Departure from Fiji to Victoria, Canada

November 27, 2012 – Tuesday – Blue Lagoon Resort to Nadi

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort, Fiji

Multi-coloured striped fish and coral at Blue Lagoon Resort

Today starts off as usual with my view of the beautiful lagoon and coral reef right outside the front of my villa on my last day at the Blue Lagoon Resort. I go down to the restaurant to have some coffee and some yummy toasted homemade bread and a coconut muffin. Before I pack this morning, I go for my last snorkel in the lagoon. I think the fish know I’m leaving today, because they all crowd around me, and I spot two angelfish for the first time. I take some underwater photos, when I didn’t really expect to see anything new this morning. After having a shower, put on fresh clothes, pack and check out.

The Turtle Island Airways seaplane flight doesn’t leave Turtle Island until 4PM, so I have some time to kill before the resort launch takes me over there at 3:30PM. The Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane invited me to stay at their villa until I have to leave, so after lunch I take them up on their offer. It’s great to sit back on their front porch away from the noise in the restaurant. I snooze for a while until it is time to begin my journey home.

The launch ride to Turtle Island hits some choppy water, so it is a bit rough, but we arrive with perfect timing. I spot the seaplane coming over the ridge of the neighbouring island and landing no more than 10 minutes after our arrival at the dock. We have another barefoot pilot, and this one has a distinct Montreal accent. He is Oli (Oliver), and he tells me the South American pilot that flew us up to Turtle Island last week actually lived in Montreal for 10 years prior to coming down to Fiji to fly seaplanes. The flight down to Nadi is uneventful, but the view over the ocean and islands is not as good as when I flew up a week ago, since we are on a southerly course, so the Sun is reflecting off the water much of the time. I do get a good photo of First Landing’s Left Foot Island and the Vuda Marina on our approach. The seaplane dock is out of commission at the Nadi Bay terminal, so we have to make a wet landing on the beach.

My first inkling that my departure from Fiji is about to go all wrong is when the passengers from the seaplane finally have time to talk with each other after the flight. Apparently some received email messages from Air Pacific that the flight to LA is delayed until 7AM the following morning. They were instructed to go directly to a hotel to check in. I didn’t get an email notification, and the airline didn’t call me. Since I wasn’t notified to do otherwise, I take a taxi to the airport. My taxi driver decides to wait for me, since he “has nothing else to do”. Chaos greets me as I line up at the check-in counter with the other hapless passengers. We all commiserate with each other, since everyone now knows the flight is not leaving this evening. Despite the crowds, there is only one check-in clerk, so it takes me about an hour to find out I need to talk with someone else to assign me a hotel to stay the night. After I have my hotel assignment and vouchers, Peter my taxi driver takes me to the Grand West Villas, a Best Western hotel near the Nadi airport.

So I arrived at Nadi airport around 5:30PM this afternoon, and here I sit at 8:30PM still in Nadi in a hotel room, when I should be in the waiting lounge at Nadi airport about to board the 10PM flight to Los Angeles. I found out at the airport that Air Pacific cancelled the flight due to mechanical breakdown of their Boeing 747-400 in Sydney, Australia. I hear there are passengers who have been waiting in Nadi for three days to leave on flights to LA, so I can expect the worst when I show up tomorrow morning to check in for my flight. It is scheduled to depart Nadi at 7AM, with check-in starting at 3:30AM, so I plan to be at the airport by 2:45AM in order to get to the front of the line to obtain that all-important boarding pass. I want to be on my way home tomorrow, not sitting around in a Nadi hotel for days on end, waiting for something to happen.

The Grand West Villas is no prize of a hotel. The restaurant is open until 10PM to serve dinner to all their unexpected guests from the airline. The food is absolutely dreadful: frozen fish grilled, and french fries, pop or water, and zero service. This is the worst meal I have eaten in Fiji, and the meals in Fiji have been first rate everywhere else I have stayed until now. The rooms are very basic, but clean. At least the air-conditioning is working, so I can sleep for a few hours and then see what tomorrow brings. I call home to let them know to not pick me up at the airport, and that I will update them when I know more.

Needless to say, I’m very upset with Air Pacific, and I will avoid flying with them in future. I’m not too happy with Air New Zealand either. As the ticketing airline for my flights, they have dropped the ball big time by trusting their passengers to an airline partner who is obviously unreliable.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday –Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

The lineup at Nadi, Fiji airport for check-in and boarding the Nadi-LA flight

My alarm goes off at 2AM and my taxi driver Peter is ready for me at 2:15AM when I schlep my bag down the stairs into the lobby. I am #3 in line for the check in counters; waiting from 2:45AM to 4AM. Check in is complicated, since I have to be rebooked on my connecting flights. The good news is that I have a seat and a boarding pass! The bad news is that I have to overnight in San Francisco, which apparently Air Pacific will pay for.

