North America, Australia and Oceania · 344 Days · 55 Moments · January 2018

Tom and Steph tour thru New Zealand and Fiji

10 December 2018


20 January 2018

We headed back to Auckland for one last night and one very last morning. I had set up a bungee jump from the Auckland bridge. It was put on by AJ Hackett, the company that started commercial bungee jumping on the South Island of New Zealand. This is one of four commercial bungee sites they have in New Zealand. This is also one of two where you can jump down and touch water below. That was what I had wanted to do. My last bungee jumping experience was when I was 21 years old in Switzerland. So here it was 21 years later with a lot more fear of heights at this point in my life. But still we both jumped successfully without any injuries. It was quite exhilarating. Stephanie wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to go through with it at first, but she mustered up the courage and had an amazing time.

18 January 2018

The following day we headed up to the highlands of Fiji to raft the famous Navua River. The river is pinched inside of a beautiful tall gorge. At the time we went, it was the high season for water in there for much of the gorge was hidden by the water flow. Regardless it was a beautiful river with waterfalls cascading down both sides of the gorge as we rafted. The Rapids never got bigger than class III. However, it was still quite a bit of fun and was Stephanie’s first time white water rafting. She loved every minute. We took frequent stops to play in the water and swim on various side rivers. The guys were all very funny and playful and we’re all local Fijians from the tribes surrounding the river. It was a great day out there.

16 January 2018

We left Beqa Lagoon To head back to Nadi.There we stayed in the amazing Momi Bay resort. We opted for the overwater bungalows. Those were quite beautiful on the inside and outside. However, the lagoon was man-made and had a cloudy green water that did not look appealing for swimming. We did not want to see anyone swimming in the water there. We spent most of our time off of the resort. We ended up going up to the Mamanuca Islands the next day and spent an hour snorkeling on the island famous from the movie castaway with Tom Hanks.

16 January 2018

This afternoon we enjoyed some tasty young coconut and a couples massage and facial. Ahhh if only life was really this easy.
Out to dive again. The first shots are of Tom supervising the dive master as he checks the mixture of our nitrox. The second set of photos are of the boat crew trying to break Tom out of the bathroom where he locked himself in accidentally between dives. From now on we have decided to use the ocean. 😂 Dives today were beautiful reef dives. Saw nudibranch, a frog fish, scorpion fish, lion fish, and some of the most beautiful reef. This is rainy season here in Fiji, so it’s quite cloudy and overcast. The water temperature is about 80, but it doesn’t feel 80. We have meet some nice folks on our dive adventure, Vivian from Brazil, and a Gay couple from Australia, David and Mark. David is a very experienced diver and Mark is a bit timid. Tomorrow we will enjoy two more shark dives before heading back to Momi Bay.

15 January 2018

Sunset from our room
After that super stressful shark dive, we spent the rest of the afternoon getting pedicures and watching the fire walker ceremony. I’m not sure how they do that but the rules are your wife cannot be pregnant and no relations with your wife for the 4 days before firewalking. Hmmm.

14 January 2018

Bula! We have arrived in Fiji! Flight in from Auckland was unremarkable. Fiji looks like I bet Oahu looked 50 years ago. People are exceptionally friendly, with constant chorus of “Bula!” Coming from strangers. Stayed in the Novitel in Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”) last night. Ate Fijian food last night. I had grilled fish with some weird soft taro leaf ball things that I was not a huge fan of. The fish was good. Stephanie had the Fijian version of ceviche which I liked a lot, Stephanie thought it was OK. Finished with a banana dessert that was quite tasty. Today was a very long bus ride to Pacific Harbor, where we got on a small boat and made it to Beqa (pronounced “Benga”) Lagoon resort. For the next three days we will be diving, including the world famous Cathedral Wall dive where Bull and Tiger sharks show up on a regular basis.

13 January 2018

The track guides— Moon, Veronica, Kieran, and Kelly
We arrived in Auckland yesterday and kicked around the city. We went to the top of the sky tower to watch crazy people jumping from the top attached to wires and “falling” more than 600 feet on the sky jump. Stephanie tried to convince me to do it, but uh, no. I could barely stand by the windows. We happened upon a latin festival in town where tyey served empanadas, brazilian food, churros and...empanadas. Did I mention empanadas? Yes pretty much every stand served them. We watched a bunch of non Brazilian types dressed up in Carnevale outfits and put on a show, which was pretty good. Then I convinced Stephanie to watch The Darkest Hour, the Churchill movie, with me. This morning we had my favorite NZ breakfast so far — eggs, chorizo, tomatoes, leeks and feta. Yummy!

