Thursday, August 21, 2014

I can see moose from here (but not Russia)

Visitor Information

Alaska, moose country and the second of the two non contiguous states of the US that we have visited since leaving Australia again. Surprisingly warmer than I expected, Alaska contains about half of the small planes in the whole US. Alaskans can get a pilot's licence before they can drive as most of Alaska is inaccessible accept by plane and is HUGE. This would have been a fun place to grow up in.

In Anchorage we took a city tour on a trolley bus. We were on a major road in suburban Anchorage when one of the passengers yelled "Moose", the driver chucked a quick U-turn and pulled up in the carpark next to the greenery the moose was grazing in. Now, let me take a brief digression and explain the rules suggested for a moose sighting...
*** Never approach a moose
*** Give moose plenty of room
*** Don't feed moose
*** Don't rescue baby moose
*** Always maintain an escape route
All this goes out the window when a trolley bus full of tourists jump out to take pictures. Nearly fighting to be closest to the moose this stream of humanity starts clicking cameras like the damned paparazzi. It amazes me so few tourists actually get killed by wild animals. The only explanation I have is that wild animals are not as wild as is often made out and have much more common sense than our supposedly more intelligent species. Though I must admit it is hard to resist approaching, so I make sure there are always several tourists between me and the wild animal.

Anchorage is a charming city full of contrasting colours and has a lovely coastal walk of over 20km. We absorbed the sights, smells and colours of about half of it. We then took a train to Talkeetna.

The Roadhouse Inn

Talkeetna, as we were reliably informed, is the town the TV series 'Northern Exposure' was based on. True to the legend it was a fun quirky little town. We stayed at Roadhouse Inn, with soup recipes passed down through the generations. The food was amazing and we ate at large shared tables slurping coffee in bottomless cups. Talkeetna had a thriving arts community with plays, films, art and craft galleries, its annual Moose on Parade festival (moose caricatures were everywhere), and an improvisation competition on the following weekend. Barely more than one main street it punched above its weight in character. Sunset over the river with Mt McKinley and the Denali range in the distance was priceless.

Awesome rapids in style
We took a specially designed jetboat to Devil's Canyon where we rode Class 5 rapids pushing into Class 6 rapids. Now we know how clothes in a washing machine feel, but clothes that do not get wet and stay in a comfy seat. Absolutely amazing feeling being in an enclosed boat while all around you the water is tumbling, crashing and swirling. When our driver got to the foot of the Class 6 rapids he used the engine to keep us there for a bit and then deftly turned the boat away letting the rapids nimbly twist us around and send us rushing away with the current, back to whence we came.

We also saw the airport, a barely cleared bush runway, and met the honorary town mayor, a ginger tomcat called Stubbs. We left Talkeetna reluctantly by train back to Anchorage and then took another train the next day (after a night in Alaska Backpackers) to Whittier where we needed to catch our cruise ship to Vancouver...

From the boat we saw a small
bear catch a fish

Moose on parade

Stubbs' the honorary mayor

Stubbs' home, the grocery store

Relaxing during a concert in the park

Yummy Thai restaurant

Elizabeth and I relaxing

Alaskan railways our transport
To the ship

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hawaii with Aloha

Kauai Island
Aloha, a magical word unique to these islands that does not have a firm meaning, but is used liberally. It can be wished upon you, a greeting, a goodbye, your food can be made with it and it can give you good fortune. My blog today was written with aloha.

Halema`uma`u Crater
We finally made it to Hawaii and covered three islands, all very different from one another. The island of Hawaii, or Big Island as it prefers to be called, would be my favourite because, volcano lover that I am, this place has a national park devoted to them. A day was not enough time for the Volcano National Park.

Kīlauea Iki
Inside the lava tubes
The 7km Kīlauea Iki trail took us inside and through the middle of the volcano's crater. Kīlauea Iki erupted spectacularly in 1959 so walking across the huge cooled lava landscape was amazing and then you come to some huge lava tubes, big caverns created by flowing lava that cooled around the outside. Afterwards we took a long drive along Chain of Craters Road peppered with craters and surreal lava landscapes down to the coast where a lava flow reclaimed the end of the road. From there you can walk to   beautiful coastal cliffs and the Holei Sea Arch. Lava on this island is still flowing into the sea so the island is growing in size every year.
Lava taking over the road.

