Wed. Oct. 2: "Mystery Island", Fiji. Skipped a few days in this journal--I think I'm going to have to finally admit that Fiji sucks! The Hideaway was ok, but food was too expensive. So we (the 4 of us) left and came to "Mystery Island Resort". Again the food is too expensive--we were relying on buying food in the "store" that the owner told us about, but the store is more of a "shack" with a few things like flour and sugar. Hit a couple of scams getting here also--won't make the mistake again of letting someone help carry our bags! Luckily we didn't lose too much--just a few dollars and a lot of pride. I'm really wondering if any of this is worth writing down--maybe I should've just written "Fiji sucks!" and left it at that until we get to New Zealand--and it's not just us--others here are saying the same thing about Fiji. I sure hope N.Z. is as good as I've heard and read--we may be skipping straight to Europe if things get much worse. Going to Levuka on Ovalau island tomorrow. Staying away from the word "resort". We're planning to return to Nadi Friday and fly to Auckland Sat. morning.
Fri. Oct. 4: Sitting at the "airstrip" in Levuka.
We took a 45 min. boat ride to Ovalau yesterday--spent more time bouncing off the seat than sitting. Then the truck that was to take us to Levuka had already left. Waited 2 hrs. in a village of 400 people, sitting under a tree and playing a Swedish card game. Truck finally came--30 min. ride with locals carrying bamboo, kava root, and bananas in the back. Levuka looks like an old western town, complete with a general store and a handful of small restaurants, shops, and hotels. Stayed in the supposedly famous "Royal Hotel". After much hassle, got plane tickets to fly to Suva on the "mainland" (well, main "island")--then we'll take a taxi back to Nadi. I guess our objective was to see Fiji. Well, we certainly have done that--including seeing the 80 year old chief of a village. As to whether we like it, that's entirely different. It's strange--the people you see on the street are (much) nicer than the ones you're about to buy something from. Everything is on a dirt road here in Ovalou, so our packs definitely have that "weathered and dusty" look to them already. Completely blew the $30/day budget over the last 3 days--can't wait to get out of here. Looking forward to seeing a big city again.
Sun. Oct. 6: Auckland, New Zealand, north island. Made it to Nadi finally, after even more hassles, and went back to the Nadi Bay Motel for the night. As usual, the hotel bus was nowhere to be found when it was time to leave for the airport--even though we booked it--but we barely made it by taxi. Everything in Fiji is slow and completely unreliable. Everyone refers to it as "Fiji time". I refer to it as infuriating. It's fine if you're just sitting on a beach, but when you've got any kind of schedule to meet it's really frustrating.
New Zealand exchange rate:
Flew to Auckland. Staying at the "Queen St. Backpackers" for $15 a night (US$8.50) for a dorm--3 beds per room, community shower and toilet. Very nice place, in the middle of downtown Auckland, near a lot of things. Colder here than I expected. About 60 degrees F. (15 degrees C.) with a lot of wind. Had a nice day exploring the war museum, Albert park, and the wharf. Taking a bus tomorrow to Paihia ("Py-HEE-ah") in the Bay of Islands at the top of the north island. We'll begin using our InterCity travel pass (bus, train, ferry) tomorrow. We bought the passes for US$259 each before we left home, and they're good for 15 days' travel within 22 days. So nice to be back in civilization again!
Mon. Oct. 7: Paihia, NZ. Made it on the bus with no problems. Very nice trip. Bus drivers are so friendly here--dropped us off right in front of the hostel. It's so green here! When we took the airport bus to the hostel the other day the driver was pointing out sites along the way, and said, "And for those of you from America, this is green!" Beautiful scenery. Staying at "Lodge Eleven"--$13 dorm--restaurants are expensive, but we got groceries to cook in the hostel kitchen which is well-equipped. Small town, but several shops. Lots of cruises etc. here around the bay.
Wed. Oct. 9: Paihia. "Lodge Eleven" is the cleanest & nicest place we've stayed so far. Cruises are expensive, so we've decided to skip it for now. Going back to Auckland today--will stay the night at the same hostel and then go to Waitomo ("Wy-TOH-mo") tomorrow--both by bus. Our travel pass is good through the 28th, so we're trying to plan the next 3 weeks. Yesterday was nice--we did absolutely nothing! Rugby is big here--the world cup is going on in France this month and everyone's paying close attention. Some interesting things: They have hot dogs and "American hot dogs". NZ hot dogs are on a stick like our corn dogs, but the batter is like we use for fried mushrooms. Their ketchup is sweeter than ours. Don't like their beer much, it's pretty weak (and that's from an American!). They converted their $1 and $2 bills to coins at the beginning of the year. They drive on the left, as they did in Fiji. Still trying to get used to weight in kilo's--it's hard to imagine how much 100 grams of something is, especially when buying things like meat at the store. The crosswalks in big cities have a button to push that causes traffic in all directions to get a red light so pedestrians can all cross at once, in any direction, including diagonally! They call Rice Crispies "Rice Bubbles", and Frosted Flakes "Frosties".
