John and Sheila's trip to New Zealand and seven South Pacific islands

Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa, American Samoa, Rarotonga, Tahiti & Moorea
April - May 1995

Weds 19th April. New Zealand, North Island.  Arrived at Auckland airport at 6:30 am direct from London. After initial confusion with the car hire we were away and motoring down the southern motorway by 8. Turned off on Route 2 and drove through rolling farmland that could have been South Devon, up to Thames, a one-street frontier town. Narrowly avoided buying some amazingly good value cut glass bowls, wooden ornaments and colourful headscarves (all by named local crafts-people). Had a brie & avocado sandwich at a café instead.

We drove along the winding coastal road to Coromandel and had a third breakfast of bacon chowder at the Pepper Tree café. Carried on round the Coromandel Peninsula on partly made-up roads with spectacular views and down to Waihi for a quick photo of the old colonial Rob Roy Hotel. Continued to Katikati where we checked into the Sapphire Springs holiday park in Hot Springs road - 68 acres set in steaming tropical jungle. We had a roomy apartment with kitchenette, living room, bathroom and bedroom with the sound of the river in the valley below and peacocks wandering about outside.

Had dinner at the Moreton Valley Vineyard Estate where we sat in the conservatory while a tropical storm beat down on the glass roof above. Sheila had venison with morello cherries on a rich wine sauce with potatoes in a cream sauce with spring onions & carrots, leeks in a mild cheese sauce and braised apple & cabbage. I had chicken with crystallised ginger. Both were unbelievably delicious. However, we didn't stop there and for sweet Sheila had raspberry & white chocolate parfait and I had the coffee, Tia Maria & Baileys cheesecake. Wonderful. The owner of the Holiday Park gave us a lift there and back for a modest fee and altogether it was a perfect first day. We went to sleep with another tropical downpour beating on the roof.
New Zealand peacock

Thurs 20th. Had breakfast at a health food shop in Bethlehem near Tauranga - Sheila had a craving for Corn Flakes and I had a Devon Cream Tea. We bought a couple of bottles of wine at the bottle shop then off to Rotorua via the scenic route through Pyes Pa. We looked around the thermal area at Whakarewarewa in the pouring rain and got soaked. We were fascinated by the frog pool, where the mud gurgles and spatters like frogs jumping about.

Had a second breakfast at the Maori village - Sheila had a craving for a cheese and onion sandwich. Saw the Maori dancing show. Then we went to the Waimanga thermal valley south of Rotorua and dabbled our fingers in the boiling hot steam.

Albion Hotel Auckland
We drove back to Auckland and booked into the best room in the Albion Hotel, a pub close to the city centre. Discovered that the bed was a water bed.

Had a super meal at Le Haim Russian/Mediterranean/Jewish restaurant - Sheila had a shawarma and I had Blinis; smoked salmon & caviar on a sort of pancake base. Very tasty. This was after a Newcastle Brown at the Irish bar nearby.

Fri 21st. Visited my uncle Bert & Joyce Squier for lunch at their house in Devonport. Bert showed us his amazing Squier family tree tapestry. After zooming back to the hotel for ironing and curling Sheila's hair we returned to Bert & Joyce's and went to the Ocean restaurant in Takapuna where we met cousins Carolyn and Brian & Sandra. Pigged out on serve-yourself smorgasbord and gooey sweets.

Sat 22nd. 830 km on the hire car so far. Drove to Wellington at the south end of North Island. On the way we drove through spectacular scenery and increasing rain to Mount Teramake which was completely invisible in the clouds and mist. Stopped for tea at an old house that had been moved in its entirety to a new site miles from anywhere, beyond Bulls. Made good time until we got to a huge traffic jam because the road was flooded. Eventually we got to Wellington about 8pm. Found the Terrace Travel Lodge (NZ$60) and went and had a curry at the Curry Club (food $30, beers $20).

Sun 23rd. Had a quick drive round Wellington and down to the ferry terminal to hand the car back. 1540km.

New Zealand, South Island.  We had an amazingly smooth crossing on the ferry to South Island across Cook Straight, which can be really rough. Picked up the next hire car in Picton and it turned out to be a very sporty-looking purple job. Had lunch in a seafront café overlooking the green, waving palm trees and blue sparkling waters with yachts sailing to and fro.
Picton New Zealand

Drove off down the spectacular coastal road through Kaikoura to Canterbury. Checked into the Windsor Hotel and walked down to the Café Valentino Italian restaurant where Sheila had a wonderful venison meal, with tamarillo on a bed of puréed potato & celery. I had topside of lamb with figs and peppers and things. Delicious again. NZ$70 (£30) including several glasses of wine.

Mon 24th. Had a day off driving and went on the TraNZalpine train across the spectacular but rain-soaked Southern Alps to Greymouth. Also went on the tour of Greymouth which was a bit of a non-event. In the evening we went back to the Café Valentino for more venison.

Tue 25th. We went for a quick tour of Christchurch then drove south to Mount Cook. It was very spectacular - it would have been even more so if there had been less mist and clouds. Had lunch at the Hermitage Hotel, which has a wonderful view of the mountain and glacier.

