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Ni sa bula! That’s the formal way to say hello in Fijian. However, I prefer simply "bula," because it’s one word -- and you can put some oomph into it, as the friendly locals do. If you are new or missed our last newsletter, then you might want to check out last week’s before reading this one. It will give you lots of background info on Fiji, which is where Amber Airplane and I are currently touring. Tough life, I know… but someone has to do it.
Last week we left off in Savusavu, which is a town on the second largest of all 332 Fijian Islands, called Vanua Levu. The locals call this island "the north," because it’s the northernmost island. It’s also the best place to get a genuine feel for what it was like in the South Pacific back in the old days.
Last week we stayed at the Koro Sun resort. Many readers have inquired about prices, and where to find the best details on a Fijian vacation. My recommendation is to start with Air Pacific’s package deals (There are some listed above in the Specials section). Their website is airpacificadventures.com. As you know, it's cheaper to purchase air and land arrangements together, rather than separately. You should also try your local travel agent (if you don’t have one, ask friends for recommendations, or use our partner travel agency, JohnnyJetTravel at 1-800-JohnnyJet). If you want to contact the U.S. representatives for the Koro Sun resort directly, their website is www.korosunresort.com; their email is : email@example.com, and their toll-free phone number is 877-567-6786.
There are many kinds of places to stay on Vanua Levu, ranging from very upscale resorts like Anthony Robbins’ Namale ($300-$2100 USD a night) to sleeping in a village ($4 USD night). At Koro Sun we enjoyed a huge two-bedroom bure, which costs a family of four about $400 USD a day. This is a great deal, because it includes all transfers and non-motorized activities, plus three meals a day.
Before I move on to this week’s adventure, here’s some info on Fiji’s climate (I forgot to cover it last week). As you imagined, it’s warm and humid. Their summer high temperatures on the coast are 89º Fahrenheit (32º Celsius), while in the winter it’s 83º F (28º C). (Don’t forget, Fiji is below the equator, so their seasons are the opposite of North America and Europe’s.) Lows throughout the year range in the 70’s (18-26º C). However, in the central parts of the main islands, average nighttime temperatures can dip to 59º F (15 ºC).
Now that you know Fiji’s temperatures are almost perfect for a tropical getaway, you probably wonder about rain. As in most austral (relating to the Southern hemisphere) regions, Fiji receives most of its rain in the summer. However, the amount varies, depending on location. The north and west coasts usually are drier than the east and south. That’s why most resorts are on the western side of Fiji. The wettest month is usually March, while the driest month is almost always July.
Fiji gets its share of cyclones; the season is November through April. The good news is that the weathermen down here are good at tracking big storms, and the islanders prepare well for them.
We heard that even in the wet season, the sun usually comes out after a few showers. Unfortunately, that did not happen much for us. It rained almost every day, and we saw very little sun. Many locals told us that is extremely unusual. I believe them, because Amber Airplane and I almost always manage to bring above-normal amounts of rain whenever we take a tropical vacation. Remember last year’s French Polynesia trip? Ugh!
Now on to this week’s story. It starts when Amber Airplane and I were dropped off at the Savusavu airport on time by our new good friend Dick. "On time" here means 30 minutes before the flight. That allows you to check in and weigh all your baggage -- including yourself. Theoretically, you could show up five minutes before, because there are no lines, but I don’t think the airline would like that.
There is no airport security when you leave from the small airports. (Note: There is when you fly from major airports like Nadi and Suva). Don’t you love not having to deal with metal detectors and grouchy security workers when you know you’re in a safe environment? Do you think any terrorist wants to sabotage a tiny aircraft in Fiji? I don’t think so either.
When our plane came in, we were surprised to see that it wasn’t the same type of aircraft we had flown in on. This one was a bit smaller and longer. In fact, I had never seen this type of plane before. It looked like someone plopped a pair of wings on a banana. When Amber Airplane saw this flying tube of toothpaste she gave me another of her patented "I said NO small planes" looks. Before she could open her mouth I said, "Save your breath. I know: I’m fired."
Air Fiji’s lone airport agent told us we had to wait 20 minutes, because the plane first needed to go to a nearby island to pick up more passengers. We didn’t mind, for two reasons: We were a little nervous about getting onboard, and this prolonged our stay on Savusavu. The only problem was that the island pickup took an hour, which made us late for our boat to Castaway Island.
What’s cool is that when the plane returned all the passengers disembarked except two -- and they were the same people we originally flew to Savusavu with. It was like the four of us had our own private plane (minus flight attendants).
Our nerves settled a lot when the nice couple from California said their flight from the island had been surprisingly very smooth. It’s a good thing they said that, because the weather was bad and Amber Airplane and I were skeptical about getting on. The plane -- a Britten Norman BN2 Islander that had been converted (and lenghtened) into a trimotor Trislander -- had no aisles. There were just five rows, each of which snuggly fit two people in row. We had to get in and out using the door in our row.
After speeding down the runway and a quick takeoff, Amber Airplane and I loosened our grips on each other. We realized the flight would be quite smooth. Unfortunately we did not have great views, because the sky was full of clouds. But I’ll take a smooth flight over nice views any day. If you’re flying on a Trislander, here’s a tip: Bring earplugs. The plane can get a bit noisy.
