Yosemite in two days

After Monterey, our next destination was a 3 hour detour from our coastal roadtrip inland, to the Yosemite National Park. When we were planning our trip we weren’t sure if we would have the time, but wow, we are so glad we managed to fit it in!

We arrived at the Yosemite Bug Youth Hostel on Sunday evening, which is about 30 miles from the park itself (and so about half the price), and in a beautiful spot in the woods. Monterey had been a bit chilly, so when we stepped out of the car into the 32 degree heat, it really hit us!

The Yosemite Bug Hostel

The Yosemite Bug Hostel

We hadn’t made any firm plans for what we wanted to see, but Sam kept mentioning an awesome 15 mile hike he had read about. I really wasn’t convinced until I read some of the reviews on the yosemitehikes website, and I had to agree that it sounded brilliant. One guy described it as ‘after you do the Panorama Trail your life will be broken into two parts; before the hike and after it’.

So, we made up our minds to do it straight away and got up at 5am the next day to try and avoid some of the heat.

We're going up where?

We’re going up where?

The first part was a trail called ‘The Four Mile Trail‘ which is actually nearly 5 miles and is all uphill. Starting at the valley floor, we walked steadily for about 3 hours, through beech and then alpine forests, on switchback after switchback. Once we got into the rhythm of it, it felt really good, and we only saw one other group of people the whole way up.

Keep on walking

Keep on walking

As we got higher and higher new vistas would appear around the corner, like Sentinal Dome and El Capitan, and our first look at the famous Half Dome was just incredible.

Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome

The views kept getting better and better

The views kept getting better and better

We turned the corner, and POW! Half Dome!

We turned the corner, and POW! Half Dome!

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley

The end of our first trail was at the top of the peak, at Glacier Point, one of the famous look outs that you can also drive to. After stocking up on Gatorade and gummy bears at the shop, we looked at more spectacular views of the whole valley. The walk was definitely worth the payoff!

We made it tot the top selfie!

We made it tot the top selfie!

We then started on the next Trail, The Panorama Trail, which took us down to Illouette Falls and then up a ridge which had a detour to a fantastic view point of the valley, but no railings and a terrifyingly sheer drop, so I couldn’t spend too long there.

Sam gets too close to the edge at Panorama Point

Sam gets too close to the edge at Panorama Point

Getting up close to the wildlife on the Panorama Trail

Getting up close to the wildlife on the Panorama Trail

We climbed some more before dropping down to Nevada Falls for some sausage sandwiches and a paddle in the stream to cool off.

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

The Trail then took us down a really steep path on the Mist Trail to descend a seemingly endless steep stone staircase right next to the Vernal Falls, before finally, we hit the valley floor again.

Going down

Going down

I think the whole walk was about 15 miles and took us about 8 hours. We were pretty hot and sweaty by the end, but it was such a brilliant introduction to the park. We celebrated with a pint and a chicken burrito back at our hostel.

A well earned pint and burrito

A well earned pint and burrito

The next day my legs were a bit like jelly so we had a bit more of a leisurely start, before heading into the park via the south entrance in order to visit the giant sequoia trees.

The Grisly Giant Sequoia Tree

The Grisly Giant Sequoia Tree

A big ol tree

A big ol tree

The Mariposa Grove is home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the world and they are so gorgeous to walk around in. We did a nice loop around the grove to see some of the star attractions and after a few miles it got nice and crowd-free, and the Forest became wonderfully peaceful.

Peace and quiet in the trees

Peace and quiet in the trees

On the drive back to the valley we stopped at the tunnel viewpoint for some more pictures (I think we managed nearly 300 in two days here!) and then the Bridalveil Falls, which, along with Yosemite Falls, aren’t at their best in the summer as they are nearly completely dry. Never mind, we’ll just have to come back in the spring when the snow melt makes them a spectacular sight.

The vista from Tunnelview

The vista from Tunnelview

Bridalveil Falls, almost completely dry because it's summer

Bridalveil Falls, almost completely dry because it’s summer

After visiting the museum and gift shop in the village we headed out of the park, via a completely isolated bit of the river for a swim!

