Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deua National Park

Brian and I spent last weekend (our anniversary) in Deua National Park with our friends Matt and Sarah. Saturday consisted of a leisurely drive in an easterly direction, well leisurely until the last fifteen or so kilometres which were on a four-wheel drive dirt track. We found the limits of Matt's trusty Subaru Forester (and maybe exceeded them just a bit) as we bounced along ruts, forded a number of streams and climbed hill after hill. Just before dark we found a lovely campsite in a grassy patch well-manicured by the resident kangaroos and wombats. A mob of kangaroos were grazing happily across the way as we set up our tents and prepared dinner. It was only while collecting firewood that we realized there were wombats in the area; their burrows were everywhere and the entrances to some were massive! None sighted that night however.

The next day we spent on a beautiful walk following a meandering stream up to the Bendethra Caves. Along the way we are delighted to see an Australian critter that we've been hearing about for ages, but had not yet had the privilege of encountering...

... a goanna or lace monitor lizard. This one (including its very long tail) was about six feet long! We spotted him ambling through the grass and then he made his way up this tree and just hung out, letting us get a good look at him.

The destination for the day was Bendethra Cave, a limestone cave with a depth of about 250 metres, full of the most unusual shaped stalactites and stalagmites, and complete with a ceiling full of bats. As we'd foolishly left our headlamps at home, Brian, Matt and I had only one headlamp to maneuver through the pitch blackness which included climbing through very small holes, scrambling up irregularly placed footholds and sliding back down slippery slopes, mostly in control. We realized at one point that with only one headlamp and no spare batteries, that we probably shouldn't dawdle. We scurried back out and continued our walk, having lunch beside a babbling stream.

Arriving back at the car, we were feeling a bit cheated out of seeing a wombat as their burrows were everywhere but there was not a single wombat. Well that was nicely remedied on our drive out. Scattered across the grassy meadows were kangaroos and wombats all munching contentedly on grass. One little wombat even let us get pretty close to him and we got some adorable photos as we listened to his "scruffle munching" as I like to describe it.


Oh the cuteness!



Spring

There is always a bit of hesitation in creating the blog entry following on from some amazing adventure. Partly that's because I like to see all of the lovely Fiji photos first thing when I log into my blog and partly that's because I know the adventure has to fade slightly into the background as life goes on after the holiday.

That said, it's now quite a bit warmer than when we left for Fiji and that's good news!

Some photos from around the yard to capture a bit of spring....


These photos are of the Camellia bush right outside our front door. It is chock a block (to use a suitable Australian phrase) with these amazing flowers, some bright white and others deep fuschia, all on the same bush!



And when I got home this evening, I checked the mail and heard the possums rustling in the trees as usual but could see that they were on a low branch and I thought I'd grab the camera. Shooting into the dark with the flash, I managed to capture this photo of a possum with a joey on its back!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fiji

Ni Sa Bula! A warm greeting heard often in Fiji...

Brian and I arrived in Nadi, Fiji on Wednesday afternoon and had the day to ourselves to explore the Sheraton resort. Early the next morning Brian’s parents, sister and niece (Carl, Jan, Heather and Teagan) arrived. As we hadn’t seen each other in a year, we spent the next several days relaxing and catching up, swimming and playing cards.

Poolside with a pina colada at the Sheraton Villas

A couple of days later, Brian’s aunt Leah arrives – the entourage is complete and the adventure begins! We all get on a plane, the smallest I’ve ever been on with 19 seats, and fly from the largest island of Viti Levu to Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji. We land in lush Savusava where the airport is little more than a shack at the side of the runway. We are greeted by our drivers from the Tui Tai, the boat that will be our home for the next five days and are driven to Natewa Bay where the Tui Tai awaits. We are given floral leis and loaded into a small boat to take us out to the Tui Tai where the crew sings Fijian songs and welcomes us with fresh coconuts.


The Tui Tai holds 24 passengers in 12 cabins (there were 22 on our voyage) and had 19 crew onboard so you can imagine that we felt well looked after! Most of the traveling was done overnight and after the first night I got used to the rocking and slept through it just fine. No seasickness at all!


The Tui Tai


After being shown around the boat and to our rooms it was time for the first activity. Into the swimwear and off for some kayaking followed by a rainy walk along the coast where we run into women who show us how to husk a coconut and let us taste a “pregnant” coconut, one that is firm and foamy in the middle and ready to germinate.


