Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

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The final stop on the Celebrity Solstice South Pacific cruise was the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. This island was hands down the most beautiful island on the trip, which was upsetting, because I was SO SICK! (I had come down with something that felt like bronchitis, but I think it was really allergies.)

Anywho, I almost didn’t leave the ship at this stop because I felt so bad, but then I thought, If I don’t see it now, I’ll have missed it forever! So I pulled up my big girl pants and hopped on a tender for the trip to the island – and I’m so glad I did! Here is what I could see from the ship:

On shore, there was a long, white beach near the dock, where many people chose to do their swimming and sunbathing. It was also a popular place for small boats to throw anchor and stop for a while.

A dirt road ran through the trees behind the beach, and if you crossed the road, there was more beautiful sand and water and gorgeous vignettes for photos, though not the best place for swimming.

There was a little cove just down from there where most of the tourists preferred to swim.

Interesting views here, for sure! The tree on the beach looks like it’s doing the limbo. The other pic looks like one tree is hugging another, or maybe it’s a gigantic slingshot!

And of course there was shopping, as well as some beautiful natural landscapes and flowers!

It was such perfect day, and this was the perfect last stop on a fabulous cruise!

Wikipedia says:

The Isle of Pines (French: Île des Pins; name in Kanak language Kwênyii: Kunyié) is an island located in the Pacific Ocean, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas collectivity of France. The island is part of the commune (municipality) of L’Île-des-Pins, in the South Province of New Caledonia. The Isle of Pines is nicknamed l’île la plus proche du paradis (“the closest island to Paradise”). It has snorkeling and scuba diving in and around its lagoon. Species of tropical fish and corals can be seen in the transparent water.

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Suva, Fiji

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The second Fiji stop on the Celebrity Solstice South Pacific Cruise was Suva, Fiji. Also a city on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, Suva is the capital.

For this stop I also chose an excursion; this time to a resort called The Pearl. Once again, we were loaded onto a bus and driven via dirt roads about 45 minutes to the resort.

Upon arrival at the resort, we were once again welcomed with music.

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We were given the lay of the land and then sent out on our own to explore until lunch. The resort is beautiful! Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly and very windy, so no water play today! I was with my dinner buddies from the ship. We found a table at the pool and had a couple drinks from the tiki bar!

Lunch was a delicious buffet with many different barbecued meats, vegetables dishes and desserts. As we were wrapping up our lunch break, some native dancers came in to entertain us. (All my girls out there, you really want to watch this!) Watch the video here

There was even an audience participation segment – watch the video (girls, you’ll like this one, too)!

A new section is being added to the hotel and it includes a large sculpture of a bird. Looks interesting!

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I noticed some construction workers taking a break. They were chopping open coconuts to drink the water.

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The guys in the pond noticed me taking pictures and started waving.

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At the end, a little more music to send us on our way…

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Wikipedia says:

Suva is the capital and the second most populated municipality of Fiji, after Nasinu. It is on the southeast coast of the island of Viti Levu, in the Rewa Province, Central Division. In 1877, it was decided to make Suva the capital of Fiji when the geography of former main European settlement at Levuka on the island of Ovalau proved too restrictive. The administration of the colony was moved from Levuka to Suva in 1882.

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Lautoka, Fiji

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Stop number three on the Celebrity Solstice Pacific Island Cruise was Lautoka, a city on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji.

On this stop, I opted for an excursion to a natural thermal mud spa. Located at the base of the Sabeto mountains, the spa promises an invigorating and rejuvenating experience!

The spa is a 45 minute bus ride from the port. As I was boarding the bus, a very happy Fijian kept shouting at me. It sounded like “boo-lah”. I had no idea what it meant, so I just smiled. Turns out, “Bula” is the Fijian word for “hello!”

For the duration of our ride, our guide kept us entertained with stories about the land, the people and the culture.