I pass through security and explain to Fiji Immigration I arrived on Nov 8th by air, departed Fiji on the 10th by ship, re-entered Fiji on the 20th by ship, and am now departing on the 28th by air. They key all this into their computer system, and stamp my passport and boarding pass. As I take the escalator to the departure lounge Air Pacific is announcing they have overbooked the flight, and appeal to passengers to relinquish their seat for a US$500 cash payment, hotel accommodation, and guaranteed boarding on tomorrow’s flight. I’m glad I have an assigned seat…I’m certainly not giving it up! There is a huge amount of anxiety among those of us waiting in the departure lounge, but eventually after a few false starts, Air Pacific loads passengers onto the aircraft.

We are on a Boeing 777-200ER, which is a Euro Atlantic Airways aircraft, operated by a Portugal-based charter company. Air Pacific has obviously hired to fill the gap for their downed 747. I greet the young Portuguese crew as I board, and there is one Fijian flight attendant aboard. I tease her about this fact as I board…she giggles. Unfortunately, this aircraft is about 100 passengers smaller than a 747, which explains why Air Pacific is constantly struggling on the ground to cope with the extra bookings it has. The couple seated beside me waited three days for this flight, showing up at the airport each day only to be denied boarding. Their situation makes my flight delay look easy, although I’m still not happy about Air Pacific’s poor performance.

The bonus is that that there is much more leg room in this aircraft, there are less people aboard, and the air in the cabin is much better than what I encountered on Air New Zealand’s 747-400 on the way down to Fiji. I still blame that flight for causing the nasty throat infection I suffered from while aboard the ship. Both the male and female Euro Atlantic Airways cabin attendants are really cute, so I forgive their inexperience with delivery of some of the in-flight service.

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 in LAX

The flight departure is delayed an hour and a half from 7AM to 8:30AM, when we finally push away from the jet way. This is going to screw up all the connecting flights for all passengers who don’t terminate in LA, since our arrival time with be late as well. Once we are airborne, I can feel the motion of the aircraft change with the change of flight crews in the cockpit every few hours. It’s pretty obvious when they start playing with the trim and power levels, although they maintain a 35,000’ cruising altitude, and it is generally a smooth flight with only occasional bumpy sections. The older passengers have found the free wine available from the galley. They wander the isles with their glasses of red or white.

I split my time aboard the aircraft between snoozing and working on my MacBook Air editing photos and writing my travel journal. It’s nice to have a notebook that fits on the aircraft fold-down tray, and I can listen to music from my iTunes at the same time. I also browse some magazines using my iPad, but the aircraft is shaking side to side in the rear section I’m seated in, which makes it uncomfortable to read for long periods of time.

We arrive late, despite the flight only taking 9 hours and 35 minutes – quite a bit faster than expected. I clear US customs and immigration and retrieve my bag, but then I have to wait in line to get my flights home rebooked yet again! As it turns out, when my connecting flights were rebooked in Nadi, everything was screwed up badly to the point it would have taken me two days to get home from LA! The guy who does the rebooking for me here in LAX knows what he is doing, and has proper flights put in place for me in no time.

Of course, all this waiting around takes up more time, so it is now 11PM by the time I get to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, which is where Air Pacific is putting up everyone from the flight I arrived on who is experiencing flight delays. I run into a friend in the hotel lobby as we both check in, so after a quick cleanup, we both go downstairs for the dinner provided by the airline. By this time, it is coming up to midnight, and my friend has an early morning flight to catch to Vancouver, so we bid adieu.

November 28, 2012 – Wednesday – Los Angeles to Victoria

Since my flight yesterday flew eastward and crossed the International Date Line, I get to live Wednesday over again.

I go downstairs in the hotel to have breakfast, which is provided by the airline. I call home to let them know I’ll be arriving at Victoria airport at 10PM today. I catch the shuttle to the airport just before noon. Because I have paper tickets, I am redirected to the re-ticketing check-in and am issued boarding passes for both LAX and SFO. My bag is checked through to Victoria, so I go through security and then upstairs to find my gate.

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

San Francisco lights at night with Bay Bridge from the aircraft

I have over two hours before my flight leaves at 3:25PM, so I connect to the free Internet service at LAX. I didn’t expect free Internet in this airport – bonus! I update my status on facebook and work on a blog entry. United flight 1253 leaves a few minutes late, it is full, and I’m in an aisle seat on this Airbus A319 regional jet. It takes a surprisingly long time to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco – an hour and a half. Since I’m not in my usual window seat, all I can do is sit back and listen to music. There is essentially no in-flight service other than soft drinks and water.

After arrival in San Franscisco, I find my gate at the very end of Terminal 1 for the flight to Victoria. This is the oldest part of the airport, however to my good fortune, Klein’s Deli is located right next to my gate. I have a great tasting Cobb Salad for dinner while I wait several hours for my flight home to depart at 8PM. United Express flight 6494 departs on time and is using a Canadair Regional Jet. It strikes me as ironic that I’m ending this venture on a Canadian-made jet, operated by an American company to my final destination in Canada. In any case, we arrive on time, I retrieve my checked bag and quickly clear Canadian Customs and Immigration. It’s good to be home!

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Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

Arranging a stay in the Yasawa Group of Islands

Rather than return home after disembarking the Solar Eclipse Cruise 2012, when planning this trip, I decided to make arrangements to stay in Fiji a further week. I had always wanted to experience the Yasawa Group of Islands, located just off the NW coast of Viti Levu. Lautoka is the jumping off point for these beautiful islands, so this was an ideal opportunity to make some arrangements to experience that part of Fiji.

