The end…

The end is upon me. I have been back in the UK now for two days. Just wanted to end this series of blogs with a few reflections.

I never thought I would go travelling again, so I feel I deserve to pat myself on my back for all that I achieved during my time away.

  • I travelled for many weeks completely by myself
  • I planned and organised the whole trip myself
  • I drove the entire way around New Zealand single-handed
  • I crossed continental US
  • I returned back to where I used to live in Melbourne, Australia
  • I caught up with lots of good friends
  • I felt the fear and did it anyway.

It wasn’t always easy. Far from it. I did not take well to hostel life, which made the trip more expensive. I found eating healthy vegetarian food challenging at times. I felt lonely at times. But I also had some wonderful experiences.

  • I delighted in the unbelievable beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand
  • I was heartened by the resilience of the earthquake-stricken people of Christchurch
  • I retraced my steps through beautiful Melbourne
  • I made Laguna Beach and Orange County my second home
  • I was blown away by the sights and sounds of New Orleans
  • I was fascinated by the museums and galleries of Washington DC.

Anyone who has been travelling will always tell you coming home is hard. And it is. But I would not have changed it for a thing. YOLO as the youngsters say…..

Here are a few of my favourite photos from my trip.

 

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Week 15 – Auckland 

Auckland is home to approximately one third of the population of New Zealand. I spent three nights here which is more than enough time to explore the city.

I think Auckland is quite faceless, doesn’t have any real identity or know what it wants to be. The city is chock-a-block full of roadworks too so maybe there’s a grand plan to improve it, who knows. 

Apparently one third of the city is now made up of Asian immigrants and since I was last here in 2005 it feels like it’s morphing into another Asian city like Singapore. 

The Sky Tower is the main architectural site and you can see it wherever you go and they do a good job of lighting it up at night.

SkyTower by day
SkyTower by night

The art gallery is free and had a good collection of Maori portraits as well as twentieth century international Impressionism. 

Rangi Topeora by Gotfried Lindauer

Vanessa Bell Pregnant by Duncan Grant – 1918

Portrait of Anne Howard-Vyse by Tilly Kettle – 1780

My other highlight was The Academy cinema which I visited three times and it shows a great range of independent world cinema.

I saw the sci-fi film ‘Arrival’, the Japanese anime film ‘Your Name’ & the Australian film ‘Girl Asleep’, all of which I really enjoyed and recommend.

Having travelled across the whole country I have to say that Auckland would be the last place I’d settle if I had the choice, though I guess the majority of jobs are here.

New Zealand’s best qualities are the stunning & unique scenery and the friendly people. I hope to return one day soon…

However, I’m excited to be returning to my second home today…..California!

Week 14 – Fjordland, Aspiring National Park, Westland and Abel Tasman

Leaving the very southern tip of New Zealand behind me, I headed west towards Fjordland. This began a leg of my trip with many long days of driving. Getting anywhere in New Zealand takes a while. That’s mainly because there aren’t many straight roads and because there are usually quite a few mountains in the way! On average I think I must have driven four hours each day.

Fjordland

Fjordland sounds like a theme park, and in some ways it is, a natural one. Judging by the numbers of tourists there, it felt like one too at times. The area is very famous for Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. I didn’t make it that far due to time restrictions, but I did explore some of the area. I came across a beautiful meadow area with thousands of wild flowers (see photo below). It reminded me of Tuolumne Meadows in California. I had the place to myself, which was great, as I cannot stand going to overly touristy places with thousand of busloads of Chinese tourists ruining the experience.

Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows

I also visited Manapouri and Te Anu, both of which are lovely small towns on two different lakes. I like to go off the beaten track if I can and experience places where New Zealanders live, and not just where the tourists go. New Zealand is much more popular than when I was last here in 2005 and I fear the change is eating away at what made the country great before.

Queenstown, Wanaka and Mount Aspiring

The next day I drove to Wanaka, via the popular mountain town of Queenstown. The two places couldn’t be more different. Queenstown has become a party place, bucketloads of teenagers all looking for their next McDonalds. It is still beautiful, but it’s not for me. I was glad I chose to stay in Wanaka, which everyone says is like Queenstown was twenty years ago.

Whilst there I drove into Aspiring National Park, which is such a great name! Again, I had the place to myself, with great views of huge snow-capped mountains. The town itself has a beautiful backdrop of mountains, see the photo below.

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
Mount Aspiring
Mount Aspiring

The West coast

Leaving Wanaka I drove across the Aspiring mountain ranges. I stopped at this amazing places called the Blue Pools. Glacial water is fed down into deep pools which are so clear you can see the bottom. Everywhere you go in the South Island you stumble across majestic waterfalls, mountains streams, rolling hills, it almost becomes commonplace!

River in the Aspiring Mountains
River in the Aspiring Mountains
The Blue Pools
The Blue Pools

I then hit the west coast and glacier country. There are two famous glaciers here, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. They were discovered in the mid-1800s and have been tourist attractions ever since.I stayed in Franz Josef town, and you quickly realise what a tourists trap this area has become. Helicopter flight after helicopter flight ferry people up to the top of the glaciers. That really is the only way to see them these days as they both are rapidly retreating. You can only think this is solely down to climate change. You cannot get anywhere near to Fox Glacier due to rockfalls.

Hokitika
Hokitika

I heard that in a few years they’ll both be gone, and then what will become of this area? It is dependant on tourism. Whilst it is interesting, it is nowhere near my favourite place in the South.

One of the things I love about this country is all the diverse wildlife. At Cape Foulwind, near Westport, I saw families of fur seals with tiny baby seals in tow!

Cape Foulwind
Cape Foulwind

The north coast and Abel Tasman National Park

My final stop in the south was the Abel Tasman area. I stayed in a lovely small town call Takaka, and this allowed me to access the park from the least busy side. Driving into the park, I pretty much was on my own. I found a beautiful beach to have my lunch, with white sand and crystal clear sea, it was amazing. I even had a huge skate glide past me! I hiked up to an amazing waterfall in the hills and then walked on the beach in Golden Bay, it was all pretty idyllic. I could’ve been in the Caribbean.

Abel Tasman
Abel Tasman

I am flying up to Auckland tomorrow, which I am looking forward to, but I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the South Island. It has been my third time here and it’s as beautiful as ever. If you ever get the chance, come see what all the fuss is about.

Week 5 – Bears and vegans and chickens, oh my!

My second to last week in the USA – for now. I have seen lots of different sides to California, from the hippy lefty liberal dropout side, to the extraordinary wealthy side, as well as the great outdoors!

A trip to Ojai – vegans, hippies and wine

Ojai is a small community near to Ventura, California. It is up in the mountains and has become a magnet for vegans, hippes, dropouts and wine drinkers. My kind of place.

I visited a great wine tasting place called ‘Casa Barranca‘. My friend Liz and I tried lots of whites, roses and reds, and learnt lots about vegan and organic wines too. Did you know what kind of weird things winemakers use to filter wine? Fish swim bladder anyone? Hmm, tasty. Photo below explains more about vegan wine if you are interested. The wine we tasted was all vegan and organic and very tasty too!

Hip vegan

We visited a great cafe called ‘Hip Vegan‘ and had some lovely tempeh, Vietnamese coffee with coconut cream and a great lentil dahl. Plus another place called ‘The Farmer and the Cook‘ in Meiners Oaks, where we has a cacao, almond milk and banana smoothie 🙂

Stayed in a great place called ‘The Hummingbird Inn‘, recommended if you’re ever out that way! Though the pool is so icy you may never feel your toes again!

The Hummingbird Inn, Ojai

What is vegan wine?

Wine tasting in Ojai

Malibu – money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s (and woman’s) world

The Malibu coastline
Malibu summons up images of wealth, sunshine and beautiful beaches. And ‘Baywatch’. Having experienced it, that’s pretty close to the reality of the place. Minus ‘Baywatch’. Having driven the coast road along what makes up about twenty miles of Malibu, I can confirm there’s a lot of money there! Huge homes with private beaches hug the cliffs, with big gates to keep the riff-raff like me out. Not all of it is private though. A trip to ‘Paradise Cove‘ will put you back a mere $40 to park…!

I half expected to bump into Gwyneth Paltrow or Kim Kardashian. I’m sure they must live there, it’s their kind of place. Afterwards I decided Liz and I needed to look more glam, hence the fetching facemasks haha!

The Hanibal Lecter style facemasks

The Great Outdoors – bears and snakes and chickens, oh my!

There are lots of things that want to kill you in California. Huge killer bears. Venomous snakes. Massive vicious chickens. Never go to ‘Chicken Headquarters’, it’s where the worst ones live :-0

Chicken HQ

Bear country, Ojai style

Snakes alive!

I also encountered my first wild snake this week! Firstly I nearly trod on it, then I nearly picked it up thinking it was an old piece of rope! Well, imagine my surprise when I saw two eyes staring intently at me! Well, after a stare off, which the snake won, I ran off to recover, and returned the scene about ten minutes later to find no trace of the snake. It was no doubt some killer snake variety and I was probably inches from death. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Over and out 😉

Week 4 – California love

I’ve been away for four weeks now, and the relax button has well and truly been pressed. Took me a while to get into the travelling mode, but I’m there now. It has made me realise how in my everyday life I am always looking for something to do, somewhere to be, whereas now I just wake up and think, what will I do today? Nothing? Ok then.

California love

So I admit it. I’m having an affair. It’s been going on for years, but I finally have to tell you. I am in love with California. What’s that you say? You knew already!

It’s not just because my bestie lives here. Though that helps. I just love the lifestyle, the weather, the people (particularly my new pal Jody!), the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the food, the wine, the sunsets….shall I go on?

I am here for two more weeks then I come back again for Christmas 🙂

Here are a few photos from my last week in the golden state.

Well I can’t see it, can you?
Pumpkins, big & small – Halloween is coming!
Laguna art walk
Laguna sunset
Sunset on West Street beach, Laguna Beach
On the beach with Liz!
Sunset on Thalia Street beach, Laguna Beach
‘Enjoying’ my mud pack…
Liz & I covered in mud

 

MacDonald sculpture garden, Laguna Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 2 – Las Vegas

Las Vegas. Wow.


Quite the assault on the senses! Didn’t really know what to expect. Hotel we are in is really nice, 4*, but it was kinda of like staying in Ibiza! Huge pool parties, incessant music. But the other part of the hotel is really nice and sophisticated. Guess it is symbolic of Las Vegas generally, a contradiction.

We are staying in the older Downtown area, where Las Vegas grew up, and where the original casinos like the Golden Nugget are. It is next to the Fremont Street experience, a bizarre covered pedestrianised area where everywhere weirdo in Las Vegas seems to like to hangout! You can zipline down the street, have a photo taken with a Chippendale and walk around drinking copious magaritas!

The main ‘strip’ is more upmarket, if that’s possible! Again loads of people walking around drinking alcohol which is something I have never experienced before. The highlights for me are:

The Bellagio fountains – very impressive

Bellagio Fountains

The Weirdness of Fremont Street

4 Queens Hotel

The overwhelming neon

Treasure Island
Caesars Palace
Treasure Island


I would not rush back here but I am glad I ‘experienced’ it!