Monthly Archives: June 2014

Kangaroo Island

I flew to Adelaide from Sydney. The time difference is a bizarre half an hour behind Sydney, although I am sure that some wags might say the time difference is more like a few years! They do like to point out to Sydney residents that the original residents were settlers, not convicts, round here. When I arrived it was raining heavily on and off, and although Adelaide looks like a charming city, I decided to sit out the rain in my rather nice hotel room, writing the Sydney blog and doing boring but essential laundry, emerging only briefly to stock up on essentials. Early on Tuesday morning I flew to Kangaroo Island, just south of Adelaide. It was a 20 minute hop on a 30-seater twin prop plane. I was met by Tim, a local beekeeper and part-time tour guide who was to drive me and a couple from Sydney around the island for the next couple of days. Ron and Vivian have been married for more than 60 years, have lived all over the world and were really great company.

Galah

Galah

Crimson rosella

Crimson rosella

Tim immediately found us a koala, clinging to a tree and looking rather cold. It was high in the tree, so Tim promised to find one lower down later.  As well as the koala, I was delighted to see a galah and some crimson rosellas. These beautiful brightly coloured birds are common in Australia, so I think the Australians were somewhat bemused by my delight. We then stopped for a cup of tea at a billabong. Some black swans drifted past and disappeared rather quickly, but despite the lack of birdlife, it was a beautiful spot.

Billabong

Billabong

Koala

Koala

As promised, Tim then found another koala in a smaller tree. He gazed down at us while I took his picture.  They are not the most intelligent looking animals, but they certainly are sweet.

Wallaby

Wallaby

We then set off looking for wallabies warming themselves in the sun at the edge of the bush.  They cannot wander into the open as wedge tailed eagles patrol the skies looking for them, but can be seen at the edge of the road enjoying the winter sunshine. The first one we saw bounced off, but suddenly there were loads of these small creatures, gazing at us with big eyes.  I will find it hard to be intimidated by the Australian rugby team having seen the creature for which they are named, which could not be cuter.

Crimson rosella

Crimson rosella

We then visited an area of protected endemic plant life where the endangered glossy black cockatoo can often be found. Although we saw none of those, we saw lots of other birds, including another crimson rosella, and wallabies and kangaroos which were remarkably relaxed about our presence as we went for a short hike. Occasionally one would decide he did not like the look of us and bound away, but for the most part they continued dozing or grazing.

Scarlet robin

Scarlet robin

Australian sea lion

Australian sea lion

Would you like to play with me?

Would you like to play with me?

I guess I'll just amuse myself then

I guess I’ll just amuse myself then

After a delicious picnic lunch in the bush featuring local produce and affording the opportunity to snap a tiny scarlet robin perched on a fence, we went to see the Australian sea lion colony at Seal Bay. Most of the sea lions lie snoozing in sheltered spots in the sun, but one young pup was playing in the waves at the beach, and came racing over when he saw us, eager to show off. It was hard not to react to his antics, but since he will grow to 350 kilos it is important he does not grow up to think of people as playmates. He raced up and down the beach, coming to within a few feet of us, rolled over and threw a piece of seaweed around.  He was obviously looking for someone to play with whilst the rest of his kind dozed. As we left, we saw one small pup suckling from his mother right next to the boardwalk.

Australian sea lion suckling

Australian sea lion suckling

I stayed at a B&B on the island called Molly’s Run where I was the only guest.  It is a lovely Tuscan style villa with coastal views which has been beautifully decorated.  The owner Paul made enough food for about twelve, so I had to sit and eat as much as I could so as not to hurt his feelings. He was feeling a bit low as the eponymous Molly, a boxer dog, had very recently died. Eventually I retired to my room to collapse into a food induced coma for the night.

Australasian pelican swimming

Australasian pelican swimming

Australasian pelican flying

Australasian pelican flying

Australasian pelican walking

Australasian pelican walking

The following day we headed up to Flinders Chase National Park after looking at the Australasian pelicans near Kingscote. As well as many of these large pelicans, there was a host of cormorants warming themselves in the morning sun.

Pelicans and cormorants sitting on the dock of the bay

Pelicans and cormorants sitting on the dock of the bay

Pied cormorant

Pied cormorant

Australian goose on the nest

Cape Barren goose on the nest

After a beautiful coastal drive, punctuated by frequent showers, we arrived at the park. Cape Barren geese, with their high visibility beaks, nest by the roadside at the entrance. We went to look at the colony of New Zealand fur seals that haul out of the Southern Ocean here where an arch has been carved from the cliffs by the sea. It was very windy and blustery, but the section where the seals lie is sheltered and once again we could see many seals snoozing contentedly in the sun, including lots of tiny pups waiting for their mothers to return. Other more energetic seals played in the strong surf nearby.

Sleeping adult New Zealand fur seal

Sleeping adult New Zealand fur seal

Sleeping baby New Zealand fur seal

Sleeping baby New Zealand fur seal

Nothing feels better than a snooze in the sun

Nothing feels better than a snooze in the sun

The only one awake

The only one awake

Surfing fur seals

Surfing fur seals

Remarkable Rocks

Remarkable Rocks

Still remarkable

Still remarkable

We beat a rain shower back to the car and continued to the rock formation known as the Remarkable Rocks, which are granite boulders left behind as the cliff erodes around them.  As it was raining when we left the car, I left my camera behind and decided to use my phone. It is a bit of a shame as the shower passed and it was wonderfully sunny, and they are really quite remarkable close up, and my phone snaps do not do them justice.

Superb fairywren

Superb fairywren

As the winds were so strong, we headed back to the visitor’s centre for our picnic lunch, closely watched by some magpies. In the bushes nearby, some tiny superb fairywrens were foraging. The males are stunning in their breeding plumage whilst the femI have read that they are socially monogamous but sexually promiscuous. Sounds like an open marriage.

After our late lunch we continued our coastal drive, keeping an eye out for whales, but none appeared. We went by the local golf course where the green fees are just $2. This might be because the lawns are cut for free by the residents for whom the island is named. We saw one with her joey peeking out of her pouch. Tim told us this was the first he had seen this year, so were lucky to see it.

Kangaroo with joey

Kangaroo with joey

As we headed back to the airport, we saw an echidna train. An echidna is an amazing creature which looks like a porcupine, but which lays an egg which it keeps in a pouch and then feeds milk to the resulting baby, which is rather wonderfully called a puggle.  Occasionally two or more males will follow a female they wish to mate with – we saw three animals in such a train. Unfortunately, as we watched hoping they would emerge from the roadside bushes, several cars went by very fast, and only one came out into the open.  Sadly it was almost dark, and he crossed the road rather quickly, so the pictures I got of him were all rather fuzzy.

