The Short Version of the Itinerary
Before we dive into the finer details of our Fiji stopover and New Zealand road trip, let’s explore the big picture real quick. This two-week bender included about 21 hours of flight time one way and a week-long tour of the South Island midway through. (Click on either image below to enlarge.)
Our flight route, from start to finish…
- Washington, DC
- Los Angeles
- Nadi, Fiji
- Auckland, New Zealand
- Christchurch, New Zealand
- And back again! (Yes… each stop.)
- Te Anau
- Back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass
“What’s Your Dream?”
We flew out of DC for Los Angeles first thing in the morning. Rented a car for the day since our Fiji stopover didn’t depart until 11 p.m. Saw your basic LA sights—the Santa Monica Pier, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, UCLA, Griffith Observatory, etc., etc. Caught the Viper Room on Sunset, though it occurred to me that “kids these days” probably have zero idea what the significance of that club is.
A couple of strange things occurred at the Pier. One was that I’m 99.9% positive I saw Jax from “Vanderpump Rules” with some girl holding a random stranger’s parrot. He was acting interested in the folks distributing environmental and spiritual collateral which, if you’ve seen the show, we all know is a joke. He also had a plastic surgery bandage over his face (that was the .1% of uncertainty).
I spotted Rasheed Wallace at brunch in DC once and the #AdventurePartnerForLife told me not, under any circumstances, to approach him, of all people. (I guess he’s not the nicest guy there ever was.) As was the case then, another photo opp missed. Though I don’t know that I, myself, am a huge fan of disturbing celebrities when they’re just living their lives… especially reality Bravolebrities. After a little social media research (and now-current editing), I learned this was the first of what would be three rhinoplasties and he was there with the chick from San Diego that he, of course, cheated on. Big surprise.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
The second strange thing happened when Jeff and I went to lunch. The restaurant we went to served family-style meals and we had way too much leftover. As we do in DC, we requested extra to-go containers to divvy everything up, a couple of bags, and a couple sets of cutlery to give to the homeless, which there was no shortage of by the Pier.
So, I’m standing on the corner with all these bags while my husband is getting the car from the parking garage, and a homeless man approaches me asking for money… for food. Whaddya know, buddy, I’ve got bags of food to hand out right here. First, he actually tells me, “no, thanks,” but then he circles back and asks what kind of food I have. Like… what? Spaghetti. Who finds spaghetti objectionable? …And you say you wanted money for food? Yeah right, guy. He passed, but we were able to very easily distribute the rest to others.
On my first crack at LA, I think my favorites were probably the Sunset and Griffith areas. Returned to the airport for an 11-hour overnight flight. A Fiji stopover before our official New Zealand road trip begins. Total accumulated air time: 16 hours.
A Fiji Stopover, Sunrise & Sleep
Lapsed a day crossing the International Date Line in flight and caught a cab from Nadi Airport to our Denarau Island resort first thing in the morning. The sun was just coming up. We got breakfast and wasted some time familiarizing ourselves with the resort until our room was available.
Laid out by the pool(s) sipping cocktails until the rain finally chased us inside. (We put up a good fight, though.) Ate lots of resort food and rented a movie package while sleeping some very strange hours. I have no idea why, but I do love my $25 hotel movie rentals. Not the most exciting day, but the perfect reason for our Fiji stopover—a jet lag adjustment before tomorrow’s island-hopping tour. More to report then, hopefully!
Mamanuca Islands Turned Tourist Trap Hell
We woke up early to catch a tour out to South Sea Island. It was nice to be out in the sun, but I’m not sure the tour is exactly what we expected. The activities schedule on this tiny island were really regimented. (We literally had an orientation.) I’m on an island… on vacation… I want to relax. If I don’t check out my snorkel gear at 11:00 a.m. sharp, will it still be there in ten minutes?
We did a submarine tour, which was underwhelming at best. I did see some purple starfish in the sub, though… which was cool. After, Jeff went snorkeling while I laid out on a painfully rocky beach. Had a not-so-wow BBQ lunch. Jeff discovered Fru-Bu, a Polynesian soft drink. (This is one of his favorite things to do when we’re traveling—to test out the local drinks and snacks.)
