Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, December 22, 2013

One Week In Fiji

This is the boat we used to go snorkeling on my 2nd day in Taveuni.
Different than way that the cold air hit me the first time I stepped off the plane in Antarctica, the hot humid air in Fiji stuck to my skin creating a dampness that hasn't left yet.  I've gotten used to this feeling in the last 8 days, but it doesn't make it too much more comfortable.

Sunset in Taveuni
Before flying to the smaller island of Taveuni I spent a few days in the city of Nadi (pronounced Nandy) on Fiji's largest island.  I've spent most of my time in Nadi at my hostel on the beach.  There really hasn't been much reason to leave.  I did go into the city center to visit the farmer's market, but I didn't stay much longer since I was tired of being hassled by the locals.  Fijians are known for being some of the friendliest people in the world, but in the city it is a little different.  Their "friendliness" turns annoying really quickly as every third person on the streets stops to introduce themselves and inquires to make sure I've visited the local Fijian market and not the Indian markets.  There is a large Indian (from India) population in Nadi and the locals aren't the biggest fans of them.  A bunch of white people took the bus into town yesterday and ended up all walking down the same street toward the fruit and vegetable market and the group got smaller and smaller as each of us was eventually enticed to visit one of the local Fijian shops.

Fire Dancing!
1.5 seconds of fire dancing.

This trip was supposed to be relaxing so I soon got too fed up with this and headed to catch the bus back to the beach hostel. Walking down the last block to the bus station I couldn't take more than a few steps without being stopped.  There were a few times I would say goodbye to someone and turn around to start walking and not even make a step before someone else came up to me.

My first time snorkeling.

It is such a different world.
From Nadi I got on a small twin otter airplane to fly an hour and a half to the island of Taveuni.  The last time I was on a twin otter I was at the South Pole.  Flying over tropical islands was a lot nicer than flying over that cold, flat, white landscape.  The door of this twin otter didn't quite seal, which freaked some people out, but I was happy to have a little extra breeze in the heat.

Bali was our guide on most day trips around Taveuni.
The van that picked me up from the airport was in even worse shape than the plane.  The first bench seat in the back wasn't attached to the floor so it rocked back and forth with every bump in the road.  But it got me to the hostel.  Not the hostel I originally booked…that one was closed, but the same people opened up another one and simply transferred the reservations from the old hostel to the new one.  The website for the old one is still up and currently taking reservations….oh Fiji.

An hour after I arrived in Taveuni I headed up to some local waterfalls with a few people that were also staying in the hostel.  The heat was killer, but we were rewarded with cool water to swim in at each waterfall.  There were also purple crabs high up in the rain forest.  Later that evening we had a bonfire on the beach and watched some Fijian fire dancing.  The rest of my days in Fiji have been just as amazing.
The grass was covered in these things every night.
I have thousands of photos to go through, but I was able to quickly find a few for this post.  I'll also try to get some more stories up in the next few days.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thinking In A German Accent & Some tips for NZ

Lake Tekapo

Milk truck heading south along the west coast.
Lots of greenery from bus seats throughout New Zealand.
I know when I spend a long time in South America and am surrounded by the Spanish language and attempt to speak it I start to think in Spanish.  I have never gotten to the point where I've started to dream in it.  I've heard that is the sign you need to leave. In New Zealand I'm surrounded my many languages in hostels, but even more prominent than English is German.  There are Germans everywhere!  So far they have made up over half of the guests in each hostel I've stayed at.  English is the second most common language, but in a German accent.  I've heard enough of this that sometimes I find that my thoughts are in this German accent.

Expect a lot more palm tree photos to come once I get to Fiji.
Today is my last day in New Zealand and I feel like the time has go by fast.  I've seen a good chunk of the south island, but there is still a lot to be seen.  I guess I'll just have to come back next year for some more exploring.  You could spend months on just this island and hardly see anything.  

Pancake rocks formed from eroded limestone along the west coast.
A few things that have helped me out in the last few weeks in New Zealand: A BBH card for hostels. It is $45, but that cost is recovered pretty quickly in hostel savings and phone calls. It makes it easy to book hostels online and you get a $3/night discount.  It also is a phone card that make calling around NZ and the rest of the world really easy. 

Another milk truck on the west coast.
I also got a Metro card for the bus system in Christchurch.  It is $10 and you can reload it online or on any bus.  It drops your bus fare by at least $1 and after two fares paid each day the rest of the rides are free.  It makes running errands around the city really easy and cheap.

Church in Lake Tekapo.
The last tip would be to invest in a few tupperware containers.  Not much is cheap in New Zealand and eating out is no exception.  Instead of paying $25 for a dinner, I'd go out and buy $25 worth of groceries and cook a big meal that would last me for a couple of days.

Lastly, it is worth spending the extra money to travel by train.  But if you are going to take a bus, take Naked Bus instead of Intercity.  They are a lot cheaper and the driver doesn't bore/annoy you with five hours of commentary. 

This whole paragliding thing is pretty cool.
Flying! I figured out that I'm not afraid of heights when I'm not attached to anything.

I'm waiting in the Christchurch Airport right now just about an hour before my flight to Fiji.  It has been almost 15 months since I have been on a non-USAP/USAF flight.  I'm looking forward to the seats being a little more comfortable than on an LC-130.  It has been warm in New Zealand, but the heat of Fiji (upper 80s) is going to be a shock.  I remember wind chill temperatures in the winter around -80* once or twice.  I don't know which I would prefer.  

Lake Tekapo
Lupines right next to the hostel I stayed at in Tekapo.

