13 November – First, we stopped off again in Georgetown to visit their small maritime museum which had several intricate models on display and some very early photos of the Georgetown port. In the late 1800’s early 1900’s it was a thriving place due to rice production; the pictures showed that the port often had a large number of ships moored. Walked around the historic streets back from the port which had some very elegant homes from the late 1800’s. The plantation owners had a grand home on their plantation, a ‘townhouse’ which was equally as grand and often a summer house elsewhere. Many of the townhouses in Georgetown were quite nicely preserved, but there were others a few blocks further back which were in very sad states of disrepair. As we have been travelling through this region, we have often got glimpses of the old plantation homes – down long tree lined driveways and very grand.
Next stop was a few miles north at Brockgreen Gardens. These gardens are on a 900 acre property which was the accumulation of three former rice plantations brought together by a very wealthy couple, Anna and Archer Huntington, in the 1930’s. Anna was a renowned sculptor and throughout the gardens there were many sculptures, both her work and also from other prominent artists. The gardens were getting ready for a special Christmas Display – A night of a thousand lights – although it probably would be more like 100,000 lights (our home neighbour Clive would just love this place). All over were the most gorgeous live-oak trees, well over 200 years old, draped in lovely hanging Spanish Moss (which really isn’t moss but an air plant strangely related to the pineapple).
We walked around the gardens and then headed down to the Lowland area of the gardens for a docent talk on the native animals of the region. Got to handle a couple of snakes (harmless ones), one in particular had the most amazing markings – it had red hues on the top but underneath it was chequered black and white. Their skin is smooth and feels very cold to the touch.
After that presentation we wandered through the zoo area, firstly through an aviary full of heron and egret in the cyprus swamp. They are really dark and eerie places and being up close and personal in the middle of one was quite an experience. The zoo also had an alligator exhibit, although they had gone to ground for our visit. But did see one in the wild from one of the observations points looking out over the swamps.
Headed a little further north in the direction of Myrtle Beach to a Wallies so that we could go back to the Gardens the next day. Yuck – miles and miles of built up area – what a difference from a day ago – a different racial mix, exclusive resorts, golf and country clubs.
14 November – Wallies provided us with a quiet night, but they couldn’t help with the weather – cold, grey wet morning with a chill wind. Decided against going back to the Gardens and headed south back through Georgetown, then Charleston (another YUCK) – the city stretched on for miles and miles, and finally ended up near Beaufort. Followed a sign to a boat launch to find a perfect parking spot overlooking the river. This area is full of the open swamp land you see on Discovery Channel where they go ‘gator hunting. Not sure what they were fishing for, but it would have been a miserable day to be out on the water.
15 November – Oooh, another cold start to the morning but at least it was a beautiful cloudless day. Left our peaceful spot and headed firstly in the direction of Beaufort before turning south and onto the road to Savannah. Crossed yet another spectacular bridge this one over the Savannah River, just before getting into the city and finally found our destination of the Visitor Centre right smack in the heart of the historic district. We found that you can park overnight here so it was great to be able to have a base from which to explore the city. We walked down to the waterfront through picturesque streets, every few blocks are garden squares which make it really attractive.
Decided to eat ‘Southern’ at the Bayou Cafe. Thought it was about time I sampled Gumbo and as they happened to have Alligator Gumbo I was able to kill two birds with one stone. The gumbo was a lightly spiced stew with green peppers, alligator sausage and also tail meat. You couldn’t really get a feel for the taste of the alligator, but the texture was akin to a cross between pork and chicken. It was served with some rice and cornbread – that was a bit different as it was sickly sweet. Fully replete, we did the waterfront tram trip then wandered back towards home, coming across an artist’s fair with about 30 exhibitors showing painting, sculptures, jewellery, photos and glassware. Some very nice pieces, especially the ones portraying the local scenery.
After a spot of dinner chez Wanda, we hit the town for an evening walk (this is perhaps the first time we have been out walking in a town after dark – it is a bit hard when you are in the middle of nowhere!). Loads of shops open, restaurants and bars were buzzing and Bob managed to get a decent coffee in a real coffee shop! I had a hot cider and the first whiff of the fumes nearly knocked me out – it was quite potent. Saw one of those “only in America” sites on the walk back – an all chrome sports car – you can hazard a guess on the race of the driver!
