Tanlines in ANZ and Fiji

Tanlines in ANZ and Fiji

Before the big move to Canada, I took two months to explore Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. I met lovely folk, saw beautiful landscapes and discovered that my face is 70% cheeks and 30% teeth.

Australia

Brisbane

We have a lot of family in Brisbane, but unfortunately we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like. My Aunt had recently got married, and I got to spend some quality time seeing everyone and catching up. All the tiny people had grown up way too fast and there were even new babies to play with. As I’d been to Brisbane before, I didn’t do a lot of the touristy things, but I really enjoyed the Museum of Brisbane, Mount Coo-tha Lookout, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Botanical Gardens. I also unleashed my inner kid at Dreamworld theme park, riding all the rollercoasters and eating ice cream.

Cabarita and Stradbroke

We took some day trips to Cabarita Beach and Stradbroke Island. We did some lovely coastal walks, and in Stradbroke my cousin showed us where the dolphins swam by. They were curious things that came right up to the shore and we were able to feed them.

Byron Bay

I bid my relatives farewell and headed down to Byron Bay on the Gold Coast. It’s a wee beach town, consisting of one main street and the beach, and full of travellers and hippies. No shoes, no problems. Most people were inked, barefoot and sporting dreads or dyed hair. I spent a day there soaking up the sun, swimming in the ocean and meeting travellers in my hostel. The next morning a group of us got up before dawn to climb up to the lighthouse and catch a beautiful sunrise.

Coffs Harbour

I stayed in a wonderful hostel in Coffs Harbour, Aussitel, which had been recommended by a friend. The hostel organised a free trip up the hill to for a scenic walk around the rainforest, and we visited Coffs’ most iconic attraction the Big Banana. I took a trip up to Mutton Bird island, which had some fantastic views over the ocean.

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Port Macquarie

Of all the towns I visited on the East coast, I think Port Macquarie was my favourite. I took a coastal walk where I stumbled upon a collection of nudists. I was very British and ran away. I visited the Koala Hospital, where I learnt many surprising facts. For example, koalas are very fussy eaters; there are only a few species of eucalyptus they can consume, and then their palates depend on species native to the koala’s place of birth, as well as personal preference. So the hospital has a resident botanist who basically is a chef for the koalas.. We also took a trip Douglas Vale vineyard and historical home, which is run by a team of dedicated and sweet volunteers. They do a free tour and tasting, but appreciate donations which go to the upkeep of the house and grounds. I’m no connoisseur, but it was pretty damn good wine.

Sydney

I spent a few days in Sydney, and I befriended a lovely group of travellers. I stayed near The Rocks, a stone’s throw from the main landmarks. I spent a lot of time reading in the gorgeous Botanical Gardens and admiring the Opera House. We went up the Harbour Bridge pylon lookout, which had great views of the city and was more reasonable than a bridge climb. I adored the Art Gallery of New South Wales where I learnt heaps about the history and culture of the Aboriginal people and admired some cracking student art portfolios. I spent time geeking out at Sydney observatory, and we spent a cracking day at Bondi beach doing the coastal walk to Coogee. My highlight was visiting the Blue Mountains, which were phenomenal. We hiked around looking at waterfalls and mountains before hiking up the Giant Stairway. It was a pretty intense 900 steps but I was incredibly proud of myself for making it to the top. We felt like we’d earned the spectacular view of the Three Sisters.

New Zealand

New Zealand has been one of my dream destinations for such a long time, and I went on a Haka Tour, which was the perfect choice for me. We had a wonderful tour guide, Willow, and I was with two different tour groups for the North and South island. I met so many lovely people, and it’s strange how intense touring can be. All of us felt like we knew each other so well after such a short amount of time. We packed so much into  sixteen days, but it was ideal having a small group where you had a lot of flexibility. We were also very lucky with the weather, as it was on the cusp between autumn and winter, and we avoided most of the snow and rain.

Christchurch

We started in Christchurch, which was hit by an earthquake in 2011 and is still in a state of recovery. It was fascinating to see how the community has rallied, with street art and a container mall. On the drive out we were greeted by beautiful mountains, a theme which was to continue.