After much research, I decided to spend a week at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island in the Yasawas. I love to snorkel in tropical waters, and this resort offers a beautiful lagoon literally steps outside my beachfront bure (cottage or villa). I’m also really looking forward to meeting all the friendly Fijians on the island. Never in all my travels have I encountered more genuinely friendly people than the Fijians. This is one of the main reasons I seem to keep returning to these islands.

The resort life – day by day

November 21, 2012 – Wednesday – Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

I wake up a bit before 7AM on my first full day at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, and by the time I get dressed and cleaned up, it is time to go to the restaurant for breakfast at 7:30AM. The coffee is ready, so I start with that, and then have some yummy homemade bread toasted, and a cereal cup with fruit. They offer eggs cooked to order, so no doubt I will have some scrambled eggs another morning.

I walk the beach right to the end where there is a point with black and red volcanic rocks. This island’s origin is obviously old volcanic, since it has quite high hills, and some have sharp peaks. Later in the morning after the tide comes in, I go for my first snorkel on the reef. It is nothing short of fantastic. I only have to swim a few metres from the beach in front of my villa to see the reef, which is very much alive. When I stop and float in the water, there are multitudes of fish swarming around me. There are lots of opportunities for taking good underwater photos and video, and I even set my camera for macro mode, since I can get so close to the wildlife. This is what I came here for!

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

Yasawa Flyer disembarking passengers

The Yasawa Flyer passenger boat arrives from Lautoka at 1:15PM, and a couple of boatloads of people get off. They are greeted with the staff singing them a song, which I record. We didn’t get such a greeting upon our arrival yesterday…I guess we were too small a group.

The young couple in Villa 1 (beside me) is obviously having a romantic dinner in front of their villa instead of the usual dinner with the group in the restaurant. The staff setup a table for them in front of their villa, and they start dinner shortly after 5PM, instead of the usual 7:30PM. She is dressed in a fetching white slinky evening dress and he has a black shirt on. They decide to take a sunset photo of the two of them on the beach, and attempt to use the automatic mode and a camera timer. I know this simply doesn’t work, so I volunteer to take their photo with their camera. I put it in non-automatic mode, manually turn the flash on, and get much closer to them so the flash can light them up and they are visible. My good deed for the day.

It is seafood night for dinner in the restaurant, and what a spread! There are mussels baked in a spicy sauce, breaded whitefish, calamari, snapper baked in coconut sauce, a seafood casserole, rice, homemade cheese & onion buns, two nice salads, and a banana pastry with chocolate sauce for dessert. I sat with the same Australian/Chinese couple as last night, another Chinese couple, and a young couple from Melbourne. The young man from Melbourne will be traveling to Montreal on business, and asked me about the “French question”. I had to ask him to clarify, and he indicated he knew a bit of French, and was wondering if he should speak French or English in Montreal. Given his weak skills in French, I advised him to stick with English. In any case, I suggested his Quebec business associates would be taking good care of him.

At 7AM this morning the temperature is 27ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 31ºC, with a slight breeze off the interior of Nacula Island. By 5PM it warms to 29ºC, 75% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and we still have a slight breeze accompanied with a rain shower. By 9PM the temperature is 28ºC, 84% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, and a very slight breeze. I sleep comfortably with just a light sheet as a cover and no blanket every night I’m here. There is no air conditioning in my bure, which I wouldn’t use even if it was available.

November 22, 2012 – Thursday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

Coral reef in the bay in front of the Blue Lagoon Resort

I get up with the Sun again this morning, and go to the restaurant a bit after 7AM. I have some scrambled eggs on toast this morning. Then it is time to work off my breakfast, so I walk down the beach to the north, past the other resort (run by the local chief) and around the point to another section of the beach to the north. I meet several Fijians walking down the beach who work in our resort. Everyone is so friendly here.

I meet my neighbours Tasha and Eric from Ohio, who are staying in Villa 3 for 10 days. Eric wasn’t impressed with the two excursions they have taken over the last couple of days. I don’t plan to take any of the excursions offered by the resort during my stay, since I came here for one thing: the snorkelling. The wind kicks up at 5PM from an offshore direction (NW), and then the rain starts coming down. We are hit with 25kmh winds and heavy rain. I retreat inside my bure and close the shore side shutters. By 5:50PM, the rain stops, the winds subside to 12kmh, and I open the shutters again.

This evening’s dinner menu starts with a lovely seafood salad served in a big papadam with Romaine leaf, followed by two pork cutlets topped with a mild and creamy chili sauce, served with rice and vegetables. The cutlets are actually cheap shoulder chops, so they are full of bones and fat. Otherwise, the meal is tastey, and a nice cheesecake is served for dessert. I sit at a table with a young German woman and her South American boyfriend; a very young Scottish woman, and two Chinese couples. The Chinese people speak very little English, so they talk among themselves. The German woman speaks good English, but she is sitting too far away from me to converse with.

