A Travellerspoint blog

Ventura - Monterey

Sideways to the Big Sur


This was the big one, the drive from Vegas to the coast. Not much to report other than very long, very straight roads. Every 70 miles or so you have to concentrate as you negotiate a minor curve. Oh, a woman flipped me the bird when I didn't get in to the slow lane quick enough and she undertook me, but that's about as exciting as it got.


We stopped at a classic diner, Peggy Sue's, for brunch. Nine bar stools, three booths and a mountain of film memorabilia - mainly Peggy Sue (if that's her real name) hugging passing celebrities, Kristin Stewart, Billy Connolly, Ross Kemp etc etc. All the waitresses wore costumes straight out of the diner in Grease.


Katie got her fortune told by Elvis on the way out but it didn't really make any sense.


We ploughed on back into Califormia, over the top of Los Angeles, finally coming to a halt in Ventura a seaside town sandwiched between Santa Barbara and LA.

After parking up in our motel we nipped across the road to the old wooden pier and raced down to the end just in time to sea the sun set….right into the sea. Been waiting to see that happen since leaving the UK in November. Fantastic.


We celebrated at a lovely little family owned fish diner called Spencer Makenzies. Katie was a bit disgusted that Makenzie was spelt with no 'c', that is not how you spell Mackenzie - but what they lacked in C's they made up for in excellent fish taco's and burritos accompanied by an impressive range of homemade chilli sauces. Great way to end the day.


You may have seen the film Sideways. Well this was filmed in the beautiful Santa Ynez valley north of Santa Barbara, our destination today. As Tom was designated driver, it fell to Katie to take on primary tasting responsibility - here she is staggering around and shouting abuse outside sunshine vineyard.


Three beautiful vineyards and 14 tastes later we pulled in for a picnic lunch at the fourth vineyard, of Sideways fame.



Lovely sitting in the sun munching on olives, ham, soda bread and salad. After our final tasting, and not before picking up a bottle of Riesling for later, we continued on to the half-way point of our coastal journey, San Luis Obispo, via a quick stop at the pier on Pismo beach for some frozen yoghurt (like can you get more American).


Our motel was a couple of doors down from the first motel ever built. We grabbed an excellent pizza, topped with spicy Firebird™ sauce had a beer (Katie: WIne) and hit the sack.

We had learnt in Santa Barbara that our planned route up the Big Sur coastal road to Monterey was closed due to a bit of the road falling several hundred feet into the sea. This was a real shame, but fair enough. As we weren't up for jumping it Speed style in our rented Hyundai, we decided to get a flavour by going up as far as we could.



This took us to Seal Point - a couple of beaches right next to the road absolutely covered in seals. Big flabby seals.


We then looped back down past Hearst Castle and cut inland for a while until we could navigate back across to Monterey. Although we weren't hugging the cliffs on the windy ocean road, we still had a beautiful drive. Unfortunately American restaurants close far too early, so we grabbed a Chinese (yes it came in those cool American Chinese take-out boxes) and watched Twilight New Moon in our Motel room. Incidentally, the chinese fortune cookies were no more accurate than Elvis in their predictions: Your Financial Outlook is Great. You lie cookie. You lie.

Posted by tomkat2010 10:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Grand Canyon - Las Vegas

Big rollers


Americans love cheese on everything. Breakfast, noon and night. Cheese, cheese and cheese. Salad? cheese. Chicken sandwich? cheese. Eggs? cheese. Sing the monty python song SPAM and replace it with cheese and you're halfway there. After a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, cheese and what the americans call breakfast gravy (white sauce with bits of sausage - tastes of cheese) we drove to Grand Canyon Village. Bit chilly when we set off and Katie somewhat optimistically stated that it would probably be warmer at the canyon. It was snowing.


