Start to plan a trip like this
Canada 2014 Blog
All images courtesy of Malcolm direct from his camera in Canada
We are shortly to set out with two friends on a trip to Western Canada,
which incorporates some of the very best that this area has to offer.
We originally fly from Manchester to Vancouver, follow up with some
whale watching in Victoria, some coastal experience on Vancouver Island,
followed by the spectacular Inside Passage ferry journey with BC Ferries.
Then it is a two day train journey on VIA Rail’s Skeena. This route
many believe to be the most spectacular scenic rail journey in Canada.
We then proceed down the stunning Top 10 drive in the world, The Icefield
Parkway, before ending up at the world famous Calgary Stampede. Yes,
I know it is hard work, but someone has to do it!
We will attempt to let you know the good, the bad and the ugly each
day with regular posts subject to WIFI connection. We are in some
quite remote areas at times and sometimes we can get the text through,
but struggle with the size of the photographs. Hopefully you will
enjoy reading along to bring back memories of a trip you have done
or to entice you to get thinking about a trip you should be doing.
Saturday 14 June
We are lucky in that our son and daughter in law live about 20 minutes
from Manchester Airport, so we stayed with them last night. No need
for a wake-up call as our 3 year old granddaughter Amy came in to
see Nana and Granddad at 05.30! Still what a great way to start a
trip, spending 2 hours being entertained. Breakfast with them and
Matthew took us and our friends to the airport . Our friends who are
travelling with us have friends in the same area so we picked them
up along the way.
We are flying with Air TRANSAT Canada's largest charter airline. They
fly non-stop to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver from Manchester during
the summer months. They use a modern fleet of Airbus 330 and 310 aircraft.
Flying from terminal 1 in Manchester was very easy, just a short way
from the drop off point to the check in. Air TRANSAT upgraded us to
their Option Plus service as they want us to promote it.
- Priority check in
- Priority boarding
- Sparkling wine
- Free drinks during flight
- Comfort pack including blanket, head support, headset and eye
- Bottle of wine with meal.
There were 2 drinks services during the flight, including one prior
to the main meal service. A good choice of 3 options of main course.
The second meal was pizza with tea and coffee served about one hour
prior. There was good leg room, similar to the main stream airlines,
and much better than many. We paid a small supplement to have the
two seats on the side at the back, which gives a bit more space
and I think is well worth while.
Certainly currently for clients from the North of England it is
the only direct service to Western Canada from Manchester.
We arrive bang on time to rain! The immigration process was painless
and so much more pleasant than in the USA. Baggage seems to take
a long time as one of our group had a bag that must have been in
the last ten to come off the plane.
We had elected to take the train downtown. The Canada line is a
legacy from the Winter Olympics. Before it was built you went downtown
by bus, now it takes about 20 minutes to get to the Waterfront on
a very comfortable train. Tickets are bought from a machine just
by the entrance to the station. There is a very helpful person available
to assist and remember if you are 60 plus you can pay the concession
rate! Sorry your bus pass does not work! The full rate is currently
$7.50 per person. All platforms are level with the train so you
can pull your luggage straight on to the train. The train is like
a combination of the Manchester/Nottingham tram and the London Underground,
but because it was built to serve the airport there is luggage space.
You can pay for your tickets with cash or it accepts credit cards
at no surcharge.
From the Waterfront Transportation hub we took a taxi, which was
about £6.00 for the four of us to the hotel. It is not really
walkable with your bags. We are staying at the Century Plaza Hotel,
which is one of our main partner hotels located on Burrard Street.
It is about a 10 minute walk to the Waterfront and about 15 minutes
Vancouver as a city is built on what I would call an upturned bowl
rising from the sea on three sides. After a shower went to eat.
Top Tip: When you arrive in North America,
however tired you are, do not go straight to sleep. If you do not
eat then your body will wake you up very early needing food. Having
some kind of meal really helps. We really wanted something like
a decent burger so asked the doorman who directed us to Davie Street.
The place he suggested I am sure had great burgers, but nowhere
to sit. So we walked on up the street and came across the Fountain
Head Bar. It was busy and very lively with the World Cup football
on. It was not till we were sitting down that we noticed that about
75% of the clients were men. However we had ordered some drinks
by then, so we stayed. The food was good and it was a very lively
place to be. As the evening went on more and more couples came in
and some female couples as well. It was good fun and just about
the right distance from the hotel to stretch our legs.
Back to a the hotel and now it was time for bed.
Sunday 15 June
Woke up at about 06.30 which was really good for a first day. Cloudy
and a 25% chance of rain today. We arranged to meet for breakfast
at 07.30 . We had an excellent hot breakfast in the hotel for about
£7.50 per head including coffee and toast, which we thought
was good value. We have clients staying in the hotel so I meet up
with them and they were enjoying the hotel and also thought the
food was good.
The rooms in this hotel are all large and many have a limited self-catering
facility. Like all hotels in the city centre it can be a little
noisy at night if the police or ambulances are busy but that is
We recommend to clients to get a hop on, hop off city tour. We mainly
suggest you take a trip on the Big Bus Company and they stop right
outside the hotel. The plan was to take a whole circuit and then
decide what to do. The weather did improve as we set off, but being
early and a chance of rain the open top was closed. We actually
got off just before the full circuit and walked down to the Waterfront.
We had a coffee with a view of Holland America's Statendam, which
is one of the boats we use on an Alaska Cruise.
main trip today is a float plane experience called the Mail Run.
Harbour Air operate this on an ad hoc flight around the Islands
in the Georgia Straights. Till you check in you actually do not
know how many stops there will be. We were told today there would
be three calls, which is about average, so that means four take
offs and landings.
