Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fiji - Village and Orchids

After an overnight flight and a long layover in Auckland, we arrived in Fiji and some hot, humid weather early afternoon. After some conversation at the visitor center in the airport we boarded a taxi for our resort at Denarau, about 30 minutes away through the congestion caused by some new road construction. I was reminded of our trip to Ecuador as we passed rows and rows of small shops in Nadi before reaching the more rural approach to Denarau Island.

We have a great room here at the Wyndham Resort. Our third floor deck looks east over the pool and restaurant to the Pacific Ocean and more of Fiji’s 332 islands. Beautiful sunsets are the norm here as is live music from the bar down below until about 10:00 pm each night. Live music is everywhere around here. The Wyndham has two restaurants with live shows every night. The Radisson Blu next door has three such locations. We had dinner at the port one evening and heard five different bands playing as we walked around choosing our restaurant. That ended up to be Lulu Bar which had been recommended by Niki at the airport. I had an excellent tuna steak. Linda had a nice piece of Mahi Mahi which unfortunately had been overcooked.

Dinner entertainment included fire dancing.
Do not try this at home

Our week here so far has involved a shopping trip to lay in some breakfast and dinner items and the aforementioned trip to the port for dinner and pin shopping at the Hard Rock Cafe. I bought a nice one commemorating Fiji’s first Olympic Gold Medal last year in 7-man rugby. It includes a rotating rugby ball. I also managed to collect the $7 dollar bill they issued in commemoration.

From the seemingly hundreds of offerings we chose a morning tour of Nadi with visits to the market, one souvenir store, an orchid garden, and a living Fijian village. It was a Saturday morning so we started at the market before it got too busy and the heat became stifling. Solomon, our guide, explained the many of the food items we passed some of which are unfamiliar to us. Fruits and vegetables tend to be sold by the bunch or plate. We purchased a bunch of bananas. Some corn, a few mangos, and a pineapple for a total of $9 Fiji (less that $4.50 US). In comparison, we purchased a single banana in the grocery store for $1 on our shopping trip. Fish are sold in a separate room about 10’ by 30’ with the fish spread on benches and the floor. I talked to one fisherman who was selling his own catch so I assume that is the norm. One surprise was that few of the shoppers carried their own shopping bags. With all the talk of preserving the environment here, we did not expect to see plastic bags still in such widespread use.

This branch is ground into powder and becomes, fava,  an alcoholic drink.

From the market we headed off to the largest Hindu temple in the South Pacific. When the British took over the Fiji Islands, they brought Indians to work as indentured servants. With them came the Indian culture and religion. They also unfortunately brought two invasives that still plague the islands: the mongoose and the myna. Mongoose have decimated the snake population and reeked havoc on bird species. The myna are a noisy, aggressive bird that chases out any competitors leaving only a few species in the lowlands. The islands have several beautiful endemic birds, but it is necessary to travel into the mountains and other islands to see them.

Indians first built a temple 100 years ago. Built in the flood plain, they move the temple to its current location in 1992-94. Temples are celebrated every 12 years. This temple is undergoing a renovation to prepare it for that celebration next year. The outside is mostly covered in scaffolding, but the inside is open to viewing and covered with beautiful paintings depicting Hindu scenes and stories. We had to remove our shoes and hats to enter the grounds and were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple. Long pants or skirts are also required. A separate guide took us around the grounds and inside the temple explaining the worship practices and the meaning of the paintings we saw.

Our guide then took us to a souvenir shop while explaining that Fiji is concerned enough about problems with tour guides touting particular stores that it has instituted a system of signage identifying those shops that provide fair service to tourists. He then took us to Jack’s, a store we had also seen in the port area. We were able to find some souvenir clothing along with more presents for relatives and a couple of art pieces for our own walls at very reasonable prices. We bought one shirt for me for less than $10.

The mask we purchased with the artist who carved it.

Following our shopping spree we headed out into the country and the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. The Sleeping Giant is a mountain ridge that looks like a sleeping person from the right angle. The garden in its shadow was created in 1977 by Raymond Burr to house his own orchids. Our guide walked us through the orchid portion of the garden pointing out several of the special flowers before turning us loose to explore the rest of the garden on our own. We saw no information signs, but enjoyed the peaceful walk through the rain forest, over a pond with fish, frogs, and crabs and through hillside being readied for a wedding later in the day. On our return to reception, we were greeted with a cool fruit drink before we headed off to Vuda Village, our last stop of the day.

An overview of the orchids

Dragons or Octopus?

Look close and you see a woman in a dress

Have your wedding here

Frog and crab


Painted Toenails

This village is the site where tradition says that the first Fijians landed about 3500 years ago. Where they came from is an interesting story. The tradition and the story Solomon told us is that they came from Tanganyika in East Africa. However, historians and archaeologists argue that the first peoples came from Melanesia, an island grouping to the west of Fiji. Solomon walked with us to the center of the village between some lovely hedges. The hedges, unlike all other hedges we have seen, consist of several different plants adding a lot of color. The center of the village is a large square with a church, a meeting house, a memorial to the beginnings of Christianity on the islands, and the house of the chief. The meeting house has six doors, one for each group of villagers to enter. Each group has a different role in the community like warrior and spokesperson.

This is a fairly prosperous village with well-built and well-cared for houses and grounds. Located right on the water it is also where new resort development is happening. Their beach is being filled in and will soon be the site of new resorts. First Village resort is already selling homes and condominiums. Solomon is happy about the development but also raised concerns about the increasing prevalence of cyclones and rising sea waters because of global warming. They don’t pussyfoot around the term here. It is global warming, not the innocuous-sounding climate change deniers have us use in the US.

Hedges leading to the village square
Look at all the color in the hedge

Chief's house and Meeting Hall

Six doors, each for a different group

A Wesley church

Monument to Christianity

From the village, Solomon drove us back to our resort where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We had been his only customers this day and actually spent two hours beyond the scheduled tour time. It’s nice not having others to rush us along.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


A New Park in the Making
Devastated by two major earthquakes barely six months apart in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch is a shining example of the resilience of humans in the face of adversity. Seeing how they have reacted and recovered from these earthquakes offers some hope to those of us in the Northwest who are facing the day in our future when we will be hit by an earthquake of this magnitude or maybe even as large as the one that destroyed Fukushima,Japan, in 2011. Our turn will come. We just hope it waits until we are gone and our cities have had more time to prepare by strengthening buildings and bridges.
One still to be demolished
Old City Council Building
I think there have now been three replacements.
Sheep Blocking the Road
Evidence of the earthquake damage is still everywhere as many streets are still to be repaired, buildings to be demolished, parking lots fill in for demolished buildings, and new construction fills the skyline. When I turned in our rental car, the attendant joked that it’s too bad I’m not a skier as I’d had some good practice slaloming amongst the cones on the roads where they are being repaired. Meanwhile, we are told that today’s Christchurch is among the safest cities in an earthquake zone because all the new construction is up to the highest standards for earthquake preparedness.
Container Protection for Cars and Pedestrians
Protective Containers
Protective Containers
Container Mall
We saw some innovative uses for shipping containers. Some are stacked against buildings waiting for demolition to protect passers-by from falling debris. The Container Village (officially Re: START Village) that went up weeks after the earthquake to house shops and restaurants is still in use although much diminished as nearby shopping streets are making it obsolete. I suppose it may remain as a small tourist attraction, but today it is only home to a few tourist shops and food stalls where locals come for lunch or a light dinner.

Container Mall

The Anglican Cathedral was deconsecrated last year, but for the time being is still replaced the the Transitional Cathedral while they are still deciding what to do for a permanent replacement. Popularly known as the Cardboard Cathedral, it is an A-frame building held up by cardboard tubes large enough for small humans to climb through. Our schedule did not allow time to visit inside during the day, but we could look in from the outside at the lovely, naturally-lit interior. Another old stone church waits for the rebuilder and insurance company to figure out how to pay for the removal and storage of the stones. They want to rebuilding using the old stones, but haven’t been able to work out the details.

