Author Archives: Paula

Fun with Gabe–Dan’s dad visits NZ.

Off to Queenstown!

We left Dunedin after only two nights of Gabe arriving.  We headed for Queenstown, as we had a vacation rental lined up for three nights.  We knew we had a lot of ground to cover.  Gabe was only staying in NZ for a few weeks, and we had to make it all the way back to Auckland by the time he was to leave.  Flying into Dunedin meant we had to drive up most of the country and take the 3.5 hour inter-island ferry along the way.  New Zealand may look small on a map, but when you’re driving it in a relatively short amount of time, it feels like Russia.  Queenstown was busy, but quite nice, nonetheless.  We stayed here, which is normally booked up, so we were lucky to get it:

The place was quite nice with heated towel bars and heated bathroom floors.  It wasn’t huge, but it was a three bedroom, two bath and perfectly fine for us.  Oh, and it had a BBQ.

Here were our views:

Neighborhood Flowers

In Queenstown, we walked around, saw the botanical gardens, ate lunch at Speight’s, and relaxed.  Another day, we drove to Arrowtown and panned for gold!  The place we stayed had gold pans and a shovel available for us to use so we took them along.  We arrived at the river and had absolutely no idea how to pan for gold.  Not a clue.  There happened to be a local man there in the river panning for gold himself and he was willing to show the kids and me how to do it correctly.  He had collected enough flakes over time to make about two rings.  His demonstration was actually quite interesting, and it took me about 40 minutes and I STILL was not down to just the black sand where the gold flecks lie.  Plus, my feet, that were in the water, were red with the cold.  I pawned my pan off to Ariana and decided to join Dan and Gabe for a beer, but Ariana worked to get the pan down to just black sand.  No flecks in my scoop.  Ultimately, Ryan found two miniscule flecks of gold and Ariana found one.  Hers was so small she decided to eat it.  Now Ariana is made of gold.

The kids panning for gold in Arrowtown

Another day we were headed to a winery but got side-tracked by the AJ Hackett’s bungy jump place.  We decided to go in just to watch the crazy daredevil people jump off a bridge and entrust their bodies to essentially a rubber band tied around a towel on their legs.  I couldn’t even go all the way up to the railing to watch other people jump.  While the kids and Dan went on the bridge to get a bird’s eye view, I stayed on the platform about 2 feet from the railing.  Did I mention previously that I am afraid of heights?  I am fine on a rollercoaster or IN something, but I guess I fear being pushed over the edge or that a huge gust of wind will throw me off-kilter and off the side of a cliff.  I digress.  My own crazy daredevil daughter decided to bungy-jump when we offered to pay the $150 or so NZ for her to VOLUNTEER to jump off of a bridge upside down.  I wasn’t able to post the whole video here because my blog said it was too large, but I will try to cut it down and post it later.  In the meantime, here are a few screen shots:

Ariana Bungy Jumping


Ariana jumped voluntarily and didn’t even need to be pushed.  She also didn’t need counseling afterward or a shot of scotch.  Nope.  She loved it.  I couldn’t watch the whole thing–and I had a glass of wine in the hopes I wouldn’t be so nervous for her.  I couldn’t help it; I was a wreck.  She is a brave girl, and yes, she would love to do it again.

Queenstown Gardens

Lunch at Speight’s in Queenstown, Ari and Grandpa Gabe

Have you seen a more perfect tree?  It’s beautiful!

Another tree…

The Gardens of Queenstown.  The other half of the sun blossomed on the other side of the walkway.

Queenstown Marina

Outside of Queenstown

Franz Josef and Okarito

After three nights in Queenstown, we headed up the coast to Franz Josef Glacier area, about a 5.5 hour drive.

We ended up staying in a small house in Okarito, but it was right next to an “off the beaten path” hidden hike in the area that started with a boardwalk.   (This place:  It was called:  “Fernbird Retreat.”

Although the area was nice, the weather was terrible in the glacier area.  It rained…and rained…and rained, and even rained off and on in Okarito at the house as well.  We did a small walk near the house and another in the glacier area, but the weather was not cooperating.  We would see no glacier.  We saw no snow.  It was a good thing we didn’t book to stay longer in that area because I think it is like that most of the time.  The hint was this one bar that advertised:  “When it pours, we pour.”  Huh.  That could have been my first clue that it rains all the darned time.  As I write this, about a month later, it is STILL raining a lot in the glacier area.  I sure hope it clears up before Corinne and John get here!

One interesting part of the time in Okarito was the beach that was essentially across the street from the cottage.  It was almost deserted, but it had the most incredible rocks/stones.  I found one that was a perfect egg-shaped white crystal-like stone.  I have no idea how it got so perfect but it was.  We actually thought we were going to stay in this house again when Dan’s mom, Corinne, and her husband, John, came to town, so I left a small baggie full of the “treasures from the sea” that the kids and I collected, underneath one of the beds.  How strange will it be when someone finds a bag of rocks cleaning the place?  I can guess they won’t believe an old lady like myself decided to put them there.  Strangely, I wish I had kept the perfect rock; it could have been my good luck charm!

The Beach in Okarito

Driving up to Franz Josef from Queenstown

Franz Josef was sort of a let-down, so we were not sad when it was time to leave.   We were off to Anakiwa, a small village on the very north part of the south island, in the Marlborough Sound (also where Queen Charlotte track begins).

Anakiwa, South Island (northern region)

It was a long drive from Okarito to Anakiwa, much longer than we wanted to spend in the car.  It surprises me how small NZ looks on a map.  I know I’ve already said it, but it sure doesn’t feel small when you’re driving it!  The weather seemed warmer already.  We were so excited.  After touring the south island for a month and a half, it was time to shed the coats.  How many times can I wear the same three pairs of jeans?  Plus, isn’t this summer?

So imagine all of our surprise when we arrive at “John’s Place,” a lovely vacation rental with a view to die for.  Dan’s dad was very excited about it; he liked the view of the lake down in Queenstown, but this surely topped that–and it was warmer!   During our three night stay there, Gabe said that if he ever goes missing, people should check that house first because that is where he will be.   (  The photos the owners use for this rental don’t do the place justice.  It was much nicer in person.

Anakiwa House

The Living Room

The View from the Living Room!

The View Zoomed in a Bit.  Those are the Marlborough Sounds going all the way back.

The Kitchen and Dining Room

The Master Bathroom:  BEST BATH EVER!  Jacuzzi jets, hot water, a glass of Chardonnay…

…and this view!

Fantail Bird

Gabe on the Porch Enjoying the View

At Dusk

The Interesting “Library” Down the Street from the House.  It was in an old refrigerator.

The View down by the Waterfront

It was hard to leave the house, but we managed to arrange for something to do.  Dan decided to do part of the Queen Charlotte Track (he did about 27k that day), the kids and I decided to do a mail boat tour of the Marlborough Sound (delivering mail to the out-islands), and Gabe…well Gabe decided to enjoy the serenity of the house with us gone!  Dan came home to his Dad sitting with a glass of Jack Daniel’s, the music blaring like a teenager, and taking in the peace of the sailboats on the water.  I think he made the right choice!

The mail boat was unique, but I think they really wanted to paint the picture that the folks who live out on the out-islands, only accessible by boat, are entirely interesting, unique and possibly overly eccentric.  We were a tough audience in that regard given all the travels we have done over the last year plus!  Not one of the stories of their “roughing it” on the island came close to the way some of the islanders in Fiji live, or the way the folks in Palmerston go without supply ships for up to two years at a time and have VERY few fresh vegetables and fruits.  Plus, the tour was seven hours, which seemed long despite having once spent 3 weeks at sea without sight of land!  That being said, when I stand back and assess it, I can imagine it would be very interesting and an enjoyable day out on the water for most people.  We’re just not most people anymore when it comes to learning about the lives of island people, for better or worse!

We went to dinner in Havelock while we stayed in Anakiwa as well.  It was a decent dinner and on the way we passed the elementary school of the great, Nobel-prized physicist Ernest Rutherford, also known as the father of nuclear physics.  He actually attended Havelock Elementary and the locals are quite proud of it!

Anakiwa Waterfront

The Pelorus Mail Boat.  This boat is the only way some of the locals on the out-islands can send and receive mail.  It has been in operation for 100 years next year (they are getting a great big catamaran built for them this year).  We visited a few island docks and met a view of the residents (along with their pets), we saw a blue penguin in the water, we saw a colony of Great Shags, and we visited a green mussel farm.  Here, the tour guides pulled up the mussels and explained how they are grown.  That was very interesting, and if you wanted, you could eat a raw mussel.

The Pelorus Mail Run:  Ariana

New Zealand Great Shags

Greeting the Mail Recipients

A Pig Coming to Get the Mail.  Actually, the boat captain gives him dog biscuits.

A Woman, a Dog and Piglets

The Mussels

Green Mussel

Green Mussel Farm, Marlborough Sound


We had one night in Blenheim before we were to take the Picton car ferry to the north island.  This day, Dan, Gabe, and Ryan went to the Aviation Museum in Blenheim and Ariana and I walked to some Marlborough wineries.  The day was absolutely beautiful and the nicest we had so far the entire time we’d been in New Zealand.

Sea Grove Cottage in Blenheim, right next to MANY wineries!

The View from Sea Grove Cottage

Ari and I first walked to Huia Winery, which is in the process of receiving its organic classification.  The chickens were quite cheeky there, and would jump up and eat the grapes off the vine.  Here is a picture of one of the scoundrels.

