Published: October 31st 2012October 31st 2012
This city is exactly like it is depicted on tv. When in your hotel room you can hear the noise of the traffic and the continual beeping of horns. They really love their car horns! We stayed in Chinatown for the 4 days we were there and walked or caught the subway everywhere. Luckily New York is relatively flat and laid out in a block formation which makes navigation pretty easy. Our first day was spent getting our bearings and visiting a travel agent to sort out our South America part of the trip. The second day, we caught the subway uptown and wandered around Central Park. This is such a big green area in the middle of Manhattan, it was hard to appreciate the size until we started to wander around it. There are lakes and water reservoirs, baseball pitches and walking/biking tracks for miles. From here we decided to walk back to the hotel. We wandered back through Times Square which is an assault on the senses. Nothing can quite prepare you for the sensory overload of so much light and noise from the billboards, tvs and people. It's a bit like a compact Las Vegas.
The following day we walked out to Wall Street area - this was a specific mission to change our Canadian currency we had from the sale of the Westfalia to US Dollars so we made a beeline back to the hotel once this was complete. On our 4th day we caught the free ferry to Staten Island which chuffed straight by the Statue of Liberty so we got some good photos from the water. We then headed up to the 9/11 memorial site to pay our respects to the people who lost their lives here. They have taken the sites of the two towers that were destroyed and made them into giant waterfalls that fall from ground level into a deep chasm. The names of all those who perished are inscribed on the surrounds of each memorial site. They have planted lots of trees and include a single pear tree that was very badly damaged during the original attack which has been nursed back to life and stands as a symbol of survival. Although I would not want to live in this city, I thoroughly enjoyed our time here - it is the best place to people watch. Las Vegas
Las Vegas was great fun. This city runs on sex and gambling and you can get whatever you like here. Everyone walks down Las Vegas Boulevard with a drink in their hand. The rules of most other cities do not apply here. Every 5 paces someone is trying to hand you a business card for a strip club - the footpaths are just awash with dropped cards featuring naked ladies. There are slot machines in the arrival lounge of the airport and the gambling floors in the hotels are enormous. We stayed at the New York New York hotel which had a great big rollercoaster around it. I did want to stay at the Bellagio but just couldn't justify the price. The good thing about our hotel was it had a very high ceiling in the entry/gambling area. Most of the other hotels had low ceilings and it felt very confined. We spent 3 nights here, arriving late in the afternoon on the first day. We spent the evenings wandering the strip, it was very warm and the lights and displays from the hotels were fun to watch. We walked out to one of the outlet malls and
updated Tanes wardrobe a little bit. On the way back we checked out the other hotels as each has their own theme. Las Vegas is not pretty during the day but really comes alive at night. Las Vegas to San Francisco
We tossed up what to do in Las Vegas in terms of visiting the Grand Canyon etc. Tours were quite expensive and so we decided to hire a car and drive to San Francisco via the spots we wanted to visit. Our first stop was the Hoover Dam. We flew over this on the way into Las Vegas and it looks better from the air. It is not as big as it appears in the movies but was worth a quick stop anyway. We then headed on and found a cheap motel in a small town approx 1 hour from the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon was very impressive. We visited the South Rim which is where most of the tourists go. The best way to describe this place is vast. You really feel quite small in comparison. You have to catch buses to every part of the canyon which is a slow and extremely painful process.
You have to spend at least a full day here just to have time to get around. It is understandable why they do it as it means the roads are not horribly congested with cars.
Our next stop was Bryce Canyon. This is not as big as the Grand Canyon but much more picturesque. The hoodoos (rock formations) are amazing and the colour of the earth is quite vivid. Here we walked down into the canyon via one of the many hiking trails. It was very dry and barren which is unsurprising since it is in the desert. From here we headed to Zion National Park, also full of canyons. There is some great hiking in this area. We headed up Walters Wiggle to Scouts Landing - this is a very steep hike up switchback trails and at Scouts Landing you can continue to Angels Landing. This requires climbing along a narrow ridgeline with a chain rail to guide you. We chose not to do this section as it was very busy and super hot plus it's not really my thing. You had to catch buses all around this park too but it was a much faster process than
in the Grand Canyon. We spent a full day here doing a lot of smaller trails along with Walters Wiggle before heading out towards Yosemite National Park.
To get to Yosemite we had to do a full days driving through the desert. This was very interesting and the landscape changed quite a bit as we drove. They have open cattle ranches here which means you have to be careful of cattle straying onto the roads as they are not fenced. There are not a lot of them though so it wasn't an issue. The landscape went from very dry with only Cacti to dry with scrubby grassy plants and no Cacti. We saw a very forlorn looking Coyote wandering around on the way. We were heading for the Tioga Pass which is the East entrance to Yosemite, unsure if it was still open (no service on the phone to check). The pass closes with the first big snow fall but luckily it was still open when we arrived. You climb steadily up to nearly 10000ft where the National Park begins. Directly after the Park gates there is a hike up (and down) to some lakes. We hit this hike
nice and early to try and avoid the heat. We climbed upto 10500ft (higher than Ruapehu) and were rewarded with a fantastic view. We had to drop 200ft down to the lakes but decided against this as we could see them from the top. It was a 60 mile drive through the park to the Yosemite valley area we wanted to visit which takes about 1.5 hours of driving time. It is a beautiful drive but long and the visitors centre on this side (only one open at this time of the season) was right at the end of the road passed all the hikes. We found this side difficult to get around and thought it could be set out much better. The Eastern side was much nicer.
From here we headed onto San Francisco and dropped the car at the airport. We stayed out near the airport due to an early flight in a neighbourhood that was predominantly Latin American. We caught the train into San Francisco both days we stayed. Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to go to Alcatraz as they were booked out until after we departed. We spent our time wandering the city - San
Francisco is a bit like Wellington, hilly and flat. Tane took me through the worst suburb - I watched someone get out of their car and heard something that sounded suspicously like a gun fall on the ground. The fact he scooped it up and shoved it under the seat of his car very quickly makes me think that is exactly what it was. While I didn't feel overly threatened while in this area, it was obvious we were being closely watched so it was eyes ahead and keep moving until we entered a better part of the city. We wandered down to the waterfront and looked at the Golden Gate bridge from the beach - we had wanted to walk across it but it was just too far away and trying to figure out the public transport system was difficult. We just didn't fall in love with San Francisco - it may have just been timing but we found it hard to get around and a little bit depressing. Onwards to Mexico!
There are more photos below