Las Vegas Nevada

Obviously what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… so this will be a very short blog.

Paris Las Vegas

Paris Las Vegas

The first time I went to Vegas, all I did was gamble and while it was fun, and I did meet some interesting characters at the black jack table, it wasn’t overly exciting.

This time, I ventured outside the casinos and found that in the place where anything goes, and because they’re so open about anything going, it’s almost family friendly… in an it’s not at all family friendly kind of way.

Las Vegas Nevada

Las Vegas Nevada

In this 24 hour town where you can gamble, drink and smoke everywhere, I felt surprisingly safe walking the Strip at 2am checking out the lights and the casino’s.

MGM Vegas

MGM Vegas

This is not the same place I visited all those years ago. I mean yes, it’s still the city of sin, but it’s gone upmarket. In Las Vegas you’ll find the best restaurants, you’ll find fantastic outlet shopping, You can see amazing shows and your favourite bands in concert. Just don’t stay too long or you’ll get a skewed view of the world.

Vegas Baby

In the words of Jared Leto from 30 seconds to Mars, the band I saw while there… Las Vegas we’ll never forget it.

What happens in Vegas… wait, hang on, how did that pic get here?

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Los Angeles Part One – The Scenic Tour

I’m not 100% sure what I was expecting when I went to LA this time.  I knew this wasn’t going to be a theme park and shopping trip, but in a town of 18 million people and 6 million cars, I wasn’t planning on the scenery being the highlight. But this place clearly likes to surprise.

Just like you see on TV

Just like you see on TV

Stop one was the very aptly named Hermosa Beach. (it means beautiful in Spanish) Gorgeous white sand, (that my cousin said is imported from Brasil) life guard beach huts like you see on television, volleyball nets waiting for players, and not a speck of rubbish to be seen.

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Volleyball on the beach

Hermosa Beach Pier

Hermosa Beach Pier

Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach right next door are where you see spectacular sunsets and where you can’t help but contemplate how fortunate you are as you watch the perfectly round bright yellow sun sink into the ocean.

A Perfect Sunset

A Perfect Sunset

The houses along the Strand are multi million dollar mansions, a quick google while writing this saw one on the market for 14 million… For that price you’d want to hope global warming isn’t real, because there’s about 4 meters of footpath between the houses and the beach.

Beach Front Houses

Beach Front Houses

This place was quite village like and friendly. In fact, while in Hermosa Beach every single person I came across talked to me. A super friendly town with a beautiful beach… this was a great start to my brief American adventure.

For the second part of my Los Angeles trip I based myself in West Hollywood, I figured out the public transport system, because trust me, you really don’t want me driving on the other side of the road, and spent a few days exploring different areas.

Silverlake Palm Trees

Silver Lake Palm Trees

From Santa Monica Beach to Silver Lake, from Downtown LA to Studio City, I public transported myself around to get a feel for this town without the theme parks and the movie star homes tours and such… and what I noticed was… the scenery.

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Runyon Canyon

Just above Hollywood is Runyon Canyon, which may be my favourite Los Angeles spot, and not because I didn’t need to catch the bus to get there. I am not a super fit person, and the walk to the top of Runyon for me was hard. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have made my first trip in the middle of the day under the belting sun, because Runyon has no shade. I think I saw one tree that cast a tiny shadow, and I may have shoed a dog out of the way, so I could escape the sun for a few minutes, and even with that initial struggle, when you get to the top, the view is worth it.

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Runyon Canyon

You’re surrounded by parkland with a view that one way, looks over the city and out to the ocean and in the other direction are the contoured layers of the Hollywood Hills dotted with impressive homes.

The Hollywood Hills

The Hollywood Hills

Even though I was exhausted and potentially delirious, I already knew in the middle of that hot day that I’d have to visit again at sunrise and sunset… and I did… and it was worth it.  At night you see that Los Angeles really is the land of a billion lights, and if you want to see the good in everything, you can thank smog for the really pretty sunsets.

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The lights starting to twinkle

The land of a billion lights

The land of a billion lights

Next, I public transported myself to Santa Monica. The beachy area is fun and friendly. I don’t know if the salt air makes people a little more relaxed or if I just got lucky but this was a really nice seaside visit.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

The Santa Monica Pier has been around for over 100 years and is a great tourist attraction with sideshows and events happening all the time.

Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier

Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier

I was fortunate enough to stand on the end of the pier to watch the sunset with a troubadour type singer busting out some really good music. Add some great street style taco truck Mexican, a cheeky wine and the beautiful sunset, and you realise, you’re having a pretty awesome holiday.

