Posts Tagged With: hiking

Short Hike in Koke’e: Pihea Trail

After an evening of camping in Koke’e State Park, we woke up early, along with the roosters crowing around 5:45AM or so. This was partly due to jet-lag, partly due to excitement of vacation, and partly due to wild crowing roosters! Just so you’re aware, there are wild roosters and chickens all over the island, so if you do happen to have a weird fear of them (Alektorophobia… apparently it’s pretty common), then don’t come to Kauai. Or stay on the manicured resort properties… and even then, you still may see them. Apparently, Hurricane Iniki tore through in 1992, destroying (among many other things) chicken coops. The result was a prolific number of wild roosters and chickens which can be found on all parts of the island. Regardless of our early up and at ’em causation, we packed up our tent and dined on guava rolls, peanut butter, and fruit, before heading up the rode from camp towards the Pu’u O Kila Lookout. As mentioned in a previous post, Pu’u O Kila Lookout is the end of the line on this rode.

There were originally plans to connect the highway here so that a road would circle the entirety of Kauai, but those plans fell through for various reasons and as rumors have it, the locals are happy with that failure. While a road connecting the entire island would be easier for tourists to get around, it would also take away some of the beauty of the Na Pali and Koke’e areas that are more wild, scenic, and less accessible areas of the island.

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The Pihea Overlook trail starts at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, where a sign reads, “One of the wettest spots on earth”. The picture above (and throughout this post) are a testament to that sign- we had overcast and drizzly weather the whole time we hiked (although there did seem to be some efforts by the sun to try and pierce those clouds, albeit, unsuccessfully). To access the trail, park in the lot by the Pu’u O Kila Lookout. It’s hard to miss, as it’s the very end of the road. As everywhere, use common sense, and don’t leave valuables out in the open in your car while you’re hiking. There is a bathroom there, but you’d be wise to fill up on water before you get here. At the end of the lot there is a ramp leading up to the overlook as well as a sign for Pihea Trail. Walk up the ramp and check out the view (if there is one) and that’s where you will see the sign proclaiming how wet it is here. The elevation is around 4000 feet or so. Before you get up to this “vista” (which is gorgeous when there are clear skies– see below as a reminder of what we saw the day before)…

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View from the previous day.

you will see a sign with the distances to Pihea Overlook (about a mile, but we clocked it closer to 1.5, since we ended up turning around a mile in due to trail condition), Alakai Crossing, and Awaikoi Camp. Alakai Swamp Trail is another great trail that is supposed to be fantastic for birding. Anyway, you will see the sign and directly to the left of it is what appears to be a little trail leading off into the ferns. This is a false trail. You will noticed a little arrow has been etched into the sign (circled in our picture) which points left. Skip this “faux” trail and keep going as the arrow indicates to get to the Pihea Trail.

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Take note of the etched in arrow pointing you the right direction.

The trail runs you across the ridge, up and down, through Ohi’a trees, ferns, Koas, and other native plants. There are also a few boardwalk areas. Generally though, the trail, especially after rain, is super muddy and slippery. Make sure you take your time and even if it’s overcast, enjoy the serenity. When we went, there had been some rain the previous night, which I think exacerbated the slippery and hazardous nature of the trail. I have seen plenty of other pictures showing the trail much drier… so just make sure you are aware of your surroundings. If you do happen to have clear skies for this hike, you will be greeted with a huge number of panoramic views of the valley and not so far off Na Pali coast. There are plenty of boulders to climb up on the sides of the trail in different areas to get a better look, but be aware of your feet- you could easily fall to your demise.

Also be aware of spiders as you hike, especially if you’re hiking early in the morning. I read a few articles about crab spiders which were introduced to the island to try and control a bug problem on crops (it failed) and the result is a large number of small and annoying spiders that will apparently bite you and irritate your skin (no lasting harm). We talked to one local who said the best way to avoid them is to hike with a stick that you can just wave in front of you as you hike. While we were fortunate not to have any run-ins with crab spiders, we did find a gorgeous web that was outlined with water droplets… which we wouldn’t have been able to find if we hadn’t taken our time. About a mile on down the trail (there are small metal mile markers on the right-hand side of the trail as you hike towards the overlook), we realized that conditions were just getting worse and worse. On top of that, we ran into a couple that told us they had fallen three times and getting to the overlook was pretty impossible. So, after hiking a few more minutes, we tucked our tails, called it a win, and turned around.

