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There’s a new way of exploring the heart of Alaska. Here’s some inside info on an exciting alternative to conventional Inside passage cruising. Natalie Box reports.
It’s 6.15am and we’re in a small, crowded ferry terminal in northwest Canada. Our close-knit group of 18 adventurers are buzzing with anticipation. We’re now half way through our four-week trip, and after crisscrossing through British Columbia and Alberta; it’s time to cross into Alaska – The Last Frontier. We’re off to find a tiny town called Wrangell, Alaska, just 350km north of the border.
The adventure ferry
At 8am we’re gliding along charcoal waters and our Alaska Marine Highway Ferry navigates its way through grey fog. We travel north along the Inside Passage, islands and waterways a flurry of activity. Huge cruise ships carry thousands of camera-clad passengers to overflowing tourist ports such as Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau. Our Inside Passage route, known as the Alaska Marine Highway is the locals’ major ‘road’; and the Alaska Marine Highway Ferries have been connecting communities in the towns and villages of southeast Alaska since 1949. These ferries are also a great way for travellers to see Alaska.
Just one of the locals
It’s 12pm and we’ve been sailing a few hours now. On the ferry with us locals heading to work, out for fishing trips, kids on school excursions, and families visiting friends in neighbouring towns. We stop at Ketchikan for a few hours, joining three major cruise ships docked here. I love the character of this town, although with so many tourists I can’t wait to be back on the ferry.
Picture perfect Alaska
It’s 4pm, the sky has cleared and we’re sailing in brilliant sunshine. We’ve officially been in Alaska for nine hours and the scenery is more beautiful than I imagined. The passage we sail through is narrow, the shore visible on both sides; and log cabins and houses stand out from a backdrop of green. A sea of Sitka spruce trees line the water’s edge. Relaxed passengers recline on sun lounges while others stand, some with binoculars, watching dancing whales below.
Change of mindset
It’s 6pm and I’m up front in the observation lounge. I sit here listening to fathers talk to sons about ‘the game’ tomorrow, kids sit in their official team uniform, laughing and telling jokes, while older ladies with shopping bags sit chatting in the background. Talk about an insidelook into life in Alaska. I look around and it’s so strange, I feel I know these people.
I walk outside and sit on the deck. In an hour we’ll be docking at Wrangell, a town of 2400 people with ‘hearts made of gold’. Well that’s what I’ve heard so I can’t wait to meet them. And first thing tomorrow morning, eight of us are heading out on a jet boat up the Stikine River to visit Shakes Glacier. Then after lunch we sail into the Tongass National Forest to Anan Bear Observatory to meet new bear friends.
An experience like no other
It’s 9pm and the ferry pulls in to Wrangell. I’ve only been in Alaska for 15 hours, but I feel different. Immersing myself with the locals has been special; an experience like no other. I look at this gorgeous, serene little town. Picture perfect A-frame homes line the shore like a welcoming party. I’ve had some amazing conversations today with Americans from the ‘Lower 48’ who travelled to Alaska years ago, fell in love with the place and simply never returned home. I think I am about to find out why.
If you would like to find out more about travelling to Alaska, please contact Spectrum Holidays on 1300 130 840 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available on www.spectrumholidays.com.au