Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: travel (page 2 of 3)

Some Personal ‘Travel Essentials’ For You:

I’ve seen a lot of folks posting about their ‘travel essentials’ lately. And, while I agree cologne, quality headphones and designer sunglasses are totally necessary, I can’t help but feel like some of these hashtag-ridden insta-pics seem a bit… minimal.

With that said, here are three of my favorite (in addition to completely and utterly frivolous) travel items I’ve been toting along my entire journey, apart from the obvious… (Sorry no detailed photos tonight; I need to pack – rest assured I’ll create one of those nicely curated #essentials #layout photos soon enough!):

Aveda ‘Shampure’ Shampoo & Conditioner. The ‘big-ass jugs’ (as a good college friend and I used to jokingly refer to them), no less. Yes, they do explode in my suitcase almost every flight. But I don’t care, because not only have these jugs lasted me over six months (and counting), my hair is HAPPY!

My Tempur-Pedic Pillow. One thing I’ve distinctly remembered from certain past travels is bad pillows. Sometimes I have a lot of trouble falling asleep in general, and a terrible pillow just makes it worse. So, I decided to drag my Tempur-Pedic around the world with me, even though it apparently weighs three kilos (have to attach it onto my carry-on whenever I fly!).

Why did I make this heavy commitment? Because now I can always look forward to a good night’s sleep, wherever I go. It’s fabulous.

A Sizeable Selection of Small Handbags, Jewelry & Other Fun Accessories. Note: I do plan to re-organize and ship home a few things I’ve realized I just won’t use during my adventure (plus my suitcase is overweight, ha!). But, for the most part, I’m so glad I brought plenty of styling options, because I find being fashionable while traveling so much fun! If it makes me happy, must be worth it, right?

That’s all for now… I could go on and on about the tons other specific products in my suitcase, but I’ll save it for another time.

… Just wait until I start raving about my travel wardrobe (that part gets me super excited)!

IdyllicTaveuniBeach

In Praise of Grace Road Kitchen

Over the course of the time I’ve been in Fiji (over 8 weeks now!), I’ve noticed these colorful Korean organic eateries popping up here and there, often accompanied by a trendy-looking dessert bar next door. These are the Grace Road Kitchen, a chain of fully air conditioned cafés featuring a vast menu of fresh, all-natural and healthy food, which appear to be expanding all over the Fiji Islands.

I’m not always one to automatically opt for a chain restaurant above local one-off options, but I will say: every experience I’ve had at a Grace Road Kitchen thus far has been more than stellar, if not a total breath of fresh air from whatever hectic hubbub betides directly outdoors!

GraceRoadKitchenVeryBerrySmoothie

I first stumbled upon a Grace Road Kitchen in Nausori, where I had a few hours to kill between flights departing from the nearby Suva (Nausori) airport. The Grace Road Kitchen served as a FABULOUS oasis for me that morning and afternoon, and the sweet ladies there welcomed me to stay as long as I pleased. The “very berry all-natural smoothie,” complete with happy smiling spoon, was a delicious and wonderfully refreshing treat!

Better yet: as I worked away typing on my laptop, and even despite finishing my smoothie long before, the kind baristas brought out sample after sample of delicious food, from homemade taro chips to steaming hot vegetable dumplings. What incredible service!

I had to grab lunch quickly on the way out in order to catch my flight on time, and they happily boxed up my tasty chili chicken so I could enjoy it on the go.

SmilingSpoonGraceRoadKitchenDumplings

In Savusavu, located on Fiji’s second-largest island of Vanua Levu, I encountered another Grace Road Kitchen, this time with a “Snowy Dessert” café right next door (which I sadly didn’t get a chance to try).

At the moment I was totally exhausted, drained, and slightly crabby from dealing with silly accommodation issues (that’s another story), but the folks at Savusavu’s Grace Road Kitchen greeted me with a smile, made me feel perfectly at home, and had absolutely no problems letting me hang out and re-charge all my electronic devices for a couple hours. Plus – it was quiet! I’m sure it gets busy occasionally, but WOW did I appreciate the Grace Road Kitchen’s peaceful ambiance that afternoon.

