Last night we lay in bed and watched the Ovation and Radiance of the Seas cruise ships very slowly sailing south from Skagway. Both lit up like Christmas trees. They obviously make sure their passengers get a good night’s sleep, timing their arrival into the next destination at a reasonable hour.
Up early this morning for our day tour to Juneau. We are “proper” tourists today. Fjord Express operates a fast-hulled catamaran accommodating around 50 people. Today there were only about 20 on board. It’s a family run business. A very efficient and friendly operation. Mum checked us in, Dad was the captain, and daughter Libby did just about everything. A trained captain herself, at times she took over the helm. As well as supervising a young trainee, tying up and securing the vessel, being in charge of the catering and giving information on the day’s sights.
On the 2 hour sunny journey from Haines down the Lynn Canal to Juneau we saw colonies of sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, apparently the fastest marine mammal, whale blows and eagles feasting on the carcass of a dead sperm whale. It was reported to have been hit by a ship.
The Lynn Canal is the continents longest and deepest glacial fjord and is flanked by stunning peaks, waterfalls and glaciers. Disembarking at a small pier north of Juneau we were met by our coach and driver, Dave. Advising us that the population of Juneau was only 35,000 and making no mention of it being the state capital, I had to check with Google to make sure. (Dennis assured me it was, but I have to admit my ignorance.) I had assumed Anchorage was the capital. It’s a bit like the Wellington : Auckland situation. Juneau is the capital, but Anchorage the much bigger city.
Dave’s first advice to us was that today 6 cruise ships are in port, discharging a potential 22,000 passengers into the city – trust us to visit on such a day! Next advice, Juneau is a very rainy place. Precipitation falls on more than 280 days a year. Of course as soon as we reached downtown Juneau, dark clouds had gathered and the rain started.
The city streets were heaving with cruise ship passengers visiting the very touristy shops. 90% of them appear to be jewellery stores. We walked to the far end of town looking for a lunch venue. Finding a quieter fish restaurant we decided to venture in. It wasn’t cheap and later I found in the guidebook it was supposed to be the best in town. I would give it about 4 out if 10. If it hadn’t been raining, I think we would have been far better eating at one of the many small stalls dotted around the town.
What to do next when it’s raining. Visit a museum of course. We found the Alaska State museum and spent a very interesting couple of hours. We learned about the Native Alaskans and their customs. The purchase of Alaska by the USA from Russia in 1867 for US$7.2 million. The destruction of the Native Alaskan’s habitat and customs, due to no settlement for them being reached. Progressing to the development of the mining, forestry, fishing, oil exploration and tourist industries, adding to the negative impact on the Native Alaskans and the environment.
The highlight of the day, however, was on the journey back to Haines. About an hour out of Juneau we came across a mother humpback whale and her calf. The calf must have been a a playful mood, as the performance he gave for us was, as the locals would say, simply AWSOME!!! The sight of this huge creature, and it was only a calf, hurling its bulk out of the water was just awe inspiring. We were all overcome with gasps and cries of delight. The calf breached at least a dozen times, sometimes quite close to us. It was a truly wonderful experience.
Before we returned to Haines we cut the engine to view harbour seals on the rocks of the Eldred Lighthouse and to get a better view of this historic building. Libby has produced a book, based on a family visit to the lighthouse in 2003. Mainly pictures but a brief history too. It is now fully automated and no longer manned.
Our supper of salmon chowder was good, but quite an anticlimax after the evenings events. I had questioned whether we were wise to splash out on this trip, as it wasn’t cheap. Worth every penny. An epic day.