Friday, January 15, 2016

Christmas Break Travels

Our break this year was from Dec 18 to Jan 8th. What did we get up to? I believe we maximized our time away from work with a trip to the South Island with Beth's parents, who came over for their 3rd visit, and a trip to Fiji with our friends Helen and James for scuba diving. Within this period we had a couple nights in Auckland where we met up with some friends.

South Island Adventure:

The plan was to fly into Queenstown and spend a couple days there prior to heading up to do the Routeburn Track. With my recent ankle injury, I had to pull out of the tramp, which was good as I could only walk for about 20 minutes on uneven flat ground before my ankle was in a lot of pain. So I dropped Beth and her parents off at the trail head and drove to Te Anau to spend Christmas in a hostel. I was in a room with a German couple for one night and then we added a French guy the 2nd evening. I spent most of my time reading books punctuated with short walks around town. I then drove up to the trail head to pick up Beth and her parents on the 27th, but thought I would try to meet them on the trail. So I left early, as I was to meet them around 2pm at the trail head. I was there shortly after 9 and I put on my ankle brace and proceeded to walk 1km in about 20 minutes before turning around. I could go up fine but coming down the tricky loose rock wasn't going to be fun. Especially as my ankle got sore and tired. I proceeded to sit in the car for a couple hours reading. They made it to the end at about noon. They were happy that I was early as they didn't feel sitting around for a couple hours for me to show up for the original meet up time. I then drove back to Manapouri, about 20 minutes from Te Anau, where Beth had secured a Bach for us. A Bach is a cabin or holiday home that people will often rent out. It was a quaint little place that had beds for 7 or so people.

We headed back into Te Anau for groceries and to eat out. We also watched a local film about the Milford Sounds at the 1 movie theater. I tried to see Star Wars again on Christmas night, but they had the 2 worst seats available. Either corner in the front row. I opted to finish yet another book. I finished 7 and I'm 84% through my current book. We did a boat tour out to Doubtful Sound where we were treated to some fine weather. They hadn't had rain in 6 days, so many of the waterfalls were not flowing. In this region, the rainfall is measured in meters. Typically it rains 2 out of 3 days, so they were experiencing a bit of a drought.

On New Year's Eve, we woke up early to drive to Queenstown to catch our flight back to Auckland via Christchurch. We were met/picked up by Peter, who was trying to get the most visits to an airport without being a taxi in the span of a week. I believe his tally was going to be 6. Of course that has to take into account that his parents were flying in a couple days later. Then spending a few days utilizing our place before heading down to the South Island. Even doing the same boat trip out to Doubtful Sounds as us.

Our plans for New Year's was to meet up with some friends for dinner, chin wagging, drinks, and possibly fireworks. This was changed when some of our friends decided to eat dinner with family. Then we said to another friend go ahead and hit the BBQ with your mates. We'll meet up later. Well later happened to be after 10 when we got the text. We were already snuggled in bed. We were boarding a plane to go to Fiji for 9 days.

Prior to leaving on our trip, we dropped Bill and Betsy off at the museum in the Domain. This would be their 2nd visit to the museum, but it was a good way to spend a very rainy day. The next day the were starting their return trip to WI with another short stop of in HI to see Mike, Sara (Beth's sister), and the grand kids. They packed a lot of travel in their short time here, but its not very often that they visit.

As we were loaning our car to Peter, while we away he dropped us off at the airport again. Little did we know that on the first day of this trip, the battery would die. He replaced it for us, but we'll be taking him out to dinner after his parents go back to the States as a form of repayment.

