Yellowstone and Yosemite were the 2 things I was most excited about for the northern part of this tour. I’d been to Yosemite before back in September 2013 when I did a Vegas/California road trip with the family. Unfortunately we were there during the Yosemite rim fire, and as we were staying in Mammoth Lakes to the east of the park, we were unable to get to Yosemite Valley. I was absolutely gutted at the time. We did get into the park on the Tioga Road from the eastern part but only as far as Tenaya Lake. The irony this time round was that Tioga Road wasn’t actually open. It is at a high elevation – over 9000ft – and still has snow on it.

We drove into the park from the western side and stopped off to check out some giant sequoia trees. These things are absolutely enormous. Kauri trees in New Zealand are big but sequoias are on a different level.


We then drove into the valley and had an awesome view of El Capitan and Half Dome.

We then drove on to see Bridal Veil Falls – the views kept getting better and better.

We then carried on to see Yosemite Falls – the tallest waterfall in the USA. 

We also stopped at the face of El Capitan and spotted people climbing up it. You have to be well equipped to climb El Capitan as it takes several days to scale it.

The next day was our free day in the park. There were several hikes available and I decided to do the Upper Yosemite Falls hike. It is 3.2miles to the top, with an elevation gain of 2,700ft. Yosemite Valley is already at 4,000ft so it was extra hard work because of the altitude.

It took 3 hours to hike to the top and was really tough going at certain points. I was the only person from my group hiking this route (some of the others hiked the Vernal and Nevada Falls route), but most people from the camping group did the hike. (Side note here – I am doing a lodging tour i.e. staying in hotels and hostels, but there is also another Trek group doing exactly the same route but they are camping instead).

JD, our tour leader, also did the hike and was great at keeping me going. There were some pretty awesome views on the way up:

And also from the top:

Yosemite Valley looked incredible. The photos really don’t do it justice.

After stopping for lunch at the top, and with some ominous weather looming, we headed back down. It only took 1 hour and 50 minutes to get back down, but it seemed to go on and on. My legs weren’t too bad afterwards but my left knee was complaining a bit! I was very proud of myself though and I’m glad I gave myself the challenge of doing this hike. It was tough but easier than the Tongariro Crossing (which I vastly underestimated) and the Inca Trail.

After grabbing a pizza dinner in Half Dome village, we went out to Tunnel View point to catch the last of the sun.


This couple of days definitely made up for the disappointment of not being able to see anything last time. I’m almost glad I missed everything last time because it made this experience so much better. Definitely the highlight of my USA trip so far.

Yellowstone to Yosemite 

After leaving Yellowstone we drove through the Grand Teton National Park. I had not heard of this park before arriving but it is absolutely stunning. It’s relatively young for a mountain range (about 2 million years old) so it’s peaks are jagged and striking.


We also stopped at the Cunningham Homestead which is what it would have been like to have a homestead in the 1920s/1930s. It also had a spectacular view of the mountains.


We drove through Jackson Hole, which is a fairly high-end ski resort town, to our hostel in Teton Village.

In the evening, we went back into Jackson Hole for dinner – a really nice Thai restaurant. And then we went to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, very popular on a Saturday night. The bar stools are saddles and it was full of real-life cowboys of all ages. There was a live band playing country music and I even got asked to dance by a couple of blokes. There’s a lot of twirling involved in country dancing. Slightly dizzy afterwards and that wasn’t necessarily to do with the Bud Light’s I’d been drinking! It was a really fun night.

The next day was a free day for us. Myself and Liz decided to go for a hike in the Tetons to Inspiration Point above Jenny Lake. It was a good hiking day when we set off – sunny but cool. We could see the weather further up the mountain though and as we started climbing, the snow started falling. We timed our arrival at Inspiration Point to perfection. We got an awesome view when we got there, and then 5 minutes later it was properly snowing.

We hiked back down through the snow and back to JD waiting in the van. We then went to the park visitor centre where JD got himself a junior ranger badge. Basically a fun thing for little kids (and big kids) to do. I love how excitable and enthusiastic he is about everything.

We then had a walk around Jackson Hole before getting the bus back to Teton Village for a chilled evening.

The next morning we drove through Idaho which was stunning. Beautiful mountains, rivers and plains which were lush and green.

We went to Craters of the Moon national park which was formed from lava flows. It is a pretty insane landscape.