Carried on to Queenstown and arrived just after dark. Checked into Thomas's Hotel (so named after the proprietor's cat) and went for a super Chinese meal - sizzling ginger this and satay that - Yum.
Wed 26th. Drove to Arrowtown near Queenstown and had breakfast at the Stone Cottage, a really sweet place. The town festival was on and the town crier was getting ready to do his stuff but we couldn't wait. Just as we were going to leave we discovered the Chinese miners' settlement, with cute little huts amongst the trees, that must have been awful to actually live in.
Queenstown New Zealand
Chinese miners' settlement Arrowtown

We drove back to town to the A J Hackett office and went on the Skipper's Canyon bungee tour. This involved a hairy ride in a truck up a dirt track with sheer drops at the side, then Sheila did two bungy jumps from the 230 ft bridge. Drove back (still pretty hairy) and went up in the cable car to the top of the hill overlooking Queenstown. We liked the look of the menu so we stayed for a meal in the Brasserie restaurant. Sheila had a huge Thai salad and left all the leaves and I had a game terrine which was beautifully arranged. This was followed by smoked lamb (Sheila) and chicken with Gruyere cheese & avocado (me). Sheila finished it off with Banoffi pie but I could only manage a coffee. Cost $100 (£45) including tip and an excellent Villa Maria Sauvignon blanc at £8.

Thur 27th. 1040 km so far in the purple car.

Got up early and drove to Clyde, which was almost deserted except for Olivers restaurant and guest house where we had super breakfast in amazing surroundings like a junk/antique shop, with an American family and a British chap who was working nearby at the atmospheric research station. It was a lovely place where we would have liked to linger longer but we had to get back to Kawaru bridge almost back in Queenstown so that Sheila could do two more bungy jumps, including one blindfolded and strapped to a chair and tipped off backwards.

Having got that out of the way we drove over the Haast Pass to the west coast and up the coastal road. It was pretty spectacular but not absolutely stunning - I think we've seen too many spectacular sights and are getting blasé. We stopped in Franz Joseph at the Terrace Motel then went to the local pub/shack for a superb dark beer and some pub grub. 1540 km so far.

Fri 28th. There was a beautiful clear sky with snow-capped mountains in the distance. We drove up the road for an excellent view of the Franz Joseph glacier.

We stopped for breakfast at a dusty, one-street town called Whatarea and sat on the veranda basking in the sun as we had toast & jam and one of Bill's magnificent scones. Drove up the coast with spectacular views of sparkling sea, crashing waves, cliffs and mountains. We stopped at Punakaiki to see the blowholes - the sea wasn't quite rough enough for huge waterspouts but there were quite a few crashing waves and spray. The waves were stacking up out to sea, queueing for their chance to come in and break. Spray was flying backwards off them as they curled over.
Waves NZ south island

We continued to Nelson and found a nice motel just out of the town centre and got a room for 4 for the price of 2 (we could have had a room for 7!). Went for an Indian meal then listened to an Irish band in an Irish bar drinking 'old dark' beer.

Sat 29th. Up early and drove to Nelson airport. 2045 km in the purple car.

The flight to Auckland wasn't a 737 that the travel agent promised, but a Nelson Air 33-seat Saab 340. The camera case and duffel bag wouldn't fit in the overhead luggage rack so they each ended up strapped into their own seats for takeoff.

New Zealand, North Island again. Arrived in Auckland, collected the car and drove to Passport Travel to collect the vouchers for the hotel in Rarotonga. Had a wander round downtown Auckland and had a middle eastern lunch at a Greek/Turkish restaurant.

Parnell district, Auckland NZ
Then we drove to the Parnell district for more shopping, wandering round and tea. Drove along Tuaneki Drive and found that Kelly Tarleton's Undersea World was closed. Returned to the Albion Hotel at sunset. Went for a blini at Le Haim but we were to tired afterwards to stay up for live music at the Irish pub.

Sun 30th. Checked out of the Albion Hotel and went for a quick whiz round Kelly Tarleton's Antarctica and Undersea World. Had an even quicker whiz round Howick Colonial Village, which was a pity because it was really good. Had a quick farmstead lunch/cream tea at a restored old house not far away.

Then we went to visit cousin Brian and his wife Sandra at Kawa Kawa bay, which is on the Thames Estuary opposite Coromandel. After lunch they took us on a sightseeing tour to a recently-restored cottage nearby that was open for the day, and to another homestead in need of restoration that the local council had just bought along with the estate to turn into a park. Had a super dinner with them.

Mon 1st May. Fiji.  Got up at the incomprehensible time of 4 am (Brian's normal time) so that he could go to work and we could go to the airport to fly to Fiji. Flew to Fiji.

We hired a car and set off to drive around the island. Got as far as Nadi town (2 or 3 kilometres) and decided to stop for a look round. It was hot and humid, all the shops were run by Indians, all the restaurants were Indian, it was just like India. All except for the place where we had some lunch which was just like Sri Lanka - it was a Sri Lankan restaurant and we had an excellent curry.

