Bula Mai Fiji


Fiji, home to the most beautiful beaches, the clearest and bluest waters, and the most personable people I have ever met.  It is hard to say anything bad about a place, when your biggest worry during your stay is falling coconuts.

In Pacific Harbour, located in the south of the island Viti Levu, is the Fiji Palms Resort.  The Fiji Palms gives the feel of a quaint, secluded oasis, while still having the ease of access to civilization.  In a prime location, resort guests can enjoy the pool deck, the beach front, or take a twenty minute walk to the Arts Village to enjoy shopping and local performances.

Along the 30-minute scenic drive to the capital city, Suva, we saw primary and secondary schools, correctional facilities (jails), and local villages.  While some Fijians use automobiles to travel, some still use longboats or bamboo rafts to cross rivers, like the Navua.  In some villages, children have rigged devices to keep their books and uniforms dry as they swim across the river to go to and from school.

Lining the roadsides are native flora:  taro, kansaka (tapioca), paw-paw (papaya) trees, kava, and umbrella trees (Albizia saman).  Taro is potato-like plant from which the roots and leaves are eaten.


Suva is home to Parliament which resides in the same building as the courthouse (pictured above).  The country has both a president and prime minister, the President being of highest ranking.  Currently, a rugby pavilion located to the right of Parliament is being renovated to move general admission seating from the Parliament side of the stadium to the opposite side (talk about prime box seats…).  Sandwiching the rugby pavilion between Parliament and itself is the Government House, home to the President of Fiji.  The Presidential palace is guarded by Fijian soldiers dressed in white sulus and red tunics.  The changing of the guards occurs during the first week of every month, at which time on duty guards and off duty guards swap duties.

After our sightseeing of Suva, we attended a lovo, or traditional Fijian meal.  A lovo is a method by which the food–typically chicken, pork, and fish–are smoked in a pit covered by palm leaves and dirt.  Prior to serving dinner, a lali, or drum is played to welcome guests of honor.  Lalies are beaten to different tones and rhythms to signify different occurrences (death of a chief, visitor’s welcome, chief visitation, etc.) within the village and as a means of communication between villages.


Following dinner, villagers hold a kava session and perform entertainment in the form of songs, dances, and chants.  A kava session is the ritual and social drinking of kava, or grog which is made by soaking the ground roots of the plant in water.  Kava is a member of the pepper tree family and offers sedative and anesthetic properties when ingested.


Following a few days of poolside rest and relaxation, we took to the ocean.  Aboard self-driven Wave Runners, we began a 60 kilometer jet ski safari to the backside of Beqa Island.  Jet skis tied together, we submerged ourselves into the barrier reef surrounded by sergeants, parrotfish, forcepfish, giant clams, and more.  Driving to Beqa’s coast, we anchored and enjoyed lunch on a beach that rivaled any postcard.  About 100 meters offshore, a patch reef was protector to seastars, elephant trunk fish, and two white tip reef sharks (by far, the highlight of my mermaid adventures).


As if five hours in the Pacific wasn’t enough, the day following our jet ski safari, I ventured on a second snorkeling excursion to another reef, about a 15-minute boat ride from our beach at Fiji Palms.  I jumped off the Natalya Earl and into the bluest water I have ever seen.  It was as if someone had taped blue cellophane paper over my mask’s lens.  Absolutely unbelievable.  In two hours, I covered a few hundred meters of reef, and while I missed the reef shark sighting, I got to check several new fish species off my list.

The last few days of our stay at the Fiji Palms Resort were spent relaxing by the pool, hunting for seashells and sea biscuits along the beach, and enjoying the immense hospitality exuded by the resort staff.  I mentioned it before, but Fijians are the most personable people.  Every day and at every passing you could expect a greeting and a smile.  Never have I been to a resort where staff, other than the bartenders, engages you in genuine conversation.


