This is ridiculous. I’ve come all the way to the serene wilds of Alaska only to be kept awake by a bunch of rambunctious,
unsupervised youngsters cavorting right outside my cabin window.
“It’s way past their bedtime,” I muse grumpily. “Where are their parents? I’ll give them a piece of my mind!”
I throw open my curtains with a huff and gaze across the mirror-still moonlit water towards snow-capped mountains in the distance. A velvety lilac glow embraces the distant peaks of the Fairweather Range while the brightest stars force their way through the bewitching aura.
“Aha! There they are,” I mutter. The culprits have been located.
Barely 20 metres from my sea-level cabin window, an infant humpback whale rolls over and over on its back, flipper aloft, alternately blowing and squealing while two or three young Steller sea lion pups dive in and out, leapfrogging the delirious animal while they themselves yelp and caterwaul in delight. What a scene.
Of course, at this my heart softens and I sit on the edge of my bed and watch the children at play for what must be a full hour. I eventually go to bed—they don’t.
Here at Point Adolphus, we’re not the only ones on holiday. Every year, hundreds of 30-tonne humpback whales make the two-month journey from Hawaii to spend time fattening up and relaxing in the placid waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
In the lingering light of the summer solstice, just offshore from the City of Gustavus (population 442), there are a dozen or more of the massive mammals and their offspring, lolling about while we kick back with glasses of wine and soak in the surroundings.
Sometimes it’s best not to try and process what’s happening and just let it happen.
Earlier in the day, we’d seen the big ships of Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean International pass by in the distance en route to Glacier Bay. How smug we’d felt, just 60 of us (plus crew) aboard the compact National Geographic Sea Bird, dawdling about the glaciers and tiny coves, stopping here and there for a hike or kayak. Compared to cruising aboard these giants of the sea, it’s like being on an eight-day shore excursion—and we’re loving it.
Operated by the long-established Lindblad Expeditions in partnership with the National Geographic Society, our itinerary is the week-long ‘Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness’. Beginning in Juneau, we head to Tracy Arm Fjord, Petersburg, Frederick Sound, Chatham Strait, Point Adolphus and then to Inian Pass. We glide through Glacier Bay National Park and the Southeast Islands, bays and fjords before winding up in Sitka. We get a sprinkle of rain in Elfin Cove, but otherwise it’s a sunscreen-and-floppy-hat kind of adventure.
Lindblad knows its stuff. After all, it was Lars-Eric Lindblad who kicked off regular commercial Antarctic cruises back in 1966 and launched the first dedicated expedition ship, MS Lindblad Explorer, back in 1969.
Except for myself and a family from the Philippines, the passengers are exclusively US citizens. This is not a bad thing. Most are mature couples, plus there’s one family and their teenage sons. Lindblad encourages families, and the ones on board are embarrassingly well-behaved and surprisingly engaged in the natural history and activities. No-one is bragging about their last round-the-world cruise or their Caribbean jaunt on the world’s largest ship. This is a cultured crowd more interested in the arts, a bit of mild politics and world affairs.
Our daily routine is an invigorating mix of treks in the gorgeous Tongass National Forest, paddles in our kayaks on the millpond-flat waters, Zodiac tours around the sea lion haul-outs and visits to the dainty little towns dotted on the islands of the Inside Passage. At one, Elfin Cove, there isn’t a single car or even a road and the wooden buildings are all connected by boardwalks and footbridges. I’m almost expecting to meet Ewoks.
Let’s not forget the wildlife, perhaps Alaska’s greatest drawcard along with the jaw-dropping scenery. We tick off bald eagles, whales, too many seabirds to list, bears—black and brown, seals and sea lions, plus the biggest slug I have ever seen.
Alaska is a great place for Aussies who love wide open spaces, and small-ship cruising is about the best way to see it. Just don’t complain if the wildlife keeps you up at night.
[infobox color=”eg. light, green, blue, yellow, red”]Meet the crew
Doug Gualtieri graduated in conservation biology at Central Michigan University, but I reckon he grew up in Alaska, where he now resides. Doug is one of our naturalist guides and photographers aboard National Geographic Sea Bird and displays the kind of temperament reserved for quiet, bearded men who spend a lot of time with animals. He’s particularly forgiving with me, so we strike up a kind of understanding. Doug’s big passion is dogs, sled dogs, so even though he’s a pig in poop when it comes to the sunny summer forest strolls where everything, including the muskeg (bog) holds a riveting fascination, you can see he can’t wait to get mushing again when winter comes around. Thanks, Doug.[/infobox]
[infobox color=”eg. light, green, blue, yellow, red”]HIGHS
- Superb expedition team, ship and itinerary
- Wonderful nature and cultural experiences
- Cruisers used to big-ship features may feel out of place with minimal onboard activities
- Basic shipboard features only
- No wheelchair access
- BEST SUITED TO
- Active mature couples, singles or families[/infobox]
[infobox color=”eg. light, green, blue, yellow, red”]FACT FILE
Cruise line: National Geographic
Vessel: National Geographic Sea Bird
Star rating: 1.5
Max passenger capacity: 70 (double occupancy)
Total crew: 22
Passenger decks: 4
Entered service: 1981
Facilities: wellness specialist, single-sitting/non-assigned restaurant, bar/lecture space, sun/viewing deck, library, underwater cameras, kayaks, Zodiacs, hydrophone[/infobox]
Lindblad Expeditions’ eight-day Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness itinerary departs Juneau and ends in Sitka, with some trips running in reverse. Fares begin at US$5,990 per person (Cat.1)
For details, dates and itineraries, visit www.expeditions.com
To book, contact Wild Earth Travel on 1800 107 715 (toll-free within Australia) or visit www.wildearth-travel.com