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Catalina State Park

March 1, 2017 Wednesday – Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ, USA

After breakfast at the hotel, I decide to explore the Catalina State Park, which is on North Oracle Road, just a few miles north of where I’m staying. The entrance fee is $7 for a day pass. I park the car in the lot at the trail head and then start walking. There is a small stream flowing through a wash which has to be crossed, but I manage to step and balance on rocks, not getting wet in the process. The first trail I try is the Canyon Loop Trail, but it proves to be too much for me given that the sun is shining and I have no sunscreen on.

So after 20 minutes, I turn back and choose the Birding Trail. It is flat, has some shade, and is a whole lot more interesting. There are indeed lots of birds on this trail, including a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls. I also come across a huge number of bees swarming on a blooming tree. They are all up at the top of the tree, but I can hear them buzzing. Even this trail is a mile loop, which is too much for me on such a warm day, so I return to the car, leaving the park by 10AM. There are lots of local people at this park, and there is a campground.

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Desert Museum

February 26, 2017 Sunday – Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, USA

After having breakfast at the hotel this morning, I drive to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is in the western part of Suguero National Park. The desert landscape in this area is spectacular, and the museum presents very interesting displays of the various ecosystems found in the desert. The two captive Coyotes are quite active, and bark like dogs for awhile, getting everyone’s attention. Several docents are displaying birds of prey on their arms and describing their respective features and behaviour, so I take some wonderful closeups of the Peregrine FalconSpotted Owl and Barn Owl.

I have a sandwich for lunch at the little cafe off the gift shop, although there are two other restaurants on the site. Some of the Docents have owls and falcons to show people, which makes for some great closeups of these normally elusive birds. The museum has a surprising number of other birds and animals on display, including Javalinas (wild pigs), snakes, prairie dogs and squirrels, lots of birds, and some cats. So it isn’t just cactus on display, although there are endless varieties of those as well.

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Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica

Monday, December 12, 2011 – Day 22 – Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica

I take a tour this morning, which takes us over the new highway to San Jose, but we turn off early and go to the upper reaches of the Taracoles River for a mangrove swamp boat trip. We see nesting Scarlett Macaws (from a distance), Crocodiles, a Jesus Christ Lizard, and some birds. The boat trip really doesn’t live up to my expectations, since it is so rushed, and we really don’t cover much of the river. The mangrove boat trips I took on previous visits to La Ensenada Lodge and Tamarindo were so much better!

The bus then takes us to nearby Orotina for a train ride back down to the coast near where Rotterdam is docked. The train trip is interesting, especially when the middle passenger car derails! The train crew uses a diverter to manoeuvre the car’s wheels back on the rails in short order. We see lots of interesting things along the way, including fields of cantaloupe and watermelon, the backyards of many Tico houses, some cute kids waving at us as we pass by, a long tunnel, and we cross over a river and see ever changing vegetation as we descend to the Pacific Coast. The bus is waiting for us at the station at Mata de Limon to take us back to the ship, which is only five minutes away.

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Rotorua

Oct 31, 2010 – Sunday – Whangamata to Rotorua, New Zealand

We have a nice omelette for breakfast at our B&B in Whangamata, and then we depart for Rotorua. It isn’t a long drive today, so we detour to see Waihi Beach, which is yet another spectacular New Zealand beach, complete with a small town. We spend a half hour or so walking the beach, and watching the locals enjoying the beach with their families, since it is Sunday. We then resume our drive to Rotorua. The GPS takes us through the outskirts of Tauranga, and then we are into quite a remote area of New Zealand until we arrive in Rotorua.

Butter Chicken, Aloo Matar (potatoes & peas in gravy), Lamb Korma, rice and Nan bread at Lovely India restaurant

Butter Chicken, Aloo Matar (potatoes & peas in gravy), Lamb Korma, rice and Nan bread at Lovely India restaurant

Our B&B is located in a small community just south of Rotorua called Lake Okareka. At this location, we don’t have to put up with the sulphurous smell that is so apparent in the city, and we are hoping the light pollution may be subdued enough to allow us to take some astronomical photos of the night sky. Lake Okareka B&B is quite deluxe (now closed, but a new property, same owners & area), and our hosts Patricia and Ken are very helpful.

Once we unpack and have a bit of a rest, we drive back into town and have a look at the hot bubbling pools of water and mud in Kuirau Park, which is a civic park that is free admission. This evening, we go to the Lovely India Restaurant for dinner, and order the Butter Chicken, along with some Lamb and vegetable dishes with rice. The food is superb…the best Indian food I’ve had in a long time!

After returning to the B&B, Ken tells us he has found a good spot to observe the stars from. He shows us a lovely beachfront park which is only about a five minute drive away. An alternate site is the neighbour’s place next door to the B&B. They are away, so the place is dark, and it is so convenient. I setup my astronomy camera and take a time lapse sequence starting at sunset, however the clouds are factor tonight, so I call it an early night.

Nov 1, 2010 – Monday – Rotorua

Patricia makes us a continental breakfast each morning, accompanied with a savoury frittata. This is the only B&B who have a super automatic espresso machine, so I take advantage and have two Cappuccinos each morning!

Pukeko bird on the Lake Okareka Walkway

Pukeko bird on the Lake Okareka Walkway

Today is a down day, which means no activities involving driving. I catch up on my JoeTourist blog, sort through the hundreds of photos taken so far on the trip, do some laundry, and take a long walk around part of the lake. The Lake Okareka Walkway is a boardwalk over a marshy area of the lake where the wildlife are protected, so there is ample opportunity to see marsh birds such as Black Swans, ducks, Pukeko birds, and many other birds, including their young.

