Sunday, 25 June 2017

Spectacular evening Paddle from Pt Holmes to Air Force Beach

 Heather setting off in flat calm conditions 

By Keith and Heather Nicol
    On Saturday, June 24 we decided to do an evening paddle since the weather was suppose to be very hot through the day. We were glad we headed out at 6:30 pm or so since by now the sun was getting lower in the sky although temperatures were still about 27 C. Another bonus about heading out at this time was that high tide was for 7:30 pm and it was over 5 meters making for very easy launching at the Pt Holmes boat launch. This meant we could paddle along the shore without interference from shoals and reefs that can affect paddling in this area at lower tides.  There were lots of other kayakers and stand up paddle boarders out as well enjoying the virtually flat calm conditions. We turned north after clearing Cape Lazo and then set our sights for Air Force Beach which is on a section of beautiful sandy beach. 
The high cirrus clouds really made the blue sky standout

  It took us about 50 minutes to paddle the 4.2 km to Air Force Beach and we enjoyed fine views of the Salish Sea and the mountains of the BC mainland in the distance which still held some of last winter’s snow. The high cirrus clouds made for an photogenic backdrop.  We had a quick stretch on the beach and then paddled back to our launch point. We saw little bird life or marine life which was somewhat surprising since we know there are usually lots of birds and seals in this area. The very high tide might have had something to do with it since often in this area seals like to haul out on offshore rocks or shoals which were now under water. So we had to be content with the fine scenery and perfect paddling conditions. So think about an evening paddle as we get warmer summer temperatures. Pt Holmes is located on Lazo Road in Comox and there is a large parking area with benches and picnic tables to enjoy before or after a sea kayak trip.

We saw several other paddlers and standup paddle boarders

Friday, 23 June 2017

Hunting for Sea Stars at Pt Holmes

By Keith and Heather Nicol
The route down to the tide pools is a mix of cobbles, sand and seaweeds
      With some of the lowest tides of the summer upon us (it will be just 0.2 m for Saturday, June 24 and Sunday , June 25) you can do some exploring of tidal pools along many sections of coastline near Comox. We like to head to Pt Holmes on these occasions since there is a convenient car park, with nice benches for looking out toward Hornby and Denman Island. The only down side is that the 200-300 meter route down to the rocks and tidal pools is over some awkward rocks that may be slippery. We have found the best tidal pools and orche sea star sightings to be amongst the rocky section which gives the sea stars some protection. We had to look hard find them but if you look in shady areas and crevasses you can see them. This is encouraging since in 2013 there was a major die off of these sea stars which is thought to be due to a virus. 
We saw orche sea stars clinging to rocks in several areas -here they are upside down!
       We found one area with about 6 purple sea stars clinging together and in another case I had to get down on my hands and knees to look under a cleft in the rock and found several clinging upside down to the rock. Be sure not to disturb the sea stars and have a look for minnows and crabs in the tidal pools. We also saw a pair of eagles swooping down and grasping small fish in their talons. Bring your camera! We wore light hiking shoes and they seemed to work fine. Another bonus is that low tide is right around noon for the next 2 days and the weather is suppose to be ideal for exploring the shoreline. To check tides see:  Pt Holmes is along Lazo Road and their is an obvious pull off near the boat launch which is a good spot to park to check out the tidal pools. 
Eagles were out checking out the tidal pools as well

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Eagles put on a fine show on latest sea kayak trip to Pt Holmes

By Keith and Heather Nicol
There is a nice sandy section east of the boat launch
     It has been a late start to the sea kayaking season for us. This has been in part due to the cool spring and early summer and also because we have been recently traveling out of the country taking in our niece`s wedding in Italy and touring Tuscany for 2 weeks.  However we finally got out on June 12 and headed to the point and around toward Kay Bay. We were surprised to see little seal activity or bird life but that would change as we as turned around and paddled to a sandy beach for a stretch and to enjoy the sunny warm weather. Although much of this section of shoreline is quite cobbly at lower tides there is a small section of sandy beach east of the boat launch which is useful to know about if you want a relaxing place to come ashore. 

