Friday, December 11, 2009

A New Start ... Again!

A new start requires a new blog ... don'tyathink??

So now that we are no longer in Riyadh ...

And no longer nowhere in particular (not Riyadh) ...

We are actually somewhere.

Somewhere where there is more than enough WOOMBA (apparently).

So come on over, and see us in the LYH. We are living a sort of normal life, I think.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living by the beach

Yep, this is not Riyadh either - notice the combination of beach and sea (and pelicans)!

In a quiet suburban street ...

(Obviously this isn't Riyadh, either!)

A couple of blocks back from the beach in this quiet (retirement orientated) suburb ...

... it's not a garage - there is no way you could get a car in there over that little wall.

but with (half of) one of the walls being a roller-door, it's a lovely indoor/outdoor place to study when the weather is fine!
And now that we are poor Uni students again, the price is pretty good too.

The nearby beach provides a great place to walk and relax,

and spend time with our kids AND the whole deal comes with built-in grandkids.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fee-Jee ... mmm warm!

We flew to Fiji from Aukland on Air Pacific (Fiji's own international airline - but actually half of the travellers on board were in theory booked on a Qantas flight). When we checked in, 3 hours early, we were surprised at the huge queue of people already checking in. We were given seats way at the back in rows 63C and 65C ... which was a problem, so phone calls were made about "spare seats" and we were re-assigned to 19B and 19C.

When it came time to board, they did it painfully slowly, 5 rows at a time, starting with rows 64-69. Our group was the absolute last, an hour and a half later. We found the plane was a "747, 400 series" - if you get a chance to travel on one of these - try not to! There were the usual 11 seats across that you get in wide-bodied air buses. Our seats weren't there, we were upstairs. Then they explained to us that our hand bags were too big for the overhead lockers upstairs, we had to go back down and find space in the downstairs ones. Upstairs there were only 6 seats across, and there was a deep locker on each side between the seat and the windows. The seats were so minimal and squeezy that when the lady in front of us leaned her seat back she crushed Peter's knees causing him a great deal of pain.

Arriving in Fiji

I don't know how many people were crammed into that huge plane - I guess 5-600. So disembarquing was slow and painful. And then we found ourselves in the customs hall with only 3 or 4 officers checking passports and a queue that wound back and forth and back and forth endlessly. The room was not air-conditioned, but occasionally we found ourselves positioned in front of a huge fan, keen to linger a few minutes as the queue trudged forward.

The sun was setting as the plane landed, and it was well and truly dark by the time we got through customs and immigration. There were three people booked onto the bus that would take us to our resort - Naviti. We waited for the third person another hour and a half and they didn't show, so finally we left without them.

We didn't realise Naviti was halfway between Nadi (where we landed) and the capital, Suva, at the other end of Fiji's biggest island. It was a good hour and a half drive on bumpy roads, periodically slowing to a crawl to negotiate the huge speed-bumps installed through the villages. It was very dark and raining - the driver explained we had arrived in Fiji's winter.

Naviti Resort

It was all a bit confusing when we arrived in the dark and wet; we didn't really get a chance to appreciate where we were.

Everything was so lovely and outdoorsy (despite the rain) - this is the reception desk (right)

and the lounge in the main foyer.

We upgraded to a king room, and were given this suite ...

... you can just see me on our balcony on the top floor at the left of the right-hand building.

We had a lovely view of the resort and the ocean (further to the right).

We were a little disappointed that the resort's own beach wasn't a very swimmy place

although there were lots of other things to do on the beach like rides in the glass-bottomed boat

and stuff like jet-skis and canoes.

The pool was nice enough, and had a bar where you could sit in or out of the water and be served drinks

but we found the resort was extremely family-friendly and there were a remarkable number of children of all ages screaming and playing ... so in the end we didn't spend much time in the pool.

"Authentic Fijian Village"

We found the air in Fiji - the sights, sounds and smells - reminded us greatly of Murray Island and Papua New Guinea. But we found there was also a tour we could do, a ride along the Sigatoka river to an authentic village and have lunch there - the tour company reckon there are so many villages, and they use a different one every day so that they don't get too touristified.

