After 3 months of Accelerated life… time to chill out in Bali #chilltime #Bali
I flew in to Denpasar, met up Jen and Stephen, and we caught our car transfer early evening.
As we neared the villa, the driver told us that he would be dropping us at the ‘top office’, on the main road, as cars couldn’t take the road to the villa…
Turns out, that getting to the villa required us to mount up on the back of scooters, to be given a lift down the roads to the villa.
We decided to take it easy for the first day (in preparation for Day 2…) so spent the morning chilling by the pool in our villa, Pondok Naya.
Mid morning we ventured out. This meant we each grabbed a lift back scooters up to the road… Sometimes ignorance is bliss!
It turns out that the ‘roads’ down to the villa were used for splitting up the rice fields, and to create good irrigation routes. At most, they were a meter or so wide and with probably a drop of about 50cm on either side – either into the rice field or into the irrigation waterway!
Anyhow, we safely arrived up to the main road and started to wander into the town (about 1.5km away)…
We walked along the main road, stopping for a bite to eat, and then turned to head towards the Monkey Forest.
The Monkey Forest is exactly as it sounds, so we met some of the local wildlife there. The monkeys are pretty cute, and you can buy bananas throughout to feed them. When we stopped for a break in the amphitheatre, Jen was attacked by a little monkey, who after examining her head, tried to steal the map from her pocket…
After the forest, we circled back to the main road and then headed back to the villa to chill by the pool before ordering in and attempting to go to bed early.
Our villa at Pondok Naya, just outside of Ubud (thanks for the photo Stephen)
Views around Ubud’s Monkey Forest, where we could feed the monkeys, and one decided to try and steal Jen’s sunglasses…
Thanks to us booking Bali Sunrise Trekking and Tours, it was a very (VERY) early start as we had to leave the villa for pickup just after 2am. Because of the time, we walked up to the main road, which was quite a nice change as it was cooler, and we could hear the frogs and cicadas.
We were then driven for around an hour out to the ‘base camp’ (hotel and resort) at Mount Batur, which was going to be our starting point for the trek. Already we were 1000 meters above sea level, but we would be climbing to 1717 within a couple of hours to see the sunrise over Bali.
When you say out loud:
“We’re going to climb up an active volcano in the middle of the night, with only torches to light the path…”
It does sound a bit of a foolish idea…
Pictures, thanks to Stephen!
Left – us attempting to descend the mountain, due to the slurry it was a cross between walking and skiing…
Right – my view from the top, and in perspective – where we walked to and from
In reality, because it was nighttime, it was cooler to walk in which was a blessing as it was tough work. For the main part, the sheer angle made it tough, but then there were areas where scrambling was needed. Again, we had “ignorance is bliss” working to our favour… until the walk back we couldn’t see the sheer drop from the walkway at the start, or from the rocks we scrambled over higher up…
We arrived around 6am as the sky was starting to lighten, and had about 20 minutes before the sun started to rise properly. At the top, as we watched the sunrise and looked out over the region, our guides fixed us up with breakfast, including eggs cooked in the volcanic steam!
Putting it simply, the effort was well worth it, as the views from the top were stunning!
Jen, Stephen and I at the top of Mt Batur as the sun rose
After watching the sunrise and having breakfast, we took a walk around the crater and then started back down.
If we’d thought the way up was difficult, we were in for a treat trying to get back down! For about half of the way down, we were half-walking, half-skiing down through the deep loose ash… which was actually easier than the second section, when we attempted to walk on loose ash over hard ground!
It was a welcome relief when we arrived back at ‘base camp’ and had a chance to rest before we headed to the hot pools by the lake below. We stayed at the hot pools for an hour or so, which was a great way to relax out all of the aches from our trek.
What happens when three omnivores go to a vegan restaurant…?
Most of our conversation was based around what meat could make the meals just that little bit more fulfilling!
As we’d worn ourselves out pretty well yesterday, we decided to take it easy in the morning, with a bit of a lie in (7am) and then chilling reading our books by the pool or in the pagoda at the villa.
By midday we ventured out, to again wander around Ubud centre. We visited the markets and shops we’d seen but not gone in the first time.
We spent the evening appreciating the Balinese culture, taking in a show from the Chandra Wati Ladies Orchestra & Dance troupe in front of the Ubud Water Palace, before having dinner at a local restaurant.
Left – Some refreshing drinks in Ubud; and one of the statues flanking Ubud Palace.
Right – Some of the intricate wall carvings in Ubud Palace; and the staging of the Chandra Wati Ladies Orchestra & Dance troupe in front of the Ubud Water Palace
After our rest day, we went a bit further afield and took in more of the Balinese culture on a full day trip.
