NEW VIDEO POST… I just posted a new video to my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”…
This is the seventh video in a seven part series on Alaska and the Inside Passage. This video focuses on Where to View and Photograph Wildlife. I have been a professional photojournalist and published since 1979. I have lived and worked on cruise ships for the past 11 years and spent eight of those years in the summer cruising to Alaska… Enjoy the video, information and photographs…
The long and tedious span of the worldwide covid-19 lockdown felt more like years than months for many, including myself.
But finally many countries are beginning to reopen allowing us once again to breathe fresh air and experience the great outdoors.
For me there is no better place to do this than at Yosemite National Park in California.
Yosemite reopened its gate in mid-June with restrictions to reduce the number of people entering the park and a decision that a number of facilities that will not open in 2020 including some restaurants, stores and lodging.
On the upside the reduced number of cars allowed into the park means far fewer traffic jams than usually accompany the summer months and much smaller crowds at key attractions.
Driving the “Valley Loop” you can enjoy a scenic turnout at Valley View and just another 15 minutes away you will find is Tunnel View.
A 30-minute drive will take you to Glacier Point affording one of the best views overlooking the valley, Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls. Heading in another direction in 30 minutes you can walk among the giant redwoods of the Mariposa Grove and 30 minutes further on awaits the wonders of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country.
Even with the reduced number of people allowed to hike the area many of the trails have fallen victim to the covid-19 pandemic with fewer trail permits issued. But if you limit yourself to hiking relatively flat terrain the valley floor has approximately 10 miles of trails to explore and a trail permit is not required. In a one- or two-hour stroll you can marvel at the iconic structures of El Captain, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and Yosemite Falls.
Whether you are a day hiker or the more adventurous sort like myself, who has donned a 40-50 pound backpack for days or weeks at a time to explore, the pristine wilderness awaits and one can still obtain the highly prized “wilderness and trail permit” by applying online.
One of my favorite day hikes is the 2.1-mile roundtrip trail with only a 456-foot elevation gain to Sentinel Dome. Add another 3 miles and 666 feet of elevation and you will find yourself at Taft Point on the south rim looking straight down at valley the floor 3000 feet below. The downfall due to the ease of the trail are the crowds, the upside is the incredible view consisting of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome and many of Yosemite’s landmarks.
If you are looking to escape the crowds a good alternative is Dewey, Crocker and Stanford Points where the 9-mile trail and 1,925-foot elevation gain make for fewer visitors. Carrying a 54-pound backpack, 14 pounds of which was camera equipment, I recently spent three days on Crocker Point photographing the Milky Way, with day hikes to Dewey and Stanford Points.
The trail begins downhill through a covered forest for three-quarters of a mile, opening into the lush green McGurk Meadow for another half mile before once again entering the forest. At the 2 mile mark the steep climb to Dewey Point begins. As the trail ascends the sounds of birds singing, an occasional deer or bear sighting a sense of peace engulfs you overwhelming your senses.
And then suddenly there is that most welcome sound of all for a backpacker, the sound of a small stream where you can quench your ever-building thirst with fresh, cool water. It is important to note that even though you are in the wilderness you should to filter the water. Giardia is the last thing that you want to encounter.
Pushing uphill the last half mile past the stream you reach Dewey Point where most people stop and return back to their cars if on a day hike or pitch their tent to spend the night. I reached Dewey in the late afternoon where about 15 tents had already staked their claim for the night.
Having lived in Yosemite on and off for three years. I knew a little over a half mile further was Crocker Point which is seldom visited, and I had the place all to myself for three days. This is where I would suggest you spend the night.
The steep downhill trail which of course means a steep uphill climb when I leave can be daunting, but you will be rewarded with a much better view looking down on Bridalveil Falls, which you cannot see from Dewey. There is a panorama view from the cliffs edge of El Captain, North Dome, Clouds Rest and Half Dome.
If you have never experienced the night skies in the backcountry away from the light pollution of the city prepare yourself, there is nothing on Earth quite like it. The dark blue velvet sky is filled with millions of stars shining like diamonds. During the summer months the Milky Way comes into view and splashes a palette of color from azure blue and rich purple to brilliant orange and crimson red.
Whether you opt for a day hike or spend one to several nights out in the wilderness of Yosemite it will be something you will never forgot. If you are lucky it will get under your skin and you will want to return time and time again to Yosemite.
For me my Yosemite passion started back in 1965 when I was just 10. I spent my honeymoon there in 1972. I lived and worked there for three years and now at age 66 I still don a backpack and head into the wilderness. Yosemite and its hauntingly beautiful wilderness have become part of who I am.
The Panama Canal — which transverses two oceans through the deep tropical jungles of Central America — is one of the world’s most incredible feats of modern engineering, and the only way to truly appreciate its grandeur is on a cruise ship.
The Panama Canal system is considered to be one of the manmade wonders of the world.Construction of the 82-kilometer waterway was begun by France in 1881.
But due to a series of engineering and logistical problems, as well as a high mortality rate of workers as a result of heat exhaustion and malaria, the project was halted three years later.
In 1904, the United States picked up where the French engineers has left off, and the arduous effort to build the conduit began again in earnest.