Fiji Bound:
We met up with Helen and James in the check-in line. I had to look around to see if our cameraman Karl was anywhere around. Why do you ask? It was very similar to the dive trip that Beth won the previous year, where we had Karl documenting the entire thing. We flew into Nadi, with the worst child in the history of the world in front of Beth. I think the only person more furious than us was the person sitting in front of the little Beelzebub. This thing was probably 2-3 years old. It only knew how to use high pitch squeal, violent kicks, taunting/movie pausing finger jabs, and waiving a tea cup around as what could be constituted as communication. The parents put cotton in their ears and watched movies while ignoring the beast as it went nuts. It stood on the seat, reached around the headrest and frequently paused Beth's movie. The hands would then proceed to linger there until Beth shooed them away. All the while the squeal would be emanating from its maw. When its butt could find the seat, it was unleashing Chun Li's Lightening Kick to the seat back in front. Otherwise, that passenger had the sweaty hands of death itself draped over his headrest with the shrill sound 'eeeeee' in his ear. We were treated with the look of utter dismay, but the flight attendant when the child presented its cup for hot tea all the while doing what looked to be the pee-pee dance. The father tried to hold the cup still and nodded his head for the drink to be poured. I guess he has hoping to be severely burned by the hot beverage so he could spend some time away from the ball of destruction he created.

Upon arrival in Nadi, Beth went to get our rental car while I got accosted several times by cabbies looking to take me somewhere. Helen and James were slow to meet us as they had to get all their gear. We were finally united and walked out to our rental, a Nissan Note. What was noteworthy about the vehicle? The fact that it survived the week. We all felt that the car was less than roadworthy, but then again the road conditions were pretty island like as well. While driving to Pacific Harbor, every little village we drove through had a series of high speed bumps that I can only assume took huge chunks out of the bottom of the car.

We got to the resort about 9pm just in time for the kitchen to be closing. We had a quick meal before heading up to our lodgings for the week. We were on the 3rd floor with a 2 bedroom apartment with a pretty nice view. The sunrise above is from the deck. The resort is next door to a very fancy resort, the Pearl, that we were able to utilize as well as ours. We had lunch over there a couple times throughout the week after diving as we were too spent to make lunch.

Everyone, but Beth, did 3 days of diving while she did 2. The dive shop is located in a decrepit resort on the back of a golf course, but their shop is in good order. The first day we did an organized shark dive, but it was in jeopardy because of Cyclone Ula. We wouldn't know until the morning of if the dive was happening. We showed up to the dive shop and were giving the thumbs up. We walked out back and grabbed our rental gear from the shed. I was given a 5.5mm suit, which was very warm. The water temp ended up being 27C. The following dives, I was able to get a 3mm suit which was still too warm.

The 2 dives that took place at the Shark Reserve consisted of taking a 15-20 minute boat ride from the Pearl, but 30 minutes from the shop as we had to go down a river at 5km/h. The shark dives consisted of a very structured dive experience. We descended to 30m for the viewings of the Bull Sharks. Here they hand feed the sharks and as well as dangled a wheelie bin full of fish heads that would drop occasionally. Here the sharks would get within a meter of you and the only protection you had was a guy standing behind you with a metal pole. As I knelled on the ground filming, I would see the pole appear over my shoulder right as a shark was getting close. From there we ascended to about 15-18m and saw a few more species of sharks. Here we were gathered on a rope while the feeder dug food out of a wheelie bin. We also go to see a Moray Eel.

We had about an hour long surface interval where we had a very sugary and milky tea and cookies. Our dive plan for the 2nd dive was taking us to about 20m where we would be laying on the floor while the sharks were feed above us. This is where I felt the most scared. I remember seeing their eyes darting back and forth looking for food and then with a quick flick of the tail snatch it out of the water right in front of me. I was trying to turtle my head back into my BCD to get away from the edge. Not that a few inches would have mattered if they wanted a larger meal.

