Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mt McKinley

We could not leave you without some photos of Mt McKinley!

Last night, we had a delightful meal in the Crows Nest at the top of one of the three hotel towers overlooking the silted bay of Anchorage.  The silt is the main reason for the cruise terminal being one hour south at Whittier.  Investigations were made into spanning another part of the bay leading to the hinterland but with almost a kilometre of silt and no bedrock, the plans were abandoned.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Denali National Park

 Anchorage (Whittier), Alaska - Wednesday, September 19

Whittier, approximately 65 miles southeast of Anchorage, lies nestled at the base of the Chugach Mountains bordering Passage Canal.

We disembarked at 7am and boarded the Denali Express for today’s planned trip to Denali.  However, the winds overnight and earlier in the week had caused damage to the track in various places.  So we were offloaded at Talkeetna on to a bus.  The train journey was slow but picturesque; the bus Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge took a further two and a half hours.  It rained most of the way.

The name ''Denali'' means ''The Great One'' in the native Athabascan language. At 20,320 feet above sea level, Denali is the highest peak in North America and is surrounded by one of the world's most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries. Denali National Park is home to many types of wildlife including caribou, moose, wolves, Dall sheep, bald eagles, and the mighty grizzly bears.

In the early evening, shortly after we arrived, we visited the Husky Homestead - a top-notch husky homestead run by Jeff King, four-time champion of the Iditarod, the foremost sled dog race in the world.  The race takes anywhere from 10 to 17 days and covers over 1,150 miles of breathtaking and uncompromising terrain that includes desolate, frozen tundra, windswept coastlines, dense forests and jagged mountain ranges with treacherous climbs and descents.
Denali National Park – Thursday 20 September

We woke to light rain and forecasts of rain for the day.  The weather has not hindered our visit.

This morning was our Denali Natural History Tour.  It showcases the first 17 miles of the official park road combining awesome scenery with Denali National Park's equally fascinating story of human habitation.  The rain cleared for our visit to the valley and a very clear view was presented to us.  It closed up as we left.

Mount McKinley, about 75 miles away, was hiding under clouds.

Denali National Park
On the way into the park we spotted moose not far from the road.  On the way back we sighted the same family – a bull, cow, and calf.  This time, a grizzly bear chased them across the road right in front of the bus.

The park closes for the winter in a week or so.

Back at the lodge for a quick meal, it commenced raining again.

Denali National Park
Our transfer to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, near Talkeetna, was at 2.30pm and we arrived at 4.30pm.  We hear that the rail system for the entire state of Alaska were closed down today.

The lodge is located approximately one hour from the town of Talkeetna, which is nestled at the base of Mt. McKinley and is also home to the Talkeetna, Chulitna & Susitna Rivers.
Talkeetna – Friday 21 September

Most excursions (generally river rafting and flights) were cancelled due to the weather but that did not affect us as we had not booked any.

This morning, after a few days of rain and wind, we are looking out at Mt McKinley from the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge - the highest mountain in Denali and often hidden by cloud.  Today is no exception, but the top is visible with cloud in the mid-height regions.  A nice 'sunny' day. 

At 2pm (in about two hours' time) we board the bus down to Anchorage, arriving 5.30pm. Tomorrow, we  board the Diamond Princess.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Early arrival

 Whittier, Alaska - in lieu of Scenic Cruising in College Fjord, Alaska  - Tuesday, September 18

College Fjord not only boasts the world's largest collection of tidewater glaciers, but it features magnificent snow-capped mountains as far as the eyes can see. Plus, humpback whales are a possibility.

Alas, gale-force winds were forecast for around our normal docking time (midnight) and so we will be alongside in Whittier by 5pm before the worst of the winds.  
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Glacier Bay

 Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Scenic Cruising) - Monday, September 17

Princess is one of a select few cruise lines permitted to cruise the pristine waters of Glacier Bay, the highlight of our 7-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise. Just west of Juneau, this breathtaking national park and preserve boasts some of the world's most spectacular tidewater glaciers, such as Margerie Glacier, which often drops colossal chunks of ice into the sea.  Not surprisingly, Glacier Bay National Park and its epic ice giants are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our guide on board was a Park Ranger and the scenery was just magic.  We sailed extraordinarily close to the three main glaciers (Margerie, Grand Pacific, & Lamplough).  We also saw Reid Glacier & sea lions, as well as calving icebergs; others saw a moose swimming, a brown bear, and a whale.

