Play hide and seek with animals of Alaska
It's not every day you see a pair of deer swimming for their lives, 3km across a bay.
But there they are, heads and necks strained above the waterline, their legs working overtime to propel them closer to the rocky shoreline. About five minutes later, they have made it. Exhausted.
Still, they hesitate in climbing up to the treeline. Survival mode has kicked in.
Our Misty Fjords naturalist and cruise guide speculates they may have been driven into the water by a predator, and crossing the bay is their only route to safety.
We hold our collective breath, willing them out of the deep emerald-coloured waters.
Success for one. But the other is having trouble finding secure footing on the slippery rocks.
The clear and present danger of a mate landing back "in the drink" is only surpassed by the need to keep their wits about them for any other problem lurking nearby.
Our Princess Bay catamaran keeps a respectful distance away but all aboard watch on like concerned parents.
Once certain the deer pair is safe, disappearing into the surrounding dense spruce and hemlock woods, we motor away, seeking our next unexpected wildlife encounter. It doesn't take long.
Misty Fjords National Park, 35km east of Ketchikan, Alaska, is full of wild surprises. The long, deep fjords lie between two natural canals (Behm and Portland) with sheer granite walls soaring skyward.
We just finish telling fellow Aussies how seeing orcas would make our day when the call comes over the PA system that a pod is straight ahead, 500m away.
We've just passed Behm Canal's New Eddystone Rock - a spire rising 73m from its base at sea level.
Formed by a volcanic vent pouring magma into the floor of the natural canal, it was named by explorer Captain George Vancouver because it reminded him of Eddystone Lighthouse in the English Channel.
The orcas' dorsal fins could easily be mistaken for two sticks bobbing upright in the bay when we first spot them.
So begins our game of hide and seek.
Trying to track their possible path to pinpoint our next sighting is the marine equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.
Then, eureka. A passenger spots the splash and points, calling out "there", before we all rush to the side, hoping for our treasured photo.
An eye cheekily looking my way as one of the mammals comes up for air is the reward for my patience.
The almost four-hour Misty Fjords and Floatplane Adventure through the national park is a must-do activity available in Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island.
We've taken up this wild, adventurous opportunity on the Holland America Line's ms Volendam seven-night Inside Passage cruise to Alaska.
We've already soared like an eagle through the gorges and beside lush green mountaintops on the 25-minute Taquan Air flight that begins with a water take-off and ends right beside the Misty Fjords Dock in a secluded cove.
Only from the air can you truly appreciate this 930,776ha American treasure.
The Misty Fjords National Monument - also known as "the Yosemite of the North" because of similar geology - is an ice-carved masterpiece of nature.
Blue lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys form jaw-dropping grandeur at every turn.
"The Mistys", as the locals affectionately call them, are dominated by granite mountains and land forms, draped in a forested cloak.
The midnight blues, emerald greens and greys run deep here, providing a visual overload.
As the area receives 150in (3810mm) of rainfall annually, the monument usually sports a veil of moist air rising up from the fjords below that appears as fog and mist.
The Tongrass National Forest here is the largest in the US, covering six million hectares in total of temperate North Pacific coastal rainforest.
Tours are operated under permit and strict guidelines to preserve its pristine nature and the unique plants and animals that exist here, protected by natural boundaries.
As a result, little has changed in six million years since the glaciers carved, ground, pushed and scraped out the land forms in the ice age, coupled with the legacy of massive volcanic activity.
The result is a majestic tapestry of sea cliffs, granite rock walls, steep fjords, and waterfalls best seen from above and at water level.
This is serene, still Alaskan wilderness lost in time, yet so accessible.
Picturesque spots such as Walker Cove, Rudyerd Bay and Punchbowl Cove are the main attractions, accessed by Behm Canal, which separates the island from the mainland.
Waterfalls such as the 305m Big Goat Lake Falls are just one of the spectacles visitors just like us have come from all over the world to see.
IF YOU GO
Misty Fjords National Park is 35km east of Ketchikan, Alaska.
Various cruise companies have itineraries taking in Ketchikan as part of Alaskan Inside Passage itineraries.
The Misty Fjords can be reached by floatplane or cruise tour.
More at hollandamerica.com; us-parks.com;