You hear so much about California that sometimes it seems like an earthly paradise and on others like hell on earth. Which is the true California - bronzed babes in bikinis roller blading in warm sunshine beside a sparkling blue sea, or water scarcity, earthquakes and catastrophic fires?

Our recent visit there did little to clear up the conundrum. We headed north through parched hills and then plunged into a lush Redwood forest. On our way back we descended from the cool of the Sequoia National Forest into the arid heat of Curry Mountain - and our attempt to drive along the Big Sur was frustrated by a bridge washed out in a disastrous flood and the week we left saw homes destroyed and lives lost in the worst fires for years.

The verdict? It's a great place to visit and see the sights, but you wouldn't want to live there!