Huia Vineyard

Ariana at Huia Vineyard Tasting Room

Some Views along Our Walk

We then went to a second winery…

And a third…

Finally, we settled at a forth for lunch together.  As it turned out, Dan, Gabe and Ryan joined us when we had just finished eating.  It was lovely!  That evening, we ate dinner in the screened in porch and relaxed.  The next morning, we packed up and headed to Picton where we had lunch and bordered the ferry.  The ferry was great!  Despite the fact the winds were howling, we felt no movement inside the ferry.  They had a movie theater, a lounge, and drinks and food for sale.  Outside was a different story.  Walking outside on the ship, the wind near about knocked Gabe over!  He had decided to go outside with Dan but quickly changed his mind after being assaulted by the 60-80 kilometer winds!

Ha, we finally arrived to the north island and we didn’t have to go far.  We were staying in Wellington for two nights.  I will continue this in another post!





Dunedin, New Zealand–It’s summer here? I don’t think so!

Dunedin was a nice city.  We started to feel like we lived there, as we spent a month pet sitting for Libby, a cute mutt of a dog!  Her owner, Lindsay, was traveling back to Great Britain to see her family, and then spending a week in Malaysia exploring.  (In the U.S., you can arrange to pet sit or to get a pet sitter on “Trusted Housesitters.”  In NZ, they also use “Kiwi Housesitters” which is where we arranged two pet sits for our time here.)  Pet sitting is great because you get free housing and you also get to be around pets, which is a luxury for us pet-less folks.  We sought out a pet sit on the south part of the south island so Christmas would feel like Christmas like we’re used to (aka: cold).  We also sought to stay in one place for a while, and to experience New Year’s there as well.  The house we stayed in was a modest three bedroom with views of horses across the street (and there were sheep two doors down).  Despite the fact it was considered summer here in Dunedin, we had hail three times while we were there!

Dunedin Building


House View:  Horses Across the Street:

The Sheep a few houses down

Here are some of the things we did while we were in Dunedin:

(1) We went to the Otago Peninsula and went to the Royal Albatross Breeding Centre.  There are only two in the world, I believe.  We also got to go into the bunker and learn more about how they stayed prepared during WWII.  It was fairly interesting but windy!

The Otago Peninsula

Royal Albatross

An Endangered Species of Seagull.  This Seagull type is more endangered than the Royal Albatross but it gets no love!  He has polka dots on his tail.

Nicholas Cage.  No, wait, this is a sheep on the Otago Peninsula.



(2) We also went to Larnach Castle, which is also on the Otago Peninsula.  We had a nice time exploring the castle, the beautiful grounds and playing the lawn games they had set up for visitors.

Larnach Castle, the castle itself, the views, and the grounds

The Coolest Trees!

They actually had this sign in the bathrooms there!  Were they expecting monkeys to visit or something?  Don’t they know no one sits on the seats anyway?  They should show someone squatting…

(3) We went to Sandfly Beach to see the yellow-eyed penguins.  We went right before dusk, as this is when the penguins return to land for the night.  We also saw a sea lion.  Luckily, they call it Sandfly Beach because of all the wind causing the sand to fly, rather than after the nasty insect.  This walk down to the beach involved sliding on the sand dunes and having to climb your way back up.  It was a beautiful beach with hardly anyone on it though!

Sandfly Beach

Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Sea Lion–Big Guy!

(4) We shopped for Christmas!  There were real shopping malls and stores here.  It had been a LONG time since we had a real mall available!  We also got a small live Christmas tree from the only place that sold them there.  The strange thing–they don’t sell Christmas tree stands ANYWHERE!  I couldn’t figure out how people could set up trees without a stand.  One girl said: “We just use a bucket of rocks.”  What?  A company here in New Zealand hasn’t capitalized on the curious lack of tree stands?  Anyway, we got ourselves a bucket of rocks.  We paid $7 whole dollars for a tree and spent $7 buying rocks to put in a $2 bucket!  It wasn’t the most elegant solution as our little tree never did stand up straight, but it was still a tree–and it smelled good.  One thing about Christmas–it is not the commercial, overdone experience like it is in the U.S.  Not many people put up outside Christmas lights and the whole holiday seemed quite downplayed actually.  Although I don’t always buy into the hype of Christmas marketing, we all did miss seeing all the neighborhood houses lit up for the holidays.  Of course, in Dunedin, it didn’t get dark until about 10 o’clock at night, so that may not motivate people to put lights on their houses; hardly anyone would get to see them!

(5) We had dinner with Ann (Thornton) and Barry, who we first met on the island of Niue the night we sailed in.  They were vacationing in Niue and we happened to meet them and share some drinks at the “yacht club.”  Fast forward a Facebook friendship and six months, and we were sitting across from them on the southern end of the south island of New Zealand having dinner!  What a small world it really is.  Ann and Barry invited us over for an AMAZING Christmas dinner, and we enjoyed Christmas with Ann’s daughter, Lydia, and their granddaughter, Caris, at their home in Dunedin.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were so happy to be with a second family in NZ!  We also played cricket before dinner and pigged out on great desserts!

Lindsay’s Deck–Getting Ready to go to Ann and Barry’s House.  After a year in flip flops (jandals here in NZ), it was time to clean ourselves up a bit.

Dinner with Ann, Barry, Lydia, and Caris

(6) We went on several hikes, some which gave beautiful and expansive views of the city–and one of which Libby decided to roll in sheep dung.  There is nothing so refreshing as a hike into the mountains and returning with a dog who smells like sheep anus.  This day ended in bathing a stinky dog!

(7) We spent New Year’s playing Catch Phrase with the kids and then headed downtown for Dunedin’s New Year’s celebration on the Octagon.  2016 ended with a bang (truly–they lit off a canon that shook the whole square, and had the obligatory fireworks).  We finished the night with a bottle of champagne when we got back home.  (I was the designated driver!)  I sure wish Ari could drive already, geesh!

Crazy drunk guy in a wig dancing by himself.  Huh.  Maybe it was Billy Idol.

(8) We drove to Oamaru up the coast and we saw its adorable downtown, had lunch at a craft brewery (with a good beer!) and visited the Steampunk Museum, which was small but cool.  We also visited a book store that had only adventure travel books; Dan loved that place.  😉  On the way back, we also stopped by the Moeraki Boulders, which were so incredibly unique.  This is what they are:  “The Moeraki Boulders are a group of very large spherical ‘stones’ on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki on New Zealand’s Otago coast. These boulders are actually concretions that have been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs that back the beach.”  They are only 60 million years old.

Oamaru Beachfront:  they had an amazing park too but I don’t think I took a picture of it.

Steampunk Museum

Dan on a motorcycle that’s a bit too big for him…

Strange Steampunk Exhibits

This was a cool, mirrored room in the Steampunk Museum.  It’s small, you’re in the dark with just your family, and they have this light show and music.  With all the mirrors, it is quite peaceful and serene!  I only had my cell phone so it didn’t capture it very well.

Oamaru is for lovers.

The Brewery in Oamaru

The Moeraki Boulders:  So Cool!

Man and daughter share boulder.  For the record, Ari is not intentionally posing.  She doesn’t intentionally pose.  It’s not her style–unless she’s on stage and playing a character.

I, on the other hand, do pose sometimes.  

Strange concretions–some were large and some were small.  Ryan’s thought:  why am I standing sideways on a dinosaur egg?

(9) We toured the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and overdosed on my favorite milk chocolate in the world.  Wow, melted warm dark and milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate, chocolate…sorry, just dreaming for a bit.  You can’t find it in the States, but my new favorite chocolate bar is a Cadbury toasted coconut milk chocolate bar.  It is seriously addictive.  I need to go back to the gym.

The Moving Dioramas at Cadbury–and a few of their Old Delivery Trucks

(10)  We saw three plays while we were in Dunedin; Ari and I really missed theater!  One of the plays had only two (professional) actors who played all of the parts in the play.  It was called “The Mystery of Irma Vep” and it was hysterical!  I can’t believe they were able to change costumes as quickly as they did, and they didn’t even mess up their characters.  It was great! The second play was a community theater production called:  “Charley’s Aunt.”  It too was good, and Dan and Ari later met the funniest actor in that play; he was the man who checked Ariana’s contacts she ordered at the optometrist’s!  What a small city.  Finally, the kids and I went to another play that was the year-end conglomeration of an acting teacher’s students, ranging in age from kids to adults.  Some of those segments were also quite good–and thought-provoking.

(11) We went down the Guinness Book’s “World’s Steepest Residential Street.”  It is called Baldwin Street in Dunedin.  (FYI–they are in the Guinness Book in error.  Apparently, they aren’t really the steepest residential street in the world.  Oh well.)  We drove our Bento Box up the street.  I seriously thought it was going to explode.

(12) Dan and I went on a date night down in the St. Clare area of Dunedin.  It was a great dinner and a nice evening.  We also went for breakfast just the two of us one morning while the kids did school (and ate breakfast at the house).  Breakfast is much more expensive in NZ compared to the U.S., but strangely, you don’t tip in NZ.  They must pay servers well compared to the U.S. because tipping is not customary.   We ate Turkish food two or three times (with the kids).  It was so good there!

