Twice the size of Texas, with more wildlife than people, it’s a place where dog mushing is the official sport, road signs say ‘no shooting from your vehicle’, kayaks were invented, ‘cool boxes’ outnumber suitcases at the airport and 99 percent of the gold is yet to be discovered.
To start a love affair with ‘the last frontier’, a land of snow-capped mountain peaks, glassy fjords teeming with wildlife, calving electric-blue glaciers, primeval rainforests and fascinating culture, make your first date a cruise along the Inside Passage in South-East Alaska.
Whether you choose a big cruise ship or a small activity based vessel, you’ll find your own Alaska in the vast landscape and charming townships.
An American state capital with a twist. Juneau is only accessible by sea or air and has a population of less than 50,000. Nestled beneath the towering Mount Roberts, the former gold rush town meanders through pretty streets and laneways.
A ride to the top of the Mount Roberts’ tram (it looks more like a cable car) opens a whole world of hiking trails dotted with wildflowers, bald eagles perched atop Sitka pines and stunning views over the Gastineau Channel.
For the cost of a local bus ride, combine glacier and bear viewing at Mendenhall Glacier, around 20 minutes from downtown. If the salmon are running, black bears will be gorging themselves silly.
Later, have your own feeding frenzy on the ‘best legs in town’. A big call, but once you’ve smacked your lips over the sweet, succulent Alaskan King crab at Tracy’s Crab Shack you’ll know you’re falling in love.
Gold fever brought 40,000 stampeders to this tiny, preserved village in 1897, but today the ‘gold rush’ is in tourism.
To appreciate the hardship faced by the gold seekers, take the half-day White Pass vintage railroad trip through sheer rocky outcrops and deep ravines dotted with thundering waterfalls to reach the Canadian border.
Or if you’re looking for a hiking adventure, get dropped off at Denver and take a self-guided walk through the dense vegetation of the old growth forest and climb to the end of the valley for views of the hanging blue ice Denver Glacier.
Try your luck panning for gold at The Liarsville Camp (and discover the story behind the name), take a walk with a ‘madam’ to hear tales of ‘the ladies of the night’ and the haunted house, or take to the saddle and ride through the Klondike Gold Rush National Park.
When Tlingit elder and former Mayor Joe Williams attended a Native American convention in the 1960s, he was told that by the year 2010 there wouldn’t be one person who could speak the Tlingit language. This shocked him into dedicating his life to preserving history and he’s the man to show you around this culturally rich village.
Passionate, humble and humorous, Joe’s stories during his ‘Where Eagles Walk’ tour will take you into the heart of Tlingit culture to learn how read a totem pole and ‘White Thunder’ understand life in a traditional longhouse. Creek Street’s boardwalk is an interesting place to poke around. Perched on wooden pilings over the Ketchikan Creek, historic buildings with crooked walls and hidden doorways are filled with shops, galleries, museums and the secrets of bygone days when this was ‘the’ red light district.
Floatplanes are the taxis of Alaska. Flightseeing over Misty Fjords where lofty mountains dip into mirrored water and waterfalls surge through dense vegetation is breathtaking.
Alaska overflows with superlatives – biggest, tallest, widest, most – and Glacier Bay is the jewel in the crown. Carved by ice over millions of years, the world’s largest protected area is a sacred place that touches the core of nature.
Creep along ancient forest floors surrounded by giant cedars and pines dripping with lichen and moss, paddle a kayak or take a Zodiac ride to listen to the voice of the glaciers. The Tlingits call it ‘white thunder’, and once you’ve felt the power of the crack and crash of a glacier calving, it will be etched in your memory forever.
The abundance of unexpected encounters with wildlife is also a drawcard. To look into the soft eyes of a harbour seal, spot a bear fossicking along the shore, hear the swish of eagle wings, feel the mist of whale breath touch your skin or the ultimate – watch humpbacks bubble net feeding – are wonderful experiences.
In the words of John Muir, once you’ve fallen under the spell of the north, it’s a heart stealer – “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
Contact RACQ Travel to find out what deals are available to visit Alaska.
The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.