Our first stop was the Taman Ayun, and the Temple of Mengwi, just south of Ubud. The temple is surrounded by beautiful grounds, with a couple of ponds and bridges around the central temple, and plenty of trees to shelter under from the sun.
Then we headed along to the Hindu temple to Shiva, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. Lake Bratan, and the surrounding mountains make this temple quite secluded, but more majestic for it. The bonus of being by the lake was that it didn’t feel as hot, so we didn’t need to search for shade!
Jatiluwih Rice Fields
After Pura Bratan, we drove inland more, to visit the Jatiluwih Rice Fields where we stopped for lunch. After eating, we headed into the rice fields – or terraces, as they are aptly known, as they are flat sections cut into the hills to create large step-like fields. We really saw here how many Balinese lives revolve around rice…
Our penultimate stop off at Taman Kupu-Kupu, which is Bali’s Butterfly Park.
We stretched our legs, had a nice wander, and saw some of the native butterfly species flying around the park… on top of getting up close and personal with stick insects and some of the colourful moths!
We finished up the day in Tanah Lot.
Tanah Lot itself has become a sight of pilgrimage for many Balinese, and there are actually two temples within a few hundred meters of each other:
– the island temple, Pura Tanah Lot, which sits on it’s evolving rock in across the causeway, just offshore and one of seven Balinese sea temples. Apparently each of the sea temples are built within eyesight of the next, as a chain around the coast on that side of the island.
– and also Pura Batu Bolong, which is perched on a sheer peninsula above the sea, with the waves rolling through the natural sea arch beneath.
Both would make for some great sunset photos, but on this particular day, the sky clouded over, so we didn’t stay for the full sunset and headed back early.
Ubud – Paon Bali Cooking Class
Today we went out of Ubud to do a Balinese cookery course…
Paon Bali Cooking Class’ are run by a local family, which makes it great to find out more about the food and lifestyle.
The day started for us with a guided-morning tour of the food market in Ubud. This was really good, as the guide could tell us about the local foods, and the ingredients that we would be using in the recipes that day – and it also meant that she could check if we had any food allergies and suggest alternatives in advance.
One of the other advantages of being part of a guided-group going around the food markets was that the guide could tell us about some of the more unusual local foods (especially fruits) that we wouldn’t be eating later, and we could split and try them as a group.
After the market, we were all taken up to some of the rice terraces outside of Ubud. There, the (husband) explained to us the crop systems, the history behind Bali’s great irrigation systems, and how much rice families could produce.
One of the things that really struck me throughout our trips was how developed the systems in Bali were – in particular the irrigation systems. As it turns out, and our food-tour guide told us, this is knowledge has been passed down through (recent) Balinese history, from their past as a Dutch colony.
Welcome iced lemongrass drink, and getting to work on the base spice mix for our food later.
And hard at work doing prep and cooking our courses…
Pictures – the courses we cooked:
Kuah wong sup jamur (Clear mushroom and vegetable soup)
Be siap mesanten kare ayam (Chicken in coconut curry)
Sate siap sate lilit ayam (Minced chicken grilled on bamboo sticks)
Kacang me santok gado gado (Vegetables in peanut sauce)
Jukut urab (Coconut and snake -string- bean salad)
Pepesan be pasih pepes ikan (Steamed fish in Banana leaves)
Tempe me goreng tempe kering (Deep fried tempe in sweet soy sauce)
And for dessert Kolak biu kolak pisang (Boiled banana in palm sugar syrup… w/ coconut cream)
Ubud – Gili Trawangan
We left our villa and had our final trips up along the walkways on the mopeds… By this point we were well used to them, and I will definitely miss them.
From the main office, we caught our transfer to the high speed ferry which was going to take us over to Gili Trawangan.
Gili Trawangan is one of the three Gili Islands (the other two being Gili Air and Gili Meno). They’re actually all a part of Lombok instead of Bali, but it was too good of an opportunity to miss.
I had been a bit exhausted on the boat ride over, and when we arrived on Gili T, we had a bit of late lunch, before Jen and Stephen headed to their hotel, and me to my hostel, to chill out.
Pictures thanks to Stephen – Departing to, and arriving on Gili T.
I was staying in a hostel on the other side of the island from Jen and Stephen, as I had booked it a bit later. After a bit of a lazy morning, chilling and reading at the hostel, I walked across to the other side, and took it easy around the pool when I got there too!
Over dinner, we had discussed and organised what to do the following day.
Picture – my hostel had some great signs around…
So…Stephen decided to chill out some more around the resort, and Jen and I booked on to a day trip – for me this was to snorkel, and Jen to scuba dive.
The first site we went to was difficult to navigate, with not much to see as the visibility was deteriorating due to the currents, so the guides pulled us back in a bit early.
After lunch though, the second site had much better visibility – and we saw 4 turtles! It was awesome to see turtles swimming in the wild after my previous experiences of only seeing them in sanctuaries.
Picture – looking back at our snorkelling crew.
Sorry my underwater photos were a bit rubbish, so won’t include them.
Gili Trawangan – Nusa Dua
This was our final day on the island, so we only had part of the morning to fill – dependent on what time we were all up.
As I have been waking up early at the moment though, I made the most of my time (and being on the more ‘central’ side of the island) so after a quick breakfast, I took a quick wander along the coast to the local turtle conservation farm. There they showed me some of the nesting cubes they have for the eggs, as well as their ‘new-born’ additions (4-days old), the 3-, and 5-month old turtles!
For the ferry back across to Bali, unlike the trip over, I was fully awake, so I decided to head up to the roof with Jen and Stephen to take advantage of the sun and sea air (sunscreen definitely at the ready for that trip).
I was really glad I did though, as the trip seemed to be a bit more bumpy than on the way over… so the fresh air and being able to see the horizon meant there wasn’t any seasickness!
We spent our last few days in Bali staying in Nusa Dua, the peninsula on the south-east coast. The first full day, we decided to be ultimate tourists, and head around the markets and shops in Seminyak.
Seminyak is the epitome of a tourist trap. The town itself is filled with shops, a lot of them ‘western’ brands but cheaper as the clothes are made locally. Then, when you get to the outskirts, there are the beaches and the resorts…
We spent most of the morning walking up the beaches around the resorts, before stopping for lunch. Then the rest of our day was wandering along the main streets, checking out the occasional store, before heading back to the hotel for dinner.
We headed out early to do a day trip on Nusa Lembongan island (just off the south coast). The trip was to go snorkelling and kayaking, so the morning was spent across 4 different snorkel/dive sites…
The first site was amazing – and quite nerve-wracking…
The boat anchored up about 30 or 40 meters into a cove, with high cliffs on two sides. The water was pretty choppy, with some of the waves raising the level by half a meter or more… but the reason we were there made it all worth it.
This area had a group of Manta rays swimming there… they were so large you could see the shadow of them from the boat above the surface. But when you got into the water (and accustomed to the tides) it was awesome to just watch them glide through the water beneath.
Mantas are so much larger than I realised… it wasn’t until some of them were gliding by beneath that I realised they’re huge – some of them had a wingspan the size of a small car!
They’re also pretty timid, even somebody kicking too hard in the water can make them change direction…
In part due to this, and the number of people on our tour, I hung to the outer edge of the group, which actually meant I saw a lot more of them!
Thankfully, we had paid a bit extra for us to have photos of the day taken, and the guide/diver/photographer was really good. – And quite importantly, had great lung capacity – so he managed to get some brilliant shots of the mantas up close.
Pictures – Thanks to our awesome guide, and his great lung capacity!
The second site was in one of the island inlets, and had some great coral, but the current was pulling all of us in one direction within the inlet, so the guide cut the time short there to spend more time at the other sites.
The third site was great, and involved swimming close to the island cliff wall, which jutted out over the water a bit. This meant that as you came to the surface, you were advised to raise one arm above your head – so that there was no chance of concussion!
There were some great reefs on this section, and some decent fish schools too. It ended up being quite relaxing (in comparison to the previous two) as the current pulled us gently along the guide’s route, alongside the cliff-face, so it wasn’t very taxing swimming!
And finally, the last site was out by a large waterpark platform. Here we were encouraged to swim away from the boat a little, and watch some of the larger fish up close.
We returned to Lembongan to dry off in the sun over lunch, and then headed out to kayak through the mangroves. This is the first time kayaked through mangroves, and I was accompanying the guide in his kayak as there were uneven numbers. After my previous experiences of open water/island kayaking, this was very different…
It took a while to get used to using smaller strokes, and being more focused on what was happening under the water, than where the kayak was going.
Sanur – Silver-workshop
This was also Stephen’s last day in Bali, so we didn’t want to go too far… in saying that though, I had been wanting to do something a bit different in Bali. I had heard a lot about the crafts workshops around the country…
So after a bit of hotel Wifi and Googling, we had found a Silver-smithery not far from Nusa Dua, in Sanur. So we travelled about 30 minutes from Nusa Dua, up to the Sanur Jewellery Studio for a day’s workshop learning traditional silver-jewellery-making techniques.
At the workshop, we had the chance to design something (with their feedback as to what would be possible in the time) and then they taught us the basics of hand-crafting it into silver jewellery.
