Well I've got a heavy burden to carry! A lot has gone on since we last had a chance to blog, and there is a lot to tell, so I'll just have to try to summarise ... uh oh!
When we last wrote, we were in Nelson, New Zealand, and it was about a week before Christmas. Since then we have travelled the north island of New Zealand, had a ridiculous couple of weeks in Fiji, and have now spent a week in California. So let's start at the very beginning ...
New Zealand -- the final days:
After writing the last blog, we embarked on a secret adventure resulting in, as most of you know, me ending up a mile high in the sky doing a tandem hang glide. It was a brilliant experience, and one I'd really recommend to everyone. The views were amazing - looking over the most popular national park in New Zealand. And the sensation of flying was far superior to falling, or even falling with style! James was more scared than I was, and he remained on solid ground at all times. To save me describing it further, you can see a video of it on their website (skyadventures.co.nz), or on youtube - search 'Roisin Hang Glide'. It's only 3 minutes of a 30 minute adventure, but it's a good show. Apologies now for not mentioning before, but I didn't want any unnecessary worrying - save that for Fiji!
That afternoon, we crossed the water to Wellington - New Zealand's capital. Although James suffered a little with sea sickness, the journey was fine and we parked up next door to the famous Te Papa museum, ready for our next day's plans. Wellington was a lovely town, and we really enjoyed the museum, although it was over-run with children on their school holidays. This became a theme in the north island - in contrast to our many isolated beaches and empty campsite, suddenly we were sharing footage with a lot of locals! We headed north quite quickly, and just as quickly discovered that it's a myth that the north island is the less-beautiful half. A big stop for us was Tangariro National Park. We were planning on doing a day-long walk here through the three volcanos in this area - the central one being better known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. However the weather was shocking (heavy rain and mist), and the track was deemed 'unsafe'. We asked if there were any alternative routes that we could take instead, and although the nice lady explained a couple to us, she concluded by saying that whatever we did that day, we'd only see our own feet in front of us, rather than any actual sights. Needless to say we got back in the car and sadly continued our journey.
Our next big destination was Rotorua - a town in the centre of the north island infamous for its volcanic activity. This was a brilliant place to visit. We went to a Maori village on our first day there, which was fantastic to witness. The whole area is covered in bubbling mud baths, boiling natural springs, and insane amounts of steam and sulphur, but these locals make it part of their everyday life. They cook in the ground, get cures for everything you can think of from the mud, and most of them don't have hot running water in their houses as they simply don't need it - they're surrounded! We enjoyed a tour, and ate delicious corn on the cob that had been boiled in the volcanic water. We also joined in on some mouri songs and dances which was a lot of fun - Photos to follow. On our second day in Rotorua, we went white water rafting. Again, apologies to my family for the fact that I didn't let you in on this one either! Neither of us had ever been white water rafting, so didn't think much of the fact that we were going to raft a 7 metre tall waterfall, a Grade Five, aka the tallest commercially raftable waterfall in the world. Holy goodness. As you'll see from some of the photos, James absolutely loved it, and would do it again in a second, whilst I feared for my life and would NOT do it again! It was a lot of fun, but incredibly scary. We had a great guide onboard called Nigel. He was quite the 'dude' and got us to do lots of tricks whilst out on the waves. James was a brave one - he jumped out of the boat, and held on from the outside as we went down a (smaller) waterfall. I, in contrast, concentrated on holding on to the boat (from the inside) so much that I dropped my paddle into the rapids twice. Woops. However James hit himself in the eye with his paddle, so...?!
After that experience and a half, our next activity was very placid. We headed to the West coast and visited the Waitomo glow worm caves. This involved no energy or bravery - we simply sat in a small wooden boat and looked up as the worms sparkled above us. Easy peasy. Although not quite as exciting.
We arrived into Auckland - NZ's biggest city on the 23rd in the midst of a big fat rain storm. In addition to raining on us, this storm was raining on the whole concept of having a sunny, warm Christmas. It was feeling very much like home, but without the warm Christmas buzz, and without the much needed company. We sat in Jedi all night and watched "I'd Do Anything" ! (Thanks for that Mum and Dad .. we're all agreed that Jessie should have won, right?) The next morning was, of course, Christmas Eve. As the clouds hadn't cleared, we decided that we were in need of a big breakfast to raise our spirits, and raised they were. We ended up in an award-winning cafe, in the posh end of town, munching on homemade bread, poached eggs and mushrooms. Why we felt we needed this treat remains unknown, as we then checked into our *actual* treat - a hotel! We were sad to leave Jedi locked up in the basement alone on Christmas night, but not quite sad enough! The hotel was lovely, we seemed to be the only guests and they bestowed us with gifts of santa suits and champagne. Not bad. We went shopping for our Christmas feast (including chocolate steam puddings, and a chutney - check us out), and made use of the phone-line to exchange Merry Christmases with loved ones. On Christmas day we managed to squeeze in a few calls before check out, then headed downtown for mass in St Patrick's Cathedral. It was a lovely mass and was quite emotional for me, but this was thankfully offset by the enjoyment of hearing a whole mass in a New Zealand accent, and the fact that they didn't sing 'O Holy Night'. Phew. We actually did quite a lot of travelling on Christmas day, but before we headed off, we managed to check in online, and had a coffee in ... Starbucks. A very strange place to be on Christmas Day, but a very nice Toffee Nut Latte! Happily reunited with Jedi, we drove north wearing our free santa hats for as long as we could before the polyester-itch got too much. We stopped at a beach for our Christmas lunch - sandwiches! - and went to the gorgeous Goat Island beach where we witnessed sunshine (yay) and lots of locals celebrating Christmas their way - with a BBQ on the beach. We got to our campsite in Whangarhei just in time to watch Home Alone 2, and Love Actually. Perfect Christmas movies, and a lovely end to a different but nice Christmas day.
