We made it to Auckland safe, happy, and sound. The adventure begins in Fiji so I'll start there...

Ottawa, Canada: -30°C

Nadi, Fiji: +30°C.

Flight summary: Philly highlight: rocking chairs, LA highlight: nothing but chaos, Fiji: we got lei-ed :)

Total flying time: 17 hours.  Total layover time: 5 hours.

Total time change: 16 hours and January 24 is lost to me forever due to the international date line.

Fiji is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. Fijians greet everyone with "Bula!" and say "Vinake" for thank you. We stayed in a resort on the main island between Nadi and Suva. Fijians drive on the left-hand side of the road. The main roads are well-kept, but there are many things to look out for including horses, pigs, cows, dogs, people, and oncoming traffic, as passing is very haphazard.

The resort was stunning and the instant over-exposure to the sun helped us to adjust to the time change almost immediately. We had eaten breakfast on the plane at 3am Fiji time, but ate breakfast again when we arrived at the resort so we could gorge ourselves on the amazing fruit: passionfruit, rockmelon, watermelon, pineapple, and papaya. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling, planning, and relaxing in the sun.

The resort faces the pacific ocean and many coral reefs, which were busy with aquatic life. We stayed in a bure (pronounced like the French beret), which was somewhat similar to a yurt. We especially enjoyed the private outdoor shower. Around the bures we saw many different types of birds, geckos, and lots of big brown frogs.

The following day we took a sailboat to an uninhabited island paradise. On the boat we tried kava, a tea-like drink. In the ceremony that led up to drinking the kava, a chief and a bodyguard were chosen from the group. They clapped to receive the kava, drank it all, said, "bula,” then everyone else clapped three times. The guide explained that kava was a common drink in the villages. It didn't taste too bad, though I'm not sure I'd ever get a kava craving and my tongue was definitely numb for a little while after.

The sea around Fiji is turquoise and the same temperature as the air. While on the island we did a lot of swimming and floating. We also learned this about coconuts: the milk and pulp are for food, the husk is for rope, and the shells are for bras. We were taught how to crack open a coconut with our bare hands, though I didn't manage this feat. Apparently, Fijians used to use their teeth. I wonder if this explains why so many of the Fijians we met had gold in between their two front teeth. The leaves of the coconut trees are used to make baskets with different styles for different uses and genders of user.

Our third day in Fiji, we went scuba diving. This was Leanna's first time and she was her regular fish-like self in the water. The last time I went diving was in Tobermory with 4 degree water, shivering in a wetsuit. In Fiji, I was warm at every depth in just my bathing suit - what a treat! The reef outside the hotel had so many interesting sea creatures. We saw three 2 metre white-tipped reef sharks, which took my breath away for a second or two. They are harmless, but look similar to more menacing, larger sharks so I could NOT get the jaws theme song out of my head! We also saw clown fish, lion fish, trumpet fish, angel fish, blue star fish, and more. It was so much better than the carp and crayfish in Tobermory. Tropical diving is going to be my thing.

Along the way we have met so many friendly and helpful people who have given us information or contacts for themselves or others in New Zealand. One couple was from Mount Maunganui which seems to the sister town to Tauranga about 5 minutes away (perhaps similar to Ottawa-Gatineau?) They were very pleased to give us loads of information about the region and the North island.

Before we knew it we were back to the airport again. On the plane, we experienced waves of excitement, anxiety, disbelief, general silliness, and sadness as this part of the trip seemed more real and somehow a little bit more significant than the first leg.

June and Ralph greeted us in Auckland and have been putting up with our piles of stuff and playing excellent tour guides. Today we drove 45 minutes west to Piha, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous black sand beach. The water was slightly cooler than Fiji, but the waves were perfect for surfing or body surfing if you don't yet have a surf board or know what to do with it if you did (like me). We hiked up Lion Rock, a huge rock formation separating the two beaches at Piha for a spectacular view.

Tomorrow we get down to the business of banks, cars, and further accommodation. I don't start work in Tauranga until February so I will stay in Auckland a little while longer and see what else there is to see. Hope all is well at home. I am missing everyone very much and can't wait to see you all in NZ!