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*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

Wanting to make the most of our last day on Kauai, the three of us (Rose, Robin, and Philip) woke up at 5:30am so we could hike to the bottom of Wailua Falls. We were on the road by 6:15 and were the only ones in the parking lot when we arrived at the top of the falls 30 minutes later.

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We were shocked by the increase in water coming over Wailua Falls compared to yesterday. The center section was completely dry just 20 hours earlier but it rained a lot since then.

Philip did a lot of research last night to figure out the legality of hiking to the bottom. There are some signs in certain places discouraging people from scampering down the steep hillside to the bottom. After looking into it, we determined that this is actually a fairly common activity, it isn’t explicitly forbidden, and the danger was quite minimal.

We chose to start our hike at the far end of the viewing area where a low cement wall meets a chain link fence. After climbing over the 3 foot wall, we walked a few dozen feet and saw a narrow trail disappearing down the hill side. As expected, this is a very steep hike. It is more like bouldering than actually hiking but there are lots of tree branches and roots to use as handholds. Fortunately, the numerous trees also make the exposure risk very low. Even if someone was to fall, they are not going to tumble all the way down the hill but would really only slide a few dozen feet in the mud.

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Hiking down to the base of Wailua Falls. You can see how steep the trail is, though at least there is a lot of stuff to use as handholds.

Note: Everything we say here only applies to the trail we used. During our research we learned that two girls did fall to their deaths at Wailua Falls a few years ago, though it seems like they were far closer to the actual waterfall itself where the cliff is shear, slippery, and very exposed. By taking it slowly, there was no point at which we felt unsafe climbing down the trail we chose.

The bottom section of the trail has a few ropes tied to trees to serve as handholds, which we gladly used. Even moving very cautiously, we reached the bottom in less than 20 minutes and stepped out into the clearing around the waterfall and its pool.

Our first impression was amazement as we looked up at the waterfall. What had been a relatively calm water feature yesterday morning had become a raging torrent after all of the rain. The two separate falls we saw yesterday had since merged into one massive flow of muddy water cascading down into the pool. The exit point of the pool where water continued its journey downstream was right next to us and was moving terrifyingly fast. We quickly determined that swimming would not be a wise decision this morning due to the current so we elected instead to walk around the rocks on our side of the pool towards the waterfall.

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Wailua Falls is far more impressive when seen from the bottom. Note Phil in the bottom corner (with his phenomenal farmer’s tan) celebrating our successful descent.

We only spent a few minutes exploring the base of the falls before returning back to the trail. With all the water coming over the falls, we were absolutely drenched by the mist. In general, this was okay, though Robin had her phone with her to take pictures and it got wet also…too wet it turns out because a few minutes later it turned itself off and continued to be problematic for the rest of the day.

Refreshed, we quickly hiked back up to the parking area, which was a much easier task than descending and only took about 10 minutes. As we climbed back over the wall, we saw a street vendor setting up his easel (he was a painter) as well as a van of Asian tourists pulling up. All in all, our hike to the waterfall only took 45 minutes and was definitely worth getting up early to experience it.

On the way back to the condo, we made a quick stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some macadamia nuts as gifts since we figured this would be one item that is actually cheaper to purchase in Hawaii. Once home, we quickly changed into swimsuits and the three of us walked down to Poipu Beach for one more chance at snorkeling.

While Robin took some pictures and laid in the sun for a bit, we dove into the water with our snorkels and weren’t disappointed. We saw a ton of fish, including some really beautiful rainbow-colored ones. Eventually, Robin joined us and we made our way across the channel to the other side of Poipu Beach. At one point, two ladies pointed out to Philip something that looked like a leaf stuck in the coral. It was actually a leaf scorpion fish and they are supposedly very rare!

Other than some goggle fogging issues, the snorkeling was awesome and a great way to cap off our trip. We hung out for a few minutes on the beach to dry off and give Phil a chance to finally build a sand castle (more like a ruined Mayan pyramid since Phil is not particularly skilled at sand castle construction). We then made our way back to the condo to shower and for everyone but Robin to pack our bags.

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The beautiful view right outside our condo. Poipu is a great place to stay when visiting Kauai.

As we were packing, we got a notification that our flight back to LA was delayed by two hours. Unsure what to do with this awkward extension to our trip, we hung around the condo for a little bit while Philip sorted through his work emails and Robin attempted to triage her now spastic phone. The phone issue was of particular concern since Robin would be on her own on Kauai for an extra day and the lack of mobile communication or navigation ability was quite undesirable.

Just before noon, we loaded up the car and Robin drove us to the Pona Fish Market for our final plate lunch of the trip (making mental notes of landmarks along the way so she could get back to the condo without GPS). To our surprise, the fish market was located next door to the frustratingly slow shave ice business we found after our long hike.

We got our food and drove a mile along the coast to a park with some picnic benches in the shade and views of the ocean. It was a delightful experience eating the delicious food with a light breeze blowing through the trees and the sound of the ocean just feet away. Well, most of the food was delicious anyway. Philip tried “poi” as one of his side dishes, which is a purple paste made from baked and fermented taro root and has an odd texture and absolutely no flavor. We will pass on that one next time!

At about 1:30, Robin drove us the few miles to the airport in Lihue and we bid her farewell. Security was a breeze and we made our way to one end of the terminal to an almost empty gate. Just as we were wondering where everyone else was, we began to hear announcements that the gate for our flight had changed so we walked all the way to the other end of the terminal and found our fellow passengers.

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Our path for the day. A->B (white): Drive to Wailua Falls. B->B (green): Hike to base of falls and back. B->A (red…mostly hidden by white): Drive back to condo with stop at Wal-Mart. A->A: Snorkeling one final time at Poipu Beach. A->C (pink): Drive to Pona Fish Market for lunch and eat food at picnic bench by ocean. C->D (yellow): Drive to airport.

The flight to LA was pleasantly uneventful, though the delay in departure time pushed our arrival time back 2 hours to 1:30am. We had booked rooms at a nearby hotel since we had an 11 hour layover. This layover was now only a 9 hour layover but we were still grateful for the chance to get some sleep in a real bed. After a few hours of rest and a continental breakfast, we returned to the airport via the hotel shuttle bus and caught our flight back to Denver.

Our trip to Kauai was, in a word, AMAZING! It is one of the most beautiful places in all the world and we really loved that it felt relatively un-touristy. We can’t wait to come back and do a lot more hiking all over the island. We also really want to experience the north side and the Na Pali coast earlier in the year when the waters are calmer. Add in the inner tube ride that didn’t work out and all of the amazing food we didn’t get to try and we already have the makings of our next vacation to Kauai!

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Our total path for the trip. It’s challenging to highlight what paths apply to which days because there is so much overlap of us driving around on the main highway. The key takeaway is that we saw a lot of Kauai on this short visit. Next time, we hope to do more hiking along the Na Pali coast at the north end of the island and to explore some of the swampy interior.

Summary:

  • A rewarding hike to the base of Wailua Falls
  • Snorkeling at Poipu Beach one last time
  • Robin’s very wet cell phone
  • Two extra hours on Kauai
  • Plate lunches are delicious…poi is not

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 4.93 miles | 7,509 steps
  • Distance Hiking: 0.57 miles
  • Distance Swimming: 2.3 miles
  • Distance in Car: 67.5 miles

Grand Total Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 43.97 miles | 79,717 steps
  • Distance Swimming: 5.93 miles
  • Distance in Car/Van: 502.89 miles
  • Distance in Boat: 58.3 miles
  • Grand Total Distance: 611.09 miles
Kauai_Stats

We had to put at least one graph in for our trip! This shows how far we traveled each day and by what mode of locomotion.

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*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

Philip woke earlier than expected and was raring to go, so he took a walk down to Brennecke’s Beach while everyone else got going. When he got back, Robin and Rose had just left on their own adventure to Shipwreck Beach since Robin had not yet been there. When they returned, we finished getting ready for the day and set off at 8:30am back towards Lihue.

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Sunrise on Kauai as seen from the rocks between Poipu Beach and Brennecke’s Beach.

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Walking past the Grand Hyatt on the way to Shipwreck Beach.

Our destination this time was a busy warehouse building just off the highway where we could check in for our upcoming inner tubing tour. The goal was to ride inner tubes down some canals, traversing through 5 tunnels along the way. We arrived at 9am, a half hour early for our tour, and went inside to get helmets, sign waivers, and other fun things. At 9:30, we hopped into one of two large vans (along with 25 other people) and began the trek uphill to our tubing launch point.

It was raining intermittently as we rode with our guide, Abraham (Abe), and our driver, Thomas. Abe was a bit awkward, but in a fun way, and spent most of the ride telling us about the Kauai plantations and sneaking in jokes and humorous commentary. He was actually pretty funny but the three girls sitting in the first row of the van did not seem amused. Abe also had us all go around and introduce ourselves.

We stopped at an overlook of the mountains and hopped out to take some pictures. In the distance across the valley, we could see the hills rising up towards Kauai’s highest summit, which is the caldera of the volcano that formed the island a long time ago. There is a swamp near the summit as well and this is the rainiest place on Earth (not the wettest place on Earth as Philip accidentally said once…that would actually be the ocean!).

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The view towards the “rainiest place on Earth”, the ancient caldera of the volcano that formed Kauai.

After some photos, we hopped back in the vans and drove a short distance further to the launch point. Unfortunately, it was here that we learned that one of the tunnels had suffered a partial collapse that morning and our tour was cancelled! Earlier groups had made it as far as that tunnel but had been unable to get through the debris. Based on the surprised expressions of our guides, this is not a common occurrence and we heard a lot of radio chatter on the way back down as employees tried to figure out what to do.

On the way back down to the warehouse, Thomas shared a lot of his life story with us, and many of his opinions and views on life and Kauai. When we returned to the warehouse, Robin went to the desk and within a few seconds had secured a full refund for our adventure. Seriously, it is a testament to the company that they made it so easy. We will definitely try tubing again the next time we are in Kauai and would recommend this company to others because of it.

It was now 10:45am and we had essentially done nothing but ride around in a car and van all day. With the rain still coming and going, we decided to stop briefly at the nearby Wailua Falls since it was so close. The parking lot area was a crowded disaster but we found a tight spot. The overlook of the falls is right along the side of the road and we could see a large pool at the base about 80 feet below us. The falls itself was split into two sections around a large rock at the top, though was not as impressive as the Hanakapi’ai Falls we saw yesterday on our hike. When we looked closer, we saw 2 people swimming in the pool at the bottom. We instantly made plans to try and come back tomorrow morning to hike down to the base and perhaps go for a swim ourselves.

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Wailua Falls as seen from above. Though not as tall as yesterday’s Hanakapi’ai Falls, Wailua Falls was split into two sections giving it a different feel.

From Wailua Falls, we headed back home, stopping a mile or two short of Poipu in the tiny town of Koloa to get lunch at the Koloa Fish Market. The tiny little shop was just what we were looking for for an authentic Hawaiian plate lunch. We shouted our orders across the counter to the workers in the back and in just a few minutes had some enormous to-go containers of food in our hands.

At this point, the intermittent rain turned into full downpour and we scampered back to the car as quickly as we could. Much wetter than desired, we took our lunch back to the condo and dug into the delicious food. Our meals consisted of kalua pulled pork, pork lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), rice noodles, rice, a pile of diced tomatoes (yuck), and a cup of delicious ahi poke. The pork, in particular, was absolutely phenomenal and we all ate more than we should have.

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Driving through the green tunnel on the way from the highway to Poipu.

After lunch, we hung out at the condo trying to decide what to do next as it rained on and off. Finally, we decided that we would try going to the botanical gardens just a few miles away so we piled back in the car and set off. Of course, the rain picked up again as we drove, this time accompanied by heavy winds. Stupidly, we stopped briefly at Spouting Horn (the blowhole in rock where water shoots up) to show it to Betsy. Robin, being the smart one, stayed in the car while the rest of us power walked out to the viewing area. In less than 60 seconds, we were heading back to the car cold, wet, and quite certain that we would not be going to the botanical gardens after all because being outside frankly sucked.

We returned to the condo frustrated by the weather but at least confident in our course of action. Rose spent some time trying to check us in for our flight the next day, but kept getting an error message when picking seats. Intending to try again a bit later, we settled in to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark since its opening “Peruvian jungle” scenes were actually filmed on Kauai. Ironically, the entire rest of the movie is set in the desert sands of Egypt (about as different a climate as possible compared to Kauai) but it was still enjoyable to watch while the rain pounded away outside.

By the time the movie ended, the rain had stopped! Before we headed out to the beach, Philip called the airline to figure out the seat issues and chose the “receive a callback” option rather than waiting on hold. The three of us sans Betsy then went for a windy walk towards Poipu Beach to explore.

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Once the rain stopped, it was another beautiful day on Kauai, although a bit windy.

Naturally, as soon as we were a few minutes away from the condo, Philip received his callback from the airline and crouched down behind a palm tree to block the wind. He was soon placed on hold again so we continued our walk. The surf was quite intense from the wind and lots of people were out playing in it at Poipu Beach. When we got closer the water’s edge, we also saw a massive sea turtle laying on the beach just a few feet away and spent some time taking pictures and admiring such a cool creature.

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We will probably never get sick of seeing these awesome sea turtles up close…they are really cool creatures!

