Monument Valley and Grand Canyon (again)

After leaving Bryce Canyon, we had a long drive day to Monument Valley which was punctuated by a couple of interesting stops.

First up was Glen Canyon Dam, near Page, Arizona, which dams the Colorado River and created Lake Powell. Similar to how the Hoover Dam created Lake Mead, this area and the Lake provide a variety of recreational water-based activities that would not otherwise exist in this part of the US Southwest.

After stopping at a Subway in Page for lunch, we then had a stop-off at Horseshoe Bend. Apparently it’s grown massively in popularity over the last couple of years due to it’s very instagrammable nature. It’s approximately a 15-20 minute walk from the parking lot, and despite what it looks like in the photo, there were hoards of folk there.

It is a fabulous example of how rivers meander, and really is horseshoe-shaped. The colours, yet again, were amazing. The mixture of the blues/greens of the water with the orange and red of the rocks was perfect. I was really glad we were able to make this stop-off. Last time I was in this part of the US in 2016 we didn’t see it and I was really pleased to make up for that this time round.

We then carried on towards Monument Valley, and just had time to drop our bags off at the hotel in Kayenta (which apparently I’d stayed at last time I was here as my phone auto-connected to the terrible WiFi – be warned that phone signal and internet connectivity is scarce around here) before heading into the valley and onto our included Navajo Jeep tour.

The vistas in Monument Valley are so iconic, having been the backdrop to numerous films, tv programmes and adverts over the years. I’m very fortunate to have been able to revisit his place, and the scenery still hits you second time round. It’s like being in a movie.

We did the same jeep tour that I did last time when I was travelling with Trek America, though this time it was an included part of the trip (it was an additional excursion last time). We went on the backroads that you can’t ordinarily get to, and got much closer to the mesas and buttes (the stone structures). It’s brilliant doing it in the late afternoon/early evening when the sun is setting as the changing colours really add to the atmosphere.

Once the sun had set, it was time to enjoy some delicious Navajo tacos and be treated to some traditional song and dance. A fabulous opportunity to learn more about the Navajo and their traditions, as Monument Valley is within the Navajo Nation, a Native American territory covering parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The next morning we left Kayenta and headed towards the Grand Canyon. Our first stop off was about 30 minutes outside of Kayenta, at the Navajo National Monument, where we did a short trail to a viewpoint:

In the cave were dwellings which the Ancestral Pueblo people built and lived in around 1250AD – really cool to see, if not that closely! Yet again another glorious late summer day with not a cloud in the sky.

We approached the Grand Canyon from the east, so our first glimpse of it was from Desert View. On the way, we’d stopped off at a deli for a packed lunch, and so we enjoyed our lunch with a view over the Grand Canyon, a pretty epic lunch-spot, I think you’ll agree:

After lunch we had time to take in the views and snap a few photos from Desert View before driving over to the main Visitor Centre at the South Rim. The bus parking lot was absolutely rammed, and the viewpoints were absolutely packed. It was a Friday, and just about still the summer season, but I was really surprised at how busy it was. Although it’s one of the busiest National Parks, with more than 5 million visitors annually, it seemed way busier than last time I was here in June 2016.

After some more photo opportunities, we then headed to the hotel in Tusayan, which again was somewhere I’d been before, though this time we were in the hotel part rather than the motel part.

Some of the group headed out on a helicopter trip, I didn’t as I’d done it last time. Definitely recommend doing it if you have the time and the pennies. The moment when the helicopter flies low over the trees before you get to the edge of the rim, and suddenly the canyon falls away below you is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had.

Whilst most of the group went on the helicopter trip, my roommate and I went in search of food and snacks for the hike we had planned for the following day, as well as picking up a bottle of vino, which we enjoyed whilst waiting for the others to return. We went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Tusayan is a strip of hotels/motels and eateries, not heaps of choice (Mexican, Italian, steak house – you don’t come to this part of he world for the food!). After a burrito and a large strawberry margarita it was off to bed before a big hike the following day.

We left at 8am and our tour guide drove us into the park. Grand Canyon operates a shuttle bus system to get around the South Rim, and so we hopped on a shuttle bus to take us to the Bright Angel Trailhead. The Bright Angel trail is a there-and-back trail with turnaround options at the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, the Three Mile Resthouse, Indian Gardens (at 4.6 miles) and Plateau Point (6 miles). The hike to Plateau Point and back is longest day hike, at just over 12 miles and going over 3000 feet down into the Canyon. Going to the river and back in a day is not an option.