Date Night Down in the St. Clare Area of Dunedin

Yup, just ring the bell if you see one!  And if you’re in the water, then you better get out.  But, really, if you’re in THAT water, you must be crazy because it is so cold, so you may be too frozen or just plain not smart enough to get out of the ocean.

(13)  We went to a few museums while we were in Dunedin:  The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, the Dunedin Art Museum, and the Otago Museum.  We also visited the Botanical Gardens.  Actually, I think we just about did everything you could do in Dunedin.  Thankfully, there was enough to fill a month’s time.

The Story of the Takahe


This man was related to the people in the photos behind him (at the Otago Settler’s Museum).  We learned ALL ABOUT IT.  Twenty minutes after he started talking to us, he was still talking AT us…We later saw him cornering some other unsuspecting victims.

Dunedin Botanical Gardens

Poor Dan is too old to walk now.  It’s about time our kids start carrying us around.

Beautiful Flowers at the Botanical Gardens in Dunedin (oh, and birds)

(14) We went to the horse track.  That was pretty interesting because it was MUCH more casual than any U.S. race track.  We bet a bit, rode a ferris wheel, and exposed our kids to gambling.  Fantastic.  For real, though, this is just an excuse for Kiwis to tailgate.  Bring a cooler full of beer and wine, put up your own tent, and drink the day away while you bet on horses.  How cool is that?  It’s like a football game but with horses…and no football…but there is beer.

(13) Dan’s dad arrived into Dunedin and the following day, we went on the Taieri Gorge Railway, a 4 hour train ride that provided beautiful scenery, and it happened to be sort of warm that day!  (Note:  by warm, I mean you weren’t that cold when you wore a fleece jacket!)

The Impressive Dunedin Railway Station

I really like this one of Gabe.  We are so high up here…


With the advent of cell phone cameras, NO ONE can take a picture on a regular camera without getting their finger in it.  Else this man was just trying to block me out of the picture.  I’ll let you judge.

This was funny.  The train conductor has to deliver a schedule of when the train will be going through the upcoming tunnel.  Why?  There are a few houses on the other side and the only way for the residents to get to their houses is to walk through the tunnel.  They park their cars on this side (see photo below) and walk through a tunnel to their house.  I guess it’s a good idea they know the train schedule, else little Johnny gets flattened like a pancake.

This house is only accessible by walking through the train tunnel.

How many photos can a person put into one blog post?  Did I win?  


Christchurch and Wanaka, South Island

**Please post on our blog if you get a chance!  I would love to know that someone is reading it!


Finding a car in Christchurch started out difficult.  We saw some really crappy ones.  Some were so dirty, had dents, or were just not trustworthy.   Then we upped our price range a bit.  We figured we would rather have a reliable car that wouldn’t break down on us that we could resell not just to backpackers, but to anyone in NZ.  So that is what we did.  We bought a decent car.  Hopefully, we will be able to sell it when it is time to head to SE Asia.  Heck, I would take it to the States but the steering wheel is on the other side!  😉

In Christchurch, we found a very nice house to stay in.  We were only there for three nights, but the house was quite comfortable, and was a nice place to come back to after we searched for cars or went out exploring Christchurch.  Here is the place we stayed:

Our Vacation Rental in Christchurch

Christchurch was an interesting city; it is still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake.  And yes, this part of New Zealand had another earthquake quite recently (while we were sailing to Australia), but Kaikoura (north of Christchurch) suffered the most damage in the most recent one.  Christchurch, while still showing the signs of the earlier quake, was spared during this one.  The city is rebuilding in a very artsy way, with shipping container shopping malls, a “dance area” in the middle of the city, and unique buildings being constructed.  At the same time, some buildings are now gone, or in significant disrepair, so the sights are both enlightening and sad at the same time.

While in Christchurch, we went to this amazing free museum there and we also joined a walking tour of the city.  Christchurch also has a beautiful botanical gardens that we walked through while we were there.  Below are some pics:

“The Chalice”

Canterbury Museum.  This couple turned their whole house into a gigantic seashell display.  They became quite famous in the country.

The Christchurch Cathedral–its fate is still undecided.

A Memorial for the People who were Killed when an Entire Building Collapsed During the 2011 Earthquake.  Each white chair represents a person who lost his or her life…

The Restaurant at the Botanical Gardens


A Staircase to Nowhere in the Botanical Gardens

Tired Children?

I love this photo. I love all of the flower petals and the bench.  

“Rock” Climbing at the Botanical Gardens


We drove for about 5 hours to go to Wanaka, towards the center of the southern part of the South Island.  On the way to Wanaka, we stopped in Lake Tekapo as well, which was quite beautiful.

Wanaka was amazing!  We stayed in a small, two bedroom apartment that was just a few streets walking distance to the center of the town.

In Wanaka, we went for a hike, visited “Puzzling World” which was a cool museum of illusions, puzzles, etc., we had a “date night” while the kids went to the movies, we went paddleboarding, set out for a day hike outside of town about an hour, and generally just enjoyed the scenery. Wanaka reminded me a bit of Lake Tahoe, and I love Tahoe!

Lake Tekapo Area


The View from Rippon Winery, Wanaka

    Rippon Winery Tasting Room, Wanaka

   Our View on Our Wanaka Hike (Overlooking the Town)

      The Lake in the Morning (Paddleboarding Time!)

    Ariana on her Paddleboard

    Apparently, this is a famous tree in Wanaka…

Puzzling World Museum and Maze

The Puzzle Ariana was Able to Solve (and Later Dan)

The Puzzle I finally Solved…

Dan in a Medieval Bathroom

The Super Difficult Maze at Puzzling World.  I think it took us a couple of hours but Dan and I did finish before the kids!

Illusions are Fun.  Or maybe I had a tipple too many…

Even the bathrooms there are unique.

The Beautiful Scenery on our Day Hike.  Car Bridge.

Why does my family always make me cross suspension bridges?

“Blue Pools”  They really are this blue (below).

Next up:  Dunedin!  We are currently still in Dunedin pet sitting for a woman named Lindsay who is back in the U.K. visiting family.  We are taking care of Libby, a very sweet dog…



Update Regarding our Plans and New Zealand: Whiritoa, Lake Mangakino, and Auckland

Well, Do Over is sold, although we are still dealing with incompetent banks that can’t handle International Bank to Bank wire transfers.  Alas, it never ends…

Currently, we are on a month-long pet sit in Dunedin (the southeast corner of the south island) and we are taking care of Libby, a medium to large sized mixed breed dog.  She is quite cute, and I will post another photo of her when I update our time in Dunedin.

The kids with Libby in front of our Live Christmas Tree.  It is very hard to find a live tree here.  We bought this little, but fragrant, one for the equivalent of $7 dollars U.S.!

You may be wondering what is next for the Gabier clan.  We are going to continue traveling throughout New Zealand until the beginning of March, and then we are off to SE Asia to travel for a few months.  We haven’t pinned down exactly where we will go, but it will be some combination of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.  If you have any suggestions of the best four, we would love to hear them!

After that, we are flying back to the west coast of the U.S. and traveling for a month or so to find out where we want to live next.  We are narrowing down our choices, and really looking forward to seeing them in real life.  We could also use some input there…we want:  good schools, moderate housing prices, a very walkable quaint town with character, good community theater, bike trails, an hour or so from skiing, and not too far from a decent airport.  Have any ideas?  Please share them!  We have some thoughts; so far they are:  Steamboat, Fort Collins, Boulder, Dillon/Frisco (Colorado), Boise, Flagstaff, and for a while, Bozeman was on the list too but I don’t think I can handle that kind of cold for that long each year!  We really do welcome your ideas/suggestions of places to check out.  Post them on this blog, please!

Back to New Zealand…

So what happened when we hit New Zealand running?  Well, first, we CRASHED at an apartment hotel.  We didn’t get there until about 4:30 in the morning by the time our late flight arrived, and Dan had to leave the next morning to pick up our rental car.  BTW, we found out BEFORE our flight that Dan’s dad could not come to NZ just yet.  As luck would have it, he arrived at the airport with a very recently expired passport.  Good news though.  He has a new one and will be visiting us as of January 3rd.  And maybe everything happens for a reason–we were so busy getting a car, getting our extended visa applications, trying to get Do Over’s paperwork and survey, etc. that it would have been less relaxed if Gabe had come as originally planned and we wouldn’t have been able to explore as much.  Quite frankly, we were exhausted and had many tasks to complete.  Also, now Gabe is flying into Dunedin here on the south island, so we will be able to take him to some of the more fantastic scenery New Zealand has to offer prior to heading back to the North Island.  We have another pet sit set up in Taupo for 10 days after Gabe’s visit, and then we have 10 days to explore on our own, and we then have John and Corinne (Dan’s mom and her husband) visiting after the first week in February.  We are so excited to have family coming to visit and we have a lot planned!

After our first night in Auckland, we had a vacation rental set for 4 nights in Whiritoa, which is in the very southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula on the north island (about 2.5 hours away from Auckland).  It was a modest, small three bedroom home, but it had a very nice view and was within walking distance of a pretty beach (not that we were about to go swimming in THAT water–too cold!).

Our rental:

Here are some photos of the place:

The “Bach” in Whiritoa



Getting ready for Badminton!


The backyard covered patio and pretty views.  We saw sheep, cows and horses!  We celebrated Thanksgiving in this house.

