Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ahhhh Fiji!

While I really enjoyed New Zealand, I couldn't wait to get to the island of Fiji for some warmer weather and beach time. We left Auckland around 8am on Tuesday and arrived in Nadi, Fiji by 11. We were greeted by natives singing some island songs and quickly made our way through customs. We grabbed a shuttle to our first destination, Bamboo Travelers. It was about a 15 minute ride from the airport and we were able to check into our room soon after arriving. Our room was oceanfront and right by the pool. 

They had a restaurant and bar there, so we didn't really have a need to leave. That night we had dinner and played beer pong with 2 English guys and a girl from Russia. It's so interesting meeting people from all over the world and hearing their traveling stories and backgrounds. We also tried Kava for the first time. It's a local, natural Fijian drink made from a root that makes you feel all good inside! It's not really alcoholic but can have "hallucinagenic powers"...or just makes your tongue numb and you sleep well. Didn't taste super great (kind of like dirt) but we had to give it a try. 

Janie quickly made a friend with one of the dive instructors, who offered us a discount on a half day of snorkeling and a boat ride out to Cloud 9 ($75 US dollars). Snorkeling was great, but exhausting! We saw a few schools of fish and a 5 foot shark. Cloud 9 is a floating restaurant (about 1000 square feet) and they serve cocktails and wood-fired pizza only. I'd say maybe 50 people can fit there at one time? But the water was the bluest, clearest water I had ever seen...clearer than a pool. There was nothing around it for miles (we were shocked to learn they had free wifi!)

We hung out, ate, and relaxed on Cloud 9 for about 2 hours before heading back to the main island. Unfortunately, the water was pretty rough and I got sea sick for the first time ever (first time throwing up in about 10 years too...I blame the beer pong the night before). We made it back around 3pm and I laid down for a while to recover. We had dinner and hung out with yet another English fellow (we've met more British people than any other nationality). 

Thursday morning, we were picked up and taken on a 45 minute boat ride out to a small island called Mana Island. We stayed at a dive resort called Ratu Kini. Our room was maybe 20 yards from the water. We were greeted by locals playing guitar and were immediately on "Fiji Time!" No rush, no worries. 

It was such a steal! We had private rooms, bathrooms, and AC...snorkeling gear and all meals included for 3 days, and ran us about $150 US total each. Who says traveling has to be expensive? Just need to look for places where our dollar is strong (it's about $2 Fiji dollars for $1 US dollar at the moment). We laid out for a bit, browsed some of the homemade jewelry for sale, ate lunch, had some pina coladas, went for a walk and snorkeld a bit. We also got beach massages! It was $20 Fiji dollars for 30 minutes ($10 USD)...what a deal! We had dinner and participated in another Kava ceremony. 

There was another resort right next door where our English friends from the night before were staying so we walked over and hung out with their group for a bit before calling it a night. 

Friday, we woke up and went snorkeling on the other side of the island. You can walk around the entire place in less than 2 hours, so a quick 30 minute cut through brought us to Sunset Beach where the snorkeling was amazing! We felt like we were in Finding Nemo. We swam out about 150 yards to a huge drop off. Going from 5 feet deep to immediately not seeing the bottom is a tad scary, but worth it! We made it back for lunch and then the wind really picked up. We wound up hanging on the porch with our friends playing games. It was so nice not having wifi for a few days...people were forced to socialize and it felt like we were kids again. That night after dinner, we went to bed by 9:30. Snorkeling and the sun zaps ya! 

Saturday, Janie left for an early flight, so we hung around until 11-12ish to see her off. After lunch, Korie, me, and our friend Matt walked to another beach to snorkel again...still awesome but not quite as cool as Sunset Beach's drop off! We tried to go back there but it was already mid-afternoon by then and the wind and current had really picked up. We decided not to risk it and went back to our beach, which was the calmer side of the island that night. 

We were thrilled to learn that the staff would be performing Fiji Night entertainment for us on our last night there. The men did some traditional Fijian dances and chants, along with a fire and knife show! 

We all agreed we highly recommend Ratu Kini to anyone going to Fiji and hope to return some day. Everyone was extremely friendly and knew you by name. We left Sunday afternoon for a 6pm flight back to Melbourne. 

I loved traveling around NZ and Fiji, but part of me missed Melbourne a bit! 3 weeks of constant travel can be exhausting, but I saw so much. Now it's time to move into our apartment next week and start job searches...and plan our next trip! 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The North Island of New Zealand

Our flight to Auckland left Christchurch around 10:30am on Tuesday. 

We arrived right in time for lunch and grabbed a quick bite at an alley cafe before checking into our hostel. We also ventured out to the docks to check out the view from the water. 

After relaxing by the water for a bit, we walked over to the Sky Tower for a birdseye view of the city. We went up about 700 feet (or 60ish stories). I was able to use my 5+ year old college ID for a student discount...still got it! 

After the tower, we checked into our hostel to rest a bit. I went for a run while Janie and Korie went souvenir shopping. Sorry friends & family...most of your gifts will be coming from Melbourne since I don't have too much room in my small luggage here! 

Just from spending one afternoon in Auckland, I can tell it's very different from the South Island. It is much more internationally diverse, populated and developed. It's beautiful by the water, but the city center itself is basically just like any other city (but very hilly). 