Kangaroo Island was wonderful, with such a proliferation of wildlife that sadly rather a lot of it ends up dead at the side of the road. Tim was a very knowledgeable guide, and he also pointed out many of the island’s idiosyncrasies as we passed them.  One is a smart bus stop, with a tarred area for the bus to stop on and a shiny blue shelter.  What is wrong with that, you might ask. Well, there are no buses on Kangaroo Island! There seemed to be rather a few such things on Kangaroo Island.  Perhaps they need a new council!

After boarding the tiny plane back to Adelaide, I just had time to catch up with my old friend George from university days. From Adelaide I will be driving to Melbourne via the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road.

Sublime Sydney

I am in love! The object of my affections is the beautiful city of Sydney. On first landing in Sydney I experienced a bit of culture shock. After three weeks of sleepy small town life in Montana and Hawaii, interrupted only by two days in San Francisco, it seemed impossibly big and busy. I arrived in the evening after a ten and a half hour flight which lasted more than 24 hours! I lost a day, crossing the international date line. I was all set to go and explore the city but the effects of the time difference and a horrible flight with a very unhappy baby sitting two rows behind me caught up with me when I was buying some water and I retreated to the hotel to bed, thinking I could use the jet lag to get up early.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

This was the first time on this trip I struggled badly with jet lag. I woke at 3.00, went back to sleep at about 6.00 and did not wake again until 9.00! So much for my early start. I set off eagerly towards Circular Quay, feeling much better for the sleep, in the wrong direction as is my wont. I stopped to ask for directions, and suddenly could see the Harbour Bridge peeking between buildings. I headed towards it and found myself facing the harbour, with the bridge on one side and the infamous opera house on the other. In glorious midwinter sunshine I gazed at these sights. Being here is a bit like being in New York for the first time, oddly familiar as one has seen it so often before on TV. I wandered around just soaking it up, scarcely able to believe that it was 22 degrees in the middle of winter! I was amused by the antics of two gulls, who stood in front of me squawking in turn, and tried to tune out the dance didgeridoo going on in the background (I took this to be a form of Aborigine revenge on the tourists). I could see people walking over the top of the bridge (you can just about make them out if you click on the picture to enlarge it). If I had realised quite how lovely the weather would be I would have signed up for it.

After grabbing a quick lunch I decided to try the open topped bus tour of Sydney. This was long and rather boring, although it did give me the chance to orientate myself well. Amazingly I did not get lost again! The city is a mix of rather neglected Victorian homes, stylish modern skyscrapers and handsome 19th century buildings all centred round that stunning harbour. By the time the tour was over it was nearly dark and in hindsight I do wish I had taken a trip out on the water instead. The only sign of winter was the early evening on what was the shortest day of the year. Otherwise it was a day which would have been considered delightful in London in August!

The Coathanger by night

The Coathanger by night

I grabbed my tripod and headed back to Circular Quay to take some pictures of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge at night. They are even more beautiful at night, all lit up. I had a nice meal overlooking the bridge sitting outside, in winter! While eating I decided I would head to Bondi the next day.

Red hot pokers

Red hot pokers

Australian magpie

Australian magpie

Noisy miner

Noisy miner

Ficus macrophylla columnaris

Ficus macrophylla columnaris

Sacred ibis

Sacred ibis

Red flowered tree

Red flowered tree

After again waking terribly early, I was feeling rather dazed as I set off the next morning. It was overcast and quite chilly, so I decided to wander around the Botanical Gardens before heading to Bondi, to see if the clouds would burn off. The Botanical Gardens are stunning, with lots of weird and wonderful plants and birds, and amazing views of the harbour.

Sydney does not seem to have many pigeons. Instead of these rats of the sky, Sydney has sacred ibises, which skulk around in the bushes and hang around rubbish bins foraging for scraps. They are filthy and often mangy looking with missing toes, but I manage to find some more salubrious specimens to photograph. The gardens are also full of dusky moorhens, which scrap vociferously like drunks at closing time. There are also bold noisy miners everywhere, chunky and comical, gazing at me with beady eyes. Even the magpies are different here, looking like pied crows.

Dusky moorhen

Dusky moorhen

There was, amongst many fascinating plants, a tree which has many trunks. It is called a ficus macrophylla columnaris. Apparently the largest one found occupies more than a hectare. That is a big tree! I was really tempted to join the tour of the gardens, especially as I was sure there were loads more birds to see, particularly cockatoos, but with so little time to explore Sydney and winter daylight in short supply, I decided to press on to Bondi.

Bondi beach

Bondi beach just before the sun came out

To get there I joined another open topped bus.  Upon arrival I had that odd sensation of it not being quite real, being so familiar to me from my favourite guilty pleasure, Bondi Rescue. If you have never watched the show, do catch up with the antics of Bondi’s loveable lifeguards. To ensure it was indeed real, I walked the length of the beach and back again to the south end where the bigger waves and more able surfers were located to take a few action surfing shots. While I was walking, the sun burnt through the remaining clouds and it was another gorgeous winter’s day that could pass for the height of the English summer. The beach itself is truly gorgeous, a curve of golden sand licked by bright blue seas and flanked by cliffs, all overlooked by expensive real estate. There were a few die hard swimmers and many surfers, with the skilled riders at the south end and those developing their skills towards the middle of the beach where the waves were more benign. People jogged up and down, did yoga on the sand or posed for photos in front of the famous waves.

Bondi surfer

Bondi surfer

Surfer still going

Surfer still going

As I was snapping the surfers, I saw the Rhino used by the lifeguards approach. I was delighted to recognise Harries, the most outgoing of the lifeguards from the show, and snapped a paparazzi-style shot of him.

It's Harries off the telly!

It’s Harries off the telly!

Beautiful Bondi

Beautiful Bondi

I ate a delicious and disgustingly healthy salad sitting on the grass overlooking the beach, still amazed to actually be there, before setting off on the cliff top walk to Coogee. This is a five kilometre walk, so I though I could do it easily. Alas, it was not to be. A blister on the side of my heel, which was a mild annoyance I had been ignoring for a couple of days, suddenly became a throbbing pit of pain, causing me to limp along the path like an arthritic 90 year old. I made it to Tamarama, about one kilometre away, before conceding defeat and returning. Despite this, it was a hugely enjoyable walk, with gorgeous views. It is immensely popular, crowded with tourists, dog walkers and joggers. It must be a frustrating run, despite the lovely views, with all the meandering tourists in the way, but it is a delightful place for a sunny Sunday stroll.

Bondi Icebergs swimming pool

Bondi Icebergs swimming pool

Bondi in the sunshine

Bondi in the sunshine

Tamarama

Tamarama

As I sat and waited for the bus back to central Sydney, resting my poor foot, I narrowly avoided being defecated on by a myna. A young lady sitting next to me was not so fortunate, and had to wipe bird droppings from her hair, which might have slightly soured her Bondi experience! I assured her it was good luck (whilst being glad I had not been the one to be so blessed), but she moved away, muttering about not being in need of further good fortune. From the bus I saw parrots flying overhead; sudden flashes of jewel colours against the darkening evening sky. I hope I will get a chance to see some closer up.