With a fair bit of input from the instructors, and their direction for casting, hammering, and stretching the metals – as well as some of the elements that I remember from workshop classes at school, like soldering and filing – I walked away at the end of the day with a pair of custom earrings, and a bespoke hammered silver and copper ring.
Now I just have to get used to wearing them all!
This was Jen and my last day in Bali, with our flights in the evening. And as we still had Rupia to burn… (not much point bringing it back with the exchange rate) we headed back to Seminyak for a few hours, to see what we could find.
I managed to pick up a couple of extra t-shirts and jumpers (as it is winter in NZ after all) as well as a gift or two to send home. Hopefully Mum and Erin like them!
After exhausting ourselves wandering around town, we headed back to the hotel to chill out by the pool for an hour or so, before grabbing a taxi to the airport…
After hearing and reading about all of my adventures out here (and having a ridiculous amount of holiday hours accrued) my Mum decided to come and visit. So I made a list of things I’d heard of (or done before) that we could do around Wellington.
For the first couple of days, to get used to the time change/get over the jet lag, we took it a bit easier wandering around Wellington in the sun, heading along the beach in front of the house, or sitting in the yard in the sun.
Walking around Wellington, past the government buildings – it has lions just like Trafalgar Square!
View over Wellington, in the sun, from Mount Victoria
Wellington Chocolate Factory Tour
On the first Saturday, we’d organised to go to the Wellington Chocolate Factory, for their tour…
I could see the common-traits between chocolate and coffee beans, such as how bitter the chocolate tastes is more to do with how early the beans have been removed from their pod, and most likely then burnt, rather than heated gently.
In future, the guide was telling us, they aim to have people speaking about chocolate in a similar way they sometimes do about wine – asking for a rich, fruity flavour, or a sharp, nutty flavour – instead of most people thinking of chocolate as ‘dark’, ‘milk’ or ‘white’.
And a bonus, was seeing all of the amazing packaging designs from Inject Design (which are designed so that labels peel off easily and they fold out into memento posters). Check out my favourite:
It was a really great atmosphere, and good to have a chance to see some of the gardens at night, along with the light installations from MJF Lighting and Massey University School of Design.
Wellington Cable Car (and cityscape in the background) – one of the ways to the Botanic Gardens
Cumbia Bros at the final night of the “Gardens Magic” event series
Gallipoli (at Te Papa Museum)
One day we were in Wellington, as I had a couple of meetings, so I dropped mum at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum (NZ version of the Natural History Museum). When I joined her later in the day – she’d covered a lot of the museum (there are 7 floors guys, so go mum!) and was working her way through the Gallipoli exhibition.
From somebody who didn’t really like history at school, this exhibition was stunning! Maybe I would have paid more attention if we’d done field trips which had involved huge* models made by Weta…
*by huge, I mean most of the models of people were a couple of metres tall…
Weta Workshop tour
Mum and I also headed to Weta Workshop for their tour, which (as per my previous post) can’t be photographed for copyright, so instead here are some photos from around the shop and outside.
Mum outside the entrance of Weta Workshop with William the Troll
Some of the models inside the shop area
When you think of the scale, and the number of models, it definitely makes you look at the exhibition in a different light!
Welcome to Rivendell
Mum and I under the gateway arch, through which the Fellowship of the Ring left Rivendell
Red Pandas at Wellington Zoo
I’d arranged for mum and I to go and do the Red Pandas Close Encounter at Wellington Zoo…
(Thanks Erin and Mum for the birthday present – took a while to do it!)
In the morning we headed out prepared with a packed lunch, water and sunscreen – the last two an absolute necessity that day as it was a scorcher.
After a quick wander around the bottom section of the zoo, most of the animals were sheltering from the sun so we headed up towards the close encounter meeting spot.
The guide explained to us the procedures and then we were in!
I think what first struck me, was how delicately the pandas move around, gently padding either across branches or the ground. But then the first panda climbed up onto our laps, and walked back and forth eating the fruit we lured him down with – and I was so surprised at how light they were only weighing about 5 or 6kg*!
*put it in perspective a small dog can weigh similar – i.e. Chewy weighs around 5kg…
Mandatory selfie with mum and the red pandas (and various other photos with the red pandas!)
Such a warm day, that the zoo animals are getting ice creams!
At the end of mums trip, we’d decided in advance to head somewhere neither of us knew…
(and also meant that mums flights back weren’t a solid block from NZ)
So after plenty of discussion, we decided on Sydney!
Day 1 Sydney
We arrived in Sydney just before 11am, so were able to find our way from the airport to our hotel, drop our bags and then start exploring.
For the first day, we didn’t plan to go far – and our hotel was well placed, just between George Street (one of the main roads) and Sydney’s China Town, about 15 minutes walk from the harbour.