The Fijian people are a very happy and proud people. Sugar and Tourism are their largest foreign exchange commodities. Fijians are always happy to see a busload of tourists driving by – we got many smiles and waves as we traveled the dirt roads to the spa.

Upon our arrival at the spa, we were greeted with music and dancing (video)! The national dress in Fiji is a skirt called a “sulu.” Both men and women wear them. The men’s version of the skirt contains pockets. Our guide referred to them as “pocket skirts.” He joked that they were kind of like kilt’s, except that they wear underwear under…there!

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Before leaving the bus, we were instructed to remove our sunglasses and hats prior to meeting the chief. We then were taken to a pavilion where we sat on woven mats and were treated to a Kava ceremony.

The Kava ceremony includes the chief and several other males. The chief offers the Kava cup to each of the “leaders” in our group. There is a specific set of steps to be followed, including some very precise and deliberate hand clapping, and shouts of Bula! Once the leaders have gone through their exchange, the cup is offered to each visitor. The females are the servers of the cup to the visitors. The drink doesn’t have much flavor. It’s kind of like drinking chalky water with a slightly nutty aftertaste.

Wikipedia says:

Yaqona (pronounced yung-gohna), otherwise known as kava – another important traditional custom – is an infusion prepared from the root of Piper methysticum, a type of pepper plant. The plant itself is also often referred to as yaqona or the kava plant. Yaqona is extremely important in indigenous Fijian culture – in the time of the ‘old religion’ it was used ceremonially by chiefs and priests only. Today, yaqona is part of daily life, both in villages and in urban areas and across all classes and walks of life. ‘Having a grog’ or ‘drinking grog’, as drinking kava is sometimes known, is used for welcoming and bonding with visitors, for storytelling sessions or merely for passing time.

Next we were taken in groups of ten to start the mud spa experience. We stripped down to our swimsuits and were escorted to the first stop – a bucket of mud. It was thick and slimy and slightly green. We were told to smear the mud all over any exposed skin, including our faces. It’s important to put it on thick enough to cover, but not so thick that it’ll never dry. Many in our group were even slathering it on their heads and underneath swimsuits! I didn’t put it on my head, but…

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Once we were fully coated in mud, we were led to a shaded area where we could dry without burning up in the sun. We were told about how the mud has so many benefits because it contains volcanic ash. We were shown a hot spring, which was roped-off for our protection, where the water bubbles up out of the ground at a whopping 72 degrees Celsius (161 F)!

After we had thoroughly dried, we were taken to a small pool filled with cool water (and all the mud from hundreds of previous tourists that squished between our toes). Here we soaked for a few minutes as we scrubbed the mud off all the body parts we had covered.

Next it was over to the hot spring pool to float for a few minutes and just relax.

After leaving the hot pool, we were brought back to the pavilion for massages.

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Finally a little more singing and dancing to send us on our way!

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Back at the pier, there were a pair of Fijians in native dress for photo ops, and several tents waiting with beautiful things to see and buy.

Um…

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More from Wikipedia:

Lautoka is the second largest city of Fiji. It is in the west of the island of Viti Levu, 24 kilometres north of Nadi, and is the second port of entry in Fiji, after Suva. Lying in the heart of Fiji’s sugar cane growing region, it is known as the Sugar City. Covering an area of 16 square kilometres, it had a population of 52,220 at the 2007 census, the most recent to date.

Also:

Lautoka is the only city in Fiji’s Western Division, and is the industrial hub of Fiji which contains more than 50 percent of the nation’s population.

That’s all for now! Vinaka! (Thank you!)

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Lifou, Loyalty Island

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The second stop on the Celebrity Solstice Pacific Island Tour was Lifou, Loyalty Island.

Wikipedia says:

Lifou Island or Drehu in the local language is the largest, most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands (Loyalty Islands Province), in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean.