We had the best conclusion to our stay in New Zealand due to the lovely Hay Family. Months before, Trevor and Julie happened to be on holiday in Melbourne, and happened to have a meal in James' cafe - Umago. They got chatting to James, and when they heard that we'd be in Auckland around Christmas time, they said we should come visit them, so visit we did. After spending a couple of nights up north, we returned to Auckland and spent a night with them and their daughter Amy. They couldn't have been kinder to us, and shared everything with us from gorgeous foods, to great conversation, and even a pack of playing cards. It was so lovely to just be in a home, nevermind to be made so welcome. We'll be eternally indebted to them. In fact, Julie even washed Jedi in the morning, as she didn't want us to get in trouble with the rental company. What a family. So yes, the next day, having said farewell to the Hays, we had to say farewell to ... Jedi. We know he'll bring further joy to whoever is lucky enough to get him next, but still, it was a sad goodbye. James apparently didn't want to let go just yet, so kept the keys in his jeans pocket. We thankfully discovered them at the airport, and had to put them in the post. A near miss.
Talking of near misses ... we then headed to Fiji! I really will try to summarise here otherwise no one is going to get to the bottom of this!
Nadi Airport, Fiji is the only airport where we've been welcomed by singing locals, it's also the only place where we've witnessed someone faint from the heat while waiting for customs. Our first night was at Dee's Homestay. Dee was very welcoming, as were her family, although we mostly just slept there. We were up early in the morning to catch our boat out to the smaller, and more beautiful islands of Fiji. We had a 14 day pass on the boat, which meant that we could hop about as much as we wanted across the 30 or so islands. Our first stop was Manta Ray Island. The weather was gorgeous when we arrived, and it really looked like a typical 'paradise' - bright sun, palm trees, white sands, hammocks, and few people around. We stayed here for five nights, so we were here for new year. We met some great people, and they did a gorgeous bbq so had a good night, but it was strange to be celebrating new year in heat, on a wooden balcony terrace, at about 12 noon home-time. They passed around vodka jellies, got us all to join in on Fijian dancing, and we all enjoyed watching the fijian bar man who preferred to be called Isobelle, and dressed accordingly! After Manta Ray, our next stop was at a genuine village. We had booked this ahead of time as we were aware that Fiji is so touristy, we thought we might like to witness the real deal. The more we talked to others, the more we discovered that no-one else seems to do this. We went to Malevu village, and stayed with Mr. Toye and his family. We are both glad that we did this, and did enjoy our stay, but it was awkward at times - being new to a whole village, working to 'fiji time', and being asked to pay out for a lot more than we had bargained for. On the plus side, Toye and all in his village were very welcoming, we stayed in a beautiful room, and we really enjoyed eating their foods - bread-fruit, fresh fish, tapioca and huge purple bananas, to name a few. We also attended a celebration, and joined in on the Kava drinking. The Kava drinking was interesting as I was the only female allowed to join, and there was a lot of clapping and chanting. It would be an understatement to say we were scared when it came to our turn to clap, take the big shell-full of Kava, and down it in one, but we were both relieved to discover that it just tasted like muddy water. We were also relieved to discover that although we had bought it for them, they weren't all that keen on sharing anymore with us, so we excused ourselves to join the women and children for the meal. Generally we spent our time in Malevu walking on the beach, reading, and playing games with Toye's son, Mika.
