Why have we chosen this trail?
This is one of our favorite coastal hikes in Hawaii. At about three miles in length it is very manageable, and there are several options available for where to park and how little or how much to walk. The trail is part of Ala Kahakai, the 175 mile, almost complete coastal trail which covers about 2/3 of the coastline of the island of Hawaii, roughly following fishing trails used by the original Hawaiian people.
If you take this hike or any other remember to take lots of water and hats. It may seem tempting to leave the water bottles at home because there is a hotel en route but it gets hot and a portion of the trails is over lava in the open!
Background – Ala Kahakai
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is a 175-mile (282 km) long trail located on the island of Hawaii. It is not yet a continuous “trail”, but can be accessed at several broken segments along the coastline of the Big Island. The trail was established to access the traditional Ancient Hawaiian culture along with the natural geology of the island. The trail was established in 2000 as a National Historic Trail which is managed under the National Park Service. “Ala kaha kai” means “shoreline trail” in the Hawaiian Language The Northern end of the trail is the North Kohala District at the extreme north end of the Island; it passes along the entire west side of island and round to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the Southeast.
Remember that ALL coastline, beaches etc in Hawaii are public property and, while it can be difficult to park sometimes, you cannot be denied access to any piece of shoreline or beach.
Spencer Beach Park and Puʻukoholā Heiau
We normally begin the trail here. It is the northernmost point of this section, and has plentiful and free parking.
Puʻukoholā Heiau, one of the most prominent and best preserved ancient Hawaiian temples, lies just north of the park, and is easily accessible from the north end of the parking lot, although it also has its own dedicated parking. The Heiau has an excellent Visitors Center and an interpretive trail, although for religious reasons visitors are not allowed in the temples themselves. In 2014, the National Park Service began running interpretive outrigger canoe rides in the bay. These are offered free on a first-come, first-served basis, and are well worth doing if they are still available. You will need to sign up. Our Hawaiian guide was interesting and had plenty of comments about how people are treating the land and how volatile the land can be. We agreed but some of the people on our trip seemed thrown by the comments!
Spencer Beach Park
Spencer Beach Park is a county park named for Hawaiian politician Samuel Mahuka Spencer (1875–1960), who was a judge in the area from 1893 to 1901. If you are ever in Hilo and notice the banyan trees lining the ” Hilo Walk of Fame” on Banyan Drive you may (or may not) not be interested to know that on July 18, 1935 Spencer planted one of these trees.
Another fact not visible is that the beach is the terminus of the major submarine communications cables which carry digital data to and from the island. As you stand on the beach you can imagine you are connected by cable to Takapuna, New Zealand or Morro Bay, California.
The Beach Park is a favorite camping and snorkeling location. The beach is protected by a large reef and the breakwater of the harbor. The water is usually calm and good for swimming . You can enjoy a swim after your walk. In case you find the walk plus the swim exhausting and are worried about having enough energy and coordination left to swim without drowning there is a life guard available during the day who can help as needed. Camping in Hawaii has different aspects – holidays, family gatherings and permanent / transient residency. Some camps are the primary residence for families and are not always what visitors expect. We have never camped in Hawaii but Spencer Beach seems to have mainly tourists and is state run.
Spencer Beach Park to Mau’umae Beach (0.5miles)
The trail begins at the south end of Spencer Beach Park, next to the large structure which houses the toilets and kitchen.
Immediately you leave the park, you are in a coastal kiawe forest, which is shady and cool, and offers wonderful views of the coastline. Kiawe is the most common coastal vegetation on the dry side of the island, although introduced in the early 19th century it is now considered native. The branches have long and sharp thorns which can penetrate the sole of most shoes so be careful walking over fallen kiawe twigs. After about 0.3 miles, the coastline opens up and we leave the kiawe forest behind, crossing a small shingle beach.
About 0.2 miles further on, we reach the much larger, sandy Mau’umae Beach.
This will often have 20 or fewer people, as there is a small amount of beach parking on the road just above the beach, which is only accessible through the Mauna Kea resort. The beach has plenty of shade at the back, and calm, reef-protected waters. It is a very peaceful beach to spend half a day at and have lunch.
Mau’umae Beach to Mauna Kea Resort (0.7 miles)
At the trail marker at the south end of the beach the trail turns inland, perpendicular to the shore, winding briefly through the kiawe and up a set of steps, turning right (south) again at the top. At this point, the trail runs behind some beachfront property, in this case one beautifully situated blue-painted home.
After about a quarter mile, the trail reaches the shore again, this time winding along rocky and exposed lava. There are several trails here leading away from the shore so just stick to the shore line trail. On a clear day the views of Maui, to the northwest (over your right shoulder) are tremendous.
About 0.4 miles from Mau’umae, the trail reaches a beautiful, sandy double beach, backed on the south side by some very expensive property, as this is the edge of Mauna Kea Resort.
The northern of the two small double beaches is, apparently, clothing optional. (The beaches do not appear to have been named).
To continue on past the south end, you have a choice.
- At low tide, you can walk straight across the last small section of beach to the rocks on the other side, in front of an expansive, private property, and continue the trail behind the property, to the left.
- At high tide, however, there may be only sea between you and opposite shore and it is easier, drier, and safer to turn inland and follow the trail up the hill, (the sign says ‘Area Closed’ but it is not). Follow this path for about 100 yards, and then take the paved road to the right. At a point behind the expansive, private property you will rejoin the main trail.
The trail continues, first in the shade, and then in open country behind the large house, and eventually emerges, after about a quarter mile on one of the roads running through the Mauna Kea Resort. The trail crosses the road through another kiawe grove towards the golf course.
If you miss the trail signs and take the road right then don’t be alarmed when a loud voice (speaker nicely hidden in the bushes) tells you that it is a private road. Yes – you are being watched! Following the main trail you will pass a number of bougainvillea-draped private houses on the left and then the trail emerges after a short distance at the famous Mauna Kea golf course.
A short side trip to see how the other half lives (0.5 miles)
The trail turns left across the golf course, but there is an interesting side trip to be made; if you continue walking 50 yards before the turn, you will reach the shoreline, from where you can walk (right) about a quarter mile along the shore and in front of the large expensive property the trail goes behind (Ignore the signs that say “no trail”) . There is a small and charming beach at the end. It appears that this is all one property, about 6 acres and about a quarter mile of oceanfront.
For what it is worth, the largest single residential property lot in the county is 216,000 square feet (about 6 acres) and is situated in Mauna Kea. It belongs to Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com. Whether this is his property or not I don’t know. If, like us, you hear loud music and notice about 10+ people running around opening doors, removing covers, cutting lawns, cleaning the swimming pool, and pulling up weeds etc., then you know the house is about to be occupied. We were told that the owners were coming for a 3 day visit. I wonder if they need a house-sitter? I could find alternative accommodation for the few days it was occupied. I would love to spend a few hours reading in this seat.
To Mauna Kea Beach (0.5 miles) and along the Beach (0.3 miles)
The main trail meanders across the cart track on the golf course (you can walk along the shore if you wish). Just before the tennis courts there is a short track off to the right to the original first tee of the golf course, where a plaque marks the spot Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hit the inaugural shots across the ocean to the first green in 1964. The trail meanders along the ocean front to the famous Mauna Kea Hotel. Built in 1965 by Lawrence Rockefeller, it was at the time the world’s most expensive and luxurious hotel; it’s now an archetype of 1960s tropical architecture. Just before the hotel is an observation platform from which, at dusk, you can observe manta rays.
