Friday, March 13, 2009

New Zealand....via Fiji!

I arrived to Nadi, Fiji at 5:35am. I was excited to start my trip again, to see a new place and a new culture. My taxi driver, Anu, was from Indian decent. I really didn't know what to expect from Fiji, but it is comprised of Fijians and Indians and they speak a mixture of both Fijian and Hindu as well as English. I think the Indians came over to the South Pacific Islands as slaves and now they share the land. Anu was explaining to me the history in his broken English.
When I arrived to the small resort that I had booked, I was greeted by 3 Fijian woman. They had the best smiles on their faces that lit up the entire room. They all said "Bula" (which means hello/welcome) and I immediately responded with "Hola, Como Estan?".....they just stared at me like I was crazy. Dangit!!!! My first hour in a new country and I've already played the dumb American card..."I'm in a foreign country, you are not white, you don't speak English, so...I am going to talk to you in Spanish!" Actually, to my defense, "Bula" sounded a lot like "Hola" and since I had been traveling in South America for 4 months I think it was just an innate response. I apologized and tried to explain myself, but that was not the only time during my 1 day in Fiji where I broke out in Spanish....I felt pretty silly.
My room had a fabulous view of the gardens and volcanic mountains and if I leaned over my balcony far enough I could get a glimpse of the ocean. (We are on a budget people....I couldn't afford the ocean front!). I spent the day relaxing, writing, & reading, while working on my tan. Yes Mom....I put sunscreen on. But I did get the "singles burn". You know, that little part of the back that you can't quite reach on your own - well, that got pretty burnt. It was just another sign to reiterate that I was alone at a honeymooners paradise! I was actually having a really good time regardless.
That night I went down to enjoy a nice dinner. I decided to bring a book to read and try to find a table that had a fabulous view of the bay. I was in luck, there was an open table amongst all the honeymooners and families...perfect! I sat down and ordered a white wine, which is really unusual for me because I normally drink red wine. But I was sweating so bad because the humidity was insane. Like literally, sweat rolling down my back and probably showing through my cotton dress. White wine just seemed refreshing at the time. I opened my book and tried not to make any sudden movements so that my body temperature would not rise anymore. "How ya going?" I heard in a thick Australian accent. I looked up to see a man staring in my direction. "Excuse me?" I replied as I really had no idea what he just said to me. "Are you alone?"....was it that obvious, I wondered? My sweaty ass sitting alone reading and drinking wine....."Uh, Yeah...I'm just passing through" as if I needed an excuse to clarify that I was here for only a layover. "Well would you like to join my wife and me for a drink and dinner?"..."Why yes I would!" And that is how I met Deb and Rob. We chatted for a few hours about life, politics, travel, and everything else in between. It was lovely and I am glad that they invited me over. They live in Newcastle, Australia and opened their home to me if I ever pass through.
Fiji was awesome from what I saw. I hope to make it back there someday for more time then just one night.....maybe for my honeymoon someday. Or a fabulous girls trip :)
Onward to NZ...Australia and NZ have pretty strict immigration rules. You need to have proof of onward travel and provide financial stability, etc. I thought I had everything squared away until I went to the check-in desk in Fiji. Apparently, I did not have a visitors visa to Australia and I needed to have that in order to leave Fiji. I had to run around the airport looking for Internet to try and apply so I could make it on my plane in time. Gotta love international travel! Just when you think you have everything under control, something slips through the cracks. ( Like I really ever have everything under control, let's be honest here!)
Auckland was a pretty sweet city. I stayed in the city center and walked EVERYWHERE! They had so many amazing parks and areas to sit and read and people watch. The university was also nearby so I wandered through there to check out the scene. There were so many different ethnicity's throughout the city.....tons of Asians, Indians, and South Pacific Islanders. A lot of them attend Auckland university. Because of this, there is AMAZING food options. They have these places called "Food Courts" where there are about 30 stands of different types of food and you just eat in a no frills cafeteria. There was one next to my hostel and that was the only place I ate at in Auckland. They had choices between Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Turkish, Malaysian, and the list goes on. All meals were about $5 which meant it was one of the cheapest places to eat in the city.....I tried something new every time I went in. When you order they ask if you want the meal spicy or not. The first few meals I chose spicy and it was the perfect amount of spice. I was beginning to get pretty confident in my eating because I could handle the spicy dishes while everyone else was ordering mild. Well, my last meal was not the case. Once again, I ordered spicy, but this time it was like they took every pepper on earth and put it on this dish. I couldn't even eat hardly any of it. My entire face was broken out into a sweat, but I was trying to act cool because the cook kept looking over at me. I think he was playing a joke on me since I had such confidence in the way I said "spicy". I finally asked for a to-go box and acted like I was really full so as to not let him know the spice got to me. My stomach burned for about 2 days after that.
