Our highest priority today was to visit the Monterey Aquarium. Bryan had been raving about this place for days (weeks?), and he’s spot on – it’s spectacular. Huge displays of all sorts of fish, jellyfish, rays, sharks – anything that’s living in the water outside, really. Some are displayed en masse, one species to a tank, making amazing ever-moving abstract displays. Others are huge communities of dozens of species in enormous tanks, including a multi-storey tank of live kelp that I could have sat and looked at all day – and in fact we kept going back to it, mesmerised by the movement of the kelp and the huge variety of fish.
This aquarium is the only one that’s succeeded in creating a live kelp exhibition – and they do it by pumping in unfiltered water from Monterey Bay every night to ensure the kelp gets all the nutrients it needs, keeping the tank open to the elements at the top and creating a wave motion in the tank to ensure the kelp gets equal access to nutrients. Apparently the access to that water is critical – other aquaria have tried and failed because they don’t have access to a good source of water. The kelp can grow up to 2ft (60cm) per day, so divers are sent into the tank daily to trim their underwater garden.
After we’d seen our fill in the aquarium, we headed on down the coast, through Big Sur to San Simeon. Again, gorgeous, beautiful – I’m definitely running out of superlatives. Big Sur is stunningly beautiful with deep misty fir forests and gorgeous coastlines. In lots of ways this part of the coast reminds me of the NSW coast – cliffs, lots of inlets, and headland after headland. But it’s subtly different. At home the cliffs are sheer down into the sea, with big sandy beaches between each headland, mostly spaced quite far apart. Here, they’re more steep hills than cliffs, with often only tiny ravines between one and the next, and lots of rocks and tiny islands out in the ocean. The water is much shallower than at home, and the geology is much younger.
The road is mostly one lane each way, with a collection of switchbacks, to accommodate all those ravines, with bridge after bridge to make it easier. It was beautiful, but I was glad I wasn’t driving, although I can imagine it’d be fun. There were a few scary bits where the road was partially washed away by all the rain they’ve had here recently – not good for someone with vertigo sitting on the edge of a cliff in a car! I just kept telling myself “it’s OK, it’s settled all it’s going to, it’s not going to fall away further right now!”
We stopped for the night at San Simeon – just by Hearst Castle. Great hotel room overlooking the beach – nothing like falling asleep with the sound of the ocean! Apparently the hotel had poached the chef when the best restaurant in town shut down recently. Good move on their part – the food was excellent, and we enjoyed my bottle of red from the winery with it.