After Malevu village, we went to the 'Bay of Plenty' island for one night. Bay of Not-Much would be more accurate. There was just one other guest, the bay water was brown, and the mosquitos chronic. On the plus side, our little hut was lovely - our best yet - mainly due to the fact that we had our own little ensuite. Luxury. But this luxury was nothing compared to our next stop - Nanuya. We had high hopes for Nanuya as it was most definitely 'posh'. We had booked and paid for this back in the affluent Melbourne days. On arrival we were greeted with cocktails and shell necklaces. our tree house bure was a palace with sea views, 24 hour power, and free tea and coffee - WOW. The surrounds were just gorgeous, as was the food. THIS was what Fiji was meant to be like! The buffet breakfast was included in the room rate here, and the other meals were a little expensive for us, so every morning we spent to full two hours at breakfast!! And always took a few pocket-seconds! This way we got by only buying one other meal a day. Nanuya was perfection, however it was here that the weather turned and we got wind (pardon the pun) of hurricane and cyclone rumours. We asked the owner, "When is this weather due to pass?" The answer: "April." Great. On the 8th Jan, we headed south on the boat, to Waya Lai Lai. This 3 hour journey will probably go down as the worst journey ever. The sea was very rough, as was the wind, not to mention the rain, and the three of them worked very hard to overpower our boat. The boat often crashed back into the sea on its side, or right on its front. It felt like a rollercoaster. People became very sick and very scared. Poor James wasn't well at all. He ended up being lifted from his seat by a huge fijian worker, and laid on the floor, passed out. All I could do for him was hold a bottle of cold water to his head, and steal his sick bag for my own uses. We were very glad to get safely off that boat at Waya Lai Lai. Unfortunately, the weather then worsened, and for three days, the boat didn't return to the sea. We were, in effect, castaways. We were about 2 hours away from the mainland by boat, but it couldn't get to us, and we received no information from the locals there. We could have chosen a better place to get stranded too, as the food was thin on the ground and often suspicious - goat bones and sausages with crunchy bits anyone? Also, there was no power at all in our Bures, so we often just sat in near dark. Finally, our room was actually swarming with ants. Everyday we had to unpack all our belongings and kill the buggars. They even managed to eat through my coat. Thankfully, we had a good group there, and one of the ladies had a sister on the mainland so we got updates that way. Turns out we were caught in Fiji's worse weather since 1989, and no one knew when it was going to end, and when/if the boat would come. Thankfully a boat came the day before our flight. When we arrived back, you could really see the damage - all the beaches were gone, the sea was brown, and homes were ruined. When we got to the hotel that we'd booked a week previous, they had cancelled our booking - no refund. Ahh!! After a little bit of a hissy fit, we agreed to go into their dorm room, mainly because after that, most people were going to sleep at the airport. The room was fine though, and we managed to have an actual meal, so we were happy. Our flight was late on Monday night, and we'd heard that another cyclone was due to hit on Tuesday, so we were very glad that everything went as planned for us. The airport was a sad sight, as was the amount of people just desperately trying to get out of the country - we were definitely lucky, and definitely glad to get to California.
We'd heard a lot of bad things about LA, but we both really enjoyed ourselves there, and not just because of the amount of celebs we found! We stayed right off Hollywood Boulevard, in a nice hostel with all-you-can-make pancakes every morning - score. The people-watching is an activity in itself - there are a lot of people putting a lot of effort into being 'different' in Hollywood. We went to some of the famous sights in Hollywood, and did a lot of walking. We also met up with one of my friends who I worked with in Melbourne - we were staying in the same hostel! Our best stories from LA though are about our new best friends. On our first night there, we noticed a big queue on Hollywood blvd, and walked past only to discover that there was a live chat show going on, with Kiefer Sutherland (i.e. Jack Bauer, 24) as the first guest. We had decided earlier in the day, and after discussions with my Dad, that Jack Bauer would be No.1 on our to-meet list, and here we were!! Unfortunately we couldn't sweet talk tickets to get in, but we wondered around the back, and caught him coming out from his interview! Amazing. We were like a pair of giggling school kids, but we played it cool in front of Kiefer of course. The next day, we talked about who would be better than a Jack Bauer meeting. We came up with Tom Hanks - the man, the legend. That evening, after 6 hours of walking, we decided to pop to the cinema 5 mins from our hostel to see if they do a cheap night. When we got there, we discovered it was closed as they were hosting the premier for Big Love. Nope, we don't know what that is either. We went back to the hostel, and happened to google the show. What came up, but an image of Tom Hanks. We literally got up and ran back! Turns out he produces this TV series, and that he usually doesn't turn up for these things, but you know he turned up for us! ... AND brought along his good friend Steven Spielberg ! We were only there to try to meet Tom Hanks, however, rather awkwardly, there were lots of other 'celebs' involved in this show, but we didn't have a clue who they were. It made for awkward encounters as they'd come over to us, and we'd either turn around, or pretend to know them and ask for a picture! We also had to hang out with the celeb-stalker losers who'd have a go at us like,"Oh my God, you don't even know who insert-unknown-celeb-name is??"
After LA, we headed to San Diego, where our friend Arthur now lives. We lived with Arthur in halls in our first year of University, so it had been a long time since we'd seen him. but we've had a great time, and he, his girlfriend Rose, and Housemate Vamsi have been just brilliant to us. They have a very comfy living room floor! We've seen some of the great sights of San Diego, been to the famous zoo, had a night out, and watched a lot of movies and trashy US TV. Fantastic. Tonight, we are getting the night bus to Santa Cruz as we are going to live on a farm for a couple of weeks ..! We're going to help out there in return for free accommodation and food, so should work out well, and we're very much looking forward to it. We're told that there is an internet cafe within walking distance, so we hope to be able to keep in contact, unlike our two weeks in Fiji. So that's us up to speed, phew. Thank you again to you all for your messages and emails over Christmas and New Year, it was so nice to hear from so many of you. And so the countdown begins - we have only one flight left in our ticket book: New York to Heathrow. And so now we really can say, see you soon! All our love xxxx