We later discovered from a Ranger that in fact it is warm in the canyon, at the bottom. But this was little consolation to us freezing our tits off 7000ft up. Consolation was found in the form of hot soup and a roll. Whatever the weather, the scale of the canyon takes your oxygen depleted breath away and after wrapping up we thoroughly enjoyed a jaunt along the South Rim Trail.



Mid-afternoon we set off with the aim of getting bit closer to Vegas before topping for the night. This turned out to be Seligman, a picture postcard/creepy town of what Route 66 would have looked like in its heyday.


We selected the motel with the best neon sign checked in and headed to the local bar.


The Black Cat turned out to be a bit of a local place, for local people, who by the looks of things spend a lot of time there. The barman whipped up a superb Bloody Mary which served as the perfect appetiser before we tottered down the road to the Diner. About half of this diner was taken up by an enormous stuffed Yak head - shot in 2009 by a 12 year old! Welcome to America. The other half of the restaurant was taken up by the plate of Nachos that arrived at our table and was supposed to be a starter…..for one!!!!!!!!!!!!


It turned out to be a starter and main course for two with enough left over for the dog'd dinner. We were defeated. But we still ordered a slice of the famous apple pie with ice-cream and an enormous slab of the signature carrot cake which served as tomorrow's breakfast and lunch.


A relatively short drive today. From Seligman and Route 66 across the Hoover Dam to Vegas.


We had booked ourselves a room at the Luxor. This is the big black pyramid at the south end of the Strip.


Last time I was here in 1993 this hotel was being built. Today it is regarded as a bit dated! For us it was cheap and it was Vegas. Here is the beautiful view from our room on the third floor, car park tactfully silhouetted in the foreground.


Within about three seconds of arriving Katie was bikinied up and headed for the pool. I even got told off for casting a shadow over her with my knee when I was reading on the next-door lounger. As the heat dwindled we donned our glad-rags and wondered up the strip - Excalibur (with real jousting), New York New York (with real roller coaster), MGM Grand (with real lions!), Paris Las Vegas (with fake Eiffel Tower), Flamingo, Caesars Palace, but the highlight by far was the dancing fountains of the Bellagio. A fabulous display to the tune of 'Singing in the Rain'. After exhausting ourselves of casino gazing we ducked into one of the lesser known casinos, Bally's, for $2 tacos and frozen Margarita's before heading back to base.




Back at Luxor we decided grab us some chips and hit the floor. Our Las Vegas gambling experience lasted exactly one bet, which we lost, and there is only one man to blame. Wesley Snipes - Passenger 57. I quote, "You ever play roulette? Well let me give you a piece of advice - always bet on Black". Well thanks for nothing Wes. That's ten dollars I won't be seeing again. Defeated we did what Elvis would have done - grabbed a burger and went to bed.

Posted by tomkat2010 10:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Los Angeles - Kingman

Kids in America - AWooHoo


So after 19 hours travelling, we touched down at LAX approximately 2 hours after leaving Cairns. This thanks to crossing the international date line somewhere over the Pacific. Air New Zealand did not let us down. First off, a superb safety demonstration video featuring the All Blacks rugby team "If you need to get up to give your hammies a stretch during the flight that's fine, but remember to buckle up when seated" and "If you're found smoking during the flight, you're dropped". The thai beef salad bordered on fine dining by coach class standards and was enjoyed whilst looking down on the spectacular Great Barrier Reef. Best viewed from several thousand feet up in our opinion. We briefly said hello to New Zealand with a change in Auckland and took off again back to the good old northern hemisphere on route to the United States.

The Northern Hemisphere did not fail to disappoint. The tourist information at the international hub that is LAX was indeed lax, consisting of little more than a couple of dusty files containing a few hotel names. This left us at a bit of a loss, but we headed out (Katie's hard earned tan wincing in the pouring rain) to find our hire car. God bless satellite navigation. To think I almost turned down this little extra. Not only does this thing take you to where you want to go, it also does a dam sight better job at finding accommodation than the Tourist Information. In no time at all we were settling in to our Motel 6 just off Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood Boulevard is where the train bursts through the pavement at the end of Speed in case you are wondering. We were exhausted, again the in flight entertainment system had taken priority over sleep - as well it should, but in keeping with the first night in a new country tradition, we ventured out to source some local cuisine. Look no further than Scooby's Hot Dogs, a hollywood boulevard institution. Chilli Cheese Dog for Tom, Philly Cheese Steak for Katie - took liberties with the complimentary jalepenos.