So we walked through China Town, which was getting ready for the Chinese New Year, towards Darling Harbour. On our way though, the rain started coming down heavy – so we ducked under one of the shop overhangs until it eased off a little, then headed to a nearby café until it stopped.
We carried on walking during the afternoon, and crossed over to explore Sydney’s Hyde Park, and the Anzac memorial buildings there.
Day 2 Sydney
As we had explored a bit of Darling Harbour the previous day, we decided to head in the other direction, and walked along George Street towards The Rocks area and the Opera House…
The morning was quite clouded over (but still pretty warm) so it was great for wandering about. So we did just that, walking around the base of the opera house, then around Dawes Point and up to the Observatory, to look over Sydney Harbour Bridge.
After completing our ‘tour’, we had a bite to eat from The Rocks weekday markets back around through the partially renovated Barangaroo area and circled back to the hotel via Darling Harbour.
Panoramic of Sydney Opera House
Opera House from the other side of Circular Quay
Mandatory selfie of Mum & I at Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbour Bridge heading towards the city, and with one of the massive ocean liners coming in to dock
Day 3 Sydney
With it being Chinese New Year, there were a lot of events and performances on… So we set off from the hotel with the intention of going around the Chinese Garden of Friendship, and seeing the blessing performance outside beforehand.
The blessing involved a drum and dragon performance, and was really good to see – although not too different from those in China Town in London. The crowd it had drawn though was pretty large, so we decided to skip the gardens that day.
Instead, we headed to Sydney Zoo!
I know what you’re thinking, I somehow managed to talk my mum into going to 2 zoos within a week of each other… but this time it was actually her request!
Apparently there used to be a TV show with a koala, and plush toys of the main character – so mum was intrigued to see if they’d been at all realistic!
It was really interesting still – as we decided to head to the smaller Wild Life Sydney Zoo on Darling Harbour, which is mainly for native Australian animals (rather than animals from around the world like the larger Taronga Zoo)…
Great warning signs… for the Tasmanian Devil enclosure
Kangaroo perched on the rock-shelf in Sydney Zoo
One of the koalas just hanging about
A wallaby, digging into the fruit platter
Really cute flying sugar gliders (that’s as big as it’ll ever be – and it can still fly around 50 metres, from the right height)
Hands down… I think Sydney Wild Life Zoo has some of the best warning signs around!
We sat and people-watched for a while, watching the beach volleyball and surfers out making the most of the sun and waves.
Day 4 Sydney
One place that I had heard a lot about even from the U.K. was Bondi Beach. So being that close was too good an opportunity to pass up.
In the morning, we headed out from the centre of Sydney to Bondi, and after walking through the the town, we headed down to the beach area. Being over a weekend, Bondi was predictably busy, so after walking up the high street and settling in a café for lunch, we spent some time walking through the markets at the end of the beach.
After that, we decided we’d both come so far to not go on the beach, so we weaved through the sunbathers on the sand, and walked in the shallows… a slight mistake as (we hadn’t noticed) lots of little jellyfish had been swept up onto the beach!
The first we knew of it was when I had a slight sting at the back of one foot, and then another on the side of my other foot… when I lifted my feet what looked like a fishing wire – but was actually the jellyfish (tentacle) slipped off…
We quickly decided walking in the shallows wasn’t the best plan! We headed up through the sand to sit on the grass knoll behind the beach and people watch for a while.
The main attraction at Bondi for me is that I’ve heard of a couple of surfing events there – so, although there wasn’t one on, it was still interesting to watch the surfers at Bondi (and, after our visit to Manly the day before, compare surfing styles).
Before leaving Bondi, we decided to check out the walking track around the coast towards Bronte Beach, via Marks Park, which was a really nice walk in the sun.
Bondi Beach, pretty busy over the weekend
Looking out from the shallows of Bondi Beach (pre-jellyfish attack)
Heading along the coastal track towards Bronte Beach
Plenty of surfers out and heading out to take advantage of the waves
Pretty cool street heading back to the train at Bondi Junction
Day 5 Sydney
Mum left early in the morning to catch her flight, so I had most of a day to fill around Sydney…
I decided, as we hadn’t managed to fit it in, to check out the Chinese Friendship Garden for the morning.
The Gardens were really nice, and so peaceful considering how close to the ‘busier’ areas they are (less than 5 minutes from Darling Harbour and about 10 minutes from Paddy’s’ Market).
The Tunnel is one of the largest ‘legal walls’ in Sydney, which means that anyone with paint is welcome to contribute… I was expecting that this sort of scheme would have attracted some really talented artists – and initially it may have* – but what that seems to have translated as though, is just a lot of people making their mark to prove they had been there.
