Watching Whales

Holiday in Hawaii #5

After migrating more than 4800 kilometres from the Gulf of Alaska at the end of each year,¬† thousands of humpback whales bask in the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Every morning, from our eighth floor balcony, we saw whales passing by. With coffee in one hand and binoculars in the other we scanned the ocean looking for blows. Sometimes the binoculars weren’t even necessary.

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These tantalising glimpses of whales left us wanting more, so we joined an early morning whale watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. The rising sun gilded the West Maui mountains as the catamaran Ocean Spirit glided effortlessly out of Lahaina’s sheltered boat harbour into Auau Channel.

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Once in open water, we gathered along the railing, searching for signs that whales were about – the first blow was greeted with excited cries.

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Expert commentary from our guide told us where to look and how long to wait before the whales were likely to surface again. Even though our group was large, there wasn’t a sound as we waited in anticipation. A pod of whales, at least three and sometimes up to five, rewarded our patience with their playful tail slapping and head rises.

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We didn’t just see whales. When an underwater microphone was lowered into the depths, we heard their haunting whale song.

What were they calling to each other? Probably courtship songs, but I’d like to think the whales were as fascinated by us as we were by them.

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Justin Beaver and Marsha Lee came whale watching with us.

A Walk Along Front Street

Holiday in Hawaii #3

The little town of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast might be visited by two million tourists every year but it doesn’t have a touristy feel. The stores along Front Street, named one of the Top Ten Greatest Streets by the American Planning Association, have retained their quaint facades dating back to the 1820s. Instead of souvenir shops, the street is lined with galleries full of beautiful artworks and crafts by local artists, photographers and jewelers. There are also several historic sites which confirm Lahaina’s designation as a Registered National Historic Landmark.

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A walk through Lahaina’s historic area begins at the Pioneer Inn, built in 1901 in plantation style. The inn sits on the waterfront overlooking the harbour; where the whaling fleet once docked, there are now fishing boats and tourist cruisers.

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Over the road is a huge Banyan tree – the largest in Hawaii, planted in 1823. With its clumps of aerial roots and enormous spreading canopy the tree takes up a whole block and, at any time of the day, it provides shady respite from the sun. Craft markets selling everything from paintings to perfumes often take place under its leafy branches.

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In front of the the Banyan tree is the Old Lahaina Courthouse, built in 1859. The building has served many purposes in the past, including customs house, post office and government offices. Today the Visitor Centre and Arts Society Gallery are downstairs while above is the Lahaina Heritage Museum. The exhibit “Always Lahaina” gives a fascinating introduction to the history of Maui and its people.

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Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1848 and next door to the Courthouse are the reconstructed ruins of the fort. Originally built in 1832 to protect the town and royal homes, the fort was demolished in 1850 and the coral stones re-used to build a prison. This replica was built on the location of one corner of the fort in 1960 as part of a film set. Three cannon, salvaged from a Russian warship in 1816, belonged to a longer line of artillery protecting the beachfront.

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There are more small museums on Front Street. Upstairs in the Wharf Cinema Centre is the Plantation Museum. The small room is filled with photographs, artifacts and personal recollections about the sugar cane and pineapple plantations which once dominated the landscape of West Maui.

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Further along Front Street are the Baldwin House, built in as a home for missionary families in 1834, and Wo Hing Museum, dedicated to the Chinese population of Lahaina. In the garden is the Cookhouse Theatre. Where members of the Wo Hing Society once prepared meals in the community kitchen, old black and white films now play. Made by Thomas Edison between 1898 and 1906, the films depict Hawaiian life at the turn of the century.

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Finish your exploration of Front Street with a visit to Ono Gelato – indulgent helpings of chocolate, macadamia and coconut ice cream¬† are best enjoyed on the deck at the back of the cafe, overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. It’s the touristy thing to do.

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Winter Blooms on Maui

Holiday in Hawaii#1

It might be winter in Hawaii between November and April, but the beautiful flowers blooming in Maui’s gardens seem not to notice. With an average daytime temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and good winter rainfalls, the brilliantly coloured tropical plants flourish.

Some hibiscus flowers are almost as large as dinner plates,

but bougainvillea hide their tiny white blossoms amidst the new growth of colourful leaf bracts.

Garden beds overflow with delicate exotic flowers,

and you’ll need to look up to see the blooms on the frangipanis and African tulip trees.

Some tropical plants bear delicious fruit in the winter months.

While other parts of the northern hemisphere shiver through more typical wintery conditions, on Maui the plants think it’s always summer!

Visit the earth laughs in flowers to see more winter gardens in Jude’s Garden Photography Challenge

Things I Learned

Round Australia Road Trip #33

When doing something completely different from your usual way of life, there are certain to be some moments of self-discovery; travelling vast distances with a caravan for seven weeks around our amazing country revealed some new aspects of my character. Here are ten things I learned about myself on the Round Australia Road Trip.

1. I enjoy flying – but only in big planes. Our flight over the Bungle Bungles was in a 6 seater Cessna C10 and our very enthusiastic pilot Sam made sure we all got the best possible view, by tipping the plane in all directions. I didn’t actually see everything because some of the time my eyes were closed, and by the time we landed I felt decidedly queer.

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2. Animals are not really my thing, especially when they are watching me. Finding evidence they’re around also gives me the creeps. (I knew this already, but seeing these creatures reinforced my lack of enthusiasm for living things other than humans.)

3. I can take great photos which look like I was much closer than I really was, because my camera has a fantastic zoom. Also, after taking many fuzzy photos, I finally mastered the macro setting on my camera.

4. I can drive a boat. I was being supervised, but the steering was all me!

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5. I can also tow a caravan. However, I cannot park it or reverse it and I will definitely never overtake one of these while towing it.

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6. I loved visiting the outback but I do not want to live there.

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7. I need to keep my day job because there are many jobs I don’t want to do. I would make a terrible deep sea diver or pioneering explorer. I like being comfortable far too much.

8. I am irresistible to flies. I am not unique in this, because flies aren’t fussy. (I know you have seen this photo before, but it is my best fly photo!)

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9. I can run faster than a sting ray can swim. I discovered this skill when a sting ray came past me in the water at Monkey Mia. I was out of there in no time. I don’t know if the sting ray even noticed me, but I did not go back in.

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10. I do not want to ride a bike across Australia. Many other people take on the challenge, but I don’t see the attraction. (Do you see this cyclist’s fly net? He’s irresistible to flies too.)

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While most of these revelations will probably not ever again be useful, some might come in handy one day. You never know when I might be called upon to race a stingray!

And so, after more than 14 ooo km, nine weeks on the road for Mr ET and seven weeks for me, the Round Australia Road Trip comes to an end. But stay tuned, because another adventure is just around the corner!

Too Good To Be True ~ Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Optimistic

After paying almost $2 a litre for fuel across inland Western Australia, the prices at this service station in Dampier caught our attention. Was the fuel really free? We indulged in some wishful thinking before deciding the tanks were probably empty.

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Optimistic