A Travellerspoint blog

Fhloston Paradise

Nacula Island, Yasawa Island Chain, Fiji

sunny 85 °F

"The Fifth Element" is one of my all-time favorite movies. Director Luc Besson weaves a wonderful tale of the ultimate battle between good and evil, and how ex-soldier Korben Dallas, and woman-of-unknown origin Leeloo, can save the planet in the 23rd century. In one scene, Korben and Leeloo need to travel to a vacation resort to meet a contact who will ultimately help them in their quest. In order to keep a low profile, they pose as a just-married couple and travel to the chic destination of Fhloston Paradise. Every time I think of a just-married couple traveling to a resort, Fhloston Paradise is what comes to mind. Fiji wasn't too different. Well... minus Chris Tucker and the whole good and evil thing.

That being said, resorts are not my first choice for a destination. I have trouble relaxing and instead spend most of my time jumping off of cliffs, trekking through strange terrain, or doing some other crazy activity. Danielle had the foresight to see that we need to actually relax on our honeymoon and recommended we make our final stop in Fiji. Since the purpose was relaxation, we picked a resort that was reasonable in price and offered lots of activities.

It took a full day of travel to get to Fiji from Queenstown. When we arrived in Nadi, we took a taxi to a seaport about 15 minutes away from the airport to take our very first seaplane. The pilot greeted us and brought our bags out to the dock. The flight had a total of five people, including the pilot, and we had to warm up the engines before taking off.

For those of you who are flying enthusiasts, the plane was called a Beaver and was built in the 1950s. The engine was actually from a World War II plane, and you could tell that the plane had definitely gotten its share of use. The pilot told me that he had been flying planes since he lived in Canada, and he had come out to Fiji for a year to experience a different part of the world. Although he only had two months of flying experience over the islands, he piloted the craft like he had flown over these islands his whole life. The take-offs and landings were equal parts bumpy and exhilarating. The "exhilarating" was mostly because you didn't know if a plane from the middle of last century was going to hold up on each ascent/descent. In total, we made three stops, one to drop off the first couple, a second to drop off cargo, and a third to drop us off at our resort. The experience was so fun that I added "learn to fly a seaplane" to my bucket list.

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The plane on its runway

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Our pilot, Evan

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The rudimentary controls

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The much newer GPS

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Looks like this lettering was added later on

Once we arrived, he informed us that he would be staying at the hotel too since we no longer had any daylight left. In the United States, we typically fly large planes at all hours and red-eye flights are quite common. I had not thought about it, but with such small planes and low light pollution from the islands, the loss of daylight effectively meant that flights were over for the day. After disembarking the plane (tray tables up!), we boarded a small boat and shot across the Turtle Island channel to the Blue Lagoon Resort as the sun faded on the horizon.

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Our flight window closes

Our accommodation was a hut nestled in the back of the Blue Lagoon resort. We were also lucky enough to be at a hotel with its own dive shop (this wasn't planned) with plenty of dives to take throughout the area. The beach even had its own reef teeming with sea life. This phenomenon is not typical at resorts as some tourists often damage the reefs by walking on them or unnecessarily touching the coral. With the beautiful resort, the dive options, and the nice reef, we knew we had picked the right spot. Okay, Danielle picked the right spot, no credit for me on this one.

We just relaxed the first day, deciding to snorkel in the morning, take a cooking class in the afternoon and read at night. We met a great pair of friends, Steve and Bailey, who had met in Galveston, and despite living apart, had managed to travel together a lot. Wildly enough, they have been on a cruise with a woman named Linda Beymer (not my mom, but someone with the same name), and Bailey had recognized my name through some work he had done with UC San Diego.

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Our hut

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The resident feline who looked a lot like our cat, Lexi

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Dive sites!

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The beach view

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The other beach view

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Yeah, this should have enough to keep us busy

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The reef off the beach of the resort

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Going to school

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The chef demonstrating Kokoda

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The finished product

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Drinking kava for the first time (tasted minty)

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Danielle, Bailey, and Steve

After a day of relaxation, we decided to do a couple of dives on the island chain. The first dive took us to to site called Chapel which is known for its shark encounters, and we were able to see a couple of reef sharks and bull sharks. We also got to see a moray eel that I almost touched by accident, thankfully I got to keep all ten fingers.

The next dive of the day took us to a pinnacle dive called Tom's Thumb. We got to see a spider crab and a neat type of coral the locals called "magic coral." It was magic because the coral normally appeared purple. However, when it was touched with a dive pencil or some other object, it would magically change from purple to white (see the video below). Danielle and I agreed that it was one of the coolest things that we had seen on the trip. I was also continuing to improve my buoyancy and oxygen conservation, effectively ditching the mermaid arms and getting 47 minutes out of my oxygen tank. Danielle had a well-deserved massage afterwards and decided to continue the trend for each day on the trip with the exception of the Friday slot which she generously bestowed to me. :)

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Yep, the dive boat was named "Tanked"

Sharks!

Magic Coral! - you may have to view this in full screen to get a good view of the color change.

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Thank you, Kaylie and Dave, Ashu and Runa, and Tyler for the spa time!