At the Nadi (pronounced Nandi) airport we met our driver, who said our noon boat to Castaway Island had indeed departed without us. The next boat did not leave for a few hours, but he offered to take us to downtown Nadi to pass the time. Amber Airplane and I were a little bummed at first, because we had seen so many incredible pictures of Castaway Island, but the delay turned out for the best. It allowed us to see downtown Nadi, and more importantly check our email at an inexpensive internet café. Downtown Nadi is 10 minutes away from the airport, but because of the traffic it took us 20. Can you believe Fiji has traffic? Of course, it’s only in the major cities like Nadi and Suva, and even then it’s not really too bad. The outer islands don’t have many cars (some don’t even have any).
After downtown Nadi, we drove 10 minutes to the port to catch our boat. It was pouring, so we sat inside the 88-foot catamaran. We prefer sitting outside, because we usually get sick inside boats on rough seas. Thankfully we felt fine, because the boat cut through the waves nicely. The trip took only 45 minutes, and we passed lots of islands so it did not feel like we were out in the middle of the lonely sea. South Sea Cruises; tel.: 679-750-500.
Castaway Island is part of the Mamanuca Islands. The guidebook said these are the driest parts of Fiji, but while we were there, there was nothing dry about them. In fact, we had a mini-cyclone.
There is only one resort on the island, with 66 Fijian-style bures. The bures comfortably sleep four people. All have one queen-size bed and two single beds (neatly disguised as an extra seating area). Each bure has a traditional Fijian high roof (made from pounded mulberry tree bark), and mounted ceiling fans.
My favorite part of the bure was that Castaway uses ceramic jars for shampoo and body lotion. (Most other Fijian resorts do the same.) That way they don’t pollute the environment with those pesky little plastic bottles I always feel obligated to take home. I intend to give them to the poor, but they just sit in my trunk for months and months, until the hot California sun melts them and the liquid oozes all over my sports equipment. On another note, I also really liked the shower. It was huge, with awesome water pressure!
It’s hard for me to tell you about our two-night stay there. The weather was so bad we didn’t do much besides hang out in our plush bure, listening to the howling wind and pounding rain. It was very relaxing, but it doesn’t make for a very good story.
I can tell you that the food at the resort was good -- especially the huge breakfast buffet. Meals were not included in our stay, but they do offer a meal plan. That’s a good deal, especially for you big eaters. Three meals a day cost just $37 USD per person.
The highlight of our stay came when we had an incredible dinner with Damien, the general manager of the resort. We were joined by his partner Rachel, and their friends Simon and Jane. All four are originally from New Zealand, but now live and work in Fiji. The latter two run the Jet Fiji boat in Nadi. Jet boats are really popular in this region because they have special technology that allows for unbelievable maneuvers. Amber Airplane and I were invited to take try them out when we returned to Nadi, but there was not enough time. Hopefully next year.
If the weather was nice, the highlight of Castaway would definitely have been swimming in the amazingly clear blue warm water surrounding the island. We could also have taken part in some of the resort’s many daily activities, such as hiking, snorkeling and banana boat rides.
It’s too bad about the weather, because the pictures we saw of this place are incredible. So much so, in fact, that the Air Pacific 747 we flew from Los Angeles featured an enormous picture of Castaway Island on the outside.
If the font on Castaway’s website looks familiar, it’s because that’s the font used for the Tom Hanks movie "Cast Away." The only difference is the spelling (one word for the resort, two for the film). Actually, it was not filmed on Castaway Island -- but it was nearby. The movie used the deserted island of Monuriki. We could have toured it, but we didn’t because of -- you guessed it – the weather. However, we did see the oar that Tom Hanks used in the movie. It hangs above a bar on Castaway Island. Someone at the resort found it floating in the water.
The only thing disappointing about Castaway Island was that the workers were not as friendly as in other parts of Fiji. I don’t think it was because of the bad weather, because there was bad weather at the Koro Sun Resort, and the people there could not have been nicer. My guess is that because Castaway is much more touristy, the locals are accustomed to seeing outsiders so it’s not a big deal. Don’t misunderstand me: They were still friendly when compared to other parts of the world (ahem, France), but nothing like the locals we met on Vanua Levu or Vatulele. And of course I would return to Castaway in a heartbeat. Castaway Island: tel.: 1-800-888-0120; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We were booked to return to Nadi via a seaplane, but because of the wind and rain we were again very skeptical about boarding a small plane. This one had room for only six people (including the pilot). When we got in I was surprised to see how young our pilot was. I think he was taken aback when I said, "You’re our pilot?" Luckily, the baby-faced (and former Canadian bush) pilot assured us it was safe, and the flight would not be too bumpy. He was right. It’s wasn’t bad at all: A few minor bumps, but nothing like our Alaskan seaplane adventure last year. Our pilot explained that the only reason it is bumpy when flying over land is because the mountains change the air flow.
Flight time is normally 12 minutes, but the storm put us in a holding pattern, so it took twice as long. It was cool, though, because we got to circle an island that is so small you can walk around it in five minutes.
We were in the Nadi airport for only an hour, waiting for our next flight to the island of Vatulele. The airport staff and the Vatulele locals waiting for the flight were so nice. They asked us where we were from, and how our trip was going. One woman said that there is normally just one flight a day to Vatulele, but on that day there were so many passengers (mostly locals) that there were two. Luckily for me, we were on the first flight and that nice lady was on the second. That’s because stupid me put my wallet in my really small shorts pocket, and it fell out while I sat down. Just before we took off an airport worker ran up to the plane, all out of breath, and said, "A lady in the airport just found this wallet and thinks it’s yours, because it was on your seat." I just nodded my head in disbelief. Talk about a vacation disaster: My wallet was filled with all my money and credit cards.
At that instant I knew Vatulele would be a special place. It was all that, and much more. I can’t wait to tell you all about it next week, when we finish up our trip to friendly, beautiful Fiji.
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