Monday, April 29, 2002

San Francisco to Sydney - Day 15

Day 15 : Catalina Island

Avalon Bay

About 26 miles (40 kilometres) from Long Beach lies the island of Catalina, just under an hour's journey away by jet catamaran. Debbie and I stepped from one such catamaran onto the island's Avalon Bay at around 9:00am to warm weather and cloudless skies.

Catalina is a small, pretty island of around 48,000 acres, vaguely platypus-shaped, with an official population of around 3,500 and an estimated real population of around 1,000 more. The locals, we're told, aren't very co-operative with census-takers.

Catalina's visitors and residents owe much to the munificence and foresight of William Wrigley Jr, the chewing-gum millionaire who, with his brother, once owned the entire island. Messrs Wrigley, by way of a trust deed drawn up in 1919, transferred ownership of the island almost entirely to The Santa Catalina Island Company and The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy in such a way that almost nine-tenths of the island must legally be preserved in its natural state.

Task one for us for the day was to find a place serving breakfast. Unfortunately, three or four hundred other people had a similarly prioritised to-do list, so it took us some time to hunt down a suitable location. Once seated, I made the mistake of ordering something called the Chef's Mess. It was an omelette made of six - yes, six - eggs stuffed, seemingly, with anything the chef had lying around : mushrooms, sausages, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, woolly mammoth and other, whole animals. I was proud that I finished three-quarters of it; the waitress commented that I had "a way to go yet". Recognising that I needed to move from the restaurant chair sometime that day, I declined the offer to finish the remainder.


After breakfast we took our first tour of the day : the Avalon Scenic Tour, a 50 minute narrated tour around Avalon. Unfortunately, Debbie and I sat on the side of the bus opposite to that on which most of the tour highlights appeared, and the bus rarely stopped to allow photo-taking. Accordingly, I have a couple of photos complete with the heads of various total strangers, but none of these seemed worth including in this blog. So, please pretend that the one you can see on the left is a photo from the tour.

Tour guides in Catalina are keen to point out that the island is full of paradoxes. It has:

  • a Casino in which there has never been any (official) gambling
  • a Third Avenue (the second street back from the beach), but no First or Second Avenues
  • a Post Office that does not deliver mail (residents must collect their mail from the Post Office)
  • a Bird Park that does not house birds (instead, it's the local pre-school)
  • a Mausoleum that, at last count, contains no bodies
  • a Private beach that is open to the public (alcohol can only be served on Private beaches)
  • a species of Fish that flies and a species of Bird (comorants) that swims and dives

The Casino mentioned in the first item in the list above, was built in the 1920s as an entertainment venue and is of circular design, 180 feet (54 metres) in diameter and the equivalent of 12-storeys tall. The only way for us to see the inside of the Casino was to take a guided tour, which is what we did in the afternoon.

Ballroom Chandelier

There are three main attractions within the Casino : a theatre with the most astonishing acoustics of any room we've ever been in; a massive ballroom able to accommodate 3,500 dancers (the chandelier of which is shown in the photo at right); and a balcony with magnificent views of Avalon, Avalon Bay and the hills behind it.

The ballroom and the theatre are still in use to this day. We noticed that Tommy Emmanuel (the famous, Australian guitarist for those of you who might not be familiar with the name) played at the Casino sometime recently.

Exhausted from yet another day spent mostly on our feet, we had a quiet night in tonight. Tomorrow we have five more hours on buses and in transit lounges. G'night.

Originally posted by TC

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