After embarking passengers in the late morning and getting settled and oriented on board, we depart Kodiak for Cape Chiniak, then Long Island via Inner Humpback Rock with opportunities to see humpback whales, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, eagles, black oystercatchers, and maybe rhinoceros auklets. As we transit Ouzinkie Narrows, we tuck inside Eider Island keeping an eye open for harbor seals, parakeet auklets, tufted puffins or sea otters. Weather and time permitting, we’ll run north to the Triplets, a gem of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, to see tufted puffins by the thousands. That evening, parakeet auklets, kittiwakes, horned and tufted puffins, land otters, harbor seals, mew gulls are on parade as we anchor at one of our favorite locations, Anton Larsen Bay. All this on just the first day!Day 2:
From Anton Larsen Bay we motor towards Port Bailey via Whale Passage, a narrow gap between the deep Gulf of Alaska and the comparatively shallow, fast flowing Shelikof Strait. To equalize the difference in sea level between these two water bodies, tidal currents here typically run in excess of 5 knots. Fin whale, minke whale, humpback whale, and orca sightings are all possible on this day, and it is not uncommon to see three species feeding at the same time. These currents are conveyor belts of food, and upwards of a thousand kittiwakes may be visible near the waterfalls at Whale Island. Along the way, we’ll pass the tiny, treeless island of Koniuji where up to 100 otters may be found in a single raft. Red and silver foxes and the hybrid cross fox might be found in the vast intertidal habitats near Little Raspberry Island.
Uganik and Viekoda bays, both part of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, are rich grounds for humpback, minke and fin whales. Two tidal lagoons at Uganik Island invite exploration, with abundant waterfowl, sea otters, and black tail deer in their upper reaches. Sea lions traditionally haul out on the rocky ledges of Cape Uganik. On this and every night, our chef, Kurt, delivers a top-notch cuisine, and we pride ourselves in customizing to individual needs and dietary restrictions. At dinner, we raise our glasses to Kodiak and point the bow toward the North American continent. Katmai National Park awaits. At least two of the dinners feature locally caught seafood. We typically ask guests in advance what their drinking habits are if any, and pair wines and beers to the evening meal as appropriate.
We arrive at Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park, under cover of darkness, and wake up to one of the most awe-inspiring and least-visited national parks in the United States. After breakfast, step into your hip waders (provided for you) and step off the drop-bow of our skiff onto tidal flat near the river mouth. Prior to going ashore, in the comfort of the Island C salon, we’ve discussed the social behavior of bears and fine-tuned our own strategy to minimize the group’s impact as we choose a spot to observe. The spot we choose depends on the state of the tide and the number, maturity level and gender of the bears, and of course the distribution of food, but it may be within mere meters of the bears. As we take our seats, you slowly realize that we’ve removed ourselves from the equation and are spectators to one of nature’s most iconic predator-prey interactions.
Based on the intelligence we’ve gathered about the recent travel patterns of the bears between bays, we may choose to investigate Hallo Bay about 30 miles to the northwest, or Kukak Bay, comfortably nestled in between. At Hallo, the bears fish, dig for clams and even stalk sea otters on Little Ninagiak Island (a poorly understood and only recently discovered behavior). Devil’s Desk and Hallo Glacier loom in the background, with peaks rising abruptly from sea level to more than a mile high. Each of these bays is reasonably well-protected and provide excellent kayaking. All are renowned for their salmon runs and the bears who seek them out.
Though it’s hard to take your eyes off the main event, in any of these bays wolves may appear, and may fish the mouths of the rivers as boldly as any boar. If our bear bucket is full, we’ll take time today to putter around the inner part of the bay in kayaks or dinghies. We see the occasional bruin who opted out of the river, but also white beaches of volcanic ash, towering basalt columns, harbor seals, numerous species of loons, and of course the endlessly entertaining sea otter. We point Katmai off the stern as we cross the Shelikof Strait on our last night onboard the Island C as darkness blankets the sea and the mountains of Kodiak in the distance.
We cruise back to the busy fishing port of Kodiak mid- to late-morning, capturing final photos, realizing how bittersweet it is to return to cell phone service, and eagerly sharing addresses and data. Chef Kurt prepares a final breakfast onboard, guests disembark and we say our goodbyes — at least for now. Our goal in this seven-day journey is to show you and photograph the best of coastal Alaska and the wildlife it has to offer!