We started hiking at around 8.50am, it was cool and a little windy on the rim, good hiking temperatures. As we got down into the Canyon, it was much less windy. We stopped for breaks at the first 2 Resthouses, and made it to Indian Gardens (our aim) at 11.30am.

Indian Gardens are a complete oasis in the Canyon, lots of trees and vegetation, and a nice cooling breeze as respite from the heat of the day. We stopped here for around 40 minutes for lunch before starting the long hike back. Indian Gardens is 3040 feet below the rim, a long way up! We started back at 12.10pm and were back on the rim by 3.40pm. I was really pleased with how this hike went, it was almost 10 miles and the climb on the way back was hard. I drank about 4 litres of water, there are water taps at each of the resthouses and at Indian Gardens, and even though it wasn’t as hot as it can be at the height of the summer, it was still very hot work. Eating lots of salty snacks is also important to prevent dehydration, so make sure you’ve packed plenty of trail mix!

Last time I was here I just hiked along the rim, and one of the reasons I came back was to hike into the Canyon. It is so stunning in the Canyon, when you get below the rim, you get such a different perspective of the landscape, and the clouds on the day we hiked meant that the colours were constantly changing.

When we got back to the rim, we had an extremely long wait for a shuttle bus back to the Visitor Centre, the queues were very long, I think in part due to it being a fee-free day in the park. When we got to the Visitor Centre, we then had another wait for the shuttle bus back to Tusayan.

After the quickest shower ever, we then met up as a group to come back into the park for sunset. Sunset at the Grand Canyon is a definite bucket-list experience, and one I’ve now been fortunate enough to witness twice. The way the colours change as the sun goes down is just magical.

The next day was our last day of this whistle-stop trip through Utah and Arizona. On our way back to Las Vegas, we made a stop-off at the historic Route 66 town of Seligman.

After an In-N-Out burger for lunch (the best burgers!!), we tried to go and see the Hoover Dam, but the security presence deemed all our suitcases/bags too much of a risk (or too much of a hassle to check) and so we were turned around. A shame. We were able to stop off at a scenic overlook for Lake Mead as a consolation.

After that we headed the short distance back to Vegas and the end of the trip. It’s always sad to say goodbye, but we packed so much in to a week and I had a blast.

Zion and Bryce Canyon

When I travelled extensively around the USA in 2016, we didn’t get to either Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon, and they’ve been on my radar ever since. I found the ideal trip with Grand American Adventures which fitted the dates I had off work perfectly.

The trip started in Las Vegas on Sunday evening. On Monday morning we set off for Zion National Park, approximately a 4 hour drive out of Nevada and into Utah. We arrived mid afternoon after a couple of stops for snacks in Walmart and lunch at Chick-Fil-A.

We were staying in Springdale, which is right at the entrance to Zion National Park. After our tour guide gave us a brief rundown of how the shuttle service works (you can’t drive into the main part of Zion Canyon), and talked through some of the hiking trails, we then set off into the park. As it was already mid afternoon, I just hiked a couple of the shorter trails, and admired the awesome colours of the park:

We went for a group dinner in the evening (massive cheeseburger and a beer for me), and then had a fairly early night as I had a big hike planned for the following day.

Angels Landing is one of the 2 most famous hikes in Zion. It’s 2 and a half miles one way, and climbs up approximately 1400 feet. The trail for the first 2 miles is pretty good, well paved and with some decent shaded areas to shelter from the blazing sun. The last half mile is basically scrambling up rocks, with a chain to hold on to, to save you from the 1000 ft drop either side – not for the faint-hearted!:

There were also a lot of people on the trail which made this section pretty challenging as there isn’t much room with people going in both directions. The views at the top are totally worth it though. I spent around 40 minutes at the top, having my lunch and soaking up the epic views.

It was somewhat easier to get down, partly because there weren’t so many people trying to come up the chains. I was so proud of myself for completing this hike. To be honest, the chance to hike Angels Landing was the main reason for booking this trip, and I was elated, if completely knackered, after I’d done it.

After I’d got back to the start of the trail. I then hopped on the shuttle bus to go to the end of the line – Temple of Sinawava. This is where the other famous hike in Zion starts – The Narrows. I just did the river walk to the start of the Narrows but some of the others in the group hiked the Narrows on the first day:

After that I headed back to the hotel for a soak in the heated pool and jacuzzi – a welcome relief for my aching limbs.

In the evening we went to a Thai restaurant in Springdale which was a nice alternative to American fare. There are not a lot of dining options in Springdale, it’s a functional strip of hotels/motels and easy-dining restaurants catering for the park tourists, so don’t go there expecting gourmet dining!