The young Scottish woman and I have a good conversation since she is sitting right beside me. She was on a camping trip in late summer that took her from New York to Los Angeles, and back to New York in a giant loop across the USA. It was a group tour where a driver, van and camping equipment were provided, but the group did the cooking and washing up. She also explored Ecuador, Peru and Chile before finding her way to Fiji. After Fiji, she will be traveling in New Zealand for a few weeks on a bus tour before returning home. She admits to being homesick sometimes, but keeps herself busy to ensure she enjoys wherever she finds herself.

I observe a fireball streak across the NW sky, from NNW to WNW under the Moon at about 35º altitude. It disappears into a cloudbank, and I don’t hear any sounds. There was a distinct fiery head, yellow colour.

November 23, 2012 – Friday – Blue Lagoon Resort

The sound of the surf last night keeps getting louder as morning approaches. Sure enough, when I get up, the waves are crashing on the beach. I have my usual breakfast this morning at 7AM: coffee, toast, and add a piece of homemade cake. The wind is strong and the seas are rough this morning. After I return to my villa, the wind picks up to 25kmh and the rain comes down. I get out my binoculars to watch the storm from under the cover of my patio. There are 3-5m waves shooting straight up at the outer reef about a kilometre offshore, and rollers breaking over the inner reef. I didn’t come to Fiji to storm watch, but there it is!

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

Resort staff rolling fuel drums up the beach

My astronomy friend from Victoria, Canada arrives this afternoon around 2PM on the Yasawa Flyer. She is ready for solid ground after enduring the rough seas this morning in the catamaran. She felt really sorry for the people who had to endure the rough weather all the way from Lautoka. She was already staying at Octopus Resort on an adjacent island, so her trip on board the boat was relatively short.

My beach palapa finally succumbs to the waves and the high tide this afternoon, and is now leaning over on its side in the sand. Next door, Tasha and Eric’s palapa keeled over much earlier than mine, and the huge surf mostly smashes it up.

Since there is no snorkelling or swimming today because of the rough seas, my entertainment this afternoon is to watch the unloading of supplies from the small boats that picked up freight from the Yasawa Flyer. They are bobbing around in the surf and are being tossed about in the crashing waves on shore as the resort staff slung bags of produce, beer and other beverages into shore. The cooks and barmen will have to wash all the salt water and sand off their new supplies before they use them! The fuel barge supplies the other entertainment this afternoon. Since it can’t come in close to shore to unload using their ramp onto the beach, they simply dump 45-gallon drums of fuel overboard. The resort staff spends most of the afternoon corralling these barrels from the sea, bringing them to shore, and then struggling to roll the 500lb barrels up the beach and onto high ground.

Fijian group at Lovo Night

Fijian group at Lovo Night

It is Lovo Night at the resort, so a ground oven was heated up this afternoon, and the food was baked underground against the hot rocks, wrapped in palm leaves. This evening we have roasted chicken, pork and Black Snapper, along with Dalo (Taro) and sweet potato, salads and Kokoda (Ceviche). Everyone is raving about the starter, a Green Papaya soup…it tastes wonderful. It isn’t sweet, since they use pulverized green papaya, and add chili to spice it up, and coconut milk to make it smooth and creamy. There is a lovely homemade coconut cake with caramel sauce for dessert. All in all a lovely meal, followed by some entertainment from a local group of Fijians singing and dancing.

November 24, 2012 – Saturday – Blue Lagoon Resort

Although the storm has passed today, there are still pretty strong wave surges coming up onto the beach. I don’t accomplish a great deal today, preferring to lounge in the hammock in front of my villa watching the activities as the staff clean up the mess left by yesterday’s storm. I go for a swim in the sandy part of the lagoon, since swimming too close to the coral when I can’t see exactly where the coral heads are would risk me getting coral cuts. The water is the temperature of bath water, so it is easy swimming, and good exercise for me to work off all the lovely meals I’m eating, and Fiji Bitter beer I’m drinking.

November 25, 2012 – Sunday – Blue Lagoon Resort

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

My bure is right on the beach with the lagoon in front

I go snorkelling twice today, but the water is still cloudy from the storm. I take some underwater photos this morning, just to show the water conditions. It is fine visually, since there is about 3-4 metres visibility, I can navigate around the coral heads. This afternoon, the water is cloudier, so I just have fun watching the fish dart in and out of the coral. There is a tropical rainstorm this afternoon, which I’m told the resort desperately needs, since they run on rainwater. The rain storm lasts until dinnertime.

My friend from Victoria brought a bottle of white wine from New Zealand with her, so we visit with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. We have to dash through the rain to get to their villa, but we have a good conversation, learning about all their travels through the South Pacific. They regale us with stories of a close encounter with a Grizzly bear on a wilderness adventure they took to Alaska and the Yukon.

Since it is Sunday, the Nacula Island church choir serenades us with hymns before dinner. They have fine voices and deliver strong harmonies. All Fijians seem to have wonderful singing abilities. Dinner this evening is a regular BBQ with ham, grilled fish, and lamb cutlets, along with salads and chocolate cake with chocolate sauce for dessert. My friend and I have dinner with a group of young Australians who mostly have just graduated from medical school. They are here in Fiji for a week or so after finishing their final university term.

