The last time Kel wrote was the night before my third scuba dive and Kel's first on Mantaray Island, Fiji.
On the first day of my scuba course, it was the basics where Joe our instructor did everything for me. It was an unbelievable experience to be 6/7 meters under crystal clear water, breathing naturally, where I was lucky enough to see moray eels, lion fish, an octopus, giant clams and a whole heap of other beautiful coral and fish. I felt extremely comfortable under water and Joe's words when we got on the boat at the end were "your boyancy' s sick, you're a natural". I then met up with Kel for some kick ass lunch and convinced her she has to try it out tomorrow. We then chilled out and played some card games with the guys as it was raining pretty bad.
The next morning it was time for Kel's first dive and my third. Kel spent half the dive telling Joe she couldn't do it and she wanted to go back as the sensation of breathing under water freaked her out. But credit to her she sorted her breathing and dove under for 20 mins at 6 meters clinging on to Joe like a koala bear! The funny thing is on this dive I saw 2 white tip sharks that Joe must have seen aswel and kept kel well away for obvious reasons.
After the dive Joe explained that the next dive that morning would involve the tests - removing mask under water etc..... and even though kel enjoyed it, she opted out as it was too big a step and didn't want to hold anyone up by taking all of Joe's attention so I carried on with the course while kel went off snorkelling with Dave and her new German friend Marco.
When I came back from my final dive of the day, a group of us took a 5 min stroll to sunset beach and the lads played 'keepy uppie' with a football we'd found as the sun went down. Marco then did what he does best and gave me and kel our time limits on showers and getting ready and what time we're meeting for dinner. I had to be up at 7am and Kelly now had the option to party. She took full advantage of this by staying up, playing drinking games and dancing with Dave, Lee, clint, Marco, Jay and Margot. That's right all lads and one other girl....she loved it! All the while I was in my tiny suckie bunk bed : /
The next day was a bit rushed but awesome. I completed all of the under water exams fine and then got to go on a proper dive to about 15 meters deep with more white tip sharks than I can count. All I was thinking before the dive was how bad I was going to soil my trunks when I saw a fish bigger than me but it was the complete opposite. You just can't help but stare and marvel at the way they glide through the water with minimal ease in such an alien environment. I loved it.
Kelly had a bit of a sore head from the night before but was still able to pack all our gear and check us out of the hostel for the next island whilst I scuba dived (touch).
The bula ferry arrived as I got off the boat from my diving and me, kel, clint and Lee headed off to the coral view resort. The bula ferry was brilliant as there always seemed to be someone on there you had already met and the party continued! Coral view was really nice but seemed quiet as there were 17 guests on the island including us.
So George lost concentration - shock!!
When we arrived at coral view we bumped in to Warren (who we'd met at Nadi) and Jay (from Mantaray) who was overly excited to see us and did a little hop, skip and jump while running over to say hi! He then explained that it had been really quiet on the island and he was looking forward to some fun company, and we were happy to see him too. George fancied a nap so went off to the dorm beds for a couple of ours while I drank beer and played pool with the guys. Later that day, I was very pleased to meet a girl named Hannah who let me borrow her nail varnish and convinced me that cheesecake after dinner would be a great idea, which it was. The evening was filled with a game of ring of fire that my uni friends would have been proud of (I have some fun new rules to show you when I get home!).
We were up early the next morning to visit the blue lagoon caves (made famous by Brook Shields) with myself, George, Dave, Leigh, Clint and Hannah. We hopped on a little motorised boat for a 20 minute journey full of breathtaking scenery and then arrived at the caves. The water was a mixture of fresh and salt water and was a little chilly so we had to keep moving. There were a few other groups in the same space which made it feel pretty crowded. It was dark and echoey and the group leaders had a habbit of shouting to each other loudly. Then there was an underwater tunnel. All this led to Clint bailing out and me feeling slightly panicky. While we waited for our turn to swim through the tunnel to the next room in the cave we watched one of the locals climb effortlessly up the walls to, near enough, the top of the cave and then dive back in. Thinking that this looked like a good idea, Dave and George followed his lead, although not looking quite so effortless.
The second room was even smaller and had no source of light so we were following a torch. It was too deep to touch the bottom so I clung on to the wall for dear life! There was a lot of shouting from the leaders, not much organisation and then it was time to go back. Banging my head on the way out, I was pretty happy to be back in the dim daylight of the first room. We had a little wander around the beach then it was time to go back to the resort. The blue lagoon caves weren't my favourite experience in Fiji, but an experience nonetheless.