Back on the boat for the first of many amazing meals. No sooner was lunch finished than we were gearing up for the next activity - snorkeling! After the afternoon activity we had a rest before dinner and were treated to a welcome kava ceremony.

Day two proved to be just as full of excitement as the first (you’ll detect a theme here…). After a full hot breakfast we were off to a morning of snorkeling at 9am. Here is my niece Teagan (almost three) looking adorably aquatic in her floaty suit!




She wouldn’t go into the ocean from the shore but was happy to get in the water from the side of the boat and swim freely between her mom and me and her new friend Sunia!

After snorkeling it was back to the boat for morning tea while we moved to a new spot for a second round of snorkeling (or scuba diving). This time around we see a turtle, balloon fish and magic coral that changes color when you touch it.


Loggerhead Sea Turtle


After lunch of fish burritos we head to the island of Taveuni for some mountain biking and to visit the International Date Line. Here Leah, Jan and Carl are in today while Heather, Teagan, Brian and I are in yesterday...




An ice cream rest stop

We then bike to a river with a natural water slide where you sit down and slide through a very smooth (though not without some bumps!) channel in the river bed and are shot out into a pool at the end! Not for the faint hearted!


Natural Water Slide



Afternoon tea held the best chocolate cake ever (I’m talking rivaling my moms here – that good!) and the following days consisted of several more exclamations to the tune of “Luma (the chef)! This is the best (insert food item here) I’ve ever eaten!”

That evening held a special treat for us as the 28th of August was a total lunar eclipse. Brain and I spent the late evening up on the top deck in a cabana watching the moon turn reddish-orange and multiple stars shoot their last rays across the night sky. With so little light pollution from cities the stargazing was certainly memorable!

The following days are filled with adventures too numerous to detail here. Stretching in the mornings on the upper deck, feeding bat fish breakfast scraps off of the back of the boat, visiting small villages and all of the hiking, biking, diving, snorkeling and kayaking you could possibly fit into a week.

Bouma Waterfalls on Taveuni Island. Two sets of waterfalls offered a welcoming swim after a bike ride to get there and then a very steep hike.

That afternoon we donned our sarongs for our first village visit. Piling into the little boats we head for the shore and are greeted by smiling children with whom Teagan becomes quick friends. After about five minutes she is running into their homes and playing hide and seek. We all get a tour of the village and are treated to some of their singing and dances. The village visits were a really special part of the trip because they enabled us to see Fiji as very few tourists do and to have an impact (a portion of the trip's proceeds go the villagers) without having the negative impact often associated with tourism in developing countries.

Cobia Island. A sunken volcanic crater that only Tui Tai passengers are allowed visit! We hiked up to the ridge and heard Liga, our guide, tell stories of the island while watching giant fruit bats circling overhead.

Back to the Tui Tai after hiking Cobia Island


A restless native?

No, that's Sunia, our kayaking guide awaiting us on the shore. You’d think the crew were always having as much fun as we were!


On our last full day of activities we started the day by doing a Discovery Dive in a site known as The Farm. This was our second scuba diving experience; the first was last year at the Great Barrier Reef on the first annual McMillin Tropical Holiday. It was an awesome dive with lots of soft coral, anemones and schools of colorful fish.



Bike ride on Rabi Island...


...and then a village visit where we were entertained for over an hour by primary school children dancing in their traditional costumes. Unbelievably amazing and moving.


Rabi Island Primary School Kids Perform


Our last evening on the boat was Fiji Fun Night where each country takes a turn representing their culture. We’d spent the week getting to know other passengers from around the world and this was a great opportunity to laugh together and end on a high note. The Americans staged an episode of Jeopardy with the rest of the passengers divided into two teams. The answer to our Final Jeopardy question (category: global statistics) was: In a recent survey, 12 out of 12 Americans polled agreed that this is the world’s best vacation destination. The question of course – What is the Tui Tai Adventure Cruise in Fiji?

After the Fijian crew sang us their national anthem and various other local songs, we called it a night. Saturday morning we were sung the Fiji Farewell Song and were driven back to Savusavu where the adventure began five days earlier.

We spent the day in Savusavu touring a pearl farm and then chatting with the owners of the Tui Tai. Late afternoon we got on another little plane and flew through a rainbow (true story fairy tale ending) back to Nadi for the final evening of the second annual McMillin Tropical Holiday.



Last night on the Tui Tai with my sister Heather