Alexia Santamaria spends 24 hours in Newport, Oregon
As we approach the iconic Yaquina Head lighthouse in Newport, our guide seems deeply disappointed that the weather isn't sunnier, but I'm actually quite enjoying the slightly grey, menacing sky and treacherous waves that make the coastline look so wild and dramatic. This is Oregon coastline at its best — vast, rugged, and utterly breathtaking.
We amble down to the shoreline before heading up to the lighthouse itself and I'm entranced by the sound of seawater draining out through smooth pebbles. This rhythmic clattering sound is not something I've ever encountered before and I can't get enough of it. I'm so busy staring at the water-worn grey orbs, waiting for the next outgoing tidal sound that I almost don't notice some sea friends who have come to say hi.
Right in front of us are some grey Pacific Harbor seals with puppy-dog-cute grey faces, heads bobbing up and down in the waves as they stare at us with big doe eyes that would melt the iciest of souls. They seem encouraged by the almost involuntary "awwwww" sounds we're making as we seem to get more and more eye contact, the more we dote.
The only thing that could extract me from this charming game of peek-a-boo is the promise of a whale sighting near the lighthouse. We race up in a frenzy to see people pointing out at sea to a grey whale who is seemingly oblivious to the attention he is drawing on the hill. We see only one, but apparently it's quite common to see more when the weather is better.
Our proud local guide is keen to show us more of this fascinating part of Oregon so we head 10 minutes down the road to pretty Newport. Before getting into the town itself, we stop by Bike Newport for some fat-tyre biking on stunning Nye Beach.
Our guides for the day are three guys in their 60s and 70s so I'm pretty embarrassed at how much more competent than me they are. Fortunately they are true American gentlemen and very helpful as we get the hang of riding on the sand. The golden surface is smooth and hard and the beach vast so it doesn't take too long to get in sync. The proportions of the "fat tyres" and style of bike make me feel like a kid on a BMX and the spectacular views of endless sleek shore with rolling waves in the afternoon light makes me feel like nothing bad could be happening anywhere in the world, ever.
It's tiring work riding a good expanse of the beach so we head back to Newport for a beer at Nana's Irish pub. We have a little time before dinner so it would be rude not to poke around the shops in this gorgeous boutiquey seaside town. We try the local specialities of salt-water taffy and caramel corn — classic American seaside treats.
Our walk down to dinner incites a gasp and a sharp intake of breath as we arrive at the wharf outside Local Ocean restaurant. The scene is postcard perfect as the sun sets in brilliant pinks and purples over this fishing town, dozens of crab boats bobbing next to the pier framed by the Yaquina Bay bridge in the background. I linger as the scene is so picturesque and the seals barking in background adds an extra level of joy.
Once we finally tear ourselves away, we realise we can still observe this magnificent vista from our table at the restaurant. Better still, with a glass of wine and Dungeness Crab cakes from crabs caught on the boats outside. Our guide has been raving about them and she's right, they are ridiculously good, as are the steamer clams, oysters and other local delicacies. We do the menu true justice between our group and waddle out back to our accommodation at the Hallmark Resort. Every room looks out on to Nye Beach and I drift off to sleep with the curtains open, fire on, watching the waves roll in.
It's tough leaving this charming part of coastal Oregon the next day but there's so much more of the state to see and Crater Lake, Bend and Smith Rock await. The blow is softened slightly by a visit to Oregon Oyster Farms on the way out where we taste the biggest oysters we've ever clapped eyes on. The owner regales us with tales of how they got to supply the oyster bar in New York's Grand Central Station and we watch some seriously speedy shucking. As a seafood lover, this is my happy place as I eat fried oysters on the pier with a view of the calm water of the oyster farm.
Newport has charm and character in spades and I could totally imagine being here on a family holiday. Slow, relaxed and easy breezy, once again a pocket of Oregon has well and truly stolen my heart - beautiful beaches, gorgeous township, great food and stunning bay views. What more could anyone want?
IF YOU GO
Getting there: United Airlines offers a seasonal service between Auckland and San Francisco, with connections from San Francisco to Portland. Newport is a 2.5-hour drive from Portland airport.
Staying there: Hallmark Resort, Newport. Super friendly service and every room with a beach view.
Eating there: Don't leave without trying the crab cakes from Local Ocean and Mo's Restaurant has a reputation for the best seafood chowder for miles.