*I wonder if because of the likelihood of their pieces getting painted over by anybody and everybody who wanted to, graffiti artists don’t want to create pieces there that would just be destroyed.
Two pieces on the way to the Graffiti Tunnel
Areas within the Graffiti Tunnel
Fiji – Day 1 (Smugglers Cove)
We flew out of Wellington around midday to get into Nadi, on the main island (Viti Levu), in the evening. We stayed not far from Nadi town that night, in a hostel called ‘Smugglers Cove’ before we headed to a different resort for a few days.
Smugglers Cove is a bit of a cross between a hotel and a hostel, with smaller ‘private’ rooms of up to 4 people, and then the larger open dorm on the upper floor. That night, we were in a 4-bed dorm, with 2 other girls from the UK, who were taking a gap year (or so) and were making their way to Australia after spending a few months in the US.
At Smugglers Cove, we spoke to the travel desk to pick up our travel and stay vouchers for our trip… and after a bit of discussion discovered that they hadn’t included our transfers!
So… we sorted the transfers, including an early start the following day to catch a bus to Mango Bay Resort, before we grabbed a something for dinner from the adjoining restaurant and turning in early.
Fiji – Day 2 (Mango Bay)
As I said, we had an early start to get the transfer to our next destination… which involved us checking out and getting a taxi along the road to the Nandi Bay Resort by 7.15. There we waited for the transfer bus to Mango Bay… along with about a dozen other people waiting for their transfers.
Due to the number of people, and a bit of a miscommunication, we actually ended up on the wrong transfer bus! So instead of heading to Mango Bay, we ended up at Port Denarau…
Thankfully, the Fijian are really helpful and were able to sort us with a taxi to town to try to catch the bus from there. We waited at the stop-off for the bus, and the transfer company director turned up – we’d managed to miss the proper transfer bus in town too!
The transfer company directer helped us out, by giving us a lift to the local bus station, and we took the public bus instead…
This was an experience in itself, as we didn’t speak the language, and after about an hour of travel we’d come to the conclusion that there were no ‘official’ bus stops…
We spoke to the conductor as well as the driver, to confirm they would let us know where we needed to get off… but then noticed the conductor get dropped off himself! So we were back to square one, of having to figure out where to stop ourselves…
Thankfully, Mango Bay Resort had a sign 1 km in advance, so we got off and started down to the resort from the main road. While we were walking down, a car was heading up – one of the ladies from the resort, Liz with her dog Mishka – and they gave us a lift the rest of the way.
After our early start, we took advantage of the loungers and hammocks to chill and read in the sun for the rest of the day.
Mango Bay has a range of lodgings, both private huts (or bures) and also the shared dormitories. We were in one of the group dorms of 32 beds each, which were all in the same area, along with a shower and toilet block between the dorms. All of the bunk beds were covered with mosquito canopies, and the dorm had big, folding glass doors which meant it was nice to wake up with the sun.
In our dorm, there was just us and one other girl, so it was really quiet (bar the sounds of the birds and the frogs), which was great.
The resort felt like a great place to relax, and was a good introduction to Fiji on the mainland, but still very westernised.
Mango Bay, grounds and open dining area
Shared dorms, surrounded by greenery
View from the dining area, over the resort pool and private bay area
Fiji – Day 3 (Mango Bay)
We spent the day chilling at Mango Bay, reading and chilling in the sun, as well as using some of the resort facilities, playing table tennis, fuusball and pool.
In the evening, we took part in the traditional Fijian Kava Ceremony.
It was great to learn a bit more about the culture – and to have the opportunity to try kava. The Kava Ceremony is a Fijian custom, or welcoming ceremony, where visitors to a village present the head of the village with Yaqona – or Kava root. The Kava root is then ground up, and strained through cloth into a large wooden bowl.
A cup of Kava is then offered to the attendees in turn – with two options, high tide or low tide (full or half cup). Before accepting the cup, the drinker must clap once and say ‘Bula!’ before drinking the cup in one gulp. After handing the cup back, they must clap three times and say ‘Mathe’.
The Kava Ceremony is symbolic to bring two families together, and after visitors are welcome to explore a village freely – which is a really nice idea.
Kava is pretty odd as a drink… it has a slightly gritty texture, and a taste that is like muddy water – a cross between soil, pepper and tree bark – or what I expect those three would taste like!
Kava is classed as a mild narcotic (in the west – in Fiji it’s just their native celebratory drink), which makes you feel tingling and numbness in your tongue and mouth after drinking – and guarantees a good nights sleep… Maybe this is why the Fijians are known to be some of the happiest people in the world!
In all honesty, I can say Kava is not something I’ll be taking up as a habit in future…
And I’d definitely suggest to anybody who is going to a ceremony to (if possible) take a second drink as a ‘chaser’ to wash it down!
