We spend a week in Taveuni, an island in the north east of Fiji, at the Garden Island Resort. It’s a great week of diving and comfortable accommodations. We love the hotel. The staff is so sweet. We are picked up from the airport by the owner, and as we walk into the lobby the entire staff is lined up to greet us, including the Garden Island Boy Band, and they all sing to welcome us. I have never been greeted like this and it’s really special. Not hokey at all. I wish I had filmed it, but here’s a video of them sending us off with a goodbye song:
Here are some pics of the hotel:
The rooms are modern and include all the frills like a flat screen TV (so we can hook up our laptop and watch movies), the most amazing five-head shower I’ve ever seen, and lovely views.
Another thing that at first fascinates us, but in times starts to bug, are the 500 fruit bats (“flying foxes”) that live in the trees just outside the hotel. They fly around at dusk and make a racket fighting with each other, but they are pretty cool.
Despite the bats, we finally just relax for a week and don’t try to plan the next four months or discover the perfect new home. This helps a lot. We dive for four days and each dive is better than the last. The dive operation at the resort arranges everything and we just have to hop on the boat at 8:30 every morning, for a quick 15 minute ride to the Rainbow Reef. We meet some cool people on the boat, including an Aussie couple (Kim and Imogene) and a Brazilian couple (Roberta and John) who know a lot about Fiji and diving and give us some great tips.
The dive masters include two rather large Fijian women, which is kind of unusual. They are very helpful to me because these dives are bit more technical and as usual, I’m a mess underwater.
Our very first dive happens to be the most technical of them all, the Great White Wall. We jump in and the current is pumping. I swim my little heart out to the entrance of the cave, and then we descend from 40 to 80 feet to come out to the great white wall, which is a huge white wall (whaddya know!) that goes down hundreds more feet and is covered with white coral. It’s pretty cool, but our little camera can’t really capture it.
Great White Wall
It’s ok, but for the first dive I’m just hanging on for the ride. Then we hang out at shallower depths for a while and I use up my air way before everyone else (as usual) so one of the dive masters takes me for my three minute safety stop at 15 feet. Since we don’t need to stay with the group we just let the current take us, and we are flying by everything for the next three minutes. It’s wild, and pretty fun. It reminds me of Nemo and the turtles in the East Australian Current.
Every day the current is ripping, but I get more comfortable moving along with it (or fighting it, as we have to do often). Mark of course is Mr. Cool underwater, and the dive masters stop asking him how much air he has because he always comes up with half a tank.
Though the visibility is not as clear as the Caribbean, we see some beautiful things and the diving is up there as one of our top spots. The Rainbow Reef is full of soft coral, which is flowering because of the flowing current, in brilliant orange, purple, blue and white colors. And there is a ton of fish! We also see a few white tipped reef sharks, which I love. Lots of small things too, and probably Mark’s favorite is the Spanish Dancer.
Since we took so many diving pictures and videos, I’ll include a diving slideshow as the next post (coming soon!).
In the afternoons Mark and I work in the room (finally internet access in the room—so much better!) though occasionally the internet drops, so this is definitely not our forever place. The entire island gets internet from a Vodafone 3G tower that is on the island opposite Taveuni, and you have to be able to see the tower to pick it up. Luckily this hotel is directly across from it.
We take the kayaks out one day and paddle to a little island, which is beautiful. We are finally appreciating the south pacific beaches.
On our last day we visit Booma Falls, which is amazing. The hike to the falls looks like the grounds of the Hawaiian Hilton, except that it’s all native growth! The views are pretty spectacular, too.
And Heather Shepherd, I think I found a whole bunch of Leland’s cousins. Who knew he was Fijian?
The first waterfall is beautiful, and since it is a Sunday, there are lots of local families playing in the water.
We hike on to the second waterfall, and as it’s later in the day, there is not a soul there. We’ve never swum in a waterfall all by ourselves, so we jump in and take a dip. The water is warm (not what we expected!) and it’s pretty magical.
The hike is extremely lush and full of creatures like frogs, spiders, and blue-tailed skinks.
Our guide that drove us is full of interesting stories and information about the island. He says that all Taveuni land is owned by the local tribes, and any Fijian can request land to farm. Thus, he says, as long as you are not lazy, you never go hungry here. Tons of food is grown here including kava, sugar, bananas, guava, pineapple, coconut, and taro. He talks about how generally relaxed the Fijian culture is. I ask about the Indians that have migrated to Taveuni (over the last 300 years), and he says they farm as well on the island on leased land. He says they are motivated to work hard and get wealthy, whereas the native Fijians just farm enough for their families to eat, and then they relax. Interesting…
We also enjoy a couple of pizza dinners at the “one” restaurant in Taveuni. It has a great view and very yummy food.
