Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji

Map of Trip

Australia - Sydney Opera House By Night

New Zealand - Mountains across Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

Fiji - Blue Sea Star

To see an index of all of our trips, go to


This is a long overdue blog of this trip. The trip is  Australia, New Zealand & Fiji,  provided byGrand Circle Travel (GCT). As you can see, the trip was almost 2 years ago. I will be providing links to as many vendors, including hotels and attractions as I can. I will also be providing links to Google Maps and GPS coordinates to be used in Google Earth. The base trip starts in Cairns and ends in Fiji, but we had chosen to take a pre-trip extension, starting in Melbourne and includes the outback and  a post-trip extension of a cruise in Fiji. I will attempt to be as objective as possible about the trip and and all activities. The trip includes stays in Melbourne, Alice Springs, Uluru, Cairns, Sydney, Christchurch, Queenstown, Aukland and Fiji, as well as the MV Reef Endeavour.

I would appreciate feedback on my heavy use of web links, Google Maps links and GPS coordinates. Do they add to the to the blog, or detract from it? Are there too many or too little (which I doubt), etc? As this is my first blog, hopefully, of many, I would like to get a format that is useful to most, that I can follow. Are the number of photos about right? I intend to use brief video clips on future trips as well.

I have past trips to Egypt, Europe, Russia, China, Israel & Jordan, Africa, Thailand, Canada and the US, that go back over 10 years, that I intend to write up. The detail will depend on my recollection.

I have a trip to France in a few weeks that stimulated me to do this blog.


Maree's Mum
 A major part of any group travel is the people that you travel with. We had a very compatible and considerate group from  all over the country, By the end of the trip, it was like one big family. Those of us that did the outback pre-trip were greeted in Melbourne, after a very long flight from LA, by Maree, whose parents joined us in Fiji for a few days Unfortunately no picture of her father is available.

Starting the trip in Melbourne were: Jack and Ann, Susan, Marjorie, Alice, Jim and Mercedes and Vince. The rest would join us at the hotel in Cairns for an orientation. Included in that group are Britanny traveling with her grandparents Bob and Betty and Kailey traveling with her grandmother Vinita, as well as Ken from FL, whose picture is not available.

Pat, Jack and Ann, the two Susans, Marjorie, Britanny, Betty and Bob, Vince, Lawrence and Judy and Lee and Paula would continue on the the extension on the cruise ship at the end.

The two young ladies, Kailey and Brittany had both just graduated from high school, but fit in quite well with everyone. They hung out together at times, but also developed friendships with the other travelers. It was good to have some young blood on the trip.
Group Photo
Forel from PA
Robert & Betty from SC

Sharon & Cecelia from TX
Mike & Doris from LA
Pat from CA
Art & Ann, James & Gail from VA
Vinita from TX
Susan (AKA Helen) from CA
Susan  from CA
Kailey from TX

Dan & Sue from CA
Alice from CA

Phil & Judy from MA
Brittany from SC

Marjorie from KS

Jack & Ann from MA
Jim & Mercedes from CO

Vince from CA

Lee & Paula from AZ

 No photo available - Ken from FL


June 10 - 11, 2010

The second least pleasant part of the trip is now over, 16 hours in the air from LAX, and for us, this was the third flight of the day, Boston to Denver to LAX to Melbourne, but, with such a long overnight flight, you don't have much choice but to get some sleep. 

A word of warning to all who imbibe of spirits. Prices are extremely high for alcohol in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Do as the locals do, buy your alcohol in Duty Free at the airports. It seems that you are able to buy on arrival, as well as departure, and I'm not sure that you have to be on an international flight.

As we were at the back of the plane, we were among the last to get off and clear customs. Maree was there waiting for us and had Susan, Alice and Vince watching for people with Grand Circle name tags. Being punchy from the flight, it might be possible to walk by the welcome sign. 

We weren't even off of the airport grounds when we saw kangaroos hopping around, which apparently is quite unusual. 

The hotel was the Rydges Melbourne  see MAP , GPS (37 48 41.31S, 144 58 13.34E) (This is the format that Google Earth requires for coordinates). If you are are going to stay in multiple Rydges hotels on your trip, get a Rydges card at your first stay, or get it in advance, as you get a complementary drink on arrival, as well as discounts in the restaurant, and other benefits. The hotel was not fancy, but it was comfortable and a short walk to the trolley, up by the State Parliament House. There were also plenty of reasonable restaurants in the area.

