Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Term Break Adventures: #FijiStaycation - Yanuyanu 3

The next morning we awoke up in Port Denarau, we quickly packed up our things as we were catching a ferry that only services Malolo Lailai Island in the Mamanuca Islands. Someone got their hot chocolate to go, it was like seeing a miniature version of her future self.


This morning's ferry ride was much shorter - only 45 minutes. We were the first stop as well! We were staying at Plantation Island Resort. While Richard and I were super excited to see the blue waters and coral reefs of Nanuya Resort upon arrival, the kids were super excited to see the inflatable floating water park upon docking. Plantation Island definitely had more of a cruise ship feel than the traditional Fijian feel most resorts have (when leaving Clarissa even commented that they didn't sing Isa Lei). Outside the main building, they had flags from the countries of the majority of their visitors (I assume)....US, China, Australia, and New Zealand. It was a bit odd to see Old Glory flying, I actually don't see that everyday!


After checking in, we had hoped to catch the boat out to Cloud 9, but it was full for the day. So we booked ourselves for the next day and took it easy snorkeling, hitting the waterpark, exploring the resorts' three swimming pools, and doing some much needed laundry (I'd misread and thought I could do laundry at the previous island...they could do laundry for us....per bag...I did the minimum).


Richard and I were less impressed with the snorkeling here. Probably for two reasons, the resort has done a good bit dredging/habitat modification to allow for the ferry to come right up to the dock and clear under the inflatables. As a result, the water was silty/low visibility and the corals obviously suffered a bit (As a side note, I finally contacted the local university, the fish I couldn't identify - the one you see in the video preview above - is a floral wrasse (Cheilinus chlorourus)...you can now sleep at night....lol). The second reason were less impressed was we had just been spoiled by the remote, nearly pristine reefs of the Yasawa Islands so the bar was very high. While I was doing the laundry, I noticed the sun was setting and called the others.....


Richard made it up to enjoy it with me.


The next morning, we had booked a jet ski tour out to Modriki Island. I had come up to a solution to problem I mentioned in the first staycation post! Minimum age to go on the jet skis was 7 so Clarissa was old enough (but after a bumpy ride out to Takalana Bay, Clarissa opted to not go after all so her tummy wouldn't hurt and hang out in kids club). We had set up/confirmed via email several weeks prior to coming, so Richard and Mason went to check in while I was dropping Clarissa off at kid club. That's when our first major 'OhFiji!' moment occurred. The company said we were suppose to check in 30 minutes early for a 9am tour (didn't see that in any of the information we were sent), they then said we would know that if we would have of confirmed the day before like we were suppose to (doesn't say to do that in the email), then they said they tried to call reception, get our room number and call our room the night before to let us know about the 30 minutes early (we were not only in our room, we also booked with a local phone number...since were local, and they had my email from the booking). So essentially a whole bunch of blaming us for their mistake?!? Richard was ready to throw in the towel, but I had spent hours days trying to figure this out and since we were booked on the last ferry out the next day I rescheduled us for the next day. So we went back to our room (we also stopped by reception and mentioned it to them that this company tried to get our room number but couldn't?!? - which their paperwork says let us know if you have any problems with vendors - so we did) and picked Clarissa up after a little bit longer in kids club (so she could see how fun it is).

We had a little time before our lunch trip and we had promised Clarissa a ride on the aqua trike. We went to check it out at the activities shed. As luck would have it, it was not one of the 'free/included' activities like kayaks/snorkel gear/SUPs/etc...not only that, the rental company for the aqua trike was the same one that just didn't take us out on jet skis....arg. Unfortunately, we had promised Clarissa so we just had to sucked it up (and the person we had dealt with had stepped away and we dealt with a nicer person who apologized for earlier). Since we had to pay per person and I had rode one back when I was Mason's age I let the others go and played their personal paparazza.


How cool are the fish swimming by....


So past them pedaling over the reef is a long white yacht. We were told that is the Google Yacht. So I went to said Google and googled 'Google Yacht Fiji'....according to an Australian gossip magazine it is owned by a Google co-founder, is called The Dragonfly (every time we went past it, the back was open and we couldn't see the name on the stern), and can be chartered for a mere $770,000/week.....the pictures the magazine showed did look like the boat (we may or may not have snuck a lookie-look when we cruised past it)....so there you go.


We headed back to our room to gather our things for our lunch trip, when our room phone rang....uh oh. It was the lunch trip company, they said the winds were picking up, there might be some bad chop on the trip, did we still want to go? Uh, yes! They said hang tight, there was another group booked it would depend on if they wanted to still go too. Ugh....so we waited a bit, then headed on over to their kiosk by the dock. Luckily...it was a group of older teens/college age siblings, I'm not sure if their parents had initially planned to go or not, but the youngins wanted to go so the trip didn't get cancelled. We went on a boat, heading out to a floating pizzeria, where we wanted to eat pizza and go swimming....so we got wet on the way there...who cares!


So our big adventure took us out to Cloud 9. It's a floating, 2 story, Italian pizzeria, with a stocked bar that is moored on Roro Reef......what's not to love? Totally a 'when in Fiji' place to go!! We ordered some drinks and pizzas, found some seats, and took some selfies to document the fun! So it depends on the day you go. Some days are more families, other days (like the day we went) are more 'spring break parties'. Let's just say, I'm thankful that 20 years ago just a few years ago when I was in college the majority of bikinis bottoms had most of your butt cheeks covered. The girls weren't wearing thongs, but definitely makes you think twice about another slice with barely covered butts walking by you (thanks stairs right by our seats...lol).


Good thing about strapless swim tops - no tan lines.......Bad thing - it appears you are sunbathing topless with your children.....but as you can see below I did indeed have a top on!


I thought about making a blog post of just photos of Clarissa making love hearts on the trip.


At times they do get along.....and when they do it's so beautiful. So after eating, we jumped in the water....and I mean took the plunge! I mentioned it is a two-story restaurant. I'm not sure if is supposed to be done (there is a picture on their website and everyone else was doing it), but you can stand on the 2x4 railing on one side and jump into the ocean....again....'when in Fiji'....check out the video I put together of our jumps.


Unfortunately, it was too windy to snorkel on the reef to the side of Cloud 9. Richard, Mason and myself all got t-shirts (Clarissa had gotten the necklace at the shell market). Great thing about staycations...you don't really need souvenirs! The tender came back to get us after about two hours. Clarissa is getting dried off here, but Mason is still doing jumps and swimming. I'm fairly certain both kids had a blast as they are already talking about when they can go again (uh, it was a trek to get there....so that might be it little darlings, but we'll see).


A little preview of tomorrow's coming event! At the resort we were staying at, they have the actual raft that good ole Tommy boy used in the movie 'Castaway' (but apparently there is another one at another resort too....so there may have been multiples for each take who knows).


That raft is in really, really good shape for being handmade of rope and driftwood nearly 20 years ago.....oh wait, if you look closer, that's not wood - it's metal pipes, covered with Hollywood stuff to look like wood....aaah, no wonder it still looks new after sitting here on the beach for so long!


When we returned to our room, we had a surprise! A fruit tray, bottle of bubbles, and a note from the resort hoping we were enjoying our stay. How sweet! Alas, our staycation was coming to a close and we only had one sunset left in the islands.


So we took a walk to enjoy it (that and we were on Fiji Time....but you have to preplan, remember, and make dinner reservations ahead of time....yeah, didn't do that so then we had to kill time before dinner every night).


Big full moon rising into the palm trees.


Clarissa playing peek-a-boo by the pretty fancy decorated palm trees (I won't share all 5 pictures of her by each of the different colored trees...lol).


The next morning, we had all our communication lined up properly so we checked in 30 minutes early (which was tricky as I had to drop Clarissa at kids club before they opened....but they were nice even though she was unhappy about being left again after I said it would be a one-time thing). So though they operated out of our resort, the jet skis were parked on another island. So we had a 30 minute (or so) boat ride over to Malolo Island (at least we can check off another island visited since we stepped onto it...lol). We arrived to a fleet of jet skis.


After getting our life jackets on...off we headed on our 3 hour adventure....you can see for yourself!


So our destination was Modriki Island (also called Monuriki Island), but more famously known as the isolated island in the middle of the South Pacific Tom Hanks' character was stranded on in the movie 'Castaway'. Richard looked for any signs of Mr. Hanks....


