The Kenai Peninsula

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July 12th 2012
Published: July 23rd 2012
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12th-15th July ’12 The Kenai Peninsula

We spent the previous night in the Artic Adventures Hostel, which was owned and ran by an American lad who had come to Alaska backpacking 7 years ago, saw the place up for sale at a bargain price, bought it and had been here ever since - he had now put it back up for sale as he couldn’t face another winter! He tried several times to convince we I would really like to buy it!! The hostel was fine, apart from the 1 bathroom to 5 rooms which meant if you needed to use it, you had to leave your door open so you could dash in as soon as someone came out. As the rooms were half the price of staying anywhere else in Anchorage and we were only there for one night it wasn’t so bad.

We drove out of Anchorage on another grey day and our first stop was along Turn Again Arm. It was named this by Captain Cook as his ship was forced to turn around to get out of this fjord. This area is renowned for whales so we stared and stared out into the water but didn’t see a thing.

From here we carried on to Girdwood, which was just a short drive off the main road. This was skiing territory and there were lots of wooden alpine style chalets around and a big posh hotel. We came here as we had a buy one get one free coupon for the ride up the cable car! So we rode up the cable car which skimmed the sheer mountain side and went up and up past forests to the snow covered peaks. There was a visitor centre/restaurant area at the top and from there were hikes up higher into the mountains. However it was wet and really windy (again) and the drops were so sheer I couldn’t handle standing anywhere near the edge! Howard took tons of photos and then we rode back down again.

We carried on to the Portage Glacier where we stopped for a look, the road winds right round to an excellent viewpoint of the glacier. The first thing we noticed was 3 giant icebergs sitting in the river in front of the visitor centre, which also had large windows giving excellent views of them and the glacier. This was just as well as the wind and rain were so strong there was no way you could spend any length of time outside! We parked up, got out and were blown into the visitor centre.

We spent a good hour in here, looking at the views, going around the exhibits – pressing all the buttons to make various sounds, using the face masks to see what it was like looking out of a moose, beaver and bees eyes and then watching the film about the Glaciers story. This was really interesting and the sounds the glacier makes – creaking and groaning and then the cracking and crashing when it calves were really extraordinary.

It was then on to Seaward and our hostel for the night – The Nauti Otter. Unfortunately when we turned up to check in the owner was nowhere to be found, her friend hunted for her but it was no use, so rather than just sit about waiting we drove into the town for a look around.

Seaward is a nice little place and one of the few places we have been to in Alaska that had something resembling a town centre. It was just a couple of roads with shops and eating places but they looked like the original wild-west style buildings and it had a nice atmosphere.

The dock area was full of the usual tourist souvenir shops and eating places, everywhere trying to sell your boat trips and tours and high cost fish dinners. We found the dock where we would be joining the cruise in a couple of days and also a hertz rental car office. By going in we were able to pay to change the car drop off to Seaward rather than back at Anchorage airport. This meant we saved a fortune in petrol, hours and hours of driving time and solved the problem of getting back down here again. There were only 2 buses a day and 1 train from Anchorage and they were around $70 per person, so the $59.95 change fee was well worth it. It also gave us an extra day to explore this Kenai Peninsular area.

We got back to the Nauti Otter to try and check in again, this time after much bell ringing and shouting up the stairs the friend managed to rouse the owner. It turned out there had been a band playing in the town the night before and she had had a ‘late one’, she was very apologetic but still seemed half asleep – well we’ve all been there!

This hostel only had one inside bathroom for all 9 of her rooms (at least one was a dorm room too), but if you were desperate there was an outside privy! It was a sweet little cottagey style house and was just like being in someone’s home. Our room was called the Sirens Sanctuary and had a big old iron bed with lots of homemade style quilts and little personal items like dolls and books dotted around. Everywhere there were pictures of the Nauti Otter, a one legged otter, dressed as a pirate with a wooden leg and waving a cutlass. Why she had this theme I don’t know but all the signs were written in pirate terminology as well. I have to say the bed was really comfy and we didn’t have to wait often to use the loo.

13th July ’12 Seaward to Homer

There were lots of free things to eat for breakfast so I had a go at making pancakes using the free mix, which turned out like dry circles of cardboard!! So fortified we drove to the nearby Exit Glacier and did the hike up to the glacier. Once again it was an impressive sight and we listened for the creaking and cracking sounds.

It was a long drive back up and across the peninsular to get to Homer and we stopped to eat our sandwiches at the Wildsman Store. Our car was dwarfed by monster trucks full of men with hunting, shooting and fishing gear and the store had huge freezers where you could put all the various things you had killed until you were ready to go home.

We arrived in Homer in the late afternoon and after a quick trip to the Visitor Centre we found our motel in the old historic area. We stayed at the Driftwood Inn which was a lovely old 2 storey white clapboard building with an RV park attached to the side. The reception area was proudly displaying the Sarah Palin book for sale! The room we stayed in was done out like a ships cabin, which meant it was tiny, there was lots of wood and nautical bits and bobs on the walls. The bed was really comfy but really high as it had storage spaces underneath and had there been 3 of us staying in it, the third bed was pulled down from the wall and it would have felt like sleeping in a coffin on the main bed – fortunately there was only the 2 of us!

The views from the Inn were stunning – right across the inlet with mountain ranges and a pebbly beach with lots of driftwood. We drove out to the Spit, the farthest point you can reach in this area and from where you can catch the once a month ferry out to the Aleutian Islands. Courtesy of the voucher book we had tea at the Lands End restaurant and then walked out onto the beach to see the great views.

We looked around the little shops on the boardwalk and saw the fishermen getting their catches weighed. A funny sight was a group of seagulls pinching fish out of some crates that had been put on the roadside until the guy arrived to pick them up.

Back at the Inn we walked around the area looking at the quaint buildings and then went down onto the beach. It is supposed to be a good place for spotting sea life but once again we didn’t see any, but we did see lots of local people who had driven down on to the beach, parked their monster trucks up and were having bonfires.

Later in the evening we got spectacular views across to the mountains, the clouds had lifted and you could see snowfields and peaks going on forever.

14th July ’12 Kenai and Soldotna

As it turned out that the advertised summer fayre had been put back a week, we left Homer and set off for Kenai. When we arrived there was a small craft fair going on which we walked around and we debated whether to have a reindeer hot dog for lunch.

Once again it started raining so after a quick trip to Walmart for Howard to buy a black polo shirt for the cruise (well it does have a collar!) we just headed to our motel, which was stuck out on its own just off the highway to Soldotna. Fortunately we had rung ahead from the Driftwood Inn as we had

Lands End
spotted a note about it not having an office, so we had arranged a secret code so we could get in the room! There were signs up outside saying ‘don’t feed the wild animals or get too close for photos’ which was slightly disconcerting!

Later that evening we drove to Soldotna – a pretty big non-descript town where we visited the Safeway and got some Chinese takeaway for tea, which we ate whilst watching Rednecks on Holiday and was set in the UK – I’m sure you can imagine what that was like!!

The room was a really big, spacious and had a big bathroom. So we were able to sort out all our gear, do our washing, pack the rucksacks up and have a good wash ready for the cruise the next day.

15th July ’12 Back to Seaward to join the cruise.

Well I only woke once during the night and I may have dreamt it but I was pretty certain it was moose type noises that woke me up! I didn’t get out of bed to have a look though as I would have had a heart attack if one had been looking

The Driftwood Inn
in the window at me!!

I was still worried about the dress code on the ship, all the business about gowns, tuxedos and dark suits on formal nights, dresses, smart slacks and sports jackets on the smart casual nights no longer seemed quite so funny!

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