Cardboard Cathedral
Cardboard Cathedral
Inside the Cardboard Cathedral
Holding up the Old Church
Evidence of new development included the fact that several of the shops we passed were only opened a couple of weeks before our arrival. One of the restaurants we ate in had not been open too long. The other, in New Regent Street, may not have even closed. New Regent Street was built in the 1930s in an old Spanish style. The two story buildings along the street are painted in pastels each side of the street mirroring the opposite side.

New Regent Street
The other side is a mirror image including colors
As tourists, we did three tourist activities. The 50-minute tram ride is Christchurch’s HopOn/HopOff through the central city. Live commentary accompanies the trip. We like the live commentaries better because you never know what tidbits of information might come up in the interactions between passengers and the driver/narrator.
One of the trams and the Art Center (formerly college)
Inside a Tram
One of the stops is at a shuttle to the gondola ride up Mt. Cavendish on Banks Peninsula. We left the tram only to discover that the shuttle driver had disappeared at the gondola stop. No one could find him but if we would wait an hour, another tour driver would use his break to shuttle us to the gondola. We took advantage of the time to visit Neutron Coffee Shop for breakfast. It’s logo says it has better chemistry for coffee. Housed in the college now refurbished as an art center, we enjoyed a nice al fresco breakfast as we waited for our ride. This beautiful set of stone buildings somehow survived the earthquakes without significant damage although repairs are still ongoing. In addition to the coffee shop, we found a chocolate shop and an art gallery and a museum dedicated to Ernest Rutherford who won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his pioneering work in nuclear physics.

Art Center - Formerly University
The gondola ride was worth the wait as we could see the entire area including downtown Christchurch and its port city of Lytton on the other side of the Banks Peninsula. Christchurch is the third largest city in New Zealand as as its most southern port, it has long been the port used by Antarctic expeditions, particularly Robert Peary and Ernest Shackleton who both spent time here. Today,several nations with Antarctic missions have offices and warehouses here. The gondola offers a restaurant, gift shop, and a Disney type ride through a ‘time-tunnel’ history of the area. Locals regularly use it to get to the many hiking trails and picnic areas at the top.

View from Mt. Cavendish
Another Mt. Cavendish View
After completing the tram ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon with a quick look at the Botanic Garden and a visit to the museum. We entered the museum just as a tour began, great timing on our part as our guide offered us a 45-minute overview of the museum leaving us enough time to revisit part before closing. We chose to spend that time in the Antarctica exhibit where we watched some video on early explorations of the ice continent and looked at the exhibits. In addition to exhibits on Peary and Shackleton, a most interesting part had a replica of a boat made from branches of a tree covered in sail cloth. Shipwrecked sailors who knew they were too far off the regular sailing routes built this small boat so they could propel themselves a couple hundred miles to another island where they might be saved. They were successful.

Antarctic Travel
Antarctic Travel
This boat sailed the Southern Ocean and the sailors survived.
The World's Fastest Motorcycle
The most beautiful part of Christchurch is the River Avon, named for a river in Scotland, not the one of Shakespeare and Stratford fame. This shallow, slow-moving stream meanders through downtown providing lovely picnic sites and the opportunity to be punted along the river relaxing in the sun.

Punting on the River Avon
Seating area on the Avon River
River Avon and the Botanical Garden
One of the river sites is the Memorial Bridge and Arch, Christchurch’s war memorial. Near the bridge is a memorial to the over 00 New Zealand soldiers killed at Passchendaele during World War I, the worst day for New Zealand soldiers in any war. The 800+ crosses all have names of those who died there creating an emotional exhibit.

War Memorial Bridge
Passchendaele Crosses
This is a city we where we could settle were we to move to New Zealand. The combination of outdoor activities and cultural opportunities would easily keep us entertained. But we aren’t looking for a new home and left Christchurch for a week in Fiji where we will be wearing shorts and enjoying warm weather before we head to Hawaii for another ten days. Then it will be home for real and winter weather.

Graffiti Artwork

New Sculpture
Sidewalk Sculpture
Sculpture in front of the new art gallery
Botanic Garden Fountain
William Rolleston (1831-1903)
Longtime area politician
New Sculpture
Sheep guarding the entrance