Travel diary: a few days in Alaska, exploring the last frontier

For adventure, pristine wilderness, wildlife, rich cultural heritage and friendly locals, Alaska makes for a great holiday destination.

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“If you’d like to join us you’d be most welcome,” said Mike, a Wrangell local where I’d just spent the last few hours exploring, leaving the world heritage listed site of ancient petroglyphs until last. Carvings of fish and animals found on rocks along the shore line were made by Alaska’s native Tlingit Indians thousands of years ago. At towns firmly planted on the tourist trail – Juneau, Wrangell and Ketchikan, we met friendly locals who would greet us and ask where we were headed.

I was on board UnCruise Adventure’s Safari Endeavour as it made its way along the coastline of the misty, damp and densely forested Pacific Northwest. On arrival in Juneau, the contrast between an adventure ship carrying 84 passengers dwarfed by two mega liners became apparent.

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While we ventured off to explore the sights with many buildings dating back to the 1880s reflecting a past of logging, fishing and gold mining, hordes of passengers ventured no further than the cruise terminal’s wild west style souvenir shops. And while we cruised close to the shore, the mega liners remained out at sea leaving us to enjoy the wilds of Alaska all to ourselves.

Next day at Endicott Arms we saw jagged snow-capped peaks with mountain goats clinging precariously to steep slopes before coming up close to the thunderous sounds of calving blue ice at Dawes Glacier. As huge icy chunks fell tumbling into the water it made us appreciate the enormity of the landscape we were in.

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At Stephens Passage, we went bushwhacking across a spongy forest floor of emerald green moss to a deserted logger’s camp, and hiked alongside a surging river. Then in the afternoon while out kayaking across an endless expanse of steel grey water, a seal popped up its curious head before diving back down below.

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Entering Wrangell along a narrow stretch of waterway known as Christmas Tree Lane with zigzagging navigational lights, we passed Stikine River that once led the way to the interior where prospectors found quartz and gold nuggets along the riverbank.

Surrounded by forests and shrouded by mist, Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on earth where ferns grow tall and totem poles dot the landscape carved by native Tlingit Indians to commemorate significant events and people. Creek Street, once notorious as a red-light district during the gold rush, is made of wood planking with brightly painted houses now operating as galleries and boutiques. Nearby, a Lutheran church was built by the Scandinavian settlers who came here.

At Misty Fjords National Park, we observed the spectacular coastal scenery of stunning glacial valleys filled with wetlands, rainforests, estuaries and vertical cliffs. And as we cruised through Canada’s inside passage, we followed intricate waterways and fjords past small fishing villages, observing wildlife up close including sea otters and harbour seals while bald eagles circled overhead.

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As we crossed into Washington State, forested islands dotted the landscape. On the San Juan islands, we went kayaking and hiking past farms of apple orchards and agreed we could spend much longer in this serene archipelago.

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Towards the end of the cruise the captain changed course. Just ahead were orca and humpback whales. Not wanting to be outdone, the humpbacks decided to put on a show breaching in the water several times – their mouths full of krill just metres from the bow.

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TRAVEL NOTEBOOK

Getting there: Qantas flies to Honolulu from where you can fly to Juneau with Alaska Airlines via Anchorage. From Seattle, Qantas returns to Australia via San Francisco.

Getting around: Seattle based UnCruise Adventures offers adventure cruises to remote destinations including the 12 night Famed Passages of Discovery to Alaska. With a fleet of 9 ships ranging in size from 22 to 88 passengers, life on-board is convivial and relaxed, with great food, cosy and comfortable cabins and graded activities from easy strolls to active hikes, with kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff rides and optional polar plunge jumping into the frigid inky depths.

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Stay: I overnighted in Hawaii at the Hilton Waikiki to break the long journey.

All travel arrangements were made by Cruise Traveller.

Requirements: For Australian passport holders, an ESTA obtained online is required for entry to the USA.