Two Weeks in California - Channel Islands National Park
Our next stop on the trip was Oxnard. You are probably thinking at this point ‘Gee golly gosh mister, there sure are a lot of non-park stops on your trip to the parks.’ Well Timmy, you are right Oxnard is not a park. However, Oxnard is the location for Island Packers Cruises, which is one of the few companies that run shuttles between Oxnard and the Channel Islands, and the Channel Islands are a national park – so go fuck yourself Timmy.
The Channel Islands take some planning if you are going to be visiting them. As I previously stated, there are only a few companies running ferries between the park and the mainland so you need to be cognizant of the present time and of the ferry departure/arrival times. Food and water are also not available on the islands so you need to bring your own. It’s really not that difficult to manage though and Island Packers does a good job of making sure the ferries run on time. We decided to split our time in the park between two islands – East Anacapa and Santa Cruz. Spoiler alert – one of these islands was way better than the other.
Let’s start with the good one - Santa Cruz Island. It’s one of the biggest of the islands in the park, but I barely hiked any of it. Instead we had booked a sea cave kayaking tour for our day on this island. So we spent the day on the ocean in kayaks exploring up and down the coast. We actually got incredibly lucky with our tour group, it was a smaller group (7 people – 4 kayaks, including us) and halfway through the tour everybody except us decided they had enough kayaking for the day and headed in. So the second half of the day was basically a private kayaking tour with us and our guide. We saw tons of wildlife, went in and out of caves so tight we had to rock the kayak back and forth to get out, and did not get eaten by sharks or have the kayak boarded by pirates. Plus, for not having kayaked in several years the water was really calm around the island so it was really easy to paddle and get around. The only issue I had the whole day was my own fault in putting the wrong memory card in my GoPro so it kept crashing on the trip (Protip, 4K video takes a U3 Class 10 card). Aside from that it was definitely the way to spend the day.
Now for the bad island – East Anacapa Island (aka Bird Shit Island). It had the better of the two boat rides out to the island - we finally saw whales!!!! (Go figure, you need to get on the boat that’s not a whale watching tour boat to see whales.) Once on the island the park ranger gives you a quick talk about what you should not do on the island then you are off and exploring. There are basically two sights to see on the island. On one side you have the lighthouse (which you can’t go inside) and on the other side you have the most amazing view of the ocean and some smaller islands. In-between those you have the decaying corpses of 10,000 dead gulls and 50 million tons of smelly bird shit and no shade.
Seriously, the whole island is a huge nesting area for gulls. So you have birds everywhere and when they die they just crash land on the island. Then they decompose, bake in the sun, get covered in other bird’s shit (which also bakes in the sun) and just generally stinks up the place. However, if you can get past that (and get past the feeling that if something happens to the ferry that you have to spend the night marooned on this island) then the view from the far end of the island is really spectacular. That and the really tiny lizards. But that’s all there is on the island. Then you hike back across the open areas of bird shit covered corpses and wait for the ferry (which had multiple whale sightings when we were on it).
Overall I was pretty pleased with my Channel Island NP experience, but if I could do it again I would consider spending two days on Santa Cruz island (one for kayaking and one for hiking).