away. 

Only one week in New Zealand and I am already deeply in love with this country. In the end we came up with a name for our girl. Jasmine but we call her Jazz for short. Mike explained it as such; she was once beautiful just like Princess Jasmine but is now older and wiser..... did I think that made any sense at all? No but I liked the name Jazz so I went along with it. What I'm guessing is pre pubescent Mike had a thing for Jasmine. It was the only way I could make sense of it all. 


I have thought a lot about how to write this blog post for Fiji and I still haven't quite come to a solution, so I am just going to start and see what happens. Up to this point on the trip Mike and I have had famous luck with every place we've been to. I guess it hasn't been all luck but more so has been my commitment to research the heck out of every place before departure. Thanks to reviews and blogs, we have managed to avoid any truly unpleasant situations.....until this one. We booked Fiji on a whim while  hanging out with our friends, the day after new years. We didn't really look into anything for the trip and booked with a company called Awesome Adventures. We paid $1400 dollars for the two of us, which included our accomodation, meals and transportation from island to island. After cutting our trip short due to a series of unfortunate events, we submitted a complaint to Awesome Adventures and they refunded us for over half of the trip. In the end we are so grateful that we got some money back and it definitely helps to ease the sting of the trip. I don't want to focus on the negatives from the trip so I will not add all of the details from each place in the following post. 

Day 178- As we were checking in for our flight, we were informed that we needed to have our flight booked out of Fiji  before we could check in. This was terribly disappointing as the flight out of Fiji had gone up $400 dollars since we had last checked but we didn't have a choice, so we booked two flights from Fiji to New Zealand at $600 dollars a pop. We shrugged it off and boarded the flight. A quick couple of hours later we arrived in Fiji. The weather was fierce and the rain came down on us violently as we arranged a taxi to our hostel for the night. As soon as we landed in Fiji, the words BULA surrounded us in every direction. We soon learnt that it meant hello and so from that point on, we repeated BULA as loud as we could to everyone we passed. After checking in, we braved the storm and enjoyed a beer on the main island of Nadi.

We were both exhausted as we were lacking sleep from our many nights in noisy dorm rooms so we hit the hay early, hoping to catch some zzz's before our 6 am wake up the next morning. 

Day 179- Imagine while you are sleeping, no, Sandra Bullock doesn't fall in love you with you but instead, a semi truck drives through your room. Then as you're getting used to the sound of its loud engine, it begins to break using its retarder breaks, then just as it comes to a stop it starts to honk, over and over and over and over. That is the best way I could describe the monstrous snoring that came from the man in the bunk next to ours. It was wild to say the least and it kept us up all night. 

The rain continued to fall and we overheard on the radio that Cyclone Ula was coming through Fiji so we knew there was more to come. We actually laughed quite hard when we oveheard the weekly forecast on the radio, it went a little something like this...

Radio Advertisement: This weeks forecast brought to you by Fiji Gold.

Radio Host: "It will rain in most places."

Radio Advertisement: This weeks forecast was brought to you by Fiji Gold. 

We got picked up from our hostel and took a bus to the harbour where we jumped on the Yasawa Flyer to take us to our first island. The resort was called Mantaray Resort and it was on the island of Nanuya Balavau.

Mike and I were a bit lazy when planning Fiji and we didn't read the fine print when booking the trip, which left us surprised to find out that we needed to pay an extra $90 dollars each per day for the meal plan at the resort. Since most of the islands are still owned by tribes people, they aren't populated, commercialized islands. There is only one hotel on each and one restaurant attached, which means the meal is included in the price for most options, except for this one. We swallowed hard and paid the fee. The dorm rooms were especially nice so we got over the spent money and looked forward to a great sleep. 


We took advantage of the rain and lack of wifi and spent hours upon hours reading our books. 

After a delightful dinner, we had the BEST sleep! It was just what we needed. 

Day 180-We woke up to another rainy day on the island and repeated our acitivities from the day before. 

We napped, we read and we snorkelled but the water wasn't very clear and the humidity left our masks fogging up in seconds. Not the best. 

At night the resort had some games going on that Mike and I couldn't help but try our luck at. The rock game is where one person in the couple stands beside a line drawn on the ground. With the help and brute strength of their partner (that would be me), they would stretch down and move the rock as far back as possible. The strong and beautiful partner was then responsible for pulling up their other half without letting their foot cross the line or letting any of their body parts touch the ground. Although we were close for the win, Mike wasn't strong enough to help me pull him back up....look, it's my blog so I write it as I perceive it and I wasn't the problem in the combo..Mike let us down. 

Then it was time for individual games, Mike came out on top for the win out of all the guys and I was the first one out for the girls. Yes, I let the other girls win, I was trying to let someone else have the glory for once. It's good for em yea know.

After the games, Mike and I were invited by some new friends to join them for a Kava ceremony. Kava is a root plant that grows in Fiji and locals have long used it as a relaxant. The root is dried, then ground into a fine powder. Once the powder is mixed with water, it creates a muddy looking drink. Surprisingly enough it also tastes a lot like mud. Kava is part of a nightly tradition practiced by most Fijians after a long day at work, the men and women sit around a large basin, drink kava and tell stories from their days. We had a local take us through the ceremony and together with our new friends we enjoyed a few high tides (also known as a full bowl, one could also request low or medium tide) together. With the first bowl, the kava numbs your lips, throat and tongue, then, as the numbness disappears, the body is left feeling utterly relaxed and at ease. I did some research and it turns out kava is widely used around the world as a remedy for anxiety. FUN FACT. Turns out kava also helps with sleep and I can attest to having a fantastic rest later that night. 