Ten years later, the magnificent canal opened for business.
A massive levy system was incorporated that crossed the Isthmus of Panama to raise and lower ships 85 feet above sea level.
This allowed ships to take advantage of Gatun Lake, a manmade lake constructed to shorten the excavation of the jungle and the monetary costs and the deaths associated with construction.
For 93 years, the Panama Canal system carried thousands of ships through its waters.
And in September 2007, a new project began to widen the canal.
When this work was completed in May 2016, the new construction allowed today’s supertankers to take advantage of the canal, which beforehand would have been impossible.
When traveling through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, you can experience the sights and sounds of passing through the locks and witness the beautiful landscape of Panama.
From the vast surrounding jungle to the expansive Gatun Lake and thrill of passing under the Bridge of the Americas and the Centennial Bridge, it is an unforgettable journey.
Your ship will navigate its way across the Continental Divide by waterway, and you will be able to witness the entire process from the deck of your ship.
Your cruise ship journey will start in one of the ports in Florida or in California, depending on your direction of travel. Along the way you will visit a number of ports, including those in the Caribbean, South America, Central American and Mexico.
If your cruise sets sale from Los Angeles, your first port of call will be in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California..
This once sleepy fishing village located at the end of the Baja peninsula, known as Lands’ End, has developed into a busy city and tourist destination.
A key stop for many cruise ships, Cabo has become known for its mild weather, beautiful white sand beaches that stretch for miles, world-class golf courses, hotels and resorts, and its premier sportfishing destinations.
From the myriad of shops filled with trinkets to authentic Cuban cigars to expensive jewelry and activities like fishing, whale watching, horseback riding along the beach, camel rides in the desert, you will never be at a loss for something to do in Cabo. And that does not take into account swimming with dolphins, glass bottom boat rides or scuba diving and snorkeling in the warm crystal clear waters.
Depending on your itinerary, you may stop at any one of the countries in Central America. It could be Guatemala, where you can take an excursion to the colorful city of Antigua, which sits at the foot of a volcano. The little town’s streets are lined with colorful buildings, shops and restaurants.
Or maybe your ship will make a stop in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, where you may find yourself in a small wooden boat navigating the crocodile, filled waters of the Tarcoles River as you travel through the jungle.
Another frequent stop for cruise ships making this journey is Cartagena, Columbia.
With its rich history, a trip to the old town known as the Walled City or to the colorful Barrio Getsemaní, you’ll find yourself surrounded by numerous cafés and shops.
For those looking for jewelry, Cartagena is known for its quality and reasonably priced emeralds.
If you are not into crowds and prefer nature, try visiting the National Aviary of Colombia outside Cartagena, where you will be treated to over 135 different species and thousands of birds.
Rounding out your Los Angeles embarkation, you will visit the Caribbean and, depending on which ship and itinerary you have, it could be Aruba, Grand Cayman, Curacao or a private island owned by the cruise line.
It is important when deciding on what ship or cruise line to choose that you make sure to research the ship’s itinerary and accommodations.
Your accommodations can range from the basic inside cabin to a spacious luxury suite, depending on your budget. You will also find specialty restaurants, various shops and five-star spa facilities, replete with a beauty salon, massage options and acupuncture services.
And when you consider that your travel, cabin, entertainment and meals are usually all included, the cost of witnessing this extraordinary feat of engineering can be very reasonable.
The 15th century Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Trãi once described Ha Long Bay as “a rock wonder in the sky.” Anyone who has ever seen the place can easily understand why.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994 and the most-visited tourist destination in the Southeast Asian nation, Ha Long Bay is a spectacular cluster of more than 1,600 limestone islands and islets jutting out of a sea of rippled emerald green waters that evoke a sense of eternal ataraxia.
The peaceful serenity of Ha Long Bay — situated in Vietnam’s northern Quang Ninh Province, just 165 kilometers northeast of Hanoi — is echoed in the tranquil lifestyle of those who live and work here, creating a hauntingly beautiful otherworldliness that mesmerizes all that witness the place.
The islands, called karsts, are perforated with hundreds of winding caves and grottoes — the result of millions of years of weathering and natural erosion — that can be explored on junks and kayaks.
If you have the time and budget for it, you can also book a helicopter tour to be able to appreciate the grandeur of the towering verdant jade-green limestone islands from above, or you can opt for an overnight cruise to watch the shimmering waters of the bay as they change colors with the sunset and sunrise.
To the Vietnamese people, Ha Long has great historic and mythical significance. According to an ancient legend, it was here that the Jade Emperor — the ruler of all people — sent down the Mother Dragon and her children to help the Vietnamese ward off foreign invaders from the north. Not only did the dragons spit fire upon the aggressors, but also filled the bay’s waters with giant emeralds that acted as a barrier against enemy ships.
In the end, the Vietnamese people were victorious, and the emeralds were transformed into the lush, verde islands we see today. So great was the love of the Mother Dragon for the Vietnamese, she allowed her offspring to stay on Earth and to live and intermarry with the local people, thus helping them to gain celestial knowledge of agriculture and warfare.
