The Channel Islands: Kayaking + Camping

— As you know, I’ve just had an amazing time exploring the Channel Islands (specifically Santa Cruz Island) and can’t wait to share my trip with you. It’s best if I break it down into the three parts that make up the trip: Getting There, Kayaking + Setting Up Camp and Hiking the Island. —

Part II: Kayaking + Setting Up Camp

(map provided by the Nation Park Service)

You can see from the map above, we really had a full day of kayaking (and I’ve got the sore muscles to prove it). We chose Channel Island Outfitters as our kayaking company, and they were excellent. As challenging as it was, our kayaking group really ranged in age and abilities and yet there were zero complaints. They really accommodated everyone well. We started by heading toward Cavern Point and then looped back to see Scorpion Rock, and if anyone was too tired to continue there was a spot where people had the option to end their day (or go snorkeling), but our whole group kept at it.

As I mention in my previous post, we already met our guides Ben and Phil on the main land before we boarded the ferry. Once on Santa Cruz Island, we followed them to their kayak station where they gave the group the ranger talk about the island.

Above is Phil going over the rules of the island, and giving an intro lesson to kayaking. Channel Island Outfitters provided all of the gear (lifejackets, wetsuits, kayaks, different water jackets incase you’re cold, paddles etc) and even had a storage lockup for all of our gear. No quarters required for lockers, as it’s a giant container they lockup. The only thing that is suggested, is that you bring water shoes (mine were $10 at Kmart and were perfect) and a bathing suit that works well under a wetsuit (the smoother and less-frilly, the better).

Once the safety talk was completed, we got into our gear and the kayaking began. You can see the weather was still overcast (which is why I opted for the extra jacket) but the water was actually perfect for kayaking. The water was pretty calm and a comfortable temperature.

Here we are above heading toward Cavern Point. They took us through many caves and tunnels. There was always the option of passing on whatever we didn’t feel comfortable with, but the guys gave us excellent instructions before each cave and it was fun to test out  our new kayaking skills. I should note, I’ve kayaked only a handful of times in my life and felt totally comfortable doing everything they suggested. Our group was quite large, but with two guides (one in front and behind) I was always within earshot of one of them. They have a plethora of knowledge when it comes to marine life. Both Phil and Ben had such a deep knowledge of the island (and even science in general) that this was a very informative experience.

Above you can see we were exploring caves while hanging out with sea lions. Nearby were several curious harbor seals. While the sea lions were loud and clearly staking their ground, the harbor seals are very curious stealthily creatures who were quietly watching us. Kayaking with seals and sea lions, how cool is that?

Ben and Phil also gave us a lesson about seaweed and its common use in many everyday  products. I even tasted the seaweed skin! It tastes like salty apple skin.

The colors, even on a cloudy day, were so beautiful. Look at the golden browns and blue water. It was really something special.

Fellow blogger AsHerWorldTurns, took the above photo of me (she also took many of the photos you are seeing posted from the kayaking trip). Between the GoPro and the underwater camera, she got us some great photos. I strongly suggest you only bring waterproof cameras on your kayaking adventure. I did get pretty wet and I’m glad I chose not to bring my nice camera.

Here was are above near Scorpion Rock learning about sea life. We got to hold those purple spiky balls and the spikes move when they feel your fingers (see below).

We lucked out and visited on a day when volunteers were planting on Scorpion Island. I don’t have an image of it here, but imagine a tiny island with people all over it gardening. This effort is part of The Nature Conservancy‘s plan to revitalize the animal life on Santa Cruz Island. These specific plants they were planting attract a specific nesting bird, and hopefully these plants will bring more birds to the island ultimately increasing their population. After looping around Scorpion Rock and even entering one of it’s caves, we had to head back to the main port as our time was nearing an end.