We were also terribly excited to catch our first glimpse of THE Hollywood sign. Somehow this is the only picture we got, the sign is in the top right chaps.


A morning stroll along the walk of fame took us past such legends as The Pointer Sisters, Kermit the Frog, Errol Flynn, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ross Kemp to name an eclectic few. Don't worry Jamie, there is still plenty of space. Colin Firth's star was looking p-p-p-particularly pleased with itself and we found a mountain of flowers beside Elizabeth Taylor RIP.


Stopped by Borders (closing down here too) to pick up a discounted Rough Guide and found some breakfast at a trendy cafe just off Sunset Boulevard. For the rest of the morning we wondered up and down the walk of fame: Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Cash, The Three Stooges, Marie-Kate and Ashley Olsen (yes really - at least they had to share one).


We took a quick look at the Chinese Theatre where famous people's handprints in are cast cement, turns out I am very close to Tom Hanks, and glanced at the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars ceremony is held.


Katie also got a photo taken with Shrek.


We then dived in the car for a bit of LA cruising, heeding down the Sunset Strip through Beverley Hills and Rodeo Drive (Pretty Woman "Big Mistake" scene) ending up at Venice Beach. Unfortunately late march is not prime beach weather so the Iron Pumping on display at Muscle Beach was minimal (Tom is so hard on himself). Nevertheless we took to the sand for the obligatory Baywatch shots, slow motion running and power stances.



That was enough for LA, time for us and the Hyundai to hit the road. So we fired up the SatNav destination Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree lay on route between us and the Grand Canyon, but turned out to be a spectacular place in itself. We arrived late in search of accommodation, eventually finding our first proper park-outside-the-room motel in Yucca Valley. However, not before we first dropped in on the Joshua Tree Inn. For those in to their early seventies rock, room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn is where Gram Parsons met his untimely end in bizarre circumstances (worth a Google). Alas, the suite we were offered, and where Robert Plant stays when he is in town, was beyond our budget range. Nice to have a look though.


We ended the day at Pappa & Harriet's Pub in Pioneertown, a cowboy village built as a living film set in the 1960's, munching on excellent burritos and sipping beer from old jam jars whilst listening to some not so excellent american-spanish live synth.


We woke and set off to explore Joshua Tree National Park, so named for it's abundance of, you've guessed it, Joshua Trees. We wondered around a couple of nature walks (ooh) and a cactus garden where we saw snake (ah). Katie took her first and last stint behind the wheel and we zipped around admiring thousands of Joshua Trees to the dulcet tones of Meat Loaf on the ipod.




Before leaving we nipped into the Visitor Centre where I tried to purchase a Joshua Tree National Park Centenary poster. I say tried because on enquiring whether said poster was available to purchase I was told in no uncertain terms that the poster design was 'public domain' and as such we couldn't buy something we already own. We didn't know what the hell that meant, but it was clear we weren't getting the poster. On asking what he meant, it became apparent that he also didn't know, so we left. Posterless.

The next stage of our road trip took us north to perhaps the second most famous road of all, after the Yellow Brick, Route 66.


Doesn't get much traffic these days, replaced by the building of interstate freeways, but there is still plenty of evidence of its past grandeur, including a fantastic old gas station and motel on this little stretch where we stopped for a - wait for it - Root 66 Beer - see what they did there?


So with Nat King Cole ringing round the car we drove straight east, and I mean straight, for about 150 miles to Needles for dinner at the Wagon Wheel and on to the Arizona Motel in Kingman. Free HBO whoop whoop.