For this stop, we were not able to dock on the island, so we were transported via “tender.” Tenders are the lifeboats on a ship of this size. The ship anchors just off shore and then several tenders are lowered into the water and run back and forth between ship and island from about 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Celebrity Solstice Tenders taking passengers to island.
Celebrity Solstice Tender taking passengers to island.
anchored offshore
Celebrity Solstice, anchored offshore

As before, excursions were available for purchase on board, and some are also available for purchase on the island. Some travelers prefer to purchase excursions on the islands because they tend to be cheaper. The downside to these is that you don’t know what they are until you get there, and the timing may not be exactly right for your needs. Quality may also be an issue, but if you’re up for adventure, you probably don’t worry much about that!

Once again, I chose to pass on excursions for this visit in favor of wandering on my own. Several local vendors offer hair braiding and massages. Coconuts are also very popular. The vendor will chop the top off a coconut for you and insert a straw for you to drink the coconut water.

Fresh Coconut Water, Lifou-style!
Fresh Coconut Water, Lifou-style!

When you’ve finished drinking the water, you can bring the coconut back to the vendor and they will slice it in half and give you a small piece of coconut shell to use to scoop out the flesh. My coconut wasn’t ripe enough for scooping actual flesh. The most I could get was the slimy coating that covers the flesh. It was still a nice treat!

Fresh Coconut meat!
Fresh Coconut meat!

In my wandering I found some huts that looked interesting.

Native Hut in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Native Hut in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Native Hut
Native Hut

I eventually headed back to the beach for a refreshing dip in the water!

Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island

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Noumea, New Caledonia

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The first stop on the Celebrity Solstice Pacific Island Cruise was Noumea, New Caledonia. From Wikipedia:

Nouméa (French pronunciation: [numeˈa]) is the capital city of the French special collectivity of New Caledonia. It is situated on a peninsula in the south of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre, and is home to the majority of the island’s European,Polynesian (WallisiansFutuniansTahitians), Indonesian, and Vietnamese populations, as well as many MelanesiansNi-Vanuatu and Kanaks that work in one of the South Pacific‘s most industrialised cities. The city lies on a protected deepwater harbour which serves as the chief port for New Caledonia.

In preparation for touring this island, I converted some US cash to the Pacific Franc. For $200 American, I got 18,500 Pacific Francs – plus $2 and change US back! I suddenly felt very rich!

Franc Currency
Franc Currency

The port itself is not glamorous – it is a cargo port.

Noumea, New Caledonia Cargo Port
Noumea, New Caledonia Cargo Port
Noumea, New Caledonia, Better View from ship
Noumea, New Caledonia, Better View from ship

We were not allowed to wander around in this area, so we were loaded onto buses and shuttled to the downtown area, where there are many shops and excursions are available to purchase locally if you haven’t purchased one on board. I opted to pass on excursions for this stop and just wander – see what I can see.

Tourist Drop Off - Information Center, Shops
Tourist Drop Off – Information Center, Shops

I managed to find a couple places to spend some of my new-found riches. To bring the currency conversion into perspective, I bought myself a cute sun dress (4,900 Franc / approx $46 US) and a sarong (1,900 Franc / approx $18 US).

There is a nice park in the center of town – probably the nicest part of the city. There I found a street performer dancing with hoops. I have a lot of respect for street performers. It can’t be an easy life – it is something you do because you are passionate about it.  I took a short video and left a tip before moving on.

Park in Noumea, New Caledonia
Park in Noumea, New Caledonia

I apologize for the quality of the video. I used my Fuji-film camera to record it. In the future I will always use my iPhone! Video: Noumea, New Caledonia Street Performer

There is a China Town in Noumea with some shops and questionable food vendors. I walked through, but passed on purchasing anything there.

China Town in Noumea, New Caledonia
China Town in Noumea, New Caledonia
China Town in Noumea, New Caledonia
China Town in Noumea, New Caledonia

After a short jaunt, it was back to the ship and looking forward to our next destination!