Mauna Kea Beach
Mauna Kea Beach, more correctly called Kauna’oa Beach, is one of the most famous in the world. It is a quarter of a mile long, lightly curved and gently sloping. Snorkeling is excellent on the north end, near the hotel. The waves are normally the right intensity to allow people of all ages to body surf. While often busy, it is rarely if ever crowded. From above the beach can look very colorful with it’s orange umbrellas and orange beach towels.
Mauna Kea Beach to Hapuna (1 mile)
The last stretch of coastline goes from the south end of Mauna Kea beach to Hapuna. The trail (well marked) goes inland and up hill from the south end of the beach, briefly skirting the golf course again, and giving great views of Mauna Kea beach and the rest of the coastline. The trail winds along the shore, in front of a number of expensive and rarely used beachfront properties. This part of the trail is quite open and exposed, but has wonderful coastline views all along its length. As the trail begins to descend in front of the Hapuna Prince hotel, there is a small cove on the right, which is only accessible (by a series of steps) at low tide. If the tide is out, and it’s not too crowded, it’s a great place for lunch.
This portion of the trail ends right in front of the hotel at Hapuna Beach.
Hapuna Beach and Hotel
Hapuna Beach (0.2 miles)
Hapuna is the second highly famous beach on this part of the coast. It is said to be the largest beach in the state, as it is wide (300+feet) as well as long. It tends to be crowded as it is easily accessible and has plenty of facilities, though not much shade. Although it consistently wins ‘Best Beach in Hawaii’ awards, there are better.
Plants and Birds
Alternatives for parking
While the round trip from Spencer to Hapuna is about 6 miles, one alternative, if you have 2 cars, is to park one at the end, or part way along, and only walk one way. There is roadside parking close to Mau’umae beach. This is accessible from the Mauna Kea resort entrance off the highway. It is rarely if ever full. Also accessible from here is the Mauna Kea hotel beach parking lot. This tends to fill in the middle of the day, especially at weekends. The lot is close to the south end of the beach. Hapuna Beach park has two public parking lots. The main, lower lot is to the south, while the upper lot is less busy, and closer to the end of the trail.
Why two trips?
We had originally intended to fly to the Vancouver area, pick up a rental car, and drive the 800 miles or so to the Canadian Rockies, flying back home out of Calgary or Edmonton. Unfortunately, Mr. Avis, Mr. United and Mr. FIFA put a crimp in those plans. Avis wanted to charge us almost $3000 (Canadian, but the exchange rate is virtually 1 to 1) for a 10 day rental picking up in Vancouver or Seattle and dropping off in Calgary, and United wanted $1200 each for an open jaw flight SFO to Vancouver and Calgary to SFO. Additionally the World Cup Semi-Finals and Final were scheduled right in the middle of when we wanted to go, so we compromised. We tacked Vancouver on the end of our Alaska cruise, and took a separate trip a week later to Calgary. This meant we would miss the drive from Vancouver to the Rockies but would have more time at our destination. July is a busy month in the Canadian Rockies, so we pre-booked accommodation. Night 1 Calgary, nights 2-4 Banff, nights 5 and 6 Jasper and night 7 Calgary before an early flight back. Nevertheless, as our fourth night (in Banff) was a Saturday, there was nothing available under about $400 per night, we decided to stay in Canmore, about 15 miles east and just outside Banff National Park, for that one night.
Day 1 : Calgary
We arrived in Calgary early afternoon, and headed straight to our pre-booked bed-and-breakfast on the river to the west of the city to drop off our bags. What a curious little place, I don’t think I have ever seen as many little nick-nacks in one place before. There was nothing really wrong with it – clean, fairly quiet, and with a nice outdoor area on the river, but it felt a little creepy to me. The creepiness was exacerbated the following morning when the owners took photographs of everyone as they were having breakfast, and presented them to us on our departure. Not our best time of day for photographs.
We headed into Calgary for the evening. It’s a pleasant city but it has rather a small-town feel about it. Noteworthy are the network of ‘Plus 15’s, a series of enclosed bridges between most of the downtown buildings which enable you to get from any part of downtown to any other part without setting foot outside. The name refers to the fact they are 15 feet above the roadway. Calgary residents will tell you that they are that high because most winters bring 15 feet of snow, but it’s not true. Calgary gets relatively little snow, although the winters are viciously cold. They are simply that height so buses can get underneath. Fortunately the summer evening was warm so no need to use the Plus 15s. It was so warm that we were able to have an enjoyable dinner sitting outside Earl’s restaurant, after strolling through the pleasant downtown and along Stephen Avenue. The motto on the napkin sums up life in Calgary:
We walked up and along the Bow River to Prince’s Island Park, where we watched part of an outdoor performance of A Comedy of Errors. Apparently Theatre Calgary gives free (or pay-as-you-will) Shakespeare performances throughout the summer. The quality of the performance was surprisingly good and the warm and pleasant evening added to the experience.
Leaving the park we walked Chinatown, with it’s lamp posts hung with Chinese flags clearly ensuring you did not mistakenly think you were in another part of town. In many areas modern high rise buildings contrast with the old. In China town images of “Chinese style” roofs mingled in reflection with the new higher buildings. We observed where an older classic church had stood its ground while land around it had been redeveloped into high rise reflective mirrors. In fact Calgary is full of visual surprises – everywhere that we went we saw sculptures, reflective buildings and building art. When we returned to downtown from the river we passed a number of the public art projects, most notably a large metallic mesh head by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, called Wonderland. The sculpture is interesting from outside, particularly when you observe it next to the wigwam. However, the external view does not prepare you for the full experience of walking inside and looking out at the Calgary skyline through the features of the face (at the top of the page and in the slideshow below).
The Famous Five sculpture can also be found in Calgary. Being intrigued I looked up the history and found that The Famous Five in this context were nothing to do with Enid Blyton, but were five Canadian women who asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?” In April 1928, Canada’s Supreme Court summarized its unanimous decision that women are not such “persons”. This judgement was overturned by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on 18 October 1929.
Day 2 : Travel to Banff
We set off west from Calgary on the 75 mile trip to Banff, passing the 1988 Winter Olympic site. We stopped off in Cochrane, about 20 miles west, to see Ann’s former work colleague from Mobil days, Simon Rogers. Simon and his wife Jean made us very welcome, and there was much reminiscing about the ‘old days’ (thirty-three years ‘old’ in fact, as Simon emigrated to Canada in 1981!) We arranged to meet up again on our return journey and continued on to Banff.
The road changed fairly rapidly from pancake flat to alpine mountainous, as we approached Canmore. Unfortunately, visibility was poor, not because of the weather, but because of haze in the atmosphere, which we later learned was caused by a massive fire midway between Banff and Jasper. We checked out the hotel we had booked in Canmore for the Saturday and immediately made the decision to switch to another hotel (a very good decision as it turned out). As we arrived in Banff, the haze cleared a little, but would return the following day. We has booked the Inns of Banff for 2 nights, based on numerous online recommendations. The hotel, while fine in itself, was a bit tired and run down – very much a late 1960s period piece. In retrospect, we probably would have been better spending all 3 nights in Canmore.