Wednesday, we woke up and took a 30 minute ferry ride from Auckland to Waiheke Island. The island has a population of about 8,500, but has a school, grocery store, police station, etc. and is fairly well developed. There's about 60 vineyards on the island as kind of place! We took an hour and a half bus tour around the island and then grabbed lunch at a cafe with ocean views and walked around the shops for a bit. 

After the ferry back, we took a quick nap back at the hostel before exploring other areas of town for dinner. There are tons of Asian food options around the city...Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indian, etc...and while we love ourselves some Asian food, if you're not in the mood for it, it can be hard to find other (healthy) options. So Korie and I walked, and walked some more, until we stumbled across a neighborhood called Ponsonby and found this cute alleyway lined with street food and small restaurants. It was an instant hit, especially when we found a Mexican restaurant. When we can get a margarita, we will. 

It hit the spot and we hurried back home in the cooler "spring" weather. 

Thursday, we checked out of the hostel and rented a car to explore some of the north island. We drove about 3 hours south down to the town of Rotorua, home of the Maori natives. We walked around the town a bit and went to a night time market where they had fresh food, desserts, accessories, etc. We all ended up selecting the meat kebobs (3 for $5...a steal) and bought a few dessert items and wine to bring back to the hotel since the temps dropped significantly. It was warm in the afternoon, but fell to 50ish when we were walking around. We ended the night with New Zealand mud facial masks, wine, and a Nashville Netflix binge. 

Friday, we woke up and drove 30 minutes south to Wai-O-Tapu where there is an active geyser, natural hot springs and craters on an volcano. We did a little nature walk around the park and went to watch the geyser go off at 10:15. 

After that, we drove back to Rotorua and grabbed lunch. We hung around the hotel before taking a shuttle to Te Puia, a native village here. We were greeted with a local chant and accepted into their grounds where we watched some of their native dances and songs. 

After their performance, we were invited to join their feast, hanji, where there was a massive buffet of fresh chicken, lamb, beef, seafood, soup, salad, dessert, etc. most of which was cooked in the ground.

It was delicious and a great way to get a taste of their culture (no pun intended). We returned to our hotel in a food coma. 

Saturday, we woke up and drove 3 hours back north to Auckland. We rented an AirBnB in a small suburb south of downtown called Mount Eden. So far, I like it a little better than the CBD...more quaint and less crowded. Korie and I took a 30 minute hike up to Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano and the highest point in central Auckland. There are some spectacular views from up there. 

Sunday and Monday I took a break from being a tourist and had some downtime to myself while Korie and Janie explored the museums. 

Today we left for Fiji! More to come...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The South Island of New Zealand

Since our flight to Christchurch, NZ didn't leave until midnight on Tuesday, we had a full day to spend in Melbourne. We checked out the Victoria State Library, a WWI memorial, and just walked around the CBD and grabbed some lunch and drinks. We got an uber to the airport around 8ish. The flight to Christchurch was about 3 hours, so with the 2 hour time change, we arrived very sleepy at 5am. Thankfully, we thought ahead and booked a hostel room for that "night" and got a few hours of sleep in. Around 10am we took a tram ride around the small town of Christchurch. The city was hit with back to back earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, so a lot of the city is still being rebuilt. There wasn't too much to see or do in Christchurch, but we were able to walk around the botanical gardens and eat at an amazing restaurant called Strawberry Fare that our cab driver recommended to us. We all agreed it was by far the best meal we had had so far. And the dessert was out of this world. 

Thursday morning we rented a car and drove a quick 30 minutes to the small town of Rangiora, where we stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on a tiny vineyard. We had lunch in town at a brewery and then grabbed some crackers, cheese, and other snacks to have for dinner with the  wine from the vineyard. They only make Pinot Gris, so we easily finished off a few bottles of that at dinner. 

Friday, we set out on a 3 hour drive to Lake Tekapo. Korie was the brave soul to volunteer tackling driving on the opposite side of the road first. She quickly got the hang of it!

Saturday, we drove another 3 hours south to Queenstown. The drive through the mountains was absolutely beautiful. We stopped for some pics at Lake Pukaki. 

We arrived in Queenstown and walked around the town for a bit before heading to the Gondola. The views were out of this world. Korie and I already agreed that we will be going back to Queenstown! Thankfully, they have a direct flight from Melbourne. Two days there is not nearly enough. 

We did the luge down the mountain too!

That night, Korie and I went out to explore the Queenstown nightlife. Our taxi driver recommended a bar called "Cowboys" and I felt so at home! There was a longhorn on the wall, saddles for barstools, and a huge country theme. We ended up meeting the Melbourne Footie Team (not initially knowing who they were...turns out they're pretty popular back in Melbourne). We taught them how to properly play Shuffle Board and asked if they would be our friends when we returned to Melbourne. Here's hoping! 

Sunday was a relaxed day. It rained a bit so we slept in and enjoyed the views from the house we rented. I went for a run and we cooked some dinner before catching a movie on tv. 

Today we are making the 6 hour drive back to Christchurch before we fly out in the morning to head to the north island for a week. I'm going to give Korie a break and attempt driving! Pray for me.