Other Adventures:  Alaska, Oregon, Africa, and New Zealand  

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ALASKAN CRUISE

 

If you haven't heard from us for a while, there is a reason. We spent the last week cruising through Southeastern Alaska on a Holland American ship out of Seattle.

 

And while the weather did NOT cooperate (we had rain and clouds every day in Alaska, and only saw the sun in Seattle and Victoria) the cruise was still full of some great scenery and adventures. The first great view we got was of Mt. Rainier from the deck of our ship in the harbor of Seattle!

 

We started with a full day at sea, and our first port was Juneau: a depressing little town full of tourist oriented diamond and tanzanite shops. What a waste of a beautiful location! We wandered around to see the old Orthodox Church, then took a local bus out to Mendenhall Glacier. There was plenty of hiking to do around there, although it was raining pretty hard at times, so we limited ourselves to shorter walks. But we enjoy the views, the visitors center, and the paths through the valley of the glacier. Next time, with better weather, we'll spend even LESS time in town, and more time hiking this beautiful area.

 

That's a photo of the Mendenhall Glacier at right...during one of the clearer moments of our visit. And we got a little surprise when we went outside the museum to eat our lunch. A ranger quickly asked us to please not eat our lunch there. Instead, she asked us to bring our food inside and eat in the museum--because they didn't want bears to smell food outside! We were happy to oblige her.

From there we headed out to Hubbard Glacier--a huge (seven miles wide) glacier that empties directly into the sea. While we snapped photos and oohed and ahhed, the captain managed to work our ship closer and closer to the face of the glacier, eventually getting to withing a few hundred yards of it. Spectacular views, and impressive seamanship!

 

The glacier cracked, creaked and groaned as we floated offshore, and gave us many examples of ice cascades that plummeted down the 350-foot face of the glacier and into the bay. 

 

We spent a couple of hours enjoying the view, and then headed back out to sea to set sail for Sitka.

 

Sitka was our favorite port by far, primarily because it wasn't full of cheezy tourist jewelry shops. We stopped to see St. Michael's Cathedral, them walked a few miles around the south side of town to visit the museums, the totem pole exhibits, and the raptor center. Once out of town, the trails wandered through an amazingly lush rainforest, and we really enjoyed this day.

Of course it was raining. It's a rainforest! At left is a photo taken from the trail through the rainforest. I think you can see why you wouldn't want to do a lot of cross country hiking through this stuff!

 

The raptor center introduced us to a bald eagle, and then had a number of large birds in various stages of rehabilitation. One owl sat only two feet from the trail, behind a plexi-glass screen that protected it from curious fingers...and kept those fingers intact. And we finished up the visit with some fish and chips and halibut fish tacos from a street vendor--which were delicious.

 

From Sitka we sailed south to Ketchikan, which bills itself as the salmon capital of the world. (It is not the diamond and tanzanite capital of the world only because it doesn't quite have as many of these shops as Juneau.)

 

But we liked the rustic atmosphere of Ketchikan, and we hiked about a mile out to the historic totem pole museum, where a collection of older totem poles are housed and displayed. Creek Street, which began as the red light district and is now, predictably full of tourist shops, is built on piers hanging out over the creek, and we saw both salmon and seals in the creek.

You can see a seal in the water in the photo at left.

 

And from Ketchikan we sailed down to Victoria, with its elegant houses, perfect gardens, and SUNSHINE. We strolled around town all evening, and then sailed back that night to Seattle and the flight home.

 

Despite the weather, this trip had some great scenery, and we'd like to back and see more---particularly Sitka. And maybe Juneau as well. After all, you can never own too much tanzanite!

AFRICA

 

No. we didn't do much hiking there. But thanks to P's long history in the wine business we got invited on a spectacular trip to visit Southern Africa, from Capetown to Kruger Park, with stops in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well. it was a truly memorable experience.

We began in Capetown, where we visited the infamous Robben Island prison and were given a tour by an ex-political prisoner of the apartheid regime. It was very moving to hear him describe the enormous courage and fortitude of the prisoners, who effectively overthrew the government from inside the prison--a true triumph of the human spirit.

Our welcome to South Africa, in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront was memorable--with singing and dancing and great food. 

 

From there we visited the Cape of Good Hope, where Vasco de Gama found his way around Africa towards the eastern spice trade. Beautiful scenery. and some remarkable wildlife, including penguins, elands, baboons, ostriches, and more. And we polished off the day in the wine region of Constantia--legendary wines that even Napoleon revered.