The name Ha Long means “Descending Dragon,” and even today, the Vietnamese people consider themselves to be descendants of the dragon.
Ha Long Bay was also the home of several of Vietnam’s earliest cultures, including the Soi Nhu (18000 to 7000 B.C.), the Cai Beo (7000 to 5000 B.C.) and the Ha Long (5000 to 3500 B.C.).
Over the centuries, the bay was a pivotal point in Vietnam’s wars and power struggles, and as late as the 19th century, Ha Long was still being used as a hub by Chinese and Vietnamese pirates.
But today, Ha Long is a peaceful fishing and farming region, disturbed only by the influx of tourists.
To get to Ha Long Bay, you can either take a four-hour bus ride (which may be overcrowded and include a barrage of local scents, often not very desirable), or hire a car and arrive in about three hours.
Once in Ha Long Bay, take a two-hour ferry ride to Cat Ba Island and use it as your home base. Cat Ba City is a small waterfront community with many hotels, ranging from very basic hostels averaging $9 per night to the four-star Cat Ba Island Resort and Spa for a mere $85 per night. Another high end option the Van Boi Ecolux Island Resort on a private beach and cove at $107 per night. Remember, you are in Vietnam and the dollar goes a very long way.
Yet another option is to spend the night or several on a junk or a luxury boat that cruises the bay. Spending a night or two at sea away from the sights, sounds and light pollution of shore is relaxing. Now, combine that with the calm waters of the bay and the surrounding karsts with a bright full moon or with a dark sky under the stars, and you have a near-magical experience.
If you are an adventurous soul, you could take the path that I chose. I spent the first night in Cat Ba City, relaxing, enjoying a great meal and making arrangements for the next days transportation.
I hired a small boat that was no more than four feet wide and 20 feet long to take me to Cat Hai Island in the the Haiphong Province. The two-hour journey from Cat Ba City took me through a maze of limestones islands and several communities of houseboats scattered through the bay like hidden gems. I witnessed those living in the floating villages doing daily chores, fishing or just relaxing after a hard day’s work.
I had reserved a bungalow at the Whisper of Nature Resort, located in the small village of Viet Hai. Once my boat arrived, I could either walk about an hour to the village or take an official taxi, a scooter. I opted for the later. I joined my driver with my backpack strapped on and off we went for the one-mile drive.
The small farming village is located in the heart of Cat Ba National Park in a wide valley surrounded by mountains. The village is very safe and virtually crime-free, a fact that the villagers take great pride in. Known as a “eco” village, the people of Viet Hai are very friendly and willing to share their lives with anyone they meet. It was easy to make friends.
At the end of the concrete road, I arrived at my destination, the Whisper of Nature. There were a handful of small cinder block bungalows, all adorned inside with beautiful wood paneling, a bath, a comfortable bed a small patio.
There was a central kitchen, serving wonderful food in a large comfortable dining room. To my surprise, there was the best Wifi I had experienced since I had left the United States. Remember, I was three hours offshore in the middle of the mountains and jungle.
The manager also told me of a remote abandoned village down a dirt trail about 45 minutes away. The entire scene was surreal, with the abandoned structures, the mist hovering over the jungle and the sight of a lone villager walking through the fields, dressed in military fatigues and leading a solitary horse.
I spent four days in Viet Hai, walking through the village, the surrounding fields, visiting with locals and observing a day in the life of a “real” Vietnamese village.
Away from the cities and all their trappings, the serene village of Viet Hai left me feeling calm, relaxed and with a new outlook and sense of purpose in life.
There are many ways to explore Halong Bay. Viet Hai is just one of them. ´But whether you follow my path or find your own, you will never forget your visit to this magical place, Vietnam’s mystical Land of the Dragons.
As I have written and photographed Alaska many times over the last 7 years, I want to focus on maybe some images of Alaska that you have not seen before. Many of these images were taken this past summer 2019.
The summer cruise season is upon us, and there is no place better to cruise at this time than Alaska. I firmly believe that everyone should cruise to Alaska at least once in their lifetime. It is nothing short of magnificent.
There are many ways to reach Alaska, including driving or flying, but nothing offers the spectacular views, convenience or entertainment of a modern luxury cruise ship. There are no luxury hotels at the ports, but the accommodations on passenger ships range from modest, budget-priced cabins to luxurious staterooms.
Depending on your itinerary, there are several ports of call where you can embark, including Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver and Victoria, in British Columbia. Typically, Alaska cruises last seven days, but there is a 10-day cruise leaving from San Francisco. Another port where you can embark or disembark is Whitter, Alaska, for those wanting to visit Denali National Park.
Travelling the Inside Passage through British Columbia and Alaska allows you to appreciate the stunning landscapes and fresh air while relaxing on your private balcony as the ship glides through the calm waters. You may also see an array of wildlife, including orcas, dolphins and humpback whales, as well as bears, mountain goats and bald eagles.
On most cruises, you will visit three ports of calls Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, each of which have their own charm and distinct personalities. Each town has numerous restaurants, places to shop and what seems like an endless amount of tours and shore excursions. Tours are offered both from the ships and from private companies.