Traditional Fijian Kava ceremony
Jen, after walking out into the bay
And me in the bay
Fiji – Day 4 (Robinson Crusoe Island)
We had another early start, to catch our transfer from Mango Bay resort. We took a taxi to the Warwick Resort further along the road, where we would catch the proper transfer bus to Robinson Crusoe Island.
Once we’d picked up the other transfers, we hopped from the bus, onto the Robinson Crusoe boat across to the island and checked in. Between us, we had what they called an island ‘bure’ – a private hut for us. The bure was really cool, and a great display of island living, with all of the materials being sourced and crafted on the island – with a wooden frame, and palm leaf weave roof.
Our Island ‘Bure’, from the deck we could see straight out to the sea
Inside our bure – all of the furniture, and the bure, crafted on the island
After having a quick nap, we went to join in the island activities, starting off with an Island Cooking Demonstration.
The cooking demo was a bit of an entree before lunch. The guys who did the demonstration had caught some fish just off the island. The fire was started with some of the palm fronds, and built up with some of the smaller tree trunks that were broken up.
One of the first things to be added to the fire was a bread fruit, which ‘baked’ away in the fire while the fish was put in the embers to the edge of the fire.
They used mostly ingredients from the island, mixing up a sauce from sweet chilli and coconut milk, adding some of the coconut flesh to thicken it up. And they even cracked some coconuts for us to drink and wash it all down.
Island Cooking demonstration – Gus cracking coconuts for the sauce
The Fijian answer to Bear Grylls, throwing freshly caught fish onto the fire embers – with the bread fruit already baking away
Our palm-leaf plates, with the fire-cooked fish
Fijian Bear Grylls cutting open the bread fruit
Gus using a bit of palm bark (scaped thin like cloth) to strain the coconut flesh onto the fish
We stopped at some of the key areas around the island, including places dubbed as ‘Crab City’, where the ground was muddled with crab-holes housing the creepy-critters. We then stopped by the ‘Coconut Graveyard’, which had previously been coconut trees cut for their wood to craft the building on the island. After that, we circled along the beach on the other side of the island and back around to the bures.
After the tour, Gus (one of the guides) set us up for the afternoon activity of hand-line fishing… We used stale bread for bait, and spent a couple of hours perfecting our loop, swing and release technique for the lines while standing in the shallows.
Having never fished before, I was surprised to catch 2 fish on my first outing!
Fijian Bear Grylls introducing Jen to some of the locals… Yes that is a live crab in his mouth!
Bear Grylls with his arm down one of the many crab-holes in Crab City (the crab holes can even reach several metres deep)
A couple of the locals we met along the way…
Fiji – Day 5 (Robinson Crusoe Island)
We were on Robinson Crusoe, and took part in most of their included daily activities.
In the morning, we took it easy, and chilled while reading our books looking out over the beach. Before lunch, there was a trip out to the reef on one of the island boats to go snorkelling. So we grabbed some gear and went along.
Before we could head out to snorkel the reef, the guys from the island wanted to clean the boat…
Which happened to be quite close to some local sea life that had decided to come ashore – the sea snakes
Island-style showers – fill a bucket, then fill the ‘shower bucket’ (with a tap on it, before you hoist it up to sit on the shelf above your head… Then you’re good to go!
So we switched activities, and joined some of the other visitors and staff to play beach volleyball, which was a great laugh with about 7 of us on either team.
Perfecting my swing and release technique for hand-line fishing
It’s been a while since I last played volleyball, but I don’t remember this reaction on my knuckles happening before…?!?!
Sunset over Robinson Crusoe Island
Fiji – Day 6 (Robinson Crusoe Island)
We had a bit of a free morning on Robinson Crusoe Island, as many of the guests the previous day had been day-trippers or staying overnight only.
So we spent the afternoon instead crafting coconut jewellery…
One of the guys demonstrated, and we had cut rings out of coconuts, large enough that we’d be able to wear them as bracelets. After cutting the rings, we then spent a lot of time sanding them, to remove the coconut hairs and get a consistent texture, smooth the inside and even out the edges. Once the bands were smooth and we were happy, we dipped them into varnish and then hung them on palm strands to dry.
Coconut jewellery crafting turned out to be quite a messy job, with the shell dust from sanding covering the table and us. So it was time for another bucket shower before watching the sunset and then dinner. After dinner, we went on a ‘crab hunt’ where we wandered the paths around the island, looking for crab holes, with their pincered occupants.
As soon as we were back from the crab hunt, we all settled to chat at get to know each other around the bonfire on the beach, before calling it a night.
The starting point of coconut jewellery, fresh from the island trees
What a difference a bit of sand paper can make!
One of our finds on the ‘Crab Hunt’
Sunset over the island, before the bonfire
Bonfire on the beach after nightfall
Fiji – Day 7 (Bounty Island)
We checked out of our island bure and left Robinson Crusoe mid-morning, to get a transfer Port Denarau where we’d catch our next boat transfer.
We had plenty of time at the port, so spent some time, and money, wandering around the shops before grabbing a bite to eat and boarding the ferry.
They had quite an ingenious way to do island transfers and drop-offs from the ferry. Due to the size of the ferry, it was too deep to dock at all of the islands as it may have gotten caught on the reef and rocks in shallow areas closer to the shore.
So instead, the island sent a boat to meet the ferry, and we climbed off the back of the ferry to switch onto the boat to Bounty Island. We arrived just in time to check in to the dorm room before grabbing lunch.
The dorm was an open shared dorm with around 24 beds, with shared showers and toilets at the end. The others in our dorm seemed to have come to the island as a group, so we didn’t really interact with them much.
The island felt a bit more like Mango Bay, more formal (with less conversations between staff and holidayers) and less activities-based than Robinson Crusoe.
In the afternoon, we checked out the turtle pond on the island, which housed around a dozen baby turtles, around 10 weeks to 3 months old.
Because of how young the turtles are there, they have softer shells and can be really vulnerable to predators, which is why a lot of the islands work together in their conservation efforts. The turtles are also really sensitive to chemicals, so can only be handled with gloves – and even dipping your hands in, with sunscreen on them, can affect the turtles eyes (giving them the equivalent of conjunctivitis).
Before dinner, we wandered around the island, to sit on the coral beach and watch the sunset.
Checking out the turtle pond
First sunset over Bounty Island
Fiji – Day 8 (Bounty Island)
We had breakfast, and then chilled out looking out over Bounty Island beach until mid-morning. At that point, we were able to go back up to the turtle pond, where we could help out by cleaning the turtles and the pool.
Cleaning the turtles was awesome, we had gloves on and the turtles fit across the palm of our hands. It was quite tricky, as the turtles weren’t always happy to be out of the water and handled, and would wriggle and flap their fins trying to get away, so it was a delicate process getting them in a comfortable position that they wouldn’t hurt themselves when moving. We used toothbrushes to gently brush the shells of all their algae, before giving the turtles eye drops (for the infections caused by chemicals). The turtles then had to be kept out of water for an hour for the drops to work.
Because we’d helped out, and had obviously been asking the right questions, the guys from the resort offered us the opportunity to release the turtles back into the pool – and opportunity we jumped on of course!
Fiji – Day 9 (Port Denarau)
We checked out of the dormitory, bid our goodbyes to the turtles and waited for our transfer. In the same way as our first transfer, we took the island boat out to the larger ferry and climbed aboard. The ferry then sailed around for the next couple of hours to the other islands for drop-offs and we got to see the other islands in the Mamanuca area.
When we got back to Port Denarau, we decided to skip the transfer and get lunch there as well as wander the shops again.
We also had been thinking about what we could do the following day – as we were due to fly out late evening, so didn’t want to waste the day just waiting to head to the airport.
By early afternoon, we were all shopped out, and had even booked a day trip for our last day. So we headed back to Smugglers Cove where we were staying overnight, to chill out at the beach there for the afternoon.
Over dinner that night, while we ate on the beach-front deck, Smugglers Cove had their weekly Fire Dance show. So we watched as the group performed fire breathing, and spinning combined with some of the traditional island dances.
It was really impressive, especially as the youngest from the group was a boy who looked to be around 10, but obviously he was well practiced and put on as good if not better (in some cases) show than the older performers.
Fire spinners at Smugglers Cove
Traditional dances in the sand-pit
Fiji – Day 10 (South Sea Island)
We’d booked a day trip out to South Sea Island, to make the most of our time in Fiji. This meant we had an early start to the Port, and then about a half hour trip to the island.
After we dried off in the sun, it was time for lunch – which included a show of the island traditions, singing and dancing etc.
After lunch, we took their semi-submersible boat trip around the reef so that we could see the coral and sea-life a bit further from shore. It was great to see what was there, although a very odd sensation with the water flowing past on either side (and not being able to see it in front). After this sneak peek, when we got back to the island, we grabbed our snorkelling gear and headed back out to swim around the reefs.
After snorkelling we then decided to dry off a little by staying above the water, and kayaked around the island (a couple of times, as it was small enough). Once we returned to the island, we took advantage of their outdoor showers (directly beneath the island water tower) to wash the sea salt off, before again sitting to dry in the sun.
Around the coral reefs off shore on South Sea Island
Traditional dancers and weapons display over lunch