Sydney Hospital's lucky boar, il porcellino

Sydney Hospital’s lucky boar, il porcellino

Hobbling back to the hotel, I just had time to admire the boar outside Sydney’s hospital. You can donate a coin and then rub his nose for good luck. It is worth a go, as the money donated goes to the hospital. Judging by the shine, his nose is not the only thing people have been rubbing for luck! I just hope his snout works on blisters!

That evening I went to Longrain, a Thai restaurant, to catch up with Josie, the first of my Aussie mates that I will see on this trip. The portions there are huge, and we managed less than half of our food before conceding defeat. It was delicious though. We were joined by a friend of hers but unfortunately he had already eaten and was unable to help us with our food mountain, although he did give some of it away to the young couple sitting next to us!

So far I am loving Australia as I head towards my second stop, Adelaide. If it is half as nice as Sydney, it is going to be great!

Big thrills on the Big Island

There are two main cities on the Big Island of Hawaii, the old town of Hilo and the pretender of Kono which sprung up when poor Hilo was devastated by a tsunami not once but twice. Hilo is the more traditional old town, whereas Kono is the tourism centre. I flew into Hilo, which is closer to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where I was staying. On arrival round noon, I was told that my hire car and GPS were at Kono, which is more than two hours away. I was told I could have a car but no GPS. This caused me a small wobbly moment, because I was born without an internal compass and am quite capable of getting lost on a trip to the toilets, let alone exploring a new island by car. However, I was told that even an idiot could not fail to find the park, as all I had to do was leave the airport, turn left, and turn left again when I saw the park after 45 minutes or so. And indeed the route did prove idiot proof. I just had to drive steadily uphill towards the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I paid my $10 and entered the park. I immediately pulled into the Visitor’s Centre to ask for directions to the hotel, which I then realised I could see across the road!

Steaming bluff

Steaming bluff

I checked in to Volcano House, the only hotel in the park. It has recently been refurbished, and is very nice, particularly if you have a view of the steaming Kilauea caldera. Sadly I had a view of the car park, which was the only drawback of the hotel. It is a bit noisy. I was running low on essential toiletries like deodorant, so for the sake of those around me I drove to the tiny town of Volcano outside the park to find the quixotic general store and was fortunately able to find what I needed. However, there was not a lot in the way of food which could be turned into a meal without the aid of a kitchen, so I had a snack at the hotel before setting out to explore. Unfortunately by this time it was about 4 pm, so there was not a lot of day left. I had a look at the steam vents, where warm steam rises out of the ground. This is the result of rainwater making its way into the ground where it is heated into steam by the hot rocks below. It was chilly in the evening at that elevation, and many people were wearing just shorts and tee shirts as it had been a warm and sunny day. They stood in the steam for warmth, before realising that once they were wet with steam they were even colder when they left the warmth of the vent!

Halema'uma'u

Halema’uma’u

The steam rises all along the rim of the crater at steaming bluff, making it look like the setting for a rock concert. Like dry ice, it hangs in the air above the ground, but other than above the centre of the crater does not rise very high in the air. Unfortunately I began to feel the effects of the altitude, probably as a result of a very early start that morning to fly to Honolulu and then to Hilo, and after a brief exploration I returned to the hotel. I felt much better after relaxing for an hour or two, and suddenly realised I was missing a glorious sunset. I grabbed my camera equipment and rushed for my car. I contemplated taking a picture from the car park with a view of the road but a gorgeous sky, but decided to go immediately to find a nice view of the crater. In retrospect I should have just gone to the front of the hotel, and of course as soon as I got in the car the beautiful colours vanished and I missed the sunset. Undeterred, I set off for the Jagger museum (nothing to do with Mick, this Jagger was a volcanologist) where there is a crater (Halema’uma’u) within the Kilauea caldera which glows at night. This is an awesome sight, with steam rising from a glowing red hole in the ground into the inky purple sky. The best pictures were just before it got completely dark. I did feel smug with my tripod. I was the only person to have one and was able to get much better pictures than those around me as a result. I eventually took pity on a couple next to me who were trying to balance their cameras on the low wall next to me to get the shot, and let them borrow my tripod. Halema’uma’u is a crater within a crater, where a huge section of the vast Kilauea crater dropped down into the earth below. It is where the goddess Pele lives, and seeing that glow against the night sky one can almost feel her presence.

Pele is still very much making her presence felt, and big sections of the park are closed due to eruptions, noxious gases or other activity.

Lava lake from the crater rim

Lava lake from the crater rim

Forest trail

Forest trail

Apapane

Apapane

Ohia flower

Ohia flower

The next day I set off early to do the Kilauea Iki trail. The trail starts on the edge of the caldera. In 1959 a huge lake of lava collected in what was once a very deep crater. It provided an incredible spectacle which was closely observed by scientists. The lava bubbled in a vortex in the crater before hardening over the years into the black lake you can see today. The hike starts through the forest which remains above the devastated area. At first I had the forest to myself, and was accompanied by nothing but the sound of birdsong as I hiked slowly down towards the crater. Unfortunately I lingered too long looking for the birds I could hear in the canopy, and soon guided groups start to catch me. One polite group waited while I captured a shot of the beautiful apapane which I saw land in a tree above me. I let them pass and suddenly heard loud shouting behind me as someone tried to get an echo going across the crater. To my horror I realised that this loutish behaviour was from a guide. I could hear him coming from a long way off as he told his group about his high school career as a wide end receiver. “Good story” said a member of his group. That must mean something different in America as the story could not have been less interesting. I hung around to let him pass with his group, as otherwise I am afraid I would not be able to resist the temptation to toss him into the crater!

Poisonous akia berries

Poisonous akia berries

Hapu'u tree fern

Hapu’u tree fern

Tree fern frond

Tree fern frond

The forest itself is fascinating. Filled with beautiful and slow-growing hapu’u tree ferns, which become top heavy and fall over, only to put down new roots and shoot up from where they have fallen.

Invasive ginger

Invasive ginger

The poisonous akia berries look very similar to the edible ohelo berries – I decided not to test my ability to distinguish them.  The forest is full of invasive ginger, which is pretty but impedes the growth of endemic species.  It is dangerous work trying to clear it in this volatile area.

On the lava lake

On the lava lake

Once down onto the lava lake, it was hot and windy as I carefully made my way across the surface. The lava rocks are black, dusty, and very light. From above the surface of the lava lake looks smooth, but it is far from it when you get down there. In places there are deep fissures, and in other places great rafts of lava sit like black icebergs above the surface. What is really interesting is seeing how life is beginning to take root in the lava, as the ohia grows on the rock. Over time, it is clear that the forest will reclaim the lake of lava which covered the forest 55 years ago.

On the other side of the lake there is a steep 400 foot climb along switchbacks in the forest before emerging in the car park for the Thurston lava tube. This is the busiest attraction in the park, and I confess to being underwhelmed. There is a short hike through an ohia forest, which would be very pleasant if one could hear the birdsong over the chattering of the masses. Then there is a walk through a lava tube. It is a tunnel of lava about ten feet high and wide. The walkable section extends for about 100 metres and is lit along the way. Although the lava tube does extend a long way beyond this, it is not safe for the public. It is interesting enough, but I am not sure it is deserving of the mayhem. There are more exciting things to do in and around the park.

The lava tube is the home of the happy face spider. I did not see one, and despite my fear of spiders I am quite sorry I did not, as they are a cool insect. Look them up and you will see what I mean!

Another short hike through the trees took me back to my car. I had to return to the hotel for some food before going further along the Chain of Craters Road. I decided to try the restaurant, as it is hard to get a dinner booking there. It was a disaster. First there was no tofu in my tofu stir fry, then no goats’ cheese in my goats’ cheese salad and when I found plastic in the stir fry, I gave up. Still, at least they did not charge me for it! The restaurant must be famous for the view, is all I can say!

Crater on Chain of Craters Road

Crater on Chain of Craters Road

You don't say

You don’t say

I headed further down the Chain of Craters Road. The series of deep craters shows you the extent of the volcanic activity in the area, as do the lava flows which the road crosses. Each huge crater looks like the scene of a massive meteor strike. The lava has been flowing down to the sea for centuries in this area, and in 2003 obliterated part of the road. You can still see lava flowing into the sea, but to do so you have to hike 11 miles across the lava, so I decided not to attempt it. I satisfied myself with the shot of the road closed sign buried in lava. To get to the point where the lava has flowed across the road, there is an easy, if hot and boring, mile or so trek along the road from the car park. I scrambled for a few hundred metres over rocks that until about 10 years ago were molten and buried in the earth. It is horrible and beautiful all at the same time. I felt like I was in a Tolkien novel.

Petroglyphs at Pu'u

Petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa

Male figure petroglyph

Male figure petroglyph

Pu'u Loa hike

Pu’u Loa hike

Petroglyph with holes for umbilical cords

Petroglyph with holes for umbilical cords

Near the end of the road, there is a mile and a half out and back hike to some petroglyphs. It is an easy hike, mostly flat, into a strong headwind which provided much needed air conditioning. I practically flew on the way back! I could not discern the meaning of most of them, but one makes me think the carver was keen on cycling! The holes were to contain the umbilical cords of babies. Parents would place the cord in a hole and cover it with a rock to bring good health and long life to the baby.

Holei sea arch

Holei sea arch

Turtle at end of Chain of Craters Road

Turtle at end of Chain of Craters Road

Finally the road reaches the sea. As I went to look at the Holei sea arch, located just where the road ends, I spotted a turtle about 30 metres out. I tried to get a decent shot of him, but in strong winds and choppy seas, I was not able to do so. I decided not to try to photograph the petrels I saw flying around because of the high winds, and later saw a sign saying they were rare to see, being critically endangered! I had another look for them after my hike to the end of the road, but of course there were none to be seen!

All the the hiking has obviously tired me out, because on the road back I give a tour bus a huge fright as I find myself driving on the left! I forgot my mantra and obviously have left leaning tendencies! They probably thought I was Australian, as very few Brits make it out here. Fortunately I was going slowly and saw them in plenty of time, but I reminded myself to repeat the stay on the right mantra every time I got into the car.

Nene, or Hawaiian goose

Nene, or Hawaiian goose

However, I did manage to track down some nene, Hawaii’s endangered national bird, grazing on the lawn of the army camp in the park. Having seen signs on each island warning me of nene crossing the road, and having obediently slowed down each time (apparently they are not very good at evading cars) and not seen a single one, I was delighted I would not be leaving the islands without seeing some of these handsome geese.

Saffron finches

Saffron finches

Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal

Hawaiian Amahiki

Hawaiian Amahiki

Morning glory

Morning glory

Kipukapuaulu

Kipukapuaulu

Ohia canopy, high above the trail

Ohia canopy, high above the trail

The next morning I went to find the area known as the Bird Park. Kipukapuaulu is an area of forest which has survived amongst the lava which, after extensive work by conservationists, has been denuded of invader species and replanted with native Hawaiian trees. An island of forest amongst the lava like this is a kipuka in Hawaiian.  Being outside the park, it seems to be largely ignored by tourists, and I had the forest to myself. I wandered delightedly through the woods along the gently rising trail, craning my neck to look for the birds I could hear all around me. Almost immediately I saw a bright red bird, but he flew away as soon as he saw me. The beautiful song of the lark surrounded me. I could see them all around me, but they are busy little birds and I was not quick enough to photograph them. Overhead I could hear the whirring of the wings of the apapane as it fed on the bright red ohia flowers high in the canopy. I saw brilliant yellow saffron finches, a gorgeous olive green Hawaii amakihi and green and yellow red-billed leiothrix and got my shot of the crimson bird, which turned out to be a northern cardinal which has a loud a melodic chirp. I could have spent all day there, but sadly had to head back to the hotel to pack. This was my favourite bit of the Big Island. Volcanos are all very well, but you cannot beat something with a heartbeat! Make time for it if you are ever here. It is only a gentle one mile or so hike, and about 10 or 15 minutes by car from the park gate but so peaceful and filled with such pretty birds. In addition to the birds, I saw lots of Kamehameha butterflies, one of only two species endemic to Hawaii, as well as morning glory and gorgeous trees.

Tree mould

Tree mould

There was just time to check out the tree moulds on the way back. These are tubes which show where ancient lava flows have overrun the rain forest. The lava surrounds the tree, leaving a hollow where the tree was.

Kamehameha butterfly

Kamehameha butterfly

Before I headed back to the airport, I discovered something I wish I had found the day before. Behind the general store in Volcano is Cafe O’hia. They make huge and delicious sandwiches. Enough for two, or two meals, and they also sell trail mix and snacks. I suggest stocking up here before hitting the trails in the park.

Patterns in the lava

Patterns in the lava

Maunu Loa

Maunu Loa

I am writing this in Hilo airport, which is a delightful building. Really just a large shed, it is decorated with sofas and arm chairs which remind me of my grandmother’s furniture. It is so delightfully old-fashioned I do not even mind that the sofa on which I am sitting is rather soggy and uncomfortable! It is a shame I did not have more time here on the Big Island, as I would have liked to dive with the manta rays at Kono. This for me, is aloha to Hawaii, as I now head off to spend the night on Oahu before heading to Sydney first thing tomorrow. Hopefully I will have a final treat and see lava glowing out the plane window.

No such luck, but I do see Maunu Loa rising majestically above the clouds.

