Thursday, February 16, 2017

Toberua Island Weekend

After returning from New Zealand, I had two more excruciatingly long lovely weeks of quality time with the kids before school started. Luckily, MLK weekend fell during that so Richard had a long weekend to partake in the fun too. Having made multiple drives to and from Nadi over the term break, when I mentioned going to a resort for the weekend Clarissa immediately said she didn't want to go anywhere far that would be a long drive in the car. Given the kids and I had just been to Leleuvia with my in-laws, I wasn't feeling the cold showers so soon. I recalled someone telling us about another nearby island similar to Leleuvia, but nicer after our first trip....so I dug through my old emails, found the link, and we set about contacting them. It took a couple days of emails and phone calls to get everything lined up. Given we were "locals", our boat transfer to the Toberua Island had to coordinate with another guest's arrival/departure.

On Saturday, we had to be at the boat landing at 9am. Given we had no clue where it was (and google maps was no help), we had our driver contact pick us up (which was a good thing....we would have totally missed the "landing"....it was a bus stop on the river edge that had two steps going down to the water). The boat ride was quicker than heading out to Leleuvia, about 15 minutes down a river and another 15 minutes across open water to the island. It was a bit overcast when we arrived...but still beautiful!


We got checked into our bure. We had our own private bathroom and the back wall completely opened up (I'll show you in a video in a bit!). The lovely view out the back....with the traditional hammock by the water.....


The kids were super excited about the pool....so they wanted to swim immediately....so I piddled around the island with the camera while Richard kept an eye on them......note Richard "watching" under the poolside bure.


You can also see in the above photo the tree that lost it's fronds to TC Winston.....
Below, the trail to the boat landing.....


My, what pretty prop roots you have there.....oops....is my inner botanist showing again?


I have a thing for palm tree shadows....they are almost more interesting to photograph than the trees sometimes.....


School of Diamondscale Mullet, Liza vaigiensis....the water is so clear you can see their perfect shadows below them.


The jellyfish I saved that had washed up at low tide....this is it undulating away...


Back at the pool....sigh...tweens and their face making!


Super sweet smile....


Toberua Island offered several excursions per day. Given we were coming from Suva....we just wanted to chillax on the island...something we can't do at home, but I can see where some of the excursions would be enjoyable for someone spending a week at the resort. One that did peak my interest was a trip to Bird Island. It is a uninhabited island that several species of sea birds nest on, including the red-footed booby. Since my marine biology days, I have wanted to see the blue-footed booby....but a red-footed booby would do in the mean time....sigh but no one wanted to go with me...We catch did a frigate bird circling overheard.


Modeling the hat she stole from daddy....


So after swimming, we had lunch. We then headed out to go snorkeling. We had decided to wait till after lunch to snorkel (there are set meal times), as we did not bring a watch and didn't want to end up having to rush back (and the kids really wanted to get in the pool...which we have one at home?!?!). It was now low tide, so we had to kayak out to small dock, tie up the kayaks, and then drop in right on top of the reef. The resort has some floats marking the reef and we had to paddle outside of them so as not to damage the reef with our oars. 


Don't mind the giant black menacing clouds coming towards us.....


As you saw a few weeks back.....the family that snorkels together, gets stung by cnidarians together! Back in my marine bio days, we learned that cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, etc...your stinging cell organisms) will synchronize spawning around light and water temperature conditions....so a full moon in the middle of summer....prime spawning time.....so the water was full of little baby stinging critters....(and lots of grown-up jellyfish like the above one I "saved"). There was also a ton of fishes, everywhere we looked! The most adorable fish must have thought Richard was a Hollywood movie scout and was trying to get a part in the next Finding Nemo/Dory series movie.....I think it might be a Golden trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) which will commonly swim with groupers and other big fish (so in all likelihood, it thought Richard was a grouper if I'm not doing any personification). It is just a super tiny juvenile!!


So between the constant stinging and the occasional boom of thunder from the clouds from over the mainland heading towards us....we didn't end up snorkeling all that long. We paddled back to shore and big drops of rain started falling as got out of the kayaks. So we headed back to our bure and got showered and dried off. It ended up raining pretty much the rest of the afternoon and evening. Richard and I had scheduled massages so that helped to pass the time. We headed up towards the bar area and played some pool, table tennis and board games. It was real nice in that each bure had an umbrella outside it's door to use, so we didn't get soaked again. The kids were served an early dinner. Mason opted to then hang out in the bure after dinner and Clarissa joined us at our table (and helped herself to a second dinner off my plate...lol). That Saturday night happened to be a barbecue meal....Richard said it was the best tenderloin he has had since we've been in Fiji...it was tasty! We went to sleep listening to the sound of rain coming down and the ocean. The next morning....well you will have to watch the movie!


I think that was the best feature of the bure....the open doors let in the best breeze (the fear of sea kraits crawling in while we were sleeping and stepping on one if we had to get up was the only reason we closed them at night). We were off to a much better start the second day! We attempted snorkeling again, but the stinging cnidarians were out in full force and the kids lasted about 5 minutes. So Richard snorkeled a while and I took the kids to the pool. Next we tried our hand at another sport.....


No, not fishing silly! Kite flying!! They tied the kite string to fishing line. The breeze is so strong, it carries the kite WAY up high (see the tiny speck at the top of the picture.....this was after I made them bring it down so I could get the kids and the kite in the same shot). Seriously...one of the most ingenious ideas ever!!


Patiently waiting for her turn with the kite again while sitting on a tree stump.....


After lunch it was low tide again, so more mandatory fun....time to circumnavigate the island! We loaded up on the sunscreen, but all did managed to get a little pink.....first, let's meet Mr. Crab on a mangrove seed.


Clarissa loves picking unsuspecting sea cucumbers and watching them squirt water in self defense....


The previously mentioned Bird island in the distance, Two Tree island closer to us. When chatting with the property manager, she said if we were standing near Two Tree island we would be able to see Leleuvia Island.


One of many sea stars she picked up.


Big brother getting "revenge" on his little sister by not saving her when a giant clam pops up and tries to gobble her up.


Helping the black sponges tidy up by washing all the sediment off....


After our island circumnavigation, we cooled off in the pool and then showered (I forgot to bring aloe with me...oops). We then found a tern egg on the end of the dock. We noticed every time we walked out there, a tern would circle and squawk at us. It was probably our second or third trip out there we finally noticed the lone egg.


Our second day had the most beautiful sunset! The sky turned so many colors in every direction!




Recall, I even showed you the same sunset the other day with so many shades of pink. One criteria of the local rate on Toberua is a two night minimum. So thankfully, our second day there was no rain and it was immensely more enjoyable. After dinner, there was some cloud cover but it was relatively dark and I tried my hand at my first star photography....not the best....but I kept having clouds move in. If you click to enlarge the image, you will see Orion's belt at the top and a group of stars in the middle. I did get a shot of Mars (orange dot), but not many stars in that one...figured I'd go ahead and post the "bad" star photo so when I get a real good one it will really wow you all!


The next morning was nice and sunny again. The kids decided to completely pass on snorkeling. I headed out since Richard had gotten some time the prior day. I beelined to the floating dock (it was high tide so I didn't have to paddle out). As soon as I passed the dock, I saw two SQUID swim by! I was so excited....I have been a marine biologist for many years and those were the first squid I had ever seen in the wild. I'm bummed that I didn't get it on the GoPro (there must have been a power surge that first stormy night, our charger got fried so we could not charge any of our devices the rest of the trip). The squid I saw were Bigfin Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana)...I looked them up as soon as I got home! Richard had commented that the blue sea stars seemed exceptionally large, so while I was out snorkeling I dove down and field measured with my hand. One arm of the biggest one I saw was the size of my hand (so 7 in/18cm), so the whole sea star would have been over a foot (or close to 40 cm) in size.....that is big compared to the other ones we have seen!! By the time I got back, the kids were already showering. We cleaned up and packed up. We were headed back on the boat making a supply/linen run before lunch. The kids had a bit of time to do some more 'kite fishing' as we called it.



The staff brought out some day old bread to feed some fish as they loaded our luggage. The fish loved it! They also took our photo (and sent it to us with a thank you for visiting email, which was really sweet)....Clarissa couldn't be bothered to smile for a photo, she was busy feeding fish. In usual Fijian style, they sang 'Isa Lei' (the farewell song) as we left.


