Fiji

So this may be the last post :( ….or not! Haven’t decided yet if I might continue keeping a blog, and just change it up to a different focus. But here are the last photos of our travels during our final week in Fiji. By the time we arrived there, we were very happy to just sit and relax, especially in such a beautiful out-of-the-way spot. Our little resort, Crusoe’s Retreat, was a 2 and 1/2 hour drive from the airport, and about 20 minutes off the main road on a gravel road. Lovely little place tucked away and next to a small village that we visited. It’s on the coral coast, so we were snorkeling a lot right off shore, did some kayaking, and lots of sunning, swimming and relaxing. It was a lovely place to rest up before heading back to Canada, work and the cold!

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New Zealand

So in reviewing my past posts, I see I’ve already summed up quite a bit of our New Zealand trip, but I’ll do a mini run-through again, to go with the photos….

Our first stop was Matamata, to see the Hobbiton movie set, and it was incredible…all it was missing was Bilbo, and Frodo, and Sam, and Merry and Pippin….there were 12 acres of the Shire and over 40 Hobbit homes. And afterwards we had lunch in the Shires Rest Cafe and had a couple bottles of “SobeRing Thought”, which was the beer brewed for the actors, so they wouldn’t get drunk while filming (I think it was about 1% alcohol). From there we drove to Rotorua, which is an area of much geothermal activity with geysers and hot mud pools. The north island of New Zealand also has many active volcanoes; Willow and I hiked the Tongariro crossing (20 km) which winds through an area with 3 volcanoes, and is the location of some of the filming for Mordor and Mt. Doom. It is also considered as New Zealand’s best one-day hike–it was spectacular, and we had beautiful weather for it.

We then continued south to Wellington, where we got on the ferry for the south island on Christmas morning. Making our way further south, our next adventure was white water rafting on the Rangitata River. It was a ton of fun and the scenery was amazing; apparently this was the site for the filming of the scene of Edoras (capital of Rohan) in the Lord of the Rings. From there we continued southwest towards Queenstown, where the girls did their bungy jumping at the site of the original jump off of Kuwarau Bridge. Then on to a cruise on Milford Sound, from there glacier hiking at Fox Glacier, and a yummy New Year’s Eve dinner at an outdoor cafe, a quick stop at the Punakaiki Rocks, and we were booked to head back on the ferry to the north island. Considering we drove 4,500 km in the 16 days we were there, it was pretty busy, but given the chance, I would do the same type of travel in New Zealand, as the scenery constantly changes yet is consistently breath-taking. It is an incredibly beautiful country!

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Finally some photos! Thailand continued….

We loved Chiang Mai! Thailand is a place I would visit again in a heartbeat. The people are incredibly friendly and there is so much to see and do at such reasonable costs. Besides the trip to the elephant camp and bamboo rafting in the previous blog, we visited many temples and villages (including the Karen Long Neck Tribe), took a trip to the Golden Triangle (the opium-growing area joining Thailand, Burma and Laos), enjoyed traditional Thai massage (one hour for $8!) and continued to satiate our market obsession. For the visit to Wat Doi Suthep, one of the most well known temples in Chiang Mai, the girls and I decided to rent motorbikes for the day….which brought us our only mishap on the whole trip….poor Kody accidentally accelerated into some parked cars and we had to deal with insurance and some bad scrapes! And they even bartered for that: “It is $7000 baht, but we charge you only $6000.”….how does that work?? We paid the $200 (CAD) for the damage to the other car and figured we got off easy. And the three bikes for the day, with gas and insurance, only cost us $24. On that day we also spent some time listening to one of the monks give a workshop on meditation, which was very interesting (and calming after all our excitement!)

I’d already raved about our wonderful accommodation at The Secret Garden in my previous Thailand blog; overall, the trip was amazing, and my favorite place to explore….other than Australia, of course. :)

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And on a more personal note….

…. I’ve been saying that Australia was much more than I’d expected or hoped it would be, and trying to identify what that meant to me. And I’ve lived in another country before for a year, and it was an amazing experience, which is also why I was so keen on doing it again…but it’s more than that. Australia has always held an allure for me—I’ve felt drawn to it as long as I can remember, which is probably why I felt so much at home all year. Not a day went by when I didn’t think to myself in awe: “I’m in Australia!!” (or voice it…ask my girls how I drove them crazy, especially in the beginning :). I truly relished the experiences each day brought. I know it has something to do with so much sunshine and such an amazing climate (I have never been a winter person) and a ‘living-outdoors’ lifestyle that suits me so well…and amazing beaches and spectacular rainforests and kookaburras and lorikeets, and really friendly, laid-back people (very similar to Canadians). And I know part of it was being the exchange teacher and some of the ‘celebrity’ status that goes with it…being the foreigner, having the accent, etc…..and a huge part of it was sharing this experience with my family and watching Kody and Willow adapting and going through their own challenges and experiencing so much success in so many ways, and having so much family time before they’re off creating their own lives…..yet it was still more than all of that….so what was it???