Our week-long stay at the Fiji Palms was up, but the holiday extended to the western side of the island in Nadi (pronounce Nan-dee).  We carted our luggage two and a half hours to the Sheraton Denarau Villas.  While equally as beautiful, the fast-paced, impersonal, resort lifestyle was less appealing than our homey stay in Pacific Harbour.  All in all, I wouldn’t trade holidays in Paradise, regardless of the number of hotel guests, for snow any day.  Summer in December is fine by me.


Fijian Dictionary

  • bula (mboo-lah).  hello
  • lali (lah-lee).  drum
  • Nadi (nan-dee).  Nadi, city in western Viti Levu
  • sulu (soo-loo).  sarong
  • vinaka (vee-nah-kah).  thank you
  • vonu (vah-new).  turtle




(Still) No Queens in Queensland


Much farther south from picturesque Port Douglas is beautiful Brisbane, Queensland.  Located along the river for which it is named, the capital city, although smaller than Melbourne, is packed with much to see and do.


Brisbane City Hall’s clock tower is 85 years old and still uses the original cage lift and operation handle to transport maintenance personnel and visitors to its observation deck; thus, making it the oldest manually-operated cage lift in Australia.  Originally the lift was installed as a service elevator, but by 1930, shortly after the construction of the building, public tours began for sixpence per adult ($0.50 USD).  The lift, which has always been powered by an electromagnetic motor, carries passengers to the observation deck located 76 meters above Brisbane’s CBD.

The bell tower houses five bells, each with at least one exterior hammer.  There are four quarter hour bells and one hour bell (that alone weighs four tons!).  The four clock faces are the largest analog clocks in Australia measuring five meters in diameter.  The minute and hour hands measure three and 1.7 meters, respectively.  A master pendulum clock, located in the corner of the bell tower, controls the operation of both the bells and clocks.

After completing the bell tower tour, one can continue on to the Museum of Brisbane.  The Museum’s exhibits give a history of the capital city and its development through time, as well as several art exhibits promoting the work of local artists.


Quite a large exhibit showcased a particularly challenging photography technique called camera obscura, Latin for “dark room.”  To achieve images like the one above, an outside image is shown through a pinhole aperture onto the wall of an inside room, producing an upside-down and reverse image.  A long exposure time (sometimes up to five minutes) gives the images their vibrancy.  The sharpest part of the image is located parallel to the aperture; and it is known as the point of clarity.  The outer edges are less clear due to the angles of the walls, ceiling, and floor onto which the image deflects.

“If you want to get laid, go to college.  If you want an education, go to the library.” –Frank Zappa


The State Library of Queensland differed greatly from that of Victoria, most notably in its more modern design.  Since this year marks the ANZAC Centenary, the State Library was hosting an exhibit to honor the men and women who served in WWI.  There were displays showcasing draft notices, medical exams/records, progress reports from boot camp, letters to family, and more.  Unlike museums that tend to give the facts and figures of war history, the exhibit focused primarily on first-hand accounts.


Across the river from Brisbane’s CBD is Southbank, home to Streets Beach.  Since the city is located inland, there is no beach access; and there is too much river traffic to allow for swimming.  Rather than forcing city-dwellers to go coastal, the city brought the beach to the dwellers.  Located just off Stanley Street (hence the name), in the Parklands, is a man-made beach, equipped with sand, palm trees, and lifeguards.  People of all ages congregate at the riverside pool to bask in the beauty that is the Australian Sunshine State, whether catching rays or enjoying a dip.


On Sundays, Southbank’s Parklands hosts a market.  Vending includes:  corn on a stick (a popular snack in Australia, it seems); hand-made jewelry, handbags, artwork, and bath soaps; back massages; and much more.

After a browse through the market square, a narrated ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, a smaller-scale London Eye or Las Vegas High Roller, gives a bird’s eye view of the city and its surrounding landmarks.

Four days is just enough time to see and enjoy Brisbane, but makes it incredibly hard to say goodbye to the ideal weather.  Thanks for a last Sunshine State hoorah, Brissy!