After wandering around for an hour or so we carried on the long journey to Elko, Nevada. Slightly more here than Albert Lea, Minnesota as there are casinos in Nevada, but otherwise it’s just a stop-off on the way to somewhere else.

The next day we headed to Lake Tahoe, via Reno. The centre of Reno felt like a run-down Vegas. We stopped in midtown for lunch. There is a lot of graffiti art in the midtown area which is pretty cool.


We then headed to Lake Tahoe. It was pretty cold and the lake wasn’t looking it’s best.


In the evening we went to Harrah’s casino for a buffet, followed by a spot of gambling. I changed $19 into $27 on the slot machines. We then went to the Hard Rock Casino where I proceeded to lose $20 on roulette before winning that back on the slots. I think I’ll stick to the slot machines in Vegas! I had a lot of fun though. It’s easy to see how addictive it can be.

The next day we moved onto Yosemite. Possibly my favourite place so far in the States, and deserving of its own blog post…


One of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was going to Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a super-volcano, and as you’ll remember from previous blogs, I love my volcanoes and geothermal activity.

We left Cody and drove for about an hour into Yellowstone’s eastern entrance. We saw elk and baby bighorn sheep on the way.

It’s still pretty cold in Yellowstone and parts are covered in snow. The views are beautiful though.

 Because of all the geothermal activity in Yellowstone, it smells of rotten eggs, just like Rotorua. Quite a lot of what we saw reminded me of Rotorua.

We saw bison as we drove along. These are massive animals but seem largely unconcerned with the hordes of tourists photographing them.

We also stopped off at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which looks just like a painting.

The colours in the rock are really beautiful.

After that we headed to our overnight stop in West Yellowstone, just over the border in Montana. We stayed in some lovely cute cabins which were very cosy and had incredibly comfortable beds. I’m definitely sleeping a lot better now that I’m not always in dorms.

We went out for dinner in the town in the evening and then some of us went to a gun shop to try our hand at shooting. I am very definitely pro-gun-control but was intrigued. I shot a Luger and it was really good fun.

The next day was an early start (left the cabins at 6am) in order to get into the park before the masses. This was going to be our wildlife spotting day, and boy did it deliver.

First up we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs, which was incredibly similar to the landscape around lake Rotorua in New Zealand.

Our first wildlife spot came on the drive from Mammoth Hot Springs. A grizzly bear in the trees by the side of the road. Sam did a great job in spotting it from the van.

We then went to a spot where we would be likely to see wolves. The wolves were up on the hillside and so we had to see them through a scope. We were at a viewing spot where lots of enthusiasts with very Gucci scopes were set up. They were all really friendly and let us have a look through their scopes.

I forget the order we saw everything else in, but we also saw a pack of coyotes, marmots, antelope, mountain goats, and black bears with her cubs.

We also saw a baby moose and its mother, which is quite rare in Yellowstone.

JD said that he’s never had a group see so much wildlife in one day before, and he’s been guiding for 9 years. Must have been birthday luck as 2 of the group had birthdays on this day.

We saw a total of 8 bears, which was really cool. I think they were my favourite animals to see. I have some better pictures of the bears on my camera, but I can’t upload the pictures until I get home.

In the evening we went out for a nice meal to celebrate Liz and Maica’s birthdays, followed by a couple of drinks back at the cabins.

The next day we left at 9am and drove to the main geothermal areas. We stopped off at Fountain Paint Pots first. There were some beautiful colours here.

We then drove on to the Grand Prismatic Springs. The weather was not great and so we didn’t see it at its best, but it’s still pretty awesome.

Then it was onto one of the main draws of Yellowstone – Old Faithful Geyser. I’ve seen geysers go off before in New Zealand. Lady Knox Geyser near Rotorua goes off every day at about 10am with a little help from the park staff. But Old Faithful goes off approximately every 90 minutes without any human intervention. It was snowing whilst we were there. It’s fair to say I was not anticipating snow when I packed in December, so I had to resort to wearing most of my clothes to keep warm!

We had lunch at the lodge by Old Faithful, and were then able to watch the next eruption. I decided to get a different angle this time.

Afterwards we headed out of Yellowstone and towards Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone certainly did not disappoint. I didn’t realise how exciting it is to see animals in the wild, and the scenery was stunning.

Chicago to Wyoming

On the way out of Chicago we stopped off at the Home Alone house. A lovely big house in a nice suburb.

We then drove for about 6 hours to Albert Lea, Minnesota. It’s fair to say there isn’t a lot in Albert Lea. We went for dinner and then had a dip in the hotel pool which wasn’t as warm as we would have liked it to be.

