Days 114-117: A Fijian Ode to Paul Newman

After 10 nights at Octopus we felt we had pushed our luck enough, refilled and refuelled sufficiently, and reached the stage where lazy days on the beach had returned wanderlust to our hearts and itches to our feet.

We returned, therefore, to the mainland with the aim of travelling south and east along the Queen’s Road to Suva, Fiji’s capital. En route we checked into The Pearl hotel at Pacific Harbour, where our stay passed off without incident and the only blogworthy pic was an original take on a classic Fijian sign.

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From there we had a day trip to Suva. Fiji is a small but diverse collection of islands: the difference in climate between the Yasawas and Suva can be stark. The former has on average 300 days a year of unbroken sunshine; while the latter has rain on 300 days of each year – more akin to Glasgow than palm-treed paradise. Our main focus was checking out the Fiji Museum and taking advantage of Suva’s bargain priced shops.

The Fiji Museum is a rather modest affair, but charming nonetheless. It offers visitors a potted history of the archipelago, with the highlight being the ravaged remains of the rudder from Captain Bligh’s The Bounty – worth the trip to Suva alone.

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One other incident is worth recording here. On our bus trip back along the Queen’s Road to Nadi we witnessed a woman in the seat in front of us devouring not one, not two, not three, but at least four boiled eggs in quick succession. We say ‘at least’ because we boarded the bus at Pacific Harbour. She would have been on the bus for a good hour before that, having embarked at Suva. Therefore the egg count could have been conceivably a lot higher. Clearly a professional, she peeled and pecked each egg in approximately two minutes, so we could be looking at well over 30 boiled eggs.

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An egg, probably boiled.

She may have been a massive fan of Cool Hand Luke or was perhaps in training for some illustrious Fiji egg-off. She may simply like boiled eggs. We may never know the real reason. But whatever her motives, one has to sympathise with her husband – those hot and humid Fijian nights, where the air hangs heavy enough, must be long ones for him.

So that wraps up our Fijian adventure. It will undoubtedly occupy a greater proportion of our ‘Reflections on the South Pacific’ than we had reckoned on, but that is all to the good. Next stop Melbourne and the start of a five-week trip up Australia’s east coast. Moce!

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Days 104-113: Octopus Ten, Yasawas, Fiji

A constant dilemma for the plucky traveller is finding the best way to see the ‘real’ side of a particular country. Often a smaller budget means exposure to a truer representation of the region, whether desired or not; whereas a more expensive trip can result in a somewhat sanitised, westernised version of reality.

After ten days island-hopping, we felt we’d had enough of being hurt (well, certainly bitten) by the truth and wished to be comforted by lies, for a little while at least. All credit goes to Octopus Resort, however, for giving us a rare mix of luxury and verity. For, during our ten days there, we:

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Helped the locals transport ashore their monthly supply of diesel

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Were exposed to some pretty impressive spiders

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Chewed the fat with nearby villagers over a bowl or two of Kava

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Experienced some amazing sunsets

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Visited the island’s kindergarten and met the local kids

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Explored the other side of the island

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Met some of the local farm animals

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And, last but not least, shared these experiences with some great people. Most notably (from left to right) Gemma, Darran, Jake and Amy.

Days 92-103: A Palaver in the Yasawas

Well, well, well. We expected island-hopping up and down the Yasawa Islands would pass largely without incident. We thought that it would be more of a holiday than an adventure; that relaxing on icing-sugar soft, icing-sugar white beaches would be a small betrayal of the backpacking spirit and would warrant only a fleeting entry in the blog. How wrong we were. (Apologies in advance for the length of this update. It’s cheaper than visiting a psychiatrist.)

First, we had a five and a half hour trip on the Yasawa Flyer, a 60-foot catamaran. An idyllic cruise over still turquoise waters and under azure skies? No. Nearly six hours smashing a path through deep swell. One of us spent the entire trip with their head between their legs, the other fared better for the first three hours but then spent the remainder of the trip hugging a toilet bowl. Not an auspicious start.

Finally we reached our first destination: Nabula Lodge on the island of Nacula. As with each of our ‘hops’, we were scheduled to stay three nights there. We were a little disappointed by the standard of accommodation, but the food was good, the bay quite picturesque and the sun was invariably shining. We were also fortunate enough to bump into a top couple from Scotland, Dave and Lyndsey. Thank you both for making it a memorable start. And thanks Dave for all those free Kindle books – offshore guys can get you pretty much anything these days.

While we were at Nabua much of the talk between guests centred around what islands people had visited, what they were like and where everyone was going next. Reports varied wildly, but the most disconcerting aspect was that no one had heard of our next stop – The Bay of Plenty. Anytime we mentioned it people would cock their heads to one side and screw up their faces in puzzlement. We might as well have said The Sea of Tranquility for all it registered with our fellow travellers. Still, we thought, its anonymity would probably be matched by its exclusivity. It may even prove to be a refuge for the rich and famous. Besides, what did two-star actually mean these days.

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So after three nights at Nabua Lodge we transferred back on to the Flyer and then on to BoP. As we approached the beach we realised that it wasn’t a beach. It was swamp. Yes, it was definitely a swamp. The swamp suspicions were confirmed as we left the boat and trudged through the mud, disturbing thousands of thumb-sized sand crabs in the process. Lovely.

As we dumped our packs at the dining area – think Bridge Over The River Kwai – we were met by a small, slightly built chap who introduced himself as Wendy and, as we later discovered, had a penchant for giggling ‘Bottoms Up!’ every time he served a drink. On the drinks front, we were also informed that although there was no bottled water on the island we could drink the rain water for free. How generous.