16 November – After a quiet night at the Visitor Centre, decided to brave the cooler weather and walked back into town for a coffee before trying out the city free shuttle which goes on a circuit around the town. What a surprise – we got on the bus to find that we were the only white faces and we definitely didn’t have the right sort of baggage with us. We had managed to get on the first bus of the day which must start quite near the night shelter as it was full of good folks laden down with all their belongings on the way to the large park in the middle of the town for the day. They were extremely polite and wished us a good day when they hopped off (not like the sullen faces you get on the Hamilton Shuttle bus!). We didn’t get to see too much from the bus, so got off back at the Visitor Centre and headed on out to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum so that Bob could go look at more planes and I could curl up with a good book. Only had a short distance to go after the museum closed, to Pooler Wallies and another night on the blacktop, shared with quite a few other rigs.
17 November – First stop Camping World to get our replacement inverter (we now have two working ones so that should keep us going for a while), then on to a few plumbing supply stores to see if we could get a different type of hose for our water connection. Didn’t manage to find anything suitable so hit the Interstate in the pouring rain and headed towards Florida. Managed to get off the freeway for a while and take the old road which was much more enjoyable driving, before rejoining it to cross the border and into Florida. Pulled up at Yulee to keep five other rigs company for the night at Wallies.
18 November – Had to get around Jackonsville to get south, so opted for a spurt along the I95 and the belt road which was the most efficient way to avoid the great metropolis. We managed that without any holdups although it is always a relief to get off the Interstate and away from the trucks and traffic. Got back to the coast to travel down the A1A to Palm Coast and checked in to the Faver-Dykes State Park to be in reach of a Ford Agent for a regular service in the morning.
19 November – Despite being booked, the Palm Coast Ford people decided they couldn’t take Wanda as the only hoist capable of lifting her was going to be in use all day, so they sent us down the road to Daytona where we were able to book a service for the next day. Made our way to a nice State Park – Tomoka, with spotless facilities and with time on our hands were able to have a nice walk around the campground and down to the water’s edge – signs this time telling us not to swim as it was alligator territory. Lovely setting for the campground in amongst the trees.
20 November – Made our way back to Daytona to the Ford Agent to get her service. A huge dealership and the service area was massive – customer service lounge even had its own cafe where you could get a reasonably priced lunch. After a couple of hours the manager came back and gave us the bad news – they considered the ball joints were shot and then he also did a good sales job in advising us to get a decent steering damper fitted. Our normal $45 service was now looking as if it was not going to be quite so cheap this time. With that news delivered we then had to make a decision of how we would handle the next few days while they did the necessary work. With a rental car agency next door it turned out to be quite simple – we booked a car for a week and decided to do our Key West experience straight away and get it over and done with at off-season prices before the Thanksgiving holiday, whilst Wanda would have a holiday at Ford’s.
We loaded the necessary gear into a brand spanking new Chrysler and set off south. How different to be sitting so low down on the road – you can’t see anywhere as much as being nice and high up. Being smaller though,it is easier travelling on the interstate and easier to keep up with traffic.
21 November – A new day in sunny Florida (yeah right!). Made sure we had a good breakfast courtesy of Best Western before getting on our way. Interstate travel was the order of the day and we had a couple of things on our wish list to do. First stop was at Boca Raton about 80 miles south of Fort Pierce where we stopped off at the Gumbo Linbo Rehabilitation Centre (we needed counselling for having to leave Wanda behind!). Actually it was a centre for aiding sick and wounded sea turtles. Run by volunteers, there were a few turtles in residence awaiting return to better health so that they can be released. Currently they were expecting 11 new arrivals to come from New England – these ones had been caught out in the cold weather and instead of swimming south to keep in the warm water they had beached themselves and gone into shut down. They will be checked out at the centre and then released into the warmer waters down here. As well as the turtles, there was an interesting boardwalk right through the middle of a mangrove swamp – this is in a really built up area of the coastline – complete with many spiders hanging from the trees – a bit creepy.