Lake Tekapo

We stayed in a lovely wee hostel which looked out onto the lake and surrounding mountains, and I was a bit awe-struck by the Church of the Good Shepherd. It stands on the lake shore and is an extremely popular spot for weddings. We also did some drunk stargazing by the lake and on the drive the next day we drove past Lake Pukaki with views of Mount Cook and stopped at a salmon farm and deli for lunch. It’s surreal feeding the salmon one minute and then feeding on them in the next.

Queenstown

We had a great time in Queenstown, which is often described as ‘the Banff of New Zealand’. It’s a tourist town where everyone is passing through or earning their keep to fund a lifestyle of extreme and winter sports. We took the gondola to check out the sweet view, ate some Fergburgers (the most delicious I’ve ever had), and patronised the local pubs. We took a day trip to Milford Sound, which was strangely made more dramatic by the wuthering weather, and I did a Canyon Swing (check it out) backwards and upside down.

Wanaka

A group of us tackled Mount Iron, and I was pretty pleased with myself for getting to the summit in a respectable amount of time. We all marvelled at why That Wanaka Tree is so famous, as lovely as it is, and on the road we had more scenic and food stops, including a taste of whitebait.

Franz Josef

In Franz Josef we had a lot of group bonding moments, including a limo trip to karaoke and coming fourth in the most disorganised pub quiz ever with a team name full of inside jokes. The only way to access the glacier is by air, but I did a three hour hike which brings you pretty close. My highlight in Franz was finally skydiving (check it out!) after having it on my bucket list for years. We did the alpine rail crossing back to Christchurch, which was a scenic ride full of life chats.

Kaikoura and Picton

In Christchurch the South Island group parted ways, and myself and Willow drove North to meet up with our new group. We stopped in Kaikoura, where I swam with dolphins in the open water. After that we drove to Picton where we saw seals, including baby seals learning to swim! From there we took the scenic ferry ride to the North Island and our first stop in Wellington.

Wellington

Wellington is my kind of city. We geeked out hard at the Weta workshop, learning about its history and chatting with the lucky sods who work there. I spent a whole day at Te Papa: I rode earthquake simulators, learnt about Maori culture and checked out a moving and edifying exhibition on Gallipoli, which featured huge scale sculptures by Weta. We also packed in a trip to the theatre, a visit to the night food market and a secret rooftop bar. So trendy.

Lake Taupo

On the way to Lake Taupo we drove past Taihape, famous for its gumboot throwing, and Huka falls. At Taupo we went for a late night soak in some secret hot springs. Sadly, there was too much snow on mountains for the highly anticipated Tongariro Crossing – which features the real life Mount Doom – but gives me all the more reason to go back! We did an alternative hike up Mount Tauhara which involved swinging on vines across lakes of mud, and scrambling up rocks in the dense rainforest. It had rained extensively before we arrived, so we went Grade 5 white water rafting, which was slightly terrifying and great fun.

Rotorua

On the way to Rotorua, we stopped at the Thermal Wonderland and mudpools, which were astounding and fascinating. I spent some time in Rotorua Museum learning about Maori culture and learning about space in VR. One of my favourite activities was the evening we spent at Mitai Maori Village, which is a dinner and cultural experience involving a Hāngi (traditional Maori cooking method) and performance. It was very respectful and they were welcoming of questions from the visitors, so I felt we learnt a lot.

 

Hobbiton!

I was very excited to visit the Shire and it did not disappoint. It doesn’t feel like a film set, because most of the vegetation is real and they have gardeners who tend to the grounds all year round. Hobbiton is located on a working farm, and we were told many stories about Peter Jackson’s particularity about getting Tolkien’s world right. I was delighted to answer the tour guide’s fan questions correctly and discover that I am the perfect height for a hobbit hole. At the end of the tour you can have a pint at The Green Dragon tavern, and they actually brew their own ales and ciders.

Waitomo

On the way to Waitomo we stopped at a Kiwi sanctuary at Otorohanga, but the main reason we were there was for the glowworms. I got a personal tour on my caving trip, and felt like a less glamorous version of Lara Croft in my gumboots and helmet. As well as being hobbit sized, I discovered my height was advantageous for squeezing through crevices.