The rest of the afternoon we looked round the town of Banff. It is immensely picturesque, but rather over-touristy. It has clearly set out to be the tourist capital of the Canadian Rockies and it shows. In the line for paying the National Park fees in the Visitors Centre, we bumped into a couple of locals who said that the town had lost a lot of its charm over the last ten years. Local residents have to pay (reduced) park fees to be able to live there and park their cars. We walked down the main street to Cascade Gardens, and along the Bow River to a picturesque series of waterfalls (Bow Falls) across from the famous and imposing Banff Springs Hotel. This latter is one of the most famous buildings in Canada, supposedly built in the style of a Scottish castle, but it’s a stretch to see the resemblance. Impressive but dour is the best way to describe it. We took refuge from the heat of the day in the lobby for a little while, noticing that many of the staff were wearing kilts. At least we were spared the appalling ‘Scotty of Star Trek’ fake accents.
The highlight of our half-day in Banff was our evening trip to Banff Hot Springs, just above the town. This is a an outdoor pool fed (mostly) by natural hot springs at a temperature of about 100F (39C). There is a spectacular view over the mountains, which we caught at sunset. Admission is reasonable ($7 or so) and there are lockers and swimsuits for rent at a reasonable price. All in all a highly recommended experience.
Day 3 : Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
A day unfortunately defined by poor visibility but we still managed to visit the famous Lake Louise in the morning and the afternoon, with a side trip to Moraine Lake. One curious thing we noticed on the road was a number of very well landscaped bridges, seemingly without any roads feeding into them. We later discovered that these are animal overpasses, The main road through Banff NP is fully fenced off, to prevent animals straying into the roadway.Every few miles, there is an overpass (or sometimes a tunnel) to allow the animals to cross.
Lake Louise, 40 miles north of Banff, is often called the most picturesque spot in the Canadian Rockies, with the view along the length of the lake from the Chateau Lake Louise adorning countless postcards. The haze made it rather different experience, quite spooky in fact. The crowds were heavy so we decided to move on and look at Moraine Lake, about 15 miles away and another famously picturesque spot. The haze had cleared a little when we arrived, but once again the parking lot was crowded to overflowing. We fought the crowds and scrambled to the top of the ‘Rockpile’, a glacial deposit at the end of the lake – hence the name ‘Moraine Lake’ – and walked the length of the lake along the shoreline. As soon as we were 200 yards or so along the path the crowds simply vanished and we had most of the walk to ourselves. This is a delightful walk and highly recommended. There is a series of rapids at the far end of the lake. We considered walking a little into the back country but were dissuaded by the signs restricting any hiking of the main well-travelled trails to parties of 4 or more one of whom must be carrying bear spray. Couples were waiting at the trailheads to join up with others so they could hike on. We later learned that bears have been particularly active at low elevations in 2014.
Side note – It was also at Lake Louise that we saw our first inflatable paddleboard. I have since found them on Amazon. Not a bad idea if you are short of storage.
Lake Moraine Walk
After lunch we returned to Lake Louise. It was still hazy but not prohibitively so and we walked the length of Lake Louise as well. This was equally pleasant but very different from the Moraine Lake walk. We would suggest both. If time had permitted, we probably would have walked on an additional couple of miles to one of a series of tea rooms (yes, really) up in the mountains above the lake. You can tell you’re not in Kansas anymore when the mountain huts serve afternoon tea. We pottered round the Chateau Lake Louise for a short time, noticing that afternoon tea there was $50 (slightly cheaper than the Empress Hotel in Victoria – wonder how much they charged in the hut?) It’s an impressive building but I’m not sure it fits into the environment.
Lake Louise Walk
We returned to Banff detouring to Vermillion Lakes, just outside the town. We considered returning to the Hot Springs, but discovered the hotel had a large naturally heated pool/hot tub, so we spent some time there. This was probably the hotel’s best feature.
Day -4 : Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka and Canmore
Checked out and headed to Canmore via a couple of well-known sights in the Banff area. The hike along Johnston Creek and into Johnston Canyon is said to be the most popular single hike in Canada. That is easy to believe. Steve has felt less crushed coming out of international football matches. Perhaps Saturday morning in midsummer was not the right time to do this. Had it not been raining the crowd would have been even heavier. Fortunately, as at Moraine Lake the crowd disperses fairly quickly, though never completely goes away. The reward for all this is a spectacular set of waterfalls and rock walls along a gently sloping and easy 3.5 mile round trip stroll. Looking at the sides you will see a moss covering over the rocks. all the Boardwalks cover anything which is not easily accessible. It was certainly worth visiting but we would recommend midweek in spring or fall!
Another popular spot we visited was Lake Minnewanka (yes, really). By this time the weather had really closed in and it was raining and very windy. Had the weather been fine we would have either taken a boat trip or a hike along the lake shore (not to the end, it’s about 16 miles long). It was quite disappointing to discover that although it is a natural lake, it has been ‘enhanced’ by a dam and hydro-electric plant built in 1941. While the lake was a pleasant glacial lake, given the weather and the dam, we did not stay particularly long. Fortunately, we were able to visit a more spectacular glacial lake in Jasper (q.v.)
The advantage of having a bout of rain and wind was that the air was scoured of all the haze, and the remainder of our time we had crystal clear conditions.
We headed into Canmore and checked into our hotel, the Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn (about 40% of the price of anything in Banff). It was clean and well kept, with a large and comfortable public room, 24 hour tea and coffee, and a spacious bedroom. Would definitely recommend. We decided to spend the rest of the day visiting Grassi Lakes, just above the town.
It was not particularly well signposted but once you found it, well worth the visit. The lakes are about a mile hike from the parking lot, and are reached from either of 2 parallel paths, one of which is slightly shorter but has a much steeper section and we would recommend doing as we did, up the shorter, rockier trail and down the more gentle trail. The climb gives wonderful views of the town, and passes a waterfall. The real reward is the lakes themselves. There are two lakes, turquoise blue, backed by spectacular rock formations and overlooking the valley. The upper lake (only 100 feet or so from the lower lake) is a popular destination for rock climbers.
Canmore appears to have more than its fair selection of good reasonably priced restaurants. We ate at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company which was very good and very accommodating to Steve’s inability to consume tomato-based products.
Day 5: Icefields Parkway
We set off early on our trip up the Icefields Parkway, making the 200 mile drive to Jasper (plus a further 70 to our hotel – see later!) This is often claimed to be one of the two or three most spectacular drives in the world, and it lives up to the hype. Because of the fire midway between Banff and Jasper, there was only a guarantee that the road would be open until 2 p.m. at that point (as it turned out, the road was open all day). We set off by 8 and stopped again briefly at Lake Louise, which we had failed to see in all its glory two days earlier. This time we were greeted with spectacularly clear scenery and fewer people as it was before 9 a.m.
The Icefields Parkway itself begins just north of Lake Louise. We made several stops along the way, at some spectacular vistas.
The first major vista is of Crowfoot Glacier. Up until several years ago, this was a large crow-foot shaped glacier that reached almost down to the Bow River, but it has retreated substantially (a fate to befall most of the glaciers on the Parkway) Nevertheless, it still makes spectacular viewing.
Five miles further on is Peyto Lake. While only partly visible from the road, there is a parking area with a short hike to get to the lake. (For some reason, coach parties get to park right next to the overlook while private vehicles are about half a mile away. This means that the overlook is a great deal more crowded than you would expect.) The lake itself is a spectacular pale turquoise colour, caused by the suspension of rock flour in the water.