We were then shown to our room which stood atop a small hill overlooking the swamp… sorry, the bay. There was no mosquito net, no fan, the wire mesh on the windows were riddled with holes, the shower was a bona fide dripping tap and the floor was a forest of ants and the occasional cockroach.

Well, we all have our breaking points and we had reached ours. Enough was enough. So we did what most British people do and said that this was lovely and then made up a story about wanting to move the next day as we were trying to catch up with friends on another island.

You see, despite its setting and the state of the room, what little staff there were at BoP were all incredibly friendly. There were also a large group of Ghanaians staying there, volunteering on behalf of UNESCO, and they were equally welcoming. And to top it all off, the only other two guests on the island were a lovely English couple, James and Jenny, who were toughing it out and trying to make the most of it. More power to them.

We tried to put the horrors of the day to one side in an attempt to salvage the evening, as it is worth pointing that we had arrived at The Bay Of Plenty on New Years’ Eve.

Hogmanay started off well enough. Wendy had set out a flower-laden table for four on the beach. Dinner was tasty and plentiful (the name had to come from somewhere). And James and Jenny, being James and Jenny, shared their bottle of fizz with us. We gave them our last two ferrero rocher in way of exchange. The spirit it was given in far outweighed any monetary value.

Dining on the beach sounds romantic, and ordinarily it is. But when that beach is really a swamp then you start to encounter problems – hundreds of them. Small and largely indiscernible, they left their mark on our feet, legs, arms, shoulders – anything that wasn’t wrapped in at least two layers. We shrugged it off. We said it’s fine. It wasn’t.

After dinner the staff and the Ghanaians joined us around a bonfire for singing and the occasionally jig. We were one of the first places on the planet to usher in 2012, and celebrated by teaching our new friends Auld Lang Syne – or at least our poorly remembered rendition of it.

We wandered up to bed, and after killing a handful of cockroaches we settled down to a long and painfully hot night surrounded by the sound of buzzing beasts and scuttling scarabs. Happy New Year.

We left The Bay of Plenty in the morning, any awkwardness at our premature departure insignificant against our poor throbbing insect-invaded limbs. Insult was added to injury when the ‘management’ decided to charge us for the remaining two nights. A nice parting gesture.

N.B. In an attempt to wipe the memory from our minds, no photographs exist of The Bay of Plenty.

We soon arrived at Gold Coast Inn, but apart from a mercifully better room with a mosquito net things were not greatly improved. Rather bizarrely the ‘resort’ only had one seat, a bright fuchsia garden chair which seemed to be the reserve of the village elder and which we could only use on special occasions.

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Sophia wonders where it all went wrong

We did, however, manage to hold out for at least two nights this time. Our hostess Filo was incredibly helpful and friendly and the second night we were joined by Josh and Tania, an Australian couple from Aubrey and Melbourne respectively.

We won’t dwell much on the remainder of our island-hopping tribulations in the Yasawas. The next three nights were at Korovou, which again saw another slight improvement and where we met Martin and Jemma from England and a very entertaining couple from Malaysia. Then it was on to Wayla Lai Lai, not a Fijian version of Clapton’s biggest hit but a resort on the island of the same name. This unfortunately constituted another slip down the greasy accommodation pole and we bailed out a night early.

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We’ve now thrown a bit of money at Fiji – although not a lot more – and are currently holed up at Octopus Resort. It’s rather fantastic, and we are giving serious consideration to staying here until we head to Australia. And although it probably won’t generate the same kind of blog-boosting stories, we figure we deserve it.

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A big thank you must go out to Dave and Lyndsay, James and Jenny, Joshua and Tania, Martin and Jemma. Without them we may not have made it this far. Vinaka!

Day 91: Nadi, Fiji

We write this from a very hot but very wet Fiji mainland.

In the interests of good blog-keeping Christmas was spent in Raglan, a small surf town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Far too much food and drink was consumed and even two walks along the beach failed to stem the ill-effects. Still, it was a memorable day and a Christmas barbecue has much to recommend it.

On Boxing Day (Day 90) we travelled back up north to the outskirts of Auckland, just near the airport, where we were to spend our final night.

Geographically-minded readers might at this point realise that we haven’t ventured to New Zealand’s South Island. Some may throw their hands up in disgust, some may scream ‘tragedy’, ‘criminal’ or sit mute with shock. But hear us out.

We had a difficult decision to make. Do we spend most of our time behind the wheel and in petrol stations? Do we merely scratch the surface of the two islands? Or do we instead explore the North Island with at least a medium-sized toothcomb? In the end we decided we had too much respect for New Zealand to subject it to a wham-bam-thank-you-mam two-island tour. Besides, it gives us an excuse to come back!

And New Zealand being New Zealand, even our final night, in a campsite only a couple of miles from the airport, provided us with one last taste of the country’s natural beauty – a beautiful honey and blood-orange sunset.

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Today’s flight to Fiji was supposed to be with Air Pacific but New Zealand Airways had to step-in – seamlessly, one must add – at the last minute. It was our gain. Check out the safety information video that was provided. And play it loud. It received a deserved round of applause at the end. A classic!

NZ Airlines Safety Journey

From tomorrow morning and for the next two weeks we will be island-hopping across the Yasawa Islands. They are north-west of Fiji’s two major land masses and should hopefully be drier and sunnier than elsewhere in the region at this time of year. Here’s hoping anyway.

We’ve been told not to expect any banks, shops or Internet access, so the blog may well lie dormant for a while (I’m sure bloggers and blogees alike could do with a little rest).

So if you don’t hear from us we hope you all have a great Hogmanay. We’ll leave it to Barney and his friend to wish you a Happy New Year. Here’s to a fun-filled, healthy and prosperous 2012.

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