On the drive the next day we stopped off at at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at Blue Hills, Minnesota in the morning, and we also saw the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota at the lunch stop.


The Corn Palace is clad entirely in corn and is replaced every year with a different theme.

In the afternoon we arrived in the Badlands National Park. I’d heard of it before but wasn’t sure what to expect. It was absolutely spectacular. The scenery on the way was kinda barren. It was pretty flat with few trees, and then suddenly you’re met by these stone structures which look like they belong on the moon.


We walked on some short trails before heading to the campground. We had a BBQ dinner with some awesome steak that JD had marinating overnight.

We were staying in cabins, and it was absolutely freezing. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be not camping!

The next day some of us got up before 5am to watch the sunrise. It was a little cloudy but it was still spectacular. Sometimes having clouds there adds to the view.

After we watched the sunrise we went back to bed for a couple of hours.

We left at about 9am and went to the visitor centre. We saw some bighorn sheep squaring up to each other which was pretty cool.

We also stopped off at the Minuteman Missile Silo, also in South Dakota, where some of the USA’s nuclear missiles are. It was pretty interesting to read about how the US built up their nuclear arsenal, and about the MAD tactic with Russia – mutually assured destruction.

We stopped for lunch at a place called Wall Drug. This place is truly an example of the ‘if we build it they will come’ principle. It had been advertised along the I-90 for over 300 miles. We are definitely in cowboy country, there were saloons and gun stores and lots of taxidermy.

After lunch we headed to Mount Rushmore, which was spectacular. It was as big and impressive as I had imagined, but there was also a rather beautiful forested walk close to the base of it.

We also went to visit the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial. This is the Native American version of Mt Rushmore, but is not yet complete. They are relying on donations for funding rather than government handouts, and so it is likely to be 10s of years before it is complete (it’s already been almost 70 years since work started).

I can’t help but feel that this is indicative of the relationship between indigenous people and white people all over the world. There have been many times while I’ve been away that I’ve felt guilty as a white British person over how we treated indigenous populations.

We then headed to our overnight stop in Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood is where Wild Bill was shot dead. Another cowboy town. The group split for dinner, with myself, Liz and JD eating a really nice dinner at Saloon 10. We all then met up for a few drinks.

The next day we left at 10am and drove out to Devil’s Tower National Monument. This was not on the original itinerary but it was close by and we all chipped in a dollar for the entrance fee. Devil’s Tower is the core of an extinct volcano, and has distinctive geometric towers, very similar to Devil’s Postpile National Monument which I’ve previously seen in California.


We had a nice walk around the base of the core, and then headed for Cody, Wyoming which was a good 5 hours drive away. Unfortunately we had a little incident where we ran out of gas 1.5 miles short of the gas station. JD tried to flag down a vehicle to take him to the gas station. A jackass in a suit in a pickup stopped, and then drove straight off. A lady in a pickup eventually agreed to take JD as long as he had a girl with him. I was the chosen one and we headed to the gas station for a Jerry can. The gas station manager gave JD a lift back to the van while I grabbed lunch at Subway and waited for the van to come and pick me up.

After that little interlude (which was actually kinda fun, and only lasted about 20 minutes. JD handled it so much better than Bee did when we ran out of fuel in Australia on Australia Day) we carried on driving across Wyoming.

One of the things I was interested in seeing in the States was what was in the middle. I had no idea what to expect but it certainly wasn’t anything like what we saw. The scenery was absolutely stunning. For a while it was quite flat, but as we headed west it got more interesting. The rock started to turn red (it reminded me of Australia), and then we started to see the mountains.

They looked amazing, and still had a lot of snow on them. These were the Big Horn mountains. We took the southern pass across the mountain up to 9,666ft and had a snowball fight at the top!


The shorts aren’t as stupid as they look – it was 21C at lower altitudes. 

We ended the day in Cody, Wyoming. Next stop – Yellowstone!

New York to Chicago

And so the final leg of my 6 month trip begins…super-excited but also slightly sad about it. I am travelling with Trek America, doing the Grand BLT trip (info here: http://www.trekamerica.co.uk/tours/gnb.html). I have previously travelled with Trek America in 2006 when I did a camping trip. It rained solidly for 2 weeks and put me off camping for life. This time I’m in hostels and hotels.

We started from the Hilton at Newark airport on Monday morning.