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Celebrity Solstice – Day 2 at Sea

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Day two at sea on the Celebrity Solstice was soooo much better than day one. Day one was filled with nausea due to rough seas and me not having found my sea legs.

I awoke on day two feeling ready to relax and enjoy the ride! After breakfast I did some on-board shopping and then headed for our workshop, which was scheduled from 1:30 to 4:15. (I’m traveling with a group who are all here to – in addition to seeing beautiful islands – participate in some new age / motivational workshops.) I learned from the previous day’s workshop that if you are at all queasy, it is best to sit more near the center of the ship.

After the workshop I made a beeline for the Martini Bar and ordered a Cosmopolitan. I was behind on my alcohol consumption due to the previous day’s queasiness! After the martini, I made my way to one of the outside bars and had a glass of sparkling wine.

I then met up with a couple I’ve been dining with since the first night. They are a Ukrainian couple living in Melbourne, Australia.  She is a violinist for the Melbourne Opera. They are both very sweet, and it’s nice to have a little consistency at the dinner hour. We share our stories of where we’ve been and what we’ve done throughout the day and then after dinner we go our separate ways…until the next night’s dinner!

I’ve met many very friendly people on the trip, so almost everywhere I go I run into someone I can say hello to and chat for a minute or two.

After dinner I was back at the Martini Bar for a chocolate martini – they have an ice-covered bar!

Chocolate Martini on Ice-Covered Bar
Chocolate Martini on Ice-Covered Bar

I then moved to a bar on the next deck below. I told the bartender there that I wanted a coffee drink but didn’t know which one. She said, “No problem! I make for you!” I watched as she proceeded to add healthy pours of at least three liqueurs, then some coffee, and whipped cream on top. You can never go wrong with a whipped cream- topped drink!

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One More Thing About The Surf Shack…

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Just a little more about the Curly Surf Shack before I go…

It is such a serene space, I had to share some of the outdoor pictures as well. This is a view before I settled in:

Resting Space at The Surf Shack
Resting Space at The Surf Shack

It’s where I hung out most evenings for writing:

Curly Surf Shack
Curly Surf Shack

And eating:

Dinner at the Shack
Dinner at the Shack

And one of my favorite things was this little guy. He would greet me every morning and every evening with cuddles and kisses!

My new friend Snoopy!
My new friend Snoopy!
Puppy kisses
Puppy kisses

There was also a tree just at the end of the deck where several different types of birds would gather, like the Rainbow Lorikeet and the Australian Magpie. The Magpies were very vocal but also elusive, so I wasn’t able to get a picture on my own.

Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainbow Lorikeet
Australian Magpie (photo obtained from http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/finder)
Australian Magpie

 (Magpie photo obtained from birdsinbackyards.net/)

This place is a much better choice than a hotel any day (in my opinion)!

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Touristing in Sydney

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On my last full day in Australia before the cruise, I ferried may way back to Circular Quay and then wandered the streets of Sydney by the bay. Highlights included:

Aboriginal Musicians were set up on the wharf, playing the didgeridoo, dancing and selling hand-painted boomerangs.

I wandered over to the Opera House and had a beer in the Opera Bar. The wait staff were very nice there! I didn’t do the tour. If I had been with someone who was interested I would have, and I’m sure would have enjoyed it, but by myself it wasn’t at the top of the list. Beautiful place though, and I took lots of pictures of it on land and by ferry.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

I stopped at several art galleries, which carry mostly aboriginal art – very interesting and even mesmerizing to just stand and stare at some of these pieces. One style is lots of tiny dots that form a larger pattern; another is small petal-like swatches of paint that form patterns. (I wasn’t supposed to take pictures, but I wanted to remember and share the style of the work found here.)

Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Art

I spotted Fortune of War, Sydney’s Oldest Pub and decided to stop in for some Fish & Chips and a beer. Apparently it’s Australia’s version of a “Good Ole Boys” club, because the only female in the pub was behind the bar, and – though she did make eye contact several times – she never acknowledged me or attempted to serve me. I got the message loud and clear and headed down the street to The Rocks Café where I had some lovely Fish & Chips and a Pure Blonde beer (very light, and only 1.7 carbs)!

