Monthly Archives: September 2015

Garden Grove OC to Seattle, USA – Part One

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Flying from John Wayne (SNA) to Seattle is a lot tamer than Los Angeles International (LAX) airport.

John Wayne Airport is 14 miles (23 km) from Orange County’s main attraction Disneyland and Los Angeles International Airport is 35 miles (56 km). There are no flights between the two airports.

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Just over two hours flying time with Alaskan Airlines and the temperature’s dropped coming into Seattle. Bags were already off the belt when we arrived to collect them. Quite efficient and the service onboard was exceptional with some drinks and a small snack served.

The SeaTac / Airport Station is connected to the fourth floor of the airport parking garage. Trains arrive and depart on the platform level of the station. The covered, level walkway to the airport terminal is one level down on the mezzanine. Adult fares range from $2.25 to $3.00 depending on how far you travel.

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The Fairmont Olympic Hotel is conveniently located in downtown Seattle, close to Pike Place Market and many other opportunities to experience this city.

It’s also the start of our trip with the world-famous Rocky Mountaineer’s rail journey as the new Coastal Passage begins in Seattle. Some sightseeing and meeting up with my group one day prior to departure. allows us to acquaint ourselves with some of the attractions here.

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Timeless elegance surrounds this hotel from the corridors to the Grand Lobby.

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A sneak peek at the Space Needle.

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We’re ready for the 41 seconds of upward, ‘no-getting out’ the elevator ride of 521 feet.

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Magnificent views all round and interesting to note the ships at port. With Rocky Mountaineer you can also package up a cruise, either pre or post your rail journey from Seattle.

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Not far from the Fairmont Olympic Hotel is Pike Markets which is filled with all kinds of goodies.

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Fresh as …
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A crew of fish mongers who throw fish to each other which entertains customers.

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Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 in the Pike Place Market in downtown.

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Not bad ‘eh? The bike I mean …

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The Gum Wall is a brick alleyway wall now covered in used chewing gum at the end of Pike Markets. Parts are covered several centimetres thick.

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Dale Chihuly’s exhibit opened in 2012 and is next to the Space Needle showcasing studio glass and gardens. The Museum’s photo shows him contemplating his creations, studying other worldly formations and designs.

“I just liked the name ‘Persian.’ It conjured up the Near East, Byzantine, Far East, Venice – all the history, trades, smells and senses. It was an exotic name to me, so I just called them Persians.” –Chihuly

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Delightful to see.

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And at the end of the day, you can relax and have a meal at the café with accordions adorning the ceiling.

Knott’s Berry Farm, Shopping and Huntington Beach – Part Two

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Knott’s Berry Farm is new to me although it’s been around since 1940. The park features 40 rides including roller coasters, family rides, children’s rides, water rides and historical rides.

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160 acres of amusement park in Buena Park, California and as the 2014 Global Attractions Attendance Report states, Knott’s Berry Farm is the 13th most visited theme park in North America.

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In 1983 Camp Snoopy was added and began the park’s present-day association with the Peanuts characters.

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The Silver Bullet was fantastic to watch, I just let the others hop in line ahead of me … Just like to pretend.

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With the renovated Boardwalk area, it’s a colourful Coney Island-style fun zone.  If you come along to Knott’s Berry Farm outside of American school holidays, you’ll be amazed at how  easily you’re able to move around without any major line ups.

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Legs up! No waving.

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After all the excitement, you’ll probably need to refuel.

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Lots to choose from …

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Don’t believe for a minute this cutesy ride slows down in a hurry.

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Train ride by lunchtime is all we need.

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I beat Rachel to sit at the back, being wet for sure and not having frizzy hair was the main reason I let her sit in the front …

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Can’t go past a good old-fashioned wagon ride.
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Lunch and then Rachel is showing me the way at South Coast Plaza to my favourite store in the world – Macy’s. Now the real fun begins.

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Once we’ve exhausted our credit on shopping, it’s time for Dukes at Huntington Beach and the choices are sensational.
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Even the everyday vendor couldn’t take his eyes off the sunset at Huntington Beach Pier.

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Book early to gain a window seat at Dukes, you won’t be disappointed.

