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Boasting mountains, sea, culture, art and so much more, many cities claim to have it all, but few can back it up like Vancouver. Famously livable, just visiting this highrise city – surrounded by staggering natural beauty – is a thrill. Offering all of the creature comforts of an ultra-modern, worldly metropolis – even downtown has a hint of mountain-freshness to its air – and part of Vancouver’s appeal is how easily you can swap the skyscrapers for whale-filled oceans and mountain-punctured skies. View less
Head up to the Vancouver Lookout Tower for the ultimate 360-degree views of the city glistening, amid the beautiful embrace of the beckoning wilderness beyond. But what to see first? Art lovers might choose the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Contemporary Art Gallery. Nature lovers might rush for the ferry to visit Vancouver Island – where they can encounter grizzly bears, whales and orcas. Culture vultures, on the other hand, will probably head for the sights and sounds of Canada’s biggest Chinatown. From steaming dim sum for lunch to Chinese apothecaries offering herbs to soothe any illness, it’s all here thanks to the migrant workers of the 19th century. The one-of-a-kind treasure of Stanley Park brings wild wonder and natural beauty to this cosmopolitan city’s doorstep, and the pine-tree clad park offers isolated trails and amazing views. Wander the Seawall that encircles it – a 20-mile coastal path, full of joggers, whizzing skaters and wandering couples. Grab a bike and cycle between Coal Harbour and Kitsilano Beach. You can top up your tan on the shore, as you soak in the glorious views of the mountains and cityscape from the sands.
From the name alone, you know what to expect when setting sail for Pine Island – a South Pacific refuge decorated with an elegant gathering of tall, thin New Caledonian pine trees. What you can’t prepare for is the sheer beauty of it all – a mesmerising drop of paradise in the crystalline waters, accented by the rocketing pine trees. Powdery white sand beaches fringe glorious bays, and the southern lagoon glows rich turquoise. View less
The intensity of colours at alcoves like Kanamera Bay is utterly mesmerising – breathe in deep to appreciate the pine fragrances mingling with purest sea air. The island was given its name by James Cook, after he fell under the spell of the spindly trees, on landing here in 1774. One of the blissful islands of the French oversea collectivity of New Caledonia, enjoy the uncomplicated pleasure of lying back on the bed of a brilliant beach and soaking in the sunshine. Once used as a French penal colony, these days Pine Island is an indulgent escape, but you can still seek out the mossy ruins that hint at the more macabre past. The island harbours some of the world’s most beautiful bays, sprinkled with powder-soft sand. Edging onto the New Caledonia Barrier Reef – the world’s third-biggest barrier reef – the diving is exceptional, as you move between swirls of colourful fish and gliding turtles and rays. N’ga Peak rises gently over it all, rewarding with a great vantage point, following the jungled climb to its summit.
The Salmon Capital of the World is a thrilling introduction to wild and wonderful Alaska, sitting at the southern gateway to the Inside Passage’s famed route of larger than life scenery. Cruise through the waters, or soar just above in a sightseeing plane, to take in the full majesty of the magnificent Misty Fjords National Monument. Home to grizzly and black bears – as well as cruising whales and swimming seals – the wildlife spotting opportunities in this majestic corner of the world are nothing short of spectacular. View less
Towered over by steep banks and valley walls, Ketchikan’s ocean inlet is peppered with granite stacks, looming from the waters. Surrounded by glorious landscapes, head to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, which is alive with bald eagles, black bears and remarkable, thick, yellow banana slugs – the squeamish are advised to keep well clear. Visit Ketchikan’s Heritage Centre, where a collection of intricately carved totem poles rise up, preserving the heritage of the indigenous Tlingit and Haida people of these lands. Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection, and some of the oldest and most precious totems in existence. This frontier city hasn’t always been so wholesome, however. See the colourful historic street that is built on crooked stilts over Ketchikan Creek, which has a crude history as the main red-light district in the city. The brothels closed in the 1950s, but you can explore this legendarily seedy past at Dolly’s House – a brothel turned museum. See the Married Man trail, a historical route used to enter Creek Street away from prying eyes.