Day 181/182- We woke up to a beautiful sunshiny day and we still had 2 hours to kill before our boat picked is up to bring us to the next island. We figured we'd give the snorkelling another shot and it turns out the bad weather had a lot to do with the lack luster coral we explored on our first day. This time it was vibrant, full of life and just off the front beach.  

After a couple days of poor weather, things were starting to look up. 

We were sad to leave but the meal plan was expensive so we knew we needed to move on. The view from the boat was fantastic and I was starting to see why Fiji gets so much attention. The photo below is of Mantaray Resort resort as we waved goodbye from the boat. 

Our next stop was Korovou resort on Naviti island. The staff stood by to sing us a welcome song and or course we heard a few BULAS come our way. 

After we were welcomed on the island we were briefed on meal times and on information about the island. We were told that water wasn't included and it was not safe to drink the tap water so we'd have to purchase water at $6 dollars a bottle. This irked Mike more than a little but we shook it off and went to our rooms. The dorm rooms were not quite what we expected for the price we'd paid and we were dissapointed to see the bathrooms and surounding area wasn't kept very clean but we continued 'shaking it off' and headed to the beach. 

The weather was still holding up so Mike napped under a coconut tree, while I read my book. I read my book facing the ocean, with a delicious Fiji water by my side. A $6 dollar Fiji water!

After meeting 3 other couples on the island that couldn't help but voice their opinion on the poor quality of the food, accomodation and staff, Mike and I were seriously regretting the amount of money we had spent on the holiday. (haha we actually considered Fiji a holiday, which we later discussed as ironic given the trip we're on) We got feedback from another traveller that said our next destination got even worse and that they actually served instant noodles as the main course for dinner. This was our queue to call it quits. I called Awesome Adventures to begin our refund claim and we took the next boat off the island, back to Nadi. Before we left we enjoyed a pretty sweet sunset. The sky turned from a storm into a sunset within minutes.

Day 183/184- Unfortunately our luck didn't improve once back at Nadi and we were our own worst enemies. We were so focused on all of the negative things from the trip that we struggled to pull ourselves out of our funk. We had two beds in the dorm room at Smuggler's Cove and although I didn't think our accomodation could get worse, it did. We couldn't wait for the 11th to come so we could get off the island. We spent our time swimming, chilling on the beach and using the internet. After sulking at the hotel for 2 days we finally got our butts into gear and left the hotel. We absolutely could have made the best of our situation and we were fully aware that many people would be happy to be stuck on an island but as I said we had dug ourselves so deep in our pool of negativity that we were drowning ourselves. The photo below is a visual representation of the brain fog that surrounds you when you allow yourself to wallow in negativity. 

Day 185- We left first thing in the morning, after a heated conversation with the general manager. Topic's ranged from bed bugs to untrustworthy staff but our moods were quickly turned right side up. We had the most amazing driver take us around for the day and he gave off such a strong positive energy and contagious laugh that he made us forget the negative cloud hanging over our heads.  While on our way to the mud pools and natural hot springs, he told us a little about the history of Fiji.

All land is passed down through inheritance and cannot be sold. Fiji is still very traditional. People live in villages and the villages are divided into clans. The clans have five categories, each one with its own jobs and responsibilities. The warrior clan are responsible for going to battle to protect the village. Given the lack of battles between villages, today the warrior clans are most famously known to play rugby. With a population of under 1 million, Fiji is a top world contender in rugby. Pretty impressive. The builder clans are responsible for everything construction. They are the engineers of the village. As Fiji's main resource is fish, there is a fishing clan who are the pros of the ocean and everything fishy. The spokemans clan are the voice of the chief clan. They also manage all other clans based on the rule of the chief clan. Lastly, the most important and powerful clan is known as the chief clan. They make all of the decisions that will ultimately affect the village. This is also the reason why the nightly kava ceremonies are such a routine. When the village comes together at the end of the day to share stories, each group is excited to hear stories from fellow clan members as some of them never get to leave the village! Our conversation with the driver was incredibly interesting but we needed to change the subject... all this clan talk had Mike itching to play Clash of Clans.

We also learned that Fijians originally practiced canabalism as their main religion, until the british rule came to power and converted all to Catholicism, which is now the main religion on the islands. Our driver joked that we need not worry, he had already eaten for the day. Now there is a subject that will keep Mike focused on the story and off of his game... 

The journey to the mud pools flew by and I loved listening to our driver share his history and stories but it was time to 'immerse' ourselves into the country side. 

We covered eachother in mud from top to bottom and walked around the garden while the mud dried. 


It was cool to be at hot springs that are completely natural and not overly commercialized. After we cleaned off most of the mud from our bodies, we went into the natural hot springs to soak up the health benefiting nutrients. Our skin felt soft and refreshed.

After the mud baths, our lovely driver took us to the market to buy some kava of our own to ship home. We will have our own little kava ceremony with friends upon our return. Lots of stories to be shared.

We returned to the hotel and joined a Kava ceremony by the beach. It was just what we needed after a lovely day on the island. 


We enjoyed dinner on the patio, with a very impressive traditional dance to entertain us. The guy in the front was particularly good. Very very good. 

Our last day in Fiji was great and it definitely helped us feel better about the week, although we were still beyond excited to get on the plane the next day. 

Day 186- After some more bad luck at the airport and a few tears.... (poor Mike couldn't take it anymore! JK It was me who broke down, first tears of the trip by the way) we finally boarded the plane.. the next photo is all I need to share to express our excitement.

Bye Fiji, can't say we'll see ya later!!