Under the Californian sun

I’m behind on my blogging schedule already. I’d been staying in Santa Monica a few days and decided to hire a bike and go cycling down the beach. A cycle track snakes its way along the sand and even though Americans don’t seem to understand the concept of ‘bikes only’, it’s by far the best way to see the beach. Venice is not really the right place if you want to actually go bathing, but it’s a fine place to walk or bike, or just sit in the cafes and watch the weird world go by. Freaks, musicians and muscle men show off their stuff while skaters and rollerbladers zip by. One place I sat at had a man who’d brought his parrot along, much to the delight of passers-by.

This is how I imagined California to be, the laid-back beach life under the sun and the palm-trees. Are you jealous yet? I took my bike all the way down Venice Beach and around the marina to Manhattan Beach. It took a couple of hours because I kept stopping to take pictures or sit in the shade. The route took me right past LAX airport, where aircraft flew right over my head. Manhattan is a much quieter beach, without the chain of cafes and bars lining the road, but I saw plenty of barbecue parties gathering in the evening sun. I got the feeling this is where the real locals come.

I made it back to Venice before sunset (nervously as my bike had no lights) and had dinner along the beachfront. I then took the opportunity for some night photography on the pier before turning in for the night.

Before I left town I was able to meet up with an old friend who by amazing coincidence was in LA on business, and went out drinking by the pier with his colleagues while lunatic daredevils thew themselves off the steps on skateboards. It was a great way to round off my short stay here. Santa Monica has managed to maintain a seaside town feel even though it’s part of the LA metro area, and has left an impression on me.

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Photos from the Los Angeles coast

I’ve been exploring the LA area. I’m staying in Santa Monica, an attractive coastal town, but yesterday I met someone with a car and we drove up to Malibu. The weather’s been mostly cloudy – this must be the ‘June Gloom’ I’ve heard about – but it’s a very pleasant climate. I’m too lazy to blog right now so here’s some photos.

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California is having a primary!

I’m in Hollywood. It’s not really my sort of place to be honest. I don’t go in for celebrity culture and kitsch. I do like movies though, and it’s fascinating to walk around the place that defined what movies are today, even if it’s a shadow of its former self. Today Hollywood has more of a spiritual association with filmmaking than a practical one – most films are made elsewhere, and only one studio, Paramount, still has its headquarters here. Even though many stars still live in LA, here you’ll see the people who didn’t make it; brought in by the allure of a fast path to stardom only to have reality hit hard. Strolling down Hollywood Boulevard I overheard a homeless man talking about stage fright, which about sums it up for me. It’s a place of broken dreams. Perhaps that’s what Green Day were really singing about?

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My first full day here happens to be the day of the California presidential primary (I can’t help but read that in Kiefer Sutherland’s voice). I haven’t seen much evidence of this. I saw one Hillary sign and one Bernie sign and that was it, although I did find the Hollywood Heritage Museum closed to me when it turned out to be a polling station.

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As I write this, the polls are still open for half an hour, and the latest polls have the Democratic candidates neck and neck (Not to get too political, but go Bernie!). Even if Sanders wins here though, the nomination lies pretty securely in Clinton’s hands. The less said about the nominee on the other side the better, I think. I decided earlier that I wouldn’t bring him up unless others do. I think most Americans are a bit embarrassed by him.

After wandering around Hollywood I found an awesome little cafe in the park called the Trails Cafe, which serves very good quiche, and hiked the eponymous trails up to the Griffith Observatory and back. The hilltop offers a stunning panoramic view of the LA skyline, not to mention the famous Hollywood sign. At the observatory a planetarium showed a 360 degree film about water in space. I rather enjoyed it, though it’s hard to be impressed by the technology when you’ve tried an HTC Vive (the dangers of being a tech enthusiast).

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I’ve never seen a city as big as Los Angeles in my life. The urban sprawl seemed to spread to the horizon in every direction, and I could barely even make out the coast from my vantage point. Tomorrow though I’m planning to head west, to check out Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

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Due West

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. It’s not for a lack of travelling – since my last entry I’ve moved to Sweden, toured around Scandinavia, and gone hiking in England and Germany – but for a lack of motivation. I found the blog-posts were taking a lot of time out of my day to get just right. But when I said I was going to the US and Canada, a lot of people asked if I was going to blog – so I thought why not? I might try to do some shorter posts and not focus too much on getting a ‘story’ in each one to make it easier. That said, this might be the only post I write the whole trip, we’ll see!