Fortune of War, Sydney's Oldest Pub
Fortune of War, Sydney’s Oldest Pub
The Rock Cafe
The Rock Cafe
The Rock Cafe Fish & Chips
The Rock Cafe Fish & Chips
Pure Blonde
Pure Blonde

I don’t know what this place is. It was in the middle of a cluster of buildings containing businesses. Very interesting little space where i imagine people may go to have a quiet lunch.

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There are so many interesting little vignettes throughout Sydney.  Here is a courtyard where I enjoyed a glass of Shiraz.

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After Shiraz I made a stop at a  Gelato shop (Salted Caramel, please!) and then headed back around to the wharf, where I listened to music performed by Pete Raven. Such a beautiful voice! I was really surprised at the sound quality here.

Next I headed to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, where tomorrow I will board the Celebrity Solstice! I dropped in at the Cruise Bar and had a (very pricey) margarita.

$16 Margarita
$16 Margarita

I have come to the realization that the cost of living in Sydney is much higher than in Nashville, TN. I could have looked that up ahead of time, but…I am the consummate “seat of the pants” traveler!

Now back across the bay to Manly by ferry for my final night at the Curly Surf Shack! I will be sad about leaving – it is such a serene space!

Now that I’ve written it all down, I realize I’ve had quite a bit to drink today! No wonder I was so tired when I got back to the shack!

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More About Dee Why Beach, Australia

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I sat at the beach a while, listening, watching, contemplating…then decided to explore a bit. I followed the walkway toward the point and discovered a swim club, which is apparently open to the public. The pool is filled with sea water and is refreshed each night when high tide comes in.

Dee Why Beach
Dee Why Beach’s, Swim Club on the Point
Ocean side pool
Ocean side pool
Ocean side pool
Ocean side pool

On the far end of the swim club is a rocky area with tide pools and cliffs beautifully decorated with succulent plants. A small heron was fishing in one of the pools and didn’t mind that I came right up to him to get a picture!

Tide Pools on the Rocks
Rocky area just beyond the swim club
Heron
White-faced Heron
Scenic Cliffs
Scenic Cliffs
Scenic Cliffs
Scenic Cliffs

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Breakfast at the Beach, Sydney Style!

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So I’ve really done it! I have traveled over 20 air hours from my home to another country where I know no one and am unfamiliar with customs and transportation systems and where to find what. Speaking of finding things, top on my list are: 1) Power converter, 2) nail file, 3) alcohol (not necessarily in that order).

I left my home 6 days ago (really 5, but I’ve crossed the International Date Line). I’m not gonna lie – there have been several times I’ve questioned my sanity for doing this. More than once I have momentarily wished myself back to the security of my home and community of friends – and my sweet puppies! But mostly I am amazed at the idea that I. did. this.

I am here right now, sitting on a park bench in Dee Why, Australia, listening to the sound of the surf, smelling the scents of the ocean, and people watching.

Dee Why BeachDee Why Beach

To get to the beach from where I’m staying, I walked up the street to the top of the hill, then followed it downhill about 8 – 10 city blocks. Across from the beach are coffee shops and restaurants, one after another. No touristy shops here, just lots of food! And all very busy on a Sunday morning!

Restaurants at Dee Why Beach
Restaurants at Dee Why Beach
Aubergine
Aubergine Restaurant

I stopped for breakfast at Aubergine and had the best (to be honest, probably the first) Eggs Benedict ever! Meat options were ham, bacon or smoked salmon. Smoked salmon was the perfect choice! I thought it a little pricey at $17.90, but totally worth it!

Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon
Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon
Oh, yes - it was yummy!
Oh, yes – it was yummy!
Latte
Decaf Latte – in a glass.

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