We drove on - Nadi finished abruptly and we were in countryside that was much more 'Fijian' with little villages with occasional thatched huts. We didn't stop and reached Suva, the capital. We had a look round and found that the Grand Pacific Hotel, the old colonial hotel where we really wanted to stay, was closed and semi-derelict. We had a further look round and ended up staying at the Townhouse apartments - cheap, but rather infested with bugs. We had a drink at the rooftop bar with a good view of Suva, then went for a stroll round, but everywhere was shut so we went for an early meal (another good curry) and retired exhausted.

Tues 2nd. Had a lie in and woke to brilliant sunshine and clear blue sky. Had breakfast in the rooftop restaurant then went on a walking tour of Suva. There were old buildings and bustling shops. We went from one end of town to the other, stopping for a fish and chip lunch at a  colonnaded café by the creek on the way and ending up at the vegetable market. We drove out of Suva for tea at the Raffles Tradewinds Hotel, in a super position on the edge of a picturesque bay with islands, yachts, etc. We could have stayed there for not much more than we're paying at the Townhouse Apartments.  Never mind. 

Suva, Fiji

Had another sunset drink at the rooftop bar at the Townhouse, with a wonderful atmosphere looking out over the rooftops to the bay and the mountains, then for a Chinese meal at the Ming Palace (originally the Suva Town Hall).

Wed 3rd. We went back to the Raffles Tradewinds for breakfast. The weather was not so good today (it was sunny most of yesterday). Then we set off to drive the Kings road to Rakiraki on the north coast. The road is unsurfaced most of the way and is slow but interesting, passing through lots of 'authentic' villages where children come out to wave as you go by, or sometimes to try to sell you something.

Wananavu Resort Fiji
We arrived at about 1pm at the Wananavu Resort which is definitely a 'find' - miles from anywhere, with a beautiful view from the wooden veranda over the bay to more islands. We switched into 'resort' mode - sunbathed, had a drink and sandwich at the bar and retired to the room to while away the afternoon napping or reading. We'll go and look at Rakiraki town tomorrow. Had dinner at the hotel - nice fish, most peculiar chicken.

Thurs 4th. We 'did' Rakiraki. It had an interesting market. We joined in with the tour to a Fijian village, which went to Manuel, the hotel guide's village and drank Kava (the local fire-water) with the village chiefs. Came back for the regulation sunbathe then flopped about the resort a bit more.

Fri 5th. We should have set off for a leisurely drive back to Nadi, but instead we went on the boat trip and barbecue on the beach at a nearby island. Along with four other guests (Art and wife, Lesley and Peg) plus the hotel owner's wife and son and the road-builder's wife and a couple of other unspecified people, led by Manuel and the boat captain we set off across the bay in bright sunshine, pausing in shallow places to watch the fish and rays swim away, then landed on a deserted beach on the island opposite the resort.

We sat under shady palms on the perfect golden beach for a while, then went with Manuel to pick coconuts. As an aside the boatman caught a crab as big as his hand, after a lot of careful manoeuvring to avoid its pincers, and tied it up in coconut fibre to take it to the market later. Then he hacked his way through some undergrowth to the base of a palm tree and climbed up it and shook down a dozen or so coconuts. Manuel hacked them open with the machete and we had coconut milk and then the flesh. Delicious.

Then we went snorkelling out on the reef - absolutely amazing. By the time we got back the barbecue was ready. Manuel had dug a cavity in the sand and made a fire of palm logs, and sausages and lamb chops were sizzling away. There was also a selection of salads and cold drinks and fruits to finish, all set out on a bench under the trees. We sat there eating it thinking how absolutely perfect it all was. Manuel threw the scraps to some cats and/or raccoons that seemed to inhabit the jungle behind the beach. We sat about thinking how perfect it all was some more, then it was time to go.

As a result of all this perfection we were late leaving (we had booked a Fijian dance night 'do' in Nadi) and had to drive as fast as conditions allowed, arriving at the Regent Hotel where the 'do' was ten minutes after it was due to start. There was a nice open-air buffet dinner, then the Fijian dancing which was good but not as impressive as the Maori dancing. We retired to the Raffles Gateway hotel where the night staff were less than welcoming and the woman in the room next door woke us up at 2am with high-pitched Indian singing until Sheila banged on the wall.

Sat 6th. Tonga.  It was a beautiful sunny morning and the hotel's day staff seemed a bit friendlier. After breakfast we flopped around by the pool then went across the road to the airport to watch Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the UN, inspect the Guard of Honour and depart from Fiji. We flopped around a bit more then went to the airport and flew to Tonga.