Coromandel

We had a cheeky pit stop in Paeroa for some famous L&P, and in Coromandel we did a lovely coastal walk to Cathedral Cove and did a pendant bone carving workshop. Our final drive was from Coromandel to Auckland where the tour ended.

Fiji

We spent our first day in Nadi on the mainland, where we had a lovely Airbnb host who was incredibly helpful and even made us dinner! The next day we boarded the Yasawa Flyer to head to the Yasawa Islands, and our first stop was the wonderful island of Wayalailai and Naqualia resort.

Naquali

We first got off the ferry onto a bumpy little boat where folk are more often given life jackets to cushion their bums on the huge swells, and you wonder if you’re going to make it back to shore. We were greeted with a welcome song and an enthusiastic greeting of “Bula!” Very quickly we learnt to adjust to Fiji time, which means everything runs to a vague schedule and no one is surprised when things are late. The culture is quite relaxed, and after a week we were walking around barefoot and watches were only necessary for knowing when the next meal was. We were camping during our first week, which I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. We got through several bottles of sun screen and deet battling against the sun in the day and insects after sunset. Luckily we got some good breezy days and a bit of rain which broke the intensity of the heat. Besides, it’s not too bad lying in a hammock or on the beach all day working on that tan, and nothing quite beats falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.

We took a hike over the hill to another more secluded beach, away from both resort and village. There was some excellent snorkelling there and it was great having the space to ourselves. We experienced a Fijian feast, with a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a drink made from pounded roots, and pretty much looks like dirty water. I disliked it at first but by the end I was converted, and you haven’t truly been to Fiji if you haven’t tried kava. It’s mixed in a huge ceremonial bowl and then passed around the circle in bowls made from coconut shells. You are supposed to clap and say ‘Bula’ as a sign of respect. Beginners are usually given a “low tide” tiny portion, but by the end of our stay we were calling for “tsunami” where they fill the bowl to the top. Every meal had musical accompaniment followed by the sweetest words: “More food everyone”. We visited the local village and went to a church service, where we heard the most beautiful choir. We took a trip to a smaller island, which used to house a resort, which was destroyed by Cyclone Winston, and it was surreal seeing the devastation firsthand. We spent a lot of time snorkelling and walked over the sandbar between the islands to visit the village school. I loved seeing the library there, and it was moving to see how few books there were, but how every one was clearly well-thumbed and treasured. We met some great travellers and spent a lot of time drinking and playing card games.

Blue Lagoon (i.e. the worst place ever)

We took the Flyer furthest North to Nacula Island. Blue Lagoon Resort, a ridiculous fancy and non Fijian run resort, was supposed to be the luxury portion of the holiday but quickly turned into a nightmare. In summary, it started with the worst restaurant service ever, but after we complained it escalated into the general manager shouting at us and pretty much accusing us of being liars and freeloaders. There was no real attempt to make amends for the horrible experience we had while we were there and we are definitely following up and complaining higher up. Even so, we refused to let it spoil our holiday and swiftly moved on to Oarsman’s Bay, which unfortunately was next door, but fortunately was lovely.

Oarsman’s Bay

After hearing of our experiences at Blue Lagoon, the manager offered us a bure (cabin) for the camping price, which we happily accepted. It was a lovely little place with an open air shower, which made for a spectacular way to start the day. We had some great communal dinners with the other travellers and the beach was absolutely gorgeous. We did a hike where we could see all the way to the other side of the island, and our trip to the famous Samailau cave was breathtaking. We also kayaked out to a private island to spend the day snorkelling and sunbathing. You can pay an extortionate amount to camp there overnight…or do what we did and kayak there and back for the day for next to nothing.

We ended the trip back to our Fijian home of Naqualia. It was lovely to see familiar faces and we treated ourselves to a discounted bure, as they were so chuffed and welcoming upon our return. We hiked to the summit of the island for sunset, had some fabulous snorkelling days and watched the locals spearfishing our supper.

It was finally time to go home, and now to plan the big move to Canada!

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