Thrilling Roller Coasters and Halloween Haunts

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Fall is now in the air (though it’s still not cool enough here in Missouri), and that means my favorite time of the year in America. I love the blend of beautiful nature and all the Halloween fun. While I enjoy a wide variety of activities, one of my favorites is visiting amusement parks. For me, it’s the best time, because the temperature has dropped from the stifling heat and humidity of summer AND all the Halloween haunt activities are in full swing. Missouri has two really nice amusement parks, conveniently located on opposite ends of the state: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City and Six Flags over St. Louis.

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I’ve been to Worlds of Fun Halloween Haunt three times, and this was the first time I went to Six Flags in St. Louis. Unlike previous years, I decided to go very early in the season, so there would not be as many crowds as there would be later in the season. The first two times I went to Worlds of Fun, I went either on Halloween or a day after, so as you can imagine, the crowds were enormous and the lines long. I HATE waiting in lines, and even though I mitigate line waiting by purchasing fast passes for the haunts, it is still too long for my tastes. Having heard that earlier weekends were not as crowded, I decided to test that out by going to Worlds of Fun on their second operating weekend (which this year, put it at the last weekend in September) and the opening weekend at Six Flags, which was the first weekend in October. The only downside to going so early? Most of the fall foliage is not near peak. But hey, small price to pay for shorter lines.

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I always make a full day of it, because I want to get all my roller coaster riding fun during the day, and leave my evening for haunt experiences. And I have also seen that the lines for rides are MUCH shorter the first few hours after a park opens than later in the evening. So my typical plan of attack, at least when visiting Worlds of Fun, is to ride all the thrill rides first and then eat and be ready for Halloween fun after the sun sets.

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That was pretty much my plan this time around at Worlds of Fun. There was always plenty of people at the park during the day, but the lines are much, much shorter (except for the water raft ride), so I was able to get my adrenaline thrills done fairly early. So by the time night fell, I was ready to get my Halloween on. Just like last year, I purchased a Fright Pass and a Skeleton Key pass. Like I said, I hate waiting in line, so anything that can cut into that, I am usually willing to pay. It really does make a tremendous difference in the amount of line waiting, and I was able to see all of the Halloween haunts in only about three to four hours.

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I also went a bit further and purchased a Skeleton Key pass. That comes in the form of a glowing necklace you wear when going through the haunts, and at certain points of the attraction, you get pulled aside to do something different, something that is supposed to push your boundaries and gross you out. I was a bit wary about the Skeleton Key this year, because I had mixed experiences of fun last year, but since I think most of the mixed experience came from the crowds, I decided to give it a whirl. I enjoyed the Skeleton Key activities more this year. There are six of them at different haunts, and three of them I was able to do alone, and three of them were with small groups. I did prefer the solitary experiences more, especially the blackout maze at Lore of the Vampire, though the Asylum Island small group experience was probably my favorite overall, just because it was rather different.

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Having gone two years in a row, it is interesting to compare the haunts from the previous year. While some of them kept the same themes, they weren’t identical. Overall, my favorite was Asylum Island, followed by Blood on the Bayou, a new haunt for this year.

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I have been to Six Flags in Dallas and Atlanta, but had never made it to the other side of Missouri. I made it a long weekend in St. Louis by combining it with some other haunted houses in St. Louis. But I had one full day and night devoted to Six Flags. I had the same plan of attack for Six Flags. Get there right when it opens, get a Slasher Pass Express to cut down on line waiting (Six Flags does not have a Skeleton Key equivalent), load up on fun roller coasters before spending the evening at the Fright Fest sites. The difference is at Six Flags, I decided to purchase a Flash Pass to cut down on line waiting for the roller coasters. Since it was my first visit, I wanted to ride roller coasters during the day and night, and I know lines can get long at night. Now, personally I think the Flash Pass is a bit overpriced ($80 for the Platinum pass), but I can’t say I didn’t get my  money’s worth. I never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride, and I was able to ride when I want to. I imagine lines might be longer during the height of the summer season, but this day I was able to book a ride whenever I wanted and walk in immediately. Thanks to this, I was able to ride all the thrill rides at least twice, which was a hell of an adrenaline rush.