It was a fun relaxing MLK/last hurrah before the new school year weekend! The breeze thru the bure was wonderful during the day, but at night when we closed the sliding wall to keep sea kraits out it got a little too warm for Richard. So if we come back it will be during the winter (not near in a full moon, so hopefully nothing stinging will be spawning).

Current island tally: 1 Toberua Island visited, 326 Fijian Islands remaining

Monday, February 6, 2017

Adventures in New Zealand Part Three

So after our late night of Māori fun, we got up early the next morning to head out of Rotorua. We had an early morning reservation at Kiwi Fruit Country! The tour company has recently switched farms and they primarily deal with cruise ship tours, but if you email them they were more than happy to set up a tour for us. To quote Clarissa, "it's totally adorbs" (so she might watch a bit too much Barbie and the Dreamhouse)....but for the tour you ride on a kiwi train.


Our kiwi was brown...but green on the inside....I guess we were the little seeds...lol.


A statue of the other type of kiwi on the farm


So our big 'I never knew' moment was discovering kiwi actually grow on vines, like grapes! For every four female plants in the orchard they need one male plant to pollinate. During the flowering season, bees are brought in as there is no nectar in kiwi flowers to attract them naturally.


Kiwi growing in bunches on the vines. They actually require frost as part of their annual cycle, hence the ability to grow them in New Zealand but not any in Fiji. The kiwi are all harvested at one time. For every acre of plants, the kiwi are tested for sugar content with a refractometer. When the farm has had enough test with the correct sugar content, the official commercial lab will come test 100 kiwi. If the correct percent have the right sugar content the acre is cleared to harvest. That will need to be done for every acre. (That seemed a little wasteful to me).


I guess testing 100 per acre is not that many when you look at how many are growing! Once they are all picked they are moved to cold storage. The kiwis are gradually moved out of cold storage and sent to grocery stores to finishing up the ripening process. That explains how you can have kiwis nearly year round. These kiwis would not be ripe until fall (so May), when our tour was over we sampled kiwi....which had been picked last May it still tasted fresh and delicious!


Most New Zealanders do not want to harvest the kiwi as it is seasonal work. The farmers work with South Pacific island countries (i.e. Fiji) to aid in getting work visas for people from the rural villages to go to New Zealand for harvest season to make money.


My kiwi models in the making....


My artistic shot I have entitled "Dew on Kiwi".


There was a big gold rush in New Zealand in the 1860s. Most of the gold mines have closed but we found two that still offer tours. One was a big commercial operation that is still in production and the other was smaller and offered the opportunity to pan for gold....so we opted for the pan for gold opportunity. We headed towards the Bay of Plenty but thanks to our GPS opting us out of a toll road we quickly headed inland. We started to look for a place to eat, but then the kids feel asleep (ahhh, using each other as pillows).


Then the woke up starving, wanting to know why we hadn't stopped.....uh, you weren't complaining...I enjoyed the silence...lol! We stopped at a tiny diner off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was a tasty lunch with a cute theme (cows and old antique tin cans...but we didn't recognize any of the brands).


They had a port-a-potty-esque bathroom....but it had a sink with running water. So it was a step up. It was so fancy, Jim took a picture of the sign....


When we got to our destination of Thames, we somewhat had to wing it to the Goldmine. Our GPS failed us again, so it got us to the town center and then we used the website directions I had printed off.....and viola....we found it!


They had some (assumed fake) TNT....the kids gave me an eye roll when I sang a minecraft song to them.....


We donned our hard hats before we went in. Clarissa was the only one that did not have to worry about hitting her head!


We did find out that back in the day, Mason is the age (12) that most boys would become an apprentice and start working in the mine for 12 hours a day. They would push the full carts back and forth in the dark and learn the mine.


One of the offshoot tunnels (we did not go down this one, it was too small).


All the processing buildings where they would break up the rocks and separate the gold, silver and other ores from each other. (Clarissa wasn't really interested in this part so I didn't really hear what all was going on but the machines were really loud).


At the end, they had a table of rocks, mud, sludge you could pan for gold in.


Clarissa found a lot of tiny quartz crystals (which she kept), but no gold nuggets for anyone!