Maree immediately assembled us in the lounge and gave out a lot of material on the city, This she did in each city. She also made it very clear that everyone was to be punctual for all departures for the sake of all everyone else. This definitely sunk in, as I don't think that anyone kept us waiting for the entire trip. She then took care various housekeeping issues and gave us our keys.

After getting settled in our rooms and taking a nap, we met Maree for an orientation walk of the area pointing out points of interest. Surprisingly, almost everyone joined in, despite the jet lag. That evening, dinner was in the hotel.
Shrine of Remembrance
The next morning, after brekkie, as the Ausies and Kiwis call breakfast, we boarded a bus for a half day city tour including the Shrine of Remembrance, see MAP, GPS(37 49 49.77S, 144 58 24.41E) a memorial to the Australian and New Zealander war dead, not unlike out various memorials in Washington, and the adjacent Royal Botanic Gardens. Unfortunately, being late in the Austral autumn, very little was in bloom, and the gardens were largely deserted. Then we were taken to the Queen Victoria Market, see MAP, GPS(37 48 25.5oS 144 57 24.35E) This was a European style market with many individual vendors and about everything that you could possibly want to buy.

View of Melbourne from Shrine
After doing some shopping, we walked southeast on Queen St. to Latrobe St. to pick up the free City Circle Tram, see  MAP, GPS(37 48 39.78S 144 57 31.89E) which we rode around for a while, seeing the city, before getting off at the Parliament station near the hotel. We picked up fast food in the area for dinner, eating in in the hotel room, before going out for a walk.

Alice Springs

June 12 - 13, 2010

Up early for brekkie and flight to Alice Springs

On the way from the Airport, we stopped in town and visited Mbantua Fine Art Gallery & Cultural Museumsee MAP, GPS(23 42 04 48S, 133 52 59.31E). They gave us an excellent tour and lecture on aboriginal art. The was also a film of the artists and the gallery's dealings with them in the outback.

Ann in front of Mural at School
 We also visited the Alice Springs School of the Air, see MAP,  GPS(23 40 41.64S, 133 51 57.13E), which handles the education the the children on the stations throughout the outback. It used to be that the communication was via two way radio, but it is now via the internet. This is a tiny facility with enormous reach.

Then we went to Alice Springs Telegraph Station, see MAP, GPS(23 40 19.61S, 133 53 11.31E). This was the key to opening up the interior of the continent, as well as linking the coasts together. The gentleman that guided through the station was a part of the "stolen generation". He had been taken from his family as a young child and raised in a dormitory at the station. He had mixed feelings about the situation, breaking up familes, but also educating these children and bringing them into modern society. Many of the the aborigines still live a semi-nomadic life. He worked on the Tom Sellick movie Quigley Down Under. He said that he had to teach Tom Sellcik to ride. A Train called the Ghan, for Afghan travels through Alice Springs, connecting Adelaide to Darwin. It was named for the Moslem camel handlers that were brought in to build the railroad.

Late in the afternoon, we went to the Hotel, Lasseters Hotel and Casino, see MAP, GPS(23 43 11.75S, 133 52 39.41E). The hotel was very nice, with a casino that didn't matter to us and a room with free PCs and internet access for the guests. It also had a very good breakfast, but the location left  much to be desired. It would have been much better to be within walking distance of town.

We were to have an outdoor barbie tonight, but there was a problem with the vendor's scheduling, so we ate in a restarant in town specializing in local food, kangaroo, ostrich, crocodile, etc. The place was very informal and fun. We had a good time.

The next morning we had an optional tour of the Desert Park, see MAP, GPS(23 42 27.63, 133 50 08.08E). It was to be anything from about a 4 hour to 10 hour day, depending on which bus you took back, We made it about 8 hours. The pick up bus driver was quite knowledgible and entertaining. As the park was hilly, it was quite warn, and it would be a long day, we both rented mobility scooters, and it was well worth it. There were scheduled shows and tours of various areas throughout the day. Th variety of animals would probably take years to see in the wild. In fact, you may never see the animals in the nocturnal house, which was kept dimly lighted, so that the animals would be out, but with enough light for us to see. We had lunch in the snack bar there.

We had dinner at the hotel that night.

June 14, 2010

Up for early brekkie and a long bus ride ( about 6 hours including lunch) to Uluru, see MAP, GPS(25 20 38,31S,131 02 06.31E), stopped along the way at a roadhouse for lunch. 