Tomorrow is my last full day here at Blue Lagoon Resort before returning home on the 27th. I have really enjoyed this trip, but it is time to leave paradise and return home.

November 26, 2012 – Monday – Blue Lagoon Resort

We have rain last night off and on. When I get up at 6AM, I see clear sky and stars from my “observatory”, aka the open roofed shower in my bure. I go back to bed and sleep for another hour and a half before getting dressed for breakfast.

I ask at the office about my check out tomorrow, especially how the seaplane flight will work. I am confirmed on a 4PM flight from Turtle Island to Nadi. They will take me from Nacula Island to Turtle Island for FJ$20. I should arrive at the seaplane terminal in Nadi an hour later, and get to Nadi airport a half hour after that, so we are talking 6:30PM. This will be good timing for my 10PM Air Pacific flight departure to LA and onward home.

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Striped Surgeon fish among the coral

Eric and Tasha from next door are taking the Noon seaplane flight to Nadi tomorrow and will be on the same 10PM Air Pacific flight as me. He is planning to purchase an upgrade to either Bula Class or First Class, since he says the legroom on the Air Pacific flight they took down from LA was virtually non-existent. He had to keep his legs splayed when the person in front of him reclined their seat, and Tasha and he both ended up with oedema in their ankles after the 11 hour flight since they basically couldn’t move all that time. I’m thinking Bula Class is sounding like a good idea for me as well. Eric says it can’t be reserved ahead of time; it is offered on a first-come-first-served basis for FJ$600 (CDN$300). Hopefully there will still be some seats left when I check in.

The snorkelling is wonderful right outside my villa this morning, since the water has cleared considerably since yesterday. There are huge numbers of fish, both schooling and individuals, and I spot a bright red fish I would call a Red Snapper if I was back home, but is apparently a Toadstool Grouper. There is also a small octopus clinging to a rock, and I manage to take some video and photos.

I have the Chicken Curry for lunch: a big bowl of curry made with coconut milk, rice, two small salads, papadams and roti. It is delicious with a Fiji Bitter beer, but it’s such a big portion! All I feel like doing is lazing in the hammock, so that’s what I do until I lose the shade. There is a nice breeze this afternoon, however the Sun is brutal, so I retreat to the full cover of my bure patio. There are people and dogs chasing some pigs down the beach at the next resort, so perhaps the pigs will be dinner for someone!

At 5PM today the temperature is 30ºC, 70% humidity, Heat Index 34ºC, 6kmh wind offshore from NE, some cloud, but mainly sunny. My friend from Victoria and I have dinner this evening with the Australian couple I arrived with on the seaplane. I have enjoyed sitting at a variety of tables for dinner, meeting new people each night. I find the stories everyone tells to be fascinating.

Disembark the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka and travel to the Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

November 20, 2012 – Tuesday – disembark the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka and travel to the Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula Island, Yasawa Group, Fiji

I have my last breakfast aboard ship at 6:45AM: my usual cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry at La Palette. The ship is still underway to Lautoka as I sit on the stern deck watching the Fijian coastline go by. The Sleeping Giant is part of the rugged mountains found in the Lautoka-Nadi area, and it takes on some beautiful pastel colours in the early morning light. As we approach the port of Lautoka, I spot Holland America’s Amsterdam cruise ship docked in the port. I take a photo for old time’s sake, since she is the sister ship of the Rotterdam, which I cruised to South America on last year.

Turtle Airways route map of the Yasawa Islands

Turtle Airways route map of the Yasawa Islands

I check my cabin for anything I haven’t packed, and then roll my bags to the lobby area of Deck 4, which is just a short way from my cabin. There are surprisingly few people waiting here, so I’m encouraged that those of us who have to disembark early will actually be able to do so. The ship is running late, but docks at 8AM and is cleared a few minutes later. The holdup is the ship’s crew attempting to assemble the gangway stairs. It takes then a full 20 minutes longer, which brings us to 8:30AM. The couple sitting beside me are pretty anxious, since they have to catch a ferry boat which leaves at 8:45AM, giving them a mere 15 minutes to get there. While I wait, I call Turtle Airways to confirm my reservation. It takes two call backs, but eventually they confirm my flight is leaving at 11AM. That gives me more time to spare than I originally thought I had.

I am one of the first to disembark the ship, and I find a taxi in short order, and we drive out of the port gates. The taxi driver isn’t entirely sure where Turtle Airways is located in Nadi, but he manages to take the correct roads based on the directions I have from Turtle Airways. Once we are approaching the little terminal building, he says he remembers he has been here once before. I am early and the staff are waiting to check me in. My bags are overweight, which I expected, since their limit is 15kg. They want to charge me FJ$90, but after I complain a bit, they agree to a FJ$70 charge (cash only).

