Recently, my adventurous 'other' and I travelled to Canada and Alaska - a fabulous milestone birthday gift for me (from hubby) as well as ticking off a few bucket list destinations at the same time. In all honesty, hubby has been to Canada on numerous occasions - for business purposes - whereas I hadn't ventured to that side of the world at all, so it was truly fantastic to be able to share memorable experiences together in some new to us, locations. We visited three cities in Alaska, all of which are only accessible via water or air - visitors cannot, unfortunately, just 'drive' to any of these towns. Holidaymakers will find there is so much to do and see at each of these locations, whether city-slicking or nature loving, and I have only barely scratched the surface in this article.
Juneau is Alaska's capital city and is nestled at the base of Mt Juneau, positioned within the largest national forest in the United States. Juneau is widely considered to be the most remote and beautiful state capital in the United States. Though early settlers in Juneau included gold rush miners and Russian fur traders, the native Alaskan influence still remains prominent today. Presently Juneau is home to 32,000 residents, many of whom work in the city's thriving government, tourism and commercial fishing industries. Downtown Juneau has retained much of its historic architecture and charming character, appealing to visitors who just want to stroll down streets lined with quirky shops, local restaurants and quaint art galleries.
For the adventurous, an array of experiences and wildlife-based activities, including biking, zip lining, whale watching and bear spotting are available outside the city. With road-accessible glaciers, miles of hiking trails and plenty of wildlife, Juneau offers visitors prolific nature at its doorstep.
Despite having arrived by ship, hubby and I were keen to go 'whale watching', in the hope of spying some Orcas. We hadn't done our homework too well, as the Orcas are not really a common sight in Juneau, but the humpback whale certainly is - which, I might add, we have an abundance of, during the winter months on the East Coast of Australia.
We actually were blessed with six different sightings of humpback whales, which are always an absolute delight to watch. I'm just never quite quick enough to catch the whole 'breach'.
The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of Juneau's highlights, transporting visitors 1,800 feet from downtown Juneau to the Mountain House in just five minutes. This Tramway is the only tramway in southeast Alaska and is one of the most vertical tramways in the world, offering riders fabulous views of Juneau. At the top, visitors will discover dining and retail venues, the Mount Roberts Nature Centre, the Chilkat Theatre as well as well-maintained hiking trails through rainforest and alpine meadow.
The city of Ketchikan, known as Alaska's First City (because of its location at the southern tip of Alaska's Inside Passage) or the Salmon Capital of the World, is renowned for its rich native culture, abundant salmon and spectacular scenery, ensuring its popularity for those in search of wilderness and adventure. Ketchikan is perched along the sheltered shores of the Tongass Narrows in the heart of the Tongass National Forest. This charming city gets more than 3,900mm of rain every year and the locals will tell you that their surplus of 'liquid sunshine' is the reason why the fishing is unrivalled, the wildlife is abundant and the trees are a brilliant shade of green.
Creek Street entrance, originally the town's Red Light District
The historic boardwalks of Creek Street perch on pilings along the eastern banks of Ketchikan Creek. Creek Street was originally the town's Red Light District and home to Ketchikan's 'sporting women'. In 1903 the city ordered that brothels be exiled to the far side of the creek until being outlawed and shut down in 1953.
Today the quaint Creek Street boardwalk is lined with locally-owned stores and galleries as well as Dolly's House, a museum dedicated to the life and salacious trade of the infamous Dolly Arthur. In late summer, Creek Street is also a popular location from which to watch thousands of salmon swim upstream to spawn.
Creek Street is where thousands of salmon swim upstream to spawn
Ketchikan is known to have the world's largest collection of standing totem poles, some of which are scattered throughout the city, but most of which are located in dedicated venues, such as Totem Heritage Centre.
The Misty Fjords National Monument in the Tongass National Forest is the largest wilderness in Alaska's national forests. With steep fjords, dramatic waterfalls, thick rainforest and an abundance of wildlife, Misty Fjords is a popular destination for sightseeing flights, nature cruises and kayaking excursions.
The name Sitka is derived from 'Sheet'ka' or 'people on the outside of Shee', and is named for its location on the outer coast of Alaska's Inside Passage. Once the ancestral home of Tlingit Indians, Sitka was first seized by the Russians and then sold to the Americans*. Today, Sitka's legacy is a unique blend of these different cultures. *In 1867, the United States paid $7,2 million - less than two cents per acre - to acquire this Alaskan territory.
With a population of approximately 9,000, Sitka is the fifth largest city in Alaska. By land mass, Sitka ranks as the largest city-borough in the United States, encompassing more than 7,400 square kilometres of land. Sitka is a favoured destination, boasting more than 150,000 visitors a year, all intent on experiencing the spectacular scenery, miles of hiking trails and abundant fishing and wildlife.
Our storyteller/guide dressed in 1867 period costume
The 'Haunted Sitka Historical Walking Tour' was our highlights choice to experience Sitka. I can well imagine your response to this - why? When time is of the essence, I find that walking generally introduces one to a new area fairly quickly and secondly, I desperately needed to 'get walking'.
Beautiful wooded area at the Russian Cemetery, but watch out for the bears!
We took a walk on the dark side, mingling with the lingering spirits from the Russian-American era to learn about Sitka's rich and turbulent history. Our enchanting storyteller, dressed in opulent 1867 period costume, entertained us as we explored Sitka's wooden sidewalks, eerie passageways and back alleys. We ventured through the Russian Cemetery - boasting paranormal activities - but found a beautifully serene, wooded area with ancient tombstones and descriptive epitaphs. The only words of warning we were interested in: 'this is bear country, please keep a lookout!'
St Michaels Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a bit of a 'plain Jane' externally
Once we had satisfied ourselves that the spirits of the past had finally been put to rest, we visited the downtown St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a national historical landmark in Sitka. This Cathedral, whilst being a real 'plain Jane' on the outside, is filled with an important collection of art and rare treasures, many of which were sent from Russia by wealthy patrons when the Cathedral was first built between 1844 to 1848. St Michael's Cathedral is an active parish of the Alaskan Diocese and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962.
St Michael's is filled with a collection of art and rare treasures
There is so much more to these three Alaskan cities than what I have touched on here, but of the three cities, I have decided that Ketchikan is my favourite by far. Whilst perhaps not the prettiest or the most sought-after of the three cities, Ketchikan's flamboyance and colourful history, has a certain appeal to my cheeky side. Do 'Ju-neau' which one would be your favourite?