Dave's Treks

Friday, April 01, 2005

David Brotsky, Scuba Diver??!! - Who knew I could do this - very flattering shot...I thought the juxtaposition of me and charles was a bit too cool to pass up! Posted by Hello

His Highness - best shot - here he is, as I describe in the text below, just feet from me - what was he thinking? Well, mazal tov Charles, you sure need it! READ THE TEXT BELOW to understand this encounter... Posted by Hello

Prince Charles 3 - Here is Charles when he finally stopped stalking me - I mean as he was leaving.... Posted by Hello

Prince Charles 2 - Here is some folks greeting 'Charles' Posted by Hello

Prince Charles 1 - Here are folks waiting for Charles - look at the sense of anticipation! Posted by Hello

Great Barrier Reef Redux - 3 - my instructor and the other person who took the class with me...he is asking if I am ok, as I seemed to gurgle on the water... Posted by Hello

Great Barrier Reef Redux 2 - Coral - very wierd looking stuff! Posted by Hello

Great Barrier Reef Redux 1?! - I recently had my underwater camera developed, and here are more shots from my trip to the Great Barrier Reef - this was some nice coral and an interesting fish in the lower middle.. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Friday, March 11 to Monday, March 14 – Fiji - “Bullas and Brushes with Royalty”

The first thing you learn in Fiji is a word – “Bulla”. Literally it means hello. But it’s not just any ‘hello’. It’s a very hearty way to greet someone. The sound seems to come from the bottom of some people’s chest and is bellowed out when they see you, even when you are a stranger on the street. “Bulla!” they cry, as if everyone is their brother or friend. Can you hear it now? In fact, in Nadi (pronounced ‘Nadji’) it’s as if most people are your friend. The locals seem genuinely happy, laid back and relaxed, perhaps because tourism is their primary industry, perhaps because being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean means nothing happens too quickly – things seem to operate on Fiji time, which seems kind of like ‘Jewish time’. The pace is very causal and people really are friendly. I had one occasion when I was waiting for a bus to town from the resort we stayed at (more on the resort later). As I waited for the bus, another fellow came near me, about 20 feet away and waited as well, a local. Within 2 minutes, what to all appearances was a taxi showed up, presumably to give this fellow a ride to town. They pulled up to me and asked where I wanted to go.

“To town”, I replied.
“Get in”, they responded.
“How much?”
“Just get in”.

I knew I was not far from town, so I figured, why not, how expensive could it be? As we drove into town, I had an interesting conversation with the fellow who they had picked up, who turned out to be a security guard at the Sheraton, the resort I was staying at. He and another passenger in the car (with me they had 4 folks in the car) proceeded to explain to me about his life and the resort and how Fijians were very friendly, etc. I indicated that I wanted to go to an Internet place, to work on this blog, in fact! Well, anyways, as we approach town an amazing thing happened. At what seemed to be a major intersection on the edge of town (Nadi), many cars where coming and going a bit haphazardly and the spot begged for a traffic light. So what happened? The driver of my car stopped in the intersection and proceeded to direct the traffic for a few minutes from his car, saying a hearty ‘bulla’ to all the cars who passed by, and each of them stopped and said the same, as if they all knew each other, yet of course they did not. A few minutes later we arrived in town, and when I asked how much they said, no charge. It turns our that the security guard was picked up by his friend, who happens to be a taxi driver, and they had kindly offered me a ride as well. They truly are a very relaxed and friendly people.

So where did we stay in Fiji, you may be wondering? Well, up to this point on the Trip, in Australia and New Zealand, we stayed primarily in hotels, apartments, efficiencies (known as ‘self – contained units’ if you ever visit either country) or even chalets. For Shabbat, we would always try and stay in a nice place with extra space since we often were by ourselves and would relax and read on Shabbat.

