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Cruising Alaska

Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Inside Passage spreads between the south-eastern Alaska Panhandle and coastal British Columbia. It's a coastal route for oceangoing vessels along a series of passages. It provides protection from the wild weather of the open ocean and is heavily travelled by cruise ships, freighters, tugs with tows, fishing craft and ferries. There are many isolated communities along the route.

Dermott boarded Holland America's MS Zuiderdam for a four-day cruise from Skagway in Alaska to Canada.

The 10-storey ship is a home away from home and has everything you could think of — and more. The 285m 88,000 tonne vessel gives smooth sailing along the passage and even though it can carry 1916 passengers, its vastness means it never feels crowded.

Cabins come in Interior, Ocean View, Verandah and Suites. There are two pools, bars, dining room, grill and show lounge to enjoy when you aren't just standing on the deck taking in the passing scenery. Right before your eyes you will see magnificent sights which would normally be seen after days and days of trekking. Forests and ice vie for beauty stakes but there's no one winner. It's all glorious.

Gigantic glaciers flow into the rugged ocean, icebergs mix with islands and there are narrow and outrageously beautiful channels. Steep walled mountains rise straight from the ocean and along the shore historical frontier towns are just as they were when gold-panners and early settlers lived there.

The wilderness is awash with pure colours, animals and birds and the air is fresh, clear and invigorating. Seals, minke and humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dalls' porpoise and sea lions are residents and bird species come and go to nest.

For Dermott the highlight of the trip was seeing the million hectare Glacier Bay National Park. Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers have to be seen to be believed.

Johns Hopkins Glacier is 19km long and trends west to the inlet of the same name. Margerie Glacier is 34km long and over 80m high. It starts on the south slope of Mount Root on the Alaska-Canada border. It travels around 2.5m a day.

Rangers and other experts are on deck to give information about what you are seeing.

The ship docks a few times along the way but the main port of call is the tiny town of Ketchikan, salmon capital of the world. The frontier town literally ran out of land and is built on the water. Its historic downtown, wedged between water and forested mountains, is delightful. It's partly propped on wooden pilings with boardwalks, wooden staircases and totem poles dotted throughout. Guides from the ship take tours around the town.

Ketchikan pretty much missed out on the gold rush. Skagway and Juno further north were the popular places for that, but it's had its own rushes – salmon, until the stock was depleted, and the lumber rush. Spruce trees were perfect for woodworking and Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose was made from Ketchikan timber.

Just out of town the Tlingit Indian village is worth a visit. It boasts the world's largest collection of original totem poles. The Tlingit people believe all life is of equal value. Plants, trees, birds, fish, animals and humans are equally respected. Clans and clan houses have identifying crests and each is equally proud whether its crest is a killer whale or a snail. Their history is fascinating.

Back on board in time for a drink and dinner most people stay on deck until the last of the light. After dinner there's dancing until the wee small hours or you can try your luck in the casino.


On board MS Zuiderdam in Alaska's Inside Passage.


Scenic Tours 21 day Rockies & Alaksan Cruise packages starting at $9940 per person twin share. Accommodation, sightseeing, most meals and tipping are included. Scenic Tours is offering a free cabin upgrade on the Holland America Line cruise valued up to $1450 a couple. There are various departure dates between May and August, 2010. Call them for details.

Air New Zealand has flights to Vancouver.

Fares from:

  • Coolangatta $1340
  • Melbourne $1345
  • Sydney $1363
  • Brisbane $1368
  • Perth $1629
  • Adelaide $1644
  • Cairns $1647

On sale until November 6, 2009 and for travel between October 22 and November 9, 2009 and February 17 and April 7, 2010. Conditions apply.

Prices correct on 22 October, 2009.

For more information:

Air New Zealand
Ph: 132 476

Scenic Tours
Ph: 1300 723 642

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