There are 10 of us plus Jay, the tour leader. 9 Brits and 1 Swiss. We had already gotten to know each other a little bit via whatsapp and Facebook so it felt like we bonded really quickly.

We left Newark in the morning and drove to Woodbury Common Outlets for a spot of cheap retail therapy. Would have bought the whole of Aeropostale if my bag wasn’t already stuffed!

We had lunch there and then drove on to Watkins Glen State Park to check out some really cool waterfalls.

Then we headed to our overnight stop on Auburn, NY, in the Finger Lakes region. We went out for dinner at Prison City Brewery – good, reasonably priced food. I headed to bed but a couple of the others went out after for a drink.

The next day was up early to head to Niagara Falls. We arrived mid morning and did the Maid of the Mist tour which was a lot of fun.

We then headed over the border to Canada for the afternoon. I had poutine for lunch – chips, gravy, cheese and pulled pork. This was a starter portion!!

We went on the big wheel, and walked along to the top of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

We then headed back to the border where Jay had bad news for us. He had a detached retina and needed to get it fixed ASAP so he would be leaving us the next day. We were pretty bummed out by this, but these things happen.

We headed to Buffalo to our hostel for the night, and after a quick shower and change, we went to the Anchor Inn, home of Buffalo wings. I had a few of these for dinner (when in Rome and all that…):

We went out for a few beverages afterwards…a good night.

The next day was a late-ish start as we were waiting for JD to fly in to take over from Jay. We went to IHOP for brunch though I was not up to eating…

JD arrived at midday and we said farewell to Jay. We headed through Pennsylvania towards Ohio. We had a brief stop in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Our overnight stop was in Sandusky, OH at a campground, though thankfully we were staying in cabins. We headed out for dinner and while we were out there was a massive thunderstorm. It rained hard for most of the night, and I had to wade through a large puddle to get from the cabin to the road.

The next day we headed to Shipshewana, Indiana. This is an example of an Amish/Mennonite town. Somewhere where a horse and cart will pull up to the gas pump.

After wandering around and grabbing lunch, we headed for Chicago. We were slightly delayed leaving Shipshewana when a guy who looked like Santa Claus started chatting to JD about the van. Santa kept chatting despite JD being sat in the van with the engine running. We were probably delayed for a couple of minutes. Later up the road, there was a 5 vehicle accident just ahead of us. 1 or 2 minutes earlier and we could have been involved in it. Santa was sent as our guardian angel!! The road was closed for over an hour. It was really warm so we sat on the road to catch some sun while we waited for the road to reopen.

When we got going again, we headed to Gary, Indiana to see Michael Jackson’s childhood home. It was a tiny house, and unbelievable to think that he lived here with all his siblings.

 Because we were delayed by the accident, we ended up hitting Friday rush hour traffic. Usually you’d expect the traffic to be heading out of the city in the evening rush hour but on a Friday everyone is heading into the city for the weekend. 

We arrived early evening and then went out for Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

Most of the group went back to the hostel, but I went out for another drink with JD and one of the other guys in the group.

The next day we got up and went to the Willis Tower Skydeck. Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the USA until the new 1 World Trade Center was completed. As we were there early, there weren’t any queues. Some really good views from the top though.

We also braved the Ledge – which is a glass-bottomed viewing platform.

JD then took us to see the Bean in Millennium Park.

And an art installation which has images of faces of people of Chicago. 


And also the Buckingham Fountain, before we headed out to Wrigley Field to watch a ball game (Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates). I’ve seen a couple of ball games on my previous trips and enjoyed the atmosphere and experience, and I was really excited to go to Wrigley Field as it is such an iconic venue. The temperature was about 8C though and it was absolutely freezing. I had the obligatory hot dog and beer. The game started slowly, but got going mid way through, and the Cubs hammered the Pirates 8-2.

After the game we headed back to the hostel, and we had a couple of hours to spare before heading out. I used the time to do laundry. Regular readers of this blog will be pleased to know I’ve found the new cheapest laundry of my trip! $1.50 for a wash and $1.25 for a dry.

In the evening JD took us on a walk up towards the Wrigley Building and the Chicago Tribune building. JD knows his architecture and has a brain full of facts which I love!

The Chicago Tribune building has stones from other famous buildings around the world in it, including Westminster Abbey and Edinburgh Castle.

We then walked out towards Navy Pier to admire the skyline as the sun set. After grabbing a burger on Navy Pier, it was then dark so we got an awesome view of the Chicago skyline at night.