For Fiji, Elliot and I decided to stay in a really nice place, and we used hotel award points to stay at the Sheraton Denaru Villas, which we were told was the nicest property in all of Fiji. Since Fiji was a ‘vacation within a vacation”, we figured it was a good place to splurge a bit. Well, the room we ended up with was very nice – a suite with a ‘lagoon view’, which meant we could see a little manmade, mostly dried up 1 ft deep pond from our window (no one said what kind of lagoon!), a nice kitchen and a very nice and large bedroom and bathroom. In fact, the bathroom had a device that we later determined was a washing machine and dryer all in one, but it took us 2 days to figure that out ( in the meantime it took our clothing captive and wouldn’t release it till we got the maids to give us an instruction booklet – they were as puzzled as we were!) All in all, a beautiful room, in a great resort. The resort was part of a series of 3 Sheraton properties on a private island adjacent to Nadi (it’s connected by a small causeway, unlike many other islands which are about 10 – 20 minutes by boat from Nadi). The resort had swimming pools right on the beach, several different beaches, sail boats, sea kayaks, and many other activities, as well as a private island with snorkeling minutes away by a free ferry, as well as various cultural events throughout your stay. We had decided to just relax and vegetate at the resort, since we had been through 6 fairly intensive weeks of travel by this point.

As we were going by taxi to the hotel, we ask the driver if this is indeed the best accommodation in Fiji.

“Yes”, he answered (he may be somewhat biased since he often takes people to the hotel, as a main source of business for him, but he seemed honest).

“Has anyone very famous ever stayed here”, we asked?
“Well, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, among others” he replied. We figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us. The driver continued:

“In fact, someone famous is staying here tonight!”
“Who”, we asked?
“Prince Charles!”

Who is that, I wondered, and why is there all this fuss about some English fuddy duddy? Seriously, though, let me digress for a moment before I continue this part of the tale. Throughout the Trip, we had known Prince Charles was planning on visiting some of the same places we were going to. In fact, he arrived in Australia as we were leaving and went to places we had been or had thought of going to, then he flew to the South Island of New Zealand as we were leaving to go to the North Island, again visiting places we had thought of going to or had gone. The Duke of Wales finally overtook us and arrived in Auckland, on the North Island, the day before we did. We thought, that’s that, no more Prince Charles to follow us around anymore. But the day we left for Fiji, I noticed that Charles was going to Fiji as well. The saga continues then. Can we get some protection from this royal stalker, I wondered? Even Fiji isn’t safe.

Now, as we are driving to our hotel later that night, we discover he is even at our hotel, no less. How can we get finally get him to stop following us?!! Well, we decided, if you can’t beat them, join them. At least we knew the place must be he best place to stay in Fiji if the Prince was there. There must be some advantage to having Charles around I mused..

The next morning, word around the resort was that Charles was set to leave in some ceremony at the resort at 10:00 AM. So I dragged myself out of bed at an ung-dly hour (remember, I was on a real vacation for the Fiji portion) and went to the front of the resort, a mere 5 minute walk away. It was a bit early, but it seemed the entire staff and most of the guests were awaiting his royalness. In fact, the staff was singing en mass some traditional Fijian songs for the royal send-off. As 10:00 am approached, I decided to move around to a better vantage point than where I was, across from the crowd. I studied the cars in the driveway area near me and made an educated guess as to which car would be the one carrying Charles. Perhaps the Fijian and Brutish flags gave it away... In any case, no one else had come to this realization, so I decided to plant myself near the car, figuring if I was right, I might get close to the Prince.

As 10:00 arrived, Charles began to walk through the crowds towards my area, stopping to shake people’s hands and chat with the locals and the tourists. Sure enough, he came right near me, then passed to the other side of the car and greeted the crowd over there. You can see two shots of the crowd with Charles, above – One in particular is noteworthy – look at the woman’s expression of awe and joy at the chance to see Charles – she really seemed touched. Immediately after this, suddenly Charles was in front of me, about to get into his car. When I say in front of me, I mean within 3 to 4 feet. For some reason I hadn’t frightened his security detail and I was able to get a few close-ups of the Prince. I then decided, let’s chat for a sec, since it seemed kismet that we would finally meet.

