Monday, December 5, 2011

China: I'm Going!

Well, I got the letter....

I have been selected as a candidate to travel to China next year on a teaching exchange!


Now, I have to learn some Mandarin!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Destination Friday: All the Preparations

We are now only 2 weeks away from departing, and the preparations are well underway.  Every time we go somewhere, I tend to be in one of 2 camps:
1.  The overly packed with too much stuff OR
2.  Leaving everything I need at home

This time, my goal is simple.  Have everything I need, carry no excess, and avoid sunburn.

To this end I have been trying to pack for the last few weeks.  I bought a new suitcase, as my last one was too easy to overpack.... and the airline managed to rip the handle off on the last trip.  It has been needing to be replaced for a while.  Knowing I will have crutches has been a bonus as well, because I have had to really think about how I will journey.  The new bag is a back-pack, with the facility to pull along on wheels.

And I bought a rash-vest.  Yep, I will be soooooooooo untrendy.... but who cares.  I *hopefully* will avoid sunburn, without giving up snorkeling.  The worst part of the last trip was learning that coral reefs can be killed with sunscreen, so you are not supposed to wear it into the water.... which of course leads to major burns, and a lack of fun later on.  So the long sleeved rash vest will be handy.

Also, Tonga has strict laws against the exposure of flesh.  Wearing the vest will totally prevent me from being arrested on the beach!  Traveling with my multi-use skirts and cover-up sarongs will have another hidden benefit.

So, where have you been?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I love: Stamps... and Postcards

This is corny.

One thing I love about travel is the little things, the bits that you can't get anywhere else.  The things that people can send you, that they have touched and held in their own hands.  The things people share.

I love postcards.  And stamps.

In Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand, they have a lighthouse stamp that gets postmarked on each postcard sent from there.  I posted a card to myself, to my dogs, and to my husband.  I like to tuck the postcards here into books, so that when I read them, I come across the postcard.

When I travel, I spend way too long and too much money on sending postcards to my friends.  I just really wish I could have them all there.  Or, when I see something, I think of them.

Sometimes i leave little pieces behind.  Ellena was meant to be traveling, but ended up missing out, so I left a piece of her there.

And the idea that someone could stamp me, that was too good to be true.  I totally recommend any means of transportation that comes with stamps....  

My preferred location to write.... only, shortly after we took this picture in a picture, Mum lost her postcards to a Pacific breeze off the side!  But having a polaroid camera is terrific.  I tend to love the one-shot, one-chance approach, but I always end up digitally photographing myself holding pictures, so I really should stop doing it.  But it is cool to post polaroids.... as like one-off moments to share.

And this would be my preferred place to write postcards.... though, maybe not the most coherent place.

In fact, I love postcards SO MUCH, I will send any reader a postcard from my next vacation if they email me their details on

I have only created this email address for this postcard opportunity (at the moment), and I promise not to share your details with anyone else.

The deal on the postcards:

1.  You need to follow me publicly on Beyond Island Hopping
2.  You must email me your address to send the card to (which seems like a no-brainer)
3.  You need to leave a message in the comment box saying why you would love a postcard
4.  And you need to do this by December 15th if you want one from Fiji or Tonga (you can pick the country- just write your choice in the comment)

I guess, if you want a postcard from both Fiji and Tonga, you can have one too..... but because I can, you need to link to a Destination Friday post and put the Destination Friday button on your blog.  The button can be found on the left hand side of the blog.  Mention in the email that you have linked to Destination Friday and that you'd like 2 postcards.  :D

Happy travels.

Destination Friday: Where are you really going?

Welcome to Destination Friday- a linky party where we share our travels.  Feel free to skip to the end of the post to find the linky.

This week I have been thinking about travel insurance.... mainly as it has been a bit of a pain, and a lot more expense, than our travels have been previously.  Partly for the cancer element- this evidently raises the price, while not actually giving any cover for cancer related care.... and partly because I want to travel with so much technology!

I have awesome cameras.  I love them, a lot.  Not taking them would destroy me.  Actually, I tend to be rather rough on my cameras, as I am now on Waterproof and Indestructible camera #3.... But my DSLR is brilliant.  I bought it to photograph weddings, but love it for everything else.   And I know I am traveling with my iPad- we are inseparable!  So I choose to list everything I take, pay more, and know I am covered. 