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Having been to Six Flags and Worlds of Fun in back to back weekends, it was interesting to compare the two. They do have similar thrill rides. I mean, similar setup and concept, though I have to give the edge to Six Flags.  I couldn’t get enough of their Batman ride, as it was a bit smoother and twistier than Worlds of Fun (called Patriot there). Their high speed wooden coasters were equally good, though I had forgotten how freaky it was riding it at night since I could not see where I was going. But for sheer WTFness, I have to give it up for Mr. Freeze’s Reverse Blast. I have never been on a roller coaster quite like this one, and it was a HELL of a ride. You ride the same track twice, but you start backward. It is not the standard roller coaster where you chug to the top and drop down. Nope, this one shoots you out of the ride dock at a high speed and you speed UP and twisting before stopping in a near vertical line and then dropping and doing the track all over again. Oooh yeah, that was one amazing adrenaline rush, and if I smoked cigarettes, I would have wanted one afterward. While super fun during the day, it was even more fun at night, when I couldn’t see where I was going.

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The Six Flags Halloween haunts were good, though my favorite one was Voided Vision, because that was basically a blackout maze I was allowed to wander through on my own since it was early in the evening. Like all of my other Halloween experiences, I was alone. One of my frustrations with these super popular attractions is that they send people through in large groups. I get that most people are there in large groups, and they want to get as many people through as possible, but it still sucks when I am with a group of people. Sure some groups are fun and get into the spirit of it, but some just talk way too much, or are clearly not having a good time. And going through in a strange group can be particularly disappointing for blackout mazes, so I was glad the attendants sent me through alone. Like usual, I get the round of compliments about how brave I am, but hey. I want to do Halloween stuff and I would rather do it alone than not at all.

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Overall, I had a LOT of fun at both Worlds of Fun and Six Flags. I got my thrill ride adrenaline rush and my Halloween season kicked off in grand fashion. If I am still living in the state of Missouri next October, I will definitely be back to both.

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Fiji Islands Beautiful Flora and Plants

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Fiji is located in the South Pacific, so it has a very tropical climate. Hot and sunny, but also plenty of rain in some spots (like Tavenui Island) to produce lush vegetation and bright, colorful flowers. These flowers just inspired me to want to turn them into watercolor and pastel paintings.

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Pineapples don’t grow on trees. They grow in bushes. And these are tiny, but sweet local pineapple.

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Fiji Viti Levu- Mainland fun

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My last four days on Fiji was spent on the “mainland” island of Viti Levu. There were a lot of things I wanted to see and do on Viti Levu, but it is a large island, and it is not as easy to just base yourself in one area to see many different sites.

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I decided to stay on the southwestern side of Viti Levu at the Intercontinental Fiji Resort. Or I should say my travel agent recommended it, and since it sounded suitably extravagant, I figured why not? It is a very beautiful resort, though a bit more geared toward families and golfers, rather than single travelers.

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Due to a number of circumstances, I ended up not doing much of what I wanted to do while on Viti Levu (which just gives me an excuse to return). For the most part I relaxed by the pool, slept in, and some spa stuff (including an absolutely heavenly, decadent, four hand massage).

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And of course, I enjoyed a variety of beautiful sunsets (a theme of this trip). My favorite sunset was the one pictured in the title picture. That was also the night the resort hosted a fire ceremony on the beach, which was a beautiful backdrop to see the fire jugglers while the colorful sun dropped below the horizon.

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As per usual, the other sunsets were not AS spectacular, but still colorful and beautiful nonetheless.

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My last full day on Viti Levu, I had wanted to do a day long adventure on the Navala River. Unfortunately, the tour operator I hoped to use had lost the access rights to the upper Navala River, due to a land dispute with the owner. Then to compound my disappointment, my last day happened to be election day in Fiji. It was actually a pretty big deal, because this was the first democratic election in Fiji since the military coup in 2006. An interesting quirk about Fijian elections was that all eligible adults were required to vote or receive a fine. So since voting was mandatory, most tour operators were not offering any tours that day.


However, one of them was. I decided to do a zipline/waterfall hike out in a nature reserve north of the capital city of Nadi. It was pretty fun. There were about eight ziplines, most of them on the shorter end of the runs I’ve done in the past, but they were set in a very lush forest.

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After ziplining and lunch, we headed out on a hike to a couple of waterfalls. Along the way, we passed some very beautiful rope-like tree roots, and also some small pineapple bushes.

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The waterfalls were small, but the pools were cool and refreshing and you were able to swim in them. I hadn’t realized this particular part of the trip, so I had not brought a swimsuit, but it was so warm and sunny, that my clothes dried quickly.

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All in all, I didn’t get to see as much of Viti Levu as I wished. There is a lot to see and do on the island, and when I get back to Fiji, I will definitely take more time to explore it all.

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Fiji Nacula Island- Hiking Trails

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Even though it was tempting to just lay by the beach in a hammock or cool off by snorkeling, I did take advantage of my time on Nacula Island to do some hiking. This island (and I think most of the smaller islands) didn’t really have much in the way of roads, so there were no cars to worry about. People got around by boat or by walking. I decided to check out two different parts of the island by hiking to them.

