Weather Warnings!

12 05 2009

Serengeti storm mw

“Well, look on the bright side: at least you won’t get a sun burn!” (northern Tanzania)

There’s nothing quite like a thunderstorm on a hot, humid afternoon. The heat builds to a crescendo and black clouds slide in and the sky echoes with a mighty crack of thunder. The first spots of rain are big and heavy and release the heady scent of hot, dry dust from pavement and parched soil. The wind picks up and no sooner does the storm begin and the streets swim with water, than it moves on leaving cooler, fresh air behind.

Nobody wants their vacation spoiled by rain, but few would argue against a cleansing thunderstorm to drive away a day’s worth of sapping humidity. There’s something magical about daily downpours that breathe life to lush vegetation and make sleeping easier, but sometimes, a tropical storm can raise a more than hair!

Fiji is a tropical nation whose mountains are covered with dense rain forest and brown jungle rivers. On the white sand beaches, the only respite from the cloying heat comes in the waters of the South Pacific or from gentle sea breezes which rustle the palms that provide a token of shade.

It had been a typical autumn day in paradise but as evening approached so did heavy clouds. As the light faded and the setting sun glowed in orange cracks through distant clouds, far flashes of lightning could be seen illuminating the darkening horizon.

A party had been planned on the tennis courts over which an enormous marquee had been erected. Covering three courts, the huge white tent had taken the better part of two days to raise and was still a hive of activity as final preparations were made. By the time the party started, the wind had picked up to provide a refreshing breeze outside, while inside huge fans were circulating the warm air.

With music pounding and voices filling the space, it was only when guests ventured to the facilities a few hundred metres away that the arrival of the storm was evident.

Rain lashed and bounced knee-high off the surrounding courts and paths. People sprinted for the washrooms but within a few steps were completely soaked. The party soon took on an air of reckless abandon as everyone continued their fun in saturated linen and cotton. It wasn’t long before the driving rain and roaring wind drowned out even the music. The weather had turned from an afternoon thunderstorm to a virtual cyclone.

The massive marquee began to literally rise and fall with each growing gust. The ropes that tethered the huge structure strained as they attempted to prevent the tent from becoming a balloon. The weather worsened and sopping guests began to brave the horizontal rain and sprint away, wetter than at any time since they’d stepped from their showers that morning.

Finally, a fire engine arrived to evacuate the rest of the party as the rising and falling tent became a hazard in the violent storm. As the guests were shepherded away, the firemen attempted to better anchor the thrashing and heaving canvas. Hurrying back to the hotel, the swaying lights illuminated palm trees that snapped violently in the gale, bending almost horizontally at each limit. The ocean pounded ashore, crashing into the beach and the reef beyond with a malefic anger.

A notice had been slid under my door warning of the tropical storm and advising guests to take shelter. The high roof creaked and groaned under the elements. The rain lashed against my windows and pounded the wooden shingles mercilessly. The fronds of the palms scraped and slapped as the storm intensified. Water began to run beneath my door and spill across the tiled floors until dammed with a large towel. There was no television signal and the electricity soon went off too. I lay in the darkness listening to the wrath of nature. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The next morning, somewhat surprised to see sunshine, I stepped outside and surveyed the carnage. Small trees and bushes had been blown over while coconuts and palms were strewn everywhere. The beach was covered with seed pods and driftwood and a few large branches had broken off. The air was still and clear and the sky a flawless blue.

It was simply another day in paradise.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009


TRAVEL QUIZ ANSWERS: Can you speak Kiwi?

27 01 2008

1. B. Slip-slop-slap means to put on sunblock (a MUST in New Zealand);

Watties is the beloved tomatoe sauce of New Zealand- don’t call it ketchup

2. TRUE: A waka is a Maori war canoe

3. Brekkie= Breakfast

Rellies= Relatives

Mozzies= Mosquitos

Sammie= Sandwich

Chocka= Chock full of

Pokies= Poker Machines

Uni= University

Sunnies= Sunglasses

Brill= Brilliant

Krissy Pressy= Christmas Present

4. POMS are from England: “Prisoners Of Her Majesty”

5. Kia Ora= Hello in the Maori language

I’m a Box of Fluffies= Box of Birds= Supergreat! Doing Fantastic!

ABF= About Bloody Fine= Doing Pretty Well

Piss= Beer

6. Togs= Swimsuits

7. Haka. The All Blacks are the National Rugby team and before each game do a very intimidating Maori war dance known as the Haka.

