A Travellerspoint blog

Las Vegas

Wendy & Joel's wedding

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We spend just two days in Las Vegas, but they're packed full. We drive from LA to Vegas in the mustang, arriving on the main strip. It's a crazy place to see, it pops up from a desert of nothing and suddenly surrounds you with massive, unreal buildings. Fairy castles, mini New Yorks, Eiffel towers, it's all here. It's all the more impressive viewed at night with all the lights.

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Many of the hotels have visual shows to take in too, we watch a volcano erupt at The Mirage. It's a bit cheesy. At the Bellagio though they have a lake with a huge fountain display set to music. That's quite mgnificetnt to watch. The themes continue inside the hotels too. The Venetian has canals and gondalas, along their indoor streets, complete with blue sky ceiling.

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On Saturday 13th March, my old work mates Wendy and Joel get married in Las Vegas! I'm very lucky to have managed to fit it in, the second wedding of the trip! We start the day with some squealy reunions, then a buffet breakfast for the ladies at the Wynn, one of the swankier Vegas hotels. The buffet is unbelievable, more choice than you can get your head around. The cake selection is particularly overwhelming. Suitably stuffed, we laze by the huge Wynn pool for a bit before getting ready with the bride in Charlotte and Kylie's room, more friends from work.

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All ready and a little rushed we hop into a limo that takes us to The Little Church of the West Wedding Chapel. There, we are greeted by an Elvis, who'll be taking Wendy down the aisle. They get through a lot of weddings there so can't get us all into the chapel soon enough. The ceremony is short and sweet, with Elvis singing at opportune moments. Quite a lot of fun and more laid back than your usual wedding.

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Back in the daylight and there's another Elvis amongst us. Joel was driven to the wedding by an older Elvis in a pink Cadillac, so we have two of them! We all drive to the Welcome to Vegas sign for some classic Vegas wedding photos. Then onwards to the Bellagio where most of the wedding party (ie the ones not backpacking) have a slap up meal.

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Vegas isn't just about gambling, all the hotels have their own theatre and huge shows happen here. Barry Manilow and Cher are permanent performers at the moment, if that's your sort of thing. Wendy and Joel kindly bought all of us tickets to the Cirque de Soleil show LOVE. It's a show inspired and using the music of the Beatles and truly is spectacular. I would struggle to describe it, it is such a visual feast, with performers at every angle, fantastic costumes, amazing acrobatics, dancing and, of course, brilliant music.

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It's a wonderful way to end a wonderful day. Vegas can sometimes be seen as brash and tacky, but with experiencing it through a wedding with friends, to me it came across as a wonderland. Somewhere that has its place, perhaps not every day though!

Posted by EllenM 02:29 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Los Angeles & San Diego

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We leave Fiji around 11pm on Sunday 7th March and land in LA at midday also on Sunday 7th March. 45 hours of Sunday! Unintentionally, we have arrived in Hollywood on the day of the Oscars. Our plans to mingle with the stars are scuppered though when we're warned every road in the vicinity of the Kodak Theatre will be closed off, so we have to make do with watching it at our hostel surrounded by wannabe actors. The following morning though we pass the Kodak Theatre and catch the clear up, at least.

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We take a Greyhound bus south to San Diego. The hope being it would be a little warmer than LA, but no such luck. It's a nice city though. It has a large park with all sorts of museums to explore. We explore them from the outside, too used to London's free museums, we're not willing to part with dollars to enter. We toy with the idea of popping in to Tijuana, Mexico, a popular daytrip from San Diego. We decide not to though, it wouldn't have done Mexico justice, save that for another trip!

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We head back to LA and stay in Venice Beach, where we meet our friend Craig and his friend Ben, who are out on holiday for two weeks.

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They have a Mustang rental car, so we make full use of it, ticking off the usual tourist activities in LA, land of small dogs. Driving around Beverly Hills, trying to spot the stars' houses and trying to get as close as possible to the Hollywood sign. You can't get very close it turns out.

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Later outside the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard we catch a very bizarre fight. There are jobless actors who dress up as film characters to make a few bucks from tourists who want their photos taken with them. For some reason Darth Vadar has a problem with batman and they launch into a big argument. The masks come off and Michael Jackson has to try and break it up! Very surreal, but definitely not staged.

