Portland, Maine Has Much to Offer

IMG_5277 crop Portland, Maine was for us a stop to break up the ride to Bar Harbour which was to be our home base as we explored Acadia National Park. Though we had only a short time in the city, we discovered that it is worthy of being a destination itself.

Spring Point Ledge Light, South Portland

Home to not one, but SIX lighthouses, Portland’s history (surprise, given the city’s name) is in shipping. Established in 1632 as a British fishing and trading community, Portland has suffered setbacks, such as fire and loss of industry, but remains a thriving metropolitan center with the current focus on art, shopping and food. Named by the National Historic Trust one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2003, the city demonstrates the resilience of its natives.

The city’s cobblestone streets contribute to its historical vibe as do its forts and the historically significant architecture found throughout the city. The Portland Museum of Art, in the center of downtown, is home to over 17,000 pieces of art. The childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is also in Portland, next to the Maine Historical Society. Paddling enthusiasts can rent kayaks or paddle boards or choose a guided tour and bicycle rentals and tours are also offered.

Spring Point Ledge Light

Since my son was prepping for a hike, we Spent a half a day completing a 10k “year-round” hike organized by the Southern Maine Volkssport Association which took us past the Spring Point Ledge Light.  Built to warn ships of a dangerous ledge in Portland Harbor, the lighthouse took almost ten years from approval to completion and was first lit in May of 1897. Originally it stood out in the harbor at the end of the ledge; a

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The breakwater is composed of large granite boulders,and touring the lighthouse involves climbing a ladder, so good shoes are recommended

950 -foot granite breakwater connecting it to the shore at Fort Preble was completed in 1951. The breakwater is open to the public (solid shoes are recommended as the footing can be slippery) and admittance to the lighthouse is by ticket at select times. Since we were hungry after our walk, we stopped at Joe’s Boathouse for lunch and enjoyed both the food and atmosphere.

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Portland Head Light from a distance

Before heading up to Acadia, my family knew it was inevitable that we visit the lighthouse we were able to see in the distance from the Spring Point Ledge Light. The Portland Head Light, the nation’s first lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington and built in 1791

Portland Head Light

and was even more impressive up close. It is adjacent to Fort Williams Park and is owned by the Town of Cape Elizabeth. The 90-acre park offers hiking, picnicking and other outdoor recreation as well as the option to explore the historic fort structures.

We stopped again in Portland on our way home later that week. It was an even shorter stop this time, just for dinner and an overnight, but we did have another wonderful meal at a place we found nearby. Now, I readily admit to being a pizza snob. When asked my favorite food, yep, it’s pizza, and although I like many varieties (regarding crust and toppings), I have to admit I am a bit judgemental when it comes to quality. I am happy to say that the Portland Pie Company met all expectations. We each ordered a personal size, which was a rare treat for me as I could have thin crust (the rest of the family prefers the thicker stuff). Of course being in Maine, I went with the option of putting lobster on mine. It sounds a bit strange, but was delicious! (Unlike everyone else, I had no leftovers for lunch the next day.) If pizza is not your thing (gasp!) they do have other items on the menu as well.

This was our first trip to Maine and we saw several things that make us want to return. Portland (and the Pie Company) are definitely on the list!

Kauai’s Garden Paradise

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Evidence of Kauai’s volcanic heritage can be seen around the island. This is near Hanalei.

Kauai’s Garden Paradise in Hawaii is the only place I have visited that I could honestly say I could permanently relocate to. With a year round temperature of about 78 and terrain ranging from powdery sand beaches to mountains and cliffs, it the perfect environment for me. (If only it weren’t so far away from everywhere else!)

100_9764Known as the garden island, Kauai is also the rainiest place on earth, with an annual average of  350 to 400 inches measured at Mt. Wai’ale’ale. We happened to visit during the rainy season, in mid November, but this didn’t dampen my appreciation of all the natural wonder the island has to offer. Even though it rained every day we were there, it was not raining everywhere, and since the main road encircling the island can be traversed in under an hour,

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Chickens, as well as wild boar can be found on the island. They have no natural predators and can be seen all over. (The chickens that is, the boar are more elusive.)

it is easy to just go for a ride to find someplace sunny. We stayed in Lihue, which is fairly central, and over the course of a week traveled pretty much the entire island. (There is plenty more to see, hiking or boating farther inland, plus some areas accessible only via 4-wheel drive. We hope to do more exploring on a future trip.)

It would be impossible to detail everything to do (or even everything we did) in one post, so I will focus here on just a few places: Kilauea Point Lighthouse, Hanalei , Opaekaa Falls, and Hanapepe.