I have spent seven summers traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage as an acupuncture physician on various cruise lines which has given me an insider’s view and perspective. Here are some of my favorite tours:
Two of my favorites are located in Ketchikan, a town of approximately 14,000 residents and Alaska’s first city. It is also the second-rainiest city in the United States, averaging 13 feet a year. Be prepared for downpours, but the majority of the summer season, the weather can be very nice.
Aurora Birds and Bears encompasses all of Ketchikan’s sights and sounds and specializes in custom tours. The owner/operator Rich Lee is a Native American of the Tlingit tribe. He was born and raised in Ketchikan, giving him a distinct advantage over many of the tour operators that are summer transplants.
During a three-hour tour, you will be offered a history lesson on Ketchikan, enjoy the rainforest and a waterfall and visit “real” totem poles, not replicas. Lee’s biggest expertise, however, is locating wildlife. Many times on the tour, we encountered black bear, deer, bald eagles and, at times, even orca and whales have been spotted from the shore.
My other favorite is the Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour. If you are a fan of the television show, you might be interested to know that the Aleutian Ballad of season two is now homeported in Ketchikan. Captain/owner David Lethine and his crew of merry misfits are all seasoned crab fisherman of the Bering Sea and share their vast knowledge during the three-hour tour. This hands-on experience enables you to hold live crab, spotted prawns and other creatures of the sea.
The highlight for many is a side trip to Annette Island, where dozens of bald eagles await your arrival. As the boat nears the island, 30 to 40 eagles leave their perches like a swarm of mosquitos as the crew toss herring into the water. It is literally like ringing the dinner bell as the eagles fly within feet of the boat, attacking the water in their quest for a free meal. It is truly incredible to behold and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In Skagway, I highly recommend taking a flight over Glacier Bay National Park with Paul Swanstrom, the owner/pilot of the Mountain Flying Service at the Skagway Airport. This seasoned Alaskan aviator provides an unforgettable experience with each seat having a window allowing you to witness the grandeur of mountain peaks crowned with white virgin snow. Fly over multiple glaciers as they wind their way through the valleys of the countryside on the way to the sea. Flights range from one to two hours, with the option to land on a glacier or a remote beach.
If you want to see whales, the capital city of Juneau is the port to book your whales excursion. There are numerous tours with a wide variety of options, including everything from private yachts to limited load tours to those offering a salmon bake and wildlife quests.
My personal favorite is the Discover Alaska Whale Tour. This limited load and small boat tour has a naturalist on board who will share scientific knowledge and research on whales and other sea life that you may encounter. The windows open in, so even in poor weather you are warm and dry and have ample opportunities to take photographs.
Yet another place to see and photograph whales is in the port of Icy Strait. This is not a common port of call but by looking closely at the different itineraries of the different cruise lines and ship you will find a number that do go there.
One of the many reasons people cruise to Alaska during the summer is to experience its glaciers, many of which can only be reached by cruise ship. Words are hard to come by when trying to explain the sights and sounds of these glorious towers laced with blue ice. You will witness history as these living structures march only to terminate at the water’s edge and calving into the sea.
For more information on cruising to Alaska and its ports, my book “Alaska and the Inside Passage – A Guide to the Ports, Tours and Shore Excursions,” covers this in greater detail, including my favorite restaurants and more excursions to explore.
What I think sets my book apart from most tour guides on Alaska (outside of my wonderful writing and insightful knowledge of the area, of course) is that I have included plenty of my own photographs (not stock photos). Consequently, my book is designed not only a travel guide, but also as a coffee table book. It is visually rich, but is small enough to travel with so that you can always have the information at your fingertips.
I would like to close this entry with a few more shots taken this year… the summer of 2019.
A bucket list item for me… It took seven summers but I finally was able to photograph the Northern Lights. What sets this image apart for me is if you look close from mid upper to the upper left in the photo is the Big Dipper… just being at the right place at the right time.
Near Juneau a large meadow in full bloom with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background.
I recently found myself once again island-hopping the Hawaii isles. My favorite island, Maui, is the second-largest of the chain, and its wonders are well worth taking several days to explore since you will never be at a loss for somewhere new to discover.
The airport in Maui is located in largest city of the island, Kahului, located on the northern coast. Here you will find most of the big car rental agencies, as well as some locally owned rental companies. Being the Maui is a major tourist destination for both U.S. travelers and foreign tourists, and the added population of cruise ship passengers, if you are planning to rent a car, it is a good idea to book your reservation well in advance.
Kahului is the perfect base from which to explore the island. Less than 30 minutes away is the town of Lahaina, a small coastal village is filled with oceanfront restaurants and quaint shops. One of its best known features is the large banyan tree, with its limbs gracefully stretched out, providing amble shade from the tropical sun.
If you want a close encounter with a rainforest and the chance to see beautiful mountains, the Iao Valley National Park is just a 30-minute ride away from Kahului. It has several short trails to hike. But be warned, whether you opt for make the short ascent to the lookout or the descent to the river, you will be climbing a lot of stairs. If mobility is an issue, there are wonderful views you can enjoy without having to take any trails. Iao is not a large area, so spending 30 minutes to an hour will allow you to cover all there is to see.