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Water droplet spider web

On the way back to the trailhead, we ran into maybe 2 other people- one hoping to make it to Alakai Swamp (endemic bird species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world) and another who’s husband had ditched her already because of the deteriorating path. She hiked a few minutes more and then we saw her again as she zipped back up the trail. The hike back to the trailhead may have been a bit slower than the way out because it was mostly uphill and there were several ways to ascend the different rocky areas, but it was great to be outside, the temperature was mild, and the feeling was serene after being cooped up on a plane for the day prior and coming from a summer of work! All in all, we had a very enjoyable hike and would definitely do it again. While it would have been perhaps more rewarding if the weather were calmer and clearer, it was still a nice morning exercise bout.

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The overcast weather gave the trail an eery feel 🙂

Insider Tips: Bring water with you; wear hiking boots (sneakers won’t cut it if there’s any mud or it rained recently); you gain about 250 feet on Pihea Trail (about 100 or so going to the Pihea overlook). It might be helpful to bring a long-sleeved shirt with you if you go early because it was chilly. In addition, to avoid the crowds, go early. We starting hiking around 8AM and stopped to meditate in a big clearing on top of the ridge a little ways down the trail. When we returned to the trailhead, maybe 1.5 hours later, the parking lot (which had one other car in it when we arrived) was full of cars, with people getting ready to hike or check out the overlook. Also, don’t forget to look for wildlife in the parking lot. You might see this little guy:

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Red-crested cardinals have bright red heads and crests. They were introduced to Kauai.

That’s all for now. See you next time for a post on camping in Polihale.

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Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Evening Camping in Koke’e State Park, Kauai (Northwest)

After our exciting and action-packed trip from Sacramento to Kauai was over and our Jeep was secured, our first stop was the grocery store to pick up some supplies. We chose to go by Safeway, as we had read it’s a bit cheaper than some of the other stores. Costco was also nearby, but, since we were planning on camping for most of our time, we didn’t want to buy in bulk (especially cold stuff). Safeway is located at 4454 Nuhou Street, Lihue and it is open 24 hours a day. It was a large Safeway and for those of you who have club member cards on the mainland for Safeway, yes, they will work on Hawaii as well. We looked up the circular online before we traveled to get an idea of what was available and we tried to make a plan, but we were hungry and in the end, our eyes and stomaches won out. For lunch we split a cup of chicken noodle soup, a donut, and vegetable sushi (we’re weird, I know). The sushi was probably my least favorite, but only because it had slight fish flavor presumably from being rolled on a counter of fish (!)– I’m not a seafood person at all (weird, I know) so my nose and tastebuds seem to know when they’re being led astray. Andrew thought the sushi was delicious though and the soup, although tasting somewhat different than the Mainland chicken noodle I’ve had, was still good. The donut was awesome. When you go into the grocery store, make sure you spend some time looking around at the items they have because they are different from what you see elsewhere. For instance, the seafood is vast and numerous and ranges from dried to salted to fresh. Anyway, we picked up some hummus, some carrots, some snap peas, chopped pineapple (because we weren’t sure where our knife was at the moment), peanut butter, jelly, and the creme de la creme, 8-pack of guava dinner rolls made on Kauai. They were bright pink!

We then headed on down the road towards our destination for the night: Koke’e State Park. Koke’e State Park is located north of Waimea Canyon (west side of Kauai) and is about 1-1:30 hour drive from Lihue. It is accessed via the southern route only. Koke’e SP is about 4,345 acres in size, all above 3,200 feet above sea level (maximum around 4,200 feet asl). It contains over 45 miles of hiking trails through forests and along ridges, and boasts some phenomenal views of the island. It has a visitor’s center/museum with history of the area and knowledgeable park rangers willing to give advice and it rents out a few cabins that look pretty nice. In addition, you can camp there!

