Sharon Stephenson goes west, goes wild and takes it easy.
Cowboys and jazz. According to Clint Eastwood, they're the greatest gifts America has given the world.
And while you'd be a fool to argue with Dirty Harry, he's clearly sold his country short (go ahead and add apple pie, Levi's and mobile phones to the list).
I'll add road trips: North America has 6552,000km of roads, most of them smooth curls of bitumen that dip and weave across this vast nation. There's probably nothing more American than loading up the car and hitting the freeway.
The problem is, I'm a wuss about driving on the "wrong" side of the road and I've only got a couple of weeks to play with. If possible, I'd like someone to pick me up, spin me around the best bits and take care of pesky details such as accommodation and entry tickets. Because I'm flying solo, I'd also prefer to do it with interesting people from all over the planet.
So I sign up for Adventures in the Wild Northwest, an 11-day Trafalgar journey along the Pacific Northwest from San Francisco to Seattle. It's 2297km that tracks through northern Californian wine country and along the stunningly beautiful Oregon coastline before sweeping into Washington State.
It might be slightly off Kiwis' usual conveyor-belt, but that just means fewer tourists to spoil the view.
It's also means adventure: we clamber over Howard Hughes' monstrous Spruce Goose aeroplane, wander among 2000-year-old redwood trees in Unesco national parks and play spot-the-hipster in Portland (there's a reason some people thought Portlandia was a documentary).
Our first adventure, however, is getting though San Francisco's morning rush hour. We're rewarded with a stroll across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge on a day when summer is erupting across the Bay Area.
A few hours later, we're decanted into the Jurassic-like forests of Humboldt Redwood State Park. Not only does this 20,000ha protected space feature ancient trees six storeys taller than the Statue of Liberty, it also boasts one of the highest number of Bigfoot sightings in the world (sadly we can't add to that).
"Forest", it turns out, is Oregon's middle name and we see a lot of it, along with cutesy small towns lifted from 1950s TV programmes, where waitresses call us "hon" and "ma'am" while serving us clam chowder and peach cobbler.
We follow the curves of the Oregon coast to Florence (pop 9000), the launchpad for the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. This 64km collision of forest and ocean features the US's largest coastal sand dunes, which tower 152m above sea level.
If you've ever wondered what a former UN executive, a lawyer from New York and an Australian librarian have in common, wonder no more. Despite vastly different backgrounds and nationalities, we channel our inner bogan by bouncing across the wind-sculpted dunes so vigorously we blow a tyre. But even a wait for the cavalry can't wipe the (sandy) grins off our faces.
Oregon, we're told, was settled by the kind of rugged blokes who hunted beaver, milled lumber and stitched up their own wounds. Their descendants have poured that pioneering spirit into a different pursuit - craft beer. Portland, the state's largest city, has more craft breweries per head than any other US city (80+ at last count). As our tour director, Greg, says, beer in Portland is considered an essential food group. And even though nursing a pint isn't in my skill-set (I'm more a wine girl), a trip to Loyal Legend, an enormous beer hall that serves more than 99 local beers, is a revelation. Plus the IPA that the barman tells me contains New Zealand hops, goes down easier than I'd thought.
Things Portland also does well: food-trucks (clustered around the city and often referred to as "Foodlandia"), coffee and baked goods (Voodoo Doughnut is an essential Portland experience, just be prepared to queue).
Free-spirited and independent, the city's famous "Keep Portland Weird" graffiti is not just Instagram catnip, it's also true. This is, after all, the place that invented bacon and egg icecream, has a resident dressed as Darth Vader who plays the bagpipes while riding a unicycle and a strip club that serves only vegan food. But if you don't fancy tofu with your lap dance, there are also museums devoted to vacuum cleaners, hats, BMX bikes, kayaks and canoes.
We escape the madness with an hour's drive north to Kramer Vineyards, one of 500 wineries that stretch lazily across the Willamette Valley. This is one of North America's best-wine producing regions where locals never tire of telling visitors that their wine has beaten French drops in blind tastings.
Under an impossibly blue sky, we scoff salmon, drink pinot noir and chat to Kim Kramer, the winemaker who's logged time in New Zealand vineyards.
It's a three-hour drive to Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park, the kind of classic lakeside lodge featured in countless American movies about endless summers.
This temperate rainforest is also HQ for the Native American Quinault tribe and a highlight of the trip is having a private audience with tribal elder Harvest Moon (honestly, that's her real name), who fills in the blanks of a culture that is unfamiliar to many of us.
It's a privilege to hear the 62-year-old artist, probably one of the most dignified and spiritual people I've ever met, spin funny and poignant yarns about how the Quinault tribe has made this land their home for centuries.
Seattle, our final stop, is defined by rain, coffee, grunge music and, more recently, innovation (Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing all call this city home).
The first thing we do is the first thing most people do when they get to Seattle: visit the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market. Don't roll your single-origin-cold-brew-coffee eyes at me: it's the only time visiting the global coffee giant is considered a cultural experience.
More interesting is Pike Place Market, one of America's oldest farmers market, where we watch fish-mongers throw huge salmon around like rugby balls. If you really want to be grossed out, walk down a flight of steps to the Gum Wall, an alleyway of used chewing gum that's somehow become one of Seattle's most photographed spots.
Another is the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World Fair, where the lift takes 43 seconds to reach the 160m high observation deck. Fortunately, Seattle's infamous rain has stayed away and we get incredible views of Mt Rainier, an active volcano, and the other snow-latticed peaks of the Cascade Mountain range.
At the base of the iconic Space Needle is the Chuily Garden and Glass Exhibit, which shows what can be done with a blowtorch and tonnes of imagination. Stretching over 6000sq m, the galleries and glasshouse showcase the output of eccentric artist Dale Chuily, whose giant glass sculptures hang from ceilings and merge with real plants in the adjacent garden.
It's an appropriately brilliant end to that most American of pursuits – the road trip. Dirty Harry, take note.
United Airlines flies direct from Auckland to San Francisco (three times a week in winter, and daily in summer), with return Economy Class fares from $1476.
Trafalgar's Adventures in the Wild Northwest 11-day trip takes in cities, beaches and national parks along the West Coast of the USA. It's priced from $3395 per person and has limited availability through to September 2019.