New Zealand to Fiji

We suddenly remembered last night that we hadn’t confirmed our flights and Simon borrowed Nick’s computer to do so. Good job as apparently our flight isn’t until 6pm tonight and we would have been gutted if we had got up at 4am and rushed to the airport only to be told our flight wasn’t for another 13 hours! As it was we didn’t get up until late and spent the morning researching places to stay in Fiji. It looks beautiful and I’m so excited and can’t wait to get there now.

Simon books a backpackers close to Nadi airport for tonight and we plan to make our way to a beach resort tomorrow or the day after. At 3pm Nick takes us to the airport having managed to get off early from work in order to be able to do so (Saving us around 50 dollars in taxi fare) we say our goodbyes and send Roni our love and thanks. They’ve been so great and we’re really grateful to them both.

We check in, pay our 75 dollars departure tax and make our way upstairs to the bar. Maisie, Ali and I then wander around the bookshop for ages before making our decisions on which books to buy for our beach holiday of the next few weeks. We get Ali the final Alex Rider book and I chose A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini- author of The Kite Runner).

Soon its time to board and after driving the plane for what seems like ages around the airport the pilot takes off. As the flight is destined for LA we are pleased to see it’s a big jumbo and get nicely settled for the 2 and a half hours to Nadi. As usual with the short flights the time literally seems to fly and before long we start to descend.

As we get off the plane the warm, balmy tropical air hits us. Hurray!!! So so glad to be here and our high expectations of Fiji are all confirmed, as we collect our baggage we’re serenaded by a 4 piece band of guitarists playing some kind of hula music! We have arranged a free pick up from the airport and are herded into a mini van with another few people. When we arrive I’m so happy. The Nadi Bay Resort Backpackers is really good, much better than I expected for the money we have paid. (112 Fijian dollars- exchange rate 3 dollars to the pound) and has 2 swimming pools, 3 restaurants and a huge room for us that we’re sharing.

10pm- The kids are a bit tired and moaning so we stick them up in the room and tell them they have to stay there whilst we go for a beer downstairs. On the whole trip I think we have only done this maybe a few times but its good to get away from them for half an hour and have a beer in peace!

11pm- Off to bed now feeling really tired and so happy to have to put the aircon instead of the electric blanket.

Last day in New Zealand

Well at last our last day here has arrived and we spend it organising ourselves ready for our flight to Fiji tomorrow. First to do is to get to the dentist and see if I need something temporary doing to my tooth. After driving around 2 or 3 medical centres we eventually get an appointment at 1045. I’m completely petrified and snappy, which isn’t too helpful as Maisie’s still really poorly. I’m finding it very stressful as I don’t want to leave her at Nick and Roni’s without any way to contact us and the poor thing dozes in the car as we sit outside the dentist waiting for my appointment.

I needn’t have worried, the dentist was lovely and after pulling my filling about with that jabby thing they use informed me that despite the fact half my tooth is missing the filling is stable and should last for the next 5 weeks whilst we are in the South Pacific Islands. Good- no drilling today. We make our way to the shopping mall and get a few things we need, Maisie seems to have made a miraculous recovery for the time being anyway and insists on gobbling down a plate of sushi for lunch.

Of all the places we had to visit on our trip New Zealand was the place I was the least excited about. For years I had imagined it to be very much like England with sheep and rugby and in many ways it is a bit like that. What I wasn’t really prepared for though is how beautiful it is, we have seen some of the most stunning scenery here of our whole trip and despite the sometimes more than freezing weather we have had fun here. The highlights of New Zealand for me have definitely been the 3 days we spent skiing and snow boarding. We LOVED it. So much fun, I never thought I would enjoy it so much and proudly displayed my bruises and injured knee.

Milford Sound was awesome and Whale Watching in Kaikoura was a wonderful and moving experience that seemed to sum up New Zealand for me. I’ll never forget it. We’ve met some friendly people along the way, especially the shearers in Waipura and of course Nick and Roni. A massive thanks to them for letting us stay with them. It has been a relief today to let Maisie sit and watch DVD’s all afternoon in the comfort of a home rather than a hotel and we owe them big time.