Next, we had a vacation rental at Lake Mangakino, which is only about an hour away from a popular destination in New Zealand:  Lake Taupo.  Again, we were still just happy to be chilling a little bit, which was good, because here the weather was rubbish.  It rained quite a bit, but we managed to go on a lovely walk in the neighborhood along the lake and the golf course and it was quite a pretty view despite the crap weather.  We probably wouldn’t have bothered keeping this reservation with Gabe not with us (given it took us a few hours to drive there), but unfortunately, I had already booked this one on “bookabach” and they are VERY strict about refunds.  Basically, we wouldn’t get one, so since we needed a place to sleep, we decided to just keep the reservation.  It was a nice house with a beautiful view.

Here was our view:

Next, we were heading back to Auckland so Dan could get a flight out to Sydney.  He needed to return for the boat survey, so the kids and I were on our own for two nights.  Strangely, we had no place to stay and I hadn’t prearranged anything.  I did try, but the place I attempted to book did not confirm, so we were back to square one.  We had just gone to the camera shop to pick up my waterproof replacement camera that was stolen in Tonga (Yeah for the new, upgraded model of the SAME camera!), and we just sat there in the parking lot with me on my Smart Phone trying to find a place to sleep.  And of course, the kids decided to fight in the back seat while I was looking.  That’s always fun.  Finally, I was able to book a one bedroom apartment in a suburb of Auckland that was the basement apartment in a very nice family’s home.  It turned out to be just fine and the price was right.  I truly felt a bit homeless though at that moment!

We stayed here, thanks to willingness of the owner, Bronwen, to prepare for us to arrive in only one hour!

The kids and I spent the next day at the Auckland Zoo and then we went to Hell.  It’s true.  It’s a pizza place; we picked up our dinner there.

It was cold in Auckland that first night.

At the Zoo.  Me in my native habitat, alongside Marmosets and Tasmanian Devils…

Wait, these are my kids, not Tasmanian Devils or Marmosets…

THERE’S the marmoset!

And the Tasmanian Devil.  He has a face only a mother could love.

This is a Kea.  It is the only high altitude parrot in the world.

This bird is a Takahe.  I am not sure why the Kiwi gets all the street cred; this guy was awesome!  He is flightless, has some bright colors, and quite frankly, beats out the Kiwi in my eyes…

Well, Dan was coming back from Sydney, and once again, we were moving around.  We stayed at a “budget” hotel at the airport that still cost almost $200 a night.  Auckland’s pretty pricey.  The kids and I checked in there, dropped our luggage, and returned our rental car, and when Dan flew in, he just walked over to our hotel.  It felt like we had just flown in, but we had recently agreed to take a pet sit down in Dunedin and it started in a week.  It made more sense to fly to Dunedin rather than drive all the way down to Wellington, take the 3.5 hour ferry (that would cost about $300 or so NZ and then drive the many, many hours down to Dunedin.  Flying is so much easier…We planned to fly to Christchurch and then buy a car.  We were successful!

We are the proud new owners of a Bento Box.  That’s what Dan calls it, and it just fits SO WELL.  The car is a 2005 Toyota Sienta (not Siena, Americans, but Sienta, never before to set foot on U.S. soil).  It had only 79,000 miles on it and was in great shape.  It just looks…well…rather ugly.  There is one plus though.  She speaks to us in Japanese every time we turn on the car or when she thinks we are passing a famous Japanese landmark.

She is a seven seater which we definitely needed that with our family of four and family on the way to visit.  Here is our new car.  We paid $3,800 U.S. with a registration and a year long WOF, and she is in really nice shape:

The third row seats actually fold down under the second row seats when not in use.  The sliding door is automatic, and there is a camera for reversing.

Okay, I will write about Christchurch and Wanaka tomorrow.  I am tired.  Good night!

Now what?

Geesh, it sure has been a long time since I have updated this blog (well, aside from the post I just completed prior to this one about Fiji).

Here is the deal.  We sailed to Australia.  Our boat is listed.  Actually, as of now, Do Over is under contract, money is in escrow, and I’m happy to say she may well be going to Sam (who visited the boat while we were in Fiji), his wife, and his daughter!  I really hope she goes to them, as they plan to move onboard and cruise with Do Over eventually.  That is cool.  Dan especially did not want to see our former home sit in a marina disintegrating.  She is meant to be on the water–even if I’m not!  Hee, hee, hee.

When we arrived into Port Macquarie, Australia, we had very little time.  We had to clear out Do Over completely, finish cleaning/staging her for sale, and prepare to fly to New Zealand.  Dan’s father was meeting us in New Zealand in less than a week (or so we thought), and we had A LOT to do!

We managed to get all of our personal items off of Do Over and into a vacation rental.  We stayed here:  at Shelly Beach Bungalow and it was great!  This place gave us enough space to unload and organize all of our personal belongings on our boat.  We ended up with several piles of things:  (1) send home to the States, (2) a gift for the Salvation Army, (3) trash, and (4) things that make the cut for New Zealand.

I love Airbnb.  Now that we are off the boat, I plan to continue to update the blog with the places we visit, our experiences, the places we stay, etc.  And a lot of these places will include properties on Airbnb, Bookabach (very popular in NZ) and also, we have a few “pet sits” set up during our time in New Zealand as well!

The four days and nights we had in Port Macquarie were long, and our kids really had to hang in there.  This is Ryan, at about 11 p.m., after a VERY busy and long day.  He fell asleep on his knees, on top of an ottoman!


Well, we finally managed to get all of our stuff either to Salvation Army, to the trash, or packed into boxes that we had to buy from a storage facility.  We were down to the last hour of getting packed up, etc.  Then, Dan and Ariana had to sail/motor Do Over down to the Pittwater area of Sydney where our broker, Anna, was.  It was an overnight sail and proved to be difficult for them after about the first 5 or 6 hours.  The wind was with them initially, but once again, Australia proved to be a bugger with headwinds making the trip south a horrible one.  Dan and Ari also had to take all of our NZ-bound suitcases and the kids’ books onto Do Over, because they certainly weren’t going to fit in the minivan with everything that was being shipped home–which is what Ryan and I were charged with.

While Dan and Ariana were sailing, Ryan and I had to take the loaded-up minivan about 3 hours each way from Port Macquarie to Newcastle, because that is where the shipping place was.  That was quite the process.  I had perfumes in one of 13 boxes, but I couldn’t remember which one.  Perfumes cannot be sent to the States–at all.  So, I had to find them.  Guess where they were?  Yup, that’s right–the LAST box I rechecked!  We also had to have every box with a battery of any kind labeled.  It took an hour and a half working with the nice man at Pack N Send just to get our boxes sent!  Then Ryan and I drove back to Port Macquarie because there were NO minivans in the whole town that we could rent one way to Sydney.  And then I started thinking…I had rented the only thing I could get one way from Port Macquarie airport to Sydney airport, which was a compact car.  No company would let me take an SUV or a minivan on a one way trip to Sydney.  I forgot that we would still need to load up this (compact) car with our luggage in Pittwater and take it to the airport.  It was not going to work.  Plus, I was not looking forward to the 5 hour drive and then another hour from Sydney airport to Pittwater if I had to exchange the car (especially after the 6 hours Ryan and I drove the day before to Newcastle and back), so I looked into flying.  Ryan and I decided to fly to Sydney and rent an SUV there, and the difference was less than $100 versus driving.  I’d much rather sit on an airplane reading a magazine than driving six hours!

Plus, extra bonus:  before we had to go to the airport, we had a few hours to finally do something in Australia for fun.  We went to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, and saw several adorable koalas.  Most of them had had chlamydia (very common in koalas) and lost their eyesight as a result by the time they were found.  Others had been hit by cars and I think one was attacked by a dog.  Interestingly, Port Macquarie is one of the few areas where koalas still live in the wild in Australia.  They had koala crossing signs around the town, but unfortunately, we never did see one in the wild!  Good thing, I probably would have wanted to take him or her with me!  🙂

Ryan and I finally got to the Pittwater area, and we met up with Dan and Ari.  In another half hour, Sam (prospective buyer) and his wife were to meet us at the boat, along with our broker, Anna, and her partner, Martin.  We ended up having champagne and enjoying the beautiful Sydney weather.  After that, Sam and his wife left to go on a dinner date, and Martin and Anna invited us to go out on their 50 foot sailboat to an island in the area.  This island had wallabies roaming freely so we were in.  We were both truly exhausted (especially Dan who had not slept much on the passage the night before), but we could not turn down an offer to spend time with Anna, Martin, and Martin’s two sons Tom and Sam.  We had such a good time, and ended up having dinner and wine on their boat, while Martin’s son Tom played guitar and sang songs.  It was a beautiful night with beautiful scenery and beautiful people.  Can you really beat that?