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Posted by EllenM 08:40 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Fiji

The Yasawas

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On the morning that we are due to fly out to Fiji from New Zealand, we awake to some frantic texts warning us not to go to the Pacific, there are tsunami warnings! Not the best thing to hear when flying out, but we are reassured at the airport it should be fine and indeed it is. There were fears a tsunami would sweep across the Pacific as an aftershock of the devastating Chile earthquake and all the nations affected took it seriously, which is good to hear, but even better that there was no need.

Fiji sits just before the international dateline in the Pacific ocean and is made up of 333 islands. It's pouring with rain when we land in Nadi on the mainland. Worse still, we'd spied a forecast that said heavy rain for every day that week. Not ideal. We check into a hostel in Nadi and endure pouring rain all that night continuing into the following morning. We've booked a 6 night pass with a boat company that takes us to a group of islands called the Yasawas and allows us to hop on and off the boat as often as we like and includes accommodation in various places throughout the islands. We start by staying at the furthest island, a 4 hour boat ride through the blanket cloud and rain. When we arrive there though the weather seems to magically clear. It remains clear and sunny for pretty much the whole week! Lucky.

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The Yasawas are a line of small volcanic islands. They remain relatively undeveloped, having only been visited by tourist since the 90s. There are resorts, but no bars or restaurants too, you're fed where you stay. They are often run by the villagers. The resorts we stay in are basic, nothing plush and we stay in Bures, traditional Fijian huts. We stay in 3 different places, each one as relaxing as the last. The islands are stunning, a real paradise. Clear seas, soft, swaying palms and dramatic volcanic peaks.

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The Fijian people are incredibly friendly and always have a warm smile waiting for you. In the evenings, they often put on shows for us with dancing and singing. They seem to genuinely enjoy doing it and we leave Fiji with their reputation as the friendliest people in the world very much intact.

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Posted by EllenM 15:17 Archived in Fiji Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The North Island

Wellington, Lake Taupo, Hot Water Beach, Rotorua, Raglan and Auckland

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Apologies that this entry is a little delayed, I've been on some lovely Fijian islands where little internet was available.

On arriving in Wellington we pick our luggage up from the carousel (like flying!) and wait for Luke, my old work mate, who's about as Kiwi as they come. We stay with him for two days. He has a flat that looks out onto a remarkably undeveloped bay. It's an incredible view to wake up to. We head out for drinks and finally see a busy New Zealand. There's people here! The bar we go to and feels like Shoreditch, we're even treated to a bizarre cabaret act there.

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Luke is in his last week of his Graphic Design masters, so it's slightly bad timing on our part. It works out well though as for his final project he has 600 magnets that need cutting out. We're more than willing to help, he's giving us somewhere to stay afterall. It feels odd being back in a university and doing work. Quite refreshing after 5 months of travelling actually.

We stay with Bob and Emma my old friends from London for the following two nights. They came here while travelling too and have settled in Wellington. In many ways it's understandable, Wellington is a really nice city, plenty seems to be going on and yet it's still a small manageable size. I'm not sure if I could ever get used to being so far from home though, in distance or time difference.

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It's Alex's birthday while we're in Welly. I give her money to do a skydive that I've gathered from some of her home friends. So we'll have to do one now! We treat ourselves to our first roast dinner of the whole trip and Bob and Emma provide chocolate cake.

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We get a relocation car from Wellington that is free, provided we get it up to Auckland in 2 days. After a day of driving we're in Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake and the skydiving capital of the world. The next morning it's cloudy. If it is too cloudy skydives won't happen. While wondering whether we'll be able to do it or not we discover we have a flat tyre. Bad news. Luckily for us we choose to have flat tyre in a town and even luckier, our hostel is metres away from a number of tyre companies. This really is lucky considering how rural most of New Zealand is. It doesn't need replacing, just repairing, so costs $30. That's about 14 pounds. I don't know much about cars, but I can't imagine tyre repair ever being that cheap in the UK.