Wed. Oct. 16: Wanaka ("WAH-na-ka"), NZ, south island. Over the last week, we've moved quite a bit. Spent last Wednesday in Auckland, then went to Rotorua ("Ro-to-ROO-ah"), stopping for a couple of hours in Waitomo to see the glow worm caves. (Interesting, but not worth the $13 (US$7.40) we paid each.) Rotorua stinks! It really does--smells like sulphur, or rotten eggs. A lot of thermal activity--lots of steaming pools and boiling mud to go see. Everything felt like an expensive tourist trap. Went to Orchid Gardens and saw a "water organ", which is about 700 water jets sync'ed to lights and music (mostly just music). Traveled with Linda (met her in Paihia) from Paihia to Auckland, and Auckland to Rotorua. She's from Boston. Spent Thu. & Fri. nights in Rotorua, then went to Wellington at the bottom of the north island, crossed to the south island by ferry, and stayed in Picton Sat.--an all-day trip! Spent the next night (Sunday) in Nelson. Had to stop in Picton and Nelson because of the bus schedules. Spent 10 1/2 hrs. on the bus to Fox Glacier--stayed there Mon. & Tue. nights. Went on a guided tour of the glacier Tue. (US$28 each). Maybe the best thing we've done so far! Spent about 3 hours getting to and walking on the glacier. Wore huge boots with metal horseshoes on the bottom--very heavy! Strapped spikes to the bottoms for traction on the ice. Shot about a roll of film there. Absolutely beautiful!! Walking over ice cliffs and crevasses--seeing water flowing through the blue ice--incredible!
Saw a huge boulder about the size of a small house on the "riverbed" floor--our guide said that a year ago it was up at the top of the waterfall and came rolling down one night! Got certificates for the climb. It's hard to describe how amazing this place is. You look up and see the rock walls towering above you--and they're all close and very steep! Almost like a canyon with vertical walls. A tree line on one side shows how high the glacier used to be in 1750. Must be several hundred feet lower now than it was then. Also used to be a 1/4 mile longer. Well worth the money! At one point while we were hiking around, a couple guys on the tour were standing dangerously close to the edge of a crevasse that fell down into blue nothingness and the sound of water rushing by way down below. The Kiwi guide watched them for a bit, but being the easy-going, crazy adventure-types that they are, he didn't say anything. Finally they just got too close, and he said, "Guys, if you happen to fall in, please try to go head first." We were all thinking maybe it'd be easier to rescue them that way, but then he said, "Those boots you rented are pretty expensive, and it's easier to recover them that way." They backed away from the edge.
Traveled 5 1/2 hrs. Wed. to Wanaka (here now). Went through the maze here today. A wooden maze with stairs leading across to other sections--3 dimensional (sort of). The original maze in NZ--a lot of fun--took us about 40 minutes. Have to find the red, blue, green, and yellow corners, then (and this is harder) find your way out. Our hostel, "Wanaka Backpacka", overlooks a really pretty lake. Planning to go to Queenstown tomorrow afternoon. Big attraction there is bungy jumping and white water rafting. Love to do both, but may not have the money--so maybe just the jump. Must admit that I think about the jump more often as we get closer to Queenstown! NZ is an interesting place. Feels like being in a time warp back to about the 60s. Seems not as technically advanced as the U.S., but that may be because we've hit so many small towns--but all of NZ has only 3 million people, and Auckland is a third of that--Wellington is close to another third, maybe Christchurch less than a million also. As they said, more sheep than people. Sink water faucets are driving me crazy--all the sinks in NZ have separate faucets for hot & cold. Impossible to get warm--either freezing cold or scalding hot. Still enjoying the incredible scenery. We just sit and stare out the bus window, thinking it's all too beautiful to be real.
Sat. Oct. 19: Queenstown, NZ. Began raining as we left Wanaka Thursday, and rained all the way to Queenstown, then all evening here also. Friday was beautiful and sunny all day.
Did the big jump Friday! We both did a 143 foot (43 meter) bungy jump from the Kawarau ("Ka-WA-roo") bridge outside of town--$95 (US$54) each, including a great t-shirt and 15 min. bus ride to the bridge. Others had said the scariest part is weighing-in and signing your life away. It's not. The scariest part is after the crowd counts down, "Three, Two, One...JUMP" and you suddenly realize that you did!
Then you fall and fall and fall (and scream maybe) and then suddenly realize you're staring face-to-face with the surface of the river for a split-second--then you fly straight up in the air so you can do it all over again. After about 4 or 5 bounces you're hanging upside-down by your ankles, laughing and yelling, with adrenaline up to your eye-balls as they lower you like a fish into the raft below. What a thrill! In some ways better than skydiving. Got someone to take almost a whole roll of us jumping. Today (Sat.) is cold and windy, but dry. About 60 degrees F (15 degrees C), but feels much colder in the wind. Sure wish I had my heavy wool coat, but managing with shirts, cotton sweater, and a windbreaker. We've considered getting sleeping bags, but done ok so far by using (or renting for 50 cents) blankets supplied by the hostels. We have our own sheets and pillowcase though. Sending lots of postcards and a couple of letters to people back home. Our battery charger (for the flashlight and radio/tape player) died a while back. We sent it home to be replaced, and I'm told it's on its way back to us in Christchurch, along with the Lonely Planet Australia book. We're using the Lonely Planet New Zealand book now--a life saver!