11 January 2018

Sitting outside sipping cappuccino and eating creme brûlée gazing out over Lake Wakatipu. This is our last day in Queenstown. Tomorrow we leave for Auckland. Tho birds in this place are very friendly and not a bit afraid of people. We spent the morning in Glenorchy which has to be one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Narnia, and Mission Impossible 6 were all filmed here. I can hardly wait to come back. Already mentally preparing for my next visit.
Well, we’ve done our bit in Queenstown. We’ve thoroughly loved New Zealand and met a bunch of friendly Aussies and Kiwis. I have decided I could live in this part of the world. Repeated stories of the spiders, snakes and crocs of Australia have made Stephanie decide it’s not for her. But she does think NZ would be a good place to live. South Island is beautiful, and the weather currently is quite nice. We’ve skipped the Bungy jumping, jet boating, hang gliding, etc. in favor of hiking, helicopters, the “luge” track at the top of the gondola and horseback riding. There are essentially no dangerous creatures in NZ though an impromptu spider in one of our store bags sure scared the hell out of Stephanie and probably our neighbors at the hotel. But not to worry, I dispatched the little devil with a quick swat of my flip flop. So now on to beautiful Fiji, which apparently is the New Zealand version of Hawaii but much closer. They sell package deals to Fiji everywhere here. Bula!

9 January 2018

I think New Zealand lamb is changing Stephanie’s mind about rack of lamb. She’s loved it so far!
Views from the heli! We were a bit delayed taking off due to the low lying clouds and rain which came in suddenly. We loaded the chopper and unfortunately our ride was cancelled. We drive back to the lodge to wait for the clouds to dissipate. The bus has already left so they have to figure out a way to get us back to Queenstown. Fortunately after a quick lunch we were given the ok —off we go!
Our ride for the day! Instead of spending 5 hours riding back to Queenstown on the bus, we decided to heli out which is a brief 20 minute ride.
The people we met (and the ones we liked!) Linda and Ivan the sheep farmers— they were our favorite. They own an 1800 acre sheep farm and 40k sheep in rural Australia. Jeff, a pulmonologist and his wife Barb from New Zealand Elyse and John, a professor at Stoneybrook college in NY and a life coach. Fiona and her husband Scott who is a Geology Professor also at Stoneybrook studying rocks and soil on Mars. And Doug a retired computer engineer and Marty a retired CEO of a pharmaceutical company.
Waterfalls and seals on the boat tour of the Milford sound
The ocean entry is called the Terminal Morriain
The Fijord

8 January 2018

We have arrived to mitre lodge! And to a room with a view. Enjoyed a last dinner of lamb chops and blue cod and one of the South Island brews. What an amazing experience. The food was amazing and the lodges were simple but quite nice. This lodge is the best by far!
Finally reaching the end! We broke up this last jaunt into 3 sections—5 miles then some coffee, 4 more then lunch, and the last 3 to the finish!
13.5 long miles to the end. We are sore and have blisters to show for it but all in all well worth it! The hanging bridges are amazing and the waterfalls are so pretty. It rained most of the day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, it was sunny and brisk the first two days which was the hardest parts of the track. Gimping along to the finish! Thank god for the monthly shipments of Aleve!

7 January 2018

Sutherland falls was a 2 mile side trip that we made to see the highest waterfall in Nee Zealand and 5th highest in the world! 580meters! Tom was going to take a swim but the water was a bit chilly! Definitely worth the extra miles to see it!
Almost there! 20/33
This amazing waterfall was located on the way down. We felt like we were climbing down a rocky muddy creek bed, but the stream actually ran along beside us. The water was the clearest pretty blue I’ve ever seen in a creek and the water is drinkable!
On the way back down. This would prove to be much harder for me than the uphill climb. It’s way harder on your knees and feet. By the time we reached the bottom, Toms feet and my right knee were so sore,I was pretty sure we couldn’t go another step. Each mile marker we see is one mile closer to the end.
Views from the top of the pass!
This mischievous Kea bird was sitting at the top of twelve second drop. The reason it’s called 12 second drop is because it takes 12 seconds to hit the bottom of the canyon. These birds are something else. While building the lodges the birds were stealing the nails. The carpenters couldn’t find them and later after the buildings were complete they found the nails in an awning sorted by size. This particular bird was very interested in what we were doing and was trying to get into pockets and pull on clothing. His beak was quite sharp!
This is the Quinton McKinnon memorial. He was the guy that founded the Milford Track in the 1890s. The memorial is located at the top of the pass just before you go over the “saddle” and back down the other side of the mountain.
2nd day of hiking consists of lots of ups and downs (mostly ups) and 7 switch backs to get you to the top of McKinnon Pass. It’s super rocky but breathtakingly beautiful. Each switchback is a back and forth so it’s all really deceiving because there are really 14. Maybe it’s all a mind game to make you think you’re actually closer than you are to keep you going.
Days 3 and 4 of the trek. Oh my! The third day we climbed MacKinnon Pass, a 2000 foot switchback loaded climb up to the near top of the Milford Valley. There is a wee cliff at the top called 12 second drop, that I’ve been told by the guides is quite scenic for the first 11 seconds, though the 12th second is quite painful. Then down the backside of MacKinnon Pass where our knees got pretty beaten up. Though thank god for trekking poles! Stephanie’s knees were pretty torn up, as were the plantar surfaces of my feet. Alleve has been essential. At the end of day 3 we saw Sutherland falls, the fifth tallest in the world. The last day we got to experience the typical South Island rain, something that NZ is notorious for. The final hike day was a rough 13 mile slog. Luckily, we finished without having to be heli-ed out. We ended with a quick boat ride to our final lodge on the Milford Sound, the Mitre Peak Lodge.
Day 2: 9.5 miles. Here we go!