About that time, the airline finally took Philip off hold and he was able to get the seating arrangements worked out (despite the relative unhelpfulness of the employee on the phone). With that taken care of, we came to the realization that we would much rather be playing in the water rather than walking on the beach, so we powerwalked back to the condo to throw on our swimsuits. In less than 15 minutes, we were back at Poipu Beach and, to our dismay, the waters seemed calmer and most of the boogie boarders had left! Fortunately, we found them nearby at Brennecke’s Beach and hopped in the water to join them.

Based on the advice of a lady on the beach, Robin borrowed Phil’s rash guard to help keep her bikini top in place in the rough water and we spent 15 minutes or so body surfing the waves. The unpredictable waves were a lot of fun to jump over, dive under, or ride in towards shore. It was exhausting, though, and we eventually had our fill of salt water in every orifice and stumbled back to shore. Happy to have finally done something active for the day, we returned back to the condo to shower and figure out our final evening on Kauai.

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We’ve been working out a bit since we got to Kauai!

After some debate, we settled on a light dinner out at the nearby Brennecke’s Beach Broiler restaurant. We drove over and soon learned that it would only be a 15 minute wait for a table, which sounded great to us. While we waited, we looked around the restaurant at all of the t-shirts, pennants, and hats lining nearly every inch of vertical wall space in the restaurant. Most pro and college sports teams were represented in the collection and it was fun trying to find the articles representing the teams we care about (Go CU Buffaloes!). There were also large maps in a corner where patrons could stick pins to mark where they came from and we added a pin to Ames, Iowa (Denver and San Diego already had too many pins and one more wouldn’t have been helpful).

Dinner wasn’t as fancy as last night’s but was still delicious. Betsy had grilled shrimp, Rose had coconut shrimp, Robin had clam linguine, and Philip went for his first ever pupu platter. We had heard of the pupu platter before but never knew what it actually was. It turns out that a pupu platter is essentially the most awesome appetizer sampler ever with a seafood theme; it was great! We also had some fruity drinks and even Philip got in the action with a virgin drink of his own.

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Rose’s fruity drink (complete with requisite umbrella) at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler.

Our hunger satiated, we returned to the condo and bed followed soon after. Overall, it was a relaxing day, though not because we intentionally made it so. Nevertheless, Kauai is an amazing place and we were still able to enjoy its beauty even in the rain. Tomorrow, everyone but Robin heads back home (she gets an extra day) and we are definitely sad that the trip is almost over. That said, it is hard to be too sad after such an amazing trip!

Day5_Path

Our path for the day. A->B (white): Driving to the warehouse for inner tubing. B->C (red): Van ride to the top with a stop at an overlook. C->B (pink): A dejected van ride back to the warehouse once we learned the tubing was cancelled due to a tunnel collapse. C->D (yellow): Driving to Wailua Falls. D->E (yellow): Driving to Koloa Fish Market to get plate lunch. E->A (yellow): Driving back to condo. A->F->A (red): Our ill-fated drive in monsoon conditions to Spouting Horn and back to the condo. A->G->A (green): Walking to Poipu Beach and body surfing at Brennecke’s Beach. A->G->A (pink): Short drive for dinner and back.

Summary:

  • Morning walks to the beaches
  • We’re going tubing…just kidding
  • A quick stop at Wailua Falls
  • An authentic and delicious Hawaiian plate lunch
  • Rain, rain go away
  • Body surfing at Brennecke’s Beach
  • A tasty dinner for our final night

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 5.41 miles | 10,825 steps
  • Distance Swimming: 0.4 miles
  • Distance in Van: 14 miles
  • Distance in Car: 46.9 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

Sunday started off a bit painful as we woke up well before the sun at 5:15am. In less than an hour, we ate breakfast, made lunch, and the three of us (Robin, Rose, and Philip) were on our way northeast to Ke’e Beach. An hour and a half later, we pulled into the last open spot in the parking lot and got ready for our hike.

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We stopped along the road a few times on the way to Ke’e Beach because the views were absolutely stunning!

The first leg of the hike was along the first two miles of the same Kalalau trail we had seen yesterday from the catamaran. It began with a steep ascent, but we had far more oxygen to breathe than we are used to when hiking 14ers in Colorado so we felt good. Rose grabbed a bamboo hiking stick from a pile by the entrance sign for the trail, which was a wise idea because the trail quickly turned to slippery mud the further along we went. Considering that the weather had been relatively dry lately, the amount of mud was ridiculous. The trail is probably not even hikeable immediately after a rainstorm.

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This is the mud we hiked through for at least one third of our 8 mile trip.

As we walked, we chatted with a family from Denver who were cruising along impressively with their two young kids in tow. The views of the Na Pali coast were magnificent as we summited the hill and started our switchback descent down to Hanakapi’ai Beach. Frankly, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful place than this and we stopped frequently for Robin to snap some photos.

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The coastline along the Kalalau Trail has to be among the most beautiful on earth!

Just before reaching the beach, we saw a group of people taking off their shoes in preparation for crossing a small stream. We opted to just walk across the rocks with our shoes on and easily stayed dry (not sure why everyone felt the need to remove shoes).

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Our first view of Hanakapi’ai Beach as we started our descent towards it on the Kalalau Trail.

There were a dozen or so people already hanging out at the beach when we got there. We walked around the sand for a few minutes taking in the beauty, but did not get in the beautiful water due to the numerous warnings we had read about the dangerous currents. There were a few people in the shallows, but none ventured too far out. We also saw a cave at the base of the cliff across the beach but decided not to explore further since it looked like we could see the entire depth of it already.

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Hanakapi’ai Beach is a worthwhile reward after two miles of hiking.

For many of these people, this beach was the final destination. Others would be continuing further along the Kalalau Trail all the way to Kalalau Beach 9 miles further. We hope to do that hike someday but it requires a hard-to-get permit and realistically is a 2-day round trip with a night spent on the beach. The rest of us would be heading 2 more miles upriver to find the Hanakapi’ai Falls.

We set off up the trail next to the stream, passing a small bathroom facility on the way and a helicopter landing area. Within a few minutes, we were grateful that we brought bug spray with us and took a moment to douse ourselves before continuing. Throughout our hike, the trail transitioned between varying states of dry earth and extreme mud, but we managed to avoid any major slipping incidents.

About a mile in, we came to an area known as the bamboo forest with huge stands of bamboo right along the trail. Sadly, many of the stalks of bamboo had initials and other graffiti carved into them from years of hikers. We also crossed the stream several times as we hiked. Most of the crossings were easy and we stayed dry but one of them proved too difficult and we just trudged right through the water with our shoes on. It was during one of these last stream crossings that we got our first view of Hanakapi’ai Falls plummeting from the cliffs above.

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A small section of the bamboo forest along the trail to the waterfall…sadly, there is a lot of graffiti carved into the stalks of bamboo.

For the last stretch of the hike, we chatted with three girls who live on Kauai, though they left us in their dust before too long. When we broke clear of the trees a few minutes later, we found ourselves at the rock-strewn edge of a small pool with the beautiful falls cascading down in front of us.

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Our first view of Hanakapi’ai Falls as we hiked up the stream.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. It felt even more special because there is no easy way to get there. Only if you are willing to hike through 4 miles of muddy trail do you get to experience the beauty and there is something really cool about having to earn the reward.

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The view of Hanakapi’ai Falls as we entered the clearing around its pool.

We made our way around to the left side of the pool and sat on some rocks just out of spray distance to eat our PB&J lunch. While we ate, we saw two of the three girls from earlier hop in the pool and go for a quick swim, though they didn’t last too long because the water was apparently really cold. Even the guy from Colorado was only in for a minute or two before he had enough. Needless to say, we were a bit nervous when we finished our lunch and decided to try it out for ourselves.

Rose elected for the dryer option of just dipping her toes in the water, while Philip and Robin went for it. Navigating the slippery rocks just beneath the surface was challenging (and led to a bruised shin for Philip), but we soon made it out towards the center of the pool. Yes, the water was cold. But in just a few minutes, our bodies acclimated and it actually became quite refreshing (those other people are wimps!).

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Phil and Robin braving the cold water to swim in the pool in front of Hanakapi’ai Falls…it really wasn’t that cold after a few minutes of acclimation.

We swam across the pool and around the left side of the waterfall to get behind it. Heeding the advice someone had given us, we avoided swimming directly beneath the falls because you never know when a rock or a tree branch or a wild pig is going to come tumbling over the edge. Our idyllic vacation plans do not include a pig-induced concussion from 100 feet up!

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Phil and Robin sitting on rocks behind Hanakapi’ai Falls.

Rose attempted to get some pictures of us swimming but the mist coming off the falling water made that challenging. Eventually, we made our way back across the pool and climbed out. While we were drying off, two other guys got in the water and swam over to the waterfall as well so at least we weren’t the only brave ones there that day.

The hike back to the beach was enjoyable and made more so because we realized that many of the trees lining our path contained guava fruit. It was actually sickening at some points due to the smell of all the rotting guava on the ground. However, we now had a quest to obtain some fresh guava from a tree that we could eat…a quest that was far harder than we imagined given the fact that these fruits seemed to drop frequently all on their own and often shatter upon impact.

Our walk back down the stream was a bit slow, primarily because Robin kept stopping to shake trees that looked like promising candidates for dropping some fruit for us. This was harder than we imagined to both shake a tree and also correctly guess where the fruit would fall so Philip or Rose could catch it. At one point, Robin had walked off the path a few feet to shake another tree before she shrieked and came scurrying back, surprised by both a large spider and an enormous frog.

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Guavas in various stages of rotting littering the ground along the trail to the waterfall.

Finally, after much trying, we managed to obtain a few guavas and snacked on those as we continued our hike. We also spotted what appeared to be a lime tree, though it was unyielding of any fruit no matter how hard Robin shook the trunk. On a less joyful note, while hiking back with our wet shoes, Robin came to the realization that she was down to nine toenails, which given the fact that she has all the normal digits on her feet is one less toenail than desired.

We only stopped at Hanakapi’ai Beach for a moment to take in the view before continuing back along the Kalalau Trail towards the car. The sun was high in the sky and beat down hard on some portions of the trail, drying out the mud in places. However, the heat was intense and Rose reached her limit as we trudged up the scorching switchbacks, though she persevered. She also stepped in the slightly wrong place while we were taking a break during the final stretch of the hike and slipped in the mud (though impressively only got her hands and legs dirty). Despite Robin’s frequent stops to take pictures, we made it back to the parking lot and celebrated our accomplishment.

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We can’t wait to come back to Kauai and hike the rest of this trail someday all the way to Kalalau Beach!

We were all incredibly muddy from the knee down so we used the shower spigots at the parking lot to wash off. This was a very inefficient process and thus it took 15 minutes or so to get through the line and get clean. Phil’s shoes and Robin’s socks began an early retirement in the garbage can since they were just too dirty to be worth saving.

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Our hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls. A->B: Hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach along the Kalalau Trail. B->C: Hike along the stream to Hanakapi’ai Falls. Return journey goes in reverse.

Once back in the car, we set off back around the island in search of some snorkeling. We first tried Ha’ena Beach but only stayed for a moment since the water was obviously way too rough to be snorkeled. We also may have scraped the bottom of the car a bit getting out of the parking lot but didn’t leave any pieces behind.

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Ha’ena Beach is beautiful but did not seem promising for snorkeling so we quickly moved along.

Tunnels Beach was our next stop and was one of the places that was highly recommended for snorkeling…though apparently only in the summer as we would soon learn. After struggling to find parking, we quickly realized that the surf here was just as rough as everywhere else on this side of the island. We will have to come back in a different season next time and experience the north side of the Kauai in its optimum time.

We drove a bit further along and reached the famed Hanalei Bay (presumably of Puff the Magic Dragon fame). Hanalei Bay has a gorgeous curving beach with wide swaths of sand and large waves rolling in. Unlike many other spots around Kauai, the bottom here seems quite sandy and we saw a lot of boogie boarders and surfers playing in the water.

By this point, we were realizing that snorkeling probably wasn’t going to happen (and frankly we were tired from our morning excursion anyway) so Robin and Rose laid out their towels to soak in some sun and Philip went for a walk along the beach. On his way back, he met a sopping wet golden retriever who was having the time of its life…with few exceptions, a wet dog is a happy dog! As he drew closer to the girls, rain droplets began to fall and we quickly gathered our things and scampered back to the car.

The rain was short lived and we were soon driving in sunny weather again. A stop for gas failed miserably due to the ridiculously tiny parking lot and bad drivers so we gave up and continued further. We found another gas station with a better layout and successfully filled up the car. Interestingly, the car was designed to have no gas cap, which is something we have never seen before.

At this point, we all began to crave a treat so we backtracked a short ways to an ice cream shop but learned that they did not have shave ice. Yelp informed us of a different spot a bit further back and we soon rolled up to an outdoor shave ice shop with a lot of people standing around outside (good sign, right?)

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The three of us raring to go before we started our long hike…we were far more tired and muddy by the time we got our shave ice in the afternoon.