 

The next day we visited the wine region of Stellenbosch, where we tasted great wines and ate wonderful food. It is something else to see a vineyard with impala grazing in a field nearby...

 

After Capetown we flew to Botswana and then took small boats to Namibia for a cruise on the Chobe River. Astonishing wildlife were, and we loved the huge herds of Cape buffalo and elephants, And yes, we did get quite close to them!

During our time on the Chobe, we also did a land safari along the river in Botswana, where we got very close to some lions...

Since we were only about 75 miles away, a visit to Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe was in order. Even though this was the dry season, and the falls were only about 10% of peak flow, they were still thoroughly impressive.

 

And from there we flew back to Johannesburg to tour the Nelson Mandela House in Soweto and the Apartheid Museum--both remarkable. I wish our politicians thought this way...

 

And finally, we spent four days in Kruger, doing more wildlife safaris, morning and afternoon. Each one seemed to raise the bar in terms of the wildlife we saw, including a long list of antelopes (Impala, eland, kudu, duiker, bushbok, springbok, puku, waterbuck, wildebeests, roan antelope, sable, letchwe, steenbok...I am sure I am leaving some out here) plus hippos, hyenas, wild dogs (quite rare and endangered) leopards, warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, water monitors, giraffe, zebra....it was an absolute smorgasbord of nature. And that doesn't even begin to touch the huge variety of birds, from eagles, vultures and storks, to endless brightly colored bee-eaters, oxpeckers, rollers, weavers, kingfishers, hornbills, lapwings...it was almost overwhelming.

A truly unforgettable adventure. 

Ya gotta go!

OREGON

 

Since P had to speak at a conference in Portland this month, we decided to make a road trip out of it and stop along the way to enjoy some of the sights and trails of our neighbor to the North. As usual, all did not go according to plan!

 

We began with a long drive from Napa to Bend, through a scorching hot string of towns (Red Bluff, Redding, Weed, Klamath Falls all over 100 degrees) and some pretty dense smoke east of Crater Lake due to some large wildfires. We had a hotel reservation at one of the least expensive hotels in town: $180 a night. If we weren’t from Napa, where hotels are insanely expensive, we would complain more. A lovely dinner at the Jackalope Grill (how can you resist a name like that?) and we were set to start our first backpacking trip the next day.

We were starting from Pole Spring trailhead, at the end of one of the best gravel roads we’ve ever driven. But as I was filling out the trailhead permit, M suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to pack any stove gas in her packs. That dirt road didn’t seem quite to appetizing at that point. Luckily, P thought to ask a couple of guys who had just finished their hike in front of us if they might have a spare canister in their packs. They has a partial, easily enough for our overnight trip, and they gave it to us with their very best wishes and kind regards. Thank you, Marvin! You saved us!

So with gas in pack we hiked through three and half miles of burnt to a crisp forest before we finally got some shade. A big fire burned through here just a few years ago, and while it made for slightly better views of the Sisters Peaks on the way, it was pretty sad to see. But once we got across Squaw Creek, we were in heaven: lush forest, spectacular views, and a continually graded trail that never really got steep, even though it climbed 1700 feet from the trailhead to Camp Lake in nearly seven miles.

We had been warned that Camp Lake might be windy and crowded. It was both of those things. There were six or eight groups camped around the lake, and the wind was howling down out of the pass. So we decided to collect some water and hike back down the trail ½ mile, where we had seen some lovely quiet and private campsites with views of all three Sisters peaks. (Middle and North Sister are not visible from Camp Lake). It was the right move. We were surrounded by clouds of California Tortoiseshell butterflies, the site was perfectly protected from the wind, and the views were simply amazing. So the very first day we got WIND.

At 3 p.m. the smoke from a nearby fire began to blow in, and the views deteriorated. But we ate dinner, looked at the wildflowers, and settled in for a nice quiet night in our secluded nook.

Dawn brought a glorious sunrise, and I took quite a few pictures. Then we were up and hiking out, down through the forested section, down through the burn zone, and back to the car in time to make it to the town of Sisters for lunch. There we learned that our next adventure was going to need an alteration, as the Whitewater Fire was pretty much right where we had planned to hike next.

We stopped into an outdoor store to buy gas (good idea!) and consulted. The next best bet seemed to be a trip on the PCT South from Mackenzie Pass. This would take us on the Mackenzie Pass scenic byway, which was very cool, and get us out on a trail that shouldn’t have too much smoke.

That didn’t work. We found a car camping site at Scott Lake that worked perfectly for us. There is no piped water there, so the 21 campsites rarely fill up. But the smoke was everywhere, and there seemed to be little point to climbing up on top of mountains if the view was all smoke. That’s takes care of the FIRE. We decided that instead of doing a backpacking trip into the smoke, we’d try to limit our lung damage with a day hike across the lava at the pass to Little Belknap Crater.

This was definitely the right move—an really wonderful hike first through a couple of forested “islands” in a sea of lava, and then a trail straight across the rocks to Little Belknap. The lava was full of surprises, including lots of lava tubes, bubbles, wild formations, and a few tiny trees struggling to find a foothold 2700 years after the eruption that spewed the lava. So if day two was fire, then day three was EARTH—lava in all its forms.

And that night, back at the campground, we got just a sprinkle of rain as well. Not enough to clear the air, sadly, but enough to cool things down a few degrees. And it got us thinking.

There were some wonderful trails along the Mackenzie River, according to hiking book we bought by William Sullivan. Maybe that would be a better choice in the smoke.

The next day we packed up and drove the rest of the Mackenzie Pass Byway, and then the lovely Highway 126 along the Mackenzie River. Yep, there was a campground here that didn’t have piped water, Ice Cap, and we once again found a perfect campsite within a couple of hundred yards of Koosah Falls. We hiked up and down the river, visiting Sahalie Falls and Carmen Reservoir while we were at it, and fell in love with this section of the river. It was roaring, it was icy, it was cascading over rocks and glistening though deep blue/black pools. Old growth forest, rhododendrons, ferns, currents of icy air and an occasional rainbow made this an unforgettable hike. After the smoke and heat of the Sisters, this was heaven. And it filled out our list with a day of pure WATER.

By the end of the next day we needed to be at Big Table Farm, our friends’ winery north of McMinnville, so Day Five would take us a few hours in the car—but not so long that we could stop at Silver Falls and enjoy the waterfalls there on the way.

What a treat. A volcanic canyon filled with waterfalls that have eroded the softer rock behind the falls, so that the trails led us through seven waterfalls, three of which we could walk behind. A lovely way to wrap up our hiking in Oregon.

After the conference in Portland, we drove down to Eugene and followed the UMpqua River (stunning) to Reedsport on the coast, and then drove the coast highway back into California, so that we could visit M’s sister in Brookings. And decided that we would have to come back and explore some more.

NEW ZEALAND

 

It turns out P's experiences in the wine business have led him to second career, talking about wine on cruise ships. So we are just back from almost three weeks in New Zealand and Australia. And we have a few stories to tell. We began with a few days in Auckland, where we met an old friend and his wife for dinner, and then spent a few days exploring around Auckland. We loved the city, loved the food, and really liked the wines and wineries, too. What a great place to spend some time.

From there we boarded our ship, the Azamara Journey, and headed for the Bay of Islands, where we visited the town of Russell (once known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific--now a very quiet little town) and then walked around the national park of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where they signed the original treaty between the Maori and the Queen. The fact that the treaty was written in two different languages, and translations were inaccurate, has led to some significant differences of opinion today in New Zealand. Our guide for the tour there was a Maori who did a wonderful job.

Then off to the Bay of Plenty, where we put on our hiking shoes and hiked up, down, and then around the local landmark, Mount Maunganui. this is supposed to be New Zealand's most popular hike, but since New Zealand is the size of California, and has fewer that 5 million people, it wasn't crowded by Yosemite standards! What knocked our socks off were the beaches. Yes, New Zealand is basically two islands...but wow!

 

The beaches are simply stunning. And as far as we can tell, pretty underrated. We were unprepared for how wonderful they were.

From the Bay of Islands we sailed past now notorious White Island (the volcano that recently erupted and killed a number of tourists) and then sailed down the East Coast to Napier in Hawkes Bay. In the evening, P walked up on deck to try and see the southern sky...and was surprised to see Venus well north of him. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, most of what we see in the sky is to the north! Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930's, and the whole downtown section was rebuilt only a couple of years later is classic 1930's style. It's quite fun to walk around the downtown and admire the many buildings.

After Napier, we stopped in Wellington, the capital, where we strolled around the city and took in the national museum. Wellington seemed rather dull to us, but we may have hit it on an off day.

But the rest of the trip was stunning.

First to Picton, on Queen Charlotte Sound, at the North end of the South Island. We took a great hike out along a narrow and steep peninsula to the Snout (the point at the end of the peninsula) and enjoyed every minute of it--including the deafening crickets that overwhelmed the trees, and at one point were flying around like mosquitoes in the Sierra.

It was a total of about nine miles the way we did it, and that helped us adjust to the usual routine of eating way too much on board the ship. It felt great to get out and really walk. Although we found one element a bit confusing. In New Zealand, all of the hikes are not measured in miles or kilometers. They are measured in minutes. It took us some time to adjust to that--and we never really did get the hang of it completely. Here we also saw the predator traps that they had set to catch invasive mammals and rodents that are eating all of the local bird life. The organization that places the traps is the Picton Dawn Chorus--a name we really liked.

Next stop was Dunedin, which we found in the middle of market day. Everything and anything was being sold on the streets, and we stopped to buy some fabulous cherries. We took in the modern art museum (which was nice) and the history museum (which we liked better) and then sat down to fish and chips and beer at an outside table in the middle of the market. What fun.

 

But here's where our itinerary took a turn. We were supposed to head from Dunedin to Milford Sound, and we really looking forward to that. But the recent storms had turned the area into a disaster--floods just hammered it--and the seas were running about 25 feet, which would have prevented us from seeing much of the scenery, and kept most of the passengers down below hugging the toilet. So instead we changed gears, and sailed back up north to Akaroa, a small town just outside of Dunedin. It later turned out that the seas were closer to 40 feet, and would have been really unpleasant. Nobody on the ship complained about missing those waves.

 

And we loved Akaroa. It was originally a French settlement--still has their street names--but it's small, local, and at least when cruise ships are in port, full of life. And best of all, it offered a whole series of great hikes right out of town. We immediately chose to head up towards Purple Peak, and climbed up over the ridge and then back to town from the other side. Another 8-9 mile hike, with spectacular views.

The weather wasn't great--its was spitting from time to time, and the winds were quite blustery up on top, but we loved just about every minute of it, including the boardwalks through the rainforest. They were covered with chicken wire to give better traction over the slick wood boards. Smart thinking. This was our favorite hike of the trip.

 

And from there we went to Kaikoura, which is famous for its massive tidepools, seal colony and beaches. Justifiably so, as it turns out. Instead of taking the free shuttle bus to town, we chose to hike the coastal trail, which was about 4-5 miles along the top of the bluff above the beach. It had wonderful views, and it would be easy to spend quite a few days exploring the shore here. The town itself has a very nice beach, and we have never seen so many camper vans in once place. Clearly, this is a "must stop" for everyone in New Zealand. And the camper van industry is going gangbusters.

Our last port in New Zealand was New Plymouth, which is a rather industrial town that just happens to have a great local park and a very good modern art museum. We visited them both, really enjoying the park's Kauri Grove and 2000 year old Puriri tree, as well as the art. And the local man who took it upon himself to lead us to the Puriri tree turned out to be a huge fan of Elvis Presley...you can't make this stuff up!

 

Nearby is 8,500 foot Mt, Taranaki, but it was a two or three hour drive to get there...and the weather wasn't great. We were afraid we might arrive to find is socked in, or pouring rain.

(As it turns out, some friends did go, and had reasonable weather, including a brief period where the whole peak was visible...) But we still had a great time in New Plymouth, and we all headed off into the Tasman Sea with smiles on our faces.

Those lasted for most of the crossing. The Tasman is famous for big waves and big storms, and we were hopeful that we had missed most of them. But we did run into a heavy swell one night (happily at night when we were all trying to sleep) and so avoided most of the discomfort. P never did take any medicine for seasickness, and M only did a couple of times. All in all, that's an easy crossing of the Tasman Sea!

 

Our last day was in Sydney, complete with a majestic entry into the city past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge. We spent the rest of that day exploring the area around Darling Harbour, with the Maritime MuSEAum and lots of restaurants and shops. We even took in the 3-D Monsters of the Deep movie along with about 200 kids (it was a Saturday) and enjoyed their screams of terror as much as the movie itself. Who says we don't know how to have fun?

Because of the change in our route, we did miss seeing Tasmania. And that is a pity. But we also saw enough to know that this won't be our only visit down under...and we already have a long list of things we'd like to see and do next time.

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