We checked into the Beach House hotel which is a nice old ramshackle wooden building with an informal, friendly atmosphere. As it says in one of the guide books, Somerset Maugham would have stayed here. We chatted to another guest then walked down the road to a little shack restaurant that specialised in pizza. Luckily we only ordered one between us because it was enormous. And delicious.
Beach House hotel Tonga

Sun 7th. Sunday is a quiet day in Tonga because everything is closed except the churches. We had a nice breakfast round the communal dining table and the other guests told us about the weekly church service that the King attends, and that it would be followed by a huge feast because this is Church Convention week - various delegations from other churches were visiting Tonga. We went down to the big central church, which is Free Wesleyan denomination, and were shown to the visitors' section, even though we weren't dressed up for it and everyone else was in their Sunday best. The King was on the opposite side and the Choir seemed to occupy most of the central part of the church. The singing was nice but the sermon went on a bit, especially as it was in Tongan and we didn't understand a word. A television crew was in the church filming all the visitors who were attending the convention.

Afterwards we went out behind the church where the feasts had been laid out - endless huge trestle tables groaning with food - suckling pigs, dishes of curries, vegetables, fruit, all sorts, piled high on each table. Different villages provide a table or section each and they are up all night preparing it. The tables were set out in open-sided marquees and in the grandest one we met Bruce, one of the other guests at the hotel, who had been invited by one of the people he was working with. As we were talking to him we were invited to sit down and we accidentally became honoured guests, even more so because other people who were sitting down moved us onto the front table which was clearly one of the ones for people of some importance. The Head of the Church sat opposite and introduced himself to us, and the others along the table seemed to be Government ministers or similar. At the next table, which was the head table, were the Prime Minister and some members of the Royal family. Our front row of tables had plates and proper knives and forks, the tables in the row behind, for family of various nobles, had plastic knives and forks, and all the others ate with their fingers.

After our church leader had said prayers over the loud-hailer to the assembled throng we ate as much as we could but by the time we were bloated we had hardly made any impression on the great pile of food. One of the ministers sitting next to us was cramming apples and bananas into his brief case. After we left the 'second sitting' came in - they were the people from the villages who had supplied the food and who had been waiting patiently under trees in the shade nearby. When they have finished the rest is taken back to the villages, so nothing is wasted.

Fish market Tonga
Following this unexpectedly lavish lunch Sheila went for a sunbathe by the pool at the International Dateline hotel and I walked round the town (Nuku' Alofa) taking photos of the little fish market, the Parliament building (like a small wooden village hall) and the King's pretty little red-roofed palace. In the evening we went back to exactly the same restaurant and had exactly the same pizza as yesterday. We met Stan there, another resident at Beach House, working with the Tonga Government to draft labour relations legislation.
Spray blowhole, Tonga

Mon 8th. Breakfast today was fried egg, sausage & cassava, with fruit, toast & jam and tea. Not bad for all-included in the price. Then we went on the taxi-driver's tour of Tonga; the ancient tombs, ancient Trilithon (Stonehenge-style monument) at one of the ancient capital cities, a quick stop in town for a cake & ice cream then to the other half of the island to see the flying foxes (sleeping in a tree) and the blowholes - a fitting climax as it was  high tide and the waves were breaking dramatically and causing the holes to spout spectacular jets of spray.

We invited Flan, an Irishman staying at the Beach House, with us on the taxi tour. The taxi driver, Edward, invited all of us to come to another feast tomorrow because he was preparing a whole table for his village's section. It was costing him $T500 (£250). He said he had seen us on Tongan television yesterday when they filmed the church service.

Back in town Sheila had a nap while I went walkabout taking photos again, ending up at the International Dateline hotel for cake and tea. I rushed back to Beach House feeling guilty in case I'd been away too long, to find Sheila still fast asleep.

However good the pizza is we really couldn't eat the same three days running so we went to the Seaview Restaurant instead, just because we'd seen advertisements for it everywhere (and heard it was very good). It was very good. We started with lobster soup, then Sheila had medallions of pork in a curry and banana sauce, I had fish (snapper) with prawns and a sauce of some sort. It was all exceptionally good, though not cheap. Afterwards we had a long chat with the German owner/chef Lothar, who told us about bringing furniture and whole buildings in containers over from Bali, about the huge iron-wood carving of a whale which was the centrepiece of the dining room and his plans for an exclusive new restaurant. A very entertaining evening.

Tue 9th. After another good breakfast we walked down to the market near the wharf and had a look round. Then we went by bus back to town to buy stamps and post postcards. We met Flan at the P.O. and went to the Church again to find Meleane,  Edward the taxi-driver's wife. She invited us to sit at her table and we had another amazing feast. This was very good of her because Edward had forgotten to tell her about us and she had no idea who we were until later. The feast was great - lobster, crab, suckling pig and various prepared dishes, vegetables, fruit, etc., although this time we were sitting with normal church conference delegates not ministers and royalty. In the central area between the tables three groups of women enacted a ceremony of presenting huge tapases (woven mats) to the church leaders, with lots of dancing and skipping about.
Church feast, Tonga

After attending two feasts, everything seemed a bit anticlimactic so Sheila retired for another nap while I finished off writing postcards until Edward came to take us to the airport for the flight to Samoa. Flan was on the same flight and when he checked in they told him they needed to upgrade two people to business class and he was one of them. Unfortunately when they found out Sheila and I, who were next, were together they downgraded him again and upgraded us. He took it very well.

