Thursday, 19 June 2008 12:00 AM
Anna Kainberger is taking a year-out from her career to travel in south-east Asia, and Australasia, along with Fiji and the USA. This month she is reporting from New Zealand and Fiji. Here is her 23rd blog entry:
New Zealand took it out of me, I have to say. I had spent nearly six weeks exploring the South and North Islands of New Zealand, which meant that I moved on average every two days to make sure I got to see the better part of it.
Leaving on a plane from Auckland, reaching Nadi in Fiji a mere 3.5 hours later was going to be a break from the break – I had 12 days to spend in Fiji and I was going to relax as much as possible.
I had met various young travellers and backpackers who had crossed my path coming from Fiji going into Asia and we had exchanged travel tips and backpacker ideas for our ongoing destinations.
It seemed that the easiest way to get around in Fiji and the Yasawas, which are part of the 330 islands in and around Fiji, was to buy a so-called Bula Pass, which provided me with as many island transfers on the regular boats between the islands as I liked.
And on top of that I could buy an accommodation pass, which was prepaid and then used on each one of the islands as a voucher for a dorm bed. The Bula Pass was valid for a week at a time, so I needed something else to do for the extra three days of my break.
I also looked into the Feejee Experience which is part of Kiwi Experience but decided that I wanted to spend my time on tiny little islands, staring into the aquamarine waters and whiling away the hours in a hammock – rather than getting on yet another bus.
In the end I bought a one week Bula pass with “Awesome Adventures Fiji” for the boat travel between islands as well as a five-night accommodation pass that I could use for my dorm beds including food as I went along.
I also prebooked one night on Beachcomber Island, which is probably best known as the party island of the Yasawas and another four nights on Mana Island, which is part of the Mamanuca Islands.
Upon arrival at Nadi airport I called a hostel called “Downtown Backpackers” from the free phone, to arrange a free transfer into town and make all the necessary travel arrangements for the next day.
Downtown Backpackers was right in the city centre and it offered the cheapest backpacker accommodation around with an eight-bed dorm only costing Fiji$12 (Â£4) plus tax bringing the total to Fiji$14.35 for the night.
The in-house travel agent booked all my various travel passes and transfers for the next day and as I was jetlagged and tired I went to bed early as I had to get to Denarau Port the next day 08:15 local time.
It was a clear and beautiful day and I boarded a screaming-yellow boat at Denarau port, called the Yasawa flyer, one of the three boats circling the Yasawas on a daily basis.
My first destination was Nacula – right in the north of the Yasawas – and it took four hours to reach Oarsman’s Bay, my first chosen accommodation in the Yasawas.
Just going out on that boat, stopping at all these tiny islands scattered along the way, with their volcanic formations and lush, green vegetation, for me was a totally different story.
Some of these islands were so small you could walk round them in about 25 minutes. Yet they looked like something out of a five-star travel brochure and I have never, ever seen water so crystal clear, so turquoise blue in combination with white sands, palm trees and those volcanic rocks.
The Yasawas are one of the world’s diving and snorkelling hot-spots and offer daily snorkelling trips, cheap dives, swimming and diving with sharks, diving with manta rays and fairly cheap dive certificates along the way.
Oarsman’s Bay was one of the top spots in terms of accommodation and food, so I had to pay a little bit extra on top of my accommodation pass. But the beauty of the place as well as the service and friendly staff, along with the quality of the food more than made up for that.
I only stayed one night at Oarsman’s and I wish had booked two nights instead of the one, as it was the most peaceful place I came across in the Yasawas.
The next day I moved on to Matacawalevu Island (Long Beach resort) where I had pre-booked two nights but I did not feel comfortable there.
It was not so much that the place was not beautiful but the tide there lasted from midday until it got dark and it also became very humid in the meantime, with millions of flies bothering us.
Two days later I moved on to a place called White Sandy Beach resort on Naviti island, which again was simply out-of-this-world beautiful, less flies and nicer people, more things to do and as it was Friday we got to see the traditional Bula and Fire dances which are very common in Fiji.
It was a Fijian night with food cooked in the earth BBQ and a lot of dancing, music and singing afterwards.
The thing about Fijians is that they love to sing. They love to make music and they do it all day long. On each of the resorts we would have a welcome song, a goodbye song, a music evening and bonfires with guitars and yet more singing.