I said, ‘Hello Charles”.

( Note to self - Since it was me talking, I probably boomed it out, in my loud American voice – hard to recall what I sound like since you haven’t heard me for all these months…I am sure I boomed – I mean I must have, right? All American’s are loud I am told by my British and European friends…) ( I also neglected to use the honorific ‘Prince Charles”, which may explain why he even noticed me – that and being 5 feet away help I suppose…)

His Princeliness then replied as follows:

‘Hello. How is your trip going so far?” ( He looked a bit startled, but then I guess my balding pate would do that to most people) ( I was a bit nervous, though fairly cool considering it was him that was stalking me, so I think that’s what He said…)

( As I sit here now, pondering the exchange, I wonder, how did he know that I was on a trip – perhaps I live in Fiji. I wonder? Does he know I am on the Trip??!! Has he been reading the blog to keep up with us, thus explaining his success in stalking us? Then again, I only recently updated the blog with my New Zealand sojourns, so we will never really know?! Food for thought though…)

“Fine”, I meekly replied.

Charles then proceeded to shake my hand, get in his car and speed away, in that order. You can see some shots of this as well above, though not of me with the Prince or of “the handshake” ( I still haven’t washed my hand…) I did forget one thing – you always remember the great lines afterwards. I should have wished him ‘Mazal Tov” on his upcoming nuptials. That would at least have gotten a laugh, I suppose…

In any case, that was the extent of my royal interaction. A friend remarked to me that now, if I play the Kevin bacon six degrees of separation game, I have pretty good contacts - imagine all the people that I am now linked to via Prince Charles…

From what I read in the news today, Charles seems perturbed by the media stalking him…maybe he will consider that next time our paths cross – see this link for more on Charle’s views…


We stayed in Fiji for Shabbat, and left on a plane at the weirdest time for a flight in my life. I was going to Auckland, and then connecting via Auckland to a flight to Osaka, to begin my adventures in Japan (with my Star Alliance ticket, no airlines flew anywhere from Fiji except via Auckland). The flight from Fiji to Auckland, (lucky flight number 13), was scheduled to leave Fiji at 3:55 AM. When the reservation person told me this, I thought, there must be some mistake. No one would leave in the middle of the night? It would ruin your entire night, because you can’t easily go to sleep early enough to wake up and be well rested by 1am to leave for the airport, and you can’t sleep much on the flight like a red eye because the flight is less than 3 hours long! But sure enough, it was at that g-d forsaken hour. What happens, apparently, is that South Pacific Islands get the short end of the stick. Most of the flights are ones from the US or Canadian mainland, on their way to Australia or New Zealand. They typically leave the mainland at 10 or 11 pm, and arrive two days later in the early morning, like 6 to 8am. So you leave on a Wednesday night, and arrive on a Friday morning, since you cross the dateline in the middle of the flight. As such, when you arrive in the area of these South Pacific Islands, like Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, you get there in the middle of their night, all to please travelers on either side, in the US and in New Zealand/Australia. Consequently, the airport is on a very weird schedule. When we arrived and checked in by 2:30 AM, we go up to the gate and lo and behold every store is open and fully staffed at this forsaken hour! Apparently this is normal and the best time to be open to snag the travelers for duty free goods. So they have all the staff awake and ready to serve you, between their yawns and naps. However, for those folks like us getting on in Fiji, we are all tired and cranky to be on such a flight at such a desolate hour, when everyone not engaged in shift work should be sound asleep, so we are not in the mood to do much shopping. So you can imagine the scene. The place is wide awake, with music and lighting everywhere at 3 am, fully staffed bright eyed and bushy tailed, waiting for hordes of customer, and yet mostly without customers as we were all asleep or otherwise resting before the flight. A bit surreal if you ask me…

In any case, we had no trouble making Flight 13 of the trip, and I then had a 1 hour layover in Auckland before my flight to Osaka ( which is the closest airport to Kyoto, where I was scheduled to meet up with 4 new traveling friends for the Japanese leg of the trip) (and my baggage was thankfully checked through for me!), as well as flight 14 to Osaka, arriving via train in Kyoto on Monday night, March 14.