Arrived at Desert Gardens Resort, see MAP, GPS(25 14 20.33S, 133 59 02.08E) at about 2:00PM. 

Checked in and got back on the bus for sunset at about 3:00. The hotel is 

very nice with flowers in bloom and a great view from our window. Breakfast was excellent, but the hotel was far from everything. Arrived at the viewing area, tables with hors d'oevres  and stools for viewing were waiting. Watched and shot photos through sunset
The next morning we had time for a leisurely brekkie, before heading for Uluru and the airport. Marjorie saw that you could rent a Harley and driver for a ride around Ulura before our departure. She had ridden Harleys before and thought that this would be a great time to do it again and went for it. She loved her adventure.

We then had time to check out and head for Uluru again on the way to the airport. This was going to the end of the pre-trip and we would join the rest of the group in Cairns, They missed out on a great start to the trip.


June 15 - 18, 2010

Arrived early in the evening in Cairns at the Rydges Tradewinds Hotel, see MAP, GPS(16 54 58.45S 145 46 23.82E). The Tradewinds is really the property on the map identified as "Spa by the Sea". The hotel was very nice with a great pool and was right across the street from the Coral Sea. We had a great view from our windows and balcony, It was right on the edge of the downtown area in a city that felt very safe, and the promenade along the water was great. The only disappointment was the breakfasts, with too few people preparing the hot food. We had a brief orientation upon arrival from the hotel manager.

In the morning, after breakfast, we met the rest of the group and were oriented as to what was happening for this phase of the trip. Maree once again gave out a plethora of information on Cairns. We then set off for Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, see MAP, GPS(16 39 50.43S, 143 33 49.85E). We first got to meet and had a photo op with a Koala.  We were taken on a guided tour of the facility which included a boat ride through the swamp. They had kangaroo's in a large penned area, which we went in, but the kangaroos were timid and would not get too close to us. They also showed us the crocodile breeding and raising area, as this was there prime business raising crocs for their skins and meat.

The ride then took us along the Coral Coast for a lunch and shopping break in Port Douglas, see MAP, GPS(16 29 03.25S, 145 27 57.02E). We made a brief stop at a pub in Julaten, see MAPGPS(16 39 17.69S, 145 20.55.39E).

The next, and last, stop for the day was Wetherby Station, near Julatten. an authentic working cattle station, with a lecture on horseback from one of the hands. He was on horseback, not us. He was an authentic singing cowboy and entertained us during an excellent dinner. 

We got back hotel in the late evening and had the rest of the evening to ourselves.

In the morning, after breakfast, we took a short bus ride, about 1 km. to the Cairnes Pier see MAP, GPS(16 55 08.99S, 145 46.81E), which you could see from the hotel, to board the cruise to Green Island, see MAP, GPS(16 45 55,27S, about 16 miles, about 1 hour, in a large catamaran. The Day we went out, it was fairly rough. We saw no one get sick, but many looked uncomfortable. On the Island, there was snorkling, glass bottom boat rides, nature walks, a buffet restaurant, etc, For the most part you were on board walks, There was also an optional cruise out to the outer reef for more snorkeling After returning, we walked back to the hotel, and had the evening free.

The next morning was very early for many of us. There was a 4:15 departure for hot air ballooning, with Hot Air Cairns. Cairns is considered one of the premier ballooning centers in the world, with consistent winds and plenty of open fields to land, as well as geat views coming down from the table lands. We were picked up by a minivan and driven up into the tableland south of Cairns. We we brought to a place to wait to find out where they would launch from. There was not much there, but there were bathrooms. As you can't steer a hot air balloon, you have to pick your targeted landing area, then determine, based on air currents, where to launch from. They picked a pasture very near their breakfast facility to land.When we got to the balloons in the pitch black, they we in the process of inflating them. The balloons were huge. They told us that they were the largest class of balloons in the world, There were about 20 of us in the basket, plus the pilot.

 Watching the balloons inflating against the night sky was amazing and the lift off was very smooth. It gained altitude very quickly. The sun came up as we were rising. The pilot was constantly checking wind direction at different altitudes to chart his course to the landing area. We were all told to flex our knees to absorb the shock when we hit, but it was pretty smooth, with just a couple of bounces. The minibus was waiting for us there, with the passengers for the next flight. As the balloon was going up again, the pilot kept the burners going and  had one person get off and their replacement get on, to balance the load vs. the lift, with ground crew holding the basket in place. After the balloon went up the bus took us a very short distance to a breakfast pavilion that Hot Air runs.  There we had an excellent buffet breakfast with champagne.