I’ll post more on camping in Kauai in general later, but for now, it’s important to note that Koke’e is a state park and thus, you can reserve spots online through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The price is $18/campsite for non-Hawaiian residents. A campsite may have up to 6 persons for this cost ($3/person over 6 people). You can set-up camp at 1:00PM (“check-out” is noon) and you are not permitted to stay more than 5 nights in a row. In addition, all sites are first-come, first-served (aka undesignated)… but again, you have to have a permit to stay there so it works out. There are other camping spots in this area, but most require some hiking (medium to long in length) in order to get to them. In addition, it’s important to note that this area gets about 70 inches of precipitation a year, so make sure you are camping in areas suitable for the time of year you’re traveling. To be on the safe side, we decided to camp at the general Koke’s State Park spot (no hiking required). You’ll want to make sure you print a copy of your permit before you leave home and bring it with you to Kauai just in case you get asked for one (we weren’t but it’s in the rules, so may as well be safe). You should also book these sites as soon as you know you’ll be around Koke’e. There are 20 spots available and while we booked about 2 weeks in advance (traveling end of August) we noticed that Labor Day weekend was already booked- so just be aware.

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Don’t worry, the drive to Koke’e State Park isn’t boring!

Once we arrived at Koke’e, we noticed a few tents set-up on the meadow next to the museum/visitor center. Since there wasn’t a great deal of information on where to camp once you go there online, we figured we’d just set our tent up there. To get to the camping parking lot, you drive past the left turn-in for the visitor center and take the next left. You’ll see the meadow, parking areas, picnic tables, and a bathroom building. The meadow in general is rather large and has scattered trees (and picnic tables). There weren’t a lot of other tents there, so we just found a spot and set-up shop. We later realized that when you walk up to the bathroom building, there is what looks like a grass path heading back away from the parking lot and building. When we followed that we saw that the permitted camping areas were actually back in that area and a lot more secluded. Each spot, although not numbered, had a picnic table, and a nice little clearing to put your tent. Tent spots were separated by tall ginger bushes. Since we had already set-up, we stayed where we were and still really enjoyed our spot.

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Meadow just after the Koke’e State Park Visitor Center and Museum.

The camping area does not allow fires and any cooking must be done on a stove. Trash cans are available as are bathrooms with toilet paper, sinks with running water (no paper towels/hand dryers or soap) and showers, although I would really avoid the showers if at all possible- they were pretty grungy. I wish I had taken a picture, but I forgot- sorry! Make sure you have a rain fly for your tent because it will rain (off and on) and don’t be frustrated if it starts raining. Wait about 5-10 minutes and it will probably stop and clear up. The temperature dropped down to about the 60s (again we were there at the end of August) and so we were comfy sleeping with sleeping sacks and an unzipped sleeping bag as a blanket. Sleeping sacks, if you don’t know, are just cotton sheet-weight sleeping bag liners… we use them for when we’re camping in warm weather (as a super lightweight sleeping bag), but others use them as a liner in their more heavy-duty sleeping bag. It’s something like this.

After we set-up camp, we continued up the road to check out the Kalalau Look Out and the Pu’u O Kila Look Out. In the morning we were taking a short hike that started from the latter look out, so we figured we’d check it out to make sure we knew where we were going. The Kalalau Look Out has gorgeous views (again remember the mantra, if it’s raining, wait 5-10 minutes, all will reveal itself). Sure enough, we were lucky to catch the beautiful view of the Northern Na Pali Coast:

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View of Na Pali Coast in Northern Kauai

Na Pali is the most infamous part of the island for hikers, kayakers, and people seeking to view the rugged untouched, almost unaccessible wild of Northern Kauai. There is a trail called the Kalalau Trail that runs from the last accessible road beach on the Northern coast, out towards Western Kauai. It’s a grueling, physically demanding trek that requires an overnight at Kalalau Beach, 11 miles in (everything online says that a hiker in a good condition will take the full day to hike there). Note: In order to camp there (and in order to go beyond the 2 mile mark, or Hanakapai’ai Beach, you will need a permit and they typically go months in advance. Permits (60 available per day) are again booked through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and cost $20/person for non-residents (5 nights max). If you are thinking of hiking the trail, check out the Kalalau Trail Website– it has an immense amount of information, including a map and permit information.