100_9500Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is well worth the admission fee and the 0.2 mile walk from the parking lot. The views are amazing, especially on the south side of the lighthouse, where a U shaped crater is all that remains of the 100_9511volcanic vent that formed this area

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This small island is home to many albatross which if you look closely can be seen nesting here.

15,000 years ago. (The banner photo on the main website page features this spot.) The area is home to a number of birds, including the Laysan Albatross, which nest on the refuge, and the Red Footed Booby as well as a number of native plant species (signs help

This Wedge-tailed Shearwater crept out to say hello

identify these). A number of young Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were roaming about, peeking from under the fence protecting them from visitors (there are many notices warning that the birds are protected, and that touching or harassing them is an offense). 100_9517The 1913 Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Lighthouse is the northernmost point of Kauai and is on the National Register of Historic Places; tours are offered on select days, pending staff availability.

 

We spent one afternoon wandering the shops in Kapaa Town and headed north, up the coast to Hanalei Town. We stopped to100_9774 take a look in one of the caves (didn’t see Puff the dragon) and continued on to where the road ends at the shoreline.

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inside the cave

Though we didn’t go explore it, there is a trail from here that goes along the Napali Coast. There is a bridge on the main road that frequently floods, cutting off access to the rest of the island. It was raining that day,

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The end of the road

so we didn’t want to take our chances and stay too long. We chose a restaurant for dinner and had one of many wonderful seafood dinners.

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They are serious about safety

Though people say that Hawaii is very expensive, it seems to me that if you eat food grown and harvested on the island, it is no more so than back home.

 

100_9695Also on the east side of the island is Opaekaa Falls, which can be viewed from the road, but can be accessed via a reasonable hike. Although we questioned whether we were still on the trail a couple times, as it went around several large boulders, we enjoyed the walk. 100_9707Nearby, overlooking the Wailua River, is Poli’ahu, where we explored the sacred temple ruins of100_9720 Hawaii’s past. I found the informational placards interesting and the environment as a whole was peaceful.

100_9557Another day we traveled southwest and found ourselves at the home of Lilo and Stitch, Hanapepe Town. The town is small but considered Kauai’s art

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The Hanapepe Swinging Bridge

capital, with more art galleries than any other place on the island. It was once a busy town and has been the “location” for films such as “The Thornbirds,” and “Flight of the Intruder” as well as the aforementioned Disney film. We picked up some gifts for family back home and made a trip across the famous Hanapepe Swinging Bridge.

There are many beaches with varying coarseness of sand. We tested out the water at Poipu Beach Park, and I sat watching the birds run into the surf, then back as it chased them up the beach. Not far from here, on Route 50 (which is the only main road on Kauai) we stopped at The Shrimp Station, a roadside stand, for what they advertised as “The Best Coconut Shrimp on the Planet.” After trying it, I would have to say I agree.100_9211

There is much more to see on Kauai and I will share more at a later date. I also hope to return and explore the Napali Coast, more of the beaches and maybe even try ziplining or go on a helicopter tour.

Hiking and Camping Elk Neck

100_8599My husband learned about Elk Neck State Park in central Maryland from a co-worker shortly after we starting taking camping trips with our family. We have since been back and it is one of my favorite camping spots.

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Turkey Point Light Station is on the National Register of Historic Places

The park is on a peninsula between the Elk River and the Chesapeake Bay. The park is on over 2188 acres and its landscape includes beaches, wooded areas, marshes and cliffs, and a big draw for me, a lighthouse. Our first visit, we made the easy hike to the Turkey Point Lighthouse where we could walk around the grounds.

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To get to the top, one must climb a ladder and through a narrow opening

On a return visit, the lighthouse had been restored and we were able to go inside and climb to the top.

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The lens is powered by a solar-charged battery and flashes a white light.
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A tight spiral staircase leads to the ladder that goes to the top

Given the location of the lighthouse, atop a 100 foot cliff, it is only 35 feet tall, so this doesn’t take very long. The 3rd tallest on the Chesapeake Bay (it is 129 feet above the water) Turkey Point is known for having had more female lighthouse keepers than any other lighthouse on the Bay.

The park has 7 trails, with distances from one to three miles, with ratings ranging from easy to difficult. 100_8602100_8601100_8598 Bikes are permitted on most of these and most are pet-friendly, as is most of the park. One of these

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This section of the Beaver Marsh Loop is sometimes under water

(and one of our favorites), the Beaver Marsh Loop, has to be timed just right to complete the loop. Part of the trail goes along the shore, which is underwater at high tide. The Elk Neck also has day use areas and a boat launch and offers youth programs, such as the Junior Ranger Program as well as others.

