During September and October last year Christie and I spend just under four weeks completing a fascinating motoring trip following the great Mississippi River from its beginnings near Minneapolis in the very north of the USA to where it flows into the sea at New Orleans in the deep south.
This was an organised tour with nine couples. It was organised by Sam Murray who owns and operates Gilligans Tours Limited. He is based out of Waimate in the South Island of New Zealand. This was the same tour company that did the Route 66 tour we did three years ago. As with the Route 66 tour, this was well organised and we had a lot of fun. Sam is a great tour leader, and everybody on the tour was from various parts of New Zealand.
Why the Mississippi? Before the railways the Mississippi was a vital arterial route in opening up America. Even today the river is important for the transportation of goods, and is full of American history. You are following in the footsteps of Mark Twain’s fictional characters, “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn”. You travel through nine states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Each state is different and shows the diversity of the USA. As you head further south, Civil War history becomes evident, and the climate changes as well.
The tour is a self drive trip, we rented a Mitsubishi Outlander which was ideal. We were provided with a detailed GPS system but we still got lost but not for long. All of us had done Route 66 prior to this trip so we were experienced with driving in the USA.
We started in Minneapolis, in the North of the USA on 26 September 2022, and were all surprised at just how cold it was there. During the night temperatures just about dropped to zero degrees. For the next seven days we drove through a number of small towns and cities until we reached St Louis, the second largest city in Missouri behind Chicago. Towns such as La Grosse, which was a French fur trading settlement, Galena, an old lead mining town, where General Ulysses S Grant called home and where he become the 18th President of the USA, Savanna which had a strong Indian presence and Hannibal, the home town of Mark Twain, where a lot of his two famous novels were based. All the time we crisscrossed the Mississippi River.
We followed the Mississippi through Cairo, virtually a ghost town now, left the Mississippi and detoured to Nashville. This was to look at the current music scene and to go to a concert. I enjoyed Nashville. Following this we travelled to Memphis, a declining city, the main purpose was to see the Elvis Presley Museum and his house at Gracelands.
By this time, we were in Tennessee which is a former Confederate State and part of the American South. We now cross over and go to Clarksdale which is in the State of Mississippi. Here we start to see numerous plantations and cotton growing for the first time. We stayed at Vicksburg, scene of a famous battle in the Civil War. Our next place to stay was Natchez, a trading town firstly developed by the French, and it later became an important slave trading town. Along the Mississippi, a lot of the early development was done by French traders and settlers. As a result, there are a lot of French named towns and geographical features. Our next stop was Baton Rouge in Louisiana.
The last city of our Tour was New Orleans. This is an interesting city on the Bayous of the Mississippi. It is one American town that you can get good food, has its own cuisine and a thriving music scene. It is also a very old city with a strong French influence which can still be seen today.
Each day began with a meeting after breakfast about the forthcoming day. We would generally meet at a few of places of interest, like museums or points of historical interest and for lunch. The rest of the time you could drive at your leisure. You were free to stop and explore various places that interested you. The tour takes 23 days which means the distance travelled each day is not onerous. We drove 3,515 kms which equates to 153 Kms per day. A few days we rested but we seldom did more than 200 kms in a day, we were on both main highways but a lot of our travelling was on secondary roads.
The cost was $NZ 28,495 per couple. This included all accommodation with breakfast, car hire, car insurance and economy plane fares from Auckland to the USA. Additional costs for you include personal health insurance, fuel (less than half in price compared to NZ), museum admissions, meals etc. Since travelling to the USA three years previously prices have gone up by about 60%. Previously our exchange rate was at 70 cents, during this trip it was around 55 cents, which made things more expensive, although our exchange rate has recovered to 64 cents since then. Prices may look expensive but what you see and do, is good value and it is a trip of a lifetime. We had a fantastic time and all the couples on the tour were a most relaxing and enjoyable group. We really enjoyed all their company, and there were a great many conversations over drinks.
The highlights of the trip for me were many and varied. I enjoyed driving from north to south seeing the changing geography and climate of the USA. Minneapolis was cold autumnal weather, New Orleans was warm and humid. It was great to gain an understanding of how important the Mississippi River was and is to the transportation in the USA. It is historically and culturally important, is the soul of the country and it had a huge influence on the opening up of America. I enjoyed seeing the differences of each state, the south being quite different to their northern counterparts. I have an interest in the Civil War so it was interesting to travel to various places that you knew as names, but now they were places. I really enjoyed the musical aspect of Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. This is a bucket list trip.