In addition to viewing Na Pali from Koke’e State Park or hiking Kalalau Trail, other hard core folks kayak in (about 17miles) from Ha’ena Beach (where Kalalau Trail begins) to Milolii Beach (20 permits available per day, 3 night maximum, $20/person) to Polihale Beach (60 permits available per day, 5 night maximum, $18/campsite up to 6). Again, all of these permits are for undesignated sites and are available through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Website (print your permits before you arrive). The kayak trip enables you to see the entire Na Pali Coast. The final option for those with less physical beastliness is to take a catamaran or sailboat around the coast for the day. Trips go from the South and the North, although the Northern Route will allow you to see more.

But I digress, I fear I’ve gone horribly off-post with that chat about Na Pali, but it really is awesome. Anyway, the picture above of Na Pali from Kalalau Look Out looks generally towards the Kalalau Beach. Many of the ridges of Koke’e State Park have hunting roads (unpaved) that are used by hunters on the weekends. There are some sources that say visitors can obtain permits to drive out on these routes (on weekends and holidays only) but we didn’t dig into that too much… I would contact Koke’e State Park directly. If you continue on up the road, you’ll eventually run into Pu’u O Kila Look Out which is the end of the line for the road. The overlook again gives you an idea of the beauty of Na Pali and from here a few great hikes jump off, including a “short” ~2-2.5 mile roundtrip to Pihea Overlook and the turn to Alakai Swamp. More on that later since we did that the following morning. For dinner, we dined on guava rolls, pineapple, and hummus and snap peas… and then we promptly fell asleep at 7:30PM (to be fair, 10:30PM body time). A long (this was our travel day) and wonderous first partial day on Kauai.

See you next time!

Categories: Camping, Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Hike and a Drive to Homer, AK

This morning, we decided to take a hike in the Russian River Campground where we were staying before heading south towards Homer. We packed up early and drove towards the trailhead. Unfortunately (or fortunately for most people) you cannot park RVs at the trailhead. So instead, we dropped my parents off at the trailhead and then went in a search of a lot where we could leave the RV. Our campground site itself was pretty far back so we wanted to find a place closer to avoid having to walk the extra 1 mile or so to get back to the RV after the hike (we were in the last of about 3 or 4 campground areas in Russian River). We did find the Pink Campground Overflow lot that allowed RV parking fairly close to the trailhead (fyi, it’s right by the Pink Campground). We parked the RV and then made our way back to the trailhead (we had told my parents to start without us and we’d catch up).

 

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The hike was about 2 miles out and 2 miles back. It was up and down and through the woods—very pretty. Along the way there were some pretty wood bridges and off-shoot trails to cabins. We continued along to the end where there were two large wooden viewing platforms. From here you could look down on the river where there was a fish bridge to help the Salmon move upstream. There were a ton of fish and every few minutes you would see one jump out of the water on an attempt to get further upstream. In another week or so, sport fishermen will be invading the campground … and even more likely, bears will be invading Russian River. Apparently at the height of the fish movement upstream, bears can be seen in the river eating fish. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we had no such bear luck. Andrew and I did take a short shoot-off trail from the viewpoints down a fishing trail where we found a fresh salmon carcass. Our guess is that it was a bear—but again, no bear sightings here!

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We had a short snack stopover before heading back up the trail towards the RV. We pulled out of the campground ready for new adventure and to check out the south. We drove to Homer via Sodoltna where we made a stopover at a grocery store (Fred Meyer) for supplies and goods… after a brief stop, we headed onward down the coast, stopping for cool viewpoints and vistas and of course, moose!