Mud, kayaks and canyons in Kauai

Official bird of Kauai

Official bird of Kauai

I nearly left the airport in Lihue, Kauai with a Jeep, but learning from my experience in Maui, I stuck to my guns and insisted on a compact car, and was delighted to leave in a Ford Focus. Having driven one before, I would not struggle to find the lights or the windscreen wipers. And I would be able to park it! As I head to claim my little car, I am greeted by a rooster. The chicken appears to be the bird of Kauai. They are, I am to discover, everywhere. In the car hire parking lot, in the hotel grounds, at trail heads and waterfalls. Apparently their prevalence is due to the lack of mongoose on Kauai. This predator was introduced to the other Hawaiian Islands to control the rat population. The mongoose made no impact on the rats, being happily tucked up in bed while the nocturnal rats are out and about, but devastated the bird population during the day as they do love eggs for breakfast. So while I saw the odd chicken in Maui, they are not as ubiquitous as on Kauai. The road to hell is truly paved with good intentions. For whilst some might say the jungle fowl are a nuisance, the mongoose happily snacks on the eggs of many, often critically endangered, Hawaiian birds.

Pool of the Courtyard Kauai in the full moon

Pool of the Courtyard Kauai in the full moon

 

Opaeka'a Falls

Opaeka’a Falls

My hotel was just a 20 minute drive from the airport in the town of Wailua. To my surprise it was full of US service personnel, there to provide a clinic to locals who needed medical attention. Whilst I applaud the charitable spirit of these serving doctors, nurses and dentists, it was odd seeing half an army every time I walked through the lobby. I had to resist the urge to salute.  They must have been hot in their combats, but in suppose there are far worse hot places they could have been.

Tiny hula dancers

Tiny hula dancers

The hotel put on nightly entertainment, including singers, but my favourite was a group of tiny girls quite literally shaking their tail feathers with a hula display.

On my first full day I set off later than intended for a hike. Having struggled to find the trailhead, by the time I set off it was very hot and humid. Initially I continued to climb, thinking it would get cooler as I went higher up the hill known as the Sleeping Giant, but I had underestimated the amount of water I would need in the humidity so I turned back before going very far when I ran out. I took a short drive to check out Opaeka’a Falls and a view of the Wailua River. I try to capture a red headed Brazilian cardinal on camera in the parking lot, but after snapping two shots of its back a car pulled in, frightening him away. Hot and thirsty, I retreated to the hotel and settled for a walk on the beach instead.

Na Pailin Coast from the air

Na Pali Coast from the air

Kauai's kings were buried in this valley

Kauai’s kings were buried in this valley

No idea

More falls

Wailua Falls from the air

Wailua Falls from the air

On my second day in Kauai, I went on a helicopter tour of the island. This is a great way to see the whole island, but I had an old address for the operator and turned up in the wrong place. Although I eventually found it by following the helicopters back to the helipad, I forgot to take travel sickness tablets before the flight in all the stress of trying to get there on time. This was a huge mistake. Unfortunately the 30 minute trip was very bumpy and, beautiful though it was, I spent much of the flight focused on not redecorating the cabin. We started by flying over the falls which feature in Jurassic Park, which (as I was informed at every turn) was filmed on Kauai. A look at Mount Wai’ale’ale, which is the rainiest place on Earth, or one of the rainiest places, depending on who is telling you this, and we flew over the beautiful Na Pali Coast, accessible only by sea or after a very long hike. Finally we flew over the Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Despite the breathtaking views, I was glad to be back on terra firma and headed back to the hotel to recover. I realised I would need a trip to a camera shop before continuing my travels as my SD card would not format, but once I was sure that my breakfast would be staying with me, I found a place to buy a new SD card and then set off to find the Wailua Falls, which I had seen from the air earlier. These pretty falls sit on a beautiful pool, but when accessed by road can only be seen from the side, which does not really show them to their best advantage.

Wailua Falls from the ground

Wailua Falls from the ground

Heading up the Wailua River

Heading up the Wailua River

I drove round the island to the town of Poipu the following day for a kayak and hiking excursion. It was a 30 minute drive, whereupon we loaded into a van and drove to within a mile of my hotel to start the excursion. We had some drama on the way when the presence of a tiny gecko caused hysteria from a German honeymooner. I scooped him up to rescue him from her shrieking, but he soon jumped off my arm and set out to explore the van. I hope he survived. We were a small group made up of the German honeymooners, an American and his German girlfriend, two girls from San Francisco and a mother and teenage daughter from Illinois. As this was not an excursion for a DSLR, I just brought my phone to record the excitement, hence the grainy pictures.

Crossing the river

Crossing the river

Hidden falls

Hidden falls

Falls

These falls were used as a spa by Kauai’s royalty

We set off in two person kayaks. As the only solo traveller, I shared with Nick, our guide, which meant that paddling was optional for me! After a gentle paddle a couple of miles up the river, we stopped, tied up the kayaks and, leaving a chicken standing guard, we set off into the forest. At first it was a very pleasant hike along the river but we were soon to see the effects of Mount Wai’ale’ale, the (nearly) rainiest place on Earth. After crossing the river, it started to get a bit muddy. And then it got muddier still, until we were wading calf deep in liquid mud. If you are wondering why there is no photographic evidence of this, I tucked my phone away at the river crossing and was too muddy to retrieve it after I slipped and fell onto my well cushioned rear. Not in the deep mud, fortunately. We eventually came to the waterfall, where I swam in my shorts and shoes to rinse off the mud. After a swim, some photos and a spot of lunch, closely watched for crumbs by some chickens which are naturally at the hidden falls, we headed back towards the kayaks. After some excitement involving a teenage boy who had wandered up the slope from the river and got stuck on the steep and rocky slope from where he needed to be rescued by a guide and another rather hard fall in the mud from me, we made it back to the kayaks. Although downstream on the way back, a headwind made it harder than paddling upstream but fortunately I had the relentlessly cheerful Nick to do the hard work! Once back in the van, he admitted he was pleased we were all in one piece, as sprained ankles and broken wrists are a common occurrence on the trail. Exhausted (falling over is hard work), I returned to the hotel for a much needed shower and to try to rescue my muddy clothes. A tip to anyone planning that trip – consider doing it barefoot with some waterproof shoes for the falls, as the pool at the base is rocky.