Western Samoa. Checked into the Seaside Inn, another airy South-seas style hotel (£20) and went for a walk round Apia with Flan and Jan, a German chap who had also just checked into the hotel. Unfortunately it was after 10pm and Apia was shut. We had a look at the famous Aggie Grey's hotel but most of the atmosphere seems to have gone. Found a restaurant called the Love Boat which does fish and chips, burgers and sandwiches. Ordered fish & chips but they'd run out of fish. Ordered a sandwich but they'd run out of bread! Finally had a sandwich on a decapitated burger bun.

Tues 9th again. We crossed the dateline yesterday so we get the same day twice.

Phoned Polynesian Airlines and booked a day trip to Pago Pago, American Samoa. Got a taxi down to the other airport which is a little bit smaller than the international one - a wooden hut beside a grass airstrip. The plane, a De Haviland Twin Otter, was only half full (about 10 people) so we didn't have to rush. Even so, they not only weighed everyone's luggage but they weighed each person as well to make sure the plane was not over-weight!

American Samoa.  We were amazed to find it was even hotter and stickier here than Western Samoa. Got a bus into town (75c each instead of $9 for a taxi) and had a little walk round. There was not a lot to do so while we were sitting in the bus station eating an ice cream and a cinnamon bun we decided to get on a bus to Leone. We went there and back, which was an interesting ride although the driver seemed to think it was a rather odd thing to do. It cost US$1 each.

We got off at the Rainmaker hotel and had a much-needed bowl of soup, then I walked up the (small) hill to the Governor's mansion while Sheila wrote more postcards and snoozed in a convenient hammock hanging at the bottom of the garden by the sea. We got another bus to the town centre and had a bit more of a walk round, then got the bus back to the airport and we'd 'done' American Samoa.

Flew back to Western Samoa. Met Flan and Jan at the hotel and went for a drink at Aggie Grey's to check out the layout ready for tomorrow night's show. Then we had an excellent meal at the German-run Apia Inn. The peppersteak was superb.

Wed 10th. Breakfast on the veranda as usual - fruit, tea and toast. We walked downtown and bought a map at the department of lands and surveys, Sheila bought some shoes and I changed some money at the bank. All this activity exhausted us so we came back and sunbathed at Aggie Grey's in clear blue sky until it started to rain.

Robert Louis Stevenson's house at Vailima, Samoa
Went back to the Seaside Inn again and set off with Flan and Jan to see the market, compete with bottles of seaslug innards and other dubious-looking seafood. We decided to go to Robert Louis Stevenson's house at Vailima, but the taxi driver told us it would be closed now (3:30). We were just turning away dejected and disgruntled when a chap in a nearby car asked where we wanted to go. We told him and he said no problem, it would be open till 4:30 and he was a taxi so he'd take us. His taxi looked very unofficial but the price he quoted ($10 return instead of the official $14 return) was attractive and we agreed a not-open no-fee arrangement and set off. When we got there at 3:45 the gates were locked and the sign said 'open till 4pm', but 'last tour at 3:30'. This was sufficiently ambiguous so we were just setting off to find another way in when the staff appeared coming down the path inside, obviously finishing for the day. We explained our predicament and that we were leaving that night, and although two of them looked a bit unenthusiastic the one in charge agreed to let us in for a 'quick tour' and opened the house up again for us. It was extremely interesting - a lovely old wooden house in a superb setting with various photos and furniture from Stevenson's time. Pleased with this success we paid the taxi driver what he wanted without complaining about the misinformation.

After a quick pack, ready for our 2am departure, we went with Flan and Jan to Aggie Grey's again and bagged front seats in the bar for the Samoan show, which was excellent - lots of flamboyant drumming and singing and dancing, finished off with a fire-dancing display round the swimming pool. Altogether pretty spectacular and well worth the admission fee, which we didn't have to pay because we weren't stopping for the buffet. Instead we went for a Chinese meal at Won Kees; my chicken in ginger was good but Sheila wasn't too keen on her spicy lamb, especially when she ate a whole disguised chilli and was then unable to eat anything else.

Said cheerio to everyone and sat around the hotel room until 2am when it was time to go to the airport. Sat around the airport until it was time to board the flight to Rarotonga.

Thurs 11th. Rarotonga.  Arrived at about 7am and the transport was there to whisk us off to the Palm Grove Lodge, which we had booked in New Zealand. It was all very well organised and very different to Samoa and Tonga - here it feels like one big tourist resort with little sign of local life or culture. Stopped at the store to get breakfast materials. We had a nice room and a warm (not hot) shower - what luxury!

We got a bus into town, which is on the opposite side of the circular island. It is a very handy service, which runs to a timetable (it gets less like Samoa and Tonga every minute) and is priced for tourists rather than locals. Still not bad at 75p for a 25-minute ride.

