As we watched the golden sun disappear into the Timor Sea, we reflected on perfect sunset locations.
Roger remembered a sunset at Key West, Florida. Hilary recalled Goa, India. And on this gap year, we’ve seen the sun setting into the Pacific at Iquique (Chile), Uvita (Costa Rica) and Vancouver.
Now Mindil Beach. It’s where everyone in Darwin goes on a Thursday and Sunday evening. There’s the popular beachside market, full of arts and crafts vendors and pop-up foodstalls, as well as the sun’s performance.
As a friend has commented to us, it’s all too easy “to become entombed in our houses and offices”. So here’s a suggestion. Wherever you are in the world, whatever the skyline, irrespective of your hectic lifestyle, try and take time to watch your sunset tonight.
Port Douglas, high up on the Queensland coast, has gone through three cycles of entrepreneurship.
Firstly, in 1876, it was gold fever that brought European settlers here for the first time. Then secondly, in the early 1900’s, sugar cane plantations with their Chinese workers powered the local economy. That was until the 1950’s when Townsville took over as the main port, and Port Douglas lapsed into a backwater. And thirdly, the current cycle is tourism to the Barrier Reef that started up in the 1980’s. Today, the town has expensive yachts in the marina, sumptuous seafood restaurants, and extensive designer holiday apartments. It’s Palm Springs-by-Sea.
We enjoyed our walk up the headland and visit to the small volunteer-run museum, but this is a town for the tourist not the traveller.
We got back in our campervan, which our son compares to the one in Scooby-Do, and headed inland.
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 fly to Hawaii in a day’s time, so are camping on the coast just south of Los Angeles.
An opportunity to enjoy the SoCal (South Californian) lifestyle, and watch the surfers lining up to wait for just the right wave. Thanks to the cool of the Pacific breezes, it’s the perfect place to live and everyone looks so incredibly happy. Bronzed youngsters jog along the boardwalk, a rock band plays on the beach and the retired are meeting-up for picnics.
On our way to Joshua Tree National Park we drove through the desolate Mojave Preserve and then a stretch of Route 66. Six weeks after enjoying this historic route in Missouri and Kansas, it seemed like an old friend.
Because of its isolated location, Roy’s Motel and Café built in 1938 at Amboy became the place to stay. Business boomed in the deluge of motor tourists after World War II.
Today, its 1959 sign is still an iconic sight and the whole setting is bizarre, but the motel is closed and the only sign of life (just) is a seriously overweight man serving in the gas station.
Since 2005, this slice of history has been owned by Californian fast food entrepreneur Albert Okura, who offered $425,000 in cash and promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy’s. Much work is still needed. Roger would like to return one day and stay in the motel.
With the temperatures so high, and the desert wind gusting up to 40 mph, camping in Death Valley was impossible. So we had no option but to check into the Furnance Creek Ranch; our most expensive stay of the gap year so far. We consoled ourselves in the morning with the swimming pool, in the driest place on earth!
Ten minutes drive up the valley was Zabriskie Point. Along with many others, we went there for both sunset and sunrise; made extra special by the full moon. Christian Zabriskie was the Vice President of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, and did much, after mining revenues collapsed, to open up Death Valley to tourism.
Also in the morning we did a little trekking into the so called badlands. But we soon turned back, it was getting very hot and we were worried about losing our way.
The largest ghost town in the Death Valley area is Rhyolite. Boasting a population of nearly 10,000 during its gold mining era, this is now a windswept graveyard of decaying walls.
There’s a railroad depot, a couple of banks, a school and a few shops to see. But that’s all. In this oppressive desert environment, how quickly towns are born (1905), grow up and decline (1911).
Also in Rhyolite was a DIY museum showing the work of Polish-born Belgium sculpture Albert Szukalski who wanted his art seen in Death Valley. His Last Supper Tableau was made by wrapping locals in sheets of plaster of paris.
Some 75 people live in Hornitos. It’s the type of place where most of them would have been peering at the three outsiders.
A sign above an entrance says Guns have only two enemies, rust and politicians. Another sign, this time on a gate, says Do not expect a warning shot.
For our visits to Yosemite, we stayed in a lovely isolated Airbnb out in the sun-kissed grasslands of Catheys Valley. Hornitos was just down the road.
At the height of the gold mining boom it had a population of 15,000. The name, meaning “little ovens” in Spanish, was derived from the town’s old Mexican tombstones that were built in the shape of little square baked ovens.
We spent an hour wandering round looking at rusted machinery and rotting buildings and reflected on how quickly towns are born, grow up and dwindle.
150 miles south of Monterey stands California’s most famous monument to wealth and ambition. Hearst Castle, built on one of the highest summits of the Santa Lucia range, enjoys staggering views across to the Pacific.
It was a perfect day trip for Hilary and her sister Stephanie.
William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper magnate of the 1920s-1940s entertained Hollywood stars and royalty at this sublime estate dripping with ancient European antiques, decadent pools and superlative gardens.
His mother, Phoebe was a famous Californian philanthropist in her own right, dedicating much money to the education of women. William had to wait until she died in 1919, before he could start to build his dream home, and spent the next 30 years developing it, working closely with Julia Morgan, the first qualified female architect in California.
One of the most famous films of all time, CitizenKane, is loosely based on his life. However our guide told us he was deeply unhappy about the film’s release, since it portrayed him as an unhappy recluse at the end of his life, when nothing could have been further from the truth.
Travelling down Route 199 we visited Stout Grove for the magnificent Coast Redwoods. These gentle giants live for up to 2,000 years and can grow higher than the Empire State Building at 380 plus feet. The tallest tree in the world is a nearby Coast Redwood, but its location is a well kept secret, lest visitors damage it.
With high winds it’s hard for a lone tree to grow to a great height; so these trees grow in teams. To provide stability, their shallow roots spread out to create lattice networks with other Redwoods.
It’s the altitude, the humidity (they absorb up to one third of their water needs from the sea mist and regular flooding), the protection in the valleys and fellow trees that enable them to achieve their colossal height. Since they were “discovered” many Redwoods have been planted in Britain (and the rest of the world), but these never get as tall as those in California.
Sadly about 95% of primary Redwoods have been destroyed in the last 100 years by commercial logging, but they are now protected within the State and National Parks. There is concern about Trump changing this, but we were assured that he can’t touch them. Let’s hope so. Because they should only be hugged by people.