Cooling off in the river

Cooling off in the river

Yosemite has been one of our absolutely top favourite things we have done this year. And it’s been a pretty awesome year! It is so stunning, and even with the summer-time crowds we could easily get away into the seeming wilderness with a few lovely walks. I’d definitely love to visit Yosemite again.

I LOVE YOSEMITE!!

I LOVE YOSEMITE!!

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West Coast – the best coast?

When we were in Beijing, way back at the start of this trip, a guy from San Francisco told us this when we were talking about travel plans. Almost a year later, and the west coast road trip has begun!

Road trip face

Road trip face

Malibu Laura

Malibu Laura

With LA in the rear view mirror, we started cruising up the Pacific Coast. We didn’t get far before stopping in Malibu, strolling out along the pier and although we didn’t see any celebrity beach houses (we think), you can see why they’d live here. From there we pushed on north, the road winding around the coast making for some pretty special views, just an a few miles into the trip.

Straight into the pretty

Straight into the pretty

After a couple of hours we were in Santa Barbara and we decided to stop for lunch. Resisting the temptation for burgers and pizzas, and after wandering around the town for a while, we had a picnic on the beach before grabbing a nice ice cream on the pier. A small scoop is pretty big in America apparently.

Santa Barbara picnic

Santa Barbara picnic

Small scoops

Small scoops

Another day, another pier

Another day, another pier

From Santa Barbara we left the coast for a bit and drove into Solvang, a bizarrely quaint little town. It was originally a Danish settlement, and retains a very Scandinavian feel, right down to the windmills and Christmas shop! We didn’t stay long though because our final destination for that night, San Luis Obispo, had a farmer’s market on in the evening. I think it’s the reason Law chose SLO for us to stay.

Law finally takes the wheel

Law finally takes the wheel

Solvang - are windmills Danish?

Solvang – are windmills Danish?

They'm no Barnies maid

They’m no Barnies maid

It actually was a really nice town, and it was a good night to be there with the market on. About 4 or 5 blocks of the Main Street were totally full of people and stalls, with so much food to chose from! We ended up going with a burrito, and again what we thought was a small turned out to be huge. It was a good choice, but a tough call as we also saw, of all things, a stall selling pasties, albeit with a California twist. It wouldn’t have been right to try them, so we washed our burrito down with some cake and hit the sack.

Mmm...

Mmm…

We didn’t cover much ground the next day, but did pack a lot in. In the morning we went back to the coast and to Morro Bay, a cool little fishing town with a massive granite island / rock on the edge of the harbour. Watching the sailing boats and seals go by, we had some fish tacos and amazing garlic fries, and realised that America may not be the best place for healthy eating. After Morro, we went to Cambria, a really cool little town just off the coast where we’d be staying the night. We weren’t done for the day though, as we’d booked tickets for a look around Hearst Castle about 10 miles away.

Morro Babe

Morro Babe

A queue? Must be some good garlic fries

A queue? Must be some good garlic fries

It was mental. Insanely over the top opulence, with a bizarre mash of different styles and periods thrown together on top of a mountain. It was built by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper magnate throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Murdoch of the day. The place was his west coast retreat, a ’ranch’ to entertain in and relax in. It took almost 30 years to build and was just nuts. From the road you can see what looks like palm tree ringed white palace, and once up the hill it just gets better. The front looks like a 14th century Spanish cathedral, with a mix of statues and bits of art decorating the building from all over the world and all over history.

The Castle on the hill

The Castle on the hill

Hell of a front door

Hell of a front door

"Hearst was a man of the people"

“Hearst was a man of the people”

We had a tour of the ground floor, led by a guy who loved his job (and Mr Hearst), who passionately talked about his life and the building. The insides are massive, stately rooms, filled with a range of historical and purpose made fixtures. Huge tapestries and paintings cover the walls, ancient church choir seats “saved” are throughout, the ceilings are hundreds of years old and dining room looked like Hogwarts. Outside, tennis courts, guest houses bigger than normal houses, palm trees and a huge ’Neptune’ pool are surrounded by panoramic views of the mountains and sea. It was amazing, like being in a medieval episode of Cribs. Possibly more money than he knew what to do with, but a really fun place to visit.

