Alaskan cruise

“North, to Alaska, they’re goin’ north…” Johnny Horton, 1961

The last great frontier is how we would describe Alaska.  Not a lot to do in either Juneau or Skagway.  In actual fact, think of the movie Juneau, and that pretty much sums up this part of the world.  Not a lot to do here – walk down the main street on one side a few hundred metres, cross the road and walk down the other side.  That was a well spent 30 minutes…what do we do for the next 8 hours?
 
This is the kind of place you go to for spectacular scenery, become one with nature and be very cold (actually, it was Canberra kind of cold, late Autumn).  You are blown away by the fjords, glaciers, snow-capped mountains and the sheer ruggedness of this part of the world. 

Juneau may be the capital of Alaska, but it is so isolated that you can only arrive and depart from the capital by float plane or seaway.  It is also spectacularly located at the end of the Gastineau Channel, a steep sided and forested waterway.  The city itself though, is non-descript.  The main road leaves Juneau and heads north 40 miles…then comes to a dead end. 


Above is a view from our seaplane of the Gastineau Channel towards the seaway.

A flight over the Juneau ice-fields left us both in awe of the beauty and ruggedness of Alaska.  The largest glacier, the taku Glacier, spreads out before you as you fly over the ice-fields, with a frontage of around 10 kms.  Below are a few photos of the Juneau ice-fields from our flight.  This was an amazing sight.  Never mid the fact that we were in a 10 seater float plane…it was an experience and probably the smoothest take-off and landing we have ever experienced.

 
The Taku Glacier was laid out before us…

…before we flew over the Juneau ice-fields.
 

 
 
Finally, the Mendenhall Glacier above, which is accessible from Juneau by road.

..and our transport across the ice-fields…not an A380, but it got us up there and back safely.

Skagway was the next stop on our Alaskan adventure, the northern most port of call.  This is a little tourist town, with a base population of 800 during the winter months increasing to 3000 during cruising season.  it became the centre for the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800s. 

 The above is a view of the Skagway harbour, which was smaller than that of Juneau.

Below are some vistas of downtown Skagway, a thriving metropolis…set amongst the towering peaks of the Chilkoot Mountains.

The Red Onion Saloon was a brothel during the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s.  today, it is a little more tame, but the girls are still falling out of their period costumes.

A ‘what the’ moment…


The view of downtown Skagway from the rear of the ship…no condos or office blocks here.  Actually, there is something wonderfully appealing about that…

In Skagway, we enjoyed a thrilling ocean raft wilderness excursion – part wilderness lesson, part power boat thrill ride. In between stopping to view Humpback whales, which were 10 metres away from us (included being snotted on by their spray), river weasels, harbour seals and the great American icon, the Bald Eagle (which isn’t bald at all), we were thrilled by the driver hurtling to the cliffs at a great rate of knots only to avert collision with said rock face at the last minute. Great fun, extremely informative and well worth it, being so close to the wildlife.

The beginning of the whale watching…

…the middle…
 

…and the end.  This was the last we saw of this one as the view of the tail generally signifies that the whale is doing a deep dive and will submerge for up to 10 minutes.
Sam is quite happy sitting in his tree, watching over his domain.  These birds are huge.

Many wonderful waterfalls plummet into this channel, this being probably the most spectactular in terms of volume, but not the highest.

…and below is Skagway, way over yonder.  You will notice the ships in the distance…

 

Our return journey to Seattle took in Endicott Arm Fjord and the Endicott Glacier.  This glacier is as good as any in Alaska, a wall of ice hundreds of metres high and around 800 metres wide.  The Captain was able to stop very close to the glacier and then proceeded to complete several 360 degree rotations for all passengers to see this beauty.

Victoria, the host of the 1994 Commonwealth Games that we all remember so fondly…come on, you remember…

Victoria British Columbia was the last port of call.  This is a very cosmopolitan city with beautiful views from most parts of the city, whether of the waterfront, bay or distant snow-capped mountains across the bay.  Only a small city named after Q Vic (go figure), it is one of the oldest cities in the northwest area and has some impressive buildings.  Capt James cook even ventured into these parts in the late 1770s and a statue of him stands proudly overlooking the harbour.  This day took in a basic tour around the city by bus and a walk through Craigdarroch Castle, the home of Robert Dunsmuir, a leading industrialist whose interests included coal mines and a railway on Vancouver Island.  He died before he had the opportunity to enjoy his new home.

Now here is an explorer that we have all come to know well…way over here in Canadia…

The Empress Hotel stands proudly on the shores of the small harbour, built in the early 1900 by the Canadian Rail company.

This is becoming a familiar sight through our travels…pictures with stuffed animals.

The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are an incredible sight, especially with the snow-capped  mountains of Vancouver island in the background.

Craigdarroch Castle (more a mansion) was an interesting insight into the life and times of wealthy Canadians in the late 1800s.  The opulence was quite obscene really, especially the braided hair heart…


…and our ship in the distance.  Not much of a skyline, but this is a lovely small city, with beautiful gardens and an incredible amount of green space.  It is compact aand has a population about the size of Canberra, made up mostly of retired Canadians, due to the preferable climate.

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