Rhys Darby's guide to the greatest hits of the United States.

Calico Ghost Town

Leaving the seemingly safe confines of Los Angeles on route to Las Vegas you may find yourself in a ghost town called Calico.

It's an old West mining town and has been around since the 1880s. When silver lost its value in the 1890s Calico went bust. Everyone upped sticks and left in search of the next big thing.

A man by the name of Walter Knott bought Calico in the 1950s and turned it into a tourist attraction.


Now you can relive the glory days, dress up as a cowboy, explore the mines and raid the gift shop. Actually don't raid the gift shop, just buy novelty key rings in the usual manner.

Las Vegas, Nevada

This is a classic of course but it has to be done. I'm not a fan of gambling but I do enjoy huge hotels. There's always plenty to see and do in Las Vegas.

Whether you drink or not you'll be drunk within the hour because of the mind-boggling images of the surrounding tackiness. Last time I was there the MGM Grand hotel had a lion enclosure.

I've heard that's closed now, apparently big cats prefer open spaces like ... the wild.

There are still lots of crazy cats in Vegas though, singers, magicians, dancers, magical singing dancers ... and let's not forget the rides.

Definitely not my sort of thing but if you love heights, the X scream is for you. It's on top of the Stratosphere hotel. It's basically a giant see-saw that dangles you over the edge.

In 2005 six Japanese tourists were stranded on the ride for an hour and a half when the power went out. Amazing.


Portland, Oregon

You may have heard of a cool TV sketch comedy series called Portlandia. If you haven't, you should check it out, It's set in Portland, Oregon.

I've taken my comedy show to Portland a couple of times and the audiences there are fantastic. I don't know what it is about me ... or them, they just really get me there.

The place has a very laid-back vibe, a fantastic light rail system, hip bars and in my opinion the best bookstore in the world. It's called Powell's Books and it's gigantic.
It covers an entire block. Some say it's the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. I bought eight books on UFOs alone.

El Capitan Canyon

I went glamping (glamour camping) with my family here. The canyon is a mere 30km north of Santa Barbara. It was fantastic. We didn't even need to put up a tent, there was one there already.

The old tents reminded me of something Theodore Roosevelt might have used on one of his hairy expeditions. The wife and I slept in an ample double bed and our children were given a cot each. Each camp site comes with a fireplace and in the evening a chap arrives to light it for you. We ordered wine, steaks and marshmallows for the kids and the same chap delivered it all.

Never too far from danger though: apparently in the summer months mountain lions can be spotted spying on you. That scary edge really helped me get over the "easyness" of it all.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Korye Logan
Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Korye Logan

I have to mention this place. It's where I spent a lot of time during the filming of Flight of the Conchords. This was our area. I actually lived in Greenpoint, a neighbouring suburb to the north.

Williamsburg is in my mind the birthplace of hipster culture. Back in 2008, when I was kickin' it there with Bret and Jemaine, we were probably the coolest dudes in town. The place is full of dudes like us wearing old jackets.

You name an artist, whether it be a musician, actor, singer, dancer, painter or poet and you can bet your bottom dollar they're either in Williamsburg or on their way there shortly.

There's a cool bowling alley there that still uses a 1970 computer system to score your games. There's also a neat Tiki surf bar there that has actual sand on the floor.

Man, I miss that place ... so many cool old jackets.

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Los Angeles and San Francisco five to seven times a week with connections across the country form there on local carriers.

Things to do: See calicotown.com and elcapitancanyon.com.

Further information: For more on great spots to visit in the USA, see DiscoverAmerica.com or try the 'Trip Tuner' for additional holiday inspiration.