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Tyre sorted we book the skydive for 3pm, still unsure on whether it will happen at all. When 3pm does eventually arrive we're assured the skydive can take place and the nerves kick in! We're kitted out in jumpsuits, meet our tandem skydiving partners (the guys you're strapped to who know what they're doing - I've got Mikey) and are tightly packed into a small plane. We fly for about half an hour. Some people are jumping at 12,000 feet. A shutter on the side of the plane slides open and they all hurtle out. By now I'm actually quite excited. We reach 15,000 feet and I'm up first. A nervous smile to the camera, then Mikey launches us out. My eyes instinctively shut, but I quickly open them, realise what's happening and scream! There's 60 seconds of free falling when I'm travelling at something like 200km/h. The rush of wind is crazy, I'm sure my face looks fairly ridiculous, but you'll never know as I didn't fork out the extra for someone to film me! Just as we hit a cloud Mikey pulls open a parachute and we're floating. It's quite relaxed after the initial speed. Now I can take in Lake Taupo and the surrounding volcanic mountains (including Lord of the Ring's Mt Doom). I can even wave Alex who's floating downward near me. It's about 6 minutes to get down to the ground, feels like far less. I land on my bum and it's all over, but I'm buzzing from it for hours.

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After we head all the way up to Auckland to hand in the relocation car the next morning. We grab another hire car and do a wee tour of the North Island. We head to the Coramandel Peninsular, where the remarkable Hot Water Beach is. Thanks to geothermal activity, whenever there is low tide, you can dig yourself a hole and it will fill up with hot water, creating your own little hot tub. We go there for low tide, which is around 9pm, so it's pretty dark. It's a great atmosphere though, with people sitting around chatting in the warm waters. It really is hot though, you have to be careful, mixing in a bit of cold sea water helps!

We head down to Rotorua, famed too for its geothermal activty. It's got plenty and a rather pongy smell to go along with it. In parks around the town there are cordoned off steaming bits, smoking water and bubbling mud. Its quite odd, feels like something prehistoric. After Rotorua we treat ourselves to one night by the beach at Raglan, a surfer town. We're lucky to coincide our visit with a surf contest, so get to watch the pros.

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The New Zealand trip is finished with a night in Auckland. Here, we meet my very old friend Erin. Erin came over to the UK when she was 11 and stayed around 3 years, living opposite me some of that time. She's now back in NZ, from Wellington but studying in Auckland. It's great to see her as it's been a while, but we agree that neither of us has changed really. She takes Alex and me to the lantern festival, a very busy little festival that comes alive when it gets dark and a whole host of imaginative lanterns light up. It's a lovely way to end our New Zealand visit, surrounded by more people than we've seen in the rest of the trip combined, but proving to us that Auckland is better than the reputation it holds.

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Posted by EllenM 20:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The South Island, part 2

The West Coast, Fox Glacier, Franz Josef, Pancake Rocks and Abel Tasman

all seasons in one day

From Queenstown we drive north along the picturesque west coast, taking in beaches covered in balanced zen like stones, kea parrots keen to peck at our car and plenty of kiwi warning signs, but no kiwis alas.

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There are two glaciers along the way, the Fox Glacier (mint!) and Franz Josef Glacier. It's a bit of 'spot the difference' job between them. They're impressive though, huge waves of ice cutting through rocks far down below the mountains. I now understand galaciers better too, thanks to the information signs. One big difference between sights we've seen here and in Asia is that much more is explained to you here. In Asia, even when there is a tour guide there, they often don't know how natural wonders, Halong Bay in Vietnam for example, were formed.

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Further up the coast we pass Punakaiki, famous for its pancake rocks. We must have been here close to pancake day, yet we failed to have pancakes! They're named as such as the rocks have formed in a way that looks like a pile or pancakes. We visit at high tide, when you're treated to a show from the sea. Blow holes appear through the rocks, where the pressure from waves coming in forces air up. The waves crash in to the caverns in the rocks creating a huge noise. Dramatic stuff.

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At the top of the North Island is Abel Tasman National Park. We get a boat along the coast up the park, passing one lone tiny blue penguin swimming along and a seal colony with crying seal pups. We're dropped off on a beach, where we walk back along the coast for four hours or so. Possibly the longest walk we've managed in New Zealand, which is pretty impressive considering how many people come here for walking, or 'tramping' as the kiwis call it.

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It's very pretty, the beaches are reminiscent of Thailand, with crystal blue waters and greenery covered steep sides. It's absolutely teeming with ferns too, I understand why the fern is a national symbol for New Zealand now, they have plenty of them!

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We finish the North Island with a few days in Nelson, before hopping on a 3 hour ferry to cross the Cook Strait to Wellington in the North Island.

Posted by EllenM 21:11 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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