Monday, August 30, 2010

Diamond Head

Diamond Head Crater is one of the best-known landmarks in Hawaii and serves as the famous backdrop to Waikiki. We caught the bus to the bottom of the crater and walked through a tunnel to enter the crater. Inside we were surrounded by Acacia trees and a dry African landscape!

The US Army constructed a series of tunnels inside the crater, and topped the rim with cannon emplacements, bunkers and observation posts as part of the Pacific defense network. The crater was also used by the Hawaiians to guide ships by lighting fires on top. Now, the crater is a silent sentinel, not a single shot having been fired from it, and a new, modern lighthouse provides a beacon for those at sea.

We made our way up the many steps and through the winding tunnels to the temple at the top of the crater. The views from the top were as breathtaking as the guidebooks promised!


We rented two little mopeds for the day and scooted east along the coast to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, "a wide, curved bay of sapphire and turquoise waters protected by a rugged volcanic ring". We rented snorkeling gear and swam through the shallow reefs just off the shore. The coral was a bit meagre, but we saw lots of brightly-colored fish which weren't bothered by us at all.

After some good snorkeling and sun, we scooted back along the coast, and then north up to Manoa Falls. We squelched our way along a very muddy trail beside the Waihi Stream through a rain forest to the idyllic little waterfall at the end.

Renting the scooters was a great way to see the island. We'll definitely be trying that again on our travels!

Pearl Harbor

In between all our beach trips and cocktails, we found time to visit Pearl Harbor. This is still an active naval base, but it is now dominated by the memorials of the fateful events on December 7, 1941.

The visitors' center offers several tours, including trips onto the USS Bowfin Submarine and the Battleship Missouri. We settled for the boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial, a floating shrine over the battleship that now entombs the 1177 servicemen who perished during the attack. It was quite a sombre experience to see the skeleton of the sunken ship just below the surface of the water.

Mai Tai Musings

We just enjoyed a week of tropical paradise on the Hawaiian Island, Oahu. We spent a good part of each day chilling on Waikiki Beach, along with the surfers, beach bums and occasional sea turtle.

On most evenings we found a spot to sip cocktails and watch the sun set through the palms. We frequented the famous Duke's Bar on the beachfront, and we listened to some great Hawaiian music as we drank our way through their imaginatively-named cocktails.

One evening we joined the crew of the Mai Tai Catamaran for a sunset cruise along the coast. The drinks were free and plenty, and we sailed with the dolphins and danced to some great tunes as the sun went down.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flattop II

On Friday, Daniel's bosses declared a "Sunny Day" (the first this summer!) and the finance department got to head home at lunch time. We took advantage of the warm weather and climbed up Flattop from the south side. This time, the view from the top really was worth the effort!

Monday, August 16, 2010


Another item on our "Alaska to do list" was sea-kayaking, and so Daniel and I headed down to Whittier again, this time by car. We queued up for the exciting trip through the tunnel, the only access into the small coastal town. We were quite excited by the first glimpses of sunshine we'd seen in ages; we even managed to see a glacier with blue sky and sunshine in the background

As we exited the 2 1/2 mile tunnel, we drove into a fog so thick that we could see neither the harbor nor the famous Begich Towers. Whittier only exists for two reasons: the fishing industry and glacier cruises out of the harbor; and the hardcore Alaskans who live there year-round in the one building (which has a tunnel to the school behind it...). Our launch site looked pretty eerie in the morning mist, but we summoned our sourdough spirit and took the plunge.

We did the Passage Cove outing with Alaska Sea Kayakers, and we just had the best time ever. They supplied us with every conceivable waterproof garment, and our guide was so patient and friendly that we confided half our life story to him! Our first stop was at a little beach. We pulled up on the pebbles and clomped into the forest in search of salmon berries and blue berries. The waterfall and magnificent view of Billing's Glacier were just a bonus!

We paddled further along the south shore until we reached a river mouth that was home to spawning salmon. We managed to concuss a few with our oars as we hovered around the mouth. Most of the salmon had completed their reproductory efforts and, having returned to the sea, were slow and sluggish. Our guide even caught one with his bare hands!

We paddled a mile across Passage Canal to the north shore and stopped for a delicious salmon picnic! We stopped off at the kittiwake rookery before battling the winds blowing off the glaciers on our return across the passage. My shoulders had long started to hurt and Daniel valiantly brought us into the harbor. I'm not sure if we'll go back for more, but we really did have such a great day out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sourdough and Salmon

Daniel and I enjoyed a thoroughly Alaskan weekend. On Saturday we hiked up Alaska's most frequently summited peak, Flattop. The weather was truly Alaskan, about 12 degrees, 15m visibility, and very low cloud cover. We aren't sure how or why we stuck it out, but we ended up having a great walk. We could see exactly where the city of Anchorage should have been...

On a good day the view from Flattop extends from Mount McKinley in the northwest to Mount Redoubt volcano in the southwest. We couldn't even see over the edge, but we were very impressed with how flat the top really was!

Feeling like proper Sourdoughs for going hiking in the rain, we decided to keep up our adventurous streak on Sunday. We headed down to the Kenai-Russian River, ostensibly to catch the ferry across the river. We soon realized that the ferry was exclusively for fishermen, but instead of donning our waders, we opted for a walk to the Russian River Falls.

We were extraordinarily excited when we saw some salmon at the bottom of these falls. The poor little fish were jumping their hearts out trying to swim up the rapids. They had such a long way to go!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Arctic Thunder

Every two years the Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base put on the greatest air show in Alaska: Arctic Thunder. Participants fly in from all over North America to take part. We got to climb on the planes, chat to the pilots and ogle at the missiles. There was even a World War II Veteran who flew up in his plane wearing his original uniform.

In between all the bush planes with pimped up engines doing barrel rolls through the sky, was a wing walker. This crazy lady climbed out onto the wings of her biplane and did all sorts of acrobatic movements, including standing on top of the plane...

There was a really cool fly-by by a B-52 Bomber which simulated dropping bombs onto the airfield, and the pyrotechnics team set off a huge explosion just off the runway to show the effects of the bomb. There were fighter jets breaking the sound barrier or hovering 200 feet in the air, and F-22 Raptors, the best combat plane in the world protecting the freedom of the American people.

The Canadian Snowbirds flew up north to show off their skills. The crazy pilots entertained us to a few nailbiting fly-bys at break-neck speed, and some great formation flying.

Just before the grand finale, a combat team demonstrated a mock airfield seizure. Troops were dropped off by a Chinook helicopter, amid swirling flares, before they saved the day. The finale was the Blue Angels, who flew in formations with their wingtips just 4 feet apart! What an awesome day!