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Written on: Sunday April 8th, 2007

A journal entry from: The Winter of 2006/2007

Pam and Bill brought over a bottle of bubbly for happy hour on our last night in Mapua, we?ve really enjoyed their company so it was good to have one last social gathering with them.  It made us reflect on how many friendly, helpful people we?ve met over the past five months, they?ve certainly been an important part of our trip.


We?d decided that we would have one more golf game on our last day in New Zealand but didn?t know where it would be until we saw what the weather was like on Saturday morning as the weather forecast for Mapua area wasn?t good.  However we woke to beautiful skies so we decided to play Greenacres one last time on Saturday morning and then drive to Christchurch in the afternoon. 


The company that Mike had been renting the car from weren?t able to come through with a van to accommodate all of our luggage for our drive to Christchurch so we ended up taking two cars which turned out to be great as Mike and Jean have driven the route to Christchurch a number of times so had ?done? the scenic stops, Roger and I were able to stop a couple of times on route.  This did mean that we got a bit lost looking for the motel in Christchurch so Mike and Jean arrived about an hour before us and had already found out there was a fish and chip restaurant around the corner.  What they didn?t realise was that it was ?take out? but the food was good, we paid $6.40 for two huge servings and were highly entertained watching the Asian staff serve numerous people in a very organized and hygienic way.  Mike and Jean wanted to visit the botanical gardens the next day before our flight to Auckland but Roger and I preferred having a look at the coastline so we again went our separate ways.  We drove to Brighton Beach, a very popular name for beaches we?ve found.  We found a walking street with outside eating areas and had a great breakfast but we paid as much for our coffees as we had for the whole meal the night before.  We then had a walk along the dunes and onto Brighton Pier.  A guy had done a sand sculpture which could be enjoyed from the pier, he had a collection point where you could attempt to throw in coins ? Roger got close but he reckons the wind interfered with his shot, same excuse as on the golf course.


In the afternoon we met up with Jean and Mike at the airport and caught our flight to Auckland where we stayed overnight at a nearby hotel.  It was one of the best organized hotels we?ve ever stayed in and I had one of the best restaurant meals I?ve had in the last five months.  However the restaurant was a bit pricey so the next morning we decided to go to the airport, check in our luggage and have breakfast there.  Checking in was a bit of a drama and we ended up having to pay an excess luggage fee for our golf clubs, all the flights we?ve been on over the past five months we?ve never had to pay extra, so we weren?t too pleased but it was only $40 and we know that you can sometimes pay $7 per kilo.


The flight was smooth and the service good, Roger thought he should try to drink the excess baggage charge in complimentary scotches but it was only a three and a half hour flight!!  We arrived in Fiji to Fijians singing in the airport and shouting ?Bula?, which interprets into many things ? hello, how are you, good morning.  The people here say it all the time and are quite offended if you don?t say it back with enthusiasm.   We negotiated a taxi fee to our hotel ? World Mark Resort which Mike booked through a time share that he owns.  Most of the resorts near Nadi are on Denarau Island which is about a 20 minute drive from the airport, a small bridge leads to the Island so no boats for this trip.  We were greeted with ?Bulas? and  melon on sugar cane sticks and then shown to our suite which has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a deck overlooking the swimming pool area and the ocean.  We also had a full kitchen and sitting/eating area but we ate out most of the time and usually sat on the deck or went down to the pool area.  For the first few days the weather followed the same pattern, we?d get up to gorgeous skies but the clouds would roll in by lunch time and then the thunder would start followed by rain and then usually by sunset the sky had begun to clear again.  We had some phenomenal sunsets, a Fijian band would play at the pool edge with the ocean as a background and as the sun set, the drums would start and the torch lighter would take his leisurely jog around the pool lighting the torches on his way.  


The first morning Jean, being the early riser, went out for a walk with one of the resort staff for about an hour so she got orientated and then we all went for a walk along the beach as far as we could before running into some excavation work and had to turn back.  As we walked along the beach we passed several resorts including a Sheraton, Sofitel, Westin, one run by the Hilton chain and a Raddison under construction, all have their own restaurants and the Sheraton has a small shopping area ? quite expensive though. 


Most evenings we ate at the Seafront Restaurant at our resort, the staff there went from extremely shy to Louisa who is very gregarious.  She certainly kept us entertained, even if she wasn?t serving our table she would come over to give us some snippet of information or playfully dig Mike or Roger in the ribs.  One of those characters that have a joy of life that they pass on to everyone else.  One night we took the free shuttle bus that has a circular route between the resorts and Port Denarau and had dinner at the Port, yet another beautiful spot overlooking the marina, the food was good too but quite expensive.  In fact Fiji is right up there in price, it seems that wherever you go in the world if you stay in the most tourist areas you pay North American prices.


We decided that we?d play golf one day, take an island cruise one day, take a bus trip into Nadi town one day and spend the rest of the time around the resort.   Denarau Golf and Raquet Club is just across the road from our resort so we were able to walk across to the club house and pay the expensive green fees, $95 Fiji each for Rog and me but we wanted the experience of playing in Fiji.   The course layout was good but the greens were terrible, not sure if they?re always like that or it?s because of the floods that happened in February.  We played in the morning and got extremely hot and sticky so were glad that we could jump in the pool to cool off once back at the resort.