The Blue Lagoon Resort is famous for its proximity to the filming locations for the Brooke Shields Movie, "The Blue Lagoon." One of the most iconic scenes in the movie takes place in a cave at the end of the island chain. The resort offered snorkel trips to the area, and Danielle and I signed up for the snorkel excursion. The 20 minute boat ride drops you at the foot of the cave, and the guide allowed us to swim around the main chamber. Then he took a few of the more intrepid travelers into another cave that you actually had to swim underwater to reach (see the video below)! Danielle and I decided to go, and since it was the day before Halloween, the guide decided to make a few spooky noises with the lights out to terrify everyone. Halloween, island-style.

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A GoPro picture of the cave in the Brook Shields movie, "The Blue Lagoon" - thank you to Al and Keri for the awesome GoPro Hero4!

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Another shot

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One more perspective

Going into the second chamber of the cave complex

At the end of our day, we took a sunset cruise out to view some of the other islands in the island chain. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves on this one.

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The clouds and the mountains

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The island at the end of "The Blue Lagoon"

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The sun beginning its descent

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Off the bow

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The last remnants

Although the island wasn't very big, the resort offered a nice guided hike up to the highest mountain on the island on Saturday morning. Danielle and I took the two-hour hike and got some great views from the top. It was neat to be on a mountaintop where one side of the mountain was raining, but the other side was clear.

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The gathering storm

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The resort from the mountaintop

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Danielle on the trail

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The other side of the island from the mountaintop

We also got to try our hand at hand line fishing - think regular fishing but without the rod. The experience was eerily familiar for me, sitting there on a boat and no fishes taking the bait. The guide took pity on my dour expression and hooked a fish on a line for me, called me over, and I got to experience the thrill of pulling out my first fish. I tried to set it free, but after failing numerous times, we classified it as a keeper.

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Look, Al, Matt caught a fish! (well, let's be honest, the guide put it on the line and let me reel it in)

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And Danielle caught....Coral!

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Fiji's take on Halloween

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Another tough day at the office

On our last full day on the island, we decided to take two more dives, bringing our dive count to 16 for Matt and 15 for Danielle in the South Pacific. We dove the Tuvewa Pass and Cabbage Patch. The first dive treated us to views of a sleeping reef shark and a really neat black and white sea snake. The second dive was incredible because of the large formations of coral that resembled a cabbage patch. The video doesn't do it justice, but it was truly incredible!

Snakes, it had to be snakes

The beautiful Cabbage Patch

Since it was our last night, we decided to splurge and get the beach side lobster dinner for the evening. We were given a delicious shrimp cocktail for the starter a platter of lobster, shrimp, mahi mahi, oysters, and crab for our main course. The meal was absolutely massive and probably the best seafood that I've had outside of Mozambique. We even got to see a great sunrise while we ate our meal. I thought it was the perfect way to end such a special trip.

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A view from our table on the beach

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The feast!

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Enjoying our final dinner on the island

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Thank you Frank and Shannon for the boat back! (well, our jobs thank you, we would be okay staying here :))

In total, we traveled through 3 countries in 22 days, by 11 different flights, with 16 dives, 3 snorkeling trips, 3 multi-hour day hikes, and a 10 kilometer kayak trip. This was definitely a honeymoon to remember, and this will probably be our biggest trip for a long time. Thank you to everyone for following us along on our journey, and I'll let you know the next time we head back out on the road for another adventure.

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Bringing the blog to the people from Fiji - so long for now!

Posted by mbeymer 23:05 Archived in Fiji

Detour

Queenstown, Wanaka, Hawea, Te Anau, Milford Sound, and the South Island

sunny 40 °F

Anyone who travels a good amount will tell you that being a smart traveler takes planning, research, and adaptability. As those of you who have followed me on previous adventures know, my trips usually involve countries where English is not the primary language, the land is treacherous to get over, and as shown recently in the last post, the activities are not for the faint of heart. The original plan on coming to the South Island of New Zealand was to spend a day in Queenstown and then head out early the next day for the three-day, 25 mile Routeburn hike. This particular hike does not require any technical equipment, but you do need to a baseline level of fitness to pack your belongings and camping gear through the mountains from one site to the next.

Sometimes the weather cooperates on these journeys, and sometimes it doesn't. I was monitoring the weather very closely for the three weeks prior to this stop, and there were forecasts of sleet, snow, and high winds. I kept checking hoping it would let up, but a few days before we arrived on the South Island, there were five "considerable" avalanche paths that were on the track with an advisory that "avalanche skills are essential." While I like to hike, I have zero avalanche skills, and it's not worth the danger of facing a force of nature that usually always bests the humans on the other side. We checked the weather each day all the way until the day we flew in, and there had been no change. We decided to be smart travelers, let the data inform our decision, and modify our plans on the South Island.

Our back-up plan included renting a car and doing various day hikes throughout the South Island. After taking a truly picturesque flight from Auckland to Queenstown, and a quick trip to the sweet shop in the airport, we walked over to the car rental place to book our transport.

