"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Zealand & Fiji Island Adventure

New Zealand - a place I have dreamed of going to - finally came to reality. From October 13-26, I traveled with 41 other adventurous travelers to New Zealand's South Island and then onto the Fiji Islands. Below are the highlights of my two week holiday:

We arrived in Queenstown, NZ, "Lord of the Rings" territory early afternoon on October 15. We spent three days in Queenstown, the exhilaration capital of the world. Here we packed in a lot of activities, despite the fact that it rained 2 of 3 days.

Queenstown was beautiful, sitting right on Lake Wakatipu with snow capped mountains called the Remarkables all around. It reminded me of an alpine village with all the chalets. It is definitely, however, setup for tourists. Every building is a hotel, bar, restaurant, or tour company.

On the first afternoon we went on a jet boat ride on the river and dodged cliff walls inches from the boat doing about 30 miles per hour. It was a lot of fun doing 360's on the water too.

After checking into our hotel, we met up and walked to the Skyline Gondola which rises steeply from Queenstown. At the top there is a truly world class view over the Remarkable Mountain range across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks. The scenery is simply stunning and it has a definite "'wow" factor. We had great fun riding on the luge; although I wasn't as brave as Tony and didn't go as fast.

Unbeknown to me, a 6.7 earthquake shook the region early Tuesday morning. I had no clue and basically dreamt I was in a vibrating bed. No wonder the elevators didn't work that next morning. Duhh...

Tuesday we loaded up the bus and headed to Milford Sound (providing all the roads were opened since there had been reports of avalanches). The drive to Milford Sound was beautiful even though the rain never let up.There were lots of lakes reflecting the surrounding snow-capped mountains. There was still snow as the bus climbed up into part of the mountains which don't get much sun. The cliffs hung right out over the road and there was evidence of avalanches and guys working to clear it all up. Homer Tunnel, which is about 1.5 miles long, was completed in 1953. This tunnel goes right through a mountain and makes access to Milford Sound possible.

Calling Milford Sound a sound is incorrect. It is actually a fjord created by a glacier thousands of years ago. The guy who discovered it called it Milford (after Milford Haven in Wales, his hometown) and because he mistakenly thought it to be a sound.

We went on a three-hour scenic/lunch cruise of the fjord. It truly was beautiful even though the weather was horrible. Extremely windy and and no let up on the rain. I was blown away (figuratively & literally) by the steepness and height of the cliffs. And was totally amazed anything could grow on them.

The waterfalls were massive. Stirling Falls is 50 storeys high. It was hard to get the scale of them until the boat took us up close and personal. I was wet, cold, and loving every minute of it. Author Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the eighth wonder of the world and now I know why.

Wednesday evening we took the vintage TSS Earnslaw Steamship (celebrating her 95th birthday) across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm. It was a real joy to travel on the ship. There is a feeling of elegance about her and she is known as the "Lady of the Lake". She has been conveying passengers across the lake since 1912 and is one of the last few coal fired vessels in the southern hemisphere.

Across the lake, the steamship stopped at Walter Peak High Country Farm. We had dinner that evening in the Colonel's Homestead and then watched a sheep sheering demonstration afterwards.

Thursday we left Queenstown and started our journey to Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. Again the drive was spectacular, even though the weather still was not cooperating. We couldn't see Mt. Cook that afternoon due to the clouds. However the following day we lucked out and saw the magnificent mountain while driving towards Christchurch along Lake Pakaki. We also drove past the Southern Alps and around some amazing clear lakes. The scenery was breath taking!

Our last stop in New Zealand was Christchurch. I cannot believe how fast the week has flown by. I have loved every minute, even the rain. Christchurch is a very English city. It looks very much like Stratford upon Avon with its very own River Avon running through the middle. We spent the day wandering around Christchurch in the sun, enjoying the sights, and having lunch "alfresco" at a quaint restaurant.

Goodbye, New Zealand. But I'll be returning someday.

Bula! We arrived into Nadi, Fiji Island, Saturday morning for the rest of our adventure. After a two hour bus ride, we finally checked into the Hideway Resort, our home for the next week. Unfortunately, the first three days it rained on & off so that put a damper on most of our spirits.

Since I don't scuba dive and can't be out in the sun long, I was starting to get a little bored. But on Tuesday, nine brave souls embarked on the adventure of our entire trip. We had originally signed up for a kayaking trip, but because of all the rain the road leading to the river had been washed out. So the river company instead treated us to a whitewater rafting trip on the Upper Navua River.

The ride up to the river was the scariest thing I had ever experienced. It was a steep and very narrow mountain road and I just kept praying that the bus wouldn't slip off the edge into a deep gorge. Once we made it to the top, we had to walk about 20 minutes through a muddy slippery path to the river. We loaded up two rafts and off we went. Talk about awesome. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but the brochure referred to this river as the "Fiji's Grand Canyon" and I concur.

We rafted for 15 miles and then the "fun" began. We jumped on the bus to take us back but shortly after we started out, the bus became mired in mud. We jumped back out and the guides told us women to just start walking and they would pick us up. Inez, Joe & I followed their directions. About an hour or so later, Brian, Tony, Connie & Pier caught up to us. The monsoon rain soon started and after walking nearly 3 hours or approximately 7 miles in a jungle rain forest, the bus finally comes to our rescue. We were cold, thirsty & hungry, and our feet & legs were killing us. But it certainly didn't dampen our spirits. We laughed about it all the way back to the resort. And of course we became the talk of the group over the next couple days.

Thursday was a day long cruise on the Sea Spray sailing boat which had free food and drinks all day. While on the cruise, we visited a local Fijian village, snorkeled and visited the island where Tom Hanks filmed Castaway. While visiting the local village, I got my first chance to sample Kava, the traditional root drink of the region. Everyone sits on the floor while the Kava is prepared. The result is something which resembles muddy water and it doesn't taste a lot better. The Fijians lap this stuff up. I couldn't see the appeal. Apparently if you get the strong stuff, it not only numbs your tongue but also knocks you unconscious. (Did I fail to mention it's a natural aesthetic?) You have to drink about 3 cups before that's likely to happen. Think I'll stick to beer.

Fiji was paradise! I had a wonderful time sunbathing and relaxing. The Fijian people are very friendly and the mainland and islands are fabulous! Wonderful weather apart from the first couple of misty days.

I made lots of friends, took lots of photos, and had a great two-week vacation.

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