Monterey and Whale Watching

It was about three hours’ driving from Yosemite National Park to the coast, which I enjoyed doing most of. Our route took us back down the twisty mountain roads and out into open farmland characterised by hundreds of acres of fruit and nut trees.

We began the proper road trip portion of our holiday in Monterey, a pleasant seaside town that has more history than you’d expect from the average American town. As we drove towards Monterey and the coast, the temperature got cooler and cooler; having been 29 degrees when we left Yosemite, it was a chilly 18 degrees by the time we reached Monterey, and there was fog hanging around over the road that had come in off the Pacific Ocean. We were really cold, and were glad we’d brought some layers!

After checking into our hotel – the delightful Hotel Pacific – we decided to have a wander around and find something to eat for a late lunch. We discovered that right next to our hotel was California’s oldest theatre:

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It was a short walk from there to the Fisherman’s Wharf.

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We walked to the end and saw a sea otter floating about enjoying itself in the harbour water below. We also saw a seal chilling out on a rock, and a hummingbird flying about collecting nectar from the purple flowers in the photo above!

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Along the pier, seafood restaurants were vying for our attention by offering free samples of clam chowder. I’m not normally a seafood fan, so my first instinct was to refuse; but I felt adventurous, so I tried some. I actually really enjoyed it! So much so that I ended up ordering a whole portion, served up in a hollowed out sour dough bowl.

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We also went into a sweet shop – prematurely decked out for Halloween, like everywhere else we went! – where I crossed off another thing from my 30 Before 30 list by eating a toffee apple.

After that we had a look around the 1827 Old Customhouse (to which entry is free), where customs duties were collected.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our lovely hotel suite, before heading out for dinner at a cool place with outdoor firepits, where Lee did some beer tasting:

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And where a man’s pet parrot was waiting for him, perched on his bike, while he had a drink – surreal!:

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The next day, we went down to the pier again for our whale-watching boat trip with Princess Monterey Whale Watching.

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We got there early enough to be second in the queue, which meant that we got the best seats on the boat, right near the bow. It was cold out in Monterey Bay, so I put on all the warm clothes I had with me (which wasn’t much!).

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We set out through the harbour, seeing another little sea otter floating about in the water and a number of sea lions lounging around near the mouth of the harbour.

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After a while, we saw that a patch of water up ahead looked disturbed, and the guide said that we were just coming to a huge pod of dolphins – around 700 of them! As we got closer to them, we saw some of the dolphins start swimming towards us, and before we knew it they were alongside the bow, directly beneath us. The water was clear enough that you could see the dolphins beneath the surface, as well as those jumping out as they swam along. It was absolutely amazing!

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They’re hard to photograph because they pop up for a second and then down again, so it’s hard to convey just how many of them there were. They were all around, constantly popping up and down on all sides of the boat – a breathtaking sight.

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We had to leave the dolphins behind so that we could get closer to where the humpback whales were likely to be, and it was another 45 minutes or so before we got to the right location.

As we approached, we could see water being sprayed up into the air from the whales breathing, and seabirds were gathering up ahead. Suddenly, there the whales were – right alongside the boat. We were in the midst of a group of around 20 of them, which was a remarkable experience.

Screen shot 2015-10-20 at 16.53.29 Then the whales disappeared below the surface, and were gone for a good five minutes or more. We knew they were about to make an appearance again when shoals of fish suddenly started jumping out of the water, as seen in the video below. This is because groups of humpbacks dive down and blow bubbles in a ring, which freaks the fish out and forces them to the surface, ready for the whales to eat. You can see that the seabirds have cottoned onto this feeding frenzy as well!

Then all of a sudden the whales come dramatically back to the surface, bringing their heads right out of the water as they engulf a huge mouthful of fish. We didn’t manage to photograph one of their heads – they were too quick – but it was amazing to see this happening in real life, having watched it on David Attenborough documentaries countless times. Apparently the whale watching people only see this about five or six times a year, so we were very lucky! These close-up pics are by Lee, taken on the big camera. You can even see the barnacles on this one!

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If you watch this video, you’ll get a sense of how close they were to us. It was taken on my iPhone, so they were even closer in real life!

After reluctantly being taken away from the whales and back to the pier, we disembarked, and I went back to the hut to ask for my ticket to stick in my scrapbook. Then it was time to grab a Subway sandwich for lunch and head back to the car to join the Pacific Coast Highway, which I’ll talk about in my next post in this series.

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