This would normally be something rather pedestrian in the United States, but Kiwis drive on the left side of the road and use roundabouts. On top of that, most of the cars are manual transmissions. Since Danielle is not yet equipped to drive a manual transmission, that left me with the driving duties. I had driven on the left side of the road with my friend Susanna Baker in Southern Africa, but it had been about six years and I was a tad rusty. Thankfully, the biggest mistake I made was turning on the windshield wipers when I actually intended to signal for a turn and initially going below the speed limit to the ire of the locals.

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Amazing views from 30,000 feet. Thank you to Adam and Tanya for the flight!

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Wait, wait, is that called "farts"?

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Danielle standing next to our steel chariot

We slowly got to our hotel, windshield much cleaner, and were absolutely astounded by the views. After we gawked at the views for a good amount of time, we took the ski lift up to the top of the mountain and took in even more panoramic sites. The top of the mountain had the usual trappings of any ski resort, shop, restaurant, and patio for eating. This one was unique in that it also had a luge slide for adventure seekers. Mind you, this isn't the luge in the Olympics where people slide like madmen/women down a slide at ridiculous speeds. This luge set-up was concrete and had little soapbox cars (ironic given the last post) that you used to pilot yourself down the track. Think of it like Mario Kart, except using the power of gravity. Danielle and I decided to give it a try, and we smiled like kids the whole way down it was so fun. We collected the obligatory photo, she made fun of how slow I went (MUCH slower), and then we progressed back down the mountain.

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The view from our hotel room - Thank you, Alyssa and Emad!

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The room itself

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View from the top of the mountain behind Queenstown

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Us at the top

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The luge track

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Have you ever seen more childlike happiness?

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The ski resort also randomly had a Jelly Belly store, and this portrait was just outside the store

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A view from the restaurant at dinner

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Sunset from our room

The next day, we drove an hour north to the town of Wanaka based on recommendations from Raphy Landovitz and Judy Currier. Each had recommended this city in separate conversations, and if we couldn't complete the original hike, I thought we would be sure to find some great hikes in this area. We went to a place called Rippon Winery when we got into town and Danielle got to try a number of pinot noirs from the region. She bought a bottle, and we sat out by the vineyards with a cheese plate and enjoyed the views.

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Good morning, Queenstown!

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Matt trying marmite (New Zealand's version of veggemite), it was equally terrible

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On the road to Wanaka

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The summit

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Sampling the local flavor. Thank you, Brett Daly and Wendy Ventuleth!

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With our cheese plate and the bottle of wine for Danielle

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The view from the vineyards

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An old truck parked at the vineyard

We made our way over to a place called Diamond Lake for a nice hike that locals reported had a good view of Lake Wanaka. Danielle getting over her cold, and me on my first full day of having a cold, slowly lumbered up the pass. We took a good number of breaks to take in the views and clear our nasal passages and made it to the summit an hour and a half later. The hike had great views on a relatively clear day, and a beautiful wind spectacle across one of the lakes (see video).

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We had to climb up more steps than Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Vol. 2

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Danielle looks like she hates me in this picture

The wind making it's way across the lake's surface

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The lookout point

We next went about 15 minutes northeast of Wanaka to a town called Lake Hawea. The wind was blowing fiercely through the mountain pass making waves across the lake. We thought Hawea was even prettier than Wanaka and took a thirty minute stroll along the shores. We collectively decided that this adventure was turning out great and prematurely made retirement plans for the area.

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The multiple shades of blue of Lake Hawea

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The mountains behind Lake Hawea

Dinner that night came courtesy of a restaurant called Federal, located in the middle of tiny Wanaka. The chef made us fish tacos that were better than anything I have ever had in San Diego (sacrilege for some of you reading this, but true), a very smooth shrimp curry, and a nice pan-seared sol with asparagus. I also had this amazing drink called Black Currant which resembled a blackberry soda.

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Fish tacos

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Shrimp curry

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Pan-seared sol

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Black Currant, I'm definitely going to try to find this when I get to the United States

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Lake Wanaka

The next day, we traveled from Wanaka to the town of Te Anau in the Southwestern part of the island. The drive took about three hours, and we pulled over more than a few times so that I could play tourist. Once we got there, the illness that Danielle initially picked up had hit me full force. I had to take a nap I was so tired, and awoke three hours later for dinner. Since I was not a fan of moving much at that point, we decided to walk over to the local cinema and see "The Martian." The movie theater had roomy seats and was packed with mostly locals, but I did notice a man wearing a shirt that said "UC San Diego Dad." I asked about his son, and he had graduated from Revelle College as a biology major in 2008, same as I had. It never ceases to amaze me how small of a world we live in.

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The road to Te Anau

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Date night!

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Danielle with her popcorn, ice cream, and pinot noir = happy lady

Determined to see more of the South Island, despite my sickness, I signed us up for a six mile kayak trip on the Milford Sound the next day. The drive is about two hours north of Te Anau, and it takes you past wonderful scenery. We went through a tunnel that was terrifying since you actually could not see the light on the other side, and it was poorly lit. It reminded me of Indiana Jones going through the abandoned mine shaft in "The Temple of Doom." Once we got to the other side, breath-taking panoramas surrounded us, similar to the feeling of coming around the bend to get one's first glimpse of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Although the scenery was amazing, the trip wasn't a smart idea in my condition. We were barely keeping up with the group, but the tour guide was very kind and patient with us. I would definitely recommend Roscoe's Kayak Adventures, but you do need to be in shape (and not sick) to maximize your fun on this experience.

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The road to Milford Sound

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The sun cresting over the horizon

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This tunnel was terrifying

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And the award for the most stylish outfit goes to....

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A view of Milford Sound from the Kayak

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Bowen Falls

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The clouds lifting

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Waterfalls trickling down the mountain

We decided to spend our last day in the area hiking the first leg of the Routeburn Track. This is the one spot that did not have avalanche warnings, and we did the three hour hike up to Key Summit. The sky was definitely not as clear as the day of our kayak adventure, but we enjoyed the walk as the wind whipped around the mountainside.

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There's that avalanche warning again

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The hike

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Thank you, Mike Parsons, Jim Booth, and Mark McGrath for the hikes!

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The road to the top

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Danielle at the top of Key Summit

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Lake Marion in the distance

Our visit to the South Island consisted of two days of hiking and one day of kayaking had thoroughly tested our bodies. Although our original plans hadn't worked out the way we planned, we got to see Wanaka and Hawea, kayak the Milford Sound, and see a lot more of the South Island than we had originally planned. In total, we traveled 990 kilometers, or about 615 miles, on our road trip. This is roughly the equivalent of going one way from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. We both agreed that our back-up plan ended up being better than the original plan, and we promised each other we would be back.

I began this post talking about what it entails to be a smart traveler. While back-up plans are essential, a good attitude is equally important. The original plan didn't work out, we adapted, and we had a great time all the same since we were determined to have fun no matter what. Sometimes the detour in life ends up being the course your were meant to take all along.

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The end of our unexpected journey - off to Fiji!

Posted by mbeymer 21:08 Archived in New Zealand

Learn to Fly

Auckland and the North Island, New Zealand

overcast 50 °F

We arrived in Auckland around 1 AM on Monday morning and made our way down the desolate highway to the Rendezvous Hotel in the center of the city. The purpose of this stop of the trip was to cross of one of my bucket list items: bungy jumping (I'm spelling it the New Zealand way). As always, there's a story for WHY I decided to do this. I may not always have a good reason, and less often a logical one, but there's always a reason.

When I was about 10 years old, my mom and I were at Knott's Berry Farm, a theme park in Southern California. At the time, I was timid, rode the safe rides, and took no chances. That day she wanted to take me on the Wacky Soap Box Racers. I was terrified. I cried and actually hit my mom in the legs with my tiny fists repeatedly, begging through my sobs for us not to go. She kept reassuring me that it would be fine, and I continued my protests all the way to the front of the line. I begrudgingly took my spot on what I was sure would be a death trap and resumed my self-inflicted pity party.

As the ride went through the first ups and downs, the sobs miraculously began to turn into laughs.

"What's this?" I thought, "I'm having fun!"

As the car rolled into the station, I quickly changed my facial expression from elation to anger in a lame attempt to guilt my mother, despite the fun time I had had. Ever the terrible actor, my mother asked, "was it fun?" I mustered a week nod of my head. What I had lost in pride, I had made up in courage. From then on, I was hooked on adrenaline-inducing thrills.

Looking back on this ride, it was incredibly tame. Just to show you how much of a coward I was, I have even included a link from a video someone else took in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCARcjduziY. My mother saw my fear, saw an opportunity to help me overcome that fear, and despite my protests, did exactly that. That, ladies and gentlemen, is good parenting.

As I progressed in life, I slowly upped the ante. I graduated from tame roller coasters to dangle feet roller coasters (Top Gun is still an all-time favorite). At 12, I rode my first roller coaster where you completely lay down, a ride then called Stealth (now called Nighthawk). I had progressed a lot in just a few short years. At 14, I tried rappelling for the first time. At 19, I took the big leap and jumped tandem out of an airplane. I remember that day well, together with my girlfriend-at-the-time Lindsay and good friend, Stephanie Tinseth (now Wyman), I had broken my ultimate fear barrier of heights.

The last 11 years have sought to best those experiences. I have gone horseback riding in Swaziland, shark cage diving in South Africa, raced super cars in Las Vegas, and gone zip-ling in both Thailand and Costa Rica. Finally, in the country the sport was invented, it was time to go bungy jumping. What's more, I would jump off the Auckland bridge.

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An entrance to the city of Auckland

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Welcome to Auckland

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The man for which the city is named

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Hey! Can we write this off as a work expense?

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The Maritime Museum

Although Danielle never planned to go bungy jumping, she had planned to watch me make this questionable life decision. Unfortunately, 11 dives in 3.5 days had wiped her out, and her immune system had been attacked my a cold. Her voice definitely exhibited this, and we decided it would be best if she stay in the room and rest up.

The bus for the jump picked me up at the harbor, and I was soon united with my three fellow bungys (bungy-ers? bung-adeers?). We walked out onto the underside of the bridge and slowly made our way on stairs up to the belly of the beast. The two bungy workers had a great sense of humor and stated that there would be loud music as we would go. I asked if I could make a song request for something in the metal genre, or some similar type of music. With their sense of humor, I got to jump to Justin Timberlake's "Summer Love." Lucky for them, that's my jam.