When we arrived it started to absolutely pour with rain, so we went into a café for a sandwich and stayed for two hours watching Team New Zealand beat the Americans again in the Americas Cup yacht race on the TV. Had a little wander round the shops dodging the showers and decided to leave the other half of town for another day or we'd 'do' the whole place in one go. Got the bus back to the Lodge for a nap/read.

Decided to go for a drink at the Rarotonga Hotel before having our dinner of cheese, biscuits and wine from the supermarket, or we'd feel we hadn't done anything this afternoon. At the Rarotonga Hotel, a nice, typical resort hotel, we decided to abandon the cheese and biscuits and eat at the Vaima restaurant that we'd noticed just down the road from Palm Grove. It was very nice - seafood chowder followed by steak for Sheila and fish of the day for me. When we'd finished it was pouring with rain so the owner's wife very kindly interrupted her meal to run us back in the car. It continued to pour down all night.

Fri 12th. Had a lie in. Amazingly, it turned into a beautiful sunny day so we draped ourselves over a couple of poolside chairs and fried for the middle part of the day. While we still had the energy we moved from a garden chalet to a beachside chalet. Beachside is exactly that - you can literally step off the veranda onto the beach and at high tide if you fell down twice you'd be in the sea. The room is lovely and high and airy and quite private as it is the end one, and all the time there is the sound of the sea crashing on the reef a couple of hundred yards out and lapping on the beach just below us.

Had lunch/tea of papaya and cheese & biscuits then whiled away the afternoon napping and reading. In the evening we went to the Flame Tree restaurant; Tom and Shirley, the hotel owners, were on their way into town to go to the pictures and they gave us a lift. Wonderful restaurant - we sat by an open window and were serenaded by the band, while eating wonderful food and drinking excellent New Zealand wine. Sheila had pacific prawns in chili sauce for starter and pork in cashew nut, oyster & coconut cream sauce and I had smoked marlin salad and south Indian chicken curry. Delicious. Came back on the 10:15 bus along with half the other diners from the restaurant. 

Palm Grove Lodge Rarotonga
Sat 13th. Another nice day so we leapt up full of energy and ready to go. Well, sort of - we caught the 9:30 bus into town. Did a bit of shopping and took a few photos, then got the bus back and sprawled in the sun again. After the customary late lunch followed by a nap/read I walked up to the Rarotonga Resort and hired a bike for tomorrow (NZ$8 a day). Then we caught the bus into town for a pub crawl and meal. Went for a drink at Trader Jack's bar, in a superb location overlooking the sea and waterfront, but the beer was watery and tasteless. The next bar we wanted to visit was closed so we went to the restaurant, Portofinos, an Italian. I had standard Italian fare - antipasto, pizza & red wine, which was all excellent, and Sheila had a hot rock. This is an extremely hot 'rock' plate, surrounded by pieces of raw meat and onions with assorted sauces, so you slap pieces of meat on the rock, dab or pour on the sauce according to taste and wait for it to cook. If your rock goes too cold they bring another hot one. It was very tasty. NZ$80 (£32) altogether.
Cooks Corner Rarotonga

Sun 14th. No buses today so we are prisoners at the resort. Oh well. Had even more of a lie in then papaya for breakfast. Sunbathed on the beach till lunchtime then sunbathed again. Then when it was nap time I went for a ride on my hired bike, up onto the ancient 'back road' past plantations of various trees and fruits, pigsties, horses, cows and quiet little houses. There was even less traffic here than on the 'main' road, which averages about one car every five minutes. Went to the bakery and bought some bread then cycled up to the Moana Sands hotel and the Little Polynesian (the other places we nearly booked in NZ) to check them out and report back. Our hotel is better, in fact we're probably in the best room on the island because ours is the 'one on the end' not overlooked by anyone else. We spent the rest of the afternoon on domestic chores (washing up, Sheila sewed something, tidied up the room) then we got stuck into the bottle of wine we'd brought from Fiji, with cheese and biscuits from the local supermarket.

Mon 15th. It was a bit of a cloudy start to the day. The sea was very rough, breaking quite noisily onto the beach below the veranda, almost drowning out the rumble of the real waves on the reef. Clouds persisted so we got the bus into town. We started at the market end, stopped for soup & coffee at Ronnie's café bar, browsed the shops down to the far end and stopped for tea and a sandwich at the Blue Note café at Banana Court. Posted the postcards and bought more cheese and wine for tonight, just in time to get the bus back.

Returned the bicycle in the gathering rain and retired indoors to watch the rain on the sea over tea and toast from our room. Relaxed till dinner time and consumed the wine and cheese we'd bought while listening to the tropical storm beating on the roof. Very cosy.

Tue 16th. Moved from room 5 to room 1, our 'day room', which was exactly the same. Then we lay on the beach, determined that the sun was going to shine, which it did eventually. Went for a snorkel - the reef and fish were interesting but not as spectacular as on Fiji. We finished off our assorted leftover food for lunch then had a major repack of the suitcase, as another tropical storm swept in and hammered on the roof. Caught the bus to the Flame Tree restaurant and had another wonderful meal and more serenading through the window. John, the hotel's driver and computer expert, picked us up at 10pm and took us to the airport via the hotel to collect the luggage.