JoeTourist: Yasawa Islands &emdash; Turtle Airways' DeHavilland Beaver seaplane at the dock in NadiThe plane we are taking is a Canadian-built DeHavilland Beaver 7 seat seaplane. The maintenance crew are running the aircraft’s engine up outside in the adjacent field, and towing it with a tractor. They eventually satisfy themselves, and then Chris, the young and barefoot South American pilot gets in, and they ease it into the water from the nearby beach. An Australian couple and I are the only passengers for this first leg. We walk out to the dock, the crew briefs us on safety procedures; we put on a compact life preserver, and then climb aboard. I sit in the co-pilot’s seat, so I have an open window beside me, and get great views all the way.

JoeTourist: Yasawa Islands &emdash; Tropical islets off the eastern coast Naviti Island and coral reefWe take off a few minutes before 11AM, and after about 20 minutes of flight, set down at Plantation Island Resort to pick up two more passengers. We then fly direct to Turtle Island, arriving at 12 Noon. There are some terrific views of the Yasawa Group of islands along the way, so I take lots of photos out of my open cockpit window. We are transferred to a launch from the Blue Lagoon Resort, and 30 minutes later we arrive at our destination!

It is a wet landing on the resort’s beach, since there is no wharf, so I take off my socks and shoes, roll up my jeans and jump ashore. The guys from the resort take care of my bags, and I am checked in in a few minutes. My big bag is waiting for me at Villa 2 – my beachfront home for the next week. We arrive in time for lunch, which is a fixed menu as well as a special board. I have the Nasi Goreng special with a sunny side egg on top – very tasty and filling, albeit a bit unorthodox with the egg on top. I spend the afternoon unpacking and getting settled. At 3PM I measure the temperature at 30ºC, 67% humidity, Heat Index 37ºC, with a slight breeze off the interior of Nacula Island. By 9PM this evening, the temperature is still high at 28.3ºC, 77% humidity, Heat Index 33ºC, and we still have the slight breeze off the island.

This evening’s dinner menu is nothing too inspiring, but it is tasty and nutritious: roasted chicken with a sweet chili sauce and vegetables with an appetizer to start and chocolate pie for dessert. I sit at a table with two young German guys and a newly wed Chinese couple from Brisbane, Australia, who I assume are naturalized Australians. He works for a Chinese commercial bank in Sydney. One of the young Germans has just finished studying law in Hamilton, New Zealand for the better part of a year. The other German guy is looking for work after getting his business degree, but obviously he isn’t looking too hard while they do the beach here in Fiji before returning home to Germany.

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Departing Lautoka, Fiji aboard the Paul Gauguin

November 10, 2012 – Saturday – First Landing Resort, then board the Paul Gauguin in Lautoka, Fiji

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Left Foot Island at First Landing ResortI fell asleep at the computer last night while composing my first JoeTourist blog entry, so I finish that entry this morning, finalize the photos for a new Lautoka album on my JoeTourist photo hosting service, and then log into the Internet service to use my allotted one hour connect time before I leave. Of course, once I upload all the photos and do the other online work, there is only a bit of time remaining to browse facebook, and send a couple of emails. Internet aboard the ship will be low speed and expensive, so I’m glad to take advantage of the shore-side connections this morning.

I will board the Paul Gauguin this afternoon in Lautoka, so I pack up this morning, and my porter Koso comes at 11AM to pick up my big bag, which he will store until I leave for the ship at 2PM. I have arranged with the front desk to take their shuttle for FJ$20. In the meantime, I find a table between the bar and restaurant under the shade trees, and settle in for a while. I have a Coca Cola to start, and then later have a delicious roasted chicken salad for lunch. It is garnished with strips of something preserved in soy sauce, which gives it a nice flavour. That takes me to 1PM, while I work on my travel journal off and on.

I talk with a group of Road Scholars who just disembarked the ship this morning. They are being shown around the area, doing village visits, and having lunch at the resort. Some of them stop to chat with me, and they seem to know all about the solar eclipse group boarding the ship this afternoon.

It is soon time for me to leave, so Koso pulls my bag from storage and I take the First Landing Resort shuttle to the Lautoka wharf. The driver is Indian, and once he knows I am going on a cruise to see a Total Solar Eclipse, he tells me Indian women who are pregnant have to stay indoors that day, and can’t watch the event. I’ve heard of this before in other cultures, most notably the Arabs. It is a bit inconvenient when we arrive at the gates to the wharf, since security won’t let any vehicles through without a clearance sticker. So I have to walk through the gate and pass security with my cruise ticket and passport, rolling my bag behind me. Once they check me off the list, I’m good to go. It is a short walk to the gangway, but I have no luggage tags once I get there, so a porter helps me lug my big bag up the gangway to the main lobby area. I’m about a half hour early, so they are still getting organized for boarding passengers. The cruise director ushers us into Le Grand Salon, where they are all setup to check in guests and take security photos. They also take our passports – to be returned when we disembark.

My cabin is very nicely appointed, despite being on one of the lower decks. The ship was refurbished a few months ago, so all the fittings look fresh and new. It is certainly a smaller ship than the Holland America ships I was on previously, and the decor is not as opulent as the HAL ships. The pool is tiny, but there is lots of space on the top two decks, so observing the eclipse should be no problem. The Promenade Deck below the lifeboats doesn’t go all the way around the ship, and isn’t used much. In fact, there aren’t any deck chairs on this deck, which is kind of odd.

