Monday, August 6, 2012

The Kenai

The Kenai Peninsula - glaciers, fiords and more snow-capped mountains
Boat hull reflections
The Kenai, a massive peninsular that extends southward from Anchorage, is describes as Alaska’s playground, and being summer vacation here, it seems that at least half of Anchorage’s population is down here at any one time, jumping to a third on the weekends. I suspect their are a lot of “sick” people in Anchorage on the Monday and Friday of a forecast sunny weekend, as the roads are packed with people who you think should be working, towing boats and caravans to their favorite fishing spots.
From Anchorage we managed to drive about a hundred kilometers (a big day for us!) along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. Yes, it’s the same Cook who found his way to Aus - that guy really got around! Apart from the spectacular scenery, the point of interest of this narrow estuary is the tidal bore that comes by twice a day with the incoming tide. Apparently it can be a wave up to 2 meters high, but unfortunately we were there on the new moon and so it was going to be no more than a ripple, so we didn’t hang about for it. 
Downtown Seldovia
It was along this section of road that we bumped into, for the second time, a chap called Josh who was cycling Alaska. We previously met him on the Dalton Highway near Prudhoe, about a thousand miles to the north. We are wondering if we should worry about the fact that we are traveling no faster than a cyclist! It seems we are much better at stopping than going, but I guess his route was also more direct than ours. 
Our drive the following day took us through the quaint little town of Hope and then across more mountains with a myriad lakes. As we approached the western coast of the peninsular the weather closed in so we camped in the rain and mist on the edge of the Cook Inlet with rumors of “spectacular views” of snow-covered volcanoes across the water.
Bald Eagle at Homer
The morning dawned still damp and misty so we moved on down to Homer where the weather lightened up a bit and we settled into a waterside campground with wifi but no other facilities (had to walk down the beach to use the public toilets) but the views were stunning and the bald eagles provided good company.
Million dollar view from the parking/ camping lot 
A lazy day in Homer, wandering around the spit with its ramshackle little cafes, kiosks for fishing and kayak tours and souvenir shops. A lunch of local halibut with a drop or two of white wine in a restaurant overlooking the bay meant that we finished the day much as it started, by doing not much at all.

Front steps, Seldovia
The gulls (and murres) of Gull Rock
With the sun emerging again the following day, we hopped aboard a local ferry that seemed to double as local transit and wildlife tour. It’s route took us past a rocky islet called, appropriately, gull rock, where thousands of kittiwakes (yep - a type of gull) were nesting and, scattered amongst them, the occasional puffin. We got excited about the puffins as, along with polar bears, they were one of the critters on our bucket list. Turns out that the ones here are not the classic Atlantic Puffins that feature in most of the photos, but we did get to see two other species - the horned and the tufted - both of which are stunning birds. Our trip then took us to the small fishing town of Seldovia (the names here a reminder that Russia once owned Alaska) where we strolled around for a few hours. I took a hike through the incredibly luxuriant forest to some secluded little beaches whilst Christine enjoyed the sunshine in town. At the entrance to Seldovia bay, what appeared to be mats of floating “stuff” turned out to be colonies of sea otters, all lazing around on their backs, many with very cute pups lying on their bellies.

Not sharing - Bald Eagle and Glaucous-winged Gull
From Homer we retraced our route for a bit, stopping for morning coffee at Anchor point where a group of bald eagles, not to mention thousands of gulls, were feeding on the fish guts dumped on the shoreline by the local fisherman. 
...but it's worth a try

Stopped for the night at Hidden Lake. It was a beautifully still evening so we took the cheese and biscuits and bottle of wine and paddled off down the lake for a few miles to dine on a little rocky islet, accompanied by a merganser and its chicks, as the light made a feeble attempt to fade (we’re still having 19 hours of daylight here).
From there, a short drive took us to Cooper’s Landing where we put the kayak in again, this time for a slightly more demanding 10 mile run on the fast flowing and sometimes bumpy Kenai River but with only one set of rapids that required us to work hard to ensure we got through the right channel. Lots of others were on the river with rafts and flat bottom float boats that are common in Alaska  and Canada, the latter designed for the shallow, fast flowing rivers. The banks were lined with fishermen (and women) all attempting to “slay those salmon”. Consequently it was no problem getting a lift back to our car meaning I didn’t have to do my usual cycle shuttle. 

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