I know there are others that feel comfortable traveling by the seat of their pants.  Me, not so much.

So I was also thinking about security, and pretty much thinking about comfort zones.

And the last time I was really scared abroad.

I was totally scared in Vanuatu.  Not because of the people, but what I had decided to do.  I have never done any SCUBA diving, ever, but there is this awesome Underwater Walk in Port Vila.  Basically you wear weights, breath in a respirator and walk through a coral plantation.

But the whole thing scared me.  I didn't want to put my head under the water.  I kept wanting to rip the respirator out of my mouth and breathe in the water.  It was a constant reminder going through my head, just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.  And I was freaking out, big time.  There was a guide, who kept giving me the motions about going up to the surface.  I really wanted to give up, and go back on land.

Then I saw the fishies.

This guy was first.  And I was transfixed.  It was this completely magical kingdom underwater, just below the surface, right on the beach.

Then there were like millions of fish!  I couldn't believe it.  They swam up and touched me.  I fed them.  It was just surreal.  I forgot about the fears I had, and how I wanted to quit, and how I wanted to rip out the respirator in panic.... and I was calm.

Here was my hero, the one who didn't let me quit.  Strangely, my husband stayed on shore, unable to drop beneath the surface.  This was the first time I saw myself as stronger than him.  And I felt unstoppable.

Well, unstoppable, but insured. ;)
Anywho, time for the linky.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oh the Excitement!

Well, I have returned from an interview....

And one that I hope like crazy will prove productive and highly successful... though I am sure that I'll get really nervous if that happens.

What for?  Well, a one month teaching exchange to China!  Yes, China!  If selected I'll get to teach English and Drama to school and university students in China, and to spend time in Beijing!  I know that is a lot of !!! marks!!!

But it is worth it.  Really.

Do I want this?  Yes!  It's China!  I cannot even stop to say how exciting even the opportunity is, because I am such a fan of Chinese Architecture... yes, that is the building nerd seeping out again.  And I read "Cradle to Cradle"... that is awesome.  Included are the ideas around building cities so that they have no negative carbon footprint.  And I want to see the Yellow River and the 3 Gorges Dam and the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall and to do Tai Chi in the park.... so many things!

But, we shall see how this goes.  I should know in a few days time.... which is nerve wracking in itself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Caving: Deep Seated Fears Underground

I'm starting this by admitting fully that I have problems with small spaces.  I hate and loathe feeling trapped.  I always need to know the exits, and where the air is coming from.  Odd.  Back at primary school we went caving, and the guide terrified us by talking about cave weta attacks...

So when I had the chance to go caving in Lifou, I was pretty hesitant to say the least.  But, I wanted to do it.  I went off and bought myself a water-proof, shock proof torch to take with me... even though I wasn't told to. 

I was freaking out as we descended.  The air was cooler there, but only just.  It was a tight fit, and heading into the dark was scary.  But, trusty torch in hand, it was okay.

The actual cave system was small, but filled with ancient markings.  It was like burnt hand prints in relief.  However nice the cave turned out to be, I still couldn't wait to get out and go for a swim.  The ocean is a much better size for me....

Descending into the cave system.... not cool... but the air was cooler there.

Stalactites, sadly broken by souvenir hunters

Sweaty and unhappy with the cave.  Dreadlocks looking good though...

Ancient hand print markings, they were awesome
It was stupidly hot, with no sea breeze.... just total humidity.  ARGH!  Tropical weather does not always agree with me.  Most of my photos look glossy... for lack of a better phrase!  But, the caving ended up being great.  Next time I get the chance, I will do it again...

Friday, November 18, 2011

5 Things: Thankfulness

Since the diagnosis a few months ago, I have been thankful for many, many things.

1.  My husband and I can now make priorities out of what we want to do together.  

We have always planned to travel, but we have not done as much as we intended back when we got married.  Hopefully when we get done with Chemo, we will travel to Europe and explore.

2.  Language

I speak English.  While I have tried to learn many languages, none seem to stick very easily.  However, I did speak Sign Language for a time.  There is something that is universal.  Being able to indicate and sign, as well as speak a common language (thanks to the evils of colonisation mindyou...) has got be through interesting travel situations.

