You gotta love those perfect early autumn evenings in Sicily, when the temperature is just right, neither hot, nor cold, and the clouds make the sky look picturesque without blocking the golden light of the setting sun. These are the ideal conditions to enjoy a drive from Marsala to Trapani, and a landscape dotted with windmills and salt pans.
Because there is so much real life into long-term travelling I always smiled when, over the last few months, someone wished us ‘Enjoy your holidays’. It’d be too long, and probably pointless, to explain to those who are not familiar with the concept of extended trip our reluctancy to call our round-the world journey a vacation. However, I don’t have any issue with admitting that our stay in Fiji – which comes to an end in a few hours, when we board a plane to Los Angeles – had the flavour of a break from ‘real life’ and from the demands of travelling.
I suppose our thirst for adventure and exploration took a backseat to our need to lay on a sun-chair, relax, and enjoy the idyllic, Fijian island paradise experience with all that it entails.
On our first night in Nadi, we were still confused as to what to do, and looking at the map didn’t help: with so many islands out there, in a country that has more water than land, we just couldn’t decide which was the best way to make the most of our Fijian experience. Gathering all the recommendations we got from other fellow travellers and friends we finally figured out that it made sense to restrict our ambitions to the Yasawa islands only, avoiding the temptation of trying to do too much in a short time.
Once we bought our island hopping pass (the Bula Pass – which is a popular option with travellers based in Nadi) we jumped on the Yasawa Flyer and our quest for the dream island began.
We spent the first day – and night – in Kuata, a tiny island with volcanic rocks all around and a beautiful white-sand beach. Kuata was quite scenic and the staff at the resort was extremely nice. We spent a particularly lazy day and the morning after we went to swim with the sharks (the friendly ones!) in an outer reef 20 minutes away from the coast – the highlight of our stay in Kuata.
As the accommodation standard was quite low and the food particularly mediocre, no matter how beautiful the island was and how rewarding was to swim with the sharks – before lunchtime we jumped again on the big boat, the Yasawa Flyer, on the way to other islands.
Flicking through the resort names, one caught my eyes: Blue Lagoon, in Nacula (not the actual movie location, but close to it). This resort was included in the pass, but – unlike Kuata – we had to pay an extra fee for the food. Because the fee wasn’t going to be a problem, we decided to go for it and fortunately we were able to secure a double room through the travel desk on the boat.
We arrived at the resort on a small boat which picked us up from the Yasawa Flyer and with Kuata our only term of comparison, this lagoon seemed a world away from what we’d seen the day before: we kind of felt this was going to be our dream island. The clear blue water revealing a stunning reef to snorkel around, the coconut trees, the perfect, clean white-sand beach, the neat accommodation, together with decent and varied food and a staff with great customer service skills slowly killed our commitment to see other islands.
It became increasingly difficult to leave Nacula, so we ended spending 4 nights (including our wedding anniversary, on the 27th of June – when we received a present from the management), and the majority of our 6 night Bula Pass.
When we finally left Blue Lagoon, we went to spend the last night of our pass on an island called Naviti, which, like Kuata was nice, but basic and not as stunning as Blue Lagoon in Nacula. I guess after Blue Lagoon it’s going to be difficult to be impressed by other beaches.
It’s been a quite short stay here in Fiji, and tonight we’re alredy heading to California – the last stop before we actually go home. It’s hard to believe that our trip of a lifetime is coming to an end, but on the other hand we’re so looking forward to being back home with our friends and families.
It’s time to leave New Zealand. After 3069 km in a camper-van we finally arrived in Auckland, which is our last stop before we board a plane to Fiji tomorrow (well, ash cloud permitting…)
Our trip is slowly coming to an end, with Fiji and California being our last destinations: in about a month we’ll be back to Europe and we’ll be starting a new life. Making plans for our next future is proving a quite exciting and energizing exercise and we feel like we have a number of good things to look forward to in our lives. Surely enough, also owing to all the inspiring people we met along the way, we gained a clear idea of what changes we want to make in our lifestyle and that can’t be bad if we are to figure out ways to make those changes happen :)
But I’ll expand on our post-trip plans in the future, now back to New Zealand. Travelling in a camper-van around the two islands has definitely been one of the highlights of our round the world trip and something we will never forget. In a way, the camper experience has entailed a journey-driven approach to travel: the road – the journey itself – was the destination, rather than a specific place. This is totally different from what we used to do in Asia, where the road was for us just an ‘interim’ between a place and another.
Even though it may look like we’ve done everything in a hit-and-run fashion without delving deeper into it, I can assure you the road-trip had a very intense flavour, and driving through the country’s scarcely populated roads was a great, cost-effective way to see those awe-inspiring landscapes made of green hills, snow-capped mountains, reflective lakes and rugged deserted lands which, in my opinion are the real essence of New Zealand. Plus, the wintery atmosphere really added some magic to the whole experience…
Our days have been pretty much following this pleasant routine: driving during the hours of daylight in search of photographic opportunities, stopping by scenic lookouts here and there, cooking lunch and perhaps making coffee, finding a camper park for the night after sunset, sorting out the pictures taken during the day, connecting to the world through our mobile broadband USB stick, and then going to sleep to leave the day after.
The only exception was Queenstown, which is where we were when we wrote our last post. As we were advised against driving to Milford Sound on the basis that the road may be icy and therefore dangerous, we ended up buying a day-tour which included bus transfer and cruise on the fiord. The weather was quite crappy that day which prevented us from taking the postcard type of pictures we were after, and made it difficult for us to capture the beauty and the atmosphere of the place.
When we finally left Queenstown we headed north in the direction of the glaciers. Again, the rainy weather put us off photography-wise, and also jeopardized our visit to lake Matheson, which is one of the most photogenic (and photographed) spots in New Zealand.
As the weather improved we took the scenic Great Alpine Highway heading west, but before we hit Christchurch we turned north to Kaikoura where we arrived at the end of the day, just in time to secure a powered site at a random camper park along the way.
Kaikoura was our last stop in the south Island. The morning after we moved to Picton to catch a ferry to the north island. The ferry was one of the most expensive things we’ve paid for in New Zealand. When we were told that it was 363 NZ$, 200 of which constituted the camper fee, Romana’s face went white – we knew it was going to be expensive but we couldn’t imagine it was THAT expensive. But hey, our camper couldn’t swim, so there was no other way we could get it across the Cook Strait
As the ferry dropped us in Wellington, we thought it was a good idea to spend the night there and take a peek at the city the following morning. The rain caught us again after a visit to Te Papa Tongarewa (New Zealand’s most visited museum) and after lunch we set off to Lake Taupo, from which we took the thermal explorer highway, which runs across a number of active geothermal areas. This was probably the highlight of our time in the north island.
After Taupo we moved to Rotorua, Waitomo and finally Auckland. During the last leg of our trip we didn’t shoot much and our camera remained in the bag most of the time. As the end of our road trip approached our focus shifted and our conversations about projects and plans for the next future took over.
We’re saying goodbye to our camper-van, but it’s a ‘see you again’ we’re saying to New Zealand. We’re making a commitment to come back one day to get active and do some of the things that people come to New Zealand for, which we haven’t been getting around to do this time – like hiking, rafting, bungee jumping or skydiving.
Now it’s time for some sun and sea. Please ash cloud, don’t interfere with our plans to re-enter the tropics