We have to get up really early, I think around 4am for our flight to Nadi tomorrow. We have checked with the UK foreign office and despite last December’s coup it seems it’s completely safe to travel there. Good news for us, unfortunately for the Fijians their tourism industry has been badly damaged and prices are therefore much cheaper than they were a year ago. Can’t wait to get there and get some sunshine. BBC World Weather said its 29 degrees and intermittent sunshine. That will do nicely.

Mt Eden, Shopping & Hospital!

We didn’t wake up until nearly 10am and had a very slow start to the day. Simon and Nick used to play rugby together for OPO’s and as Nick has been living in New Zealand for years they have a bit of catching up to do.

We drive out to Mt Eden, one of 38 extinct volcanoes around Auckland city. Maisie is a bit concerned we might have to walk to the top but to her obvious relief we drive up. We stand and look down into the crater which is really cool, it’s very windy up here and we have fantastic views of the city and landmarks which an extremely knowledgeable Nick points out to us.

After lunch at Nando’s, Nick showed us around the city some more before we head to an art and craft centre to buy a few souvenirs. There are loads of really nice things but as usual we don’t buy too much and settle for a cheese board and knife set thing. We’ve eaten loads of cheese and biscuits here and I figured we will be reminded of here when we sit with our wine and cheese at home reminiscing about the trip.

By now Maisie is complaining of bellyache so we set off home stopping off at Borders to get a Lonely Planet for the South Pacific Islands and the latest Harry Potter book. The LP is going to cost 57 dollars and Nick kindly says we can have his copy- what a star! Just after we arrive Roni gets home and we plan to get pizza later for dinner. Unfortunately our plans don’t work out too well as by 6pm Maisie is crying with her tummyache and we decide to take her to the hospital for a check. A relatively painless hour later, minus 85 dollars we leave, clutching a prescription for antibiotics and analgesia. (Another drama dealt with!)

Ali and Roni have been watching the film The Great Escape and after ordering pizza we crash out with a few beers. Tomorrow we have to sort our shit out ready for the flight to Fiji on the 3rd.

Auckland & SkyJump

Today has been a day of great excitement for us. After packing up and happily leaving smelly Rotorua we head just out of town to some adventure place Simon and Ali have read about. They try to tempt me out of the car with the promise of a sheep show but I’m not having any of that in the drizzly rain. The plan is to have a look at the Zorbs and bungy and in the end Maisie decides she is going to have a go on the “Freefall Xtreme”. Not too sure why it was called that as rather than falling anywhere you get blown up in the air by a giant fan.

We pay the required 45 dollars and after a quick explanation Maisie gets into her suit and scrambles across the bouncy thing towards the blower. What a disaster! I don’t know whether she was too light but it seems she just can’t stay in the flying position and twists her neck when she falls. Tears all round and we get her out of the suit and Ali into it!

He thinks its great and we laughed so much watching him on it, his cheeks seemed to literally fill with air and were so blown out it looked liked his face would pop!

We stop for lunch in a place called Hamilton and then get back in the car for the rest of the journey to Auckland. We are going to be staying with Simon’s friend Nick and his wife Roni for a few days and I’m looking forward to meeting them and spending a few days at their place.

We get to Auckland and drive past the Skytower in the city centre. Ali has been obsessing about jumping off something tall here in NZ and we tell him it’s now or never. (Cut the talking about it) He decides he’s going for it and we park the car and head for the Skytower Experience desk. I think undoubtedly I’m more scared than he is. Its described as the worlds highest base wire jump (192 m) over 50 m higher than Nevis Highwire Bungy and while Simon gets him in his suit I run off to the toilet for a little cry. I’m proud of him though and I think it’s definitely the best thing to just do it and not spend hours agonising over whether it’s too scary or not.

I give him a quick hug and the fella takes him off. We can watch from a platform and I find I can hardly bear to look up. The tower seems so tall and I can only imagine how nerve wracking it must be standing there by the edge. Before we know it we hear 3, 2, 1 and down he comes, a terrific speed it looked awesome and he’s so thrilled and shaky. Thank god he’s down in one piece!

