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Fiji and Australia 2008Author: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: July 2008
This trip was a year in the making. It started with an offer from Brisbane, Australia, through Homelink, a well known home exchange site. After I locked in that exchange, I put up a request on Homelink for a second exchange and got an offer from Ken and Shirley B. about an hour and a half away on the Sunshine Coast. I really wanted something else farther away--Sydney, Melbourne or Cairns--but ultimately, and after several lengthy emails from Ken and Shirley (they wanted to go to a conference being held in Washington, DC, near where I live), I agreed and thought I was all set. Wrong. A third offer came in from Whangerai, New Zealand (on the Northwest part of the North Island, known to New Zealanders as "Northland"). I thought, "I can't be away that long" and accepted their offer. What the heck. I would be in the neighborhood anyway and when would I get an opportunity to do this again? Maybe never. By the way, a 4th home exchange offer in Auckland received afterwards was rejected. Enough was enough!
While I have done 2 home exchanges back to back, I have never done three in a series and this required a lot of planning. I put all the home exchange families in touch with one another so that they could work out the deals of who arrived/and left when. I only had to know when I had to vacate my home and when the last set of exchangers (the New Zealanders) would vacate mine. I then set out to find a "reasonable" airfare for this trip. Given the itinerary Qantas (code shares with American Airlines) was the only game in town. I tried all sorts of itineraries. Each time I was routed through Nadi, Fiji. When I put a stop in there, my airfare went down. OK, I'll stop in Fiji. I flew American and Air Pacific to Nadi, Fiji on July 10-12 (you lose a day going west across the international dateline), Air Pacific to Sydney on July 15, Qantas to Brisbane and Auckland and Air New Zealand and American back home on September 15th (I had two of those crossing the international dateline home). I was supposed to fly Qantas from Auckland but my flight was delayed about 8 hours and I got rerouted on Air New Zealand.
So much for the logistics.
I arrived in Fiji on July 12th and was met by a van to take me to my low end hotel. The choice in Fiji was low end accommodations on Nadi or very expensive self contained beach resorts on their own islands. Since I was traveling solo, I did not much fancy being solo at one of those resorts--chiefly populated by couples and families from Australia and/or New Zealand. I chose the low end accommodations knowing I would be sharing facilities. That did not bother me but the lack of hot water in the "resort" did. If I were to do this again, I would stay on one of the islands or just skip Fiji entirely (probably the latter). I am a fairly undemanding traveler (and notoriously cheap about hotels). The lack of hot water was, however, beyond the pale. Fiji totally lacks mid range accommodations. Something like a Red Roof Inn or Motel 6 simply does not exist there.
On Fiji I did get to snorkel with the rich people in the same water and saw some beautiful fish. It was much better than any other snorkeling I have ever done. I also had a driver take me around to some of the sites in Nadi. We went to the market where I bought a straw hat I did not need from a woman who told me--no joke--that her name was Merry New Year. I ended up schlepping that hat for two months in luggage and regretting the purchase but who could resist a woman with a name like that? I also visited a botanical garden that featured a wide array of orchids and a very colorful Hindu temple.
I arrived on Sydney on July 15th--right smack dab in the middle of World Youth Day. It was not good planning. I knew about this mega Roman Catholic event but blithely made my airline reservations and only then discovered (when I had trouble making hotel reservations) that I had made a travel "boo boo". I could not have adjusted the dates anyway even if I had known ahead of time, so I made the best of it. If the kids went one way, I went the other.
I did see all the usual things in Sydney including the Opera House, Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo and the Blue Mountains. I went to the Blue Mountains the day the Pope came into Sydney Harbor and found that there were plenty of World Youth Day kids there as well. For many of the "pilgrims" the guts of the trip was a cheap holiday. While I had had difficulty finding a hotel room in Sydney and ended up at the Ibis at Olympic Park, I could have had a hotel downtown for very little had I waited. The kids were mostly sleeping in school basements (the event was timed to coincide with a school break in Australia) and the like--not in hotels. Many Sydneysiders gave up and left town during the event.
Despite the crowds I enjoyed my time in Sydney and the weather cooperated. I took the tour of the Opera House (the history of its building is very interesting) and went to an opera ("Don Giovanni") as well as a concert. I must admit I fell asleep during the last act of "Don Giovanni" (no reflection on the opera itself) because I was still jet lagged.
All the touring I did--as well as the transfers back and forth to Sydney Airport--was done on my own with public transportation. With the crowds, taxis could end up caught in traffic and I did not want to chance those sorts of problems. To the Blue Mountains, I took the train and then the hop on/hop off bus there. Staying at Olympic Park was far out but trains were more frequent to Circular Quay (some without the change of train normally required) because many of the kids were staying in the old Olympic Village at Olympic Park. You win some, you lose some. I have no complaints about the hotel and even had a nice meal in the restaurant once.
I took the regular ferries from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo and Manly. One day I took the catamaran from Olympic Park to Circular Quay as well. There is lots of good scenic water transport in and around Sydney and it is very inexpensive. I did not take a tour boat in the harbor because I saw pretty much the same scenery on the ferries to Manly (without commentary). I also walked The Rocks area on the weekend when there is a craft market there and picked up a small necklace.
This was the location of my first home exchange and I arrived at the Brisbane Airport on July 20th. There I was picked up by Marilyn and John (my second set of home exchangers in Brisbane). They drove me to Kawana Waters. If you see the video feature of me on CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/living/2008/07/25/verjee.house.swap.cnn?iref=videosearch), the man sitting next to me in the chair by the pool is John. CNN was just interested (given TV time constraints) in just featuring the first set of home exchangers.
The apartment in Kawana Waters was top of the line with a video and computer system that was much better than what I had at home. The house, however, was out of the way so a lot of driving was necessary. I concentrated on the area north of Brisbane during my time there because I figured I would do the south area (and the Gold Coast) once I moved to Brisbane for the second exchange. During my time there I visited the seaside towns all along the Sunshine Coast. I have to say that one looks very much like the next one and I never found anything nicer than the view from the coffee shop adjacent to the development where I was staying. I ate there several times. I also did the usual home exchange activities (food shopping, etc.) in the local shopping center.
For tourist experiences, I visited Australia Zoo (way overpriced, shows very disappointing) and Underwater World in Mooloolaba. A highlight was a drive to Montville (spectacular view and lots of craft shops). I ate an a restaurant with a view and took some nice photos there. I spent two nights in Hervey Bay and took a 1 day 4-wheel drive tour of Fraser Island--which was a highlight of my time in Australia. There I am on the bus driving on the sand and a plane pulls up right on the sand and offers us rides for $70 Australian. I had to do that. When else was I going to get a chance to land in a plane on the sand? Top notch. Hervey Bay was a bust insofar as I was concerned. There had been some bad weather and there were no whales. I had tried the whale watching in Mooloolaba before that and there were plenty of whales but that trip is on the open ocean and well, I ended up not caring much about the whales by the time we got to them (same for most of the people on the boat). I decided I had better stick to whales in places like Sea World after that! I have been whale watching in the US before (both successful and seasick varieties), so I just chalked it up to experience and moved on.
I also spent one night out at Toowoomba (and bought a t-shirt that says "Toowoomba? Where the hell is that?" Well it is west of Brisbane a couple of hours. There is a great carriage museum there that I visited, but the real purpose of that trip was the Jondaryn Woolshed in Jondaryn where I saw my first sheep sheared. There are a lot of old farm buildings there and you get a taste of the "real" Australia.
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