Some of the group went back to the hotel, and some continued on to join those coming from the hotel at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park, see MAP, GPS(16 50 55.91S, 145 41 41.85E). Here we started out with a movie about the first meetings of the white men and the aboriginals and the abuse that came about. Until fairly recently the aboringines were not even considered human under the law Then they gave us demonstrations and lessons on how to throw a boomerang and use spear throwers. There was then a aboriginal musical show. There was a good gift shop if you wnated to spend money. 

When we were done there, we went next door to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway,. This is a cablecar system up the side of the mountain through a tropical rainforest . You can get off at a couple of stations along the way. We walked up to Kuranda Village, see MAP, GPS(16 49 09.43S, 145 38 11.08E), where we had lunch at a street side stand. Our bus arrived and returned us to the hotel in the mid-afternoon,

In the late afternoon, there was a presentation and discussion in the hotel on modern aboriginal life, that was not very well attended, but was quite interesting. This had been a long and busy day.

In the morning, after "brekkie", we left for the airport with a 1 hour stop at the Flecker Botanic Gardens, see MAP, GPS(16 53 56.58, 145 44 51.98E). I am not a big fan of Botanic Gardens, but for a small garden this was very impressive, and a good break before getting on a plane.

Off to the airport for Sydney.


June 19 - 21, 2010

Arrived in Sydney in the late afternoon and transferred to a restaurant, Casa Di Nico, see MAP, GPS(33 52 05.71, 151 12 06.11E), down by Darling Harbor,  for dinner. Did a little walkabout by the Harbor. The harbor was full of activity, getting ready for the next night's world cup game, with huge outdoor TV screens,  In the early evening, arrived at our hotel, the Mercure Sydney, see MAP, GPS(33 53 03.21S, 151 12 10.80E). The hotel was clean and modern, excellently located right at the train station and a major bus terminal. There was an internet cafe across the street and plenty of reasonable restaurants in the area. We did  a brief orientation walkabout to get our bearings after checking in.

 In the morning, after an excellent breakfast, we got on the bus and headed for the Sydney Opera House, see MAP, not usually one of my favorite destinations, but this building was huge and very impressive. It was also packed, both with tourists and musicians of all ages. The building was as innovative as it design looks, Where it does fall short is in accessibility, which is going to be addressed in a major upgrade that is in the planning stage, Its location on the harbor is fantastic. These two pictures of the harbor bridge "the coathanger" are taken from the Opera House. The tours of the bridge are so lucrative that the tour operator pays for the maintenance of the bridge out of it. You can see people approching the top, in the photo below.

We then went took a very short ride to Mrs. Macquaries Chair, see MAP, GPS(33 51 33.75S, 151 13 19.10E) in the Royal Botanic Gardens for a group photo with the bridge. and Opera House in the background. Then we were off to a tour of the Eastern suburbs including Bondi Beach, on the Tasman Sea,see MAP, GPS(33 53 29.05S, 151 16 32.46E) which is the home of Australian surfing and it's famous life guarding clubs. Then came a lecture on Australian Opals at an opal dealer and a chance to buy. We were then left to do our own thing. We walked around the Circular Quay, the transportation hub of Sydney Harbor, see MAP. GPS(33 51 37.72S 151 12 37.88E). We wandered around for a while enjoying a beautiful day and all the activity. We then took a bus back to the hotel. Sydney is a very easy city to get around, particularly with the location of out hotel. Circular Quay and the bus terminal at the hotel were two on the major bus hubs.

In the evening, we took a bus and walking tour of Sydney, Down at Darling Harbor, things were really jumping with the world cup game coming up and all sorts of activity and entertainment, see MAP We were dropped off at Cockle Bay, near the parking garage, east of the bay, to meet at the Sydney Aquarium. We walked around the bay and over the Pyrmont Bridge. The entire south and east sides of the bay were cordoned off, and we had to get carded and our hands stamped to get into the area.