A pretty quick way to spend 145 dollars and Ali’s delighted when the fella asks him if he wants another go for free. He must be mad but virtually skips back up for another go!

We make our way to Nick and Roni’s house and stop on the way to buy some flowers, wine and beer(called Bowman’s Beer-how cool!). I also get some cashew nut popcorn which turns out to be a big mistake, whilst munching it down I realise the gritty “popcorn” is actually a tooth filling and further investigation reveals half my tooth has fallen off (presumably swallowed)- Shit. If there is one thing I hate more than heights its the dentist and it has taken me the past 7 years to get used to Dr Bram (Stoker) my dentist at home and be able to go there without becoming completely hysterical. On a positive note it’s not hurting much and we decide to think about it later.

At last we reach Nick and Roni’s house and its great to be there, it’s a lovely house, really big but cosy with the wood burner and cheeky dog Drum who has a nip at Maisie as if for fun! They are so welcoming and make us feel very at home straight away. We go to the pub for dinner and sit chatting for a couple of hours over a few beers before heading back and off to bed. Tomorrow Nick has taken the day off to show us around a bit and we’re looking forward to seeing a bit more of Auckland.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

We’ve had a really good day today, when I woke up about 9ish the first thing I noticed was the terrible smell. Due to the sulphuric pools the town of Rotorua absolutely stinks and although the evil eggy smells seem to come and go they definitely have come back with a vengeance this morning. Simon goes and buys some bacon and after having bacon sandwiches for breakfast we get in the car and head for town. First stop is the bookshop, having the time to read has been one of the best things about this trip and I have added joining a library to my list of things to do when we get home. As I enjoyed reading Wild Swans so much and also want to reread it again I am going to send it home in a few days and therefore have to swap Ali’s Alex Rider book instead. What I really want to buy is the latest Harry Potter book but we haven’t seen it on sale anywhere so far here.

We pay for a family ticket (57 dollars) for entrance to the Maori Village of Whakarewarewa. Try saying that when you’ve had a few shandies. The entrance price includes a guided tour of the village and a cultural show. The lady who shows us around is called Irenie and is very friendly and welcoming.

The Maori Village is built in a thermal area and the whole village is a mass of steaming holes, geysers, mud pools and hot water pools. Many of the pools are boiling and although it looks tempting to jump in she explains even the water in the bathing areas is upto 60 degrees and has to be cooled using a cold water hose. She shows us the food cooking areas which all have pots of various meals steaming away. In one of the pools is a big bag of corn cobs. Although I’m a bit dubious about trying these due to the stink Irenie assures us the smell doesn’t permeate the food and the steam is in fact good for you. Hmmm! I don’t know about that, how can anything that smells so vile be good for you!

We stand watching the geyser for a little while; it’s very impressive and can at times reach 30 feet into the air. We couldn’t go too close as apparently the NZ government own the land and themselves run guided tours of the area for a lot more money than we have paid. Irenie also shows us the local hall which is used for ceremonies and we have a wander around the souvenir shop.

At 2pm we watch the cultural show. The 8 Maori performers open the show with a traditional welcome and speech and to be honest in the cold drizzly afternoon air it did all seem a little bit strange. To my ignorant eyes it seemed a bit like a cross between a sort of South Pacific Hula and a gospel church worship. When they performed the famous Haka it did make us laugh as it does appear funny but despite this quite impressive and I can imagine very scary if there were more warriors doing it. I’m not too sure of the authenticity of all this and this wasn’t helped by seeing the “Maori Maidens” leaving afterwards in their jeans in a Landrover with their cigarettes in their mouths but despite all that we loved it. It was a great show performed with loads of enthusiasm by a really friendly group of people.