Waimea canyon

Waimea canyon

The canyon from my hike

The canyon from my hike

Flowers by the path

Flowers by the path

Canyon trail falls

Canyon trail falls

The following day I drove to the Waimea Canyon to explore it more closely. Stopping at various lookouts, I saw spectacular views of the canyon, watching birds flying hundreds of feet beneath us. I bought some water and set off down a hiking trail lugging my camera gear with the intention of heading just a few hundred metres along the shaded path through the trees, looking for the birds I could hear. Despite hearing a lot of birdsong, I could not see any birds. Once I started to head downhill, I kept a close eye on the time, telling myself I would turn around after half an hour at the most as I had no food with me and just a small bottle of water. Just as I was about to turn around, I was joined by a delightful family from California, who gave me another bottle of water and egged me on. We made it all the way to a small waterfall before starting back up. It was not too hot on the way down as the path is mostly shaded, but the climb back up was steep and arduous, and they soon left me behind. I like to think I was slowed down by the three kilos of camera gear I was lugging. I was caught by another woman who persuaded me to take a short cut with her back to the car, on the advice of another hiker. We eventually made it back to the road after I had been hiking for more than three hours only to discover we were in the wrong car park! I was worried, as I was now very hot, out of water and starting to feel sick, but fortunately the nice family were waiting for me, and drove us both back to our cars. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

Brazilian cardinal

Brazilian cardinal

Mount Wai'ale'ale with its permanent cap of clouds

Mount Wai’ale’ale with its permanent cap of clouds

The coast at the top of the Waimea Canyon

The coast at the top of the Waimea Canyon

Finally back at my car, I decided to see the end of the road despite feeling unwell. I set off slowly at stopped at a restaurant nearby to get some more water, but they were closed. However, I finally got my picture of the beautiful Brazilian cardinal amongst the chickens in the car park! I am glad I saw the coastal view at the end of the drive, which was simply stunning. I did have to stop at almost every opportunity on the drive back down as I think I was affected by the altitude and was really not feeling great. Despite this, it was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the day. A rainbow appeared towards the bottom of the drive back down to the coast just to cap it off. The drive down is great because you can see the view without risking your life by not looking where you are going!

The read earth is caused by the iron oxide in the ground

The red earth is caused by the iron oxide in the ground

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow

I was sad to leave Kauai the following day, but l was looking forward to the Big Island, with its active volcanos and endemic wildlife.

The marvels of Maui

Sunset cruise

Sunset cruise

Somehow, despite my protestations that I was pale and freckled, a nervous driver, and entirely satisfied in a European sort of a way with a compact car, I left the airport in Maui with a convertible Mustang. This is a very impractical vehicle, as one can barely see when sitting in it as it is very low slung. Having never driven an automatic before, I bunny hopped my way out of the car hire lot. Once I got the hang of not needing to put my foot on the clutch when braking, things went much more smoothly, and chanting “stay on the right, stay on the right” repeatedly to myself, I set off towards my hotel. Soon the satnav died, leaving me with no idea where I was going, but eventually I did make it there in one piece. The room was large, last decorated circa 1980, but pleasant enough, looking out over a golf course. Once again I was told I would have to pay for wifi outside the lobby, making updating this blog a challenge. I booked myself on a sunset cruise so I would not go straight to bed, as there was a three hour time difference and I had got up at 3.30am to leave for my morning flight from San Francisco.

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin

The cruise was more than just a way to off set jet lag. Any thoughts of sea sickness were banished when some dolphins swam so close to the boat that I was able to snap them with my phone. Watching them for a few minutes cured my nausea, and even though it was not the most spectacular sunset ever seen, it was a fun evening with Maui’s only all female crew on the Teralani and chatting to a very nice couple from Sacramento. I was also warned that the drive round the Hana Highway, which I planned to do the following day, would be tough.

Rainbow eucalyptus

Rainbow eucalyptus

 

Look closely, there's a car in there!

Look closely, there’s a car in there!

Ke'eane Arboretum

Ke’eane Arboretum

Heliconia, Maui

Heliconia

Ginger lily

Ginger lily

Despite the warnings, I  decided to test my new-found wrong side driving confidence with a trip on the Hana Highway. For those unfamiliar with Maui, it is shaped a bit like a foot with a giant big and only toe. If you picture the foot pointing to the left, most of the hotels are on the bottom of the big toe in West Maui. Hana is on the heel in East Maui. It is not too far away, but it lies on a narrow and winding road that is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Along this road lie many stunning waterfalls. But the experience was not really to be about the scenery and the waterfalls, it was about the road. Ah, the road. It is so narrow and winding it has a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, occasionally rising to a speedy 25 miles an hour, but dropping to 5 or 10 miles per hour on the bridges. Let me tell you about the bridges. Along the road there are no fewer than 54 single lane bridges along this two way road. At each one, you have to slow to a crawl, and peer through the dense rainforest foliage to determine whether there is any on-coming traffic. If it appears not, you can cross. If there is, you let them past. As these bridges usually mark the spot where there is a waterfall, on either side there will be pull-outs with space for a few cars to park. For the first part of the trip, I found that many of the spots I had read about in the guide book had no available parking, so I was not able to stop. After having to pass a number of the sights, I eventually stopped at a pull out simply because it was there and free. There was not much to see other than rainforest speckled with orange flowers. These are really pretty, but apparently are an invasive species called the African tulip which is destroying the indigenous vegetation. Having spent the drive to that point in a state of abject terror at the state of the road, I decided to relax, put down the roof on my over-priced hire car and start to enjoy myself. I stopped again at Kaumahina State Wayside Park, where I attempted to photograph a Brazilian cardinal (a bird not a cleric) but it was chased off by someone whilst I was changing lenses.

Bx

View at Kaumahina

There was a nice view from the hill just beyond the restrooms, though. In this improved state of mind, I was excited to see that there was a spot available at the Ke’eane Arboretum, so I stopped to go and look at trees. Not even the sight of a car at the bottom of a ravine by the entrance could spoil my mood. A short hike through the trees was very pleasant. The Australian rainbow eucalyptus are particularly pretty. While I was there, it began to pour with rain but I took shelter under a densely leaved tree and stayed mostly dry.

imageUnfortunately it then rained heavily at regular intervals for quite a way. I suppose the clue is in the term rainforest. And the fact that the water for all those falls has to come from somewhere. I turned off at  Ke’eane to see what was there. I found Sandy’s, a stall staffed by friendly girls selling delicious banana bread and much needed water. There were also resident cardinals who like to ask for crumbs, tame as sparrows. I returned to the car for my camera thinking I would not have a better chance to get my shot when it began to rain so torrentially I could barely see the little red headed birds. I decided to press on. You will note no cardinal shots on this post!

Koki beach

Koki beach

The heavy rain did not make the difficult driving conditions any easier, and I began to despair of seeing a waterfall. Once more I passed a lovely cascade, known as the Three Bears, and once more I could not stop. I eventually made it to Hana feeling exhausted by the effort. I stopped at Koki beach to watch some locals surf, but the waves were so strong that after 15 minutes they had made little progress and I decided I had better keep going. A detour here was challenging as I had two cars behind me who were very unimpressed by the fact that I obeyed the speed limit, even though in the rain, on an uneven and narrow road and with men working at the side of the road, it would have been unsafe as well as illegal to speed. I eventually was able to pull over and let them pass, which they did with much hooting and gesticulating. My positive mood evaporated, and once more I started to feel daunted by the drive.

