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Kartchner Caverns & the night sky

February 24, 2017 Friday – Kartchner Caverns & the night sky at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, Arizona, USA

Garry reserved (a few days ago) the Big Room Tour for the Kartchner Caverns for this afternoon. We depart around 1PM so we have time to look around the visitor centre before the tour starts. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, and they even insist that we leave our cellphones behind in a locker. The tour starts by everyone being taken up the hill in a tram, and then we enter the caverns through a series of doors and air locks. The Big Room is indeed very big, and the history of the caves is interesting, with lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave objects to see. We also learn about the bats who inhabit the cave and use it as a nursery.

On the way back, we go to the Benson Golf Course for dinner. It is a modest place, but the food is good and inexpensive. This is our last meal together, since John, Wendy and I leave the group tomorrow.

We head back home to do some observing – my last night at Garry’s observatory. Garry and Matt struggle to get focusing working while using the Ha filter, but eventually have to admit defeat. Garry restores the system back to normal so I can image an object of interest – NGC 2174, an emission & reflection nebula. I stay inside the house to stay warm while the system takes the images until the series finishes at 2AM. Garry and Diane get up at that time to observe Omega Centauri (photo), so I join them to have a look before heading off to bed. My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; NGC 2174 emission & reflection nebula

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Langkawi, Malaysia

Feb 26, 2016 – Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi is a lovely island, which is a destination for tourism and a duty free area in Malaysia. I can see why Australians in particular come to this SE Asian destination. My shore excursion today involves bats in caves and exploring a mangrove for eagles.

After driving to the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, we board small boats and zoom around the mangrove channels to see a fish farm (setup for tourists), the Langkawi Eagles (brown colour) and Sea Eagles (black and white) taking food in the channel, and exploring the bat caves. The little bats are asleep during the day, but they do a great job of keeping the bug population down. There are Long-tailed Macaque monkeys lurking around the entrances to the caves, where they try to steal tourists’ water bottles, since their only other source of water is to climb to the tops of trees for the fruit to be found up there.

Other than getting a headache from the fumes of the outboard motors, I had a great day!

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Te Kuiti & Waitomo Caves

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday -Rotorua to Te Kuiti, New Zealand

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today.

We are staying in Simply the Best B&B, a farm stay located in small community of Te Kuiti, which is located just a few minutes’ drive from Waitomo and the famous caves. This B&B offers pretty basic accommodation, so I’m not sure I agree with the name! We knew it was a farm stay (our first on this trip), but we were unprepared for our rooms having no closets or dressers, and having to share a bathroom. Their website states “3 double rooms with private bathrooms”, however only one of the three rooms has an en suite, and that room was not offered despite us requesting it. Also, there is no wireless Internet. The back bedroom my friends are staying in is very small – essentially only having room for the double bed, with nowhere to sit and relax. My room is a bit bigger with two single beds, a sofa, and two chairs, however it appears to be a converted TV or family room. It has a sliding door instead of a real door, which means I have limited privacy and no security.

Despite these negatives, Margaret, the B&B operator is a real gem. She is exceedingly helpful, and makes our stay in this part of the North Island rewarding. Margaret recommends two restaurants in town, so we pick the first one and give it a try for dinner this evening. The Riverside Lodge is in a lovely location right by the river; however it is basically a bar that serves food. There are smokers all around, so we sit outside on the patio. Everyone looks at us as though we are from outer space and the service is exceedingly slow (we wait an hour). The food is good once it arrives.

Nov 4, 2010 – Thursday – Te Kuiti

The day starts badly, since Margaret makes us instant coffee this morning. She also serves us a continental breakfast instead of the full English cooked breakfast we have had at all the other B&Bs so far. The fresh fruit and rhubarb compote for the cereal is nice, and the endless toast and homemade preserves are appreciated, however the instant coffee is dreadful.

Marokopa Falls

Marokopa Falls

At Margaret’s urging, we drive out to the coast on Highway 37 to Marokopa, where there is a black iron sand beach. The beach and estuary area is quite spectacular. On the way out on the highway, we also stop to see Marokopa Falls, which is 15-20 metres high…an amazing sight. On the return trip, we see Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a land bridge caused by a river eroding limestone to punch a gorge through the rock. These are both great sights, and they are no cost. On our way home, we checkout the Waitomo Caves, but don’t go in since Margaret has booked us into the competing outfit Spellbound, which she promises is a better glow worm cave experience. We check out the competition while we are here, and find the rates are significantly more expensive than Spellbound. After we return home, Margaret makes us tea, which is very much appreciated.

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

We go out to a nice restaurant tonight called Kai Cafe, which is run by a local young man and his French wife (who does the cooking). The meals are a blend of French cooking and local tastes. I have the Filet steak, which is a “Scotch” cut (unlike any filet I’ve had in Canada), however it is a very nice steak cooked to order, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and accompanied by roasted potatoes, fresh steamed green beans, and a grilled tomato. My friends rave about their main course selections as well.

Pavlova is offered for dessert, which we all agree is better than the Cherries Jubilee we were served aboard ship in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a Cappuccino, which is nicely made. The young man who runs the place is thrilled that we are happy with our experience. I add my favourable rating after returning home. Now called: Bosco Cafe on TripAdvisor

Nov 5, 2010 – Friday – Waitomo Caves

JoeTourist: Glowworm Caves &emdash; Exit to caveToday after breakfast, we leave for a 10am booking at Spellbound, the glow worm cave and dry cave tour located in Waitomo. It only takes us 10 minutes to drive from Te Kuiti, and the tour starts promptly at 10am – ending around 2pm. Our guide Norm gives us a terrific experience along the way. First he drives us about 20 minutes west of Waitomo to the entrance to a private cave which has a stream running through it. We don a hardhat with a light, get in a zodiac boat and slowly go into the cave to see the glow worms. We learn these are actually maggots, however they are tiny. They do indeed glow, and glow brightly enough to light the inside of the cave once we turn off our headlamps and become dark adapted. The glow reflects off the water, and I can see the other 12 people in the boat.

Norm hand propels the boat using an overhead cable, taking us within a few metres of a small waterfall before returning us to the landing. We then walk back to the entrance, leave our hardhats, and walk a few metres to the “coffee shop” where Norm makes us instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate made from hot water stored in thermos. Biscuits to dunk complete the offerings. Toilets are also available nearby. There are wild Turkeys roaming in the pasture as we walk for five minutes to the dry cave, where Norm tells us he was one of the founders.

It is a superb cave with a walkway that goes for perhaps 300 metres or so. There is a large gallery, some air shafts, other entrances to see, and of course lots of stalagmites and stalactites. There are also some animal bones: some you would expect such as farm animals and possums; however there is also a skeleton of a Moa, an extinct bird which had a trachea, hip bones and big thigh bones. After exiting the dry cave, Norm takes us on a drive over some farmland along the ridgelines, and finally returns us to the starting point.

This evening we return to Kai (now called the Bosco Cafe) for our last dinner in New Zealand (and of the trip). I have the fish of the day (Snapper), which comes with oven roasted potatoes, green beans, and a very nice pesto topping, as well as some salad around the plate: a quite novel presentation with the salad. When we return to the B&B I get serious about packing – tossing out heavy paper and other stuff that is now useless. We settle our accounts with Margaret for our stay, however she only accepts cash, so that makes it a bit inconvenient. All the other B&Bs accept credit card payments.

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – New Zealand to Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave for the Auckland airport by 8:30am.

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!