Listened to another talk on snakes – this time the ones found in this region and witnessed a rat snake having a feed on some dead mice. Spent a while talking with the volunteers at the turtle enclosure learning all about the troubles that the turtles are facing at the moment, often after boat strike or ingesting marine plastic. Based at the centre was the Florida University’s research centre as well – they had a bunch of baby turtles that they were raising.
We finally left the centre around 3pm with what we thought would be a straightforward 70 mile trundle down to Florida City – some hope that was! We struck congestion soon after getting back on the Interstate and all the way through the metropolis area of Miami it was just crawling along. The Interstate ended just beyond Miami and then it got really slow – traffic light after traffic light for 29 miles and very heavy traffic. We finally arrived at our prebooked hotel at 6.45pm – oh boy we would never want to live here if this is what you have to contend with every day. Miami itself is full of high rise apartments and really did not look to be an appealing city.
22 November – What a difference a day makes – the cold has disappeared to be exchanged for warm humidity. Our first visit before setting off down to the Keys was the Fruit and Spice Farm a few miles out of the city. We made it just in time for the tour around the farm – with a really knowledgeable guide we were taken around in a little trolley stopping off every so often to be shown an interesting plant or tree. They had a lot of different specimens from around the world, tropical fruits to spice trees.
Headed back into Florida City – so much nicer today with a lot less traffic – got on to US1 and followed it down as far as Marathon – 50 miles from Key West. The road down through the Keys was in most parts only two lanes wide with a nice easy speed limit of between 45-55mph. Even though we were a lot warmer today it was still overcast but the water was still surprisingly blue. At places we were just on causeways over the water and others just on small islands. Wherever there was land both sides of the road were lined with all sorts of shops, restaurants and hotels. It is not as flash as I had imagined – a bit like many iconic places we have visited, rather stuck in the 60’s. Found our motel (also a throwback to the 60’s but at least it was clean). Had a little drive around Marathon – nice beach areas and quite a few marinas. Walked to a nice little restaurant for some local cuisine – they are definitely not into haute cuisine over here but it was very tasty – so much food we had to take some of it home for dinner next day.
23 November – Key West here we come. Clear sunny day but still very humid; guess that is par for the course when you are living on the water. The seven-mile bridge out of Marathon was spectacular and ran beside the original bridge which was built 90 years ago as a rail bridge with a road later built over the top. Lovely blue seas, mangrove groves and as we got closer to Key West the apartments got flasher. First stop in Key West was the remains of a small fort and gardens right on the beachfront. A small local market was going on, found a small food stall to get some breakfast and sat in the cool of the gardens. We are constantly amazed by the friendliness of the locals – had a good chat with a nice young couple who had been on the road for the last 4 months and of course, wanted to visit New Zealand. Drove in a little closer to the centre of the town and found a suitable parking spot. The Butterfly House was on our list of to-do’s and it was lovely to stroll in amongst a variety of colourful butterflies. After that we spent the next few hours walking the length of Duval Street – the historical part of Key West. Mostly bars and touro shops but the old buildings were gorgeous in such pretty settings, with palm trees lining the streets. The harbour had a huge cruise liner in port and boats of all sizes tied up at the marina.
With Key West “done” we headed back up the highway, stopping off at Bahia-Honda State Park to watch the sunset and get close up to the old bridge. A very nice state park with good beaches and facilities.
24 November – Time to head back up the Keys on another sunny but very humid day. Nice to see the road on a clear day – the water on either side of us was a lovely blue interspersed with mangrove swamps. Struggled to find somewhere open for breakfast on the way, consequently it was after 11 before we finally stopped at a small marina with a cafe of sorts offering typical breakfast fare of eggs, bacon and the like. A little further up the road was a small wild bird refuge, run by volunteers who try and rehabilitate injured birds and look after those that can’t go back in the wild. A mix of pelicans, egrets, hawks and owls were in residence.
Next diversion was just north of Key Largo and the James Pennekamp State Park – this is mainly a marine park, but had a nice little swimming beach and concessionaires offering snorkel, glass-bottom boat trips and canoe hire. We decided to treat ourselves to the glass-bottom boat tour – it was an interesting trip – took us out about 45 minutes into the Atlantic to the Molasses Reef where we stopped for about the same length of time and had a commentary on the reef life. Although not quite as colourful as we had expected, it did have some really pretty colourful fish. The trip out and back from the reef spent about 15 minutes going through the mangroves; great to see it close up and definitely not an area to get shipwrecked on, as there is no way you could make land or progress through the dense mass of roots and the lurking nasties within.