We drive into Rotorua for dinner, and after wandering around for a while, settle on Café Ephesus. This small, unpretentious restaurant is run by some Indians, but offers mainly a Greek menu with some Middle Eastern influences. We have a very nice dinner of a mixed Greek platter and a pizza, which we share around. We also buy a bottle of wine from a vendor across the street and bring the bottle to the restaurant. “Bring your own” is quite common in New Zealand restaurants – not something that is encouraged in North American eating establishments. Cafe Ephesus – TripAdvisor

This evening after dark, both my friend and I setup our camera gear again on the hill beside the B&B. It is quite cool this evening, so I leave my camera clicking away and retreat back to the warmth of my room at the B&B. I shoot a wide field time lapse video of the Crux-Centauri region: Alpha and Beta Centauri slowly slide below the hill while the bottom star of the Southern Cross moves north along the ridge line. Eta Carina is visible in the frame for the full duration of the video from 9:50pm to 11:45pm. This time of year is not ideal to observe the Southern Cross, since it is upside down and low in the sky. The Milky Way is clearly visible as a wide band of red visible behind the hills.

Southern Milky Way from New Zealand – a time lapse from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

Nov 2, 2010 – Tuesday – Rotorua – Waimangu Volcanic Valley

We drive the 17 kilometres south to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which offers a very special experience with volcanic pools. Although publicly owned, this park is run by a private operator, so admissions are charged. We choose the self-guided EcoTours, since we feel it offers the best value: Walk/Hike and Boat Cruise option at NZ$77. Please note that discounts are offered, so check out the website and ask for the discounts at the admission booth.

Walking the 4.7km from the entrance to the lake jetty takes us about two hours at an easy pace. The slope in this direction is generally downhill, with a few steep grades and the occasional uphill section. Anyone who can normally walk this distance on flat ground should have no problem with this walk/hike. Be sure to take water and a snack with you, since there are restrooms, but no refreshment stands along the way. If you get tired, there is a shuttle bus you can catch in two spots mid way, as well as at the end where the boat jetty is located. We also take the boat tour of the big lake located at the end of the trails – Lake Rotomahana. It is worthwhile if for no other reason, to appreciate the sheer scale of the largest volcanic eruption which took place during human recorded history – Mount Tarawera in 1886.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the above video window to view the video in high definition mode.

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday – Rotorua to Te Kuiti

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today. Along the way near Mangakino, we stop to see the Pouakani Toara Tree. We stop at the nondescript entrance located on Highway 30, and walk for 10 minutes to see this giant tree in the forest. It is immense…similar to the trees we saw in Costa Rica on the jungle walk. It is the largest Totara tree recorded in New Zealand, so it is certainly worth a look. Speaking of looking, the tree is so large it is difficult to see the whole thing from the forest floor.

North Coast of Kaua’i, Hawaii

January 17, 2001 – North Coast of Kaua’i

Kilauea Point, Kaua'i

Kilauea Point, Kaua’i

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, is north of Kapa’a on the Kuhio Highway. Watch for the signs and turn right to get to Kilauea Point and the little community. There is no entrance fee, but please drop a donation in the boxes provided. The lighthouse grounds can be home to wildlife. We found an Albatross on a nest, and the nearby cliffs are covered with nesting Shearwaters, Red Boobys, and Laysan Albatrosses. Kilauea Point is the most northerly point on Kaua’i, and Kaua’i is the most northerly of the Hawaiian Islands, so I assume this why the birds find this a good location for nesting. I also spotted a flock of about 6 Nene Geese (native Hawaiian goose).

When the Trade Winds are high, this area around Kilauea Point experiences huge surf, causing some spectacular wave action. Moku ‘Ae’ae Islet and blowhole is a sight to see just off Kilauea Point. There is a small community at the turnoff to Kilauea Point, and I would recommend Kong Lung – a funky store filled with unusual gifts some might be interested in. I also recommend the Lighthouse Bistro for lunch or dinner (located beside Kong Lung). You can’t go wrong ordering their fresh fish of the day. Very good food – highly recommended.

Just past Kilauea Point is Anini Beach County Park. This is a good spot for a picnic lunch, and the fantastic white sand beach is rarely crowded. Anini Beach would make an ideal destination for a whole day’s outing, since it one of the safest for swimming (not too common on Kaua’i due to the offshore reef), and it has good picnic facilities. Another good beach just past Kikauea Point is Kalihiwi Bay. As you can see by the photos, the surf was up while I was visiting in January 2001, so no swimming was possible. The surfers were certainly out there riding the waves, although the emergency rescue was called while I was there, so it was even a bit too rough for some of the surfers!

Princeville is the next community along the North Coast. It is one of those planned communities, which are so common in Hawaii. Everything revolves around the superb golf courses, and yet I find all of them so sterile and cold. No doubt the exclusive properties are very expensive to purchase, and yet they hold no appeal to me whatsoever.

Hanalei Valley

Hanalei Valley

Past Princeville is the Hanalei Valley, which is very picturesque. Hanalei is a small community located on a superb little bay with the same name. The valley is rich and fertile, and many crops are grown here, including lots of taro. Needless to say, there is a great deal of rainfall in this area. Hanalei Bay can experience spectacular surf when the winds are high. If you rent a kayak, stick to the inland waterways.

Ha’ena Beach (aka Tunnels Beach) is normally calm and is a good beach for swimming and snorkelling, but as you can see by my photos, the surf can get very high. Ke’e Beach is much smaller than Tunnel Beach, but it is the end of the north shore road. While you are there, have a look at the Waikanaloa Wet Cave.

Near the end of the North Shore road is the Limahuli Gardens, but they deserve their own article!