An unreal view from the hotel the following morning:

Look how blue the sky is!! So clear, and not a cloud to be seen. We set off for Bryce Canyon in the morning.

Bryce Canyon is around 90 miles/145 km from Zion. We arrived around lunchtime and enjoyed our deli sandwiches with a view:

The rock formations are known as hoodoos, and look other-worldly. The way the colours layered in the rocks reminded me of Badlands, but the rock formations themselves were like nothing I’ve ever seen.

In the afternoon we hiked the Queen’s Garden and Navajo loops into the Canyon, to get up close the the hoodoos.

The colours were just spectacular. It was a nice walk in amongst the hoodoos and down into the Canyon, certainly a good workout for my still-tired legs. Afterwards we went to check in to our hotel in Bryce Canyon City (not a city in the traditional sense of the word, another functional strip of hotels/motels and eateries). We ate at a pretty decent buffet in the evening and then headed back into the park for an excellent view of the night sky. It was clear and there was no moon so we could see a lot of stars and the Milky Way – here is a somewhat wonky attempt at some night-sky photography. More practice needed!! (Or a tripod)

The next day was an early start for the long drive to Monument Valley, but that excitement is for another post.

Disclaimer – I am not affiliated with Grand American Adventures in any way, and was a full fare-paying customer on this trip.

Alaska

A mid afternoon flight from Seattle arrives in Anchorage 3 and a half hours later. Having lost another hour by moving timezones (now 9 hours behind the U.K.), it was around 7.30pm before I arrived at the hotel. After checking in I decided to stretch my legs with a walk around downtown Anchorage. Not a whole lot to see to be honest, and I didn’t really expect there to be. For the most part, Anchorage is a way into the state. The most striking thing for me was the daylight. I headed back to the hotel around 9pm and it could have been the middle of the afternoon.

Trek America trips start at 7.30am in the morning (which differs to G Adventures which generally start in the evening). After meeting the group (6 other travellers plus Sam, our tour guide) we did the usual admin and introductions before heading south to Seward.

The drive down from Anchorage to Seward is a couple of hours, and is insanely scenic. It reminded me of Fiordland in New Zealand. There were lakes on one side of us and hills/mountains on the other side. We arrived in Seward around 11am and after grabbing some (very expensive) lunch from the local supermarket, we then got on board a boat for an afternoon of cruising around the Kenai Fjords. We were so, so lucky with the weather, even in summer blue sky and warm temperatures are relatively rare in these parts.

Aside from the epic scenery, we were also hoping to see lots of wildlife. We saw lots of birds (I have entirely forgotten what most of them were), as well as sealions and then eventually we saw a humpback whale. Money shot:

We stayed in a hostel in Seward where I managed to choose a bunk with a particularly saggy mattress. We went out in the evening for out first group dinner, followed by a couple of drinks in the first of many bars on the trip which had dollar bills covering the ceiling.

The next day we went to the nearby Exit Glacier. I did a guided ranger walk for a couple of hours to a viewing point at the face of the glacier, whilst some of the others did a more strenuous hike up towards the Harding Ice Field.

In the afternoon we headed back to Seward and along with a couple of the group, I did a short hike around the 2 Lakes Trail and then I went to the aquarium. In the evening we did our own thing for dinner before having a few/lots of drinks in a couple of bars, chatting to the locals and stumbling back just before 1am…and it was still light!!

I had a slightly bleary-eyed start the next day and we were up early and on the road at 7am for the long drive day to Denali – around 375 miles. The weather, however, was perfect.

This picture was taken at the lunch stop in the town of Talkeetna, pretty epic view with Mount Denali on the right (tallest mountain in North America at 20,310ft, and it has a higher vertical rise than Everest from its base, as Everest rises from a plateau). On 2 out of 3 days you can’t see Denali because of the weather. Sam also said that though this was her 3rd trip to Denali this year, it was the first time she’d seen it, so I definitely feel that we were super-lucky.

We rolled into Healy around 5.30pm, where I had booked onto a scenic flight which would also land on a glacier. It was not a cheap excursion but it was totally worth the money.

There were 8 passengers and the pilot on the plane, pretty cosy. I was right at the back but had a bonus with views out of both sides of the plane. The plane itself had skis on it so it could land on the glacier, which was an awesome experience.

After that we met with the rest of the group for a late dinner at 49th State Brewing. They definitely like their beers in this part of the world, there seemed to be quite a few local breweries around, though I had a nice glass of vino.

