Some like it otter! Be bowled over by the magical wildlife of Northern California
‘If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in the water.’ This quote from US philosopher Loren Eiseley comes to mind as I stand on a wharf in the sunshine, with sea lions barking all around me.
I am staring at a reflection of myself among hundreds of balloon-sized Moon jellyfish. There is, indeed magic in the water and that is what the town of Monterey is all about. ‘If you were in the water they would barely sting you,’ announces my youngest teenager. I’m not about to experiment.
We have come to Monterey in Northern California to meet a little of that magic – sea otters, which I am researching for my latest TV show.
Coast of plenty: A cove at Big Sur, which has a rocky coastline and is a good place to see layabout sea lions
I’m off for a long walk on Monterey’s State Beach, filling my lungs with sea air after the flight from the UK. We walk for miles to the next town of Seaside. The beach is almost empty, the views breathtaking. I spot seals and my first sea otter lying on its back not too far from the beach.
If you are an ardent beach walker, Monterey has many routes to choose from, but there are also many others worth exploring along that part of the Californian coastline.
I love the chi-chi town of Carmel, with its perfect curve of sand and lovely shops, or the rocky coastline of Big Sur, with its layabout sea lions.
While I walk, the kids head for the Monterey Bay Coastal trail. You can bike it, scooter it or, like mine, take skateboards along this trail running the length of Monterey.
Next morning we are up early for breakfast at Griddle In The Middle. We lose track of the number of people turned away as the place is packed – and for good reason. The local crab cakes are delicious.
Monterey was the base for the BBC’s Blue Planet Live programme. While we can’t get as close to all the wildlife as the film-makers, we can do a good job when it comes to sea otters. The first place to go is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is one of the most inspiring aquariums in the world – and the ‘location’ for the movie Finding Dory.
But, despite the many other attractions, we are at the aquarium for the sea otters who are, in traditional otter fashion, busy loving life. The otters here are rescues, unable to live in the wild.
A sea otter and her pup relax on the ground at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California
Today, at home in the moving deep water of their tank, they are playing with rubber toys that sink. As they dive for them, the otters undulate through the water leaving a trail of bubbles, and come back to float on the surface with the toy on their bellies. They are pretty much the cutest animal on the planet.
If you want to get close to sea otters in their natural habitat, however, drive 15 miles north of Monterey to the town of Moss Landing. Here, for $30 (£23.50) per person for a double kayak, you can hang out in the water with sea otters. On our visit, a gang of about 15 otters were there.
A couple had babies and some were playing in the water close to the kayaks. Otters have a zest for life quite unlike any other animal I know. Everyone finishes their otter encounter with a smile on their face. There really is magic in the water at Monterey.
America As You Like It (020 87428299) offers seven nights in Monterey for two adults and two children at the Portola Hotel, including flights to San Francisco and car hire, from £4,820.
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