Volcanic Activity Centre & Craters of the Moon

We got up about 8am and after breakfast set off for the Volcanic Centre. Its seems that there could be no better place in the world for Ali and Maisie to learn about volcanoes than here and despite the fact that it is absolutely pissing down with rain we’re all looking forward to the day. The Volcanic Centre isn’t very big but has some good displays including a model of the worlds 8 tectonic plates which we build, a room where we experience a 6.1 (on the Richter Scale) earthquake, loads of information including explanations of magma, calderas, lava etc and a 20 minutes video showing footage of the eruption of Mt Ruapehu in 1995/6.

We buy a miniature table volcano to play with later and I get a face mask made from thermal mud. Next we stop at the Geothermal Walk area called Craters of the Moon. Although it’s raining very heavily we really want to get out and have a good look around. The kids aren’t as cheerful as earlier and the atmosphere as we make our way around the boardwalks isn’t very happy. Still it only takes us about an hour and is definitely one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The area is covered with steam vents and mud pools and it’s quite a strange experience listening to the steam pouring out of the earth in huge clouds. Although you weren’t supposed to go too near, we did and although expected it’s weird to feel the heat coming out of the ground.

Back in the car we’re fairly soaked and decide to drive to Rotorua about 40 minutes away. When we arrive we vote for pizza hut for lunch and spend an hour in there stuffing our faces which cheers the kids up no end. We book into a motel. It’s a nice place with a Jacuzzi out the back and we pour loads of bubble bath in before jumping in. Our own foam party! The kids have been concentrating on literacy for the past week and practicing their writing and spelling (Maisie!). They do some good work, researching famous volcanoes on the internet, making notes and then presenting the information to us. Ali presented Mt Vesuvius and Kilauea and Maisie presented Mt Fuji and Tambora. Well done kids.

We spent the evening watching a couple of films from the local video shop and eating sweets and chocolate for dinner. Tomorrow we’re going to the Maori Village in an effort to learn a bit about Maori Culture so looking forward to that.

Lake Taupo

We asked the fella if we could have a late check out this morning and he agrees so don’t get going until about 11.30. We are driving to Lake Taupo and I’m looking forward to getting there and admiring some of the scenery. If South Island is famous for the Southern Alps then the North Island is known for volcanoes, hot springs, mud pools and geysers.

We stop after about an hour and have some lunch in a caf� that�s attached to an indoor climbing centre. Maisie doesn’t want a go but Ali is straight up the wall. (I guess his fear of heights has now gone) It was really high and he had a good time trying the different walls although he said it was quite tiring.

We get to Lake Taupo and book into a motel with a lake view. Lake Taupo was the site of the world’s largest ever volcanic explosion and the lake fills the remaining crater. On the way we passed through Tongariro National Park and 3 volcanoes including Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. Mt Ruapehu is the highest and most active of the regions volcanoes. In 1995 and 1996 Ruapehu erupted showering volcanic rock high into the air and emitting massive clouds of ash and steam. (Ruined the ski season) Mt Ngauruhoe is famous as the mountain used in Lord of the Rings as Mt Doom, as well as being smaller than the other volcanoes it is also younger and the slopes to its summit are still perfectly symmetrical.

I spent the evening reading my book- Wild Swans by Jung Chang. It’s an amazing story and makes me want to go back to China. I wish I had read it before we went there as much of the author’s life was spent in Chengdu (One of the places we visited). I think it is giving me a bit more understanding of the Chinese people and I think I am realising more the true extent of the hardships experienced by the Chinese during the Mao years. Difficult for me to comprehend really.

North Island

We were up bright and early this morning as we have to catch the ferry at 9am. We were supposed to take the car back yesterday but Simon rang the company and we book it for another 5 days. He got this for 100 dollars which is good and we now plan to hand it back in Auckland.

