Arriving into London Heathrow Terminal 5 after nearly 4 months away, everything started to feel a bit strange. Our flight from New York had done nothing for my nerves, turbulent from start to finish. We both got no sleep on the overnight flight, so were set for a pretty long day. As we walked into the arrivals hall - somewhat light, as our bags were following us on the next flight - the past several months suddenly seemed a lifetime ago.
After leaving Hong Kong, Claire and I had endured another sleepless flight down to Sydney, several hours wait, and then a final flight back up to Cairns where we would start our tour of the East Coast.
We both loved Cairns; warm sunshine, and the friendly, laid-back attitude hit us the moment we landed - as did the heat! After a couple of day tours to explore up to Cape Tribulation, and Kuranda (where we were pleasantly surprised to see Devonshire Cream Teas on offer!), we spent the next 5 weeks travelling down the coast on the Greyhound.
Every stop was memorable - from the quiet eeriness of Magnetic Island; the calm tranquility of Cool Bananas in Agnes Water; and the stunning city of Brisbane right through to Australia Zoo (we stopped at Caloundra); our 11 mile walk around Port Macquarie; and our visit to the
It's not until you see the distinctive sails of Sydney Opera House that it feels like you're truly in Australia, though. We spent a few days in the city, and took an awesome trip out to the Blue Mountains with Jimmy at the Happy Coach Company. This was a hilarious day, and I'd highly recommend their tours.
We stopped off at Canberra for a night, and then travelled through to Melbourne. We both loved Melbourne's very different, European style that set it apart from the other Australian cities we'd visited.
From Melbourne, we flew across to Christchurch, New Zealand. Hiring a car for just NZ$1 a day, we travelled the South Island for a couple of weeks, our jaws dropping at the incredible scenery. Thankfully there was barely a car on the road, as our little DollarMobile struggled its away across vast mountains, up to Milford Sound, across the Cardrona Range (with a cheeky stop at the Cardrona hotel for a fantastic cream tea!) and down to Wanaka and Hawea.
Travelling the West Coast, we stopped at the powder-blue Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, and also one of my favourite spots - Punakaiki. There's plenty of trails here, as well as the mysterious Pancake rocks and blow holes. It was the Te Nikau accommodation, though, that made the stay. A friendly and homely cottage atmosphere; a log fire burning away in the corner of the lounge area; free fresh-leaf tea; and freshly baked muffins and bread every day. Like so many others who had written in the guest book, I was sad to have only stayed one night.
We headed up to Nelson and Picton (Sequoia Lodge does great, fresh and free chocolate pudding every night!) before catching the stomach-churning ferry across to the North Island. Crossing the Cook Strait is renowned as one of the most picturesque sailings in the world, but the weather was against us and we had high swells and low visibility.
A short and painfully cold stopover in Wellington started our trip around the North Island, where we would head to Napier, Taupo, Rotorua and Hamilton, resuming our Australian-trait of walking miles around the towns, and discovering more strange natural phenomena - the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal parks are like something from a science fiction movie.
Fiji & The USA
After 5 weeks in New Zealand, and exploring Auckland and a few stops in the Northland, we flew out to Fiji's Coral Coast. Our stay here was perfect. During our week here, Claire would finally try eating fish - and liked it! - thanks to the awesome chef at the Hideaway Resort. Amongst lots of relaxing, I decided to give SCUBA diving a go with Diveaway Fiji, and instantly regretted leaving it until the last day. If you go there, make sure you leave enough time to book a second dive - it's incredible!
After a full week of serene relaxation in Fiji, we flew up to Waikiki, Hawaii with a stopover in Christmas Island. Crossing the dateline was very strange - we experienced two Tuesday 23rd Junes. Claire summed up the craziness when she pointed out we'd landed in Christmas Island (for a stopover) tomorrow. It was easy to see where inspiration for Lost might have come from (I've still not seen the finale, though!).
Hawaii was great, and although Claire spent the first day suffering from extremely bad insect bites, they were soon sorted out and we enjoyed a few days exploring the city and visiting Pearl Harbour.
As our trip's end grew closer, we stopped for a few nights in San Francisco, which was like walking around a movie set! It all looked strangely familiar, and we loved the Bay area spending every day walking and exploring new parts. We were also lucky enough to be there for July 4th, and watched the fireworks display from Ghirardelli Square.
We caught a short flight to Las Vegas, where we finally picked up our marriage certificate from Christmas; and then travelled on to New York to arrive in the middle of a heatwave. Unfortunately, the air conditioning in our room had packed up, but the guys at Chelsea Star were quick to fix it though, and New York was as incredible as expected. On our final night, Claire fulfilled her dream of going to the top of the Empire State Building, from where the sunset views across the city were truly stunning.
So it was with a bump we came back to reality, and two weeks on I'm not sure being home has sunk in yet. We're both starting up businesses, Claire racing ahead with ExpressVA Services, and me frantically remembering Rails code to develop Amberleaf. I'm also setting up Plymouth Software to carry Amberleaf and Android app ideas I've been thinking about.
To squeeze our experience this short post is impossible. We learned so much and met great people who we'd love to stay in touch with. We've seen and experienced things that we couldn't even have imagined.
Claire and I both kept daily journals, which we'll be typing up and publishing as EBooks shortly. We've also jotted down the places we stayed, the sights we've seen and places we would recommend - but you'll have to check out the ebook to find the best rated tea!