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Published: November 11th 2008
Pacific Airways FJ 930 to Nadi from Melbourne.
FINALLY we take off. The overlyloud aircraft music was all harmonised lilting voices and plucked polynesian ukuleles, flight attendants had cream frangipanis tucked behind their ears, drinks were plentiful and multicoloured - it was South Pacific HolidayVibe overkill. Wasn't Halloween a couple of days ago already?? This was just scary! - in a charming twilight zone sort of way ... It's past midnight, I smell of airport, am jetlagged and sleep deprived, still tightly wound from arranging hectic schedules in my absence back home... Ok - deep breaths - 4 counts in, hold for 6, 7 counts out...
Fiji Beach Resort & Spa on Denarau Island just off Viti Levu
is operated by the Hilton Group. It reminds me a lot of the old Hilton Beach Club in Dubai. Sleek, stylish, modern, functional, lots of wood and glass, totally created by man and only incidentally on the beach. The staff are lovely - very obliging, very nice-looking. The men are mini Jonah Lomus (yes I know he's not Fijian) but smile a lot more. The women have big hair. Oh and both men and women
in collarless shirts, sulus (shortish
sarongs), and sandals. EXCEPT for the flame torch lighter at dusk everyday - he wears a grass skirt - and nothing else. Bula! 😊
Spouse and I are in a one bedroom villa with living/dining room, kitchenette, bbq area, 2 plasma TVs, Bose soundsystem, Playstation 3 (Spouse notices these things), nice beachfront and ocean views. We gave up our private plungepool for this villa - superior to us - as it was out of sight of the building!
going on near our earlier plus-plungepool-villa. We were totally exhausted upon arrival. Just wanted to shower! - be very very lazy, read mindless magazines, watch mindless dvds, cheer on Obama on CNN, sleep in the sun and do the things done on honeymoon 😊 This was a fab place for all of the above. Lunch was champers and ordered-in chicken & blue cheese pizza - eaten from the box in bed😊 - from L'Epicier, the gorgeous bakery here that also does gourmet pizzas. In-Villa dining that night - kokoda: Fijian fish dish marinated in lemon & lime with chilli, and very nice Indo-Fjian prawn curry with roti. AND more champagne bien sur 😊
Mmmmmm... Unwinding unwinding unwinding...
Off To See The Amazing Technicolour Dreamfish
This taken moments before jumping off MacDonald Jetty, Nananu-i-Ra.
Went for an early morning pre-breakfast run - on the beach and around Denarau
today. It gets HOT really really early here! Denarau beaches aren't great by Fijian standards - beige grey sand is... beige grey sand - but the waters are clear and oh so blue! Denarau is a manufactured enclave of privilege and grand gated homes with flashy boats docked along their private piers. Its beaches are lined with big chain hotels - Westin Sheraton Sofitel Sheraton Hilton Sheraton. Hilton is by far the best. The rest look like retirement homes in Florida, Waikiki 20 years ago, Nusa Dua rather than Seminyak 😊 There's a free Denarau shuttle that takes hotel guests to The Harbour at regular intervals. It's a bright green open-sided bus with a thatched
roof. I almost expected the driver to stick on some Mickey Mouse ears and everyone to burst into song as it trundled off... 😊
Jumped into our much less flashy rented car, armed with our camera and snorkeling gear. We were heading up north to the tiny remote island of Nananu-i-Ra
. By all accounts the beaches and waters here are amongst the very best in Viti Levu. It's THE place
for windsurfing and kitesurfing - the winds and the surrounding bays being particularly favourable. It's often overlooked though as it's off the beaten track and the drive up isn't particularly picturesque. It took us at least 3 hours on often dreadful roads to get there - the majestic sight of the Koroyanitu Range
the only distraction. Passed through Lautoka - the second largest city in Fiji and smallish nondescript towns like Ba, Lomolomo, Tavua - where their substantial Indo-Fijian population is strongly felt in cornerstores, tailors, pharmacists with names like Siddiqi, Patel, Singh. Sugarcane plantations abound, mango trees laden with purplish-red
fruit line the bumpy roads, stunning flame-of-the-forests in full vermilion bloom dot the landscape, tiny villages with mosques, temples, churches come and go. But Fiji's national religion really is - rugby!!
