Do you feel that cruising is not for you – mainstream, restrictive, unadventurous? I confess I felt the same, until recently when I tried my hand at expeditionary cruising and it has blown my expectations way out of the salty water. Here is why:
Heading to the small coastal town of Petersburg in south-east Alaska I am flying along the coast and can literally sense adventure brewing. The first sights of snow-capped mountains erupting from the skyline to the west, with the deep dark, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean stretching out to the east, broken only by an occasional deserted island out to the horizon. I feel as if I am on the edge of the world.
We land in Petersburg, the charm of this small-town community is warm and welcoming. A little fishing village, the port is filled with small fishing vessels displaying all sorts of contraptions, surrounded by a maze of boardwalks. Colourful Norwegian heritage buildings and bespoke shops dot amongst their Alaskan counterparts as I walk along the streets.
My journey continues as I approach our expeditionary vessel – the Safari Quest – as she sits sleekly in the harbour. The Safari Quest will be home for the next week as we head out to explore the Inside Passage, in search of the big scenery and wildlife that has come to epitomise the image of Alaska.
The Inside Passage is also known as the ‘Panhandle’– a maze of waterways that weaves through the thousands of islands scattered up the western coast of Canada and Alaska. The natural beauty here is undeniably spectacular. Carved by glaciers, it boasts wildlife-filled fjords, towering granite peaks and lush coastal forests of western hemlock and sitka spruce. It is a magical setting and the perfect blend of scenery and wildlife.
Each day we hop on and off the vessel, making the most of the long daylight hours we get at living at this latitude. Kayaking, beach walks and skiff tours are routine, with the occasional bushwacking effort of making the first footprints in an unexplored forest.
New exciting wildlife sightings and large-scale scenery are abundant at every turn. Through its sheer expanse, wildlife is not served on a plate here but offers plenty of variety. Whales frequent these waters and can often be seen breaching or bubble-net feeding in groups, whilst on land bears explore the shores for their daily feast. Bald eagles, otters, sea lions and Dall’s porpoise are all commonplace here with booming populations more of a concern than their decline.
It is a magical setting. I have travelled widely in Alaska and few places compare. The richness of the scenery and wildlife is remarkable with boat-based adventures being incredibly rewarding. My personal recommendation is that you need to book early. With a short season and demand well outstripping supply, it is best to book a year in advance to avoid disappointment.