Continuing past the Weeping Wall area and Bridal Veil falls you eventually reach Saskatchewan Glacier, and the massive Columbia Icefield. It is at the foot of the Columbia Icefield you find the Icefields Center, which is the main tourist hub for the Icefields Parkway.
From the Center we drove the half mile or so up to Athabasca Glacier, and took the short hike to its foot. It is remarkable, but must have been much more so several years ago. You pass signs with years on them, noting where the toe of the Glacier was in that year. The first sign, ‘1908’ is off the road, close to the Icefields Center, about half a mile distant. The last sign, ‘1992’, is about 200 yards from the present toe of the glacier. The only way you can walk on the glacier today (other than hopping the fence, which many people were doing) is on a guided bus tour. As we have glacier-walked in Alaska and New Zealand, we gave it a miss. The other major tour offered from the Icefields Center is the ‘Glacier Skywalk’, which we considered, but did not do. Having driven past it, it looks like we made the right decision. It is a suspended walkway with a glass floor over a not particularly interesting part of the canyon, and from which you cannot actually see any glaciers. You have to take a guided tour, which runs over $40 and quite honestly does not appear to be worth it when there are much more remarkable things to see from the road. We took a sneak photo as we drove past – the front to the walk has tall walls so you can not see in but at one side the road is open and if you are quick you can get a photo and find out what you are missing. This was also the start of the Amazing Race Canada, season 2.
Driving on from Athabasca, we passed the delicate and beautiful Tangle Falls. The falls are very close to the road and therefore extremely popular and crowded. However, they are very picturesque in the way that the water tumbles down over a series of rock steps. I have read that it is extremely beautiful in winter when the water freezes in places and icicles dangle from the rocks. The rocks around the falls are very wet and slippery and we were surprised at the number of parents of small children allowing them to climb over very treacherous rocks and fast-moving water.
Approaching Jasper, there are two spectacular sets of waterfalls. The first is Sunwapta Falls, just a short drive off the main parkway. It is a 60 foot drop. Even more impressive is Athabasca falls, a few miles on. This has an 80 foot drop, but is it the sheer quantity of water which is awe-inspiring. Supposedly in terms of gallons per minute per linear foot, it is the most powerful waterfall in the world. There are several viewpoints on both sides of the river that allow you to get extremely close to the flow. It really is, literally, breathtaking.
Finally arriving in Jasper we discovered it to be a much smaller town than Banff, pleasant enough but a little lacking in charm, possibly because of the railway which runs the length of the town. Because of the difficulties of finding accommodation in Jasper, we had booked in Hinton, which is 70 or so miles beyond Jasper. Hinton is certainly not somewhere we would recommend to visit. It is an old pulp mill town which has clearly seen better days. We attempted to find a restaurant (according to Tripadvisor, the local Dairy Queen is the 6th best of the town’s 34 restaurants) and entered a seafood place (also sort-of recommended) with another couple only to be told they closed at eight o’clock (it was about two minutes past eight). We ended up eating take-out Subway sandwiches. On the positive side, however, the hotel was good, and the drive between Hinton and Jasper (which we did four times) was very picturesque and was where we saw the majority of the wildlife on our trip. All the bears we spotted except one were seen along this stretch of road (we later learned that earlier in the year a cyclist in Jasper was killed and mutilated by a bear). We also had several encounters with elk.
Animals along the Icefields Parkway
Day 6: Jasper – Whistlers Mountain and Maligne Lake
This was our budget-busting day. After driving back to Jasper (and having our first elk encounter) we took the aerial tramway up Whistler’s Mountain. The name comes from the whistling sound made by the marmots which are native to the area. The ski resort of Whistler in British Columbia is so named for the same reason. We neither saw nor heard any marmots. The tram takes 7 minutes to travel from the base station at 4300 feet to the upper station at almost 7500 feet, close(-ish) to the top of the mountain. Fortunately the day was clear again so it was a thrilling ride. At the top, you have the choice of walking the paths close to the upper station, or continuing on foot another 3/4 of a mile, and 600 feet of elevation gain, to the summit. The latter is well worth it if the visibility is good. There was still a little snow at this elevation, so we did get the chance to do a snow-walk after all. From the top there is an almost 360 degree view, although because the summit area is very flat and extensive there is not really the feel of being on top of a mountain.
We spent the afternoon driving down the Maligne valley to Maligne Lake. This is regarded as another ‘must-do’ in the Jasper area, and we decided on this rather than the Valley of Five Lakes, our schedule not really allowing time for both. Half way along the road to the lake which follows the Maligne River, is Medicine lake, which is worth as short stop. Maligne lake itself lies about 30 miles from Jasper. Although the weather was on the cloudy side when we arrived, it picked up and we decided to splash out on the boat trip. There are several trails but none really stick to the shoreline of the lake. At 14 miles in length, Maligne lake is one of the largest glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies and at $64, the boat tour is one of the dearest anywhere! The scenery becomes ever more spectacular as you travel up the lake. The boat stops briefly at Spirit island to allow you to disembark, stretch your legs and take pictures. Apparently the view of Spirit Island is regarded as iconic, and it has the reputation of being one of the most photographed places on earth (surprising at $64 a pop, but there you are). We were lucky to have sunshine and enough cumulus clouds to make the place as photogenic as the brochures suggest. Our recommendation would be to do the boat trip only in the event of good weather (the same goes for the Jasper Tram). We were fortunate – a day later we would have had rain.
After returning to Jasper for a (not particularly good) dinner, we decided to do another outdoor hot spring. Mid way between Jasper and Hinton is the turnoff to Miette Hot Springs, one of three in the Rockies. While it looked a short distance on the map, it was a winding and slow road, and we spent rather longer getting there than we had anticipated. The place was a little more rustic than the one in Banff, but it had a selection of pools of different temperatures, including a cold pool which was highly recommended by the brochures but which we were too chicken to try. It was fun but we both preferred the pool in Banff, not least because to the journey to get to Miette (and back). Almost needless to say, we had sightings of both bear and elk.
Day7: Return to Calgary along Icefields Parkway
We set off early for the 300 or so miles back to Calgary, not least because we had arranged to have dinner with Simon and Jean in Cochrane. We pretty much returned the way we came, stopping far less frequently. We did manage one animal sighting, at Sunwapta Pass (confusingly, not all that close to Sunwapta Falls – Sunwapta Pass is where Banff and Jasper National Parks meet). A herd of mountain goats were close to the road, and were quite accommodating to photographers, as if they had done it many times before. As we made good time through the Parkway, we decided to re-visit Moraine Lake, which we had previously only seen covered in haze.
Although we did not repeat the lake walk, we did climb to the top of the Rockpile (it sounds more difficult that it really is – there’s a well marked and frequently paved path) and got a much clearer view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
We stopped off again briefly in Banff and was able to get a clearer view of the surroundings than our initial visit. We also visited Surprise Corner, which provides a view of the Bow River and the Banff Springs Hotel from a high vantage point across the river. Both the hotel and it’s location are very spectacular. Looking down you get a good view of the Bow river which also is a popular rafting spot.
We were back in Cochrane in plenty of time to meet up with Simon and Jean for dinner, eating in a very pleasant Italian restaurant called, I think, Portofino. After saying our goodbyes we headed back into Calgary. One word of advice – don’t stay at the Comfort Inn and Suites Calgary Airport if you expect it to be close to the airport. It’s about a 20 minute drive away. Perfectly OK hotel in rather a seedy area, but there are many hotels much closer to the airport.
