Ask Lonely Planet: Desert scene worth a detour

3 comments
A trip to Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park is worth the mileage. Photo / Getty Images.
A trip to Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park is worth the mileage. Photo / Getty Images.

I'm planning on taking my mother to the United States for six to eight weeks for her 60th birthday as she has never been there. We want to go to Las Vegas and New York City, and I think my mother would like to see Yosemite National Park. Do you have any recommendations of where to travel, and how?
-Jennifer McKenzie

A car is your ticket to maximum flexibility and convenience. In a couple of months you can easily complete a great American road trip from coast to coast, taking in all the places you mention and much more besides.

Start in New York: five days will allow you to take a sizeable bite from the Big Apple. Nip across the Hudson to New Jersey and pick up your hire car (it's cheaper than hiring from New York), and then hit the road.

Visit historic Philadelphia with its burgeoning food, art and music scene, then drive the grand boulevards of Washington DC before exploring its museums.

Further south, take in the antebellum allure of Charlestown and Savannah, before heading inland through Alabama to New Orleans and its soundtrack of smokin' hot jazz, brass bands and succulent Cajon and Creole cuisine.

In Texas, don't miss the state capital, Austin, where revelry is on tap in the form of indie music and craft beer, nor Big Bend National Park, which boasts dramatic mesa and desert scenery.

En route to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon is a must-see while side-trips north to Utah's Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are well worth the extra mileage. From Vegas, you can reach Yosemite in a day but a detour through Death Valley will make the journey a roadtrip highlight.

We followed this itinerary ourselves and it was the trip of a lifetime.

If you decide to travel one-way, bear in mind that only major car-hire companies will allow you to drop your car off in a different location to where you picked it up. They charge heavily for it, too - about US$750 ($924).

Alternatively, you could make the most of the US' competitive domestic airline industry by catching flights between the places you want to visit and hiring cars from there. Cross-country flights are available for less than US$200 if you book well in advance - search kayak.com and hipmunk.com for online bargains. This option also allows you to use some of the smaller car-hire companies that are often cheaper than the big guys. Car Rental Express compares agencies in most US cities.

Useful resources for planning a US road trip include: driving-distances.com, byways.org, roadtripamerica.com and Lonely Planet's US guidebooks.

Malaysian island-hopping

I am heading to Redang Island and the Perhentian Islands via Kuala Lumpur. What is the best way to travel between the islands with limited time?
-Liz Somerville

Pulau Redang is one of the prettiest of Malaysia's east-coast islands. Azure waves lapping at idyllic bays of golden sand, bird-filled jungles and excellent diving and snorkelling combine to make it a tropical paradise.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to visit outside of package tours, which can be regimented affairs with set schedules for meals, snorkelling and leisure time.

Most visitors arrive by boat transfer from Kuala Terengganu, the state capital, as part of their package tour, but it is possible to fly direct from Kuala Lumpur with Berjaya Air.

There are no scheduled ferries between Pulau Redang and the similarly blissful Perhentian Islands, but with a bit of luck and patience it is possible to hop on one of the day-trip or dive boats that travel frequently between them, especially during the high season (May to September).

However, most people arrive on the Perhentians by speedboat from the sleepy fishing village of Kuala Besut on the mainland, after having caught a bus or taxi from Kuala Terengganu.

Another option is to base yourselves in the Perhentians and visit Pulau Redang on a dive trip; most operators on the islands offer this day-long excursion.

- NZ Herald

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