Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, I refuse to stop travelling!

Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.

And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River  -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival  -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling.  I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”

Coffee in XIam, China

Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world  I am going to keep on travelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,

Solitude, Wellington, NZ
Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.

So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.

What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required.  they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.

I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).

If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.

So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.

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Want to relax? Sofitel – Fiji resort

Within an hour of landing at the Nadi Airport I’m in my room at the four star Sofitel Resort on Denarau Island – a small private island in Fiji. It’s attached to the mainland by a short causeway and is 5 km north-west of Nadi and just 10 km west of Nadi International Airport – about 5 resorts are on the island.

We were staying at the Sofitel as its only moments from Denarau Marina from where will leave to join the Fiji Princess then onto the Yasawa Islands (We stayed on the first and last night of my trip to Fiji, and I was a guest of Sofitel.)

Resorts, such as this, are ideal for families as they cater perfectly to their needs. Here, family rooms come complete with child-friendly design Sony PlayStation’s and are close to the children’s pool, a water slide and the kids club.

As a solo traveler, resorts are not my prefered accommodation for more than a night or two, but couples would find romance and intimacy in the luxurious rooms or Sofitel’s intimate beachfront suites ideal.

Unfortunately, because of my schedule, I was not able to use the Mandara Spa which I would have willingly used however I did water-test the lovely pool but eschewed the adrenalin watersports off the beach.

The restaurants and food were good: Lagoon for my breakfasts, Salt for dinners (Think that is a childfree area) and the Parisienne for iced coffees!

A bus takes guests to other destinations and two Australian women said they went into Nadi for lunches and shopping every day – others never leave the resort as what they wanted was a relaxing  time in the sun. Fiji enjoys a mild tropical climate with averages of  31c in summer and 29c for the winter months so, if you are looking for a winter escape, I’m sure this Sofitel Resort  and Spa will fulfil all your needs.

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The Princess, the crew and, Amelia Earhart

Fiji Princess
Fiji Princess

The Fiji Princess, which I sailed on last month, is about to be part of one of the greatest mysteries of all time. With sixty guests on board, plus the crew, the catamaran becomes part of the “Voyage in Search of Amelia Earhart“.

Earhart,(1897-1937) was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and was an early supporter of the USA  Equal Rights Amendment.

During her attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937 she disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean and fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

Talking with some of the crew about their upcoming voyage to Tahiti it was obvious they had not realised the historic significance of being involved in the possible finding of her plane.

The Captain told me he would be on board for the thousand-mile journey but would not be in charge as the open, international waters require higher qualifications than he has.

Capt on the bidge
Capt on the bridge

One day, deciding not to go snorkeling on one trip out from the boat, especially as manta-ray had not appeared  I sat in the little boat and chatted with two of the crew as they followed the snorkelers while they explored a reef.

Imagine being part of history I enthused, fancy being able to tell your grandchildren “I was there when they found Amelia Earhart’s plane.”

We also talked rugby and dreams of the future. Jona tells me he comes from the last island in the Fiji chain of islands and its nickname is ‘little New Zealand’ as it’s the closest to NZ. He also tells me he supports the NSW Waratahs as he has a cousin in the team.

Both men were thrilled with the Fiji Sevens having beaten NZ a few days earlier, the Chiefs and Highlanders were their favourite NZ teams and both admire Richie McCawhh and richie

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He other young man, Colin, had been a carpenter before joining the Princess some three years earlier, and was studying to further his career: dreams of being the Captain of an even bigger vessel than the Princes is in his future.

Another topic I bought up was my concern about bread being fed to fish at Nanuya Lailai Island, that bread is not good for the fish. I suggested that they (i.e. the company buy) have fish food for them.

Although ,as Dan, a marine biologist who came on board to talk about corals and the local reefs, said ‘I’ve bought this up often but nothing has changed – however, I’d rather them feed the fish than kill them.”

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Back to Amelia and the Princess, this month (June 2015) a research vessel will investigate the area with a remotely operated vehicle, while divers will search the surrounding reef for other possible bits of wreckage and other researchers will scour the island for remains of a possible campsite.

I hope the crew of the Fiji Princess will be able to tell their grandchildren ‘I was there’.

NOTE: For more information about the research project see here and here

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Best-ever food at First Landing in Fiji

Visiting the First Landing Resort  in Fiji was an unexpected bonus after cruising on the Fiji Princess. It’s a lovely resort with many levels of accommodation and it appealed to me: unpretentious and friendly. Check out their website as there are some luxurious parts within the resort to stay also – including having your own pool.

But an even bigger bonus for me was the Chef’s Tasting Selection after a kodoko (Fijian raw fish) making lesson. Without a word of exaggeration it was the tastiest time I have had for a long time. I wish my photos did the six plates justice: the tempura coral trout was the prettiest, most impressive, dish I’ve seen: why is it food that looks so good to the eye fails the lens test?

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Let your taste buds imagine what mine had, and, if you get to Fiji make sure you have a meal at the First Landing Resort – make sure you tell them the KiwiTravelWriter sent you.

