An exceptionally beautiful and natural State of the USA.
Our six-week journey around Alaska started in Anchorage, where we picked up our ‘Minnie Winnie’ motorhome. Motorhomes in Australia are traditionally 3-5 metres in length at the most…our ‘mini’ Minnie Winnie was over 10 metres long BUT this was no problem to manoeuvre. The roads and RV parks in America are setup specifically for this size motorhome. Quite often, we would find ourselves dwarfed by the size of neighbouring RVs.
Our Minni Winnie was a great choice with a queen-sized bed, full bathroom, separate toilet, and a pop out slide that made it the equivalent of a large one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne. It can be driven with a normal car licence and it gave us the opportunity to enjoy a comfortable base virtually anywhere we chose.
Our trip started in Anchorage and we headed north towards Denali National Park. First stop was a typical Alaskan town, Talkeetna, where most buildings date from the time of the Gold Rush. There are many activities available and we chose jet boating on the Susitna River, fishing for Trout in wild creeks, with the highlight being our landing on a Glacier in Denali National Park.
If you plan to do any fishing, we highly recommend you bring your own mosquito face nets. If you get off the beaten track in central Alaska, you will be eaten alive without one. In certain areas the mosquitoes were the most ferocious we ever encountered, but despite their numbers they can be avoided with normal precautions.
Denali National Park meant a 10-hour bus trip in old American school bus. We were lucky to see plenty of caribou, red fox, moose, and a mumma bear and cub from a mile or so away. The trip through the State Park can be hit or miss, and in hindsight we don’t believe it’s worth the time or expense. Private cars are not permitted inside the national park after the first few miles, so your only option is an organised bus trip.
We continued north-west to the very pretty town of Fairbanks. A few days stay in Fairbanks allowed us to organise a couple of fishing trips, including one fly-in-fishing trip above the arctic circle. During our flight back we were lucky to witness a direct lightening strike hit, starting a fire in the middle of the Alaskan forest. Despite the environment being saturated with water, Alaskan bushfires are as fierce as the Australian ones, and quite often can continue through the seasons – simmering underground and under a thick layer of snow, during the Winter period.
Exceptional Pike fishing is to be had in the Yukon-Koyukuk area, which was very fruitful indeed.
We were lucky enough to see a moose crossing the lake we were fishing on.
Our fly-in-fishing trip started from the usual waterfront pilot’s property.
Plenty of mosquitoes in the forest, but none bothered us on the water.
Neighbouring Fairbanks is a little town you might have heard of…called the North Pole. That’s right, the North Pole truly exists! And we have a photo of Santa’s place, to prove it! (I think we hurt his knees from our weight, sorry Santa).
From Fairbanks to Valdez, the road is a spectacular drive through typical Alaskan tundra. There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, fishing, camping, glacier and waterfall viewing – each with it’s own charm.
Out of Valdez, a short boat trip away is the Columbia Glacier. The boat was driven by a local with a great passion for his local area. We knew the time when the boat cruise departed, but were told that we come back when ‘there is nothing left to see’. True to his word, the day cruise was 10+ hours, allowing us to see puffins, sea otters, seals, humpback whales, and of course the glacier.
With numerous tours to choose from, we were happy with our choice onboard the family-owned and run “Lu Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruises”, who were informative, welcoming, very chatty and provided us with a relaxing day of sightseeing on board a beautiful and comfortable boat.
From Valdez we continued south to warmer waters and visited the very unique town of Seward, where a small tunnel through the mountain permits cars (or trains) at pre-set times of the day.
And with another boat trip forecast for the following day (early) we decided to catch the last permitted trip through the tunnel and camp in one of the few RV park sites – with glaciers touching fresh water lakes, it was well worth the trip. We later decided it was one of our favourite boat trips we enjoyed in Alaska, it was truly an absolutely stunning region.
In the region, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is well worth a stop. We were delighted to see our first ‘up close and personal’ grizzly and Black Bears, moose, reindeers, fox, grey wolf and porcupines. It was great practice for our camera zooming skills.
After four-weeks it was time to say goodbye to our comfortable Minnie Winnie, and to board a local flight to a place called ‘King Salmon’ – this was an incredible location, and should not be missed! It was a brilliant base if you wish for visiting the Katmai National Park and the famous Brooks Falls. This is one of the best locations for close-up viewing of Grizzly Bears feeding on migrating salmon. It is essential to arrive fairly early in the morning, before the sea planes (loaded with tourists from Anchorage) arrive. On a busy day, the wait to get onto a viewing platform can be over two hours, and the numbers of visitors and access to the platform can be limited. As an example, we had the opportunity to stay on the upper platform for over 1.5 hours – literally metres away from 29 feeding grizzly bears – whereas people arrive from a day trip from Anchorage would be lucky to have 20-minutes, with many of them missing the opportunity to access the platform due to their return flight scheduling.
King Salmon offered one of the only two opportunities to see a colony of Walrus in Alaska. The trip entailed a day trip in a typical bush plane, following the coastline to find the colony. We landed on the beach and had a very slow approach to the resting mammals. A unique experience!
Naknek River was the site of some of the best fishing we had in Alaska, with over 20 King Salmon hooked in one day.
After visiting the northern part of Katmai National Park via bushplane, we moved to the island of Kodiak for a week in the wilderness. The grizzly bears of Kodiak are known to be the largest in Alaska – their diet is 80% meat and 20% vegetarian, compared to the reverse in most other parts of the state. From the port of Kodiak we sailed in our small trawler across Kodiak Straight and back to a different part of Katmai National Park. With only four guests on the boat, it was a very intimate experience and allowed us close access to an area otherwise inaccessible. It was interesting to witness the totally different behaviour of the bears, who would not tolerate each others company. Seeing a wild grey wolf was unexpected and thrilling.
We highly recommend family-owned private charter ‘Adventure Kodiak’ who made us feel at home (and the food was amazing).
We totally recommend a motorhome holiday, as the best way to see Alaska. The freedom it confers cannot be equalled by any other combination of transport and accommodation. We certainly advise against joining any of the tourist cruises or any bus tours, targeted to the general tourist market – their experience is more like ‘ticking a box’ and taking pictures in a certain location, than actually seeing the attractions and the beauty of Alaska.
To fish you’ll require a local fishing licence as well as an additional King Salmon day pass. The licences are available at any supermarket, adventure shop, and even some petrol stations. Do not try to fish without a licence as checks by the local Rangers happen, and they are quite frequent (ours were checked three times in four weeks).
Get a fishing guide, the rules change overnight in Alaska! A good fishing guide will be able to keep you safe, take you fishing where it’s permitted on the day, and provide you with local secrets on how to catch the best fish.
Most flights in Alaska arrive into Anchorage, although Fairbanks has some connections from north American cities. Anchorage offers the advantage of good connections to other Alaskan towns, and Alaska Airlines is reliable and comfortable.
For flights to Brooks Falls, the shorter the better – we recommend from King Salmon, a 30-minute flight only. Once you arrive (and after your bear safety briefing) you should head straight to the top platform and sign in.
A glacier flight from Talkeetna is highly recommended – we went with K2 Aviation.
Press play to watch a video summary of our Alaskan adventures:
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