Thus began one of the more frustrating food experiences of our lives. The girl behind the counter taking orders was very nice…and utterly incompetent at her job. We placed our orders with much difficulty and then found out from her that the credit card machine was down. We only had enough cash on hand for one dessert so Robin cancelled hers and we paid for the other one. The other worker in the shop was the one actually making the shave ice, but this painfully slow process became even more aggravating because she kept stopping her work to help the girl at the counter. While we waited nearly 20 minutes for our shave ice, another customer came and ordered and the credit card machine magically worked…though we were too frustrated by this point to want to place another order and wait even longer.

Finally, our treat was ready and we shared the pineapple and coconut shave ice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a coconut milk drizzle. Unlike the shave ice from Friday, this one had the ice cream sandwiched in the middle rather than at the bottom. It was tasty but not really worth the wait.

At 4:45, we made it back to the condo after our long day. After some showers to remove the remainder of the mud from our bodies, we decided that it would be a good night for a nice dinner out on the town. We drove to Lihue with the intention of visiting a restaurant called the Barefoot Bar. The parking situation was very confusing but after turning around three times we finally located the alley that took us to the free valet area.

When we got to the restaurant, we learned that there was a wait of 45 minutes for a table, which was more than we had anticipated. Above the Barefoot Bar is a restaurant called Duke’s, which is a nicer dining establishment (and pricier) and it only had a 30 minute wait. We decided to go with that option and hung out outside the restaurant on a grass area near the beach where we could watch some beach volleyball players.

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The sunset view of Kalapaki Beach outside of Duke’s restaurant.

Dinner was fantastic and well worth the wait and price. Duke’s is known for its Mai Tai’s and everyone but Philip ordered one. They also have a salad bar that is a trivial extra cost when you order an entrée so we all partook of that as well, along with an appetizer of calamari. The entrees did not disappoint either (7 spice ahi tuna with fruity mustard sauce and black rice for Philip, Mahi Mahi with lemon basil ginger sauce and basmati rice for Rose, fish and shrimp pesto pasta for Robin, and teriyaki chicken and sirloin for Betsy).

Overall, it was a lovely evening and we returned to the condo stuffed and exhausted. Bed followed soon after for all of us. Tomorrow is our last full day on Kauai before we have to return to the mainland and leave this island paradise.

Day4_Path

Our path for the day. A->B (white): Drive from condo to Ke’e Beach. B->C->D->C->B (blue): Hike to/from Hanakapi’ai Falls via Hanakapi’ai Beach. B->E (red): Drive to Hanalei Bay. E->E (green): Walk along beach at Hanalei Bay. E->F (red): Drive to gas station and shave ice. F->A (purple): Drive back to condo. A->G->A (yellow): Go to dinner and return back to condo.

Summary:

  • An early morning drive to Ke’e Beach
  • Hiking through mud to a waterfall in paradise
  • The treasure hunt for guava fruit
  • Searching for snorkeling in north east Kauai
  • Shave ice fail
  • A delicious dinner at Duke’s

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 11.02 miles | 23,140 steps
  • Distance Hiking through Mud: 8.34 miles
  • Distance in Car: 129 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

We began Saturday with a quick breakfast at the condo and left at 8:40am to head north around the east side of the island. Our ultimate destination was the Kilauea Point Refuge, but we decided to stop first at Opaeka Falls since it was more or less on the route.

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Opaeka Falls as seen from the viewing area.

We parked at the small parking area and then walked the short distance to a viewing area atop a bridge spanning the Wailua River. On the right side of the bridge, we could see the Opaeka Falls off in the distance. After crossing the road to the other side of the bridge and another small viewing area, we had an amazing view of the wide Wailua River making its way to the ocean. As we watched, a group of standup paddleboarders disappeared from view around a bend downstream.

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The serene Waimea River meandering down to the ocean..if you look close, you can see some stand-up paddleboarders down stream.

After a few minutes, we returned to the car and got back on the road heading around the island. In the small hamlet of Kilauea, we stopped at a coffee shop and loaded up on coffee and delicious pastries (lemon bar, cinnamon roll, rum ball). A mile or so further and we arrived at the upper parking lot for the Kilauea Point Refuge.

General driver incompetence led to a minor traffic jam at the entrance to the small parking lot but Philip craftily weaved his way around and found a place to park. We walked over to the railing at the edge of the cliff and were met with an outstanding view of a steep canyon descending to the beautiful water below.

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Two happy travelers enjoying our trip to Kauai.

Technically, we were not even inside the refuge yet but Betsy could have spent all day standing at this one spot watching the different types of birds. The most prominent by far were the red-footed boobies and the great frigate birds. The latter were easy to distinguish because they are quite large and boast a prominent forked tail. Rose and Robin took a quick walk down the road toward the true refuge entrance but returned soon after since it was clear that driving was the best method for getting down there.

As Rose returned, she asked Philip from a distance what he was looking at through the binoculars. He had almost shouted back, “I’m looking at boobies!” before thinking better of it. After a while at the top, we finally decided to go down into the actual refuge and returned to the car to do just that.

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Two Ne Ne’s (Hawaiian geese) at the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge.

When we got to the lower parking lot, one of the first things we noticed were the Ne Ne birds (essentially rare Hawaiian geese) walking nearby. As geese go, these ones are fairly beautiful and have an interesting vertical stripe pattern on their necks. We also saw the burrows of young wedge-tailed shearwaters in the brush next to the lot and could see the adorable fluffball-like inhabitants nestled inside.

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A young wedge-tailed shearwater in its burrow.

At the ranger’s station, we elected to buy the $20 annual National Parks pass for Betsy. It would have cost us the same price total for the four of us to enter the refuge just today anyway and the pass allows her to bring at least three guests with her for no cost.

The refuge actually has seemingly little land area and consists mainly of a narrow peninsula of land with a lighthouse at the edge. However, the peninsula has sheer cliffs down to the water on all three sides and these make a perfect nesting place for all kinds of seabirds. A small island just off the end of the peninsula also serves as a safe haven for the birds.

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The Kilauea Point light house at the edge of the peninsula.

We walked out to the end of the peninsula and spent another 30 minutes or so checking out the different birds. Beyond what we mentioned already, we were also able to see both white-tailed and red-tailed tropicbirds riding the thermals along the cliffs. We kept an eye out for whales in the water below but it was the wrong season for them so we did not expect much.

By 11:30, it was time to head back around the island for our afternoon boating activity. Phil drove while everyone else ate their packed lunches and took Dramamine to prevent (hopefully) any motion sickness issues in the hours to come. We made fantastic time and got to the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor about 30 minutes earlier than we had expected.

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Even the parking areas on Kauai are beautiful. This is the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor where we would depart for our catamaran tour.

 

To kill the time, we found a small patch of beach and Philip finally got a chance to eat his lunch. Robin sunned on a small section of beach there while Rose and Betsy…er…shaded. It wasn’t the finest beach we’ve seen on Kauai (super silty due to very fine sand) but certainly adequate for what we needed.

At the appropriate time, we moved over to the pavilion near the boat docks where people were gathering. While we waited for two stragglers, the captain gave us a safety briefing and a somewhat confusing monologue about our plans for the trip. We had booked a catamaran ride around the Na Pali coast with a stop along the way to snorkel. As the captain talked, he essentially said that we might stop to snorkel, we might not; we might go all the way up the coast, we might not. He would feel out the “mood of the boat” and decide at the right time.

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Robin enjoying our catamaran cruise around the Na Pali coast.

Hoping that snorkeling would actually be part of our trip, we boarded the boat (minus the two people who never made it) and settled into the front bench seat for the ride out. During the journey, we talked at various times with both of the deckhands. Adam, the younger of the two, is actually from Fort Collins, Colorado (only an hour away from us), but has lived on Kauai for several years now. The other deck hand (unfortunately don’t remember his name) is a native of the island and has spent most of his life on a boat in the waters around Kauai.

It was cool to talk to them and we learned many interesting details about the scenery around us. One item of note is the island of Nihau, which sits off the west side of Kauai and is also known as the Forbidden Island. We had heard some of the details about why Nihau is generally off limits to most tourists but it was neat to hear the more personal stories from our deck hands. The older deck hand has many friends on Nihau and he was able to explain a lot about Hawaiian customs in general and the specifics of life on the Forbidden Island.

He also told us about another interesting Hawaiian custom as we passed by some white cliffs. When a king died, a single soldier had the task to scale down the cliff face and choose a spot in which to place the royal bones. This act complete, the soldier would leap to his death so that nobody living would know which bones were from the former king and thus nobody could steal them and perhaps cause harm to the king’s spirit.

This cliff is located at the westernmost point of Kauai because the Hawaiians believed that spirits travel to the west when a person dies. In fact, Hawaiians would never have an east-facing door in their home for fear of accidentally trapping a spirit inside.

Just before reaching those white cliffs on the western edge of Kauai, we passed by the Pacific Missile Firing Range, the premier Navy installation for missile and interceptor testing. Interestingly, the Navy purchased this large swath of land (a dozen or so miles of beach) for very little money because the king thought he was outsmarting the Navy. He assumed that the Navy would come for a while and then, when they left, all of the spirits would leave with them. The problem, though, is that the Navy has never left the island and they just got a great deal on some oceanfront property.

The missile range is also home to a very unique section of beach known as Barking Sands. In addition to being a refuge for seabirds, Barking Sands is also known for the auditory experience it provides. The sand granules on this particular beach are shaped as tiny, hollow spheres and when they rub together from the wind or from footsteps, they make a noise that sounds roughly like the muffled bark of a dog. We didn’t visit the beach itself on this trip (takes some planning since you need to gain access to the missile range) but we certainly will attempt it next time we are on Kauai.

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The view from our catamaran as we cruised up the Na Pali coast.

After passing the missile range, we rounded a point on the island and got our first view of the famous Na Pali Coast. This is Kauai at its most magnificent with beautiful cliffs and tree-covered canyons rising dramatically from the ocean. Before long, the captain stopped the boat at the base of one of the cliffs and announced that we would indeed be snorkeling here today! Since the two of us had brought our own snorkeling gear, we grabbed some fins and were among the first in the water.

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Snorkeling at the Na Pali coast.

As might be expected, the water here was much deeper than our previous beach snorkeling. We saw a lot of fish, but they weren’t as plentiful as we had hoped. After about 30 minutes, most people had made it back to the boat. Philip was about to do the same when he saw an enormous sea turtle directly below him and so he instead followed it around for a few minutes. It’s hard to explain exactly why but sea turtles are fascinating creatures to observe in the wild. We noticed the same thing when we snorkeled in Belize. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of their ridiculous looking bodies with the incredible ease of how they move through the water that makes them so interesting.

Eventually, the turtle swam away and Philip climbed out of the water to find that lunch had been served (pre-made sandwiches and chips) and that Rose was not feeling well. It turns out that riding at the bow of the boat for the bouncy outbound journey may not have been the best decision after all. Thus, the two of us spent the remainder of the trip at the very back of the boat where the ride is the smoothest. Rose also did not talk much for the next few hours for fear of more than words coming out of her mouth if she opened it.

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The Na Pali coast with rugged mountains and numerous waterfalls. You can see two in this picture (one on either side of the center ridge).

For everyone but Rose, the remainder of the journey was magnificent. We continued around the Na Pali Coast until we could see Ke’e Beach at the eastern end. The afternoon sun did not disappoint as it bathed the steep, rugged cliffs in light and we consequently took way too many pictures. We also saw a few waterfalls, including another one that was featured in Jurassic Park.

As we passed Kalalau Canyon (same canyon we had seen from above yesterday at the end of Waimea Canyon), we saw the stunning Kalalau Beach at the base. The captain explained that the only way to access the beach legally is by hiking 11 miles from Ke’e Beach down the Kalalau Trail. He also indicated that there are people on Kauai who will drop you off by boat but this is against the law. We got glimpses of the trail at various points and we have added hiking its full length to our travel bucket list.

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Kalalau Beach in front of the “Cathedral” on the Na Pali Coast. The only legal way to get to this beach is to hike 11 miles, which we will certainly be doing the next time we come to Kauai!

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The “Cathedral” cliffs on the Na Pali coast with the beach at the base. Kalalau Canyon is just to the left.

At the turnaround point, the captain took the boat closer into the cliffs and we stopped several times on the return journey to check out some caves. In the summer months, the water around Na Pali is much calmer and boats can actually go into the caves but that was not an option for us on this trip.

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A waterfall emptying into the ocean in front of a small cave.

We did get very close to the cave openings at times and the captain even pulled the boat right next to a waterfall. As he maneuvered to exit, he slid the rear of the boat directly under the path of the waterfall…the rear of the boat where Rose was sitting. In less than a second, she was wetter than if she had fallen in the ocean. Thankfully, she was an amazing sport about it and dried off in the warm wind before too long.

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One of the many caves along the base of the Na Pali coast. This one has a small waterfall cascading down in front of it, a waterfall in which Rose took an impromptu shower.

The two other highlights of the return journey were a pod of five or so dolphins that played alongside the boat for a few minutes and the delicious brownies for dessert! When we finally made it back to the dock, Rose spent a few minutes happily reacquainting herself with firm ground and then we hopped in the car to head back to the condo. We did make a quick stop at a grocery store for some more supplies and were pleasantly surprised that the prices were not as egregious as we had been warned.

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The Na Pali coast bathed in evening light.