Another adventure and one of the best known treks is the Road to Hana. Beginning in Kahului, the road winds its way along the coast and through the dense rainforest, navigating its 52 miles, 59 bridges the 620 curves that have made it famous. There are shirts and bumper stickers available at roadside stands bragging “I Survived the Road to Hana,” as well as drinks and plenty of places to get a bite to eat.
The rugged coast and white sand beaches, are breathtaking, as are the dense green rainforests and scenic mountains. Scattered along the road are numerous waterfalls and cascades, many with banks to stop and to take photographs as the water surges over the edge of a cliff and tumbles down a mountainside.
The other famous landmark in Maui is the Haleakala Volcano National Park. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Kahului, depending on your experience driving steep mountain roads. Along the way, you will pass through the small village of Kula. Make a point of having a meal at the Kula Bistro, where the food is farm-fresh and very reasonably priced (but be prepared for a short wait, depending on the time of day).
The O’o Coffee Farm is about a 10-minute drive from Kula and definitely worth a visit. After short walk up a gentle slope, follow a dirt road which leads to a rustic farm building and the gardens.
Here you will be met by one of the farm’s very knowledgeable workers, who will describe the different types of award-winning coffee grown at O’o while you enjoy a complimentary sample. (You can also buy a bag or two of the farm’s brew to take home with you.)
Continuing toward the volcano, the road beings its long ascent to the summit. You will travel through lush green valleys and rainforests and a layer of clouds as you make your way to the 10,000-foot crest. The terrain at the peak resembles a moonscape of various colored volcanic rocks that are millions of years old, having been expelled during the mountain’s fiery rein.
Slightly lower in elevation is an additional parking lot and visitor center. Here you can take a steep hike to the top of hill with wonderful views of the crater on one side and the valley on the other.
Most of the time, the valley will be obscured by an ocean of white clouds as far as you can see. This view is particularly beautiful at sunset, as the sky changes color from blue to yellow to deep orange when the sun dips below the false horizon of the clouds.
Here’s a tip: On your way to the summit, take note of the several lookouts. To avoid traffic and a slow descent down the mountain, leave 20 minutes early and then stop at a lookout to marvel at the sunset.
Also bear in mind that if you decide to come for the sunrise. you must leave very early and also make a reservation well ahead of time. Those without a reservation will be turned away.
Whatever itinerary you choose to follow in Maui, you are sure to find some unrivaled natural beauty that will leave you saying “mahalo.”
When you close your eyes and imagine white sand beaches, warm crystal blue water, rugged mountain tops and lush green valleys, what specific place comes to mind? For me, it is the Society Islands of French Polynesia.
The Society Islands consist of the nine islands and five atolls, and contained within the archipelago are Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. They were named in honor of the Royal Society by Captain James Cook, the English explorer, after his visit to the islands in 1769, and this overseas territory of France received partial sovereignty in 1977.
Today, it is an overseas collectivity of France.
The largest of the islands is Tahiti, which hosts Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, with a population of 184,000 inhabitants.
Tahiti is the buzzling economic, political and cultural hub of French Polynesia, and is usually the first port of call for foreign tourists since it has the only international airport in the collectivity.
If you are planning on purchasing black pearls during your visit, Papeete has the largest selection and some of the most reputable dealers (although prices are usually somewhat lower in Moorea).
French Polynesia is world renowned for its black pearls, known for their dark, iridescent shades of black and silver, capturing the entire spectrum of colors of the rainbow.
Tahitian pearls are not actually black, as they are often referred to. Instead, the majority of Tahitian pearls are gray, silver, charcoal or shades of shimmering green, blue and gold.
And although it is true that they take their name from Polynesia’s most well-known island, Tahitian pearls are, in fact, not cultivated in Tahiti, but rather elsewhere throughout the waters of French Polynesia.
Black pearls, which are named for the lip of the oyster (pinctada margaritifera-cumingi) that produces them and not for their own hue, can come in almost any shade, including peacock green, metallic gray, cobalt, cherry red and bright aubergine.
Although some colors tend to be more popular than others, the value of a Tahitian black pearl is determined by its luster, size and shape, rather than its hue. Unlike Asian or freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls are rarely round and can come in very unusual forms, including elongated drops and asymmetrical pear shapes.
Because the black-lipped oyster is very large, Tahitian pearls tend to be quite large, In fact, they are usually between 8 to 16 millimeters long, although they can be as large as 20 millimeters long.
Personally, I would not recommend staying in Papeete since it is rather rundown. I have also had more than one taxi driver tell me there are a fair amount of unsafe areas in the city.
That is not to say that the rest of the island follows suit. Within its 1,042 square kilometers, Tahiti has plenty of beautiful beaches, lagoons and a lush interior with numerous hiking trails to explore, as well as Mount Orohena, towering 2,241 meters above the sea.
One of the top must-sees in Tahiti is Fautaua Waterfall, a natural sparkling water cascade that towers 985 feet into a large pool. But be warned, it is a long and ambitious trek through steep slopes and tropical jungle to get to, so if you decide to go, bring comfortable hiking shoes and plenty of mosquito repellent. (Also, the falls are sometimes closed to tourists due to heavy rains and other climatic concerns, so check if they are open before you go.)