We took selfies with the big iconic rock that he climbed to the top of in the movie (that's the vantage point where he spotted the pilot's body)....


and as you saw in the video we snorkeled a bit too. While the snorkeling at the resort we were staying at was a tad disappointing, the snorkeling here made up for it. Likely due to the fact it was rather isolated and pristine again. So Mamanuca Island snorkeling gets some kudos as well. After about 30 minutes of snorkeling we had some time to explore the island.


Mason contemplating the meaning of life while looking out into the great blue yonder....


We asked about the coconuts.....


our tour guide said some villagers from Monu Island just across the way, replenish the message as needed. Aaah...wait, Monu Island....where....oh just beyond our jet skis?


That's totally swimmable?!?! We laughed and talked to Mason about camera angles and editing to make it appear there was no land in sight in any direction. Our guide pointed out the beach area that was used in the fishing scene where he catches his first meal.


Oh wow....I see lots of islands in the background there....I even see the big island we live on....(I know I know, Hollywood film crews don't really want to work and live on uninhabited islands...lol). The rock where the pilot was buried in the movie.


We then walked over to the base of the "trail" to the top of the mountain. I say "trail" because it was more of a vertical ascent straight up the face of the rock. Coming back down we got a different view of the island.


Part of the advertised excursion was suppose to include a visit to the the famed cave used in the movie as well, but we were unable to go around the back of the island to enter it that day. Thanks to a certain reality show that rhymes with 'sure-like-her' filming and using it that day (so we couldn't even go by it as they had water police guarding it). We did see on a different island from a distance a challenge set up on a beach with the show logo flags waving in the breeze....so cool! On another side of that island, we also saw what may have possibly been a tribes' camp....I'm so watching to see if it was. Then I will chuckle to know that all day when it seems like they are bored and all alone (except for camera crews in their face), that boats and jet skis are whizzing by making all kinds of noise.


We then got back on our jet skis and had the 45 minute bouncy ride back. Mason loved every minute of it (and Clarissa and her tummy would have been miserable). We returned the jet skis, but in true 'Fiji Time' fashion our tender boat to take us back to our resort was no where to be found. After waiting about 30 minutes (so kids club is now closed for lunch...after having dropped Clarissa off prior opening...cue massive mommy guilt), I called the resort to tell them we are trying to get back but we are stranded thanks this company. The resort was super nice about it and said she would be taken care of, finally the tender shows up, we make it back, Clarissa and someone from kids club are waiting for us on the dock...we apologize (and later go give the kids club people some tips....which I know we aren't suppose to do). While we enjoyed the actual jet ski portion of the trip and the guide was great. The customer service/logistical aspects of the company were horrible...even by local standards. We were talking to the people at the Cloud 9 kiosk when we were waiting to see on the weather the previous day and they heard everything that went down when we were suppose to go out but were "late". They told us that they hear conversations like ours pretty regularly...so while it didn't fix the situation it did make us feel a tad better that we weren't totally over reacting.

It was after 1:30 pm by now, so we grabbed a late lunch as everyone was starving (but hey...the lunch cafe was empty). Given we had to check out of our room prior to the jet ski trip so they could get it ready, we had to track down our bags in the luggage room to get some dry clothes to change into. We had done some scouting the previous day and there was a changing room/showers in the community bathroom in the main building. Only drawback to the community showers (as I had suspected), only cold water...so they were quick rinse off the salt/sunscreen showers. By the time we'd gotten changed and went to take our wet stuff back to our luggage it had already been pulled to be taken down to the boat dock (talk about cutting it close...though being a small place I was able to find our bags a bit later and stick the wet stuff in and not have to hand carry it on the ferry). We had a few minutes to get a cold drink and relax under a palm tree before catching the ferry back to Port Denarau. We then had the long four hour drive back to Suva.  That wraps up our stay on our third and final yanuyanu (island in Fijian) of the staycation!


