Monday Sept 8, 2008

Humpback Whale

 This morning saw us out on deck at a very chilly 8am – whale-watching (with the help of the Statendam’s onboard whale-expert) as we passed through a narrow, 26-mile-long fjord (Tracy Arm) en route to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. It was another grey, sea-misty day (they get lots of them up here), with low cloud cloaking the forested shoreline and almost-but-not-quite hiding the region’s 7000-foot mountain peaks – still snowy in patches from last winter.

Juneau is small, unphotogenic, and nothing really to write home about. But it is home to the native Tlingit Indians and their totem-pole artistry. And visitors come here from all over the world to kayak, dog-sled, raft, flightsee, fish, explore the lush Tongass National Park – and whale-watch. Which is exactly what we Kiwis got up to late this afternoon.

Juneau Town Square

Juneau Town Square

Tlingit Indian Carving

Tlingit Indian Carving

Dragging the shopaholics amongst us away from Juneau’s end-of-season sales, we went (by coach) to scenic Auke Bay where a jet-powered catamaran took all 68 of us out for a special treat: an evening of wildlife viewing.

The island-studded waters of Stephen’s Passage are home to seals, sea-lions, bald eagles, blacktail deer – and the feeding grounds of killer whales and humpback whales. We failed to see any killer whales, but we wasted no time spotting the telltale spouting of humpback whales. And before you knew it, we were right amongst them – mothers, mainly, and their young calves, lolling lazily on the surface (their signature humps showing proudly) … then diving oh-so-graciously for food, their huge tail-flukes waving wetly in the air.

I don’t know what these monstrous, majestic mammals thought of us, rushing eagerly from one side of the boat to the other, searching, shouting, pointing, and aiming our binoculars and cameras in all directions at once, but we humans were utterly captivated by them. And the hours passed and the light began to fade all too quickly.



It was magic. Pure magic. And a close-up look-see at a beach full of yawning, burping, roaring, rioting sea-lions simply added to this truly unforgettable experience. (Fortunately, the wind was blowing the other way, so we couldn’t smell these noisy creatures!)

We arrived back at our ship in time for a late, lavish, five-course dinner in the gleaming Rotterdam restaurant … but I’d better stop going on about our meals of you’ll be getting green with envy. Plus, it’s after midnight, and I want to go to bed. Okay?

 PEOPLE NEWS: Two more Midlife Madness Awards were announced this afternoon:

* The ‘His & Hers & Theirs Award‘ to Edna & Peter – who were observed on the cold, windy streets of Juneau struggling manfully (Peter especially) and unsuccessfully to get arms and bodies into each other’s raincoats.

* The ‘Flushed Away Award‘ to Marilyn – who (according to David) carefully washed out her underthings last night and hung them in their bathroom to dry, only to have them drop into the toilet.

TOMORROW: We’ve got one VERY busy day in Skagway, helicoptering up onto a glacier in the mountains, and riding an old Klondike Goldrush train through some sensational scenery. So hang about, 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 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!