Snorkeling in Bora Bora…

One of the things Steph and I were most looking forward to was a snorkeling excursion in and around the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora. The boat and our guid, Nani, picked us up at the resort’s dock at about 9:30 that morning. The tour was going to circle the island, with 3 stops to see the life (two on the southern end, one just outside the reef just west of Vaitape) and then a short rest stop for snacks.

To start, we made a stop just past the Intercontinental Resort on the south end of the lagoon. Here we were going to see some stingrays (albeit with the barbs removed). What surprised us was how they started to circle the boat. Apparently they know they’re going to be fed when the boats show up.

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Ray Swim from Joseph Vrablik on Vimeo.

As you can see, one of the other guests on the tour wasn’t so sure about the rays to say the least. After that, we went a little further around the southern end of the lagoon, just south of Matira Point. There we saw coral and other reef life.

The highlight of the excursion had to be the swim we had with a school of black tip and lemon sharks. This was just outside the barrier reef surrounding Bora Bora to the west of Vaitape.

Shark Swim from Joseph Vrablik on Vimeo.

Following the swim with sharks, we made a short stop to relax up north of the island near the airport and had some fruit and coconut. When we got back to the resort in mid afternoon, we just reverted to type and hung out around the pool.

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Touring Bora Bora…

You’d think there isn’t much to see on such a small island. To be honest, with only a single road running along the perimeter, you wouldn’t be far off. Having said that, there are some things worth checking out. So we spent a morning on a tour.

We started off in a small village. It had one of 3 churches on Bora Bora (2 Protestant, 1 Catholic) and one of the few primary schools.

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Interesting side note: they only have up to the equivalent of our middle school on the island (of which there’s only one). For high school, the kids have to take a ferry over to Raiatea. That’s a 2.5 hour trip each way. Suffice it to say, they go for an entire week and come home for weekends. On top of that, parents have to pay for both the ferry and for school: they’re not free, and not cheap.

After some more touring around the island, our guide took us to some relics from World War II. The US Army and Navy built the first air field in French Polynesia on Bora Bora during the war. It’s still in use today. They all installed 4 large gunnery emplacements, 2 each for the cardinal directions, along with bunkers for support.

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The guns were never fired in anger, apparently.

After that, we finished our circle around the island. Along the way, we passed some bungalows that, apparently, Marlon Brando lived in for a time. At the end of our tour, our guide dropped Steph and I off at the main town on Bora Bora, Vaitape. We decided to have some lunch at a small cafe with a decent view.

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Following our lunch, we did a little shopping. We of course had to drop in and see some of the famed Tahitian pearls.

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Once done with wandering Vaitape, it was back to the harbor to catch our boat. While out, we had met a gentleman from the UK who was sailing the Pacific on a “working boat”. This was his ride, as we came to find out.

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Not a bad gig, I suppose. Just not sure I’d pay to go on a “working vacation”, but hey…

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Night Skies in Bora Bora…

As we were walking back from dinner the other night, Steph & I were enjoying looking at the stars. Primarily the Southern Cross, but other constellations as well. At one point, we realized we are able to see the Milky Way, a rare sight anymore back home in the states. When we got back to our bungalow, I broke out the tripod and camera and decided to play with some of the settings, seeing what I might be able to capture. Here’s some of this shots.

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A great photographer I ain’t, but some of these are kinda fun I think.

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More Bora Bora…

We haven’t done much of anything aside from hanging out on the beach. Having said that, Bora Bora and our resort don’t lack for scenes to photograph. Here’s some more:

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Bora Bora…

After leaving Christchurch, we had a bit of flying to do. Stayed a night in Auckland, then hopped to Tahiti. Stayed a night there before taking another short flight (with beautiful views) to our final destination: Bora Bora.

Simply being on Bora Bora is sort of surreal. You hear about it and read about it, but it’s one of those places you dream of going but never really expect to get there. But here we were.

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The airport is rather unique. Like a lot of small airports on an island, there’s no jetway, just a small arrivals building and a short runway. In fact, I don’t think a modern jetliner could get in here. Hence why you have to fly in on a smaller turbo prop. There isn’t even really a baggage claim, just some shelves the local baggage handlers deposit your bags on.

