Aurora Expeditions recognises the Tlingit people, and Lingít Aaní which are their ancestral homelands will be travelling through.

Alaska is a Voyage you can’t Afford to Delay

In 2022 Aurora Expeditions will voyage to Alaska for the first time. While it will be a first for the ship itself, the team and crew have spent many seasons in the region. The expedition team includes locals like Liz Gifford who will provide some of the most intimate adventure-filled activities and local knowledge insights that will make you feel like you’ve been absorbed by your surrounds.

Liz Gifford has been with Aurora Expeditions for two years. She’s always had an affinity for living near or on the water and currently calls a houseboat in Juneau amongst the Southeast Alaskan archipelago home. As a natural leader she’s always on the lookout for an opportunity to teach and discuss what she sees around her. She firmly believes in lifelong education. It all started with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Masters in Teaching.

As she made her way into adventure tourism she fell in love with polar regions. An experienced dual polar guide with more than nine seasons in Antarctica as well as guiding in the Arctic waters of Svalbard and Greenland, she specialises in sea kayak and photography instruction. She has earned her Master’s 100 Ton Captain’s license and is a Wilderness First Responder amongst many other technical qualifications, you know you’re in capable and safe hands with Liz as your guide.

Liz Gifford in Antarctica
Liz Gifford in Antarctica
Radiant Blue Alaskan Ice
Radiant Blue Alaskan Ice by Liz Gifford

After missing the 2020 Antarctica season due to the pandemic, Liz had a moment of realisation that are similarities to the southern polar region in her home’s surrounding landscape. “Alaska is a mini-Antarctica,” said Liz. “The stunning scenery, the mountains and glaciers, the amazing and vast wildlife, the hidden coves and bays that small ships can tuck into, it’s all here.”

When she’s not sharing her expertise on a ship, she’s not sitting by watching time, Liz has spent the Alaskan summer hosting and guiding guests on sea kayaking expeditions. So we talked to her about what makes Alaska so special.

Visiting Alaska in May and June around the summer solstice means extended daylight hours for extra adventure with daylight between 4am and 11pm. She recommends making the most of every moment at sea by getting out on deck for an early morning pastel pink sunrise, immerse yourself in an outdoor activity like hiking or kayaking and exploring local, cultural sites.

Sea kayaking is the ultimate way to get in and amongst it all. A sea kayak guide, Liz does have bias towards the activity but says when you are sitting in a small boat no motor you feel much more a part of the living environment.

 

EXPLORE :: 2022 Alaska Odyssey – Experience some of Alaska’s most iconic glaciers including Mendenhall, South Sawyer, Hubbard, and the calving tidewater glaciers in the enormous Prince William Sound.

Unbelievable Opportunities to get Up-Close

“Paddling through inside passages, protected coves and bays hugging the coastline you can see and feel everything. The waters are calm and clear,” she says. “Just glancing over the side of the kayak you can a colony of sea stars, colourful sea anemone and a nutrient rich kelp forest. Then you look up onto the shore and there could be Sitka black tailed deer and coastal brown bears walking along peacefully in their natural environment. While out in the ocean you could see humpback whales, Stellar sealions, harbour seals and orcas swimming by as they look for their next meal.”
Liz Gifford at McBride Glacier
Enjoying the McBride Glacier by sea kayak

Witness the Glacial Time Capsule

“The glaciers in Alaska are smaller than in Antarctica but still hold the glimmering and vibrant blues of the polar regions which makes for unique and stunning photographs,” says Liz. 

Hosting a vast amount of wildlife, they play an important part of the ecology and a habitat for many.

“The glaciers are very active. They calve off icebergs of all shapes and sizes. The harbour seals use the icebergs while they give birth to their pups and as a place of respite from their main predator the orca. For the keen birder glaciers provide an opportunity to see many types of bird species. The freshwater that melts off the glacier mixes with the saltwater and draws in birds like the pigeon guillemont and the black-legged kittiwake who feed off the small fish in the less saline waters.

