Tuesday September 9

“Fantastic!” “Best day of my life!” “It can’t possibly get better than this!” “Words fail me!”

These were the kind of comments you would’ve heard today if you’d mixed and mingled with our mad Kiwi midlifers. Because, coming on top of last night’s whale watching, today’s spectacular highlights have made this past 24 hours all that we’d hoped for in Alaska – and much, much more.

A yawning cravass

A yawning cravass

The quiet, peaceful town of Skagway was our base for this very special Tuesday. Nestled up the end of another beautiful fjord and surrounded by wilderness and glaciers, this ‘Gateway to the Yukon’ was once the busiest place in Alaska – with stores, banks, restaurants, hotels, dance halls and saloons. Skagway in the late 1800s was the hectic kick-off point for the famous Klondike Gold Rush, with gold-panners streaming up every valley and sloshing through every creek in search of the promised yellow ore that lay waiting to be plucked from this rugged, mountainous land .

It's flippin cold up here!

It's flippin' cold up here!

A strong, bitingly cold wind was gusting up the fjord this morning, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the frightful conditions endured by those hopeful prospectors of old – especially during winter when this region freezes almost solid. Our visit, of course, was happening end-of-summer, and conditions, thankfully, were vastly more comfortable.

On the goldrush train

On the goldrush train

For starters, we got to ride the antique White Pass & Yukon narrow-gauge railway past silvery-purple rock faces and once-famous locations like Deadhorse Gulch, for a taste of what life was like back then. At the top, we even tried our hand at gold-panning (no kidding) – and almost everyone came away with a few shiny, lucky specks in a tiny plastic bag!

On the Meade glacier

On the Meade glacier

But wait: there’s more! We also got to ride a helicopter (in fact, a fleet of helicopters) up-up-up Alaska’s spectacular mountains – where we were treated to eye-popping views of jagged peaks, majestic valleys, cascading waterfalls and massive glaciers, before landing on one of these ‘rivers-of-ice’ (the mighty Meade Glacier) for a guided walking tour.

I’ve often told people that these Midlife Madness adventures are not just holidays – they’re adult education! And today’s double-excursions proved that all over again. As numerous colleagues said afterwards, “FANTASTIC!”

There were some very elated, can’t-stop-talking-about-it, Kiwis at dinner tonight – who were also feeling rather weary after all the excitement. So it’s probably a good thing that we’ve got all day tomorrow on the ship …

TOMORROW: We’ll be sailing in Glacier Bay National Park – once a vast ice-field nearly 2kms thick, now a 100km-long bay (a World Heritage Site) filled with fjords, inlets, crunching glaciers and floating icebergs. So don’t leave the room, folks …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! And don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!