October 18, 2014

Catalina Island: let me hear you scream!

I faced the fear and zip lined down the canyons of Catalina Island!

Zip lining Catalina

The first of 5 runs and I’m freaking out!

“Zip away!” says our guide Sam through the radio back to Yafet whose job it is to hook us onto the line, unhook our safety rope and send us hurtling down the wire into oblivion.

Catalina Zip Line

Sam pulls the Zoolander pose before whisking away ahead of us to catch us when we arrive

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tours has five lines stretching over 1.2km over the canyon (we’d call it gully).

After our safety briefing and being strapped into our harness, helmet buckled on, we boarded the bus for a 5-minute ride the up the hill to Platform 1. At about 170m above sea level, the nerves were just beginning to unsettle the heart rate and despite Sam and Yafet’s banter, we were just ready to take the first plunge and get it over with.

Catalina Zip Line

The first run – also the easiest! It looks worse than it is 🙂

Catalina Zip Lining

Once you hit the break (like a little hickey puck on the top of the line) your legs fling up and you instantly slow down for Sam to haul you in.

Catalina Island pops out of the water 35km off the Los Angeles coastline and you’ve probably never heard of it. Or if you have, maybe you’ve wondered what was out there and if it was worth going over for a look?

Wrigley Mansion

The Wrigley (chewing hum) mansion sits at the top of the hill

I’d say if you’re a 3rd or 4th time visitor to LA, or more specifically, Anaheim/Orange County, and you’re sick of theme parks and shopping, you like a bit of olde worlde charm, then you’d like a day trip here from either San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point, south of Laguna Beach.

It’s about US$75 for a return ferry ride per adult and takes just over an hour each way. We had a really nice cruise, flat sea, and on the way back were entertained by porpoises frolicking port side.

What to do on Catalina Island

The island is small and the main village of Avalon, which is where you’ll likely spend your time, is only 1-2 sq miles.

Catalina Casino

The big round casino was never a gambling house but is still a theatre today

Hire a golf cart – the main form of transport here – and tootle around. Or employ your legs and follow your nose. Everything is walkable and there are little alleys with shops lining the sides, mostly selling souvenirs and island apparel.

Catalina Island

The locals (about 3800 of them) mainly get around in golf carts

I got a quick neck and shoulder massage from the girl charging $1 per minute which unlocked all sorts of grief before asking for advice on where to eat and was directed to Bluewater Avalon, where I sat drinking a mojito out of a jar and nibbling on warm crab and artichoke dip as the sea washed under the deck.

Catalina mojito

A well-deserved mojito after 2 hours of zipping down the hills!

You could take a kayak out from the private beach at the far end where a sun lounger is about $20. But just up from there, past the casino, is the zip lining…

Catalina beach

This private beach can be booked for events or just pay for a sun lounger. There’s a restaurant/bar beside it.

A little history lesson

In the 16th Century the Pimungans were the people who lived here before Spanish explorers came upon them. In 1919 chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr bought an interest in the island, sight unseen. Then when he did finally set foot over here, he loved it and bought his partners out, installing a little airport for seaplanes to come in and out.

He also owned the Chicago Cubs and moved their training base out here where baseball legends and celebrities added to the fame of the little island.

In 1932, son Philip Wrigley took over after his father’s death and redesigned Avalon with the walkways, fountains and shopping court that are here today. In 1972 he and his family donated 88% of the island to the county ensuring it would be protected in perpetuity. They now own 11% with 1% owned by other private interests.

Interesting?

Avalon, Catalina

Don’t mention Natalie Wood. Those of a certain age will know that she went missing from a launch in these waters in 1981 while husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken were apparently sleeping off hangovers, or arguing over her…

Our cool day trip to Catalina Island was possible thanks to Fiji Airways who fly twice a week from Christchurch Airport to Nadi on to LA with daily flights. A great way to get to the US for South Islanders who don’t want to transit through Auckland 🙂

About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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