 We all met at the aquarium at about closing time. We were broken up into a couple of groups and given private tours. It was very impressive and educational. Without crowds, it was a great experience

We were picked up by water taxis and taken to Italian Village Restaurant on Circular Quay across from the Opera House, see MAP, by Dawes Point Park. The restaurant was nice, and the location was great, but several people were unhappy because the service was slow. Apparently, the staff thought we were dining, not eating, as the Aussies and Kiwis make a distinction between them. Usually, when they go out late in the evening, as we were, they are dining, which is far more leisurely. When we left, we were treated to a spectacular view.
For about a month, they were having a spectacular light show on the Opera House. This was the last night of the light show. It was the fitting end to a very busy day.

The next morning, after breakfast, we were bussed to an area of the city, called the Rocks,see MAP. This was the oldest part of the city. Of course, being on a walking tour, this was the only really rainy day of the trip, ending at Circular Quay to board a ferry for a water tour of Sydney Harbor. (Fortunately, it had stopped raining.) It is really huge, see MAP. Even though it was winter, the harbor was filled with pleasure craft. Living near the water all my life, I have never seem a city such as this or Auckland, in a few days, that was so dominated by the water. It was cool, given that it was the first day of winter, but not cold, and there was plenty of hot coffee. The rest of the day was on our own. 

In the evening, we picked up box breakfasts for the morning.

In the morning, we left for the airport at 4:45, for Christchurch. Goodbye Sydney; goodbye Australia. It has been a great trip so far. 


June 22 - 24, 2010

 Before I start on the visit to this city, I want to say that Christchurch is a very beautiful and civilized city. When we were planning the trip, I was wondering what it added to the trip, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It is a shame what destruction has been brought by the earthquakes. Much of the area around where we stayed was severely damaged.

Immediately upon landing, we transferred to the International Antarctic Centre, see MAP, GPS(43 29 31.88S, 172 32 13.52E), right at the airport. As Christchurch is the second closest city to Antarctica, is has been a major jumping off point for Antarctic expeditions. The center has a penguin aquarium, a cold room that simulates the Antarctic environment and various exhibits and presentations, as well as a good snack bar.

On the way to the hotel, there was a general orientation bus tour of the city. At about 4:00, we arrived at the Holiday Inn City Centre, see MAP, GPS(43 31 59.68S, 172 38 19.97E) at the intersection of Cashel and High Streets, on the map. The hotel was very well located in the center of this very walkable city. Once you cross Cashel St, High St. basically becomes a pedestrian Mall, leading unto the city center. The restaurant was good  and it was very good for brakfast.After checking in,most of us did an orientation walk. Dinner was in the hotel tonight.

After dinner and the early departure this  morning we went to bed early.

 The next morning we had a good breakfast. This day was  officially free, but Maree led us on a good orientation walk, and pointed out where we might want to visit. Despite it raining lightly and the fact that it was the beginning of winter, people were punting on the Avon River, through the center of town. We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens and took a guided tram tour. as well as visiting the adjacent Canterbury Museum.

There were many  examples of English architecture in immaculate condition. I wonder how much of this survived the quakes,

 In the evening, most of us went down to The Bog Irish Bar on Cashel St. They were basically having a jam session, with a wide mix of instruments, from violins to accordians to guitars to drums, with musicians dropping in and out and printed verses for the patrons, Everyone was welcomed, We had a great time. There was no concern for safety on streets, walking back.

in the morning, after breakfast, we had to have the bags out, and hand carries for tonight's home stay, left with the porters. We walked to Eyris Blue Pearls for a very good presentation and another opportunity to spend.

We then go on the bus for a tour of Christchurch, then to Sumner Beach and Lyttleton Harbor, see MAP.  
Lyttleton harbor is volcanic crater across the coastal mountains from Christchurch, and where the originals settlers arrived. 

Time for lunch, and off to Willowbank Reserve, in Northwood, see MAP, GPS(43 27 53S, 172 85 40.21E), where they we waiting for us with lunch. After lunch  we toured the reserve, where they have a swamp, an aviary and a low light house for the nocturnal kiwis. We saw many endemic species, and had an excellent guided tour. 

 Returned  to the hotel for a period costumed storyteller recounting the early colonial days of Christchurch. Our host for the evening, later picked up the two of us and Forel. It was about a half hour drive to his house.His wife was preparing dinner when we got there. Before, during and after dinner we discussed life in NZ and the differences between it and US, including some politics and the current world economic situation. They had a second floor that was primarily for house guests with 3 bedrooms and a shared bath. The accommodations were very comfortable and we felt at home and welcomed. After breakfast the next morning our host returned us to the hotel, where we boarded the bus to head for Queenstown, with stops  for woolens at  The Tin Shed, where many people bought woolens, a stop for lunch at Lake Tekapo, GPS(44 02 06.96S, 170 28 51.14E) on the way to Queenstown, see MAP. GPS(45 01 57.05S, 168 39 45.82), on Lake Wakitipu, see MAP.