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Sunset from Santa Monica Pier

Griffith Park is over 4000 acres of parkland in the Eastern Santa Monica Mountain Range… or if you’re not up with your mountain ranges, just above Hollywood.

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Sunset from Mount Hollywood

This park has the famous Griffith Observatory, The Greek Theatre, hiking trails, picnic areas and horse riding… which was to be my next LA activity. A 10 minute drive from Hollywood Boulevard, with the Russian taxi driver who won the Green Card lottery 10 years ago, had me surrounded by horses and barns and cowboys and girls ready to take us on a not so wild ride.

Giddy Up

Giddy Up

It’s amazing to me that in the space of a few miles you can go from the place that hosts the Oscars, with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, to a dusty ranch with cowboy boots and horse poo. If you want diversity in a holiday, you’ll get it here.

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The City from Griffith Park

The sunset ride took me to the top of Mount Hollywood, and showcased more spectacular Los Angeles scenery as well as the suburbs on the other side of the Hollywood Hills. Even on a horse that was constantly moving it’s hard to take a bad photo.

Griffith Park

Griffith Park

The guides tell you stories of films that have been made in the area and wild animals that live around here and keep reminding you to look in the other direction at something else pretty wonderful.

Los Angeles is a town that can offer you lots of different things. You can make it a theme park adventure, you can take tours to the homes of the rich and famous, or like any other city in the world you could come here to shop…. But you can also find great walking tracks and parks and activities that you don’t quite expect in the big city… and it’s nice when the place you visit surprises you.

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Australia – The Red Centre

Uluru catching the light

Uluru catching the light

Most Australian’s I’ve spoken to will recommend Alice Springs and Uluru as a place to visit. It seems to be a destination on everyone’s bucket list, even though most Australian’s I know haven’t quite made it there yet. I don’t know why that is because the red centre of Australia is one of the most fascinating places you will ever see.

Nature, history and indigenous culture collide here to offer a fascinating, enthralling insight into the original Australia, with a breathtaking view that reminds you how huge this island nation really is.

A salt lake in Central Australia

A salt lake in Central Australia

The modern-day Alice Springs was founded in the mid 1800’s when the telegraph line was being constructed across the country. Aboriginal history here dates back many thousands of years, so in this location you get the tales of two Australias.

The stories of indigenous life here are fascinating. Find someone to translate aboriginal art and you will find a new appreciation for it. This is a culture that did not have a written language as such. The pictures told the stories, and the stories were not just decorations. Where to find food, what plants to avoid, where the meeting places were, where the water could be found, all of this information resides in what we might call aboriginal art, transcribed into rock faces many thousands of years ago. Much of today’s aboriginal art (on canvas) uses similar techniques to tell a story.

The roads are very long and very straight here

The roads are very long and very straight here

The story of Modern Australia in ‘The Alice’ is equally fascinating. It’s a story of grit, determination, persistence and perhaps a touch of crazy as well. This town (eventually) called Alice was discovered when John McDouall Stuart led his third and final expedition through a harsh and inhospitable terrain. Shortly after the telegraph came, then gold was discovered close by, then transport came and Alice Springs was the hub.

Today tourism is a large part of Alice Springs. It serves as a starting point for central Australian adventures. The biggest attraction figuratively and literally is Uluru. The photographs do not do this monolith justice. At just under 350 meters high, Uluru is taller than The Chrysler Building in New York, the Eifel Tower in Paris and the Shard in London. But this thing is not just tall. It’s over 3.5 k’s long and nearly 2k’s wide, and when you get close you can see the toll the elements have taken on it. Once covered by an inland sea, you feel like you can see waves carved from constant pressure, there’s a smoothness that comes from standing tall through the beatings of wind and the rain and the sands of time. When you’re physically close to Uluru, you see it’s not just a rectangular shaped rock, you see the cracks and the folds, the plants and the waterhole that all combine to make this a very special place to visit.

Waves carved out of rock

Waves carved out of rock

A waterhole at Uluru

A waterhole at Uluru

Effectively next door is Kata Tjuta, slightly less known than Uluru but still an impressive site in the middle of the desert. 36 sandstone domes spread over 20 odd kilometers make up Kata Tjuta, which is a phrase from the local language meaning ‘many heads’. Something to contemplate while enjoying one of the walking tracks and watching the sun and light dance on the heads is that these sandstone domes are believed to be millions of years old.