3.  Exploration

I love to travel and I am very thankful that while the world may keep building walls and protecting borders, we are still allowed to cross these as travelers and see the real world.

4.  Opportunities

I have been very lucky in my job.  I have been able to travel with my students around the country, showing them what I love the most.  I have also been able to travel the country as part of a leadership development programme, which I was fortunate to be selected for.  I have seen so many stunning and beautiful things, and had the chance to experience so many once-in-a-lifetime activities.

5.  My family

I am most thankful for my family.  They have been there to support me through so much.  I am also so thrilled that I can finally do something to support and share with them, as I am taking them all on an overseas vacation over the Christmas break.  It will be so nice having my parents, sister, niece, nephew and husband with me as we explore the South Pacific.  It will be magical.

My mother preparing for a horse trek in Vanuatu

Destination Friday: Where are you off to?

Welcome back to Destination Friday- it is lovely to have you here.

Dilip searching for remnants of his family

This week I thought I'd ramble a little about where I am off to in a months time.... TONGA!  Oh, and Fiji.  But, I have been to Fiji before.  I love Fiji.  My husband's father grew up in Fiji, so when we go there, Dilip always tries to find people who knew his family.

I know Suva gets a bad rap, and for good reason, but, it is a great city.  All too often tourist destinations in Fiji seem to be fake.  Port Denarau only exists because of the Fiji Hilton Hotel.  Most of the tiny islands surrounding the cities are tourist resorts.  Suva however feels real.  People live, work and love there.  The streets may not be paved in gold, but they are filled with real people.  And as far as I am concerned, this makes it worthy of travel.

I have wanted to go to Tonga for a long time, and now I have the chance, I am really excited.  The only thing that worries me is that I am set for ankle surgery just a week before we leave, so I will be on crutches....

Please share your travel stories in the linky below:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Coral Reef (plural)

I never know whether to call them coral reeves or coral reefs.  With a degree in English, I should know.  Either way, when I first laid eyes on coral, I was in love.

Growing up I was not a swimmer, and the idea of getting in the water was less than appealing to me.  However, following a car accident, I was encouraged to learn to swim to improve my mobility.  So I did.  Now I love the water.

Typical of me, I did not expect to be a fan of snorkeling.  But, I am....  I never used to trust the idea that you could breathe through the pipe... turns out you can.  And the goggles are so much less annoying than swimming goggles.

The first time I went snorkeling was in Vanuatu.  Being told about the friendly coral fishes, we had to take a look.  The first time my head went under the water to see coral just there, by my feet, was amazing.  The photos never look as good as when the sun suddenly creates a beam of light through the clouds, illuminating the wonders below the surface.

The fish come out to play, in their own backyards, sharing their homes with the swimmers. 

When swimming over the coral, surrounded by tropical fish, I am a mermaid.  So where am I?  Underwater of course!

Totally awesome purple coral in the Loyalty Islands

What I love.....

If it could go wrong, it did. 

That was what Suva was like for me last time I was there.  We couldn't find my husband's relatives.  Our trip into the rainforest was mysteriously rained off.  I had to queue up for change to buy toilet paper for the public loo.  It was stinking hot, and less that 5 minutes from arriving, we were offered drugs.

Not what you want, really.

But, then this happened.  It rained.  All of a sudden the dirty roads and litter filled port became calm.  The temperature dropped, and we found, ironically, the Peace Garden.

The idea that a large group of multi-ethnic women would leave a garden for peace.

And peace came.  From this point on, Suva became one of my favourite places in the world, even with the unemployment, beggars, filth, drugs, solicitation and overpriced internet services ;).

I can't wait to go back.  And this time, we will get into the rainforest.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Well, I finished the Travel Tote.

I stopped myself in the middle, and had to decide whether I wanted pockets or not.  I started with the idea of having spaces for putting things in, but in the end, decided against it.  For 2 reasons.  1.  I couldn't figure out how, and then I remembered that the pocket in my knitting tote is a big giant pain because things fall out of it!

But, it is done.

The most important part is that it is the Cape Palliser Lighthouse.  It is my own beacon and reminder of home when I am away.

So, I am happy. 