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls

Sacred pools

‘Ohe’o Gulch

Not long afterwards, I arrived at Wailua Falls and there was space for me to stop. Relieved and cheered up, I pulled over and was able to get some pictures of the falls, playing with my neutral density filter. I decided to continue to ‘Ohe’o Gulch, which was a particularly challenging bit of the drive, with cars heading the other way on roads only wide enough for one car and requiring all of my concentration to stay on the road. On a positive note, I did not have to worry too much about remembering to stay on the right as there was only one side of the road – and the sun came out again along this stretch. Having admired the falls, I struggled to take pictures as I could not see a thing in the bright sunshine but I quite like the moody result even though it was so blustery it is not quite sharp! I resisted the temptation to explore further, and chatted to the ranger who persuaded me to continue and complete the loop of East Maui despite the fact that the road was unpaved in places from that point on. As it was shorter, and I was scared of being caught on that terrible road in the dark, I pressed on.

South East Maui

South East Maui

I am glad I did. There was not a lot of traffic, and the other cars were content to drive slowly along the gravel road. The initial part was challenging, with many blind corners, but the views were spectacular. The scenery abruptly changed from the lush jungle to a dry yellow grass and black lava rocks. The road improves as it becomes freshly paved, although it is a single lane in two directions, with signs warning of cattle on the road and lots of little hills where you cannot see if there is a car coming the other way over the rise. I passed a natural arch of lava and eventually the island’s only winery. Having been driving for 11 hours at this point, I decided regretfully that sampling the wine would not help my driving as I still had a way to go.

Out of the rainforest

Out of the rainforest

 

The overpriced hire car

The overpriced hire car

If you ever decide to do that drive alone, my tip would be to stay overnight in Hana to break it up so you will not worry about how much time you are spending at each stop. It took me more than 12 hours and I did not stop much. If I had been able to stop for the hike at Twin Falls at the start of the trip, it would probably have added an hour and a half to my journey. Also, set off really early to ensure you can park at the popular spots. I started at 7.20 am, which was not early enough! There also seemed to be an unwritten rule along the way that you had to be driving a Jeep or a Mustang convertible. The Jeep is probably better for the road, as sitting so low down in the Mustang does not help one see. One big advantage of the Mustang, however, is the soft top which closes at the press of a button. When it first started to rain, I was able to close my roof quickly after feeling a few drops, whereas I passed some people with a Jeep struggling to close theirs by hand in the pouring rain! As an alternative to driving, there are bus tours, and joining one of these will mean you focus on the scenery and not on the road, although the road is very winding and if you have motion sickness you may prefer to be driving! And there is the satisfaction of having come through the drive unscathed.

Lava arch

Lava arch

The following day saw me drive 45 minutes to Maalea Harbour for a snorkelling expedition to the Molokini Crater aboard the Trilogy II. Snorkelling at the first reef I saw lots of fish and a moray eel. The eel was gorgeous, pale with black spots.  It swam below me for a few minutes before backing into a crevice and gaping its mouth. At the second site I went diving for the first time in years using snuba, where your tank sits on a raft above you. At this site we looked for turtles, and saw one floating gently past us. You will have to take my word for all of this, as I do not have an underwater camera.

Monk seal

Monk seal

The sail back was hilarious, with the captain, who was from Japan, cracking jokes in his fluent but heavily accented English. Again there were very nice people aboard. We saw turtles on the surface on the sail back, but I was not quick enough to photograph them before they went under!

 

Juvenile monk seal

Juvenile monk seal

I went for a walk along the beach in the afternoon to see a monk seal which has been coming to the beach just 70 metres or so to the left of my hotel to moult. Surprisingly she has been joined by an unrelated young seal, also female. This is surprising as monk seals are so called because they are solitary, but they certainly lay companionably enough snoozing in the afternoon sunshine, occasionally flopping further up the beach as the tide rose. From time to time they would bury their heads in the sand, presumably as it was cooler, then emerge with loud sneezes. Local wildlife conservationists mobilise a team of dedicated volunteers to rope off a section of the beach for the seals, and stop people from disturbing these very endangered animals. They also provide lots of information about the seals to the public, and I learnt a lot from Darren, one of the volunteers.

Snoozing in the afternoon sun

Snoozing in the afternoon sun

Ostrich tactics

Ostrich tactics

On my last morning I contemplated a pre-dawn start up the mountain to watch the sunrise over Haleakala crater. But a cold and early start driving up a mountain in the dark before rushing back to pack did not appeal as much as a morning run, followed by a swim and packing. Even at 7 am it was a hot run, and when I stopped to visit the seals I was just in time to see them swim off, which gave me no excuse to linger and catch my breath! A brief swim to cool down and I was on my way, top down in the convertible. I stopped to put it back up after about 20 minutes when it became clear my sunblock was no match for the Hawaiian sun! I am on my way to Kauai, having survived the airport at Kahului, which is not air conditioned and is hotter than hell.

What have I learned in Maui? That monk seals usually do not have any friends. That driving at 15 miles an hour can be an adrenaline sport. That you should take an early morning flight when the airport is cooler! And that I have not completed forgotten how to scuba dive. Aloha from Maui.

Ghost crab

Ghost crab

San Francisco in two days

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Compulsory cable car

Compulsory cable car

I believe it was Mark Twain who said “the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”. And I am willing to bet he never went on an open bus tour across the Golden Gate Bridge. This city has a bitter wind that will turn the sunniest day into an Arctic experience. But it has a solution to the biting cold. If you start to freeze, you can soon warm up by walking up a hill. There are lots of those. Steep hills. Of course, this does not work when stuck on an open bus. In that case, all you can do is huddle down and wait for Sausalito, where the weather is pleasant and warm!

I had a bad introduction to San Francisco, when my first foray from my hotel in search of an evening meal after my arrival saw me get caught in a scuffle between a Starbucks employee and a homeless guy. I have no idea what it as about, I was too busy bravely getting out of there! I retreated to my hotel and decided to try again the following day. Speaking of the hotel, I stayed at the Hilton in Union Square. I was on the 17th floor, so I had a view – of a multi-storey car park. I was soon to be told that parking is at a premium in the city, so this was a much more desirable view than I might otherwise have believed! It is the biggest hotel in the city, and it is okay, but they charge for wifi in the room. In this day and age, that is like saying that there is an extra charge for electricity. There was free wifi in the lobby, which meant there were always scores of people sitting round checking emails and trying to Skype their families, giving it the air of a university common room, but with fancy chandeliers. So my top tip for travel in the US is this – stay in a cheap hotel. The room will be just as big and clean, if less fancy, but they will throw in the wifi and you will have laundry facilities you can use yourself for the same price you would have to pay the hotel to wash just one item for you.

