After backpacking for over a year, the novelty of lying out on a beach in the sun has worn off. The sun burns too quickly this far south anyway and after spending so much time in hot sunny countries, I no longer need to put in effort to tan. When I planned to do some South Pacific island hopping in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands, I didn’t really take this into account and as the trip approached I started to wonder what I’d do with seven weeks of beach time. I needn’t have worried though – there has been plenty to keep me occupied and entertained!
In Vanuatu, I spent lazy days in Port Vila eating the French pastries, lounging in the shade at resorts, swimming in the ocean, reading in the dorm and coddling a beer during happy hour over sunset. I also meandered through a beautiful tropical garden and played in a waterfall with plenty of splash pools (the number one rated attraction in Port Vila). I ventured out of the downtown to a few different resorts and gathered fresh veggies at the market for shared dinners with my fellow hostel mates. I took the opportunity to try kava which is a muddy looking concoction that locals prefer to drink instead of alcohol. (Popular in certain areas of the South Pacific.) It was definitely a different experience from anything I’ve tried before and has a particularly mellow effect. It’s definitely stronger in Vanuatu then Fiji though – I was still dizzy the next morning!
In Fiji, I spent more time doing typical tourist island hopping. Here I found amazing snorkeling and some of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen. I spent a few afternoons reading in hammocks and dipping in and out of pools. The resorts were all pretty empty here, as with the other islands, since this time of year is off season so hammocks were easy to snag where available. I hiked around a few islands and did as much snorkeling as I could while trying not to burn my back to a crisp. I was lucky enough to see a young turtle and many reef sharks in the water as well as myriad colorful fish and coral. Fiji is postcard perfect and the coconuts are plentiful!
In Samoa, the fales (beach huts) were literally on the water’s edge and falling asleep with the cool breeze and the sounds of lapping waves was a real treat. It made lying on the beach in the heat of the day seem particularly unnecessary so after making fast friends with a few other backpackers, we rented scooters to explore. We swam in a gorgeous waterfall, got sprayed by natural blowholes, explored a lava tube cave, marveled at the lava ruined churches and lazed around in an ocean trench (a pool deep down in a hole that is filled by the ocean’s tides). We also made a point of trying all the local beers as they use German purity laws in Samoa. We were treated to a few fiafia shows of local dancing and fire stick twirling and we even danced at the local disco on Friday night. We also celebrated Chinese New Year by lighting and releasing lanterns. Sadly I let our first one catch fire and I’m still trying not to think about how much bad luck I’ve brought upon myself.
Currently in the Cook Islands, I’ve taken a slightly different tactic. Although the beaches are quite beautiful in Rarotonga, I feel like I want to be more than just a tourist here. I was quickly inspired to volunteer at the local vet clinic after I rented a scooter for easy accessibility around the island and stumbled upon the local veterinary clinic. Things are pretty easy to find here as the main road takes you right around the island in less than an hour. The Esther Honey Foundation Veterinary Clinic has been quite happy to have my help in walking dogs, playing with and bathing puppies and helping with the washing, but the pleasure has been all mine. The clinic is run by caring individuals and services are provided in return for donations. (Please take a minute to check out their website.) I’ve been cooking most of my meals at my hostel and enjoying occasional delicious fresh fish sandwiches. I also took the opportunity to hike to “the needle” high up in the centre of the island. The evenings have been filled with card playing and beach bonfires. I don’t think backpackers ever get tired of playing cards! I’ve got another week left here and I’ve got a few more plans up my sleeve: a brewery tour, a local dance fitness class (I’m expecting socacise meets hula) and more!
End note: Given the time of year, I’ve been watching the cyclone movements in the area as I travel around. I was very sorry to hear about Fiji’s recent cyclone hit a few weeks after I left that caused some serious destruction and more than a few deaths. I’m sorry for their losses and I wish them a speedy recovery. Save the Children and the Australian Red Cross are some of the organizations providing aid if you’d like to donate.