Harbour Air operates the largest fleet of float or seaplanes in
the world all over western Canada and in some very remote places
these aircraft are the only way in landing on lakes of see inlets.
It is because of this the trip has become one of the Canada Signature
Experiences. The Independent Traveller is proud to become the first
tour operator in the world to have dedicated website space to this
unique programme. On this trip we will be doing a number of these
and hopefully this blog will help promote this concept.
to today's trip. As there is no service on board the flight you
are offered coffee and cake before departure. We boarded the plane
at about 12.15 and it was quite full. After being cast off we taxied
to the open water in Vancouver harbour. Then the engine barked into
a real roar and we sped across the water until the floats broke
free of the water and we took off. Rapidly gaining height we flew
over Lions Gate Bridge that guards Vancouver harbour and set out
for the Islands. The views from the air were stunning and hopefully
the pictures can give you some idea of how beautiful it is.
Each time we landed the plane swooped down from the sky and landed
rather like a swan, a bit of a surge on landing and then serenely
floating along into the dock. These Islands are mainly used by people
with very expensive holiday homes or as retirement homes. Some of
the larger Islands do have some logging plants providing year round
work. The small harbours we docked in had multi-million $ sail and
motor boats moored up. A bit of a surprise as on a Sunday in mid-June
you would have thought more would be out on the water.
We returned to Vancouver two and a half hours later after what I
can honestly say was a fantastic trip. It is not a cheap excursion,
but one all four of us felt was great value for money. In coming
days look for us to be offering a special Vancouver sightseeing
package with the Big Bus and the Mail Run on a combo.
Another coffee and a doughnut at Tim Hortons (Canada's number 1
coffee shop) and then a pleasant still around downtown Vancouver
in what was now really pleasant sunshine. Along the way we saw roads
closed off for the shooting of a film. We watched for a while as
they took several takes for what will be a 30 second piece of the
Back to the hotel for a quick change and then to the Keg in Vancouver.
If you were reading my blog in September you will know I am very
partial to this chain of steak and sea food restaurants. The quality
and service is always great and tonight was no exception. Then it
was time for bed about 2 hours later than last night!
Monday 16th June
We had a breakfast meeting at the Westin Grand Hotel, which is located
on Robson Street. This is a 4.5 star property, all suite offering
high quality rooms and service levels. We first contacted this hotel
when it was still a hole in the ground so our rate reflects the
long standing relationship.
After a nice breakfast an inspection of the hotel to reacquaint
ourselves with the different room types. All feature some sort of
kitchen, either full or a kitchenette and many have a water view
of either English Bay or the harbour. There is an outdoor pool,
which is popular in the summer and a library, thought to be the
only library that has its own bar!
I went to look at the Sandman on Davie Street. This is another all-suite
hotel not too far from the Century Plaza. This property lacks '
curb appeal' and the lobby is a little dark. However the rooms are
great with full kitchens and balcony. As there are no high rise
buildings close to the hotel the rooms have either a good city view
or a great view of English Bay.
weather today was cloudy to start, but the sun broke out later and
the afternoon was really very pleasant. We all meet up in Granville
Island, the others using the hop on, hop off bus to get there via
the water taxi, which is included in the cost of the hop on, hop
I suggested that we meet at the brewery and it seemed only right
to at least sample the product! Then a wander around the craft and
other shops plus the extensive farmers market. Really excellent
produce that had we not been being hosted to dinner would have made
a great lunch on the patio overlooking the water. However we did
have an ice cream sitting in the sun overlooking the water and listening
to some good music. Took the water taxi back and then the hop on
bus to Stanley Park. Included in the ticket price is a full one
hour tour of this great park.
Many old growth trees that are up to 1000 years old. Vancouver is
a very green city with lots of small, well looked after, green spaces
dotted around. Each area has tennis courts, which are free to play
and well looked after, available on a first come basis.
We returned to the waterfront to have a coffee and watch a Disney
cruise ship depart for Alaska. To watch these ships slip away from
the cruise centre and head out to sea via Lions Gate Bridge is a
great site. However I have to say that with the boat playing Disney
music very loudly and the ship’s horns also doing the same it made
it an absolute certainty that I will not be on such a cruise. Whilst
out of place in Vancouver the thought of how out of place it would
be in stunning Juneau does not bear thinking about!
Tonight dinner in the Century Plaza with the sales manager and the
sales director. The sales director and I first met over 25 years
ago when he was just starting out in his career. The dinner in the
hotel was really excellent. We had a great chat and caught up with
what we were all doing and what developments the hotel has in mind.
The Century Plaza is family owned and as such they are able to ensure
the hotel develops in line with what is needed locally. This ends
our stay in Vancouver. It is easy to see why it is such a popular
destination with our clients. It lives with Cape Town, San Francisco
and Sydney as ' must visit' places. I have visited many times and
would still like to think I will be back again.
Tuesday 17 June
The weather changed this morning to bright sunshine. Very simple
trip back to the airport on the train. The trip back is only $1.75
for seniors and $2.75 for others. The car hire is easily found.
Take the lift down to the arrivals level and follow the outside
of the building to your left as you look at the terminal; all the
car hire is located in one place. After a fast checkin, and we got
a brand new 7 seater van. These are ideal for two couples travelling
together as there is lots of space for luggage and people. The one
we have is extremely comfortable and easy to drive. It is a very
easy drive out of the airport and the ferries to Victoria are very
It takes 30 minutes to drive and get your tickets. It cost us approximately
£80.00 for the car and 4 passengers for the trip which lasts around
90 minutes. There is a good cafe in the terminal if you have to
wait and the food onboard is at a reasonable cost and quite good.
With really bright weather; it was a very pleasant wait.
trip across is always pretty, but today with the lovely sunny weather,
it was rather special. When we left the ferry port it would be a
40 minute drive to Victoria, but we wanted to visit Butchart Gardens;
which is one of the worlds' leading gardens. On a bright sunny day,
with the early summer flowers now all fully open, it was really
stunning. This is their 100th year and what has been done to turn
an old quarry into this garden is fantastic. The Rose garden was
in full bloom and it was great to see such a fine collection of
roses. There are 5 separate gardens to choose from or visit and
we did visit them all.
We will soon be introducing a new Experience pack for Vancouver
and Victoria that will have all the top attractions on a bundle
and offered at a discount. Watch our website for updates www.itiscanada.co.uk.
We spent nearly 4 hours at the garden and there is a choice of 3
restaurants offering everything from full meals to light snacks.
The gardens are open till 22:00 at this time of the year and from
July to August there is a nightly fireworks display.
We stopped at a supermarket on the way to the hotel for a few basic
supplies. Just a note:- in most provinces wine, beer and spirits
are not sold in the normal supermarket but in government owned liquor
stores. It is also quite normal and accepted by hotels to take drinks
into a hotel. They always provide glasses and ice as well.
We are staying at the Chateau Victoria which is just a 5 minute
walk to the inner harbour. All our clients get a free upgrade to
a one bedroom suite which really enhances the stay. As there are
4 of us they gave us a 2 bedroom suite with a balcony with a great
view. Just as well we had stopped for supplies so we could use the
balcony in the early evening sun for a G&T before going out to supper.
We are off looking for whales in the morning, so an early night
after a stroll around the inner harbour on the way home.
Wednesday 18th June
We are staying at long term partner hotel Chateau Victoria. This
is another family owned hotel that has served the area for a long
time. You know it is a good place by the length of time the staff
stay! This morning we elected to go whale watching. We use Orca
Spirit as our provider because they have both covered, and Zodiac
boats, so we can meet the needs of a range of clients.
The advantage of the covered boat is that if, as they were today,
a good distance away, then you can keep warm and dry under cover.
Today was really great weather but the boat had to power out to
find the whales. The main whales seen in this area are Orca or Killer
Whales. There are 3 resident pods of around 100 whales that make
this area their summer home, feeding on the salmon as they come
around the end of Vancouver Island and into the Georgia Strait.
Here the salmon will feed and regain strength before they swim up
the riverside in the Autumn to spawn.
we saw about 15 members of J pod as they foraged looking for salmon.
Each whale eats about 150kg of salmon per day. Some great sightings
today including breaching. The photos will give you an idea of how
good it was. If you have read previous blogs you will know I am
a real fan of whales; the size and power they have and then being
able to move so gracefully. Also it is possible to see transient
Orca whales who do not eat fish but feed on seals. Sometimes there
are also Humpback whales and Grey whales also to be seen.
After we returned to the dock we took a stroll around Victoria,
which in the sun, was looking at its summer best. Victoria is very
walkable and it is easy to see why it is so popular with British
visitors. Later in the day, we meet up with so many people we met
last year in PEI on last years trip and we spent a pleasant 2 hours
with them. This was in the Oak Bay Area, which is the home of some
fantastic houses. If you are in Victoria and have a car, take a
drive out to this area; some great small bays and viewpoints. Then,
a nice Italian meal before we returned to the hotel. Tomorrow we
head up the Island.
Thursday 19 June
Slightly misty this morning as we left Victoria to drive north towards
Duncan. We stopped for breakfast at the White Spot in Duncan, part
of the White Spot BC chain of restaurants famous for good service
and value prices, and the breakfast did not disappoint.
Our next stop was Chemainus, famous for its wall murals, forty three
in all around the town. A popular stop before we continued up the
island to Nanaimo, one of the ferry crossing points back to Vancouver
We then turned due west towards Port Alberni where we shopped for
our main supplies as in Ucluelet we are staying at The Water’s Edge
Resort at the Pacific Rim, in a two bedroom self-catering apartment
with a well-appointed kitchen, dining area and lounge.
After leaving the heavens opened and it poured with rain for the
next 70 km. This, plus a twisty road, made it a tough drive. From
Nanaimo to Ucluelet is a 3.5 hour drive and in places the road is
quite winding. It is actually only about 125 km, but you have to
be careful how you drive. Still raining when we arrived and we were
directed to our apartment overlooking the sound. It was spectacular
even in the rain. We cooked in tonight and as we ate, the rain stopped
and the mountains cleared, leaving us with a fantastic view. Tomorrow
we are looking forward to exploring the area, hopefully in the dry!
Friday 20th June
Woke up this morning to a cloudy but dry day. Breakfast in our well-equipped
apartment overlooking Barclay Sound. We went for a walk around the
resort and then drove to Ucluelet. The village is small, but with
several restaurants ranging from family style to a Michelin star
restaurant. There is also a good Co-op store, more of which later.
We took a look at Black Rock Lodge, a lovely resort directly facing
the ocean. Quite up market, but the rooms all have a limited self-catering
option. We then drove down towards Tofino, visiting several of the
local beaches. By now the sun had come out and it was a great summer’s
day. Tofino is about three times the size of its twin, Ucluelet,
and it is the base for many activities such as seaplane trips and
whale watching for grey whales. We took the chance to drive down
to Grice Bay, a bit off the track but quite stunning.
the way back we spent some quality time at Long Beach and then did
the walk through the rainforest. This is stunning and should be
on everybody's list of things to do. Just a note of caution: this
is not very disabled friendly, so quite good mobility is needed.
We then drove back into Ucluelet and visited the Co-op for some
supplies: wild salmon, crab and prawns for the salad and some new
potatoes made it a great evening meal. A lovely evening and such
a great view as we ate. Tomorrow we will see, but given tonight’s
meal we need a good walk.
Saturday 21st June
The longest day and what a day. A lazy breakfast in our comfortable
apartment overlooking Barkley Sound, then FaceTime with our granddaughter
which was nice. We went for a walk around the West Coast Trail,
which is just over 4 km, well-marked with exceptional views around
every corner. An easy walk and just what the Doctor ordered.
We then had coffee and a treat at Zoe's bakery overlooking the inner
harbour, and bought sourdough bread for later, add this to your
list of things to do in the area. If we allowed ourselves lunch
it would be great as everything is made on site: some great flatbreads,
soups and sandwiches.
Our friends decided to walk another trail, but my wife is due to
have a new hip when we get back to the UK, so we declined. The downside
was that we had to go to the supermarket. There is only one in town,
the Co-op, so an easy choice. Then back to our really well equipped
apartment to enjoy an evening meal and the wonderful view on our
last night at The Water’s Edge.
Sunday 22nd June
Breakfast in the apartment and time to pack the car and set off
back east. It took about two hours to get back to Parksville, which
is on the main road that goes the length of Vancouver Island from
Victoria to Port Hardy. We were heading to Campbell River and the
ferry to Quadra Island, a 15 minute ferry journey back towards the
mainland in the Straits of Georgia.
We are staying at Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge at the south end of the Island.
By now is was a great day, the very best weather, pleasantly warm
without being too hot. We had managed to get the ferry at 13.10
rather than the 14.10 crossing we were planning for and this meant
that we arrived at the lodge at 14.00. We are staying at Wharfe
House, which is a few minutes’ drive from the main lodge. We have
sent photos, so hopefully you can see what a fantastic place it
is, right on the water’s edge with a view that is hard to start
to describe. Again a two bedroom unit with full kitchen, great lounge
area and a covered deck with a barbecue.
We decided to eat in the restaurant tonight, but bought barbecue
food for tomorrow. The food in the restaurant was great with a wide
choice of main course, all really enjoyed. I am writing this sitting
outside at 10.30pm as we watch several Alaska cruise ships pass
by. A great day with fantastic weather.
Monday 23rd June
This morning the weather was dry but not the same fantastic weather
we had yesterday. Lazy breakfast and spent some time looking at what
we thought might be sea otters but in the end turned to be stones.
Well we never claimed to be Spring Watch! We then set out to take
a drive around Quadra Island which is about the same size as Jersey.
Our first stop was at April Point Lodge a upmarket Lodge which is
twinned with Painters Lodge on the mainland. Famous for great fishing
we saw two boats departing. While we watched 2 seals came into view
and a sea otter (and yes this time it was!) appeared on the neck for
a few moments before slipping effortlessly into the water We pottered
around looking at this and that and had a coffee at Herriot bay Hotel.
Then we drove right to the north of the Island to Surge
(on the way to Surge Narrows we came across a logging truck - pictured)
which, as the name suggests, is a narrow gap between the Island and
the mainland. It is through this gap the cruise ships have to cone
through before they pass where we are staying. Then to a small bay
called Granite Bay. Both are at the end of gravel roads so need to
be driven with caution.
On the way back to our Lodge we called in at a newly created Golf
course; it shows lots of promise and looks to be somewhere that will
be an added attraction on the Island in due course. When we arrive
back at Tsa- Kwa- Luten lodge, I went to look at some rooms and the
other cabins. The main rooms do not have any self-catering options
but still have the great view and access to the restaurant we enjoyed
The main entry to the lodge is quite stunning and represents an Indian
longhouse. The other cabins are a little smaller that then one we
have but quite adequate. The kitchens are not as big but like ours
they all have a barbecue and a nice place to sit on the grass running
down to the sea shore Which brings me nicely back to our lodge and
the barbecue we are just about to have. Tomorrow we will let you know
how good it was!
Tuesday 24 June
This morning is the last of our self-catering stays, so a hearty breakfast
eating up all that is left! No lunch today!
It was with great regret that we left Quadra Island and Tsa-Kwa -Luten
Lodge. We had been made very welcome and both the Lodge and the Island
have a lot to offer. Both the Malcolm's had been offered jobs at the
local supermarket, so if things do not work out we know where to come.
Your ticket on to the Island is also your ticket off, so make sure
you keep it! The morning ferries off and the evening ferries on can
be quite busy, so make sure you get to the terminal in good time as
it is a roll on roll off ferry on a first come first served basis.
We caught the 10.55 ferry, which was completely full.
We took a quick spin around Campbell River as some clients stay there
en-route to Knight Inlet Lodge, one of the world’s premier grizzly
bear viewing places, so the hotel options are needed pre or post.
Then the drive north up the Island to Port Hardy, which was about
2.5 hours from Campbell River. It is actually 500 Km from Victoria
to Port Hardy so if you drive direct it is a full day’s drive. The
road from Victoria to Campbell River is very good, dual-carriageway.
However after Campbell River it is just a two lane highway with some
passing places. The pace of the trip drops as there is less chance
to pass. We stopped for a coffee along the way in the small village
of Woss. After Campbell River the fuel stops are more limited so remember
to check your fuel gauge.
We arrived at about 15.30 and checked into the Glen Lyon Hotel, which
is close to the Marina, as is the Quarterdeck hotel about 100 yards
along the road. Both have stunning views of the harbour. Our friends
went for a walk, while we took a drive around to check out a few things.
In a small park near the ferry terminal we saw a bald eagle flying
overhead. Then while having a drink before going to dinner we had
the pleasure of seeing four or five bald eagles and several fish eagles
flying around the harbour area. There was also a heron right in front
of our room looking for his supper. We had dinner quite early in the
restaurant overlooking the harbour. Good food, well served at a fair
Early to bed as we have a 04.30 wake up call.
More to follow
Wednesday 25th June
Today is the trip on the BC Ferries Signature Experience Inside Passage
ferry journey from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. As our wake-up call
was at 04.30 we had packed our bags last night.
There are several options to get to the ferry: there is a shuttle
at $7.50 per head, a taxi at $30.00 or, as advised by our very friendly
hotel, you can drop your rental car off at the ferry for a $25.00
drop charge. The cost and the ease of driving yourself meant it was
a no brainer to take the car. You have to be at the terminal, which
is a 15 minute drive from town, by 06.00. You drop your bags that
you are not taking on board, park the car in the car park and then
exchange your voucher for your tickets. You need to remember to hand
over your car keys to the BC ferry staff. Foot passengers board the
ship first as you use the same gangway. Car passengers then come on
board. By now it is about 07.00 and the cafe opens and it’s time to
grab a coffee.
We set sail at 07.30 and set off northwards for what most people agree
is the world’s most scenic ferry journey. However just about 20 minutes
into the trip a heavy mist came down. Not really what you want when
you are winding your way through some of the narrowest shipping lanes
in the world. The Captain announced that the ship would be blowing
its horn every five minutes until the mist cleared, which it was expected
to do. Shortly after breakfast we saw porpoises and then almost as
quickly as the mist arrived, it left. What a change, now a bright
sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. This weather then continues
on the third longest day in the year until we arrived in Prince Rupert.
So what did we see?
Scenery that you really cannot really adequately describe or even
take pictures of.
The coastline of BC has a magical blue haze when at its best and today
it has been at its best. We will send some pictures, but what you
will see is only 20% of what you get. We stopped at Bella Bella to
off load passengers who needed to connect to some smaller ferries
to even more remote destinations. At Bella Bella we had lunch on the
back deck, barbecue style. By now it was really hot and a delightful
day. Mid-afternoon we came across a Humpback whale swimming along,
we should have a decent photograph to send. We chose to eat supper
in the Vista Restaurant, buffet style offering a very wide choice
of good quality food. It cost approx. £18.00 per person and
was great value.
Ferry arrived at 23.15, so just a little late. Foot passengers walk
off first, however the bags come off after all the cars. It is quite
a long walk so the wait is not too long. Taxis are a bit hit and miss,
but we did manage to sort things out quite quickly. Not many large
taxis, so if a party of four then you will need to take two taxis.
The cost to any of the downtown hotels is approx. $10.00. Arrived
at the Crest Hotel for a super quick check-in and up to our rooms.
If you get the chance this trip should be on your to do list. With
good weather you will remember it all your life.
Thursday 26th June
The very late arrival last night meant we had planned a late breakfast.
My problem is normally that I cannot sleep in, but even I slept about
an hour more than normal. The Crest Hotel has a wonderful position
overlooking the harbour and the sound and the restaurant has a wonderful
We split up with our friends today as I had a meeting with a tour
operator in Prince Rupert. Although not large, in good weather as
it was today there is plenty to do. The Visitor Centre is a great
source of information, especially about the port. Prince Rupert is
increasingly becoming an entry and exit point for freight. It is major
grain, coal and container port. However the centre of town is still
as it was 50 years ago with lots of bald eagle flying around. My meeting
was with the tour operator who operates the Grizzly Bear tours from
Prince Rupert. This year the tours have got out of sync with the trains
and the ferries for all sorts of reasons. We talked through some ideas
to try and make this excellent option much more available. Excellent
fish for supper tonight in the hotel restaurant. With the superb weather
the day was great, we even managed to do some washing!
Friday 27th June & Saturday 28th June
We have been on the Skeena Train for the last two days travelling
from Prince Rupert to Jasper. Many people would say this was the most
scenic railway journey in Canada, due to the range of different types
of scenery you see along the route. The service operates year round,
but from June to September on selected departures it offers a scenic
panorama car with an enhanced viewing experience and meal service.
This also has exclusive access and use to one of the dome cars that
VIA rail has become so well known for.
The train departs Prince Rupert at 08.00 in the morning and shares
a dealer true point with BC Ferries and the Alaska Marine Highway.
You check in your main luggage, so also take on board an overnight
bag. Just be careful with the size of the bag as there are no overhead
bins as it has a glass roof!
As soon as the train
departs it follows the Skeena River winding its way out Prince Rupert.
A cold, but good continental breakfast is served with coffee. The
weather was not as good as Thursday with cloud and the sun breaking
through from time to time. The river was, and still is, a major salmon
fishing river and the first few miles are dotted with old, no longer
used salmon canning plants. We are hoping to send you some pictures
now the internet speed is better as the scenery over the first six
hours of this journey is not very easy to describe. Stunning and awesome
just do not do it full justice. We saw bears along the way, but we
were not quick enough with the camera today to catch them. We arrived
at Prince George 30 minutes late, which is about par for the course
given the fact that most of the way is single track railroad and the
enormous freight trains take precedence over passenger trains. These
trains pull up to 15000 tons and can reach up to 200 railroad cars
in length. You will see a great picture shortly.
We had nine clients on the train, by far the most from any UK tour
operator. We do use a couple of hotels in Prince George. Some clients
were at the Ramada Hotel, which is in the centre of town, and got
good reports from our clients. We choose to stay at the Sandman Signature
Hotel, which is a little farther from the station - a $10 .00 taxi
fare. It is a new hotel and of first class standard. Speedy check-in
with a large room and excellent facilities and really modern email
and charging points.
morning the train departs at 09.30 so we could relax a little. The
first part today is interesting, but not as scenic as the first half
yesterday or the last half today. However it can be prime bear watching
and so it proved to be as we saw several bears, but it was not until
after lunch that we could get a picture and then it is not great,
but it proves we saw them. The trip after lunch really upped the ante
in respect of scenery. We passed Mount Robson, the sun came out and
we got some great views and photographs which we have sent to share
We arrived in Jasper more or else on time and checked into Chateau
Jasper, having been fed an early dinner on train. We did however need
a walk after an exercise free couple of days. A stroll around Jasper,
which ended up in the bar at the Athabasca Hotel with the locals for
a beer and some great onions rings!