So we ended up staying the night in Thames. This was one of my fails. Ideally we would have stayed closer to Cathedral Cove (our destination the next morning), but this was the closest place I could find availability....high season at the beach! The motel we stayed at did have a washer and dryer, so I spent the afternoon doing laundry so we could save luggage space and not pack 10 days worth of clothes. The next morning, we had to head out early to make the drive to along the Pacific Coast Highway (much nicer smelling than the Thermal Explorer Highway) to Hahei Beach. We opted to do a one hour boat tour with Hahei Explorer versus the things we were reading saying the steep walk back from the cove can make the roundtrip take two hours. As soon as we arrived at the beach, Clarissa took off her shoes and beelined for the water.


And then her toes hit the water....she looked it me somewhat confused and said the water is freezing....which compared to Fijian water it was pretty darn cold....I'd compared it to New England water temperatures....not something I'd swim in, but some people do. The boat company guy took a group photo...Clarissa did her 'shy, hide behind mom' pose. So I was sneaky and jumped over a second before he took the picture...muwhahahaha!


On our way!


So the boat heads south first. We saw Champagne Rock....(it looks like an upside down champagne glass).


Champagne Rock up close (with the good camera vs. the previous photo with the GoPro).


So the boat captain offered to take our photo (he then posted it on the company Facebook page to download...super cool!) Champagne Rock to the left and Hitchhiker's Rock (kinda looks like a thumb) in the center. This spot was used in some movie, but it was super windy and I didn't hear where he said.


We then headed into Orua Sea Cave....I think our captain said it is the largest sea caves in New Zealand. It is located on a fault line.


From inside the Orua Sea Cave


After leaving the cave, we happened upon a PENGUIN! A real live penguin....it was just floating and preening. I told Richard we don't need to go to the really cold south island now...I've seen a penguin in the wild.


I tried to zoom a bit on the video, but the GoPro is wide-angle so you see a little speck....but you do hear Mason asking a lot of questions.


Clarissa and I took some selfies while underway to the next spot....(she had a pretend phone camera).


Some really cool rock-scape...


We timed our tour with the tide so that we could go into the blowhole. A cylindrical opening that goes up about 80 feet. It was really amazing to see what nature can do and photos just don't do it justice!




We then went around another island that had a big cave we went into that a whale had washed into and decomposed. That island is the home of the Giant Wētā (a type of cricket that can weigh up to 35 grams or 1.2 ounces). We then went around the island and entered the Marine Reserve. The fish were very plentiful and good sized.


The fish video was shot right by the Poikeke arch. Our boat went through the arch!


Our final destination was Cathedral Cove. The rock here is made up of "ignimbrite" which is a mix of pumice and ash. It is quite soft and erodes easily...which leads to really breathe taking rock formations and the soft white sand beaches.


That triangular tunnel is pretty famous and has been used in one of the Narnia movies and a music video! Now we can say we've been there!


Even Clarissa was there! Though she didn't want to smile for the boat captain, I did see her in a photo the captain got of another couple on the boat....hee hee hee!


Te Hoho Rock


Cool trees precariously growing on the edge....(why am I humming Aerosmith's living on the edge now?)


Same rock arch different angle. The Māori name of the area is "Te Whanganui-A-Hei (the Great Bay of Hei)".


We drove out a bit to move around the rocky outcropping to other side of the cave (Mare's Leg Cove).


Sphinx Rock sits in Mare's Leg Cove.


We were amazed at the number of people splashing and swimming in the freezing cold water.


More trees living on the edge.


Heading into Stingray Bay. The boat captain said the holes in the rock are caused by salt water mixing with the rock, but then dissolving with rain and leaving the holes (or something like that).


After our boat ride, we had about a two hour drive back to Auckland. We stopped in a quaint beach town for lunch. It was so beautiful driving out of town that we even pulled over to take some photos.


White and purple Agapanthus flowers (African Lily, Lily of the Nile) grow all over New Zealand!