In 2014 we made two visits to Canada. We had intended to combine both visits into one but schedule and cost led to two separate visits separated by 10 days. The first covered in this posting was to Vancouver, the second to the Canadian Rockies – Calgary, Banff, and Jasper. These were our first visits to these parts of Canada.
Our initial trip followed the cruise arrival back in Seattle . We traveled up the coast to Vancouver, stopping at La Conner and Deception Pass and staying overnight in Bellingham. La Conner is a charming though slightly touristy small town on an inlet of Puget Sound. In Bellingham we visited the club recently opened by my ex-Oracle colleague Brock Blatter, the Star Club on Holly Street. If you are in the Bellingham it’s a good place to visit. Great food and music .
The Star Club
Despite the grey skies and rain that initially greeted us when we arrived in Vancouver late morning it was easy to see why it is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. For us the attraction was immediate – the splendid location next to the Pacific surrounded by mountains, the parks, the beaches, the restaurants, the cosmopolitan feel, the attention to green living and the ease of getting about the city. Even the much-criticized parking issues we found quite manageable. For the remainder of the day and all the following day in Vancouver the sun was out and the skies were blue and we could fully enjoy the beauty of the city. We walked along the water, through parts of the city, and in the park.
Highlights of our visit
Stanley Park has 1,001 acres bordering downtown and is almost entirely surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The land was later turned into Vancouver’s first park when the city incorporated in 1886 and was named after Lord Stanley, a British politician who had recently been appointed Governor General.
Walking in Stanley Park was fun as you can choose shady paths during the heat of the day and colorful and diverse flower gardens at other times. Much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees, some of which stand as tall as 75 metres (250 ft) and are hundreds of years old. The walk along the Vancouver sea wall has great views of the city.
I liked the fact that there are two paths, one for skaters and cyclists and the other for pedestrians. Our walk took us past 2 swimming pools, several beaches, a cricket game, totem poles, and through a beautiful garden. If you hire a bike cycling is good and if you have a dog then the city has a very picturesque dog park along the seawall (almost worth hiring a dog for a few hours!). Unfortunately, the aquarium had queues too long and we decided just to continue walking. Stanley Park is the best park I have been to and I later found out that in 2014 TripAdvisor named it the ‘top park in the world’.
Along the Vancouver Sea Wall
We started in Stanley Park and keep walking until we got to the “planted roof”. The views are very impressive. I like the use of roofs to grow vegetation – the trend which I think is good seems to become a common occurrence.
“May this sculpture inspire laughter playfulness and joy in all who experience it.”
I loved the sculptures in Vancouver which seems to be found in most public places. I particularly liked this one called A-maze-ing Laughter which was installed in 2009. It was designed by Yue Minjum and there are 14 statues (yes, I counted) about 3 metres high and > 250 Kilograms (no, I never weighed them).
The other thing I liked about our findings at English Bay was the logs on the beach. Such a thoughtful idea that I have never seen before. Very practical. We strolled along the bay never tiring of the view. Unfortunate, as our time was limited I never got to swim in the sea. Had I done so I would have been swimming on my own. there were lots of people on the beach or walking along the beach but no one swimming. Perhaps I should of asked why. The red flag flying is a concession flag and not a warning flag. And yes! – on the right is another interesting sculpture…
False Creek and Granville Island
False Creek is an interesting place to walk along the water front. The water front is lined with boats, condos , restaurants , and dog walkers. We ended up here both days as it was the one place we found with available and free parking. It is also a good place to catch a water taxi. Granville island can be seen and reached from False Creek. There is an interesting story around the island’s name as the city of Vancouver was once called Granville until 1886. The former name was given to Granville Street, which spanned the small inlet known as False Creek. False Creek in the late 19th century was more than twice the size it is today, and its tidal flats included a large permanent sandbar which eventually become Granville Island, There is a market for food and goods on Granville Island and several restaurants. Taking the advice of a Vancouver resident that we met on our short taxi ride we eat at the Bridges restaurant . Our expectation that it was a “tourist trap” with mediocre food were unfounded and we had a really good meal sitting outside with view of Vancouver.
Queen Elizabeth Park and The Bloedel Conservatory
Queen Elizabeth Park is outside of the city but has very good views of the city . We parked at the bottom of the hill and walked past lakes, the quarry gardens, amongst trees and formal gardens to get to the conservatory. The conservatory was the first geodesic conservatory, and is surrounded by covered walkways, lighted fountains and sculptures. The outside of the conservatory was under restoration so the presence of ladders, scaffolding and covers restricted full appreciation of the outside. However the beauty of the dome was clear on the inside. It was like small version of the Eden project in Cornwall. On the way we passed some tourists that had taken so long to get the right setting for their photos that they were now rooted to the spot – a lesson to us all.
According to the leaflets the conservatory enclosed tropical garden houses 500 exotic plants and flowers and more than a hundred free-flying tropical birds. I am unable to confirm the number but there seemed to be a lot as can be seen from this slide show. It was an impressive place to visit.
Crescent Bay and White Rock
Our return to Seattle was through Crescent Bay an White Rock. Both were very picturesque spots but we had limited time.
Since our trip to Alaska many years ago we have considered seeing the Inside Passage by taking the Alaskan state ferry that travels from Bellingham to Skagway. On further investigation we found the costs to be high and more importantly that there were no cabins left for the 2014 season. The options left were to pitch a tent on deck or to get to the ferry early enough to find spaces on the seats or floor to sleep on. As both of us independently have experience of traveling and sleeping on Greek ferries we were rather dismayed by traveling this way in a colder climate with many more people. Certainly in my early 20s before the connectivity revolution expedited our lives the casual air of Greek ferries was a source of delight and the uncertainty of arrival time was almost welcome (e.g. who would forget the one hour “Greek” drama of the crew working out how to load a lorry full of bricks so that the boat did not overturn or the steering of donkeys aboard). Alas, after reading experiences on the Alaskan ferry without a cabin the same appeal was not obvious.
We found a link to last minute cruises and on further investigation we found that we could actually depart from Seattle on Norwegian Cruise Lines within 7 days with transportation, good accommodation, entertainment and all our food provided. To meet my needs we could even get a stateroom with a balcony at a reasonable rate – cheaper than the ferry, As an aside – it is interesting that the term “state room” is used on cruise ships. Quite effective marketing as “state room” conjures up so much more elegance than “cabin”. As we had no prior interest in going on a cruise we debated about booking for 24 hours before finally at 1am on Sunday morning (the cruise started the next Saturday) we decided to book only to find the website was not in agreement with us (Prices change Sunday morning!!). However, on the 3rd attempt we booked through Costco which was even cheaper and even gave us an on board credit. With a round-trip flight from SFO to Seattle booked as well we only had a short wait.
The following Saturday we boarded the ship and were impressed by the speed with which the staff had turned around the ship from the last cruise and at the efficiency in which the boarding was handled – could the airlines learn from this process! We went on board with all the razzmatazz we expected carefully side-stepping any of the photo opportunities. Steve was happy to find that it was equipped to handle showing the World Cup. Indeed, having watched the first half of the Round-of-16 match between Brazil and Chile in our hotel room near Sea-Tac airport, we were on board in time to watch the end of the penalty shoot-out in the ‘Crystal Atrium’. We dumped our hand luggage in our state room admiring as we did how Norwegian had so smartly used the small space (did they subcontract to IKEA?). and glad about our balcony. We walked the decks and checked that there were enough lifeboats and were happy to find that there were. We were curious about the many rows of Sunbeds, the huge outside play shower and very tropical decorations. Did the crew really know that is was an Alaskan cruise and not the Bahamas or had we boarded the wrong ship.