The next day (4th July!) we had a full day bus tour into Denali National Park. I think this is probably one of the most authentic wilderness areas I’ve been to. There is basically 1 road into Denali (at least from where we were staying), which is only paved for 20 miles, and private vehicles aren’t allowed beyond the first 20 miles. There are very few maintained trails and you are encouraged to go and wander (what the Americans term ‘backpacking’, though you’ve gotta be aware of the wildlife).

The bus took us out 66 miles to the Eielson Visitor Center and it took about 4 hours to get there. We made rest stops as well as stops for wildlife spottings. On the way out we saw caribou and some grizzlies.

This is the amazing 4th of July view from the Eielson Visitor Center

We did the Alpine View hike at the Visitor Center, where I was lucky enough to see another sow and her cubs coming down the hill. More epic views at the top:

On the bus back we saw loads of sows and cubs, we seemed to be stopping every 20 minutes for sightings, which was really amazing. In contrast to the bears I’ve previously seen in Yellowstone, we seemed to be closer to the bears in Yellowstone. I have a whole heap of photos on my camera which at first glance are just photos of green hillside, but if you zoom in the bears are there – somewhere! In Yellowstone, with a less good camera, I have clearer photos of bears. But it is still really exhilarating to see bears in the wild.

We also saw a moose right at the end of the trip back. Moose are enormous!! The next day back at the park entrance there was a moose and her baby moose casually wandering in the car park! We essentially had a free day on the second full day in Denali. I decided to do some of the shorter trail hikes near to the park entrance Visitor Center. The weather was a bit rainy in the morning and I was glad for my full wet weather gear! Some of the group went rafting instead, not really my cup of tea.

The next morning we had a sled dog demo in the park. Denali is one of the few places where huskies work in the winter, to patrol the park and carry supplies on sleds. I can hardly imagine what this place is like in winter, covered in snow and blanketed in darkness. It would certainly be a different experience to be there in the winter!

After the demo, it was time to head off to our next stop. We were heading east down the (unpaved) Denali Highway to Maclaren River Lodge in the Alaskan Range. It was another long drive, but with more great scenery. Canoeing was an option here, but I was the only one who decided against it, and instead I enjoyed a couple of glasses of vino.

Once the rest of the group made it back (not all of them dry…) we had dinner and then had a bonfire and made s’mores. S’mores are classic American campfire snacks, toasted marshmallows, and a slab of Hershey’s chocolate sandwiched between 2 Golden Graham crackers – a proper sugar hit!

The next morning we had a short hike quite near to the lodge, and then continued along the Denali Highway towards Wrangell-St-Elias National Park. This is the largest national park in North America. It’s the size of Switzerland, and the main town within the park, McCarthy, is accessed via a 60 mile dirt road. It’s quite hard to imagine the isolation of these communities, especially outside of the tourist season. We arrived at 6.30pm on a Saturday evening, and after a quick shower we headed out to sample the local nightlife. There was live music in the Saloon to enjoy, as well as some interesting people-watching.

The next day the only thing to do was to get out onto the glacier. The options were a full day glacier hike or ice climbing. I opted for the glacier hike and after being fitted out with crampons which we would wear once on the ice, we headed off on the 2 mile hike to the face of the glacier. In contrast to other glacier hikes I’ve done which have largely followed set routes, this one felt much more like we could roam free (within reason, i.e. avoiding any precipitous drops!). And by ‘roam free’, I mean that I felt that our guide wasn’t following a pre-determined path, but was taking us to look a interesting features on the glacier.

We hiked about 6 miles on the ice, and because we were constantly moving, it didn’t feel as cold as you might expect.

The blues that you see on the glacier are so intensely blue, the photos don’t really do it justice.

We returned in the late afternoon, and on the drive back to McCarthy from Kennicott, as we turned a corner in the road, a black bear was right in front of us! It looked at us for a few moments before disappearing into the bush. Really cool to see up close!

The next day was the last day of the trip, and a long drive back to Anchorage. Firstly back down the 60 mile dirt road through the park, and eventually onto the paved highways. We rolled into Anchorage at 6pm and said our goodbyes as we weren’t all staying in the same hotel.

A reasonably early night followed for me as I had a 4am alarm for the long journey back to the U.K.