I spent the rest of the day in the hammock while George, Leigh and Clint went snorkelling. Later we found out that they had been playing with one of the only deadly creatures in the area - a poisonous sea snake. Typical. That evening brought much of the same. This time a group of Americans joined us.
We'd made our way to the top of the Yasawa islands so the next day it was time to start heading back to Nadi, with an overnight stop half way at Octopus resort. I wasn't feeling great so decided to lay off the alcohol for a day and left the boys to it. The resort was beautiful - not somewhere I would expect to stay while backpacking. We arrived in time for dinner, a delicious bbq, and then I stargazed for the rest of the night. The sky was incredibly clear, we could see Jupiter (or so one of the locals told us!) and the milky way. Leigh took hold of my kindle and played Anna Kendrick' s 'cups' on repeat God knows how many times.
Our time in Fiji was now coming to an end and it was time to go back to Nadi, to Smugglers Cove where it all began! I'd had enough of slumming it with the guys so convinced George that we needed a private room and I couldn't have been more delighted to be reunited with my big bag! We had nice hot showers, fresh towels, a hairdryer and clean clothes! Things I take for granted at home but pure luxury on a trip like this.
We had one last day in Fiji but it needed to be used to organise some bits for New Zealand. We soon found out that we'd left it too late and had real difficulty trying to rent a campervan. After hours of searching the internet, useless phone calls and stressing out, we managed to get a provisional booking with a company called Escape (the spray painted vans) which would be confirmed in 24 hours. Stupidly, we took this as gospel and gave up trying for anything else. We then put some washing on, packed our bags and spent the evening with Dave and Warren while Leigh slept off a 5 day hangover and Clint did his best to win over Marcie (a girl we'd met at the caves).
We were up early the next day for our 8o'clock flight. Sad to leave Fiji, excited for our next adventure and in need of some quieter/calmer days/nights. We soon found out that our flight had been delayed until 5pm, although luckily we had been put up in a hotel for the day with free airport transfers and complimentary breakfast and lunch. This also gave us time to check our emails, find out that Escape had nothing available and book something with Jucy (the more expensive and last resort option).
The flight from Fiji to New Zealand was short and sweet. I'm starting to really enjoy flying. There were free drinks (again), chicken burgers and Epic (a Disney film) was on our seat-back screens. We flew into Auckland and stayed in a hotel near the airport as it was late by the time we'd arrived. The hotel was a bit dodgy - bars on the windows and a broken handle on the door. After moving rooms, to one where the doors and windows were intact, we settled down for the night and watched the latest twilight on tv. All in all a pretty successful delay.
Our first full day in New Zealand was a little overwhelming. It was cold and rainy (for which we had not packed appropriately), we'd picked up our tiny campervan (which was more like a small people carrier) where we would be living for the next month and the road maps were nowhere near as easy to read as the American ones which I'd become a custom to. We had a quick look at our Auckland guide map and decided we should find a campsite first and then head back in to town to see what it had to offer. This turned out to be a lot harder than expected and we couldn't find anywhere to park up. A couple of hours later, we decided that we'd start driving out of Auckland - we might have more luck out of the city. We'd been told to head up north to visit the bay of islands so we found some WiFi and programmed google maps towards our new destination. After 2 hours of following roads labelled 'south', we finally clocked on that we were heading the wrong way - classic us. Google maps was going to the bay of plenty, not the bay of islands. It was getting late so we found a place (off road, by the coast) where we could 'freedom camp' and we bought dinner from the nearby fish and chip shop. Other than feeling a little exposed, it was pretty cosy in our little van.
We woke up feeling fresh and had another look at the map. It didn't look so daunting this time around. We weren't too far (or so it seemed) from Coromandel, where there's a national park and a hot water beach. We stopped off at a supermarket and stocked up on food and got a couple of dvds to play on our built in dvd player. All in all we were feeling positive... it didn't last long. We spent most of that day driving. Not really knowing where to go or what to do. We stopped at the hot water beach and dug a little but couldn't find any hot water. We were hoping to get to Waitomo to go to the caves for my birthday but we'd not even got half way there yet. New Zealand seemed pretty big with not much to do or see other than a lot of fields full of sheep and cows. After a few hours of driving, we found some civilization - a campsite with hot showers and free (but extremely slow) WiFi. As it was my birthday the next day, we thought we'd treat ourselves and stop there for the night.
I woke up to George preparing breakfast and all my things laid out ready to take to the showers. I tried to Skype my mum and Laura and spoke to them a little but the WiFi meant that it was delayed and pixelated so we couldn't have a great conversation but it was nice to see them - Laura even sang happy birthday :D They'd both been thoughtful enough to make sure I had some cards to open on my birthday and both had sent some greatly appreciated birthday cash. Thanks guys (and Ed too xxx). We were only an hour away from Waitomo so we thought we'd try our luck at a cave visit... and our luck was in! We had a three hour tour of 2 of the caves - the glowworm one being my favourite. It was incredible and unlike anything I'd seen before. We learnt some cool facts about glowworms, stalactites and stalagmites then we found an 'i site' and asked about the nearest places available for freedom camping. Acting on their advice, we headed towards the next town and found a reserve by a river. I cooked some dinner (with George's help) then we had an early night in front of a dvd, in our little van which was now becoming home.
The next stop was Lake Taupo. As we drove north of the lake, we saw the spectacular view with the mountains (mt ruapehu) and snow topped volcanoes in the distance. One of which was spewing ash which we found out then forms pumice stone. The journey there was as incredible as the lake itself. We stopped on the way for caves, natural bridges and waterfalls. Eventually, we arrived and parked up near a shopping centre. We spent the rest of the day looking for a new camera to buy with our birthday money. We then found a spot right on the lake to camp for the night. We weren't sure if we could park up legally or not so we asked some other campers (who turned out to be gypsies) and they told us that if we hid around a corner no one would know - so that's what we did. We tried a bit of stargazing but it was far too windy and cold so we played cards instead.
Lake Taupo' s known as a skydiving spot so that was the plan for George's birthday. We tried to meet back up with Clint, Leigh and Dave but that proved to be difficult with limited WiFi and no New Zealand phone numbers so we decided to chill out by ourselves for a few more days. We found a really sweet campsite, where the manager took a liking to us, and spent a couple of days there going on some local hikes and relaxing by the lake. On George's birthday, we visited some natural hot springs and baths and we hiked up in the hills where we had an amazing view of the lake. We googled skydiving but it had a massive price tag so it was decided that we'd think about that again when we get to Sydney and find jobs. In the evening, I made George dinner and we shared some vodka with the camp manager, Colin, who then gave George a necklace which he'd carved out of bone as a birthday gift - kind of odd but sweet of him.
Wellington seemed to be the next port of call. As we were in no rush (it had only taken one week to make our way around the north island) we stopped in a little reserve in Manakau by a stream, went for a little walk and parked up for free for the night.
Wellington wasn't far away and It only took an hour to get there but it was much like Auckland with nowhere to stay. I was pretty desperate to go shopping and get some warmer clothes and George was definitely desperate for a hair cut so we stayed in the city and went shopping. Our dvd player and car key we're both playing up so we stopped by at the jucy warehouse to see if they could fix it as well as booking our ferry tickets to the south island. While we were there we got some great tips of things to do and see in Wellington and the lady even gave us a lonely planet guide which has now become our bible.
Our first attraction was something my brother would love - The Weta Caves. It was full of film memorabilia, figurines and signed copies of books all to do with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits. We took a few snaps and George bought himself a copy of The Hobbit to read then we headed towards a forest where we would find a campsite. It was cold and windy and cooking dinner outside was less than desirable. Luckily, an old man, who was camping with his autistic grandson, offered us the use of the gas hob which was undercover. We greatly accepted and got chatting to them for a while. It was nice at first, he was giving us some tips about the south island, then he decided to tell us about a murder that had happened in the forest - and the murderer had never been caught. Great bedtime story! I didn't sleep well that night.
Te Papa museum in central Wellington was the attraction for the next day. It's a free museum that's like the national history museum in London - but not quite as good. There were still some interesting things to see and do and loads of interactive things for kids. I suppose we just couldn't to relate to a lot of the native historical parts as we don't know much about it but there dinosaur and sea creature sections were brilliant. It'd make a fun school trip (OL, any takers?!) The weather sucked, we had an early ferry to catch and there were no other campsites around so we went back towards the eerie forest. Our old friend wasn't there anymore so George had to brave the rain and wind to prepare dinner (under my instruction, while I sat in the warm van :D).
We're now on the ferry to the south island and we've bumped back in to Dave! We've been warned that, due to the weather, it's going to be a bumpy ride! They've put sick bags out on the tables just in case!! I hope the south island is slightly less rainy!