The pictures have been up for a while, but we neglected to link them here. We spent the last five days of our trip relaxing on the beach in Fiji. We stayed at one of the resorts on the Coral coast. The coast has a large reef that acts as a barrier between ocean and the coast, which creates a wonderfully calm coral lagoon. We went snorkeling most mornings and saw a nice variety of fish, sea stars, and coral.

While we did spend most of the week doing a lot of nothing, we did take advantage of one day to go exploring. The resort offered “community tourism”, where we could sign up to help build a new assembly hall at a local elementary school. We mixed and poured concrete for a few hours, then walked over to meet some of the students and take a tour of the school.

With nothing more to do for the day at the construction site besides watch concrete dry, our guide took us on a drive into the interior of the island. This area is known as the “fruit basket of Fiji”, and there were farms tucked in everywhere.

February is rainy season in Fiji, and we had showers every afternoon. It suited us fine though, as we were happy to lounge about to read and relax. The clouds cleared enough for us to watch both sunrise and sunset several days though. All in all, a very relaxing end to a great vacation.

More pictures are here.



NZ Day 14: The Hobbits

Today’s post is all about Hobbiton. If Hobbit holes and little round doors don’t get you excited, probably best to go elsewhere and come back next time.

Still with me? Good. Hobbiton is a tourist vortex. Tour buses arrive from the near by towns at all hours and depart for the movie set every 20 minutes. There are people everywhere. And you know what? It’s still awesome. We lucked out and had a bright, sunny day. The tour guides are great, balancing the need to herd groups quickly from stop to stop and let everyone take pictures and look around. The free drink at the Green Dragon (ale, stout, cider, or ginger beer) is a nice touch.

All of the staff was friendly and the other tourists were delightful. What impressed us the most was how much effort went into a location that gets very little screen time. The facades for each of the holes are real brick and wood. Each hole appears to have a unique owner. And yet, I can only think of a couple of scenes actually taking place out in the Shire and not inside Bag End (WETA studios in Wellington) or elsewhere.

One movie tidbit we heard had to do with the laundry on the lines – a crew member was responsible for putting it out every morning and taking it down after filming was done for the day. The reason was to tramp down the grass and make it look like Hobbits actually lived there and made their own paths. 

We’ve been all over the two islands at this point. We’ve been multiple areas where the films (LoTR and Hobbit) have taken place. Some look exactly like the film. Our fishing spot was strikingly similar to the border of Lothlorein. Were we in the exact spot? Probably not, but it looked pretty close. The same region is home to Isengard. The glaciers were home to Caradhras (we think). It was nice to be able to root ourselves in a spot and say this was filmed here.

We finished the day at a tea plantation. We enjoyed some delicious whole leaf teas that came off the plants we could see behind us. It was a lovely way to end the day. More pictures here. Only one more day left in NZ!

NZ Day 12 & 13: Rotorua and Taupo

Whoops, we missed a day. We got caught up hiking and enjoying the area. Rotorua has some pretty good restaurants and street food, not to mention plenty of the great outdoors.

We spent our second day on the North Island traveling down to Taupo. The road connecting the two towns is known as the Thermal Explorer Highway. There are several geothermal hot spots all over the area and a major power plant. We stopped in to a place called “The Craters of the Moon”. The fumaroles were steaming across the mossy land scape. No major geysers or mud pots but a very strange environment nonetheless.

Taupo seems like a nice place. It felt a bit like Queenstown, in that there were tons of extreme sports and adventure tours that start from the visitor center. Unfortunately we got bad news about one of our hikes. The trailhead was further away than expected and the weather was expected to be foul. Disheartened we decided to find another walk. We found a walk along the major river through town and walked to the falls at the end.
We finished up the day at the Rotorua night market and with a variety show. The market was really just some food trucks and produce, but the food was delicious.

The next day we went hiking amongst the redwood trees. The Redwoods Forest was started as an experimental logging forest to deteremine what trees might grow well in NZ. California redwoods were amongst the specemines they selected. Instead of felling them after they were found to be commercially useless, they turned the area into a park. We had a great hike with sweeping views of the town. Hiking in a mature forest like this one is something we had definitely been missing. It was peaceful and quiet and wonderful for the most part. The other part involved runners, horses, and mountain bikers – the area is very much mixed use. Fortunately, everyone seemed to coexist very well, and many of the trails are designated specifically for one activity or another. On one section of the hiking trail, we were only a few feet away from the parallel biking track.

We wrapped the day at the Whakarewarewa Maori village. February 6th is Waitangi day, celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and the Maori. The village is a tourist attraction and cultural center, as well as the permanent residence of about 25 Maori families. In addition to opening up their town to visitors, they also still follow traditional practices such as cooking and bathing in the hot springs. The village (and really, the whole area) also sits on an incredibly thin section of the earths crust, which is why the geothermal activity is so high.

Tomorrow we’re finally going to see the Hobbits, but first, more pictures of our Rotorua adventures are here.

NZ Day 10: The Train

This post is a day late due to internet issues. We’ll make up for it with a double!
The weather continued to be fickle on our last day on the South Island. Greymouth is a lovely little town, but there’s not much to do in the CBD. We spent the morning walking by the beach & river, as well as visiting a couple of cafes before we were able to board the the train to Christchurch.

