Fiji: A break from New Zealand winter

July is not summer in New Zealand; it is the heart of winter. New Plymouth likes to celebrate winter by being 50 degrees and overcast. There is also a healthy dose of rain to make sure the weeds grow even faster than in the summer. Fiji, on the other hand, is a warm island that has abundant cheap beer to drink.

Katy worked overnight and got home from work at 8:30 am and was planning on going straight to bed, but she was too amped up from leftover work endorphins coupled with the excitement of the beach. We grabbed a 12 pm flight to Auckland and after visiting our favorite Auckland airport lounge, Strata, and getting fortified with a few beverages we boarded our plane for an uneventful three-hour flight to Nadi, Fiji. It is pretty crazy how close New Zealand is to the Pacific Islands, closer than even Australia. It also has the same time zone as New Zealand.

After an uneventful flight we arrived in Nadi and did some line cutting to jump the immigration queue. Well, we didn’t really jump the line, we just ducked under a rope to a shorter line… Katy left immigration with a giant smile since she got a passport stamp and the agent did a very orderly job of stamping her passport in a spot she approved. We then took a 30-minute van ride and a 20-minute boat ride to our island, Serenity Resort. Katy was a trooper all day, but by this point, she was exhausted after less than a handful of hours of sleep in the past 30+ hours.

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We arrived at Serenity Resort and transferred to a launch to take us the last 100 yards over the reef surrounding the island. One of the staff was standing, waiting for us while playing a nondescript cheerful song on the guitar. We then scampered down some movable stairs, trying to avoid the incoming waves and keep our shoes dry, we were successful. We checked into our room and went for a night walk on the beach. Unfortunately, it turns out there were sandflies on the beach, and Katy ended up with about 20 bites, which would lead to a lot of triamcinolone use over the next four days.

The next morning we had a 7 am wakeup call thanks to some beautiful music being played by the gentleman sweeping the sand off the boardwalks around the island. After our morning wakeup, we walked to the restaurant for some breakfast. The resort is pretty small with less than 30 rooms, but since they are all separate bungalows the resort is rather spread out. I was warned that breakfast was going to be $9 USD for a continental breakfast and $18 if you wanted hot food. We were pleasantly surprised that the continental breakfast was actually more expensive than the hot food, with my staple of grilled fish with hollandaise costing $6, $9 if you got two eggs with it.

I was worried that the nine beach bungalows were going to be snagged early, so I made a beeline for them, only to discover that only three were used all day. We transitioned to a beachfront bungalow with a hammock and lounger after the first night, and it turns out that everyone with a waterfront bungalow hangs out in their own area, leaving the beach cabanas largely unused.

After heating up in the sun, we went for a snorkel, and it was okay. There were lots of fish, but not a lot of coral. We later learned that the best snorkeling started about 50 feet from the farthest point down current that we went. We took a break from the snorkeling to go and “feed the turtles” that they were “rehabbing.” It turns out that there was not any feed to give to the turtles, so it turned into a turtle cleaning sessions which consisted of toothbrushing their shells to remove any algae that had built up on the shell. We then grabbed some lunch and headed back to the beach.

Our beach bungalow with Katy’s pink floaty with a small hole in it. It just means I get the honor of blowing it up every time she wants to use it.

It was a good day on the beach with good weather. The next three days were much of the same, but with varying amounts of clouds. We had many great snorkels. The dry season in Fiji also corresponds with their winter. The water was slightly chilly, but I brought a 1 mm neoprene wetsuit shirt that actually worked and kept me warm. I normally freeze in water, but I actually got cold after Katy with the shirt. A side bonus was that it protected me from the sun and the amount of sunscreen that we needed to use. We are currently in rationing mode since we only have so much of “the good stuff” and about a month of South Pacific trips planned. The air temperature was warm, but unless you were in the sun it was not so hot that you started sweating.

The food ranged from great Fijian food to them running out of fish and not being very good. I have to say that overall, the food was not the best part of the trip. Drinks were expensive on the island, ranging from $5 for a local beer to $12-20 for a cocktail. We did spend $58 at the duty-free store in the airport for 2 liters of rum and a dozen beers. We drank all the beers, but not all the rum. During our trip, we had four local lagers Vanu Lager, Vanu Export, Fiji Bitter, and Fiji Gold. Vanu Export was my least favorite, followed by Fiji Gold (Katy’s favorite). Fiji Bitter was my go-to since it was cheap and had slightly more flavor than the other ones, but Vanu Lager was a better beer, and if it was the same price, it would have been my go-to. The water on the island was desalinated and tasted salty. It tasted gross. Luckily we had brought some sugar drink mix to make mixed drinks. If we mixed that with the salty water we ended up with gatorade which worked in a pinch.

We attempted to go diving one day, but it did not work out and resulted in us sitting around for almost an hour. The resort was great but definitely had some issues. Our last day on the island we were planning on leaving on the 1 pm ferry, but it rained the entire night before we were leaving and it was still raining in the morning. We decided to attempt to change to the 9:30 am ferry and were successful. We first walked up the ramp onto our resort’s launch and in the rain headed out to the catamaran ferry. We then deftly stepped from one boat to the other with the waves and successfully made it onto the ferry. We had a very uneventful ferry ride that stopped at about five other islands to pick people up before we arrived at Port Denarau. It rained the entire journey, and the boat went from pretty empty to completely full. When we arrived at the port, it was an unorganized mess coupled with rain. We eventually grabbed our bags that we rather wet and headed to a bus for the ride to where we were staying. After waiting for 15 minutes on the bus, they said that we were waiting on another ferry to arrive. I was frustrated at this point by the rain and waiting and went to explore getting a taxi. The bus driver was actually really helpful and called one for us, and it was well worth the $3.50 taxi ride.

We used a “free night certificate” at the Westin. The credit card costs $99 a year, so it is a prepaid $99 hotel room, in my opinion. When we checked in, we were offered an upgrade to a one-bedroom suite, but it turns out that the room had a leak in the roof, so they gave us a room with a private outdoor plunge pool. It would have been great, but the rain put a damper on enjoying our private pool and all the pools of the resort. Katy did get her swim on, but I was a little too chilled so I turned the room into a giant clothes driving cave so our bags would be dry for the plane ride home the next day. The rain subsided in the evening, and we were able to watch the sunset without getting a tropical soaking and enjoyed a beer. Katy then enjoyed a massage. We then headed out to the airport the next morning and flew back to New Zealand.

It was a great trip. It was not sunny the entire time, but the weather was still good and our bad weather day was on the best possible day.

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