Once home, we showered and fairly quickly headed for bed. It was a very big day but we got to see virtually the entire island. Tomorrow is looking to be another big day as we are planning on a long hike to the base of a waterfall and need to get up early. Kauai has not disappointed thus far and we hope it continues to deliver for the rest of our trip!

Day3_Path

Our path for the day. A->B (white): Driving to Opaeka Falls. B->C (white): Driving to Kilauea Point Refuge. C->C (green): Exploring the refuge. C->D (red): Driving to Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor. D->D (yellow): Riding a catamaran up and down the Na Pali coast. D->A (purple): Driving back to the condo after a long day.

Summary:

  • A quick stop at Opaeka Falls
  • Bird watching at the Kilauea Point Refuge
  • A long drive around the island
  • Cruising around the Na Pali Coast on a catamaran
  • Snorkeling with a sea turtle
  • Rose and choppy seas are not friends

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 5.93 miles| 10,119 steps
  • Distance Swimming: 0.9 miles
  • Distance in Car: 112.8 miles
  • Distance in Boat: 58.3 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

The two of us woke up very early on Friday morning and decided to go for a walk to see sunrise over the ocean. Fortunately, there was a nice path to get us most of the way to Shipwreck Beach because it was very, very dark as we walked. We may have seen a jogger go by wearing a Bolder Boulder t-shirt, but we can’t be sure.

Just before reaching the beach, we came by the Grand Hyatt hotel, which has possibly the coolest swimming pool we have ever seen. It is amorphous in shape and with lots of little coves and inlets, and has a large section of sandy beach rather than concrete stairs. We sat on a bench swing outside the Hyatt for a few minutes, but then decided to head across the beach to a bluff on the other side.

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The sweet swimming pool at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Walking across Shipwreck was challenging due to the deep sand. This had been on our list of beaches to checkout for snorkeling, but the lack of a wave break seems to make it undesirable for that purpose. We climbed the small bluff with ease (yay sea level!), despite Philip wearing flip-flops. There were a handful of other people at the top, but we were able to find a section to ourselves to watch the sun come up over the ocean.

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Looking back at Shipwreck Beach from atop the bluff.

With the day now officially started, we headed back to the condo and, for the first time, noticed that there are chickens EVERYWHERE! They roam wildly all over the island and are just a quirky aspect of life on Kauai. Apparently, the wildness of the chickens is an artifact of a typhoon in the early 90’s, which essentially scattered the domestic chickens to the winds and they have thrived on their own ever since. They don’t seem to be a nuisance, other than the ridiculous amount of rooster crowing that goes on throughout the day.

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Chickens everywhere!!! This rooster was right outside our condo and would even wander up onto the patio at times.

During the walk back, we also pulled out Rose’s cell phone and checked Zillow to see the going rate for a small beach house. To our dismay, a small condo is somewhere in the 600k range and the houses are a million dollars or more so we won’t be buying a vacation property on Kauai anytime soon.

We got back to the condo at 7am and found Robin and Betsy awake and reading on the patio…with a few chickens walking around nearby, of course. We made some eggs and ham for breakfast and rolled out at 7:45 to explore the west side of Kauai and the geological feature known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.

Driving northwest was a very interesting experience. As we progressed, the scenery transitioned from the lush jungle one might expect in Hawaii to dry grasslands that felt eerily like the Colorado prairie. We even saw some prickly pear cactus! Once we turned northeast along the canyon, however, the tropical feel returned and we wound our way along the western rim. We stopped several times at different spots along the road and even spotted a two-tiered waterfall across the canyon that we are pretty sure was featured in the original Jurassic Park movie.

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A two-tiered waterfall on the other side of Waimea Canyon. We believe this is one of a few waterfalls featured in the Jurassic Park movie.

At a Y in the road, we took the right fork and soon arrived at a parking lot at the base of a lookout point. The views from the top were beautiful, though we didn’t stay very long because the wind was howling and we had not anticipated (or dressed for) how cold it would be with the wind chill. Back at the parking lot, we bought some cut pineapple from a vendor who was cordial enough but whose speech had enough swear words to make a sailor blush.

We returned to the Y and turned up the left fork. We passed a small museum and general store along the way but continued past it to the Pu’u O Kila Lookout at the end of the road. It is only a short hike to the lookout point and the views are absolutely stunning. Pu’u O Kila is dead center in Kalalau Canyon and the landscape drops dramatically from the lookout point and sweeps down to the ocean far below. While were there, a cloud rolled in from behind us and it was cool to watch it crest the ridge and then sink rapidly down into the canyon.

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Looking down Kalalau Canyon from the Pu’u O Kila Lookout.

The two of us ventured on foot a few hundred yards down a muddy trail just to see what was there, but then quickly returned back to Robin and Betsy at the lookout. When we got back to the parking lot, we spent a few minutes talking to two hikers who had pulled in beside us. They were gathering their gear for an overnight trip into the heart of Kauai on the Swamp Trail. Next time we come to Kauai, we will definitely be doing some more hiking into the interior of the island.

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Kalalau Canyon with the clouds descending from the ridge behind us.

We drove a few miles back to the Kalalau Lookout, though only stayed for a few minutes since it essentially just gave us a worse angle of the same Kalalau Canyon we had just enjoyed. On the way back down, we stopped at the museum and general store with the intent of finding a local birding book for Betsy (which we did).

The highlight of the stop, though, were the two hunting dogs hanging around outside of the general store. They both had radio tracking collars, but the owner was nowhere in sight and the general store staff was keeping a hand on the dogs to prevent them from massacring a flock of chickens in front of a bunch of children. Philip did his part to help by hanging onto one of the dogs for a few minutes while the staff searched for some leashes or rope to tie them up. Like the chickens, wild boars are rampant on the island. Unlike the chickens, though, the boars are destructive and it is always open season for hunting them.

Eventually, we got back in the car and continued back southwest towards the highway. We made a quick stop again at the first lookout point where we had purchased pineapple and found it to be much more crowded than before. We then returned to sea level via a slightly different route and before long were in the small town of Waimea with the intent of finding some lunch.

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Waimea Canyon: the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Our first stop was at “Da No Booze Market”, which had at one point been a liquor store called the “Da Booze Market” but the owners found Jesus and decided that they could do better selling food rather than alcohol so they changed their mission and name. However, the plate lunch they were offering wasn’t quite what we were looking for so we decided to try our luck elsewhere.

Just down the street was a Jo Jo’s shaved ice, which we had been told was a must visit when on Kauai. We later learned that there are multiple places with the same or similar names so it is not clear if this was actually the must visit establishment. Regardless, we went inside, ordered our shaved ice, and settled in for what would be our first real experience with the pace of island service.

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Robin’s shave ice from Jo Jo’s. Hidden down in the cup is a scoop of vanilla ice cream as well.

Eventually, the worker brought us our shaved ice and it was delicious. The two of us shared a concoction with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom topped with shaved ice in coconut, pineapple, and mango flavors. As we ate, Philip noticed a sign indicating that Jo Jo’s would actually be closing for good in the next few weeks. This perhaps explains why there was a random guy in the kitchen area taking various measurements. On the plus side, Robin was able to get the down low from him on where to get good food all over the island!

After finishing our shaved ice, we went down a few blocks to a food truck called Porky’s for lunch. They had a large tent setup nearby with picnic tables so we ordered our food and then sat under the tent to eat. It was quite windy at this point and our napkins kept blowing away but it was worth it for the delicious food. Philip had the pineapple sausage topped with pulled Kalua pork while Rose went for the grilled cheese with Kalua pork mixed in. We would highly recommend Porky’s to anyone who likes BBQ; we were not disappointed!

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One of our lunches from Porky’s food truck. This is a pineapple sausage with a pile of Kalua pulled pork on top. Absolutely delicious!

Our tummies full and happy, we drove back to the condo and spent some time relaxing and digesting. We also took the opportunity to book an inner tube adventure for Monday that our pilot had mentioned on the flight in.

The two of us and Robin then headed back out to do some more snorkeling and explore new beaches. As an added bonus, Philip found his missing driver’s license and credit card stuck in the crack next to the driver’s seat…he couldn’t figure out how to get them out but at least we knew where they were.

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Rocking our snorkels and rash guards at Salt Pond Beach.

We went first to Salt Pond Beach, which is west of Poipu by about 20 minutes. Salt Pond is a gorgeous crescent shaped beach with a wave break at either end.

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Salt Pond Beach is a gorgeous place…though that can be said of pretty much all of Kauai!

We started our snorkeling behind the right wave break, but didn’t see very many fish. However, one of the few fish we did see was really, really cool. It was a bottom dweller with its eyes on the top of its extremely flat body. When it settles into the sand and stops moving, the fish is nearly impossible to see.

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A sea cucumber clinging to some coral. We saw a lot of them and they were in all different sizes.

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Some of the beautiful fish we encountered snorkeling…we had only seen these in aquariums before this trip. If you look close at the bottom of the picture, you can see some sea urchins in the crevices of the coral.

The left wave break had far more fish and we spent a while snorkeling in that area. It is easy to miss them because they are tucked into holes and crevices in the coral, but we began to notice small sea urchins everywhere. We also saw a plethora of sea cucumbers in varying sizes clinging to the coral. Other than having to fight against some strong currents at times, it was a very enjoyable snorkeling experience, though still not as nice as our much closer Poipu Beach.

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A school of fish circling Rose as we snorkeled at Salt Pond Beach.

After an hour of snorkeling, we went back to our towels to dry off and warm up in the sun. During that time, we met a nice older couple from Seattle who visited Hawaii frequently and talked with them to get their recommendations for what to do while on Kauai.

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The Hanapepe Hanging Bridge crossing a canal.

Our next stop was just a few miles away in the small town of Hanapepe, which boasts an interesting wooden swinging bridge across a large canal. We were the only ones there at the time and we walked across it and back before heading back to the car.

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Hanapepe Hanging Bridge from the other side. It’s a little bouncy as you cross and super narrow but we had it all to ourselves.

We had intended to stop at Lawai beach on the way back to the condo to do more snorkeling, but we were all tired at this point. Instead, we just drove by to get a look at it with the intent of coming back another day to actually snorkel. We did venture a mile or two past the beach to the end of the road to see the feature called Spouting Horn. This is a spot where waves come into a cave in the sea cliff and the water funnels up through a blowhole on the top and shoots into the sky. We also noticed that this area seems to have some of the nicest houses on the island with properties going for 3-5 million dollars according to Zillow.

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Water erupting from Spouting Horn…it is hard to get a good picture that shows just how high the water can shoot.

Our explorations for the day finished, we returned to the condo to hang out and figure out the schedule for tomorrow. After our large lunch, dinner was a snacking affair and the evening entertainment was watching Jurassic Park on Amazon Prime. It took 20 minutes and three different web browsers to find a configuration that would reliably work but Microsoft Edge finally came through for us. Robin didn’t quite make it to the end of the movie and the rest of us headed to bed not too long after.

It was a great first full day on Kauai and we look forward to exploring other parts of the island tomorrow!

Summary:

  • A morning walk to see the sunrise
  • The dry prairies of Colorado…er…Kauai
  • Exploring the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
  • Every day is better when you meet some new puppies!
  • A most delicious lunch at Porky’s
  • Snorkeling at Salt Pond Beach
  • A quick stop at Spouting Horn
  • Jurassic Park before bed…a recipe for nightmares

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 8.3 miles | 14, 586 steps
  • Distance Swimming: 2.33 miles
  • Distance in Car: 115.79 miles
Day2_Path

Our path for the day. A->A (red): Morning walk to Shipwreck beach and back. A->B (white): Driving to first lookout point in Waimea Canyon. B->C (white): Driving rest of way to Pu’u O Kila Lookout. C->C (green): short walk down the muddy trail at Pu’u O Kila. C->D (red): Driving to Kalalau Lookout and then to museum and general store. D->E (red): Driving to Waimea via different route. E: Stop for shave ice and lunch. E->A (red): Returning to condo. A->F (pink): Driving to Salt Pond Beach. F: Snorkeling at Salt Pond Beach. F->G (yellow): Driving to Hanapepe and exploring the Hanging Bridge. G->H (yellow): Driving to Spouting Horn via Lawai Beach. H->A (yellow): Returning to condo.

For a variety of reasons, this trip to Hawaii came about at the last minute. One month after first even thinking about going to Hawaii, the day to leave is finally here! Rose’s mom, Betsy, arrived from Iowa last night and the three of us headed to the airport at a painful 4am. The flight to LA was uneventful, though we arrived early and were stuck on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for a gate to open up. Our layover was short, so we grabbed some breakfast food and took it onto the plane with us.

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On our way to LA and eventually Kauai! This was taken not long after leaving Denver as we crossed the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

The flight from LA to Kauai took about 6 hours, which we filled mostly by watching movies. Every hour or so, the pilot would come on to the loudspeaker to present us with trivia and history about the Hawaiian Islands. This was all fine (though Rose would have preferred her movie not keep being interrupted) but the pilot also made a few offhand comments at times that could have been unsettling to anyone nervous about flying. He joked a few times about not being sure if we were going the right way and hoping that we would see the islands out ahead of us. He also made sure to emphasize that we had embarked on one of the longest commercial overwater flight segments without landing options and informed us when we reached the point of no return where it was closer to keep flying to Hawaii rather than turn back to California.