Elliot decided he wanted more time in Thailand, so he went straight there while I went to Japan. We decided to rejoin each other in Hong Kong, my next stop after Japan.

So ends the portion of the trip in predominantly English speaking countries, at least for now…

Fiji 2 - Sunrise - here is a shot at sunrise on our last day in Fiji - though if you read the text, it wasn't my last morning on Fiji...just the last sunrise! Posted by Hello

Fiji 1 - Here is a shot from my resort, across to the private Island I mention above... Posted by Hello

Lake Taupo - Pumice - here is a shot of the Pumice I mention in the posting below! Posted by Hello

Monday, March 6 till Thursday March 10 – North Island, New Zealand - Lord of the Rings, Tongariro Crossing and Beyond…

We arrived in Auckland, rented a car (Our 5th rental of the trip so far) and were off to the races. We decided to go to a place called Matamora, which featured prominently in the Lord of The Rings (“LOTR”) movies. As you can see from the shots below, it was the place they filmed the Hobbit village scenes at, which was known as Hobbitown in the movies. We went on a tour that the owner of the property runs, which shows the sets that are still left. Normally film companies remove all of their sets after a shoot (and in fact are usually required to by contract). Almost all of the main scenes filmed in New Zealand were in fact filmed on public lands, and as a condition of the permission to film on these lands, the Lord of The Rings folks had to remove all traces of their sets. As such, many folks are disappointed when they try to go on LOTR tours, because they often digitally composited several places into one place which never really existed, removing tress or mountains that didn’t fit their vision of the filming. They also have people who go on Lord of the Ring tours of New Zealand, where they spend up to 2 weeks visiting LOTR sites – in fact we met one such group of about 20 folks when we were in Te Anou, with people from 20 to 70 on that tour…lets just say they are a bit fanatical when it comes to LOTR – not that I know any fanatical fans of things like Star Trek or Star Wars, mind you…)

The site of Hobbitown is one of the few sites filmed on private land, but even still the LOTR folks intended to remove their sets and return the land to its original state. However, it rained during the time they started to take the sets down, and because of the mud and bad conditions, the crew asked if they could postpone taking the sets down for a few months till things dried out a bit. During that period of time, the first movie came out and the owner started having tourists showing up wanting to see the set of Hobbitown. The owner decided to try and preserve the site and open it for tours. Unfortunately, some of the sets had already been taken down and others were incomplete. For some reason, probably having to do with the rights to LOTR characters and the like, the owner is not allowed to restore the place to the way it looked during filming. As such, they have pictures of what things looked like. You need to use your imagination a bit, but I found the tour to be very interesting because it showed you many of the behind the scenes things that occur on a film set, and enough of the site remains, especially the famous tree that Bilbo Baggins disappeared under in the first movie. It was a bit expensive though, as many things seem to be in New Zealand – but when in Rome….You can see some of my shots below, including the sheep that seem to inhabit the place and leave their ‘byproduct’ all over the place – its on as sheep farm and they let the sheep go everywhere! They even have shoe brushes to wipe your shoes off when you leave!

Anyways, that night we drove to where we were staying, south of a large lake called Lake Taupo, in a place called Turangi.

