Alaska, the last frontier and the ultimate adventure playground. When Jake and I decided where we wanted to travel some three years ago, one thing was clear, we wanted to see and explore Alaska. To us, Alaska was an isolated frontier, the ultimate wilderness, a place so different to anywhere we had experienced before that it was hard to conceive what life there might be like. A land where bears – grizzly, brown, black and polar roam freely and the waters overflow with salmon, whales, and sea lions.
The reality is just as wild and primitive as we had imagined. Alaska was to be the most wondrous wilderness we had experienced on our entire Inca to Inuit adventure. A place so untamed and under-developed that a five-minute drive in either direction could lead you to the middle of the raw and at times unforgiving primeval forest.
After we had paid our visit to homeland security in Anchorage, we decided to head south to explore the Kenai peninsula. Promising some of the world’s largest supplies of salmon and halibut and easy access to the Alaskan wilderness we headed first for the town of Kenai.
Sitting at the mouth of the Kenai River, the town sits against a dramatic backdrop of the majestic Alaska Range and three active volcanos, Mount Spurr, Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt. Famed for its legendary salmon, these fish are the reason Kenai is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited settlements in Alaska. The Russians were the first non-Native people to settle in Kenai back in 1741 and traces of their existence in the area is still very much prevalent in the surroundng architecture.
We set up camp in a small countryside cabin on the outskirts of Kenai where we were to experience one of the most breathtaking and dramatic sunsets of our lives. The sky almost ablaze as the canary yellow of the sun pierced through the horizon setting the sky above the volcano’s opposite on fire.
Never in our lives had we seen a scene like we saw in Kenai. Walking down to the bay we were aghast by the number of people wading in the river. With many having set up camp on the beach, men and women were knee deep in water, nets in hand with a seemingly endless supply of salmon swimming in the waters around them.
Jake and I stood and watched for what must have been an hour. This wasn’t fishing. The fishermen and women were scooping King Salmon out the water, two or three at a time. When they weren’t shovelling fish out of the water, they were shuttle-running up the beach to their ice chests, where they would bash the fish over the head and place them in their treasure chests. People must have left that beach with hundreds of King and Sockeye salmon and with a price tag of $100 a fish, these fishermen and women had hit the jackpot.
We had been told that we could expect some of the best beer of our American stint in Alaska. Keen to sample some local Kenai brew, we headed to Kassiks. Born out of one woman’s Christmas present, this family owned brewery has taken home brewing to a whole new level. With a tap house and pub attached to the side of their house, the Kassiks have won awards for their selection of home brew. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the same time as the Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski who was mixing business with pleasure, snap chatting herself sipping on a cheeky pint.
Driving south to the tip of the peninsula we came to the town of Homer. Famous for being the Halibut fishing capital of the World, Homer is at the end of the Sterling Highway, some 200 miles south of Anchorage. The Homer spit is the longest road into the ocean waters in the world and was named one of the best beaches in the USA for its incredible views and variety of wildlife. The true end of the road on Alaska Highway 1 it is home to most of Homer’s bars and restaurants as well as multiple Bald Eagles who join the sea otters and whales who also call Homer home.
Now with very little money left in our piggy bank, we opted to sleep in our car on the beach. Saving money on accommodation also meant we could sample some of Homer’s delicacies which included oysters and stout at Homer brewing Company, Halibut Taco’s and clam chowder at the Glacier Drive Inn and a few drams of whiskey at the famous Salty Dawg Saloon. It would be here that we would add our one dollar bill to the thousands that line the walls and ceilings.
As the rain set in and our car roof began to leak we took this as our cue to head North to Steward in search for more favourable weather. As we drove nearer the rain and fog got gradually worse until visibility was at zero. 24 hours and another night sleeping the car later and the rain continued to pour. Deciding to cut our losses we decided to brave the rain for a quick hike up the Exit Glacier on our way North.