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The first hike I did was a basically flat hike out to the south eastern part of the island. This hike only took me about a leisurely 30 minutes (maybe more) to get to my final destination of the beach by Nabua Lodge. This hike wasn’t marked with specific trail signs, but I did have a map from the Blue Lagoon Resort that showed me the basic way from the resort to the mud flats on the southern coast. Navigating was basically following the largest trail and hoping I was right (I was). Even though the trail was flat, it was definitely muddy in parts, but there were large branches to help me traverse the deeper muddier area.

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The trail emerges onto the mud flats, and with the tide out, the beach was huge with some local natives hunting for shellfish in the mud. After that the “trail” was basically just walking along the shoreline. There were some very beautiful reddish-purplish rocks on the beach, rocks that I had never seen before.

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Since it was rather hot and sunny on the day I went hiking, I didn’t start off until the later afternoon, hoping it would cool off a bit. So, I was mindful of both the incoming tide and the setting sun, because I did not want to get caught out on the island at night. Sure it wasn’t dangerous or anything, but I didn’t have a flashlight with me, nor are any of the trails lit up. Fumbling around in the dark is not my idea of a good time.

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Once I rounded the beach point, I came upon a relatively wide sandy beach. It certainly wasn’t as wide, or as nice as the beach fronting the Blue Lagoon Resort, but it is home to a couple other more budget lodges. It is also home to the Traveller’s Tea House. I had read about that place in my guidebook, and one of the other reasons I timed my hike when I did was to hit the tea house when it was open (only 3-5 pm in the afternoon) so I could indulge in some local cake. The cake that day was a very tasty chocolate coconut cake made right on site, and it was delicious. So thick, so rich. It just melted in my mouth as I enjoyed the beach view.

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After the cake, I walked a bit farther down the beach to Tadrai Point, which was an open rock sea arch. There really wasn’t much more of note on the other beach around the point, and the sun was getting low on the horizon, so I headed back.

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Before heading inland back to resort, I made a quick stop at a mangrove forest right in the mud flats on the beach.

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My second hike was to the one of the highest points on the island, where it afforded me a 360 degree view of the entire island. Since this hike would afford me no shade, and I needed enough time to get there, enjoy the view, and get back before I passed out from heat exhaustion, or at least exposed me to a sunburn, I decided to do this hike early in the morning. Not so early that I would miss breakfast (which would be stupid, because it was free and it was a plentiful breakfast buffet), but I started right after, around 0800.

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This was another one of those hikes that didn’t have clearly marked signs, but I looked at the map at the resort beforehand, and basically knew where I needed to go. The most confusing part was right after leaving the lodge and guessing which trail I needed to take. Since I knew I needed to head up the hill, I followed the trail that ascended. The trail ascended very quickly, and even though it was early in the morning, and the sun wasn’t fully overhead, I had to stop multiple times to take a breather, drink some water, and look at the view.

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Once the trail hit the ridgeline, it was simply a matter of walking along it to the highest point. There were times when I was sure I was at the highest point, only to see the trail keep heading higher. Eventually though, I did hit the highest point and could enjoy the tremendous views looking down on the island around me. The view of the eastern side of the island was highly lit with the rising sun.

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The western side allowed me to look down at the extensive coral reefs and the differing colors of the water, views you simply can’t see when you are at sea level.

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After enjoying the views, I headed back down, and not surprisingly, the trip down was much quicker and easier than walking up. All told, this hike took me less than two hours, and that included the number of stops I made to look at the views. It is a moderately easy hike. The hardest part is at the beginning when the trail sharply ascends to the ridgeline. But basically anyone with moderate fitness and wearing some good shoes can do this hike. I would just recommend you do it in the morning before it gets too hot and sunny, and make sure to bring some water with you. You will need it.

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Fiji Nacula Island- Isolated Beauty

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My second stop on my Fijian extravaganza was Nacula Island. I wanted to experience as wide of a variety the country had to offer as possible. So that meant I wanted to visit one of the islands in either the Mamanuca or Yasawa island groups. This one took some research and hard choices to make, because there is such a wealth of opportunities among these small islands. The Mamanuca Islands are much closer to the mainland of Viti Levu, and many of them can actually be visited on a day trip (and many people do). The Yasawa Islands are much more remote, and really can’t be visited on a day trip, at least not one that can make for a full day.

