Friday Sept 14, 2019

Our long-anticipated Alaskan Cruise is actually happening – and Monday, as we sailed through the fabled Inside Passage, gave us the chance to experience shipboard-life to the full. We were in one of the most scenic sea-lanes in the world, and one of the few where deep-draft vessels can sail close to steep mountain walls. With most of East Alaska accessible only by boat or plane, this route through forested islands, endless wildernesses and teetering peaks is a lifeline to the outside world.

Tuesday saw us waking up in rustic Ketchikan, a cheerful fishing town that clings to the foot of steep hills along the shores of Tongass Narrows. Supported on wooden pilings, with boardwalks and staircases everywhere, and fishing boats moored in a jumble, Ketchikan claims to be the Salmon Capital of the World.

We enjoyed a short drive along the coast to nearby Herring Cove, and (with cameras locked and loaded) we headed out into the dark, spooky Alaskan rainforest with high hopes of eyeballing some big black bears! This region is home to lots of them. They show up in greater numbers after the spawning season, gorging themselves on the dead and dying salmon that have done their business upriver.

A big bearded bear-like guide named Red led us on a trail through the undergrowth, identifying tree-species and shrubs and berries and bugs – but we saw no black bears. We saw sphagnum moss by the acre, and strange mushroom-like growths – but no bears. We saw a fat toxic pink slug that slimes about in this rainforest, and a cosy den snuggled under roots where a bear had hibernated through the long previous winter – but no bears.

We saw seals chasing their lunch, and a tall brown heron poking for hers in the mud, and a salmon that had been clawed by a bear then left to die in the flattened grass – but no bears. We watched a totem pole being carved by an artist from a First Nations Tribe, and got up-close to an injured bald eagle in an animal-rescue centre – but we never saw a single, solitary big black bear.

Disappointed? Yeah, we were. You could tell by our faces. But, by then, we’d learnt that an unusually dry summer has left Eagle Creek with not enough water for the spawning salmon to swim upstream – and, without the chance of a seafood feast, there was little to tempt bears down from higher up the mountains where they were chomping on tasty berries.

We got over our disappointment, of course, and a glorious sail-away sunset made up for it …

We woke on Wednesday to find ourselves in Juneau: Alaska’s capital city, tucked away up the end of a fjord and overlooked by the massive Mendenhall Glacier. Mad Midlife tourists aren’t the only ones who come visiting in these island-studded waters. They’re also frequented, a couple of times each year, by hungry humpback whales and their oversized babies!

A jet-powered catamaran took us out to their feeding grounds, and, before you knew it, we were right amongst them. Several of these majestic mammals were coming to the surface for air, their distant spouts giving them away, then their signature humps showing proudly before they dived oh-so-gracefully for food, tail-flukes waving wetly in the air.

It was magic. Pure magic. And while these aquatic giants rarely came as close as we wished, we managed to score some shots with the help of a zoom lens!

Enjoy – and try not to turn green with envy …

COMING UP: In the wild west town of Skagway we ride a ‘unimog’ up into the mountains … we ride a dogsled pulled by Alaskan huskies … and we ride a helicopter up-up-up onto the endless Alaskan Icecap, before landing on the monstrous Meade Glacier. Well, that’s enough, don’t you reckon – so hang about!

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!


  1. Hi Coons.
    Wow wow wow.
    Shame about the non showing bear 🐻 but oh the joy of watching the seals and whales. You know how nuts I am about them. What a fab trip aye.
    All good hear. Boys are back after having an awesome time away.
    Thanks for keeping us posted. Just awesome.
    Love n hugz Kerkys 💞💞

  2. Hi John and Robyn, like you we never saw any big black bears when we did what you are currently up to. Only saw a small baby one in a local town street. We think that the big black bears have bee invented for tourists. Good to know you are having a great trip and why would you not in such an amazing part of the world
    David & Helen

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