We then went to find a bar, and ended up in a great, chilled bar called Streeters. A bar that sells decent cider, and played awesome music. We played a little foosball as well, and I had a great night.

I got up early on our final morning in Chicago as I’d noticed that the Terracotta Warriers were displayed in the Field Museum. They were incredible and that’s one off the bucket list that I wasn’t expecting on this trip!

We’re heading towards the national parks now, can’t wait to see them.

New York, New York

After one last day in Auckland it was time to bid farewell to New Zealand and set off for the States. I had a 12 hour flight to San Francisco and then a 5 hour flight to New York. The queue at passport control in San Francisco was insane. Fortunately, having been to America previously, I was able to use the automated machines, but not before standing in a queue which didn’t move for 25 minutes! I was worried about missing my connection at one point but thankfully it all turned out OK.

I arrived at JFK airport in New York at around 1am and eventually got to my hotel near the airport at 2am. I crashed out for 8 solid hours and was only woken by my alarm going off. Probably the best sleep I’ve had to this point. 

Then it was time to work out how to get to Manhattan. The hotel wasn’t particularly near any subway stops so I had to take a bus for about 20 minutes to the nearest station, and then it was about an hour on the subway to Manhattan. I was staying in a hostel on East 34th Street which was only a couple of blocks from the subway.

After dumping my bags I went in search of some food, and then headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square for discounted same-day Broadway tickets. As it was a Tuesday, the queue was pretty short and I managed to get a ticket for Jersey Boys in the orchestra for $80 (regular price would be around $140). Jersey Boys is my favourite show and I’ve already seen it twice. There were different leads this time compared to when I saw it last year on Broadway but it was still really good.

The next day I had a lazy morning before queuing for just under 2 hours for tickets for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which is a daily (Monday-Friday) late night talk show. Kinda like Graham Norton or Alan Carr but 5 times a week. Full disclosure at this point – I am a big fan of US late night shows including The Daily Show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Conan, and if you pay close enough attention to my previous US travels, you’ll see that I’ve been to some of the shows before. 

After a couple of hours we were issued with tickets and then told to come back in another couple of hours for the actual taping of the show. I used this time to go to the Museum of Modern Art which was only a couple of blocks away. I saw some Andy Warhol paintings, and some Henri Matisse and I was really pleased that I recognised some George Seurat from across the room.

The TV show itself was amazing. It’s filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and looks more like a theatre than a TV studio. The guests on the show were Anthony Mackie, Rob Reiner and Buzz Aldrin. I even got myself on the TV at one point. It was a great experience, especially for a big Colbert fan like me.

The next day I went on a tour of the NBC Studios in the Rockefeller Center. This was pretty cool, we saw a couple of the studios including the one where Jimmy Fallon’s show is filmed, and saw what it’s like behind the scenes of a TV studio.

In the afternoon I went to see a taping of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Nowhere near as hard work as tickets used to be when Jon Stewart hosted. Minimal queuing now to get in. Trevor Noah is a funny guy, and I’m still a bit gutted that I missed out on seeing him do stand up in the UK last year. I had tickets but then it was cancelled when he got The Daily Show.

Judy arrived the next day. It was so good to see a familiar face after 4 months. It also meant it was time to stay in a hotel! The weather in New York up to this point had been cold and miserable, and my bag got totally soaked as I walked from the hostel to the hotel. Thankfully it had a couple of days to dry out.

Judy arrived in the early afternoon and we headed down to the Financial District to see Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The weather was so miserable that the top of 1 World Trade Center was lost in the clouds.

The next day we got up early and headed into Brooklyn for breakfast. We probably didn’t choose the best diner (half the breakfast menu wasn’t available, and they had no fruit or yoghurt for smoothies) but eventually had a bagel for breakfast. Then we had a brief wander around before heading to Greenwich Village and the West Village. I’ve not been to either of these areas in any of my previous visits but they were nice, upmarket areas. We had a look in an estate agents and the average rental price for a 1 bed apartment was around $3000 per month – yikes!!

We then headed to a cat cafe, Little Lions, in SoHo for afternoon tea, and to play with the cats. The cats are rescue cats and get rehomed through the cafe.

After that we walked through Chelsea Market and onto The High Line. A really cool idea, which has converted disused rail tracks above street level into a nice planted walkway between 14th Street and 30th Street.

We then headed to the madness that is Canal Street and Chinatown, where we had dinner.