I think it was living the dream. And I joked about it all year, yet it’s been true. So many of us have dreams, yet that’s what they remain—dreams….either because we’re afraid of trying for them and not succeeding, or being disappointed in their reality, or losing the dream and not having one to replace it, or it just feels like too much work to try to achieve it…..there are many reasons that stop us. Yet in living your dream, you often become your best self. You experience more of your own potential—you feel joy (and joy is such a wonderful, pure feeling), you wake up excited all the time, you don’t want to sleep, you smile a lot, you have unlimited energy, you feel grateful all the time….and other people around you can’t help but be affected.

And you don’t need to worry about the dream being over, because as you’re living your dream, you will probably be shown the next step in your journey, which you couldn’t have seen before living your dream….and the challenge after, then, becomes to maintain the attitude, because a place or a situation does not give you that attitude; it comes from within and is self-generated. And if you generated it once, you can generate it again.

So these are my thoughts as my dream comes to an end….and endings are only new beginnings. I’m not sure yet where this is leading, but I know it’s not over. There may be a little hiatus of sorts (and a definite payback period…you can’t have had this much fun and adventure without a “little” debt accumulation….but hey, it’s only money! :)

Looking forward to seeing friends and family, and planning the next adventure…..

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Time to breathe, before…..

 

….it’s all over….

So here we are, on the final week of our amazing adventure, finishing it where we started when we got so sunburnt during our 15 hour delay in Fiji way back last January. SO much better to be here at our lovely hideaway called Crusoe’s Retreat, on the southern coral coast of the island. No worries, no driving, no planning, no wondering about our next meal or where we will stop to sleep….:)

New Zealand was incredibly beautiful, breathtaking scenery all the time….and busy! We started in Auckland and ended in Auckland, doing 4500 km in 16 days and seeing quite a bit of both islands. But to backtrack and try to recall the last 4 weeks…..

(and cannot add photos till we return….sorry….)

Thailand was SO much fun! Other than visiting the elephant camp and bamboo rafting, we went on temple tours, visited the Doi Inthanon National Park which is the highest point in Thailand, had a couple sessions of insight meditation with a Buddhist monk, had amazing Thai massages for $6 an hour, satiated our market addictions to the max (crazy prices low prices for everything there….loved it!) And our most memorable adventure was when Kody crashed her motorbike….The girls and I rented motorbikes for a day to visit Doi Suthep, the most renowned temple in Chiang Mai up in the mountains—3 motorbikes for 24 hours for $24, including gas and insurance….crazy! Anyway, they gave us a practice session, and we figured we were fine (even though they do drive a little crazy in Thailand….) But 20 minutes in, and we’re stopped at the side of the road waiting to enter an intersection and Kody accidentally accelerates into 2 parked cars! Willow’s and my immediate reactions were best summed up by WTF?!?!? Luckily, she was only scratched up a bit and not seriously hurt, but unfortunately did some damage to one of the other vehicles and the bike, so we had to wait for insurance, etc….little nervous, but it was one hour and $200 for damages and we figured we got off easy. And then we continued on to Doi Suthep with Kody nervously behind me on my bike and Willow driving like she’d been doing it all her life….

So all in all, Thailand was awesome and we did 10 days, all meals, accommodations, drinks and shopping for $2000 for 4 people……LOVED it!

…..And then came back to Brisbane to find the McMahon’s home had been broken into—yuck. Apparently it’s a far too common occurrence in the area, and we found out 5 other homes had been broken into during the same time. Luckily little was taken other than a DVD player, the Wii, and unfortunately Kody’s laptop with all her stuff on it….and no backup :( The place had been ransacked, but again, luckily, no needless destruction of property….yet not a great situation for all concerned, and especially when we had only 3 days to pack up and settle everything before leaving. But it all got done, and it was VERY sad to say goodbye’s (or “see ya later” s, as returning at some point feels like a certainty)

We were driven to the airport by Kev’s brother Neil, which was very nice, and 3 of Kody’s friends came also, and it was a bittersweet sendoff….lots of tears.

We arrived in New Zealand, picked up our awesome Jucy campervan, and immediately drove to a self-storage facility to store our excess luggage (and surfboard and didgeridoo….Canadian necessities) while we travelled.

Our first stop was in Matamata, where the movie set of Hobbiton is located, and it was very exciting to drive through ‘the Shire’ on our way….And the set was amazing! Over 40 hobbit holes have been created there, and the set had just reopened 6 weeks previously after the filming of The Hobbit. It was so interesting…our guide had been there from the beginning, had met Peter Jackson, and knew so many fascinating details…it was awesome. And even more so as it was a gift from the wonderful English department at Corinda (thanks, guys, and especially Ang, as I’m pretty sure it was mostly your idea :)

A lovely gift, and it helped to ease the sadness a bit….leaving Australia was awful, even with the anticipation of travel ahead…..

