Posts Tagged With: road trip

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

Advertisements
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

The Van – Part 1

Not long after arriving in New Zealand, somewhere around day 2 of being stuck at a motel in Kawerau, we realised that having a car here is quite useful. You can drive and stop and where you want, and they use the proper side of the road. So, for the last week or so, we’ve been roadtripping around the South Island, driving and stopping where we want, in a camper van.

Our new home

Our new home

We picked up our van in Christchurch, and just as the city’s worst floods in years were hitting we drove away across the Canterbury Plains. They are beautiful wide open spaces apparently, but I was too busy wrestling to stay on the road through the wind and rain to notice! The weather calmed down as we got inland though, and for our first stop we drove over a cheeky few kilometres of gravel roads to reach Mount Potts Station.

New Zealand roads...

New Zealand roads…

There were no other tourists around, and the place is quite off the beaten track. It also happens to be home to Mount Sunday, the location used as Edoras, capital of Rohan in The Two Towers. It is one of the more iconic locations of the trilogy, and required very little CGI. So when we rounded the last bend, we saw the flat valley, ringed by snow capped mountains and the smallish, stump of a hill in the middle, exactly like the films, I worried the trip had peaked too soon! We walked from our campsite to the hill and climbed, and were the only people in sight. We didn’t get to use replica swords like the official tours, but having Edoras to ourselves was pretty magical.

Edoras, Rohan, Middle-Earth

Edoras, Rohan, Middle-Earth

Enjoying some privacy in Edoras

Enjoying some privacy in Edoras

The next day we moved on to Lake Tekapo, camping at the base of Mount John. The lake is stunning, amazingly blue and green and reflects the mountains around it. That night was nice and clear, and the area is famous for its big sky and lack of light pollution – the stars were amazing, even if the lack of cloud cover meant it was a bit chilly in the van! We got up early the next day and hiked quickly up to the top of Mount John for the 360 degree views of the lakes and mountains, and then were rewarded with a half price trip to the hot springs!

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

From Tekapo we drove to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the tallest peak in Australasia. We camped right near the base of Mount Sefton, and spent the next couple of days tramping and walking around the mountains, rivers and glaciers in the area. At the end of one walk, we reached a lake formed by a glacier retreating. Mount Cook was right in front of us, and at the far end of the lake the glacier was slowly breaking off into icebergs which we sat and watched float around. It was stupefyingly awesome.

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

Mini icebergs, glacier, Mount Cook. Whatever.

Mini icebergs, glacier, Mount Cook. Whatever.

After filling a memory card with photos that will never do justice to the views, we headed off back to the east coast, going against the tourist traffic, and drove all the way southeast to Oamaru. After being in the wild for a few days it was nice to be in a coastal town, especially one famous for its cheese factory (we had a few samples), it’s very Victorian architecture, and most bizarrely for steampunk. We also visited Dunedin, a really cool university city which we will definitely try and get back to, where we did some learning of our own at the excellent Settlers Museum, all about the early Scottish colonists who founded the city.

To end our first full week, we spent a couple of days driving around the Catlins National Park, way down in the southeast. It feels pretty end of the worldy in many ways, and there are very few other tourists (or even people) down there. Law found us an awesome little campsite to park at in a place called Curio Bay, where we were in an enclosed area of flax grass right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. Curio Bay is on one side of the headland, and is famous for its 180 million year old petrified forest of fossilised tree stumps (amazing), and even more amazing, it’s Yellow-eyed Penguin colony! Wrapped up warm against the roaring 40’s wind, we watched for a couple of hours as penguins got out of the sea and waddled inland to their nests.

#PenguinSelfie

#PenguinSelfie

On the other side of the headland is Porpoise Bay, a perfect sandy, half-moon crescent beach which gets it’s name from the Hector Dolphins that play around in the surf. We watched them jump and swim for a while, before I decided to brave the cold (it’s not that far from Antarctica here) and go for a dip. I swam around for a bit and two of the dolphins got gradually closer, until I could see them about 5 metres or so away. I was the only person in the sea. It was amazing.

Me and the camera-shy dolphins

Me and the camera-shy dolphins

Basically, in just over a week we’ve seen and done loads, way more than I can fit in here. The scenery is stunning everywhere, literally every bend in the road is photo-worthy, our bed is nice and comfy, cooking on the gas stove or in the camp kitchens is fun, we climbed Edoras, saw glaciers and icebergs, saw penguins, swam with dolphins, climbed around at Aslan’s Camp, visited the very end of the country and we still have two weeks left in this van.

Elephant Rocks AKA Aslan's Camp

Elephant Rocks AKA Aslan’s Camp

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

Van with a view

Van with a view

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: