Qantas, United and American Airlines all fly from Australia to Reno Nevada, via either LA or San Francisco. Check airline websites for flights from your nearest capital city. United Airlines flies daily from San Francisco to Reno (1 hour); United and American Airlines fly daily direct to Reno from Los Angeles (1.5 hours). boathouse featured in the movie is still there. Back at the lodge Jackson hit the sauna, Truman played ping-pong with a Texas boy in a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” t-shirt (yep, they have kids sizes), while Yvonne and I looked to the next day, and the two treasures to come: Sand Harbor, and the stunning Thunderbird Lodge.
I first visited Thunderbird Lodge eight years ago while driving south along the lake’s eastern shoreline, after passing its driveway and glimpsing just enough to cause me to make a hasty U-turn which turned out to be one of the more memorable U-turns of my life. Never underestimate the possibilities born of spontaneity.
In the 1930s, not long after Lora built her Tea House, George Whittell, an eccentric and reclusive millionaire with a love for women (and giraffes, but that’s another story) built one of North America’s most coveted residences on a granite promontory south of Sand Harbor. An Arts & Crafts-era masterpiece the 16,000 sq ft main building of locally quarried stone is surrounded by a fairytale, Alice in Wonderland world of waterfalls, ponds, paths and drystone walls that delight adult and child alike, a folly so perfectly conceived and executed it almost improves upon nature. You know the real estate mantra “location, location, location”? Thunderbird Lodge is that mantra’s purest expression. And if you think the lodge is fab, wait until you see the boat!
A 200m-long tunnel blasted through solid granite connects the house to the boathouse, home to the 16m-long Art Deco masterpiece, the incomparable, unforgettable Thunderbird Yacht. With its tripleplanked mahogony deck wrapped around a tapered stainless-steel cabin shaped to mimic the fuselage of Whittell’s DC-2 aircraft, its two V-12 Allison jet engines give it a top speed of 60 exhilarating knots. Cruises are rather expensive, and infrequent too, so check availability. Annoyingly after two visits I’m still to get onboard because of scheduled maintenance works. But just to emerge from the tunnel and see it before you in all its considerable glory, is gob-smacking enough.
We spent our final Tahoe hours at Sand Harbor, a crescent-shaped yellow sand beach with a backdrop of Jeffrey pines beneath a sky as deep a blue as the water before us. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is held here each summer, and it’s here you’ll find the best example of the lake’s most recognisable landform - its massive rounded granite boulders - the product of what geologists call Spheroidal weathering, and a natural playground of infinite possibilities.
But Sand Harbor is more than that. Imagine the Olgas, or the Bungle Bungles made small, accessible. Climbable! This beach, like Tahoe itself, if you let it, can reach deep inside you. I realised this when I saw my boys perched on a granite outcrop, all played-out, staring westwards across the lake to the setting sun as it dipped below the far-off peaks of the Desolation Wilderness, sitting on igneous rocks that millions of years ago were forced to the surface through uplift and erosion, just so they could provide a seat from which to view the end of another perfect Tahoe day.
Above: Jackson kayaks on Emerald Bay