Africa Part 2 – Botswana, Zambia, Malawi & Tanzania

Africa Part 2 – Botswana, Zambia, Malawi & Tanzania

After driving out of Etosha it was time for a final night in the capital city Windhoek where we bid farewell to a few of our group and welcomed a few more. This was a big driving day so relatively uneventful. We then headed to the Botswana border and other than my ear having a slight altercation with a thorny tree made it through very painlessly. We stayed in the Kalahari so extremely hot once more… We were lucky enough to spend some time with the San bushmen and do a bush walk with them learning about their traditional medicine and way of life. They used to chase animals on foot and then go back to the village to move everyone to where the food had been found, often 30 plus km away so they kept in pretty good shape! Also it was fascinating to learn how because food didn’t come that often traditionally they would effectively force feed themselves once food had been found because it goes stale quickly in the heat and then they adapted to store this excess food in their bottoms. We also were treated to some dancing and music which was really different to anything I’ve heard and mesmerising to watch and listen to.
The following day we journeyed to our stop just outside of Okavango delta where we had some down time with a bar and swimming pool, and importantly the best wifi of the trip so far! That night turned out to bring the first rain of the rainy season… It did so in the shape of a storm that lasted pretty much all night with thunder and lightening happening simultaneously over the campsite. This meant our trip to the delta in the morning was slightly delayed whilst the weather was assessed to see if it would be safe. In it seems typical Africa fashion the sun soon came out and it became boiling hot again. We travelled in off-road vehicles to the dock where we would hop on our dug out canoes to travel to the island we would be staying at. We had a ‘poler’ each, so imagine like the guy on a gondola using a pole against the ground to go through the delta. Pretty much instantly we spotted two hippos bobbing there heads in the water less than 20 metres away… Everyone apart from me seemed a lot less concerned about this fact but luckily we didn’t get too close so they just kept minding their own business. We arrived on our island a couple of hours boat ride later. So this night was proper bush camping, as in no fences or anything and wildlife such as elephants and hippos can come into camp if they so wished, our toilet was a hole that was dug in the ground to be covered once we left. We were given a safety briefing about being especially careful at night and then told to run in zig zags if it came to that… Overall it was an awesome experience and my nerves came to nothing in the end, we had a swim in the delta, went on a busy hike, danced and played games around the campfire and generally had a really good night in the wild.

The following couple of days were big travel days but we got to stay in some cool places. We stayed amongst the baobab trees the following night and then went close to the Zambia border for our final night in Botswana. We went on a boat cruise getting to see plenty of hippos, baboons, crocodiles and buffalo. It was also a really nice time cruising up and down the river. The border crossing to Zambia ended up being a bit of an adventure the next day. After checking out of Botswana we had to get a ‘ferry’ across to Zambia the other side of the Zambezi river. Now this ferry was more of a sketchy looking metal motor powered raft which surprisingly could take a couple of lorries at a time, however it did the job and got us across. We then waited for our visas whilst getting accosted by several gentleman selling some African ornaments an carvings after obviously sticking out as massive tourists! In the afternoon/evening we had some time to chill out so I opted to check out the hotel next door where supposedly they made great cocktails and had an infinity pool. Now the beer was cheaper, they had free snacks, the pool was incredible, the wifi great, but most of all a hippo actually had a stroll through the bar in the evening… Not word of a lie, it was an incredible experience!

The morning after we were up early as some of us had chosen to go to ‘Devil’s Pool’. So this was one main thing I had wanted to do ever since I knew about it. Basically there is a rock pool right at the edge of Victoria falls where you can swim and sit and lean over the edge of the longest waterfalls in the world. I just had to do it. It leaves from the Royal Livingstone Hotel, an extremely posh hotel which has its own resident giraffes and zebras, of which we saw both just on the drive through… We then went through the marble clad lobby to the riverfront where we hopped on a boat to livingstone island. We had a brief walk to view the falls before sliding into the water and supervised all swam across to where the pool was. Once you’re there and in the pool it’s a lot less scary than you’d think, you have a guide and another who takes all the photos for you. He took a lot… Then you all lean over the edge and take turns for a picture sitting on the edge with the guide, one pose you’re lying down and the pictures look pretty up close and personal… However he’s making sure you’re safe and not falling off the edge. As part of the day we returned to the island to a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict with scones and tea and coffee. After this we hopped back in the cab (after making use just because we could, of the Royal Livingstones 5* marble floored, hand lotion and hand towel available, bathroom facilities) and headed to the Victoria falls national park. The falls because of how low the water was were actually dry along a lot of the front however we saw the main falls and hiked down to the boiling pot where the water goes into the river to continue its journey. When the water is high the falls stretch a massive 1.7km… 

We sadly lost some of our group and said goodbye before gaining some new travellers that were to join us all the way up to Nairobi. After more thunderstorms and a lot of mud packing away we had a couple of long driving days, the first about 8 hours and the second similar with a 4am wake up so we could get there in good time and avoid traffic. Now these long drives might sound like a chore but they’re actually pretty fun and eventful. There are lots of friendly people smiling and waving and villages to drive through and stop by in, not to mention the cows and goats in the road about every mile you drive! We also found out that a large part of Zambia (all we would be staying) didn’t have electricity.

We then arrived at our next campsite ‘wildlife camp’ which was next to South Luangwa National Park. By next to, I mean that it was a short drive by a national park with no fences… As our campsite also was open we had safety briefings on not leaving the camp and also checking for hippos before leaving your tent in the night. One big feature was monkeys, very cheeky monkeys who liked raiding the bin and generally stealing whatever they could get their hands on! We quickly learnt how close to wildlife you are when one of the staff (who had mentioned previously lions having killed a baby elephant in the area) asked if we wanted to see the lions. About a 1 minute drive and 100 yards from the campsite we saw two females. Other than being a fantastic experience it really brought home how real the wildlife is and how intimidating lions are when a couple of metres away from a fairly open vehicle! The next day we spent doing game drives through the national park, one at sunrise and one at sunset and night which were both fantastic!!! Our guide Moses was brilliant and other than finding us wild dogs (an endangered species and the first time he’d seen them this year), a leopard, hyena, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, zebra and plenty plenty more, he was really knowledgable and gave us a proper off-road driving experience! The only slight downside of the wild camping experience was all the bugs… So many bugs. As in driving on the game drive you feel them hitting you or slipping down your collar… Or you’ll find one inside some item of clothing and not quite know how long it’s been there or how it got there! I hit the hay early for a 4.15am start the next day and our border crossing into Malawi.

After we crossed into Malawi we were greeted by many more smiling waving faces as we headed down to the lake. It really was beautiful and peaceful here and we spent our first night having a bit of a celebration for one of the girls on tours birthday and then had a midnight swim in the calm waters of lake Malawi. The next day started with a village tour at 9, we were shown around the local village, school and clinic which was really interesting. Also full of lots of cute local kids who wanted to spend time with us and take pictures. It was great to see the village and the way of life, and we were even treated to more music and dancing from the village kids at a local dinner we had in the village that evening. Our next couple of days were spent further up lake Malawi where it was a great chance to relax and take t easy before a couple of huge drive days. By this I mean one we left at 5am arriving at our campsite after crossing through to Tanzania at around 6.30pm, and the next day we woke up at 2.30 and left at 3.30am so as to avoid the police who seem to love pulling you over and trying to solicit bribes… Also the traffic in Dar Es Salam which is a nightmare meant that we arrived at our hotel around 7pm so had a quick turnaround putting our tents up before dinner.