The next day we went hiking in a beautiful park nearby, the Tongariro National Park. The park has an interesting history. It was the first National Park in the New Zealand and the 4th one established in the world, in the 1880s. It came about because area was a sacred area for Maori and the Maori chief in the area, Te Heuheu Tukino IV, was afraid that the area would become overrun by westerners, which would affect the sacred nature if the place. As such, he deeded it to the New Zealand government as a park. Quite foreseeing, since that really did the trick of preserving it till today. For more information on this, see the following site:


The first day, Monday we went on a short, 2 hour hike to a waterfall near the visitor center in the park, with some nice views along the way. We also drove to an area known as Lake Taupo, which is a resort town similar in its own way to Queenstown on South Island. They have bungee jumps and all sorts of adventure stuff in the area. It’s also a very pretty town on a very large lake. We ended up renting bikes and having a nice ride for several hours along the shore of the lake. The lake shore was filled with pumice, which for those who don’t know, are rocks that are so light (mostly made of air) that they can float. They were cool, so I collected some and had it shipped home. They weighed very little, after all! I have a shot below of what one looks like, in fact!

The second day we went on a great hike known as the Tongariro Crossing. It’s a 17 km, 10 mile hike through varied terrain, including volcanic craters, hot springs, scenic views and forests. The only thing negative about the hike is that it’s known as the best 1 day hike in all of New Zealand. As such, it was quite crowded with people. We went on a midweek day (Tuesday) in the off season between the end of summer and Easter, the equivalent of going in September after school starts, yet there were still 300 people on the hike that day! On weekends they can get over 1000 people, in fact. If you look closely at the first Tongariro Crossing shot below, which was a steep hill we all had to climb, you can see at least 100 people ahead of us – they look like little dots on the landscape!

The hike was very difficult, and it was surprising to see how unprepared some people were. The hike goes above an elevation of 5000 ft and is above the tree line in that area. As such, it can get quite windy, foggy and cold at the peak elevation, with temperatures in the 40s (single digits in Celsius), yet some people were dressed in shorts, did not have warm clothing, etc. Also, there were people of all ages, from an Israeli family with a 5 year old to people in their 60s (maybe even 70s?!), yet it was a very difficult hike. Besides being long, having several very steep portions and changeable weather, it had one extreme section. Basically, you had to climb for about 20 minutes, on the highest portion of the hike, at a 45 degree angle. This is not so bad, except when you add in the fact that there was fog so thick that you often couldn’t see more than 20 ft in front of you. Also, did I mention the winds? You had 20 – 30 mph winds, and it was an exposed rock face. So all this combined made it one of the more challenging things I have yet hiked. Then when you got to the top, and thought it would be easier and all downhill at that point, you realize that downhill can be harder than uphill. The slope of the downhill portion (which goes for about 20 minutes) was about 60 to 70 degrees, so steep that you literally would slide down with the rocks, like a mini avalanche. All in all, a challenging hike in good weather, death defying in bad.

The hike has some varied terrain, from volcanic features, craters, hot springs and thermal features like the red crater (pictured below), scenic views and ends in a nice forest. In a way, once you got used to the people, it became quite fun meeting different groups of folks and chatting along the way. Certainly a very unusual experience, to be on a long difficult hike and feel like you are in Times Square at times!! At the end, we all had to wait for our buses to pick us up, since the hike is a one way hike in one direction. You can see a picture of some of the folks waiting below in fact.

The next day, Wednesday, we went to some of the thermal areas around Lake Taupo, near an entire thermal area called Rotorua. Throughout the world, there are less than half a dozen true thermal areas, which means that they have a large combination of hot springs, geysers, bubbling pools, mud pools, steam vents, terraces and other types of thermal features. All of these areas, of which Yellowstone National Park is the most prominent, are in heavily volcanic areas. Basically, they are all caused by magma heating water near the surface and this heating causes the water to force its way to the surface, with all different types of effects. These places are rare because magma does not usually linger near surface areas, and over time these thermal areas change, day by day and year by year.

In fact, some geysers and the like are very short lived and peter out in a matter of weeks or months, others go for decades. You just never know. You can see some pictures from two of these areas, Craters of the Moon and Orakei Korako, below. Having been to Yellowstone previously, which has 70% of the world’s active thermal features, this was a nice place, but had little on the scale of Yellowstone. But it was worthwhile to visit since we were in the area and each of these things are different in their own way. We then ended the day by driving to Auckland for the night.