Sunday 29th June
Today we had a nice breakfast in the Chateau Jasper. Then while I
went to pick up the car the ret took a walk around Jasper. We mainly
use Avis in Jasper for our car hire requirements as they have a much
smaller drop charge to Calgary that our normal providers. The office
is located in Sundog Tours who operate a lot of the the sightseeing
and transfers in Jasper. Iwould advise anybody picking up a car in
Jasper, to check the car very carefully for scratches. My car was
marked as no marks, but I found several that may have been picked
up when I dropped the car. There was no issue in having them marked
however, better safe than sorry!
We then went up to Pyramid Lake for coffee. This also has some nice
accommodation. Located 5 Kms north of Jasper town site you also have
to past Patricia Lake . Back to the hotel for quick change and then
to Maligne Lake and the world famous Spirit Island . The weather was
not good as we drove out but it did improve and our Lake cruise was
good. The pictures could have been better but given the rain of today
we found a window of good weather. This is a must do trip and it is
a magical experience. On the way back to the hotel we did get a good
sighting of an Elk. If you travel gone road back about 17.00 you often
get good wildlife sightings. We also saw a Bear but no picture.
We use a property at Jasper Park gates called Overlander
Mountain Lodge. This is located about 30 minutes drive east of Jasper
just outside the park gates.
During our time it was being used by an Indian band ( First Nations)
for a conference but they had one room to show us. Then we where treated
to an evening meal cooked just for us 4 by the new chef Correy. He
is joining the long time owner Garth Griffiths to move the lodge forward.
Our meal was Cauliflower soup with curried prawns , followed by rack
of lamb , asparagus and garlic mash and a apple cobbler to follow.
Quite a simple menu but the flavours wee fantastic.
A memorable night. On the way back we also came across two Elk in
the lake; a fitting end to a good day.
Monday 30th June
Today we were travelling the Icefield Parkway and we were hoping the
weather would improve. Overnight there had been a lot of rain and
there were puddles everywhere you looked. It was also quite dark first
thing as the last of the storm passed over. However, the weather forecast
was quite decent and the light was improving quite rapidly. We packed
up and got on our way quite quickly as the Parkway is so good and
we were adding a couple of items that we wanted to test out including
the new glacier Skywalk. As always when you need to get going something
happens. To go south to Banff you have to cross the railroad.
We just failed to beat a freight train so had to sit while over 200
railroad cars passed in front of us. We know it was 200 as the ladies
stopped counting at 200. These trains pull around 15000 tons of freight
at a time. On our way some of the mountains were topped still in mist
making them look fantastic. Jasper National Park is a massive National
Park and joins Banff National Park further south. To visit the park
you do have to pay a fee and for most of our clients the annual pass
we sell is the most cost effective and easiest way to do that. If
you are travelling on a bus tour or part of a package that includes
transfers then the fee is made as part of that cost. With our parks
pass on display we drove straight past the entry point which can save
quite a lot of time.
Our first two main stops were Athabasca Falls and Sunwapt Falls and
they were both in full flow thanks to the melting of snow and glacier,
there are some great photos for you to see.
As we travelled further south the weather did really improve except
the very highest mountain tops cleared. Banff and Jasper are both
around 4500-5000 feet high and the parkway road reaches close to 6000
feet high. Mountains along the way are over 12000 feet high.
main stop was the new Glacier Skywalk which opened this Spring and
is a major project between Parks Canada and Brewsters. Brewster are
the first name in many aspects of touring in Western Canada and have
always been at the front of innovation. A massive platform that goes
out over the valley with 1000 foot drop below, construction took over
2 years and for any engineers on a trip worth the stop on that front
alone. It does a great job of describing all that you are seeing in
terms of flora and fauna, how the rocks were formed and how the valleys
were formed and have evolved. Being so new we did not really know
what to expect but having seen it we will be adding it to our suggest
excursions and we are working on an Icefield Parkway package that
will include several things in a bundle. As I said it is very new
and the signage at the visitor centre and the booking procedures does
need some improvement but our notes that accompany any of our bookings
will help until Brewsters make the final touches. We then grabbed
a sandwich at the Crossing one of the 43 places along the way you
can get food and the only place you can get Fuel.
Our next stop was a light detour along the David Thompson Highway
Hecht, which follows the river towards Rocky Mountain House. We had
been invited to do a helicopter trip over the area with a view to
putting it into our packages. We have sold it for a number of years
but have not promoted it that well. Like all helicopter trips it comes
at a cost but it is one of the Canada Signature Experiences which
you will see us develop and incorporate into more and more or our
Well it exceeded all our expectations. We reached just over 9000 feet
and saw some massive hanging Glaciers and snow more than over 200
foot thick, exceeding our expectations. Fantastic valleys and the
pictures just do not do it justice.
The package we did included a 60 minute wilderness stop with champagne.
So what do you get that makes it so great?