With 30 minutes until the ferry boat was heading back to the main land, we borrowed some snorkeling gear from Channel Island Outfitters and went for a quick dip in the harbor. While we were camping over (and not taking the ferry back), our guides had to head back as well as most of the kayaking group who just came to the island for the day.

Look at that stingray above! Even in our quick snorkeling time we still got to see some awesome animal life. The even had a kelp forest right in the harbor (which attracts all types of fish) and we spotted this stingray, and spent some time watching it feed. Alas, it was time to dry off and head back to shore. We spent a lot of time chatting with a Channel Islands Outfitters guide named JD, who was cleaning the gear and assembling it for the next days visitors. He was so nice and helpful. I really can’t stress enough, everyone we met on the island was so accommodating and eager to lend a hand. He even offered to help us carry our stuff to our campsite.

It was kind of him to offer, but we wanted the challenge of our camping weekend, so we carried our own gear to our huge campsite. You can see above, we made our way to the campsite and set-up our belongings. I touch on this in my previous post, but I must reiterate, when we went to book a campsite it was all reserved. By calling the number on the reservation website the rangers worked with us and really made this weekend happen. Sure enough they had many cancelations, and they gave us a giant site to ourselves.

We quickly setup camp and tried to get some photos in as the sun was setting. The above photo shows the wide shot of our campsite. Our site was under the trees on the left side of the photo.

Thankfully we hiked up fast enough to catch the sun setting. We also got to see some stellar views of where we had kayaked earlier that day.

After taking some photos we headed back to our campsite to have a bite to eat. While eating dinner one of the park rangers (Ranger Tim) stopped by to say hello. He was very kind and answered all our questions. I’ve always been fascinated (and super jealous) of people who spend all day outside and I had so many questions for him about what he does. He was very patient and told us all about island living. Later that night our good friend Cathy (see my last post for a photo) came by to answer any questions we had about hikes or wildlife.

Up next, Ill detail the hiking the Channel Island hikes with plenty of blue sky photos.

The Channel Islands: Getting There

As you know, I’ve just had an amazing time exploring the Channel Islands (specifically Santa Cruz Island) and can’t wait to share my trip with you. It’s best if I break it down into the three parts that make up the trip: Getting There, Kayaking + Setting Up Camp + Hiking the Island.

Part I: Getting There

When planning a trip to the Channel Islands, you first (#1) have to decide which island is right for you? My sister and I decided to visit the largest island (Santa Cruz), so we could plan a Saturday of kayaking/snorkeling and then a Sunday of hiking and exploring. Santa Cruz Island had the most hiking options so we decided that was best for us.

(#2) Next we researched the camping, ferry, and kayaking options. Santa Cruz has two main ports on opposite ends of the island. We decided taking the boat into Scorpion Anchorage, where we were only a .5+ walk to the Scorpion campground would work out well (and they have primitive toilets! which is much better than none at all). This same port is where Channel Islands Outfitters leads their kayaking tours.

(#3) It’s now time to book this perfect plan. Channel Island Outfitters offered us an excellent discount and they were the perfect fit for this trek. They offer an all day kayaking experience and even have ferry spots pre-reserved for you (with Island Packers Cruises), so you can book directly through them and they take care of transportation reservations. As for booking a campsite, everything was reserved when we checked the website, but after calling the Ranger (through contact info found here) he managed to find a place for us. This also worked out perfectly, as there ended up being campsite cancellations and since they were so accommodating to begin with, we were able to fill one of those spots. I really can’t stress enough how friendly, helpful and welcoming all the people on the island were.

(map provided by the National Park Service here)

Once our trip was planned, we printed all our info, packed up our gear and made an early Saturday morning trek to Ventura where we signed in with the ferry company and our kayaking group guides, Ben and Phil, at 7am.

You can see above, groups were unloading gear and getting ready for their weekend on Santa Cruz Island (at 7am). I think we were all hoping the gray clouds were all just from the thick marine layer, which would hopefully fade away.

