Thursday July 28, 2016

Earlier this week, as we trekked further ‘North to Alaska’, we coached along the scenically scenic Scenic Byway for a day and a night in Anchorage – founded in 1914 as a work-camp for the Alaska Railroad, then devastated by a 1964 earthquake, but quickly recovering to become home for almost half of Alaska’s residents. This popular city is ringed by mountains and waterways, and loved for its great outdoors – especially Turnagain Arm, named thus by Captain Cook, and billed as one of the most beautiful stretches of water in North America.

Next morning, you would’ve found us relaxing aboard yet another train: the luxurious domed railcars of the McKinley Explorer, which took us, eventually, into magnificent Denali National Park. For many adventurers, Denali is the highlight of their Alaskan adventure – 24,500 untamed square kilometres. (That’s five times more landmass than the entire Auckland Region!) And yesterday was a biggie: a fully-narrated bus-ride aboard (I kid you not) a genuine, cramped, old-fashioned school-bus – the famous Tundra Wilderness Tour – transporting us deep into this remarkable natural wonderland.

This was probably our best chance of spotting some of the region’s hard-to-find wildlife – curvy-horned sheep traversing rugged cliffs far in the distance (too far off for a decent pic) … golden eagles patrolling the ridges … moose, caribou and grizzly bears, foraging in upland meadows … and even a beaver or three, building dams in the streams that crisscross the park. Most of us just missed spotting a beaver, but we all managed to tick the boxes for moose, caribou and bears.

This wilderness tour was also our only chance to eyeball an icy monster, Mt Denali (previously known as Mt McKinley), soaring high above the surrounding plain. Mt Denali is North America’s highest peak (known to native Athabascans as the Great One), fully twice the height of Mt Cook – and, on most days (as for most tourists) it hides its massive snow-smothered bulk behind clouds. But our Kiwi luck was in – and our cameras were on hand to record the magic moment.

PEOPLE-NEWS: Three more world-famous quacky yellow ducks have been given out …

  • Marg (Barlow) received our ‘Overeaters Anonymous’ Award. When changing for dinner the other night, she was appalled to find that her pants no longer fitted her … until it was pointed out that she had them on back-to-front!
  • Heather walked away with our ‘Tutti-Frutti’ Award. At that same dinner, she ordered a salad for starters, and was trying in vain the squeeze the juice out of a slice of lime … until it was pointed out that her slice of ‘lime’ was actually a slice of granny-smith apple!
  • Gail took home our ‘If the Cap Fits’ Award. Struggling to see something through her binoculars the other day, she asked Ross if she could use his stronger pair, then kept complaining that his were even worse … until it was pointed out that she’d forgotten to remove the four lens-caps!

STILL TO COME: We take up paddle-steaming and gold-panning in Alaska’s most northern city, Fairbanks, wondering all the time if we might see the Aurora Borealis this close to the Arctic Circle (just a couple of hundred km away). Stay tuned … and find out!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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About John Cooney

John Cooney and his wife Robyn have enjoyed more than their fair share of travel. They hesitate to call themselves ‘experts’ – but they’ve grabbed every chance that’s come their way to explore new countries, cultures and customs. They’ve had the privilege (both on their own and as the leaders of numerous successful group-tours) to sample many stunning destinations: Europe, the UK, Singapore, Vanuatu, the USA, Israel, Egypt, Africa, Dubai, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And their recent (and most pleasant) memories are of the places ancient-and-modern that border the Mediterranean. John and Robyn are at-home in airports, hotels, cruise ships, and the like … and they know how to make the most of a unique travel opportunity. Travel, they reckon, is an all-five-senses experience – a chance to see, feel, smell, hear and taste the world. And they’ve done it often enough to know for sure: sightseeing with a group of laid-back Kiwis is DOUBLE the fun – lots of laughs, great company, and memories that last forever!


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