June 25 - 27, 2010

Arrived in Queenstown and went straight to the hotel, the Rydges Lakeland Resort, see  MAP, GPS(45 02 06.85S, 168 39 07.27E) in the early evening. The hotel was right in the center of town with all guest rooms facing Lake Wakatipu, across the street,The rooms were nice, but the view was fantastic. At dinner a great fireworks show, totally unexpected, ] started outside the windows. This was the start of the winter carnival, the first weekend of winter. The hotel was full of skiers, with a gondola up to the ski lifts right down the street, and up the hill.We didn't reallly see the whole view until the morning, The mountain views from the room were unbelievable.

 We had a very good breakfast, then walked down to the Queenstown Wharf to board the Kawarau Jet boats. The walk was only about 1/3 mile. It was a chilly morning with frost and ice on the docks. We had dressed in several layers, then they gave us heavy parkas and life jackets. We felt like the Michelin man.The grab rails on the boat were supposedly heated, but the were not effective. If you took off your gloves to take pictures and then had to hang on, which you did frequently, your hands got quite cold. The boat went up the Frankton Arm, up the Kawarau Falls, around the airport and up the Lower Shotover river, see MAP, turning and spinning the entire way. It was truly a thrill ride. We thoroughly enjoyed it, but not everyone did. Being from Boston we are used to cold and to boats, Those from warmer climes were not as happy. You can't stay totally dry and the wind in your face is quite brisk, but it was well worth it, even in the cold.

After landing, we walked back to the hotel to warm up and shed some layers, and have some lunch along the way. There was a lot of activity on the wharf for the Winter Carnival 

We returned to the wharf in the afternoon to take a boat to the Walter Peak Sheep Station for for demonstration on sheep herding and shearing, see MAP, GPS(45 06 45.04S, 168 32 38.39E), about 8 miles down lake in Beach Bay. To look up and see their sheep herd grazing up  on a slope reaching over 4000 feet above our heads was awe inspiring. There was a demonstration showing sheep dogs rrespondin to verbal and nonverbal commands herding the sheep. In rough country like  this would be impossible without them. They also demonstrated shearing the sheep, As a sheep was brought in it was struggling and fighting against being handled. Once the sheep was brought to a position sitting on it's haunches it became docile and could be sheared easily.

From these demonstrations, we were led into a shop where they did demonstrations of carding and spinning of the wool. There was time to shop, but no hard sell. We returned by boat to the wharf and hotel and had the night free. I think that we had enough fresh air for the day and went to bed early.

After an early breakfast, we departed by bus for Milford Sound, see MAP, GPS(44 40 08.37S, 167 55 36.96E), about 45 miles each way, as the crow flies, but there was no road going that way. By road it was about 180 miles. Along the way we saw many signs that tire chains may be needed, and we had them on board, but did not need them. We did, however, hit occasional patches of ice. As we got closer to the sound, we encountered scenic views and nature walks. Our driver was excellent, he seemed to be always getting to the stops just before other buses, letting us get photos without a crowd. Milford Sound is not really a sound, but rather a fjord. I'm not sure what the technical definitions are. See the MAP of the sound. We board a tour boat for the sound and are provided with a box lunch, as we get underway. The sound has high steep walls with many waterfalls and we sailed about 10 miles to the sea. There were constant spectacular views.

One trouble with a 180 mile drive one way, is that you have 180 miles to come back. It would have been possible to fly to the sound and back, taking the route of  the crow. We got back to the hotel after about a 12 hour day and had the evening free.

In the morning we had to have the bags out by 7:00 and be on the bus by 8:00 for the airport The airport was fogged in, so we were delayed a couple of hours getting to Aukland. 