So we have a nice week in Taveuni and are happy that we gave Fiji another chance. Here are few last pics of some aerial views of Taveuni:
New Years Day we say goodbye to the Aussies and hop on a flight to Fiji. Our visit to Australia is a bit short, but both of us are anxious to get back to the tropics. We haven’t done much research about Fiji, but our hope is to find a little bungalow on a beautiful beach to settle down in for a few months so we can recharge the batteries and get some work done.
Our first day of the new year is kind of a disaster. When we check in for our flight at ten in the morning we are told we need an onward destination ticket in order to land in Fiji, and we had only bought a one-way ticket. We step out of line and scramble to create a “fake” itinerary out of Fiji, and we find an airport printer to print it out. We hurry back to check-in, and this time no one asks for our onward ticket. Oh well! We hurry to the gate to only realize that our flight is four hours delayed. So we chill in the Sydney airport and finally get to Fiji late that night. Not sure if it’s the late arrival or what, but the immigration in Fiji takes forever–about two hours from when we disembarked. It’s hot and we’re tired, but luckily Hari from the Beachhouse is waiting to pick us up. We’re off for the two hour drive to the Coral Coast. Hari stops at several ATMs for us to get money out, but for some reason our card isn’t working. This is frustrating because we are on our way to the middle of nowhere, and no Fiji currency is not good, but we have no other option. We finally get to the Beachhouse at 2am and Harry gives us a key to our room, which is ok but without a bathroom (supposedly we’ll be moved to a room with bathroom the following day).
It will have to do and we pass out, hearing the crashing waves in the darkness. We wonder what the beach and surf will look like in the morning, but are happy to finally be in bed.
The next few days are an interesting study in the Mark and Michaela dilemma. So here we are on a beautiful south pacific beach, with palm trees dipping into the sand and a surf break half mile out, warm 85 degree water and a bit of fish to snorkel around with,
but we can’t help but to compare it all to Akumal. It comes up a bit short. The water is clear, but not the brilliant turquoise of Akumal. There are a few fish to snorkel with, but nothing compared to Akumal’s turtles and Cozumel’s corals. The beach is pretty, but not as pretty… you get the idea. The accommodations are meager and not that cheap (actually the same price as what we pay for our lovely condo in Akumal), and we never get a room with a bathroom. It’s raining a good part of the day and night, and trekking through the garden mud to get to the bathroom gets old very fast.
However, there are a few positives. The local people are incredibly nice and friendly (Mark goes for a run on the road and estimates 70 different people called out “Bula!” (hello) to him, several of them stopping to introduce themselves and shake his hand). The food is good (lots of Indian food influence, which we love) and the vibe at the Beachhouse is really fun. It’s basically a backpackers resort with communal dining and we meet lots of fun travelers.
One couple who is making a travel film about Fiji invites us along with them to a local’s house, who has invited them to a Kava ceremony. We jump at the chance, and find ourselves that evening wandering down the dark road in the rain looking for Jiduit’s house. We find it (a few small children guide us) and he invites us in for evening prayer. He reads from the Bible in Fijian, and then his family breaks out into song. It’s amazingly beautiful.
Jiduit talks about how in other countries, people are “money rich,” which is good, but in Fiji, they are “life rich,” which is most important. We are both struck by the simplicity and beauty of the words. I had never heard that phrase “life rich” before, and it’s a nice way to put it.
Then he sends us out to the “party” where about 30 men and women are sitting around under a tarp in the rain passing around the kava bowl. Kava is a root that when ground up and drunk gives you a bit of a high. We both drink it and neither of us notice much of a buzz (it does numb your mouth), but we enjoy the authenticity of watching the locals hang out and enjoy it.
Apparently they’ve been drinking it for about six hours, so they are way ahead of us and many of them are nearly passed out. They all sit in a circle and the “DJ” plays songs on his ipod. The women get up and dance whenever a good song comes on, and invite us to dance with them, so we shake our booties for awhile (in the mud and rain).
Mark ventures off into a different hut and plays a few games of “pool”, which is a piece of plywood with holes drilled in the corners and people flick poker chips (which represent the balls and cue ball) with their fingers. Everyone is ridiculously nice and friendly.
Pretty fascinating night, and one thing is for certain, these are the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met. We had imagined that Fiji had a lot more, but in reality these people are dirt poor. Things here are more like Africa than Central America. That doesn’t matter to them though, as we’ve seen so much kindness and happiness, unrelated to us, just observing them interacting among themselves. Mark commented that he’d love to spend some time studying these types of cultures and see what it is that makes them so happy. He’s got his theories, but thinks a lot of it is cultural. For example, about 50% of Fijians are of Polynesian decent, and these especially seem ridiculously vibrant with life. There are already many books on the subject, so I guess that’s a good place to start since he’s rarely inspired to read.