If you are a surfer, Tahiti’s Teahupao is known as one of the best surfing beaches in the world. The island is also ringed with small villages and a range of lodging from budget hotels and guest houses to private home rentals and exquisite luxury resorts, my favorite being the Tahiti InterContinental Resort and Spa.
Moorea is the second largest island and only a 30-minute ferry ride or a 10-minute flight from Tahiti. There is no city on the island, but you will find a number of small villages and hamlets. There are many tour guides on the island that can show you the sights at a very reasonable rate. The advantage of a guide is you will not miss any of the highlights and you will learn of the rich island culture.
Another option is to rent a car and explore on your own. The advantage here is that you are on your own schedule and are able to stop and swim, have a picnic, dine at a café on the beach and take as much time as you like at any one location.
Moorea is the favorite of many visitors to the Society Islands. The only drawback is there are not many sand beaches to spread out a blanket on and enjoy the warm tropical sun. Instead, you will find a vast variety of lagoons to enjoy a swim along its coast. If you are an avid diver, you will certainly appreciate the multiple reefs surrounding Moorea that are inhabited by an array colorful tropical fish.
Those with an adventurous spirit might want to try diving with sharks and stingrays, one of the highlight tours of the island.
You may also decide to drive inland up a steep, well-marked road to the Belvedere Lookout. From this exceptional vantage point, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the island’s lush green Opunohu Valley 790 feet below and the surrounding mountain top of Mount Rotui towering above. The overlook also affords a wonderful view of Cook’s Bay, where Captain Cook first set foot on the island’s twin bays.
Smaller still than Moorea is the island of Bora Bora, which for many is considered the Pearl of the South Pacific. Each time I have been here, I have chosen to rent a car and take a leisurely drive the 22 miles of road that wind gracefully around the Bora Bora coastline.
There are two Avis car rentals on the island and the prices start at $100 for a small car. If you decide to rent a car, I’d advise making the reservation online well ahead of time since this is a port of call for many cruise ships and availability is often limited.
Each of the islands has its own unique personality, and unlike Moorea, Bora Bora has many white sand beaches to lay on and soak up the sun. Here too are large crystal clear lagoons to snorkel and wonderful reefs just offshore to dive and explore.
The Lagoonarium, a massive outdoor aquarium specializing in lagoon fish and marine life, offers close encounters with sharks and stingrays in a controlled environment for those who didn’t want to risk an open-sea meeting in Moorea.
The beauty of French Polynesia is eternal and has forever been captured in the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Gauguin. But just between you and me, there are still so many unexplored nooks and crannies on the islands to dive the reefs, surf the waves, climb the mountain peaks and just lay on the beach and soak up the rays of the warm tropical sun that Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora can become secret personal Edens for every person who visits them.
ALEUTIAN BALLAD… THE DEADLIEST CATCH CRAB FISHING TOUR
If traveling northbound your first port of call will be Ketchikan. A small scenic town of 14,000 people and one of the rainiest North American cities averaging 160 inches per year. In the summer cruise season the temperature averages in the high sixties.
Today I find myself once again in Ketchikan, Alaska as I hurry down the gangway heading for one of my very favorite tours in Alaska, The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour.
The tour is given onboard the Aleutian Ballad of season two. It is probably most remembered as the boat the was hit broadside by a sixty foot rogue wave nearly capsizing the boat and throwing the crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. However in it’s homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska this is not an issue as you are in the calm, protected waters just off the coast.
Captain/owner Dave Lethin and his crew of merry misfits are “old salts” and extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. One thing that I have noticed over the years I have taken this tour is that everyone is treated like family including the guests.
You will feel right at home sitting in comfortable chairs of the boats amphitheater style seating so everyone has a great view. During cold weather you are heated from above and also sheltered if you encounter any rain, after all this is Alaska. Another huge plus is that the tour is wheelchair accessible so everyone has a chance to enjoy this excursion.
The Aleutian Ballad Crab Fishing Tour is very unique and is a hands on experience. You will be able to hold live crab, shrimp and other sea creatures after listening to the crew sharing their knowledge of the ocean and it’s inhabitants.
One of my favorite highlights is traveling to nearby Annette Island. Here 40-50 American Bald Eagles swarm out of the trees like mosquitos and diving only feet from the boat feeding on fish thrown into the water by the crew.
Many times I have heard guests say “I’ve seen eagles before we have them at home” and then those same people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this, ever”. It’s truly a once in a lifetime adventure not to be missed.
They are going to tug on your heartstrings as well. You will hear stories of friends and family that have been lost at sea. One day I was in the wheelhouse and Terry Barkley one of the captains. Terry is usually a very gregarious man always with a joke on his the tip of his tongue. But on this day, at this moment he stopped short. His face grew solemn and his voice softened. He told me how his brother lost his life just a few months before working on another crab fishing vessel. After a few minutes of quiet reserve Terry once again was back to being a cheerful and telling tales of the sea he loves so well. Pushing the memory deep inside at least for now.
I talk of this, as does Terry to the guests at times as a prelude to the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund. The fund was started to assist family members and proceeds of the fund are distributed to the families of those lost in the Bering Sea.