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Yeah, I know. You can’t see it in this picture. But it’s there, I swear!

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Another stop that we made on our travels down the Kenai Peninsula was at a Russian Orthodox Church in the town of Ninilchik. It was slated in the book as one of the most visited tourist attractions because of the church and the views. We were slightly skeptical, but we decided to check it out anyway; if it’s the most visited, chances are that it is for a reason. :0) We turned down a gravel road and drove along until we saw the onion-like domes painted in gold. There on a small hill was a little Russian-style (you can tell because of the onion-shaped domes and the crosses) Orthodox Church. There was a small graveyard in front, giant mountains in the back, and a small Russian fishing village at the bottom of the cliffs in front of the water. Awesome.

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We walked around the church property a bit and took a look at the graveyard- some crosses were worn-down and battered with no headstones marking lives lost, while others indicated burials from this February. It was a pretty little graveyard right on top of the hill. Out of respect, we tried not to take any photos of an individual grave and rather focused on the entire graveyard for its intricate burial set-up. Crosses (two horizontal lines at the top and one line on a slight angle at the bottom) adorned every grave as did small fences that contained everything from flowers to books to pictures. We were also able to walk into the church itself- very small but just as intricately decorated with pictures and paintings, candles, large religious hats (sorry don’t know the name of them), and small benches and pamphlets.

 

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Outside, you can look down over the cliffs towards the small Russian fishing village of Ninilchik. This are is now considered to be “old town”. The “new” Ninilchik is located a little bit away from this area. Boats and houses located directly on the water- a pretty cool little place.

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Then we traveled on to Homer. Homer is in the southwest corner of the Kenai Peninsula. We opted to stay in a campground on the Homer Spit- a skinny piece of land that juts out into the water. A sort of peninsula on the peninsula so to speak. We pulled into our campground (Homer Spit Campground) and set-up shop directly on the beach- looking out at the water with snow-capped mountains and volcanoes behind it. Awesomely beautiful spot! Tonight we grilled up some chicken on the mini portable propane grill that we rented through the RV company. Grilling on the beach… is there anything greater? We also enjoyed some of our Seward Brewery Growler Beer. Yum!

 

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Ah yes, and the showers. First showers of the trip were pretty awesome. Pay $1 at the office, they buzz you in, you can take an untimed, hot shower. It was awesome and wonderful and everything you would expect a shower to be after a few days of now shower, including a cold and rainy boat trip! Another great day!

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marathon Mountain and Other Seward Things (then Russian River Campground)

After a night of soup and grilled cheese in the camper (and de-thawing and warming up from our boat trip), Andrew and I packed up our day packs with cameras, layers, and snacks for a morning hike. We woke up at 4AM, got dressed, grabbed our gear and headed out. Our destination: Mount Marathon (or at least part of it). We had plans to do some other things in Seward today, but we really wanted to hike at least part of the famed Mount Marathon.

Let me step back. Mount Marathon is located pretty much in downtown Seward. Its apex is 3,022 feet above sea level. As the story goes (and like so many things), some guys were in a bar in Seward talking about how it would be impossible to get to the top of the mountain and back down in an hour. One guy claimed it wasn’t impossible and so, Mount Marathon was born. While he did not make the 60 minute time limit, he did create a tradition in Seward that still lives on today. Every year on the 4th of July, people from all over the world come to Seward to run a slippery, rocky, dangerous, and ridiculously unsafe route straight up Mount Marathon and back down. Every year, a whole handful of runners are injured. One year, a runner was event lost (and as a result, certain safety rules were added). Still, these crazy thrill-seekers come out and make their way up and down… for the glory and the pride, regardless of the probability of broken bones. Interestingly enough, there is a hospital located at the start of the racing route (coincidence, I think not). The race itself is about 3.1 miles from start to finish with average uphill speeds of 2mph and average downhill speeds of 12mph. Here’s a picture of the top of the mountain from somewhere along the trail that we took- see the line that goes basically straight up and down? That’s the up-route. The down route is that curved line that coming in from the right.