Next time I’m in Fiji, you can bet I’ll be a loyal customer! 🙂

TheGraceRoadKitchenFijiSavusavuFiji

It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows.

To those who claim they’re jealous of what I’m doing – please know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Yesterday I endured my third experience in an island hospital (and no one ever wants to end up in an island hospital…), after spending the previous night vomiting my brains out from who-knows-what. Now everything smells weird, and I find myself missing my stale hospital bed, only because that’s the first time I’ve felt genuinely ‘cool’ in weeks…

Trying to recover from a hefty fever sans air conditioning feels similar to trying to stay completely dry while standing in a violent rainstorm sans umbrella or poncho. It’s just really, really, really not fun.

LabasaRiver

But, even despite the puking, and the heat, and the lack of hydration, I shouldn’t complain.

As I watched a series of welts from painful, itchy insect bites grow on my arms earlier this afternoon, I found myself thinking, well, it could be worse… I could be chained to a desk, staring at an excel spreadsheet right now…

Labasa: The Other ‘Sugar City’

Yesterday I arrived in Labasa, the biggest township on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

Prior to coming here, I’d heard a variety of commentary about Labasa, most of which wasn’t terribly positive…

“Vanua Levu is just too remote. There’s nothing to do, no clubs…”

“Labasa is okay, but Viti Levu is so much more cosmopolitan…”

“The weather is nice and there’s good fishing, but don’t trust anyone!!”

Even according Lonely Planet’s website, Labasa “is a dusty sugar and timber town that doesn’t hold much allure for the average traveller. Sitting about 5km inland on the sweltering banks of the Labasa River and reclaimed mangrove swamps, the top sights in town are a large sugar mill and the seasonal trains that ka-chunk bushels of cane through Labasa’s centre.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

Whoever wrote the introduction for Lonely Planet’s Labasa, Fiji travel guide evidently didn’t stay too long.

Flying over Vanua Levu's vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

Flying over Vanua Levu’s vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

LabasaAirport

With that somewhat dreary description in mind yesterday afternoon as I drove through the city center for the very first time, I couldn’t help but note yes, Labasa is, in fact, a bit dusty.

It’s considerably rural, and some of the buildings in town did appear a tad run-down, if not shuttered. But, arguably, I could say the exact same things about places in West Virginia, or Greeley, Colorado.

Overall, I found Labasa quite colorful, quirky, and teeming with liveliness, the cars and streets adorned with dazzling lights in every hue after the sun went down (I later learned this may have been temporary because of the local ‘Friendly North’ carnival festivities last night, but hopefully not – guess I’ll find out soon enough!).

Labasa holds plenty of allure – I honestly can’t wait to explore this place over the next couple weeks!

LabasaVanuaLevu

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Having been here for a solid 24 hours now, I’m convinced Labasa has so much more to offer, although I’m certainly intrigued by its enormous sugar mill, which seems to be running around the clock processing the current sugar cane harvest.

The amount of sugar cane in the area is mind-blowing, really – it’s entirely possible Lautoka boasts more sugar cane field acreage (and I think I left right at the start of Lautoka’s sugar harvesting season), but I’ve never observed so many heaps of raw sugar, piled high on open trucks idling in an endless queue by to the mill.

I’ve never smelled air so densely sweet.

VanuaLevuPalmTrees

Trepidatious About Leaving Taveuni

I’m a bit trepidatious at the moment, not gonna lie.

I don’t know if it’s because today is my last full day in Taveuni, or because I have two flights on two very tiny airplanes scheduled for tomorrow, or because I honestly have no clue exactly where in the world I will be one month from today (well I have somewhat of a clue, but my plans could easily change)… I’m just feeling a little ‘out of it,’ if you know what I mean.

