“Soon we were close enough to “hear” the glacier as it rumbled like a distant thunderstorm, and we watched in awe as chunks of glacial ice suddenly broke away from the towering face”.
The Story so far……
So, where were we – oh yes, our last stop was Skagway where we rode on a train – next stop was to be Ketchikan, but not before spending a day cruising the smooth, ice-blue channels and bays of Glacier Bay National Park.
Thursday 21 August 2014 – Glaciers galore!
Incredible scenery awaited us when we woke up, as we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park and were flanked by mountains on both sides, some snow-capped or with glaciers glinting in the bright sunlight, others covered in green forest.
Spectacular landscapes followed one after another as we progressed along the channels and chunks of ice, weathered into strange shapes, appeared in the water as we got closer to the first point of interest – a gigantic glacier jutting into the sea and disappearing into the distance up the slopes of the surrounding mountains.
Soon we were close enough to “hear” the glacier as it rumbled like a distant thunderstorm, and we watched in awe as chunks of glacial ice suddenly broke away from the towering face. A large chunk “calved” and fell into the sea below with a roar, creating a small wave that disturbed the smooth sea surface – surely one of the most impressive natural sights we’ve seen.
Our Captain showed his expertise at handling his large ship as he had it do a merry-go-round manoeuvre, turning on its own axis so that all sides of the ship were afforded great views of the glacier.
Gulls aplenty wheeled around the ship and one turned out to be a Black-legged Kittiwake – an exciting new “lifer” for me (more about the birding in a separate dedicated post)
After spending some time in this amazing environment, the ship headed back down the fjord and gradually the ice chunks and floes diminished and the sea changed colour to its more natural shade as the influence of the glacial silt became less pronounced.
Later we passed a couple of prominent rocks offshore which held numbers of birds, including the ubiquitous Gulls but also a sprinkling of Pelagic Cormorants, as well as Harbour Seals by the dozen, mostly just blobs of brown as they lazed the day away on the little islands.
All the while a Parks official, who had boarded the ship by small boat during the early morning, had been giving a running commentary on what we were seeing and providing plenty of interesting background information – a nice touch by the shipping company and the Parks board.
With the day’s extended excitement over we relaxed through the rest of the afternoon, had dinner in the Summer Palace restaurant and got to bed early-ish, as we were due for an early start the next morning to be in time for our last excursion of the cruise.
Friday 22 August – Ketchikan, Misty Fjords and T-Shirts
The alarm had been set for 5.30 am, by which time it was light and the ship was docking at Ketchikan, our last but one stop of the cruise.
After a quick breakfast we disembarked and walked along the dock to our excursion boat – a catamaran equipped with water jets – which was to take us on the excursion with the grand description of Misty Fjords and Wilderness Explorer.
By this time we had seen many beautiful sights of Alaska and were wondering if there was much more to be seen – well, fortunately, this excursion turned out to be more than worthwhile as it took us into the Misty Fjords National Monument, a series of waterways and fjords running through a unique wilderness of forests, waterfalls and sheer cliffs rising out of the sea.
The trip started with a sighting of a Bald Eagle perched high in a tree right on the water’s edge and soon after we came across a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales to give them their popular name) which was the day’s highlight for us as they surfaced from time to time, gracefully showing off their characteristic tall dorsal fins and glimpses of the white patches on the lower part of their bodies. There were at least four in the group and they remained visible for about 15 minutes.
The turnaround point of the trip was Rudyard Bay where we had close up views of tumbling waterfalls and sheer cliffs with nesting Gulls high up on the face.
At water level, a group of Pigeon Guillemots – a small black water bird – showed nicely alongside the boat and a Belted Kingfisher sat patiently on a low branch eager to be photographed (or so it seemed to me). I couldn’t resist asking our guide which one it was, suspecting that there was only one Kingfisher in Alaska, and casually mentioning that “where we come from, there are seven species of Kingfisher”. Our guide, a charming lady who looked like a favourite Aunt, took this in good spirit and told us she was in SA a couple of years ago and loved it.
While the boat powered its way back to the dock next to the Pearl, a couple of other crew members gave some background on local Ketchikan life (pop 14000), Salmon (5 types) and Native customs. We learnt how to remember the 5 types of salmon using the five fingers of your hand :
- Thumb rhymes with Chum hence Chum Salmon
- Your Pointer finger is something you may use to sock someone, hence Sockeye Salmon
- Your middle finger is largest and therefore king, so is King Salmon
- Your ring finger is where you may wear a silver ring, thus Silver Salmon
- Lastly your pinkie – obviously stands for Pink Salmon
Now, there’s some really useless information
There was a little time left before departure, so we walked to a nearby promising looking dockside shop which had lots of really nice T-shirts and other tourist stuff at not too outlandish prices, so we were able to purchase easy-to-pack gifts for the family back home.
That was enough action for the day so we took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Saturday 23 August – Victoria BC through the Mist
Back to our normal lazy, breakfast in the stateroom routine for our last day of cruising, heading for our last stop in Victoria, BC Canada.
After breakfast I got myself into lookout mode, reading and keeping watch for passing birds – not so easy when the ship is doing 20 knots and you have a limited field of view out of the cabin. The problem was solved when a heavy fog closed in and I could relax in the knowledge that there would be nothing visible until it cleared. The fog lasted until we were in sight of Victoria, when it dissipated and cleared like magic.
Once docked in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, Canada, we disembarked and joined the queue for the shuttle bus ride into town where we found a Starbucks pick-me-up cappucino before exploring the part of town where we had been dropped off.
Although it was by now already 7.30 pm the town centre was throbbing with tourists off the several cruise ships that had docked almost simultaneously and we joined them in admiring the beautiful stately buildings and the harbour which was a hive of activity as the sun slowly set.
With our lightning tour done we returned to the ship for a late dinner in the Garden Café and once back in our stateroom we got our bags ready for the morning disembarkation.
Sunday 24 August – Cruise over!
By the time we woke we were already docked in Seattle – we enjoyed our last breakfast in the Stateroom with the fruit amazingly just as fresh as the first day. Then it was time to disembark in organised fashion, collect our baggage and find a taxi to the airport for our flight to Ottawa via Calgary
Needless to say, the US Security personnel at Seattle airport once again showed their paranoid and unpleasant nature and made it hard for Gerda to remain calm when one particularly mean official berated her for not declaring her knee implants before being screened. You would hope that people of our age would be treated with some respect but obviously age means nothing to these types. They give you the feeling that the US doesn’t really want visitors.
Next stop John and Sheila’s (Sam’s) place in Ontario