Eventually, we started to see the islands rising above the water and the pilot served also as tour guide explaining each of the islands as they came into view. The approach into Lihue, Kauai, felt super shallow above the water and our pilot managed a decent landing despite a strong crosswind.

Grateful to be off the long flight, we made our way to baggage claim, which is actually in a covered outdoor area of the airport (not something we had ever seen before in our travels). We picked up our bags and waited a few minutes for Rose’s sister, Robin, to pull up in the rental car and pick us up. She had flown in from San Diego about an hour earlier. After playing some advanced Tetris with the luggage, we all piled into the now very full car and were on our way.

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Coming in for a landing at Lihue Airport. The approach angle was so low it felt like we were about to scrape the tops of the waves.

We made a quick stop at the rental car agency to get Philip added as a driver and then swung by Costco to stock up on supplies for our stay. Hawaii is known for expensive prices on most commodity items since they have to be shipped so far, but Costco prices are actually quite similar to those on the mainland. We elected to have a quick lunch at Costco and then moved on to Safeway for a few more items.

The drive from Lihue to Poipu gave us our first real look at the beauty that is Kauai. Tall trees line both sides of the road leading from the main highway down to Poipu at the southern tip of the island, forming a cool green tunnel through which we drove. In general, Kauai is overwhelmingly green (appropriate since it boasts the rainiest place on earth) and is a nice change from the dry and brown Colorado fall.

We found our condo without too much trouble and Philip made many trips unloading the car (now packed even fuller with all the groceries). The condo is a lovely 2 bedroom, 2 bath ground floor residence and is less than a 5 minute walk from the beach. It also contains about 15 different ceiling or free-standing fans and we would soon put them all to use combatting the humidity.

With things mostly unpacked, we set off on a walk down to our nearest beach (Brennecke’s Beach) just to see what could be seen. The left side of the beach is quite rocky and we spent a few minutes walking around on the rocks looking in the tide pools. Philip spotted some jet black crabs scurrying away and was amazed at how well they blended in…so well in fact that nobody else saw them or believed they existed at first!. While on the rocks, we looked to the right and saw a few sea turtles surfing the waves just a dozen feet away. The sea turtles are fascinating to watch because they seem so lazy in their swimming and yet it is incredibly effective. They also manage to survive in the heavy surf just feet from hard rocks without getting bashed to pieces.

After a few minutes, Betsy decided to head back to the condo and Philip and Robin went for the first swim of our vacation. In the rough surf, a few minutes of swimming is about all we could handle. The three of us then proceeded to walk down the beach towards Poipu Beach proper. On the far side of the beach, there is a small island about 50 feet out (probably not actually an island at low tide) and there, basking in the sun, were an enormous sea turtle and an equivalently massive Hawaiian monk seal. It would have been cool to go out to the island to see them closer, but we decided to fight the temptation given that both of these animals are protected and we strive to be responsible travelers.

We also noticed lots of people snorkeling behind the wave breaks at Poipu beach so we hurried back to the condo to grab our snorkeling gear (best $25 we spent on Amazon in a long time). 15 minutes later, we were back at Poipu Beach and swimming through the lukewarm water.

For our first snorkeling experience on Kauai, it went pretty well. We saw some huge schools of fish swimming around, including some super narrow ones that stay just below the surface and are easy to overlook. It took a couple of tries to get the snorkels and masks adjusted correctly such that they would keep water out without being so tight as to put a large dent between our eyes. We also learned to be very careful about where we put our feet as the seafloor near the beach alternates between sand and sharp coral…Philip learned the lesson the best with a nice little slice on one of his toes.

After some time snorkeling, we set off back to the condo to shower and relax for the night. Our internal clocks were so messed up at this point that our evening consisted of a few minutes going over plans for the next few days and most of us in bed by 7pm! Philip stayed up a whole extra hour to go through some work emails before he succumbed as well to exhaustion.

Tomorrow, we start our true exploration of this awesome place and we can’t wait to see what it has to offer!

Day1_Path

Our path for the day. After landing at Lihue Airport (A), we stopped for supplies at Costco and Safeway (B) and then drove to our condo in Poipu (C). The day ended with a walk to the beahc and some snorkeling (D).

Summary:

  • Flying over so much ocean!
  • Stocking up on supplies
  • Sea turtles and a monk seal
  • Snorkeling in paradise

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 8.38 miles | 13,538 steps
  • Distance Swimming: unknown
  • Distance in Car: 16.9 miles

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

After our late night in Windsor, we slept in and had a leisurely morning. We went down for breakfast and were at first disappointed by what looked to be a simple continental buffet with a few pastries and some juice. However, we quickly learned that this was only the first part and a full English breakfast soon followed with eggs and meats and other delicious stuff.

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A true English breakfast for our final morning in the UK.

Our hunger satiated, we went back to our room and began the laborious final packing of our suitcases for the trip home. With some concern over the weight of the bags, we checked out of the hotel and set off to the airport. After refueling the rental car and hitting up one last Tesco grocery store, we arrived on the airport grounds despite some odd routing from Samantha. However, we then drove at least 10 more miles in what felt like circles around Heathrow as we followed the signs for the rental car lot! At least we got to see lots of airplanes.

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We drove around and around Heathrow airport before we finally found the rental car return….at least we got to see cool airplanes!

We returned the rental car and learned that the attendant was completely unaware of the rules and equipment required for driving in France. Apparently, it just isn’t that common for people in London to make that drive. We then boarded a shuttle and promptly found ourselves on route to the wrong terminal (somehow we had missed the distinction in shuttles and terminals). Thankfully, the shuttle driver was awesome and he made a special trip to take us to the correct place after dropping off the other passengers.

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Our ridiculous path for the day.

The lady at the ticket counter didn’t even seem to notice or care that Rose’s bag was a few pounds overweight. Philip, on the other hand, had a few issues as his camping backpack needed to go to a different counter to be put into a larger plastic bag due to the dangling straps. We walked with the agent across the ticketing area toward the other counter, passing a large Indian family along the way. As we passed the group, an incredible stench of body odor hit us like a brick wall. It was bad enough that the British (aka polite) ticketing agent commented on it to us once we were out of earshot of the group.

To our dismay, there was an issue when we got to the second counter, necessitating a trek back past the smelly group to the first counter followed by yet another return voyage. Needless to say, we were grateful once Philip’s bag disappeared down the luggage conveyor and we could move along to security and fresher air.

The line at security was thankfully short and before much longer we were headed to our gate. Philip made a quick stop to grab some food (Moroccan meat balls), which we snacked on at the gate as we waited for our plane. The flight back to the US was long, but uneventful. We sat next to a lady from Phoenix who had been on a cruise and enjoyed chatting with her for a while. A marathon of movies filled the remainder of our flight time to Houston.

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Pretty sure this is the west coast of Ireland down below our airplane.

The line at Houston Customs was very long, though interestingly the response was always “20 minutes” any time we asked an attendant about how long it would take to get through. Philip spent a while trying to download and use the heavily advertised Mobile Passport phone app that would let us bypass much of the line, but eventually gave up as the back end system was having major issues presumably due to high demand.

We were getting worried about catching our connecting flight at this point, so Philip talked to an agent and she instructed us to get into a different smaller line so we wouldn’t miss our flight. This certainly gained us some dirty looks from several other passengers. Ultimately, we made it through customs with plenty of time and arrived at our gate for the final leg of our trip back to Denver.

The flight home was uneventful but felt excruciatingly slow after traveling for so long and with home so close. To add to our frustration, the baggage claim at DIA kept getting stuck and we waited at least 20 minutes as mechanics kept attempting to solve the problem. Finally, an announcement directed us to a different carrousel and our bags arrived there almost immediately. On the shuttle ride to our car, we had a fun time chatting with a large family from Aurora who had just visited Disney in Orlando. At 10:45pm, we pulled into home and were greeted by two very, very excited puppies!

EuropeTransportationChart

We couldn’t go an entire trip without at least one graph! Here is the breakdown of how much we moved around each day and by what mode of transport.

We had a blast in Europe and can’t wait for our next trip somewhere new and exciting. We are both surprised by how much we loved France, especially given its reputation of not being particularly friendly to foreigners. We aren’t certain what comes next but we will be sure to write about it here when the time comes!

Summary

  • The grand tour of Heathrow Airport’s roadways
  • Taking a ride on the wrong shuttle bus
  • Dirty looks in Houston
  • Home at last!

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 4.3 miles | 9,004 steps
  • Distance in Car: 19.6 miles

Grand Total Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 145.35 miles | 311,727 steps
  • Distance in Car: 1,219 miles
  • Distance on Bus: 163 miles
  • Distance on Train: 31.4 miles
  • Distance on Boat: 38.1 miles
  • Distance on Bike: 23.4 miles
  • Grand Total Distance: 1,620 miles
Total_Full

The total journey. East out of London, across the ferry for a clockwise loop of north east France, and back across the channel tunnel before completing the clockwise loop back to London.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

NOTE: Our sincerest apologies that this post is 3 months late. We aim to be much more timely on our next journey.

It’s finally here, our last full day of the trip. We are both excited to be heading home soon and disappointed that our travels must soon come to an end. If it weren’t for our two dogs waiting for us in Colorado and the unfortunate need to earn some sort of income, we could happily travel like this for significantly more time.

Anyways, we awoke after sleeping in a bit, packed up, and were out the door of the hotel around 9am. We made a necessary stop at the Tesco Express grocery store in town to get our morning pastries and then set off the few miles to the city of Bath. Our intent was to first visit the Bath Abbey before checking out the famous Roman Baths from which the town gets its name.

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Bath Abbey in all of its Gothic glory.

We arrived at a Parking Garage on the outskirts of the city center and soon discovered that it only accepted coins (no cards, no paper money). Fortunately, we were able to scrounge up enough coinage to cover our stay, though only by digging deep into the recesses of Philip’s backpack. The walk to the abbey took only a few minutes and we noticed that the city was already getting crowded with tourists even at this early hour. Bath is only about an hour and a half from London and seems very popular for day trips from the capital.

We chose to first explore the interior of Bath Abbey before going on our final tower tour of the trip. Compared to many of the cathedrals we have seen, Bath Abbey is relatively modest in size. It is packed with tombs, but they mostly have low profiles and thus do not make the church feel crowded (something that cannot be said of Westminster Abbey). The highlight of the interior is the beautiful stained glass and we spent some time admiring it as we walked around the sanctuary. Much like the cathedral in Wells, the stonework in the abbey is mostly unadorned, though it is of a richer and warmer brown color rather than the stark gray common in so many other old buildings.

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An art display within Bath Abbey.

A few minutes before 10am, Philip got in line outside the still closed gift shop in order to buy tickets for the tower tour. The door opened a few minutes later and we were the first to get our tickets. Our guide for the tour was a young local guy named George and he was awesome! Not only was he a wealth of information, but he also had a sense of humor and was happy to answer any questions we had (and Philip took full advantage of this).

Our first stop was above the nave in the space between the ceiling below and the roof above where we could clearly see the structural members holding up the lead roof. We then continued on into the bell tower and sat on some benches around the edge of a fairly large room. It was here that George explained about the abbey’s bells and all of the different ways they can be rung. Hanging from the ceiling were 10 ropes used for the obnoxiously loud and tiring method of “full circle ringing”. The much more humble manual mechanism was along the side wall, consisting of 10 smaller ropes aligned in a row. George went over to them to play a few bars of a hymn and we remembered back to the same mechanism we had seen (and played with) in a bell tower in Cork, Ireland. Many different songs have been played on the bells in Bath, including both Living on a Prayer and Highway to Hell, but the clergy supposedly prefers hymns over the anthems of 80’s rock legends.

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This is the original automatic bell ringing instrument at Bath Abbey. It has “memory” for a handful of songs that were played 4 times a day.

George also pointed out several other mechanisms in the room. One was a large machine that was configured with 10 different songs. This machine used to play a song 4 times a day signifying the start of work, lunchtime, end of work, and bedtime for the residents of Bath. These days, that machine has been retired for a digital version mounted inconspicuously on the wall that has a much larger capacity.

The room also contains the clock mechanism and George then led us out into the small room behind the clock face. Here he told us about the very uncomfortable job of lantern keeper, who had to ensure the lantern to backlight the clock stayed lit during 12 hour shifts. The room was very warm from baking in the sun and would have been miserable to stay in for 12 minutes, let alone hours. Factor in the small chimney for the lantern that would also allow in rain water and you have the perfect conditions for a sauna.

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The backside of the clock at Bath Abbey. This room was tiny and toasty and must have been miserable for the lantern keepers on their 12 hour shifts.

We quickly came back to the mechanism room and Philip asked about a small analog clock above the clock mechanism that happened to be numbered in reverse. George indicated that this was a tribute to the fact that Bath Abbey’s 10 bells are arranged in the opposite order compared to most churches. It is a significant challenge to overcome for visiting bell ringers. In keeping with the backwards theme, someone decided one day to go all in and mounted the backwards clock as well.

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The bells in the bell tower at Bath Abbey and our awesome tour guide, George.

We climbed some stairs up into the large bell room and then continued up and out onto the roof of the bell tower. This is the first tower of the trip that we have truly been able to summit. We spent a long while on the roof enjoying the views from the single central bell tower atop the quire (as opposed to the more common dual bell towers at the front of the nave). While there, we also chatted with George about various things including the difference between an abbey and a cathedral, and what life is like in a town like Bath.

