2007: Fiji, New Zealand, and OZ
Fiji to decompress and absorb jetlag, New Zealand and Australia to tour by train.
Photos of our accomodations may be viewed at Tripadvisor.com
Though we'd booked our departure on Air Pacific, maintenance problems forced the airline to use United equipment and crew. We left two and a half hours late so that United could load the booze (no lie) and had a genuinely uncomfortable and forgettable flight to Fiji. From the Nadi airport, a brief shuttle ride and a forty-five minute boat ride brought us to the Bounty Island resort, where we spent two of the most enjoyable days of our trip, vegging and decompressing on a hammock and snorkeling in the clear, warm waters.
Our bure (cabin) was on the beach, so we snorkeled, dried out, snorkeled some more. So-so meals were included in the price of the room including a wonderful afternoon tea. We took a night dive from the shore but saw little that had not been present during the day. We booked a three-island snorkeling tour for the next day, but after it was cancelled due to rough weather, we walked around the island through an intermittent light rain. If we had to do it again, we'd spend a few more days on the island; as it was, we did not leave until the last ferry to shore the second day.
A free shuttle from the marina took us to the Nomad SkyLodge where our spacious room held two double beds and a mini-fridge. Unusual for Nomads’ accommodations were towels and a hairdryer. Plus an uncrowded full-size pool and a restaurant that was happy to loan utensils to cut our $1 papaya. A Fiji dollar also bought a dozen delicious small bananas at the local market.
A short walk from the lodge up the hill and across the take-your-life-in-your-hands road brought us to the Payless Hallal restaurant where we had an outstanding lamb curry with dahl and roti for breakfast, $6 US for two.
We spent the afternoon at the Valley of the Sleeping Giants Orchid garden. (Actually, this stop was part of a much longer, forgettable, over-priced tour that included a Fijian village.) Lunch was a Fiji bbq purchased at the side of the road.
The next morning, we took another United flight masquerading as Air Pacific to New Zealand which we planned to tour by train. Panic on arrival in Auckland as airport shuttle wouldn’t accept credit cards and I had to dash into terminal and change US$ to NZ.
The Shakespeare Hotel is located a 5 min uphill walk from the airport bus stop and 9 min downhill from train station. Hauled luggage up many stairways to our room under the eaves. Then down again to the first-floor tavern with its reasonably priced pub food and great choice of beers.
Our room was a work in progress. Shower had new fixtures but lacked a soap dish. No hair dryer. Spanking new TV wasn't connected to cable. Long after we'd gone to bed, cheers rising from three floors below told us they were still watching rugby in the pub.
Waking barely in time, we boarded the TranzScenic for a day-long trip from Auckland to Wellington. Comfortable seats; an attentive staff. Scenic it most certainly is as these pictures prove. To say nothing of the gamboling lambs, calves, and foals we saw from our window.
We stop at the National Park.
After a late arrival in Wellington, we stayed that night in the Nomads Capital, our first experience with a hostel, though we had a private room with a double bed and a private bath with towels. Biggest problem was our lack of an alarm. But we got up on time to take advantage of free coffee and get the shuttle to the InterIsland Ferry, where we ate a petite dejuener in the terminal before boarding.
A short walk brought us to the train station where we boarded the TranzCostal for a five-hour train ride south to ChristChurch. The rail line ran parallel to the beach and an open air car aided in the taking of photographs. Unfortunately, Phil decided to board that car during one of our stops, only to discover it was accessible only from the first class cars. And no stops remained before our arrival at our destination! During the briefest of halts to let an east-bound freight pass, he stepped down from the train and ran alongside like some character in a movie, hauling himself aboard just as the train started up again.
We’d hoped to take a city bus to our hotel, but when we reached the stop, we discovered the last bus for the evening had left 20 minutes earlier. Thankfully, we were able to flag down a shuttle.
We stayed in an ultra-compact room at the Hotel So, ate a gourmet meal in their yuppie restaurant, used their free (!) internet connection, and discovered “brandy snap” ice-cream around the corner at the Metro on Willi market.
Their clock alarm turned on the bed light (15 minutes earlier than we’d set the alarm for) then displayed the mood channel on our TV before finally giving out a cruel buzz.
Christchurch is an attractive small city and we wished we had arranged to spend a second day there. Deciding we needed a break from the hectic pace of a new lodging each day (we were “tired of packing and unpacking”) we cancelled the trip to NZ’s west coast and arranged to stay two nights in a row at Arthurs Pass in the Alps. This proved to be a brilliant decision, for the water in the Alps needed no filtering; the air had no pollutants. The proprietor of the Alpine Motel let us use his laundromat, access a paperback exchange, and borrow a hairdryer and DVD’s (which we never got around to watching). The motel room had a kitchen equipped with a mini-fridge, microwave, and two-burner stove.