The crew will haul a crab fishing pot from the cold depths adorned with tags having the names of loved one written on them. Anyone can and is encouraged to do so in remembrance of a friend or family member that they have lost.
I made a donation and wrote the name of my daughter-in-law, Stephanie Pannell that died the year before at the tender age of thirty-four. After the tags are tied onto the pot it is sent over the side back to Davey Jones. At the end of the season the tags are removed and sent to Oregon to be displayed on a wall at the memorial.
To join the crew of the Aleutian Ballad and experience this exciting adventure contact your ships shore excursion desk. You can also contact them directly by contacting Shauna Lee, Chief Operations Officer of the Aleutian Ballad at alaskacrabtour.com, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-239-3816.
If you have taken a tour on the Aleutian Ballad and would like a coffee table book of your trip or would like a more in depth look please note I have written of my experiences and photography taken while onboard. It is available through this blog site both in print and in eBook format.
Next Stop…. Juneau Bear Viewing and Fly Fishing for Salmon, Grayling and Dolly Varden
My Africa adventure is a time that I will never forget. Thank you again Liza, Greg and Gillian Parker for your invitation to visit you and go on safari. And thank you Emile Sprenger de Rover for your hospitality and serving as our private guide.
It is now North to Alaska and though this will be my sixth summer traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage I still cannot wait to get there. The pristine waters, lush rain forests, mountains that glide upward from the sea and the vast numbers of diverse wildlife that inhabits the area make it just that much more special. As John Muir said… “The Mountains Are Calling… I Must Go!”
I’ve always loved the mountains ever since I was very young. I grew up with my grandfather in Merced, California in the San Joaquin Valley. It was only a stones throw from the mountains, which we spent nearly every weekend except in the dead of winter. He was part Native American and passed on his love of nature, the mountains and the wildlife that lived there.
Because of these experiences I have a deep-seated love of the mountains. After he died I moved in with the rest of the family to Laguna Beach, California, which is also a very special place for me and close to my heart. Even with that said the mountains are where I feel the most at home. My son Christian said it best when he was 12 years old… “Dad you are a Mountain Man not a Beach Boy.” And so it was to be for I have lived in Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and the Wood River Valley in Idaho the vast majority of my adult life.
For the next couple months I will be writing and posting of my experiences in Alaska. I will be traveling as I have before working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on a cruise ship. This time my home is the Coral Princess carrying 2,300 guests and a crew of approximately 1,000 from countries all around the world.
We will be visiting the historic ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. We will also make side trips to view a number of glaciers in Glacier Bay, College Fjord and Yakutat Bay the home of my favorite glacier the Hubbard Glacier. At the end of the season we will also visit Icy Strait and Kodiak Island as we cruise to Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii before heading back to Los Angeles.
Each post I will select a different tour or shore excursion that has been a favorite and give you an insiders view of what you might expect if you travel to Alaska. It may not be by cruise ship as there are various ways to get here but cruising the Inside Passage to Alaska is by far the best way to go and offers you the best scenic views, chance of wildlife sightings. All of this from a luxury cruise ship filled with a variety of activities, wonderful restaurants and where you never to cook a meal or make a bed. And one thing that I have heard from numerous guests is… “we only have to unpack once”.
After spending five days on safari in Ingwelala Private Game Reserve with Emile Sprenger de Rover, Liza and Greg Parker it was time for Part Two of the adventure.
Greg and I said our goodbyes to Emile and Liza and we headed out on a two-hour drive to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. I have heard of Kruger like just about everyone and I could not believe I was finally going to go on a photo safari there.
Greg being a native of South Africa has been there numerous times and arranged our accommodations for the next five days. His favorite place in the park is Orpen Camp, which we will stay at for the first three nights.
Orpen is a small camp and consists of a handful of small cabins, a small store and guest check-in facilities. About one hundred yards away just beyond the fence that surrounds the camp is a waterhole that many times is frequented by game.
After unloading and setting up our cabin Greg and I jumped back in his car for an afternoon drive making note of the time the gate closes for the evening. Greg is very knowledgeable of the area having spent so much time there photographing its wildlife and had a few ideas where to go immediately for that time of day.
A few minutes from camp down the main paved road Greg turned onto one of the many dirt roads that winds through the reserve. We were headed to a waterhole and bush area that he knew would more then likely have wildlife.
As we grew near there was a small heard of elephants ranging from large adults to small baby elephants.
I was amazed on how comical the baby elephants appeared. They would stumble, sometimes running into the larger elephants as they walked trying to keep up tripping over their own feet.
It really was a laugh watching them and we found ourselves lowering our cameras just to watch the show. Other times they seemed to be resting in the shade of the other elephants to get out of the hot mid-day sun.
Greg and I watched the herd slowly moving through the groves of trees and bamboo eating their fill. Many times we were only ten to fifteen feet away from these magnificent creatures as our cameras clicked away in unison. To be fair Greg would generously position the vehicle or lean back so that I might get the better angle for the best shot.