Kiss My Sassafras

Finally, after approximately ten months of winter, spring has finally returned to my life.  Good-bye nine-degree (48˚F) mornings, hello high of 23 (73˚F)!


Torta:  spicy grilled chorizo in a flaky roll, topped with a pineapple pico de gallo

To kickoff the season’s festivities, my friends and I attended a Mexican festival held, in the heart of Melbourne City, at Federation Square.  The event was comprised of craft vendors, food trucks, sombreros, mariachi bands, and glorious Melbourne sunshine.  Mexican food craving:  satisfied.


This past weekend, Sole and I took a scenic drive into the hills to yet another quaint, country town, Sassafras.  Like many of the other small towns in Victoria, Sassafras is a single lane-way with a row of shops, boutiques and cozy cafes on either side.  We were fortunate enough to hear the work of Stephen McCulloch, a member of Team Delta from the most recent season of The Voice Australia, while browsing a cute knick-knack and home goods store, Smits & Bits.


We continued our journey through the winding roads of the Dandenong Ranges to the SkyHigh overlook (no, Dad, not where they train superheroes).  From atop Mount Dandenong one gets a panoramic view of Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne CBD, and Mount Macedon.  Other attractions at SkyHigh include:  a secret garden, an English Garden, and trail walks through the ranges.

Unfortunately, we have a dreary-spell for the next few days, but you know what they say:  [September] showers bring [October] flowers.  The weather is getting progressively nicer, which means I will be increasing my explorations and discovering a lot more of Victoria’s beauty in the months to come.


Meandering Melbourne

“Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone.”  –The Dhammapada

This week I was fortunate enough to have an abundance of free time, with which I chose to do some solo explorations of local sites.


I ventured first to Brighton Beach, another quaint little beach town, much like Sorrento.  Church Street is a posh shopping centre, equipped with stylish boutiques, cozy cafes, and enticing restaurants.  A short 15-minute stroll from Church Street places you at the intersection of Dendy Street and Esplande where the Brighton Beach bathing boxes are located.  The original 82 bathing boxes were constructed shortly after the settlement of the English, as a means to conserve the decency of beach goers.  In the mid-1800’s, the boxes were relocated to where is now known as Dendy Street Beach, after extensive land disputes.  Each box is uniquely painted–some adorned with cartoons and ocean scenes, while others simply bear bright colors.


About a week ago, I found myself with two hours to kill, so I wandered into the National Gallery of Victoria.  Boy, did I underestimate the time it would take me to explore this museum, so naturally, I had to return to see the rest.  The NGV is an absolutely outstanding gallery comprised of three stories and over 70,000 artworks spanning the genres and regions of the world–to name a few:  contemporary, pre-Raphaelites, Asian, English, Ancient World.  Due to the expansive building, I was lost within the gallery, but at the end of the day, I’m sure I could have been lost in worse places.

“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”  –Ray Bradbury


Located across the street from the National Gallery are the Queen Victoria Gardens.  Throughout the gardens are statues of nymphs and hammer throwing men and memorials to commemorate Queen Victoria and Edward VII.  Strewn among the grass are Melbournians picnicing, reading, playing frisbee, and simply enjoying the sunshine.  Add a zoo and a swimming pool and you have found yourself in New York’s Central Park.



Queen Victoria Market hosts a special night market during the winter months.  The Winter Night Market brings together music, food, merchandise, film, and fire.  I advise bringing your appetite because you will want to try everything available–mushroom burgers, lamb shanks, chili con carne, fried Oreos, hot apple cider, and more.  While you are eating, you can shop for handcrafted artwork, jewelry, soap, and clothing at one of the thirty or so merchandise booths.  Done shopping, but not ready to return home?  Check out the cinema located near the rear of the market to enjoy film shorts written, directed, and produced by amateur Australian filmmakers; be a groupie at the mainstage while local bands perform well-known and original songs; or cozy up by one of the many fire pits located around the venue.