29 March – Arrived back in Fort Lauderdale and were berthed by 7am, along with 5 other cruise ships. We had a disembarkation time of 9.30 but that was delayed by about 30 minutes due to the congestion in the arrivals hall. We had been invited by Joan and Eric to spend the day with them; they were picking up a rental car as they were staying a few days before flying home to Seattle. We got off and into the snaking queues about 30 minutes before them, but with foreign passports we ended up being overtaken by them in immigration desk – we did try and see if they would let us stay until the end of the year but 6 months was the maximum they were prepared to authorise and that was not disputed. Joan and Eric were waiting for us outside and it was absolute chaos trying to get a shuttle or taxi to the airport, but luckily things fell into place and four seats became available on a shuttle so our wait wasn’t too prolonged. 20,000 people descending from the ships in one morning is a challenge for both customs and local transportation companies to deal with, but I guess it is happening a lot during the season so could be better organised. Just a short hop to the airport and we all got off at the Spirit Terminal, got our bags checked in and then we made our way to the rental car office. It wasn’t too long a wait and we were finally underway. We headed north to start with but the traffic was at a standstill so we did an about face and headed for Hollywood Beach and lunch. What an interesting area – the beach must be about 5 miles of paved boardwalk – nice clean beach and the sea was lovely. Being a Sunday, everybody was out so it was really buzzing. We were treated to a nice feed of fish and chips before enjoying a stroll for an hour or so down the beach. It was all too soon to return to the airport and say our farewells to Joan and Eric.
We so enjoyed their company during the cruise and on our trip into Cartagena, Colombia and hope that one day we will see them again, perhaps in NZ. Had a little time to kill at the airport but our flight left on time and even arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule – not sure how they do that when the flight was only meant to be 2 hr 50 minutes anyway. Spirit is one of those no-frills airlines and has only been in business since November. Seemed quite alright although the seats were quite cramped.
30 March – Reunited with Wanda!! She was meant to have been washed and ready for us, but that hadn’t happened; that was soon remedied and by the time we were ready to get on the road she was looking all spic and span and the service guys wouldn’t take any payment for cleaning her which was nice of them. We managed to get north of Houston, stocked up on food and out of the city just before rush hour. Headed for a State Park campground and were told that we could park in the overflow park for free, so opted for that and just had to share it with a few others who looked like they had been there for quite a long while. Nice enough spot alongside a small river with shady trees to park amongst.
31 March – Another day in the same spot to get unpacked and back to some semblance of normality.
01 – 02 April – I managed to pick up a nasty cold either from off the ship or the plane, so not very interested in doing much at all except observing the pretty scenery as we pass from Texas into Louisiana and then through to Mississippi. Spring had sprung in Texas and it was so green and lush with many pretty wildflowers dotting the roadsides. Stopped overnight near Woodville at a COE park which was not up to the high standard of previous Corps Camps. The following night was spent at a little forest service park near Gardner, Louisiana.
03 April – Finally starting to feel human again. Louisiana was traversed via interesting country roads before hitting the Mississippi River, crossing over into that State and heading for the State Park near Natchez. The River is quite wide here and still just as muddy as down in New Orleans. The spring growth on the trees is abundant and azaleas in the gardens around here are so vibrant.
04 April – Into the town of Natchez for an explore first up. This town was the third richest in the USA in the 1820’s – being right on the river it was an important port for the cotton trade. During the 5-6 months of the cotton season, a wealthy grower would be receiving as much as $17,000 per week for his cotton which would be a fine return on his investment – most of which would have been his slaves. Some fine examples of homes from that era still exist in the town so it was very pleasant to stroll around the streets. Had lunch in a nice little restaurant before heading off to start on the Natchez Trace Parkway. This parkway is 444 miles of dedicated National Park road – no traffic lights, cross traffic or commercial traffic and few cars so it is a real joy to drive on. We covered 80 odd miles to the first campground on the parkway, basic campsites only but for no charge. This first leg of our journey was very lush, in parts the roadway has trees quite close in but opens out at other times – very seldom does it go through farm land – I guess the land was all bought up to put the road through. The weather has finally cooled down a bit but beautifully clear and sunny during the day.
05 April – A short hike this morning to walk on an original part of the Trace (an historic trail from Indian times later developed for military and trade use) before getting back on the Parkway. All along the parkway are historical markers explaining all about the Trace and how it has been used over the last 200 years. Quite a bit of the original Trace still exists. We only got off to visit Clinton near Jackson as it had indicated an historical commercial area worth visiting, but not too much to see so it was back up to the Trace and on to Jeff Busby Campground for another free night.