The next day, Thursday March 10, we had a whirlwind tour of Auckland. We had to do things quickly because we had a flight that night to Fiji and only had the day to cover Auckland. We went to few very pretty scenic lookouts, and saw some nice sights, such as Roto , an extinct volcano which is now an island in Auckland Harbor, which is pictured below. We also visited a very fascinating place, the Kelley Tarleton Antarctic Center, which is essentially an aquarium. I usually don’t enjoy aquariums, especially having seen some of the fish and mammals up close in the Great Barrier Reef, yet this was different.

One thing is that they fish are presented in a different way. They have one tank, where I photographed the ray, below, which is at chest level, so you can see some of the fish from above or even out of the water, like the rays, part of whose body comes about 1 foot out of the water when they are near the surface. So you can be much closer than in other aquariums. Also, the main tank is designed in such a way that you are beneath the tank and go through the area on a moving walkway, inside a clear plastic tunnel – its cool because the fish can come right next to you and above you – you can get a sense of this in one of the pictures below. But the main reason most people visit Kelley’s is for the Antarctic materials. They have recreations of the huts and equipment that the original explorers of Antarctica used, as well as many photographs and films, and even the deerskin sleeping bags and package food that they used in those days. Hard to believe, with the primitive equipment they had, that they could survive in such conditions. Some didn’t make it, in fact!

The best part, though, are the penguins. They have some beautiful penguins who ‘live’ at Kelleys, and what makes this special is that the penguins are in a sealed area which is temperature regulated to minus 20 or some such. In order to properly view them they have you travel in a vehicle inside the penguin area, which protects you from the cold, so you can get pretty close to the penguins. There must have been about 30 penguins, at least, and each are 1.5 to 3 feet high – they also have an area where they show the penguins swimming, and they really look like they are flying because they flit about so quickly in their ‘tuxedos’.

They go so fast in the water, it’s almost impossible to photograph them. I didn’t have any luck, that’s for sure! All in all, a great place to visit. We also went to the shul in Auckland, where they have a school and a kosher shop with food and the like, where we were able to purchase some much needed kosher food – they import just about everything from Australia, most of it by boat a few times per year.

We then went to the airport and boarded flight number 12, for Nadi Fiji.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Auckland 5 - Here is Elliot in the aquarium at Kelleys - note the reflection on the glass to the right of his head... Posted by Hello

Auckland 4 - penguins - they have a whole penguin area in Kelleys, where they keep the temperature at about minus 20 to keep the penguins happy Posted by Hello

Auckland 3 - ray - this and the next few shots were taken at Kelley Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter - a very cool place! Posted by Hello

Auckland 2 - flower - from one of the viewpoints we drove to in Auckland Posted by Hello

Auckland - Volcano - here is shot of an extinct volcano which is now an island off the coast of Auckland called Rangitoto Posted by Hello

Thermal 4 - Orakei Korako - more of the same, this is tinted by minerals Posted by Hello

Thermal 3 - Orakei Korako, a place we went to with terraces, geysers and other thermal features Posted by Hello

Thermal 2 - more from Creaters of the Moon Posted by Hello

Thermal 1 - this was a place we went called Craters of the Moon with many thermal features such as hot springs.. Posted by Hello

Lake Taupo 3 - a rare shot of me, on a bike no less! Posted by Hello

Lake Taupo 2 - swans in the lake Posted by Hello

Lake Taupo 1- we went bike riding along this lovely lake, formed 26,000 years ago by a huge volcanic eruption, one of the largest in history...very large and pretty lake Posted by Hello

Tongariro Crossing 10 - crowds - here are some of the folks waiting at the end for the buses - it was quite crowded! Posted by Hello

Tongariro Crossing 9 - view - the clouds finally started to clear up towards the end of the hike! Posted by Hello