. On fields, along roads, in open spaces of earth - boys scrum, pass, run, kick - all these budding Serevis 😊 Finally along Kings Road
approaching the gorgeous Wananavu Resort and Rakiraki
the bays come into view. The waters are mindblowing - this is the deepest deep blue sea of songs and legends - it truly takes your breath away! That tiring road trip is suddenly totally worthwhile.
We almost missed Ellington Wharf
. It's at the end of a dirt road. A couple of shacks pose as the ticket office and the jetty is a small ramshackled wooden contraption. We weren't expected. We had no hotel reservation on Nananu-i-Ra. We weren't with a tour group. Bemusement greeted us. BUT as luck would have it Safari Lodge was picking up its supplies from the mainland and Toto the boatman agreed to give as a ride out to Nananu-i-Ra and back again for a small fee. Yay! A couple of Safari Lodge residents were with him, having just gone fishing for their lunch 😊 It's The Simple Life - In Real Life
- here. They'd proudly caught one fish between them. Toto - about a dozen.
Nananu-i-Ra is quite simply PARADISE between the equator and the tropic of capricorn. White sandy beaches, coconut groves, crystal clear waters. There are 7 tiny guesthouses on the island. A handful of privately owned homes - ranging from modest to jaw-dropping - fringe the shoreline. I cannot begin to describe those joyous few hours. Swimming and snorkeling in the warmest balmiest clearest waters. All around us a dizzying kaleidoscope of colourful fish,
hard coral, swaying anemone - there's large parrot fish, black-and-white-striped zebra fish and clown fish, stunning indigo starfish, clams, mussles, oysters, black-and-yellow butterfly fish, silver needlefish. On land - time just stands till under those shady coconut trees. There are swaying hammocks, the softest powdered sands, friendly residents in their intimate community, tempting invitations to stay... It's pure perfection... AND THEN IT HAPPENED
- clashing cymbals!
- Were we just too happy? Did we tempt the fates? Offend the ancestors of the cannibal king Ratu Udreudre?? About to board that boat back to the mainland. Toto shouts out a warning about loose rocks - the path (that I'd been traipsing up and down on all day!) promptly gives way and - splat! - I'm a crumpled heap with my foot twisted beneath me!! ##*@%!!(MISSING)!**
Spouse and Toto scrape my puddle of flesh and bone off the rock and sand... It throbs, it swells, it hurts like helllll! 😞 😞 😞 FOUR hours later...
Back at the Hilton. The Dr's called in.
My foot is iced, strapped and I'm Brufen-ed up. Whitewater rafting tomorrow is to be postponed. I'm to rest my foot as much as possible for 3 days!!!!
Newly Purchased Havaiana(s)
The chicest in crutch-compatible footwear this season :)
NOOOOOOoooooo!!!! Spouse is lovely - we order more room service - cheeseburger and ika vaka lolo (reef fish in coconut milk of course) - and watch the elections unfolding...
THE GODS MUST BE LAUGHING
BARACK OBAMA IS THE 44TH PRESIDENT OF AMERICA AND THE 1ST PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD!! HOORAY!!
I am a cripple on crutches.
What did I say in my previous blog entry about the shafting of the best-laid plans?? I can put NO weight on my misshapen left foot. The rapids of The Upper Navua are not to be rafted today. The Gods are indeed laughing. So off to Suva
- Fiji's capital - we head instead.
Unlike the road heading north, the coastal route of Queens Road is a tourist thoroughfare. After yesterday, it's an easy drive. It's quite quite lovely too. Lush rolling hills. Cows and horses grazing. We stop off at Natadola Beach
for a drink at the Yatule Beach Resort. It's a fab hideaway - intimate and stylish - and that view!! The shoreline here is soooooo beautiful. Regularly voted one of the top beaches in the world (we were told😊) Cobalt blue waters with foamy
waves. White sand. Swaying palms. Snap! That's a picture postcard 😊
We continue through Sigatoka, Korotogo, Korolevu. This is Coral Coast land. Reputedly the best coral diving around. Above ground the scenery is magnificent too. Clear clear waters - the most unimaginable spectrum of blue - from aqua to indigo 😊 Powerful surf. On to Pacific Harbour from where the boats to Beqa Island depart - and where the best shark dives (we're talking nurse, bull, tiger sharks!) are to be experienced - next time!! :0
After four hours we arrive at Suva. Suva is a REAL city. Fiji's bustling hub of administration and commerce. Real lives happen here. No people paid to just keep you happy. It's a curious mix of colonial seaside buildings and rundown 60s carbuncles. Thurston Gardens
are tangled, tropical and impressive. We don't stop to explore it or the reputedly excellent museum within as I'm really NOT good on these crutches AND our first Fijian rains appear. Suva is wetter than the west coast though hurricane season isn't for another couple of months. The Old Mill Cottage
promises authentic Fijian cuisine. It's totally charming with a wooden blue and white verandah and Fijians
Our Fijian Grub
Spouse took this pic to show me the local spread at the Old Mill Cottage - so i wouldn't have to get up. My crutch-wielding skills were embarrassing him :)
on their lunch breaks. Spouse and I go for it all 😊 Kokoda and more fish lolo, creamed spinach, taro, casavah, bbqd chicken wings with local spices, a small helping of coconut and lime pasta - washed down with coconut water. The owner is articulate, curious and friendly. She's of Fijian-Caucasian-Chinese extraction and sits with us over lunch discussing the Fijian coups, multi-ethnic nations, Barack Obama, how Spouse could be Samoan(!), treatment for my foot, the weather. Her brother-in-law and other regulars drop by. They really do go to the office in hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts here😊
We drive around and only stop to shop - traditional wooden bowls, woven voivoi baskets, masi bark cloth, a wooden headrest that banishes neck aches 😊 The windy roads back aren't well lit and we want to leave for Denarau before dusk falls. It's a slow journey home. We're stuck behind trucks laden with sugar cane for large stretches. The smss start beeping in... Obama's won!!!
We get back to hear his speech. This gifted orator touched by the gods. There's unbridled joy, raw pride, people crying. It's momentous. This is so much more than politics. The Gods are truly hysterical
Brewing Da Magic Muddy Water
The powdered kava root is placed in a cloth bag. The juices are squeezed into a ceremonial bowl filled with (bottled:)) Fiji spring water.
MY LEFT FOOT... Yesterday
was the day of healing
for My Left Foot. Under instruction from my lovely cleaning lady, Mary, who insisted on massaging my foot with her fabulous Zandu Balm
the night before, I spent the day having regular hot foot baths, kept it elevated, strapped it, rubbed in loads of Zandu - oh - and read (November's Vanity Fair - Wills & Kate, Joseph Stiglitz) and ate (salt&pepper prawns, violet crumble) by the pool 😊 Prescribed treatment was certainly working. Could now actually put some
weight on my mangled foot. I'd advanced from hobbling on 2 crutches, to shuffling with 1 crutch. I was not a pretty sight but YayMe! At sunset more healing was found at the Kava
ceremony we attended. This is Fiji's famed narcotic root drink. Performed the ritual claps and greetings and emptied our communal coconut drinking vessel - Dinaka!
The muddy water left us with strangely numb tongues - and I'm sure it was working it's magic on My Left Foot.
Dinner at Daikoku in Nadi
followed. Jap food in Fiji is very good on account of their incredibly fresh seafood. Portions are ENORMOUS! We
had miso soup, spicy tuna rolls, tuna sashimi, teppanyaki sirloin, teppanyaki prawns (wonderful mayo sauce with this), teppanyaki lobster and Spouse his black sesame icecream - all excellent. Today is the acid test...
Today I am able to LIMP S-L-O-W-W-W-LY with NO crutches! No choice really... No crutches allowed today...
The International Dateline (180 degrees Meridien) runs through Fiji. The sun rises at 5am here. We were ready and waiting for our pick up at 5.30am. Off to raft the gorgeous gorges of The Upper Navua
river. It's seven hours of rafting in a 14 hour day with a half hour hike! - omigodhow?? -
through the spectacular jungles of the Namosi Valley
. You sure she can make it?
- the Fiji Rivers rep asked Spouse over the phone...
The bus pulled up. Was TERRIFIED the superfit Yanks, Ozzies, Kiwis would be all eye-rolling impatience at the cripple holding them back. Limped on board as superfitly as I could muster. Several pairs of eyes swooped down to My Offending Left Foot. We were a group of 24. A quick scan revealed that about a quarter of them were my mom's age ??? 😊 😊
😊 YAY !!! Fuggered Left Foot trumps Grey Hair right? Right??
Spirits lifted, Well strapped, Ibuprofen working, I put My Best Foot forward...
MOSES AND HIS MERRY MEN
The bus flew back down the now-familiar Queens Road to Navua
where we switched to an all-terrain vehicle and headed away from the coast into the highlands. It was well over an hour on a very rough red earth track, past the isolated mountain village of Nabukelevu
where our chief guide Moses hails from. Moses is gorgeous. He is sculpted from black granite. A natural storyteller, he enthralled us with his tales of wild boar hunts, packs of dogs, machetes, torn flesh and scars, hospital runs on horseback, village feasts, giant trophied tusks . Yup! It was all very Apocalypto (yes I know that wasn't set in Fiji) . The track petered out. We had to continue on (one) foot!
to the river! A blonde woman from Idaho was re-applying her red lipstick. Really. She was terribly sweet. Clucking sympathetically about my disability. She'd sprained BOTH ankles before and they'd NEVER healed properly. Really she should have worn her brace today. I'm smiling as I nod in agreement. Fuggered
Left Foot trumps Red Lipstick!
Lifejackets, paddles, helmets, drybags for cameras were distributed. We meet the rest of Moses's Merry Men. They're ALL carved from rock. Some look totally scary. Most are playful and charming. We're given paddling instructions, safety instructions, equipment instructions. I finally sheepishly
tell Moses about my - uhmm - problem
walking. No worries it's an easy half hour - he proclaims. Just use your paddle as a crutch!
The terrain was just stunning - mahogany trees, wild orchids, magnificent mountains. The hike - NOT EASY - for me at least. Leaning heavily on Spouse & PaddleCrutch - I hopped, hobbled, stumbled, limped - very very slowly - the last paddler to make it to the banks of The Upper Navua. But I made it 😊 - and WOW!!!
- was I doing mental somersaults! Triple twisting double backflips!! We were greeted by the rushing gushing waters of this magnificent river with stunning banks rising to maybe 100 feet in places on either side. Volcanic rock layered with ancient seawall sediment. Here and there little and large crops of old coral. Glittering tributaries gurgled along, gently fusing with the great Upper Navua. We actually counted
It's Bloody Freezing Mate!61 waterfalls over the 25 kms of river we rafted
Spouse swimming through underwater tunnels between rapid rock pools. It's a guy thing...
- from magical misty sprays to formidable foamy torrents. Massive clusters of lush green bamboo overhang, unfurling clumps of ferns everywhere, here and there tall skinny white barked trees reach skywards, overhead the odd fruitbat glides. Just raw jungle really. And huge smiles all around.