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A beautiful view of Bath as seen from the top of Bath Abbey.

Eventually, we descended back down the stairs and made our way out of the abbey and into the plaza outside. To our dismay, there was a very large line in front of the entrance to the baths. We got in it to wait our turn. While we waited, we observed several security guards make a complicated mess out of what should have been simple crowd control. Considering that these guys face crowds like this probably on a daily basis, it was interesting to see a process with so much confusion and disorder.

A street performer with an acoustic guitar sat on a stool just a few feet away from our line and we spent several minutes listening to his impressive instrumental performance. He was good enough to cause Philip to step out of line to throw a few coins into his open guitar case. At exactly 11am, the man stopped playing and another guitarist arrived to take his place. It seems that these guys have a very rigid schedule as to who gets the prime position in front of the crowds (when we came out later, a violinist was now occupying the spot).

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Shift change for the musicians in the square between Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths.

After about 20 minutes in line, we were allowed into the building and we entered another smaller line to actually purchase our tickets. We also realized at this point that we could have pre-purchased online and avoided the majority of this waiting…we’ve been pretty good throughout the trip on avoiding lines but we dropped the ball here on our last day. After snaking our way through the stanchions, we purchased tickets, picked up our audio guides, and set off into the very crowded facility.

We first came to a terrace that overlooks the great bath down below. To our surprise, we found the bath to be a rather sickening green color due to the algae growth in the warm water. We can only hope it was cleaner back in Roman times when people actually bathed there (the fact that it had a roof back then may have helped some with controlling the algae). We then spent the next 30 minutes or so on our own walking through the museum-like sections of the facility and navigating through the dense crowds.

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The algae-tinted Great Bath with the Victorian terrace above.

The highlight of our visit to the baths was a free guided tour that began at noon led by a guide named Catherine. We had expected the tour group to be massive given the number of visitors but in the end there were only about 15 of us following Catherine around as she explained what we were seeing. The great bath had been rediscovered in the early 1900s and the people of the time had built on top of the ruins in an attempt to enhance the experience. This is very different than the more modern philosophy of “hands-off” preservation that prevails today. In general, she told us that anything above “neck height” was new and the stones below the neck date back to Roman times.

At one point on our tour, Catherine passed around an example instrument that was used for scraping oils and dead skin cells off of the body (kind of an ancient version of a loofah). It turns out that the Roman bathing experience was quite involved and consisted of multiple stages of bathing in waters of various temperatures and the application/removal of numerous products.

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These stacked tiles formed the subfloor of some of the rooms at the Roman Baths. Heat was pumped into the room beneath the floor and was captured in these tiles and re-radiated up into the room above.

From an architectural perspective, one of the coolest things to see was the construction of the floor in one of the women’s sauna rooms (men and women used different areas of the bath complex). The floor was raised on stacks of tiles that would retain heat and radiate it upwards into the room. Much of the upper floor had worn away but we could still see the tile stacks throughout much of the room. Another cool thing Catherine showed us was a long section of original lead pipe still present in a channel in the floor that carried water from the source spring into the great bath. Obviously, the Romans had not figured out that lead is really bad for the body.

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A section of 2000 year old lead pipe at the Roman Baths.

The final stop on our tour was an invitation from Catherine to taste some of the water that feeds into the great bath. Fortunately, all lead piping has been removed between the spring and the drinking fountain so we gladly stepped forward to give it a try. The water definitely did not taste good (too warm and way too many minerals) but it wasn’t quite as disgusting as she had made it sound.

When we left the baths, we stopped to grab lunch at a nearby pasty shop as we were both getting pretty hungry. The shop was very tiny and we were quickly confused by the signage that indicated a distinction between a dine-in price and a slightly cheaper take-out price. Unless we wanted to crouch on the floor next to the counter, there really was no place to dine in. As we ordered our food, the lady at the counter explained that the restaurant actually has three locations and really applies to the location in Bristol. Apparently, it was just cheaper to get three copies of the same signs!

We took our relatively inexpensive and bountiful lunch back towards the bath house and sat on some steps outside a large window of the attached Pump Room Café, which we would later learn is amongst the most posh places to dine in Bath. As we were finishing our meal, a guy walked up the few steps and stood next to us, apologizing as he did so. We were confused for a moment as to the reason for his apology, but quickly figured it out as the previously unseen tour group of 20 or so people started gathering around us. As the guy launched into his spiel about the Pump Room Café, we grabbed the remnants of our lunch and slid out of the center of the group.

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An interesting art display above a street in Bath.

Stuffed and happy, we set off back towards our car for the return trip to London. During the 2 hour trip to our hotel in west London near Heathrow Airport, we finally finished our audio book (The Escape by David Baldacci). We found our hotel without any issue, parked in the lot behind the hotel, checked in, and carried our bags through a labyrinth of hallways to our room. Just as we got there, the room phone started to ring as the front desk guy called to tell us our car alarm was going off! Philip jogged back to the parking lot and after several attempts managed to unlock and relock the car to fix the errant alarm.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a lovely nap and then set off for one last adventure in London, an escape room! We drove about 45 minutes to south London and finally found the correct building in a warehouse district after going around the block a couple of times (we passed the first test).

The Mystery Cube escape room is run by a very energetic Hungarian lady and we had a great time. We successfully escaped with less than 1 minute left out of our allotted hour and then spent another 20+ minutes talking with the owner about the various escape rooms we’ve done and the different groups she’s seen come through her room.

Since the night was still young (at least by our recent European standard), we decided to go check out the nearby town of Windsor, home of the famous Windsor Castle. We found a parking lot but quickly learned that it was cash only so we decided to keep looking. After just a few minutes, we found a cheaper and closer option, parked, and walked the few minutes into town.

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A glimpse of Windsor Castle during our evening in Windsor.

After walking around for a bit, we found a fish and chips shop and split one last order together. Philip followed dinner up with a delicious ice cream cone and we then continued our walk around Windsor, focused mainly on getting some views of the castle atop a hill. Unfortunately, there really aren’t many places to get good castle views from outside the gates. At one point, we ran into a locked gate at the end of a street with a beautiful park on the other side. Confusingly, there were people in the park so it was apparently open, but just not from this particular street.

We backtracked and eventually found a different area with a tree-lined walkway. Near the end of the path, we discovered a smaller grass area with a complex brick pathway. A sign indicated it was intended as a game for kids that could be played many different ways. While it wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, it was cool to see a tangible and interactive introduction to graph theory that kids could enjoy and explore.

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This set of brick pathways is actually a graph-theory inspired playground.

We eventually made our way back to our car and returned to the hotel to call it a night. Just one last night in Europe before we head home tomorrow. While we are sad to say goodbye to a great vacation, we are definitely ready to be home and back to life as normal with our furry family!

Day15_Windsor

Our path around Windsor. A: Our failed parking lot. B: The good parking lot. C: Final fish and chips along the river. C->D: Walking around Windsor and getting stuck at a gate. D->E->B: Walking back to the car with a stop at the “graph theory” park at E.

Summary

  • A final tower tour at Bath Abbey
  • Some Roman history a long way from Rome
  • Back to London we go
  • What to do on our last night? How about an escape room!
  • A late night exploration of Windsor

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 5.5 miles | 11,521 steps
  • Distance in Car: 181.3 miles
Day15_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive from hotel to Bath. B: Explore Bath. B->C: Drive to hotel in west London. C->D (white): Drive to Mystery Cube Escape Room. D->E (red): Drive to Windsor. E: Explore Windsor. E->C (purple): Drive back to hotel.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

We arose on Friday morning and quickly packed up our belongings. The manager was not yet awake when we left so we followed his instructions to lock the door behind us and stick the key back through the letter slot. On the way out of town, we swung by the grocery store again to pick up some pastries for breakfast, which we ate during the relatively short drive to the Stonehenge Visitor Center.

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Good picture of us…not such a good picture of Stonehenge.

The parking lot was quite empty when we arrived and we got a great spot near the front. That said, there was already a small line at the ticket office, even for those of us with pre-purchased tickets and a specific entry time. At 9am, the line began to move and by 9:06 we had our audio guides and were power walking to the bus stop to get a ride over to the actual site. We could have walked the mile and a half instead, but we figured riding the bus would get us there sooner (first group of the day, in fact) and we could enjoy the site with fewer people around.

The ride only took a few minutes and we stood up in our seats to move into the aisle and exit the bus. Just as we were about to step out, a German guy pushed past us and started speed walking ahead of everyone towards the site. This guy epitomized the stereotype of bad tourist throughout our visit and possessed an alarming lack of general self-awareness and common decency.

We walked towards the stone circle and began a counterclockwise (or anti-clockwise…we are in Britain after all!) walk along the path circling the site. For very valid reasons of preservation, tourists are no longer allowed within the center circle, but the path does go within a few dozen feet of the outer ring of large stones in places. The path also does not quite complete the full circle, stopping short so as not to cross over the historical “avenue” that was the original entry way to Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge!

At the far end of the path, we stopped for more pictures (we’d been taking lots the whole way around). We were about to take one of our patented extended-arm selfies, when a friendly guy offered to take it for us instead. Not sure who he was but he just seemed to radiate a general happiness for being alive.

On our way back around the path, we stopped frequently to listen to our audio guides. Unfortunately, some of the numbered placards did not seem to align with the commentary, but we were able to figure out where to look with relative ease. In addition to information about Stonehenge itself, the audio guide also told us about other features off in the distance, particularly several small hills, which are actually burial mounds from 3000+ years ago. It also talked some about the “ongoing renovation” to alter the car park and build a new visitor center. Ongoing is in quotes because the audio guides were from 2014 and this work had long ago been completed.

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The lighting got noticeably better during our time at Stonehenge and we were able to get this beautiful picture.

On that note, English Heritage has done a nice job of making the site a nice place to visit. Apparently, in the past, the car park and visitor center were located very near to the stone circle and the enchantment of the ancient place was severely degraded. By the time we visited, this was gone and the stone circle is once again surrounded by nature and a simple walking path…and a highway a few hundred yards away but there’s really nothing they can do about that one and it really isn’t as distracting as we had feared.

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Two happy travelers checking an item off their travel bucket list!

We also found it interesting to hear about some of the preservation work that has been done on the site. Several stones that were leaning dangerously in the past have been righted and their bases reinforced with concrete. For the most part this is completely invisible, though there is one stone that has suffered some severe wind erosion (we assume) near its base and there is some visible concrete there to shore things up.

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Many of the stones at Stonehenge have been reinforced with concrete, though this is one of only a few where the concrete is visible. For the most part, they just reinforced the base beneath the ground.

At one point, we noticed a large group of school children led by an adult teacher that had appeared just outside the fenced area. As far as we can tell, they had walked in across a large field and were bypassing the ticket office. Realistically, they were only about 50 feet further away from the stone circle than the paying guests, so perhaps this was a shrewd move.

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A group of school kids outside the fence at Stonehenge. It seems that they walked across the field to visit the site rather than pay the entrance fee.

After a while at the site, we walked back towards the bus to head back to the visitor center. Just as we were about to climb aboard, an elderly woman rushed past us and jumped on ahead. As there was plenty of room still onboard, this wasn’t too big of a deal but yet again we are often amazed at the inconsiderate behavior of some people. Back at the visitor center, we were “conveniently” routed through the expansive gift shop, though we quickly escaped without purchasing any tacky souvenirs.

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The super modern visitor center at Stonehenge.

In front of the visitor center are a handful of example dwellings (simple tent like structures) that might have been used by the people who built Stonehenge. There was also a rope attached to a large rock where one could test their pulling strength and see how many of them would it take to pull one of the large stones on rollers. Philip of course had to try this for himself and, despite his svelte physique, it would still take 100 of him to move the stone!

We stopped next at the attached museum, which mostly contains miscellaneous artifacts found around the site or in some of the nearby burial mounds. The coolest part was a circular room with projectors in the center showing a 3D view from the center of the stone circle and changing with the seasons and time of day.

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Our visit to Stonehenge. A->B: Walk to the bus. B->C: Bus to the stone circle. C->C: Walk around Stonehenge! C->B: Bus back to the visitor center. B->A: Explore visitor center and back to car.

After a quick walk through the handful of rooms, we returned back to the parking lot (much, much fuller now than when we arrived) and set off for our next destination. Our original plan for the last two days of the trip was rather geographically inefficient and we fortunately figured this out in our hotel room last night. Thus, we now headed west to the town of Wells to see its impressive Cathedral.

Along the way, we made a stop at a service station to purchase some much needed window washing fluid (known as windscreen fluid). Yes, not only did our rental car agency do nothing to prepare us for the regulations of driving in France, but they also gave us a vehicle that was bone dry in the windshield fluid department. We were shocked by the price of a small bottle of the fluid (roughly 5 pounds) considering we can buy a full gallon at home for less than 3 US dollars. Nevertheless, it was a necessary purchase and made the remainder of our driving much more enjoyable.

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The large lawn in front of Wells Cathedral was packed with school kids eating lunch during their visit to the cathedral.