So happy I made another bag.....


Friday, November 11, 2011

5 Things - Giving Hands

The theme is Giving Hands....

Which seems like a silly idea for a travel blog.  However, there are ways of giving while you are on vacation.  Here are some of the different ways we have managed to give in our holidays.

1.  Walk-a-mile

P&O Cruises host a morning walk, culminating in a Walk-a-mile sponsored walk for the Cathy Freeman Trust.  It is a simple way of showing support for a really good charity while meeting great people, and getting in some exercise to make up for all the sitting around on deck in the sun.

2.  Gifts for Children

In our travels we have been to a few really poor places around the Pacific.  We always take simple gifts such as small toys, pencils, and these little dogs folded out of face towels.  We give them away to the children we meet along the way.

3.  Posting to those in need

We happened to find a really tiny school in an island in Vanuatu, and friends of ours knew of another small school in Fiji, both hit by storms.  Taking basic school supplies and leaving them with the teachers is a simple way of making a huge difference in some areas.

4.  Buy local

Rather than purchasing mass-produced items, look for handicrafts or items made in the places you travel.  That way you can be sure that you are helping out the local economy.

5.  Eco-tourism

We always try to find tourist activities that either give back to the environment, or help care for it.  In Lifou we went on a great walk into the forests learning about local flora.  The proceeds from the tour helped to fund research into the plants, preservation of the forests and to keep people in employment.

Destination Friday: Welcome

Good morning!

We all have favourite places that we like to travel to.  Some we go to regularly, others are those dream-once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

I thought this linky would be a fun way of finding out the cool places you have traveled to.  You may link to any holiday blog, whether it be a vacation overseas, a trip away for the weekend, or just your favourite places to eat when you are away from home.

This week, anything vacation related.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Heading back to Fiji, Baby...

This Christmas, I am heading back to the golden sands and tropical waters of Fiji.

I love Fiji.  Suva is such a vibrant and real city, which is so refreshing as a tourist.  Often finding "the real" something, requires either finding a tourist destination that re-creates the way life used to be, or ther opposite, a city that is not set up for people to travel to or around in.  Suva has such a great mix of rich and poor, locals and migrants, travelers and workers.  Basically, it is a vibrant real city with a major heart.  It also has all the requirements to make a stay workable, like public toilets and plenty of public transport.

Last time we went, it was the rainy season.  100% humidity, 30 degrees Celsius, soooooo hot!  Then it rained, and it was wonderful.  We wandered the streets looking for remnants of my husbands family in the city.  Finding people who remembered his grandfather was fantastic, and meant we had a real chance to see and meet people who we never would have before.

It is also a land of stark contrasts.  Finding second hand clothing stores and beggars on the street next to a luxury car dealership is all part of it.  However, all the people had such joy in being able to say, "Bula" and welcoming others in.  The fruit market was the best time ever, wandering the stalls with a local woman who was intent on helping us to find the best pawpaws to eat right away, and heading to a local ice cream store where the waiter cut the fruit showing us how to eat it.

I am so excited to return to Fiji, and this time, it will be in her most beautiful part of the year.

Making the Most of Suva, Fiji
The local fruit market

The buses are fast, and "air conditioned"...

There are so many wonderful places to contemplate in Suva

The waterfront
The Port of Suva

I just love the penthouse apartment here

Locals turning on a little show for the tourists

The Cathedral

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Travel Tote

Well, I have my idea sorted, found the bits of fabric I haven't seen since we moved here (4 years ago...) and started cutting......

I'll show you.... Ignore the rainbow fabric- I just forgot I had that....

But, you should be able to see what the bag will feature......

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Travel Tote

Those of you who know me well are aware of my need for the perfect bag.

And, personally, I need to get this one right.........

So, I decided to do the Solid Colour Tote Challenge.  This way I can think through and create the perfect travel bag..... (Though, I keep actually leaning towards a rainbow fabric, which isn't a solid at all........ so watch this space)

As far as I have figured, the perfect travel tote needs to be easy to carry, cool, remind me of something awesome, be easy to find stuff in, strong enough to carry my books and things, ideally have a pocket for the things that keep sliding to the bottom of my bag, and be unicorn friendly.