We finally found our way to the back of the ship with an outside restaurant and stayed there a large proportion of the time when we were at sea.
We watched the hawsers being released and finally 4 1/2 hours after we had come aboard and exactly at 4pm we set off from Seattle. Mimicking a game of “Follow the Leader” the Holland America and Princess ships followed. About 30 minutes into this game the Holland America ship stopped and was overtaken. We found out a few days later that a fire had broken out and it returned to port not leaving again till Sunday. This resulted in a port being removed from the itinerary and only $250 on board credit – not a good deal for the passengers who also probably boarded a second time far more apprehensive.
Once out of the sight of land the party was in full swing at the pool so we took our drinks and watched the sunset from our balcony.
Day -2 : At Sea
A rough night and half a rough day at sea and we both took sea sickness tablets. The pool was closed so nearly everyone was inside. However, even with all the people around it was easy to find a quiet corner. We passed the day with Steve watching 2 World Cup games, a trivia contest, watching “Saving Mr. Banks” (which had the ratio set wrong), reading, and several laps around the promenade deck which few other passengers seemed to have discovered! Looking out at sea we saw cruise ships, container ships and sea life.
Day -3 : Ketchikan
We were on deck at 5:30 am to watch a the sun rise over Tongass Narrows as we headed for Ketchikan. We were joined for breakfast at the back of the ship by only a few other people. The staff were busy putting out the rows of sun beds across the empty decks. As much as I hate getting up early the view was well worth it but it was cold and I was very glad for the hat and scarf (the former provided by Joanna).
At 7am we docked and we were one of the first to leave the boat. It was, as expected, raining but my bright yellow raincoat helped me stay dry and ensured Steve would not be able to lose me. Ketchikan claims to be the wettest town in America getting 150 inches annually. This supersedes Hilo in Hawaii which also makes the same claim, based on 140 inches annually.
Ketchikan is a very picturesque town in a beautiful location. To greet the cruise ships everywhere was open early including the “Disney like” jewelery, novelty, and clothes stores. There are more than 50 jewelry shops most of them selling “authentic Alaskan” gems that are not local (e.g. Tanzanite). Hearsay is that most are actually owned by the cruise companies and in winter they pack up shop and move to a warmer cruise port where the gems become authentic for that port. The clothes shops did seem to fulfill a need as later in the day we noticed that the $19.99 warm Alaskan jackets were selling quickly and from then onwards noticed a significant proportion of the passengers wearing them. Perhaps the consignment store was full of shorts that were given away to make room in cases – I forgot to check this!
We walked a block and found the interesting parts of the town. The down town attractions are in an easy walking loop and being early we saw the sights with only a few other people. Our first totem pole sighting was a whale park alongside flower gardens and an interesting bench with a back in the shape of 2 fish. The town’s former red light district is at Creek Street which is an attractive area with a boardwalk along the river and now houses a museum and some quaint shops. We ignored the cable car and walked along the Married Man’s trail It got its name because it was formally a hidden back-door to the bordellos. The fish hatcheries and fish ladder at the end still had the feeling of days past. On the way there we passed a rather unexpected huge plastic salmon suspended in mid air waiting to be photographed. We found a fairly robust and impressive empty skateboard park – not in our guidebook. Probably occupied once the cruise ships leave and the shops slow down. The town has a large collection of impressive Totem poles found at various places and in the Heritage Center. The Heritage Center is very compact, has some interesting totem poles and very knowledgeable and helpful staff. If you are in town check it out. We continued our walk to the Discovery Center which is again small but worth a quick visit. The Lumberjack show is very near the docks but although we recognize this is a skill the idea of a show seemed too gimmicky We had seen it on the “Amazing Race” and although this does not quite qualify for “been there done that” we decided to count that as done and walked on.
Only having the capacity for so many totem poles in a day we decided not to walk to Saxman Village but instead to hike the Rainbird trail which is just above the town in Deer Mountain. On the walk along front street to the trail head we noticed a sign to a bald eagle observation point and at that instance we noticed several bald eagles above us. Obviously a common sight to locals but very interesting to us. I was reminded of a Japanese business partner once that got very excited over seeing a humming bird while all I could say was that we had several in the back yard. I suspect the residents of Alaska have a similar attitude to bald eagles.
We met a couple from Oregon on our way up to the trail head and we did the hike with them. The hike is about 3 miles and has impressive views at one end. We started at the point furthest from the dock with the goal of finishing above the dock point, The trail is through some very spectacular forest and was well maintained. However it rains nearly every day and for portions of the trail we were climbing over rocks or through water. We all ended up very muddy. Although the trail was easily manageable and well worth taking we realized that Alaskans are out doors so often that you need to add one grade to their definitions e.g an easy trail should be treated as medium etc…
As the ship left Ketchikan promptly we had a cup of tea in our favorite spot and were escorted by a pod of dolphins. We watched Alaska go by as we headed for a spectacular sunset.
Day 4: Juneau
By 7:30 we were in town and had the first ticket for an 8am “big blue” bus to Mendenhall glacier. We took a casual walk around the deserted town noting that unlike Ketchikan the shops did not open early.
We had a great driver on the way to the glacier who told us about the town and recommended that everyone should tale the 2 mile round trip to Nugget falls which is next to the glacier. This worked fantastically to our favor as the few people on the bus immediately set out on the hike and as the photos show we had the glacier to ourselves for 20 minutes before the next bus arrived. Mendenhall glacier is spectacular and it was well worth the short trip. It was a wonderful experience just standing there in the quiet admiring the beauty of the surroundings. When the area finally got overrun we took the trail to the waterfall. The waterfall is worth the trip but by 9am was fairly crowded. The hike back was quick but the trail was packed.
On our return to town the number of people had increased significantly. We debated what to do and ended up doing the town walk around the state buildings, St. Nicholas Orthodox church and the Governor’s Mansion – the “Palin House”. I had been looking forward to seeing Juneau for many years and I was disappointed – we did not find Juneau as interesting as Ketchikan. As a government center it suffers from too much 1960s concrete and Brutalist architecture. We left port at 1pm without being tempted by any of the “cruise memorabilia” in town.
Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier
In the afternoon we cruised down Tracy arm to Sawyer Glacier. We were lucky not to get rain but the weather was cold and crisp and I was appropriately able to model the hat Joanna had given me. The processes on the ship around making money from drinks seemed to be well worked out and instead of serving plenty of ice with cocktails they had adjusted to liquor coffees! It was the one time on deck that I saw an adjustment to our surroundings (money drives change). The sunbeds remained despite the cold and were collected up at the normal hour. Many people wrapped in coats perched on them at various points to see the beautiful scenery around us.
Tracey arm is extremely scenic with steep cliff walls, waterfalls, and gracefully floating icebergs. We were asked to keep quiet for the wildlife and we saw several seals and goats on the hillside but no whales. As expected the icebergs became more numerous and larger as we approached the glacier. The glacier is very spectacular. Near the glacier we rendezvoused with one of the off shore excursion that had taken a smaller boat to nearer the glacier.