The next morning it was time for Zanzibar! After a more reasonable start we all hopped in Tuktuks to get our first ferry across to the main port where we would catch another over to Zanzibar. We arrived late morning in Stone Town and all hopped into our transport to the first hotel we would be staying. The beaches and location here was beautiful! After a slightly confusing drive through a village you get to the hotel, and all of the restaurants and shops etc are all located along the beach front so it’s pretty easy to get around. It was a lovely couple of days, swimming, relaxing, drinking some cocktails and exploring some of the local area including a turtle sanctuary! We also went on a sunset cruise on our second night which was so much fun, there were a bunch of locals playing drums on the boat and we jumped off at sunset and generally had a great time. We left the north part of the island feeling very relaxed and headed down to Stone Town, a very old historic town with many winding alleys and roads all making it extremely easy to get lost! We also visited a spice farm where I learnt (maybe a bit too late) that most spices actually come from trees… We also saw a slightly nuts man climb one of the highest coconut trees I’ve ever seen and sing is a song from the top. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring some of the town before hitting the night food market to pick up some local grub. The next morning was a 5.30am breakfast so we could jump on the ferry to sadly leave Stone Town.

We did a bit more travelling through a couple of camp sites before heading to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater for some game drives and more wild camping! It’s worth mentioning the campsite before we left called ‘snake park’, has a bunch of snakes (well guessed), and also other rescued wildlife and a Masai museum. We were there on feeding day so saw the snakes feeding on chicks and mice, although kind of unpleasant to watch it was still fascinating. Also they had a few Nile crocodiles which were the biggest I had seen and absolutely stunning to see.

So the plan was to drive from snake park past Ngorogoro crater through to Serengeti national park, where we would spend our first night before heading back over to stay at the rim of Ngorogoro. After a full morning driving we stopped for lunch at a campsite in Ngorogoro, this ended up being probably the most entertaining and unnerving of the trip! This was because of the kites circling above us and then swooping down and grabbing any food you may have in your hand, these were big birds and a couple of people got bits stolen by a couple of fly bys, there were also these incredibly ugly large vulture type things that looked like creepy old men… However they were more sinister looking and creeped up before running at any sign of aggression from us. We continued through to Serengeti in the afternoon passing lots of Masai along the way with their goats and cows. After sorting the paperwork at the gate to the national park we had a bit of a game drive before going to our campsite, we were very lucky and ended up seeing two leopards both in seperate trees, one of whom was munching on an impala it had caught, we also saw lions, more giraffes, hyena, zebra and elephants. We arrived at our wild camp late evening and after a delicious meal were briefed once again on the dangers of leaving your tent alone at night, we had to check outside for wildlife first and always go escorted to the bathroom. The main risk here was hyenas, who although not typically known for attacking people can be pretty unpredictable so we needed to be on our toes… Also this national park has lots of lions, elephants and hippos to watch out for so we needed to be aware of those too.

We woke up nice an early at sunrise to do a morning game drive (with a brunch in the middle just because) and after a seemingly slow start we saw a lot of lions! Probably one of my best experiences of the whole trip, the lions were all around the vehicles seeming completely undisturbed by our presence! Seeing these beautiful creatures so close was truly awesome. After our delightful brunch we ended up being lucky once more and spotting cheetah. I also felt very pleased with myself after realising I could put my camera to some binoculars to get extra zoom… and it worked a treat! Unfortunately after this is was time to leave the Serengeti and head over to Ngorogoro where we would be camping just at the top of the crater. The highlight of the evening was definitely Maryke our tour manager coming over to us and casually warning us by saying ‘hey guys, there are some buffalo heading over to the bathroom’. It turned out to a lot of people shock there were indeed two huge buffalo next to the bathrooms looming ominously!

After an early breakfast which included birthday cake! Yay for birthdays, we drove out to explore Ngorogoro crater itself. I did my usual routine of sticking my head out of the top like a animal seeking meerkat and we drove around the crater which itself is breathtaking. Being lucky enough to see lots of wildlife including hyenas and lion cubs. After lunch inside the crater we headed back out and back to snake park where we would be camping for our final night. It was lovely to celebrate not only one of the groups birthday but also the last night with everyone and sad that it would be the final night. We had a hog roast and plenty of alcohol to celebrate! After a final bit of nature with me finding a scorpion under our tent we headed into the Lando for our final long drive, with a bit of a wait at the border to Kenya. After arriving at the hotel in Nairobi having sat in Nairobi’s awful, and I mean some of the worst traffic I’ve seen awful, I said some sad goodbyes and headed to the airport (through more traffic) for my final flight back to London.

Africa Part 1 – South Africa and Namibia

Africa Part 1 – South Africa and Namibia

After over 30 hours spent in planes and airports I arrived in Cape Town. So once I’d finished completely crashing the first night, I had a full day to explore before I was to meet my group at 6pm. 

I decided to hop on one of the city tour buses that takes you all around Cape Town in a big loop also stopping at Table Mountain. After getting far too excited when Toto’s Africa came on between information I hopped off at the gondola stop for Table Mountain and joined the line to head up to the top. Having been clear weather and skies when I arrived, a bunch of cloud suddenly (and characteristically) came over the mountain, luckily this cleared fairly quickly so you could see the incredible views all around. After exploring more at the top, seeing a beaver looking creature and taking some snaps, I came back down and travelled around the rest of the city including the harbour. Saw some seals chilling in tyres and messing about in the water, birds nesting on the harbour wall and some incredible yachts and boats, all with the backdrop of table mountain behind. I came back to meet my group and we all went for a great really affordable and meat heavy meal! As a general trend I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at how cheap everything is here, I got a rump steak and a couple of beers in a nice restaurant for just over £10.

The next day we hopped in our Lando (the name for our bus that we have to do penalties such as sit ups etc for calling a bus or coach!), and started the drive to our first camp site a vineyard about 4/5 hours north of Cape Town. We stopped a couple of times to pick up supplies etc, one time being told we had to always close the windows because of baboons, #africaproblems. When we arrived at our campsite we all hopped off the Lando and learnt how to set up camp and unload all our tents kitchen equipment and bags etc. This trip would be camping pretty much all of the time. The tents were actually pretty simple to put up and when everyone pitches in it doesn’t take too long. We then had a wine tasting of six different wines for the equivalent of a fiver and then dinner with a few drinks before hitting the hay for a 5.45am start the next day.

So having packed down our tents, washed, ate breakfast, loaded everything back in the the van we hit the road ahead to head north to the Orange River. Now this drive was supposed to be about 4 hours. However a couple of hours in we broke down on the side of the road. After all pitching in to try and push the truck which we managed to do but didn’t fix the problem, we ended up being stuck there for a good few hours experiencing the African sun in all its glory. We were rescued by a mini bus that would drive us the remaining four hours or so to our campsite. Luckily we were staying by the Orange River so got to jump in and have a swim before a lovely dinner of bbq’d lamb. After a relatively late start and another swim with the campsite Labrador, we hit the road to the Namibian border. 

Luckily the border crossing was pretty straightforward and we got through pretty quickly, feeling the temperature rise and the desert landscape begin. It even got so hot we ended up having to turn the bus air con off for risk of overheating using ‘Africa air con’ (open windows) instead. After a few hours we arrived at our campsite, quickly unloaded and put up our tents, before jumping back on the Lando to head to Fish River Canyon. Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world behind the Grand Canyon and we would be doing a short hike before a dinner of nachos at sunset. The was incredible with some of the best views of the trip so far as you can probably see by the pictures.

The next morning we had another 6am start to leave nice and early for a long drive day. Within the first twenty minutes we had driven past wild Ostriches, Zebra and Springbok. After this we arrived at our campsite, we had a few hours to chill out as tomorrow was to be a busy day. So having packed down our tents by 6am we all jumped in the Lando and headed to the national park so we could climb Dune 45 before it became too hot. The climbing was tough going with the sand not providing the best support but the views at the top were incredible and you also got to run down! After some delicious brunch cooked by our tour manager Maryke we then headed to the most popular tourist destination in Namibia (apparently) Deadvlai, which still only had maybe 10-15 other cars there…. Got to love Africa! This was the very instagrammable clay flats which are a jeep ride and 1km walk away. We also saw ‘big daddy’ and ‘big mumma’, two giant sand dunes about with the biggest ‘big daddy’ being roughly 300m high. We saw some crazy people climbing this in the midday desert sun… I gave that one a miss. We also stopped by at another canyon before heading to our campsite.

I opted to hop on a desert tour with our local bushman guide Frans. We drove out into the desert and saw zebras and oryx, as well as learning a lot along the way. Some highlights include Frans catching a lizard and showing us how we would eat it if we were stuck Bear Grylls style, him digging in the sand and showing us a little trap door belonging to a dancing white lady spider, hearing about how to stare down a hyena, and also learning about how he survived encounters with a black mamba and cobra. We arrived back just in time to see a huge herd of zebras at the waterhole next to our camp site. They are probably the most skittish animals I’ve ever seen, we sat and watched in silence from about 20 metres away whilst they proceeded to very slowly and carefully approach, then run off for seemingly no reason before repeating the whole process again occasionally actually getting a drink. After dinner by he campfire I went back down to watch the waterhole and saw a slightly ominous looking black figure of an animal trying to approach the zebras. So the waterhole had a small light illuminating it but darkness all around and sitting there not knowing what this thing was was pretty unnerving. It was most likely a jackal or hyena but still not something I’d be too confident in dealing with!

The next day we drove to Swakopmund through more of the desert seeing more wild zebras, baboons, flamingos and dolphins whilst driving. We would be in this coastal town for a couple of days. Now this was where a lot of extreme sports happen, however having done all of them pretty much in New Zealand I instead chose to visit the township to see how local people live and learn about their culture. We learnt the click language, about their traditional Victorian dress, visited a kindergarten ran by a volunteer using a cardboard box as her blackboard, and sampled Namibian cuisine (I wasn’t too much of a fan but did try everything including the grub). It was really good to get an insight into the local people and how they live.

After more time relaxing in the afternoon and a wander through town the next morning we left to head back out to the desert to Spitzkope. I had never heard of this place however it is really in the middle of nowhere, our bathroom facilities for our campsite consisted of one long drip toilet. However it is a huge granite rock formation that is absolutely beautiful! After being warned to wear closed toed shoes to protect from scorpions at night, we spent the afternoon climbing and exploring some of the rock formations before Anton (one of the leaders of the tour who drove the Lando) cooked us a second absolutely fantastic Brai (South African BBQ). We had fish with garlic and butter, and a local dish of lambs liver which was delicious. We then finished off with some smores. After this we had another briefing for the next day when we were casually told: if you get a scorpion sting on your foot you can just put it in near boiling water as its less painful and helps break up the venom; that we should move our tents in the morning before packing them to avoid disturbing any snakes or scorpions that might have decided they would be a pleasant place to hang out; that we could sleep under the stars but there was a small chance of something joining us in our sleeping bags; oh and also that black mambas the snake that can kill you with its venom are in this part of the world. So slightly nervously I went back to my tent making sure the zip was well and truly zipped up.

After surviving the night snake and scorpion free we headed across more desert for our next stop. Along the way we visited the living museum of the Damara people. This was slightly touristy but still interesting to see and learn about the traditional tribe of the area, their medicines, making fire and how the chief had up to ten wives! We then went to see some rock drawings and learnt about how they were used for spiritual and educational reasons which was also fascinating. At the campsite it had been rumoured desert elephants sometimes came through so we all eagerly tried to spot some, unfortunately this didn’t happen but t was a nice evening by the campfire all the same! We set off nice and early the next day as we’d be heading to Etosha national park for two nights where we’d be able to camp next to a waterhole and do our first game drives.

After a morning driving we arrived at Etosha national park, upon entering we saw some zebra, lots of different types of antelope, and then a giraffe off in the distance. After arriving at our campsite we unloaded and set up our tents for the next couple of nights, before heading to the pool (really roughing it in africa!). However firstly we popped over to the waterhole to see what wildlife there was and spotted a couple of giraffes and some zebra having an afternoon sip. The waterhole is in front of a fenced area so you sit slightly raised and can watch the wildlife come and go safely there. It’s also strictly no talking, and I may have politely told off some loud Germans along the way… I went back after the pool and sat with some of my fellow tour mates with a G&T and some cheese and crackers watching the animals come and go from the waterhole. We didn’t see many others than zebra and giraffes but still the setting was absolutely beautiful. I even sat there as a storm started to come in seeing the dust and wind pick up and suddenly cover the landscape. The sunset was out of this world and the storm did indeed hit, we didn’t get too much rain but a lot of thunder sand and lighting. It was also pretty entertaining seeing the Icelandic girls in my group get super excited at seeing light night for the first time each time it crackled through the sky, as a non lighting virgin it was still a sight to behold. In the evening I went back and saw about twenty giraffes, as well as my first big five sighting of rhino. We saw a female and calf as well as a male, the male just sort of tried to get near the female and when that didn’t work took a nap, other than that the giraffes were extremely tentative and jumpy.

The next day we did a game drive in the morning and evening in our Lando with Anton our driver. If I haven’t mentioned yet, and you weren’t aware, Africa is hot, extremely hot. Namibia and the desert landscapes we’ve been in are also extremely hot with temperatures reaching 42 degrees on some of our days… So the morning and evening were the best times to see animals as it’s cooler and they’re more active. We were really lucky seeing a hyena right by the side of the track and also elephants, lots of giraffes and springbok, and finally towards the end of the day lions, meaning after a couple of days we had already seen three of the big five. Seeing all of these creatures in the wild really is a sight to behold. I also spent more time in the breaks (other than trying to nap) at the waterhole where we saw more elephants and giraffes. Etosha national park was really great and also for the fact that yes although the campsite had around twenty spots and you did get other tourists, it didn’t feel overrun or like the animals were being too disturbed. For example when we spotted lions it wasn’t us and a hundred other vehicles there was just one other at first then another who joined. This made it a much better experience for us and probably the animals too!

New Zealand North Island Contiki

New Zealand North Island Contiki

After a near 12 hour travelling day by coach and boat we arrived at the North island in Wellington. This was without a doubt the busiest place I had been in New Zealand. That might sound strange but even Christchurch seemed really quiet and empty, and felt more like a suburb due to the terrible earthquake damage. After a long day we had a meal and bid farewell to some of our group and welcome a couple of newbies. To put in in context at this stage our group went down from about 50 to 25 so definitely a big change!

We had a full day in Wellington so I made maximum use of the opportunity to see some of the Lord of the Rings locations. This wasn’t Hobbiton but was sold as for LOTR nerds only… Of which I am definitely one. I pulled some funny looking faces in seemingly normal woodland locations and found out some great stories about the films. We went to the first filming location where the ‘get off the road’ scene was filmed, unfortunately a lot of CGI used here but it was cool none the less. A few other interesting stories included how sounds for the Orc army at Isengard was actually 25,000 drunk cricket fans Peter Jackson enrolled for some help, completely by surprise to them all at the interval. Also we saw Sean Beans favourite Irish Bar which unfortunately went bankrupt two days before St Paddies day, as well as leaning Liv Tyler got confused by Wellingtons roads, drove the wrong way down the one way system, then got so freaked out she had to get Orlando Bloom to drive her everywhere from then on. We also went to the Weta studios where the props and special effects were made for a tour. This was awesome and unfortunately in the actual studio itself we couldn’t take pictures, but saw Sauron’s armour, held guns from District 9 and learnt how weapons etc are actually mostly silicon or plastic and the process and complexity that goes into the detail of these films really is fascinating. A funny highlight was seeing one of the studios private commissions which was a bunch of Guinea pigs themed like Lord of the rings characters a client had ordered to put in his garden like gnomes… The amount this must have cost doesn’t bear thinking about! I then spent the afternoon exploring the Te Papa museum andgetting to visit the Gallipoli exhibition with giant life like models made by the studio. These were INCREDIBLE, and if the pictures don’t do it justice apparently one eyebrow took two months… That’s the kind of detail that went in.

The next day we travelled up to Lake Taupo (stopping for lunch at a farm with some very Rastafarian looking llamas). Lake Taupo is where I had planned for my skydive which fingers crossed was going to go ahead. Third time lucky it did, much to our surprise as most of us either slightly forgot or had been napping. Anyway we arrived at the site and got all of our gear on before meeting our tandem divers. So when you skydive you essentially do none of the work and have an expert attached to you. They talk you through the whole process and when the moment comes to fall out of the plane you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter as they make you both fall out! Probably a good thing really. We jumped at 15,000ft which is high enough they give you oxygen masks on the ascent, and after the cloud cleared free falled for over a minute before the parachute came out and I even got to the chance to steer. It was definitely the most enjoyable of the extreme sports I did as you actually get enough time to enjoy not only the experience but the incredible scenery all around. In the evening we went on a boat cruise on Lake Taupo where the crew helped us catch a rainbow trout which they then prepared alongside a great meal for us.

Next it was on to Rotorua which is home to a lot of geothermal activity, so natural hot pools, geisers, and unfortunately a constant eggy smell caused by all the sulphur… Although I haven’t exactly sold it that well it’s full of beautiful scenery and also a lot of Maori culture due to the large population of Maori historically in the area. Oh and also the Hobbiton set is an hour away!! On our way in we stopped by a few sites and learnt about the area and our first bit of Maori history and culture, before we had a show in the evening where I had a go at the haka…

The next day was to be a busy one, in the morning we were climbing a volcano and in the afternoon it was time to go to Hobbiton! So we got picked up by a couple of guys in a massive off road mini bus and then travelled for about an hour to the start point of our hike in the volcano. We hiked to the summit stopping at a few points along the way before shist running down into the crater. This was running down a pretty steep face that feels like sand picking up a lot of speed along the way. The trip was not only super fun but a great way to see some beautiful sights around Rotorua.

Now onto Hobbiton! So after a brief lunch we all hopped onto the Hobbiton branded bus before another hour long trip to get to the set. Now the film set is located on a farm that Peter Jackson scouted for the original Lord of the Rings films. Now the first set was deconstructed but because the site became so popular with people visiting they then built a permanent version that would last 50 years plus. You get to tour around the 44 or so different hobbit holes as well as the rest of Hobbiton finishing off with a beer at the Green Dragon. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but the set really is brilliant and it’s great to feel like you’re really in a little place where hobbits might live.

On the final full day in the morning I got to try Ogo, or zorbing as it is more commonly known. Essentially rolling down a hill in a giant human inflatable hamster ball, loads of fun! Also they had hot tubs at the top and bottom so you didn’t get cold at any point! We then went to see the glow worm caves at Waitomo, unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed here but you go in a little boat through caves to thousands of glow worms looking really mystical in the pitch black! If you haven’t seen them before they look like little blue/green LEDs. Unfortunately I was pretty ill on the last night and then the tour ended far too quickly in Auckland lunch the next day. My final couple of days in New Zealand I was lucky enough to stay with Joe (who I had met on my Asia Contiki earlier on in the trip and lives in Auckland), he showed me around the sights of the city and generally was an absolutely fantastic host spoiling me rotten! I also got to spend some much needed time on the sofa relaxing.

So next is on to Africa… I’m about as prepared as I can be but still not entirely sure what to expect. A 17 hour and 9 hour flight later I’ll be landing in Cape Town before spending 40 days travelling up towards my final final destination Nairobi, Kenya.

New Zealand South Island Contiki

New Zealand South Island Contiki

So on to my second Contiki! This trip started in Christchurch and for just over two weeks would take me all around the south and north island. We’d be spending a decent amount of time in Queenstown, or as some know it the extreme sports capital of the world, so I’d planned to do a fair few along the way.

After we met our tour manager Josh and the group, we had a short tour around Christchurch and then all hopped in the coach and headed down past Lake Takepo to our first stay which was a lodge by Lake Ohau. This was (although cloudy) still really pretty and a great chance as a first night to have some beers and get to know each other over a few drinks! 

We then proceeded down to Dunedin, home of the steepest street in the world (exciting right), but more importantly a Cadbury factory and Speights brewery, both of which we were due to have a tour of that day! I didn’t realise that visiting a chocolate factory would be happening so I was super excited… Although we didn’t actually go in the factory floor itself we were taken around and shown processes and some pretty cool stuff. The highlight was probably getting to pour (yes I said pour) your own choice of warm melty pure Cadbury chocolate into cups and top it up with a choice of toppings. I even had second helpings and felt like a kid who’d eaten too many Easter eggs. Overall the tour was really fun and for 20 dollars great value as we probably got that value back in free chocolate freebies along the way anyway! Following this we headed to the Speights brewery for a tour and sample. By sample we had 45 minutes to get our fill in the bar downstairs and there was plenty to be consumed. I called it an early night in preparation for the next day which was to be my first extreme sport and first time bungee jumping.

After a morning driving through some great scenery and grabbing some lunch it was time for my bungee jump. Now I had picked one off a bridge on the way into Queenstown with the option of being dunked in the water at the bottom. I decided while in Rome, so without too much thought (for fear I would back out) I lined up and got my harness attached as well as the main bungee support around my ankle then stepped forward. After jumping the sensation of falling really surprised me (sounds stupid I know!) but I forgot I had a bungee attached so started waving my arms around in fear I was falling towards the ground and imminent doom, before the bungee quickly came into effect I remembered it was a bungee jump and I enjoyed myself a bit more. Having done it I don’t know if I would be more of less scared doing another one… But the main good feelings come from having been able to say I’ve done it. 

That night we arrived in Queenstown and headed up the gondola for an all you can eat buffet with incredible views over the town. We then had a few drinks in a few bars and made the most of Queenstown’s nightlife. As a group the first morning we had a jet boat ride which entails going up to 90kmph inches from rocks across Rapids etc, also doing the occasional 360. This was cold but super fun! Unfortunately my skydive in the afternoon was cancelled due to weather, however this meant I got to go on the boat trip with horse riding.

Now I wasn’t expecting too much as the trip had been sold as going on an old boat and riding extremely slowly on some horses… However I hadn’t ridden a horse so thought why not! It turned out to be possibly one of the best things I’ve done on my entire trip. The boat itself was beautiful and the only steam operated commercial boat in the Southern Hemisphere, we cruised across the lake seeing breathtaking scenery throughout (a common theme for the afternoon) before arriving at Walter Peak Farm. We met a man in very short shorts holding a ‘horses’ sign and followed him through seeing llamas, highland cattle, sheep (of course) and even a group of puppies! After an intro to how horses work (this sounds silly but I had no idea so it was very informative) we each got on our horse and proceeded to ride along up a hill surrounded by what was probably hands down some of the most beautiful surrounds on my entire trip. 360 degrees of absolutely incredible beauty, mountains, lakes, valleys. The photos, as taken on horseback, (yes I’m almost a pro now) don’t do it justice. We then came back for some tea and scones before the boat back across the lake.

After the pleasant afternoon the day before I went up the gondola again for a couple of rides on the luge before coming back down for my canyon swing. Having done the bungy I was definitely more nervous about this… We arrived at the site and there were various ways you can basically fall off a cliff 60 metres then swinging near the bottom. Some of these include cycling off on a tricycle, being kicked off ‘this is Sparta’ style, having a rope cut to fall, etc etc. I decided on falling backwards, while sitting on a chair. By ‘I decided’, I mean I was called a wuss by the Kiwi guide for chosing a ‘tame’ way of falling off a cliff… So if you remember when you were in school leaning back on your chair, this was like that but then you fall 60 metres. After realising to my peril I was wearing an England shirt and the instructor was a Scot, he proceeded to mess with me a lot! This included telling me to lean back to fall before pulling me back in, at least 4 times… Then making some fantastic small talk about candy crush before eventually I fell pretty terrified off the edge on my chair. It was fun once I’d done it but I think I’ll be leaving it a while before I do it again…

Unfortunately the next day the weather meant that having driven to the site, got my jumpsuit on and then sat in the hangar my skydive was cancelled. It did mean I saved the extortionate amount of money they charge for the dive and photos in Queenstown (the cheapest photo option was $180 so the equivalent of about £100…). I used the rest of the day to explore around town a bit more and relax before our final night here and a group dinner. After some awesome pizza we had the option to go to the ‘fear factory’ which was a horror maze in Queenstown. After being a bit dubious on whether it would be worth it it turned out to be loads of fun, you can tell by the photo that my group were pretty terrified by all the antics in the pitch black such as men in chains wearing hockey masks, creepy actors laughing and chasing you all while in the dark having to feel your way around. 

We had a long drive to Franz Josef the next day, where weather permitting we would get the chance to take a helicopter over the Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately fitting in with the trend the weather didn’t play ball, however we did get to hike to see the glacier (which was a little bit damp), but it got my inner geographer excited as I ran the final bit of the path to see it. We also got to explore an old mining shaft that had a bunch of glow worms in it. Looking like green LEDs without a torch on them and like translucent sticks of slime without unfortunately we couldn’t get good pictures but they were great to see just the same. After a couple of big driving days stopping at points along the way it was time to get the ferry over to Wellington on the north island where our adventure was to continue.

A week solo road tripping around New Zealand 

A week solo road tripping around New Zealand 

Hello New Zealand! So I’ve wanted to visit NZ for a long time, not just because they love rugby and Lord of the rings was filmed here. I’ve got a month in NZ and started off by flying into Christchurch for a couple of nights before I picked up my car to explore a bit on my own for a week.

Now I landed in the late afternoon so that day was a bit of a write off. The next day I had a bit of an explore myself, got a much needed haircut, and then went to a walking tour of the city from outside the Canterbury museum (right next to my hostel). Now the city centre here is small anyway but my first impressions were how calm and laid back it all feels, granted my time here was on the weekend but still there are a lot of open spaces and not really any heavy traffic about. Also the city has lovely backdrops of hills which are actually part of an old volcano crater. The walking tour was actually really interesting and we got to learn loads about not only Christchurch but the history of NZ, for example the first four boats of Europeans came over to Christchurch to settle landing in 1850, which was a lot more recently than I thought!

So after we walked around the museum with our guide (by we it was me and a Korean couple) and learnt about the history we then went on to see the city. Now there is a lot of character and different architecture seen here and you really wouldn’t guess it’s less than 200 years old. They still have old gentlemen’s clubs with oil lamps and hitching posts for you horse outside. Obviously the biggest thing to note is the earthquake that happened here and destroyed a lot of the city, strangely some buildings had no damage and others had lots. So the city is a mixture of empty plots of land (many being used as car parks), empty buildings awaiting a verdict, buildings under construction and of course the buildings undamaged or now repaired. The biggest evidence of the destruction is the cathedral and cathedral square area you can see pictured, this used to be the centre of the city with building all around and a big tourist spot, however the two earthquakes that happened here really destroyed the building. The cathedral is still unrepaired as there are arguments as to whether they repair it or demolish and build anew (it’s likely these will continue unfortunately). However there are still lots of people about going around on the old tram, busking or playing chess on some of the boards around.

A couple of bits definitely worth mentioning in regards to the reaction to the devastating earthquake here that killed 185 people. Firstly as I’ve mentioned the cathedral was significantly damaged, when deciding what to do a Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was contacted. So this architect specialised in post disaster buildings and designing buildings using cheap resources that were available that could provide a temporary purpose. Long story short the result was the ‘cardboard cathedral’ you can see pictured. Yes that’s right the place is predominantly built from cardboard, now this was meant to be temporary but the venue was so popular it will now revert to a local church once the cathedral (whatever they decide) has be rebuilt, and they even made additions and reinforcements so it would last over 50 years. Another example of ingenuity after the disaster is the ‘ReStart Mall’, not this is a shopping area where all of the shops are in old shipping containers. It actually looks really cool and if I didn’t know there was an earthquake here I would have thought it was just a cool hipster idea. Once again it’s been so popular it’s likely to stay or move site once permanent buildings return. I wanted to mention these as yes Christchurch is still under repair and suffered huge losses in the earthquake, however there are lots of really ingenuitive things happening a lot of which I haven’t mentioned to rebuild the city that are really great to see.

After my couple of nights in Christchurch I went to pick up my car for what was going to be my first ever solo road trip. The rough plan was to stay on the East coast for a couple of nights then explore the north of the South Island, basically the area my Contiki wasn’t going. After picking up my little red suburu I arrived in Kaikoura and settled in to my lovely and homey hostel filled with guitars and even had a piano. I spent my full day here exploring the town and local coastline managing to spot a lot of seals! In the afternoon the sun came out from the clouds and I suddenly spotted the incredible mountain backdrop which had been hiding most of the day. After my time exploring here it was on to my next location which I had decided was to be Abel Tasman national park right at the top of the South Island. Some of the best bit about this time was the long drives through stunning scenery, also New Zealand is SO green!!! The greenest place I have been without a doubt, and there are indeed a hell of a lot of sheep as stereotype would suggest.

I was actually staying just south of the park in a place called Motueka, the hostel was called White Elephant for reasons I’m not too sure but was absolutely lovely and really homely feeling, the owners were an older couple who had been there around a year and lived on site and they also had a piano! Not to mention the extremely friendly black cat. This was a great base for exploring Abel Tasman national park and the pictures show you how beautiful it is. Now the beaches were golden and waters so blue, I felt like I was back on a tropical island. Also just having a car here is essential, my first day I followed tracks as far as they could go and probably drove five hours or so exploring around. Luckily my little Suburu which had already done 250,000km, made it successfully through little streams and very rugged terrain probably suited for heavy duty 4×4’s as opposed to the cheapest rental car available… Anyway as a lot of my time here I explored and hiked around to see some of the best that the area had to offer and it really did feel like an adventure!

After my three nights I decided to stay in Arthur’s Pass in the mountains not too far from Christchurch (where my car was to be dropped off) but far from my current location. My reason for this was it looked pretty different to where I had stayed so far and was handy for my drop off. So after a long days driving and a lot of beautiful scenery I arrived and settled in. I spent my full day here hiking the local trails and catching up on some boring life admin with laundry and such. I didn’t see too many Kea’s, the bird you can see above but luckily saw one on my way up without knowing what it was. They are as the signs suggest extremely inquisitive and not afraid of humans at all, also kind of cute! I hiked around the valleys and saw the best of what the area had to offer as you can see above.

So as my solo road trip comes to an end and after many hours on the road, probably an average of 3/4 a day I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Yes it would have been better with some company certainly but it’s amazing what some music and an audiobook or three will do to keep you from feeling too isolated. Also having a car in New Zealand is needed to explore, the freedom in going where you want when you want is great, driving along and seeing a sign post for somewhere that looks interesting so you go, or only planning your next destination based on advice from other travellers. It’s been really enjoyable and good to mix up the travelling style for a while. So tomorrow I drop off my car back in Christchurch before beginning my 16 day Contiki where I hope to bungee jump, skydive and do all sorts of crazy things! Bring it on

A week in Nolotu Village, Kadavu, Fiji

A week in Nolotu Village, Kadavu, Fiji

The beginning of this story starts with a lot of luck and me ordering a cab from the Radisson after visiting Sam and Bev… So after I asked for my cab and was waiting, I decided to ask the ladies at the concierge any advice on how to get to Kadavu, an island Sam had mentioned he’d never been to but that was meant to be untouched and absolutely beautiful. It turns out one of the ladies Meline was actually from a village on Kadavu, called Nolotu. So she then made a phone call and some Fijian later, she had proceeded to arrange me staying with her village. 

Now my instructions were to go to Suva (the other side of the island a 4 hour bus ride away) and head to Narain jetty where the boat would be leaving. So I headed over to the bus station grabbed a few bits for the island and a gift of sevusevu to take and then hopped on the bus. After heading to a shopping centre to use some wifi and charge my phone, I had a Google and saw a schedule that said the bus in fact leaves a night earlier… Slightly concerned by this but still thinking ‘I’m sure that’s not right’, I called Meline to check and she said she’d get her cousin to meet me worst come to worst. After asking a few friendly Fijians and wandering down a dark slightly precarious looking street, no sign for the jetty later I saw a man by a barrier. This turned out to be the port, no sign no ticket office, just a metal barrier and some boats, unfortunately I was informed by the man that the boat had indeed left yesterday… There only being one boat a week I was slightly buggered. I also later found out that the day the boat leaves and returns, also tends to vary some weeks so isn’t regular, very helpfully. So I called Meline and explained what had happened, after sounding slightly mortified she said her cousin Paul was coming to meet me. It turned out luck would have it he literally had turned up pretty much when I had. So after being slightly disbelieving in this luck, we hopped in a cab and he said I could stay with him that night until I figured out what to do. Now this probably sounds very strange having just met Meline for about ten minutes and never met Paul, but Fijian people are the most hospitable and friendly ever. So I ended up going back and having dinner with his wife and mother and then sharing some cava with some relatives while pondering how I could get over to the island having made it all that way to Suva. So at this point the dilemma over how to get to the island still existed… As it transpired the only way I was going to get over was a flight at 8.30am the next morning, and this flight was back in Nadi (where I’d just come from that day…). So after they spelt my name wrong and a couple of phone calls and data used to check all my ticket later, I had the flight booked. After more cava and a brief nap, I hopped in a cab back to the bus station to catch another bus all the way back at 2am. As you might have guessed buses aren’t too common at this hour but Paul and a friend drove me to the minibus station where the minibuses (like I got with Sam and Bev from the beach house) leave. so I found one of these going all the way to the airport about four hours drive for 20 Fiji dollars (about £7), and we bumped along back to Nadi, reggae blaring, and me fidgeting trying to find a comfortable position to sleep most of the way.

After getting to the airport and some micro naps and Oreos for breakfast later, to my pleasant surprise the plane was tiny! As in the stewardess was also copilot and the plane fit about 20 people on it… Imagine my surprise when someone climbs on, reads the safety information then proceeds to climb in the cockpit. We even had to jump on the scales ourselves at check in with our bags to make sure there wasn’t too much weight for the plane to handle (luckily I hadn’t had too many pina coladas). It ended up being great to be in such a tiny plane and worth every penny. 

After landing in the tiniest ‘airport’ I have ever seen, I was greeted by a couple of friendly guys from the village then taken to the boat to meet Turaga (Meline’s father) who was to be hosting me. After a quick stop at the post office and meeting a lot of locals (Turaga was a pastor so is known and respected all over the island) we set off to the village Nolotu. The boys threw a fly fish line in the water and two minutes later a huge fish was attached, I was extremely impressed at how easy and quick this was. Unfortunately though that was to be our only catch for the day on the way back to the village. After a quick nap I was offered tea and biscuits with Turaga and encouraged to eat many biscuits by the word Quiliarmo (spelling definitely incorrect, made up word by his son meaning finish it all). This became a word all the villagers then shouted and I shouted it in return creating much amusement whenever they saw me, because it turned out, the word was made up by Turaga’s son and not used elsewhere in Fiji. Turaga told me that lot of the local villagers were keen to meet me, even from outside the village as their weren’t often white people visiting. Now in Fiji it is a custom to offer a sevusevu (the root used to make cava) as a gift, so after presenting this to Turaga he told me we would be presenting it to the chief later on and if accepted that would be my official welcoming to the village. Luckily all went according to plan and I spent the evening with the men of the village enjoying a fair amount of cava. The cava on Kadavu is made in a more traditional way to elsewhere in Fiji and tends to be more pure so I found it easier to drink. I also tried one of the cigarettes the villagers smoke, which is literally just pure tobacco rolled in a very thin cylinder of newspaper, I soon learnt why it’s rolled so thin because without a filter and with pure tobacco it’s pretty strong!

So after a great nights sleep post cava, and only a ‘slight’ disturbance from the village cockerels talking to each other in the early hours (by early hours I mean 3/4 am and by talking I mean crowing as loudly as they could), I had breakfast with Turaga and a few others. Today I was going to head up to where the men grow most of the crops in the hills, lead by Turaga’s nephew Tui. After about half an hour and some great views along the way, one of the village boys John kindly (and very casually) climbed a tree to grab us some coconuts. Now if I sound like I’m making light of this I’m not, it was extremely impressive! We had some coconut water and fresh coconut then headed down a different route, going briefly through another village and then coming back along the beach past the local nurses station. We then had some fish and onion soup for lunch which was absolutely delicious! After which I went and sat by the beach with Tui watching the world go by, including some of the kids catching fish and the village pigs having a sniff around for what they could find. Later after we finally found the ball which surprisingly had gone walkies (I say surprisingly as the young men in the village play touch rugby every day bar Sunday), we played some touch rugby in which I was obviously out paced and out skilled… After this we had a dip in the sea post sunset, a bit of natures shower. It was great spending the day with Tui and hearing about what he does here and what he wants to do. Having worked in the city and on the main island he now wants to settle in the village for the freedom and the lifestyle, and I can’t blame him. Also I may not have described what the village is like in detail, although the village is traditional and Fijian, the houses have solar panels for electricity, most have televisions, a few with sky for the rugby and a lot of people have a mobile. It seems you can get great reception anywhere on the island I’ve been so far and families even if not all still in the village seemed to be regularly contacting each other throughout the day. So still a lot of modern comforts (if you’re on the local network that is!). We finished off the day with some delicious fried fish and casava (a very common root vegetable in Fiji) and then had a small bonfire on the beach.

With the next day being Sunday it was the day when all the local villages come together to go to church and also the day of rest. Christianity and religion is very big in Fiji and important to the people here, it is also a big reason why Fijian people are very positive towards the relationship with the U.K. as the missionaries brought Christianity to the islands. After a breakfast of what were like lemon infused scones with butter, freshly baked and still warm (which were as tasty as they sound), I was lucky enough to be invited along to church so Turaga lent me a sulu (the traditional Fijian male formal dresswear) which I wore with a shirt, I also brushed my hair for the first time in a long time (you can tell it’s not a common occurrence by how I looked)… There was lots of singing and a real sense of community and I saw how important religion is in Fiji first hand. We came back and had a big lunch with chicken, curry, soup and vegetables which was all delicious. In the afternoon after a nap I heard some more singing and some people from the village were singing church songs, after going to check it out I stumbled upon a very cute puppy who I’d heard but had eluded me so far, and later even found out I was going to be the one naming it! I then went with Tui to explore a couple of the local villages I hadn’t yet been to, so went along the beach, crossing one river mouth section on a bamboo raft and then through the forest passing by the local school and other villages. Once again all the people were very friendly, the kids in the village all laughed and went all shy when they saw me and I shouted a ‘bula’ their way (hello in Fijian). We were invited in for some Cava with the men of one of the neighbouring villages so I had a few and shook hands with all of the villagers there before we headed back, as it was getting quite dark. After another delicious dinner and some tea (luckily they drink tea almost as much as we do in England) we sat talking for a while before going to bed.

With this day being Monday most of the men were at work so I had a relatively free day. After breakfast Turaga and I went for a swim by the mouth of the river and I swam out to sea a bit before the tide went out, then after watching the world go by, the hermit crabs trying to be subtle, the tide going out, the pigs nosing around in the sand for worms; I lay down under a tree to relax in the shade. In the afternoon I played touch rugby with the men from the village again, was significantly out paced again, then cooled off in the sea before a delicious dinner of pumpkin soup.

The next morning I went with a couple of the villagers to the local primary school. So in the school lunch is prepared by a different person from each village for their village each day. I had a little wander around the school before seeing a lot of excited friendly Fijian children who I don’t think had ever seen or met and English person before. I was soon surrounded by smiling staring faces and created mass mayhem when I said I would take a photo of them all! Having walked around the school I was really impressed at the level of English the kids are learning for example words like dashing and handkerchief all under 10, also the lessons are often taught in English. After lunch we headed back to the village and stopped by the pig pens on the way, now I’d seen a lot of pigs wandering around the village and they always seemed a bit weary and ran away. However near the pens I had little piglets coming up and sniffing my feet and was even lucky enough to see some new born piglets trotting around. In the evening I was treated to some incredible sunset views over the still water as well as seeing the fresh catches of the day from one of the ladies.

The next day I was kindly allowed to borrow one of the villager’s kayaks and paddled up the coast and back before exploring a river a short way up the beach (the one you have to cross on the bamboo raft). This was a lot of fun having to duck under various trees with completely flat water, truly feeling like I was going into the unknown. Also the lack of waves and wind definitely helped my enjoyment of the kayaking bit! When I came back I had a quick dip in the sea to cool off then went back to the house to hang my stuff to dry. To my pleasant surprise Turaga’s daughter in law had laid out cookies, papaya and juice for me, another example of how amazing Fijians are at hosting, always wanting to make sure you’re happy and especially to make sure you have enough food! I then went to the beach for a bit of a relax as I had been warned of a long and heavy cava session in the evening, after a few more biscuits and papaya we headed to the community hall at around half six. We then proceeded to drink cava until half ten, and the village men kindly sang me a goodbye song to wish me well on my way. This was another touch that was really lovely especially as I wasn’t really a tourist and they didn’t have to do this for me.

So after packing my things, and another quick cava session, I said goodbye to he villagers (I also had waved a quick sleepy goodbye to Turaga’s granddaughter Avikali as she left for school as we were leaving in the middle of the day), I was then surprised by being given some flowers to wear around my neck before grabbing my things and jumping on the small boat for the half hour boat ride to the ferry jetty. Now after a bit of a hullabaloo getting out because the jetty was a lot higher than the water we then watched a second attempt of the captain to dock the boat, this took a while… Then the ticket purchasing progress also took about five minutes per passenger with a lengthy queue, but luckily a friendly guy from a neighbouring village who’d remembered me offered to buy on my behalf so I could avoid the lengthy queue. We headed up to the lounge area which would be our base for the journey and they had a soppy looking film with Keanu Reeves I didn’t recognise playing. A good five or so hours later around 7/8pm maybe the boat left our dock and we were on our way. We ended up getting a cab back to Paul’s house at around half one in the morning, after a few cups of cava and some food very kindly prepared by Paul’s wife, I called it a night around three and went to bed. The next day we went to a wedding of a man from Nolotu to a lady from Suva, there were plenty of ‘bula shirts’ lots of food, singing and dancing, and of course plenty of cava…

Now having spent a week in the village there are certain things that you just don’t find elsewhere. Firstly everybody is extremely friendly and welcoming, the expression what’s mine is yours really is shown here, if anybody walks past your house at meal time or if anyone is spotted outside, Turunga would shout ‘hey, some tea?’, inviting them in for some food or tea, whether they are from your village or not. Everybody knows each other and says hello and good morning to each other and there’s always lots of laughter (a lot of the laughs here are really infectious too!!). Also a lot of the villagers have family living and working in the city or have done so themselves and come back. Turaga and Tui both used to work on the main island but have said that life there is a lot more stressful with more money worries, on the island the people can survive months without money by living off the land, fishing and farming and sharing what they have. Also the sense of community here can’t be overstated, every day bar Sunday the young men play rugby together while all days of the week the other men will be in the village hall afternoon and evening having cava, or ‘grog’ as it is more commonly called by the locals. All the Fijian people I have met have been incredible hosts, always offering you the best of what they have and making you feel welcome, and having stayed here I really do feel like I have another family and somewhere I am always welcome on the other side of the world.

Fiji with Sam and Bev

Fiji with Sam and Bev

This post although a couple of weeks delayed due to Internet or lack of, is all about my first couple of weeks in Fiji, in which I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Bev and Sam, our veteran Fiji visitor who set us in the right direction of where to go and what to see. So after a child filled noisy flight from Sydney I landed in beautiful Fiji and was really pleased to see a couple of friendly faces in Sam and Bev at the airport. We then caught the bus around the south of the main island on the queens road to our accommodation for the next four nights ‘The beach house’. Now I knew Fiji was pretty but if you’re looking for desert island paradise this is where you’ll find it.

We spent our first day doing a jungle hike with a guide from the hostel who actually lived in the local village. We were escorted by him (and his dog who led the way a lot of the time) up a often muddy path through streams over rocks etc to get to the falls. Both the hike in of itself and the falls were great fun and good to learn a bit about Fiji history and culture from our guide. We finished off with a coconut and Roti which was curry in a wrap type thing, very delicious on both fronts. That evening we were invited to the local village to share some Cava with the locals. Now Cava is a traditional drink that’s very popular here, and made from a ground up root which is then placed in a sort of tea bag type cloth so it can infuse in the water. Sam compared it to how we’d all go meet in the pub for a few. Fijian men meet in the community hall to share some Cava together.

We spent the next day chilling out, making use of the hostels free kayaks, playing some pool and generally living the island life, nice and laid back. The following day we went on a island day trip organised by the hostel to Yanuca. To start we were split into two boats one for girls one for boys, this seemed strange at the time… Then later we were to realise that the boys boat, slightly smaller without a cover on top, and driven by a young friendly Fijian guy called Nico who enjoyed throwing it around, was a lot more of a bumpy ride… Whilst we were going across open water at a rate of knots we all got drenched, had a lot of salt water to the face, and also were slammed up down after getting fair amounts of air on the waves. It was awesome fun though… We spent the day relaxing, racing hermit crabs and snorkelling by the beach and then went for a brief hike. The hike was really steep and pretty tough, with sections needing rope to climb up. But the views were spectacular, and Nico introduced us to the papaya song which then became a firm favourite and was stuck in my head for the next week… We then went to another beautiful beach (being careful not to sit under trees with brown coconuts) to have BBQ food and relax. The trip back was also extremely wet, but we did see wild dolphins alongside the boat which was incredible! Overall the weather was lovely and the best yet, I didn’t get sunburnt (one of the few…), and most of all there were so many picture perfect moments where you felt like you really were in paradise!

The following day it was time to check out and move on from The Beach House where we’d been based for the trip so far. We spent the morning making use of the hammocks and beautiful spot before going to catch a bus to an air Bnb just outside of Suva the capital. Now by bus there are actually a few options, we just missed the main coach that goes around the island but we were offered a lift by a man who didn’t actually have any signs indicating he was a taxi driver and more than a slightly creepy guy. Just after Sam explained that in Fiji there are mini buses that just travel around all day picking people up and dropping them off, one literally drove up to us and had room so we hopped in. It was a tight squeeze, there were reggae versions of pretty much every genre you could imagine and I occasionally had to look behind the minivan to check our bags hadn’t toppled off, but we got there safe and sound just over an hour and the equivalent of a mere £2.50 each later.

After arriving at our accommodation for the next three nights which turned out to be a lovely air BnB with beautiful views and lots of space, we headed into town for a bit of dinner. The next day we spent visiting the Fiji museum, seeing a old shoe sole that was all that was left of a missionary eaten by cannibals, went around the markets haggling with the locals for various bits and bobs and then finished the day with a great meal at the best restaurant in Suva according to various folks, this was a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant with majority Fijian chefs and it was indeed delicious. We then hit a local bar, caught up with a fellow traveller Dan we met at the beach house and played pool managing to beat a lot of the locals… 

The next day (after possibly feeling slightly fragile from the night before), we had planned to meet Lo, a Fijian lady who Sam had met on his previous visit to Fiji. After technical issues meant we didn’t actually get hold of her until late afternoon we luckily finally made contact and set off to visit her and her family late in the evening. Lo had cooked us a delicious meal including Sam’s favourite Roro patties, and we were then invited across the road to spend time with her wider family and enjoy some cava with them. We had brought them some pre ground up called sevusevu as a gift so after a few of the guys prepared it and the elder officially blessed the gift in Fijian we began what was to be a heavy cava session. Also in case I haven’t mentioned Fijian’s love rugby. Not only is most flat land in villages used as rugby pitches but this love of the game was even evident by the fact they had replays of the olympics on tv showing. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to spend time with a real Fijian family, and their hospitality and warmth was incredible.

After pondering over what our next stop would be we found a place called ‘Robinson Crusoe’s’, it seemed reasonably priced and was on its own island… After a couple of cabs and a boat ride down a river then across the ocean later we arrived. The island was indeed really pretty however the resort was strangely empty. As in there were 9 guests in total our first night… I ended up being the solo guest of a 13 bed dorm. Luckily we soon met a couple of Aussies who were sisters, Simone and Lauren and also Ephy one of the Fijian members of staff who (as well as being a really cool and nice guy) was super talented at guitar and singing, we sat by the campfire with Sam and his ukulele too and sung various songs into the night! The next couple of days we did a mixture of things like line fishing, swimming, kayaking, crab hunting, volleyball, more campfire singing and generally larking about as one does on a desert island. The final night we saw why the island had such a strange one day empty he next day full turnover. The staff put on a brilliant traditional Fijian show including fire dancing for guests not only staying on the island but also staying on other mainland hotels. They put on an incredible show and I was genuinely impressed! 

The next few days Sam and Bev booked into the radisson and me just down the road in another hotel for a bit of much needed R&R. I sadly bode farewell to them and it was to be into my next adventure in Fiji. Luckily (I’ll explain more in my next post) I managed to have a stay arranged in a village on the fourth biggest and pretty remote island Kadavu, meant to have a lot of unspoilt natural beauty. So next up (post coming shortly as I’ve been without Internet a while and am now back) Ill be spending a week in a village on the island most likely off the grid.