Sorry it took a while to get this posted. I had a few obstacles: 1) being the desktop computer crashing, waiting to get a new one, getting it set up, etc., 2) the sheer volume of photos and videos I had to go through....I started with 760 photos and 170 videos (totaling 2 hours 40 minutes minutes).....whittled it down to 133 photos (I do have 8 more I'm saving for some slow Mondays) and edited the video to 6 themed videos with a combined time of 53 minutes) you know...life - illnesses - background investigations (yep....some positive news on the job front!!), etc. Also....the massive volume of laundry I had to do upon return! 10 days of damp swimsuits, rash guards, towels, cover ups and other sandy clothing....takes a while to get that washed up.....(this is just the swim wear that we decided to soak in the dive gear anti-microbial cleaner).


Current island tally: 3 Yasawa Islands and 3 Mamanuca Islands visited, 320 Fijian Islands remaining (I'm only counting landfall....if you count islands we've boated past/around progress would be much better).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Term Break Adventures: #FijiStaycation - Yanuyanu 2

As I wrapped up the previous post, the kids and I had just left Barefoot Manta via tender. We were boarding the Yasawa Flyer to meet Richard on board and continue our #FijiStaycation up in the Blue Lagoon area. Looks like somebody may have missed someone!


Richard had left Nadi around 8:30 that morning. It was midday now as they picked us up from Drawaqa Island (#8 on the map from their website). We were headed to the last stop! Nanuya Lailai Island...we had about two more hours to go!


So Clarissa gave Richard a tour of the boat (because he hadn't walked around during the previous 3+ hours...lol). She also showed him how to check for water clarity (or turn your parents' hair gray).


Mason and I preferred to just sun ourselves up on our perch. Also, in case you are curious...the Fijian merchant ship flag is different than the national flag.


If you recall, we took a cruise when a tropical depression decided to swing by. So the last time we had been up this way the blue lagoon had been rather...gray.....and rather...eeeh! So the bar was set pretty low. So when we arrived to this....


Well...our flips flops were blown off! Pictures just don't do it justice. I made a joke about seeing 50 shades of blue....but in reality, there were more! The postcards are real!!


If you look on a map, "Blue Lagoon" is a relatively large area between several islands (Nanuya Lailai, Nanuya Levu (aka Turtle), Tavewa, Matacawea Levu, and Yageta Islands). Ironically, the "Blue Lagoon Resort" is not actually on Blue Lagoon...it is nearby and the water is just as pretty and blue. The movie Blue Lagoon was filmed on the island Nanuya Levu (the one next to where we stayed)....that island is a private island and a tad out of our price range (as in college tuition per stay out of our price range....that's where all the celebrities go and stay when they come to Fiji). We were staying at Nanuya Island Resort on Nanuya Lailai Island. It was the nicest place we stayed during our staycation.....and it had hot water in the showers...so we were in heaven!!! Most resorts in Fiji put tropical flowers around the room and bathroom, but this place was extra fancy and doubled up the flowers. Clarissa insisted I take a picture....so now I must share!


After hours on the boat (and hearing about all our snorkeling the past few days), Richard wanted to hit the water. So we changed and dived right in to the Blue Lagoon! Mason found another octopus and spotted a stingray (watch the video for it). I found the biggest, still living, snail in the wild any of us has ever seen!


It was so awesome! A horned helmet snail (or conch depending on who you ask) Cassis cornuta. Of course, all we took was it's picture. They eat echinoderms (sea urchins/sea stars/sand dollars)....including the crown-of-thorns sea stars....those nasty reef eaters....so we want the horned helmet to keep eating up those crown-of thorns. If I didn't have such a wonderful snorkel-face might hang that picture on the wall....lol.


Post snorkel fun we enjoyed the hot showers (and I was running the lice comb Richard brought with him through our hair....no more hand removal on rocks...lol)....so Clarissa and I missed the sunset. It was a beautiful one too! Richard was kind enough to capture it for us though.


So the next morning, we booked an excursion. It was the one thing I really wanted to do on the cruise but didn't get a chance to due to the choppy seas and pelting rain....so I was bound and determined to see it this trip. When picking where to stay in the area....if that excursion was offered was a deciding factor! We were going to the Sawa-i-Lau caves!! On the cruise, we had been anchored in Buasali Bay for 3 days and stared at Sawa-i-Lau island....so I was very happy to finally go inside and see what all the hype was about! From where we were staying in Blue Lagoon, we took a 45 minute boat ride, landed on the beach, walked up some stairs and into the first cave. We then walked down some stairs to this.