Auckland is called the "City of Sails" because about every 1 in 3 people owns a boat. The city is located between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean...if you go up high enough you can see both bodies of water. I spent a few mornings walking along the coast lines. They have a great hike and bike trail that goes right along the water and through the beaches. I think one of the best ways to explore a city is to jog/walk through it... In the afternoons I would go to one of the beautiful parks and lay in the grass and read or research my travel books. They have pick-up rugby and cricket games after work so I enjoyed watching those sports and trying to figure out all the rules etc. The rugby guys were nice to look at, and I now have a weird interest in learning how to play cricket. I have decided I will go see some sort of professional sports match before I leave NZ or Australia.
One morning I took a free city bus tour. My guide was a Maori, which are the native people of New Zealand. I actually learned a lot about NZ and the Maori culture on the tour. For instance, the reason why New Zealand is such and adventure sport country is not because everyone here is a crazy bad-ass, but because you cannot sue a company for personal injury in NZ. As long as you sign a waiver and they suited you up correctly....if you get hurt there is nothing you can do about it. It was something the government put into effect to help with the tourism.
When my tour guide introduced himself in the Maori language, he said his name, the mountain he was born on, and the river that ran through it. That is how they introduce themselves because they believe they are one with the land they grew up on. Also, Maoris are known for their intricate tattoos. They used to cover their bodies with tattoos including their faces. Now-a-days they don't put them on their face as much because they cannot get work and there is a bad stigma to it from a gang that broke out in the 80s. However, most of them still get tattoos on their arms and legs. Each line and stroke of the tattoo is significant to their life. Much like the way they introduce themselves, the tattoos usually include the mountain, river, the boat that their ancestors came over on, their tribe name, names of their mother & father, and any special skills they have. We visited several grounds through Auckland that were owned by Maori tribes. At this time the areas are still open to public, which is pretty neat considering the rough history between the settlers and the natives.
During the tour, we also went to the Harbor Bridge where we watched people bungee jump. Everyone was trying to tempt each other to jump....I sure as hell wasn't going to jump though. Now that I knew about the personal injury law, my view of adventure sports in NZ had changed a bit.
We also went to Mt Eden, which is a volcano with a huge crater. In fact, Auckland sits on top of about 50 basically it is a ticking time bomb! About 60 years ago scientists predicted that there would be a new island to form in the next 100 years. They still believe this, which means that sometime soon there is gonna be one crazy fire in the sky when the island comes up next to NZ.
After Auckland, I headed north to a town called Whangarei. I heard there were these awesome caves you could explore for FREE! When the "F" word is involved....I come a running. When I arrived to the town I soon realized that the caves were a pretty far distance away and you could only get there by car. This was the first kink of my travels. I had heard that renting a car was the way to travel, but I didn't want to rent one alone. There are also these backpacker buses you can ride, but you are still limited to what you can see. I needed to figure something out soon though...there were tons of places to see and I wouldn't be able to get to them all by the city bus.
Instead of the caves, I ended up doing this 10 mile hike to these awesome waterfalls. The scenery was awesome and it was a great workout! I decided that things happen for a reason and it was probably good that I did not go to the caves alone. I probably would have been stabbed in the eye by some stalagmite and lay there for dead until some other idiot backpacker came along.
I met a friend in Ecuador who happens to be in NZ now as well. I decided to go meet up with him and we would look into renting a car. He is Alaskan and LOVES the outdoors so I think we will have fun hiking and camping together. So, I am now heading to South Island. There are a few places I wanted to check out on North Island, but it isn't worth the time and expense of getting there at this point. Plus, there are TONS of amazing things to see on South Island ...including a lot of ski resorts :)

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