The glaciers have history and are ever-changing. The Alaskan glaciers we visit have been around since before ‘the little ice age that lasted over 200 years and came to an end in the late 1700s which means “you can enjoy a 100 year old scotch with at least 200 year old ice after a long day adventuring,” says Liz.

Many of the glaciers in Alaska are retreating at an increasing rate due to less snowfall snow in the winter months. Their vast changes unveil new bays and ancient landscapes with each glacial retreat annually. “In the 20 years I’ve been living in Juneau I’ve watched one of the glaciers retreat over a mile (1.6km),” says Liz. “One retreated over 500 yards in a single summer. Seeing it happen in front of you makes you appreciate the landscape and it’s ever-changing beauty so much more, but also makes you realise you’re witnessing environmental change in action.”

Ice Berg at Tracy Arm Entrance
Ice Berg at Tracy Arm Entrance by Liz Gifford

Liz's Reasons why you Should get to Alaska in 2022

  • Be engulfed by the mountain vistas all around
  • The unique wild, remote landscapes
  • Learn and witness the indigenous Alaskan culture, Tlingit people (pronounced Klinkit)
  • Experience the world’s largest temperate rainforest
  • Extended daylight hours for extra adventure with daylight between 4am and 11pm
  • Witnessing the glacial time-capsule and the unique ecology that inhabit the glaciers

Liz's Three Things to Remember to Pack

  • Binoculars so you can see all the wildlife, especially those unexpected moments.
  • Good rain gear and a warm fleece. Even in early summer it can be a little cooler than you expect but when the clouds and mist hug the mountains it makes it a romantic, beautiful place to be.
  • Sleeping mask or buff if you want to get extra sleep. With extended daylight at this time of year, it can be pretty bright in the mornings, but as it goes on the ship, there’s plenty of time to sleep when you get home!
Sanford Cove mountain mist
Sanford Cove mountain mist by Liz Gifford

Why Alaska on a Small Ship with Aurora Expeditions?

Our Alaska expeditions are designed to offer a balanced mix of encounters with wildlife, nature, culture and history. A small ship Alaska cruise expedition allows for greater flexibility to change our itinerary to maximise encounters with wildlife, and to give us greater access to small coves and inlets that larger vessels are not able to access.
  • Unique itineraries that take you to less trodden destinations that few others visit – including the Aleutian Islands, Haida Gwaii, Dean River Channel, Prince William Sound.

  • Authentic and rich experiences that are not only about discovering the natural world but immersing yourself in it. We have a passion for adventure, exploration, conservation, and perspective-altering experiences that curious travellers will embrace with us.

  • Escape the crowds with access to smaller ports that are inaccessible by larger ships. On our Alaska voyages we will visit Metlakatla Indian Community, Inian Islands, Elfin Cove, Point Adolphus and Saint Lazaria Wildlife Refuge.

  • World-class Expedition Team and highest Expedition Team to guest ratio. Travel with the most experienced, professional and passionate expedition team in the industry including naturalists, historians, expert photographers who will help you make the most of your time in Alaska.

  • Make a difference and engage in your surrounds. You will have the unique opportunity to participate in our onboard Citizen Science Program, to open your mind and discover how you too can help preserve the majesty of our planet.

  • Comprehensive activities program so you can explore more. Our flexible activity program is designed so your expedition can be as active as you want. From guided hikes, zodiac cruising, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding.*

  • Ships designed for discovery – with the latest cutting-edge nautical technology, our ships are designed to take you to the most remote and spectacular places and get you out in nature – with the ease of hopping on and off via our innovative activity pontoon.

  • Comfortable and friendly onboard atmosphere – Spend the days exploring and come back to your comfortable “home away from home” with our modern yet relaxed onboard atmosphere designed with your comfort in mind.

  • More inclusions give you freedom to enjoy your experience without worrying about accumulating costs. Whether it is meals, included activities or pre/post-voyage accommodation.

  • Forge lifelong friendships – Our small ships (120-130 guests) foster an open and friendly onboard environment, so you can get to know your fellow expeditioners and expedition team and forge lifelong friendships.

*Some activities are an additional cost. Contact our team or visit our website for details.

Orca
Nooya Lake Alaska

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