Campsite fees vary and reservations are recommended, especially for holiday weekends. There is a per vehicle day use fee for the park, as well as a boat launch fee, with discounted rates for Maryland residents.

Relaxing in Corolla, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks

IMG_5227On the northern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Corolla is a popular vacation destination and the one-time home of North Carolina’s state horse, the Colonial Spanish Mustang, (for their safety have been moved north of Corolla in the area beyond the paved road which is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles).

The town has a long history. As is common with coastal land, the terrain has shifted over centuries. Up until early 1800s, it was only accessible by boat and its residents got by through hunting and fishing as well as salvaging items from shipwrecks. Other towns came and went, but the residents of Corolla stuck it out.

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The Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Government jobs in the 1800s increased the population. Between 1873-75, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Jones’ Hill Life Saving Station were created. In 1895, Jones’ Hill (as the area was then known) had grown enough to get own Post Office. The US Postal Service asked for suggested for a name. Corolla (which is the inner part of a flower) was suggested and ultimately chosen by the postal service. In 1905 a one-room school was established. Some of these 19th century structures remain in what is now known as Corolla Village, a collection of charming buildings surrounding the 162-foot tall lighthouse, including the Corolla Wild Horse Museum and charming shops.

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Currituck Heritage Park

In 1922 the Knights of Newport, RI began building their 21,000 square foot winter home, Corolla Island, which was completed in 1925. In 1940, under new ownership, Corolla Island was renamed the Whalehead Club, and was leased to the Coast Guard during WWII. The Club was used as a boy’s school in the summers in the 1950s. Today, the building has been restored to its appearance in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the county, it and the lighthouse are both part of the Currituck Heritage Park. Whalehead offers seasonal tours of the building and hosts special events throughout the year.

In the 1970s, only about 15 people lived in Corolla. The road to town was an unpaved trail along the sound, which the state later took over the road, and it became part of NC 12 in 1984. More than 1500 homes were built over the next ten years. Over 500 more were added over the next five years, most of which are vacation homes, more than half are 5000 square feet or more. This road continues through most of Corolla, but simply ends at an expanse of sand. There are homes (and the horses) beyond this point, but they are not accessible without the use of a 4×4 vehicle.

 

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Our path to the beach

Today the town of Corolla is relatively quiet and family centered. The houses are packed close together and are a variety of sizes and styles. Two summers ago, we spent a week there at a rental with extended family. The house we rented was a short walk from the beach and boasted a “bird’s nest” rooftop sitting area which was among the tallest in the area, where we could view both sunrises and sunsets.

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Wooden walkways protect the dunes and help reduce erosion.
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Dunes have been created to protect the town.

A reservoir in our neighborhood was home to a few turtles, and the kids were entertained simply watching them. We also saw a few deer, including a fawn napping in our backyard.

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On the path to the beach

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We happen to own ocean kayaks and had brought them along with us (rentals are also available). We spent a lazy afternoon exploring the sound and my husband and son tried them out in the ocean. We also spent time lounging on the beach, playing in the ocean and the sand and searching for seashells. My niece was fascinated by the exoskeleton of a horseshoe crab that she discovered.

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Currituck Lighthouse from the sound

 

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Exploring the waters off the sound

DSCF1042DSCF1046There are a number of restaurants in Corolla, but for the most part, we chose to eat in. We did pick up pizza from Tomato Patch Pizzeria our first night there, which was very good. Instead, we went to the Food Lion and Seaside Farm Market and prepared food back at the house.

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The area is dog friendly and our pups also enjoyed the vacation.

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Shopping included the traditional beachy souvenir shops, upscale gift boutiques and antique markets as well as outfitters for water sports. An 18-link golf course, mini golf, go carts and a movie theater are right in town, and tours via 4×4 vehicles are popular and are probably the best way to see Corolla’s horses. Fishing, surfing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding rentals and lessons can be found for those who would rather be in the water.

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Sunset from “The Bird’s Nest”

The Outer Banks have much more to offer, outside of Corolla, but we spent most of our week locally. The ride in on a Saturday morning (which is when most of the rental periods start) had us almost at a standstill for a couple hours, causing some to not want to venture out until the week’s end. Having a fondness for lighthouses, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit another one nearby, so I did make a trip out, but will include that in a separate post. I enjoyed our week in Corolla, and hope to go back, hopefully with a 4-wheel drive to explore the area further.