The morning of the 2nd dive, we drove into Suva to get some groceries as the local market wasn't all that big. The drive was about an hour through small villages. We stopped on the side of the road so Helen could get her coconut. She also proceeded to tell us about her dream of Beth and I get her bags back from a thief not once but twice. As we pulled into Suva, we were looking for a parking spot. We were driving around aimlessly when we spotted a parking sign. Then we noticed some free spots in front of the police station. As we were about to park, a guy comes running out of the station. Beth not knowing exactly what to do just stops in the middle of the road as the guy flashes a smile as he runs past. He is followed by 2 out of shape and out of breath officers. They were already probably 20m behind the guy and losing ground fast. We parked the car in front of the police station and were amazed by our first impression of the city. The officers had by now jumped into trucks and were canvassing the neighborhood. We think they got their man as they were pulling up as we about to leave. 

We spent some time wandering around Suva, but not too much as my ankle can only take so much walking. We went to the waterfront and a couple parks as well as walking past their government building. We then proceeded to drive through town to the grocery store, where we picked up our supplies for the week. Its interesting to see what people eat for breakfast. I was doing eggs and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Beth did nutella on bread, and Helen and James often did beans on toast. We ended up making most of our meals, which was nice as there wasn't too many places to eat nearby. I also did a lot of eating out on the South Island when a kitchen wasn't always available.

For the 2nd dive day, we went exploring the coral around the same reserve. This was an afternoon dive, that left very late as we had to wait on 2 Russians who dove in the morning then left on a long lunch. We were told 5 minutes, but it was like the 5 minute conversation in Snatch. It turned out to be about an hour. We went to the same dive site, as a German guy lost his GoPro there that morning. Why don't people tether their expensive camera to their BCD? I have a carabiner that I use, but I'll be switching to a locking carabiner in the future. These 2 dives were very organized as well with no venturing off as we were still around sharks. I had about 20 seconds of panic as I felt very lite all of the sudden and felt like I was ascending rapidly. I was breathing heavy, until Beth signaled to let air out of the BCD. I thought it was empty, but evidently there was enough so I was ascending. I dumped the air and descended back down. This caused me to hit the air limit while on the dive so I ended up swimming next to our guide and used his secondary regulator for the next few minutes. On the 2nd dive, Beth and I were supposed to stay near the other dive guide in case I used my tank up again, but with Beth's recognition skills and trying to communicate underwater this didn't work out too well. The air wasn't a problem the 2nd dive as I sorted the equipment out during that first dive. Got to see 2 sea turtles during this dive. What shocked me, was that there was a Swiss girl doing her Open Water certification there and she is doing these drills with sharks around her.

Beth was in a fair amount of pain after diving and decided not to do a 3rd day of it. The 3 of us however were keen as they were going to take us out further into a big reef. The diagram during the dive briefing showed a lot of coral reefs that could be explored as well as a wreck. We ended up diving with a brother/sister or married couple from Australia again. I just called them the Lannisters. They were on the shark dive with us earlier in the week. They weren't very talkative, but the guy had left his GoPro handle at the resort as the dive charter handed them out the first day. They hadn't brought any this time. I thought I was being nice and gave him mine, but said just don't lose it. I figured I would just get photos and videos from Helen and James. The first dive of the morning was down to 30m to swim around and above it. During this dive, I ended up seeing a lot of cool things as I wasn't preoccupied about holding my camera. I just enjoyed looking at marine life and diving. We all grouped up for our safety stop before heading back to the boat. On the boat, the guy noticed he lost his camera and my handle. He is apologetic and visibly distract. He jumps back in with his mask and snorkel to see if he can see it. The Swiss girl during our surface interval had to do her 10 minute tread water and her 200-300m swim. The guy ends up putting a $50 (Fijian) bounty on his camera. We descend again to about 20m and work our way around some different reefs. I see a couple sharks, as well as a couple giant clams. There were a couple scorpion fish, aka camo-rock fish. There were 2 massive cray fish hiding under a ledge. You could tell the guides know the area really well as they knew where things were going to be. I'm first back on the boat and the captain has a big smile as he is dunking a camera in the freshwater. I recognize the carabiner on the handle. I asked where it was found. Jonny, the dive instructor for the Swiss girl's cert, said he found it right by the mooring line on the bottom of the ocean. The guy was super ecstatic to get it back. It had all his vacation videos and pictures on it and its also expensive. It was the newer model with an LCD screen and extended battery pack. I wonder how many cameras have been lost. I'm thinking of making a tether to the case just in case it comes off the handle. Which happened to a girl we dove with at Goat Island.