 

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

While hiking this straight up and down route seems tantalizing, we put aside our dare-devil tendencies and instead set our eyes on the Jeep Trail— an old rock road that goes up to the town’s water supply. From there, you can jump on the Sheffield Waterfall trail that supposedly has a more gradual incline around the mountain, past the Sheffield Waterfall, into the Marathon Bowl, and up the spine of Mount Marathon to its peak. As I mentioned earlier, we had other things planned for the day, including a drive to another campground out of Seward and towards Homer. For this reason, our goal was to make it to the tree line if possible before we needed to turn around. Here. Here’s the map at the trailhead (I added the yellow arrows to show the general route we would have taken to go all the way up).

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As mentioned in a previous post, we were camping in the state campground directly on the water (close to the harbor) because of our boat trip and its early departure. From this point, the Jeep Trail Head of Mount Marathon is a little less than 1 mile walk a little towards downtown Seward. You simply leave the state campground and walk to the main straight and make a left. You walk down to Jefferson Street and make a right. You walk straight down Jefferson until you hit the trail head (about 3 blocks). Not too shabby. At the trail head you will find a sign and simple map posted that shows a variety of trails going up and around Mount Marathon (posted above). Tip- we took a picture of the map with our cell phones so we’d have a reference just in caseI’ll note here that a lot of the references I found online prior to this trip stated that the trail was really hard to follow. It was definitely questionable in some areas on which way you were supposed to go, but generally speaking you could find your way. We did end up using the map once or twice.

After taking the obligatory “before hiking” photo, we started up the Jeep Trail. Think baseball, softball, and basketball-sized rocks covering a 45 degree-angled trail. That’s basically what we were hiking up. It was rough and tiring but because of the steepness of the trail, we made more ground at a faster clip than what we had anticipated. As you climb further up the mountain, the rocks yield to a more typical tree needle and dirt path, still on a fairly hefty incline. You get a chance to see just how enormous the trees really are and there are a few places were stumps of fallen trees remain and those stumps are at least 7 feet tall. We got some great pictures through the forest. We were also hiking completely alone; it was awesome.

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We continued on and much to our surprise, we reached the tree line in less time than we thought, so we could continue on the trail that wound around the mountain. Ah relief at last we thought, but to no avail. The trail continues its grueling up-hill path (admittedly with a few reprieves here and there). In a few places I was even crawling up because of how slippery and steep the trail became at points— which is crazy considering the trail we were on is the easy trail in comparison with the running route. At one point we did hike off the trail a bit and up a small hill to a clearing in the trees where we had a beautiful view of the water, mountains, and our campground. We really lucked out with the weather on this day.

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We continued on, approaching our time turn-around deadline, being passed by one other person who was hiking with his dog and just booking it. It was quite obvious that he hikes this mountain fairly often, telling us the shortest way to the top and what not. We continued on and started climbing another steep portion towards the Marathon Bowl (after both a snow and two minor stream crossings) until we could again see Seward below us. From here, we were shocked to see that we also had full service on our cell phones. We checked in with my parents who were around the camper and actually pulled out their binoculars and could see us waving way up on the mountain. After a brief chat with them, we also called Andrew’s parents to check in and say hello. We were able to FaceTime with them— on a mountain. How crazy is that?! I know I know, who makes a cell phone call while on a hike, but admit it- if you’re going to check in with your parents and say hello, that’s a pretty sweet place to do it- especially since we could show them the scenery.