This next trip coming up for me will have crutches involved.  So, the easy to carry has to reach an epic new level of easy to carry!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cruising for your Vacation

Last year we made the decision to cruise- and HATED it.  The boat was old, the ship was full, and engine was blown, the cruise was delayed, re-routed and then eventually late back to port.  We had to cancel and re-book our flights home 3 times!   We spent most of the trip feeling stuck at sea for 14 nights!

However, we were given the chance to cruise a second time, and we managed to score BIG-TIME.  We were on a shorter cruise, newer boat, larger ship, but most importantly, we were prepared for what to expect.

Following the first cruise, I had to figure out what the hell I had done wrong to need a vacation after the stress of my holiday!  So, ended up writing a whole swag of Cruise Advice Articles.  The tips definitely helped me to prepare for the second one.... and for some reason, we are now booked in for a third.... and we are bringing my parents, my sister and her 2 young children along....

Here are my cruising advice articles offered in link form.

Advice for Cruising - Choose the right Cruise

This article is all about considering why cruising is a good idea and weighing up whether it is a vacation style suited for you.

Advice for Cruising - Preparing for the Cruise and being onboard

This article is about having booked a cruise already, and making the most of the opportunities on board.  It also has valuable advice about what to pack.

Packing when traveling with a toddler

This article is specifically geared towards first time cruising with young children, what to take along, from clothing to incidental items.

Cruising with the whole family

Fairly self explanatory.

Tips for Cruising in the South Pacific

This article is particularly useful if you are cruising the South Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Norfolk, Vanuatu etc).  While I wrote it about P&O ships, all the cruise operators in the area work the same way.

I am unlikely to write and publish too much more about cruising, because it has all been covered really.  But, the links shall remain active and the advice valid.  I will update the articles with new information as I get it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wairarapa Coastline

Yesterday we were meant to be heading to an airshow.  I'm stoked that with the weather, we decided not to.  We have been in the past, and the planes are pretty much the same every year.  However, the day was not wasted.  We headed out to the South Wairarapa coastline.

We drove to Cape Palliser, where we climbed the 252 steps to the top of the lighthouse.  Talk about steep!  But the view was more than worth it.

Then we headed down to the beach, and collected some kelp for the garden.  There is something so entrancing about watching the ocean.

Then we went to my favourite place in the area- the Fur Seal Colony.  It is so cool that there are still places where we can pull up the car and just be with wild animals in their environment.  The seals kind of just take us in their stride.  They certainly move when you get to close, and they bark if you push your luck, but they are peaceful and wonderful to watch.  They seem to show off for the camera.

Then it was time for dinner, and the Lake Ferry Hotel it is.  Not hot on class or sophistication, what they have is fresh produce served, cooked well, and a laid back atmosphere.  I'm hooked.

Tragically, I don't go to the coast as often as I would like.  I often head to Lake Wairarapa to read or write, or into the Tararua Ranges, but the coast gets left off.  I think maybe it is to keep the experience special, as something to share and enjoy.  Either way, I love the coast.

(Circa January 2010)

Snorkels aplenty!

I am going snorkeling! My new kit arrived the other day, and I did the dishes while wearing it (hardly a big deal as I dressed as Dorothy to mow the lawns, often do naked vacuuming, or pirate themed dusting). My neighbours deserve a medal for bravery. So, back to the snorkeling. To succeed at this I need to be able to swim again. I have now stopped sinking to the bottom of the pool, so that is great. But it still hurts and results in my poor ankle swelling up like the wave in "A perfect storm". (See what I did there.... yep... bad punning!) Hopefully I will be back to full, or better than full, function in December. Yes.... tropical waters, tropical fish, and a nice backtan await. This is one of the true joys of having an underwater camera..... photographing the little fishies......

Snorkeling in Vanuatu earlier this year... my first time snorkeling!

One of my fishy friends whom I played "Jaws" with.... and he nibbled on my toe.


Welcome to Beyond Island Hopping!

Here I hope to blog about my travels and places I have been.  Hopefully this blog will serve to provide a more personal insight to the places I have experienced, rather than my travel writings elsewhere on the web. 

Over time I will move my travel writings from my other blog over to this one, so for the first wee bit, posts may appear completely out of context.

However, here we are, and here we go!