Got to watch a traditional Fijian performance, which was moderately entertaining. I might have preferred to spend the time talking to the travelers at my table, though. Most were young, island-hopping, and staying on South Sea for a few days.
Meeting People & Touring Islands
This one young Swiss kid worked in Myanmar for the UN and decided to travel around the world for the next three months. His favorite destination so far was Sydney and he was really looking forward to Costa Rica. I was under the impression that a few of the younger girls at our table we’re traveling solo also, a trend I run into more and more. I dunno whether I consider that brave or stupid. (They were young, like, 18.) Either way, I sure wish I had the guts to do it.
After lunch, we jumped back on the boat to “tour” the rest of the Mamanuca Islands for the remainder of the day, though we were really just picking up and dropping off other tourists at each destination with a few informational announcements thrown in. We saw the real Treasure Island and the real Castaway Island. Saw some of the Yasawa Islands, which—along with the Mamanucas—have world-class scuba diving sites. Sailing around from island to island, you get a true sense for exactly how small and remote these islands really are (even though our new-found travel friend from Ghana still had a Vodaphone signal and could receive Snapchats, supposedly.) All in all, nice to get out, but a little bit of a tourist trap.
The End of Our Fiji Stopover
Random asides… #1: The ketchup is so sweet, it tastes like barbecue sauce. Jeff, obviously, loves this. #2: If you’re a tourist in Fiji, it’s automatically assumed you’re Australian, a first for my arrogant American self. And, #3: The Fijian people are amazingly nice. More “bulas” and “vinakas” than I’ve ever heard on a trip.
It’s the end of our Fiji stopover. At least on this side of the trip. Next stop: Auckland. Then to the South Island for our road trip.
Welcome to New Zealand
Flew from Nadi to Auckland this morning. Total air time thus far: 19 hours. A note that we have a Fiji stopover on the way back, too.
New Zealand customs was amazingly easy; everything is electronic self-serve with machines that actually function. They do have strict biosecurity laws, and you have to claim your hiking boots and sneakers coming in and have them inspected. They repeatedly asked Jeff if he packed a “tint,” to which I finally jumped in and replied, “no.” Translation: “tent.” In his defense, it took me a moment to figure out. A heavier accent than what I’m used to hearing from my English fam. Only customs downside: no passport stamps. Wah.
Car Rentals & Kiwi Bucks
Rented a car. Heads up on New Zealand car insurance: They hold $1,500 on your credit card, and if you get so much as a chipped windshield, they take it all. Non-negotiable. After “the windshield incident” in Iceland, we decided to do it for 15 “Kiwi bucks” a day. Decidedly a good thing since, every time we need to turn, Jeff flips the windshield wipers on (everything’s backwards). I’m not sure why, but this makes me laugh hysterically every. single. time. Jeff, however, does not find it nearly as funny.
As we were driving away, we noticed some interesting evergreens (all needles pointing straight up on the branches) that resembled the American, “fake tree” cell towers. My dad would’ve appreciated these greatly; he’s a retired cellular engineer.
Auckland’s Tamaki Drive
We drove Tamaki Drive, a gorgeous stretch of coastal highway with distant views of downtown Auckland, beautiful homes, and quaint groupings of restaurants and shops. Stopped for lunch on the water. Quickly picking up that Americans must be relatively few and far between; many New Zealanders seem surprised—even excited—to hear an American accent. The “excited” reaction is a weird, albeit nice, experience considering much of my overseas time with locals is spent separating myself from the “Ugly American” stereotype, insisting I’m a liberal.
Communication Breakdowns… All in English
After lunch, checked into the Sky City Grand Hotel next door to Auckland’s Sky Tower. Not to be outdone by Jeff, I experienced my own translation breakdown trying to get parking directions on “Vitterol Street.” I wandered away from the concierge, still confused, only to realize a minute later that the street the hotel actually sits on is “Federal Street.” The concierge must’ve thought I was mocking her for sure because I repeated that street name back to her exactly the way she said it at least three times.
The day finished off with a convenient store snack run in downtown Auckland. Ended up with a European-style Fanta, a Mighty Perky Nana candy bar, and chicken-flavored chips which, for the record, are awesome. Eventually fell asleep attempting to interpret rugby.
We’ll have a couple days of touring on the North Island with our rental car and then head to Christchurch to begin our true New Zealand road trip. Can’t wait.