Last dinner in Taveuni Island... I don't wanna leave!

Last dinner in Taveuni Island… I don’t wanna leave!

Apart from the non-refundable airline tickets in my name, there’s really only one thing in my life I know for certain right now: I gotta come back to Taveuni Island someday.

TaveuniIslandDesertedBeachTaveuniIslandIdyllicBeach

I’ve said this before about Lautoka, but under the right circumstances I could seriously live on Taveuni Island. Yes, it’s an idyllic tropical paradise teeming with empty unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests and picturesque waterfalls.

I don’t think it’d be a hard sell for anyone.

But, unlike a lot of the other regions in Fiji I’ve visited so far, Taveuni has a particularly relaxed vibe (which speaks volumes, considering the prevalence of ‘Fiji Time’ throughout the entire nation).

TaveuniIslandFijiPerfectPalmTreeEnjoyingTaveuniIslandFijiBeach

So much island excitement was crammed into my sole week here. I have way too much to write about, but unfortunately documenting the remainder of my Taveuni adventure on here will need to wait until I reach my next stop… Fiji’s second-largest island, VANUA LEVU!

Until then, please enjoy the following selection of photos showcasing a [very small] portion of Taveuni Island’s immensely diverse fauna and flora:

TaveuniIslandPurpleFlowerTaveuniIslandExoticFlowerTaveuniIslandRainforestFoliageTaveuniIslandGingerFlowersTaveuniIslandRedHibiscusTaveuniIslandWaterfallCrabTaveuniWaterfallCrabCloseUpTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersButterflyTaveuniIslandRainforestPalmTrees

Now, time to pack!

This never gets old...

This never gets old…

How To Do Natadola RIGHT

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a fun story about my [accidental] resort-crashing adventure at Fiji’s dazzling Natadola Beach. While that was an exceptionally fun day (you can read about it here!), there were a few key things I would have done differently.

So, I went to Natadola Beach again. And this time it was even more fabulous!

HowToDoNatadolaBeachRight

First, I’ll start by saying Natadola Beach really is not at all close to where I’d been living in Lautoka. Even if I were to travel down to Natadola non-stop by private car, it would still take a couple hours. But it’s sooo worth the journey… I might even dare call Natadola the best beach on the island of Viti Levu, although the Coral Coast as a whole is exceptionally picturesque.

If you find yourself in Fiji and are not staying in a beachfront hotel or otherwise ‘touristy’ location, fear not – it’s still quite simple to access the powdery white sands and sparkling, crystal clear blue waters of Natadola Bay. Just follow these tips, and you can have an idyllic Fijian beach day that’s as cheap or extravagant as you please!

MakingWavesAtNatadolaBayAmazingNatadolaBeachFiji

Choose an express bus there and back (if possible). Coming from Lautoka, I’ve had to switch buses at the Nadi bus terminal on the way to Natadola both times. If available, I’d highly recommend opting for an enclosed express charter bus for the first leg of the trip, not only because they’re nicely air conditioned, but also because they’ll get you there significantly faster!

When returning, I’d hop on any bus that will stop for you at the main road (both times I was lucky to get an express bus all the way back to Lautoka with zero transfers!).

NatadolaBeachBusStopThisWayToNatadolaBeach

Instruct the taxi to take you to the beach, NOT the InterContinental Resort. I love the InterContinental Fiji, don’t get me wrong, but they do make you pay FJD $40 for a voucher just to get in the gate. When you go to directly to the beach (it’s an easily missable gravel road near the driveway to the InterContinental), you can wander the beach freely without the obligation of finding a way to spend your InterContinental meal voucher.

Be firm with your cab driver on the pricing. Most of the time, they will always insist FJD $10 or more for transport from the main road. I was actually able to prove my last driver wrong when he tried to convince me the price would be $10 or higher when he ran the meter (it wasn’t). The price should only be $8, even just to the beach. If I’ve only ever paid $8, you should only pay $8. It also doesn’t hurt to come to an agreement on the price before getting into the vehicle!