Wells Cathedral has an enormous grass park in front of it, which is rather unique in the cathedral’s we have visited. We found parking on the street adjacent to the park and stepped out of the car. Our first sight was of hundreds (if not a thousand) school kids on the lawn enjoying their lunches. A bit overwhelmed and concerned about what might be awaiting us inside, we walked into the ticket office and got two tickets for entry. Technically, it is free to enter the cathedral, but they strongly recommend a 6 pound donation per person and we were more than happy to comply.

The inside of the Cathedral was a bit reminiscent of that in Salisbury with a very open feeling, relatively few adornments, and the use of multiple bands of stone. Unlike Salisbury, though, Wells still does have is choir screen separating the nave from the quire and altar. There was also a large modern projection screen set up in the nave, which was not ideal for taking photos. A docent informed us that it was kid’s day at the cathedral and they would be having a service starting at 1pm (about 20 minutes away). This explained the plethora of children on the lawn and also gave us a bit of urgency in our visit.

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Beautiful scissor arches inside Wells Cathedral.

The highlight of the physical architecture of the main cathedral space is certainly the large scissor arches. Here, a normal arch sits on top of an upside down arch to beautiful effect. The cathedral also features an ancient clock, which features jousting knights moving around in a circle with the passing of each quarter hour. While in the same spirit as the magnificent clock we saw in Beauvais, this one just cannot compare in complexity or beauty.

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The animated clock in Wells Cathedral. Not as cool as the one in Beauvais but still fascinating.

We stepped out of a door to the side of the quire and saw a beautiful sloping set of stairs leading up to the chapter house. Philip has come to realize that he really love chapter houses and could happily spend a long time just hanging out in these peaceful spaces. Below the chapter house sits the stronghold of the cathedral, a secure room that was easily defensible and thus housed anything of value. Today, it serves as a small museum, though we found it relatively uninteresting compared to the magnificent architecture around us.

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The magnificent ceiling in the Chapter House of the cathedral in Wells.

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These are the beautiful stairs leading up to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral.

We proceeded around the back of the apse, where there were several chapels, each devoted to a very specific prayer purpose. We also stepped into the quire area featuring original wooden choir stalls from the middle ages. From this side, we could also see that the choir screen separating the nave from the quire is actually an enormous pipe organ.

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Looking along the massive interior of Wells Cathedral.

After finishing our path back along the nave, we stepped out into the cloisters. The cloisters at Wells Cathedral are entirely enclosed walkways, rather than the covered yet open air walkways that are more common. Also unique is that the area in the center of the cloisters is a cemetery rather than just a small garden.

By this time, we were getting hungry and decided to take advantage of the 10% discount at the cathedral café we had earned by purchasing entry tickets. Rose got her first scone of the trip (shocking it took this long) and Philip went for a large slice of ham and cheese quiche. Satiated, we made a quick trip to the bathroom before heading back to the car. When we entered the bathrooms, the area was more or less deserted. By the time Rose emerged 3 minutes later, 30 girls were piling into the bathroom in a scene of general chaos. As we walked away, thankful for our fortunate timing, we talked about the signage we had both seen at the sinks. In both bathrooms, there are signs warning that the water coming out of the taps is incredibly hot and can cause burns. In America, we would have fixed the water temperature…here, apparently, a sign is sufficient. And the water was definitely uncomfortably hot. Rose had to move between three different sinks in short bursts to avoid scalding her hands!

We exited out into the park in front of the main façade and walked around a bit to get some pictures. It was here that we noticed that the cloisters attach at the very front of the church as a direct extension off of the façade. Typically, the cloisters sit further back towards the apse and aren’t quite so prominently visible from the front.

We also made a quick walk around the corner to check out Wells’s other main attraction, the Bishop’s Palace. The walk was actually longer than necessary because Rose let Philip navigate again and we definitely missed the direct passageway next to the church that would have had us there in 30 seconds. We spent just a few minutes outside but didn’t have time (or significant interest) to pay the entry fee to see the interior. The walk back to the car was much more expedient and we set off towards the area of Cheddar.

The drive to Cheddar (yes, it is where cheddar cheese originated) was a bit of an adventure. Construction caused some serious traffic jams and, at one point, we decided to bail down a very narrow hedge-lined road to try and get around. We weren’t the only car that had made this decision, which was good for us because we didn’t have to worry about passing anyone coming the other direction. We did feel a bit bad for the car coming the other way that was stuck in a pull-off area waiting for all of these cars to come through the single-lane road.

Our detour was a success and we reached the entrance to Cheddar Gorge without further incident. Our plan was to drive through the gorge first to see it in its entirety, then back track to a car park to visit the caves there. As we drove, the road just kept descending further and further in what was both a very cool and somewhat eerie feeling. We snaked along the bottom of the deep ravine (spotting some rock climbers) and, after a few miles, the walls opened up and we saw the town of Cheddar ahead of us. We made a U-turn and returned back up the gorge a mile or two to a car park on the outside of a bend in the road.

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Looking across Cheddar Gorge at the steep hillside on the other side.

As we walked from the car towards the entrance of the Cheddar Gorge Caves Ticket Office, we saw several people rock climbing on the cliff wall across the road. As we walked past, we noticed that there were artificial hand holds installed into the rock, like what you would typically find at a rock gym. Usually you get either natural stone or fake walls with handholds. It was weird to see the combination of artificial features installed into a natural cliff face.

At the ticket office, we showed our pre-purchased ticket confirmation and were given two paper tickets for our cave adventure. The tickets gave us access to five different attractions (2 caves, a staircase up the cliff, a lookout tower, and a hiking trail). We were informed that our tickets were good for 10 years, so it was ok if we didn’t get to everything today. Not sure how many of their visitors would ever take advantage of the ticket longevity but they were definitely excited to offer it.

The first attraction on our visit was Gough’s Cave, which we entered right next to the ticket office. We were given audio guides, which were again very cheesy in their presentation (narrated supposedly by Gough himself, the guy that discovered the cave) but they did have a lot of really interesting information. Gough’s Cave is a series of several cool caverns and also features the “Cheddar Man”, a skeleton from the time before Stonehenge discovered a few dozen feet inside the cave’s entrance.

Having visited a lot of caves in several different countries during our travels, we have seen the different ways they can be explored and are presented. This cave was a bit different, primarily because of its focus on showmanship. In fact, the audio guide told us about the history of Cheddar and the presence of these “show caves”. Proprietors competed to attract visitors to their caves and Gough told us (on the audio guide of course) all about how he used lighting and even artificially constructed reflecting pools to bring out the best in what the cave had to offer. It’s likely that other caves we have visited have had the same consideration paid to lighting and water reflection, but this is the first time we have thought about it specifically and we found it very interesting.

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One of the man-made reflecting pools in Gough’s Cave.

Midway through the cave we also saw a metal rack off to the side, where hundreds of wheels of cheddar cheese were going through the aging process. Despite its heritage, Cheddar Gorge does not play a major role anymore in the production or aging of cheddar cheese and these wheels are the only product still made in the gorge (though we assume there is more cheddar cheese made in and around the city of Cheddar). The metal racks with tight metal mesh surrounding serve to protect the cheese from rats during its aging process.

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Wheels of cheddar cheese aging inside Gough’s Cave. The metal rack protects the cheese from unwanted rodents.

Touring the cave took the better part of an hour, primarily due to the length and quantity of audio guide presentations. When we returned to the surface, we accidentally routed ourselves through a Costa Coffee shop before exiting out to the street in front. We walked down the gorge and stopped at a small shop to buy a pasty as a snack. The girl that served us was quiet but very nice and had never heard of Colorado before. We got the impression that she had grown up in Cheddar and has rarely seen life beyond this area and the nearby city of Bristol.

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Though smaller than Gough’s Cave, Cox’s Cave was cool because it was lit up in beautiful colors.

We next ventured to Cox’s Cave, which was discovered by Gough’s uncle before Gough discovered his cave. Cox’s Cave serves as an experiential journey called Dreamhunters, which is a story of early man on the hunt presented on the cavern walls using projectors and colored LED wash lighting. We were on our own as we ventured through the various rooms. When the show in each room finished, we were able to “follow the running man” projection (white figures running frantically across the wall) leading us towards the next space. The caverns themselves are not as impressive as Gough’s Cave, but it was cool to see a cave lit up in this unique way. The projected story itself was a touch on the gruesome side as the hunters fought off wolves and eventually took down a buffalo.

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One of the projections inside the Dreamhunters exhibition in Cox’s Cave.

The exit of Dreamhunters led us back into the bright sunlight, which was a bit of a shock to the senses after the cool darkness. A few dozen feet away we saw the starting point of Jacob’s ladder, a staircase climbing directly up the side of the gorge. Thankfully, it has a few landings cut in to offer rest points, though a switchback design may have been even nicer. We climbed up, pausing a few times at the landings, and commenting on how different the climb felt compared to the spiral staircases of church bell towers. There was a young couple climbing up with us who seemed to be on their honeymoon (as evidenced by their giddy laughter and puppy dog eyes whenever they looked at each other…as well as the baseball caps they were wearing that appeared to contain the other’s name). At one point, she got tired so he picked her up over his shoulder and kept on climbing.

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Jacob’s ladder…a daunting staircase straight up the side of Cheddar Gorge.

At the top of the staircase, we walked a hundred yards to the right to a lookout tower. We climbed the 4 flights of stairs and were rewarded with beautiful views over Cheddar and the rest of the surrounding countryside.

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The lookout tower on top of Cheddar Gorge.

We learned from the information pamphlet attached to our ticket that both the tower and Jacob’s ladder were built for the sole purpose of attracting visitors by Roland Pavey, a rival of Gough and Cox. Pavey desperately wanted a show cave of his own, though never discovered one. Instead, he built the stairs, original wooden lookout tower, and even put a roof over part of his rock quarry to make it look like a cave. It was very obvious during our visit that Cheddar Gorge has always been a place of tourism, even back in the late 1800’s.

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The view of Cheddar from the top of the lookout tower.

After coming back down from the lookout tower, we began a walk (more of a hike, actually) along the top of the gorge. The path supposedly follows the east side of the gorge before crossing and coming back down on the west side. We had brief intentions of walking the whole thing, but quickly changed our minds when we realized that “crossing the gorge” meant descending back down to the bottom and then climbing up the other side. Instead, we hiked to a point just shy of the summit and then turned back towards Jacob’s ladder.

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Goats confidently clinging to the hillside at Cheddar Gorge.

The highlight of the hike, other than the views, was the plethora of mountain goats in the area. We saw several kids (baby goats, not humans) traipsing along with their mothers on terrifyingly steep terrain. In spots, the goats came up onto the top and were hanging out in the middle of our walking path! We did our best to keep a safe distance as we walked so as not to anger mommy goat and give her no reason to turn her large horns on us.

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One of the adorable goats we saw while hiking on top of Cheddar Gorge

The descent back down Jacob’s ladder was significantly easier and faster than the ascent and we exited out to the street through a turnstile we had not noticed previously. We had actually joked about our ticket and how three of the five attractions (the steps, the tower, and the hiking path) were seemingly wide open to the public. While not perfect, the turnstile does at least discourage unticketed people from using the stairs, though there are other valid ways to get to the top of the gorge and the lookout tower.

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A fascinating “gate” to a pasture on top of Cheddar Gorge.

As we walked back up the gorge towards our car, we noticed that the entire area had shut down for the night, much like Salisbury had felt the day before. This area is clearly driven by tourists and when the buses leave for the day, everything comes to a stop. We drove north back out of the gorge, stopping a few times due to goats on the road. We also noticed some people walking along the road back towards the car park whom we recognized as people we had seen on the path atop the gorge earlier. It seems they had bailed on the hike at the halfway point and were now resigned to the somewhat dangerous stroll down the narrow road with tight turns back to their cars (glad we weren’t among them!).

With Samantha’s help (our GPS), we made our way to the outskirts of Bath to the small town of Peasetown St. John. Actually, Samantha was only somewhat helpful and she took us on what seemed to be a very unnecessary “scenic route” near the end of the drive down some very narrow roads. She also made it seem as if the hotel was located directly adjacent to a roundabout, which was clearly not correct as there were no buildings anywhere on that intersection.

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Our path around Cheddar Gorge. ->A (white): Driving through the gorge and back to a parking lot. A->B: Walk to entrance of Gough’s Cave. B->C: Walk through Dreamhunters and up Jacob’s Ladder to the lookout tower. C->D->A (green). Our abandoned hike along the top of the gorge. E is where we think the descent would have been back to the bottom so it looks like we only made it about half way. 

A bit confused, we drove a half mile into town and stopped for directions at the grocery store where the clerk quickly set us straight. It turns out that Samantha was not that far off and had we gone just a hundred yards or so beyond the roundabout, we would have seen the entrance to our hotel.

Like last night, we were again staying in a combination bar/restaurant with rooms above, though this time missing the biker hangout outside. We checked in with the owner and relaxed in our room for a while to go through pictures. When hunger started to set in, we went back down to have dinner in the restaurant. For some reason, lasagna sounded good to Philip and Rose stayed true to form with some steak and ale pie. The food was adequate and filling, though nothing special. Rose did also enjoy a kiwi-lime hard cider, which isn’t something we’ve seen in the US.

After eating a lot of food, we set off on a walk around town to stretch our legs and help our digestion. Peasetown St. John was quiet, though there were some kids (humans this time) out playing soccer in the cool air of evening. After a few miles, we made it back to hotel and quickly fell into bed. Tomorrow is our last full day in Europe 😦 We’ll make our way back to London via Bath before heading back home and back to real life.