We are serenaded by a group of Fijian men with traditional songs on the dock as the ship leaves, but it isn’t announced on board the ship, and so very few passengers go out on deck to enjoy the sendoff. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room this evening, and I request to be seated at a large table. Since I’m traveling alone, this is a good way for me to socialize with people I might not otherwise meet. As it turns out, I know a couple seated at the same table this evening from a few years back when we both were on one of TravelQuest’s Costa Rican Southern Sky Fiesta tours.

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First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Restaurant patio areaI arrive a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.

After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door (where Craig & Barbara stayed while sailing on Sequoia back in 2004). After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further. There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Sunset with palm treesBefore supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible. I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!

After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow in the tropics.

November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.

I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach. This is a sublime place.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Hot Pot: Fish Curry in coconut sauce with riceI walk over to Vuda Marina, where Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today before lunch. It goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.

I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.

Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment.

I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.

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Flying to Fiji from Victoria, Canada

November 6, 2012 – My first flight leaves from Victoria (YYJ) at 11AM to Vancouver aboard an Air Canada Jazz Dash 8 turboprop aircraft. This is a standard aircraft used for these short haul flights, which typically take about 20 minutes. My next flight leaves Vancouver at 1PM to San Francisco, so I don’t have much time to find my gate. I get lost in this rat’s maze – I never would have found the tiny door everyone flying to the USA has to go through without some help from a policeman. I have a few minutes to grab a sandwich from Tim Horton’s for lunch, since there are no meals served or available on this fully booked United Airbus A319 – a small regional jet. We depart on time and arrive a few minutes early in San Francisco (SFO) at 3:30PM.

JoeTourist: To/from Canada & Fiji &emdash; Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400I easily find the gate for my next flight this time. Now I wait three hours for the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 flight to Auckland to depart. There is free Internet available – way to go SFO…land of the geeks, so I feel right at home! The young man at the podium checks me in, and assures me they will be serving both dinner and breakfast, as well as a mid-flight snack, so I should be well-fed!

I can see the flight is going to be late departing as the huge waiting lounge fills up with passengers. This flight is mostly full, so there are over 300 passengers to deal with. There are seven groups for embarkation, and guess which group I’m in? The last one – #7. The flight departs almost an hour late. It seems to take forever to get people to sit down so the doors can be closed. Once that happens, there are yet more delays once we pull away from the gate. We sit there on the apron just off the gate before we finally start taxiing to the runway. It takes a full 20 minutes to reach the button before we takeoff. I’m relieved when we are in the air and on our way, although at the same time I’m dreading sitting in the same airline seat for some 13 hours.

I have a window seat, however since the flight is at night, this doesn’t do me much good. Air New Zealand provides very good service during the long flight: a lovely dinner after we are a couple of hours out of SFO complete with complimentary wine and drinks. There are well over 300 passengers with few seats for us to stretch out on this fairly full flight, so I don’t sleep much on the long flight. In the early hours I have a look outside to view the southern sky stars, and later on, the Milky Way comes into view straight up and down just off the wing tip. The flight grinds on. We are served breakfast about 3 hours before our arrival in Auckland (AKL). They leave the lights on at this stage. I suppose the crew want to encourage the passengers to get all their fussing about done before arrival, so the deplaning process will happen smoothly. To my great relief, the deplaning process does indeed proceed quickly.

November 8, 2012 – This is the same 24 hour period (“day”) but we have crossed the International Date Line, so Nov 7th is a lost day for me. When I make the return trip home in three week’s time, I will get to live the same day twice

I still have another two-hour flight to Fiji before my journey is complete. This is another Air New Zealand flight aboard an Airbus A320. Departure time is stated as 6:05AM, so needless to say I’m worried I won’t make the connection due to our late arrival from San Francisco at 5:30AM. After disembarking the aircraft quickly, finding the gate in short order, and after talking with the check-in clerk, I can relax. The flight crew only arrives at the stated departure time, and the flight leaves almost an hour late. I guess the crew are operating on “Fiji time”! Of course, it doesn’t matter to me if we arrive late in Nadi, since this is the last segment of my long journey, and I have nothing planned after arrival except getting some sleep as soon as possible.

JoeTourist: To/from Canada & Fiji &emdash; Nadi airport runway, terminal buildings and aircraftThe Air New Zealand flight to Nadi is full, and takes the full two hours flight time to fly virtually due north of Auckland to Fiji. There is no time difference between Auckland and Fiji – both are in the first time zone on the other side of the International Date Line. Our landing at Nadi was “hard” in my books, although it wasn’t officially “hard”, since I doubt the pilots broke any undercarriage! It is a relief to get back on solid ground, and feel the warm tropical air hit my face as we leave the aircraft in Nadi and walk along the open air ramps to the main terminal building. My checked bag arrives none the worse for wear; I clear Fijian customs and immigration in a few minutes; hit the bank machine for some Fijian Dollars; and I’m off in a taxi for the half hour drive to Lautoka and First Landing Beach Resort and Villas, arriving a bit after Noon.