The remainder of the trip we, ended up renting kayaks as the jet ski place didn't actually take our reservations. We had booked a self-drive tour around the near island with a snorkel and lunch on the beach before returning. It was to be about a 60km ride over 4-5hrs. It looked like a lot of fun as we saw them shoot past the day before while heading back in after the morning dive. Instead we ended up doing 3km up river and then 3km against the incoming tide. We started in a downpour, which felt great because soon as it stopped rain it was like wearing a wet flannel blanket in 36c degree heat. Helen drew the short paddle, as she and James were in the tandem, but we had a paddle that was missing half of its blade. Our journey down the river took us past the local golf course and past some pretty flash houses. Our final night in Pacific Harbor, we made our way over to Uprising Resort to eat. I had the lovo, which is the traditional form of cooking, an underground bbq. While I believe the others had pizza and burgers. I got to sample fish, chicken, pork, as well as interesting salads and tubers, similar to cassava, but different. Thursday night, is not only lovo night, but they put on a traditional dance and fire show. It reminded me a lot of a luau, but it was still fun to experience.

Our last full day was spent driving back to Nadi, where we stayed in a pretty run down hostel. James and Helen had a private cottage, which in hindsight we probably should have slept in. They had AC, while we stayed in a private room with a shared bathroom. Our cottage only had a fan. We spent part of the afternoon walking through The Garden of The Sleeping Giant where we admired a ton of flowers and were bothered by mosquitoes. We then had dinner in Denarau, a gated community, which felt like we were sitting back in Auckland. We were surrounded by boats, tourists, and kids with braids. We were all glad that our entire trip wasn't spent there. I think just having dinner there was enough.

The next morning, our flight departed at 9. We were a little delayed leaving, but we were eager to get back home. We said bye to Helen and James at the airport, but said we would be in touch soon. Our car was waiting for us over in the domestic terminal as Peter, who was borrowing our car, had gone to the South Island with his parents the day before. We weren't able to go home just yet. We had originally booked our hotel room through a special, but then ended up going to Fiji, so we had another night in Auckland. We made the most of it and met up with Mike, who recently broke his hand and had surgery, Paula, and Irish Rachel over in Takapuna for dinner. Most of us ate at El Humero, which is Colombian BBQ. It is similar to El Sizzling Chorizo, which is Argentinean. While the vegetarian of the group had a VPN pizza from Dante's. After dinner, we wandered over and had an ice cream. The next morning we were up early and drove back to Kinloch.

Our lawn and garden was crazy. The cilantro had flowered, the spinach had dried up, the zucchinis were massive, and the peas were plentiful. I spent some time tidying up the garden and mowing the lawn. I'm glad it was really dry while we were gone or our weed lawn would have been even more ridiculous. Now we are getting settled back in with work and routine. My ankle is still bothering me and I may have an ultrasound scheduled if it hasn't come right in the next 2 weeks. This puts me in a little bind as we got things planned. I was supposed to be doing the 85km Timber Trail on the 16/01, but have already bailed on that. We are diving White Island at the end of the month, but that shouldn't prove problematic. The following we were doing a 4 day MTB trip to Hawke's Bay with the Auckland crew. At the moment, I don't know if I have the range of motion to ride. I'm going to test it out tomorrow with some flat pedals on the road. Then in February, we head to India for Shiv's wedding. Beth is also busy planning our next Great Walk adventure. We haven't even finished doing the Whanganui River yet, but we are already booked in for Abel Tasman at the end of April. I hope my ankle comes right soon as I've been feeling lazy with no biking or running.

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