Summary

  • The iconic site of Stonehenge
  • Well’s Cathedral and way too many school kids
  • Some cool caves in Cheddar Gorge
  • An abandoned hike and lots of goats

Stats

  • Distance on Foot: 9.01 miles | 19,298 steps
  • Distance in Car: 80.2 miles
  • Distance on Bus: 2.54 miles
Day14_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Drive to Stonehenge. B: Explore Stonehenge. B->C: Drive to Wells. C: Explore Wells Cathedral. C->D: Drive to Cheddar. D: Explore Cheddar. D->E (red): Drive to Peasetown St. John. E (green): Evening walk around town.

*** Check out the first post of our trip to England/France and read them in order! ***

After the late night, we were grateful that Rose’s conference began a bit later on Thursday morning. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with some of the other conference goers and then returned to the room to get packed up. Rose went down for the final session of the conference and Philip got the fun task of finishing the packing and checking out of the hotel. We aren’t used to staying in one hotel for three nights in a row and it took a little longer to pack up after we had settled into our room more than usual.

Once the car was loaded and the room key returned, Philip hung out in the lobby to work on the blog and then to get caught up on work emails (ugh reality). He also used the lobby phone to call ahead to Salisbury Cathedral to get booked for the tower tour we hoped to do later in the day. We had tried booking online but missed the one day cutoff.

Rose was the final presenter at the conference and she emerged just after 1pm, glad to have it behind her. She changed into less formal attire, bid her new friends farewell, and we hopped in the car to continue our journey…after a quick stop at our kebab shop/convenience store in town, of course. We ordered some kebab wraps, thinking they would travel a bit better, and enjoyed talking with the guys again. Of all the people we have met thus far, the Turkish guy who works the counter at the convenience store might be our favorite. We bought a few snack items to bring back for people at home and were surprised when he gave us a discount (we also got a discount on the kebabs too…these guys rock!).

Okay, quick note about kebabs. Obviously, we like kebabs a lot and have for a long time. In Italy, they were a staple for us as we were traveling on a budget and offered the best grams of protein per euro ratio we could find…and they are delicious. We have also eaten kebabs from various places at home in America (both Arizona and Colorado). We ate kebabs in France and now also in England.

We were surprised that they are really quite different in each place. Yes, the meat is mostly the same everywhere (lamb/beef mix roasting on a vertical spit and shaved thin), though we do have a place in Colorado that does it differently. It’s the toppings that seem to vary widely, particularly the sauces. Some places have a more traditional tzatziki sauce, other have mayonnaise, and yet others have a very garlicy sauce. It has been fun experiencing the different kebabs around the world and we look forward to trying even more as we travel other places in the near future. Perhaps we will make it to Turkey sometime and can try a real Turkish kebab in the homeland rather than restaurants elsewhere run by Turkish expats.

Anyways, with our kebabs in hand, we said farewell to the guys and walked back to our car to head north to Salisbury. We made it to town without incident and drove into a parking lot. Unfortunately, we soon learned that not only did this lot only take cash, but they also did not accept the new 1 pound coin. We were low on coinage anyways and the small collection of 1 pound coins in our possession were of the new variety so we headed back out to find a different option.

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The spire of Salisbury Cathedral rising above. Pictures do not seem to capture just how large the cathedral is topped with its massive spire.

We ended up at a parking garage instead and walked the short distance up to Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral is very, very large and is dominated by its ridiculously enormous central spire. Even on such a massive building, the spire is so tall that it still feels out of proportion. You can pretty much see the spire from anywhere in town as it soars above everything.

We had about 40 minutes until our tower tour, so we started our visit in the Chapter House to see what is claimed to be the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta. There are only a handful of these 12th century documents remaining and Salisbury’s is in relatively pristine condition. We stepped into the small viewing hut (there to keep the document shielded from sunlight we presume) and spent a few seconds trying to read even a single word of the heavily scripted old English on the page. Unsuccessful, we moved back out into the larger chapter house to make room for others to have their turn. Even if it isn’t particularly legible to us, it’s really cool to see something as fragile as parchment that has survived for 800+ years. It’s even cooler when you think about the significance of this document in English and even world history.

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The Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral. This is where we saw the best preserved remaining copy of the Magna Carta.

We left the Chapter House and went back into the large cloisters where two of the cathedral’s stone masons were set up at tables doing demonstrations. Salisbury is one of the few cathedrals that employs stone masons to actively maintain and replace decaying parts of the church. They also lend them out to other churches as needed. This may be part of the reason why we saw signs claiming it takes 14,000 pounds per day to keep the cathedral up and running!

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Two of the stone masons employed by Salisbury Cathedral. They actively carve and replace stones all over the enormous building.

Our first impression of the interior of the cathedral was its openness. Unlike most Gothic cathedrals which feature at least a choir screen and a screen behind the altar, Salisbury is open all the way from the entrance of the nave to back wall of the apse behind the altar. This gives the church a very unique and airy feel that is not matched by most of the Gothic cathedrals we have seen on our journey thus far.

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The long nave as seen from the gallery. The lack of choir screens makes the sight lines at Salisbury Cathedral unique. You can also see the very modern baptismal font down below.

The second thing that jumped out at us is the use of multiple colors of stone. While the walls and columns are relatively unadorned, the use of different bands of stone gives a nice effect that is a bit reminiscent of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy, though in a much more subtle way. At the center of the church, you can see how the four main columns have started to bend slightly due to the incredible weight of the spire sitting above, which is both fascinating and a touch unnerving, though Rose was confident the structure is sound!

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Some odd (and creepy) art temporarily exhibited inside Salisbury Cathedral.

We made our way back to the front of the nave, passing by the very modern baptismal font (literally a fountain with water flowing off all four sides and disappearing into the floor).  Over the next few minutes, our tour group assembled and 13 of us got ready to go up into the towers. Technically, this was one more than the allowed maximum of 12 but we made it work. Alan, our tour guide, was soft spoken but very friendly and we spent the next hour and a half (or even a bit more) with him as he led us up into the upper reaches of the church.

Before we began the climb, he pointed out an old clock that was sitting on the floor of the nave. Once we climbed up the spiral stairs to the gallery of the nave, we could see the clock’s bell hanging there as well as the cathedral’s only medieval stained glass (the rest is mostly Victorian). Alan talked to us about the lightweight tufa rock that was used for forming the cathedral ceilings and the process of binding it together with molten mortar.

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The tower tour at Salisbury Cathedral was fascinating for two engineers. We learned a lot about the building materials and techniques used to keep the building and the massive spire standing. This is the wooden framework above the nave to support the heavy lead roof.

We continued up a bit higher into the space above the nave and spent a long while looking at and discussing the wooden structure in place to hold up the roof. It was cool to see the mirrored roof supports on either side of the center where the builder had cut a section of tree in half and used one for each side. Alan also pointed out the lathe roof backing to which the lead roofing was attached as well as some cross bracing running diagonally along each side. These had been added at the request of the great English architect Christopher Wren and were made of ship’s masts cut in half.

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The roof above the nave at Salisbury Cathedral is supported by paired natural beams like this one…it’s sibling is directly opposite on the other side.

Alan led us across the walkway above the nave (nicely illuminated by brand new lighting) and we climbed a beautiful wooden spiral staircase up into the base of the spire. Here, we saw the mechanism for chiming the cathedral’s main bells, though the bells were located much higher up in the spire.

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One of two wooden spiral staircases used on the ascent up the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

We also talked at length about the iron support structure in this section, some of which was original from the 1300s and coated in lead to prevent rust. There were also additional metal support that had been added in subsequent centuries, the most dominant of which was another brainchild of Christopher Wren. One of the most interesting aspects was how the builder’s used wedge shaped pins to join sections of metal, just like they had done for joining timber. Alan pointed out that the builders joined metal the only way they knew how…the manufacture of threaded nuts and bolts did not come about until at least 50 years later!

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Some of the metal work in the spire. You can see metal from three different ages, some as old as the 13th century!

We climbed higher up another wooden spiral staircase, which took us to a walkway around the top of the room. This was a workaround because the stone spiral staircases in the corners had been filled in below long ago in an attempt to add more stability to the structure (questionable whether it made any difference). From this point, though, we were able to enter the single unblocked staircase in one of the corners and up to the base of the steep spire roof. Here we could see the bells, as well as the immense wooden scaffolding within the spire roof.

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The scaffolding inside the spire is quite elaborate and actually hangs from the top rather than supporting from the bottom.

This room had doors on each of the four walls leading out onto small viewing galleries. We were only able to go out onto three of them, because the fourth was currently being occupied by a peregrine falcon nest and a trove of BBC camera equipment to film said nest. Two of the galleries were so tight that we had to let half the group out, close the door so they could shift to the other side, and then let the remainder of the group out.

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Rose on a very narrow walkway atop the spire at Salisbury Cathedral.

The views from the top were spectacular and we felt no rush to move along quickly. It was nice to have a tour that could last almost two hours and not feel pressured to keep hurrying along so the next group could come up. Alan was more than happy to answer any questions and he gave us a lot of interesting information about the building, the surrounding area, and lots of other things.

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A view from the top of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.

Eventually, we worked our way back down from the spire and emerged out into an almost deserted cathedral. We were on the tour so long that the tourists were long gone but for a few stragglers. We exited through the cloister and saw that the masons had called it a day as well.

We walked outside and took pictures of the cathedral from every angle and then set off on a short walk through some “water meadows” nearby to hopefully get more views of the cathedral (some famous painter also did a lot of paintings from the path). Most importantly, Philip saved the day for a puppy playing in a small stream that had lost its tennis ball on the opposite bank from its mommy. As we walked, we had a spirited discussion about whether or not pedestrian walking norms align with the driving norms (left side or right side) for a country. Rose seemed to have the winning theory based on our observations (as she usually does) with her view that pedestrians walk on the right despite driving on the left.

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A bridge on our walk to the water meadows in Salisbury.

After a relatively short walk (by our travel standards, at least), we turned around and back into town and towards our car. It was quite noticeable that tourist hours had passed as the city seemed to have shut down for the night already. Our best guess is that Salisbury is sustained in a significant way by tourists on day trips from London or other nearby major cities. Once the buses leave for the day, Salisbury turns into a sleepy little hamlet with a totally different feel than the hubbub we experienced when we arrived.

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Our walking path around Salisbury including our jaunt out through the water meadows.

Our hotel was actually located well outside of Salisbury in a small town called Bulford. We picked it because of its proximity to Stonehenge, which we would be visiting in the morning. As we drove down the road, we passed what appeared to be a small circle of stones off to the left, which Rose dubbed “little baby Stonehenge”. Philip quickly deduced and pointed out that it was in fact the real Stonehenge, which does indeed sit not far from a fairly major thoroughfare. All in all, our first view of the iconic site was very anticlimactic, though we were still excited to see it up close (and hopefully have it feel much, much bigger).

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Our first and very rapid view of Stonehenge as we drove by on the adjacent highway.

We pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, which is actually a bar/restaurant with a few rooms above. The parking lot is also shared with what appeared to be the headquarters of a group of motorcycle enthusiasts (the kind that wear matching leather jackets). We checked in without any paperwork and were led to our room. It was adequate, but certainly did not match what we had for three nights at a 4 star hotel.

We spent a bit of time going through pictures and proofreading some blog entries and then realized that it was time to figure out dinner. Philip went downstairs to check on a menu for food from the bar and the bartender informed him that food service had ended for the night (which is something we knew from our check-in but had promptly forgotten). So, we hopped in the car instead and drove a few minutes to a fish and chips shop where we shared an order for dinner.

After eating, we went next door to a grocery store (Tesco Express) and picked up a few necessities (a hard cider for Rose, an ice cream cone for Philip). A short drive later, we were back at the hotel and getting ready for bed when we realized that we had not been provided with any towels. Philip went downstairs where the manager and a lady who was likely his mother/business partner were hanging out with their three dogs! She apologized and went to fetch some towels while Philip took full advantage of the situation to make some new friends. The largest one, a Doberman of some sort, had a tennis ball that Philip threw a few times and the other two just wanted to be petted nonstop. In fact, the terrier growled at Philip when he dared stop for a moment to throw the ball.

Towels in hand and puppy quota satisfied, Philip returned to the room and we called it a night. We listened for a few minutes to our book, though Rose didn’t last very long before drifting off. Tomorrow, we get to finally visit Stonehenge for real, which is something we have been looking forward to. It’s nice to be on the move again after being in the same place for three whole days, though it’s settling in hard that our trip is coming to an end soon. But, we still have a few more days and we intend to make the most of them!

Day13_Full

Our path for the day. A->B: Quick stop in Brockenhurst for kebabs. B->C: Drive to Salisbury. C (green): Explore Salisbury Cathedral. C->D: Drive to hotel. D (red): Drive out for quick dinner.

Summary:

  • Conference over…Rose survived!
  • One last visit to our new friends at the kebab / convenience store
  • Salisbury Cathedral and a very in-depth tower tour
  • A very different hotel experience
  • Missing towels leads to puppies!

Stats:

  • Distance on Foot: 4.46 miles | 9,397 steps
  • Distance in Car: 38 miles