Wed. Oct. 23: Christchurch, NZ. Went to Dunedin ("Dun-EE-din") by bus Monday--stayed one night. Kind of disappointing. Stayed in downtown at a Pavlova hostel. Didn't like the city or the hostel much. Toured the Speight's brewery Tuesday morning--tried to tour the huge Cadbury chocolate factory, but tours were booked up for a week. Took the train Tuesday to Christchurch--train was disappointing too. Very bumpy--the bus was much better. It was a long, 6 hr. ride. Went to the CPO (Chief Post Office) today--got the Lonely Planet Australia book and a letter from my mom. Book took 7 days to get here. Went exploring in the center of the city--very nice. The Cathedral Square in the center of town is full of young people eating lunch, etc. Saw the "Christchurch Wizard"--a guy dressed as a wizard, talking about his views of the world, which are sometimes controversial. He was originally hired by the Sydney Univ. in Australia to "raise student morale" and encourage new thoughts and less violence in 1969. Has since become a legend in Christchurch.
This is my favorite city in NZ. Lots of shops, restaurants etc, but doesn't feel as "downtown-big-city" as Auckland and Dunedin did. A nice river goes through the city. Movies cost $8.50 (US$4.80)--fairly up-to-date but about a month or two behind the U.S. Flew to Cairns ("Cans") Thu. the 24th after 3 beautiful weeks in NZ.
Australia exchange rate:
Sun. Oct. 27: Cairns, Australia. Arrived here by QANTAS late Thu. at midnight. Stayed at a hostel that had a "recruiter" at the airport (free ride) but changed to the "Silver Palm Motel" next door after the first night. Much nicer--$14.75 (US$11.60) each for a double with shared bath, kitchen, etc. Hostels are cheap here--about $10-$11, but more run-down than NZ. But for the same price as NZ (US$14-16) you get a much nicer place. Changed gears a little--Aust. is more like the U.S.--NZ was more British. Also, it's hot again--went from sweaters, long sleaves, and heaters to shorts, t-shirts, and ceiling fans. Cairns is nice--lots of cheap food and places to stay, right on the water. Went diving today with "Reef Care" on the Great Barrier Reef! Cost $89 (US$70) for 2 dives with all equipment--price went up to $125 (US$99) four days later on Nov. 1st for summer prices! Went to Moore Reef, stopped at the resorty, high priced "Fitzroy Island". But overall a very good dive trip. A note about prices. Since the exchange rate here is about 80 cents to each Aust. dollar, we're converting prices in our heads by saying to ourselves, "multiply by 8". So A$2.00 is about US$1.60.
Thu. Oct. 31: Cairns. Halloween! I'm beginning to think they don't celebrate it here, although I saw a couple of signs for parties at nightclubs--for the benefit of us tourists I think. Stayed all week here at the Silver Palm. I'm sitting next to their very nice swimming pool in the back. It's a fresh and salt water pool--tastes salty but doesn't sting your eyes. Very comfortable here, but we seem to be walking a few miles a day going to the GPO (General Post Office), grocery store, and other shops near the center of the town. Haven't done much since our great dive trip. It's nice not moving every other day, but I think the lack of excitement is making me feel homesick. It's a tough balance between doing tourist things and just "living" to enjoy a city. But sometimes just living gets a little old because you have to conserve money and can't really live like you would at home. And of course the tourist things cost too much so we try to limit those. This Sunday will mark 7 weeks since we began. Took the city bus to the Botanic Gardens today--a nice walk through trees and plants. Finally found a bar with a live band last night at the back of the Crown Hotel. Probably going again tonight to see if anything is happening for Halloween. (And for the beer!) Speaking of beer (which I like to do), it's really good here. I seem to be liking the "bitters" more than the light and sweet "draughts". Power's, XXXX (Four-ex), and of course Foster's are all good. What a bargain to drink Foster's for domestic prices! It's kind of funny to see things like Budweiser and Coors as imports! Somehow the exotic image of an imported beer has lost something... A lot of reputable dive classes here--some do up to 5-day courses that give you a full open-water card. The hostel next door has a dive shop come in to teach classes in their pool several times a day. Leaving tomorrow night at 9:40 for Brisbane ("BRIZ-bun"). We have QANTAS tickets for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Got a nice letter from Per & Ulrika in Fiji. They changed their ticket to come to Sydney a week earlier, on the 11th of Nov. We're planning to get there on the 9th. They said they're looking forward to seeing us, as we are of them. Hope we'll spend at least a few days traveling with them again. Also hoping to see them in Bangkok.