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The bus to the Auckland Bridge bungy site

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Smiling through the terror

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One giant leap

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Wait, zoom out

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Hmmmm, that looks like a body double

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But he is wearing that ugly yellow shirt

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Nope, that looks totally fake, green screen

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Bring me back up.....please? anyone there?

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Our group, post-bungy

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Another bucket list item crossed off. Thank you, Marsha!

The experience does not have the inner peace that sky diving brings, but it was still an amazing ride. I jumped 131 feet in what seemed like three seconds. The adrenaline boost was instant, and it's definitely something I would do again. I collected my photos and video evidence to further document my insane condition and inserted myself into the bus for the statistically-much-more-dangerous car ride back to the hotel. I will leave it to my colleague, Dr. Rob Weiss, to please verify this statistical claim.

Once I got back to the hotel, I went to check on Danielle. She had been able to sleep for most of the day, and she was feeling good enough to go to the hotel restaurant to get soup. We made it about 45 minutes before she needed to lie down again, and with her once again out of commission, I decided to venture to Auckland's focal point, the Sky Tower.

The Sky Tower is nestled in the middle of Auckland and rises to 1,076 feet over the city floor. There are multiple observation decks, and the views are definitely spectacular. Although Auckland is a nice city, these were really my only two planned excursions because of time constraints. We had one day in Auckland, and although I'm sad Danielle couldn't join me, I had a good time in my day in the city.

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A view from the 60th floor of the Auckland Sky Tower

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The city below

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The Sky Tower illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The next day we went on a 12 hour tour from Auckland to the Waitomo Caves and the set of the Lord of the Rings. Our first stop was the caves, a place famous for glow worms that occupy the ceiling of the cave. The tour was about 45 minutes and showed a few stalactites and stalactmites, talked about the discovery, and then had a short trip on a boat down the river. Pictures weren't permitted because light scares the worms from glowing, and the tour was not that engrossing. The blue glow was cool to see on the ceiling, but it lost its luster pretty quick (no pun intended). Danielle liked it, but I thought it wasn't that special. Although that didn't exactly pique my interest, the next stop on our unexpected journey definitely did!

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The boat to Waitomo Caves

Directing The Lord of the Rings movies was a lifelong dream of director and producer, Peter Jackson. An avid fan of the books, Peter Jackson had very strict criteria for the site for Hobbiton, the home of the protagonists, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. He told his location scouts that there needed to be a large tree by a pond and rolling hills to depict Hobbiton, just like the books. The location scouts eventually came across a farm near Matamata, New Zealand, which was used for raising sheep.

When the owner was approached about possible filming, he said that they could use his land for a movie and he would charge them what he would charge any neighbor to use his land for grazing. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, he was told that they planned on filming The Lord of the Rings. His reply is now famous, "Lord of the what?" His wife kicked him under the table, and said politely, "just sign the contract."

When the first movie came out, the famous mountain range in Matamata was shown in the movie for a total of three seconds. The locals instantly recognized it, and they started calling around trying to find out where it was. They quickly traced it to his farm and slowly the locals started to come by asking to take a look at the set.

The problem was that the farmer had one condition for filming: restore the farm the way the film crew found it. Therefore, the first Hobbiton was all just exteriors and nothing permanent was erected. Despite this, people from all over kept driving by month after month, wanting to see where it was filmed.

When Peter Jackson came back to do the Hobbit movies, the farmer again stipulated one condition for filming. Peter's response was, "I know, I know, return it to the way we found it." Unexpectedly, the farmer this time requested just the opposite.

Too many people had been coming by and he wanted them to build a permanent Hobbiton there so everyone could enjoy it. The studio and Tolkien family eventually gave the go ahead, and the structures you see in the Hobbit are the permanent ones now found on the farm. While the exteriors are intricate, the inside of the homes were filmed in Wellington. Therefore, only the facades exist and you could only go into one hobbit house. However, there was also a full replica of the Green Dragon pub which had a fireplace, bar and restaurant. This part of the day's trip was truly a treat, and we smiled practically the whole time as we explored the set.

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Entering the rolling hills (aka the Shire) that surround Hobbiton

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The locals

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We get to go here?!?

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Entering the set

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This way!

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Beautifully built

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Well kept

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Amazing detail

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A view of the village

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I've obviously never had a hard day's work

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The camera subtracts three feet

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The party tree with the pond down below

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The house of Bilbo Baggins

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The tree above the Baggins residence

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A big thank you to Ilan Slovin, Danielle Chandler, Rhodri Dierst-Davies, Jeremy Bailey, Ben Trevias, Cody Smith, Angela Mofid, Jesse Rugge, and Tori Boegh for funding the Hobbiton excursion on honeyfund!

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The Green Dragon Pub

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Enjoying ginger beer at the Green Dragon Pub

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Sitting by a nice fire

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Enjoying a nice snack courtesy of Ernie Cardenas, thank you!

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Best picture of the trip

After we got back to windy Auckland, we ducked into a restaurant called Depot located just under the sky tower. We had fish sliders, brisket tacos, delicious slaw, and lamb ribs. Between Kory's restaurant, Chaco Bar, and this place, we have definitely been spoiled for food on this trip so far!

