Just a quick hello from me this morning before passing you over to my sister in law Mia, who’s telling us all about how you don’t need a year or even a few months to go ‘travelling’: it can be done in the space of just a few weeks. Get writing those emails to your bosses, guys…
We took a longer holiday over Easter. Not quite ‘travelling’ but definitely more than the usual ten days or two weeks. All told we spent nearly four weeks away. I’m personally a bit past long travelling trips as it usually means living in hostels, but since we were going all the way to New Zealand to catch up with my in laws, it made sense to steal a little time in other places. For anyone considering a longer holiday without taking all their leave at once, using unpaid leave or quitting, this is how we have managed it.
We booked our holiday over March / April so it covered both financial years (both our companies tie the annual leave to the financial year) this meant it also covered two bank holidays so two days saved, bonus. Obviously, most companies don’t want you just mooning off for a month at a time, I had to write a fairly ingratiating (creeping) email to my boss before they signed it off. Now, I don’t want to enrage anyone sat in a stuffy office with my out-and-out holiday bragging but below is a short itinerary and travel tips for these areas. (If it helps, we’re now totally skint and won’t be going further than the garden for a good bit).
We landed in the US and headed straight for Yosemite National Park. I have wanted to see this place for a long time and since San Francisco was a layover flight option, it felt like a good chance to extend our layover to form the first part of the holiday. Highly recommend Yosemite if you love the outdoors and a good hike! My best bits were the outstanding views and seeing the giant sequoias in real life. Nothing like being dwarfed by seemingly ageless tree-beings and snow-topped mountains to put my daily problems into perspective. Less fun was being on constant bear watch. It was spring so I was determined not to encounter any grumpy, hungry bears and sang my tuneless heart out whenever we left the populated areas. Ken was initially amused by this but got swiftly tired of it and asked me several times to keep it down (is this what marriages are made of?). Reader, I did not. After Yosemite we drove on through beautiful California, to the completely different environment of Death Valley. Walking on the huge, gritty expanse of the Salt pan that is Badwater Basin was fascinating, the inescapable heat seems to muffle your thoughts even as you boggle at the lifelessness and beautiful silence. This intense landscape is also home to one of my favourite bits, the Artist’s Drive. This is a swooping side road that winds through multicoloured rock formations that manage to blend both alien-smooth and craggy textures. It is nothing short of otherworldly. California is mind boggling in its variety. I understand now why some Americans don’t bother with a passport, who needs one when you have places of this grandeur and scale at home?
We flew out of LA to New Zealand. It’s not our first time here, but it was the first time we have explored Northland on North Island. I had ignorantly thought that anywhere north of Auckland was sort of uninteresting as you tend to hear people mostly praising South Island for its beauty. How wrong I was. The Bay of Islands was one of Captain Cook’s landing points and also where my father in law now lives (lucky him). It is a lush and varied place, green, forested hills connecting valleys and small, filmic towns along the edges of exceptionally pretty coastline. The low period homes and balmy streets feel expensive. In the fading warmth of the afternoons the family parties playing sports on the beaches exuded a preppy healthfulness that made me nostalgic for a Ralph Lauren lifestyle I haven’t actually experienced outside of an advert. Healthy pursuits aside, we both loved the Omata Estate wine tasting in the town of Russell. Self-described as a ’boutique vineyard’ the Kiwi service is typically unstuffy and the wine is almost as breathtaking as the view of the vines which overlook the ocean. If I lived there I would be a regular.
After ten nights in New Zealand we said our family goodbyes and headed for the Cook Islands. The flights from Auckland to Raratonga are only four hours (approx) so for New Zealanders, this is a popular holiday destination. We decided to stay three nights in Muri beach and then fly on to Aitutaki for two nights, both on Lisa’s recommendation. The Raratongan culture seems fascinating (from my short acquaintance) and the welcome is warm. Our host at the Hideaway was charismatic and engaging on the topic of her husband’s island pride versus her own. Her attitude and good humour seemed to typify the relaxed confidence of the islands. Contrary to the welcome, the weather did not favour us in Rarotonga but despite the biblical rain we still loved it. It was warm torrential rain which meant that we still walked on the beach and swam throughout it. The only small blip was when a small creek at Muri beach Hideaway burst its banks and we felt the eels swimming between our legs as we waded through it in the pitch black. I had been fortified with some holiday cocktails at this point so I was able to deal with this nightmareish occurrence with surprising calm (one or two shrieks only). The very day we were leaving, the sun burned through and we could see what the place would be like in normal conditions. Wow. If you like rugged volcanic islands, surrounded by turquoise lagoons and coral, the Cook Islands are for you.
Aitutaki, a smaller island, less populated and more my idea of an island getaway, was a short flight away and when we landed, I fell in love. Our accommodation wasn’t big on mod cons but we were right on the beach and had a spectacular sunset both nights. There were many amazing experiences in Aitutaki, but snorkelling with the Giant Trevally out in the lagoon was my very top moment. They are large, black, predator fish with a heart stopping turn of speed and flat grim faces. The skipper of our tiny boat told us to remove all jewellery before getting in, as small, shiny things catch their eye and they might sink their dainty, strong teeth into you (bless their cold little hearts). Swimming with them was exhilarating as they’re not afraid of people, they skim close by with the unconcern of a much superior being. I was careful to keep my fingers close to my sides at all times.
Having such a long break was expensive and tiring but worth every minute. Apart from the obvious excitements of adventure and travel, one of the fringe benefits was the lack of Wifi in lots of places. Instead of engaging with beautiful things and ideas through my phone I was actually engaging with them in real life. I worried so much less about how I looked, distracted as I was by the challenging hikes and drives and swims of our trip. It’s funny how competent your body feels and how grateful you are to it when you’re exploring the world outside. Obviously, I’m home now and back in my usual social media habits but I hope I remember not to worry too much about how I look when I’m doing the things that make me happy. There weren’t any mirrors in the mountains of Yosemite National Park or on the beach in the Cook Islands and it really did me good. I remembered that I was good enough for my adventures, thick thighs and all.
Anyone else had the benefit of a long holiday? How did it compare to the one or two-week-stint?
Or maybe you’ve got one in the pipeline?
Image of Yosemite from National Park Foundation