People take cruises for many reasons and often not driven by location and this was very apparent as we floated by the larger, scarier icebergs with the Calypso music still playing around the pool and the chatter of people in the hot tub who seemed oblivious to location.
The ship turned around just before the glacier and people seemed divided between those that wanted to the captain to go further and those that were anxious about the space available. Being in the latter group we watched both ends closely as the turn took place ! As we left the glacier we finally returned to our cabin only to find we had a great view of the glacier from our balcony.
We ended the day on our balcony looking over the inside passage as we again floated into the sunset.
Day 5: Skagway – The Gateway to Klondike
It was another early day as we approached Skagway and again the light over the mountains and sea was stunning.
We left the ship as soon as departure was allowed and walked to the town. We had thought about taking a ride on a vintage train along the ‘Trail of ’98’. In the end we had decided against this because we did not want to move from the confinement of a ship to the tighter confinement of a train for another 3+ hours. Unfortunately, we had not thought about renting a car till the previous day and was disappointed to find none available. We tried the car rental anyway only to be told they were already overbooked. If you go to Skagway book a car well ahead. Putting this behind us we had several hours to tour the town and take some hikes. We took a town tour with the National Park service and our guide turned out to be very interesting and informative. Skagway has a very interesting history based around the gold rush. The museum was full of stories of how both men and women abandoning or halting their current lives to follow the gold trail and many finding conditions they had no experience to handle. Others found their niche supplying needed services or supplies. Not being part of that era we can not fully appreciate the circumstances that drove people to Klondike and it took me effort not to apply current day judgement to what seems today like foolhardy decisions. Many did make money but many others lost. But I digress…
In the afternoon we took a hike to Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove which had good views of the Lynn Canal, interrupted every 20 minutes by the roar of departing and arriving helicopters. We watched the Alaskan ferry arrive and then quickly depart.
We reboarded about 4 p.m. and was escorted on its way along the Lynn Canal by dolphins and a whale
As we watched Skagway retreat we toasted another sunset.
After three long days we looked forward to a rest as the ship would be at sea the next day and not dock in Victoria till the afternoon following (Friday)
Day 6: At sea
A good day to relax. We read, took part in a quiz competition, played shuffle board. After a thrilling game you can see the score – Steve’s score was the yellow marker. Although it is 500 years old and played by Henry VIII this is what Wikipedia has to say about the game – “Today, due to its popularity on cruise ships and in retirement homes because of its low physical fitness requirements, the deck game is often associated with the elderly.” Wow, now I feel old – next time it’s the gym for me. Wait – we did hike as well!!
In the evening we even found a moment when the hot tub was open to take a dip. Unfortunately the pool was too small for lap swimming and of course empty when while we were at sea. We paid the extra and had a very enjoyable meal in the French restaurant.
Day 7: Victoria
We arrived in Victoria in early afternoon.
Due to the limited time and the rain we decided not to go to Butchart Gardens but to walk and stay in town. It is an interesting 20-30 min walk from the dock to the town but very few people seemed to walk. On the way we spent time at the delightful Fisherman’s Wharf with it’s colorful restaurants and boat houses. It is possible to get a water ferry from here to downtown which we did on our way back. A seal delighted audiences at the wharf and for a small piece of fish it took turns disappearing and reappearing at well-timed intervals. At the wharf there were many types of sea food to buy including mussels. However there were no cockles so I guess that part of British tradition never reached Victoria or never stayed !!
The Empress Hotel is well known from photographs and is very obvious as you walk to town. Like a large portion of Victoria it has beautiful gardens with a large portion forming a rose garden. The smell and sight of all the roses was very “delightful” and without the rain would be a good place to sit and relax. Also within the grounds is a striking arbutus tree easily identified by it’s red trunk. Curiously it had a “starring role” in the opening leg of Season 2 of “The Amazing Race Canada” which was broadcast less than a week after we were there. There is a less obvious part of the hotel devoted to bees and information about them. This was the first of several places in Canada where we saw well thought out education and encouragement of bee keeping – a good thing! Inside the very stuffy “imperial-like” British dining rooms served what is probably at $60 one of the most expensive tea and cakes in the world. You can also buy from a large range of tea pots, tea services, or tea strainers (many in the shape of animals) should you wish to. Alternatively you can go to a local store or Cost Plus when you get home!
Victoria is full of gardens and Totem Poles and you can see several in just a short walk. Thunderbird park and Helmcken house are just across the road from the Empress Hotel. Helmcken house is Victoria’s oldest house built in the 1840s. A walking tour map is available at the tour office who also directed us up to a street fair which was closing as we approached, We did find and purchase from an artist an interesting picture made of seaweed – our only unique souvenir of Victoria to go with the Costa Rica feather pictures and the Indian leaf pictures that we already have on our walls.
Beacon Hill Park is nearby and is a mixture of structured garden and rugged shoreline. It is 200 acres and we realized that a map and more time would have been helpful. We only touched the start of the park but it would have been a place to spend longer at.
We made our way back to the ship by taking a water ferry to Fisherman’s wharf. We met some delightful ladies from Amsterdam that had been making their way around Canada and were absolutely surprised to find themselves staying at the Empress as it was so different and grand from the previous hotels/B&Bs they had been booked it. They seemed to think that there travel agent had somehow made a mistake but where making the most of it!
We arrived at the ship before sailing and had dinner along with the rest of the passengers. It seemed that rain and the closing of attractions had forced people back earlier. However, we did better than the Princess ship that had experienced engine trouble and got to Victoria at 9pm – past the time allowed for debarkation. Of the three cruise ships which left Seattle on the previous Saturday, ours was the only one which was able to complete its itinerary. I wonder if a 33% success rate is par for the course?
We left Victoria for Seattle and watched Canada disappear behind us
We had left our packed suitcases outside our room the night before and by early morning we were in Seattle. We had a final breakfast before we left. Our room had already been cleaned and made up as two beds awaiting the new occupants in only a short time. We saw the next set of food and other provisions being loaded although this had probably been happening since early morning. As the world cup match between Belgium and Argentina was on in the lounge we were one of the last to leave and people were starting to line up for the next cruise as we left.
We picked up our bags and headed for the car rental. Bellingham and Vancouver here we come!!
- The cruise actually turned out a good way to see the places we wanted to see and was overall a good experience
- If we went to Alaska again we would start from Victoria and try to get to Sitka and Glacier Bay. The disadvantage of the cruise out of Seattle is that it travels west (ocean-side) of Vancouver Island and you miss the Canadian Inside Passage.
- We would only take a cruise where a car journey was not possible (e.g Baltic, Norway) and only go with a balcony room
- We respected whatever project manager/team handled the turnaround of the ships but they needed to adapt process depending on Alaska or the tropics
- Customer service was always good and people tried to help even if they were not sure of an answer. If I had to sleep below the sea line with 4 other people I am not sure I could wait on people with a smile every day. The waiter we spoke to seemed to be having fun even at 12 hour days, 7 days a week for 8 months
- Our major hate was the constant music – especially in areas of natural beauty
And finally the flowers seen on our trip
This is one of our favorite hikes in England. The trail is along part of the South Downs Way, and runs along the edge of the cliffs. We have taken various parts of the trail at different times. If you are in for an all day trail then start at Eastbourne and walk to Alfrison ( approx. 10 miles) For a shorter walk that covers the more scenic part and concentrates on the Seven Sisters start at the Birling Gap or Beachy Head and then finish at Cuckmere Haven at the Golden Galleon pub.