Wed 17th. Flew to Tahiti. Despite being delayed a bit we still arrived at 3am and not a lot was happening. Taxis were ridiculously expensive (a phrase we had already heard many times in connection with Tahiti) and we were assured that the hotel we had picked, Hostel Téamo, did a free pickup service from the airport. Unfortunately their man was not there and they weren't answering the phone. After being assured that he would meet the next flight (which he didn't) and various other conflicting stories, we decided to stay at the Budget hotel, because their driver was there and would give us a lift. However, we didn't like the look of it at all and luckily Hostel Téamo was just around the corner so we ended up there after all. We got the last double room in the place, ahead of a couple who appeared just after us. It was another interesting South-seas style wooden building with a veranda to while away hot afternoons on, but the room wasn't the cleanest we've stayed in. Never mind, having sorted all this out it was still before 8am so we set out to explore Papeete, walking down to the market, stopping for coffee and baguette for breakfast and down to the waterfront to check out the ferries to Moorea.

Tahiti fish market

By now the heat was building up so Sheila retired to the hotel for a nap while I wandered round the other half of town taking photos. It's all very different from the other Pacific islands - more like a slightly run-down corner of Paris, with lots of traffic, cars parked on the pavements, cafés and croissants and ridiculously expensive prices (a phrase that we were to use many times in connection with Tahiti). Once Sheila had recovered we went by bus to the Airport to complain about them breaking a wheel off our suitcase but they didn't have any facilities to fix it and couldn't do anything.  By the side of the airport road there were fish trucks, selling big fish hanging from racks like clothes rails.

Then we went in search of something to eat and drink. First we stopped for tea and a tarte au citron in the first café we liked, then we moved on for a beer at a café/restaurant on the waterfront. It was dark now so we went on to the quayside near the ferry terminal which becomes a food market every night, with dozens of brightly lit vans that convert into restaurants serving everything from pizzas to Chinese to crépes. The first one we came to also had a barbecue going with a whole calf roasting over it, so we sat at one of their (two) tables and had dinner there. This was probably the poshest van on the market because none of the others had tables, only stools along the drop-down sides of the vans. It was delicious. We wandered round the rest of the vans picking out the likely ones for our next visit, then feeling exhausted (having had no sleep last night) we staggered back to the hotel and were in bed before 9. We had been worried that it might be a noisy place, but we never found out because the next thing we knew it was 7am.

Thurs 18th. We decided to go to the nearby island of Moorea, the typical "laid-back south-sea isle of the travel brochures" according to the guide book. We left most of our baggage at Hostel Téamo and set off travelling light for once. Stopped for breakfast at a sidewalk café in town - best coffee ever and a croque monsieur (toasted cheese & ham open sandwich). It couldn't be more French anywhere in France.

We went to the ferry quay and got the catamaran to Moorea. It was big and very fast! The weather in Tahiti was dry but they told us it was pouring down in Moorea. Just as we left Tahiti on the catamaran it started to rain quite hard, and as we pulled into Moorea it cleared up and the sun began to shine. Ha! Got it right for once.

Moorea.  The buses (called 'le truck' because they are all converted Mercedes lorries, some more converted than others) meet the ferries so we got on one and went to the Tiki Theatre cultural village on the other side of the island. It was indeed more 'south seas' and less French, with coconut plantations, sandy beaches and blue sea. The village was interesting and we went on the tour, guided by a tattooed Polynesian chap. We seemed to be early and the place was still waking up - the coach loads will probably come later. The only way to get to our hotel, Moorea Village Hotel, 3 km away, was by taxi which cost £5 - ridiculously expensive. All the rooms in the hotel are individual thatched huts on stilts, and what's more they have clean towels and hot water - luxury after the last place!

It was a bit cloudy now so rather than plan A which was to collapse in the sun by the pool we availed ourselves of the free push-bikes the hotel provided and cycled down to the supermarket to get bread and cheese (Roquefort and Emmental) for lunch. This was so successful that after lunch we went for a longer bike ride, down to the bank to change the last of the travellers cheques (we're going to be counting the pennies now) and along to check out one or two of the other hotels a few miles up the road. Very pleasant.

When we got back we decided to try one of the other free facilities the hotel offered, a native-style outrigger canoe, but this was less successful; whichever way we paddled the thing just went round in circles. The only way we could get out to the small island in the lagoon opposite the hotel was by going backwards. After struggling through the rest of the afternoon napping and reading we borrowed a set of crockery, cutlery and a bottle opener and got stuck into the rest of the beer, bread and cheeses from the supermarket.

Despite the beer-induced tendency to go to sleep we forced ourselves to stay awake because we'd booked the evening Tahitian dance show at Tiki Theatre down the road. We arrived as the other tourists were finishing their buffet and we were given free run of the sweets. Then we watched the show, which was good but a bit staged and touristy. The chap who had given us the guided tour this morning was the 'star turn' and was a very good dancer. After the show he came over and made sure we got a free lift back to our hotel in one of the other hotels' minibuses.