Lupines and Lake Tekapo at night.
Windy night.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The North of The South Island

The Coastal Pacific train travels through vineyards between Kaikoura and Picton.

Watering Cove where I spent my first night on the trail.
Earlier this week I spent three days walking along through the forests and along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park.  It was the perfect respite after 14 months in Antarctica.  Here is a description of the first 15-20 minutes of hiking on my last day on the trail.

Sunset over Nelson Haven of Tasman Bay in Nelson.
The night before I was eager to be up before the sun because I hadn’t seen a sunrise since the sun would come up at noon in McMurdo a few months ago.  However I didn’t feel that eagerness as my alarm went off at 4am.  After hitting the snooze button a few times on my phone and my watch I finally sat up in my damp tent and primed the whisperlite stove in the dark grey, humid morning.  The flames from the stove lit up my little nook in the Awaroa Campground.  I really needed coffee for a little extra motivation.  Even though I only had 5.5 kilometers to hike that day I knew it was going to be a long one because I could already feel my blisters throbbing and I didn’t even have shoes or a pack on yet.

Early morning in the Awaroa Campground.
I thought I was being clever by wearing my lightweight running shoes along the Abel Tasman Coastal trek because it was going to be warm and sunny along this relatively easy track.  While I had run in those shoes a lot over the last few months, I hadn’t carried a heavy pack in them or with any shoes for that matter over the last 11 months.  I don’t know why I though my feet would react well to this. 

The Milky Way isn't as visible in New Zealand as it was during the winter in Antarctica.  
Before I knew it my coffee was gone and my pack was packed.  I knew I’d be walking through some water and mud so I opted for hiking the half-kilometer across the estuary, which is only crossable within a few hours of low tide (that is why I was up so early), in my flip flops. 

The night before I had a my knife, bandage and the only wet antiseptic wipe that was usable from my first aid kit laid out in my tent in the excitement of draining the bloody fluid from my blisters.  Then I remembered that while crossing the estuary my feet would get covered in mud and salt water and I would not fair well with a bandaged foot with even a small hole in the major blister. 

I started across the estuary in my flip flops and pack wincing at every step.  Besides the pain in my feet it was peaceful with no wind and a brightening day.  I was completely surrounded by the sounds of birds also greeting the new day.  I started an hour earlier than most people in the campground because the hiking was going to be slow for me.  I walked on the outside of my feet to avoid putting pressure on the blisters that were nestled in between the ball of my foot and big toe. Yes, a strange place to have them.  Days later my legs are sore in strange places because of walking this way.

An oystercatcher searches for food in the evening in the Awaroa Inlet. 
The sky was slowly turning from grey to pink and I wanted to stop to take photos, but it was too wet to set my pack down and I just wanted to get this crossing over with. At first the going was easy, but I soon got to the muddy section filled with the crabs.

I’m not afraid of spiders unless they surprise me and I have no reason to dislike crabs unless there are thousands of them near my exposed feet.  As I walked they would scuttle in all directions.  Some would scuttle sideways away from me and stand there looking terrified as if saying, “Please don’t hurt me,” and others would run toward my feet and stand there swaying back and forth as if saying, “Come at me bro.”  Others would quickly crawl back into their little holes in the sand.  I knew I was stepping on many of them beneath the sand, but I hoped that they would be able to crawl out after I moved on.  I also didn’t feel too terribly bad about this because of the unease they were causing me—even though I was in their home.  Every once in awhile I would test the “come at me bro” crabs and poke them with my trekking pole.  This would be enough to scare some away and others would get aggressive and attack the end of my pole.  I was never sure which ones were right next to my feet. To my delight the crabs eventually thinned out and I was confronted with the Awaroa river.

It was hardly knee deep and I was wearing shorts so getting my clothes wet wasn’t an issue.  It was also very mellow so I had no worries of falling in.  The cold water felt good on my feet.  The crossing brought back memories of terrifying river crossings with 100 pound packs and mountaineering boots in Patagonia.  Thinking about holding on to four other people and walking sideways across a waist-deep, grey-colored rushing river sounds absurd to me right now.  And, well, it did at the time too.  Besides the ocean, the landscape that I’d traveled through for the last few days reminded me a lot of Patagonia.  

Typical beach along the trail.
I was most of the way across the estuary by this point and felt like I was home free.  No more crabs and no more scary river crossing memories left.  Nope, I was wrong about the crabs.  More crabs! There were less on this side of the river and they seemed less aggressive.  With just about 100 meters left I got to the sticky mud.

If I hadn’t had enough of a harrowing crossing this sealed the deal.  There was a nice thin layer of black mud mixed with sand that made my sandals stick to the ground with each step.  My feet and sandal straps were covered in the same beautiful golden sand that covers the beaches of Abel Tasman National Park.  However, this sand is from granite and the crystalline structure was extra painful as it was ground between my skin and sandal strap as I tried to free my flip-flop with each step forward.  I tried to slow down, but that just prolonged the pain and the grinding of the sand against my skin. 

After twenty long minutes of walking I made it to the rocks on the north side of the estuary where I brushed the sand off my feet and let them dry out before I put on a fresh pair of socks and the same blister-causing shoes I’d worn for the previous two days.  I resisted the urge to grab my camera, while being eaten by sand flies, I watched the bright pink sky turn to daylight.  There was only five more kilometers to go that day.

I'm going to have some fun with this underwater camera housing.
Watering Cove where I spent my first night.
Waiharakeke Bay
This photo almost makes me dizzy.