06 April – After a wet night it was still a bit murky so a good day to try and get Wanda serviced. Headed for Tupelo and the Ford Agent took her in straightaway. With that taken care of, headed for the nearest State Park so that we can be in close range of Tupelo and their auto museum in the morning. We have come about 290 miles up the Trace and we are nearly leaving spring behind – the trees haven’t sprung into spring quite as much now.
07 April – Into the auto museum first thing – about 150 cars on display together with a club showing of Corvettes and Mustangs, with a few early US marques that Bob hadn’t heard of but not much in the way of history on each of the vehicles. Up the road to Corinth where Bob investigated an historic motorcycle display of about 80 ‘bikes in the Honda dealer’s showroom. Back south a little to stay the night at Tishomingo State Park – a pretty setting by a little lake with about 20 sites. Mississippi are kind to oldies and gave Bob a 50% discount, so we got a very reasonably priced site with power to boot.
08 April – There were quite a lot of walks on offer around the park – chose the ‘Rocky Outcroppings’ which took us over a swing bridge built back in the 20’s by the CCC and then up a little ridge where we followed the rocky outcroppings before descending back down to the small Bear River. Not much cover at all on the trees, but some pretty blossoms and heavenly scents from time to time from the spring flowers. Back on to the Trace for another 90 miles to the Meriweather Lewis camp – another free campground run by the National Park; I suppose about 20 campers parked up from all over the country and a couple of Canadians as well – we are coming across quite a few of them as they make their way back home after spending the winter in the south.
09 April – Carried on northwards on the Trace until leaving it south of Nashville to head towards Edgar Evins State Park, an incredibly engineered campground that had each wooden decked campsite built out on to a platform off the ground resting on huge concrete piles, as the camp was on a very steep hillside and flat land non-existent. The lake had a huge marina with boats still parked up waiting for the nicer weather. Got talking with some very nice guys from Johnson City – one in particular was a fishing guide in Alaska for 3 months of the year at a very nice looking lodge. He was part of a ministry that runs retreats there for wounded veterans and their wives and was telling us how rewarding it was to be able to help them out as often they come back from places like Iraq and Afghanistan both physically and mentally wounded.
10 April – The forecasted thunderstorm during the night didn’t amount to much but it did cool the place down a bit. Had a gorgeous drive through Tennessee with the red bud trees (with puce coloured blossoms) in their full glory along with the white of the dogwoods. This is so much like home through here – green rolling countryside, real farms with cattle eating grass and houses very similar to ours. Passed through Maryville and Sevierville on roads that we had travelled the previous fall, before heading off to Douglas Dam and a TVA campground, which took a bit of finding but was well worth it. Located on the tailrace of the Douglas Dam with sites right on the waters edge looking down the valley.
11 April – Spent a lovely spring day enjoying the weather and generally having a laid back day. This is a popular area for fishing although there didn’t seem to be many lucky fishermen around.
12 April – The hosts at Douglas Dam were so pleased that we could stay with them and sent us on our way with their good wishes. Not too far to travel as we headed to Dandridge then on to Erwin via Newport and Greeneville. The last leg of the journey took us over a small mountain pass and into a beautiful valley where the small town of Erwin was situated. George and Lesley – our friends from Grand Marais in Minnesota had moved here just a month or so ago so it was to their home we were headed. On a lovely little country road, with a mix of small farms and lifestyle blocks their new house had a nice little spot for Wanda to park. Spoiled again with their hospitality and so nice to catch up with all that has been happening.
13 April – Lesley had a garden that was suffering from a lack of attention and needed a little help to trim things up before summer sets in, so spent a day helping to get things sorted as many hands make light work. Bob got roped in too to do the heavier pruning.
14 April – Left Lesley & George’s after a nice little break with the first task to send back my faulty camera to Walmart under warranty as it has become too frustrating to persevere with. The aim was to start on the Blue Ridge Parkway but on entering North Carolina and getting the info from the Asheville visitors centre, found that the campgrounds on the Parkway don’t open until May so had to have a rethink and see if we could find alternative camping. Headed to a National Forest Campground we found listed which seemed to be in the right direction but we got onto a gravel forest road which started to get narrower and narrower as we progressed so decided not to go any further and just pulled off in a trail-head park. Met a local angler who had just recently been to NZ on holiday, so had a nice chat with him and got the gen on the local area.
15 April – The weather is still wet and miserable and not too warm. Headed back down into Old Fort and parked up there for a while to get emails sorted, and to make a call to HSBC to see why our debit card had been declined when we tried to fill up with gas. I was put through to the fraud department who informed me that they had put a block on it as a couple of transactions had appeared on it from Singapore; after confirming that we were not there travelling, they decided to cancel our cards and issue us with new ones. Great – we now have to wait until they get sent to George and Lesley’s before we can have access to cash again – luckily we still have a NZ credit card and also a cheque book for the account and it is often easy to pay by cheque here. We do wonder where our card got compromised, but thankful that the bank is on the ball. With that sorted we carried on to Marion and stopped off at their impressive Welcome Centre to pick up some blurb on the area and have nice hot soup to warm us up before heading through Shelby to Moss Lake and a county campground overlooking the lake. Not very nice facilities but at least we had electricity so that we could have the heater going for the rest of the evening, as it did get quite cool.