8. F; Paua is a New Zealand abalone, and Marmite is the fermented meat yeast spread.

9. Heaps= A whole lot of

Dodgy= sketchy, shady

Muppets= idiots

Hangi= Traditional Maori dinner cooked in the earth

10. Jandels= Flip-flops

Hundreds and Thousands= Candy Sprinkles

Biscuits= Cookies

Capsicum= Bell Pepper

Jelly= Jello

Bin Liners= Trash Bags

Kumaras= New Zealand Sweet Potato

Gummies= Gumboots= Hardcore Waterproof Farming/Ranching Boots

11. Bach= One room vacation home/cabin

Wop-Wops= In the middle of nowhere

12. False- they are coffee drinks:

Short Black= Espresso

Long Black= Espresso with a little hot water (like a strong americano)

Flat White= Like a strong Latte with less foam

13. Tiki Tour= Headed out roaming, no real plans or itinerary

Chilly Bin= Ice Chest/Cooler

Tuis= A popular New Zealand ale, named after a native bird

Keas= The world’s only Alpine Parrot, found near Milford Sound and known as the “cheeky kea” for its overt personality and destructive tendencies (eating hiking boots and weather stripping from cars)

14. Right Joe= Fool

Piker= Someone who backs out at the last minute

Hard Case= A real character, someone with a lot of personality

JAFA= Just another freakin’ Aucklander

15. Big Smoke= Auckland

OE= Overseas Experience, a right of passage for young Kiwis



0-5: What are ya? Get to New Zealand right away!
6-10: Choice. Work on the accent and she’ll be right.
11-15: Sweet As! You deserve a chocolate fish and a Steinlager.
Good on ya, mate!

What are ya?= Are you stupid, are you crazy, are you mad?

Choice= Cool

She’ll be right= Everything will work out fine

Sweet As!= Very Cool, like “Sweet as pie!” Also: hot as, tired as, funny as…etc.

You deserve a chocolate fish= Kudos to you, job well done (also used sarcastically)

Steinlager= Unoffical beer of the Southern Island and the “Southern Man”

Good on ya, mate= Universal “way to go, thanks, cheers”

The Nevis Bungee, Queenstown, New Zealand

22 12 2007


The word is bounced around backpackers in the South Pacific in a whisper of reverence, with a tremor of fear and a frisson of wonder. The Nevis is the ultimate bungee jump in the Land of Bungee, New Zealand. In a country where every other person is throwing themselves out of planes, jumping off cliffs, diving with monsters of the deep, and tying rubber ropes around their ankles, it is the Nevis that inspires the greatest amount of wide-eyed ‘whoa’.

It was in Auckland where AJ Hackett performed the first modern bungee jump off the Harbor Bridge, inspired by the natives of Vanuatu. After jumping he was promptly arrested and then repeated his stunt a few weeks later from the Eiffel Tower, gaining worldwide notoriety for the new extreme sport.

Today the AJ Hackett Bungee World Headquarters is located in the middle of Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure sports capital of the world. Here you can sign up for your choice of bungee experiences. Some choose The Ledge and jump out over the mountain village (a puny 47 meters), and some choose the world’s first commercial bungee jumping site at the Kawarau Bridge (only 43 meters; bring out the kindergartners). But for the real hard-core chicks like me there is only one option: The Nevis.

The 4×4 ride out to the jump site along cliff-clinging dirt roads would be enough thrill for most normal people, as would the see-through grating on the floor of the cable car that pulleys you out to the jump pod. High above the rugged river in the windy canyon you wait, hard rock music blasting, heart thumping, knees shaking over the Plexiglas floor, the words of your mother pushed to the very back of your mind. One after another your siblings in insanity fling themselves out of the pod, returning a few minutes later with an open-mouthed I-understand-the-universe-a-little-more-now look on their blood-rushed heads. Finally, it is your turn. Your ankles are bound together, your harness is triple-checked, the ropes are attached, and you shuffle out to the jump platform like a dead man walking. Soak up the amazing view of the open canyon walls and tiny little river hundreds of feet below, and remember that swan dives looks best on the DVD you will buy as proof of your courage/lunacy. Take a deep breath, and give a final wave to the camera for posterity.


2004-marahau-2-to-milford-sound-1-436.jpg  2004-marahau-2-to-milford-sound-1-442.jpg  2004-marahau-2-to-milford-sound-1-459.jpg

post and photos by: Shilo Urban

Bula Bula and Broken Hearts

20 12 2007

They say only time can heal a broken heart- obviously “they” have never been to Fiji. It is impossible to be sad on these islands as the air drips with the smell of tropical flora, the fresh seafood is served with handpicked flowers, and the musical Fijian hello, Bula Bula, floats through the air along with songs of hello and goodbye. I tried crying into my Mai Tai on the white sand beach, which was almost as hard as sulking in my stone-lined private pool. Pouting while snorkeling really didn’t work, as the incredible house-sized fluorescent orange brain coral makes you automatically say “WOW” which forces the bottom lip down, not out. Hiking through the jungles of Taveuni across streams up to hidden waterfalls takes your breath away as well as your anger, and getting lost in the mangrove swamps is so much better than getting lost in emotion. Why be morose when you can be massaged?

Like most tropical destinations, the farther you go and the smaller the island (and the more you spend), the more you will be able to remove yourself from “civilization.” In Fiji some hotels are on their own private isles, some hammocks have views to the island where the movie Castaway was filmed, some have neon purple jellyfish washed up on white sands for a couple of hours every afternoon. But everywhere you will find warm, friendly, smiling faces- not just in the uber-resorts for rich honeymooners, but in the taro fields, walking along gravel roads, and riding to school in bright blue dingies. You can’t miss the infectious warmth of the Fijians, anymore that you can’t miss…what was his name, anyway?

Shilo Urban