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After careful consideration, I chose to stay on Nacula Island. Nacula Island is actually fairly far northwest of Viti Levu. There are islands that are farther north, but don’t offer the wealth of possibilities. Nacula Island is pretty big, with a wide variety of beaches, hikes, and small villages to occupy your time. There are some nice resorts on the island, particularly the one I chose, the Blue Lagoon Resort. This resort has a wider variety of expense options, from the cheaper dorm beds, all the way up to your own beachside bure which fronts Long Beach, a long stretch of sugar white, super soft sand with easy swimming and snorkeling in warm water. In addition to what was offered on-island, the Blue Lagoon Resort also has regular trips up to Sawa-i-Lau Cave, which is this weird and beautiful limestone cave where you can swim in the sea. I really wanted to go there, so which resorts offered that trip played a great deal into my final decision on where to stay.

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There are two ways to get up to Nacula Island: sea plane or boat. I took a sea plane out to the island, but to save money I took a boat back. Knowing what I know now, I would just cough up the additional funds for a sea plane back to the mainland.



A boat trip out or back takes about half a day (at least) at around five hours minimum. At first, the boat trip was interesting as we stopped at different islands. But after a while, the trip just became repetitive because the islands looked the same from the boat, the sea got rougher, and the boat got more crowded. I was over it by the time we rolled into Viti Levu and was kicking myself for being too cheap to get a sea plane back. A sea plane trip is only about 30 minutes as opposed to five hours and it took me right to Nacula Island and offers a beautiful view over the islands.

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I was out on Nacula Island for about five days, and that is plenty of time to relax and see a wide variety of stuff. One of those mornings was the trip out to Sawa-i-Lau Cave, which was delightful, and thankfully we were the first group to the cave, so it wasn’t that crowded. I also did some hiking (subject to the next blog post), snorkeling and just plain relaxing on the beach. I also took a group trip to one of the local villages, Nacula. It was a small village but it was interesting to see.

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We saw the island-wide school all the different villages sent their children to, that also housed a solar panel electricity set funded by the European Union.

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For a small village, there were a couple of churches: both the older Catholic Church and the newer Protestant Church.

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Nacula Island is a good place to kick back and relax and enjoy “Fiji Time.” I spent many hours doing that. My bure opened right onto the beach, and I had my own beachside chairs to relax. The beach itself was very beautiful with soft sand. The snorkeling off the beach was pretty good as well. There was a small coral reef that house a wide variety of colorful fish. It was so easy to just wade into the water at high tide and paddle around a bit looking at the fish. I also took another snorkeling trip through the resort out to another island. This part of Fiji is amazing for snorkeling. The water was warm (not hot like the Caribbean), though winter was just ending so it probably gets warmer in the summer. The water is clear and the colorful fish are plentiful. The seas up in this area are pretty calm, so it is easy to snorkel and you don’t have to fight the ocean currents. Seriously, Nacula Island looks just like you imagine a tropical paradise island could look like.

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This island is also a good place to view the sunset since the resort faces to the west. Not every night had a beautiful sunset, of course. In fact, every night looked a bit different depending on the quality of the light and the clouds. My favorite sunset was the one in the title picture. This was my second or third night on the island, since the sunsets had been pretty gray and nearly non-existent up to this point. But this night was amazing. The colors were a mixture of orange, pink and magenta, and they just got brighter as the sun dropped toward the horizon. But the best part was when the sun did drop below the horizon and the whole sky lit up for a couple minutes. It’s like the clouds had a major color explosion and filled the whole sky. It was rather awe-inspiring to behold.

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Subsequent sunsets were never quite as spectacular as that one, but they were definitely lovely to look at, with most sunsets taking on a golden yellow tone contrasted beautifully with blue sky and sea.

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Nacula Island was definitely worth my time, and I would absolutely come back on a second trip. I would just suck it up and pay for a sea plane both ways to save time. Sometimes it is worth it to spend some extra money to maximize your travel time.

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The Astounding Beauty of Fiji- Tavenui Island

Tavenui Island-20Last year as I was getting ready to move from Korea, I knew I had to take one final vacation somewhere in Asia. My first choice was originally Thailand, because it has been on my list for years. However, just as I was getting ready to make some travel arrangements, the military coup happened, and travel was restricted. So I quickly cast around for a “consolation prize” (if you will, but not really) and latched onto Fiji. I knew I wanted to visit the South Pacific at some point, and in fact had looked into going to Fiji one New Years weekend, just for the pleasure of being one of the first to experience the new year. That didn’t happen, but I relooked into going there. What cemented it for me was the travel time. I had envisioned something like 24 hours worth of travel with at least one stop. But much to my delight, I learned that Korean Air flies directly to Fiji from Seoul, and it was only a 10 hour flight (less time than it took me to get to New Zealand).


So I started researching in earnest. and decided to book everything through my favorite Asian travel agency, Asia Transpacific Journeys. I had great success with them several years ago when they put together my vacation for Vietnam and Cambodia, and figured it would be good to use them again. This time, I decided to go a bit more high end. Usually I stay in hostels or budget hotels, because I travel alone and just need a place to stay, but nothing fancy. But I figured that if I was going to fly to Fiji, I wanted to do it up special. So that opened up a world of possibilities to me that would have not been AS COMFORTABLE with a budget trip.

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After careful research, I decided to confine my trip to three places: Tavenui Island, Nacula Island and Viti Levu. I figured this would give me a good cross section on what Fiji has to offer. I decided to start my trip with Tavenui Island since it was a bit more out of the way, and is really only easily accessible from the “mainland” (i.e. the island of Viti Levu) by plane. Tavenui reminded me like a less developed Kauai Island in Hawaii. It is very green and lush, and not heavily populated. As a result, only part of the main road is actually paved. From the airport to past the main town is paved, and it is paved around the housing complex that houses foreign visitors (of course), but the rest of the road is dirt. So, distances that don’t seem so great on paper actually can lead to fairly long journeys.

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My travel agency booked me at Paradise Tavenui, which was mentioned in my travel book, but didn’t go into great detail. This resort is on the southwestern side of Tavenui, not that far from the town of Vula. I have to say, staying at this place was LUX. It pretty much had everything I want in a high end tropical resort. I had my own bure (or thatched cabin) with a very comfortable bed and nightly turn down service, and a nice bathroom, including my favorite tropical “indulgence”, an outdoor shower. I love showering outside at night in the warm air with the tropical breezes blowing by. This resort also has its own spa section, and there are few things more deliciously decadent than getting a massage right by the ocean.

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This resort is sort of all inclusive, or can easily be. My package gave me so many meals, and all the soft drinks I could consume (booze was extra, and who doesn’t want to enjoy a tropical paradise with tropical liquor?) Every meal was outside, and the dinners in particular were very nice. One of the nights I was there we had a traditional Fijian lovo, sort of like a Fijian barbecue or luau, where all the meat was wrapped in local banana leaves and cooked over an open fire. It was interesting to see them prepare the meat and starches and then get to indulge in it afterward.

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I went on a couple of excursions from the resort. One of them was an all day trip to do the Lavena Coastal Walk (subject of the next blog post) and some snorkeling. Fiji is considered one of the top dive sites in the world, with Tavenui hosting some of the best Fijian diving. I didn’t have my diving certification at the time, so I was just going to do some snorkeling. Most dive trips will take snorkelers, so it was pretty easy, and this excursion was done directly through the resort’s dive shop and not another tour company. The particular trip I did was out to the Great White Wall, which is really  more of interest to divers, though there was plenty to see for snorkelers as well. I saw a wide variety of colorful fish, including some turtles, and beautiful coral and underwater plants. It was a really great trip, with a couple different snorkel (and dive) sites, and a stop for lunch on a nearby beach. The interesting thing is that because I went in September, it was the tail end of winter, soon to be spring. So it was a bit cooler than it can get, and that included the water. I personally didn’t need a wetsuit just for snorkeling, but I did need snorkel fins (I avoid wearing them, unless the ocean currents pretty much mandate them).

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While I was there, I decided to take advantage of the Discover Scuba program, just because I always wanted to see what SCUBA diving was like. So for an afternoon, I got lessons on the proper way to SCUBA and use the equipment. The lesson was capped off with a beginning dive just off the pier by the resort. My dive instructor Mark was very professional and taught me a lot. In fact, I left Fiji resolved to get my dive certification (I haven’t yet, but I still want to), because when I go back to Fiji (and I know I will go back, unless I die an untimely death), I want to be able to experience the majesty that is diving in Fiji.

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About half the time I was on Tavenui, it was sunny and beautiful, and half the time it was cloudy. On the days it was sunny, the sunsets were absolutely gorgeous. The resort faced west, so we got full view of sunsets. It was a wonderful and relaxing to end the day by the seaside pool with a drink in hand, taking in all the beautiful colors of the sunset. What was amazing is how the sunset colors differed by day. Some days the sky exploded into a sea of bright pink and orange, and other days, it was more orange and blue (at least the water), and others gave off a more of a silver and blue cast.

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Normally I am go, go, go on my vacations, but I made a conscious effort to just relax more on Fiji. It helped that I didn’t have a car in Tavenui, and the resort is not really within easy walking distance of anything. So it forced me just to slow down, do an excursion per day, nap in the afternoon, and just take in the beautiful scenery. All told, I was on Tavenui for almost a week, and it was a wonderful start to a delightful Fijian vacation.

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