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JUPITER, FLORIDA – I’ve seen plenty of turtles in my day. But this is the first time I’ve raced one.
I’m on a stand-up paddleboard tour of the Jupiter Harbour area, just south of the brilliant blue Loxahatchee River. We’ve just turned the corner around a low-lying island when I spot a turtle below me in the water, perhaps one meter to my left.
I’m excited to see one in its natural environment, so I move my paddle to the right side of my board and try to angle myself a little closer. I’ve always thought of turtles as slow, lumbering critters but this guy can MOVE. Perhaps thinking I’m sporting a spear gun, this guy (or girl) literally zooms ahead of me at what might be called a break-shell speed.
I had no idea turtles could move that fast. I paddle a bit and get within maybe two meters, but again the turtle shifts into high gear and zips away.
Clearly defeated, I console myself with a quiet paddle past thick mangroves on a warm January day on the Atlantic coast of Florida. I see pure, snowy white egrets resting in the shade of the mangroves, carefully eyeing the mullet that occasionally leap from the shallow waters of the harbour.
I’m on a tour of the harbour with Blue Line Surf and Paddle Co. Our guide, Alex Cotleur, is an expert stand-up board paddler who teaches folks in my group to keep their knees slightly bent and their feet wide apart on the massive boards so we can keep our balance. She warns us that passing boats can create good-sized wakes and advises us to keep our boards steady by dipping our paddles deep into the water.
I hadn’t thought of doing that as a way of keeping stable but it makes perfect sense. Later, Alex tells me she learned that trick from Canadian Olympic canoeing star Larry Cain, an avid stand-up boarder who sometimes gives lessons in Florida.
Later on our tour we pass by areas where folks have planted new mangroves to help the harbour regenerate. Others have piled up shells on a beach to help keep a small island from eroding. On our way back to our starting point behind the colourful Guanabana’s café, I spot my first-ever manatee and let out a whoop that startles a group of nearby pelicans.
The area around Jupiter is a relaxed, mellow stretch of Florida with very little traffic or big city attitude. The Juno Beach pier in Jupiter is a fine place to watch the surfers shoot past on blue-green waves, or just soak up the sun. Parking is free across the street.
I also take the time to check out the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. It’s a cool spot designed in 1853 that towers high above the Loxahatchee River, with a series of winding stairs (105, plus 30 to reach the base of the lighthouse) that take you to the top. Once outside on the circular walkway you’ll get fantastic views of the river and the Florida coastline.
Further inland in Jupiter I spend an hour or so wandering about Riverbend Park, admiring small deer foraging for grass in the underbrush and watching cyclists lazily spin past palmettos and towering, sweet-smelling pines. There’s a similarly tranquil spot up the coast a bit in lovely Vero Beach that’s called Lagoon Greenway.
Vero Beach also has a fun, lively spot to eat on the beach called Mulligan’s Beach House, where I have dinner and spot a para-glider scoot past above the beach. Even better for food is Salt 7 in increasingly hip Delray Beach, where you’ll find amazing sushi, some of the best steak on the planet and even Montreal-style poutine.
Be sure to check out Delray’s Silverball Museum, where they’ve got dozens and dozens of hip, retro pinball machines, video games, bowling games and more great machines you can play for a set (and very reasonable) fee. I was in heaven!
Further down the coast in Fort Lauderdale I do a fun tour of the city’s waterways on the Jungle Queen boat and take in a marvellous Polynesian dinner and dancing show at the Mai-Kai Restaurant. Even better to my way of thinking is a visit to historic Bonnet House, where you can learn about local history and the northern socialites and artists who used to live here.
The history’s great, but I fall in love with the grounds. The gardens feel like an exotic South Seas lagoon, complete with thatched roof huts and towering palm trees.
Tiny, wild monkeys gawk at me from thick overhead branches and large iguanas scamper through the grass and claw their way up the trunks of towering palm trees.
Tough to beat that during a Canadian winter.
JUST THE FACTS
Jupiter Beach Resort is a wonderful spot right on the water; unusual for Jupiter Beach. There’s excellent food at Sinclair’s restaurant.
In Vero Beach, the Holiday Inn and Suites has a lovely waterfront setting and is a short walk to great shops and restaurants.
In Fort Lauderdale, The Pelican Grand Beach Resort has a fabulous back porch overlooking the beach, with rocking chairs and, at night, tiki torches and fire pits.
More information: http://www.thepalmbeaches.com/, http://visitindianrivercounty.com/, https://www.sunny.org/
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