The TranzAlpine train is a lovely way to travel between the West Coast and Christchurch. It crosses through Arthur’s Pass along coal train routes. The cars have enough glass to see almost everything along the journey. The trip up from Greymouth is scenic enough. The rolling farms give way to the mountains.

Once you approach the Otira tunnel though, landscape takes a turn for the dramatic. Sweeping gorges and mountainscapes appear around every bend. A wild river flows beneath the tracks. The viewing car at the back of the train was packed.

We enjoyed not only the scenery but also the ability to relax, to read and knit or play Monopoly Deal (Ashley’s new favorite form of the classic). After driving for so many days the chance to be a passenger was nice.

We arrived in Christchurch and hunkered down in our hotel for the night. We fly to Rotorura the next day for our North Island Adventure. More pictures here.

NZ Day 11: Waimangu

We’ve island hopped up north, to Rotorura to be exact. The town is a major tourist hub and has lots to do. We immediately hopped in the car and headed south to visit one of the area’s geothermal valleys. The town itself sits on top of a large and very active geothermal hotspot. The history of modern eruptions in the area is fascinating.

The Waimangu Rift Valley is home to one of Drew’s favorite lakes: Frying Pan lake which was featured in a What If. It’s a large thermal lake with an average temperature of 50-60C (122-140F). The smoke on the water is actually CO2 bubbling up from below. The water is also fairly acidic. The algae that live in the lake and surrounding waters give it a wide variety of hues from green to blue to almost orange.

While hiking through the park, we found an unexpected guest. Ashley spotted a wallaby hiding in the bushes. Apparently they’ve been introduced in the area, as NZ does not have any native mammals. It was unexpected to find one at all, let alone one that was so content to sit and relax.

We’re going to to explore the Rotorura region tomorrow and hope the weather clears for Friday. More pictures here.

NZ Day 9: Into the Grey

It rained and it rained and rained and rained
The average fall was well maintained
And when the tracks were simply bogs
It started raining cats and dogs

After a drought of half an hour
We had a most refreshing shower
And then the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall

Next day was also fairly dry
Save for the deluge from the sky
Which wetted the party to the skin
And after that the rain set in

– Anonymous NZ tramper

It rained a lot today. It was hard to find any place to stop that wasn’t soaked through. As a result, we ended up skipping most of the scenic attractions ( no Cesspool of Arahura!) in favor of staying relaxed and dry.

We drove through glacier country and along the coast until we reached Hokitika. The seaside town is known for it’s greenstone (jade) jewelry so Ashley decided to stop. We found a local aquarium where we got to feed giant eels, watch a kiwi hunt for grubs, and try to catch crayfish from the bottom of a clear lake using a baited line.

On the beach, the town was hosting an art competition. The only rule seemed to be that you could only use items found on the beach. The sculptures were really impressive and creative.

We finished the drive to Greymouth, which included a one lane bridge shared by both cars and trains, and settled in for the night. We hit up the Monteith’s brewery which we think is our favorite over Speight’s. We’ll take the train to Christchurch tomorrow before jetting off to the North Island. A few extra pictures here.

NZ Day 8: The Galciers

Glaciers and rainforests don’t often mix. Here on the west coast of New Zealand two glaciers make their way from the Southern Alps down into a temperate rainforest filled with ferns and trees. The day started out inauspiciously. The rain was pounding down and visibility was poor. We watched as a number of helicopter tours were canceled due to bad weather. Still, we decided to risk it and our luck held. The hike to Fox Glacier, or as close as they’ll let you get, is crossed by several creeks. Due to rain and unexpected ice melt, the area can flood suddenly and we were on a constant lookout for rock slides. The recent rain had raised the water level in the glacial river to be quite high. The Department of Conservation, NZ’s version of the National Park Service, has signs everywhere warning travelers about the dangers of the glaciers, hiking alone, and the remoteness of many of the tracks. The gravel path is largely made of of whatever the glacier left behind. The track has a primordial feel to it. The rocky floor gave way to lush green vegetation and waterfalls before disappearing into the low cloud cover. We took advantage of a brief patch of sunshine to hit a scenic overlook that should have given us great views of most of the peaks in the Southern Alps. Alas, while the sunshine was welcome, the mountains remained hidden behind the dense clouds. In the afternoon, we drove over to Franz Josef to see that glacier. The path to this glacier took us through a river bed again carved out by the retreating glacier. We were able to walk closer to the glacier face this time. We passed a couple of huge ice mounds slowly melting into great pools below. The low cloud cover gave this glacier a much more ominous feel. A cold breeze was being funneled off the glacier into the viewing area that had some hikers reaching for their coats. There were a few orphaned pieces of ice in the rock scree up to the lookout. They were dripping water constantly, and small bits of rock and gravel were falling off at regular intervals. It was a good reminder to stay to the marked paths and away from unstable areas. We’ll head out tomorrow towards Greymouth. Our last two days on the South Island will take us through the Arthur Pass, and then we jet off to the North Island. More pictures here.