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After the call, we decided to head back down the mountain. We didn’t make it to the waterfall, but we did make it much further than we had planned. We will definitely do this hike again sometime so we can get to the peak. We made it back down in one piece and walked back down to the harbor to grab some breakfast from a local restaurant called, “The Bakery”. We dined on breakfast burritos with eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, and reindeer bacon (at least we think it was—definitely wasn’t regular bacon). After breakfast, we stopped by the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center (on the harbor) and then we headed back to the RV, packed up shop and headed into downtown Seward. My parents dropped Andrew and I a few blocks from the Sea Life Center where we strolled down the main street, looking at giant murals and paintings on the walls of the buildings in town. We also made an obligatory awesome coffee stop at Resurrection Coffee Company, an old church that had been turned into a coffee shop. We ordered our coffees and browsed around the awesome insides- covered with arts and crafts created by local artists. We purchased a small carved twisty piece of birch wood that has a tag stating it was handmade in Seward, AK. I think it will make a most excellent Christmas Tree Ornament.

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One of many murals in downtown Seward.

One of many murals in downtown Seward.

After coffee, we walked down to the Seward Sea Life Center and paid our general admission dues so that we could go in and see the sights and exhibits (we did not opt to do any behind the scenes tours). The Sea Life Center is actually pretty cool- it consists of two floors with the lower floor boasting a large gift shop and the upstairs boasting exhibits, hands on exhibits, and of course, the Sea Life! They have areas and tanks with sea birds (including puffins!), stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. You can watch from inside or you can walk outside and look at the animals. While it’s super cool to see the animals up close, you can’t help but feel really bad for them considering how small and cramped their quarters are… on our boat tour, we saw these magnificent creatures in all their glory- free to move and go wherever they want at any time. Here, a giant mammoth stellar sea lion is stuck in a tank that only allows him to swim in a circle. Pretty sad when you think about it.

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The displays at the center included information on how the different species of animals are doing since the latest oil spill, hands on games that teach about over-fishing, and videos and signs about the importance of our oceans and protecting them. The day we were there, they also had some kids coloring and other activities going on as well as a raffle contest. My mom entered and one a bag with some Sea Life Center items.

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After our trip around the Sea Life Center, we walked the pretty much 1-block distance to the Seward Brewery, where we purchased a glass growler and had it filled with Rockfish Red beer. Since we were in a hurry to get on our way to a glacier and then on to our campground for the night, we didn’t stay and have samplers or food—but the place looked really cool and you can look through a large glass window when you walk in the door to see their brewing set-up. We will definitely be coming back here next time!

On our way out of town, we stopped by the Smoke Shack to pick up lunch—an old railroad car converted into a BBQ restaurant. We went in and ordered food to go and we were welcome to sit down and they brought us water while we waited- great hospitality and delicious food! We ended up with pulled pork sandwiches (mine was a bit different- made with jalapenos and maple syrup, yes please). They also had a selection of about 6 different sauces from orange-jalapeno (not as spicy as you think!) to a vinegar sweet and sour to chipotle ranch. Everything was delicious and the sandwiches were huge! We also got an appetizer of Cajun brie- basically think melted brie, tomatoes, jalapenos, and onion with some chipotle seasoning and served up with crostini. Perfecto!!! Definitely check this place out!

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From Seward, we drove a bit up the road to Exit Glacier; still a portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Here you can take a trail that goes right up next to the glacier. At one point you could touch the glacier and even walk on it, but it has receded and become unstable, so now you can just walk up next to it (still pretty awesome). Additionally, you can backpack up past the glacier to the Harding Ice Field where all of the Kenai Fjords Glaciers stem from. You can camp up their and do further exploration and hiking (put it on the list for next time).

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After Exit Glacier, we finished our drive to Russian River Campground, about ½ the way to Homer (located on the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula from Seward). We set up shop and made dinner. A wonderfully awesome day!

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Resources and Tips for the Traveler:

  1. Take a picture of the trail map before starting a hike (especially with Mount Marathon—some off-shoots of the trail that aren’t clearly marked)
  2. Take snacks on your hike—you may not be hungry when you start hiking, but you will be (string cheese is light and delicious)
  3. Seward Sea Life Center– Probably not necessary if you did the boat tour into Kenai Fjords NP and saw a lot of wildlife, but it is still interesting to see the animals up close and to check out the exhibits and demos (Cost: $20; discount for military and AAA)
  4. Smoke Shack (Trip advisor link; no website)- great lunch stop on the way out of town (Address: 411 Port Avenue, Seward).
  5. Marathon Campground on the Water (for RVs) (Cost: $15/night or $30 with hook-ups; they do check to make sure you registered; Check out the Seward City campground website for more information: http://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=864)
  6. Kenai Fjords NP Visitor Center (Seward Address: 1212 4th Avenue, Seward)
  7. Bakery on the Harbor (Trip advisor link; no website)- great for breakfast and coffee before the boat! (Address: 1210 4th Avenue, Seward)
  8. Seward Brewery (We paid $25.68 for a Glass Growler filled with beer; Address: 139 4th Avenue, Seward ); Buy a growler and have it filled; then you can stop at other breweries along the way and just refill the growler!
  9. Exit Glacier (Cost: None Address: Turn onto Exit Glacier Road at Milepost 3 of the Seward Highway. Continue 8.4 miles and you will end up in the parking lot ); Cool hike! After you walk up to the glacier, take the trail that goes out to the glacier view point—it’s a great vantage point of the riverbed and the entire glacier and definitely worth it! Also, if you have more time, you can hike up to the Harding Icefield where this glacier (and many others) originate. You can also camp up there! We will be doing that next time!

*Note- be sure to say hi to the guy in the Exit Glacier Visitor Center! He’s a character and super-friendly!

Categories: Alaska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunrise Trek Up Mount Batur

Well, we had originally planned on hiking up Mount Agung [where the gods live], however there was a private burial occurring and as such, hikers were not allowed up there the day we planned, so instead, Swasti suggested we do a sunrise hike up Mount Batur- it was a bit easier they said and we could leave at 3AM instead of Midnight [the time you had to leave to get up Mount Agung to see the sunrise]. In retrospect- Oh my god. I am so GLAD we did NOT hike Mount Agung…. especially if Mount Batur was “easier”. Mount Batur was like straight up a volcano. It was crazy– but a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it! A Swasti guard on duty overnight packed us breakfast sandwiches in the morning and sent us on our way. We were picked up at Swasti around 3AM or so. We picked up two other folks on the way. We drove for about an hour and then arrived in a parking lot that was pretty packed with other people waiting to hike. As it turns out, the hike up Mount Batur is basically a never-ending chain of groups working their way up the volcano by flashlight. Your guide carries water and breakfast/snacks with him. We made our way up the volcano– admittedly, slower than I probably would have liked, but I was out of breath most of the way up so really I’m just glad we made it up. We did- made it in time to sit for a few before the sunrise began and was it ever worth it. There was also a woman up there in a little shed who was selling coffee and food– apparently she hikes up every morning with everything- water, coffee, and all other supplies… just to try and sell to the people who come for the sunrise. As we sat taking pictures of the beauty before us, naturally a few curious monkeys came along out of nowhere. They ended up with one of our eggs and some toast. Pesky little things. As far as recommended tour guides for the trek- really any will do… you can typically just line them up through your hotel/eco-lodge, etc. We set ours up the day before. Easy peasy.

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On the way back to Swasti from the sunrise trek, we stopped by a tea and coffee plantation for tastings and we bought some coffee for the road. Yum! The best part was we still had the afternoon in Ubud to relax. The next morning we were heading out yet again– but this time to a different island for an overnight- 1 night, 2 day excursion- mostly built around seeing Komodo Dragons in the wild [they’re my favorite besides Manatees]! Anyway we walked into town again and relaxed– found a place to grab some lunch and it was so awesome. We were sitting outside in gorgeous weather and right next door is a rice field. How cool is that? I told you they put rice fields everywhere they can! I had a traditional Balinese dish with yellow rice, chicken, and veggies, while Andrew opted for the pizza. We also dined on pretty heavenly drinks, including passionfruit mojitos and lemongrass jubilees. For a country that’s not big on drinking, they sure do have some amazing drinks!

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Before we depart from this post, we wanted to share some pictures of Swasti Eco Lodge, our home base in Ubud. Delightfully wonderful place hidden away just outside of town. It was perfect.

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Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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