June 28 - 29, 2010

After landing in Auckland, we went to the Nga Whare Waatea marae, a relegious and cultural center, where we had a talk and round table discussion on modern Maori life, as well as a light lunch. In late afterrnoon, we checked into the hotel, the Rendezvous Hotel Auckland, see MAP, GPS(36 51 10.62S, 174 45 37.52E). The hotel was centrally located in a fairly walkable city, but given our short stay, I don't really remember much about it. We had an included dinner in the hotel that night, with a free evening. I did some walking around to get my bearings

After breakfast, in the morning, we went by bus to the America's Cup Village on Waitamata Harbour for a Sail on the Pride of Auckland, see MAP, GPS(36 50 36.33S, 174 45 26.28E) It was styled like an America's Cup boat, but it had seating for tourists. Anyone who wanted to could take the wheel, once the sails were raised and we were away from the dock area.  It was a beautiful day for sailing, with a good breeze and beautiful sun. What a way to see the city. This and Sydney are the most sailing oriented cities that I have ever seen. 

Took a scenic bus ride around Auckland. Auckland is on a narrow isthmus with only about 3.5 miles between Manukau Harbour on the west and the Hauraki Gulf in the east, in the Auckland Volcanic Field, with 49 craters. See the MAP of Auckland. It makes for a very beautiful city. We then drove up to the top of Mount Eden, a dormant volcano, see MAP, before a very short drive to the Auckland Museum,see MAP, where we were treated to exhibitions of native dance, artifacts and had photo ops.

Afterward, we walked down the hill to pick up a local bus back into the downtown shopping district and walked back to the hotel, in a light scattered rain.

In the morning, after breakfast, we boarded the bus for the airport and our flight to Fiji.

Good bye Auckland; good bye New Zealand.


June 30 - July 2, 2010

We landed in NadiFiji (pronounced and sometimes written Nandi) at about 4:00 PM and transferred by bus to the Shangri-La, see MAP, which is on an island by itself connected to the main island by a causeway.  This resort is appropriately named. It really is paradise. The rooms, grounds and restaurants were beautiful. The only possible drawback was the size of the place. There could be a fair amount of walking and it took a little time time find your way around. There was a room with computers for internet access, but the bandwidth wasn't great. They had a golf course and a wonderful beach and snorkeling. The views were idyllic. Meals were excellent. Our room had a balcony overlooking the water. Maree's parents joined us for this phase of the trip. They were waiting for use when we arrived, and fit right in with the group.

Breakfast in the morning was excellent, on an open deck overlooking the water. Service very very attentive. We then drove to Sigatokatown, see MAP. This not a tourist town, but a real local town. The streets were not clean, but it felt quite safe and welcoming. The first place that we went was the market, where they had just about ant kind of fresh food that you could imagine.  and some that you could not recognize. As some of the farms were quite distant and roads may not be the most direct, many of the merchants spent their nights sleeping under their tables. They were predominantly ethnic Indians, as Fijians are not, in general, oriented to commerce. We then went to a supermarket, in case anyone wanted to buy snack foods, etc, and to buy gifts for the school we would visit later. The store was quite busy and crowded and the people friendly, and the prices were quite reasonable. From there, it was off to a gift and souvenir shop. Prices were reasonable and there was no had sell, as happens so often when local people encounter travelers.

Then it was off to a Nayawa Village, within the borders of Sigatowa. Here there was a church, a meeting hall and a small school, and clusters of small houses, with chickens running around loose. Again we had some light rain. We were taken into the meeting hall for a welcoming ceremony and a demonstration of local crafts, which were also for sale at a reasonable price. Shoes were not allowed here or in the houses. As the streets were grass, most of the locals were barefoot anyway. Off to local homes, for home hosted lunches of local foods, seated on the floor and eating with  our fingers. The multi-generational family spoke English, so there was conversation about home and village life over the meal. It was a very comfortable experience.

On the way back to Shangri-La, we stopped at the  Sigatoka District School, which gets support from the Grand Circle Foundation. The children welcomed us with an assembly and song then took us into their classroom to show off their work and get acquainted. Wherever we go, children are children and are always welcoming. These were no exception. Now back to the hotel, for a Fijian cooking demonstaqrtion that neither of us participated in. After dinner, the evening was free.

 After breakfast, we went to Kula Eco Park, GPS(18 12 00.21S, 177 40 47.96E). This privately owned park had beautiful grounds with excellent board walkways up into the forest, many indigenous species and very friendly staff, as well as a nice gift shop with reasonably priced crafts. We had a lecture by the park owner on the ecology of the islands and then a guided tour of the park by his daughter. The had many species indigenous to the various islands of Fiji


We arrived back at the hotel at around 1:00 for lunch and a free afternoon to enjoy the resort. That evening, there was a farewell dinner, as those that were not doing the extension were heading for the airport the next day, and those of us heading for the post trip cruise were heading for our ship.