The ferry is OK a big passenger ferry with shops, tv lounge and cinema etc. We sit reading for the majority of the three hour journey and it seems to go faster than I expected. When we get of the other end we head for a place called Palmerston North. There isn’t too much here but it’s halfway to Lake Taupo our next destination and there is the NZ Rugby Museum to have a wander round, which we do. It’s quite good, so much information about the All Blacks and I have to share the toilet with a huge cardboard cut out of Jonah Lomu. ( The only rugby player I had heard of until I met Simon)

We decide we will stay the night here and book into a smart looking motel. Its 140 dollars but the fella did knock 30 dollars off the price and we’re swayed by the free wifi and the lure of a Jacuzzi/Spa in the conservatory at the back of the apartment. – Yay! We all warm up and have a good soak, actually it’s too hot and we can only stick it for about 20 minutes. Probably enough for a spa anyway, I feel a bit dizzy afterwards!

We decide we’ll have pizza for dinner and Simon goes to get it, kids have just informed me tonights offering on Sky is Mr and Mrs Smith so guess we’ll be watching that. I am looking forward to getting to Fiji so we can start going out for dinner again at night. Because it’s cold here and the motels are quite pricey we tend to stay in, in an effort to save a bit of cash and keep warm!

Whale Watching

We’ve had a great day today. After checking out of our motel we drive down to the quay and check in at the Whale Watch reception desk for 10.30. We have time for a quick coffee and watch a short documentary about the Giant Sperm Whales we are hoping to see today. We couldn’t have picked a better day for it. Its beautiful, clear blue skies, nice and warm and lovely calm sea.

We catch a bus to the boat which is a large, fast catamaran called Tohora. Only one company offers trips to whale watch and although it keeps the prices quite high its good as it means the whales aren’t too harassed. There are several different types of whales, dolphins and seals found just off the coast here and the guide Emma explains that it’s due to a huge and very deep chasm in the seabed which is found just off the Kaikoura shoreline. In particular the Sperm Whales like to live in deep water scouring the bottom of the ocean for their favourite food of squid and there are resident and migratory whales in the area at the moment.

We motor out to sea doing around 26 knots and note the spotter plane overhead. As well as the planes the company uses equipment that pick up the echo location sounds the whales make. It’s really exciting, we’re only allowed on deck once a whale has been spotted and after about 10 minutes Emma excitedly urges us all on deck quickly. Four whales have been spotted on the surface and we head for two that are together. The whales come to the surface to breathe but have an amazing capacity for holding their breath (Over 2 hours). They usually lie on the surface of the water for about 10 minutes before diving again.

It is awesome! So amazing seeing them, they’re massive up to 25 metres long and I really feel so privileged to be able to share such a wonderful experience with Simon and the kids. When the whale decides to dive after 5 minutes the image of it tail flicking up in the air in the classic pose has everyone on the boat entranced.

We spend about an hour out on the water and we’re so lucky, we get to see at least 6 good and close sightings of the Sperm Whales with a lovely flick of their tail when diving on 3 occasions. We motor back to the shore and on the way view a Fur Seal colony sunning themselves on the rocks. It’s been a great trip, well worth the money and we’ve all loved it.

On the way back we listen to Emma giving some information about the threat to the whales including whaling, (Goes on in 23 countries – Japan, Norway and Iceland -worst offenders) global warming, accidental capture in nets, toxic wastes and plastic. She tells us some horror stories such as a whale found beached in Queensland in OZ a few years ago with 26 square metres of plastic in its stomach. A sad and sobering end to the morning.

We get back and have some lunch before buying a few books in a second hand bookstore, then its back in the car for another 2 and a half hour journey to Picton. We arrive around 6pm and book into a cheapo motel (100 dollars) before going shopping for dinner. I’m going to bed now I’ve been tired all day and need a good kip. Tomorrow we’re catching the ferry to the North Island and have to get up a little earlier.

Kaikoura

Today has been such a long day. Seven hours of almost solid driving from the South West coast to the North East. The weather was so bad, really heavy rain and mist and our views of lakes, mountains and rivers were only occasionally broken up by sheep. We arrived at Kaikoura around 6pm and having found a motel room book a trip to go whale watching tomorrow. Fairly expensive at $380 but it sounds cool and we’re all quite excited about going.

We go up the pub for dinner and have roast pork. Not as good as home but not bad. Back at the motel I go to bed leaving Simon writing yesterday’s blog about glacier walking. Early start tomorrow.