Don't think he got the dining room from IKEA

Don’t think he got the dining room from IKEA

The smaller, indoor pool

The smaller, indoor pool

After Cambria, we spent the day doing one of the most famous stretches of road in the country, the Big Sur. The road from Hearst Castle up to Monterey is about 100 miles, winding around the sides of mountains that drop into the sea, past beaches that are beautiful, wild and barren at the same time rarely out of sight of the Pacific. Rocks and cliffs jut out of the sea with waves crashing, and around the next bend a colony of sea lions basks on a beach. We spent the whole day on the drive, stopping to take photos and just enjoy the views.

Big Sur begins

Big Sur begins

It's a seal's life

It’s a seal’s life

Constantly amazing views

Constantly amazing views

The road ranged from busy to fairly quiet, and for some stretches we were on our own. At other points, crowds can stop at the same place but it’s for good reason. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, cars are stopped all along the road, and by hopping the fence and walking a short track you see why. A pristine cove, naturally sheltered, with a waterfall dropping right down onto the sand. Just out to sea, a whale was swimming past, blowing and diving away. Amazing. And later, we just pulled off the road and made lunch, just us and the view.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns beach

Julia Pfeiffer Burns beach

Thar she blows! Same whale as in Kaikoura?

Thar she blows! Same whale as in Kaikoura?

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge

By the time we reached the famous Bixby Bridge, which spans a creek and is ridiculously photogenic, we had almost filled a memory card with images that will never do it justice. We did find the time and energy to explore the über-quaint town of Carmel, which was very pleasant if a little too posh for backpackers! Considering Clint Eastwood used to be the Mayor, the lack of Western/Dirty Harry memorabilia was disappointing!

From there we finished up in Monterey, and spent the evening wandering around the town. Deciding to avoid the pricier food on the wharf, we ended up with massive burgers in a sports bar instead. For our final day (for a little while) on the coast, we spent the morning around Cannery Row and in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There are some amazing exhibits there, and the fact we got discounted entry tickets from the AirBnB host we stayed with helped us enjoy it even more. The giant fish tanks were awesome, the sea otters very cute, but the highlight was eerily lit jellyfish tanks. Very cool.

Steinbeck street

Steinbeck street

A bit Bond villain maybe

A bit Bond villain maybe

Hammer time!

Hammer time!

Only a tiny bit of the route covered, but so far, the west coast is living up to the billing it got all those months ago.

Viewtastic

Viewtastic

Categories: USA | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

US(L)A

America, f@#k yeah!

America, f@#k yeah!

So, we are in America! The last landmass, last but one country, and last month and a bit of our gap yah. Back in the northern hemisphere, and into the summer and a land where the sun doesn’t set at 5.45pm! The change of pace from our last couple of months in NZ and Fiji, where we took things easy and took our time travelling, has been extreme. We’ve been doing different things every day and in just our first week have done so much. The blog feels a bit behind, so we’re now trying to catch up a bit.

Driving here is scary for all kinds of reasons

Driving here is scary for all kinds of reasons

Our flight out of Fiji left at 9.30pm on the 6th July, and after some uncomfortable sleep and the massively disappointing Anchorman 2, we landed 11 or so hours later in LA. It was about 1.30pm on the 6th July, a hell of long day. Dateline crossed, we kept our wits at the border control counter – “What exactly is the nature of your relationship?”, got our bags and then encountered the first big challenge…

We had booked a car for the first three and bit weeks here, which is all good in theory but when you’re a bit dazed and confused the 6 lane freeways and driving on the right side of the road can be a bit scary. I was pretty pleased when we made it off the freeway and into Santa Monica and found the apartment we were staying in. Tensest 10 miles ever. The place we were staying was great, and the friendly owner drove us off down toward her place at Venice Beach that evening. Coming from the peace and quiet of our last few months, the crowds, traffic and heat were a bit intense. We were loving it pretty soon though, it just feels and looks so iconically American. The pier and boardwalk, the flags, the Baywatch style lifeguard huts and the Stars and Stripes. Awesome.

Hasselhoff was ere

Hasselhoff was ere

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Only in America

Only in America

After a fairly epic sleep, we drove into the city and found the way to Hollywood. Cheesey and crowded, the walk of fame, Chinese Theatre and all the textbook sights were so cool to actually see. Laura was disappointed that I only took photos of obscure stars, but Gene Roddenberry is a legend. The driving was a bit scary still though, so we ended up haggling a discount for an open top tour ride around all the sights. Very touristy, but totally worth the $25. Mullholland Drive, the Hollywood sign, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Blvd and various celebrity homes – surprisingly good fun.

90210 baby!

90210 baby!

The drama degree finally pays off

The drama degree finally pays off

Iconic... And slightly hazy

Iconic… And slightly hazy

Hef's front gate

Hef’s front gate

One of the big questions for our time here had to be answered – Disneyland or Universal Studios? I’ve never been to any kind of Disney, but we could get to the one in Paris easier than a return to LA so Universal won out, and we had an amazing day there. We got in reasonably early, and went straight to the lower lot where the big rides are. At this point the queues were quite short and first up we went for Transformers. It blew our minds! Even the queue was entertaining, designed like a military bunker with various videos being shown. The ride itself is a really intense simulator, and it totally felt like we were in an Autobot / Decepticon smack down.

Best. Day. Ever!

Best. Day. Ever!

Roll out!

Roll out!

The Jurassic Park ride was awesomely old school, animatronic dinosaurs and a massive water slide with a soaking ending. The Mummy ride was also great, a roller coaster / house of horrors hybrid. The Studio Tour was a real highlight, going through various famous sets like the Bates Motel, western, Mexican and European towns, the neighbourhood with the crashed 747 from War of the Worlds and the street from The Burbs (Desperate Housewives made it slightly more famous I guess). Amity, complete with Jaws attack and the King Kong simulator were also great fun.

Jurassic Park gets you...

Jurassic Park gets you…

... Wet!

… Wet!

SHARK!!!

SHARK!!!

Waterworld. Better than the film

Waterworld. Better than the film

The whole day was awesome, all the rides great and we definitely got our money’s worth. I think we saw everything on the park map, even the kids’ rides. The next day we capped off our time in the City of Angels / mental roads, with two quintessentially LA experiences. We spent the morning and early afternoon wandering around Santa Monica and Venice, checking out the fair on the pier, Muscle Beach (not many people working out), the boardwalks and the general slightly freaky atmosphere. In the evening, we went and watch a sitcom being taped and became immortalised as part of the “live studio audience”.

Workin it

Workin it

It’s free to go and see things taped, so we checked what was on and booked a few weeks ago. Slim pickings, so we ended up watching a show called The Exes being shot. It stars Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs), Wayne Knight (Seinfeld) and Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock), and whilst it probably won’t make it onto our box set list, it was a great night. A stand up comic keeps the audience warmed up all night, before and during shooting, and ensures that you laugh at the right moments. It must be a hell of a job, especially on the 3rd or 4th take when we’d all heard the jokes a few times! It was the comedian’s birthday as well, so we got treated to a singalong as Turk jumped into the audience and sang Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday – surreally cool! No cameras allowed though 😦

As well as these celebs, our first genuine star spot came the day before. After touring Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the first proper famous person we saw was Eddie Marsan, a British actor, coming out of the supermarket. I said “big fan, sorry”, and he went “hello”. So LA.

LA wasn’t really one of the main places we wanted to visit in the states, but we had such a good time there. The size and traffic and heat were all intense, but there is so much to do and we’d love to go back there one day. But manifest destiny and go west young man and all that, so after 4 great days the road trip began properly, and we hit the Pacific Coast Highway.

Bye LA, thanks!

Bye LA, thanks!

Categories: USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Birthdays in the sun

Leaving New Zealand after such a long time was tough, but coming to Fiji for a week has been a pretty good way to ease the pain! It’s in the same time zone and is only a four hour flight from Christchurch and the holiday feeling kicked in as soon as we got the surprisingly good plane food and free beer!

Free beer!

Free beer!

Bula

Bula

Neither of us have been on a package holiday or anything like that before, so this week, with it’s food plans and sunbathing has been like a holiday from the gap yah. After watching the sunset over the endless pacific, we landed in Nadi airport to the awesome feeling of a warm evening, and spent a night on the main island. Bright and early the next day, we were off to the port to catch the Yasawa Flyer, the ferry that serves the chain of islands we had booked to stay on.

First stop, and after 5 and half hours on the top deck in the sun, was the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island. We were just in time for the all inclusive lunch, and spent the afternoon acclimatising by lying on the beach and swimming in the sea. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of our time there – a morning of breakfast and the end of the 8am World Cup games, and days of snorkelling the reef just off the beach, lying in the sun or playing around in the free kayaks. Somewhere in all this was my 29th, and it was definitely a way I could spend future birthdays.

Beachside bure

Beachside bure

Making the most of the free kayaks

Making the most of the free kayaks

Shark!? Buoy!?

Shark!? Buoy!?

We did venture out on a boat trip to the famous underwater caves from the Brooke Shields movie Blue Lagoon, diving and swimming through the underwater tunnel into the eerie dark cave. It was pretty cool, and left me sad that our cheap waterproof camera ceased to be waterproof the day before!

THE Blue Lagoon

THE Blue Lagoon

Lack of underwater camera... Annoying

Lack of underwater camera… Annoying

After a few days, we moved on again, listening to the goodbye song from the Fijian staff on the beach and back out to the Flyer. We only had a shortish run to Manta Ray Island, famous for it’s Manta rays (obviously) as well as it’s originality. The weather was actually a bit grey and rough on this day (for Fiji) so we were initially a bit sad to have left Blue Lagoon. But once the sun came out and we snorkelled the much more impressive reef (damn that camera), we knew it’d be fine!

Private reef

Private reef

Birthday girl

Birthday girl

On our last full day, it was Laura’s birthday, and to celebrate it was a beautifully calm day, and the Manta Rays came out to play. We went out in a boat into the channel between the islands, where the Rays swim up and down hoovering up plankton. It was great, floating around in masks and fins and watching the huge, graceful and freaky looking Rays.

Takin it easy

Takin it easy

Vinaka Fiji

Vinaka Fiji

Fiji has been an awesome, relaxing and very fun place to spend a week. A last holiday before the serious hard work of our US road trip, and definitely not the worst spot in the world to celebrate some birthdays. Next up, an 11 hour flight across the dateline to land before we take off, in a city with more people than all of New Zealand and all the fun of driving on the wrong side of the road!

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Our 9 favourite things about New Zealand

We’ve spent five and a half months travelling and working around New Zealand, been to both islands twice and loved every minute of it! Here is a quick list, off the top of our heads, of why we’ve loved it:

1. It’s so beautiful
There are mountains everywhere! And incredible lakes, beaches, forests, rivers, waterfalls, gorges. The whole country is just stunning.

2. It’s not too big and not too small
You can get from one end to the other fairly easily and it’s packed with good stuff to see!

3. The accent

4. There’s no one here!
Well hardly anyone, relatively speaking. There are only 4ish million people in New Zealand, compared to the UK’s 63 million. We have been to so many beautiful and interesting places where we are the only ones there.

5. The New Zealand Frenzy Guidebook
This book is the most awesome guide book ever. It’s full of free, off the beaten track type activities and we have used it everywhere we have been.

6. Helpx
We’ve seen and done things and met people we’d never have experienced otherwise; including sheep shearing, wall building, motorbike riding, cow mustering, fruit picking and of course, scrubbing!

7. The DoC
Everywhere you go, in the towns or in the middle of nowhere, you can usually rely on there being a green and yellow Department of Conservation sign leading to a walk, waterfall, tramp, view or something awesome.

8. It’s actually Middle Earth
Excluding a few towers and citadels, New Zealand looks pretty much exactly like it does in the Trilogy. We should know, we’ve been to ALOT of film locations.

9. The people
People here are so welcoming, laid back and nice. Strangers say hello to you in the street (in a nice way, not a crazy way).

New Zealand is the best!

New Zealand is the best!

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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