So, what were my overall impressions of Alaska? First off it is beautiful. The scenery and wildlife are out-of-this-world. The locals are friendly, and in the summer there is near-constant daylight which means plenty of time (if you can hack it) for exploring. Pack for all seasons, it’s unlikely to be hot and the weather can change pretty quickly. Things to be aware of, firstly the prices – it’s expensive in Alaska, naturally because it’s pretty remote up there. On the plus side, there is no sales tax so at least you know that price you’ll pay once you get to the till. Secondly the nightlife is very low-key. You definitely don’t come to Alaska to party. And thirdly, the sheer size of Alaska – it’s huge. It’s 82 times larger than Wales. The furthest north we got was the Denali region, but there is another near-600 miles of Alaska before you hit the Arctic Ocean, and you’ll be lucky if those roads are anything more than a dirt track. It’s difficult to appreciate the remoteness of some of these places, and I can barely imagine what it’s like to be there in the constant darkness of winter. But all in all, definitely worth visiting.

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!

Road Trip

After a short and slightly dull stay in the Peel Forest so that people could ‘enjoy’ rafting on the Rangitata river, we had an early start (6.40am departure) to drive to Christchurch. Stray only stop at the airport, and don’t stay overnight in Christchurch (which is a shame, more on this in a separate blog post), so we arrived at Christchurch airport shortly after 9am. The reason for the early start is that the final destination for the day on the Stray Bus is Kaikoura, and they need to be in Kaikoura by midday for whale watching.

Anyway, Kaikoura is for another day. When we got to Christchurch airport, I gathered all my belongings (4 bags of varying sizes at this point) and found the car rental desk. After wincing at the $3,000 excess and paying for the rental, I got the keys for my wheels for the next couple of days – a 5 door Toyota Yaris (automatic).

 

It was clean when I got it – this is a picture from day 2.

My plan for day 1 was to head out to the Banks Peninsula, about 90 minutes southeast of Christchurch. A few people had mentioned that it was really pretty, and my Lonely Planet describes the scenic drive as ‘absurdly beautiful’. Sadly the weather was not good. The Banks Peninsula was formed by 2 volcanoes, and when I was driving along the top of the crater, I was driving in the clouds. I almost had to stop the car to figure out where the fog lights were!

Nevertheless, I ploughed on, and followed the scenic drive to several bays, including Pigeon Bay:

 
Little Akaloa:

  
And Le Bons Bay:

  
The car got very dirty when I decided to try to get to the Lighthouse, but after a slightly hairy drive down a dirt road, I chickened out about halfway to the lighthouse. It was raining quite hard, and the dirt road was turning very muddy. The poor little automatic was struggling so I figured it would be better to turnaround while I had the opportunity.

After that little escapade, I decided to head to Akaroa and find the hostel. This shouldn’t have been hard as Akaroa is basically one main road, but I drove straight past the hostel to start with!

Akaroa has a lot of French heritage (for example, the roads are all Rue…). I went to the little museum where there was a short video explaining how there came to be such a French connection here. After a short and cold stroll along the front, I bid a hasty retreat to the hostel. Akaroa seemed fairly sleepy, despite there being a cruise ship in the harbour.

The hostel I stayed at was the quietest one so far. I only saw 3 other people there, and had a dorm room all to myself.

I had an early night as I wanted to be off early in the morning as I had a lot of driving planned for day 2.

Obviously the weather in Akaroa was absolutely stunning the following day. As I drove out of the Banks Peninsula towards SH1 I stopped for a quick photo op:

  
If only the weather had been like this the previous day!

My first destination on day 2 was (were?) the Moeraki Boulders which are 4 and a half hours’ drive from Akaroa (hence the early start). They are practically in Dunedin and it might have made slightly more sense to have visited them whilst I was in Dunedin, but nevermind. I enjoyed being back behind the wheel, even if the lack of acceleration in the automatic was annoying.

The Moeraki Boulders are surprisingly smooth, round stones on the beach at Moeraki:

   
   
After a nice walk on the beach among the boulders, and my picnic lunch, it was time to head to my next stop, about an hour back north from Moeraki. When I was in Dunedin, I met a German girl who recommended that I should go to the Elephant Rocks as well as the Moeraki Boulders. The Elephant Rocks are near Oamaru, but are inland. They aren’t particularly well signposted and as I was navigating purely by road signs, I was quite pleased to find them.

   
   
I’m not entirely sure where the ‘elephant’ name comes from, but they are an interesting geological formation.

After this, it was a long drive back to Christchurch. I arrived at the hostel in Christchurch just after 7pm. It only took 3 drives around the block to find the entrance! Weirdly though I had been here before with G Adventures in November 2014. The place has had much-needed spruce up in the intervening period.

Over the 2 days, I covered about 850km. I really enjoy driving, and after almost 4 months of not driving, it was really nice to get back behind the wheel. I will definitely never buy an automatic though – I need to have more control over my speed!