You think???
Holei Sea Arch

To see a volcano in action we went to the Halema`uma`u Crater which is still smoking and glowing to this day. The glowing becomes more noticeable as the day unfolds into night, and is so fascinating we came back on our last night to see it again.

Sunset at nearly 3,000m
Another day was spent at Mauna Kea which is over 4000m high. We drove to the ranger station at 2700m and hiked up to 3300m before returning. We were on the clock as we found out they had free stargazing that night and I was low on petrol. So we raced back to Hilo to fill our petrol tank and fill ourselves at a vegetarian Indian restaurant before returning just in time for sunset on a ridge near the ranger station high above the clouds.Reminding me of a view from an aeroplane, I have never seen a sunset like this with the gorgeous colours shining through the clouds below as the sun goes down. So mesmerising that we stay a bit too long and the trip down becomes a little hazardous over the loose rock with the phone torch lighting the way.

Seen in the ranger station. Take rocks at
your own risk :-)
Star gazing with telescopes
The air up here comes off the vast Pacific Ocean far away from any major pollution source, Hawaii being halfway between mainland USA and Japan. Consequently it's so clean that on Mauna Loa (across the road) is one of only four main CO2 measuring stations in the world, tirelessly documenting our rise in CO2 to levels not seen for over a million years. The night is pitch black. clear and moonless, their best night for a month. The sky was swimming with stars shining brighter than I had ever seen. I was surprised there were so many stars up there. The Milky Way was a bright band stretching across the sky like a cloud, with light that had been travelling for thousands of years to get to us.

Akaka Falls
Waihilau Falls
Getting a lift
The island has many other natural wonders, particularly waterfalls, and we visit several including Akaka Falls and the magnificent Waihilau Falls dropping a huge 792m. The path to Waihilau Falls is via a very steep road from a carpark perched atop stunning coastal cliffs (rental cars not allowed down it). We couldn't get right to the base of the falls, the second tallest in the world, due to a fast flowing river. Thankfully about a quarter of the way back up the steep road a passing 4WD ute invited us to jump in the back.

Kauai Island is known as the garden island for good reason, full of yellow hibiscus (the State flower) pink & red hibiscus, poinsianas, honeysuckle hedges, bougainvilleas, white frangipanis & golden shower trees. Only accessible around the coast as the middle is full of canyons, rivers and forests and is the most rained on place in the world. It is also famous for the movies that have been made in this tropical wonderland: everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar and King Kong to Blue Hawaii, South Pacific and Gilligan's Island. Even the monkey scene from Outbreak was filmed here; as the boat guide on a tour up Wailua River said, "Welcome to Africa".

During a drive around the island we saw Waimea Canyon, unequalled except by the Grand Canyon but clearer and with a larger range of contrasting colours provided by the volcanic landscape and the lush greens of the forest. Several medium walks took us to some fabulous beaches and waterfalls. Mornings were started with a jog along the beach followed by a swim in the ocean. What a fabulous way and place to start the day.
Our backyard
December 7th 1941, in a move designed to decimate and demoralise the US so they would stay out of Japan's way while it conquered the Pacific, Pearl Harbour was attacked. Big mistake. Instead the US, previously trying to stay out of WW2, entered the war big time, and the rest is history. Pearl Harbour is on the third island we visited, Oahu. Also home of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head volcano.

Pearl Harbour Memorial
Part of the Arizona still
above the water line
Always interested in world changing history my main interest here was the Pearl Harbour memorial. Over the sunken USS Arizona they have built a simple platform commemorating the sailors that died on that ship. A tour is free and comes with a historical film before they take you out to the memorial by boat. We also went into an actual WW2 submarine and saw the cramped quarters in which the crewmen lived. Over on Ford Island we toured the USS Missouri, the last battleship ever built, and saw the exact spot on the ship where the Japanese signed the surrender documents. The day finished at the aviation museum filled with actual US and Japanese WW2 planes.
In the submarine

Now where is Michael???
USS Missouri

The actual spot the Japanese
surrender was signed

The walk into the Diamond Head
After getting back to our hostel we walked down to Waikiki Beach and took a swim in the beautiful warm waters that initially go deep and then shallow again. The effect is such that waves come at you from both sides and meet on the shallow bank. On our last day in Hawaii we climbed Diamond Head, walking through a tunnel to get into the crater and then up to some terrific views across the whole island.
The view of Waikiki from Diamond Head
As the sun sets on our wonderful time in Hawaii we say a final aloha and for those of us old enough to remember what I am talking about, "Book him Dano".