We had 6 rafts of 4 paddlers with 2 guides each. The 2 guides took turns steering, manoeuvering, instructing their teams. They were fantastic. Totally skilled. Incredibly strong. Very professional. We had Toby and Bruce (the only non-Fijian guide - he was their American trainer really) who were excellent piss-taking co-captains 😊 The rapids we navigated were mainly class 2 and 3. Challenging at times. Occasionally hard work. Brilliant fun
. Lots of water wars broke out between teams. Races were strategised. Hostages were yanked out of rafts and dunked. Revenge planned and executed flawlessly 😊 In the meandering calmer patches the guides let us slip into the cold cold waters and just float along downstream. Two days ago (our originally scheduled date) it had - for the first time ever!
on the river whilst these same guides were out with a group.
It'd been by all accounts a terrifying experience! The massive wind damage could be seen all along the river in uprooted, flattened, broken trees. When bamboo breaks the cracking noise they make is apparently deafening, piercing, deadly. Paddlers were screaming. Guides were nervous. No one had experienced this ice rain before. Weather patterns are a-changing...
We had our mini moment of high drama too. One of the Grey Hairs - a really lovely man - fell into the swirling waters of a tricky rapid. I could see him clearly from our raft. Dumbstruck, terrified eyes staring straight ahead in shock, floating on his back, feet first, as we were taught. Moses was his guide and he battled valiantly to steady their flailing raft, as other guides jumped onboard to help pull Grey Hair out of the river by his lifejacket. All under control they towed Moses's raft to calmer waters. Mo was silent and actually pale. 3 other guides were manipulating his left arm, feeling along his upper back and shoulder blade. It was very obviously dislocated. 3 times they snapped it back in. 3 times it popped back out. It stayed in on the fourth go. His young
co-captain took over. Moses sat on the side. An extra lifejacket draped over his shoulders for warmth. Dislocated Left Shoulder DEFINITELY trumps Fuggered Left Foot.
THE VIEW FROM THE SKIES
Got back to the Hilton after that long long day - beyond exhausted, beyond exhilarated, beyond flithy. Spouse had made prior arrangements to barbeque at our villa 😊
The staff had left the prepared food in our fridge ready for Spouse to chuck on the grill. One hot shower and one hot foot bath later, I sat at our outdoor table, Molton Brown Orange-and-Ginger clean, sipping excellent Australian Red. The spread before me was simple and beyond superb. Dinaka Spouse 😊 Perfect (HUGE!) juicy tender fillet steak, sweet fresh local fish, even fresher (equally huge) lobster, caesar salad, garlic bread, creme brulee. And the hugest smiles all around.
This morning - in lieu of missing out on the island hopping cruise thing, owing to the foot thing - Spouse had arranged - the next best thing 😊 A helicopter ride
over the same isles. Yay!! We took off from the Denarau Golf Course and headed west over the glittering Mamanuca Group of islands. The
view from up here is simply amazing. We could see right through those crystal waters to the coral lying just beneath. Yachts bobbed prettily on the calmer waters. Farther out, white surf broke over hidden barrier reefs. In the skies, on the seas - candy floss clouds, surreal perfect islands just float by. Stunning resorts with their sparkling pools. Sea bures sit on stilts. Monuruki is where Castaway was filmed. It's uninhabited and utterly gorgeous. There's Matamanoa, Malolo, Malololailai, Bounty Island, Treasure Island, Beachcomber Island, the list goes on. There's an island for every purpose. To suit every need. From private island to party island. And this ride in the sky, given the circumstances, really is the perfect way to take it all in 😊
Nadi Airport. Amidst the Polynesian Melanesian Micronesian blend of beautiful people, multi-hued South Sea Pearls and handpainted Tshirts - I fail to find a single plastic snowglobe 😊 Boarded that Pacific Airways flight bound for Brisbane this time. I relax into my seat and totally exhale. The male flight attendants are wearing multicoloured hawaiian shirts. Bula! Bula! They keep offering to top up our multicoloured drinks. And I'm just thinking how gooood this service
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