Fri 19th. It was a beautiful sunny morning so we got down to some serious sunbathing on the beach while we had the chance. Having burned to a crisp we checked out of the hotel and caught the bus (a real one this time, not le truck) to the quay and the ferry back to Tahiti. We picked the wrong one of the two catamarans because ours left first but arrived second, and seemed to pitch and roll more than the other, but we managed to survive without mal de mer.
Tahiti harbour

Tahiti again.  On arrival in Papeete we adjourned immediately to the open-air café in Cathedral Square for baguette and tarte au citron - breakfast, lunch and tea combined. Then back to the hostel Téamo, and after waiting some time for someone to show up, we reclaimed our stored baggage and checked back in. We started our night on the town by drinking the last of the bottles of beer from the supermarket in Moorea while we sat in the kitchen/dining area and chatted with a German man called Gunther who was travelling in the South Pacific for 8 months - makes our 5 weeks seem pretty puny. We went down to the waterfront food market again and this time we chose a pizza van and had an extremely good open-air pizza. Came back and did battle with the monster cockroaches that started appearing from odd corners of the room and which seemed immune to the insect killer spray we blasted them with. Slept uneasily.


Sat 20th. We went to check out of the Hostel and arrange to leave our luggage and confirm our lift to the airport, and it turned out that the advertised 'free' airport drop-off only applied if you paid for use of a day room. We objected as we were not going to be there at all all day, but the Chinese proprietors were not budging, so after exchanging a few home truths about cockroaches and other matters we left somewhat disenchanted with Hostel Téamo.

We arranged a tour round the island with Pascal, a Belgian living in Tahiti who did tours for the smaller hotels and hostels at a much more reasonable rate than those organised by the big hotels. He spoke fluent English - his grandfather came from Luton and during the war had parachuted into his grandmother's garden and she had hidden him from the Germans for over a year.

Tomb of the last king of Tahiti

We started the tour by going with Pascal to the car rental agency to hire a car because his was broken down. Next stop on the tour was a detour to drop our biggest suitcase at the airport to make room in the car, but from then on things improved dramatically. Pascal was an interesting and humorous guide and we had Linn, an American, also on the tour, who was good company, the sun was shining and once you get outside Papeete Tahiti is as beautiful as the brochures suggest. We did all the standard sights - the Tomb of the last King of Tahiti, who was a Christian but insisted that his tomb have a large jug on the top in place of a cross, as he was extremely partial to a drink or two! Captain Cook's landing place (he gets everywhere), a waterfall, the Botanical Gardens, etc., as well as a few non-standard spots of Pascal's including the Vaima spring where perfectly clear water wells up out of the ground and you can swim in a crystal-clear cool pool - most refreshing. Last stop on the tour was a free tasting at the local distillery where Tahitian liqueurs are produced. There are about 15 different brightly-coloured flavours all lined up in bottles on a bar and you can go up and down with your little glass helping yourself. Strong stuff!

We then took Linn to his ship in Papeete docks as he was about to embark on a 16-day cruise of the Marquese Islands away at the far end of French Polynesia. The ship was a cargo ship with 80-odd cabins and 20-odd deck spaces. Linn had elected to go deck class because the cabins were ridiculously expensive, so he got a thin mattress on a patch of deck in a sort of shed-like superstructure built onto the deck. It was a bit primitive but he got the same meals as the cabin class, captain and crew and the same use of the bar, swimming pool, etc. so not so bad. Having escorted him aboard we decided the best way to overcome the logistical nightmare of getting us and all our belongings to the airport was for Pascal to leave us with the hire car which we would take back when we'd finished with it - the cost would be more or less what he was charging us for the tour, so he said goodbye and went!

Being unexpectedly in possession of a hire car in the dark in a strange city we drove around a bit and went to the Hotel Tahiti just outside town for a drink while we reviewed our position. By chance there seemed to be a Tahitian dance show happening and it was really good - better than the one we'd paid to see at the Tiki Theatre. Then we drove back to the harbour and parked by the night food market, our favourite, in fact only, eating spot in Papeete. Tonight we had Chinese first, followed by crèpes at another van. Still very good and excellent value, and there's not a lot here that you can say that about. Then the final pieces in the logistical jigsaw - we drove to the airport and left Sheila and the luggage and I drove back to town to return the hire car, caught a bus back to the airport (without having to wait at all - it drew up as I approached the stop) and got the big case back from left luggage.

It was only 11:30pm and the flight's not till 2:40am but we went to check in, not having much else to do, and we found that Air New Zealand had upgraded us to Business Class because of the trouble with the suitcase. This entitled us to wait in Air New Zealand's first class lounge, so we went and helped ourselves to cold drinks and newspapers and prepared ourselves for the long flight to LA and England.

A few months later we were watching pictures of this very airport being burned to the ground by rebels seeking independence from France, on the television news. Good job they didn't get organised a bit earlier.

Cafe Open New Zealand
Tea-time in New Zealand.

If you'd like to read about our other travels, click here: