If it hadn’t been cold and raining in Pucón, Chile when we finished a trek, we wouldn’t have been sitting, five months later, with Nic and Norden in their sumptuous Sydney apartment.
Nic and Norden were such great company in January when we entered their lodge, high up in the forests, like drowned-rats. So we were delighted a couple of weeks back when they contacted us, via this blog, and invited us over for dinner.
After taking us for a tour of South Head, secret beaches, and million dollar properties, engaging Nic cooked, whilst Norden talked about his passion for teaching maths.
We all agreed, the best thing about travelling isn’t the landscapes or the famous buildings. It’s meeting people who enrich your lives. Thanks for a great evening guys, and the amazing FourPillars gin and tonics.
It was good to stroll into an art gallery without paying. So different from America where art comes at a price.
Surely, cities should be more than sidewalks and parking lots – the best ones extend into accessible culture, recreation and leisure. America seems to have forgotten that. Most cities in the third world are yet to discover it.
After lunch at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, we spent an enjoyable hour looking at the eclectic collection. The rooms reflecting Australia; European heritage alongside modern confident home-grown.
After three months in North America, Sydney feels so European. Maybe, because we are in the middle of winter. Maybe, because of the amount of Victorian buildings; which massively surprised Roger who hasn’t been here before.
Thankfully, and eventually, the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed strolling around this most attractive of cities in the sun. We also had planning to do. Where would we go in this vast country? Even though we are here for four weeks, because of the huge distances, we’ll need to decide what we really want to see. The Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, the Gold Coast, or the cities.
Crossing the International Date Line en route from Honolulu to Sydney means we are just half way on our round-the-world adventure, with four months of travels in Australia and Asia to look forward to.
Jumping 20 hours ahead was a new experience for Roger, whilst Hilary crossed the Date Line in the opposite direction 30 years ago.
On our oneworld economy round-the-world tickets, it was good to swap American Airlines for Quantas. Even on the six hour flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii, the American carrier offered no free food. In comparison, on this flight, we enjoyed two cooked meals, healthy fruit, ice cream and a free bar.
We wanted a restful afternoon, but then Hilary suggested walking from our hostel out to Diamond Head. Someone on TripAdvisor had stated it was “only a twenty minute walk from Waikiki Beach”, so we set off at 2pm in the heat of the day. An hour later we were asking people the way, and we finally staggered, awash with sweat, into the crater (through a road tunnel) at 4.15pm.
“Now you’ve got the steep climb to the summit” said the cheery Park Warden, as we paid for our entrance tickets. “That’ll be the easy part!” Hilary replied, with some feeling. The trail to the summit was built in 1908 as part of the US Army’s defence system. It includes wrought-iron spiral staircases, narrow tunnels, and observation bunkers. Great fun. It was a long way up but the views down to the many surfers and across the whole of Honolulu were worth it.
Readers will be glad to know that we managed to get a bus back.
Situated on the northern point of O’ahu, the radar operators detected a strong signal, but were reassured, it was just returning American bombers. Moments later the first wave of 183 planes swarmed from the sky attacking the pride of the US Navy moored in Destroyer Row.
The “day of infamy” was Sunday December 7th 1941.
A Japanese shell explodes at the bow of the USS Arizona. Today, rusty and submerged just below the waters of Pearl Harbour, it’s a grave for nearly 1000 and a symbol of the only attack on American homeland by an enemy state.
Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, Roger learnt so much about the attack, and found looking down at the wreck extremely moving. When leaders put territorial ambition ahead of humanity, you quickly lead to 50 million lives destroyed.
If you plan to do this As long as you turn up early, you’ll be able to get one of the free tour tickets released on the day. Leaving soon after 6am, Roger got there on the number 42 bus from Waikiki. He recommends paying $7.50 for the audio tour.
A short 30min up and down flight took us from sleepy Maui to bustling O’ahu.
It felt good to be backpackers again, catching the Honolulu bus, and mixing with the locals. We were heading to a hostel, a couple of blocks from Waikiki beach, that probably cost a quarter of the rate of the next door international hotel.
We could have been in Cannes or Dubai, if it wasn’t for the beautifully bronzed carrying their surfboards under their arm to the beach. And for the Japanese and Chinese tourists this is where you shop, take mini-bus tours and eat out in stylish restaurants.
In comparison, we used the time to throw away our worn-out clothes, update this blog, and plan the next stage of the gap year. But this didn’t stop us going out for swims on Waikiki Beach and eating from an authentic Chinese street cafe.
Across Maui we swam in three very contrasting beaches. One hippy and rocky (Olowalu). One commercial and picture-perfect (Kapalua, pictured above). And the third isolated and unspoilt (Hāmoa).
Now we understood why even Californians would take their vacations here; the water was a marvellous temperature, so much warmer than in the Golden State. However the heavy swell and surf make swimming difficult. So it was particularly great we were able to do some snorkelling.
Originally part of a 16th century trail that encircled the island, the Hana Highway is the ubiquitous tourist route out to the far east of Maui. It’s long and windy with more than 600 curves and 56 one-lane bridges. It reminded us of the Amalfi Coast drive.
On the way, you can discover waterfalls, beaches and special secret stops. But, given the crowds, we didn’t do any of that, preferring to get to Hana where we stayed two nights camping at Waianapanapa State Park.
For us, Hana was delightful. It’s largely underdeveloped, completely lived-in by native Hawaians, and reminded us very much of laid-back Costa Rica, although a bit richer.
We were intrigued to see the Hawaii flag had the Union Jack in the top right corner (the canton). Especially as we didn’t think Britain had much connection with Hawaii.
We were wrong.
Apparently, in 1793 Captain George Vancouver from Great Britain presented the Union Jack to the conquering King Kamehameha I, who was then uniting the islands into a single state.
It was only in 1816 that Western advisers to the king recommended the addition of red, white, and blue stripes to the Union Jack, thus creating a distinctive national flag for the country. After a brief British occupation of Hawaii in 1843, King Kamehameha III set the number of stripes on the national flag at eight, corresponding to the major islands.
And now today, even after the proclamation of Hawaii as a republic in 1894, the creation of the US territory in 1898, and then the 1959 admittance to the Union as the 50th US state, it’s that same flag you see flying here on all state building and many houses.