They took us up the valley in minibuses, and then we boarded the boats. We hadn't realised the trip would be in a jet-boat (we had studiously avoided the jet-boats in New Zealand!) - hence the life-vests. The driver did say that if we fell out of the boat we should just stand up and walk out of the river (shallow), and we had been warned to bring a spare set of dry clothes.

The trip up the river was delightful, and we were told to wave to any villagers we passed. Occasionally the driver stopped the boat to point something out - the jet engines made talking along the way impossible.

Some small boys met us at our assigned village, and we were led up the hill to the village square. Us ladies had each been given complimentary sarongs (from the tour company) because women in trousers would be rude.

The first thing we came across was a young man preparing Kava for the welcoming ceremony. We had also brought with us a ceremonial gift of Kava for the village.

This man is the chief's son, and his English was good enough to explain everything in the village to us.

He walked us right around the village pointing out various things (one of the 22 tourists stepped off the little cement path trying to film, and went knee-deep in black mud ...yerk!)

He also showed us inside the church. (This seemed so familiar to us after PNG and the Torres Strait!) These two pictures made me chuckle because the chap is standing in his favourite pose. You can see here the man on the right has a plastic bag with the Kava in it - you can see it's tail poking out - and in the other bag he has a football and some sweets as gifts for the villagers.

Welcome Ceremony

We all went into the community hall where we sat cross-legged on the floor (and most of us in considerable pain!) for a very solemn welcome ceremony. I was sitting near the door and looked outside where we had all left our shoes. A playful piglet on the loose had taken a fancy to some of the shoes and was rubbing himself all over them, and picking them up (having a little chew) and tossing them about a bit like a puppy might.

Here the men are preparing the Kava, pouring water through the previously ground-up root.

We were each decorated with garlands and talcum powder - on the face! (On Murray Island they always put it on the back of your neck.)

They sang some songs, and some of us were tapped on the knee to get up and join in the dance. (I couldn't believe I had to "dance" and Peter didn't!) It was more of a shuffle than a dance.

Then we had a meal, spread on a long cloth on the floor. We ate, while they continued to sing. All the food was locally grown and/or prepared on open fires by hand. Tastes were very familiar to us, although there was not as much coconut grease in evidence as on Murray Island.

Then it was time for the farewell ceremony - giving of the football, and a pair of joggers (to anyone they would fit) and a donation of money collected from the group - and the farewell song.

The ride back was even faster than the ride up to the village - yep, really fast!

The driver did four or five 360 degree spins. That, of course was why we had spare clothes waiting in the bus! The driver would raise a finger and twirl it, then he would spin the boat. As it stopped the spray then crashed down on us. (It was rather fun!)

Snorkeling and another village

We found there was a chap in the village next to the resort who (for a small fee) would take us to a good snorkelling spot.

He took us to a little beach nearby just down from his own village - that was the extent of his "guiding" that we had paid for.

But we had a lovely time in the warm, clear water, peering at tiny irridescent fish darting in and out of the coral.

As we wandered back through the village to our resort we were astounded again at how similar it was to our village on Murray Island.

Except of course for the power lines!

Beautiful Fiji

The flora of Fiji - especially around the beautiful gardens of the resort - just cried out to have their pictures taken. So here are a few of them:

Back to Oz

Our trip home was fairly uneventful. We returned with Virgin Pacific (International) / Virgin Blue (Australian domestic) so we were on smaller planes (than Air Pacific) with leather seats and a single aisle. Unlike when we left Perth, we were ready with sandwiches to take on the plane rather than buy their expensive fare. But then we even hired one of their little video machines to make the flight pass quicker. It was four hours across to Brisbane - where we had to retrieve our luggage, take it through customs, and then catch a train to the Domestic Airport - and then a 6-hour flight to Perth, getting in at 5 minutes after midnight. We did find that Virgin were very efficient. Our plane actually left Fiji early! They called everyone on board, and everyone did and they were ready ... so we left about 15 minutes early! Of course at Nadi airport there weren't a lot of other planes competing for attention from the control tower!

Back home to the the wind and the rain, and some study!

Land of the Orks

We drove from Rotorua up to Aukland, again enjoying the gorgeous scenery (and the damp weather).

