It’s so nice to finally feel the tides and the open sea! Today, we awoke in Corpach to yet another blue sky and UK’s mightiest peak, Ben Nevis, on our port side. It is here that Scottish mountaineers get their schooling before heading to the higher summits of the Alps and the Himalayas; it is a true proving ground in the harsh winters of the northland. We bid farewell to the most ragged peaks of Scotland and transited southeast through Loch Linnhe, the only “sea loch” along the Great Glen Fault. This geologic seaway led us to the quaint town of Oban and a nice afternoon walk to McCaig’s Tower. A day like this reminds us how lucky we are to once again be chartering the Lord of the Glens . Four years away was just too long.
Early this morning, we arrived at the Tuamotu Archipelago, a completely different landscape than what we have experienced previously on this voyage. As we approached Rangiroa atoll and entered the pass, a single bottlenose dolphin came to escort us into the lagoon. With a strong outgoing tide and standing waves, the dolphin surfed our bow and did some spectacular leaps. We spent the whole day exploring this glorious island. SCUBA divers did multiple dives while snorkelers enjoyed “The Aquarium,” where the volume of fish is off the charts. We also went ashore. Some of us took a casual stroll, and others were enticed by the black pearl. Too soon, it was time to head out of Rangiroa and on towards Makatea!
This morning, National Geographic Quest anchored in the Inian Islands. While wellness specialist Sokie started her early morning stretching class on the sundeck, we had the first surprise of the day – three humpback whales came close to the ship to greet us. After breakfast, Zodiacs were deployed, and we made our way to explore the islands. We went to Bird Island first, a rock full of seabirds, including glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, and pigeon guillemots. We passed by an enormous colony of Steller sea lions that came close to the Zodiacs, swimming underneath us and playing with the strong waves and currents. Our guests enjoyed this abundance of life as we continued to the north side where we saw a blow. Two humpback whales were feeding in the area, and Dall’s porpoises moved quickly in the distance. Everywhere we looked was full of life. The whales went for a deeper and longer dive, and while we waited for them to come back up, we saw more blows farther away. This time it was orcas! We got closer and saw a pod of four transient orcas passing. Our guests couldn’t have been happier or more astounded. In the afternoon, we repositioned to Fox Creek to go kayaking and on different hikes. A photo and bird walk were led by photo instructor Iván and naturalist Zoey. Our guests really enjoyed exploring the lush temperate forest. They had opportunities to practice the photography tips learned throughout the voyage and to hear the bird calls they have come to recognize. It was a spectacular day in Southeast Alaska.
Under the cover of low hanging clouds, we set out for our second day of adventure along the Norwegian coast. In the midst of a windmill park and only a short Zodiac ride from the ship, we were met by our local guides at the little dock on Smøla and on the small island of Brattværet. A bus ride along the shoreline took one group through the low, vegetated landscape to Veiholmen for a guided town walk. Born and raised locally, our guide shared his own story as well as the one of the little village as he took us through the narrow, charming streets of Veiholmen. Once a very active fishing town, most buildings in the village are now summer houses. We finished up the tour at a little fishing museum that featured, among other things, a hip-replacement as a fishing hook. We grabbed a coffee at the local grocery store, where we were met by a colorful selection of indoor plants and Norwegian chocolate. Meanwhile, on the island of Brattværet, local guides took us around the windblown terrain. We explored the sights and history of the small community, and we enjoyed the view from a little hill. We concluded our hike with a well-deserved, traditional morning tea – which, in Norwegian, translates to coffee and waffles. Back on board our beautiful ship, we enjoyed a delightful lunch followed by a presentation by Nick Cobbing. While sharing his story and blowing our minds with his incredible pictures, he let us in on the secret of how to become a National Geographic photographer. Following tea time, ornithologist Ciarán Cronin taught us everything about the grand migrations of species all over the planet – from the strenuous journey of the land turtles in the Galapagos to the humpback whales and Arctic terns that we hope to encounter on our voyage. We also learned how many birds are killed by outdoor cats and how swallows were once believed to turn into frogs in the winter. The sun peeked out and set just a bit later than yesterday. We continued our journey northward to the view of windmills amidst the fog.
We spent much of today navigating the locks and lochs of the Caledonian Canal and taking in its changing landscapes. Beginning in Fort Augustus, we went through the small locks of Kytra, Colluochy, and Laggan, ending our journey by descending the impressive locks at Neptune’s Staircase. In the afternoon, we left the ship to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct, walking around its base and to various viewpoints before riding a train along the viaduct to return to the ship where it awaited us at Corpach.