Traveling to the resort is a bit of an experience on its own. For most of the resorts on the island there are staff to meet you at the airport. They then help you get your bags and load you onto a boat to head to the resort. There’s no road from the airport to town as the airport is on its own small island, or motu. There is a water taxi to take you to Vaipate, the main town on Bora Bora, but it is run by the airline. Being an island of only about 9,000 residents, there isn’t any real public transit.

When we got to the resort, there was another staff member there to meet us. She helped us checkin, gave us a short tour and then showed us to our bungalow. Aside from some larger beach-side villas, pretty much all the accommodations are situated over the water at our resort.

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The views from our bungalow certainly did not disappoint. Everything and more than what we hoped. The visit is only getting started but is already a dream come true.

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Christchurch

After visiting the vineyards, we decided to head into Christchurch for a bit. Our first stop was the botanic gardens. Tracy at Melton Estate recommended them, saying they are beautiful and we would probably enjoy shooting some photos there. She was right.

The botanic gardens are part of a much larger park, Hagley Park. Think sort of Christchurch’s version of Central Park. The Avon River flows through the park. People were out and about kayaking on the river, running through the park or playing rugby. (Never found the rugby matches, but you could definitely hear them.)

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While driving around and, later, walking, you really get an appreciation for the devastation the earthquakes wrought in 2010 and 2011. 5 years on and it is still very evident. It will probably be another 10-15 years before they fully recover. But the ways they have adapted are incredible.

For dinner, we really wanted some lamb. Tracy again recommended Pedro’s House of Lamb. Pedro’s was a restaurant that was leveled in the earthquakes. Since then, they have reinvented themselves as a quasi-food truck, operating out a small container in the parking lot of a liquor store. Far and away the best lamb I’ve had. (New Zealand has forever ruined me on lamb.) And a very reasonable price to boot.

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Speaking of containers, those shipping containers that brought in supplies and such have been put to new use. Driving around, we saw several homes being rebuilt (most likely temporarily) using them. Many smaller establishments, such as coffee shops, were doing the same.

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They’ve even gone so far as to use those containers as a basis for an entire retail district. Re:Start Mall is a mix of retail based out of converted shipping containers and smaller vendors operating out of food carts, etc. Really neat concept and actually a lot of fun to visit.

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Christchurch is definitely rebuilding but has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see how it changes in the years to come.

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Enjoying New Zealand Wine…

So after seeing a seaside village and touring Middle-Earth, we had to decide what to do next. Given we were in the Canterbury region, we decided to go visit a few vineyards.

Our first stop was Melton Estate. This was simply due to them being the first ones open. We met Tracy, one of the owners. She was very friendly and helpful. Glad we went here first, as several of the vineyards on our list had recently closed, merged or would be closed for a wedding that day. She also gave us a few tips for some other sights to see.

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Tracy’s first suggestion was a small farmer’s market just down the road in West Melton. We stopped by to kill some time before the other vineyards opened. We met several locals, had a cup of coffee and browsed. Along the way we also met some puppies.

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Our next stop was True & Daring vineyard. There we met Celia, the owner. (Two vineyards in a row and we meet the owners.) True & Daring was unique as they only offered two of their own wines but also quite a few from smaller, local vineyards. Celia was also very helpful in getting our eventual purchases home.

After leaving True & Daring, we moved on to Lone Goat. There, we went for a hat-trick and met, wait for it, the owner. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet Zoe, the titular “Lone Goat”. That would be because she had to go visit some friends while two new baby lambs were brought to the vineyard. They were less than 12 hours old! Needless to say, Steph was thrilled.

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After meeting the lambs, we headed out. We made a quick stop at True & Daring to drop off our purchases and then headed back to Melton Estate for a light lunch. Tracy was still there and more than happy to give some tips for sights to see in Christchurch.

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As we headed back to town, Steph and I were talking about the people we had met that day. We had never met more owners, and very friendly & helpful ones at that. Not even touring vineyards in Grand Junction. This was definitely an unexpected highlight of our trip.

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A Journey to Middle-Earth…

The day after we got to New Zealand, we woke up before sunrise. We blame a combination of jet lag and the fact that it is fall. Regardless, this was good, as we needed to get our things together and grab some breakfast before they picked us up for our tour.

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Our guide, Simon, was quite chipper for so early on a Thursday, I mean FRIDAY, morning. We spent the first hour picking up the other travelers on the tour. (Of the 10, we were the only Americans. There was one student studying abroad from the UK and then 2 other families from Mexico.)

After everyone was loaded up, we headed west. Along the way we made a few stops in some small villages. The last one was Mt. Sommer. We stopped at the local domain, which supposedly had the last set of flushing toilets we would see before we came back. It also had a rather robust rugby field. According to Simon, every town in New Zealand has two things: a pub and a rugby field.

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An hour later we arrived at our destination: Mt. Sunday, aka Edoras. The landscape and surroundings looked exactly as seen in the films, minus some snow on the peaks and the Golden Hall itself. I didn’t care. I was loving every minute of it as we hiked our way to the top.

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The hike up delivered stunning view after stunning view. I must have taken over 100 photos in the space of 45 minutes alone. You truly feel as if you’re in the middle of Rohan here. It’s rather amazing that this location was never even initially on a location scout list. Peter Jackson was apparently rather pessimistic about their chances of finding a location suitable as a stand-in for the land of the Rohirrim. The scouts only stumbled across this valley when they had to put down due to bad weather.

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At the top we were treated to quite the panorama. If you look closely in the first picture below, you might even catch a glimpse of Helm’s Deep. (Not the set, that was at a quarry outside Wellington. This is the valley that stood in for it.) Although, the wind was quite impressive, and this wasn’t even a bad day according to our guide. The longer we were up there, the worse it got. The valley acted as a giant funnel, just channeling it along. (Interesting side-note: the scene in two towers where Eowyn is standing just outside the Golden Hall and the flag rips off, only to blow away, was never in the book. It apparently just happened on a day when the winds were topping out at over 50 mph. Appreciating how it fit the scene, Peter Jackson decided to leave it in the film.)

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After a short stay at the top, we hiked back down. Thankfully, we moved a little faster as the wind continued to pick up.

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We got down and loaded up. On our way out of the valley, we made a short stop at a convenient overlook to take in the scene one last time. A shot I will always be thrilled to have had the opportunity to take.

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A Day of Travels and Exploring…

So we left Denver a few days after the wedding. Taking off on an evening flight, it was just a hop (Denver to San Francisco), skip (San Francisco to Auckland) and a jump (Auckland to Christchurch) to the first stay of our honeymoon. Given the joys of crossing the date line, we landed in Christchurch a little after 9 am but having lost a day. We picked up our car and, having nothing planned and not being able to checkin to our hotel until after 2, we asked the lady helping us what she would recommend. She said we could head down to Akaroa, a small seaside town not too far outside of Christchurch. So we did.

The drive took us out over some mountains on the Banks Peninsula. We kind of forgot that we had crossed south of the equator (we blame all the planning and activities around the wedding) until we saw New Zealand bathed in full-on autumnalness. Suffice it to say, the views were absolutely stunning.

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Akaroa is a quaint seaside town apparently settled by the British and later the French. The latter is definitely reflected in various street names and architecture. Also apparently a destination for motorcycle day-trippers out of Christchurch. Given the road to get there, I can understand why.

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We had lunch at a small establishment right on the waterfront, Akaroa Fish & Chips. That’s pretty much all they serve, but it’s all you want. Best fish & chips I’ve ever had. After my last trip down, that’s saying something.

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We left Akaroa after exploring a bit and made our way back to Christchurch. We barely made it through dinner before crashing early, an understandable result of 19+ hours of traveling followed by a day of exploring.

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Touching History…

…or tragedy, as the case may be. Went for a couple of runs while in Indy for EduCause. On these runs, I came across a memorial dedicated to 9/11. Centered around 2 5.5 ton beams recovered from the twin towers, it is simple yet quite moving.

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Not what I was expecting while out for a run, but I am glad I did.

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