Icy Strait Point is a unique cruise port. It is a very small community that is owned by about 1400 Huna Tlingit. The cruise dock is located about 1.5 miles from the town of Hoonah, but there is really no need to actually set foot in Hoonah since all of the touristy attractions are right off the ship! Despite the fact that the area has been built up to accommodate cruise passengers, it is really the most lovely, unspoiled ports on an Alaska cruise.
While getting ready in the morning, I went to open the drapes and was greeted by the spectacle of a humpback whale breaching out of the water! I have seen humpbacks before, but never have seen one leap out of the water. Naturally, my camera was nowhere near because I was certainly not expecting to see a whale first thing in the morning! I grabbed my camera and took a bunch of pictures of the whales gliding through the water. He (or she) would not cooperate by breaching again, however. It is really difficult to get a good picture of a whale. By the time you spot one and focus on it, it has most likely gone back under the water. At best I was able to get a few photos showing little bits of whale. The view from our cabin was spectacular!
We left the boat at about 8:30 am and walked through the port area. The docks is fairly long so there was a shuttle (golf cart type) that drove those that were unable to walk that distance. Immediately as you get off the dock there is a large building that is called the “Adventure Center”. Inside are booths set up by tour companies that will take you on a excursions in the area. Wildlife tours seemed pretty popular, as was the “World’s Longest Ziprider” that is located right by the cruise terminal. Whale watching is also available. Continuing through the building you can either choose to go to the left and walk along a nature trail or go to the right, which a sign directs you to “everything else”. The path to the right leads you along the water past a cedar wood chip fire (you can add a wood chip to feed the fire and make a wish), a few homes, and a small cemetery before reaching the Cannery Museum.
There are some interesting displays about the process of canning salmon. When I was in junior high, I visited an actual cannery. This pretty, modern version is much more pleasant than the actual thing, which is incredibly smelly and dangerous to work in. During college, many students would go up to Alaska to work in the canneries (or fish) because it paid very good wages. Unfortunately it was also dangerous work and more than one came back missing a hand. In addition to the displays in the cannery museum, there are a few shops (can’t pass up an opportunity to see products to the tourists!). As you exit the cannery museum, there is a tribal dance center, a bike rental shop, a mini-donut shop and a place you can rent kayaks or go on a kayaking excursion.
We chose to walk into town which is a 1.5 mile walk along a flat, paved path that parallels the water. There is also a shuttle bus that will take you into the town of Hoonah. As we walked along we were able to spot a few more whales as well as an eagle perched in a tree. He was keeping an eye on the water, apparently looking for a tasty morsel to snack on. The town itself does not have much of interest. There are a couple of churches, a city hall, a school (the home of the Braves), a grocery store, a hardware store and a couple of shops selling souvenirs. There was also a covered area where canoes were being carved. We had seen a few canoes in the harbor as we walked. We weren’t sure if those paddling were tourists or those from the local Hoonah tribe. We saw a help wanted ad for “oar pullers” on the canoes, so tend to think that it was a cruise excursion. There was also a massive eagle’s nest in one of the trees in town. No eagle in sight, but a huge nest!
Fortunately we were given a map of town and so knew that we had seen what little there was to see, so turned around to head back to the ship. We spotted a couple more whales but of course were not able to get any good pictures.
The highlight of the walk back was spotting another bald eagle in the same area as when we walked in to town. This time however, the eagle was fishing. I was able to capture some pictures of him swooping down to pick up a fish and then flying back to his perch to eat it. I took an incredible amount of photos but will only post a few! He switched spots after eating the fish. On his new perch he preened a bit but didn’t hunt again so we continued on down the road.
We spotted one more eagle in a tree across the road so took a picture of him but he was not as interesting as the other eagle. I guess we got spoiled! We walked along the nature trail that led us back to the ship, spotting a couple more whales along the way.
The remainder of the day was spent at leisure, trying to spy more whales at play off of the back of the ship. The advantage of whale watching there is that there are another hundred or so people trying to spot whales along with you. So, if you see a group of people staring intently through their binoculars, all pointed in the same direction, there are probably whales (or eagles) in view! I was hoping that these guys would get closer to the ship, but no luck. I gave up and returned to our cabin.
Upon returning to the cabin, I thought I saw movement in the water off of our balcony. Thinking it might be seals or sea lions, I grabbed my camera and went outside. Instead, this is what I saw! It was the most spectacular thing I have ever experienced in nature. I didn’t have time to line up my shots, but just kept shooting, hoping I would get at least a few good ones.
Goodbye, magnificent creatures!