Booking my flights

My flights to Fiji from my home on the west coast of Canada entailed an end to end duration of some 26 hours going to Fiji, so I will be ready for some down time upon my arrival in Nadi, Fiji. I have arranged to arrive a couple of days before the Solar Eclipse Cruise leaves, so I can relax at a resort nearby to Lautoka, the departure port for the Paul Gauguin cruise ship. The return trip home isn’t much better, with a duration of some 24 hours end to end. This is the price to pay for experiencing paradise – and a total solar eclipse observed from a luxury cruise ship sailing in warm South Pacific waters!

When I first booked my flights to Fiji about six months before departure, total elapsed time (from Canada to Fiji) was about 19 hours. After Skywest (United Express) cancelled my flight on the first leg of the journey from Victoria to San Francisco, I was automatically rebooked, and the elapsed time zoomed up to about 28 hours. I called my travel agent to complain, and they found another routing through Vancouver which reduced the flight time to 26 hours end to end, despite adding a stop. I spent many hours are spent in airport waiting lounges. The airlines obviously want fewer flights which are more fully-booked.

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Dravuni Island, Fiji Islands

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 12, 2010 – Tuesday – Dravuni Island, Fiji Islands

JoeTourist: Dravuni Island &emdash; Joe in the shade on the beachI am awoken by the anchor chain being released this morning around 7am. This is a built in alarm clock for our arrival at an anchorage since I have a cabin in the bow! I go for a quick breakfast in the Lido, and they we take a tender ashore to Dravuni Island. This island is really idyllic: the broad sandy beach is several kilometres long, there are palm trees along the shore, and the villagers have their houses just set back from the beach under the palm trees. There is a walking trail between the houses and the beach, which is a common setup I remember from other tropical countries I’ve visited.

I swim out about 50 metres wearing my snorkel gear and find a large brain coral that has grown to within a meter of the surface. There are lots of small fish swimming around it, however the water is a bit cloudy, since there were some ocean swells this morning. I take some underwater photos of the coral. The Dravuni villagers offer all sorts of goods and services, including sweet (green) coconut milk, snacks, cold drinks, massage, boat rides around the island, and of course t-shirts, wraps, and other clothing. The villagers put on a cultural display with some singing and dancing in the afternoon. Holland America operates a tent serving ice water and lemonade, hand wipes and fresh towels.

What a wonderful day!

I call home this afternoon as we depart Dravuni, since this is my last opportunity to use reasonably priced shore-based cellular service until we arrive in New Zealand a week from now.

Fiji 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

The Volendam cruise ship visited Dravuni Island and nearby Suva in Fiji in mid-October 2010. This 7 minute video highlights a few of the sights and sounds of these two contrasting parts of Fiji – the largest city, and a palm-fringed island with about 200 residents.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

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Suva, Fiji

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 11, 2010 – Monday – Suva, Fiji Islands

I set the alarm this morning in order to see our arrival in Suva. It brought back memories of sailing the SV Sequoia through the same channel in 2004, when I crewed the open ocean segment from New Zealand to Fiji with the Johnstons. This time my mode of transportation is a bit more luxurious!

Our arrival at King’s Wharf is heralded by the Suva Police Band – they march up and down the wharf playing some very catchy tunes. It is overcast today, so it is not as hot as Pago Pago was (our previous port of call in American Samoa). I call my Fijian friends several times this morning, but there is no answer, so I find my onboard friends and we go ashore together.

Downtown Suva & office buildings

Downtown Suva & office buildings

We walk along the waterfront to catch some views of the harbour. It is Independence Day in Fiji, so most shops and offices are closed. We meet several Fijian families who are enjoying the day off. We walk past the derelict Grand Pacific Hotel and take an obligatory photo of the guard dressed in a ceremonial uniform (including a sulu) who is posted at the Governor General’s mansion. We then wander through Thurston Gardens and see the Fiji Museum. The last time I toured this museum was in 1975. At that time, cannibalism artifacts were prominently displayed, but there wasn’t a sign of them during this visit. When I pay for the admission to the museum for myself and my friends, the guy at the desk notices my “old” bills. I had saved them from my last trip six years ago, so I guess they have updated their currency since then.

Despite the cloudy weather, we still find the walk to be hot and exhausting. We stop in town to poke around the few shops that are open. A friendly Fijian “sweeper” directs us to the shops that sell t-shirts, jewellery, and other tourist stuff. I buy a Fiji Bitter beer t-shirt for FJ$22 (CD$12). We also walk through Prouds, a high end department store, but buy nothing. After returning to the comfort of the ship, I head for the Sea View pool to cool off, and then grab some lunch in the Lido.

The Suva Police Band is once again there to serenade us before our 5pm departure. They have an incredible repertoire…not just marching tunes, but also pop and rock and roll! Their performance has to be one of the highlights of this trip. What a change from the last time I saw the band in 1975, when it was a pretty ordinary marching band. I shoot some high definition video to capture some of their wonderful performance. The ship was waiting in Suva harbour for the arrival of New Zealand customs and immigration officers. They were delayed about two hours…so we waited, and the band played on (as the old saying goes). What a show – this is no ordinary marching band!

Fiji 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.