Well I have travelled the Icefield Parkway for close to 40 years and
really love and appreciate what it is. However going up in the helicopter
allows you a behind the scenes experience. You can wonder at the scenery
from the road but going up in the air really gives you the feeling
of the size of the park. Behind what you see from the road, there
are numerous mountains as far as the eye can see. There are issues
with doing this trip in timing. What we did was drive past Peyto Lake
and on to Banff, going back to Peyto Lake later. We arrived in Banff
to check in to the High Country Inn and went for a pleasant meal at
Bumpers which is and has been a favourite steakhouse in Banff for
Canada Day - Tuesday 1st July
we woke in Banff to bright sunshine and the weather forecast is great
with blue skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 20's. Canada
really does go to town on National Day (1st July) and it is my view
this does a lot to make this a great country when every day the Canadian
flag is flown everywhere. Today we went out to visit Bow Falls, Banff
Springs hotel and the Hot Springs straight after breakfast. The High
Country Inn includes a good continental breakfast which makes life
Later on we went to Central Park to see the opening ceremony and to
hear the National Anthem sung as well as enjoying craft markets, refreshments
and bands playing in the grandstand. This included a first rate First
Nations dance display and explanation of what each dance meant.
Banff Avenue which is the main road in Banff was closed at 16.00 and
at 17.00 when the Parade started. There were marching bands, the mayor
and of course the Mounties marched past our hotel. We had a great
meal this evening in Tincino's which is next to our hotel, which is
a Swiss Italian restaurant proudly flying the Canadian flag that has
been in Banff for as long as I can remember. We then strolled back
to Central Park to hear some more bands and then watch a fantastic
fireworks display which brought the day to a fitting end.
Wednesday 2nd July
Today is our lake day! When we came down the Icefield Parkway, we
did not have time to explore from Bow Summit to Banff properly. We
always recommend that clients slide past Lake Louise and come back
and do that another day. As we did the helicopter ride we had about
an hour’s drive back up the Parkway, such a real bore to have to drive
yet again one of the world’s top ten drives!
Our first stop was at Bow Summit which is the point at which the waters
either flow north to Jasper or South to Banff. Bow glacier is the
source of the Bow River that runs through Banff and Calgary. From
Bow Summit, which is quite a climb, you get a magical view of Peyto
Lake (pictured above and taken by us)
The weather was now hot and sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Our
next stop was Bow Lake which is very high on my personal list of favourite
lakes. We stopped at the Lodge for coffee and some pictures and then
travelled down to the South end of the lake to the normal view point.
Top Tip here is to follow the small road that starts at the view point
and gives a fantastic view back down the lake. You can do it in a
car and small Motor Home but a larger Motor Home could have an issue
turning. Our next stop was at Hector Lake which is a different colour
as it does not have a glacial feed. As such it’s much warmer and there
were several hardy souls swimming!
We then stopped at Lake Louise village to buy some sandwiches and
had a picnic at Moraine Lake. The boys climbed the pile of glacial
moraine that forms the lake to get a spectacular view of the lake.
It is quite a tough climb but worth the effort. There was a slight
wind today which was good in view of the heat but caused ripples on
the lake. On a still day you do get a fantastic reflection of the
mountains in the Lake.
It is only a short drive then to Lake Louise. This is a very scenic
lake but not my personal favourite. There is a great walk around the
lake to the tea house that is about 2.5 miles. It is always busy and
is a must do visit but I suspect like me your favourite lake will
We stopped again in Lake Louise village to buy an ice cream and then
drove back to Banff down Highway 1A which is the old Trans Canada
highway. It is now a much quieter road and often there is a good chance
of seeing wildlife. Unfortunately, not much happening today except
a large bull Elk. Another nice meal, this time at Melissa's, another
long time Banff favourite. Tomorrow it is on to Calgary to see the
Thursday 3rd July
Woke up to bright sunshine this morning again in Banff. We went up Sulphur Mountain this morning on the gondola, good view from the top, although because we did it first thing in the morning, slightly hazy. It does give you a spectacular bird’s eye view of the geography and position of Banff (nearly as good as a helicopter trip). From there we left Banff and headed out along Highway 40 through Kananaskis, which adjoins Banff National Park. Although not an actual park, Kananaskis is an area that incorporates quite a few Alberta provincial parks and some private land. It is actually an area where Calgary plays, so there is whitewater rafting opportunities, good walking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities, including mountain sheep and bears, etc. From Highway 40 we joined Highway 22 and headed south to Longview. It was at this point we had arranged with our daughter in law’s parents to pick up my wife and myself as our friends wanted to visit Waterton National Park, rather than travel to the Stampede. Our friend suffers from asthma that can be triggered by horses and dust, so the Stampede is not the best experience for her, much as she would have liked to have done it.
We checked into our hotel, the Coast Plaza, sorted out our tickets, and in particular the tickets for the Grandstand on the Parade Route, which had been delivered directly to the hotel by our suppliers. We then had dinner with our daughter in laws parents before retiring to bed.
& Saturday 4 & 5 July - Calgary Stampede
The trip I have just undertaken was deliberately timed to fit with the Stampede dates, and in particular timed so that we could be there for the Opening Day Parade.
Each year the 10 days of Stampede starts with a spectacular downtown parade around the streets of Calgary. The closest thing that I can liken it to in the UK is the Lord Mayor’s Parade in London, with cowboys, Indians and Mounties on horseback also participating. The parade itself takes over two hours to pass any fixed point on its journey.
There are two options for seeing it: (1) is to stand on the street
and watch, and as the locals do take their fold up garden chairs and
sit and watch, many putting them out on the street the night before
chained together. (2) However we suggest that as the parade is of
the length it is, that to use some of the grandstand seating that
is erected gives a comfortable sitting option and a better chance
to see the parade. In terms of your total holiday cost it is quite
low, but it is very difficult to get hold of. It is something that
cannot be bought locally on the day and unfortunately it is something
that we will not sell as a stand-alone product. The parade itself
was, as usual, quite spectacular and it is interesting to see for
instance the good PR job that the local police force does, with the
motorbikes clearing the route and the motorbike policemen stopping
to have photographs taken with young and older admirers, as well as
furnishing many of the children with a sheriff’s badge. The parade
had finished passing our vantage point at 11.45am. The afternoon rodeo
performance starts at 1.15pm and we believe that there is not sufficient
time to get from the downtown core to the Stampede grounds on the
same day. We therefore book our clients into the evening performance
on that day. It does make it quite a long day and for those who book
earlier enough and have a hotel in the downtown core, there is the
chance to go back to the hotel for an afternoon nap if one wishes.