16 April – Nice lazy start to the day with rain still persisting. Our target was a truck museum down in Cherryville about 30 minutes drive from our campground. What a little treasure – just a small museum based on a local trucking firm – Carolina Freight – which grew from very small beginnings to be one of the largest in the country. The museum only had about a dozen trucks from the late 20’s to the 50’s – all very nicely restored and painted in their special red and black livery. I don’t think that too many visitors come through as we had a one on one explanation from the docent/curator for about 20 minutes and then spent another while chatting when we were done. Cherryville itself is very much a backwater town – like going back to the 50’s with not many shops in it’s main street. We did find a cafe come diner for a spot of lunch – very typical menu (burgers, fried foods and cooked breakfasts). The food was tasty enough but again plastic plates don’t do much for me.
Destination for the night was W. Scott Kerr Reservoir and a COE camp so it was on to Lincolnton then Hickory before turning off at Lenoir and east to the lake. Our GPS co-ordinates didn’t take us to the expected campground but to a parking area by a wildfowl pond, so decided to stay there for free instead – no signs to say that overnight parking was not allowed. The local sheriff came and checked us out but didn’t stop to talk to us so we assumed that if he doesn’t come back it is OK to stay. The miracle of the internet works in the back of the beyond so we spent an hour listening to Radio NZ and an interesting series of readings from 1915 of letters sent between a NZ Army officer in Gallipoli and his wife who was in Egypt. They were read by Ginette MacDonald and Sam Neil – very informative and entertaining. It is also a good source to get a decent news broadcast, as only occasionally can we get the BBC for a relatively non-biased outlook on world affairs.
17 April – Oops, spoke too soon – at 10.30 last night, two vehicles came into our parking spot and parked in front of us with their lights on – a bit worried to start with but then they announced that they were park rangers. Long story short, we couldn’t stay where we were and we were escorted (very politely) to the campground where we had intended to stay anyway. They fluffed around trying to check us in but in the end just took us to our site and we settled up when we left. Being a COE camp it was very well engineered as far as placement of sites, etc went and we seemed to be about the only ones there.
Had a nice stop for morning tea at a fresh donut shop not too far from the camp, before heading off towards Galax via Wilkesboro and Arlington. Thanks to Sally we had yet another of those white knuckle drives (for Bob that is as he was co-pilot) up and over a very steep mountain road, with no middle line so it was not very wide, some very sharp curves but fortunately didn’t have to pass much in the way of opposing traffic. Crossed under the Blue Ridge Parkway and down into Galax for a Walmart stop for the night after finding that you could no longer park for the night at the nearby cycling trail.
18 April – Nice fine day – just perfect for getting back on the Parkway. The elevation around 3,000 ft meant that spring is only just beginning but the grass was so lush. We had to depart from the Parkway due to road works and take a couple of detours – the last one we decided to stop in Boone at Wallies as there were no campgrounds available nearby. The road has been a joy to travel on, like the Natchez – no advertising billboards or cross traffic but a little narrower with no line to mark the edge of the road and no shoulder so does require some concentration or you might end over the bank and down the mountain.
19 April – Not moving today – the rain has come in and is set to stay for the day. Spent our time starting on tax returns and reading. Cabin fever got the better of us later on in the evening and braved the rain which was still bucketing down to have dinner in one of the restaurants close by. A Japanese restaurant with the strangest menu for supposedly typical Japanese fare, but we had a decent meal until it came to pay and our credit card was declined – we thought ‘here we go again’! Fortunately we had enough cash on hand. So once back in Wanda there was a call to NZ and Visa, only to find out that there is no problem – must have been the restaurant not wanting to be paid by credit card. That was a relief as we are down to only the one card and without that we might have a problem.
20 April – Yeah, the rain stopped overnight and the sun was making a showing so it was back up to the Parkway to do our final leg. This was lovely – we ranged in altitude from 3000ft to 5800ft with lovely vistas and ever changing landscape. Above 3000 ft then spring disappears and we were back to bare branches with the only greenery provided by the zillions of rhodo’s that line both sides of the road. This would be an absolute picture to drive through here in June/July when they are flowering. Soon after lunch we struck a little localised storm with heavy rain so pulled off and waited until it had passed through. Lucky we stopped where we did, as just up the road at the 5800ft pass it had snowed!! At first we thought it was remnants of hail, but no, it was definitely snow and the temperature had dropped quite considerably. It was then downhill all the way to Asheville from that high point, a lovely gently grade and not too windy. Asheville had yet another Wallies in the right location for touring the Biltmore Estate tomorrow. Finally received refund for my camera so with a bit of messing around managed to get a new one ordered on-line and hopefully when we get to Erwin it will be at their store.