Ryan taking the wheel of Martin’s boat while Martin’s son, Sam, looks on

Dan, Martin and Tom on Martin’s boat

My Standoff with a Wild Wallaby

A Wild Wallaby

Ariana, Anna and I on Martin’s boat

We ended up crashing on Do Over for the last time, and the next morning, we moved Do Over to Anna’s mooring and headed to the airport.  We had learned that day that Dan’s dad was not going to be coming to NZ; he got the airport in the States and his passport had recently expired!  But, we already had our flights and we had reservations to stay at a hotel that night, and a vacation rental the next day two and a half hours from Auckland.  I won’t go into all of the details, but we had SO many issues with our flight!  We got stuck in traffic and arrived to the airport late, we learned that we could not fly to NZ without a visa (which was quite the process) or a flight out of the country within three months, our luggage was overweight, etc.  So, I had to get on my computer and book us some refundable flights out of NZ for the end of January, knowing we would have to apply for a Visa extension (we are planning to be in NZ for 3.5 months but you’re only allowed 90 days).  Then, Dan and I had to rearrange all of our luggage so each piece wasn’t too heavy, and finally, we were allowed to get on a later flight (that we had to pay the change fee for).  Getting through security took nearly an hour as we were selected for increased screening.  The culprit:  Ryan had a museum replica of a bullet in his backpack!  Geesh…but they let us keep it.  We finally got through security at nearly 9 p.m. and we had not eaten since breakfast.  All of the restaurants were closed by our gate except McDonald’s so that was our fantastic dining experience.  Spicy grilled chicken sandwiches with jalapenos and french fries.  We were SO happy though, because one bar was still open, so we were able to get some wine!  Yippeee!  After such a long day, all we wanted to do was exhale.  And it got better from there, if you can believe it.  The Air New Zealand flight was FANTASTIC with free and free-flowing drinks, our own personal entertainment center in front of us so we could watch great movies, and you could even order more drinks right from your entertainment screen on your seat!  We had a flight delay but we didn’t care.  I think we could have stayed on that flight forever…

Update re: New Zealand to come next!



Fiji at the end and onward to Australia!

Well, we have had a crazy, busy two months. Since my last real post, we went to several other places in Fiji: a bay on the island of Waya, another bay called Blue Lagoon, a third named Musket Cove, and finally, Port Denarau (which is the most touristy part of Fiji). (There are LOTS of photos of these wonderful places down below with descriptions.

Key highlights of this part of our Fiji trip:

(1) We stayed at the Westin for two nights.  It was the FIRST time we have stayed off of Do Over in almost a year!  That is unheard of!  The same bed for almost a year after all of my work and pleasure travel prior to this trip?  Crazy.  We used the air conditioning.  We took long showers.  We watched TV.  We used their Internet.  We used the pools.  The kids (and Dan) played volleyball with resort people.

(2) We went to the waterpark with Sarah and her boys.  The kids had a spectacular time and Sarah and I got to hang out and chat in between waterslide runs.  (She was much more adventurous than I was on the waterslides.)

(3) We were berthed next to the mega-yachts at Port Denarau.  I felt like a wee little nothing next to the yachts of the Google founders.  We saw a helicopter take off of Senses (Larry Page’s yacht).

(4) We celebrated Halloween at the lamest Hard Rock Cafe “Party” ever.  But, the kids got to dress up.

(5) We went to dinner with Sarah and Gavin at a very cool restaurant.

(6) We got our boat cleaned up some and a few maintenance and cosmetic issues attended to.

(7)  Ryan snorkeled again with crazy, aggressive fish in Blue Lagoon–and he really enjoyed it.  I have to say thank you to Kate and Steve from Blue Summit for letting Ryan use their daughter, Hannah’s mask and snorkel.  Without it, Ryan may never have finally started snorkeling!

We decided to list “Do Over” with a wonderful broker, Anna Manach, from Australia we had heard about through the owners of “Oniva” (who sold their catamaran with her). We got in touch with Anna via email and had decided to list with her, but we were still sailing and had not reached Denarau and were not yet prepared to get our listing ready. Interestingly, Anna and her partner, Martin, were in Fiji meeting with some other clients, when she stumbled upon our boat in the Denarau Marina. We didn’t even know she was there and she did not either!  So, we actually got to meet them both and they are wonderful people!   This motivated Dan and me to get our boat listed and ready to show–and to definitely list with Anna.

Within 5 days of listing, we had one person who wanted to come to Fiji to see our boat. We did the mad dash to make the boat look great, but the man who came to see her had never been on a sailboat and had plans to take a bunch of his Chinese family members out to sea during cyclone season to head to Thailand. He had flown to Australia from England and then on to Fiji because there were more catamarans for sale there. We were not sure what his intentions were, but he asked questions like: Can the boat sail for more than a month without stopping? “Yes, but you may want to stop along the way just to see something.” Can I refuel on deserted islands? “If they’re deserted, they probably won’t have an Exxon.” Well, okay, we really said something less sarcastic, but you get the point. Would my family and I need to clear into customs on every island we visit? “Um, unless you want to face arrest or stiff penalties, I would recommend it. That’s usually what people do.” Can you change the mainsail while you’re out to sea? “Well, you really don’t want to do that. It is a very heavy and large sail. And—it’s not like a normal catamaran carries an extra mainsail. And, wait, why would you want to disassemble your mainsail?” He really wasn’t asking if he could take his sail down; he wanted to know if he could take it OFF. It was quite strange. Knowing this would go nowhere, we continued to prepare to sail to New Zealand.

Anna then called and said there was another interested buyer, Sam, and he flew to Fiji to see the boat. We really liked Sam (who is married and has a two year-old daughter, Chloe), and hoped Do Over would go to a family like this who would use her and treat her well. Not surprisingly, he was hesitant to make an offer in Fiji on a boat that would need to be in Australia, so we weren’t sure if Sam would be Do Over’s new owner.  We were still planning to head to New Zealand.

After speaking with Anna, she felt she could sell Do Over very quickly if we sailed to Australia rather than New Zealand. The market for catamarans is much better in Australia. So, we made a last-minute decision to sail to Australia. The trip was to be longer, but presumably easier, or so we thought… Ha!

The beginning of our sail was lovely (of course, I was wearing a scopolamine patch), but the tail end near Australia was TERRIBLE. Dan said it was like there was a force field around Australia, and I couldn’t describe it any better than that. The wind was coming directly from the land so we just couldn’t sail our way in there. We actually decided to “heave to” in the middle of the ocean for about 4 or 5 hours just so the wind could change a bit, because we were just beating nonstop into the waves and we didn’t seem to be heading any closer to Australia. It was crazy.  We only lost about 7.5 miles progress (drifting) but we got a reprieve from the loud and rough slamming into the waves.

On this terrible trip to Australia, Do Over did great. The kids did great. Dan was fed-up with the force-field but did great. I was a wreck. I couldn’t WAIT to get to land.  Why did I decide to sail half-way around the world?  Am I certifiably crazy?  Maybe…No, actually–most definitely.  However, I am HERE, alive and in one piece.  They say with childbirth you forget the pain and are ready to have more babies.  Is that really the same with long, ocean sailing passages?  God, I hope not, but I fear it is the case because Dan and I are already talking about possibly sailing again when the kids go to college.  I must be a masochist.

We had to go to Coff’s Harbor in Australia because we just couldn’t get in to our intended port.  Coff’s had suffered massive damage a year before and was still rebuilding, so we had to stay on anchor with a swell-ridden anchorage.  So what.  Land was in sight.  I got to go to a restaurant.  I am not complaining.  After two nights, or maybe it was only one…we opted to sail on down to Port Macquarie.  I will continue our ongoing saga in another post.

Meeting the Chief on Waya


The cute, local Waya girls



This island of Fiji (Waya) looked more like the Marquesas


Very similar to the Marquesas…




Traveling with Blue Summit


Restaurant at “Blue Lagoon”


Dan and me at Blue Lagoon


Clear water and good snorkeling at Blue Lagoon


A hike behind the Blue Lagoon Bay.  It was breathtaking!


The views on our hike…


More beautiful views…




Grandma sold her necklaces here.  I bought one, and they’re all made out of shells.


Modest village with the most beautiful views.


The “tea house” on the trail.  Sodas and cake for us.


The kids looking for seashells.


Another beautiful Fijian view…


Ariana and Ryan


Do Over from the hillside




Happy Hour at Musket Cove with Blue Summit, Paw Paw and Sojourn


Touch Rugby in Musket Cove.  This is the kids’ PE for school!


Halloween–Ryan was a Shadow and Ariana was an Obnoxious Tourist.  I don’t think people would have known Ariana was dressed up unless her brother was also, since we were in the land of tourists…


Dinner with Gavin and Sarah at Habibi


Our Room at the Westin.  First night in almost a year off the boat!


View from our Room at the Westin.  We were upgraded to oceanfront because I have preferred status with Starwood.  We didn’t care.  Garden view would have been GREAT!  We tend to have ocean-front regularly on Do Over…


One of the Westin Pools


Post mini-golf at Denarau.  Ryan beat us all.


Ariana and Ryan catching a Swim in Denarau


Our goodbye song from the folks in Fiji!


Leaving Vuda Bay, Fiji.  Off to Australia!


Foreshadowing on our Trip to Australia.  This ominous sky made for ominous sea conditions…






Update re: Fiji

I have not forgotten about the blog!  We are in Denarau, Fiji, getting ready to go to NZ next week.  Last week, we listed Do Over, and I was not expecting to have any interest for a month or two, but we have had some.  So, we are in limbo until at least Tuesday, as we are showing the boat to a gentleman from Australia on Monday.

We have our engine maintenance done, and we are awaiting a good weather window–unless things change. We will keep you posted!  Do Over is completely ready to go.  It will just take me preparing a few more meals and freezing them just in case it is rough.

I will post about our remaining time in Fiji hopefully tomorrow.  Good night!

Champagne Bay, Yasawa, Fiji–The Best Swimming Bay Ever!

Champagne Bay



We were the only boat anchored in Champagne Bay besides our friends, Kate and Steve, on Blue Summit.  This bay/beach was absolutely breathtaking!  The weather was perfect, the water was warm, Ariana taught Ryan to snorkel (finally!), and we swam like fish for three days in a row. We haven’t had water this warm since Bora Bora, and if I remember correctly, that water was just a tad cooler than here.

We didn’t do all that much in Champagne Bay besides snorkeling, swimming and hanging out, but it was such a gorgeous setting, it was hard to leave.  Two boats showed up on our last day, so we were glad we had it basically to ourselves up until that point.  Dan (and I, to a lesser extent) cleaned the bottom of our boat, we had movie night on Blue Summit, we bought a few big lobsters from the locals (two for $30 Fijian–or $15 US) and had a great lobster/baked potato/salad dinner, and we finally got Ryan to snorkel!  Ariana was such a good teacher, and now Ry really enjoys it despite his initial unwillingness.  Hey, it may have taken 11 months, but better late than never!  Ryan also tried, just under the surface of the water, to breathe through a reg, and he didn’t find that too difficult either.  Yippee!  What a perfect bay!

Champagne Bay at Dusk


The Master Snorkel Instructor


The Serious Student Caught In a Candid While Hanging on the Bow


Ryan and Instructor, Ariana, Snorkeling


Ryan Snorkeling


Ryan Trying a Regulator (and Dan Diving to Clean the Bottom)


Ryan Breathing Underwater


Namena Island and Yadua Island, Fiji


Namena Island


We left Vanua Levu for Namena Island, a very small, currently uninhabited island about 30 miles from Savusavu. Namena was habited at one point, prior to Cyclone Winston last year, but the resort that was there is now closed. Our first night there, we were the only boat, and without any light and a late-appearing moon, it was pitch black allowing the stars to shine bright in the anchorage. Namena seems to be an unofficial “bird sanctuary” that is loaded with all sorts of sea birds nesting in the trees and scrub. We kayaked in to explore a bit, and it became clear this island was hit hard by Winston. There were some concrete steps up to a large rock—but they were beat up so badly it was difficult to figure out what it used to look like or where the trail led. And the plant debris, logs, and trees that covered all of the trails made it pretty much impossible to hike to the other side. So, we enjoyed the birds and combed the beach while we were there.

We also went diving.   Here, the dive sites are on the fringing reef around the island. To dive, we pulled up anchor and moved Do Over to near the dive site, and from there, we were able to swim a bit and descend on some amazing chimney coral heads. (Think pyramids in the water.) These pyramids were loaded with fish. Ari and Dan went the first day, but it was too late to do a second dive so I could not also dive that day. The next morning, Dan and I dove around a different chimney coral head, and then he and Ari did the same spot in the afternoon after Dan had enough of a surface interval. Once again, our dive compressor came in very handy. We pulled it out and made our own air, stuffing it into our dive tanks. We didn’t know if we would need a compressor on this trip, but it sure has come in handy in remote places where air fills are impossible to get—or when dive shops won’t fill them for liability reasons.

Ari Getting Ready to Dive


Setting up my BC and Reg





Looking Up From Below



Dan’s Artistic Shot of Me in a Coral Window


So Full of Fish and Colorful Coral!


So Full of Fish and Colorful Coral!


The Chimneys in Namena Waters



Sunset in Namena


Kids Doing School.  That is Kava Root in the Background



After a few relaxing days in Namena, we tried to pull up anchor but it was wrapped around a huge rock, which unfortunately, was so strong, our anchor roller on our bow snapped off and fell into the water when we tried to free it. Add that to the list of things that we’ve lost to the sea! They say “boat” is an acronym for: “bring out another thousand,” but boating long-term also means: “lose everything overboard” (which I guess would be “leo”). Well, without an anchor roller, our anchor chain would be scraping against the aluminum strut that spans the bow—and it would get very abused. So losing it meant we needed to head back to Savusavu so we could get our spare anchor roller riveted onto the bow. After the 30 mile return trip, we entered the Savusavu harbor right at dusk, where Nina and Paw Paw gave us a rock star welcome. They screamed and woo-hoo’d us as we headed in to a mooring ball! We got to have dinner with them both nights we were back in town, which was really nice. Dan was also able to rivet on our spare anchor roller the day after we got in, so we were good to go again.

Back in Savusavu at Dusk




Dan Riveting!


Next stop: Yadua. We ended up staying one night in the southwestern part of Vanua Levu (with Kate and Steve from Blue Summit) in Bua Bay, which did NOT look or feel like Fiji. The view on one side could have been North Carolina river waters, with low-lying scrub and dark, unclear water, while the view on the other was full of distant mountains. It was so peaceful and we saw no other signs of human life while we were there for the night. The next day, we continued on to Yadua.

We knew we were going to have to do Sevusevu with the village chief, which meant stocking up on some kava root. In each village, you are supposed to dinghy in and ask to speak with the chief. Local villagers take you to the chief and you present your gift of kava. Sometimes, they produce kava drink right then and there and ask you to share it. Other times, the offering is accepted without the drinking ceremony and you are then welcomed into the village while you are anchored there.

Bua Bay




Interestingly, out of respect for the village chief, what you wear to this ceremony is very important. Women must wear a long skirt (or a sarong/lava lava) and shoulders must be covered—no tank tops. Women are not supposed to wear t-shirts either. Men are either supposed to wear long pants or a lava lava (skirt-type wraps) and also cannot wear t-shirts. Well, we didn’t realize how terribly devastating this would be for our poor, feral children. They had a rare case of clothing trauma. My 14-year old daughter does not own a skirt. Really. Why own one if you won’t ever wear one? And as we found out, Ariana really has nothing other than t-shirts that fit her right now. Add to that the fact Ryan has not worn pants in nearly a year, so we had to hear a few complaints about how hot and uncomfortable pants are. He also has not had to wear a collared shirt in a long time, but he was a trooper and didn’t complain too much about it. Ari ended up wearing the pareo the folks on Palmerston Island had made and given us, and wearing a t-shirt that’s back emblem could be covered by her extra long hair. We worked it all out. I can just picture our kids trying to go to school next year in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops—even when it snows!

Back to the village of Yadua. What an amazing travel experience we had in this village!

Heading to Sevusevu


Women of Yadua Doing Laundry


Yadua Garden


Yadua Houses


Sevusevu in Wilamina’s House


The four of us went to the village with Steve and Kate (from Blue Summit) to do Sevusevu. When we got to land, Dan said: “Toranga ni koro,” which means, in essence, “take me to your leader.” I bet you didn’t know Dan spoke Fijian, did you? Yadua’s village chief was actually on a different island at the time, so an adult (who understood Dan’s incredible command of the Fijian language) instructed the local kids to bring us through the “old” village to the “new” village where we would meet with the man second-in-charge. The old village had the church and a handful of houses, some more rustic than others, but the old village was the area that was demolished in Cyclone Evan three years ago. This island, luckily, actually fared quite well with Cyclone Winston last year. The new village was another bunch of houses that you came upon after a five to ten minute walk through the trees a little further away from the water. The Fijian government funded these new houses after Cyclone Evan.

The villagers live so differently from us, it is hard to imagine, but I will try to describe the scene. The houses are all only one room, and many have no furniture at all. Some have one single bed, and others have one single bed and one chair. The floors are decorated with mats that are hand-woven from thin strips of bark that were dried by the sun. Surprisingly smooth and soft on your feet, these mats hold up well and the largest ones take about a week to weave. It is customary for everyone to take off their shoes prior to entering a house in Fiji (and Tonga, for that matter). Many of the houses have a few colorful pareos (they call them something else) hanging in the room either as decoration or as room dividers. In one corner of the room, there is a stack of clothes and pillows, as well as some additional bark mats. In another corner, there is a wall shelf that contains plates, bowls, and a few pieces of silverware. In yet another, a suitcase, a laundry basket and a few towels sit stacked on top of one another. Flies are prolific, even when no food is present.

The kitchens are in separate grass huts that have wood fire pits placed strategically in the prevailing downwind direction so the cooks are not smoked out of their own kitchen. The floors of the cooking hut are also covered in woven mats, and buckets of cooking supplies line the insides of the hut. Fresh peeled coconut fills a bowl, ready to be added to the large pot of boiling seafood. Outside, a few cooking supplies are kept on a wooden platform high enough off the ground so that animals cannot get to them, but a few large aluminum and stainless pots being used that day are set on the ground, and occasionally, the dogs and chickens go to the pans looking for a good drink. Dogs in Yadua are commonplace, quite thin, and generally a bit neglected. Chickens and their chicks run free without the harassment of the dogs; the dogs know they will get hit if they bother the chickens. The children are all barefoot in mismatched clothes, but they are well fed and seem quite happy. The bathroom facilities are corrugated metal outhouses and are, intelligently, far enough away from the houses so there is no smell. The children have few actual toys, but in one house, a child was playing with Lego look-alikes. Some of the houses have electric lights, and solar panels can be seen scattered throughout the village. Hopefully, that captures the physical description of the village and its houses.

Wilamina Cooking in Her Kitchen


Awaiting Lunch




The Bathroom in the Center



Kate Holding the Smallest Puppy!





