HIDE AND SEEK

ALASKA AD­VEN­TURE THROUGH MISTY FJORDS NA­TIONAL PARK DIS­PLAYS NA­TURE’S MAS­TER­PIECES IN ALL THEIR GLORY

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - WEEKEND - WORDS: SHIRLEY SIN­CLAIR

It’s not ev­ery day you see a pair of deer swim­ming for their lives, 3km across a bay. But there they are, heads and necks strained above the wa­ter­line, their legs work­ing over­time to pro­pel them closer to the rocky shore­line. About five min­utes later, they have made it. Ex­hausted.

Still, they hes­i­tate in climb­ing up to the tree­line. Sur­vival mode has kicked in.

Our Misty Fjords nat­u­ral­ist and cruise guide spec­u­lates they may have been driven into the wa­ter by a preda­tor, and cross­ing the bay is their only route to safety.

We hold our col­lec­tive breath, will­ing them out of the deep emerald-coloured wa­ters.

Suc­cess for one. But the other is hav­ing trou­ble find­ing se­cure foot­ing on the slip­pery rocks.

The clear and present dan­ger of a mate land­ing back “in the drink” is only sur­passed by the need to keep their wits about them for any other prob­lem lurk­ing nearby.

Our Princess Bay cata­ma­ran keeps a re­spect­ful dis­tance away but all aboard watch on like con­cerned par­ents.

Once cer­tain the deer pair is safe, dis­ap­pear­ing into the sur­round­ing dense spruce and hem­lock woods, we mo­tor away, seek­ing our next un­ex­pected wildlife en­counter. It doesn’t take long.

Misty Fjords Na­tional Park, 35km east of Ketchikan, Alaska, is full of wild sur­prises. The long, deep fjords lie be­tween two nat­u­ral canals (Behm and Port­land) with sheer gran­ite walls soar­ing sky­ward.

We just fin­ish telling fel­low Aussies how see­ing or­cas would make our day when the call comes over the PA sys­tem that a pod is straight ahead, 500m away.

We’ve just passed Behm Canal’s New Ed­dy­s­tone Rock – a spire ris­ing 73m from its base at sea level.

Formed by a vol­canic vent pour­ing magma into the floor of the nat­u­ral canal, it was named by ex­plorer Cap­tain Ge­orge Van­cou­ver be­cause it re­minded him of Ed­dy­s­tone Light­house in the English Chan­nel.

The or­cas’ dor­sal fins could eas­ily be mis­taken for two sticks bob­bing up­right in the bay when we first spot them.

So be­gins our game of hide and seek. Try­ing to track their pos­si­ble path to pin­point our next sight­ing is the marine equiv­a­lent of find­ing a nee­dle in a haystack.

Then, eu­reka. A pas­sen­ger spots the splash and points, call­ing out “there”, be­fore we all rush to the side, hop­ing for our trea­sured photo.

An eye cheek­ily look­ing my way as one of the mam­mals comes up for air is the re­ward for my pa­tience.

The al­most four-hour Misty Fjords and Float­plane Ad­ven­ture through the na­tional park is a must-do ac­tiv­ity avail­able in Ketchikan, on Revil­lagigedo Is­land.

We’ve taken up this wild, ad­ven­tur­ous op­por­tu­nity on the Hol­land Amer­ica Line’s ms Volen­dam seven-night In­side Pas­sage cruise to Alaska.

We’ve al­ready soared like an ea­gle through the gorges and be­side lush green moun­tain­tops on the 25-minute Taquan Air flight that be­gins with a wa­ter take-off and ends right be­side the Misty Fjords Dock in a se­cluded cove.

Only from the air can you truly ap­pre­ci­ate this 930,776ha Amer­i­can trea­sure.

The Misty Fjords Na­tional Mon­u­ment – also known as “the Yosemite of the North” be­cause of sim­i­lar ge­ol­ogy – is an ice-carved master­piece of na­ture.

Blue lakes, wa­ter­falls, snow­capped peaks and glacial val­leys form jaw-drop­ping grandeur at ev­ery turn.

“The Mistys”, as the lo­cals af­fec­tion­ately call them, are dom­i­nated by gran­ite moun­tains and land forms, draped in a forested cloak.

The mid­night blues, emerald greens and greys run deep here, pro­vid­ing a vis­ual over­load.

As the area re­ceives 150in (3810mm) of rain­fall an­nu­ally, the mon­u­ment usu­ally sports a veil of moist air ris­ing up from the fjords be­low that ap­pears as fog and mist.

The Ton­grass Na­tional For­est here is the largest in the US, cov­er­ing six mil­lion hectares in to­tal of tem­per­ate North Pa­cific coastal rain­for­est.

Tours are op­er­ated un­der per­mit and strict guide­lines to pre­serve its pris­tine na­ture and the unique plants and an­i­mals that ex­ist here, pro­tected by nat­u­ral bound­aries.

As a re­sult, lit­tle has changed in six mil­lion years since the glaciers carved, ground, pushed and scraped out the land forms in the ice age, cou­pled with the le­gacy of mas­sive vol­canic ac­tiv­ity.

The re­sult is a ma­jes­tic ta­pes­try of sea cliffs, gran­ite rock walls, steep fjords, and wa­ter­falls best seen from above and at wa­ter level.

This is serene, still Alaskan wilder­ness lost in time, yet so ac­ces­si­ble.

Pic­turesque spots such as Walker Cove, Rudy­erd Bay and Punch­bowl Cove are the main at­trac­tions, ac­cessed by Behm Canal, which sep­a­rates the is­land from the main­land.

Wa­ter­falls such as the 305m Big Goat Lake Falls are just one of the spec­ta­cles vis­i­tors just like us have come from all over the world to see.

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