SparklingBlueNatadolaBeachVitiLevuNatadolaBeachCoralShells

If you’re interested in paying for activities (snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, etc.), take time to shop around for deals. You’ll likely encounter a bevy of locals trying to sell a variety of good and services, from fresh coconuts, an array of beach activities and Fijian massages to hair braiding. After speaking with a number of individuals, you’ll find they’re all competing against one another for business. My friends and I eventually scored a fantastic deal on beachfront massages (only FJD $30 for 1 hour! But it’s a secret, shhhh…).

Stop by Yatule Resort & Spa for lunch, or drinks, or happy hour, or coffee, or whatever. Unless you get looped into buying an InterContinental or plan to bring all of your own sustenance along with you (in which case, props for having the stellar planning and organization skills that I lack), Yatule Resort is a terrific spot to grab a reasonably priced lunch. The menu pricing is about half of what you’d pay for lunch at the InterContinental, and only a few paces away up the beach. Plus, the seating area is much closer to the sand and surf, meaning excellent views of the water any time of day!

YatuleNatadolaBeachSundayBrunchYatuleResortAndSpaNatadolaBeachWatermelonWananavuYatuleResort

Go with friends! Yes, obviously going to the beach is better with friends, and I was lucky to have two volunteer friends to tag along with on this past jaunt to Natadola. However, I’m not always so fortunate. While technically I am on this extended adventure ‘alone’ and will always be an advocate for solo travel, I’m learning how important it is to continually make new friends while traveling, especially solo. Not only because making new friends is great fun, it’s nice to have someone else on your side when exploring (and/or haggling)!

I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world during my solo travels, a lot of which I still regularly keep in touch with and wholeheartedly anticipate seeing again (a special cheers from the Southern Hemisphere to my Turks and Caicos crew in regards to bonding over that ‘Fish Fry’!).

Travel friends truly are some of the best kinds of friends. Even if it means only getting to hang out for a day, or two, or a couple weeks, it’s always worth it.

NatadolaBeachSunsetHoorayForNatadolaBeach

Greetings, Taveuni Island!

BULA and hello from mesmerizing Taveuni Island, Fiji’s third-largest island and otherwise (appropriately) known as the ‘Garden Island of Fiji’!

I can safely say is one of the most gloriously scenic destinations I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. Taveuni has proven Fiji is indeed full of wonderful surprises, and I already know I’ll be returning again someday in the future!

MajesticTaveuniIslandFiji

Let’s talk about the journey here:

I flew to Taveuni Island (Matei) from Nausori International Airport in Suva on what I’m pretty sure is the tiniest airplane I’ve ever been on thus far in my life, which was also the closest thing I’ve experienced to a roller coaster ride in a long, long time. It was wildly thrilling in the oddest, yet most natural way… At least the trip was quick enough I didn’t even have time to think about being scared!

TinyFijiAirwaysAirplaneReadyToBoardFromSuvaPeeringOutThePlaneInsideTinyFijiAirwaysPlane

Thankfully, the crew didn’t mind when I asked to move to the front of the plane upon boarding (as I had way too much carry-on luggage, per usual – I did appreciate the fact that the airport gate checkers weighed ME and my belongings as a whole though, not just my hand baggage!). I wasn’t sure if they assigned our seats based on our weight in efforts to ‘balance’ the plane, but there was no way my giant backpack, pillow, and tote bag were all going to fit underneath the seat in front of me, much less on my lap!

There were no overhead bins, seatback pockets, nor tray tables. I ended up tossing my over-stuffed backpack on the floor in the empty row next to me, where there was space.

FrontRowTinyPlaneRow1

After take-off, a few thoughts occurred to me as to perhaps why no one wanted to sit in the front row… It was situated directly next to the propellers, so needless to say it was a very loud trip (headphones helped). My entire 1-seat row shook forcefully for the duration of the flight as well, seemingly in time with the propellers…

I find it fascinating to watch them though – I remember the times I’ve taken prop planes back in the States, the windows in these rows are blocked out, so you hear the propellers’ loudness but can’t see a thing!!