The sun had just about gone down when we got back to land and from there it was a quick flit up Highway 1 back to Homestead and the same Best Western that we stayed at on the way down. Interesting bit of road – only a single lane each way divided by a concrete barrier painted a bilious blue. With the speed limit of 55mph and only a few places to pass everyone just ambles along at a relaxing speed and you are able to take in the scenery.
Some observations about the Keys: no high rise buildings – I think the tallest structure I saw was 3 stories high; you get all the advantages of the tropics without the smells!; not nearly as flash as I expected; a lot of the holiday homes are like the seaside baches you would find back home; incredible roads over the water.
26 November – Decided to avoid the metropolis of Miami this time and headed way out west and on a much nicer smaller road which probably didn’t take us any longer. After passing miles of sugar cane plantations, ran around the edge of Lake Okeechobee and sussed out a few camping spots for when we come back down this way. Into Daytona and the Ford Agent only to find out that Wanda was still not quite ready and that the steering damper had not arrived and we would need to come back after the Thanksgiving holiday. We had already booked to stay a week at Titusville, so headed off 50 miles back down the freeway to the Whispering Pines RV Resort (??) – not really our cup of tea and not really a resort but it is close to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre, and it was available over the holiday weekend. It is mainly permanent mobile homes with a few RV’s – people winter over here from all over the country and there are all sorts of activities supposedly available.
27 November – Thanksgiving Day and a home day for us – just a little walk down to the sea front and a walk along to the only place open (Macca’s) for a morning tea. Nice fine day and no humidity. From the sea front we could see across to the NASA Space Centre and launch pads.
28 November – Another lazy day, with some computer writing completed.
29 November – Headed off early to the Kennedy Space Centre and our entertainment for the day. The Centre was only about 7 miles from home across a causeway to the 140,000 acres that make up the site. Included in the site as well as the launch pads and vehicle assembly buildings are huge natural reserves. Our first activity for the day was the bus trip to the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit via the huge Vehicle Assembly Buildings (where they build the rockets), past the huge crawlers on which they transport the rockets 3 miles to the launch site. At the Apollo/Saturn Centre you enter firstly into a movie theatre for an introduction to the programme and then into a huge hangar housing the restored and sectionalised Saturn/Apollo launcher. Amazing to be able to see it close up and how all the pieces fit together (and come apart). All sorts of exhibits including a moon rock, astronauts suits and various short films relating to Apollo took us the best part of the next hour to look around.
Back on the bus to the main centre (saw an alligator sunning itself on one of the canals as we drove past) to be dropped off at the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit – the shuttle Atlantis on display had made 38 space missions and again to be able to get up close and personal with it was really interesting. It was over an hour before we could extract ourselves and get a spot of lunch.
Had a little wander around their ‘Rocket garden’ with about 8 different sorts of rockets on display then headed in for the first of the very impressive IMAX 3D movies – The International Space Station – 45 minutes of footage shot from the shuttle whilst the station was being built and then from on board the station itself. The views of earth were amazing and you felt like you were right there with them. The film shot of the space walkers was breathtaking and you can but admire the courage of those guys to be out there at -200०C with just a space suit and a thin line tethering you.
We had a short break and then it was into the second of the movies – The Hubble Telescope – from its release into space to the final shuttle mission to try and save it from destroying itself through malfunctioning parts. Again spectacular filming and really showcasing the patience and skills of the astronauts having to work out in space with absolute precision where an inch the wrong way could completely destroy the workings of the telescope. We were also treated to the wonderful sights that the telescope has been able to capture and how very insignificant our little planet Earth is in the scheme of things. Daylight had turned into dark by the time we got out of the last movie and it was time to head home.
30 November – A couple of things on the list today – first up the Valiant Warbirds Museum housing yet another impressive display of flying machines.
On to the Astronaut Hall of Fame dedicated to the courageous men and women who have made the space odyssey possible. Some interesting displays and many interactive exhibits.