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Fish Sliders

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Brisket Tacos

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Thank you to Jennifer and Rolando for dinner at one of Auckland's tastiest restaurants!

It's an early start on our way to the South Island tomorrow, but there will be more to come in a few days.

Posted by mbeymer 02:19 Archived in New Zealand

A Reel Dive

Sydney and The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

sunny 85 °F

It's been a year and a half since our last adventure, but Danielle and I are back on the road! After what turned out to be a very successful wedding (she said yes) and a fun time (someone actually wrote in our guestbook, "I normally hate weddings, but I liked this one"), we took off on a red eye flight to Sydney. When we arrived at the ticket counter, the attendant astutely spotted Danielle's new "Mrs." shirt and upgraded us to the exit row. Extra leg room for a 10 hour flight? Yes, please!

We slept the whole flight and arrived in Sydney well-rested, 18 hours ahead in time (the future!), and ready to explore. We stayed at the Four Seasons which we found out was only a five minute walk to the Sydney Opera House, and the front desk attendant upgraded our room to have a view of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. The hotel even sent us a bottle of champagne later that evening which was very sweet and definitely ensured we would be back. The weather was wet the first day, but we did fit in a quick tour of the Opera House before we met friends for dinner. Although we didn't have tickets to see an actual performance, we were lucky enough to walk into the main concert hall right as the orchestra started rehearsing Beethoven's "The Last Mass." We enjoyed about five minutes of the rehearsal and then were quickly escorted out by our guide. I'm sure this story will evolve over the years as "we had front row seats to see the Sydney Philharmonic play one of Beethoven's greatest pieces." That will be the version when we're old and forgetful, but suffice it to say that we got to see the full acoustic power of the space in what was a magical surprise.

The structure itself is definitely a masterpiece, but it was once considered a huge waste of money. The original budget was 7 million dollars over a period of 3 years, that's how the politicians originally sold it to their constituents. The architect envisioned a building that would blend in with the harbor, thus the reason the buildings look like giant sailboats. However, the project took a lot longer than the original estimate because the shape of the structure was unprecedented. The architect eventually had an epiphany where he figured out that if he took a sphere, cut it in half, and cut it into sections, he could create his iconic image. Workers began casting huge continuous pieces of concrete, and tiles were created to display the whites of the sails. The tiles ended up being four different colors because they realized that all white tiles would create too much glare. The actual timeline ended up being 16 years at a cost 102 million dollars when everything was finished in the late 1960s.

The original architect quit about halfway through the project because of public pressure, and he returned back to his home country of Denmark. He never returned to see his creation completed, but his son has signed on as the architect in modernizing the structure to the present day. He left one set of plans, and the Australian architects who took over used this as their blueprint to finish the masterpiece. The structure is definitely an amazing one, but Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall is still my favorite structure of all time. The first day didn't have great pictures because the structure was washed out by the clouds, but the pictures definitely improved once the weather lifted.

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The view from our hotel room

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Selfie in Sydney

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Thank you, Dad, for the Opera House Tour tickets!

After the tour, we took a taxi over to the Darlinghurst neighborhood and met my friend Kory and his wife, Kazue, and their children for dinner. For those of you who have followed my blogs since the beginning, I met Kory during my first solo international trip (and second ever blog post) while exploring the rain forest in Northern Argentina. We were staying at the same hostel, and we struck up a conversation randomly while he was waiting for his bus to the next stop on his journey. We talked about everything from "Into the Wild" to how AFI's new album didn't live up to their previous brilliance to our general philosophies on life.

It's rare to meet someone with whom conversation isn't forced, it just flows naturally. I admired his renaissance spirit and his passion for coffee. Although I have never loved the drink myself, he remarked, "you've never had a cup of coffee that I've made." We talked for five hours that day, and as he ran to catch his bus, I promised that I would visit the Clipper Cafe and he would make me the best cappacino I had ever had. Six years, I had arrived in Sydney to fulfill that promise.

While it's rare to have a conversation for five hours without missing a beat, it's rarer still to meat up five years later and resume conversation like it had only been a week since you've seen one another. I'm by no means an expert on anything, especially friendships, but I would define that as a quality of true friendship.

Danielle and I sat down in his new coffee shop, and he made me and my new wife a delicious cup of coffee. Although he has only been open for one year, his coffee shop has already accumulated some of the top accolades in Australia. I expressed how proud I was of his accomplishment, and he could see that genuine pride. We meandered up the street to a place called "Chaco Bar" for dinner. The exterior was modest but it was amazingly decorated and had exquisite food.

Kory knew the owner, and we were given the royal treatment with delicious red snapper, pork belly, and chicken heart skewers. It felt like a family reunion and a king's feast, rolled into one. After Danielle yawned a few times, we bid our goodbyes with the promise that I would return in the morning for breakfast.