In the evening we went to see An American In Paris at the Palace Theater, right in Times Square. It was really enjoyable, and the first time I’ve watched this much ballet.

Afterwards we took the obligatory pictures of Times Square at night.

The next day we got up early to head down the Battery Park for the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. We had been down the previous day but the queue was insane. It was cold and miserable so much shorter queues. The ferry goes to Liberty Island first before heading on to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island was where immigrants were processed into the USA in the first half of the 20th century.

We then headed back towards the hotel and went for sushi for lunch. We then decided on the spur of the moment to try for some more theatre tickets. As it was quite late when we got back to Times Square (4pm), there were only a couple of Broadway shows with tickets left, so after chatting to one of the sellers we opted for a play called Incognito. Charlie Cox was in it. It was probably the weirdest show I’ve ever seen, but was very well acted.

We walked back to the hotel via Rafio City and the Rockefeller Center which were all lit up at night.

The next day was Judy’s last day. We got up early and headed for the Empire State Building. We were there at about 9am and there were no queues at all. When we came back down about half an hour later, there were longish queues forming.

After that we walked towards Central Park, popping into the New York Public Library on the way.

We walked a loop through Central Park through Strawberry Fields and across to the Met.

After an hour or so in the Met (which is not nearly enough time, you could easily spend a couple of days in there), it was time for Judy to head to the airport, and for me to head to the starting point for my Trek America trip at Newark Airport Hilton.

New York is a great city, and can easily sustain multiple visits. I’ve been 3 times in the last 3 years and I’m still not bored of it.

Relaxing Rarotonga

This wasn’t on my original itinerary but I figured that whilst I’m in this part of the world, I might as well go and see another Pacific Island.

Rarotonga is the main island in the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands are a self-governing part of New Zealand, and a 3-and-a-half-to-4-hour flight from Auckland. The Cook Islands are also across the date line from New Zealand, so despite leaving Auckland on Monday morning, I arrived in Rarotonga on Sunday afternoon.

I had booked into a self catering bungalow about a kilometre outside of Muri, on the east side of the island. A nice change from dorm shares.

As I arrived late afternoon, I went to the local shop for a few essential supplies (wine, cheese, crisps), and then went to Muri, to the local night market for food. The night market is on 4 days a week, and has lots of different food stalls selling hot meals. That was dinner sorted for several evenings!

The next day I went and sat on the beach at Muri lagoon. Rarotonga is surrounded by a reef, and so a lot of the shore line is dangerous for swimming. The lagoon, however, is sheltered and perfect for swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding, and kayaking.

I spent most days at the lagoon, chilling out on the beach. I’m not normally one for sitting on a beach all day, especially not in the last few years, and I didn’t have enough to keep me entertained on the first day. But I sorted myself out on the second day and took books, magazines, earphones and a crossword book which kept me entertained on the other days.

On the third evening in Rarotonga, I went to an ‘Island Night’ at Te Vara Nui. This is like a Cook Islands ‘village experience’. We had a 2 hour tour of the ‘village’ (several huts each with different themes) and learnt about the history of the Cook Islands, how it relates to the New Zealand Maori, about traditional foods and medicines, and traditional methods of fishing. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences to both New Zealand, and to Fiji as another Pacific Island.

After the tour, we had a buffet of both traditional Cook Islands food, and western food. I wasn’t keen on the paw paw salad, but everything else was nice, including spinach in coconut cream which I’d also enjoyed in Fiji.

After the food, it was time for the show. This was quite similar to shows I’d seen in Fiji, with dancing and more fire dancing.

I was expecting it to finish with slightly more of a bang than it did, but it was an enjoyable evening.

I didn’t spend every day on the beach either. I caught the round-island public bus one day. The buses are really easy to use. There’s basically one road all the way around the island, and one bus that goes clockwise, and one that goes anti-clockwise. They will pick up and drop off anywhere. You just have to signal the driver. I got on a clockwise bus, and went the long way round to Avarua, the capital. There was a camera crew filming the bus driver. I may well end up in a tourist video promoting the Cook Islands!

The scenery around the rest of the island was just as idyllic as Muri.

A had a walk around Avarua, and some lunch before getting back on the bus and completing the loop.

After another couple of days lounging around, it was time to head back to Auckland for the long journey to New York.

I had a lovely, relaxing few days on Rarotonga. It’s very laid back, a different vibe to Fiji, and I’m glad I decided to go.