Background – What are the Seven Sisters?
The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs in East Sussex between the towns of Eastbourne and Seaford in South East England. They are within the Seven Sisters Country Park. The Seven Sisters are the remnants of dry valleys in the chalk South Downs, which are gradually being eroded by the sea. They are relatively free of development, are allowed to erode naturally and as a result, along with Beachy Head they remain a bright white color,
From east to west, the sequence starts just east of the Birling Gap. The cliff peaks and the dips between them are individually named. There are seven hills and an eighth one being created by the erosion of the sea.
- Went Hill Brow
- Michel Dean
- Baily’s Hill
- Flathill Bottom
- Flat Hill
- Flagstaff Bottom
- Flagstaff Point (continuing into Flagstaff Brow)
- Gap Bottom
- Brass Point
- Rough Bottom
- Rough Brow
- Limekiln Bottom
- Short Brow
- Short Bottom
- Haven Brow
From Eastbourne the trail over the cliffs starts at the South (Meads) end of town, at the point where the main promenade (King Edward’s Parade) turns inland, just beyond Bede’s School. There’s a refreshment kiosk here. There are a few parking spots near the cafe but many more down the Parade. As you take the walk up the hill keep looking back and get the impressive views of Eastbourne receding as you ascend.
After about 1.5 miles you will reach Beachy Head where you can stop, relax, look round, take in the scenery or stop in at the Beachy Head pub for light refreshments. This is Britain’s highest chalk cliff. On some days you can watch hang gliders take off and gracefully fly around. Looking down at the sea you find the lighthouse that marks the headland. The headland was a danger to shipping and in 1831, construction began on the Belle Tout lighthouse on the next headland west. However, because mist and low clouds could hide the light of Belle Tout, Beachy Head Lighthouse was built in the sea below.
Beachy Head to the Birling Gap via the Lighthouse
From Beach head walk to the top of the next hill and Belle Tout lighthouse (about 1.8 miles) This lighthouse is a British landmark – a Grade II building. It has been called “Britain’s most famous inhabited lighthouse” because of its striking location and use in film and television. In 1999, it was moved in one piece to prevent it from suffering from coastal erosion.
From Belle Tout lighthouse you walk downhill to Birling Gap (about 0.7 miles)
Birling Gap is owned by the National Trust. Coastal erosion has already removed some of the row of coastguard cottages built in 1878, and those that remain are still inhabited. It is likely that because of rapid erosion that all the houses will soon have to be demolished before they fall into the sea,
There is a large metal staircase leading down to the enclosed pebble beach . If you have time and the stairs are still there and operational you can get to the beach. The beach has a large number of tidal pools but can be cut off at high tide.. There is a good cafe here (recently refurbished) run by the National Trust where you can eat or buy more snacks for the walk to Cuckmere Haven
An alternative starting point or a lunch diversion is East Dean where you can have lunch on the green either from the Tiger’s Head or from the tearoom. East Dean is a delightful place and one that we never tire of visiting. You can walk there along the road past the sheep center and then return to the trail by going through Friston churchyard and past Crowlink house. Follow the National trust sign for Farrer Hall. You reach the cliff walk just past the Birling Gap. East Dean to the Gap is a distance of just over a mile.
Birling Gap to Cuckmere Haven
From Birling Gap leave the car park and turn left up the hill. Follow the road behind the houses which runs parallel to the cliffs till you get to a gate leading to a field. When you have passed the gate you start the trail across the Seven Sisters.
This is a great walk – take in the countryside and the view both forward and backward. The landscape is extremely beautiful as you walk on top of the cliffs. The cliffs are unprotected and as you can see from one of the photos prone to break off. I always shudder when someone gets near the edge to take photos. Take in the wild and domestic life. Your see rabbits, sheep in pastures, wild flowers, gulls, and other birds. At certain times you can see birds nesting in the cliffs. This part of the trail either climbs or descends steeply so take it at your pace , stop and relax as you need to. Your see people sitting and admiring the views at many points. From the Birling Gap to the bottom of the descent to Cuckmere beach is about 2.5 miles. For those interested in film trivia the Seven Sisters were featured briefly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
After walking the Seven Sisters you arrive at Cuckmere beach and the Cuckmere river with it’s flood plains (Cuckmere Haven). Cuckmere beach is a long shingle stretch of beach. At low tide, you can sometimes spot ironwork in the sea close to the river mouth. This is the wreck of the Polynesia, a German sailing ship that ran aground in April 1890. There are also rock pools at low tide. This is another place to take a break and enjoy the view. You can get a good view of the Seven Sisters from the beach. You can also walk to the coast guard cottages and get a classic view of the Seven Sisters with the cottages in the fore-front,
For anyone interested in film and TV trivia the beach was featured in the film Atonement and appeared in an episode of Foyle’s War.
To get to the road follow the river inland. You will several oxbow lakes along the river and the area is full of wildlife. To prevent the upper river from flooding the banks were made higher and the river was artificially straightened. It also provided support for irrigation. In recent decades, the area has become a major tourist destination, with tourism contributing to the local economy more than agriculture. Consideration is being given as to whether the area should be allowed to return to its natural state. The restoration of the Saltwater estuary and marshes could enrich the ecological habitat. To get to the Golden Galleon you will need to exit the trail onto the road and follow it around over the bridge From Cuckmere beach to the Golden Galleon is about 1.5 miles.
The South Downs Way takes the above route and continues to Alfriston. Alfriston lies in the Cuckmere valley and has a village green, a clergy house owned by the National trust, and several pubs and restaurants. Activities are often held on the green and one year we toook our daughter to see some traditional activities – May pole dancing and a wellington boot throwing competition. The verdict – Interesting and worth seeing briefly !
If you wish to follow the walk along the cliffs further and get views of the Seven Sisters follow the route below
Cuckmere Haven to Seaford
The trail leading over the cliffs on the other side of the beach to Seaford presents fabulous views of the Seven Sisters. From the Golden Galleon to the cliffs overlooking Seaford is a distance of about 2.5 miles.
We normally leave a car at the end point and get someone to drop us off or use a second car to get to the starting point. On occasions we have taken the bus back from Cuckmere Haven to Beachy Head.
The New Yard
(click for full-size photo)
In 2011-12 we replaced the front and back yards removing everything except 2 trees and a few beloved rose bushes. We finally said goodbye to the lawns.
We originally hired a landscape gardening team who came up with designs for the front and back yards. However, after reviewing the plans I realized that the plans were not inspiring and that lawns and formal planting areas did not give me the desired result. So I threw away the designs and following research did my own design with wandering paths, dry river beds, waterfalls, native/more drought resistance plants, and NO lawns. To reach the final design I read many books and Sunset magazine. Three books in particular continue to be very helpful and I highly recommend them:
- California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien
- Reimaging the California Lawn by Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien
- Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook
For additional information and inspiration on drought resistant plants also check out:
- The California Native Plant Society (CNPS)
- UC Davis Arboretum
- Middlebrook Gardens in San Jose
Well sometimes a year does not go as you expected – especially when when you plan to start so many different activities. We planned a year of travel, variety, and new experiences. In a way it happened but not quite how we expected. Friends and family have been an important part of 2013.
2013 in photos:
See our letter at: Letter for 2013 (protected)