Posted by tomkat2010 10:07 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Daintree and Cape Tribulation

"Get out of the water bouncer"

First stop this morning was a trip to Mossman Gorge in the nearby Aboriginal Indian reservation. The highlight here was jumping into a beautiful freshwater river after a short walk through the dense rainforest.

Crocodile hunting is an intense sport. In order to escape any potential attacks you need strength, agility and Paul Hogan. We had none of these things, and Tom was sporting a thong swim suit and collecting water from the edge, so we feared an attack. Thankfully, all the crocodiles were hiding, or so we thought……….We spotted this beast during our crocodile spotting trip along the Daintree river (no not the log, look underneath it):


Unfortunately neither parents (Elizabeth II & Scarface - now that would make for interesting children) were to be seen (boo)*. However a model next to the office gives you an idea of their size when fully grown:


After crossing the river (Croc infested apparently) we were finally on our way to the most northernly point of our Australian tour, and the most northernly point you can get to without a 4 wheel drive: Cape Tribulation. The roads were winding and the scenery beautiful. Again it seemed like the rain had been a good thing as everything was lush. We enjoyed several short walks through the rainforest, keeping our eyes peeled for the elusive Cassowary Bird and drinking in the unique coastal views of the rainforest meeting the sea.


We were really pleased to have made it as far north as we did. Here we are at Cape Trib, end of the road.


We then made our way back south to our final stop: Cairns. With a day or so left, we nipped back up to the Tablelands to see the butterfly farm of which we had heard great things. Turns out they only had 12 species of butterfly - a bit thin. Apparently the one in Dalkeith next to Dobbie's Garden Centre has more…AND they have pirañas that recently ate a child's arm. Now that's a butterfly farm. Anyway, they did have some huge caterpillars and the largest moth in the world, the size of a newly born elephant (a small one not a big one). This moth pupates in its cocoon for up to two years and when it finally emerges has about 20 minutes to find a mate before it drops dead** - tough deal. It was also memorable for Queensland's famous blue butterfly that likes to lay its eggs on citrus trees. Cue Katie and her body shop orange scented moisturiser - they couldn't resist.

In the afternoon we visited the local Crystal Cascades - a set of waterfalls just outside Cairns. Tom took a final dip with some locals in the murky green swollen river. Katie hid from the rain in the car. Back to JJ's hostel for a movie and a pizza.

Time to say goodbye to Jucy Gary Busey. We rolled into the depot with the dashboard showing 4191km covered. Goodbyes are never easy, but after three weeks of super-sweaty nights we were looking forward to sleeping in a bed! Thankfully the sun came out for us on our final day and we enjoyed it by the pool in Cairns - a similar set up to Airlie Beach with a free swimming area right next to the sea.

We were both sad to leave Australia, feeling like we wanted more time and to visit more of the country. However, it was nice to think that our next stop would be safer, with fewer things that can kill you, but then we realised that our next stop was America and this might not be the case after all….

  • There is some doubt as to the paternity of this years new crocodiles. It is either Scarface or Fat Elvis, but rumour has it Fat Elvis was shot recently by a local farmer. RIP big guy.
  • *Most of this paragraph is a lie. Apart from the piranas.

Posted by tomkat2010 08:20 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Creek Names

The funny thing about Australia is that most of the road and creek names are a bit rubbish and lacking in imagination, for example "six mile creek", "eight mile creek", "five mile creek", "deep creek" and so on. However, sometimes they nail it. Here is a list of funny names that we saw. The list will be updated later as I left my notepad in the hostel.

Tomcat creek (personal favourite)

Didgeridoo creek

Kangaroo creek

Death creek

Beardy Creek

Dingo Creek

MacKenzie (excellent name)

Gingerbeer creek

Walla walla creek

Midgee creek

Alligaitor creek

Insulator creek

Little goodbye creek

Posted by tomkat2010 01:13 Comments (0)

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