We like paddling in this area for the views of mountains across Georgia Strait
  Soon after we launched from the sandy beach we saw an eagle perched on a rock and it let us approach to within a few meters and then as we returned to the boat launch ramp we saw a swarm of gulls squawking at the water`s edge. We also saw about 10 eagles diving toward them diving and swooping. It turned out someone had just dumped some fish entrails off at the edge of the boat launch and the birds were having a free lunch. The launching is not that wide and so as we pulled in the eagles were reluctant to leave so we had a perfect view of the eagles fighting over the scraps with the gulls darting in when they thought it was safe.  We have kayaked at Point Holmes on many occasions but never had this sort of eagle viewing as we loaded our boats onto the car. My only complaint was that I didn`t have my DSLR camera and had only brought my small waterproof camera. Next time!!  For those people new to this area Point Holmes is a good place to launch since they have a boat launch which means that you can kayak on just about any tide level. Be sure to drop your money for launching in the box to help pay for this convenient facility. The boat launch is on Lazo Road near the Southwind Road intersection. 
We were met by lots of eagles at the boat launch

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Last Stop Florence Italy

by Keith and Heather Nicol

After leaving reluctantly San Gimignano we headed to the Florence airport to return our rental car
David by Michaelangelo
and then taxied in to Florence to the Wow Florence Hostel. We had planned our trip to finish in Florence since although we started in Florence 2 weeks earlier, at that time we were just getting our bearings and getting over jet lag from our long flight from Vancouver. This time we wanted to see the famous statue David in the Galleria dell'Accademia which was just a few blocks from where we were staying. Since it was Sunday and we knew that the Galleria dell'Accademia was closed Mondays this was our last chance since our return flight to Vancouver was 10:00 am on Tuesday morning. The front desk staff at the Wow Florence Hostel told us that the first Sunday in each month many museums were free and we thought that this meant we had no chance to get into the Gallerie since there are usually long lines to get in and if it was free entry the lines would be extra long. Well were we surprised when we arrived to a line that was just 2 minutes long!! We couldn’t believe our luck and so spent the next 90 minutes touring the Gallerie with its many statues and paintings. No wonder Florence is considered to be the centre of renaissance art in Italy.
View of Florence from the Tower
The Cathedral and Tower
    The next day (our last in Italy) we got up early and headed for the Duomo and bought a 15 euro pass to see a variety of buildings in this extremely popular part of Florence. We were glad we got there just as they were opening (9:00am) since we had wanted to climb the tower, see the museum, tour the cathedral and see the crypt. By the time we left at noon the long lines were snaking from all venues and by this time it was much hotter and shade was harder to find. We really enjoyed the museum which had an intriguing section on the building of the huge dome with models and examples of period construction techniques and tools. We also thought the tower was well worth the climb and our only regret was that we had not planned ahead and booked a spot to also climb to the top of the Duomo since it is so popular you need to reserve ahead. We spent the afternoon wondering down to the Arno River before returning to the hostel to pack and get ready for our departure the next day. We had hoped to see the Uffizi Gallery (it was closed Monday) as well as get to several other sites but that will have to wait until our next visit. Arrivederci Florence. 
Along the Arno River in Florence

Sunday, 11 June 2017

We loved San Gimignano, Italy

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather exploring San Gimignano
    From Lucca our next stop was San Gimignano where we spent 3 nights at a comfortable airbnb called the “Central apartment in San Gimignano”.  It was within 500 meters of the gates of the walled city of San Gimignano which is ideal since parking can be a problem in this popular hill town. Elizabeth our host had a ton of information about San Gimignano and the surrounding communities and she also told us where to get some good pictures of the tall towers that the village is known for.  We spent our first day exploring San Gimignano and the views from the top of the tower were splendid. We also enjoyed going through the museum of anthropology and visiting the Rocca di Montestaffoli which had its own very pleasant enclosure. A harpist playing under an olive tree made the whole setting magical.

The view from the tower was superb

The second day was spent touring some nearby communities and we checked out the glass museum
San Gimignano is known for its numerous towers
in Colle di Val D’elsa which it turned out had been a big glass producer in this area. We then set our sites for Siena which was busy with tourists but well worth the visit. We especially liked the elaborate cathedral and duomo as well as the huge Piazza del Campo where the famous Palio (a horse race) occurs twice each summer. We had hoped to visit some of the other hilltowns that our airbnb host Elizabeth had suggested but once again we were out of time. Unfortunately the next day we were scheduled to head to Florence to wind up our Tuscany adventure and return to Canada. So sad to leave.

The Piazza del Campo is where the Palio occurs each summer in Siena