Saturday Sept 21, 2019

We’ve worked for it and, a week ago (gosh, how the time flies!), we got it – a full day at sea with little else to do as we cruised across the Gulf of Alaska.

On Sunday morning, we said goodbye to the Westerdam and its friendly crew. 1950 of us (plus 779 crew) had cruised 1,661 miles (2673 kms) up the frosty Alaskan coast, at an average speed of 14.6 knots, consuming 1,271,300 gallons of water, 124,670 gallons of diesel, and 24,000 eggs along the way.

It was raining as we headed ashore in Seward – gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park – and we took to the water again, this time in a big purpose-built catamaran. We rock’n’rolled through choppy seas for close-ups of another giant glacier – spotting otters, orcas, bald eagles and sealions along the way. Of hoped-for puffins we saw not a sign (except on the wall of Hotel 360) – apparently these colourful birds had finishing nesting, and had headed out to sea for the coming winter. Shame …

On Monday you might have found us in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, where we grabbed a lift on a restored Anchorage Trolley for a 24km scenic past-&-present tour, and learned about the devastating 1964 earthquake.

Tuesday dawned blue-skied and sunny, and we settled ourselves into a domed railcar on the luxurious McKinley Explorer train. Hard to think of a nicer, more relaxed way to travel into magnificent Denali National Park – 24,500 untamed square kilometres, exploding with glorious autumn colours. En route we were treated to clear-as views of the icy monster Mt Denali (used to be Mt McKinley, known to native Athabascans as the Great One), raising its massive alabaster bulk high above the surrounding plain. (At 20,000 feet, or 6,190 metres, Mt Denali is North America’s highest peak – fully twice the height of Mt Cook!)

That night, we joined the fun at a local roadhouse for a hearty family-style Alaskan dinner, followed by ‘Music of Denali’ – lively songs and sounds from talented musicians, celebrating the legendary adventures of the early mountaineers who first scaled Mt Denali.

The next day saw us roaming deeper into this remarkable wilderness, enjoying a famous Tundra Wilderness Tour aboard an old-fashioned school-bus – and spotting a lonely grazing grizzly bear (hooray, at long last, even if it was mostly his backside!), plus a handsome bull caribou foraging in a distant valley. These critters were a long way off, and we only managed to pull them closer (albeit fuzzy) with binoculars and zoom lenses – but with wildlife-viewing proving so unpredictable (the local moose population avoided us entirely), we were glad to get what we could!

COMING UP: We take aim on our final (and most northern) Alaska stopover: Fairbanks – once a rough-necked gold-rush town, now the region’s Golden Heart City, and start-point of the Yukon Quest 1000-mile dog-sled race. Our tour’s end is drawing nigh …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Phew! It’s been rush-hour at the piggery! Five of our sought-after little pink piggies (oink, oink) have become overnight celebrities …

  • Marie took away our ‘Suction Award’ – after confessing that, on one of our flights, she accidentally flushed the aircraft’s loo while still sitting thereupon. She wouldn’t say what happened to her nether regions, but she did admit “I nearly swallowed my tongue!”
  • Kathy was nominated for our ‘Colgate Award’ – for losing her toothbrush at some point on tour, rushing out and buying a replacement, then discovering the original in the bottom of her bag.
  • Trisha earned herself our ‘Persil Washes Whiter Award’ – for getting her little container of face-cream mixed up with her (identical) little container of liquid laundry detergent. Trisha’s complexion has never been shinier, but every time she blows her nose she gets bubbles.
  • Catherine & Grant have sneaked away with our ‘Pyjama Party Award’ – having been caught short last night in the corridor of our hotel. How did that happen, you ask? Well, we all had to put our big bags outside the door by midnight for pick-up and delivery to our next stopover ­– ­and, as Catherine & Grant were dragging their heavy bags out of their room, the door swung shut, locking their key-cards inside and our erstwhile friends outside in the corridor, barefoot and dressed only in their pyjamas! You can imagine the conversation that followed – and the debate about who was going to go down to the lobby in their sleep-wear and ask for another key-card.

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!

2 thoughts on “FROM SEWARD TO DENALI

  1. Hi Coons ..
    Am still laughing at the awards … hoot. 🙂
    Wow wow wow is all I can say .. almost mind blowing are your pix of the prolific wild life and beauty you have been experiencing … Are you a little punch drunk from it? Not long til we see you YAY.
    Love n Hugz the Kerks.

  2. Hi Catherine & Grant. I’ve been following the adventure and loving the pictures. Green with envy! Looking forward to hearing how the pyjama party turned out. See you back in Auckland. Love, Robyn & David.

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