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Crafting the masterpiece

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The finished work of art

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Danielle enjoying a cup

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Kory's oldest, Hugo, playing with foam

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Reunited friends, a little older and wiser

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Kory consulting the expert

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Raising that boy right :)

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A delicious plate of red snapper

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Amazing chicken skewers

The rain lifted the next day and Kory prepared a breakfast feast that included delicious salmon, decorated beautifully with rho eggs, and amazing pancakes topped with pineapple and a delectable butterscotch syrup. He also bought me a gift bag of Australia's unique treats including Tim Tam cookies, Milo (Australia's version of chocolate milk), and veggemite. I could write a whole post on veggemite, but suffice it to say that it's a condiment that should be considered a symbol of national pride and used in moderation. I thanked him profusely, and instead of a goodbye, I merely said that I would see him soon. I have a feeling it will be less than five years, and I think we'll pick up right where we left off, whether it's in LA, Sydney, or a coffee field in Ethiopia.

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Incredible pancakes, the best breakfast I've ever had

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Delicious salmon, beautifully prepared

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Bringing home Australia, thank you, Kory!

I awoke Danielle and we went for a walk in the botanical gardens next to the Harbor with a Banmi in hand. We decided to head over to the Sydney Zoo while we waited for our flight later that night. We had not planned on going, but we are definitely glad we did. We were able to walk in a pen that had kangaroos jumping around, emus prancing, and wallabees cautiously eyeing the visitors. The kangaroos got really close and afforded great shots. We were also able to pay extra and pose with a koala. The koala was definitely cute, and we got a few good shots right next to her. I was happy they didn't let people touch her (I'm generally against touching wild animals since I don't want them to touch me), but we are never actually able to go INTO the animal pens in the United States. After the zoo, we enjoyed a beautiful ferry ride back to the harbor (definitely a must if you visit) and got some picturesque shots of both the harbor and skyline.

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The Sydney Harbor Bridge

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The Bridge with the Opera House

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Sydney skyline

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Statue in the botanical garden

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Another angle of the Opera House

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Curious kangaroo

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Wise wallaby

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Cuddly koala

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The Opera House from the ferry on the way back from the zoo

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Getting artistic

We arrived in Cairns on a late flight and were whisked away to our hotel in the City Center. We explored the city briefly, but in our fatigue, we gave up and got the safety blanket meal of home - McDonald's. I meekly justified it by getting something called a McFeast, not sold in the US, but believe you me, it was no Samurai burger. The city of Cairns was unremarkable, but the main purpose is as a launching point for the Great Barrier Reef. The next day, we set out for that very adventure and one of my long-time bucket list items.

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A neat bar at the Sydney airport

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Nicely designed skylight

The transfer arrived early that morning, and we were shuttled to the small section of the Cairns Airport. No fancy metal detectors or ticket counters, just a small scale to ensure your bags did not outweigh the plane's limits. The plane was packed - eight people. Like Costa Rica, I was able to talk to the pilot if I wanted to. I decided against it, age has taught me concentration is paramount in operating heavy machinery.

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What's the in-flight movie?

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I put a ring on it

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A view from the plane

Our flight landed on Lizard Island in the middle of the great barrier reef, and we boarded small zodiacs to our main vessel. The Spirit of Freedom took us on an unforgettable four day voyage to numerous dive spots across the great barrier reef. We saw reef sharks, lion fish, a sea turtle, potato cod, and yes, even clown fish. I had 13 dives before the trip, and I finished the trip with 25 dives. I went from very low self-confidence in SCUBA gear to doing barrel rolls on my swims back to the boat. Once I finally was able to relax and enjoy, I saw amazing things and had a great time. My partner also helped calm me down a lot and made sure I didn't sink like a rock. Our GoPros took great pictures and videos, but they were often washed out. Professional dive cameras can cost a LOT, but they gave us pictures taken throughout the whole trip for only $30. Well worth the price as you'll see the difference between our pictures and their pictures.

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Welcome to the jungle

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Our chariot awaits

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The staging area

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Dive time!

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The reef in the background

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The Aussie flag flying at the bow

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Shark Feed!

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Sharks anticipating

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Feeding

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The giant Potato Cod

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Went to Australia, found Nemo

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Lionfish

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Poor unfortunate soul

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Go on and kiss the girl

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We declare this reef, JONESLAND! Thank you to the Jones family for the diving gift!!!
A big thanks also goes out to Andre Watson, Kimbrie Gobbi, Eric and Stephanie Arm, Eric Win, Stephanie Lin, and John and Bri DiCesare!

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The beautiful coral reef

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More coral, washed out by blue

The crew of the boat was even more amazing. Each dive had an option for a guide, the meals served were all fantastic (everything from lamb to pizza to great steak), the rooms were spacious for a boat, and there was plenty of motion sickness medication and high SPF sunscreen on hand for all passengers. The four days flew by, and it's the most organized excursion I have had to date on my travels. For those of you looking to have an amazing dive experience, I highly recommend this boat and cannot say enough good things about the dive spots, professionalism of the crew, or the amenities.

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Terry, our amazing chef

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Rens, our dive leader, describing the Osprey Reef dive sites

All good things must come to an end, and we were dropped off at 6:30 AM on Monday back to the airport. Our flight today will take us all the way to Auckland, and it will take about 9 hours with our layover in Brisbane. Between catching up with old friends and seeing one of the world's most iconic natural wonders, it's been an amazing seven days so far. The next week will include bungee jumping in Auckland, glow worms in the Waitomo Caves, and trekking on New Zealand's South Island. There's more to come, I hope you'll join us.