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After a full day out and because all the hotels are so close together at Garden Grove, thought I’d check out the Wyndham Anaheim Garden Grove next door to the Marriott Suites Anaheim. There is a bus stop outside here which takes you to Disneyland if staying at any of these hotels.

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Glad I did venture over, watching a bit of American footy on TV only to be told an Aussie performer Jarryd Hayne had just redeemed himself on the field. So whilst our Barman doesn’t always look this blurry nor does Jarryd play a star every time I suppose.  I have to say Hector pours an outstanding glass of vino though. Full points!

Much rather stay here than go back and pack for next stop.

Disneyland Revisited 2015, Grove District Anaheim, Orange County, USA – Part One

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I’m back to where I  started travelling internationally, and it’s the 60th Diamond Celebration of Walt Disney’s dream with added attractions and California Adventure  just next door.

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What’s new for me is the light rail which transports you into the grounds and by purchasing a pass, it offers you all the rides – all day.

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I’ve not been to Disneyland in almost 30 years and to return is a fun trip down memory lane, especially seeing some favourite rides.

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You can choose from a Disneyland 1-day Park Hopper ticket or a 2-day Park Hopper. This ticket entitles you to:
1 or 2 Park Hoppers entitles you to same-day entry into both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.
• All Disneyland Resort Park Hopper Bonus Tickets expire 13 days after first use or on January 13, 2017, whichever occurs first.
• First day of use of a ticket constitutes one full day of use.

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Waiting for the parade to begin, children (and parents) are entertained with fun dancing lessons.

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California Adventure has a parade of characters at 5:15 pm each afternoon – don’t miss it.

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Cars Land was a new attraction for me and a big favourite – for both young and old.

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Not sure I’ll be around to see it, but would be interesting …

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And if you’re staying at the hotels around the Disneyland area, there’s buses which run on a regular service, particularly along Harbor Boulevard, Garden Grove in Orange County or OC as it’s known. $5.00 will buy you a return ticket and you’re able to purchase it at your hotel as well.

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Along Harbour Boulevard in Garden Grove, there’s a cluster of well-known properties from the Grove District Anaheim Resort and Hotel’s group which offer varying accommodation styles. The Sheraton Garden Grove – Anaheim South caters widely for families with quite a number of interconnecting rooms, and depending on availability, they can usually confirm at the time of booking.

One whole floor is dedicated to business travellers whereby they’re not impacted by families.

Anaheim Marriott Suites-1_Living Area - Copy The Anaheim Marriott Suites is the premier and largest Marriott with all suites. It’s a full-service hotel and located just one mile from the Disneyland Resort attractions.

Separate to the bedroom is wardrobe and luggage space, bathroom and huge flat-screen TV in the lounge area with fast free internet and desk.

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If you’d like to try another hotel’s cuisine for a change, you can simply walk across the street and enjoy a delectable shared plate as a starter at the Hyatt Regency Orange County’s TusCA Restaurant. Renowned for its dishes of serving up hearty pastas and artisan pizzas baked in an authentic Italian oven, you can choose local Californian wines which tops it off for the night.

Hokianga Area and Bay of Islands, New Zealand – Part 2

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The next part of our journey takes us into Hokianga Harbour, also known as the Hokianga River – a long estuarine drowned valley on the west coast.

In recent years, tourism has become significant to the region. Attractions such as the great kauri trees of the Waipoua Forest, the historic waterfront villages of Kohukohu and Rawene, with quirky cafes, Horeke basalts, amazing beaches, historic buildings, nature walks, horse trekking, boat trips and fishing are bringing more visitors every year.

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The view in the evening from the Copthorne Hotel cannot be missed.

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Moving across Northland to the east, we’ve now discovered an historical area of significance whereby more than 40 Māori chiefs, led by Ngāpuhi’s Hōne Heke Pokai in 1840, signed a treaty with the British Crown at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.

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Our chosen leader from the group was Dallas who did us proud in offering a leaf as a sign of our gratitude in allowing us to be part of today’s ceremony of the Haku.

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War haka were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition, but haka are also performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals. Best known for the All Blacks footy team’s war cry before a game. Works well, they don’t lose very often.

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A day trip out with GreatSights to the Hole in the Rock cruise starts at NZD102.00 per adult plus $15.00 if you’re wanting to swim with the dolphins. Children under 5 years can swim free and is subject to conditions allowing passengers to go out.

Dolphins

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Twin Coast Discovery drive, starts and ends in Auckland and we’re more than half way.

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At the township of Russell, you can easily take a walking tour.

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Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands operate regular passenger ferry services between Paihia and Russell.

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On Maiki Hill behind Russell is a flagpole erected in the same position as the four that Hone Heke, the great Maori leader, cut down in protest over the treatment of his people after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

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The Bay of Islands hosts a myriad of beautiful island escapes and lots of sheep are part of the territory.  I do love sheep, especially as I had three lambs as a child and were lots of fun.

Photo courtesy of Anna Vickery.

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However, as I’ve matured my love of lamb is more so on a plate!

No other country produces better quality than NZ.

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Lapping up the tranquillity and picturesque views before returning to Paihia.

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Time to relax before retuning to Auckland which is about another three hours drive in decent traffic.

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Heading back into Auckland is not so congested, but I’d advise to avoid the peak-hour rush.

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Last night and Maggie’s showing us her superb meal at Orbit 360° Dining. Situated at the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower, the dining room rotates once every hour with amazing panoramic views of the city, the Hauraki Gulf and beyond.

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Moving on and with Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy Spaceseats, they are truly magnificent and value for money. Especially travelling long-haul flights to Los Angeles, Vancouver and London.

Going North to Northland, New Zealand – Part One

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Although New Zealanders are affectionately known as Kiwis, they have as many ‘sayings’ and colloquialisms as does Aussies. And, depicted here is how I felt  finding out I was setting off to the Northland region – “sweet-as” – a term people say instead of “cool” or “awesome”.

A little later on we’re taste testing Makana Confectionary, all hand-made with only natural ingredients. Yum!

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However, at the start of this journey in Auckland, we’re kicking off our first night at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT). This is New Zealand’s largest museum of its kind,  offering a fun and exciting learning experience for visitors of all ages.
The Sir Keith Park Memorial Aviation Display is available for hire as a venue and can host up to 800 guests in a cocktail-style arrangement or 350 for a seated dinner.

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Next day, we’re heading off with Scenic and our driver Roger is making sure everything’s taken care of. He has a few enjoyable yarns to tell us along the way.

P1150588Leaving The Langham Hotel was hard to do as its elegant British style is synonymous with good-old-fashioned hospitality. The previous night this bar attracted people of all ages who could be seen embracing its ambience and sophistication, not to mention having quite a few bevvies.

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We’re on our way north in the country known as the Long White Cloud.

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Beautiful scenery all the way.

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Little bit fruity, ‘eh?

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The Kaurai tree, Agathis Australis, is New Zealand’s largest and most famous native tree. It’s a type of conifer tree which grows in the subtropical northern part of the North Island.

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When we were told we’d be visiting a Tree Museum, I could only think of the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi song from 1970.

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone

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Well that’s what almost happened to the native Kaurai Tree. Here we can see how the logging took place in the early 1900’s and almost wiped out a whole species with only 2% of forest remaining today.

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You won’t pay a dollar and a half to see ’em, but at NZD25.00 per adult,  it’s definitely worthy of a visit. This museum is self funded and supports the regrowth of the region with many passionate volunteers as well lending a hand.

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Hone Heke shown with Kaurai wood inlay; known as a warrior and leader of a Māori rebellion.

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Exquisite furniture made from the Kauri. When you see the grain and texture it’s easy to see why it was highly sought after for its magnificent finish when done.

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And, what’s really impressive is the Gum Room collection whereby the sap from the mighty tree was being harvested and hence sold off. The overseas demand caused its demise at a rapid rate. Not as old as amber from other parts of the world,  but just as splendid.

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Our guide Maria from Footprints took us on a night stroll visiting the Waipoua Forest. The largest Kaurai in existence is Tane Mahuta (Maori for ‘Lord of the Forest’) and is 4.4 metres in diameter and 17.7 metres to the first branch. It’s mandatory you have your shoes cleaned and good swiping on a mat before being allowed entry to help alleviate any carriage of diseases.

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Lastly for the evening we’re shown a silver tree fern or silver fern, also known as ponga in Maori language. Although not the official symbol, it’s commonly associated with the country both overseas and by New Zealanders themselves.

Bye Sydney – Hello World 2015

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Bye for now Sydney. Although it’s a magical time of the year with Spring about to arrive, I’m also looking forward to visiting countries like Canada with the change of Autumn colours about to reveal its charm.

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But before I head off, this last week meant catching up with friends. Nic and his new pooch Percy who is checking to see if there are any other doggies ‘in da hood’.

It doesn’t matter how many different shades of grey you wear in Enmore and Newtown, you’ll always feel at home here, with lots of dogs and their owners – everywhere.

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I’m having a walk around my neighbour  taking some shots – just in case I become homesick whilst away. However, there’s more exposure to graffiti artist’s work in the Inner West than anywhere else I’ve seen so far. This is the beginning of work a few weeks ago of the old Newtown RSL.

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This is what it looks like today. Not too shabby ‘eh? Great to be in an area whereby it allows creative minds to be somewhat more productive rather than destructive.

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Just had a coffee but … I could have another?

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The local council here allows artists to partake in this activity which presents some really impressive artwork from those who are truly gifted.

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The “I Have a Dream” (Martin Luther King) mural, painted over two nights in August 1991, is the largest, most prominent and the longest-surviving of the many large format murals created around Newtown by the team known as Unmitigated Audacity Productions. The core members of which were New Zealand-born Canadian artist Andrew Aiken and his colleague Juilee Pryor.

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The “Africa” mural in King Street was originally painted in the early 1990s. The large work occupies the entire side wall of an African restaurant, located between the Newtown Mission and the Commonwealth Bank. The first version was reproduced from an old map printed by the Australian firm Chas. Scally & Co., most likely dating from the 1960s.

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The signage up the road states “Better Read than Dead”. I totally agree.

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Point taken!

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Catching up at another art scene with two special friends, Julie and Catherine who’ve been instrumental in their support of my blogging. Having read my travel yarns since the inception of the internet, at least now they (and you) can see what’s happening and be an armchair traveller too.

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Quiz question: Are these people in Sydney going to the Inner West? Answer: No
How do I know? They’re all lined up nice and orderly for the bus. If you see this ever happen in my neighbourhood, you might think a space ship has landed and everyone’s been zapped.

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Chatting with Lia Crowley at 2RRR about destinations, hints and general travel advice on breakfast radio last week. I’ll be back on air after a two-month blogging trip with NZ up first and heading onto Anaheim, followed by the world-famous Rocky Mountaineer rail journey. And, if you think I can’t seem to take in enough rail travel, continuing across Canada towards the Eastern Seaboard with Via Rail.

NYC will be the last part of the itinerary within the USA. Stay tuned and you can follow me as a travel agent with tips and tricks for travelling with my Facebook page Travel Gracefully.

Vanuatu Local Highlights and Farewell.

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High School students from Auckland, NZ giving up a week of their break to volunteer at a local school. They’ll be helping with reading, writing, painting and general assistance with teaching staff.

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Feel safe walking around Port Vila with new shops ‘popping’ up. Signs of recovery well and truly.

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Tanna coffee is sold almost everywhere, in particular Port Vila. Nice and strong, just how I like it.

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No explanation needed.

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You can take a ride to almost anywhere on the island and with this van, it was 200-300 Vatu with a couple of ‘hoodies’ – happy to have a chat along the way to Hideaway Island.

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They understand it’s the customer’s who’s paying the bills at the end of the day! Good job.

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Yes it’s home to the Underwater Post Office, unfortunately washed away with the cyclone. However, it’ll be back …

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The ferry’s all loaded up and constantly crosses over to Hideaway with fresh produce and goods.

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I wish Sydney Taxis had this on the back of their vehicles. But then again, I’d never be off the phone …

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Finished this trip and then back home. Enjoying a glass or two before packing up.