Kata Tjuta
These two sites are amazing but the red centre has even more to offer. Around half way between Alice and Uluru in the middle of nowhere is Kings Canyon. What I found particularly stunning is that you really get a sense of how big Australia is here. Stand at the top and as far as the eye can see is land. Flat red and brown land that stretches forever in every direction. You can’t help but feel like a tiny speck in the big scheme of things at Kings Canyon.

Kings CAnyon

Kings CAnyon

Carved from sandstone over millions of years, the geological formations are an impressive site. The 6k Canyon Rim Walk has a fairly taxing start. Some say it’s 500 steps, some say 1000, some say it’s 100 meters. I’m not the fittest person in the world and the beginning of this walk was hard, really hard. There are lots of places to rest though and the once you’re at the top, the view was definitely worth it. Walk around the rim and see the evidence of nature in action. This place is open, uncovered and exposed. You see the folds and cracks in the red rock that are the result of erosion over time. From the top you can walk down into the Garden of Eden, a green watery Oasis in the heart of the Canyon that is a stark contrast to the barren rock above.

On top of Kings Canyon

On top of Kings Canyon

These are just three of the spectacular sites this area has to offer. From natural wonders to indigenous education to historic stories of modern Australia, a visit to the red centre is deserving of a place on the bucket lists of all travellers.

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Tasmania – The Wild West Coast

Strahan at Night

Strahan at Night

Everyone told me Tasmania was beautiful, and they were right. For a small island it’s certainly a place that packs a lot of punch. The scenery is like nothing else I’ve seen in Australia. Tasmania has a rugged scenic beauty, with sea shores that stare into the harsh southern ocean, bush and scrub that have been beaten and battered by the elements and a world heritage wilderness that can seem like you stepped into a land that time forgot.

Driving from Hobart in the south to Strahan in the West, the Derwent Valley shows off its pretty farmland with rolling hills. As you start to climb, the road becomes winding and the bush closes in around you which means you get surprised by what’s around the next corner.

Waterfalls on the way to Strahan

Waterfalls on the way to Strahan

At the top the images you see are stark but beautiful. The scrub type bush is short and compact and seem roughened by elements, but all the bushes huddled together create a flow for your eye to follow and you can’t help but admire it.

I then came across the Wall in the Wilderness. It’s a 100 metre long sculpture work in progress that chronicles the history of the Tasmanian Highlands. The sculptor is Greg Duncan and this wall is extraordinary. It was impressed upon me at every given opportunity that photos were not permitted though, so you will have to go to Google or in fact go to the Wall to find out more.

On the descent to Strahan I pass through Queenstown, with stark barren hills that make you think you’re driving through something poisonous. This area has been abused by man, stripped of trees and copper and gold and poisoned with the fumes of ‘progress’. When you know you’re driving to somewhere famous for its natural beauty, Queenstown is a reminder that the environment should be treated with care.

From Sarah Island

From Sarah Island

Strahan itself is a pretty seaside village where the locals are friendly and everyone has a story. The stars of this town are Huon Pine and the Tasmanian Wilderness. I took a tour up the Gordon River and every part of the journey was impressive. You start in the Macquarie Harbour, which is six times the size of Sydney harbor, and then you journey through what’s known as Hells Gates to get a taste of the famous Southern Ocean. As you enter the Gordon River, everything slows down… literally. The boat almost drifts to ensure the wake is not harming the environment. Here the smell of the air is different, the light is different, even the swish and the lapping of the water seems different. As you stare out into this world heritage listed wilderness in awe of its beauty, the busyness of your mind calms down and you appreciate how special the natural gift you’re being presented with is.

The Gordon River - no filter required

The Gordon River – no filter required

At Heritage Landing, a boardwalk guides you into the silence of the rainforest. Not just any rainforest though, the largest tract of temperate rainforest surviving on earth. With that thought in your head, you view your surroundings with higher regard. You notice the colours, the sounds and the smell and you hang off every word from your guide. Even if trees aren’t really your thing, you can’t help but be impressed by a 2000 year old Huon Pine.

The Gordon River

The Gordon River

The boat ride back to Strahan has one more stop at Sarah Island. This is another of Tasmania’s penal colonies. Where the very worst offenders, and the escapees from other prisons were sent. A tiny island surrounded by wilderness was an incredibly harsh incarceration for those unlucky enough to be sent there. The goodness for us travellers though, is that the actors who tell you the stories do so with great passion and the remains on the island really help bring the stories to life.

Sarah Island

Sarah Island

From winding roads to wild wilderness, Tasmania’s west coast is well worth a visit.

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