Cruising, snorkeling & walking among the flora and fauna of Fiji

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji
The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji

While cruising the Yasawa Islands with Blue Lagoon Cruises (aboard the catamaran Fiji Princess) I find just some of the flora and fauna of Fiji. Tropical forests, rough mountainous terrain, blue Pacific Ocean waters and uninhabited islands (as well as cities and resorts) sums up Fiji: it’s only native mammal are fruit bats and six varieties are found on the islands and although bird watching in the rainforest is a major tourist draw in Fiji I saw very few while cruising there recently.

Walking through the tropical forest (from one side of one of the Yasawa islands) we saw epiphytes, and a few small orchids. Overall, 10 percent of the native plant life is unique to Fiji.

Underwater, Fiji features one of the South Pacific’s largest coral reef systems and we had a marine biologist come aboard to talk about the value of them. Although they can’t sting us, we can do huge damage to them by touching them: the bacteria on our body can be fatal to them  . . . so, don’t touch is the rule!

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Marine biologist Dan

With no eyes or brains, a centralised mouth and digestive system it would never win an award for complex systems – in fact its mouth is also where undigested matter leaves its body!

Labelled as the Soft Coral Capital of the World by Jean-Michel Cousteau, Fiji apparently offers some of the world’s best scuba diving and snorkeling and the crystal waters of their reefs and lagoons often have unmatched visibility.

As someone who feels almost blind without my glasses I would recommend getting your own face mask with prescription glass so you can enjoy the colourful underwater scenery even more than you will.

Fiji Princess had all the water toys we needed …  such as, snorkels, face-mask, canoe, paddle boards, glass bottom boats etc.

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Cruising the Yasawa Islands in Fiji

websizedDSCN0112It was in the Yasawa Islands that the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon was filmed and we visited the site after swimming in the Sawa-i-Lau caves. I didn’t like being in the cave, felt very apprehensive, and only stayed in the first cave for a few minutes – later I even forgot to ask the brave ones who dived through and under the rock that joined the two caves. Sounded even more scary to me!

Tourism is growing in importance and apparently permission is required to visit all, or at least many of the islands in the group.

As one of the outer island chains, options to get to the Yasawa Islands is more limited than to islands near Nadi or Denarau; the Yasawa Flyer connects Port Denarau with the Yasawa Islands and is ideal for free independent travellers while The Fiji Princess that I was cruising on is an ideal and easy way to cruise these remote islands.

my first view of the Fiji Princess
my first view of the Fiji Princess

I was very fortunate to be a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises.

The Yasawa Group is an archipelago of about 20 volcanic islands in the Western Division of Fiji, with an approximate total area of 135 square kilometres. It stretches in a north-easterly direction for more than 80 kilometres from a point 40 kilometres north-west of Lautoka on Viti Levu (the 2nd largest town in Fiji).

Apparently British navigator William Bligh was the first European to sight the Yasawa’s in 1789 following the mutiny on the HMS Bounty, but they were not charted until 1840. The islands were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.

My father was part of a small Fiji Defence Force that had been sent in the last quarter of 1939 and some 3,053 men where there late 1940 and began fortifying Viti Levu. His time there made an impression in him in that Isa Lei (Fijian farewell song -see video below) was one of his party songs  and I he refused to eat the ‘terrible bananas’ we got in New Zealand ‘they are picked green and sent here – they are so much tastier when fresh and ripened on the plant’ he would say. And he’s right, the local fruit tastes great.

Dad bought this home for  his fiancee: they married 1944 after he was invalided out of the army
Dad bought this home for his fiancée: they married 1944 after he was medically discharged from the NZ army

Another family connection to Fiji was recalled by M when she knew I was going there:

“Hi Heather, The Yasawa Islands are where we spent some time way back in 1978 or 79 with S and G. We visited a village on Waya Island and spent a week camping on an uninhabited island which I think must be among the ‘Sacred Islands’ mentioned in your itinerary. I think the Blue Lagoon Cruises may have just been starting up then, though we didn’t see them. Things were very basic back then. I remember G gave some aspirin to a poor woman suffering from tooth ache on Waya. She was so grateful. Have a great trip! I hope the cruises are beneficial to the villager.

 We were on S and G’s little yacht, Spirit of Breaker Bay and the 45 foot yacht, Wayward Wind. Wayward’s crew were (future) Home Port friends and a new friend who worked at the Uni of the South Pacific. We were taking him around looking for a certain type of seaweed which produces heaps of agar jelly. At the time the University was trying to find a location where the seaweed could be commercially harvested. There was also a young Fijian man who said he knew where to find this seaweed near his village on Waya. It turned out he had no idea, he just wanted a free ride home to his village. We never did find a big quantity, but we got to taste the delicious jelly salad the villagers made with the seaweed and coconut milk.- it been fun to remember that time!” M

 

Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave
Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave – home-baked goodies for all morning and afternoon teas

Here is a video of the crew sing the farewell song to us as we prepare to disembark at Port Denarau

 

 

Fijian feast is cooked underground

 

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Our catamaran, the Fiji Princess, gets tied to a coconut tree: the Yasawa Islands setting idyllic, and we are to have a Fijian feast onshore, followed by a concert by the local village.