In the morning over breakfast we said our goodbyes, and many of those not going on the cruise came down to see us off on the bus.

MV Reef Endeavour

July 3 - July 6, 2010

We arrived at Port Denarau, see MAP, GPS(17 46 25.80S, 177 22 53.92E), Nadi Fuji, to Board the MV Reef Endeavour, operated by Captain Cook Cruises. There were 80 passengers with a capacity of 140. In addition to the 14 of us, there were 2 other Americans, 2 Canadians, and the rest were Australians. There was a crew of 48, making for great service. The crew was all friendly as were the rest of the passengers, We mixed with the other passengers at meals and on excursions. There were 3 launches, including a glass bottom boat.

We boarded a smaller ship, probably one used just for day cruises, to get to the Reef Endeavour, which was anchored out further in the harbor. We sailed at about 2:00PM, with a lunch buffet, followed by the obligatory safety talk and an introduction to the vessel by the Hospitality Manager. Snorkeling equipment was issued to those who needed it. At  about 4:00PM we went ashore on Tivua Island, GPS 17 37 21.91S, 177 20 08.09E), for swimming, snorkeling and snorkeling lessons. Back on board about 5:30 for cocktails, dinner and a crew show, with entertainment in the lounge until about midnight.

 Buffet breakfast starting at 7:30 and went ashore on Sacred Island for snorkeling, The glass bottom boat dropped us off in a protected cove for passengers to snorkel around on there own, with a member of the dive team in the water with us. Some of the people snorkeled to a nearby beach and the boat picked up the rest, and everybody snorkeled off the beach. Lunch was back on board on the sun deck. In the afternoon, the boats again took the passengers to a beach for snorkeling, swimming or corral viewing on the glass bottom boat. Those that wished to were taken ashore to attend a church service in a village.

After dinner Maree arranged a Fourth of July party for us and the other 2 Americans on board.with canapes and champagne.

In  the morning and afternoon we were taken ashore to a sand spit on Waya Island for more snorkeling. A masseuse also came ashore , brought her table with her and gave massages on the beach. This was one of several massages that Ann enjoyed on this cruise.

In the evening, we were taken ashore to Yalobi Village for a traditional Fijian dinner  cooked in an earth oven  and a ceremony of song and dance.

In the morning, we weighed anchor before breakfast and headed back to Denarau. We ate breakfast while underway.  There was a Fijian farewell ceremony around the pool after breakfast and we disembarked by 9:00. We then were brought to a very nice resort hotel, that I don't remeber the name of, where we had day rooms arranged to stay in, until our evening flight. The resort had a beautiful golf course, and reasonably priced internet access, but the temperatures and humidity were in the high 90s, so we stayed in the room for the most part.

Now for the worst part of the whole trip, two consecutive red-eye flights, Nadi  to LA and LA to Boston, with a long layover in LA.

Good bye Fiji.


Finally done!!!

I have found that writing this is a great way to relive the trip and, I regret not doing it before. I have a trip to France coming up and plan to write the blog as I go. I will also, as time allows, go back and enter prior trips.

I would appreciate feedback on my heavy use of web links, Google Maps links and GPS coordinates. Do they add to the to the blog, or detract from it? Are there too many or too little (which I doubt), etc? As this is my first blog, hopefully, of many, I would like to get a format that is useful to most, that I can follow. Are the number of photos about right? I intend to use brief video clips on future trips as well.

Overall this was a great trip. It can't be classified in any one way There was three different South Pacific cultural groups, Aborigines, Maori and Fijian, beautiful cities and desolate wilderness, deserts and oceans, as geographically  separated as San Juan, PR and Portland ME, with temperatures ranging over 70 degrees from the high 20s to the high 90s

I would be glad to answer any questions on this trip, on this blog, by Email at, telephone or Gmail or Skype video chat. Talking about trips helps us to relive them. We can figure out a mutually acceptable way to set up person to person communication.

If you book a trip with Grand Circle, or their sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), for the first time, you can get a $100 per person discount by using a referral from a current customer. They will also get a credit for future travel or cash for referring you. If you have a friend or relative who has traveled with either company, get their customer number and use it when calling to book. Once booked you can not go back and get the credit. If you do not have anyone that has traveled with them, you can use our number. We are John and Ann Donoghue and our account number is 532988.




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