6 January 2018

We have hiked our first full day! The track is getting more beautiful with each step and my feet getting more sore. There are no predators in New Zealand. The wildlife consists of native birds, fresh water eels and some imported trout. The weather has been amazing, sunny, cool, light breeze. We could not have been more lucky today. The lodges are amazing considering we’re essentially in the middle of nowhere in Fiordland National Park. I would highly recommend this trek to anyone with moderate fitness. Most of our colleagues are in their 50s and 60s. Most from Australia. We seem to be spending far more time with the Aussies than with the Americans. I honestly don’t care for most of the Americans here. The Aussies however are friendly and down to earth. The kiwis are exceptionally nice. Tomorrow will be the toughest hiking day with a 2000 foot climb over McKinnon Pass. But it also will have one of the biggest highlights, Sutherland Falls, why the Milford Track was originally built.
Some great shots from our first 10 miles in. The path was mostly flat and rocky but it was magnificent. Couldn’t have asked for better weather.

5 January 2018

The water from the streams is so pure you can drink it. It tastes better than the best bottled water from home. The river is so clear it’s amazing. Tomorrow we are headed out for our first long day of hiking. 10 miles. I’m tired already.
Our first mini hike. Through the temperate rainforest looking at the old mans beard and the beautiful swinging bridge. The little birdies here are so friendly. This little robin was pecking toms boot. This place is beautiful!
Our lodging is quite nice considering we are out in the middle of nowhere. Tom booked us a private room with our own bath instead of dorm lodging with a group we don’t know. The showers are powerful and hot which is nice and the food is delish. We both had venison and mashed potatoes and apple streusel. Tom found a guitar. Maybe he will give us a Garth concert later!
After several flights, a several hour bus ride, an hour long boat ride, and a short walk, we have arrived at the Milford track. We have our backpacks full of clothes and just Incase gear. Our first lodge is the Glade house. Getting excited!!

4 January 2018

Today we head off for the Milford Track. I love Queenstown. It is beautiful with the mountains and lakes. The town has a cool outdoorsy vibe. Adios! We’ll update after the trek!
This should be called Robitussin Delight. Advertised as “worst candy ever” Imagine robitussin flavored jelly candy covered in chocolate that leaves an aftertaste that lasts all day! 🤢 Btw—Tom finished the whole bar...and he enjoyed every morsel.

2 January 2018

Here we come New Zealand!!
Breakfast at Dukes. 2 more hours in paradise before we hop on a 9 hour flight to New Zealand. I think the Tsa guy’s prison mate works here at Dukes in the omelet station. He was screaming at all the customers about what they ordered (or didn’t). I was just waiting for “empty your pockets, right now!” He made one customer cry before he was relieved of his omelet duties and sent home. Dukes of course comped her meal. Making omelets here in Oahu is hard work, no doubt.

1 January 2018

Ahi Poke and Calamari on the patio at Duke’s. 11 o’clock at night. Life is good!
Just arrived. Quick stroll on Waikiki Beach while we have an overnight layover in Honolulu. Aloha y’all!
Poke Bowls LAX. Poke has officially gone crazy on the mainland.
This guy was the most militant TSA officer I’ve ever seen. He was barking out at people the whole time “Empty your pockets! Take everything out of your pockets. If you have paper or lint in your pockets take it out! Any failure to comply will result in a Pat down! Take off your shoes! While your standing in line doing nothing do SOMETHING! Empty your pockets. No liquid, no soda, no honey no syrup! Food is going to get you stopped. Wet wipes are going to get you stopped!” Stephanie believes that he was “frustrated” at home.
Ah, Santa Monica. First stop on our westward journey. It’s the place where homeless people soaked in urine amble by Louis Vuitton stores on the 3rd street promenade. It’s a place where people with absolutely no talent can put down a basket and create a bizarre impromptu street performance. But I look at the pillars below and I wonder how many bodies are buried under the Santa Monica pier. And while walking through seemingly endless translucent green clouds I wonder what are the dangers of second hand marijuana smoke. But it does have it’s charms. There are good restaurants and the weather is perfect today, cool and sunny. And there is an odd frenetic energy that seems silly and harmless. And now, being January 1, people are running into the frigid Pacific to try to wash away the exuberance, revelry and intoxication of the last night of 2017. It may be the end of America’s highway, but it is the beginning of ours...