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With lighthouses, sea lions and plenty of white sand, Oregon's Newport is a slice of maritime heaven
Taking a morning stroll along Nye Beach, which was Oregon’s summer playground back in the 1900s
For me, it’s the rugged coastline that draws me to Oregon. The winds howl and the waves crash. Place names like Devil’s Punchbowl and Cape Foulweather speak of nature’s fury. My wife, on the other hand, likes local history. The coastal community of Newport, 147 kilometres south of Portland, serves up both.
We rented a one-bedroom condo in Nye Beach at the northern end of Newport. Back in the 1900s, Nye Beach was Oregon’s summer playground. Excursion trains brought hundreds of tourists into town to sample the taffy shops, restaurants and penny arcades that lined the beachfront.
Today, Nye has reclaimed its historic stature, sprucing up its small commercial centre with stores and cafes (sadly, no taffy shops) while upgrading the many hotels, condos and B&Bs that line the bluffs, most of them with a commanding view of the sea. It’s a convenient and restful base from which to explore Newport and beyond.
We walk the wide, sandy beach. Had it been off-season, we would likely have seen beachcombers poking about for agates and other stones washed ashore by the high winds and strong tides. But not today; it’s mid-August and the ocean is calm. A warm breeze flutters off the water.
We pass the Sylvia Beach Hotel, a hundred years old and a tourist draw in its own right. Billed as the book lovers hotel, each room is named after a famous author, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, etc., and is decorated accordingly. We saunter in to see what the fuss is all about. We peer into the Hemingway Room and notice an antelope head on the wall. Cute. Hemingway was a hunter. We can only imagine what the Dr. Seuss Room looks like.
To me, dramatic vistas are what the Oregon coast is all about, and Cook’s Chasm, 50 kilometres south of Newport, doesn’t disappoint. The relentless pounding of the waves has carved out a huge fissure in the shoreline while hollowing out the softer rock underneath.
As the waves rush in and swamp the underground caverns, the pressurized water escapes through a crack in the mantle called the Spouting Horn. Think of a mini Old Faithful. It’s not as tall as Wyoming’s famous geyser, but it’s much more frequent.
Continuing south along Highway 101, we encounter the Sea Lion Caves, a seasonal home for the hundreds of Steller sea lions that populate this part of the coast. We pay our $12 admission charge and descend 63 metres by elevator to the underground grotto where the sea lions congregate. Unfortunately there are no creatures taking up residence today. We return to the surface and notice a few heads bobbing in the water, sea lions no doubt mocking us for paying money to invade their habitat.
We hit sea lion pay dirt at Newport’s historic Bayfront, a curious mix of tourist attractions, galleries, chowder houses and working canneries that line Yaquina Bay. It’s also the home of Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleet. The area teams with flatfish, salmon, and Dungeness crab.
An attraction called The Undersea Gardens offers a view of undersea life, but there’s just as much action topside because this is where the local sea lions congregate, sunning themselves on the gardens’ deck and diving for morsels from the cannery next door. We count 22 of them. They’re big, they’re furry and they smell terrible.
We take refuge is a weather-beaten eatery overlooking the bay. The cheery server tells us they serve the best halibut in Oregon, fresh from the sea. She’s right.
Other marine attractions just across the Yaquina Bay Bridge include The Oregon Coast Aquarium, reputed to be one of the best in America, and the Hatfield Marine Science Centre. The Hatfield is primarily a university research centre and the public displays often showcase the work of the centre’s researchers.
The following morning, on the way home, we pop into The Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Opened in 1873, the state’s tallest lighthouse is still working. The first-floor mini-museum reminds us of how dangerous these waters are, the need for safe navigation and what it was like to live on site before the lighthouse was automated.
Imagining myself to be a pioneer lighthouse keeper, I scramble to the top but the fog has rolled in, enveloping the lighthouse and obscuring the final vista, a fitting end to our trip considering we are, after all, next door to Cape Foulweather.