We made it to our final accommodations (for the trip - 7 nights, 1 B&B, 2 motels, & 1 hotel). We did our last unpacking, found a place for dinner - a cute little Italian restaurant, then we went to a grocery store to get some food for breakfasts and snacks. We all got settled in for the night....Clarissa opted for the fold out couch bed and Mason had his own bed. A couple hours later it appeared Richard got hit by some food poisoning....so to be safe, I went and climbed into bed with Mason and let Richard fend for himself (I'm so sweet!). The next morning, the kids woke up hungry (they had by some miracle slept through all the ruckus during the night). So I prepared the kids a fruit platter for breakfast....this was our typically breakfast during vacation....berries/peaches were in season and local....so inexpensive in New Zealand....so we indulged! (Note the golden kiwi we picked up at the Kiwi Farm...yum!).


Jim was starting to feel run down due to the previously mentioned cold that Clarissa shared with him and Richard was over the worst of the food poisoning. So after I ran to the store to get Richard some sports drinks to rehydrate with, the boys stayed at the hotel while Ann and I took the kids to a mall. They wanted to go to the Smiggle store. (Smiggle is an Australian company that sells school supplies for kids....think the Claire's of school supplies....). The kids had Christmas money burning a hole in their pocket, so we went to go spend it. While at the mall, we also found a Rodney Wayne hair salon (similar to the Paul Mitchell of US). I needed to get my sun-kissed looked enhanced...so figured I'd let the kids try it out first. Clarissa is typically hesitant to get a haircut (I've had to let her sit in my lap many a time)....but this being a fancy place she was fine....I took pictures and sent them to Richard because I was sure he wouldn't believe me!


So fancy!


So they did a good job with the kids, so I made myself an appointment for that afternoon, since it didn't look like Richard would be up for sightseeing at all. Afterwards, we got the kids some lunch, I dropped them back at the hotel, and I returned the 'People Mover' to the rental company. Auckland has a decent public transportation system so there was no point dealing with a rental car any more. Though coming back from the airport took a very long time. I had about 15 minutes when I got back before I had to leave for my hair appointment. When I got back from my hair appointment, the party was in our room! Ann was worried about Richard, he had started running a fever and was looking dehydrated. So we made the decision for her to take Richard to the ER. Richard got two bags of fluid and got home a little after midnight...but that seemed to do the trick and he was on the mend. Here he is winning at vacation!


The next day, which was our last day in New Zealand, we did the on/off bus in Auckland. This was not only good for little people with short legs that tire easily, the elder folk, but also people recovering from dehydration...lol. You can get on/pay at any point so we went just down the street from our hotel to the Parnell Rose Gardens.


The park has been in existence for more than 18 years and has over 5000 plants...it was beautiful and in full bloom!


There were a lot of mixed color roses....not quite sure how those varieties are grown.


We stopped at Maungawhau / Mount Eden. It is a dormant volcano and the highest natural point in Auckland at 196 m (643 ft) above sea level.


The sky tower is behind us in the distance. Directly behind us is the crater, which is 50 meters (160 ft) deep.


Also at the top was a directional compass showing in what direction/how far cities were from the top of this point. Suva, Fiji is a mere 2153 KM away to left of NE while Washington, DC is 13882 KM to right of NE.

Shhh, don't tell anyone I caught them getting along and holding hands!


We also got off again in Downtown Auckland and walked around a bit. We made it back onto the last bus that went by the Rose Gardens. After we got back, Mason started complaining his stomach wasn't feeling good. We blamed it on motion sickness from the bus, but right before dinner he started throwing up...so I took care of him (couldn't leave him to fend for himself like Richard....) and sure enough a couple hours later I started getting sick too.....so I'm not buying Richard's food poisoning anymore...I think he picked up a stomach bug and shared it with us since 36 hours is about right for an incubation period...what a sweetie! By the time we had to leave for the airport the next morning, Mason had been fine for about 5 hours and me for about 2 hours. We powered through....we were miserable just wanting to sleep but since we had flown on frequent flier miles we were worried there would not be award availability if we tried to reschedule. All in all, it was a great trip. If we had to redo, we probably could of skipped the gold mine it wasn't super exciting but due to the summer high season we ended up having to stay in Thames so at least it gave us something to do while there. Initially, when we had started planning we were hoping to make it all the way to Wellington. As you saw we were super busy, saw so much, and yet we only saw a portion of the top half of the North Island....New Zealand has a lot of natural treasures! We are trying to figure out a way to come back and see some more.....so stayed tuned for another term break......


More Parnell Roses