The bus trip into Nadi was quite an experience.  The bus picked us up at outside of our hotel and started on the same route that we?d come in from the airport but then suddenly it took a right hand turn onto a wet potholed unpaved road.  We were in true Fiji now, the houses were modest but well separated and each had a piece of land with sometimes a cow tethered in the yard.  In one area each house had a gravestone in the front yard, it would seem it?s the custom to bury your dead on your own property.  Must make selling a home difficult!!  We were told later that we?d passed through about four villages on our trip which only took about 45 minutes.  It was very slow driving as the road was very bad, along the way we picked up the villagers who were amazingly well turned out to say they live in such muddy conditions.  It was again reminiscent of Mexico where the people manage to look very clean with limited laundry facilities.  Eventually we alighted the bus at the edge of Main Street, we walked along the street looking into the various shops and were bombarded ?it will cost you nothing to come in and have a look?.   We could only take that for so long before we had to pick up a taxi and get back to the resort.  We decided the bus trip was a one time experience, the taxi took us back along paved roads.


We had learned that Fiji is made up of 332 islands, some of them uninhabited.  Mike had made arrangements for us to see just a few of these islands by booking us on and island cruise. It was a full day outing, we were picked up in a bus at our resort and taken to Port Denarau ? only ten minutes away.  When we got off the bus it was total chaos, there were people milling around everywhere and no-one seemed to know what was going on, I?ve been reading books about immigrants from Europe coming into North America and realised just how confusing it must have been for them when they got off the boat. Miraculously though, within half an hour we were lining up for the catamaran complete with a wrist band so that we could get free drinks on the island.   Half an hour after we left the ferry terminal  we spotted a small island with beautiful sandy beaches and we boarded a smaller boat for transfer to the island.  On the island was a large building with a backpackers sleeping area on the second floor and a bar and sitting area downstairs.  All around the islands were sunbeds, chairs and tables and lots of shade trees and palapas.  We were greeted by a large Fijian lady who had us all shouting ?Bula? at her and she explained just how our visit would run, very bossy she was but fun.  We started off by climbing back onto the transfer boat which took us to a yellow submarine.  We climbed into the bottom of it where there were windows on both sides, the submarine then went along the coral which was beautiful and we were able to see lots of different fish.  After the submarine trip we were taken back to the island, picked up our snorkel gear and then taken back out on the boat where we fed fish and snorkelled around them.  It was fantastic, there were tons of colourful fish, blue, yellow, rainbow, zebra and because they?re used to being fed they come right up to you.  I held out my hand, without any food in it and one of the fish pinched the end of my finger.   Once back on the island we put our snorkel gear back on and went swimming just off the beach.  The coral was only about forty feet from the shore and so we were able to swim with the fish again, the water was so warm and we were so buoyant it was easy floating around with the fish.  We think we spotted a reef shark but it obviously wasn?t interested in us as we only saw it as it was swimming away.   At noon the drums banged to let us know that lunch was ready so we had to come out of the water with great regret.   When planning the Cruise we did have the option of staying on the island for the full day but thought that might be a bit much, we were now beginning to realise that we could easily have enjoyed relaxing on the beach and doing another couple of snorkel trips and there were kayaks available too at no extra cost ? ah well.  We had a great lunch of barbecued meat and salads and then we boarded the transfer boat to go out to meet the catamaran again.  We then cruised to about five different islands in the Mananuca group, we didn?t realise that there were so many resort islands and we were actually dropping off people who were staying on them and picking up those who were leaving and returning to Nadi.  The weather was perfect, the first day without rain we couldn?t have timed it better.  The catamaran had us back at the port by 3:30 pm and we were back at the resort in time for a cool down swim and a read by the pool before dinner.    


Our timing has been right on so many things but unfortunately the TV channels at World Mark Resort are limited and to our dismay we found that we wouldn?t be able to see the Masters Golf Tournament.  Mike checked at the golf course and they were airing it for three hours at 8 am on two days and 3 pm on our last day.  Jean and Mike watched right from 8 am each day but Roger and I went for a walk first and then caught the last hour.  Again the staff at the golf club were very friendly greeting Mike and Jean with hugs when they arrived to watch on the second day. 


Before we knew it we were back at Nadi airport again, this time no extra baggage charge, we reckon we had a rookie in Auckland who did everything by the book.  The flight went smoothly but of course LA airport was it?s usual zoo, another plane was at the gate our plane was supposed to go to, so we had to wait until another gate became available and when we eventually got to that, the docking bridge wouldn?t work, then there was a huge line-up at US immigration.  Although we?d originally had three hours between flights in LA, that time was fast whittling away and we were beginning to worry we wouldn?t make our LA-Vancouver flight.  Once through immigration though it was plain sailing except for a small hiccup when Roger tried to get through security with the duty free we?d bought in Fiji.  We were told it would have to go in our checked baggage but the baggage was already checked.  Back to Alaska check-in area and they were very helpful finding us a box and packing it with newspaper so our duty free was waiting for us in Vancouver when we arrived on time. 


Our flight to Penticton was bumpy ? as always ? but we were almost home so it didn?t seem to matter too much and a short taxi drive saw us opening our front door.  Victor who lived in our house during the winter had done a super job of looking after it and all looked good.  He?d even left us some Easter chocolates and a card.