The legacy of a former newspaper magnate lives on at San Simeon, writes Shandelle Battersby.
One of the biggest lessons you can take away from a visit to William Randolph Hearst's extraordinary castle in California is that you might have all the money in the world, but what's the point if you're too busy to enjoy it?
The famous newspaper publisher owned 19 homes, our guide Andrew tells us as we look around the estate, but "worked like a slave to live like a king", sleeping just four hours a night and barely giving himself any time to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Our visit to Hearst's spectacular property at San Simeon came as part of a Trafalgar coach tour, The Californian, giving a taste of the best of the state from San Diego to San Francisco. After staying the night at nearby Cambria we'd arrived at the castle early, catching the compulsory shuttle bus to get to La Cuesta Encantada - The Enchanted Hill - for one of the first tours of the day.
We'd watched a doco on the coach the day before and learned how Hearst had a special place in his heart for this estate on the California coast, halfway between LA and San Francisco, which his father had bought in 1865.
Hearst inherited the property when his mother died in 1919 and started working with notable San Francisco architect Julia Morgan to create the grandiose Mediterranean Revival-style property on top of it, based on the architecture of hilltop villages in Southern Spain.
And so began a nearly 30-year labour of love, one that remains unfinished. Still, by 1947, La Cuesta Encantada had 165 rooms, 50ha of gardens, Roman swimming pools indoors and out, tennis courts and a private airstrip to ferry guests and ensure the newspapers in his stable could be delivered daily for his critique.
Hearst loved it for its solitude which seems ironic when you hear how he filled the castle with loud and attention-seeking Hollywood stars and politicians, including Charlie Chaplin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
It was famously used as the inspiration for the Xanadu mansion in Citizen Kane, the film by Orson Welles based on Hearst's career, though no parts of the movie were filmed there.
These days the castle is a California State Park and accessible via several tours, the quickest of which takes 45 minutes. That doesn't include the 15-minute shuttle bus ride up to the castle along a winding 8km road specially designed so the mansion's twin bell towers disappear and reappear behind the golden hills to build anticipation of your arrival.
The ranch was once home to the largest private zoo in the world, with polar bears, antelope, kangaroos, giraffes, ostriches, elk, lions and even an elephant. When Hearst had to dismantle the zoo in the late 1930s due to financial difficulties, some of the 300 or so animals were freed to roam the property.
We kept our eyes peeled for the zebras that still live there, but unfortunately there was no sign of them.
Travel director Mary had prepared us for the cool, damp microclimate on the hill, which is 500m above sea level and often struck by coastal fog; we were wrapped up warm, and glad for it.
Our tour was of the Grand Rooms on the bottom floor of La Casa Grande (The Big House), taking in the Assembly Room (where guests met for cocktails), the Refectory (where meals were served), the Morning Room, Billiard Room and the large, plush movie theatre.
Outside is impressive, with the beautiful architecture seeming at home on its perch overlooking the ranch and out to the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, but inside is exquisite. Amazing art and antiques are everywhere you look. Persian rugs cover the floors, priceless oil paintings, ancient silk Italian flags from Siena and huge 500-year-old Belgian tapestries hang on the walls, and beautiful historic choir stalls line the rooms.
After cocktails, the guests would file into the Refectory, named after the dining hall at a monastery, to fill the long, 22-seat dining table with Hearst in the middle, like Christ at the Last Supper. The longer you stayed at the castle, the further down the table you sat - when you got to the end, it was time to leave.
Silver candlesticks sit next to popular condiments of the time, such as Heinz ketchup, which Hearst liked to use to show things weren't too formal - after all, this was, and still is, a working ranch.
As we wander through, we dodge scaffolding bearing restoration experts painstakingly working on tiny areas of the ceiling which, of course, are artworks in their own right. In the Morning Room, the 16th-century Spanish Mudejar coffered ceiling is slowly being cleaned of nearly 500 years of soot and smoke.
We finish in Hearst's fancy theatre where we watch black and white footage of castle guests - including Chaplin and Hearst's mistress Marion Davies - enjoying themselves at the estate.
It was good to know that someone managed to enjoy the benefits of all that money.
Who was William Randolph Hearst?
• Born in 1863, Hearst was the son of self-made millionaire George Hearst. At one point he was the 39th wealthiest American.
• His mother Phoebe took him on an 18-month tour of Europe when he was 10, which affected and influenced him greatly.
• He married Millicent Wilson, a chorus girl, in 1903 and the couple remained married until his death of a heart attack in 1951 in Los Angeles, aged 88. However, Millicent separated from Hearst in the mid-1920s after he'd been living openly with his actress mistress Marion Davies.
• He dabbled in politics but was most successful at publishing newspapers and magazines - at his peak, he owned nearly 30 titles in major US cities including the New York Morning Journal and the San Francisco Examiner.
• His granddaughter Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the urban guerrilla group the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and brainwashed into supporting their cause.
Getting there: Hawaiian Airlines flies from Auckland to Los Angeles and San Diego via Honolulu.
For more information: Visit DiscoverAmerica.com
The writer travelled courtesy of Trafalgar and Hawaiian Airlines.