Coconut has a special place in the Fijian diet and, grown in most coastal areas, it’s not only for food, but plays an important role in the economy. It is also used in many ways in the lovo (earth oven); as a basket, as the steam producer then to cover the food.

These photos are of the demonstration we saw of a food basket being made.

Some of the foods cooked in the lovo were Taro (dry starchy root crop), Kumala (sweet potato) whole chicken and a large leg of pork. After the burning wood was removed the meat, and vegetables placed in the hole in top of the hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and cooked for about 3.5 hours. It’s considered a healthy meal because of the lack of oil – it is quite similar to the (Māori) hangi or the (Hawaiian) luau or (Samoan) umu and has a smoky flavour.

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After showering, washing off the salt water we had played in, we return to the island, where a kava ceremony was being held, and before long we watch our dinner being dug up.

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While the pork was dry, the crackling on the pig was fabulous (I think it had been grilled somehow after being cooked in the lovo) and my favourite dish was the entre. It’s a ‘raw fish’ dish made up of Walu (sometimes called Spanish mackerel) with ‘miti’ – a coconut-based sauce. The fresh fish is marinated in lemon juice and left to “cook” for several hours. The thick coconut milk is added after it is “cooked” together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt – this is the ‘miti’.

the pork is carved
the pork is carved

Raw fish (kokoda)
Raw fish entree (kokoda)

Dinner over, we move to seats in a clearing among the coconut palms – by now it’s very dark and before long we are entertained by beautiful singing and dancing at the ‘meke’. I often feel uncomfortable joining in traditional dancing anywhere, but the Fijians seem to love a conga line, making it easy for all, including me, to join in!

 

NOTE: Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific.  In Fiji a kava ceremony often goes together with social event and while on ‘the Princess’ it happened three times – including a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a gift and drinking the ‘grog’ is accompanied by hand-clapping before and after drinking from the coconut shell. It is made by pounding the sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water.

Apparently the effects of a kava drink vary widely depending on the kava plant used, and amount drunk. Most on board didn’t drink it but for those who did their eyes became droopy or sleepy looking it seem the active ingredients have a half-life of about 9 hours.

New Zealand is concerned about the risk of driving after mixing of alcohol and kava. On the other hand, it seems a national league team uses it after games to unwind.

Note: the KiwiTravelWriter was a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises

 

50 shades of green and blue in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji

‘They’ say, one picture is a thousand words: if this is so, sit back relax and enjoy this 2,800 word slideshow about the 50 shades of green and blue in the northern Fijian waters and the Yasawa islands.

Recently I was invited to cruise, for 4 nights, five days on the Fiji Princess – a boutique catamaran that can host a max of 64 guests – I loved the days of relaxing, sailing, eating, beach visits, snorkeling, visiting a village for dinner then the next day the only High School in the islands, eating Fijian food, and enjoying an eclectic group of fellow travellers from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Belgium, UK, Germany – and maybe others.

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To see more of my travels and lifestyles of the people of these remote island sign up to follow my blog (top right – no spam ever, only an email when I publish a new blog)

 

The princess comes home – it’s a shock

It’s hard to wake up at home after being treated like a princess on the catamaran, Fiji Princess. It’s a shock to the system.

Having a whole crew look after you (and a personal smoother-of-the-way as well) it seems a sense of entitlement sets in!

How do you want your eggs, scrambled, poached, omelette, whites only? No problem, take a seat and I’ll bring them over. And so you sit, in a lovely salon on the back to the boutique ‘cat’, to eat fresh tropical fruit, bacon, eggs, pancakes and, or baked beans along with your toast and coffee.

The crew catch their prefered breakfast when they can
The crew catch their prefered breakfast when they can

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Now, back in my fabulous apartment, I have to make my own breakfast; make my own bed, clean my own bathroom, and wash my own towels.

No more smiling, friendly, Fijian faces to greet me with a cheerful ‘bula‘, and no warm sun and sea – the three hours flying north – on Fiji Airways – had made a big difference to the New Zealand autumn weather: flying south has made the same change, but this time, negatively.

Guess I’ll just have to adjust to no attention, no-one asking if I want a croissant, more shade, massage, water?

I’ll have to return to being the person providing all the attentions I want and all the things I need like clean linen and great food – being my own supplier of princess-like attention, and dream of the fabulous four nights  and five days aboard the ‘Princess’. (#fijiprincess)

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Would I recommend the Blue Lagoon Cruises … yes, in a heartbeat.

More blogs and photos will follow about local food, resorts, sun and sand, Yasawa Islands, snorkeling, paddle boards, and the volunteer programme that supports these isolated villages and schools – and for now, I will go and prepare some dinner for this disposed princess.

As ‘they’ say ‘toughen up Princess.’

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Life on the ocean waves

Well actually, there have been no big ocean waves – just blue skies, good company,  great Fijian staff, and fun activities. I even managed to get myself upright on a paddle board. So, lots of tales to tell about this Blue Lagoon Cruise on the Fiji Princess over the next couple of weeks – so come back soon and read all about it. In the meantime here are some pics to whet your appetite.  #fijiprincess #cruising #travel Well image image image image image image image image image image image