Mark also finally gets his first encounter with a Fiji surf break. Here’s his account:
I paddled out and realized immediately that I was in waist deep water as I jumped off my board to confirm. I’m not much for going backside, but I caught a nice right that was head high. Got too cocky and got drilled on the next one that was a couple feet overhead. Problem was it was the first wave of the set and the waist deep water over jagged reef did not help. Luckily I was wearing booties and a helmet – I needed both those plus everything god gave me as I took the whole set on the head. Very humbling experience!
So surfing is not gonna be ideal for Mark here unless we find a much different break. Another problem is that we don’t have a reliable internet connection. There is internet in the bar, but the internet stick we bought doesn’t work in this remote area, and my iphone refuses to tether data (not sure why).
We know we can’t stay here, so we start talking to people and looking around for our ideal bungalow on the beach in Fiji. We slowly start to learn that this doesn’t exist. It sounds like Fiji offers two kinds of accommodation: backpacker hostels and five star resorts. No apartments or bungalows for rent, no ex-pat community, no cute towns with little restaurants and pubs. And the resorts are crazy expensive. Most are about $500 US per night. This is not going to work for the next four months!
We begin to feel a bit disillusioned, and I start to get desperate about getting a room with a bathroom (which the hotel keeps promising us in a day or two), so we leave the Beachhouse after five nights and head to Yatule Hotel at Natadola Beach. The accommodations are much better, and we enjoy clean wood floors, our own bathroom, plus a living room and kitchenette. Much better. We stay here for a few days and try to figure things out, but this is supposed to be one of Fiji’s nicer beaches, especially on Viti Levu, and it is nothing special. There are horses for rent along the beach, which seems nice at first, but comes with horse poo on every inch of the beach. There is also a lot of washed up seaweed which stinks. Man, are we picky or what?
After a few days the rain stops, and the sun comes out, and we start to see Fiji in a new light. We also find out that the Intercontinental Resort next door is available for our day use, so we spend a few days there using their pools, eating their yummy food, and enjoying “civilization” again. We rent paddleboards one day but my paddle is a canoe paddle, and I have a tough time getting around. We go snorkeling and the water isn’t very clear, but at least the reef has a few live coral heads and a few interesting fish. So, Natadola turns out a bit better than we expected, but still not where we want to be.
Mark does some serious research about the diving in Fiji, and learns that the best diving we can access is in Taveuni, an island north of us. We decide to book a week at a dive resort up there, in hopes of experiencing something unique and different before we leave Fiji for good. That’s where we are off to today. The plan is to stay there a week, then fly back to Auckland (perhaps via Vanuatu, which is an easy layover and another country we’re curious about) and then set-up shop in Auckland for a little while so we can both get some work done. We are looking at renting a place in Takapuna, a north Auckland coastal town that reminds us of PB, and also is where Erica and Rob live. Then….who knows? Maybe back to Akumal sooner than we planned! We’ll see how Taveuni treats us….
Finally in Australia—my first time ever to touch the continent, though Mark’s already been here a couple of times. It’s pretty much how I imagined. Sydney is often photographed and I recognize the sites—the Opera House is beautiful and the harbor is lovely. We stay with Mark’s cousin David (Mark’s aunt married an Aussie and has raised her family here) and his wife and kids. They have a lovely house near Bondi Beach, and we enjoy the sunny warm weather for the first two days.
Then we head to the Blue Mountains, to Mark’s aunt and uncle’s “farm.” It’s a great rural escape, with horses, sheep, and tons of wild kangaroo. The kangaroo are the highlight, and we see them hopping around all over the place. At first they seem surreal—so much like a national geographic film that it seems like a joke. But they are real, and we love watching them hop around the farm.
Aunt Adrienne manages to arrange a horseback ride for us, we do a little bush walking, and we also visit the Three Sisters, a spectacular vista of the Blue Mountains. It’s great to spend time with Mark’s other cousin Jonathan and his family, and we learn a lot about Australian history from Mark’s uncle Ralph.
I also have a new fan, Jonathan’s daughter, Jade.
She was very sweet and worshipped me, which I didn’t mind at all. This is what I heard constantly all day:
Now, I have to tell one little story about the farm that I’ll never forget. The first night Mark and I shared a cabin with Adrienne and Ralph, and after we all went to bed, I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I was a bit perturbed to find a couple of bats swimming in the toilet. Not sure how they got there, or what they were doing exactly (drinking water?), but rather than wake up everyone and make a scene, I quietly got back into bed, shuddering. A few minutes later I heard Adrienne wake up and head to the bathroom. She took care of her business but as she was turning to flush, she finally saw the bats. She woke us all up and the boys helped get those bats out of the toilet–quite a sight!
We head back to Sydney and get back in time for a Cricket Match, which is a lot of fun. The game is fast-paced and we start to follow it by the end. Pretty neat experience!
We do a few other Sydney sites (Art Museum, Opera House, Botanical Gardens, etc.) and celebrate New Year’s Eve, which is a major event in Sydney because of the huge firework display off the Harbor Bridge. The firework show lives up to its expectations—quite a spectacle!