Among the log cabin-decorated shops and playful stuff moose greeting us in Anchorage’s airport was a sign welcoming us to the last frontier. That proved to be an understatement for America’s biggest, least populated state.
I had long admired Alaska’s uninhabited wilderness and smattering of towns that boast brave souls able to withstand its extreme isolation and weather.
As we wanted to see as much of it as possible in a short period, we took a cruise that sailed from Anchorage’s nearby port town of Seward through the Gulf of Alaska to Glacier Bay National Park, Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan before taking the Inside Passage to dock in Vancouver.
Anchorage’s brilliant blue skies made us immediately want to go exploring as soon as we checked in. We made our way around Anchorage’s compact downtown, stopping for fresh blueberry ice-cream at an outdoor festival and market on E Street and Third Avenue.
Dinner consisted of king salmon at Simon & Seafort’s, a veritable Alaskan institution with beautiful views of Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm.
Alaska’s famous midnight sun took some adjustment at first. Since we were jet-lagged anyway, we decided to head out for an early morning walk along Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The scenery was spectacular – rugged, snow-capped peaks as a background to the picturesque Westchester Lagoon. A group of birdwatchers pointed out a sea otter they had just spotted, the first of many animal sightings during our trip.
After boarding Holland America Line’s Zaandam, our floating home for the next seven nights, we caught up on sleep, Scrabble and table tennis during the first day of sailing.
Early the next morning, a pair of lively park rangers boarded alongside the Zaandam and proceeded to give us lectures and play-by-play interpretations of all the bears, whales and glaciers we were seeing as we sailed into Glacier Bay.
Just 260 years ago, one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers bulldozed everything in its path to form the bay we were in and forced the native Tlingits to find a new home. We watched, mesmerised, as chunks of the retreating Margerie Glacier broke off and rumbled into the sea.
Our first port was the charming town of Haines, which turned out to be my favourite stop.
We stretched our legs with a walk along Beach Road to Battery Point Trail, an easy hike down a Sitka spruce forest before ending up at a rocky beach. Afterwards, we made our way back to Port Chilkoot Distillery to try flights of gin, moonshine and rye, and chatted with the entrepreneurs who started the thriving cottage industry.
We also tasted nearby Haines Brewing Company’s spruce tip-infused beer, a delicious concoction that tasted like raspberry stout. We were too busy drinking that we missed the hammer museum, one of the town’s highlights.
In Juneau, the next port, we took the tram to near the summit of Mount Roberts for panoramic views of Alaska’s capital, and hiked the rest of the way up along a meandering path. Then it was time for some king crab legs and lobster rolls at Tracy’s King Crab Shack by the water.
Our last port was Ketchikan, a gold rush town with its own red light district known as Creek Street. After strolling through the haunts of its famous madams, we viewed some ancient cedar poles at the Totem Heritage Centre.
The last day was spent admiring the small isles and colourful cottages dotting British Columbia’s west coast as we sailed along the Inside Passage.
After having dolphins swim alongside us as we dined that night on the Zaandam, city life seemed so tame afterwards.