We saw a blue sign offering conveniences, and took a rest stop

... yep, that's a building in the shape of a sheep. But what we needed was in the building next door

... the sheep dog.

The Quadrant

Our travel agent had booked us into a hotel in central Aukland.

Apparently the "hippest" hotel in Aukland, with our names already on the TV screen when we arrived in our room on the 18th floor.

There was a little tiny (unsafe feeling!) balcony

With great views of the Auk's Land - wet, windy and all that.

After the rest of New Zealand, Aukland really is just another big city. They took our car, for a fee of $25, and put it in the hotel somewhere. So we went for a walk and had a takeaway dinner.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The land of odd smells

We left Napier and headed inland climbing and climbing through beautiful mountains with odd-shaped hills, all kinds of farms and timberlands, and lots of mist and rain.

We got to Taupo, and Lake Taupo.

Nice little spot. We noticed that the lake was steaming - yep, there were some little hot springs by the edge of the lake, but the lake itself seemed to be quite cold.

Craters of the Moon

As we drove out of Taupo, on to Rotorua, we came across a little place advertising "Craters of the Moon", so we paid a minimal amount to wander through.

Hmm ... lots of random steam coming out of the ground, and warning signs galore.

Even some sizable holes in the ground, with interesting bubbling sounds coming from down there.

A bit disappointing though - designed to catch tourists on their way out of Taupo who haven't seen Rotorua yet ...

Smell - lee!

And so on we went to Rotorua. We saw more (and bigger) random steam pouring out of the ground in the bush, and even went past the geothermal power station.

In Rotorua we stayed at the Princes Gate - a "Historic Boutique" hotel.

Our room (like all of them, as far as I could tell) opened onto the verandah, and the rooms had names of (presumably famous) people instead of numbers.

Our room was the Peter somebody room. (No one I had heard of.)

Just over the way from the hotel was another lake ...

... the sulphur smells from which seemed to waft through our room all through the night!

Of course, these hot, smelly lakes have their own advantages.

There are lots of hot pools and spas you can pay to float around in - the hotel has its own little three-level pool.

At the top (on the right) is a little pool that was so hot we could barely dip our hands ... that trickles over into the middle one where I am sitting - hot enough to leave your skin lobster-red. (Can't stay in there too long.) Then that trickles over into the big lower pool which is just lovely and warm.

Local Wildlife

New Zealand does not boast much wildlife. Almost everything (other than the Kiwi) is introduced.

Being from WA, where we don't have sparrows, we enjoyed the local attendants at al fresco restaurants .... waiting for a few crumbs of pie-crust.

Local Culture

We attended one of the (compulsory :)) "Hangi and Concert" deals at the local Maori village. (We went to the Mitai one.) It was fun.

We were picked up by a shuttle bus that went to all the the hotels where people had booked.

A Maori chap, MC-ed the do, and amused everyone by managing a word or two in each of the 18 languages represented by the people attending the night, as he explained a little of the Maori culture.

Then he unveiled the Hangi that had been cooking for the last three hours.

(We were a little disappointed with the look of all this after many delicious hangi-style meals on Murray Island.) Where are the banana leaves and stuff? Well, it tasted good and smokey as a hangi should.

Meanwhile we went for a walk alongside the delightful spring with rainbrow trout (introduced from America) and eels clearly visible meandering in the clear water.

A canoe-load of warriors came down the stream.

They went back and forth a few times to give everyone a chance to take picks.

Then we went to the village where they demonstrated songs, dances and ceremonies,

and explained something of the ancient culture.

Finally, after our huge meal, we had a little wander through the bush to find glow-worms along the banks of the stream.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Geo-Thermal Activity

"Craters of the Moon" had been a bit of a "damp squib", we soon realised as we went to see the thermal wonderland at Wai-O-Tapu.

Lots of pools, and bubbles, and smells, and different colours of mud.

I found the place steamy hot, despite the rain and drizzle. The pool I'm by here is very deep and at a temp about 150 degrees - not a place for swimming.

This "Devil's Pool" is a brilliant green colour - quite startling.

One more day in the Long White Cloud

Next:- a day in Aukland ... and then on a plane to Fiji. The way the weather here is turning, we will need our few days in Fiji to dry out a bit.