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Homer, Alaska is halibut capital of the world

by Fiona Harper

Feeling right at home in Homer, Alaska

The coastal Alaskan town of Homer sits at the end of a narrow sand spit, where stunning wilderness and raw natural beauty collides with Native Alaskan culture.

What we'll be covering

Homer sits on the shores of Kachemak Bay, Alaska

The waterfront town of Homer is a short flight or about a four-hour-drive from downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Kachemak Bay stretches far into the distance rimmed by snow-topped mountain ranges. The prolific waterways are teeming with life which lure fisherman to Homer, the self-proclaimed Halibut capital of the world. That may be so. But it’s not what’s lured me to Homer. I’m here to see bears. Black bears, brown bears, I don’t care. I just want to see bears in the wild.

Poking around the pebbly beach of Homer Spit I’m drawn to beachfront gift shops and galleries where ancient artefacts attract my attention. They’re delicate, fragile and undeniably beautiful, embellished with intricate scrimshaw etchings that allude to the region’s history.

Whale baleen is intricately woven into teeny baskets the size of golf balls. Fossilised walrus ivory, seal and whale bones are polished to a porcelain-like finish, crafted into fine sculptures and jewellery paying homage to ancient traditions. So too polar bear claws, which are enhanced with ivory settings to create eye catching pendants. Or, rather absurdly, a letter opener. It sounds more than a little garish I know, the claws of such a majestic creature being trivialised in such a distasteful manner.

Initially I’m distraught that wildlife is sacrificed to create such inane trinkets. I soon discover however that the practice is strictly regulated and that no live animals are utilised in this craft. To create these artworks Native Alaskans harvest long dead skeletons buried beneath the frozen earth. It’s a form of recycling in its most primitive form that immediately makes me rethink the whole artform. Though I can’t quite bring myself to purchase one. I’d hiked with polar bears in Canada, marvelled at these majestic creatures in the wild and couldn’t stomach the thought of having a part of their anatomy on my bookshelf.

Alaska's wilderness is easily accessible from Anchorage

With much of Alaska located above 60 degrees North (the Arctic Circle lays at 66 degrees North), during summer the sun barely dips below the horizon. Alaskans utilise the warmer weather to penetrate the permafrost, digging historical hunting grounds in search of fossilised bone, teeth and tusks.

Retrieval is governed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act which celebrated 50 years of mammal protection in 2022. Genuine Native Alaskan artworks are identified by the Silver Hand seal to distinguish genuine artefacts, legally harvested, which have been crafted by an artist of an Alaskan tribe.

Bear claws have fascinated (yes, and also revolted) me since an Inuit trader in the Canadian Arctic sidled up beside me, unwrapping a stained cloth to reveal polar bear claws he was flogging for ‘just 70 dollars for you lady’. There was no sale. 

So I’m relieved to learn that Zack Tappan, owner operator of Sasquatch Alaska Adventure Company is driven by conservation and preservation of bears and their wild habitat. Guided by a philosophy to ‘live your dreams, leave only tracks’ Zack and his wife Nancy are both pilots who fly small groups deep into brown bear country.

Alaska's wilderness and wide open spaces lure adventurous travellers

"We careen through a valley lined with glaciers before dropping down to land on a beach."

Take a small plane for ultimate bear viewing opportunities

After swapping our shoes for thigh high rubber waders we strap ourselves into Zacks Cessna 206 and fly southwards towards Katmai National Park, home to the world’s largest brown bear population. We careen through a valley lined with glaciers then drop down to land onto a narrow strip of black beach sand.

Leaving the plane on the beach, which is locked tight to discourage inquisitive bears, we traipse across sedge grass plains towards a sleuth of bears spotted from the air. I’m immediately thankful for our waterproof waders when we strike a creek bed flanked by soft squidgy quicksand that proves reluctant to release our feet. Perching ourselves on a grassy knoll beneath snow-capped peaks, within minutes a brown bear makes its way towards us.

"A magnificent brown bear comes close enough to see spittle drooling from his jaws."

Get up close and personal with brown and black bears

His chocolate brown coat swishing as he lumbers across the plain, the bear is about the size of a Mini Cooper. He is absolutely magnificent and I cannot take my eyes of him.

We huddle together to simulate one large superior being which in theory will let the bear know we’re in charge here. Safety in numbers, and all that…

The bear pads forward toward us, snout pointed skyward, determining our level of threat. He comes close enough that I can see spittle drooling from his jaws. He pauses and eyeballs our huddle. It’s almost as though he’s posing cooperatively for our cameras and I snap a gazillion shots, mesmerised by his presence.

Eventually the bear turns away and casts an almost petulant glance over his shoulder before loping away, his shaggy fur shimmering in the soft light.

Exhilarated at observing the king of the food chain at close range, we walk to the river bed where a female bear and her trio of cubs are foraging. Well actually, the mother is foraging, the cubs show far more interest in playing. Tumbling over one other, splashing in the shallows and launching themselves at their mothers’ haunches, they’re spring cubs, just a month or two old.

Despite the chill wind tumbling down the mountain wheedling icy tendrils down my collar, I could watch for hours. However with the weather closing in and thick fog forecasted, reluctantly we hike back to the Cessna and return to Homer.

Homer Alaska, image by Fiona Harper travel writer for Travel Boating Lifestyle
Anchorage is the starting point for visiting Homer, Alaska

Stay in unique accomodation on Kachemak Bay

Approaching Homer our accommodation of the previous night is easy to spot perched high on the bluff. A converted railway carriage, timber fishing trawler and a two storey log cabin form the quirky sleeping arrangements at Alaska Adventure Cabins. Dazzled by never-ending daylight, I’d stayed up beyond midnight enjoying dusk tinting the mountains across the bay every shade of violet.

Back on Homer Spit, which juts 6km out into Kachemak Bay, we meet up with Shannon McBride from Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge. On the short boat trip across to the lodge, Shannon tells me how his intrepid parents settled into a gaunt skeleton of a log cabin at the foot of Kenai Mountains after the devastating 1964 earthquake. An immensely talented couple enchanted with their wild environment, they’ve created a splendid family run lodge bursting with character. Log cabins have been relocated from far and wide and mostly refitted with enormous picture windows to savour views atop the cliffs of spruce trees, mountains and China Poot Bay itself. It’s the sort of place that entices with exquisite food, delightful hosts and nature based excursions amid implausibly crisp air that it almost hurts urbanised lungs to breathe it in.

But much of Alaska is like that. This northern state with its extraordinary wilderness is so immensely beautiful that it takes your breath away.

Plan your trip to Homer, Alaska


Sasquatch Alaska Adventure Co for small group bear viewing tours travelling by light aircraft from Homer Airport. Best time is July to September. 


Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge  for an intimate nature based waterfront lodge at the base of the Kenai Mountains 

Alaska Adventure Cabins to stay in a converted rail carriage, fishing boat or log cabin with views across Kachemak Bay to the Kenai Mountains and Harding Ice Field 


Visit Homer Alaska

Travel Alaska

The writer travelled as a guest of Travel Alaska



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Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Travel Boating Lifestyle is managed by Fiona Harper

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters on which we live, work and travel. As people who seek meaning and knowledge through storytelling, we recognise that the First Peoples of this land have been doing so for over 60,000 years. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.