What cannot be described nearly as well is how incredibly warm and friendly the people of the village are to us foreigners. I thought the people of American Samoa were friendly, but Fijians are some of the warmest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and being around. When we walked through the village, everyone screamed “bula!” (hello), and all of the kids would gather around to see the strangers who had sailed to their town. The children walked with us everywhere we went, the little girls seeking to hold our hand. When we sat, the kids would touch our skin and hair, and at one point, I looked back and saw two young boys each playing with a long strand of Ariana’s blond hair in their hands!

The adults were just as friendly. We were welcomed into the home of the man second-in-charge, and his niece spoke English quite well. (We met no kids who yet knew English, and even among the adults, very few spoke much English.) I do not know how to spell the niece’s name, but it was similar to: “Wilamina.” We sat and talked about their life on the island. Wilamina was aware of things like automatic gas stovetops, but she also recognized village life meant a much more simplified way of living. She had actually left the island to receive education above and beyond the eight grade levels they have on the island.

We brought with us some candy and Zhu Zhu pets that belonged to Ari and Ryan from years ago to give to the children, and the kids really got a kick out of them, especially when they “talked” to them and scooted across the floor. At one point in our conversations, Wilamina invited us to come back for lunch the next day (Sunday). Church was to start at 10 a.m. and lunch would be at noon.

Kids Playing With the Zhu Zhu Pets We Brought For Them







Ari in a Sarong for Sevusevu


We all accepted the invitation and set out on our way back to our boats. We rounded out the day with cocktails and a game of Uno on Blue Summit before we departed and ate Chicken and Vegetable Korma with Naan bread back on our own boat.

The next morning, we decided to do something we have never done on this entire trip—we went to Church! We felt it was the right thing to do out of respect for the villagers and we also believed it would be a good cultural learning experience for all of us. Once again, we donned long skirts or pants and headed to the island.   After a long dinghy ride through the shallows of the reef, we arrived and immediately had the assistance of a group of children to pull our dinghy up high enough to survive high tide later in the day. I had baked a sour cream, brown sugar coffee cake to bring to lunch, and I brought that along with us to church. Church, which is Methodist in this village, started late. Kids and adults meandered in until about half past ten, and finally the service started. It was in Fijian, except for the brief welcoming one of the parishioners gave to us in English. After 45 minutes, church service was over, and we shook hands with the key church members outside. The minister invited us to his house for a rest, where his wife mixed together a packet of Tang and water and we talked for a little over a half hour. His house was similar to the rest, except that he had a large photo of Jesus, no chair, and multiple, colorful pareos making his house a bit more festive.

We then had to head off for lunch, so we excused ourselves and headed over to Wilamina’s house.   Wilamina was still cooking, so we were able to see how they cook by the fire. They had a boiling pot of these large mussel-type things, and to tenderize them, they essentially beat the heck out of them outside the kitchen hut. If one falls out onto the dirty and grass ground, they just throw it back in. I have to say—these did NOT look appetizing at all, especially knowing it was all getting thrown back into the pot, dirt and all!

A few minutes later, we all settled in on the floor. The spread was large and there were many extended family members present. We each had a bowl of smoked fish and bok choy in a broth, and there were sides of Cassava and Breadfruit that they grew right there on the island. Our Fijian friends eat with no silverware, but we were given spoons; they know we typically eat with silverware. It was a HUGE bowl of food, so Ari and I and Dan and Ryan shared one bowl. Dan and Ryan’s fish was much smaller, a bit more bony, and had the face still in there. Ari and I had a great piece of thick, wonderfully tender white fish that had a lovely flavor. We had small pieces of breadfruit and cassava as well. I was so pleased to see they did their best to keep all of the food covered when folks weren’t taking pieces of it. There were SO MANY flies! I can’t tell you how many flies there were. We were constantly shoeing them away while we ate. When the gigantic, lip-like mussels were set on the table, I have to say, I didn’t partake in them. Blue Summit had one each, and they said they were rubbery. I guess I didn’t feel that adventurous…

Lunch at Wilamina’s House


Wilamina’s Family


The Floor Feast



The Lunch “Table”


Kids Waiting For Lunch


Tenderizing the Big Lip-Like Mussels (and Flicking the One that Fell to the Ground Back into the Pot)


The Dog with the Very Injured Paw




My coffee cake and Kate’s chocolate chip cookies and popcorn were shared amongst the villagers, and we talked about how they celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. In a nutshell, they prepare extra-special foods for Christmas, some family members who live off-island come back, they give gifts, and there is a lot of dancing and Kava drinking on New Year’s Eve. Other than the surroundings, it sure sounds a lot like the U.S.! A little while after lunch, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our boats. The villagers of Yadua all had very little in the way of material possessions, but they sure were welcoming and wanting to share what little they had. It was a wonderful experience to share food and stories with people from a culture so different from our own.

Giving Some of Ariana’s Old Clothes to the Girls




Views from the Top of the Island


Views of Our Boat From the Top of the Island



The winds changed direction, so we chose to head out with Blue Summit to another bay on the same island. There we had Blue Summit over for dinner one night, played some more Uno, and did some great snorkeling. It was some of the best snorkeling we have had since French Polynesia. Wonderful! What isn’t good is that the housing on our GoPro is broken (and our underwater camera was stolen in Tonga), so we could take no underwater photos here. I saw, for the first time, my new favorite fish, which is called an Oriental Sweetlips. It is beautiful! It is black and white horizontally-striped with bright yellow on its back and highlights of yellow on its fins, with a yellow with black polka dotted tail. We have seen so many beautiful fish here, from Clown, Picasso and Titan Triggerfish, to a Humphead Bannerfish, tons of Anemonefish and Clown Fish, multiple types of Parrotfish, Regal Angelfish and Saddleback Butterflyfish, Moorish Idols, Blue Sea Stars, etc. There are so many amazing varieties of fish in these Fijian waters!

My favorite fish (an online photo):

Our time on Yadua was amazing and I am so glad we came here. Next, we were off to Champagne Bay, on the island of Yasawa!

Ariana Getting Caught in a Photo 






Fiji! Savusavu, Vanua Levu Island

We arrived into Fiji on a Friday after a three night sail, specifically into the non-touristy island of Vanua Levu.  We did have a lot of miserable rain the first night, but overall, we had decent wind, and no major seasickness to speak of (thanks to the patch!).



More Savusavu


The Farmer’s Market (Not Open on Sundays)


World Coconut Day:  A celebration of the coconut for two days straight.  I bought some soaps for gifts and some coconut oil.  


We picked up a mooring our first night at Savusavu Marina because Copra Shed and Waitui had none available.  We celebrated our arrival with dinner and beer/wine after clearing into customs, etc.  Woo hoo!  Fiji!  I already felt better about this destination compared to Tonga, and after having been here about a month, I still feel the same way.  After one night, we were able to get a mooring at Copra Shed, where we stayed until we left for the east side of the island.

The Celebration Beer!


Singers from Australia


One day in Savusavu, Ariana decided to sail Optis with the local kids.  She hasn’t been sailing on a small boat since the BVIs.

Ariana Sailing an Opti


Ariana Sailing with the Fijian Kids


Enjoying Lunch at the Copra Shed Marina.  They REALLY Do Drink Fiji Water Here!!  


While we’ve been in Savusavu (which is one town on Vanua Levu), we celebrated Ariana’s 14th birthday.  We arranged a tour which would include paddleboarding down a river, bareback horseback riding, and a hot spring pool.  One other woman (a doctor from New Zealand working for a few months in Fiji) came with us on the trip.  We set out for a ride upriver, and once we arrived, we loaded onto our paddleboards for the first time.  We have actually never done paddleboarding before so we were looking forward to it.  It was a leisurely paddle down the river.  We had to navigate some very shallow parts along the way, but no one got launched off or anything.  We all managed to handle it very well, and took a swim about half-way down.  We also got to watch some Fijian men spearfish from their boats and they were incredible!  They could throw the spear and catch a fish.  I think I would starve if I had to count on my own ability to land an arrow in the center of a moving fish!

We then had the opportunity to ride horses for a little while.  We have definitely been on better horseback rides, but we also had saddles for those.  For this one, I was put on a pillow on top of the horse.  I didn’t really want the pillow, because how are you supposed to hold on to the horse with your legs and big ‘ole butt?  I found out the pillow was a very bad idea.  I got the horse up to a canter, and the stupid pillow starting coming out up front and I nearly took a nose dive off the front of the horse!  I stopped her, but I seriously was about to lose it; I had about two seconds more and I was a goner!  I couldn’t wait to get that pillow out from under me.  Things were much better after I did get rid of it and I had no further nearly-trampled experiences.

Ariana was a bit disappointed because the owner of her horse didn’t really want her doing more than a walk (I think he was nervous Ari would hurt herself), but at least she got a leisurely ride.  Ryan was happy to have a man holding his horse as they walked.  I don’t think he felt comfortable riding without a saddle.  It definitely IS different!  We had gone on a 2.5 hour horseback ride in Nicaragua prior to this trip (2 years ago) and both of the kids did great going through woods, cantering on the beach, and navigating their horses through barbed-wire fences that lined the backyard fences.  This trip was a let down in that regard, but it was still pretty fun.  Dan, of course, looked like a proper Texan, riding his horse like a pro.  (Lisa, you would be proud!)  We finished the day out by going to a hot springs pool that, in actuality, really seemed like a glorified mud puddle.  Good thing there weren’t any strange brain-eating Amoebas in the water.

Paddleboarding for Ari’s birthday


Paddleboarding down the River


Horseback riding on the beach.  Ari is on the far right, Ryan is on the far left, and Dan and I are in the middle. 