Crookedest Street

Crookedest Street

Back to San Francisco. I set off to explore the city. Stopping to buy an SD card, I had a long chat about photography in the shop, eating in to my exploring time. I then proceeded to take some very uninspiring photos of this lovely city! What is great about San Francisco is that you can walk everywhere, even if a lot of the time you will be walking up very steep hills. Like all US cities, it is laid out in a grid system, so it is impossible to get lost. Unless you are me, in which case you walk around in circles a fair bit! After several false starts, climbing hills that did not need climbing, I realised I simply had to decide which direction I thought I ought to be heading in, then turn 180 degrees to set off in the right direction. Having wandered though Chinatown, where in addition to all kinds of weird and wonderful fruit you can buy any item of cheap tat that you may have ever conceive of, and some that you probably have not. I then saw the city’s most famous traffic jam, otherwise known as the crookedest street. Having obediently snapped a shot, I set off to Fisherman’s Wharf where I decided to join the open topped bus trip across the famous red bridge. Very nice, but be sure to wear a wooly hat – well, wooly everything, if attempting this yourself. After this exercise I was so cold I had to head back to the hotel to warm up.

Alamo Square

Alamo Square

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

On day two I set off to wander from Alamo Square through Haight Ashbury to the Golden Gate Park. Haight Ashbury is fun; full of vintage clothing shops and shops called things like the Happy Herb House and the Cannabis Company. The park is full of homeless people who have clearly been availing themselves of the substances sold in such emporia, so in places I did not feel very comfortable walking alone. In sharp contrast are lots of energetic runners busily treading the paths. As it was a long walk and I had an Alcatraz trip booked in the afternoon, I had no time to explore the famous Japanese Garden by the time I got there.

Alcatraz cell

Alcatraz cell

Knife block in Alcatraz's kitchen

Knife block in Alcatraz’s kitchen

Alcatraz hospital ward

Alcatraz hospital ward

Catching another open topped bus back to the oceanfront, I boarded a ferry to Alcatraz and did the fascinating audio tour to explore the island. Given how cold and windy it is, and how tiny the cells are, it cannot have been a fun place to be locked up. The tour features descriptions of the numerous escape attempts (or, as as the narrator put it, excape attempts). The island has now become a breeding site for birds, but it was so windy I could not steady the camera for any pictures, other than of one gull who swooped over my head a perched just in front of me. Top tips for Alcatraz are book in advance and bring warm layers. Try to go early in the day so you have plenty of time to explore.

Alcatraz watch tower

Alcatraz watch tower

Sea lion dozing

Sea lion dozing

Three way game of king of the pontoon

Three way game of king of the pontoon

Lonely seal

Lonely seal

Upon my return to the mainland, there was just time to explore Pier 39 and check out its famous sea lions (and what appeared to be  one lonely seal). These are very amusing to watch. Noisy and rowdy, some snoozed in the late evening sunshine, whilst others squabbled and knocked each other off the pontoons, to the delight of the onlookers. All the while they kept up a constant barking, and when there was a particularly boisterous row over space, they would all raise their heads to see what the fuss was about before dozing off again. The raucous behaviour is because most of them are male. More tips – do wipe the spray from the Alcatraz trip off your camera lens before photographing the sea lions. Apologies for the fuzzy pictures.

I walked all the way back to my hotel, before undoing all that good work with a meal at a diner featuring an indifferent grilled cheese sandwich and superb sweet potato fries. If I can end my time in San Francisco with another tip, do not forget that it is summer despite the often Baltic feel. It is easy to get sunburnt when you cannot feel the heat of the sun!

Speaking of sunburn, I am now on my way to the island paradise of Maui, armed with my factor 50.

Yellowstone Day Five

Beaver

Beaver

It was always going to be tough to follow the thrills of our fourth day in Yellowstone, but day five almost immediately brought an opportunity to photograph a beaver. I had never seen one before, so was delighted to see one so close. Apparently beaver colonies are thriving thanks to the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone.  This stops the elk from eating all the young trees such as willow and aspen which the beavers also enjoy as they cannot stay in one place for too long.  Many of Yellowstone’s wolves have been shot recently (sadly they do not know the park’s boundaries) so let’s hope that the impact on other species is not too great before their numbers recover.

Swimming beaver

Swimming beaver

In a brief and intense rainstorm, we saw a bear known as Quad Mom we had been looking for all week. She is a grizzly with three cubs (despite the name) who was foraging quite a way from the road. We watched with binoculars as she dug in the ground, occasionally catching sight of her cubs as they reared up on their hind legs to see above the sage. Unfortunately she did not move close enough photograph, so we moved on.

Ground squirrel

Ground squirrel

Once again we tried to find wolves, and found a host of people watching a small pack through scopes. They were lying down and too far away to see, so we moved on despite being tempted to stick with a lame bison to see if they came for him. However, following him was making him try to run on his injured leg so we left him to what would probably be an unpleasant end if wolves or a bear spotted him. But who needs wolves when you have ground squirrels?

Bison herd

Bison herd

Big old bison

Big old bison

We watched a huge herd of bison drift past us. They are deceptive, appearing to amble along but actually moving quite quickly. Like many of the animals at this time of year, they are moulting, in case you were concerned that mange was sweeping through Yellowstone.

Punk pronghorn

Punk pronghorn

We saw some pronghorns that did not run from us, and I liked this one with the somewhat punk look. I had been intrigued to see them since reading the Joe Pickett books by CJ Box featuring a Wyoming game ranger. Now I can say I have seen the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere in the flesh. We saw lots, but they had a tendency to offer only rear shots.

At this point we had to cut our drive short owing to the lingering effects of the pepper spray.

With the car cleaned again, we set out in the evening but not many animals were around. We went to photograph the Mammoth Hot Springs. These formations develop as hot water flows out of the springs and deposits calcium carbonate as it cools. This has led to a mound of travertine. The orange and brown colours are caused by algae that thrive in the warm water.

Chicks just popping in for a cuddle

Chicks just popping in for a cuddle

A killdeer and her chicks were wandering around just next to the boardwalk. This small bird does not kill deer, although it would be impressive if such a little bird could. The name comes from its call. As we lay on the boardwalk to photograph them, the mother lay down and the chicks rushed under her wings. Whether she was protecting them from all the people who came to see why we were lying down taking pictures or they just fancied a cuddle, I do not know. We did not see the trick for which they are most well known, pretending to have a broken wing to draw predators away from the chicks.

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

Legs on backwards?

Legs on backwards?

That was the end of five fantastic days in Yellowstone. Despite the fender bender and the bear spray incident, Aaron did a brilliant job at showing us the wildlife and giving me plenty of tips to improve my novice photography. Thanks Aaron! You can find him at http://www.aaronstours.com if you fancy a similar trip.

What did I learn on this trip? That if you put one English woman in a car with three Americans, they will be using English vocabulary by the end of the trip! That a Boston accent is charming. That you should not spray your car with bear spray. That I will have to be back one day.

My next stop is San Francisco.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs