Category Archives: Travel

Wandering through the streets of Suva

One of the most cosmopolitan and bustling cities in Oceania, Suva, the capital of Fiji, with its vibrant and colourful farmer’s market and stately buildings, dating back to colonial times, greeted us as we entered Suva Bay in the early morning.

With a population of over 86,000, Suva is home to half of Fiji’s urban population. As we wandered through the streets of Suva we passed the magnificent Houses of Parliament and a few luxury hotels overlooking the harbour. We didn’t feel under any threat, despite the warnings that petty crime has become a problem in the city. The influx of country dwellers and the city’s lack of infrastructure has triggered an increasing number of tin shelters being built on the outskirts of the city as well as the amount of people living in poverty.

After an easy, fifteen-minute walk from the port, we found ourselves at the quaint Fiji Museum, set within the once stately and magnificent Victorian-era Thurston Gardens. The museum contained examples of traditional Fijian canoes and other fascinating artefacts reflecting Fiji’s Chinese, Indian and Colonial history. Another interesting building and one of the most prominent landmarks within the city is the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a large catholic church dating back to 1902. Entry is free and you’ll be delighted when you step inside and see it’s beautiful, original stained-glass windows.

Our last stop for the day before boarding the ship and bidding farewell to our final port, was a visit to the vibrantly coloured fresh food market. Beetle nuts, unfamiliar tropical fruit and root vegetables lay spread out on the tables and the local vendors were happy to entertain us with the names and information about the fresh produce that lay before them.

Suva had a certain charm about it. It reminded me of a seaside city I used to visit when I was young. It too was multicultural, full of colonial history with its once magnificent water features and gardens, the sweet smell of Indian food cooking away in the distance and a harbour dotted with fishing boats and cargo ships.

Do you ever feel that travel has the ability to transport you back in time? Something as little as a smell from your childhood, bringing back to life a cherished memory from the past. It happens to me all the time….

 

Virtually untouched Dravuni

Accessible only by boat, Dravuni Island is situated at the northern end of Fiji’s Kadavu Group, bounded by the Great Astrolabe Reef and renowned for being a diver’s paradise. The reef was named after the French explorer Dumont d’Urville’s ship, the “Astrolabe”, which struck the reef in the 1820’s. There is not much on the island that would suggest we are living in the 21st century. It is one of the Pacific’s most unspoilt destinations and one of the least populated islands in the Fijian island group, with less than 200 inhabitants.

A walk along the unspoilt, palm-lined beach leads you to the inland peak, the highest point on the island. The climb is steep at times but well worth the effort, for what awaits you is a panoramic and breathtaking view of the island and its surrounding reef. We fell in love with a local dog that joined us for the long walk to the top and then again later for a swim on the beach. Our walk up the hill took us past some quaint little houses and a few pig pens which were the highlight for our kids. As we wandered through the village we found out why Fijians have earned a reputation for being friendly, welcoming and hospitable.

A little school catering for Kindergarten to Year-4 aged children overlooks the white sandy beach, the principal happily gave us a tour of the two tiny classrooms and explained that from year 5, students travel to a neighbouring island, where they board for the rest of their schooling. A nearby field station has also been set up here and is used by universities to study the local marine life and surrounding coral reefs. As we visited on a Sunday, all the island’s residents congregated together under a large, thatched roof hut for the weekly church service, led by the school’s principal.  No trading was allowed on this day, which made our time there even more special. Only a collection was taken for a neighbouring islands children’s hospital. Once again, it was evident that family, community and faith remained at the centre of their day to day existence.

We couldn’t leave the island without exploring the beautiful reefs offshore.  After an afternoon of snorkelling around one of the island’s rocky points, while the kids built homes for their hermit crabs, our fun-filled day on the island came to an end and it was once again time to head back to our ship.

DSC_1582 (2)

As we left Dravuni Island we were reminded that there are still places in the world that remain relatively untouched, you just have to be willing to explore a little further off the beaten track.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware

– Martin Buber

Vava’u, Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, directly south of Samoa and consists of over 170 islands, many of them uninhabited. Vava’u, with a population of around 15,000 inhabitants, is an island group consisting of one large island and 40 smaller ones.  As our tender approached the shore we could hear a youth brass band playing and a group of kindergarten aged children, singing and dancing to raise money for their schools.  Beautifully crafted goods were being sold by the locals, hoping to make the most of our short stop.

We drove through the main town and then headed over to the Tongan Beach Resort, around 20 minutes from the port.  The return taxi drive cost us 50 Tongan Pa’anga and entry to the resort (including a delicious barbeque lunch) 90 Tongan Pa’anga. We passed by little houses, some of them so small you could barely swing a cat in them. This was the poorest of all the islands we’ve visited so far. Pigs of all sizes run around freely and you need to keep your eye out for the odd lost cow wandering across the road.

Tongan Beach Resort is a peaceful, private and cosy retreat made up of rustic bungalows, a half-filled swimming pool and a very basic restaurant and bar.  Yet, it’s popular with visitors from all over the world because right off the jetty lies a spectacular lagoon, abundant with fish. As we lay under the trees, we watched as diver after diver returned from their daily adventures and it was clear that this was what travellers came here for. We spent the rest of the day swimming and snorkelling in the lagoon. The marine life was good here but there wasn’t much reef.  Watch out for sea urchins and stone fish, reef shoes are essential.  If you’ve ever wanted to swim with a humpback whale, this is the place to do it. Trip Advisor’s number 1 tour is run by ‘Tongan Expedition Dive and Whale Watching’ and offers a safe and truly unforgettable experience.

Our next stop was scheduled to be Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital. Unfortunately, the wind picked up the night before our expected arrival and our ship was unable to safely pass between the reef to enter the harbour, the captain made the decision to cancel this stop.  We ended up spending an extra day at sea but it wasn’t a big deal.  By now we were comfortable with being on the ship for longer periods of time and the kids had some home-schooling catch up to do.

Next stop: Dravuni Island, Fiji.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”  Anonymous

Breathtaking Espiritu Santo

Halo from Vanuatu!

I got a bit excited on the first day of the cruise when they said you could buy unlimited premium internet access on the ship for just $99, little did I know they meant limited unlimited access. I’d love to have given you an update of our adventures before now but internet reception has been dismal. We’ve also been catching up on some much-needed sleep, I don’t think we’ve ever been so tired…The last week in our house was like a scene out of The Block. We were packing for the cruise, packing and organising the van and preparing the house for our much loved friends who are renting it for the next five months (you really don’t realise how many things need repairing until someone else is about to come and live in your house!).  Going from a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house to a 17 sqm cabin with just one bathroom has been interesting to say the least. I don’t know about your family but I always notice how out of sync we are the first few days of a trip.  It has been wonderful to reconnect with each other again though.

After two and a half days at sea we woke up to the beautiful shores of Luganville, a major export centre on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. I was really sea sick the day before and therefore SO ready to get off the ship.  Unlike other times we’d cruised, I had no idea what we’d be seeing on Santo. We are not ‘follow the crowd’, ‘shore excursion’ travellers so hadn’t booked anything. I cannot think of anything worse than queuing to get on a bus with heaps of other tourists only to take us somewhere that we can visit on our own, for half the price. We decided to take our chances, catch a taxi from the port and see what the day brings. We negotiated a flat rate for the day and probably paid more than we should have, but we figured $140 for the whole day was pretty good value as there were four of us and could take our time exploring. Our awesome driver John did not disappoint us. The people on the island were incredibly inviting, kind and just loved the tourists. The island’s inhabitants are very poor (in the money sense) but evidently rich in other ways. We passed three schools which were all extremely basic, some of the classrooms didn’t have windows. According to our driver, basic education isn’t subsidised after year 7 and parents need to pay for high school education which is very expensive, resulting in many kids not finishing their educational journey. This made me incredibly sad and I wondered how they could improve their future outcomes without this opportunity.

There are potholes in the roads, dogs roaming the streets, the sweet smell of smoke coming from fires in the little houses and the washing lines are simply ropes strung out from a roof to a nearby tree.  Coconut plantations abound and cattle in the fields inland, Santo is world famous for its beef.

The Riri Blue Hole

We’d never visited one of these before so didn’t really know what to expect. When we got to the end of the dirt road we found a few of the locals sitting in a little thatched hut, we paid our $5 per person entry fee and made our way down the man-made path through the forest. The first sight of the water almost took our breathe away. It was almost transparent and very inviting with water warmer than I had expected. There also weren’t swarms of tourists around so it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. A giant rope swing hung in the distance and we couldn’t resist. This thing is so big you needed a 6m wooden pole to grab the rope from its resting place. My husband went first and made it look easy with his upper body strength! Our son was next but got the jitters. I decided to be a good role model and ‘have a go’, it was AWESOME! I felt like a child again. And…it worked! Our son went next and then five times more! We were late for our driver but it was totally worth it!

Lope Lope Lodge

Our next stop for lunch was recommended to us by our driver and we were so glad he did. As we drove through the gates of Lope Lope Lodge we caught a glimpse of the turquoise waters that lay ahead and we knew we were about to experience something wonderful. A rare little hideaway tucked away behind a high wall. A nearly 180 degree view of crystal clear blue water with the reef lying about 100m offshore.  The open-air restaurant sits right on the water’s edge and the live music and warm hospitality made us wish we could stay here longer. We vowed we would return one day and even checked out the accommodation while we were there (they have but four cosy little villas that sit on the water’s edge). A tiny little piece of heaven. After a snorkel and a bite to eat we headed off to the next stop.

The cultural village

Having visited many cultural villages around the world before, I found this one to be truly authentic and definitely worth a visit with only a $10 per adult and $5 per child entry fee. We got to step into the men’s hut where they make the famous drink, Kava. They pound the root of the Kava plant (which looks a bit like ginger) and mix it with a little bit of water. It’s pretty potent so they only give you a bit at a time to try. My husband agreed to be the dummy and have a taste, he said it tasted ‘earthy’ and made his tongue tingle and go numb. After some dancing and singing we headed over to the pool for a water music show with a difference. This involved the local women stepping into a half-filled pool and making the most amazing music using drums and the sound of the water as they hit it with their hands. A couple of the little kids from the village climbed in too and I couldn’t help but notice how happy they were. They seemed very connected to their families and their traditions.

Million Dollar Point

Our final stop in Santo was ‘Million Dollar Point’ which had a $5 per person entry fee. If you’re interested in history then this is a definite point of interest. During World War 2 the Island was used by Allied Forces as a military supply and support base. At the end of the war the American forces dumped most of their equipment here. Wrecks are strewn across the ocean floor from 1m to 15m below water level. The wind had picked up and the water was a bit choppy but we decided to snorkel it and see if we could spot anything. There was tons to see here and the marine life was abundant. The boys swam through what felt like a bait ball of fish and I was lucky enough to spot a Lion Fish.

We loved Santo and would really like to return to explore more of this unique island. It’s one of those places that transports you back to a time when life was a little simpler and more carefree.

Our next stop is Port Vila. It will be our fourth time there and we are keen to see how it’s all changed, it’s been nearly six years since our last visit.

Taking the leap

If you asked me to describe what we were like before having kids I’d probably say “always busy planning an adventure”.  Prior to diving 111 metres, head first towards the Zambezi river from the Victoria Falls bridge in Africa, the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, we’d spent a month travelling by overland truck from Kenya, diving lake Malawi, then Zanzibar and having a few, rather close encounters with some wild animals in the Serengeti.  We weren’t filled with fear or what if’s, except perhaps that the baboons sitting under the bridge might chew through the rope before we would finally get to jump.  The sheer sense of exhilaration we felt that day is something I’ll never forget. To date we remain friends with the people who jumped with us that day.  This is what travel does.  It challenges you.  It forces you out of your comfort zone and it connects you to people and places that you would never ordinarily encounter. Throughout all our travels we learnt something new about ourselves, that we were capable, strong and braver than we’d ever thought possible.

Then came parenthood and somewhere along the way we got scared.  Afraid of the unknown, taking risks and leaving the safety and comfort of our home.  Our instinct to protect our children and give them a ‘stable and happy childhood’ kicked in. The pressure of constantly thriving to be the ‘perfect parent’ (whatever that may be) got in the way of doing what gave each of us joy, energy and a sense of fulfilment. Spending quality time together, away from the distractions of technology, really embracing life and venturing out into the world in pursuit of new adventures.

When it comes to travelling with the kids, we have done a few trips here and there.  A few cruises, holidays in the Polynesian Islands, 10 days backpacking around Japan (which I would HIGHLY recommend), a holiday in Hawaii and last year we visited parts of England and France.  Some days were really hard and at times we pushed them to their limits.  Our youngest was only 4 when we travelled around Japan but they both thrived and still speak about that holiday like it was yesterday.  When we first arrived in London they were nervous wrecks at the tube station entry point, by the end of the holiday we had to chase after them as they raced each other to the platform. Their fear of the unknown and their self-doubt in new situations had almost completely disappeared.  Travelling definitely agreed with them and made them more resilient.

Last year we visited Paris and this turned out to be a pivotal turning point for us all.  Making our way from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees we found ourselves being approached by refugees who were desperately pleading for help, crying because they had nowhere to go.  Our daughter was so distraught.  We really felt for them, especially the helpless children, feeling compelled to help as much as we could.  After that night we all complained a little less but most importantly, it opened up the conversation about different events occurring in the world.  A dialogue about the impact of war, refugees, homelessness and suffering.   Realities that our children are so sheltered from here in Australia. They came back a little wiser and people commented on how much they had matured.  They were kinder to one another but most importantly more empathetic to those less fortunate than themselves.  This in my eyes was a gift, a gift that only travel can give. 

Not long after this we decided that we needed to travel more, for longer periods, pursue all that world has to offer and really enrich the lives of our children with the hope that they will grow up to become global citizens who seek positive change in the world.  And so we began dreaming and planning.

A year and a bit later, here we are.  Finally taking the leap and about to embark on a little adventure once more.