Having a cold coconut after our ride.  These photos were taken on our guide’s camera phone and weren’t the greatest, but beggars can’t be choosers!


The Hot Springs Pond


Ariana’s birthday cupcake!  


We had a bout of terrible, rainy weather, and I was thinking we were going to have Tonga all over again.  But, one day we decided to rent a car despite the rain.  Our intended destination was Labasa, which was about a two-hour drive.  I have to say, it ended up being one of the most surreal days for me.  It felt like we traveled through time, to India decades ago.  So, we left in the rain, drove up the mountain reaching the rain forest which had gorgeous palms I hadn’t seen before and the most amazing scenery, but it was cold and surprise, surprise–still raining.  But then, we went down the other side of the mountain and the scenery changed dramatically.  It was dry, sunny, and completely not what you would expect from Fiji.  We arrived into Labasa and it was like a hectic India.  It was so neat!  After minutes before driving in desolate natural beauty, we then went into a dusty, busy, river town full of Indian-run shops and restaurants.  Aside from the loud music blasting from some of the shops, it felt like we had stepped back in time.  There were some women dressed in traditional Indian clothing that was so ornate and beautiful.  One older woman dressed traditionally stopped to pinch Ryan’s and Ariana’s cheeks and then kissed Ari on the cheek.  I don’t think they saw a lot of blond/blue-eyed kids around Labasa!   And to top it off, we ate at the restaurant at the Grand Eastern Hotel, which had many photos from the early 1900s and the atmosphere seemed like 1970s India (at least from the movies I’ve seen).  With respect to Fiji, Indian people were brought to the island to work in the sugar cane industry in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  Apparently, Solomon Island people were brought to Fiji even earlier to work in the Copra industry (the processing of the coconut).  Learning the history of the places we visit has been pretty fascinating.

Lunch at the Grand Eastern was great, and after walking around for a bit, it was already time to start heading home.

On the Way to Labasa


The Rainforest at the Top of the Mountain


It was Chilly Enough to Wear that Sweatshirt!


Coming back down to the Dry Side.  So Little of the Land Here is Developed.  It is Beautiful!


The East Side of Vanua Levu Island

After nearly two weeks in Savusavu, we took the boat over to the east side of the island, which was about 40 miles away.  (It is a very big island.)  We took a mooring that belonged to Jack Fisher, an icon of the bay.  He is a native Fijian who lives with his family in the bay and has been there for the yachties for a very long time.  It is well known that Jack is available to take cruisers out to the popular dive spots.  Here, you have to have your own gear, or you can go with one particular resort.  But, the way it works–everyone in the bay who wants to dive (or snorkel) pile on one boat (usually a catamaran for the space) and head out to the reef where you anchor.  That boat drags everyone’s dinghies out.  Then you load into your dinghy and, tied together, Jack brings you out to the actual dive site.  They are drift dives, so Jack watches for your bubbles and picks you up when you are done with your dive.  He does this for $10 Fijian dollars, which is $5 USD.  That’s a great deal and he is a very nice man.  One day, we went with a handful of other boats, and because Lian on Changes in Latitude did not want to dive, I was able to use her gear.  That allowed Dan, Ari and me to dive together, which was a nice surprise!  The next day, Dan and Ari went for a dive with a group of other folks, and Ryan and I kayaked around the bay, took a hike along the ridgeline, and swam in the ocean.  We had a nice time while Dan and Ari dove.  Yet another day, we had everyone over to our boat to do another dive, but the conditions were rainy and it looked rough.

Charisma, Changes in Latitude and Sojourn on Do Over Going to the Dive/Snorkel Sites


Frances and Jonathan from Charisma


Owen, Marcel and Anna from Changes in Latitude and Sojourn



Dragging the Dinghies


We aborted and tried again two days later.  It was still rough by white wall and purple wall, but we went for it.  That dive was pretty nice, although the visibility wasn’t as good as some of the other diving we have done (e.g., Fakarava, Niue).  I went with the couple on Changes in Latitude (Lian and Owen) so that Dan and Ari could both do the dive after us.  The following photos certainly don’t show the colors that were evident that far down (we were at about 60-80 feet).




This is how the kids get to school in Vianni Bay!  


Hiking in Vianni Bay

All four of us decided to take the dinghy into the beach in Vianni Bay to go hiking along the ridgeline (and into the woods).  We were met on the shore by four kids (2 of Indian descent and 2 of Fijian descent) who helped us get our dinghy out of the water and climbed a tree with our kids.  We told them we wanted to go hiking and we wanted to donate some textbooks to the school.  The oldest boy said their father was a school teacher and he was excited to take us to his home to meet him.  So, we headed over to his house, which was extremely modest.  They had no furniture.  Most people sit on mats on the floor, which is where their dad was–typing away on his computer!  How funny it is to see a SMALL house with no furniture yet the residents are computer-connected.  After we met their dad and donated the books, we were off for our hike–with four helpful escorts!

Our Four Hiking Guides


The kids showed us the trail and led the way.

Hiking the Ridgeline


What’s funny is that the kids originally did not want to walk the ridgeline because they were told there was a dangerous beast up there.  But, they followed along with us anyway.  As luck would have it, we ran into a mythical creature with sharp teeth and horns coming out of its head.  Okay, no we didn’t, but we did have some magical views.

Views From the Top




The Valley Side


This was a short hike, so we were up for finding another route.  The kids came to the rescue again and told us they would take us on a hike through the forest–where there are fruit trees and killer cows.  Yup.  Killer cows.  We were off on our adventure.

Trying Yet Another Country’s “Guava”  The Little Girl Climbed the Tree to Knock Down Some Fruit for Us


We walked for about 30 minutes or so and arrived at a house that had farm animals, including cows, pigs, and chickens.  We said “bula!” (hello) and met some of the family members who live there.  Apparently, one of the kids’ friends lived in this house too.  They had a pig tied by the hoof so he couldn’t go too far, and the kids got to pet him.  Here, pigs are really not viewed as pets; I think they are mostly ignored by the kids unless us foreigners are excited by them (like I am!).  Well, as we were leaving to go back to the beach, one of their cows got out of its fenced pasture.  The kids said:  “don’t run.”  So we didn’t.  No sense in getting mauled by some killer cow out in the middle of nowhere!  Maybe there really are killer cows there.  🙂   The woman ran down and ushered the cow back into the pasture and we were on our way again.  All in all, it was a fun hike, and it was made even more fun hearing about the kids’ perspectives of the island legends.  Interestingly, the two Indian boys were here living only with their father.  Their mother and sister were living elsewhere.  The family had lived in New Zealand and the dad took a position teaching on the island.  It was nice to see kids who played outdoors all day rather than sitting inside hooked to electronics…

The Family who Lived at the End of Our Hike


Their Pig


Back to Savusavu

After Vianni Bay, we headed back to Savusavu.  Dan realized he needed to complete several credits for his CME (continuing medical education) requirements so we needed to have some strong Internet.  I guess we can’t be totally “off the grid” since that would mean Dan’s medical license would lapse!  When we got back to town, K1W1 Beanz was there!  We ended up having dinner with them our first night back and had a good time.  Another time, we all went to curry night at Waitui Marina.  There was another boat of kids there as well, so all of them sat and hung out together.  Ariana was the oldest and she is definitely getting to that age where she often would rather hang out with the adults, but she likes the kids on K1W1 Beanz so she chose kids that night.

Kids at Dinner


Music at Curry Night


Photos in Savusavu





Fully provisioned, we were off to Namena Island (about 20-25 miles away), where we planned to do some diving.  The night before departing, Kate and Steve from Blue Summit came into Savusavu and we had dinner with them.  It was great catching up with them; we hadn’t seen them since Tahiti!

I will do a separate post for Namena, but as luck would have it, we were there for a few nights and ended up breaking the roller for our anchor chain on our bow.  So…we ended up back in Savusavu on a mooring so we could fix it.  We have an awful lot of anchoring to do so we needed to get our spare on there.

Upon arrival back into Savusavu, we had the most warm (and loud!) welcome from Nina and Paw Paw.  We hadn’t seen Nina since Tonga and we hadn’t seen Paw Paw since American Samoa.  We were so excited to see them!  We had dinner at the marina with Steve, Lynda, Peter, Karen, Roy and Elaine.  It was a fun night.  Interestingly, this island has very good and very inexpensive restaurant food.  The Indian and Thai curries are good, they have fresh rotis they serve with the Indian curry, there is a religious Korean restaurant that serves great dishes, and they have passable pizza.  At one restaurant (Decked Out), the kids and I ordered the boneless Indian chicken curry, and it came with a roti, white rice, Dahl soup, and a spicy vegetable dish (like pumpkin).  Dan had the Thai Chicken Curry.  We shared a large Fiji Gold Beer and the kids had Cokes.  We also bought a large Fiji water.  The total price for everything was $27!  You can’t beat that!  And it was so good…  I know the main touristy island is much more expensive so we may as well enjoy the surprisingly low prices here.

We have been in Fiji for over a month already and we have so many more islands to see. If we get the rivets we need, we are leaving tomorrow.  (Such is the cruiser’s life; you never know if you can get the parts you need!)  We will eventually go down the Yasawas and then over to the main island (Viti Levu) after stopping in one bay on the western side of this island.  Then, we’re off to New Zealand!