21 April – Up the road to Hendersonville – Wanda’s fresh water pump had developed a leak and needed replacing. Managed to find an RV service place to fit it and now we are as good as new.
22 April – Nice sunny day so we set off for the Biltmore Estate and busted our budget for the year with the high entry fees, but everyone we had met said we shouldn’t miss it. The entry from the gate was about 3 miles on a tree-lined drive winding through the estate with the parking still a long way from the house. Shuttles provided from the car park took us up to the house and we arrived just on our allotted time for entry. Could not believe how many people were visiting. We did a self guided tour of the house which took us through many of the rooms and gave us a wonderful insight into the lives of the Vanderbilts. The house was built by bachelor George in the 1880’s – with 250 rooms, 43 bathrooms, electricity, plumbing, indoor swimming pool and bowling lanes; it is a French Chateau style, was far ahead of it’s time and is still the largest private house in the USA. Artwork from the early masters, furniture and furnishings told of an unlimited budget. We made our way through dining rooms, sitting rooms, bedrooms and guest rooms on the upper two levels and then ventured down into the basement were the real work was done. There was also a special presentation of Downton Abbey costumes throughout the house which were very interesting and Bob said that he enjoyed that more than the house.
Once the house tour was completed we ventured outside for a stroll through the various gardens. Azaleas were all in full bloom but we had missed out on the spring bulbs by about 10 days. The estate has about 8,000 acres left of it’s original 127,000 acres – the Biltmore Inn is about 3 miles from the house site at Antler Hill and down from that is Antler Hill village and vineyard – very nicely done with nice eateries and boutiques. We managed to spend the whole day visiting the Estate – can’t say that it was really worth the money but we have ticked it off the list! Headed up to Waynesville for yet another Waldorf to be close to Maggie Valley for tomorrow, which houses the ‘Wheels Thru Time’ motorcycle and car museum.
23 April – Wheeled through time at the museum – dedicated to American Motorcycles with over 300 bikes and only 3 of these were not made in the good ol’ USA. Dale Waltsler, the owner, presides over this masterpiece with great pride in his domain, welcoming guests and making sure they get the most out of the displays. He was particularly encouraging to a group of about 15 or so teenagers from a local college. Many of the bikes run and several were fired up while we were there. From early Excelsiors and Hendersons plus lots of Harleys, to hill climb bikes, speedway and board racing bikes – he had it all and then some. Dale and his son also make a TV show – ‘What’s In The Barn?’- travelling around old barns and making many‘unbeliveable’ finds. Finished off our day with a leisurely drive back to Asheville and of course Wallies welcomed us again.
24 April – We had read about another car museum up in the hills to the north of Asheville, at Grovewood. Sally again did us proud – missing the last turn we needed to make altogether and taking us way out of our way on narrow twisting residential roads until we finally made the right place. Grovewood was once the home of Biltmore Industries – an engineering school for boys which morphed into a large woollen mill weaving first class woollen cloth (from NZ & Australian sheep no less) for all the well known dignitaries of the day and anyone else who could afford it. The cars were in the building that once housed the original looms – about 20 cars from the 1920’s to the 1950’s – a personal collection, but nothing apart from the American La France fire engine really stood out as being special. In another building a small museum was dedicated to the weaving and industrial school while the rest of the buildings housed artisans making top class works of art, from musical instruments to glass blowing, furniture to jewellery. Very impressive. Getting out of Grovewood was a little easier than getting in. We didn’t have too far to go across the border back into Tennessee and on to Erwin, then back to George and Lesley’s, with just $3 between us, to pick up our new debit cards so that we could be solvent again.
24-27 April – Nice relaxing time with George & Lesley and time to catch up on all the little jobs that needed doing, as well as putting together some photo books while the special offers were on – a fairly tedious and time consuming task but at least we end up with a nice record of our travels. Managed to pick up my new camera and our new debit cards had also arrived, which makes life so much easier.
28 April – Off again on the road – sad to say goodbye to George & Lesley but hopefully they will come down to NZ in the near future and we can return their hospitality.
Stopped off to refill our propane on the way to Johnson City before going on to Gray and their fossil museum. Not quite as impressive as the mammoth fossils from South Dakota – this site had much older fossils though, including over 100 tapirs, a red panda, rhino’s and alligators. Not far up the road from here on the road to Kingsport we checked into the Warriors Path State Campground – a bit of a disappointment after the Panther Creek Park we stayed at in the autumn – the facilities are very run down but the park itself is pretty enough.