There was more then one time a mother elephant seemed a little upset that we were so close intruding in what she deemed to be “her space” and would stating advancing towards the car. Greg would laugh at me when I would calmly say “don’t worry mama we are just taking pictures, we are not going to hurt your baby with the camera clicking away”. After which he remarked that he did not know of another “first timer” that was so calm during a false charge from these huge animals.
I attribute this to my days with my grandfather that was part Native American. He showed me how to read the wildlife and how to read the warning signs they will portray. You must remember at all times these are wild animals, they will attack and kill you if threatened, especially here in Africa. You are in their backyard they are not in yours.
Day two started at dawn when the gates opened. It was a gray day, with dark clouds and spilling rain over the grasslands and bush. It had been a very dry season causing a drought so the rain was much appreciated. It made photography more challenging with the changes in the light and contrast often being very flat or having to use much slower shutter speeds then we would have preferred when shooting wildlife. After all they are living creatures and on the move much of the time.
Our quest this day was to photograph lions that thus far had eluded us and we were not to be disappointed. After driving for about an hour came across a pride of two males, three females and three cubs. They were in the grass and under a couple of low trees. We watched and photographed the pride under the dark and rainy skies for about two hours. The lion cubs mock attacked each other learning skills that will help them later in life.
The females roamed the area looking for game or huddled with one of the males.
We then left this pride and decided to look in a couple other areas where we heard of other lion sightings. Following another dirt road we came across a small pride of three males lions sleeping. Every now and then one would stretch and roll over revealing it huge belly that was stuffed with a previous kill.
There was also one lone female with this group that was injured. She would get up and walk limping unable to put any weight on her right front leg. Greg remarked that if this did not heal there was a very good chance that she would be left behind by the males and eventually die.
We did spot one more small pride of lions as we continued down the dirt road, stopped to take a couple photographs and continued our drive.
As it was getting late Greg decided that we should travel to the waterhole to see if any wildlife had returned to cool off from the days heat. A large male lion was drinking at the waterhole. Greg assured me this was a great chance to get an unusual shot, as it is not something witnessed very often.
The following events that transpired left us awestruck in disbelief. First it was what we were witnessing and second as serious photographers what we were able to capture and record.
To read the entire story of the day and the heartbreaking events that occurred please look at the blog post from April 21, 2018. “Death of a King”.
The next day we decided to return to the area that we had previously photographed the first pride of lions. The day had a bright blue sky with a few scattered clouds the lighting was much better and would make it much easier to get a quality photograph.
We arrived but the pride of lions was gone. We continued down the road in hopes of locating them. Instead we were rewarded by finding a couple cheetahs that were close enough to the road to reach with our lenses. We were able to get a handful of shots before they became bored with us and disappeared into the bush.
We decided to make a day trip and long drive to an area that we had heard that rhinoceros had been spotted. It was a long drive to the southern edge of the park. We decided to make an adventure of it traveling the back roads in hopes of photographing other game along the way. Unfortunately it was fairly bleak and not much was seen or photographed.
Arriving near where the rhinos had been spotted we drove slowly both of us scanning the bush for any sign. Then Greg called out “rhino!” Just a few yards away there were two rhinoceros rambling through the bush only stopping to grasp young leaves off a tree or to eat grass here and there.
Greg kept driving as I kept trying to keep track of the two rhinos that were darting in and out of the bush. We would stop when we could with Greg positioning the car so that I might get a shot. Luckily we both were able to get a few photographs before they turned and ran deep into the bush out of view.
Day Four and Day Five were on our way to another camp, Skukuza for two nights. Skukuza was a much larger camp then Orpen but not so large to be uninviting. Greg and his family have spent many days there on safari and another favorite he enjoyed. There are many different accommodations from small cabins to large homes, a restaurant, large gift shop and sits right on the banks of a large river.
Our hopes this day was to photograph a leopard, the only one of the Big Five that had eluded us. Greg said he knew of an area that once had a leopard that was near to camp. The drove down the main road as we scanned the grasslands and the bush. Circling back when Greg suddenly stopped the car. My heart raced in hopes that we found the elusive cat.
Instead what Greg spotted was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. As an avid birder Greg was very excited and said in the bird world this was just as an important sighting as a leopard. It was very regal as it sat perched on the limb of a tree watching as Greg and I raised the cameras and clicked away.
At one stop at a blind overlooking a large body of water we were able to photograph a number of hippopotamuses including a baby hippopotamus.
At the same location there was a very large Nile crocodile sunning itself in the mid-day sun.
While overhead in a large tree a fish eagle scanned the water.
At one point a large monitor lizard crept out of the bush flicking its tongue until located a beetle here and there.
Close to sunset a waterbok slowly quenched its thirst unaware that only feet away lay a Nile crocodile.
While in South Africa on safari we photographed a number of elephants, cape buffalo, baboons and wild dogs. We also saw a number of the antelope family including impala, waterbok, bushbuck, duiker, klipspringer, kudu, sharp’s grysbok and steenbok. We were also able to capture wildebeests, zebra and giraffe. Unfortunately yet again the leopard had eluded us but it was not for lack of trying.
Please visit an upcoming post for additional photographs of the wildlife that I was able to witness and the images I was able capture while on safari in South Africa for you to enjoy.