P.S. - I want to thank everyone who contributed so generously to our honeyfund for the wedding. We could NOT have done this trip without you!

Posted by mbeymer 07:33 Archived in Australia

Our Wedding

In sunny San Diego, California

sunny 96 °F

Although it's been over six months since our wedding day, it still seems like a surreal experience. As usual, in order to talk about this special day, we need to go back in time a bit.

Although Danielle is from Camarillo and I am from Sacramento, San Diego has always had a special place in our hearts. When we had our very first conversation over the phone, Danielle was heading down to San Diego to see her friend Nikki who lived there at the time.

After we had talked for about five minutes, she said, "Can I call you back? I don't want to get a ticket."

"Sure, no problem." I curtly responded.

For a guy, this is usually the signal that your first five minutes have gone poorly. I have received responses like this in the past, "everything from my sister needs a ride" to "there is a fire in a Bangladesh garment factory and I am the only one who knows how to appropriately extinguish a given type of rayon." Whatever the exuse, they needed to go. I appreciated her non-elaborate excuse and hung up the phone, albeit a bit disappointed.

Five minutes later, I was shocked to see that she was calling again. Was this, I thought, an actual concern? We ended up talking for an hour, and that was the first of many conversations in what would lead to this day.

San Diego was a special place for me before we met as well, two of my best friends live there, I lived there for three years, and I visit about once a month to get away from the chaos of Los Angeles. During our first months dating, I took her jet skiing for the very first time in the San Diego harbor, we went to the lighthouse in Point Loma, and we celebrated our first anniversary in America's finest city. I even proposed at that same restaurant that we celebrated our anniversary just over a year later during a ruse that worked quite well (See "The Proposal" blog post for those details).

Fast forward to October 2015, and my bride-to-be and I were on our way back down to San Diego for our wedding. We picked San Diego because of our special memories there and the fact that my best man pretty much had a 20 mile limit to where he would attend. All joking aside, we fell in love with a venue not too far away from his place, Ventura County was expensive and Los Angeles was just too stressful. And so we were back in our beachside paradise for what would be the best day of my life.

We rented a house a half a mile from the venue located in Point Loma, a neighborhood of San Diego that overlooks the ocean on one side and the bay on the other side. The house was big enough to fit our bridal party and on the day of the wedding quickly turned into an assembly line. Uncle Billy, maestro extraordinaire of the wedding, arrived with his team early to assemble the flower bouquets and the stylist arrived some thereafter to primp and prepare the bridal party. After taking a quick shower after an early morning hike, I was kindly instructed to disappear.

Jesse, Brent, and I ran around doing last minute errands, taking our time as to avoid the chaos of the headquarters of the military operation. We drove around getting money for tips, getting the ring cleaned, and other odds and ends with the AC on full-blast as the temperature had climbed to an unseasonably warm 96 degree high (for my international friends, that's about 36 degrees). There were a few hiccups here and there (like the guy with the alcohol arriving to the venue with no one to greet him), but overall getting hitched went off without a hitch.

We arrived at the venue and quickly began addressing the needs of Billy and his wonderful partner, Todd. Attach bouquets to vases, check. Arrange seating cards, check. Make sure there is food for everyone including the vendors, check. By the time I knew it, it was time to change and get downstairs for the ceremony to start.

We walked down the aisle, exchanged our vows through tears, both expressed our dislike for the other's baseball team yet acceptance of the person, and then we had a wonderful evening full of laughter, dancing, and wonderful food. Unlike my travels, most of you were there, so I will let the pictures (and videos) speak for themselves.

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Sunrise from my hike the Morning of the Wedding

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At the top of Mount Soledad

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The Mother of the Bride with her beautiful Daughter

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The Flowers put together by Todd, Billy, Natalie, and their crew

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Ed had a painting commissioned of this very picture that now hangs in our home, we absolutely love it

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Dinner provided by the Abbey Catering

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Cupcakes by BabyCakes in San Diego

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Our very own videographer, Dr. Cohen

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Joe-Anne and her Brother

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Me and Mom

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Andre and Ang

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Trent and Nikki

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The Best Man, Ed, and the Maid of Honor, Wendy

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Bianca and Cast

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"Go Dodgers," He whispers

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My grandfather the officiant

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We took the altar from the Game of Thrones set

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Beautiful runner made by Billy

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The man of the evening, the wonderful and talented, Billy Davis

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My dear Uncle Jim

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My two great friends (I hope they're next after Nikki and Brent)

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My mom teaching me how to dance

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Fin

The Ceremony

The best cover of the best song of all time, what a way to end a great night

A huge thank you to everyone for coming out as well as Brent and Brit Stanley for photography, Aubree from Huxley Salon for hair and make-up, The Abbey for catering, BabyCakes for the cupcakes and cake, Adam Cohen for videography, Bill and Todd for the amazing wedding planning, the Thursday Club for the beautiful venue, BevMo for the booze, Grandpa for officiating, and my dear friend Ben for feeding a starving groom during picture time. Thanks most of all to our parents and bridal/groom party for financially and emotionally supporting us throughout the whole planning process. We had a truly amazing day, and for those who could come, we felt so lucky for having you spend this wonderful day with us!

Posted by mbeymer 16:13 Archived in USA

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