TRAVEL: Alaska's too adorable to bear
IT WAS a treat beyond all expectation. There in front of us - at a safe but excellent viewing distance - loped a big black bear.
Out of the shelter of the thick woods and on to a flat grassy area, she made her bulky way towards a salmon-filled stream where we stood watching from a small viewing platform.
All of us - a dozen passengers on a shore excursion in Alaska from our cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam - were transfixed. A moment later, out of the woods poked two small cubs, their little black bodies bobbing like yo-yos on the grass as they gambolled after their mother.
Mama bear turned and quickly shooed them back to the safety of the thick trees, a protective mother dishing out discipline, before she made her way back to the stream and the salmon.
But out again the cheeky cubs bobbed and bounced after mama bear. She chased them back into the woods again. We watched this a half a dozen times until the cubs finally got their mother's message.
We had already been treated to an exhilarating 20-minute flight on a seaplane from the port of Ketchikan to here at Neets Bay, flying high over the mountain peaks of Revillagigedo Island and looking down to deep fjords and dense forests.
We had landed as gracefully as a gliding pelican on the calm and pristine water in this remote and unspoilt place where just eight people live and operate a salmon hatchery, ever mindful that they share this space with wild bears.
Millions of salmon are bred and farmed here and then shipped abroad.
Neets Bay is a bear's all-you-can-eat smorgasbord where little effort is made to eat grandly every day. The salmon leap up into their mouths as they stand on rocks or in the shallow water.
On the short walk from the jetty to the stream we had passed many bear lairs, big makeshift dens they had built from branches and leaves at the bottom of trees.
Our guide had what looked like a gun on her belt but turned out to be bear spray in case we stumbled on a napping bear who did not take kindly to being disturbed by a bunch of cruise tourists. This was wild, untamed land. The bears' space. Not ours.
Fortunately, the spray was not necessary but the frisson of danger added another element of excitement to the whole overwhelming experience. Being close to bears in their natural habitat, watching them catching and eating salmon, was a privilege that will stay forever in the memory.
As for the bonus of the two cubs...well, we were the envy of all other passengers back on board Nieuw Amsterdam on return from the excursion.
After such an enthralling day, a voluptuous dinner in Nieuw Amsterdam's Tamarind Restaurant seemed right. Tamarind, one of three speciality restaurants on board (a small fee applies), delivers a rich culinary experience of South-East Asian, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
Before dinner, a mixology class (cocktail lesson in the old-fashioned language) whetted the appetite.
After dinner we passed on the line-dancing and were too tired for the illusionist show in the theatre. It had been a big day.
IF YOU GO:
Seven-day Alaska round trip from Vancouver from $1499 pp (April 29, 2017 departure)
MORE DETAILS: Holland America Line on 1300 987 322, or visit hollandamerica.com.au