You then put on your snorkel gear and hop on in! Once in the pool, you could look up and see sunlight and trees! The odd part of Sawa-i-Lau is the island is made of limestone....in a chain of volcanic islands you have a random limestone island that rises up 15m (50 ft) into the air)...so not a tiny little spit of land.



Clarissa was a little hesitant of this whole "creepy" going inside the island adventure. So she hung out here (actually took her a little longer to get into this chamber with Richard). Mason and I went ahead with the guides. You have to swim underwater into darkness to enter the next chamber of the cave. How long you have to swim underwater, depends on the tide. There was a guide midway into the chamber (also in the dark), who was there to tap you on the head when you were swimming by. He was there to tell you to come up, take a breathe, then to go back under, and continue on to the next guide. Once everyone made it in, we all held onto a floating PVC pipe square, and the guide with a flashlight/torch gave us a tour around the inside of the cave. Mason loved this part....spelunker in the making! After our tour, we had to swim back through the passage. The tide had already changed some and it was a shorter one breath swim out. Clarissa and Richard were now in the first chamber, so we traded and Mason took Richard back into the dark second chamber (with a guide of course) and I stayed with Clarissa. Sorry some of the video is a little wobblier than normal...it's hard to hold the camera with your hand and use said hand to swim with as you swim through a tiny passage...that fight or flight instinct to not get trapped where I couldn't breathe took over the good filming instinct...lol...should of brought a head mount for the camera.


The boat ride to the caves was a little choppy, the ride back was much smoother and sunnier....so much we got the point-n-shoot camera out and snapped a few shots along the way.


We may look goofy, but my hair doesn't get knotted up and Richard doesn't get sunburnt....


Pulling up to where we were staying...the little roofs were individual beach side bures with two chaise lounge chairs and a beautifully carved table (to hold your fruity tropical drink of course). The villas were tucked into the trees.


Upon our return, we had some lunch and then headed out to snorkel some more. That afternoon the special activity was reef restoration/replanting. Mason and I signed up (Clarissa and Richard went kayaking while we did that). I was taking this seriously, so I didn't want to be have my hands full with the GoPro and end up fumbling/dropping the precious coral....so I didn't bring it...big mistake! We were taken out by boat to a healthy part of the reef to get some healthy coral fragments. We then followed the guide to a place that was in need of some transplanted coral. We each had two fragments to carry (so I totally could of handled the camera). Along the way, he pointed out some neat things (like the largest Giant Clam I'd seen yet....probably a good 1/2m (1.5ft) long). We then transplanted our fragments all in one spot (Richard and I did take the GoPro back the next day and I some pictures of "our baby corals". They are are the little branching coral - the very ends are a light purple - Acropora valenciennesi).


Zooming out to see our little transplants' spot on the great big reef.....the guide said in about a month or two, it would be about dinner plate in size. The guide then gave us a private snorkel tour of the reef (hence even more regret for not bringing the GoPro).  Some of the really cool things we saw were a 3-4 foot black tip reef shark (which Mason started to swim after...uh, no, stop!), a sea snake swimming in the sea grass (under a different group of kayakers....Mason was all should I tell them...I was all, No), and the guide was a phenomenal free diver....super jealous of his ability to stay under so long...lol. He dove down about 10 feet, laid down on the bottom, and then blew bubble rings up at Mason for 2-3 minutes. It was super fun and we got some warm fuzzies for helping the planet!


Afterwards, we all got showered and cleaned up for dinner. It was a bit overcast and there wasn't much of a sunset that night. We did go walk along the sea wall exploring and Clarissa found a super tiny sea snake. At first Richard didn't see it, but then he spotted it too. This is her face after spotting the sea snake....it's too cute to not share....lol. (It probably didn't help that when she spotted the sea snake, she was on the sand, the snake was on the sea wall and Richard was on top of the sea wall....so the snake was between her and Daddy).