We were staying at the Coast Plaza Hotel, which is not in the downtown
core and many of our clients stay there as we can get good availability
from the hotel and it is well connected to the centre and the Stampede
Grounds on the C Train. The C Train is part of the Calgary transit
system and is best likened to the Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester
tram systems. There is a C Train station not far from the Coast Plaza
Hotel taking you directly to City Hall, which is the hub of the train
system. Here you can easily change to other lines including the one
out to the Stampede.
went to the evening performance, which starts at 7.45pm. There are
lots of options within the showground to eat, ranging from hamburgers
to hot dogs through to fish and chips, corndogs and a first class
buffet in the main grandstand that does not have to be booked and
has a fabulous view of the arena. We were hosted to dinner at the
buffet by the Calgary Stampede organisation and our grateful thanks
for this privilege. The evening starts with nine chuck wagon races,
each featuring four teams. Over the 10 days of Stampede the 36 teams
are eventually whittled down to four teams, who compete for the $100,000
main prize. This is serious business and a serious amount of money
is at stake each and every night as well. The teams race round a half
mile oval, four horses pulling a wagon with two outriders. There are
probably very few more exciting experiences than watching the chuck
There is then a small intermission whilst a gigantic stage is pulled in front of the grandstand, the electrics hooked up and a spectacular evening musical performance is finally completed around 11.00 to 11.30 each night by a spectacular fireworks display. We then caught the C Train via City Hall back to our hotel.
Due to the
long day/late night most clients had a late breakfast, us included,
and made their way down to the showground late morning to enjoy some
of the other events going on in the showground, including a large
agricultural section, a large arts and crafts area and a gigantic
midway (that is North American for fairground). The rodeo consists
of all the main rodeo elements: calf roping, steer wrestling, bare
back riding, bull riding, barrel racing as well as a special event
for teams of young children. It is all action, and rodeo does depict
and has evolved from the skills required of the cowboy out on the
open range. Many of the skills are still used today, horses still
need to be broken, calves still need to be roped if they need an injection
because they are sick. Remember cattle raising in this area is not
in small UK size fields, but fields 20 to 50 times bigger that don’t
have orthodox cattle handling facilities. It does make a spectacular
sport and the Calgary Stampede is the only rodeo that pays the cowboys
a retainer to come. You cannot apply to go to the Calgary Stampede
you have to be invited. That being the case only the best are invited,
which makes for some of the very best rodeo, other than the Canadian
and US national finals most would agree the Calgary Stampede is the
We then left the showground and had dinner with our daughter in law’s parents at the Calgary Tower in the revolving restaurant. Some revolving towers have a great view and a poor restaurant, the Calgary tower has a good view and a great restaurant and this is an experience that would be well worth including in a visit to Calgary. We then returned to the hotel.
Sunday 6 July
Time to pack this morning including some presents to transport back to our granddaughter from her Canadian grandparents. We spent a nice day with our daughter in law’s parents at their house before heading to the airport for our flight home. An easy check in at Calgary Airport and our flight departed a few minutes late due to the Air Transat flight to Frankfurt being slightly delayed. As per the outbound, the standard of aircraft and the inflight service was first class with Transat and the meal was tasty. The flight arrived bang on time in Manchester Airport. However, unfortunately I have to say you knew you had returned to the UK. Manchester Airport was a shambles and the immigration was an absolute nightmare. It took over 45 minutes to get through immigration and it is one of the few places I have ever been to in the world where native citizens take longer to get through than overseas’ visitors. Because we had opted for Option Plus, our baggage was on the carousel when we arrived in the terminal. However the main baggage for the flight still hadn’t arrived. To cap it all Manchester Airport charges £1 for a baggage trolley. Not an easy thing to quickly put your hands on when you have just returned from overseas and I would think almost impossible for an overseas’ visitor. What a welcome to the UK.
A friend of ours had kindly agreed to pick us up at the airport and take us to our son’s house where the car was, but due to the various delays in Manchester Airport it cost £8.50 in parking charges. Many clients have little or no chance but to use Manchester Airport, but it really needs to get its act together. The outbound experience at Manchester was fantastic.
As with most holidays, they do turn into a chance to experience or re-experience things that we are selling to clients and to look at new and exciting product that we might want to further promote.
We are quite excited by Canada’s Signature Experience programme and were the first tour operator in the world to add it as a separate section to our website. During this trip we have tried to do quite a lot of those experiences, many of which we have been promoting for quite a period of time. The three that stand out as newer experiences that we will promote strongly are: the seaplane mail run in Victoria, the Icefield Glacier Skywalk between Jasper and Banff and the helicopter ride between Jasper and Banff. You will see descriptions of these on the relevant days and you can probably tell from the excitement in the writing that they are great experiences. However as always Canada delivers: fantastic and contrasting scenery ranging from wonderful sea vistas to the lakes and mountains experience, Mounties to cowboys, but what is common to all is a wonderful and warm hearted Canadian welcome wherever you go. The trip as described is extensive and can obviously be tailored to meet the time constrains of individuals, but if you have time available you will really not be disappointed if you undertake a similar trip. Please feel free to talk personally to me if you wish to discuss any aspects, my direct e mail is: Malcolm.firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively you can phone me on 01509 618800.
Thanks for reading this, hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.