This was the boat we took out to the island above. This is their fast boat which can make the trip in about an hour. They have a small snack bar on the boat, so if you need a coffee boost, here’s the place to fill up. I suggest you sit on the upper deck and look for rare birds, seals, sea lions, dolphins/porpoises, and if you’re lucky, whales. I can promise you’ll see at least one of these animals on the boat ride across.

Above is Cathy, a park volunteer who rode out with us to the island and then stayed the weekend. She was there to teach people about the island and help answer questions. Not only was she on our boat, but she came around to each of the campsites around 7pm to meet all the groups. She was very sweet, knowledgeable about the island and eager to help. She volunteers her weekend to help visitors, which is awesome. Go to Santa Cruz and talk to Cathy!

We passed a team of rowers preparing for an early morning run.

Early in the ferry ride we passed this group of harbor seals warming up. They are so fun to watch up close like this (and on our kayaking adventure we got to be really close.. but more on that later).

Once we were on our way, the gray skies and blue water were so beautiful and still. There is something so calming about the photo above. It was chilly on the boat, so when planning your trip, dress in layers because the wind is chilly but when the sun comes out it warms you up.

Anticipation was building as Santa Cruz came into sight. It reminded me of that computer game Myst, where we approached this magical almost abandoned-looking island hidden in the clouds.

Making our way to the pier. Notice how different this port is compared to Catalina, which is often filled with boats. We knew we were heading to someplace much more private, natural and therefore more special.

Just one or two boats were in the vicinity of Scorpion Anchorage.

Here is where the boat docked, and we stepped off. All the passengers got into a line and passed all the gear down the line until a pile formed at the end of the pier. I love this comradery of helpfulness that everyone goes through as they enter this island. When you are on this island, youre part of a special group of visitors who must work together to get things done. It’s an excellent way to utilize team work and step into a world of nature.

Up next, Ill detail the Channel Island Outfitters kayaking tour.

Catalina Getaway

In addition to the Huntington Gardens, another great place to take visitors (or if you need a local getaway) is Catalina! The beautiful island is just an hour ride away, but it feels worlds away. Leave the smog behind and just relax at the fun beach town of Avalon. We recently took our parents visiting from out of town here, and had a great time.

For our Catalina getaway, we took the Catalina Express out of the Port of San Pedro. I’ve used them before and it’s an excellent line. They have parking (for a fee) and it’s not too far outside of Los Angeles. We also tend to take the ferry out early, which means avoiding rush hour traffic. This ferry just redid it’s offices and is now very luxurious, with clean bathrooms and food options. I highly recommend this company.

Anticipation building, as we get closer to our arrival.

Arriving at paradise.

Catalina has strict rules, making it difficult to bring a car out to the island. Golf carts are their form of transportation and you can rent them on the island. We didn’t really find this necessary, as we stayed within Avalon (the biggest town) the entire time.

The Pier.

This is a popular cruise ship stopping point, but that’s not why I included this picture. See that parasailing person high above the ship? That was us about two hours after this photo was taken. We got a good groupon deal for parasailing and our parents agreed. I don’t have photos from the boat (as I was worried about splashing and ruining my camera). But yes, this was my second time parasailing and my parents first time. We all really enjoyed it.

This reminds me so much of Hawaii. When packing for your trip to Catalina, be sure to include beach stuff, as well as water shoes (or at least flip flops) because the beaches are rocky. My feet were aching. We brought our own snorkeling gear and got to see many colorful and large fish. There are places to rent gear if you don’t already own the gear.

It’s hard to believe this paradise is only an hour ferry ride away!

It’s time to head back to Los Angeles, as our day-getaway came to an end.

Bye, bye Catalina!

This last photo was taken as we reached San Pedro. I find these vessels so fascinating. Each of those colorful boxes, when off loaded, becomes a giant truck. The coordination in must take to move and track each of these shipments is mind boggling to me. I really could spend all day watching how these companies work.