That evening, they had a special buffet dinner with everything that had been grown/harvested from/near the island. They had TURKEY!! A very rare treat for Richard and Clarissa to enjoy (at the holidays a turkey breast goes for about $100+....so we skipped it last year...we don't love turkey that much), as well as, fresh sea food, salads, fruits, rolls, soups....I could go on. It was topped off by this super special dessert. It was a homemade vanilla cake cubes, you then topped it with a mango puree and this caramelized rum sauce. The chef was very proud of his dessert and watched everyone making it. I think Richard went back for seconds thirds....after dinner the Matacawea Levu Island group came and performed the traditional Fijian songs/meke dances. Clarissa fell asleep during that. Afterwards, they had a shell market where you could buy things they had either woven or made with shells. We got Clarissa a small pearl necklace.

The next morning, Richard and I headed out and did a pre-breakfast snorkel. I think we found the magic time to snorkel! We happened upon an octopus chilling in the middle of a sandy patch....so I followed it with the camera....it changes colors...so cool....you have to watch the video!!! We also saw multiple sting rays. We felt we honestly surprised a number of animals that were not used to seeing snorkeling humans that early in the morning. Check out the montage video of all snorkeling we did in the Blue Lagoon!


When we checked in, we were treated to two 10 min foot treatments. Richard doesn't like his feet being touched and Mason is super ticklish....so Mommy/Daughter spa time!


A little nervous not knowing what was about to happen....(note her new necklace from the shell market).


I told her to relax and just enjoy the view....


Sadly, after that we had to get packed up and checked out. Afterwards, Richard relaxed under one of the bures and took in a few more shades of the Blue Lagoon while were waiting to catch the ferry back south.


I wanted a picture of us with this beautiful background so you could see that our skin tones are normal....it was that color!! It made me sad to think this might be the last time we see this part of Fiji.


We now had a five hour ferry ride (that actually ended up taking 7 hours!!) back to Port Denarau. So we took some photos, played some games, chatted with some people (Richard talked to a Fijian guy who worked at one of the resorts. He said the Captain must have been new based on running late, the route he was taking, and some of the awkward tender dockings he did...which was later confirmed when it took nearly 30 minutes to tie up at the dock once we made it back to the Port!). Here are some of the photos from our trip back...the Yasawa Islands are just breath taking! This first photo is from the non Blue Lagoon side of Matacawa Levu Island.

  
I didn't get a location on this picture (totally looking into an app to sync with the DSLR now), but I think it is near northern end of Yangetta Island.


The kids fully soaking up all the beauty.....


So if the above was the northern end of the island, then these former lava flow cliffs are just further down Yangetta Island (apparently, a fairly un-photographed island...had a hard time confirming this...no photos from the west side that I could find).


On the trip back down, we spotted three sea turtles!! This is the first one we saw! It was in Vuata Bay off Naviti Island. We spent a long time in this bay, I think at least three tenders worth of people were loaded/unloaded for the Botaira Beach Resort. Richard said he also saw a guy drop his cell phone in the water, so then they had to try and retrieve that for him....


Another secluded, seemingly resortless, coconut tree filled beach off Naviti Island with a warm late afternoon sunkissed glow and the moon rising behind it.


Waya Island has very dramatic peaks that change as you move along the island. At the far north end are these sharp knife-like peaks. Then there is a low valley towards the middle of the island.


At the southern end of Waya island is the Batinareba Peak (or Waya Island Summit). The Batinareba Peak rises up 510m (1673ft). If I hadn't taken this photo, I'd think we were in the southwest US!


Around the time we hit the southern end of Waya Island, the sun was setting behind us (that is the kids at the very bottom of the frame....probably arguing about who gets the last cookie or something equally silly).


Star photography and a moving boat don't typically go hand and hand...lol. So no more pictures for this post! We finally made it to port, only ~2 hours late...good thing we didn't have an international flight we were trying to catch (second time I've been on a boat in the Yasawa Islands and it has not gotten back at it's scheduled time...and I have seen the usefulness for travel insurance). We waited for our luggage and then headed for the hotel we had booked for the night. We ended up getting in so late we just order some room service for dinner (which hindsight we probably should of just skipped, it took over an hour for it to arrive....it was nearly 10pm by the time it was delivered to our room), but due to missing dinner on boat the kids were hungry and ate it half asleep/awake. That wraps up our stay on our second yanuyanu (island in Fijian) of the staycation! Stayed tuned for the final part......