And then New Zealand was a whirlwind of mountains, amazing landscape everywhere you looked, great campgrounds, whitewater rafting, hiking volcanic mountain ranges (in the land of Mordor!) walking on glaciers (not so exciting when you live in Canada, though we did see some cool ice caves), cruising the fjords in Milford Sound, not to mention bungy jumping! (only the girls—much too scary for me, and Jerry wasn’t too interested either) And they did it at the site of the original bungy jump at Kuwarau bridge in Queenstown…very exciting, and scary even to watch!

And Christmas was nice but pretty low key, and actually it felt very strange to even celebrate it in such hot weather….we were on the ferry between the islands in the morning, then spent the day relaxing in a campground, skyped with family and the McMahon’s (who were celebrating together, which was very nice), had a lovely barbecued salmon dinner and exchanged a few gifts (given that the whole year of travel has been a pretty sweet gift itself!)

And it seems we foreigners often lump Australia and New Zealand together, yet they’re very different, in ways that are difficult to explain yet very evident—not that one is better than the other (though the Aussies and Kiwis would dispute that, of course!) but there was a different ‘feel’ to NZ, which probably was due to us having spent the year in Australia and being used to things there….

And I have to say I was really looking forward to Fiji, and am quite happy to kick back here for a few days. It has been a year and a half of planning, organising, researching, travelling, learning, adapting, driving, etc., etc., and I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s been pretty sweet (‘sweet as’) not to have to think for a few days in paradise…..We’re staying in a lovely bure with a thatched roof right on the ocean, with amazing snorkeling right off the shore here, and delicious food, and Crusoe’s Band Boys playing lovely island music all day long :) Loving it, and not relishing snow and work in one week’s time, though looking forward to seeing everyone……

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See ya….

As I write this, I have 12 hours left to be on Australian soil….

I’ve always known this would have an ending, and I know endings are new beginnings, and I had a great life in a great country before I came here….yet all of this does not alleviate my sadness. It was hard here in the beginning–always exciting and exhilarating and adventurous, but it was difficult figuring everything out and a lot of our energy went into getting settled. And then the last few months, you start really getting to know people, and to feel really comfortable, and you get it, and it’s amazing…..and then it’s time to go, and you’re not ready to go…..

I have always felt a really strong pull to come to Australia, and now I know why. And as I leave, I can only think that I will be here again, otherwise the leaving is too unbearable.

I probably won’t be posting anything for the next few weeks, as I’m not sure how much internet time we’ll have. And I’ve also filled my media allotment for my blog, so I can’t add more pictures until I delete some of the others, and just can’t do that right now…..

And I know I should be so excited for the upcoming few weeks of travel, yet all I feel right now is that I don’t want to leave. Soon I will once again celebrate all of this as possibly the most amazing opportunity of my life thus far, and be so grateful for all that has been gained and experienced, but for now I will just know that I am very sad to leave such a beautiful place with such wonderful people.

Thanks, Australia. I will miss you.

See ya on the other side….

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THAILAND!!!!!

This country is amazing!! Love the people, love the food, love the markets, love the temples everywhere….right from the moment we got onto Thai Airways it has been a incredible experience! Everything has gone so smoothly, and it’s wonderful how the people here try so hard to accommodate your every wish, and in such a lovely manner. And the place we’re staying couldn’t be better–it’s actually 12 km. outside of Chiang Mai in a little village called Bo Sang. The bungalow resort is called the Secret Garden, and we chose it because, even though it’s a 3 star resort, it’s rated #2 of over 300 hotels in Chiang Mai on the Tripadvisor website, and now we know why…it’s a tucked away piece of paradise that can’t be described, and the owners, Peter and Pai, go out of their way to make your stay comfortable, easy and relaxing.

We flew into Bangkok late Monday evening, and went directly to the train station to catch the 10:00 overnight to Chiang Mai. That was an experience in itself; first trying to make it to the train on time when it was the king’s birthday celebrations everywhere that day and all the streets were crowded, and then the train itself was a new experience. We had sleepers, so it was quite comfortable, and though not really what we’re used to, it was a fun experience and great to watch the Thailand landscape go by once it became light the next day. We arrived in Chiang Mai about 1:30 and went to a hotel we’d reserved in the city just for that night so we could explore a bit. Found a lovely little teahouse oasis two doors down and had our first orders of pad thai (many more for the girls to follow!) then headed to the famous Night Markets. And we have found markets here to beat all markets–they go on forever and it’s impossible to cover everything in one go… even for hard-core market addicts like us. And it’s unbelievable how cheap everthing is….you can often get a meal for less than $1 Canadian, and almost everything we’ve bought has been about a third of what we’d pay for it back home, so we’ve been having a lot of fun browsing and shopping.

And we’ve done quite a few tours; our first full day tour was to one of the elephant camps in the area, where they have an elephant show which was quite impressive, especially when Willow was picked to be the goalie for the soccer game!! There were many activities to participate in: of course, riding the elephants, which was very exciting, bamboo rafting and riding in an oxcart–totally tourist, which is totally what we are right now. :)

(photos will be a little mixed up with the next couple blogs, as I was trying to upload and do blogs while travelling and I’m not quite that savvy….and there’s still more elephant pics to come!)

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