My journey begins in Los Angeles, and will encompass the whole west coast up to Vancouver. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Or not. This might be it. In the meantime though, enjoy this shot of LA coming in from the plane:

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Wildlife in NZ

My experience of ‘In Zid’ is sadly drawing to a close. I’m sitting in Christchurch airport with a few hours to kill before my flight. It’s been an incredible experience, and I’ve really got to appreciate the efforts the New Zealand government puts towards conservation of its fragile ecosystem. The variety and richness of wildlife here has really fascinated me. Many a time I’d be walking through a forest and stop to listen to a birdcall I’d not heard before. I’ve got enough footage of exotic (to me, at least) birds and other critters to make a nature documentary, and some great photos.

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In the short time I’ve been here I’ve become quite an expert on local fauna, recognising the calls of the tui and the bellbird, and spotting any number of other species.

Among the creatures I can claim to have seen are: fantail, New Zealand pigeon, kea, falcon, harrier, kingfisher, tui, silvereye, spoonbill, weka, albatross, New Zealand fur seal, dusky dolphin, Hector’s dolphin, yellow-eyed penguin, sperm whale, and sheep.

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Sadly I didn’t see a Kiwi, although I think I may have heard one once.

It amazes me how easily you can come across animals in their native habitat here without paying a cent. After our coastal nature tour in Kaikoura, we stumbled across a seal colony beneath the roadside cliffs on our way north, and later, in Moeraki, we encountered penguins and sealions just metres away from us. It’s great to see these creatures living in the wild, (mostly) unaffected by human interference.

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I’m envious of everything New Zealand has to offer. I can even tolerate the lack of free wifi. Somehow or other, I have to find the time and money to return to these islands.

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Still in Kiwiland

Yes, I’m still in New Zealand, despite a major lapse in blogging output. Put it down to a combination of too much to do, too little time, and laziness!

This country is incredible whichever angle you look at it from. After three weeks travelling with family I’ve struck off on my own up to the North Island. I only had a week, so I limited my visit to the beautiful Bay of Islands. Climate was a big draw for me; it’s a lot warmer up north, perfect beach weather! I’ve found a couple of idyllic beaches here with no one on them at all, save for the occasional paraglider overhead.

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Aren’t you jealous?

I’ve come across a lot more Maori heritage up here. Waitangi is the site where the famous treaty was signed between the British colonial forces and the Maori chieftains, a pivotal moment in NZ history. The Waitangi treaty grounds consist of a large area with reconstructions of the 19th century buildings, and an extensive museum. From the beach, I traced the steps made by Captain William Hobson as he ascended to sign the treaty.

I’ve been staying in Paihia, stopping one night in Russell via a lovely five hour walk around the bay. This is probably not the part of New Zealand you come to for walking, nonetheless I’ve really enjoyed tramping around the peninsulas. The coastline here is fantastic: every where you look the sea is full of rock and island.

Tomorrow is my last day, then it’s a full day of travelling. Followed by another full day of travelling. Oh joy of joys.

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Beachside paradise in Abel Tasman

New Zealand has it all: stunning landscapes, fascinating wildlife… and incredible beaches. So we discovered when we visited Abel Tasman National Park, and drove all the way to the top of the South Island. Passing through Nelson, we continued up the coast to the mountains, and found a long and winding dirt track leading through tropical forests to reach the campsite at the other end. This was another DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite, but a little better stocked than most, with kitchen facilities, barbecues and cold showers.

But it was the beach that lured me about this place: a long stretch of golden sand separating the camping ground from the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. At this time of year (early Autumn) there were few people around. It was idyllic.

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Of course a swim was in order, and a stroll along the beach, but first we had to set up camp. We were quite used to camping by now and made short work of the tents.

We couldn’t visit this remote place without going tramping, so spent the afternoon walking over the steep hills to the next beaches. Our mum found it rather exhausting but we got her there and back again!

There was plenty of time along the way to take in the view of the beach from the hillside.

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By the time we returned it was getting dark and the moon was out. We settled in to cook a stir fry dinner – one of my specialities. It just so happens that the only meals I know how to cook are amenable to campsite cuisine.

The beach looked all the more wonderful under the full moon, and the three of us enjoyed a few moments sitting on the beach in the moonlight. I didn’t want to leave.

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