Monday, 20 October 2008

O'ahu

O'ahu was definitely the big city compared to the other islands, but we had a great time chilling out for our final days in the US:
  • Beaches.
  • Pearl Harbor memorial, pretty amazing, built over the wreck of the USS Arizona.
  • Our $3 lilo made an awesome glass bottomed boat for snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Beach Park, checking out fish and coral, well mainly fish, most of the coral had been stepped on by millions of tourists.
  • Watched the Hawks take out the AFL grand final in a bar in Honolulu with bemused/bored Americans :)
  • Ate lunch at Keneke's - a crazy fish and chip shop whose outdoor area was full of religious graffiti, mainly random bible verses and inspiration like 'Some know of Jesus, Some know Jesus!'
  • Beach hopped around the northern beaches, which (in the winter) are home to the legendary waves you see in surfing videos. Amazing we swam at the Banzai pipeline beach, and there was no surf! We swam at four or five different beaches, it was great to get away from the touristy beaches and swim where the locals go.
  • Found it amusing that Hawaii has an interstate freeway. Think about it.
I thought Hawaii was awesome, could definitely spend more time there. In a lot of ways it really is halfway between the US and Australia, some random stuff that made me feel at home: metric signs, egg on a hamburger, prawns instead of shrimp, tim tams (Malaysian export version!?), toilets instead of restrooms.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Maui

I think the big island was probably my favourite, but Maui was pretty good too:
  • Did part of the legendary drive through the dripping rainforest to Hana, but were slightly unimpressed with the scenery. Also the scariest drive of my life with continuous hairpin bends, one lane bridges and psycho drivers.
  • Haleakala National Park - more volcano :) Training ground for the Mars lander, we were above the clouds wandering around in the giant craters. Would be cool to do a multi-day walk through the volcano craters there.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Big Island Flora - What the?

Big Island....mmmm.....lava

The Hawaiian Big Island is awesome, and volcanoes national park is *the* place to study volcanoes:
  • Walked on still-steaming lava in a volcano crater.
  • Walked through a 390m lava tube, only 90m of which was lit. All the other tourists thought we were hardcore with our headtorches. Em freaked out so we probably did about 80m of very dark tunnel.

  • Saw roads and areas of bush that had been destroyed by lava.
  • Watched the glow of lava from the crater rim at night.
  • Saw amazing waterfalls and rainforest.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Em gets her tough on


I'm as surprised as you are.

I wanted to do this walk in Grand Teton to surprise lake, which was 1km vertical and described by LP as a 'classic leg burner'. Needless to say Em wasn't quite as keen, and since she had an injured foot and knee problems I didn't hold out much hope of us making it to the top. Sure enough about 500m in there were tears and I said we should turn back.

To my surprise Em stubbornly refused to turn back, swallowed a handful of Nurofen (aka Vitamin I) and kept walking. Amazingly she made it the whole way, through freezing rain, injured foot and knee not withstanding. What a champion.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Grand Teton: second best walk in the US


Grand Teton is right next to Yellowstone, and I get the impression most people blow through, take the photo of the lake with the craggy mountains in the background from the roadside overlooks and continue on their merry way. We spent a few days camping and hiking in the park, and it was one of my favourite places in the US.

In fact, it is home to my 2nd favourite (behind Angel's Landing) walk in the US, through Cascade Canyon. This walk was pure jaw dropping mountain scenery. We managed to pick the best week of the whole year for the autumn colours. I've never seen a mountain look as pretty as Grand Teton capped with snow and gold-bronze foilage cascading down its flanks.

We managed to not get eaten by a bear, which was a bonus. I was shitting myself a few times when we were walking through acres of red berries, thinking "this is a bear supermarket, and we are the dessert aisle..."

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Yellowstone: Waterfalls, Wildlife and Flash mobs


Mt. Washburn was a cool hike, although Lonely Planet had us shitting ourselves, this being September: "grizzlies flock to Mount Washburn's east slopes in August and September in search of ripening whitebark pine nuts". We didn't see any :)

After Washburn we hiked along the rim of the "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone", which was amazingly spectacular due to the different rock colours created by thermal activity.
The waterfalls and rock colours made this my favourite part of the park.

We got up early to hit the Lamar valley - "America's Serengeti", a mecca for wildlife.
Unfortunately we quickly discovered that we didn't have much chance of seeing wildlife without binoculars (I'm fairly convinced TSA nicked mine, the bastards).

Here is how wildlife spotting works in Yellowstone.

Drive around, look for cars that are pulled over. Pull over, look where they are looking, ask someone what they are looking at. Half the time the thing they are looking at has either left, or is about 1km away and can only be seen with these giant spotting scopes mounted on tripods that half the visitors to the park have brought with them.

Every single person seems to follow this same algorithm, which means if you pull over, get your binoculars out and point at something, you are instantly surrounded by 5 SUVs and 10 RVs worth of people asking "What can you see?". "Erm, we were just looking". The park is huge, and there are only a small number of high-traffic roads that most animals are sensible enough to stay away from, except bison.

The coolest things we saw were beavers (way bigger than I expected! and cute) and prong-horn deer.

Yellowstone: (Smelly) Geyser Country


Our first stop was geyser country, which was amazing. They have 60% of the world's geysers in Yellowstone, and geyser country has the highest concentration of thermal features in the world. Boiling mud, geysers, thermal springs, fart gas, we saw and smelt it all. I was surprised by how many geysers had fairly predictable eruption times - we checked in with the rangers and covered quite a few, including Old Faithful.
The vibe here was kind-of weird, the large seating areas and set 'show' times meant it felt more like a theme park than a National park.

video
Mud Volcano
video
Old Faithful
video

"There's more guns on this plane than people": Jackson Hole to Yellowstone


We flew into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the airport is actually inside Grand Teton National Park. In the words of a guy watching the luggage being unloaded - "there's more guns on this plane than people". It was peak hunting season and the area is something of a mecca for hunters. There is something quite ironic in how people were walking around with hunting bows and rifles in an airport that makes me empty my water bottle and x-ray my shoes in case I could hurt someone with them.

We grabbed our hire-van (very handy when everything except the tent and sleeping bag needs to be in a hard-sided vehicle, see bears blog) and drove through Grand Teton to Yellowstone, our home for 4 nights. Along the way we saw tons (literally) of bison, which in terms of tourists injured per year are way more dangerous than bears! We did our bit for the statistics by getting a bit closer than we probably should have.

Best outdoors store ever


In our frequent trips through Denver we managed to fit in a couple of visits to the giant REI flagship store. I think I would live in Denver just so I could go to this store. Em's new REI 0°F/-17°C sleeping bag had started leaking down everywhere, so we swapped it for an awesome 0°F Marmot bag and some other gear with very little fuss - top marks for customer service.