The other thing you will find pretty much everywhere is kava. The traditional kava ceremonies are connected to the full moon and the kava itself (being some root extract) is mixed with water, which tastes very muddy and is served in small bowls.
The exact repercussions of drinking kava are still unknown to me. It is supposed to relax your whole body, to be helpful with depression and stress at the same time, to lift spirits and to help switch off.
It was all rather confusing. When I tried it on Kuata Island I had about ten bowls and apart from a rather strange taste I cannot say that it relaxed me or did anything else to me either.
I was awake until 03:00, so if anything it boosted my energy. I was really tired though the next day, so maybe it has a delayed effect with Europeans, who knows.
From Kuata I moved on to Beachcomber and that is a true party place. I was only going to stay for one night because I did not come to Fiji to party – I came to relax and find some peace and also maybe to come to terms with the fact, that my trip was coming to an end fairly soon.
Beachcomber offered a great atmosphere and evening entertainment in the form of a crab race and cheap booze all night long.
The crab race was fun. I’m not sure how animal rights groups will react to this but as far as I could see the crabs did not suffer, were not mistreated and afterwards were set free on the beach.
You could bid for a crab which reflected a nationality. There was Wayne Rooney for England, Springbok for South Africa, Abba for Sweden, Brave Heart for Scotland and so on and so forth.
You bid for your crab, you got your crab and the ultimate goal was your crab crawling out a red circle the quickest. The first three crabs would win a cash prize, with the first prize being a Fiji$100 (Â£34).
The idea was easy enough but the game was rigged and bitter disappointment spread along the losers, who really should have been winners.
It was Saint Patrick’s Day that evening and the Irish party had bid for Brave Heart, which a lot of people saw winning, as that crab left the circle fastest. Yet in the end it was crab number three, which had been bought by one of the working bar tenders that was ultimately pronounced the winner.
The Irish party was disappointed and the rest of us who witnessed the discussion going on between the commentator and the losers-should-have-been-winners felt slightly uneasy after that.
One side accused the other of accusing them of lying, it all got too confusing and in the end it was free beer for the Irish.
I decided that I would not buy any more crabs, I had invested in Springbok for South Africa, but I think my crab was scared as it stayed in the circle full stop!
My night on Beachcomber was a first also in respect of sleeping in a dorm that boasted 100+ beds. The beds were purpose-built and solid wood and I actually got a good night’s sleep – the cocktails of course worked a spell as well.
All the island-hopping is a great way of seeing a lot of small islands in just a few days but I was now looking forward to getting settled somewhere for my last four nights. I hopped onto the South Sea Cruiser, which served the Mamanacu Islands, to reach my final Fiji Island destination – Mana.
I loved Mana. The accommodation there was more basic then on the other islands but instead of the village being somewhere else on that island, you were actually staying right in it.
The local school was two minutes from my dorm. The resort was backpacker orientated and a family run place. Despite two days of solid rain, I had the most fun here, with the employees and fellow travellers alike.
We made jewellery out of coconuts and got creative, I read two books in two days and I played a lot of card games. I also walked round the island in the rain and went swimming nonetheless – wet is wet.
The last two days it cleared up and I tried to top up on that tan of mine while avoiding getting burnt, as the sun is indeed strong and my skin fair.
I went around the island again this time in the dry and explored secluded coves and bays away from my fellow travellers (and the tourists staying in their more exclusive resorts), carrying a snorkel and dive mask to see if I could find a few tiger sharks.
We saw a lot of other fish but no sharks this time, however the area is famous for attracting reef and tiger sharks, so if that is your thing make sure to bring a snorkel.
People on Mana were extraordinarily friendly and it was hard to say goodbye in the end. I would have liked to stay there longer – it was a very relaxing and down to earth place, with real people, a real village and the feel of a tiny town to it.
I headed back to Nadi where I witnessed traditional Easter celebrations as well as Holi the Hindu spring festival, which fell on the same weekend.
We joined in the celebration of both and had a colourful and beautiful Easter weekend before I once more packed my backs to board a plane.
This time I would stopover in Hawaii before hitting LA the next day, while crossing the international date line to confuse things even further.
I was looking forward to LA but I was in two minds about the US in general. And my journey really was coming to an end – and I had to come to terms with the fact that my big adventure, my round-the-world trip was a mere two stops away from bringing me back to where it all started: London.