Extraordinary adventures amid nature’s wildest staging await at Juneau. The majestic Mendenhall Glacier sprawls down from Juneau Icefield, which provides an icy cap to the area’s rip-roaring scenery. State capitals simply don’t get more dramatic than this isolated, remote city lost amid the Alaskan wilds. Even the roads eventually peter out, absorbed by forests and viewpoints, firmly underlining the isolated location, hidden behind an impenetrable wall of rigid mountains. Rise up to Mount Roberts Tramway’s viewpoint, to see the city swallowed by this most colossal backdrop. View less
This is glacier country, and no fewer than 38 ice flows branch off from the main Juneau Icefield, slowly carving out valleys in their wakes. Taku Glacier cuts deep into the mountain, forming a colossal sculpture that is one of the world’s thickest – almost a mile deep. Mendenhall Glacier cascades down, just 12 miles away from downtown, terminating in its own lake and visitor centre. With 1,500 square miles of ice field to explore, one of the best ways to take in the magnitude and majesty of this epic ice sculpture is to hold on tight on as the propeller whirs, and you soar into the skies on an exhilarating sightseeing flight. Cruising up above the icy world that fills in these serrated mountain peaks is a once in a lifetime experience. The animals that inhabit the Southeast Alaskan wilds are just as inspiring as the landscapes – families of bears patrol the riverbanks, bald eagles survey the surroundings watchfully, and Pacific humpbacks migrate from Hawaii’s waters to feast on the krill rich, icy waters. Fish for huge catches, power across the ice in a snow-sledge, or kayak just below glaciers. However you choose to immerse yourself in it, Juneau’s incredible outdoor adventures never disappoint.
“North to Alaska” was the song sang by those rushing to the goldmines of the Klondike. Usually they meant Skagway. The White Pass and Chilkoot Trails were the gateways to the Yukon Territory.
The gold rush was a boon and by 1898 Skagway was Alaska’s largest town with a population of approximately 20,000. Hotels, saloons, dance halls and gambling prospered, attracting Skagway residents as well as the 10,000 people living in the nearby tent city of Dyea. But, as the gold dwindled in 1900, so did the population as miners quickly moved to Nome.
Today with a population of less than 1,000, the town retains the flavor of the gold-rush era in its downtown, a historic district.
Sitka began as a major Tlingit Indian village and was called “Shee Atika,” which translates roughly as “settlement on the outside of Shee.” “Shee” is the Tlingit name of Baranof Island.
In 1799, Alexander Baranof, the general manager of the Russian American Company, decided to move his base of operations from Kodiak and set up camp at what is now called Old Sitka, 7.5 miles north of the present-day town. He called the settlement St. Archangel Michael. The Tlingit Indians of the area resisted the occupation and, in 1802, with Baranof away, burned the fort and massacred the Russian settlers. Two years later, Baranof returned and besieged the Indian fort. The Tlingits withdrew and the area was once again in Russian hands. This time, the Russians built the new city on a different site and called it New Archangel.
For over six decades, New Archangel was the capital of the Russian empire in Alaska. By 1867, the Alaska colony had become too much of a financial burden to Russia. William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, negotiated with the Russian Czar to purchase the Territory of Alaska for $7.2 million. The American press scoffed at Seward and the U.S. government for purchasing what they called “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” and “Walrussia.”
On October 18, 1867, the Russian flag was lowered at New Archangel and the Stars and Stripes were raised over newly renamed Sitka. The name comes from the Tlingit word “Sheetkah,” which means “in this place.” All Russian citizens living in the former colony were given the opportunity to become American citizens. Many went home, although a few stayed or migrated to California.
Sitka remained the capital of the Territory of Alaska from 1867 to 1906, when it was moved to Juneau. The move was a direct result of the gold rush. In plain terms, Sitka did not have any and Juneau did.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sitka became a full-scale naval base. At one time during the war, Sitka had a total population of 37,000. With the end of World War II, however, the city settled into a quieter existence. The biggest boom in modern days for Sitka came in 1959 when the Alaska Lumber and Pulp Company built a pulp mill at Silver Bay, near the city.
Today, picturesque Sitka is known for its fishing and of course its many historic attractions.
Hubbard Glacier, off the coast of Yakutat, Alaska, is the largest glacier in North America, with a calving front that is more than six miles wide. One of the main sources for Hubbard Glacier originates 76 mi inland. It has been a very active glacier, experiencing two major surges in the past 30 years. This glacier was named after Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a U.S. lawyer, financier, and philanthropist. He was the first president of the National Geographic Society.
Seward, founded in 1903, is named after the Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, who endeavoured to purchase the land we know today as Alaska. It is a small, fishing village that has become a fairly busy port, due to its access to the state’s highway, something many Alaskan towns lack. It is the southernmost terminus for the Alaska Railroad and is the closet port to Anchorage for those embarking cruise ships. Anchorage is located in south central Alaska, where to the east, the Chugach Mountains serve as the backdrop for the city’s magnificent skyline. To the west are the expansive, steel-coloured waters of Cook Inlet, named after the explorer Captain James Cook who sailed into the area in 1778.
Anchorage was incorporated as a city in 1920. Though steadily growing, it remained a relatively small frontier town until the beginning of World War II. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Anchorage found itself on the front lines of the conflict. Airfields, roads, and other buildings were constructed during the war. After World War II, the infrastructure was left behind, creating the framework for Anchorage’s development. On January 3, 1959, Congress voted Alaska into statehood.
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