We woke – on this second last day of our cruise - to a great view of the entrance to Glacier Bay (it was a glacier 312 years ago) but soon we were sailing through fog for such a long way with the ship’s horn sounding.  We started to be pessimistic but then approaching the glacier along the Tarr Inlet, the fog cleared and the sun shone.  Magic awe-inspiring scenery unfolded before our eyes.  Apparently this was one of the finest, sunniest days at the glacier.

As we sailed further south in Glacier Bay, the pea-soup fog returned.  Icy Straight and Cross Sound took us out into the Pacific Ocean and a nice swell.  We are heading north away from the Inside Passage and South-East Alaska towards Anchorage via tomorrow early evening’s scenic cruise in the spectacular College Fjord and its glaciers at the northwest corner of Prince William Sound.

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 Skagway, Alaska - Sunday, September 16

Skagway was the gateway to the gold fields for the thousands who flocked to Alaska and the Yukon with the hope of striking it rich.  We arrived early and were on our excursion by 7.30.

Today, Skagway has less than 1,000 residents but still retains the flavour of the gold rush era.

Our excursion took us to BC & Yukon, Canada up the White Pass Scenic Railway.  By comparison to elsewhere, border security was lax!

We ascended the 3,290-foot White Pass Summit where we boarded a bus.   Breathtaking views during the train ride and on the way to Caribou Crossing and Carcross were very good.

Fresh snow made the scenery even more outstanding.

We visited a husky training camp and a quaint animal petting area before heading back home by bus – the road trip is 45 minutes from the summit compared with 1h45m by train.

Another late sailaway on the way to Glacier Bay tomorrow.

The Chef’s Dinner was held tonight – as a matter of interest, the Executive Chef hails from Melbourne!
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Juneau - whales & glacier

Juneau, Alaska - Saturday, September 15

The capital of Alaska was reached around 8am this morning, after we glided along one arm of the inlets (really glacier outlets).  We return down it tonight (9pm), turn right up another arm to Skagway.  And we repeat that the next day.

 Juneau thrives on Government, Tourism, and Salmon Fishing.  These have replaced Gold.  Access is by air or water only; no roads in or out of Juneau!

JuneauOur photography flavoured excursion today took in Whale Watching & the Mendenhall Glacier.

It is late in the season so we were quite surprised to see both Humpback & Orca (‘killer’) Whales as well as Sea Lions as we travelled quite a distance in a 43-foot covered vessel.

After the cruise, we travelled to the Mendenhall Glacier for a brief bush walk and a viewing of the glacier.

Our excursion was well worthwhile!

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Saturday, September 15, 2012


 At Sea - Thursday, September 13

On a very calm sea we sailed north for quite a long way in sight of land and disembarked the pilot this morning.  We continued our heading towards Ketchikan through fog patches with the Captain signalling our presence.

Ketchikan, Alaska - Friday, September 14

We glided into Ketchikan very early this morning for a brief visit.  Sailaway was at 2pm.

This southern-most Alaskan port city is known as Alaska's First City because it was the first major community travellers came to heading north. Founded as a fishing camp, Ketchikan is built on steep hillsides and is billed as the salmon capital of the world.  A quaint village, the town is just three miles long and three blocks wide.

KetchikanOur excursion took us firstly to the Totem Bight State Historical Park about 15 minutes away from the port.  The park, established in 1938, has the world's largest collection of totem poles  and offers a glimpse into the native Tlingit and Haida Indian cultures.

We passed a salmon cannery and a pulp mill on the way to the Totem Park.

Then it was off to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show which was amusing as well as amazing.

The sailaway was peaceful and calm, close to shore as we are winding our way through a myriad of island on the way to Juneau overnight.  Killer whales (Orca) were spotted this afternoon and we have a few photos (wait for them)

Tonight’s ‘Most Travelled’ cocktail party with the Captain was intimate and well catered.  We were pleased to have been invited!

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