Good thing my windows weren’t blocked out on this flight, because the scenery we flew over was amazing!

FlyingOverVitiLevuDepartingVitiLevuByAirIslandHoppingInFlight

Another fun part about this flight was getting to see out the front of the plane, as well as watch what the pilots were up to… It’s been a LONG time (as in over 15 years) since I’d been on a fight where I could actually look into the airplane cockpit.

The copilot appeared to double as the lone flight attendant on this little plane (which made sense considering there really wasn’t time – or room – for any in-flight service!).

It’s so much fun to watch what the pilots are doing while flying!!

FijiLinkPilotsOutTheFrontOfThePlane

As much as I enjoyed myself up in the air, flying through a huge cloud of mist, I still wanted very badly to land, only because I couldn’t wait to see what Taveuni has in store…

Now I’m here. And so far, Taveuni Island has definitely not been a disappointment!

Golden Celebrations at the Vuda Point Marina

After Fiji won the rugby sevens Olympic gold medal on Friday, I met some volunteer friends later that evening over in Viseisei at the Vuda Point Marina, or more simply known as ‘Vuda Marina’. We’d heard they were offering $2 Fiji Gold beers all day long in apt commemoration of Olympic Team Fiji’s historic accomplishment, so obviously we had to celebrate.

Plus, generally speaking, I’ve found Vuda Marina isn’t a bad place to be, regardless of the occasion!

BoatArrivingAtVudaPointVudaMarinaBoatsGoFijiGoFijiGold

Vuda Point itself is traditionally considered the initial landing site of Fiji’s Melanesian ancestors in their canoes to the island of Viti Levu, and the entire nation of Fiji. Today, Vuda Point serves a similar purpose, boasting a convenient marina for sailors and yachties arriving at the Fiji Islands from all over the world, settled alongside a classy waterfront restaurant and bar.

Fiji’s Favourite Yacht Haven,” as Vuda Marina’s website puts it.

VudaPointMarinaBoatSunset

To my delight, Vuda Marina is one of the few places in Fiji I’ve visited so far where I feel I can wear my Lilly Pulitzer attire without any strange glances. So, I got all dressed up for the Vuda Marina gold medal celebration, even wearing my favorite 5-inch gold wedge heels (seemed appropriate).

For the record, I bring these gold heels virtually everywhere I travel (I’m capable of running in them, if necessary) – I just love these shoes. Yes, they’re impractical. No, I don’t have opportunities to wear them often. But when I do… Well, let’s just say it’s always a memorable night, one way or another.

I guess I’ve never really regarded myself as an especially practical person, anyway. I DIGRESS.

Not taken at Vuda Marina, but these are the gold shoes I'm talking about!

Not taken at Vuda Marina, but these are the gold shoes I’m talking about!

AmazingVudaPointView

Not only does Vuda Marina have delectable food, they have a fairly outstanding cocktail selection. I highly recommend the ‘Polynesian Iced Tea’ (although I’m pretty sure it should be called the ‘Melanesian Iced Tea…’).

VudaMarinaDinner

Apart from the great drinks, cuisine, nightly specials, and delightful live musicians that have me convinced the best renditions of most overplayed top 40 radio songs are performed with soothing acoustic guitar, Vuda Marina features a whimsical nautical-themed play area and tire swing.

While I’m certain this fantastically realistic faux-vessel, complete with striking indoor plumbing replicas, is intended primarily for the use of children (considering the boat’s facilities are entirely scaled down to pint-size), that did not stop us from thoroughly taking advantage of the site. We at least waited until the end of the night when all kids had retreated elsewhere, of course!

VudaMarinaPlaygroundGloriousVudaMarinaSunsetWhyNotYacht

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