The motel was a five-minute walk from the train station and the town’s visitor center (a museum). Ten minutes brought us to the start of our first hike.
The next day, after picking up some awesome fruitcake and some so-so meat pies for lunch at the town grocery, we had a good breakfast at Arthurs Motel, before setting out on our next trek, 5 KM north of town.
Can you spot Dorothy in the glacial moraine on the right?
We returned to ChristChurch via the same train, the TranzAlpine that had brought us to Arthurs Pass. Another train ride not to be missed.
From Christchurch we flew to Sydney via Air New Zealand which offered in-flight movies at each seat—to everyone except Phillip. He pointed this out to the steward who offered to reboot the system, after which everyone on the plane had movies except for our row. The steward came by as we were landing and gave each one in our row a $30 voucher.
We took a suburban train from the airport and got off opposite the Sydney town hall, close to a Citibank branch where I used the ATM to obtain Australian currency. It was a just short walk downhill from there to the Westend Backpackers where we had a tiny private room (with a double bed and private baths). A dim sim place across the street is the main supplier for a number of restaurants (good stuff) and a Coles (get a roast chicken and other groceries to take on the train) is just around the corner.
The hostel itself is s a bit of a mob scene (see photo), but there are lots of discount activates and the multi-national hostellers get on quite well with each other. Kitchen/dining room is immaculate despite the swirling throngs. Hot water always available.
You'll need to rent a A$5 locker for storing bags before and after checkout. And you may need to rent towels at $3 per. You'll need deposits for room keys and towels.
We bought a day pass on the monorail two days in a row, so we could get on and off at the various stops. On the first day, we ate lunch at the harbor.
The second morning was spent at the Harbor in Sydney’s indoor Wildlife World where we saw butterflies and other arthropods, an aviary filled with birds, fringed lizards, snakes, the egg-laying echidna a monotreme, and many marsupials.
Stocking up at Cole’s the next day with food for our trip, we boarded the Indian Pacific:
Amtrak, the Great Southern Railway seems intent on discouraging coach
passengers. Perhaps all passengers, as the scenic part of journey through the
Blue Mountains takes place after dark.
Though we traveled overnight, seats lacked footrests and went back only slightly. My noise-canceling headphones failed to eliminate the muzac blasting from the overhead speakers during the day. (We brought food with us: recommended!)
Extra-cost side excursion in Broken Hill consisted primarily of a 30- minute stop at a souvenir shop. We’d have done better to walk through the town, take a cab to the mine instead.
The surrounding desert yielded to wheat fields before we reached Adelaide.
We walked from the station to a City Bus, whose driver dropped us a mere nine blocks from our stop. Worse, when we did reach the Nomads Raglans, it was to learn from its surly, hormonally challenged proprietress that were no towels, no private baths, no double beds, and we needed to provide a non-refundable $7 cleaning deposit. We demurred, waved good-by to our room deposit, and asked about inexpensive hotels nearby. After Phil threw a Mel-Gibson, the proprietress phoned a couple of nearby motels and we were fortunate to find a room at the City Central Motel a few blocks away. Here for just $5 more, the rooms had double beds, towels, a hairdryer, a TV, a paperback exchange, and a balcony overlooking a downtown street on which we ate our supper and sipped a beer.
The next morning, we took the Overland to Melbourne. Designed for day travel, the seats were far more comfortable, had foot rests, and leaned back more than those on the Indian Pacific.
We stayed at the Nomads Industry in Melbourne. After a long walk to it from the Interstate Train station, we were grateful for the free mug of Australian beer, fresh towels (no charge), and the clean comfortable room with a double bed. This Nomads is definitely head and shoulders above the rest. Located in North Melbourne, numerous restaurants are just two blocks east, the farmer’s market is two blocks north, and the nearest stop on the Suburban railroad just two blocks west.
Phil had met the Czech-German-Australian Blasche family online while garnering reviews for the 3rd edition of his Common Errors in Statistics. They were kind enough to take us to the Wild Life Sanctuary and provide a delicious picnic lunch. We hope they will visit us in turn.
Hit of the Sanctuary was the bird show, plus innumerable platypuses (which could be seen but not photographed as they frolicked in their dark underwater lairs), and our first Tasmanian Devil.
We took the XPT from Melbourne back to Sydney. A local, it stopped at every opportunity, and took 12 hours to do the distance, leaving us thinking only of boarding our flight the next day and going home. The plus part of taking Air Pacific is that we got a free stopover in Fiji going to New Zealand. The down side is that we got a four-hour stopover in the Fiji airport on our return. Thankfully, on our return flights, we were served by an Air Pacific crew and luxuriated in the comfort of an Air Pacific plane.